- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Iran nuclear negotiators resume talks after crashing through March deadline for deal

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) - Iran nuclear negotiators resumed talks here Wednesday, just hours after abandoning a March 31 deadline to reach the outline of a deal and agreeing to press on. However, as the discussions dragged on, three of the six foreign ministers involved left the talks, and prospects for agreement remained uncertain.

Claiming enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering and eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his British and German counterparts huddled with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne to continue a marathon effort to bridge still significant gaps and hammer out details of a framework accord.

The foreign ministers of China, France and Russia all departed Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence was not clear.

The remaining ministers and the Chinese, French and Russian officials left behind are looking to reach understandings that would form the basis for a comprehensive agreement to be reached by the end of June.

After the talks last broke in the early hours of Wednesday, Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and that documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said before leaving that the negotiators had reached agreement in principle on all key issues, and in the coming hours it will be put on paper.

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Signs point to natural causes or accident in death of Getty scion in Hollywood Hills home

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Andrew Getty, among the heirs in a family whose name is synonymous with elite American wealth, was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home from was most likely natural causes or an accident, authorities and family members said.

Neither the coroner nor police had officially identified the man, but a statement from 47-year-old Andrew Getty’s parents, Ann and Gordon Getty, confirmed it was him.

Gordon Getty is the San Francisco billionaire scion of the late J. Paul Getty, whose oil fortune made his family among the richest in U.S. history.

Andrew Getty’s death appeared to be from natural causes, Los Angeles County coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said, but it has been initially called an accident because of medication found at the scene. He said coroner’s officials need to await the results of further examination and toxicology tests, which could take up to 10 weeks to process.

“The tentative information that we do have is that he was not feeling good for the last couple months,” Winter said, “and he supposedly had an appointment tomorrow with a personal physician.”

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Interior minister says Iraqi forces will recapture Tikrit from Islamic State within ‘hours’

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s interior minister says security forces are battling the last remaining pockets of Islamic State militants in Tikrit and that he expects them to gain full control of the city “within the coming hours.”

The minister, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, says the objective now is to free Tikrit and restore normalcy as quickly as possible. He says the government will help displaced residents return and that a civil defense unit will be combing the city for roadside bombs and car bombs.

Al-Ghabban spoke from the front-lines in Tikrit on Wednesday, a day after troops reached city center.

Iraqi forces launched the operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown on March 2. The U.S. launched airstrikes on the embattled city last week at the request of the Iraqi government.

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Religious freedom debate highlights GOP divisions, social issues as 2016 primary begins

WASHINGTON (AP) - It is a debate many Republicans hoped to avoid.

But as the backlash intensifies over a so-called religious freedom law in Indiana, the GOP’s leading White House contenders have been drawn into a messy clash that highlights the party’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage and threatens to inject social issues into the early stages of the 2016 presidential primary season.

The debate has also energized Democrats nationwide while exposing sharp divisions between Republicans and local business leaders who oppose a law that critics say allows business owners to deny services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

“It’s been a tough week,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in a Tuesday press conference. He called for a legislative fix to address what he called a perception problem just five days after signing the bill into law.

It is a huge moment for Pence, a Republican presidential prospect himself, who has become the public face of the contentious law. It is also a critical time for the Republican Party, which has recently played down its opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage to help attract more women and younger voters before the next presidential election.

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Lufthansa executives visit French Alps crash site amid questions about co-pilot

SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France (AP) - Lufthansa’s chief executive said Wednesday it will take “a long, long time” to understand what led to a deadly crash in the Alps last week - but refused to say what the airline knew about the mental health of the co-pilot suspected of deliberately destroying the plane.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr and the head of its low-cost airline Germanwings, Thomas Winkelmann, were visiting the crash area Wednesday amid mounting questions about how much the airlines knew about co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s psychological state and why they haven’t released more information about it.

The two men lay flowers and then stood silently facing a stone monument to the plane’s 150 victims. The monument looks toward the mountains where the Germanwings A320 crashed and shattered into thousands of pieces March 24 and bears a memorial message in German, Spanish, French and English.

Spohr said the airline is “learning more every day” about what might have led to the crash but “it will take a long, long time to understand how this could happen.”

He then deflected questions from reporters at the site in Seyne-les-Alpes, and drove away.

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Palestinians hope joining International Criminal Court will give it more leverage on Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - The Palestinians formally joined the International Criminal Court on Wednesday, as part of a broader effort to put international pressure on Israel and exact a higher price for its occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state.

Beyond seeking war crimes charges against Israel at the court, the Palestinians want the U.N. Security Council to set a deadline for an Israeli troop withdrawal and hope for new momentum of a Palestinian-led international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The atmosphere seems ripe for international intervention after recently re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu startled the world with a pledge to voters, since withdrawn, that he would not allow a Palestinian state to be established.

But a legal and diplomatic showdown isn’t inevitable as aides say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas isn’t interested in an all-out confrontation with Israel. War crimes charges against Israel could be years away and Washington likely will soften any Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood.

Here is a look at what’s expected:

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American farmer among the winners in the year since Russia was hit by US and EU sanctions

MOSCOW (AP) - Kansas-born farmer Justus Walker is prospering in Russia - one year after U.S. and European Union sanctions against his adopted country over its aggression in Ukraine.

Walker, sporting a bushy beard reminiscent of a Russian peasant from past centuries, uses his Siberian dairy smallholding to support his missionary work.

He shot to fame in August, shortly after the Russian government banned Western food imports in retaliation for the sanctions.

The farmer told Russian TV that said his cheese had been struggling to compete with Italian mozzarella until the ban kicked in. He chortled as he added: “But now your Italian cheese won’t be there!”

The clip went viral across Russia, turning the American farmer into an Internet meme, even though he opposes sanctions and says his remarks were taken out of context. His sales soared and there was even a boom in Walker-themed souvenirs.

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What’s next? Next-generation GMOs could be pink pineapples, purple tomatoes, healthier oils

WASHINGTON (AP) - Cancer-fighting pink pineapples, heart-healthy purple tomatoes and less fatty vegetable oils may someday be on grocery shelves alongside more traditional products.

These genetically engineered foods could receive government approval in the coming years, following the OK given recently given to apples that don’t brown and potatoes that don’t bruise.

The companies and scientists that have created these foods are hoping that customers will be attracted to the health benefits and convenience and overlook any concerns about genetic engineering.

“I think once people see more of the benefits they will become more accepting of the technology,” says Michael Firko, who oversees the Agriculture Department’s regulation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Critics aren’t so sure. They say there should be more thorough regulation of modified foods, which are grown from seeds engineered in labs, and have called for mandatory labeling of those foods. The Agriculture Department has the authority to oversee plant health of GMOs, and seeking Food and Drug Administration’s safety approval is generally voluntary.

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Singer Joni Mitchell hospitalized in Los Angeles; ambulance called to her Bel Air neighborhood

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Joni Mitchell was in intensive care in a Los Angeles-area hospital on Tuesday, according to the Twitter account and website of the folk singer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

“Joni was found unconscious in her home this afternoon,” said a statement on the Mitchell website. “She is currently in intensive care undergoing tests and is awake and in good spirits.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what illness she had.

Los Angeles fire officials said paramedics answered an afternoon 911 call in Bel Air, where Mitchell lives, and took a patient to the hospital. But they could not verify her identity or give details on her condition.

The 71-year-old singer-songwriter told Billboard magazine in December that she has a rare skin condition, Morgellons disease, which prevents her from performing. Still, she released a career-spanning four-disc box set last year and appeared at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party in February.

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NCAA pilot program pays for Final Four family travel - but will it continue?

Getting to the Final Four won’t be as costly for the parents of many players this week, thanks to an NCAA pilot program that is helping pay for families of athletes to travel and see their sons and daughters play in the biggest college basketball games of the season.

The family travel program was approved in January. It allowed the College Football Playoff to pay for the parents or guardians of Ohio State and Oregon players to travel to Arlington, Texas for the national championship game and for the NCAA to pay for family members of the players participating in the men’s Final Four in Indianapolis and women’s in Tampa, Florida this weekend.

The next step is for the NCAA to decide whether to make it permanent - and some, such as Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, want to expand it to the championships for all sports.

Under the program, the College Football Playoff and NCAA were allowed to provide schools $3,000 per player per team to cover travel, food and hotel costs for two parents or guardians.

Smith said 87 of 110 Ohio State football players took advantage of the benefit that was implemented through an NCAA waiver just days before the national title game.

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