Nation/World Briefly: Four U.S. troops die in Afghan chopper crash

KABUL — The U.S. military today said four American troops were killed and two injured in a midair collision of two helicopters in southern Afghanistan.

Hostile fire has been ruled out in the crash, which occurred this morning. No further details were released.

In an unrelated incident, another helicopter went down today during an international security force operation against insurgents. The U.S. said military casualties were reported and a recovery operation is under way.

Afghans protest alleged misconduct by U.S. troops

Hundreds of angry protesters in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul burned an effigy of President Barack Obama on Sunday, acting on rumors that American troops had desecrated the Quran. U.S. military officials denied that any copies of the Muslim holy book had been mishandled and accused the Taliban of spreading falsehoods to incite hatred against Western forces.

Iran: U.N. inspects facility

U.N. inspectors entered a once-secret uranium enrichment facility with bunker-like construction and heavy military protection that raised Western suspicions about the extent and intent of Iran’s nuclear program. The visit Sunday by the four-member International Atomic Energy Agency team, reported by state media, was the first independent look inside the planned nuclear fuel lab, a former ammunition dump burrowed into the treeless hills south of Tehran and only publicly disclosed last month. The inspectors are expected to study plant blueprints, interview workers and take soil samples before wrapping up the three-day mission.

North Carlina: Soldier ID’d in Navy crash

Fort Bragg officials have identified the soldier killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed on a Navy ship during training off the Virginia coast. A statement Sunday said 29-year-old Army Staff Sgt. James R. Stright of Libby, Mont., was killed Thursday night. A Navy spokesman said service members were rappelling down a rope from the helicopter to the USNS Arctic when the helicopter crashed into the ship’s stern. The aircraft ended up on its side.

California: Gas up nearly 18 cents

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States has jumped 17.8 cents over a two-week period to $2.66, according to the national Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday. Tucson, Ariz., had the lowest price among cities surveyed at $2.24 a gallon for regular. Anchorage, Alaska, was the highest at $3.25.

Wildfire prompts evacuations

California officials say a wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains has prompted mandatory evacuations of about 60 homes. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Cherie Alver says a trailer and two outbuildings have been destroyed since the fire broke out Sunday morning. Another 150 homes and 100 businesses are threatened. The blaze has burned about 600 acres and is 20 percent contained.

Florida: Madoff associate dies

Jeffry Picower, a philanthropist accused of profiting more than $7 billion from the investment schemes of his longtime friend Bernard Madoff, was found at the bottom of the pool at his Palm Meach mansion and died Sunday, police said. He was 67. Palm Beach police are investigating the death as a drowning, but have not ruled out anything on the cause of death.

Texas: 80 life sentences for sexually abusing child

A Kerrville man who confessed to sexually abusing a child over a three-year period has been sentenced to 80 life sentences. Scott Lee Zulfer pleaded guilty Friday to 69 charges of aggravated sexual assault and 11 charges of continuous sexual abuse from 2006 to 2008. District Attorney Amos Barton said he sought a life sentence for each count against Zulfer “just in case he lived through the first 79.”

Massachusetts: Researchers poisoned

Six Harvard University medical researchers were poisoned in August after drinking coffee that was laced with a chemical preservative, according to university officials. The school said the coffee came from a machine near their lab that later tested positive for sodium azide, a common preservative used in labs. The six reported symptoms after drinking the coffee, including dizziness and ringing in the ears, and one passed out. They were treated and released at a hospital. It was not clear whether authorities think the poisoning was intentional.

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