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AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Syrian opposition says Assad must not stay in power, setting up clash at outset of peace talks

MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) - The head of Syria's Western-backed opposition says any discussion of President Bashar Assad staying in power will effectively end peace talks before they have begun.

Ahmad al-Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, said the purpose of the peace conference beginning Wednesday in Switzerland was to set up a transitional government.

He said "this is the only topic for us," speaking minutes after Assad's foreign minister.

The peace talks in the Swiss city of Montreux marked the first time the opposition and the Syrian government will sit down face to face since their dispute began in March 2011.

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Snowstorm leaves bitter footprint as it swirls up coast to New England; 13.5 inches in Philly

BOSTON (AP) - Snow blowers whirred and shovels scraped across sidewalks as the Northeast tried to keep up with a winter storm that swirled up the coast, creating blizzard conditions on Cape Cod, disrupting government work in Washington and leaving behind it bitter Canadian cold that sapped fuel supplies.

The huge storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. Snow began falling midmorning Tuesday in Philadelphia and had dumped as much as 13.5 inches by midnight, with New York seeing almost as much. Manalapan, N.J., had the highest snowfall reading with 16 inches.

The storm, which dropped nearly a foot of snow in parts of Massachusetts, promised to create headaches for motorists in Boston on Wednesday morning. Commuters in Philadelphia and New York had packed early trains or spent hours inching along roads in swirling darkness to get home the night before.

The New Yorkers and Bostonians who normally swarm Cape Cod in fishing hats or bikinis in July and August wouldn't recognize it this week. A blizzard warning through Wednesday afternoon kept business brisk at Aubuchon Hardware in Sandwich, where salt and snow shovels were popular.

"The flow of customers is pretty steady, but everyone waits until the worst of the storm to start worrying," manager Jeff Butland said.

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Ukraine: Police chase protesters away from site of clashes, after 3 die

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Police in Kiev have torn down barricades and chased protesters away from the site of violent clashes in the center of the Ukrainian capital, hours after three protesters died, two of whom were shot.

Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters Wednesday afternoon, beating and firing shots at some and sending people running. The violence is likely to drastically escalate Ukraine's two month-long political crisis.

The nearby main protest camp, however, remains intact.

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AP Exclusive: 2 armed officers went on breaks minutes before November LA airport shooting

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Minutes before a gunman opened fire in a Los Angeles International Airport terminal last fall, killing a security screener and wounding three other people, the two armed officers assigned to the area left for breaks without informing a dispatcher as required.

The Los Angeles Airport Police Department officers were outside Terminal 3 when authorities say Paul Ciancia opened fire with an assault rifle in an attack targeting Transportation Security Administration officers, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The officials requested anonymity, saying they were briefed on the shooting but were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

As terrified travelers dived for cover, TSA officers - who are unarmed - fled the screening area without hitting a panic button or using a landline to call for help. It took a call from an airline contractor to a police dispatcher, who then alerted officers over the radio - a lag of nearly a minute and a half, the officials said.

Before officers could get to the scene, Ciancia fatally wounded TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez and then headed to the screening area where he shot two more agents and a traveler, authorities said. Ciancia was subdued after being wounded by officers in the gate area of the terminal.

When the shooting started, the two officials say one of the armed officers assigned to the terminal was at or just outside an adjacent terminal. One of the officials said the officer was on a bathroom break and the other foot-beat officer was in a vehicle on the tarmac outside Terminal 3, headed for a meal break.

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Experts monitoring increased bird flu cases in China ahead of mass Lunar New Year exodus

A spate of bird flu cases since the beginning of the year in China has experts watching closely as millions of people and poultry are on the move ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, the world's largest annual human migration.

China has reported more than 50 H7N9 infections in 2014 after the strain jumped from birds to people for the first time last year. The virus remains hard to catch and most cases have been linked to contact with poultry, but scientists worry that could change if it mutates into a form that allows it to spread easily among people.

For those who track influenza, the holiday, which begins Jan. 31, is always worrying because it comes during the winter months when flu typically rages. Add that to hundreds of millions of people - and often birds - crammed together on buses and other forms of transportation going home, and it's always a bit of a gamble. China estimates 3.6 billion trips will be taken over the holiday season.

"This is the first winter we've seen H7N9. We are in uncharted territory," said Gregory Hartl, World Health Organization spokesman in Geneva. "We have seen an upstart in cases, which we are attributing basically to the fact that it's winter. That combined with a lot of movement of people in crowded trains with chickens could give rise to a lot more infections, but we've also seen in past years where it hasn't."

The first H7N9 cases were reported in late March near Shanghai, and more than 200 others have since been identified, including some 50 deaths. A 31-year-old doctor became one of the latest fatalities, raising fears he may have been infected at the hospital where he worked, but none of his patients or other close contacts have reported flu symptoms, according to the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning.

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2 sisters with scarred lungs each get 1 transplanted in Houston from same donor

HOUSTON (AP) - They quibble, joke and share knowing looks, finishing each other's thoughts and making snide comments - like many sisters. But a recent heated argument was unlike any other they've had, and it ended in a most surprising way.

For months, 71-year-old Irma Myers-Santana and her younger sister, Anna Williamson, 69, had been debating who more urgently needed a lung transplant, each wanting the other to go first. Earlier this month, though, the sisters ended up in the same operating room, each getting one lung from the same donor in what doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital say is a first for their facility.

"It's never happened. ... We've transplanted siblings before, but years apart," said Dr. Scott Scheinin, who did Myers-Santana's transplant. "It's a little bit of serendipity."

The sisters both became ill about 10 years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a little-understood scarring of the lungs that often requires a transplant and kills more people than breast cancer every year, said Scheinin.

Doctors, assisted by a computer program, look at blood type, height and severity of illness to match a donor and a transplant patient. The likelihood that Myers-Santana and Williamson would meet all three criteria at the same time was small, Scheinin said.

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Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife indicted on federal corruption charges

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Bob McDonnell had just been elected governor of Virginia when a wealthy businessman who had donated the use of his private jet during the Republican's campaign requested a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York.

The governor-elect obliged and brought along his wife, Maureen, who during the meeting told Jonnie Williams she needed a dress for the inauguration the following month, according to a federal indictment of the McDonnells.

Williams agreed to buy her an Oscar de la Renta gown, but a Bob McDonnell aide said it would be inappropriate and nixed the idea, according to the indictment returned by a grand jury Tuesday.

Peeved, the former Washington Redskins cheerleader and future first lady fired off an email to the staffer.

"I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget," the email said. "I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke and have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done."

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AP Exclusive: Government to propose that child car seats protect kids in side-impact crashes

WASHINGTON (AP) - Child car seats would for the first time have to protect children from death and injury in side-impact crashes under regulations the government is proposing, The Associated Press has learned.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeks to upgrade standards for child seats for children weighing up to 40 pounds to include a new test that simulates a side crash. The agency estimates the standards will prevent the deaths of about five children and injuries to 64 others each year.

NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman is scheduled to announce the proposal Wednesday.

Under the proposal, the new tests will simulate a "T-bone" crash, where the front of a vehicle traveling 30 mph strikes the side of a small passenger vehicle traveling at 15 mph. The tests will position the car seat on a sled, with another sled ramming the side of the sled with the seat, rather than using actual vehicles since the aim isn't to test the crash worthiness of specific vehicles, NHTSA officials said.

Research shows that many child deaths and injuries in side-impact crashes involve a car carrying children that is stopped at an intersection, usually at a light or stop sign, officials said. When the car begins to accelerate to go through the intersection, it is struck in the side by a vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed on the cross street.

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NJ Gov. Chris Christie finds unlikely allies among Hispanic leaders amid growing controversy

His administration gripped by scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has found unlikely allies among the nation's Hispanic community.

In New Jersey and beyond, some minority leaders usually aligned with Democrats are giving the Republican governor the benefit of the doubt regarding controversies that have enveloped his office, in part because of Christie's aggressive courtship of minority voters throughout his first four years in office. Just days before an apparent case of political retribution by his office was exposed this month, Christie signed a new law granting in-state college tuition rates to New Jersey immigrants in the country illegally, winning national praise from Hispanic officials.

The gesture may alienate some conservatives in the next presidential election should he seek the White House, but it helped cement Christie's status as one of the Hispanic community's more popular Republicans.

"I think everybody needs to take a deep breath," said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, who delivered an invocation at the last Democratic National Convention. "We don't want to judge anything before all the facts are out. Gov. Christie has said he did not know about it. Right now, there's no evidence to the contrary."

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, suggested that Democrats are pushing new allegations against Christie because they're afraid of his strength as a prospective 2016 presidential candidate.

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Nadal avoids top player exodus from Australian Open with comeback win over Dimitrov

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Rafael Nadal avoided the top player exodus that claimed two-time defending women's champion Victoria Azarenka in the preceding match on center court with a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov in the Australian Open quarterfinals Wednesday.

Nadal, who received treatment several times for a nasty-looking blister on the palm of his left hand that he said caused him to serve slower than usual, advanced to a semifinal match against the winner of the marquee quarterfinal between Andy Murray and Roger Federer later Wednesday.

Azarenka won't have a semifinal date. No. 5-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska stopped Azarenka's 18-match winning run at Melbourne Park with a 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 win earlier in the day.

That means both defending champions went out in the quarterfinals - Novak Djokovic lost to Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday, ending his bid for a fourth consecutive men's title. Azarenka had been aiming for three in a row and other women's title contenders Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova didn't even make it as far as the quarterfinals.

Nadal won on his fourth match point on Dimitrov's serve in 3 hours, 37 minutes, a long time after his celebration following a second-set tiebreaker that more resembled a victory dance. He stayed in a squat position after his winning cross-court shot and then pumped his chest out three times.

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