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Obama warns Syria of 'consequences'

WASHINGTON -- The White House and its allies are weighing military options to secure Syria's chemical and biological weapons because U.S. intelligence reports show the Syrian regime may be readying those weapons and may be desperate enough to use them, U.S. officials said Monday.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use the weapons.

"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is, and would be, totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."

Options now being considered range from aerial strikes to limited raids by regional forces to secure the stockpiles, according to one current U.S. official and one former U.S. official briefed on the matter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The administration remains reluctant to put U.S. forces into Syria, but a U.S. special operations training team is in neighbouring Jordan, teaching troops there how to safely secure such sites with other troops from the region, the officials said.

The warnings comes after U.S. intelligence detected signs the Syrian regime was moving chemical weapons components around in several of Syria's chemical weapons sites in recent days, according to a senior U.S. defence official and a second U.S. official speaking on Monday.

Software magnate says he's fled Belize

MEXICO CITY -- Software company founder John McAfee said Monday he has fled from Belize using a bizarre ruse, adding yet another chapter in what could become one of the biggest media fugitive frenzies since O.J. Simpson led police on a low-speed chase in 1994.

McAfee claimed in a blog posting he had evaded authorities by staging an elaborate distraction in neighbouring Mexico.

In an email to The Associated Press, he confirmed a posting to his website in which he described, in what appeared to be joking tones, how he mounted the ruse.

"My 'double,' carrying on (sic) a North Korean passport under my name, was detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehaviour," McAfee wrote in the posting, "but due to indifference on the part of authorities (he) was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan."

It was a turn typical of the bizarre saga of the eccentric anti-virus company founder, wanted for questioning in the killing of fellow American expatriate Gregory Viant Faull, shot to death on the Belize island where they both had homes in early November.

Since then, McAfee has refused to turn himself in for questioning, saying he fears Belize police would kill him, and has titillated the media with phone calls, emails and blog posts detailing his life on the lam. It has all resulted in a rather undignified media scrum to get interviews with McAfee, complete with taunts.

Rover finds no evidence of life on Mars

LOS ANGELES -- Results are in from the first test of Martian soil by the rover Curiosity and so far, there is no definitive evidence the red planet has the chemical ingredients to support life.

Scientists said Monday a scoop of sandy soil analyzed by the rover's chemistry lab contained water and a mix of chemicals, but not the complex carbon-based compounds considered necessary for microbial life.

The latest findings, reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, came from an instrument aboard the six-wheel rover that baked the soil and analyzed the gases released.

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator in August on a two-year mission to study whether the environment on Mars could have been favourable for life.

The dirt at Curiosity's landing site appeared similar to that found in regions visited by other Mars spacecraft, scientists said. It contained water, sulphur and possibly perchlorate, a compound made up of oxygen and chlorine. NASA's Phoenix lander, which touched down near the Martian arctic, previously found perchlorate in the soil.

Tweet Pope @Pontifex, starting Dec. 12

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting in six languages from his personal handle @Pontifex on Dec. 12.

The Vatican said Monday the Pope will use a question-and-answer format in his first tweet, focusing on answering questions about faith -- in 140 characters.

The Pope sent his first tweet last year from a Vatican account to launch the Holy See's news information portal. Greg Burke, the Vatican's communications adviser, told a press conference the handle @Pontifex was chosen for the Pope's personal account because it not only means pope in Latin, but is a bridge-builder, suggesting unity. How often will the Pope tweet? "As often as he wants," said Burke

Romney returns to Marriott board

NEW YORK -- Former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is getting a new job: member of Marriott International's board of directors.

He's held the post with the hotel chain twice before.

The first time was from 1993 to 2002, when he left to campaign for governor of Massachusetts, and from 2009 to 2011, when he left to start his campaign for the presidency.

It's the first job announcement Romney has made since being defeated in the November election by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Romney has kept a low profile since the election.

He's spent the past month largely in seclusion at his family's California home.

Marriott International Inc. is based in Maryland.

-- from the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2012 A12

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