Obama to host Dalai Lama on Friday at White House; meeting could rankle US-China relations
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will host Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for a meeting on Friday, the White House said, in a move that could rankle already tense relations between the U.S. and China.
The exiled leader, who is in the U.S. for a speaking tour, is famed for his peaceful struggle for greater Tibetan autonomy that is bitterly opposed by China. The last time he met with Obama, in 2011, China blasted the meeting and said it had damaged Chinese-American ties. China was similarly irked when the two met in 2010.
Friday's meeting was likely to draw further protest from Beijing. China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in the past, Chinese authorities have denounced the spiritual leader as a separatist and blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating self-immolations by Tibetans inside China.
Obama was to host the Nobel laureate for a private, morning meeting in the White House's Map Room. Traditionally, when Obama meets with presidents and prime ministers, he hosts them in the Oval Office and allows reporters to witness a short portion of the meeting. The decision to hold the meeting elsewhere and to close the meeting to reporters could signal an attempt to avoid the appearance of a formal meeting between two heads of state.
Seeking to stave off potential controversy, the White House reiterated late Thursday that the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China and doesn't support Tibetan independence. At the same time, officials said they were concerned about tensions and deteriorating human rights in China's Tibetan areas, urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his followers without preconditions.
Scores killed in deadly Ukraine day of protest as diplomats scramble for resolution
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Protesters advanced on police lines in the heart of the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, prompting government snipers to shoot back and kill scores of people in the country's deadliest day since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago.
The European Union imposed sanctions on those deemed responsible for the violence, and three EU foreign ministers held a long day of talks in Kiev with both embattled President Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of the protests seeking his ouster. But it's increasingly unclear whether either side has the will or ability to compromise.
Yanukovych and the opposition protesters are locked in a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country -- mostly in its western cities -- are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
Protesters across the country are also upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15 billion aid infusion from Russia.
Despite the violence, defiant protesters seemed determined to continue their push for Yanukovych's resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. People streamed toward the square Thursday afternoon as other protesters hurled wood, refuse and tires on barricades.
AP reporter covering protests in Kiev witnesses bloodiest day in Ukraine's post-Soviet history
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- I heard a strange clanking sound this morning in my hotel room overlooking the Ukrainian capital's main square. I carefully opened the balcony door and looked down. A bullet from a sniper rifle was on the floor of the balcony.
Apparently it had ricocheted off the rail.
Soon after, several protesters from Independence Square, known as the Maidan, knocked on my door. They wanted to check to see if any snipers were hiding in my room. The hotel director accompanied them, eager to prove that such things were impossible in his establishment.
Thursday was the bloodiest day in Ukraine's post-Soviet history: Scores of protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded by snipers on Kiev's Independence Square and its nearby streets, according to medical workers treating the victims. Three police were also killed Thursday and 28 suffered wounds, according to the Interior Ministry.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. 'I FELT A BIT SICK': REPORTER DETAILS UKRAINE CARNAGE
Many of the victims shot by government snipers, their bodies lying on the street, were in their 30s and 40s and apparently unarmed, the AP's Yuras Karmanau relates.
Obama budget plan will drop his past offer to trim cost-of-living hikes in federal benefits
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will propose an election-year budget that would drop reductions he had previously embraced in federal benefits, officials disclosed Thursday. He also will ask Congress to approve about $56 billion in new or expanded programs, stepping back from aggressive efforts to tackle long-term government deficits and debt.
Obama is scrapping his previous offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefit programs. That idea had been a central component of his long-term debt-reduction strategy, even though it was considered odious by many Democrats.
The decision amounts to a White House acknowledgement that Obama has been unable to conclude a "grand budget bargain" with GOP leaders, even by proposing a benefit reduction embraced by Republicans and opposed by many in his own party. But it is also a testament to the recently diminished importance of government red ink as a driving political issue amid falling deficits and public exhaustion over threats of federal shutdowns and defaults.
Officials said that some potential spending reductions included in last year's Obama budget had been designed to initiate negotiations with Republicans over how to reduce future deficits and the nation's debt. But Republicans never accepted Obama's calls for higher tax revenue to go along with the cuts. The new budget for fiscal 2015 is to be released March 4.
"The president was willing to step forward and put on the table a concrete proposal," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "Unfortunately, Republicans refused to even consider the possibility of raising some revenue by closing some loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and the well-connected."
Arizona lawmakers approve conservative bill allowing religious people to deny service to gays
PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Legislature gave final approval Thursday evening to legislation that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays, drawing backlash from Democrats who called the proposal "state-sanctioned discrimination" and an embarrassment.
The 33-27 vote by the House sends the legislation to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and puts Arizona back at the forefront of a polarizing piece of legislation four years after the state enacted an immigration crackdown that caused a national furor.
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona's plan is the only one that has passed. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.
Republicans stressed that the bill is about protecting religious freedom and not discrimination. They frequently cited the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people in the state from heavy-handed actions by courts and law enforcement.
The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.
Study: Today's older drivers are less likely to be involved in crashes than prior generations
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the nation's aging population swelled the number of older drivers on the road. Now, they say they've been proved wrong.
Today's drivers aged 70 and older are less likely to be involved in crashes than previous generations and are less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That's because vehicles are getting safer and seniors are generally getting healthier, the institute said.
The marked shift began taking hold in the mid-1990s and indicates that growing ranks of aging drivers as baby boomers head into their retirement years aren't making U.S. roads deadlier.
Traffic fatalities overall in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since the late 1940s, and accident rates have come down for other drivers as well. But since 1997, older drivers have enjoyed bigger declines as measured by both fatal crash rates per driver and per vehicle miles driven than middle-age drivers, defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.
Drugs on Maersk Alabama where 2 ex-Navy SEALs died; ship famous for 'Captain Phillips' film
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- Drugs were in the room where two former Navy SEALs were found dead aboard the Maersk Alabama, a ship that was the focus of a 2009 hijacking dramatized in the movie "Captain Phillips," a company spokesman said Thursday.
Police from the African island nation of Seychelles have given no cause of death for Mark Daniel Kennedy, 43, and Jeffrey Keith Reynolds, 44. The Americans were security contractors who were found dead Tuesday in a cabin on the ship while berthed in Port Victoria in the Indian Ocean.
"We are saddened by the tragedy and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased men," Maersk Line Ltd. spokesman Kevin Speers said in a statement.
Speers said the Seychelles police report includes observations about the presence of drugs and paraphernalia in the room where the two men were found dead, although the type of drug is unknown.
On Thursday, police spokesman Jean Toussaint, noted that officials were awaiting autopsies and said, "As far as I know there is no evidence of physical trauma" on either man's body. Speers said the Maersk Alabama was cleared to leave Seychelles following the onboard investigation and that it is already underway.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's SUV caught speeding, going through stop signs
NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's official vehicles were spotted breaking several traffic laws on Thursday, just two days after he laid out a sweeping traffic safety plan that included harsh restrictions on reckless drivers.
De Blasio was in the front passenger seat of the lead SUV of a two-vehicle caravan that was captured on video speeding, running through a pair of stop signs and not signaling when changing lanes. The footage, which aired on WCBS-TV, was taken as de Blasio returned to City Hall after a news conference in Queens.
The mayor's press office deferred to the police department for particulars of the incident because a member of the NYPD was behind the wheel of de Blasio's SUV. But de Blasio's press secretary said that "public safety is everyone's responsibility."
"With that in mind, Mayor de Blasio is firmly committed to the traffic safety policies outlined this week," Walzak said in a statement that did not include an apology or admission of wrongdoing.
The NYPD did not address the specifics of Thursday's incident in a statement, but said members of the security detail "receive specialized training in driving based on maintaining security as well as safety." The statement spoke broadly about acceptable tactics used to keep vehicles together and said the handling of vehicles transporting any "protectee" is determined by police personnel based on "protection and professional judgment."
Australian police charge man with indecently assaulting Modern Family star Sarah Hyland
SYDNEY (AP) -- Australian police have charged a man with indecently assaulting a star of the hit television comedy "Modern Family," Sarah Hyland, in Sydney.
The cast of the ABC series arrived in Sydney this week to shoot an Australian episode.
The 23-year-old was attending a social function for cast members at a Sydney hotel on Thursday night when she was allegedly groped on the chest by a man who had asked her to pose for a photograph, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Friday.
The actress who plays big-eyed teenager Haley Dunphy immediately alerted private security guards, who called police to the scene.
New South Wales state police said in a statement on Friday that a 29-year-old man had been charged following the alleged indecent assault.