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NEW YORK (AP) — A Venezuelan tourist who said she was wrongfully accused of shoplifting at Macy's flagship store was acquitted Monday in a case that came to light amid concerns that shoppers were being racially profiled at prominent New York stores, her lawyer said.
 
A judge cleared Maria Paez, who said she was just carrying items around the store when she put them in a Macy's bag during a Sept. 12 trip. She soon found herself handcuffed, held in a store detention cell for hours, and pressed to sign a confession and pay $500, while her 12-year-old son waited in the store uninformed of where she was, according to her attorney, Daniel Hochheiser.
 
Court records weren't immediately available Monday evening, and Manhattan district attorney's office representatives had no immediate information on the case. Paez faced misdemeanor charges that carried the potential for up to three months in jail.
 
Paez, whose family owns real estate and a pet-food company in Venezuela, maintains that Macy's security guards targeted her because she spoke Spanish and had words with an impolite fitting-room attendant.
 
"She stuck up for herself, and they didn't appreciate that a foreigner was actually going to talk back to them, and they were going to teach her a lesson," Hochheiser said.
 
A Macy's spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
 
Paez and her attorneys drew attention to her case at a news conference in November, when a series of complaints by black shoppers had spotlighted long-simmering questions about security practices and profiling at Macy's and other major retailers in the city. One shopper, Robert Brown, an actor on the HBO drama "Treme," said he was held for almost an hour and grilled about a $1,300 watch he had bought his mother for her college graduation. He was eventually released without charges.
 
He and at least eight other customers have filed lawsuits saying the store made famous by "Miracle on 34th Street" wrongly targets minorities and holds customers for hours. Macy's has said it doesn't tolerate discrimination.
 
The allegations — which came years after Macy's paid a $600,000 fine and promised to change practices to settle similar claims raised by the state attorney general— sparked an outcry among civil rights advocates. In December, Macy's and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights that explicitly prohibits profiling and unreasonable searches.
 
"I think we're making excellent progress," Ed Goldberg, a senior Macy's executive, said then.
 
But Hochheiser suggests there hasn't been enough progress.
 
"One of the hopes is that there are more Maria Paezes out there who will actually fight these cases and, perhaps, eventually, Macy's will change," he said.
 
Laws in at least 27 states give stores the right to hold and fine shoplifting suspects and allow stores to try to recoup some losses, even if a person isn't convicted.
 
During the more than six hours Paez spent in a store holding cell and a police precinct, she wasn't allowed to call her son, her attorney said. He said the boy didn't learn what had happened until store employees ultimately found him in a shoe department at closing time and took him to a security office.
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other's waters Monday in a flare-up of animosity that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters for several hours, South Korean officials said.

The exchange of fire into the Yellow Sea followed Pyongyang's sudden announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills in seven areas north of the Koreas' disputed maritime boundary. North Korea routinely test-fires artillery and missiles into the ocean but rarely discloses those plans in advance. The announcement was seen as an expression of Pyongyang's frustration at making little progress in its recent push to win outside aid.

North Korea fired 500 rounds of artillery shells over more than three hours, about 100 of which fell south of the sea boundary, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. South Korea responded by firing 300 shells into North Korean waters, he said.

No shells from either side were fired at any land or military installations, but Kim called the North's artillery firing a provocation aimed at testing Seoul's security posture. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

Monday's exchange was relatively mild in the history of animosity and violence between the Koreas, but there is worry in Seoul that an increasingly dissatisfied North Korea could repeat the near-daily barrage of war rhetoric it carried out last spring, when tensions soared as Pyongyang threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul in response to condemnation of its third nuclear test.

Residents on front-line South Korean islands spent several hours in shelters during the firing, and officials temporarily halted ferry service linking the islands to the mainland. Kang Myeong-sung, speaking from a shelter on Yeonpyeong island, which is in sight of North Korean territory, said he didn't hear any fighter jets but heard the boom of artillery fire.

The poorly marked western sea boundary has been the scene of several bloody naval skirmishes between the Koreas in recent years. In March 2010, a South Korean warship sank in the area following a torpedo attack blamed on Pyongyang that left 46 sailors dead. North Korea denies responsibility for the sinking. In November 2010, a North Korean artillery bombardment killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong.

The North has gradually dialed down its threats since last year's tirade and has sought improved ties with South Korea in what foreign analysts say is an attempt to lure investment and aid. There has been no major breakthrough, however, with Washington and Seoul calling on the North to first take disarmament steps to prove its sincerity about improving ties.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in threatening rhetoric and a series of North Korean rocket and ballistic missile launches considered acts of protest by Pyongyang against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. The North calls the South Korea-U.S. drills a rehearsal for invasion; the allies say they're routine and defensive.

"The boneheads appear to have completely forgotten the fact that Yeonpyeong island was smashed by our military's bolt of lightning a few years ago," a North Korean military official, Yun Jong Bum, said Monday, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang also threatened Sunday to conduct a fourth nuclear test, though Seoul sees no signs it's imminent. Wee Yong-sub, a deputy spokesman at the South Korean Defense Ministry, said the North Korean warning about the live-fire drills Monday was a "hostile" attempt to heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Recent threats are an expression of anger and frustration over what the North sees as little improvement in progress in its ties with South Korea and the U.S., said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University. Lim said the North might conduct a fourth nuclear test and launch other provocations to try to wrest the outside concessions it wants.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

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