hLined up in Mexico Cityfor controversial stamps
MEXICO CITY -- Hundreds of people lined up at Mexico City's main post office on Friday, some waiting hours to buy postage stamps featuring a black comic book character that U.S. leaders have called racist. The series of five stamps released Wednesday depicts the Memin Pinguin character, a hapless boy drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms are the subject of kidding by white characters in the comic book, which started in the 1940s and is still published in Mexico. The stamps have become a symbol of resentment that the United States -- where Mexicans have long faced discrimination -- would dare to accuse Mexico of racism. "They're the racists. They're worse than we are, but they just want to belittle us, like always," said Cesar Alonso Alvarado, 53, a businessman among the hundreds of people waiting in line to buy stamps. Alvarado said he started reading the comic at age 10, and denies it is racist.
U.S. forces search forteam in Afghan mountains
KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. forces desperately scoured rugged Afghan mountains Friday for an elite American military team missing in the same area where a U.S. helicopter was shot down. A purported Taliban spokesman claimed militants captured one of the men. In central Afghanistan, Taliban rebels kidnapped and killed Afghan nine tribal leaders and sent a boy to offer to exchange the bodies for those of dead militants, an official said. The tribal leaders were among 25 people killed in three days of fighting in Uruzgan province -- yet another troubling sign for a nation hit by an upswing in violence as September elections near. The loss of the American military team in the remote eastern mountains worsened the already stinging blow suffered by the U.S. military after 16 troops were killed Tuesday aboard the MH-47 Chinook chopper.
Shutdown in Minnesota
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- More than 9,000 state employees were told to stay home Friday and drivers found highway rest stops closed at the start of the busy Fourth of July weekend as a budget stalemate led to the first government shutdown in Minnesota history. The Democrats, who control the state Senate, were locked in a standoff with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the GOP-controlled House over how much to spend on schools and health care and how to pay for it. As a result, the new fiscal year began Friday, just after midnight, with only a partial spending plan in place. Essential services such as the state patrol continued to function, and an 11th-hour agreement was reached to keep state parks open over the holiday weekend.
Free -- minus his identity
GEORGETOWN, Ga. -- As hard as it was to spend 35 years in prison for stealing a black-and-white television, Junior Allen has found freedom frustrating, too. Despite extensive prison records in North Carolina, where he has spent more than half his life as inmate No. 0004604, Allen, above with his niece Glenda Rogers, has been unable to establish his identity in rural Georgia, where he now lives with his sister, or in Alabama, where he was born 65 years ago to sharecropper parents. The monthlong effort to get a birth certificate and photo ID only hints at the new challenge he faces -- that of transforming himself from less-than-model inmate to average senior citizen. "It's like I never existed," Allen said. Allen was a strapping 30-year-old in 1970 when he walked into the unlocked home of an elderly North Carolina woman near Benson and took her $140, 19-inch black-and-white Motorola. He hid the set in the woods and never watched it. Police quickly arrested him at his labor camp by following his footprints.