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

Friday, January 24, 2014

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What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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Bombings rock Egyptian capital, killing 5 people and raising fears of spreading militancy

CAIRO (AP) - Three bombings hit high-profile areas around Cairo on Friday, including a suicide car bomber who struck the city’s police headquarters, killing five people in the first major attack on the Egyptian capital as insurgents step up a campaign of violence following the ouster of the Islamist president.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of Islamic extremists who have increasingly targeted police and the military since the July 3 coup against Mohammed Morsi and a fierce crackdown on his supporters led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The explosions struck as the country was on high alert ahead of the third anniversary of the Jan. 25 start of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s supporters had vowed to use the event to gain momentum in their efforts turn to a new momentum to “break the coup.”

Friday’s violence began when a suicide bomber rammed a car into cement blocks surrounding the main Egyptian police headquarters in the heart of Cairo, killing at least four people and sending billows of black smoke into the sky. The blast also tore through nearby buildings, including the renowned Museum of Islamic Art.

Egypt’s antiquities minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, said the explosion badly damaged the facade of the 19th century museum and artifacts inside, including a rare collection of Islamic art objects dating back to 1881. He said the museum, which was recently renovated in a multimillion dollar project, will have to be “rebuilt.”

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Hagel, citing trust and safety implications of nuke ‘personnel failures,’ orders force review

WASHINGTON (AP) - It began with his brief mention last fall of “troubling lapses” in the nuclear force. Weeks later Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel turned up the heat a notch by paying a rare visit to a nuclear missile base. And on Thursday he dropped his bombshell: a demand for quick answers to what ails this most sensitive of military missions.

“Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,” Hagel wrote in unusually pointed language to a dozen top officials.

Hagel ordered immediate actions to define the depth of trouble inside the nuclear force, particularly the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security.

It amounted to the most significant expression of high-level Pentagon concern about the nuclear force since 2008, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Air Force following a series of mistakes that included a cross-country flight by a B-52 bomber that mistakenly had been armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The U.S. is reducing the size, and seeking to limit the role, of its nuclear arsenal, but it remains a central feature of national security policy. The weapons are an enormous responsibility for the military, not just to operate them properly but also to ensure they are safe and secure. Critics question whether it is worth the cost.

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No face-to-face meeting in Syrian peace talks proves disappointment

GENEVA (AP) - Direct talks planned between President Bashar Assad’s government and the Western-backed opposition hoping to overthrow him were scrapped Friday, and the two sides will meet a U.N. mediator in different rooms at different times.

The separate meetings are a major setback for a peace conference that has been on the verge of collapse since it was first floated in 2012 as a path out of the civil war that began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was meeting first with a government delegation and later Friday with representatives from the Syrian National Coalition, said U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci.

Bouthaina Shaaban, an advisor to Assad who traveled to Geneva for the talks, blamed the coalition and questioned whether it is prepared to negotiate an end to the violence.

“We came here with Syria and the Syrian people on our mind, only while they came here with positions and posts on their mind,” she said, minutes before her delegation drove into the U.N. offices for talks with Brahimi.

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Ukraine protesters seize government ministry, continue to occupy several local administrations

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Protesters on Friday seized a government building in the Ukrainian capital while also maintaining their siege of several governors’ offices in the country’s west, raising the pressure on the government.

After meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych for several hours late Thursday, opposition leaders told the crowds that he had promised to ensure the release of dozens of protesters detained after clashes with police, and stop further detentions. They urged the protesters to maintain a shaky truce following violent street battles in the capital, but were booed by demonstrators eager to resume clashes with police.

The truce has held, but early Friday protesters broke into the downtown building of the Ministry of Agricultural Policy, meeting no resistance. “We need to keep people warm in the frost,” said one of the protesters, Andriy Moiseenko. “We cannot have people sleeping in tents all the time.”

The demonstrators allowed ministry workers to take their possessions, but wouldn’t allow them to go to work.

The move followed the seizure of local governors’ offices in several western regions on Thursday.

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Attorneys for family of brain-dead Texas woman to ask that she be removed from life support

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Attorneys for a Fort Worth-area family will ask a judge Friday to allow a pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman to be removed from life support, despite hospital opposition.

State District Judge R.H. Wallace will hear arguments as the husband of Marlise Munoz seeks to remove her from life support. Munoz remains connected to machines in John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

Erick Munoz of Haltom City said his wife, a fellow paramedic, clearly stated to him before he found her unconscious on Nov. 26: If she ever fell into this condition, she was not to be kept alive.

Hospital officials, however, say they’re bound by a state law that prohibits the withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital is misapplying the law.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has gripped the attention of groups on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz’s fetus deserves a chance to be born.

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20 years old, FDA is remaking the nutrition facts panel on the backs of food packages

WASHINGTON (AP) - After 20 years, the nutrition facts label on the back of food packages is getting a makeover.

Knowledge about nutrition has evolved since the early 1990s, and the Food and Drug Administration says the labels need to reflect that.

Nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list for label changes.

The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on serving sizes.

“There’s a feeling that nutrition labels haven’t been as effective as they should be,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.”

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Iowa, NH would retain presidential influence in new GOP rules that shorten primary process

WASHINGTON (AP) - Iowa and New Hampshire would retain their coveted spots atop the presidential primary calendar, according to new rules set to be approved by Republican leaders that could reshape the 2016 presidential election.

South Carolina and Nevada would also secure top spots, as they have in the past, as part of a larger plan that would significantly shorten the GOP’s presidential selection process.

Friday’s vote comes as the Republican National Committee works to create an easier path to the White House for its next nominee roughly a year before campaigning begins in earnest for the next presidential contest. While President Barack Obama’s second term began just one year ago, prospective Republican candidates already have begun visiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that hold outsize influence because of their early positions on the primary calendar.

New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are expected to host the first four contests in February 2016 under the new schedule, while the remainder of the nation’s 46 states and territories would vote between early March and mid-May. The party’s national convention is expected in late June or early July, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm.

Officials from early voting states praised the plan, which establishes strict penalties for states that jump out of order, as Florida did in 2012.

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Political payback investigation expands as feds subpoena NJ Gov. Christie’s campaign, GOP

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign and the state Republican Party have less than two weeks to comply with subpoenas from federal prosecutors investigating allegations of political payback.

Subpoenas to the Christie for Governor organization and the Republican State Committee were disclosed Thursday, the same day the Republican governor’s campaign announced it had hired a Washington, D.C., law firm in the case.

The subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s office are evidence of an escalating criminal investigation into allegations that Christie’s aides created traffic jams in the town of a Democratic adversary. Earlier in the month, Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said his office was reviewing the matter “to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”

The federal subpoenas are due Feb. 5. A state legislative committee also is investigating. Its subpoenas for correspondence from 20 Christie associates and organizations are due Feb. 3.

Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, was New Jersey’s U.S. attorney before stepping down in late 2008 to run for governor.

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Bieber’s image evolving from clean-cut boy next door to bad boy; faces charges in Florida

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Justin Bieber’s mug shot hints at the boy-next-door image he’s carefully crafted over the past several years, with a glistening smile and professionally upswept hair.

But the red jail jumpsuit also visible in the photo tells a different story, one about the singer’s recent troubles and emergence as a bad boy. The 19-year-old pop star is facing possible jail time after his arrest in Florida on charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest and driving with an expired license.

Still, as he has been so many times since achieving stardom at age 15, Bieber was swarmed by crowds of news media and screaming young girls as he left jail Thursday afternoon. He popped through a window of his black SUV in a black hoodie and sunglasses to wave back.

Police said they arrested a bleary-eyed Bieber - smelling of alcohol - after officers saw him drag-racing before dawn Thursday on a palm-lined residential street in Miami Beach, his yellow Lamborghini traveling at nearly twice the speed limit.

He was arrested early Thursday with R&B; singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, after police saw them racing two luxury vehicles down the street at 4:09 a.m., with two other vehicles apparently being used to block off the area.

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Swastika on Austrian gravestone defies ban on Nazi symbols; officials claim their hands tied

GRAZ, Austria (AP) - The marble tombstone looks like others dotting the main cemetery of Graz, Austria’s second city - but only at first glance. Carved into it are a swastika and the inscription: “He died in the struggle for a Great Germany.”

Footsteps away, another gravestone is marked with the SS lightning bolts proudly worn by the elite Nazi troops who executed most of the crimes of the Holocaust.

Austrian law bans such symbols, and those displaying them face criminal charges and potential prison terms. Yet the emblems reflecting this country’s darkest chapter in history endure here, and officials appear either unable or unwilling to do away with them - despite complaints from locals.

The controversy reflects Austria’s complex relationship with the Hitler era.

Annexation by Germany in 1938 enabled Austrians to claim after the war that they were Hitler’s first victims. Austria has moved since to acknowledge that it was instead a perpetrator. It has paid out millions of dollars in reparations, restored property to Jewish heirs and misses no public opportunity to ask for forgiveness for its wartime role.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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