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In brief: Al-Hashimi denies charges

Wed., Dec. 21, 2011, midnight

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi struck back at the Shiite Muslim-led government Tuesday, dismissing official allegations that he had masterminded multiple assassinations of security officials as based on fabricated evidence.

In what amounted to the second round of a trial-by-television, al-Hashimi, a Sunni, ignored the arrest warrant over his head to stage a press conference in Iraq’s semiautonomous northern Kurdish territory to proclaim his innocence.

Al-Hashimi said he was willing to go on trial to clear his name, but preferably in Kurdistan and not the Iraqi capital, where his house and office have been raided and his bodyguards stripped of their weapons and their badges granting access to the Green Zone.

“I categorically deny plotting attacks on other politicians,” he said. “I am within the law. I am not with the terrorists. I am not with violence.” He said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, was “100 percent responsible” for the allegations.

In round one Monday night, state-run Iraqiya television broadcast “confessions” by three of al-Hashimi’s bodyguards, who said the vice president had paid them to run hit squads against military personnel and police over the past two years.

Morgan mum on hacking

LONDON – A tense and sometimes hostile Piers Morgan has refused to disclose details about the most damning link between himself and Britain’s phone hacking scandal – his acknowledgment that he once listened to a phone message left by Paul McCartney for his then-wife Heather Mills.

The CNN celebrity interviewer, testifying through a video link from the U.S., clashed repeatedly Tuesday with the U.K. panel investigating media ethics, insisting he never took part in the illegal phone hacking that has led to the closure of a Sunday tabloid he once edited and the arrests of friends and former colleagues.

His testimony was given under oath, and Morgan could be subject to criminal proceedings if he is found to have violated any British laws.

Mills, who went on to divorce McCartney, has charged there was no way Morgan could have obtained the message honestly – an allegation that could prove embarrassing to CNN, which brought the 46-year-old journalist on board in January to replace Larry King.

Morgan stubbornly refused Tuesday to go into any detail about the message, saying: “I’m not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me.”

Skier reaches South Pole

British adventurer Felicity Aston has reached the South Pole, nearly halfway in her attempt to become the first human to ski solo using only muscle power across Antarctica.

She made it to the U.S. research station at the geographic South Pole on Tuesday after pulling two sledges for more than 500 miles, up a glacier, over a mountain range and against stiff headwinds for nearly a month.

She says it feels amazing to have reached the pole, where she plans a day’s rest to replenish her supplies before hitting the ice again.

More aid dropped to ship

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand air force cargo plane flew to Antarctica today to drop sea pumps and hull patches to a leaking Russian fishing vessel, stuck in the frigid waters after hitting sea ice last week.

The vessel Sparta, with 32 crew on board, hit underwater ice Friday that tore a 1-foot hole in the hull and caused it to list at 13 degrees. Rescue ships, hampered by heavy sea ice, were still several days away from the Ross Sea shelf area of northern Antarctica where the stricken ship sits immobilized.


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