Saturday, March 22, 2014

Published:

Chinese satellite detects object that might be plane debris near location of earlier image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Search planes headed back out to a desolate patch of the southern Indian Ocean on Sunday in hopes of finding answers to the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, after China released a satellite image showing a large object floating in the search zone.

The object, which appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), was captured by satellite on Tuesday in a location that falls within the search zone that planes and ships have been crisscrossing since similar images from another satellite emerged earlier in the week. But officials have found no trace of it.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said she did not know whether the precise coordinates of the location had been searched, but said officials would use the information to refine the search area on Sunday.

The maritime authority, which is overseeing the search in the region, said a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the 36,000-square-kilometer (14,000-square-mile) area on Saturday, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed. The agency said in a statement that searchers would keep trying to determine whether the objects are related to the lost plane.

Despite the frustrating lack of answers, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday suggested the sightings were a positive development.

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Jet search puts spotlight on Indian Ocean area that only scientists and sailors usually see

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The scientists and support staff stationed on Amsterdam Island find professional value in being about as far away from the hubbub of humanity as it's possible to get. But this week, some of them wandered down to the southern Indian Ocean shoreline to look for the floating objects that could help explain the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The world, it seemed, had found them. Well, almost.

"There's little chance we'll see anything," said Eric Morbo, the island's administrator.

The 18 men and two women on the tiny island, along with the resident rockhopper penguins and elephant seals, are close neighbors to where the search is going on for the missing plane. But distance there is relative, measured in hundreds of miles (kilometers).

The French outpost lies at the edge of a stretch of ocean where the winds and waves circle endlessly eastward around Antarctica, unhindered by land masses. The region is desolate in some ways, beautiful in others, and normally escapes notice by anyone except scientists, sailors and the occasional adventurer.

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Pro-Russian forces storm Ukrainian base in Crimea as takeover of peninsula reaches conclusion

BELBEK AIR BASE, Crimea (AP) -- Ukraine's armed forces took what may prove to be one of their final stands Saturday in Crimea, as pro-Russian forces stormed and seized control of an air force base amid a barrage of gunfire and explosions.

A tense blockade of the Belbek air base base that has endured for more than a week looked set for an inevitable culmination following the seizure of one Ukrainian-held military facility after another in recent days.

It was the last major Ukrainian military facility in Crimea to fall into the hands of pro-Russian forces. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry hasn't provided details of how many bases it still controls on the peninsula.

Crimea residents voted last week to secede from Ukraine and join Russia -- a process that was formalized this week with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin. The vote, which was held under condition akin to martial law under the gaze of apparently Moscow-led militia forces, has been rejected as illegitimate by the international community.

The assault on the Belbek base mirrored events at other Ukrainian-held military facilities on the peninsula in recent days.

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Russia mocks sanctions, yet questions remain about whether more economic penalties are to come

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. sanctions against a Russian bank and the Kremlin's inner circle have pinched Moscow, but if the goal is to get President Vladimir Putin to roll his forces out of Crimea or deter him from doing any more land grabs, their effectiveness remains in doubt.

Putin has mocked the punitive steps President Barack Obama has taken so far in their post-Cold War game of chess -- or chicken.

Putin made jokes of Obama's decision this week to freeze the assets of businessmen with close ties to him as well as Bank Rossiya, which provides them support. Putin quickly retaliated by slapping travel restrictions on nine U.S. officials and lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, who quipped: "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off."

More serious repercussions loom if the standoff heats up.

For now, Putin says there is no need for further Russian retaliation, yet his Foreign Ministry said Moscow would "respond harshly."

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Federal appeals court suspends same-sex marriages in Michigan until at least Wednesday

MASON, Mich. (AP) -- Same-sex couples rushed to Michigan county clerk's offices Saturday to get hitched a day after a judge overturned the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage, and several hundred managed to do so before an appeals court reinstituted the ban, at least temporarily.

The order by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati came after Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51, of Lansing, were the first to arrive at the Ingham County Courthouse in the central Michigan city of Mason. DeJong and Caspar, who have been together for 27 years, received their license and were married by Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum.

"I figured in my lifetime it would happen," Caspar said. "But now, when it happens now, it's just overwhelming. I still can't believe it. I don't think it's hit me yet."

Similar nuptials followed one after another, at times en masse, in at least four of Michigan's 83 counties. Those four -- Oakland, Muskegon, Ingham and Washtenaw counties -- issued more than 300 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Saturday.

DeJong said the threat of a stay was all the encouragement they needed.

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Crews try to contain oil spill in Texas' Galveston Bay, as peak bird migration season nears

McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- A barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick, sticky oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay on Saturday, spilling an unknown amount of the fuel into the popular bird habitat just as the peak of the migratory shorebird season was approaching.

Booms were brought in to try to contain the spill, which the Coast Guard said was reported at around 12:30 p.m. by the captain of the 585-foot ship, Summer Wind.

The ship collided with a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of fuel oil that was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan, the Coast Guard said. It didn't give an estimate of how much fuel had spilled into the bay, but there was reportedly a visible sheen of oil at the scene.

The barge was being towed from Texas City to Bolivar at the time. The Coast Guard said that Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the tow vessel and barge, was working with it and the Texas General Land Office at the scene.

The Coast Guard said six crew members from the tow vessel were in stable condition, but it offered no details about their injuries.

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Video shows gunmen who killed 9 people at Afghan hotel were searched twice before entering

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Security guards searched four attackers -- twice -- before allowing them to enter an Afghan hotel where the young men proceeded to the restaurant and killed nine diners, including four foreigners and an AFP journalist, his wife and two children, according to chilling closed-circuit video broadcast Saturday by a local TV station.

The question of how the gunmen penetrated the tight security of the Serena hotel -- considered one of the safest spots in the Afghan capital -- with pistols and ammunition is one of the biggest mysteries surrounding Thursday's attack. Afghan authorities have said the attackers hid the weaponry in the soles of their shoes, wrapped in plastic. Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi displayed the tiny pistols, which fit in the palm of a hand, ammunition and large shoes at a press conference on Friday.

But the three-story hotel is surrounded by a fence and visitors must pass through two gates and a metal detector before crossing a courtyard to the lobby entrance. Bombings and shootings are common in Afghanistan, and many establishments have guests searched before allowing them to enter. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault and said it proves they can strike anywhere.

The 14 minutes of video, obtained by the private Ariana TV station and shared with The Associated Press, show four men clad in traditional tunics and loose trousers known as shalwar kameez walking through the perimeter gate. They start toward security before they are apparently called back by the guards to be searched, with the timestamp showing it is 6:57 p.m. The cameras then capture images of the men placing ID cards and other items on a tray by a conveyer belt before passing through the metal detector. A guard then gives each one a more thorough pat down before letting them through the door.

The Serena has one of the strictest protocols of places frequented by foreigners, but it is rare to be searched at the first gate, suggesting something about the men had raised suspicion.

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Pope announces 1st members of sex abuse commission, half are women and 1 was a victim

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis named the initial members of a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy Saturday, signaling an openness to reach beyond church officials to plot the commission's course and priorities: Half of the members are women, and one was assaulted by a priest as a child.

The eight members were announced after Francis came under fire from victims' groups for a perceived lack of attention to the abuse scandal, which has seriously damaged the Catholic Church's reputation around the world and cost dioceses and religious orders billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

The Vatican in December announced that Francis would create the commission to advise the church on best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details had been released until Saturday and it remains unknown if the commission will deal with the critical issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for church personnel. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have never been imposed on a bishop for failing to report a pedophile priest to police.

The eight inaugural members include Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland and has gone on to become a prominent campaigner for accountability in the church.

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Snohomish County sheriff: 3 dead in massive Washington state mudslide; several others injured

SEATTLE (AP) -- A massive landslide of mud, trees and rocks in rural Washington killed three people on Saturday, critically injured an infant and several others, and destroyed six houses, authorities said.

The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which prompted an evacuation notice because water was rising rapidly behind the debris. Authorities worried about severe downstream flooding if water suddenly broke through the blockage.

The landslide also completely covered State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was at least 135 feet wide and 180 feet deep and hit just before 11 a.m., Snohomish County authorities said.

The Snohomish County sheriff's office reported that two people had been killed at the scene. Authorities said later tone of the people who was rescued died at a hospital.

The injured included a 6-month-old boy, who was in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

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Michelle Obama stresses importance of freedom of speech at appearance with students in China

BEIJING (AP) -- U.S. first lady Michelle Obama told students in China, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on the Internet, that freedom of speech and unfettered access to information make countries stronger and should be universal rights.

Mrs. Obama was speaking Saturday at Peking University in Beijing during a weeklong trip aimed at promoting educational exchanges between the U.S. and China. The trip also took on political overtones when she was granted a previously unscheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

Mrs. Obama said the free flow of information is crucial "because that's how we discover truth, that's how we learn what's really happening in our communities and our country and our world."

"And that's how we decide which values and ideas we think are best -- by questioning and debating them vigorously, by listening to all sides of every argument and by judging for ourselves," she said.

China blocks many foreign news sites and social media services such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Its army of censors routinely filters out information deemed offensive by the government and silences dissenting voices.