Sunday, December 29, 2013

Published:

16 die in suicide bombing at railway station in southern Russia, scores wounded

MOSCOW (AP) -- A suicide bomber struck a busy railway station in southern Russia on Sunday, killing at least 15 other people and wounding scores more, officials said, in a stark reminder of the threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host February's Olympics in Sochi.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Volgograd, but it came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.

Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but many have been contained to the North Caucasus, the center of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. Until recently Volgograd was not a typical target, but the city formerly known as Stalingrad has now been struck twice in two months -- suggesting militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.

Volgograd, which lies close to volatile Caucasus provinces, is 900 kilometers (550 miles) south of Moscow and about 650 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.

The bombing highlights the daunting security challenge Russia will face in fulfilling its pledge to make the Sochi Games the "safest Olympics in history." The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the games.

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Total sign-ups for Obama health plans estimated at 2M as December surge propels federal market

HONOLULU (AP) -- A December surge propelled health care sign-ups through the government's rehabilitated website past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration said Sunday, reflecting new vigor for the problem-plagued federal insurance market.

Combined with numbers for state-run markets due in January, that should put total enrollment in the new private insurance plans under President Barack Obama's health law at about 2 million people through the end of the year, independent experts said.

That would be about two-thirds of the administration's original goal of signing up 3.3 million by Dec. 31, a significant improvement given the technical problems that crippled the federal market during much of the fall. The overall goal remains to enroll 7 million people by March 31.

"It looks like current enrollment is around 2 million despite all the issues," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. "It was a very impressive showing for December."

The administration said that of the more than 1.1 million people now enrolled in the federal insurance exchange, nearly 1 million signed up in December. The majority came days before a pre-Christmas deadline for coverage to start in January. Compare that with a paltry 27,000 in October, the federal website's first, error-prone month.

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10 Things to Know for Monday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

1. BOMBING RATCHETS UP FEARS AHEAD OF WINTER GAMES

A suicide blast killed at least 15 people and wounded scores in a southern Russia railway station, as the country prepares to host the Sochi Olympics.

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AP IMPACT: As populations age and pension costs strain governments, a retirement crisis looms

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A global retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the financial meltdown in 2008, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65 -- to 70 or even longer. Living standards will fall, and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people's rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can't afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

The problems are emerging as the generation born after World War II moves into retirement.

"The first wave of under-prepared workers is going to try to go into retirement and will find they can't afford to do so," says Norman Dreger, a retirement specialist in Frankfurt, Germany, who works for Mercer, a global consulting firm.

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$0.60 for cake, $1.80 for soap, $3 for broom: Al-Qaida records all expenses, runs like company

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) -- The convoy of cars bearing the black al-Qaida flag came at high speed, and the manager of the modest grocery store thought he was about to get robbed.

Mohamed Djitteye rushed to lock his till and cowered behind the counter. He was dumbfounded when instead, the al-Qaida commander gently opened the grocery's glass door and asked for a pot of mustard. Then he asked for a receipt.

Confused and scared, Djitteye didn't understand. So the jihadist repeated his request. Could he please have a receipt for the $1.60 purchase?

This transaction in northern Mali shows what might seem an unusual preoccupation for a terror group: Al-Qaida is obsessed with documenting the most minute expenses.

In more than 100 receipts left in a building occupied by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu earlier this year, the extremists assiduously tracked their cash flow, recording purchases as small as a single light bulb. The often tiny amounts are carefully written out in pencil and colored pen on scraps of paper and Post-it notes: The equivalent of $1.80 for a bar of soap; $8 for a packet of macaroni; $14 for a tube of super glue.

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Thai facilities welcome Europeans with Alzheimer's; relatives say care cheaper, more personal

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) -- Residents of this facility for people with Alzheimer's disease toss around a yellow ball and laugh under a cascade of water with their caregivers, in a swimming pool ringed by palm trees and wind chimes. Susanna Kuratli, once a painter of delicate oils, swims a lap and smiles.

Watching is her husband, Ulrich, who has a heart-rending decision: to leave his wife of 41 years in this facility 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) from home, or to bring her back to Switzerland.

Their homeland treats the elderly as well as any nation on Earth, but Ulrich Kuratli says the care here in northern Thailand is not only less expensive but more personal. In Switzerland, "You have a cold, old lady who gives you pills and tells you to go to bed," he says.

Kuratli and his three grown children have given themselves six months to decide while the retired software developer lives alongside his 65-year-old wife in Baan Kamlangchay -- "Home for Care from the Heart." Patients live in individual houses within a Thai community, are taken to local markets, temples and restaurants, each with three caretakers working in rotation to provide personal around-the-clock care. The monthly $3,800 cost is a third of what basic institutional care would come to in Switzerland.

Kuratli is not yet sure how he'll care for Susanna, who used to produce a popular annual calendar of her paintings. But he's leaning toward keeping her in Thailand, possibly for the rest of her life.

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Suspect in Mississippi, Arizona bank robberies had been arrested in 2010 threat to president

PHOENIX (AP) -- A man suspected in a weeklong bank robbery spree that spanned from Georgia to Arizona and included the shooting death of a Mississippi police officer was arrested in 2010 after making online threats against the president, a Secret Service spokesman said Sunday.

Mario Edward Garnett was living in Oklahoma City at the time of the arrest, Secret Service spokesman Max Millien said. He would not say how the case was resolved.

Authorities have connected Garnett to a Dec. 23 bank robbery attempt in Atlanta, a bank robbery later that same day in Tupelo, Miss., and the shooting death of one officer and the wounding of another just after the Tupelo robbery.

A Phoenix detective shot and killed Garnett just after he robbed a bank Saturday morning.

Phoenix police spokesman James Holmes said at a Sunday afternoon news conference that the 40-year-old Garnett was from the Midwest, had served for four years in the U.S. Army and appeared to have no friends or relatives in Arizona.

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Ex-F1 champion Michael Schumacher in critical condition after brain surgery following ski fall

PARIS (AP) -- Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was in critical condition after undergoing brain surgery following a skiing accident in the French Alps on Sunday, doctors said.

The Grenoble University Hospital Center said the retired racing driver arrived at the clinic in a coma and underwent immediate surgery for a serious head trauma.

It was not clear whether the 44-year-old Schumacher was still in a coma but the hospital statement, which was signed by a neurosurgeon, an anesthesiologist and Marc Penaud, the hospital's deputy director, said "he remains in a critical condition."

Schumacher fell while skiing off-piste in Meribel earlier Sunday and hit his head on a rock, according to a statement from the resort. Resort managers said he had been wearing a helmet and was conscious when rescuers first responded to the scene.

Earlier in the day, the Meribel resort said Schumacher had been taken to Grenoble for tests and authorities said his life was not in danger.

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The men cannot leave: Fear pulses through South Sudan refugee camp 2 weeks after violence

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -- The women and girls leave the main United Nations refugee camp here during the day. The men do not. To exit is to risk death, they say.

Whether true or not, such claims show the level of fear that pulses through the main U.N. camp for internally displaced people here two weeks after violence broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and a spiraling series of ethnically-based attacks coursed through the nation, killing at least 1,000 people.

Some 25,000 people live in two hastily arranged camps in Juba, and nearly 40,000 are in camps elsewhere in the country. The government says those in the camps -- who are mostly from the Nuer tribe -- can leave and will be perfectly safe. The men here do not believe it.

"It is very hard to go outside because there are people watching," said Wuor Khor, a 29-year-old graduate of Juba University, who was selling bottles of water sitting in a bucket of ice on the camp's ad hoc main thoroughfare. "They follow you wherever you are going and then they kill you."

They, in this case, are members of the Dinka, the majority tribe from which President Salva Kiir hails. In this camp the Nuer, South Sudan's second largest tribe, feel part of a targeted minority after former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, was accused of a coup attempt on Dec. 15 and fighting -- often ethnically motivated -- broke out.

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Packers and Chargers make playoffs with wild wins; defending champion Ravens eliminated

Aaron Rodgers, returning hero. Along with Randall Cobb.

In his first game back from a broken left collarbone, Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left to give the Green Bay Packers a 33-28 victory at Chicago and the NFC North title on Sunday.

Rodgers had been out since getting injured in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, and Cobb missed the previous 10 games with a knee problem. Still, the Packers (8-7-1) edged the archrival Bears (8-8) for the division crown by winning three of their last four games.

"It's big. Obviously, he is the best quarterback in the league," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards. "To be gone for that many weeks and to play as well as he did -- it was great to have him back."

Green Bay will host San Francisco in a first-round playoff game next weekend.