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Death toll in Bangladesh

collapse passes 300

SAVAR, Bangladesh (AP) — With time running out to save workers still trapped in a collapsed garment factory building, rescuers dug through mangled metal and concrete Friday and found more survivors — but also more corpses that pushed the death toll past 300.

Wailing, angry relatives fought with police who held them back from the wrecked, eight-story Rana Plaza building, as search-and-rescue operations went on more than two days after the structure crumbled.

Amid the cries for help and the smell of decaying bodies, the rescue of 18-year-old Mussamat Anna came at a high cost: Emergency crews cut off the garment worker’s mangled right hand to pull her free from the debris Thursday night.

“First a machine fell over my hand, and I was crushed under the debris. ... Then the roof collapsed over me,” she told an Associated Press cameraman from a hospital bed Friday.

More than 40 survivors were found late Friday evening on some floors of the Rana Plaza, said fire service inspector Shafiqul Islam, who searched the building. Through holes in the structure, he gave them water and juice packs to combat dehydration in the stifling heat and humidity.

“They are alive, they are trapped, but most of them are safe. We need to cut through debris and walls to bring them out,” Islam said.

By Friday night, more than 80 survivors had been rescued, according to officials at a command center.

But more dead were also discovered. Shamim Islam, a volunteer who entered the collapsed building along with rescue workers, said he saw “many bodies inside.”

“I threw some water bottles through a hole, as there were some survivors, too,” he said.

The search will continue into Saturday, officials said, with crews cautiously using hammers, shovels and their bare hands. Many of the trapped workers were so badly hurt and weakened that they needed to be removed within a few hours, the rescuers said.

There were fears that even if unhurt, the survivors could be dehydrated, with daytime temperatures soaring to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and about 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight.

Hundreds of rescuers crawled through the rubble amid the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers’ relatives gathered outside the building, which housed numerous garment factories and a handful of other companies.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, who is overseeing rescue operations, said before the evening rescues that 2,200 people have been pulled out alive. A garment manufacturers’ group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside it when it collapsed Wednesday in Savar, a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

Military spokesman Shahin Islam told reporters that 304 bodies had been recovered so far.

Advocates eye legalizing

marijuana in Alaska

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska, known for its live-and-let-live lifestyle, is poised to become the next battleground in the push to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The state has a complicated history with the drug, with its highest court ruling nearly 40 years ago that adults have a constitutional right to possess and smoke marijuana for personal use in their own homes. In the late 1990s, Alaska became one of the first states to allow the use of pot for medicinal reasons.

Then the pendulum swung the other direction, with residents in 2004 rejecting a ballot effort to legalize recreational marijuana. And in 2006, the state passed a law criminalizing possession of even small amounts of the drug — leaving the current state of affairs somewhat murky.

Supporters of recreational marijuana say attitudes toward pot have softened in the past decade, and they believe they have a real shot at success in Alaska.

The state is reviewing their request to begin gathering signatures to get an initiative on next year’s ballot. The proposal would make it legal for those 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, though not in public. It also would set out provisions for legal grow operations and establish an excise tax.

It’s a significantly different version of the failed 2004 ballot effort that would’ve allowed adults 21 and older to use, grow, sell or give away marijuana or hemp products without penalty under state law.

“The whole initiative, you can tell, is scaled down to be as palatable as possible,” said one of the sponsors, Bill Parker.

If the initiative application is accepted, backers will have until January, before the next legislative session starts, to gather the more than 30,000 signatures required to qualify the measure for the primary ballot.

The effort could determine whether the pendulum swings back.

The Alaska Supreme Court, in its landmark 1975 decision, found possession of marijuana by adults at home for personal use is constitutionally protected as part of their basic right to privacy, though the court made clear it didn’t condone the use of pot.

The laws tightened again with a 2006 state law criminalizing marijuana possession. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the law conflicted with the 1975 ruling. The state maintained marijuana had become more intoxicating than in the 1970s, a point disputed by ACLU.

But the high court, in 2009, declined to make a finding, concluding any challenge to the law must await an actual prosecution.

Internet sales tax bill to hit roadblock in House

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill to require Internet shoppers to pay sales taxes for online purchases may be cruising through the Senate but it will soon hit a roadblock in the House.

“There’s a lot of political difficulty getting through the fog of it looking like a tax increase,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., one of the main sponsors of the bill in the House.

The bill would empower states to reach outside their borders and compel online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. Under the bill, the sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.

Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.

Womack says the bill is not a tax increase. Instead, he says, it simply gives states a mechanism to enforce current taxes.

In many states, shoppers are required to pay unpaid sales taxes when they file state tax returns. But governors complain that few people comply.

The Senate voted 63-30 Thursday to end debate on the bill, though senators delayed a final vote on passage until May 6, when they return from a weeklong vacation. Opponents hope senators hear from angry constituents over the next week, but they acknowledged they have a steep hill to climb to defeat the bill in the Senate.

President Barack Obama supports the bill.

Senate Democratic leaders wanted to finish work on the bill this week, before leaving town for the recess. But they were blocked by a handful of senators from states without sales taxes.

Oregon, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware have no sales taxes, though the two senators from Delaware support the bill.

“I think it’s going to be interesting for senators to get a response from constituents over this upcoming week,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “I’m not sure that the country knows that something like this coerces businesses all around America to collect other people’s sales taxes.”

The bill pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart against online services such as eBay. The National Retail Federation supports it. And Amazon.com, which initially fought efforts in some states to make it collect sales taxes, supports it, too.

Retailers who have lobbied in favor of the bill celebrated Thursday’s vote.

“The special treatment of big online businesses at the expense of retailers on Main Street will soon be a thing of the past,” said Bill Hughes of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “The overwhelmingly bipartisan support for leveling the playing field is rare in today’s political environment and paves the way for a level playing field once and for all.”

Supporters say the bill is about fairness for local businesses that already collect sales taxes and for states that lose revenue. Opponents say the bill would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn’t have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt.

Many of the nation’s governors — Republicans and Democrats — have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales.

The issue is getting bigger for states as more people make purchases online. Last year, Internet sales in the U.S. totaled $226 billion, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, according to Commerce Department estimates.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that states lost $23 billion last year because they couldn’t collect taxes on out-of-state sales.

Anti-tax groups have labeled the bill a tax increase. But it gets support from many Senate Republicans who have pledged not to increase taxes. The bill’s main sponsor is Sen. Mike Enzi, a conservative Republican from Wyoming. He has worked closely with Sen. Dick Durbin, a liberal Democrat from Illinois.

 

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