- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

UN chief calls on world leaders to find ‘seeds of hope’ in world seeming to fall apart

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United Nations chief called for world leaders Wednesday to join an international campaign to ease the plight of nearly unprecedented numbers of refugees, the displaced and victims of violence in a world wracked by wars and the swift-spreading and deadly Ebola epidemic.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said leaders must find and nurture “seeds of hope” in the turmoil and despair of a world that may seem like it’s falling apart with people crying out for protection from greed and inequality.

“Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displace people and asylum seekers. Never before has the United Nations been asked to reach so many people with emergency food assistance and other life-saving supplies,” Ban said in his state of the world address at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.

Several leaders including Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the challenges - financial and social - of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.

Abdullah, whose country is sheltering nearly 1.4 million Syrians, said the refugee crisis “demands a global solution.”

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Obama implores world leaders at the UN: Help us destroy the Islamic State ‘network of death’

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Confronted by the growing threat of Middle East militants, President Barack Obama implored world leaders at the United Nations Wednesday to rally behind his expanding military campaign to stamp out the violent Islamic State group and its “network of death.”

“There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil,” Obama told the General Assembly. In a striking shift for a president who has been reluctant to take military action in the past, Obama declared that force is the only language the militants understand. He warned those who have joined their cause to “leave the battlefield while they can.”

The widening war against the Islamic State was just one in a cascade of crises that confronted the presidents, prime ministers and monarchs at the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Also vying for attention was Russia’s continued provocations in Ukraine, a deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the plight of civilians caught in conflicts around the world.

“Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he opened Wednesday’s session.

In a rare move, Obama also chaired a meeting of the U.N. Security Council where members unanimously adopted a resolution requiring all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State group.

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In government speak, “imminent attack plotting” may not mean an attack is all that imminent

WASHINGTON (AP) - Smart people in the administration have spent the last two days telling the American people that U.S. strikes against the Khorasan Group were necessary to disrupt “imminent attack plotting” against U.S. and Western interests.

They warned that members of the shadowy Khorasan Group, an al-Qaida offshoot, were “nearing the execution phase” of an attack in the U.S. or Europe.

They spoke of “active plotting that posed an imminent threat.”

People may have come away with the impression that the terror group was on the brink of pulling off something awful.

Perhaps not.

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Domestic violence in the US: Statistics still alarming despite big decline 20 years ago

For weeks, amid allegations involving several NFL players, domestic violence has been the focus of intense national attention. Does the turmoil reflect a worsening epidemic of domestic violence, or has the U.S. in fact made great strides to curtail it? The answer is complicated.

On one hand, domestic violence committed by intimate partners - current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends - has declined by more than 60 percent since the mid-1990s, according to Justice Department figures.

Yet the dramatic decrease from 1995 through 2004 has largely stalled, with the numbers stabilizing at a level that appalls people in the prevention field. The latest federal figures for “serious” intimate partner violence - sexual assault or aggravated physical assault - showed 360,820 such incidents in 2013, or roughly 1,000 per day.

Meanwhile, many organizations that serve the victims are struggling to meet rising demand, particularly in the past few weeks since a graphic video surfaced of suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his future wife unconscious in a casino elevator. Shelters are turning away victims for lack of beds and staff; the National Domestic Violence Hotline could handle barely half of the 8,500 calls that came during the eight days after the Rice video appeared.

“Statistically, are we improving?” asked the hotline’s president, Katie Ray-Jones. “From a service standpoint, it doesn’t feel like it.”

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3 defendants surrender to police to face charges in beating of gay couple in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A week after online sleuths used social media to identify suspects in the beating of a gay couple, three suburban Philadelphia defendants surrendered to police Wednesday and were charged in what one defense lawyer called merely a “fist fight that got out of hand.”

Police said 24-year-old Philip Williams of Warminster; 24-year-old Kathryn Knott of Southampton, the daughter of a suburban police chief; and 26-year-old Kevin Harrigan of Warrington turned themselves in Wednesday morning. They were charged with criminal conspiracy and two counts each of aggravated and simple assault, and reckless endangerment.

The victims told police a group hurled gay slurs and beat them when the two parties passed on a Philadelphia street Sept. 11. One man suffered serious facial injuries, including an orbital fracture, and had his jaw wired.

Williams’ attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said the suspects were celebrating a friend’s birthday at a city restaurant prior to the encounter. He said the case did not involve anyone’s sexual orientation, but was instead a “mutual confrontation” in which his client “was not the aggressor.”

“In no way, shape or form was this incident related to anyone’s sexual orientation,” Perri said outside the police station where his client surrendered Wednesday. “This was a mutual confrontation that started because two individuals got into an argument out in the street.”

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Algerian extremists linked to Islamic State group behead French hostage over airstrikes

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - An Algerian splinter group from al-Qaida has beheaded a French hostage over France’s airstrikes on the Islamic State group, in a sign of the possible widening of the crisis in Iraq and Syria to the rest of the region.

The killing of Herve Gourdel, a mountaineer who was kidnapped while hiking in Algeria, was a “cowardly assassination,” a visibly upset French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday, but he vowed to continue the military operation.

“Herve Gourdel is dead because he is the representative of a people - ours - that defends human dignity against barbarity,” Hollande said on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. “France will never cede to terrorism because it is our duty, and, more than that, because it is our honor.”

On Friday, France joined the U.S. in conducting airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq. Two days later, the Islamic State group called on Muslims to attack foreign targets, and the response in Algeria raised the specter of attacks on Westerners elsewhere.

Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice, was seized Sunday night while hiking in the Djura Djura mountains of northern Algeria. His Algerian companions were released.

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Red Cross team attacked in Guinea, as fear, misunderstanding stymie efforts to stop Ebola

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) - A Red Cross team was attacked while collecting bodies believed to be infected with Ebola in southeastern Guinea, the latest in a string of assaults that are hindering efforts to control West Africa’s current outbreak.

One Red Cross worker is recovering after being wounded in in the neck in Tuesday’s attack in Forecariah, according to Benoit Carpentier, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Family members of the dead initially set upon the six volunteers and vandalized their cars, said Mariam Barry, a resident. Eventually a crowd went to the regional health office, where they threw rocks at the building.

The attack is the most recent in a series that have plagued teams working to bury bodies safely, provide information about Ebola and disinfect public places. The most shocking was the abduction and killing last week in Guinea of eight people, health workers educating people about Ebola and the journalists accompanying them.

Ebola is believed to have infected more than 5,800 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. The unprecedented size and sweep of the outbreak have led governments to impose severe measures to control it, like a recent nationwide lockdown in Sierra Leone to look for the sick and spread information. On Wednesday, Sierra Leone said 30 more cases uncovered during the shutdown tested positive for Ebola, raising the total number discovered over the three days to 160.

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Italy, on front lines of Africa migration crisis, stages Ebola evacuation drill - just in case

PRATICA DI MARE AIR BASE, Italy (AP) - The patient, a slight woman in her 30s, lay motionless on the stretcher as a half-dozen men in biohazard suits transferred her from a C-27J cargo plane into an ambulance and then into a mobile hospital isolation ward, never once breaking the plastic seal encasing her.

The exercise put on Wednesday was just a simulation of the procedures that would be used to evacuate an Ebola patient to Italy. But for Italian military, Red Cross and health care workers, it offered essential experience, especially for those on the front lines of the country’s sea-rescue operation involving thousands of African migrants who arrive here every day in smugglers’ boats.

Italian authorities and medical experts insist that the risk of Ebola spreading from Africa to Europe is small, given that the virus only spreads by direct contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids. They say Italy’s first case of Ebola will probably be an Italian doctor or missionary who contracts the disease while caring for patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea - the three hardest-hit countries - and is airlifted home for treatment.

Yet concern runs high: EU health ministers who met this week in Milan spent an entire session discussing Ebola and the EU. They concluded that, while the risk of the disease coming to Europe is low, the EU must improve coordination and prevention measures to better diagnose, transport and treat suspected cases.

“There is an emergency,” said Dr. Natale Ceccarelli, who heads the infirmary at the Pratica di Mare air force base south of Rome, where the training course was staged. “If one person is infected, he infects everyone.”

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AP Exclusive: FAA didn’t take drones into account when planning new air traffic control system

WASHINGTON (AP) - Designers of the ambitious U.S. air traffic control system of the future neglected to take drones into account, raising questions about whether it can handle the escalating demand for the unmanned aircraft and predicted congestion in the sky.

“We didn’t understand the magnitude to which (drones) would be an oncoming tidal wave, something that must be dealt with, and quickly,” said Ed Bolton, the Federal Aviation Administration’s assistant administrator for NextGen, as the program is called.

Congress passed legislation creating NextGen in 2003, and directed the agency to accommodate all types of aircraft, including drones.

The program, which is not expected to be completed for at least another decade, is replacing radar and radio communications, technologies rooted in the early 20th century, with satellite-based navigation and digital communications.

The FAA has spent more than $5 billion on the complex program and is nearly finished installing hardware and software for several key systems. But the further it progresses, the more difficult it becomes to make changes.

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Training course shows passengers how to get out of a plane safely in an emergency

LONDON (AP) - They raced down the slide, one by one, like children on a playground. At the bottom, smartphone photos were snapped and high fives exchanged.

The frequent fliers were all smiling and laughing - and quietly hoping to never use an evacuation slide again. Doing so would mean their plane had just crashed.

The slide demonstration was part of a half-day safety course that encourages passengers to be aware of their surroundings and familiarize themselves with what happens in an emergency. The two dozen participants learned the best way to brace for a crash, how to open aircraft doors and why to wait until exiting a plane to inflate life vests.

“In this day and age, everybody is so comfortable with flying, they get on planes and don’t consider safety,” says Andy Clubb, a safety instructor at British Airways’ flight training center.

Started as a training exercise for oil company employees who routinely flew to remote locations, the course is now open to frequent fliers willing to pay $265, although most participants are still sent by their companies. There are up to three classes a week.

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