Muslims pray outside Mecca as hajj begins

Muslims pray outsideMecca as hajj begins
MINA, Saudi Arabia -- The hajj pilgrimage began in earnest today as Muslims from around the world arrived in the tent city of Mina, where many prayed before dawn in cloud-covered valleys outside the holy city of Mecca.
It was their last stop before heading to Mount Arafat for a day of prayers and soul searching that is the main ritual of the annual gathering.
Police forces were on alert following the death Thursday of five Saudi security agents in a shootout with terror suspects in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The militants exchanged fire with Saudi security forces raiding a house, and five Saudi agents and the father of a suspect were killed, according to the Interior Ministry. Several others were detained.
But 500 miles to the west, pilgrims said they were too overwhelmed by the spiritual experience to be worried about terrorism.
Egyptian computer science professor Do'oa Labib, one of nearly 2 million Muslims in this Arab nation for the hajj, said he felt close to God.
"These holy lands fill your heart with such genuine emotions," he said.
"I feel that with every step I take my heart is gradually purified from any blemishes and becomes totally dedicated to God."
Judge blocks witnessin Martha Stewart trial
NEW YORK -- A federal judge criticized prosecutors in the Martha Stewart trial for waiting too long to give defense attorneys a copy of an FBI report that could damage the government's case.
Answering defense complaints, U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum on Thursday postponed the testimony of Douglas Faneuil, the government's star witness, for a week -- interrupting the prosecution at a key point in the case.
And jurors -- who filled out questionnaires in the case Jan. 6 but have yet to hear a full day of testimony -- were sent home until Monday, told by the judge only that there had been a "bit of a mix-up."
Faneuil was ready to testify Thursday that he gave Stewart a secret tip from her stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, that led her to sell nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems stock in 2001, just before it plummeted on bad news.
But late Wednesday, prosecutors faxed to defense lawyers a document that raises doubts about whether the stockbroker ordered that the tip be passed on -- and whether Faneuil himself recalls the episode clearly.
No more 'evolution'in science curriculum
ATLANTA -- The state's school superintendent has proposed striking the word evolution from Georgia's science curriculum and replacing it with the phrase "biological changes over time."
The change is included in more than 800 pages of draft revisions to Georgia's curriculum that have been posted by the Department of Education on its Web site.
The middle and high school standards are expected to be voted on by the state board of education in May, after public feedback.
Superintendent Kathy Cox said the concept of evolution would still be taught under the proposal, but the word would not be used.
The proposal would not require schools to buy new textbooks omitting the word evolution and would not prevent teachers from using it.
Cox repeatedly referred to evolution as a buzzword Thursday and said the ban was proposed, in part, to alleviate pressure on teachers in socially conservative areas where parents object to its teaching.
"If teachers across this state, parents across this state say, 'This is not what we want,' then we'll change it," said Cox, a Republican elected in 2002.
Educators and legislators criticized the proposal, saying science teachers understand the theories behind evolution and how to teach them.
Judge apologizes forbelittling rape victim
SANFORD, Fla. -- A judge who made disparaging comments about a rape victim apologized Thursday and removed himself from the case.
Circuit Judge Gene Stephenson said he hoped the victim accepted his apology.
"The remarks were inappropriate," he said. "It's something I've never done before and won't do again."
Judge Stephenson, 70, said he didn't remember making the comment Monday, but court transcripts indicated he said, "Why would he want to rape her? She doesn't look like a day at the beach."
Judge Stephenson made the remark after looking at a photo of the beaten and bruised victim as attorneys were discussing a plea agreement for the defendant.
The victim, who was not at the court hearing Monday, was angry when she heard about Judge Stephenson's comment and said she planned to file a complaint with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Associated Press