Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Published:

Ukraine tries to quell pro-Moscow uprisings; US accuses Russia of fomenting unrest

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian authorities moved to quell pro-Moscow uprisings along the Russian border with mixed results Tuesday, retaking one occupied regional headquarters and watching protesters consolidate their hold on another.

In a third city, Luhansk, Ukraine's Security Service said separatists armed with explosives and other weapons were holding 60 people hostage inside the agency's local headquarters.

Those occupying the building issued a video statement saying they want a referendum on the region's status and warning that any attempt to storm the place would be met with armed force.

In the video, posted by Ukrainian media, a masked man identified the occupiers as Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and said that if authorities try to retake the building, "Welcome to hell, then!"

The Ukrainian government and the U.S. have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest as a pretext for another Russian military incursion like the takeover of Crimea last month. Up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed along the Ukrainian border, according to NATO.

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Pork prices expected to rise 10 percent after virus new to US kills millions of baby pigs

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A virus never before seen in the U.S. has killed millions of baby pigs in less than a year, and with little known about how it spreads or how to stop it, it's threatening pork production and pushing up prices by 10 percent or more.

Scientists think porcine epidemic diarrhea, which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don't know how it got into the country or spread to 27 states since last May. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.

The U.S. is both a top producer and exporter of pork, but production could decline about 7 percent this year compared to last -- the biggest drop in more than 30 years, according to a recent report from Rabobank, which focuses on the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.

Already, prices have shot up: A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ham and chops have gone up too, although not as much.

Farmer and longtime veterinarian Craig Rowles did all he could to prevent PED from spreading to his farm in Iowa, the nation's top pork producer and the state hardest hit by the disease. He trained workers to spot symptoms, had them shower and change clothing before entering barns and limited deliveries and visitors.

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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. RUSSIA'S POSSIBLE INTENTIONS STIR ANXIETY

As pro-Moscow protests continue in eastern Ukraine, up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed along the border, according to NATO.

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Messages for 'Cuban Twitter' program overtly political, despite US claims; poked at Castros

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Draft messages produced for a Twitter-like network that the U.S. government secretly built in Cuba were overtly political and poked fun at the Castro brothers, documents obtained by The Associated Press show. The messages conflict with claims by the Obama administration that the program had no U.S.-generated political content and was never intended to stir unrest on the island.

Disclosure of the messages, as described in internal documents, came as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development told Congress in sometimes- confrontational testimony Tuesday that his agency's program was "absolutely not" covert and was simply meant to increase the flow of information.

An AP investigation last week found that the program, known as ZunZuneo, evaded Cuba's Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by the U.S. government.

At an oversight hearing Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah that the program was "cockamamie" and not adequately described to Congress.

USAID, known worldwide for its humanitarian work, has repeatedly maintained it did not send out political messages under the project. Leahy asked Shah whether the project's goal was to "influence political conditions abroad by gathering information about Cuban cellphone users" or "to encourage popular opposition to the Cuban government."

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Ship frantically trying to pick up underwater 'pings' again in underwater search for jet

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- Search crews on Wednesday combed the Indian Ocean in a frantic bid to relocate underwater sounds that may have come from the missing Malaysian jetliner's black boxes, three days after they were last detected.

The signals first heard late Saturday and early Sunday had sparked hopes of a breakthrough in the search for Flight 370, but Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal leading the search far off western Australia, said listening equipment on the Ocean Shield ship has picked up no traces of the sounds since then.

Finding the sound again is crucial to narrowing the search area so a submarine can be deployed to chart a potential debris field on the seafloor. If the autonomous sub was used now with the sparse data collected so far, covering all the potential places from which the pings might have come would take many days.

"It's literally crawling at the bottom of the ocean so it's going to take a long, long time," Houston said.

The locator beacons on the black boxes have a battery life of only about a month -- and Tuesday marked exactly one month since the plane vanished. Once the beacons blink off, locating the black boxes in such deep water would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.

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Glance: Messages drafted for secret 'Cuban Twitter' mocked Castros, Venezuela's Chavez

WASHINGTON (AP) -- USAID's secret Cuban Twitter program hired Alen Lauzan Falcon, a Havana-born satirical artist based in Chile, to propose text messages to be sent to Cuban users. Neither Lauzan nor the Cuban subscribers realized the U.S. government was behind ZunZuneo, the social media network.

Last Thursday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said "no political content was ever supplied by anyone working on this project or running it. It was the people -- the Cuban people on the ground who were doing so."

But in an interview Tuesday, Lauzan said he does only political work.

In a series of linked messages, obtained by The Associated Press, Lauzan had imagined Cuban President Raul Castro teaming with the now-deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a pop act who would dance the "perreo," a twerk-like Caribbean dance associated with the tropical genre reggaeton, and record songs with titles mocking their countries' economic and social policies.

Said one text: "'The economy is not our thing' by the Hugo and Raul duo is already a hit."

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To comply with treaty, US will cut Air Force and Navy nukes, including 50 land-based missiles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. will keep its current force of 450 land-based nuclear missiles but remove 50 from their launch silos as part of a plan to bring the U.S. into compliance with a 2011 U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The resulting launch-ready total of 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles would be the lowest deployed ICBM total since the early 1960s.

The decisions come after a strong push by members of Congress from the states that host missile bases -- North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana -- to not eliminate any of the silos from which the missiles would be launched. Fifty silos will be kept in "warm" status -- empty of missiles but capable of returning to active use.

Sen. John Tester, a Montana Democrat, called the Pentagon's announcement "a big win for our nation's security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base," home of the 341st Missile Wing with 150 Minuteman 3 missiles.

"ICBMs are the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent, and keeping silos warm is a smart decision and the kind of common sense Montanans expect from their leaders," Tester said.

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Oscar Pistorius wails, weeps while testifying on fatal shooting at South African murder trial

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- A subdued Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday described dinner at home, chatting and looking at cell phone photos with Reeva Steenkamp on the last night of her life. Then he erupted in anguished howls and heaving sobs while testifying at his murder trial about the moments when he says he realized he shot his girlfriend through a closed toilet door.

The shocking spectacle of what appeared to be a tormented man highlighted the drama of Pistorius' inspirational rise and sudden fall. The South African double-amputee runner captured the world's attention when he successfully fought for permission to run in the 2012 Olympics on his carbon-fiber prostheses. The very next year, he was facing charges for killing the woman he said he loved.

The court in Pretoria, the South African capital, adjourned because of the star athlete's breakdown, ending a day in which Pistorius spoke of the loving aspects of his relationship with Steenkamp in testimony designed to counter a prosecution picture of him as temperamental and overbearing, and then outlined his version of the final hours before the shooting.

"I sat over Reeva and I cried," Pistorius said, telling how he broke open the stall door in his bathroom in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013 to discover his bloodied girlfriend slumped in the cubicle. "I don't know how long I was there for."

Pistorius has said in statements that he shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder in his bathroom. Tuesday marked the first time he has spoken publicly about the details of the fatal shooting. Prosecutors call Pistorius' story an intricate lie and maintain he intentionally killed his 29-year-old girlfriend, a model and reality TV show star, after an argument.

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Al Sharpton says report on his work with FBI not new, says he cooperated but wasn't informant

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Rev. Al Sharpton admitted on Tuesday that he helped the FBI investigate New York Mafia figures in the 1980s, even making secret recordings that appeared to help bring down a mob boss.

But at a news conference, Sharpton insisted he never considered himself a confidential informant, despite a report identifying him as the "CI-7" referenced in recently released court records.

"I was never told I was an informant with a number," Sharpton told reporters at his Harlem headquarters in response to the report posted Monday on The Smoking Gun website. "In my own mind, I was not an informant. I was cooperating with an investigation."

The report's timing became a distraction for Sharpton a day before he was to host President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker at the annual convention his civil rights group, the National Action Network. The MSNBC host complained that he was unfairly portrayed as a turncoat mob associate instead of a victim in front-page tabloid stories featuring headlines like "REV RAT" and 30-year-old photos of him when he was overweight and wore his hair in a bouffant.

Sharpton said that he went to federal authorities after low-level mobsters warned him and others they would be harmed if they continued to compete for a stake in the music business -- a claim he recounted in his 1996 book, "Go and Tell Pharaoh."

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UConn celebrates after women join men as basketball national champions

STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- It was deja vu for Husky fans

Students stormed the court at Gampel Pavilion for a second consecutive night as the Husky's women basketball team joined the men as national champions.

About 7,500 fans came to the UConn arena Tuesday evening for a rally to welcome home Husky men after their win over Kentucky on Monday. About 5,000, including several members of the men's team, stayed in the arena and watched on large movie screens as the women blew out Notre Dame.

After the final buzzer, they poured out of the arena and began a second night of partying.

It's the second dual championship for UConn, which also won the men's and women's titles in 2004. No other Division I school has accomplished that.