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Briefly . . . NATION/WORLD

Thousands flee China dam MIANYANG, China - About 80,000 people were evacuated yesterday from downstream of an unstable earthquake-created dam that is threatening to collapse, and troops rushed to carve a trench to drain the water before it floods the valley.

Thousands flee China dam

MIANYANG, China - About 80,000 people were evacuated yesterday from downstream of an unstable earthquake-created dam that is threatening to collapse, and troops rushed to carve a trench to drain the water before it floods the valley.

The threat of flooding from dozens of lakes swelling behind walls of mud and rubble that have plugged narrow valleys in parts of the disaster zone is adding a new worry for millions of survivors.

More than 30 villages were emptied and the people were being sent to camps like the one outside Jiangyou, where an Associated Press reporter saw 12-15 people crammed into each of about 40 government-issued tents pitched on a hillside overlooking the river.

"We were told that so far it is the safest place for us to stay if the dam of the lake crashes," said Liu Yuhua, whose village of Huangshi was one of those emptied. "But we will have to move farther uphill if the situation turns out to be worse."

Obesity rate thinning out

CHICAGO - The percentage of American children who are overweight or obese appears to have leveled off after a 25-year increase, according to new figures that offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal battle.

"That is a first encouraging finding in what has been unremittingly bad news," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of an obesity clinic at Children's Hospital Boston. "But it's too soon to know if this really means that we're beginning to make meaningful inroads into this epidemic. It may simply be a statistical fluke."

In 2003-04 and 2005-06, roughly 32 percent of children were overweight but not obese, 16 percent were obese and 11 percent were extremely obese, according to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those levels held steady after rising without interruption since 1980.

"Maybe there is some reason for a little bit of optimism," said CDC researcher Cynthia Ogden, the study's lead author.

Myanmar activist still held

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military regime yesterday extended the house arrest of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, refusing to bow to international pressure of the sort that persuaded the generals to let in foreign help for cyclone victims.

A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the detention of Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years, has been extended by one year. Her detention has long been the symbol of the regime's heavy-handed intolerance of democratic opposition to its rule, and there is a worldwide campaign lobbying for her release.

Iraq cleric urges protests

BAGHDAD - Militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called yesterday for followers to hold weekly protests against a U.S.-Iraqi security deal under negotiation that could lead to a long-term American troop presence.

The outcry by al-Sadr could sharply heighten tensions over the proposed pact, which is supposed to be finished by July to replace the U.N. mandate overseeing U.S.-led troops in Iraq.

Al-Sadr, whose powerful Mahdi Army militia has often battled U.S. and Iraqi forces, is one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq, but many Iraqis have expressed worries over any final deal that involves permanent American bases.

Al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, did not give specific guidance on the planned demonstrations in a statement issued by top Shiite religious officials. Any major marches, however, could put added strain on a tenuous truce between the Mahdi Army and the government.

Mars Lander has arm trouble

TUCSON, Ariz. - A glitch with a Mars orbiter relaying commands from Earth delayed plans yesterday to move the robotic arm on the Phoenix Mars Lander during its second day of activities, an inconvenience but no major problem, NASA officials said.

A "transient event" on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its UHF radio off, cutting off communication between it and the lander, said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars exploration program for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

But Li and others said it is not a significant problem.

"All this is is a one-day hiccup in being able to move the arm around, so it's no big deal," said Ed Sedivy, space program for Lockheed-Martin Corp. in Denver.

Plumbing woes in space

WASHINGTON - The International Space Station's lone toilet is broken, leaving the crew with almost nowhere to go. So NASA may order an in-orbit plumbing service call when space shuttle Discovery visits next week.

Until then, the three-man crew will have to make do with a jury-rigged system when they need to use the bathroom.

While one of the crew was using the Russian-made toilet last week, the toilet motor fan stopped working, according to NASA. Since then, the liquid-waste-gathering part of the toilet has been working on and off. Fortunately, the solid-waste-collecting part is functioning normally. Russian officials don't know the cause of the problem and the crew has been unable to fix it.

The crew has used the toilet on the Soyuz return capsule, but it has a limited capacity. They are now are using a back-up bag-like collection system that can be connected to the broken toilet, according to NASA public affairs officials.

"Like any home anywhere the importance of having a working bathroom is obvious," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

The 7-year-old toilet has broken once before but not for as long a time, said Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier in Houston.

Discovery is already set for launch Saturday with a planned docking with the space station on Monday. Cloutier said NASA officials are considering having some parts flown to Cape Canaveral and placed in the shuttle during its countdown, an unusual and delicate situation. Because the shuttle's payload weight is limited and balance carefully calculated, it will be tricky to try to figure out where the parts can go. *

-Associated Press