Thursday, February 27, 2014

Published:

Report: Armed men seize airport in Ukraine's Crimea; Russian moves threaten confrontation

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Dozens of armed men in military uniforms seized an airport in the capital of Ukraine's strategic Crimea region early Friday, a report said.

Witnesses told the Interfax news agency that the 50 or so men were wearing the same gear as the ones who seized government buildings in the city, Simferopol, on Thursday and raised the Russian flag.

The report said the men with "Russian Navy ensigns" first surrounded the Simferopol Airport's domestic flights terminal.

The report could not be immediately confirmed. A woman who later answered the phone at the airport said "no comment," and the airport's website listed the morning's first flight, to Moscow, as boarding on schedule.

The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighboring Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

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GOP derails Senate Dems' bill boosting vets benefits amid disputes over spending, Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran.

Each party covets the allegiance of the country's 22 million veterans and their families, and each party blamed the other for turning the effort into a chess match aimed at forcing politically embarrassing votes.

Republicans used a procedural move to block the bill after Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chided GOP lawmakers about their priorities.

"I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don't have the resources to protect our veterans," said Sanders, the measure's chief author.

Democrats noted that more than two dozen veterans groups supported the legislation. But Republicans said they still favor helping veterans while also wanting to be prudent about federal spending.

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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. FUGITIVE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAID TO BE IN RUSSIA

Yanukovych released a statement asking Moscow for protection but the Russians are not warmly embracing him.

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Sen. Cruz blasts GOP leaders, refuses to endorse fellow Texan or others with party challengers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The sniping between establishment Republicans and tea partyers resumed Thursday as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz refused to endorse his state's senior senator in next week's Republican primary.

Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, faces tea party-backed Rep. Steve Stockman in Tuesday's election. Cruz declined to tell reporters how he plans to vote.

"I am not supporting any of the senators from my party or their opponents" in this year's primaries, Cruz said, adding that he might change his mind later.

Cruz, a tea party favorite and potential 2016 presidential candidate, has infuriated fellow Republicans by forcing uncomfortable votes on issues such as the debt, and by raising money for conservative groups trying to defeat veteran Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Cruz's comments are especially notable because he is a vice chairman of the GOP committee tasked with winning Senate elections. He criticized the committee's track record and policy of virtually always backing incumbents.

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Obama unveils plans to put young, minority boys on path to success; he vows lifelong effort

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In strong, often personal terms, President Barack Obama on Thursday called for vigorous efforts to reverse underachievement among young black and Hispanic males. He also cautioned young minority men not to repeat his own youthful mistakes in an unforgiving world.

The president kicked off his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative from the White House East Room, appearing on stage with teenagers involved in the Becoming a Man program for at-risk boys in his hometown of Chicago.

The aim is to "start a different cycle," Obama said. "If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren."

The president said he, too, could have been a negative statistic, because of his own unfocused anger over having no father at home.

"I made bad choices. I got high, not always thinking about the harm it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short," Obama said.

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AP Exclusive: Airport phone system didn't give location of Los Angeles airport shooting

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A dispatcher at Los Angeles International Airport couldn't immediately send police to a shooting last year because the emergency phone system didn't provide a location, according to an investigation that also found broken panic buttons that are supposed to quickly call for help.

A screening supervisor picked up the "red phone" seconds after shots were fired in the sprawling airport's Terminal 3 last Nov. 1, but she fled as the gunman approached with his high-powered rifle. Because no one was on the other end of the line to provide details and no location information was included with the call, the dispatcher was helpless, according to two officials briefed on preliminary findings of a review of the emergency response.

They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the final report won't be released until next month.

One of the officials likened the situation to a 911 call with police not knowing what address to go to. Airport dispatchers knew something was wrong but didn't know where to send help because the system didn't identify the locations of its emergency phones.

An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone and provided the location. Officers were sent nearly 90 seconds after the shooting started.

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Maronite Catholic Church in US ordains its 1st married priest in nearly a century

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- When Wissam Akiki was ordained as a Maronite Catholic priest Thursday night in St. Louis, he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters, including his wife and daughter.

For the first time in nearly a century, the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States ordained a married priest in a ceremony at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral near downtown St. Louis. Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. Eastern Catholics accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.

Akiki, 41, speaking at the end of the two-hour ceremony, called it a "historic day" and said he had been given two great blessings -- marriage to his wife of 10 years, Manal, and "the dream to serve the Lord and church as a priest."

Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions, and over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America. Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.

"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite church, though in the United States it is," Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond's, said.

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Mormon church: Members not taught they'll get planet in afterlife, as told in 'Book of Mormon'

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon Church is pushing back against the notion that members of the faith are taught they'll get their own planet in the afterlife, a misconception popularized in pop culture most recently by the Broadway show "The Book of Mormon."

A newly posted article affirms the faith's belief that humans can become like God in eternity, but says the "cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets" is not how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints envision it.

"While few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities," the article says.

The expectation of exaltation is more figurative and ambiguous than boiling it down to living on one planet, it says.

"Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated," the article says.

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Creation Museum founder: Bill Nye debate emboldened supporters to get ark project funded

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The founder of a Bible-themed museum who recently debated evolution with TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye said Thursday that the widely watched event helped to boost enthusiasm among followers who invested in a project to build a 510-foot Noah's Ark.

In a webcast from the same Creation Museum stage where the debate took place, Ken Ham announced that the municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the wooden ark, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.

"It did help," Ham said of the Feb. 4 debate with Nye. "We obviously had a big spurt toward the end (of the bond deadline), and I think it was people who were involved in this, who really decided they were going to do something."

Ham said he could not go into details about the bond investors. The bond registration ended before the debate date, so no new investors were added after it, said Mark Looy, a vice president and spokesman with Ham's ministry, Answers in Genesis.

Reached by phone Thursday, Nye said he was disappointed the project would go forward and said he hoped it "goes out of business."

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Jason Collins: chance to meet Matthew Shepard's parents 'one of those cool treats in life.'

DENVER (AP) -- Brooklyn Nets 7-footer Jason Collins acknowledged that Thursday night's game at Denver wasn't just about basketball.

The first openly gay athlete in America's four major sports was set to meet with the family of slain Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard following the Nets' game against the Nuggets.

Shepard was tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. Collins wears his No. 98 jersey in Shepard's honor.

Collins, who signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday, said the chance to meet Shepard's parents was "one of those cool treats in life."

Collins wore the No. 98 with both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards for Shepard even before coming out last spring. The jersey has been a big seller on NBAStore.com.