Nation/World Briefly: Big Bang atom smasher has its first proton hits

GENEVA — The world’s largest atom smasher made another leap forward Monday by circulating beams of protons in opposite directions at the same time and causing the first particle collisions in the $10 billion machine after more than a year of repairs, organizers said.

The true test of the Large Hadron Collider will come in the first two months of 2010, when scientists plan to start deliberately crashing protons into each other to see what they can discover about the makeup of the universe and its tiniest particles.

While the initial collisions were a side effect, intentional hits could begin within the next 10 days, mainly to check how the machine is working, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN.

Ultimately, the collider aims to create conditions like they were 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a second after the Big Bang — which scientists think marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

Iraq: Possible election delay

Iraq’s parliament failed Monday to produce an election law that pleased minority Sunni Arabs, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to say that nationwide balloting scheduled for January might slip to a later date. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, initially vetoed the law because he wanted more seats for Iraqis living abroad, most of whom are Sunnis. After days of intense negotiations by political blocs, lawmakers voted Monday to change the basis for distributing seats, most likely giving more seats to the powerful Kurdish bloc rather than to the Sunnis.

Philippines: Gunmen attack caravan, beheading many

Twenty-four people were found dead on the south island of Mindanao on Monday after an estimated 100 gunmen kidnapped a caravan of supporters accompanying a woman en route to file her husband’s nomination papers to run for provincial governor, authorities said. Police are looking for more than a dozen other victims. Officials called the attack a politically motivated massacre. Many of the victims were beheaded, their remains buried in shallow graves.

China: Two executed for role in tainted milk scandal

China says it has executed two people for their roles in a tainted milk powder scandal in which at least six children died and more than 300,000 became sick. The official Xinhua News Agency said today that Zhang Yujun was executed for endangering public safety and Geng Jinping was executed for producing and selling toxic food. The scandal shocked China last year when children were given baby formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. Melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer, was added to watered-down milk to fool inspectors testing for protein, and to boost profits.

Man who spoke out on poorly built schools gets three years in prison

A veteran Chinese dissident was sentenced to three years in prison after casting a spotlight on poorly built schools that collapsed and killed thousands of children during China’s massive earthquake last year. Huang Qi, founder of a human rights Web site, had been charged with illegally possessing state secrets, his wife Zeng Li said Monday. His detention in June 2008 came after several posts on his blog that criticized the government’s response to the massive earthquake that struck Sichuan province a month earlier and killed about 90,000 people. Huang had also spoken to foreign media outlets about parents’ accusations that their children had been crushed in badly built schools.

Israel: Progress on effort to recover Hamas-held soldier

Hamas leaders raced to Egypt on Monday amid signs of progress on a deal to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for a captive Israeli soldier held by the Islamic militant group for more than three years. Israel and Hamas have been locked in on-again, off-again talks since Gaza militants tunneled into Israel and captured Sgt. Gilad Schalit in a 2006 raid that killed two other soldiers.

D.C.: Terror charges for 8 men

Federal authorities unsealed terrorism-related charges against eight men Monday, accusing them of recruiting at least 20 young Somali-Americans from Minnesota to join an extremist Islamic insurgency in Somalia. The newly named suspects make up one of the largest suspected terrorist networks in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, analysts said. Assistant Attorney General David Kris said the government continues to investigate the alleged recruitment, and sources indicated that FBI and grand jury inquiries are active in San Diego, Boston and Columbus, Ohio, into the disappearance abroad of dozens of Muslim Americans since 2007. None of the suspects was in the United States when charges were announced, and only one is in custody.

South Carolina: Ethics charges for governor who had affair

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford is accused of breaking 37 ethics laws regarding campaign finances and travel, including using taxpayer money for high-priced airplane tickets that took him around the world and to Argentina for a rendezvous with the woman he once called his “soul mate.” Details of the civil charges were released Monday and carry a maximum $74,000 in fines. The civil charges include 18 instances in which Sanford is accused of improperly buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating state law requiring lowest-cost travel; nine times of improperly using state-owned aircraft for travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair salon; and 10 times he improperly reimbursed himself with campaign cash.

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