News Midday Update: Judge sentences dogfighter with Vick connections; bridge partly closed between Iowa, Illinois; Ga. Democrats call for action on low test scores

Former Pike Nurseries CEO charged with battery

Former Pike Nurseries CEO Randy Pike faces eight counts of sexual battery for allegedly groping six women during a pool party and making unwanted sexual advances to two others.

A Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office report accused Pike of trying to pull off the bathing suit bottoms of six women. He is accused of touching one woman’s thigh at an area hotel and offering to let the woman stay in his room. Another said he hugged her in a sexual manner from behind.

Sheriff Scott Chitwood says the 49-year-old Pike, of Alpharetta, was in Dalton to judge the Miss Resaca Beach contest last Saturday. Pike is no longer affiliated with the nurseries.

Chitwood says Pike was arrested at his hotel room and released from jail after posting a $20,000 bond.

— Associated Press

Bush looks offshore for remedy to high oil prices

A House panel put off a vote today on extending Congress’ ban on offshore drilling, even as President Bush was poised to publicly renew his call for lawmakers to open U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas development.

Drilling for oil and gas off nearly all the American coastline has been banned over the past quarter-century, in part to protect tourism and to lessen the chances of beach-blackening spills. Now, $4-a-gallon gasoline prices are a part of people’s daily lives and motorists are clamoring for something to be done about the record price of oil, much of it produced in foreign countries.

In response, Bush was to call again today for exploration, arguing that it’s high time to battle high prices with increased domestic production. He planned to ask Congress to lift the drilling moratoria that have been in effect since 1981 in more than 80 percent of the country’s Outer Continental Shelf and to let states help to decide where to allow drilling.

‘‘The president believes Congress shouldn’t waste any more time,’’ White House press secretary Dana Perino told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ‘‘He will explicitly call on Congress to ... pass legislation lifting the congressional ban on safe, environmentally friendly offshore oil drilling.’’

For their part, some lawmakers had their own plan: Legislation that would continue the ban into late 2009, and which had been scheduled to be considered today by the House Appropriations Committee. But the session was postponed because the committee was focusing on disaster relief measures involving the Midwest flooding.— Associated Press

Israel confirms cease-fire to begin Thursday

Israel and Hamas pledged to start a cease-fire Thursday in a bid to end a year of fighting that has killed more than 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis. The deal comes as Israel also urged Lebanon to open peace talks.

The cease-fire is expected to be followed next week by an Israeli easing of its blockade of Gaza, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. Talks to release an Israeli soldier held by Hamas will then intensify, Regev said.

Egypt, which brokered the talks, announced a six-month agreement on Tuesday, saying it would begin Thursday at 6 a.m. Hamas confirmed the deal shortly afterward. But there was no official confirmation from Israel until today.

‘‘Thursday will be the beginning we hope of a new reality where Israeli citizens in the south will no longer be on the receiving end of continuous rocket attacks,’’ Regev said. ‘‘Israel is giving a serious chance to this Egyptian initiative and we want it to succeed.’’

Egypt has committed as part of the deal to stop the smuggling of arms and weapons from its territory into Gaza, Israeli defense officials said. A U.S. military engineering corps is to aid the Egyptian efforts, the officials said.– Associated Press


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