GOP primary season enters second half

Posted March 07, 2012, at 9:54 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Republican presidential race headed South and West on Wednesday, into states where Mitt Romney is likely to face cultural resistance to his political appeal.

The former Massachusetts governor emerged from Super Tuesday voting in 10 states with a commanding lead in delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. Romney won at least 212 of the 419 delegates at stake Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum received 84; Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, got 72; and Texas Rep. Ron Paul collected at least 22.

Romney now has 415 delegates. Trailing are Santorum with 176, Gingrich with 105, and Paul with 47; 1,144 are needed to nominate.

But Romney’s path next turns bumpy, at least briefly.

Kansas will hold caucuses on Saturday, followed by primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday. Kansas has 40 delegates, Alabama 50 and Mississippi 40. None of the three states is seen as Romney-friendly territory.

Deputy, 2 others shot outside Okla. courthouse

TULSA, Okla. — A sheriff’s deputy, a suspected gunman and a bystander were wounded Wednesday afternoon during an exchange of gunfire outside a Tulsa courthouse, sending people scattering from a crowded plaza as an employee at a nearby library used his camera to chronicle the events.

Police spokesman Leland Ashley said authorities responded to a report of a person firing into the air between the Tulsa County Courthouse and the library. Deputies, including the one who was wounded, exchanged gunfire with the shooter, Ashley said.

John Fancher, a communications coordinator with the library, told The Associated Press that he heard gunshots, then grabbed his camera and stood at his office window to take pictures.

Tulsa County sheriff’s Sgt. Shannon Clark said the deputy who was wounded was shot in both hands and both arms and was in surgery as of 7 p.m. He didn’t know the extent of the injuries to the deputy, whom the department didn’t identify.

Emergency Medical Services Authority Capt. Chris Stevens said one man was taken to a hospital in critical condition and that two other people were hospitalized, one in serious and one in fair condition. A woman, who was not hit by gunfire, was “shaken up” and treated at the scene.

Virginia governor signs pre-abortion ultrasound bill into law

WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law a controversial bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion.

The bill sparked a national furor among abortion rights activists who argued that the intent was to make it more costly and more difficult for women to receive abortions.

The bill signed by McDonnell on Wednesday is a watered-down version of an earlier bill that would have required women to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound and would have applied to all abortions, even those that result from rape or incest.

Under pressure from critics, McDonnell last month asked the Virginia state Legislature to amend the bill to require only an abdominal ultrasound, not the more invasive ultrasound. State lawmakers also created an exemption for women whose pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, provided they reported the assault to police.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates last Thursday by a vote of 61-35. It passed the state Senate largely on party lines by a vote of 21-19.

Syria’s Baba Amr is deserted, Red Cross says

BEIRUT — The U.N. humanitarian chief toured the shattered Syrian district of Baba Amr on Wednesday but found most residents had fled following a bloody military siege, while activists accused the government of trying to cover up evidence of atrocities there.

The monthlong crackdown on the rebellious Homs neighborhood brought international condemnation, and the top U.S. military leader said Wednesday that President Barach Obama has asked the Pentagon for a preliminary review of military options in Syria.

These include enforcement of a no-fly zone and humanitarian airlifts, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate. However, both he and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Obama still believes that economic sanctions and international diplomatic isolation were the best ways to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad into handing over power.

6 UK troops killed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Six British soldiers were killed after an explosion hit their armored vehicle in southwestern Afghanistan, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday. It was the biggest loss of life for British forces in the country since a plane crash in 2006.

The soldiers were on patrol in Helmand province at the time of the blast Tuesday evening.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the deaths marked a “desperately sad day for our country.”

The attack is certain to fuel calls for the acceleration of a planned withdrawal of all U.S.-led coalition troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States and among its NATO partners in Europe.

Washington has also grown frustrated with the administration of President Hamid Karzai, who has been making increasing demands of America in order to sign a deal that will allow some troops to remain past 2014, mainly in a counterterrorism and training role.

Helmand has been the deadliest province by far for coalition troops since the Afghan war started over a decade ago. Most of Britain’s 9,500 soldiers are based there, and the province also has thousands of U.S. troops.

The Taliban have fought fiercely for control of Helmand because it accounts for about half of all poppy production in Afghanistan. Poppy is the main ingredient in making opium and has been a significant source of revenue for the militants.

Britain has lost more troops in Afghanistan — 404 after Wednesday’s killings — than any other country except for the United States, which has counted at least 1,780 deaths as a result of the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

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