August 17th, 2011
11:57 PM ET

U.N.: Syrian president says military operations have stopped

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a phone conversation Wednesday that military and police operations in Syria had stopped, according to a U.N. statement.

The secretary general's office released a read-out of the conversation, during which, according to the statement, Ban also expressed alarm at reports of human rights violation in Syria.

During the conversation, al-Assad told Ban that "the military and police operations in Syria have stopped," it said.

Al-Assad has been under enormous international pressure to end a months-long military crackdown on anti-government protesters calling for free elections and an end to his regime.

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Filed under: Syria
August 17th, 2011
07:17 PM ET

Stocks battle back to end mixed

Some highlights from the day's business news:

U.S. stocks ended a thinly traded session mixed Wednesday as investors weighed the latest corporate results against global economic and debt concerns.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 4 points, or less than 0.1%, to close at 11,410. The S&P 500 added 1 point to 1,193. The Nasdaq composite fell 12 points to 2,511.

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Overheard on CNN.com: No love for reality TV stars
Reality stars like Kim Kardashian, center, aren't always embraced by the public.
August 17th, 2011
04:55 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: No love for reality TV stars

Comment of the day:

"Yet another good-looking person famous for being a celebrity. Remember back when Americans used to idolize genuine heroes? Now we make fake idols heroes. What an empty, directionless country we've become.” - isolate

Kim K.’s getting hitched

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian’s upcoming marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries on August 20 is creating a media circus. People magazine is reportedly paying between $300,000 and $1 million for exclusive pictures of the wedding, and a four-hour-long TV special will air on E! (in two parts) on October 9-10 showcasing the nuptials.

CNN.com’s story about the hoopla drew serious ire from readers.

luckydakota said, “What a sad comment on the state of America when we idolize someone like Kim and her dysfunctional family.”

MatiValhalla said, “A quick anagram of Kardashian = "A Kinda Rash."

jag68 said, “Why is it being called Wedding of the Year (as in another)? Nothing compared to the Royal wedding.”

suzannet79 said, “Can someone just come up with one reason this girl is famous, I should care about her, she is worth a news article or should be compared to someone who is going to be an important part of world leadership?”

EastCoastMM responded, “She's smoking hot?”

JMK95 said, “It's getting so bad that when you look up 'famewhore' in the dictionary you have to pay to see her picture.”

BlameMe responded, “The press makes them famous by chasing them. It's NOT the other way around as most might tend to think. She is capitalizing on what she has. If we all had that opportunity, most would do same. Only the slow ones would do otherwise. It's the world we live in. Playing nice doesn't fetch you anything. While she's young and can make the money, let her do it. Quit hating!”

YodarCritch said, “I honestly wish her all the best in life, but I have to admit that even after reading her Wikipedia page, I am still not understanding what she is famous for originally? Was her initial notoriety because of her relationship with her sisters? In any case, I hope her marriage is a happy one.”

birdman9999 said, “FYI, Kim is NOT the people’s princess as was stated. The media pushes this garbage down our throats then thinks we all enjoy it. WE DO NOT! Will somebody do a Gallop Poll please!”

bzscorpio said, “Kim is hardly 'our people's princess'. She is famous for being famous, and nothing more. She has done nothing productive with her life to warrant the fame and attention she receives. She is a product of so-called 'reality' television and the fact that she can command $50,000 for a simple wedding photo shows how stupid a lot of people are.”

But teapartyruIe said, “Kim K is the bomb. All you people hatin' are just that haters!”

And bigkevy1 said, “She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. There are very few of them out there. Oh yeah you can say many women look amazing, but I'm talking face and body not just the body.”

The Situation’s wardrobe decision

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) said it would offer “substantial payment" to the cast of MTV's "The Jersey Shore," specifically Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, to stop wearing the brand on air. In a statement, the company says it's “deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino's association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.”
CNN.com readers mainly sided with Abercrombie & Fitch:

Koodz said, “I don't blame them. I wouldn't want a bunch of greasy orange [people] wearing my brand either. Let them keep their juvenile Ed Hardy collections though, Snookie + Ed Hardy = Baby seal in an oil spill. It's almost cute.” FULL POST

August 17th, 2011
01:20 PM ET

As Syria flares, some U.N.'ers take flight

The death and discord plaguing Syria hit home for the United Nations on Wednesday as the world body temporarily withdrew some staff members amid the violence there.

The United Nations is relocating 26 non-essential international staff members and their families from Syria, said Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon.

He had been concerned over the conflict in Latakia, the port city where Syrian forces kicked off an offensive this weekend.

There are normally more than 160 international U.N. staffers in Syria, with many of them based in Damascus, a spokesman said. The largest U.N. agency in Syria has been the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, with a total of 61.  The U.N. Human Rights Council is also concerned over the unrest. It plans to hold a special session Monday regarding the situation in Syria, according to Cedric Sepe, press officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He said member states have called for the session, in Geneva, Switzerland, and it may spill into the next day.

These moves reflect international anxiety and outrage among world powers, including the United States, and among Syria's neighbors, including Jordan and Turkey, over the crackdown.

Tunisia has recalled its ambassador to Syria for "consultations," the Tunisian news agency said Wednesday, citing an "authorized" Foreign Ministry source.

"This measure was taken as a result of the recent dangerous developments in Syria," the source reportedly said.

Last week, Saudi King Abdullah called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus. Bahrain and Kuwait also have recalled their ambassadors from Syria and called on the Bashar al-Assad regime to end crackdowns.

While the government has maintained that it is targeting "armed groups" and "terrorists" during the country's five-month long unrest, witnesses and activists say the government has been brutally cracking down on civilians amid calls for al-Assad's ouster.

Reports of violence persisted Wednesday.

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Tampa police: Student planned 'catastrophic' school plot
Jared Cano, 17, had plans that indicated that he intended to detonate explosive devices at his school, police say.
August 17th, 2011
01:13 PM ET

Tampa police: Student planned 'catastrophic' school plot

[Updated at 1:13 p.m.] Tampa police said they were able to thwart a mass murder plot that was planned for the first day of classes next Tuesday.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said that police were able to stop a former student from carrying out what could have been a "a potentially catastrophic event" thanks to a tip from a citizen who came forward.

Hillsborough School District spokesman Steve Hegarty confirmed to CNN that a former student, who hasn't attended Freedom High School for a year and a half, had been arrested in connection with the alleged plot. Castor said there was no indication anyone else besides the one suspect was involved in the plot.

That student allegedly had planned to kill 32 people, including two principals, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Tampa Police officers received a tip about the plot at 11:50 a.m. on Tuesday, police said.

Chief Jane Castor said during the search officers found a minute-by-minute manifesto showing what the suspect planned to do on the first day of school. Police also found materials that could have been used to make explosives including fuel sources, shrapnel, a timing device and fusing devices.

Along with the manifesto police said they also found "schematic drawings of rooms inside Freedom High School and disturbing statements about [Cano's] intent to kill."

Castor said 17-year-old Jared Cano's plan indicated that he intended to detonate explosive devices throughout the school. His plans specifically mentioned the names of two faculty members, she said. FULL POST

August 17th, 2011
12:33 PM ET

Aruban authorities probe insurance policy in missing woman case

Editor's note: Tune in to “Nancy Grace” at 8 p.m. ET on HLN for updates from Aruba on an American woman who recently disappeared from the same area that Natalee Holloway vanished from in 2005.

The suspect in the disappearance of a Maryland woman during a vacation in Aruba had taken out a travel insurance policy on her, an island official said Wednesday.

It is too early to conclude whether the insurance policy was a possible motive for the disappearance of Robyn Gardner, Solicitor General Taco Stein told CNN.

Giordano's lawyer, Michael Lopez, has not returned repeated CNN calls for comment regarding the insurance policy.

According to Aruban prosecutors, the missing woman and the suspect, Gary Giordano, arrived on the island July 31 from the United States. Gardner was last seen August 2 near Baby Beach, on the west side of the island.

Giordano told authorities that he had been snorkeling with Gardner when he signaled to her to swim back, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office. He said Gardner was nowhere to be found when he reached the beach, according to prosecutors.

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New fighter jet to bolster Russian air force
The T-50 performs during the MAKS 2011 air show outside Moscow. It is meant to rival the U.S. F-22 Raptor.
August 17th, 2011
11:44 AM ET

New fighter jet to bolster Russian air force

Russia's new stealth fighter jet made its public debut Tuesday, according to state-run news source RIA Novosti.

The Sukhoi T-50, developed collaboratively by Russia and India, appeared at the MAKS 2011 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow.

Gen. Alexander Zelin, head of the Russian air force, told RIA Novosti he expects the T-50 prototype to be ready in 2013, with "mass-produced aircraft" arriving in 2014 or 2015.

The aircraft is expected to become a staple of airborne defense for both Russia and India, Mikhail Pogosyan, head of Russia's United Aircraft Corp., told RIA Novosti.

"The T-50 will be the newest main plane both for the Russian and the Indian air force," Pogosyan said.

The article from the state-run media source says the Sukhoi T-50 cost the two governments about $6 billion to develop, with India shouldering about 35% of the cost. It is intended to match the U.S. F-22 raptor.

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Filed under: Aviation • India • Military • Russia • World
August 17th, 2011
09:16 AM ET

On the Radar: Reopening of Joplin schools, Syria violence, Yosemite deaths

Back to school in Joplin - Wednesday is the start of the school year for students in Joplin, Missouri, a bittersweet time for a town still rebuilding from a May tornado that killed more than 150 people.

For Joplin's 2,200 high school students, reopening the schools means separating grades that usually study in the same building. Ninth- and 10th-graders will go to an existing middle school, while upperclassmen will attend classes at a mall.

Officials say the mall was the only place big enough to house the students. The school district spent $5.5 million to convert a 95,000-square-foot retail facility.

"Every time I drive by it, it's still really sad," said senior Lydia McAllister, looking at the ruins of Joplin High School, one of 10 school buildings damaged or destroyed by the storm.

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NCAA's stricter academic rules: What does it mean for your team?
UConn;s Kemba Walker sports a No. 1 shirt after winning the NCAA championship, but under new rules his team wouldn't have made it to the dance.
August 17th, 2011
09:04 AM ET

NCAA's stricter academic rules: What does it mean for your team?

The NCAA is raising its academic requirements for postseason competition, including bowl games and March Madness, the organization announced Thursday in a news release.

Had the new rules been in effect during the 2010-11 academic year, the University of Connecticut would not have been able to compete in (and win) the NCAA basketball tournament. Syracuse and Florida State would have also been barred from the Big Dance, and the University of Southern California wouldn't have qualified for the "First Four" play-in game it lost to Virginia Commonwealth.

The NCAA calculates an academic progress rate that measures retention and graduation rates for every Division I team, reflecting the previous four academic years. The score comes out to a number as high as 1,000. Since its introduction in 2005, teams with APRs below 925 would face penalties, such as losing scholarships. Postseason bans would be issued only after three consecutive years of APRs below 900.

When the new rule is in full effect, only teams that have APRs of at least 930 will be able to compete in the postseason, according to a NCAA news release. The new rule will be gradually implemented over the next five years.  An APR of 930 comes out to a 50% graduation rate, according to the news release.

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Filed under: Basketball • College basketball • College football • Education • Football • Sports
August 17th, 2011
07:37 AM ET

Wednesday's live video events

We're more than a year away from the presidential election, yet the race to the White House is already at full speed.  Watch CNN.com Live for continuing coverage of the presidential campaign.

Today's programming highlights...

7:45 am ET - Race to 2012: Rick Perry breakfast talk - GOP presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry speaks at a "Politics and Eggs" breakfast in Bedford, New Hampshire.

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Filed under: Elections • Politics