- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

US, Europe escalate sanctions on Russia; Obama says Ukraine actions ‘have consequences’

WASHINGTON (AP) - Struggling to defuse the persistent crisis in Ukraine, both the U.S. and European Union imposed new economic sanctions on Russia Wednesday, with President Barack Obama declaring that Russian leaders must see that their actions supporting rebels “have consequences.”

Though the American and European sanctions were coordinated, they nonetheless exposed fissures in what the West has tried to project as a united front in its monthslong effort to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin, sounding unperturbed, said the U.S. was only hurting itself.

The penalties announced by the White House were broad in scope, targeting two major Russian energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight arms firms and four individuals. Leaders in Europe, which has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., were more restrained, ordering investment and development banks on the continent to suspend financing agreements with Moscow.

In a decision that could affect Russian oligarchs or members of the Kremlin inner circle, the EU leaders also asked their foreign ministers to consider targeting people or companies involved in the unrest in Ukraine.


Israel, Hamas agree to a 5-hour ‘humanitarian’ pause in Gaza fighting

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour U.N. brokered “humanitarian” pause to their 9-day-long battle, offering the most encouraging sign yet that the fierce fighting could come to an end.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship. Israel said it would hold its fire Thursday from 10 a.m. (0700 GMT, 3 a.m. EDT) under a plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities. But it vowed to retaliate “firmly and decisively” if Hamas or other militant groups launch attacks on Israel during that time.

Later, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that following consultations with various factions the Gaza militants had decided to respect the pause as well and would refrain from firing rockets during those hours as well.

Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, had asked Israel to agree to a “unilateral humanitarian pause” so that the supplies can be delivered to Gaza, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Serry will “urge the parties in Gaza to respect that pause,” Haq said.

Israel previously had halted its fire for six hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that unraveled. Abu Zuhri said Wednesday his group had formally rejected the plan, bemoaning what he called little support from the Arab world.


10 Things to Know for Thursday

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Israel and Hamas agree to a five-hour “humanitarian” pause to their 9-day-long battle, the most encouraging sign that the fierce battle could come to an end.


Studies reveal more side effects for cholesterol drug niacin; some doctors say it’s too risky

New details from two studies reveal more side effects from niacin, a drug that hundreds of thousands of Americans take for cholesterol problems and general heart health. Some prominent doctors say the drug now seems too risky for routine use.

Niacin is a type of B vitamin long sold over the counter and in higher prescription doses. Some people take it alone or with statin medicines such as Lipitor for cholesterol problems.

Niacin users’ main complaint has been flushing, so drug companies have been testing extended-release and combining other medicines with it to minimize that problem. Introduced in the 1950s, the drug hadn’t been rigorously tested until recent years when makers of prescription versions were seeking market approval.

The two studies were testing prescription versions of niacin, and the bottom line - that it didn’t help prevent heart problems any more than statins alone do - has already been announced. Some of the side effect information, including a troubling rise in deaths among niacin users in one study, also was known but many doctors have been waiting for full details and verification of the results before drawing firm conclusions about the drug’s safety and effectiveness.

Those details are in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.


A loss or a gain? Democrats reach for political advantage with women in birth control setback

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Democrats suffered what looked like a difficult setback on birth control Wednesday, but they hope it pays big political dividends in November.

Republicans blocked a bill that was designed to override a Supreme Court ruling and ensure access to contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies with religious objections. The vote was 56-43 to move ahead on the legislation - dubbed the “Not My Boss’ Business Act” by proponents - four short of the 60 necessary to proceed.

But Democrats hope the issue has enough life to energize female voters in the fall, when Republicans are threatening to take control of the Senate.

GOP senators said Wednesday’s vote was simply a stunt, political messaging designed to boost vulnerable Democratic incumbents. The GOP needs to gain six seats to seize control.

“Democrats are just trying to win an election,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said bluntly.


Afghan military official says gunmen attack Kabul Airport

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Gunmen used rockets to attack the Kabul International Airport in the Afghan capital Thursday, a senior military official said.

The gunmen occupied two buildings, which were under construction, 700 meters (yards) north of the airport, and were using them as a base to fire rockets and gunfire toward the airport and ISAF jet fighters flying over Kabul, said Afzal Aman, a general in the Afghan army in Kabul.

The predawn attack comes during a tense time in Afghanistan as a recount is underway from the second round of a disputed presidential election.

Aman said several rockets hit the airport but no planes had been damaged so far. He said two attackers had been killed by Afghan forces.

Besides civilian traffic, the airport is used as a base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting for more than a decade against Taliban and others. Rocket attacks near the airport are not rare, but are not usually this close.


Fox bid for Time Warner sets off race to consolidate among media companies

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Even though Rupert Murdoch’s $76 billion bid for rival media giant Time Warner Inc. has been rejected, that doesn’t mean how you watch TV shows and movies will stop changing any time soon.

The cash-and-stock bid by Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. was partly meant to counter consolidation among TV distributors like Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV.;

The more must-have channels like HBO and Fox News Channel are assembled under one company, the stronger that company’s bargaining position in demanding licensing fees from the TV distributors, no matter how big they get.

Time Warner also owns TV channels CNN, TNT and TBS, along with the Warner Bros. movie studio, which includes Batman, Superman and Harry Potter. Fox owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio, the Fox broadcast network and such TV channels as Fox News and FX.

Much of the value is in the television channels because of the ever-increasing fees they are able to command from cable and satellite TV providers. Disputes over such fees have led to temporary blackouts of popular channels from various systems.


Digital afterlife: What happens to your email, other accounts when you die and don’t specify?

WASHINGTON (AP) - You’ve probably decided who gets the house or that family heirloom up in the attic when you die. But what about your email account and all those photos stored online?

Grieving relatives might want access for sentimental reasons, or to settle financial issues. But do you want your mom reading your exchanges on an online dating profile or a spouse going through every email?

The Uniform Law Commission, whose members are appointed by state governments to help standardize state laws, on Wednesday endorsed a plan that would give loved ones access to - but not control of - the deceased’s digital accounts, unless specified otherwise in a will.

To become law in a state, the legislation would have to be adopted by the legislature. If it did, a person’s online life could become as much a part of estate planning as deciding what to do with physical possessions.

“This is something most people don’t think of until they are faced with it. They have no idea what is about to be lost,” said Karen Williams of Beaverton, Oregon, who sued Facebook for access to her 22-year-old son Loren’s account after he died in a 2005 motorcycle accident.


Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin asks world: Where were you while I walked on moon 45 years ago Sunday?

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin was “out of town” when the world united and rejoiced in a way never seen before or since.

He and Neil Armstrong were on the moon.

They missed the whole celebration 45 years ago this Sunday. So did Michael Collins, orbiting solo around the moon in the mother ship.

Now, on this Apollo 11 milestone - just five years shy of the golden anniversary - Aldrin is asking everyone to remember where they were when he and Armstrong became the first humans to step onto another heavenly body, and to share their memories online.

Too young? You can also share how the moonwalkers inspired you.


Urban warfare feared in Ukraine as insurgents hunker down in cities; relatives are sent away

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Insurgents bade tearful farewells Wednesday as they loaded their families onto Russia-bound buses and began hunkering down for what could be the next phase in Ukraine’s conflict: bloody urban warfare.

While the pro-Russian rebels in the east have lost much ground in recent weeks and were driven from their stronghold of Slovyansk, many have regrouped in Donetsk, an industrial city that had a population of 1 million before tens of thousands of civilians started fleeing for fear of a government siege.

The rebels also hold the city of Luhansk, where they are said to be taking up positions in residential and industrial zones while lobbing artillery at government troops.

Despite the government’s desire to minimize civilian casualties, Ukraine’s forces could find themselves dragged into grueling warfare inside the cities in their battle to hold the country together.

“To respond to this phase … we evidently must change tactics,” said Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the presidential administration. He refrained from specifying how.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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