Monday, January 20, 2014

Published:

United Nations chief withdraws last-minute invitation to Iran to attend Syrian peace talks

GENEVA (AP) -- A last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to join this week's Syria peace talks threw the long-awaited Geneva conference into doubt Monday, forcing U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to rescind his offer under intense U.S. pressure after the opposition threatened to boycott.

With the invitation withdrawn, the main Western-backed opposition group said it would attend the talks aimed at ending Syria's ruinous three-year civil war. The opposition said the conference should seek to establish a transitional government with full executive powers "in which killers and criminals do not participate."

The surprise invitation, extended Sunday by the U.N. secretary-general, set off a flurry of diplomatic activity to salvage the talks. The U.S. said the offer should be rescinded, and the opposition threatened to skip the event entirely.

The conference is set to begin Wednesday in the Swiss luxury resort city of Montreux, with high-ranking delegations from the United States, Russia and close to 40 other countries attending. Face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents -- the first of the uprising -- are to start Friday in Geneva.

The uproar over Iran's invitation put the entire event at risk of being scuttled.

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Iran starts implementing nuclear deal; Europeans, US swiftly lift some sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran unplugged banks of centrifuges involved in its most sensitive uranium enrichment work on Monday, prompting the United States and European Union to partially lift economic sanctions as a landmark deal aimed at easing concerns over Iran's nuclear program went into effect.

The mutual actions -- curbing atomic work in exchange for some sanctions relief -- start a six-month clock for Tehran and the world powers to negotiate a final accord that the Obama administration and its European allies say will be intended to ensure Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon.

In the meantime, the interim deal puts limits on Iran's program -- though it continues low levels of uranium enrichment. Tehran denies its nuclear program is intended to produce a bomb.

The payoff to Iran is an injection of billions of dollars into its crippled economy over the next six months from the suspension of some sanctions -- though other sanctions remain in place.

In part a reflection of a thaw between Washington and Tehran, the moves coincidentally occurred on the 33rd anniversary of the end of the Iran hostage crisis. The holding of 52 Americans for 444 days by radical Iranian students that ended Jan. 20, 1981 was followed by more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian enmity that only began to ease last year with signs that Iran was ready to meet U.S. demands and scale back its nuclear activities.

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

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

1. UN INVITE TO IRAN THREATENS SYRIA TALKS

After the invitation is withdrawn, the conference aimed at ending the civil war is still a go for Wednesday.

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Family of man held in North Korea both worried and encouraged by his news conference

SEATTLE (AP) -- The family of an American missionary held more than a year in North Korea was heartbroken and encouraged by a brief news conference in which Kenneth Bae, wearing a gray cap and inmate's uniform with the number 103 on his chest, apologized and said he committed anti-government acts.

"My brother is not a number to me, or to the rest of his family," his sister Terri Chung of Edmunds said in a statement Monday. "He is a kind and loving husband, father, son and brother -- and needs to be home immediately."

Chung also apologized to North Korea and pleaded for its mercy to release Bae, saying the family is concerned for his health and she could "see that he was distressed."

"Our end goal is to see Kenneth reunited so he can recover emotionally and physically. He has chronic health problems," family friend Derek Sciba told The Associated Press. Sciba is a friend of Chung's and part of a group pushing for Bae's release.

"On the one hand it's heartbreaking to see him in a prison uniform at the mercy of folks in North Korea, but on the other hand it's encouraging to see him and that he's able to speak," Sciba said.

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Omaha police say 2 people killed, 10 hurt in plant explosion; all other workers accounted for

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- An explosion that brought down part of an animal feed processing plant in Omaha on Monday morning killed 2 people and seriously injured 10 others, authorities said.

The search for bodies in the crippled International Nutrition plant progressed slowly Monday and had to be suspended in the evening. Omaha Police Lt. Darci Tierney said all 38 of the workers who were in the building at the time had been accounted for, so the death toll wasn't expected to grow.

Through much of the day, authorities declined to say how many died while they sorted out what happened. In total, officials said two died, 10 were hospitalized and seven were hurt but refused treatment. The other 19 workers escaped.

Authorities said late Monday that Keith Everett, 53, of Omaha, was one of the victims. The other victim's name hasn't been released.

Search-and-rescue experts worked into Monday evening to stabilize the building and removed one victim.

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Themes of civil rights struggle still resonate on MLK Day, 50 years later

ATLANTA (AP) -- As the nation remembered and reflected Monday on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., leaders and everyday Americans talked about how far the country has come in the past 50 years and how much more is to be done.

At Ebenezer Baptist Church in King's hometown of Atlanta, civil rights leaders and members of King's own family spoke about poverty, violence, health care and voting rights, all themes from the civil rights struggle that still resonate to this day.

"There is much work that we must do," King's daughter Bernice King said. "Are we afraid, or are we truly committed to the work that must be done?"

The event in Atlanta featured music, songs and choirs and was one of many celebrations, marches, parades and community service projects held Monday across the nation to honor the slain civil rights leader. It was about 50 years ago today that King had just appeared on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year, and the nation was on the cusp of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King would win the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said not many states could boast a native son that merited a national holiday. "But we Georgians can," he told the audience.

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Police: 2 arrested at Texas border used data from Target breach for credit card fraud

McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- Account information stolen during the Target security breach is now being divided up and sold off regionally, a South Texas police chief said Monday following the arrest of two Mexican citizens who authorities say arrived at the border with 96 fraudulent credit cards.

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said Mary Carmen Garcia, 27, and Daniel Guardiola Dominguez, 28, both of Monterrey, Mexico, used cards containing the account information of South Texas residents. Rodriguez said they were used to buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise at national retailers in the area including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us.

"They're obviously selling the data sets by region," Rodriguez said.

Garcia and Guardiola were both being held Monday on state fraud charges. It was not immediately known whether they had retained lawyers.

Rodriguez said he did not know whether they were the first arrests related to the Target breach. Target did not immediately return phone and email messages left Monday, which was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. The Minneapolis-based company said last week that it has stopped more than a dozen operations that sought to scam breach victims by way of email, phone calls and text messages.

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Supreme Court will decide when child porn victims can collect restitution

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A woman whose childhood rapes by her uncle were captured on camera and widely traded on the Internet wants the Supreme Court to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view the brutal images on their computers.

The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer. Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy. Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.

Advocates for child pornography victims say that holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm that victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, the advocates say.

"The threat that a person in the child pornography market may well bear the entire cost of the harm done to the victim, even if they are a 'minor player,' is likely to be a large deterrent, especially when the harm done typically runs into the millions for a victim's lifetime of care," said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University. Hamilton wrote a brief in the case on behalf of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

The money is intended to cover the cost of her psychological care, lost income and attorneys' fees.

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Russian anti-terrorism agency studies Islamic militant video threatening to strike Sochi Games

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's counter-terrorism agency says it's studying a video posted by an Islamic militant group that asserted responsibility for suicide bombings that killed 34 people last month and is threatening to strike the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Security experts say the Russians are right in taking the threat seriously.

The video was posted online Sunday by a militant group in Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia's volatile North Caucasus. The Olympic host city of Sochi lies only 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Dagestan.

Two Russian-speaking men featured in the video are identified as members of Ansar al-Sunna, the name of a Jihadist group operating in Iraq. It was unclear whether the men in the video had received funding or training from that group or only adopted its name.

There was no confirmation the two men were the suicide bombers who struck the southern Russian city of Volgograd last month as the video claims. Scores of people were also injured by the bombings of a train station and a bus.

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Calm before the storm: Mellow MLK Monday as NYC, Jersey get ready for Super Bowl mayhem

NEW YORK (AP) -- Workers hung in harnesses, putting the finishing touches on a sponsor's billboard high above Broadway. A few blocks north, in Times Square, a three-story stage festooned with Fox Sports logos towered over the crossroads of the world.

Below, the pedestrian plazas stayed relatively calm and uncrowded -- for now -- beneath blinking ads, most of which referenced the Super Bowl as New York spent a mellow MLK Monday preparing to host the biggest event in sports.

The Feb. 2 championship game, between Seattle and Denver, is still almost two weeks away, and while there will be all sorts of events surrounding the game throughout the metropolitan area of nearly 20 million, the anticipation hasn't quite started to spike yet.

It takes more than a big ballgame to get New York City excited.

New Jersey, too, where everyone's still steamed up over allegations that top aides to Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated traffic jams in a northern New Jersey town, Fort Lee, by blocking off lanes to the George Washington Bridge.