Saturday, April 12, 2014

Published:

Men in riot police uniforms occupy police HQ in Donetsk; armed men seize 2 gov't buildings

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Men in the uniforms of Ukraine's now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and a local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the unrest as "Russian aggression" and said Ukraine's security officials would be gathering for an extraordinary meeting late Saturday evening.

In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed strong concern" that the attacks "were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea," according the State Department. Kerry "made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine's border, there would be additional consequences," the department said.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass, citing the Russia's Foreign Ministry, said Kerry "could not give any concrete facts" to support his allegations. The news agency said Lavrov told Kerry that the crisis in Ukraine was due to the failure of the Ukrainian government "to take into account the legitimate needs and interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population."

The unrest in Donetsk and the city of Slovyansk, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, were the latest shows of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February after months of protests in the capital, Kiev. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine's east widely fear that the authorities who took over after Yanukovych's fall will suppress them.

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New rebel, government claims of poison gas attack complicate Syrian civil war, weapons cleanup

BEIRUT (AP) -- Both sides in Syria's bloody civil war said Saturday that a rural village fell victim to a poison gas attack, an assault that reportedly injured scores of people amid an ongoing international effort to rid the country of chemical weapons.

What exactly happened Friday in Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, remains unclear and likely won't be known for some time. It took United Nations weapons inspectors months to say it was likely some chemical weapons attacks happened last year, including an August attack that killed hundreds and nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad's forces.

But online videos posted by rebel activists from Kfar Zeita echoed earlier images that sparked a world outcry, showing pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital. They suggest an affliction by some kind of poison -- and yet another clouded incident where both sides blame each other in a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people with no end in sight.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details.

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Obama's health care law faces criticism as top conservatives jockey for 2016 edge

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Republicans eyeing the 2016 White House race battered President Barack Obama's health care law and nicked each other Saturday, auditioning before a high-profile gathering of conservatives that some political veterans said marked the campaign's unofficial start.

A speaking program packed with potential presidential candidates weighed in on the House Republicans' controversial budget, the party's struggle with Hispanics, the GOP's future and the upcoming midterm elections while taking turns on a conference room stage facing hundreds of conservative activists gathered in New Hampshire's largest city.

But the Republican Party's near-universal opposition to the president's health care law dominated the conversation just days after Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius resigned after leading the rocky rollout of the program derided as "Obamacare."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz declared that one resignation is not enough. "We are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare," said the first-term senator and tea party favorite.

Another tea party favorite, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, insisted that the GOP must broaden its appeal in order to grow. The Republican Party, he said, cannot be a party of "fat cats, rich people and Wall Street."

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Amid market jitters, finance officials see foundation for sustained economic growth and jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world's top finance officials expressed confidence Saturday that the global economy finally has turned the corner to stronger growth. This time, they may be right.

Despite challenges that include market jitters about the Federal Reserve's bond-buying slowdown and global tensions over Ukraine, policymakers said they believe there is a foundation for sustained growth that can provide jobs for the millions of people still looking for work five years after the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"Creating a more dynamic, sustainable, balanced and job-rich global economy remains our paramount collective goal," the policy-setting panel of the 188-nation International Monetary Fund said in a concluding communique.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and the finance ministers who sit on the IMF's policy panel said they believed the world had entered a new phase with stronger growth that will begin to make in-roads into unemployment that remains painfully high in many nations.

At a closing news conference, Lagarde referred to the years 2008 through 2010 as an economic "disaster" and she said now "we are moving into a strengthening phase."

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In the course of a year, Boston and its people find that time heals some wounds

BOSTON (AP) -- Every time Roseann Sdoia comes home, she must climb 18 steps -- six stairs into the building, 12 more to her apartment. It is an old building in Boston's North End, with doors that are big and heavy, not an easy place for an amputee to live.

When she left the hospital, a month after the Boston marathon bombing, she had a choice: She could find another place to live, one more suitable for someone who wears a prosthetic that replaces most of her right leg. Or, she could stay.

"Early on when all this happened, so many people were telling me to move out of the city and move out of my apartment because of the stairs and I don't have an elevator and parking is not very convenient," she recalls. "But I have been able to get past all of that."

In that, she mirrors Boston itself.

"I have to tell you, honestly, Boston is a better city now than it was before," says Thomas Menino, Boston's former mayor. "People learned how to deal with each other, they had to deal with a tragedy."

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Balancing act for EU when considering new penalties against Russia as US tries to press ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is working to convince a reluctant Europe of the need to punish Russia more severely for its meddling in Ukraine while at the same time warning Moscow to step back or take more financial hits.

It's a difficult balancing act for Europe, which wants to make Russia pay for its aggression but fears the economic turmoil from the fallout of new, harsher trade sanctions by the West.

Europe is Russia's largest trading partner and therefore has huge sway over Russia's shaky economy.

Economists say the U.S. risks appearing weak without support from Europe. But Europe is far from ready to levy penalties against Moscow that would undercut its own financial stability and possibly endanger its main source of energy.

President Barack Obama has signed orders that would allow the U.S. to penalize key Russian industries. European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Monday to decide what additional penalties to impose if Russia continues to ignore the West's warnings.

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NTSB can't corroborate driver's claim that truck was on fire before deadly bus crash

RED BLUFF, Calif. (AP) -- Federal investigators could not corroborate on Saturday a driver's claim that a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire before it careened across a freeway median, sideswiped her car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, killing 10 people in a fiery wreck.

Investigators were still looking for more witnesses to the Thursday crash, National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said. They also plan to conduct tests to determine if the truck driver inhaled smoke before the collision and search for evidence of a fire at the crash scene before the vehicles exploded into towering flames and billowing black smoke.

Investigators also found no signs that the truck driver attempted to brake before the crash. They found no tire marks as the truck careened across Interstate 5 and slammed into the bus taking the students to a tour of Humboldt State University in Northern California. Five students, three adult chaperones and both drivers died. Rosekind said the bus driver had relieved another driver whose shift ended during a stop in Sacramento.

Joe and Bonnie Duran, the Seattle-area couple who were in the car, said, like the bus, they were northbound on Interstate 5 on Thursday afternoon. Bonnie Duran, who was driving, told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles that flames were coming from the lower rear of the truck cab.

"I just looked to the left, and there it was coming through right at me at an angle. I can tell I wasn't going to outrun him, so I just kind of turned to the right and he hit me," she said. "It was in flames as it came through the median. ... It wasn't like the whole thing was engulfed. It was coming up wrapping around him."

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Long hunt for missing jet looms as pings go silent and black box batteries dying

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- After a week of optimism over four underwater signals believed to be coming from the missing Malaysian plane, the sea has gone quiet and Australia's leader is warning that the massive search will likely be long.

No new electronic pings have been heard since April 8, and the batteries powering the locator beacons on the jet's black box recorders may already be dead. They only last about a month, and that window has already passed. Once officials are confident no more sounds will be heard, a robotic submersible will be sent down to slowly scour for wreckage across a vast area in extremely deep water.

"No one should underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in Beijing on Saturday, the last day of his China trip.

Abbott appeared to couch his comments from a day earlier, when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to brief him on the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight, which was carrying 239 people -- most of them Chinese -- when it disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing.

After analyzing satellite data, officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast.

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After showdown with protesters, feds release all 400 cows rounded up from Nevada rancher

Federal land managers confirmed they released all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

The Bureau of Land Management took the action Saturday afternoon after hundreds of states' rights protesters, including militia and tea party members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy.

The bureau issued a brief statement saying the cattle were released "due to escalating tensions." Some protesters were armed with handguns and rifles at the corrals and at an earlier nearby rally.

Las Vegas Police Lt. Dan Zehnder said the showdown was resolved with no injuries and no violence. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie was able to negotiate a resolution after talking with Bundy, he said.

The release came only hours after Bureau of Land Management chief Neil Kornze announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup because of safety concerns.

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The buzz returns to Masters as Jordan Spieth shares lead with Bubba Watson

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Even without golf's biggest star, this suddenly is shaping up as a Masters for the ages.

Jordan Spieth, playing a brand of big-time golf that belies his 20 years, kept his cool amid the chaos of Saturday at Augusta National. He was too busy trying to handle a lightning-fast golf course to even look at a leaderboard until he couldn't avoid them over the closing holes of a wild round.

His name at the top with Bubba Watson was compelling enough.

It's been 83 years since a player this young won a major, and 35 years since anyone won the Masters on his first try.

Two shots behind was 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, rattling off seven birdies for a tournament-best 66 that gave him a shot at becoming the oldest winner in 154 years of championship golf. And still very much in the picture is Fred Couples, the 54-year-old who won his green jacket a year before Spieth was born.