Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Published:

Magnitude-8.2 earthquake hits off northern Chilean coast, area rocked by tremors for 2 weeks

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- A powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off Chile's northern coast Tuesday night, causing landslides that blocked roads and setting off a small tsunami that forced an evacuation of coastal areas, but the region apparently escaped major damage and casualties.

In the city of Arica, 86 miles (139 kilometers) from the quake's epicenter, minor injuries were reported and some homes made of adobe were destroyed, officials said. The quake shook modern buildings in nearby Peru and in Bolivia's high altitude capital of La Paz.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported the quake at 8.0, but later upgraded the magnitude. It said the quake struck 61 miles (99 kilometers) northwest of the Chilean city of Iquique at 8:46 p.m., hitting a region that has been rocked by numerous quakes over the past two weeks.

Psychiatrist Ricardo Yevenes said he was with a patient in Arica when the quake hit. "It quickly began to move the entire office, things were falling," he told local television. "Almost the whole city is in darkness."

The quake was so strong that the shaking experienced in Bolivia's capital about 290 miles (470 kilometers) away was the equivalent of a 4.5-magnitude tremor, authorities there said.

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NATO ministers order plan for reinforcing eastern security, suspend cooperation with Russia

BRUSSELS (AP) -- NATO foreign ministers moved Tuesday to beef up the defenses of front-line alliance members feeling menaced by a more assertive Russia, with Secretary of State John Kerry proclaiming the U.S. commitment to their security is "unwavering."

The ministers from NATO's 28 member nations also ordered suspension of all "practical civilian and military cooperation" with Vladimir Putin's Russia, though they made sure a line of communication with the Kremlin remains open at the ambassadorial level.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, keystone of U.S. and European security since the end of World War II, is facing its most acute geopolitical crisis in years: the fallout from Moscow's unilateral annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which the Obama administration and its allies condemn as a brazen, illegal land grab.

On Tuesday, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Russian troops equipped with tanks, other armored vehicles and fixed and rotary wing aircraft remained positioned near the border with Ukraine, a NATO military official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

The military official described the Russian buildup as "a complete combat force" that was highly threatening to Ukraine.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

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

1. POWERFUL 8.2-MAGNITUDE QUAKE STRIKES OFF CHILEAN COAST

The tremor shakes buildings in nearby Peru and Bolivia, but there are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

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7.1 million: Obama basks in health care sign-up success -- but will it save Democrats in fall?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mocking his critics, President Barack Obama boasted Tuesday that 7.1 million people have signed up for his health care law, an unexpected comeback after a disastrous rollout sent his poll numbers plummeting and stirred fears among Democrats facing re-election this fall.

"The debate over repealing this law is over," he declared.

Despite lingering problems with the website, a late wave of enrollments pushed sign-ups higher than critics and even the White House had believed possible. Still, the administration hasn't determined how many of those people have closed the deal by paying their first month's premiums. Also unclear is how many were previously uninsured -- the real test of Obama's health care overhaul. The law also expanded coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half of the states have agreed to implement that option.

The administration also hasn't yet released an updated demographic breakdown of enrollees, such as the number of younger people whose participation is critical to the law's success.

The late enrollment surge may do little to change the political dynamics heading into the midterm elections, particularly for Democrats running in conservative states where the health law and the president himself remain deeply unpopular. Even Obama's advisers acknowledge that the public's views on the law are unlikely to shift significantly between now and November.

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DC mayor faces voters amid federal investigation; initial returns show him trailing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The embattled mayor of the nation's capital sought a second term Tuesday, with many voters weighing praise for his performance in office against a federal investigation of his 2010 campaign that has cloaked the incumbent in scandal.

Early returns showed Mayor Vincent Gray trailing his top challenger, D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who argued that the city needs a fresh start as the mayor faces possible criminal charges.

With 38 percent of precincts reporting, Bowser had 44 percent of the vote to Gray's 34 percent, according to the D.C. Board of Elections. Six other candidates split up the rest of the vote.

Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in 2010 by tapping into dissatisfaction among African-American residents. But a series of guilty pleas in federal court have revealed that top aides to the mayor broke the law to help him get elected. Three weeks ago, prosecutors said Gray knew about an illegal, $668,000 slush fund that aided his get-out-the-vote efforts.

Gray has not been charged and insists he did nothing wrong. His attorney has said he is preparing for a possible indictment.

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Once unthinkable, US considering freeing Jonathan Pollard to keep Mideast peace talks alive

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Every president since Ronald Reagan has refused to release Jonathan Pollard from prison. A CIA director once threatened to resign when Bill Clinton briefly considered freeing the convicted spy as part of Mideast peace talks. But now, in a gamble to extend negotiations that appear on the brink of collapse, the Obama administration is bringing the U.S. closer than it has been in years to granting Pollard an early release.

If Pollard's freedom leads eventually to a final peace settlement, it could mark a major victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has toiled to achieve an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians after decades of distrust and violence. But if Pollard is freed and the talks fail, it could be a costly embarrassment.

Releasing Pollard now, just to keep Israeli-Palestinian negotiations going, "portrays a weakness on our part and a certain amount of desperation," says Aaron Miller, who was part of the U.S. negotiating team at two rounds of peace talks during the Clinton administration. "It guarantees almost nothing."

The White House insisted Tuesday that President Barack Obama has not decided on whether to release Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in prison nearly 30 years ago for selling classified military documents to the Israeli government. Kerry, asked about prospects for Pollard's release, told reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels, "There is no agreement, at this point in time, regarding anyone or any specific steps."

"There are a lot of different possibilities in play," Kerry said. He added: "All I can tell you is that we are continuing, even now as I am standing up here speaking, to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward."

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Palestinians resume bid for further UN recognition; move could jeopardize talks with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- In a surprise move that could derail U.S. peace efforts, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday resumed a campaign for further international recognition of a state of Palestine, despite a previous promise to suspend such efforts during nine months of negotiations with Israel.

Shortly after Abbas' announcement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled plans to return to the Middle East on Wednesday, but also said it's "completely premature" to write off the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks he restarted in late July.

"We are continuing, even now ... to be engaged with both parties," Kerry told a news conference in Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. "We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them."

There was no immediate Israeli comment. However, Abbas' decision threw into doubt Israeli claims that a deal was emerging that would have extended Israel-Palestinian talks beyond an April 29 deadline and included the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying on the U.S. for Israel in the 1980s.

It remained unclear whether Abbas' dramatic announcement was a negotiating tactic or signaled a fundamental shift in strategy.

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13 GM deaths are tied to a 57-cent part; CEO assures Congress the company has changed its ways

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fix for a faulty ignition switch linked to 13 traffic deaths would have cost just 57 cents, members of Congress said Tuesday as they demanded answers from General Motors' new CEO on why the automaker took 10 years to recall cars with the defect.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill before a House subcommittee, GM's Mary Barra acknowledged under often testy questioning that the company took too long to act. She promised changes at GM that would prevent such a lapse from happening again.

"If there's a safety issue, we're going to make the right change and accept that," said Barra, who became CEO in January and almost immediately found herself thrust into one of the biggest product safety crises Detroit has ever seen.

But as relatives of the crash victims looked on intently, she admitted that she didn't know why it took years for the dangerous defect to be announced. And she deflected many questions about what went wrong, saying an internal investigation is under way.

Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million cars -- mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions -- over the faulty switch, which can cause the engine to cut off in traffic, disabling the power steering, power brakes and air bags and making it difficult to control the vehicle. The automaker said new switches should be available starting April 7.

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Global airline group: Flight 370 mystery shows need for continues tracking of jets

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- An aviation industry group is creating a task force to make recommendations this year for continuously tracking commercial airliners because "we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish" like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

As low clouds, rain and choppy seas off western Australia hampered Tuesday's hunt for the missing jet, the head of the operation warned that the 25-day-old search "could drag on for a long time," and Malaysian investigators said they were scrutinizing the last-known conversation between the plane and ground control.

The search has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. A multinational team of aircraft and ships are searching the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, which disappeared from radar and veered off-course for reasons that are still unexplained.

The aviation mystery has highlighted the need for improvements in tracking aircraft and security, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the world's airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

"In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief that an aircraft could simply disappear," said Tony Tyler, the director general of the group whose 240 member airlines carry 84 percent of all passengers and cargo worldwide.

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Sole winner of February's $425 million Powerball jackpot comes forward in California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The sole winner of February's $425 million Powerball jackpot came forward to claim his prize Tuesday.

California Lottery officials said B. Raymond Buxton, a Northern California man, claimed the prize at the California Lottery headquarters in Sacramento.

" 'Unbelievable!' is all I could muster," Buxton said in a statement on Tuesday. "Once the initial shock passed, I couldn't sleep for days."

After the winning numbers were announced, Buxton said, he sat in front of his computer in disbelief, checking and rechecking his ticket -- and telling no one else that he had won. "Sitting on a ticket of this value was very scary," he said.

When he claimed his prize Tuesday, Buxton was wearing a shirt that featured a picture of the Star Wars character Yoda and read, "Luck of the Jedi I have."