- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

Police departments on alert after NYC cops killed by man who hated law enforcement, government

NEW YORK (AP) - Big-city police departments and union leaders around the country are warning the rank and file to wear bulletproof vests and avoid making inflammatory posts on social media in the days after a man ambushed two officers and shot them to death inside their patrol car.

The slayings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn heightened fears about the safety of law enforcement officials nationwide, though there is no evidence any threats are imminent. The gunman, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had vowed in an Instagram post to put “wings on pigs” as retaliation for the slayings of black men at the hands of white police.

Brinsley was black; the slain New York Police Department officers were Hispanic and Asian.

Investigators are trying to determine if Brinsley had taken part in any protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose names he invoked in his online threat, or simply latched onto the cause for the final act in a violent rampage.

The slayings come at a tense time as police nationwide are being criticized following Garner’s death in a New York officer’s chokehold and Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests erupted in recent weeks after grand juries declined to charge the officers involved.

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Events in the hours before and after 2 NYC officers were shot by man who vowed to kill cops

A timeline of events in the hours before and moments after two New York Police Department officers were killed in their cruiser Saturday by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a 28-year-old man who vowed online to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner.

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5:48 a.m. - Baltimore County police are dispatched to Brinsley’s ex-girlfriend’s home in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Maryland. Brinsley had shot the 29-year-old woman in the stomach and fled with her phone. She’s expected to survive.

6:05 a.m. - Brinsley calls his ex-girlfriend’s mother and tells her he shot her daughter by accident and hopes she will survive.

6:35 a.m. - Brinsley boards a bus to New York City.

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10 Things to Know for Today

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

1. POLICE DEPARTMENTS ON ALERT AFTER COP KILLINGS

The rank and file is warned to wear bulletproof vests and avoid making inflammatory posts on social media after the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers.

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AP poll: Police killings of unarmed blacks, and ensuing protests, voted top news story of 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The police killings of unarmed blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere - and the investigations and tumultuous protests they inspired - was the top news story of 2014, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

In a year crowded with dramatic and often wrenching news developments around the world, the No. 2 story was the devastating outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, followed by the conflict in Iraq and Syria fueled by the brutal actions of Islamic State militants.

Among the 85 voters casting ballots, first-place votes were spread among 15 different stories. The Ferguson entry received 22 first-place votes, Ebola 11 and the Islamic State story 12.

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History of North Korean cinema filled with kidnapped South Koreans, monsters, evil Americans

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea hates the currently scrapped Hollywood film that revolves around the assassination of its beloved leader, but the country has had a long love affair with cinema - of its own particular styling.

In the six decades since North Korea began to cultivate its own film industry, a South Korean director and his movie star wife have been kidnapped, a Godzilla-inspired monster movie has bombed at the box office in the South, American defectors have hammed it up in anti-U.S. propaganda films - and there has even been a foray into “girl power” cinema with the more recent “Comrade Kim Goes Flying.”

The U.S. blames North Korea for the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures, which produced “The Interview,” and also for threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters. Sony canceled the movie’s release. North Korea has denied a role in the hacking, but also praised it as a “righteous deed.”

Pyongyang began building its cinema industry in the 1950s as a wing of a propaganda machine meant to glorify the country’s late founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. The elder Kim once declared movies to be the most important tool to educate the masses, according to archive material maintained by the South Korean government.

North Korean moviemakers have since dabbled with science fiction, action and romantic comedy, but they’re mostly expected to stoke public animosity against rivals Washington and Seoul, and to portray the Kim family as a fearless bastion against evil foreign imperialists.

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Experts expect surge in Cuba tourism under Obama’s historic opening, easing of travel rules

HAVANA (AP) - As the U.S. and Cuba begin to normalize relations for the first time in half a century, some Americans are already roaming the streets of Old Havana, attending dance exhibitions and talks on architecture as they take part in scripted cultural tours that can cost more than a decent used car back home.

The U.S. visitors are participants in the highly regulated “people-to-people” travel that President Barack Obama permitted in 2011 in one of his first moves toward detente with Cuba. The program aims to increase interaction with ordinary Cubans without creating uncomfortable images of Americans lounging on beaches in a single-party state. The tours tend to attract people sympathetic to improving ties with President Raul Castro’s government.

“It’s pre-selected for people who already want there to be change,” said Jonathan Anderson, a 33-year-old from Denver on an eight-day excursion that cost $6,000 per person. “People aren’t coming here to see how evil Castro is. They are coming here to reinforce ties.”

Travel experts said Sunday that the new opening to Cuba that Obama announced four days earlier goes far beyond the 2011 reform and could sharply increase U.S. tourism in the coming years.

Among the changes, Obama directed the Treasury Department to expand the categories of travelers who can go to Cuba without requesting a license from the department first. Soon to be covered by a standing, blanket travel permit are participants in educational activities, the category that covers most people-to-people travel. Experts said that eliminating the licensing requirement could greatly reduce the costs of organized tours by cutting paperwork. It also could, perhaps more importantly, allow huge numbers of Americans to legally travel on their own to Cuba.

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Ascendant Senate Republicans confront tough election map in 2016 to retain majority

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans have the Senate majority now and are set to challenge President Barack Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill this January. But a much tougher election map two years from now could force the GOP back into the minority.

In November 2016, Republicans will defend 24 seats, Democrats 10. Seven of the GOP seats are in states President Barack Obama won with 50 percent or more of the vote in 2012.

It’s a stark reversal from this past November, when Democrats were the ones contending with a brutal map, including candidates running in seven states Obama had lost. Democrats were crushed on Election Day, losing nine seats and their Senate majority.

It will be a tough climb for Democrats to make up those losses, and there’s no guarantee they will. But coming off November’s trouncing, Democrats sound eager about their chances in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Illinois, while Republicans are preparing more to defend past victories than try to score new ones.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s going to be a bigger challenge than 2014,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, among the Republicans at the top of the Democrats’ pickoff list. “But I think we have a really good opportunity here in the next couple years. We will reach out to the other side. I think Americans, Wisconsonites will find out that we’re not the party of ‘no.’”

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Iraqi reality TV show brings convicted IS militants face-to-face with victims

BAGHDAD (AP) - Haider Ali Motar was convicted of terrorism charges about a month ago for helping to carry out a string of Baghdad car bombings on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group. Now, the 21-year old is a reluctant cast member in a popular reality TV show.

“In the Grip of the Law,” brings convicted terrorists face-to-face with victims in surreal encounters and celebrates the country’s beleaguered security forces. The show, produced by state-run Iraqiyya TV, is among dozens of programs, cartoons and musical public service announcements aimed at shoring up support for the troops after their humiliating defeat last summer at the hands of the Islamic State group, which now controls about a third of the country.

On a chilly, overcast day last week, the crew arrived at the scene of one of the attacks for which Motar was convicted, with a heavily armed escort in eight military pick-up trucks and Humvees. Passing cars clogged the road to watch the drama unfold, but were quickly shooed away by soldiers.

After being pulled from an armored vehicle, a shackled Motar found himself face-to-face with the seething relatives of the victims of the attack. “Give him to me - I’ll tear him to pieces,” one of the relatives roared from behind a barbed wire barrier.

A cameraman pinned a microphone on Motar’s bright yellow prison jumpsuit as he stood alongside a busy Baghdad highway looking bewildered by his surroundings.

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Indian asbestos mines, abandoned decades ago, still sickening villagers and ignored by gov’t

RORO VILLAGE, India (AP) - Asbestos waste spills in a gray gash down the flank of a lush green hill above tribal villages in eastern India. Three decades after the mines were abandoned, nothing has been done to remove the enormous, hazardous piles of broken rocks and powdery dust left behind.

In Roro Village and other settlements below, people who never worked in the mines are dying of lung disease. Yet in a country that treats asbestos as a savior that provides cheap building materials for the poor, no one knows the true number and few care to ask.

“I feel weak, drained all the time,” Baleman Sundi gasped, pushing the words out before she lost her breath. “But I must work.” The 65-year-old paused, inhaled. “I don’t have a choice.” Another gasp. “I have to eat.”

Sundi and 17 others from a clutch of impoverished villages near the abandoned hilltop mines were diagnosed in 2012 with asbestosis, a fatal lung disease. One has since died. Tens of thousands more remain untested and at risk. Asbestos makes up as much as 14.3 percent of the soil around Roro Village, analysis of samples gathered by The Associated Press showed.

The 17 surviving patients are suing in the country’s environmental court for cleanup, compensation and a fund for future victims. If they win, the case would set precedents for workplace safety and corporate liability, both often ignored in India.

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The belly dancer who was once a man enthralls Morocco, yet yearns for official acceptance

CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) - It was a slow night on the red carpet at the opening of the Marrakech film festival for the photographers and everyone was complaining over the lack of celebrities.

Then a car pulled up and out stepped Noor Talbi, Morocco’s most famous belly dancer. The photographers went wild. Darling of the jet set and a fixture for any society party or hotel opening, Noor’s statuesque six feet frame was clothed in a spangled, off-the-shoulder ballgown slit up the side to reveal her long legs.

Legs, that as a teenage athlete, won her a gold medal in the 440-meter hurdles at the national level - back when she was a boy who went by the name of Nourreddine.

In this conservative Muslim country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in jail, a transgender woman like Noor is not only accepted but is a celebrity. Her ability to seemingly transcend the restrictions of her culture speaks both to her star power and to a certain kind of tolerance toward sexual minorities in this North African nation - and even in the wider Middle East.

There are references to men affecting the clothes and attitudes of women in the Quran. In countries like Iran and Egypt, while homosexuality is illegal, gender change surgery is allowed, especially for those born hermaphrodites. Cross-dressing is also often found in the entertainment world and in Turkey one of the most famous singers of classical music was also once a man.

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