- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

New peace deal reached for eastern Ukraine; Cease-fire on Sunday but questions remain

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - The peace deal reached Thursday for Ukraine, if it holds, would be a partial win for both Moscow and Kiev: Ukraine retains the separatist eastern regions and regains control of its border with Russia, while Russia holds strong leverage to keep Ukraine from ever becoming part of NATO.

But neither side came away from the marathon talks unscathed.

There’s no sign Russia will soon escape the Western sanctions that have driven its economy down sharply, and Kiev’s price for regaining control of the border with Russia is to grant significant new power to the east.

But the complicated calculus of whether any side came out truly ahead can’t be determined unless a single, straightforward term is fulfilled: halting the shooting and artillery salvos that have killed more than 5,300 people since April. That is supposed to happen on Sunday, at one minute after midnight.

A cease-fire called in September never fully took hold and fighting escalated sharply in the past month. Questions remain about whether either side possesses the will or discipline to ensure a truce this time.

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Egyptian court orders Al-Jazeera journalists freed on bail, but their fate remains murky

CAIRO (AP) - A court ordered two Al-Jazeera journalists freed on bail Thursday after more than a year in detention on terrorism charges in a case that human rights groups have called a sham.

If authorities aim to eventually exonerate Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, their strategy for doing so remains murky and slow as they apparently seek a face-saving way out of a legal process that has drawn international criticism of Egyptian justice.

A solution was found for a third Al-Jazeera defendant, Australian Peter Greste, when he was deported two weeks ago to his great relief. But Thursday’s decision indicated the court was moving ahead with a retrial of Fahmy and Mohammed.

The decision to release Fahmy and Mohammed brought tears of joy and relief by their relatives in the Cairo courtroom.

Al-Jazeera called the decision “a small step in the right direction” but said the court should dismiss “this absurd case” and release both journalists unconditionally.” The trial’s next session is set for Feb. 23.

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Fathers of the 3 Muslims shot in Chapel Hill demand hate crime prosecution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - The fathers of the three Muslim students shot in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina apartment spoke with The Associated Press before their funeral on Thursday, calling on Americans to understand that they died in a hate crime.

Craig Stephen Hicks is charged with first-degree murder in the shootings Tuesday of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

HOPES FOR JUSTICE

“I believe, hoping, praying hard that justice will be served and that at least he will face the death penalty. Going to an apartment, knocking on the door and shooting three innocent people - What other charge can there be? I can’t imagine,” Namee Barakat said.

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Republicans pledge changes in Obama’s request for authorization against Islamic State fighters

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional Republicans vowed Thursday to toughen President Barack Obama’s day-old legislation to authorize military force against Islamic State fighters, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi warned, “It’s going to be hard” to find common ground.

Nothing underscored the yawning divide between the two parties than Obama’s request to bar “enduring offensive combat operations” from the struggle against terrorists who have seized territory in Syria and Iraq and beheaded hostages.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said disapprovingly that Obama’s proposal would “tie his hands even further” than current law.

But Pelosi, recalling the long, difficult war in Iraq, said the president “has to be commended” for proposing to limit his own power.

Obama is seeking a three-year authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State militants or any successor groups, without regard to international boundaries. His proposal would leave in place 2001 legislation approving military action against al-Qaida following the terror attacks of 9/11.

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Ex-Marine charged in ‘American Sniper’ case tells police in video he took ‘a couple of souls’

STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) - Police video played in court Thursday showed a former Marine telling officers investigating the deaths of two men including “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle that he had “taken a couple of souls” and had more to take.

The recording shows police in Lancaster, near Dallas, trying to coax Eddie Ray Routh from a pickup in the hours after famed Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were found dead at a shooting range in February 2013.

Officers in the video are seen trying to talk Routh into surrendering as he makes comments such as, “Anarchy has been killing the world.”

“He told us he’d taken a couple of souls and he had more souls to take,” Lancaster police Lt. Michael Smith testified Thursday.

Defense attorneys have said Routh, 27, was insane when Kyle and Littlefield took him to a shooting range to provide support and camaraderie. Routh believed the men planned to kill him, his attorneys say. Routh faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

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How a tantrum over serving nuts on Korean Air flight ended with a prison sentence

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The headline-grabbing “nut rage” episode reached a conclusion Thursday with a one- year prison sentence for its chief protagonist, Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah. A South Korean court found that she violated aviation law when she ordered a crew member off a Dec. 5 flight before it took off from New York, forcing the Korean Air plane to return to the gate. Cho, then head of cabin service at the airline, was angered at being offered macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a dish, and she physically confronted the crew in the first-class cabin.

Q: WHO IS CHO HYUN-AH?

A: Cho, 40, is the eldest of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho’s three children. After graduating from Hotel Management School at Cornell University, Cho in 1999 joined Korean Air, which was founded by her grandfather. She enjoyed fast-track promotion and became an executive in 2006 at the age of 32. Her paternal grandfather is a member of the first generation of entrepreneurs who helped build the economy from the ashes of Korean War. She is married to a prominent plastic surgeon, who performed his nips and tucks in Gangnam, a tony district of Seoul, and has twin sons.

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Bob Simon of CBS, dead at 73, remembered for ability to face danger, tell stories

NEW YORK (AP) - Bob Simon was kidnapped in Iraq, beaten in Belfast and held at gunpoint in Romania during a nearly 50-year career at CBS News. His bravery made the mundane way he died - in the back seat of a car on Manhattan’s West Side Highway Wednesday night - seem all the more tragic.

Simon’s work outlives him, and not just on reputation. A story he was working on with his producer, daughter Tanya Simon, about searching for an Ebola cure, is scheduled to air on “60 Minutes” this weekend. The newsmagazine will have a full tribute to Simon on Feb. 22.

He died at age 73.

Simon was a foreign correspondent in the heyday of CBS News and broadcast news in general. He was one of the last to leave Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1973, and reported on conflicts in Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Portugal, Cyprus, Argentina, India, Romania, Bosnia and, most indelibly, the Middle East.

He often said he was better known in Israel when he was stationed there than he was in the U.S., something he may have wished was untrue. A story in the late 1980s that showed Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian boys during the Intifada earned him so many threats that he needed to hire security for his home.

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Despite executions and police raids, methamphetamine a rising public health threat in Iran

VERDIJ, Iran (AP) - Iran is breaking bad.

Officials say methamphetamine production and abuse of hard drugs are skyrocketing in the country despite potentially lethal criminal penalties for users if they are caught. The increase is partly because Iran is the main gateway for the region’s top drug exporter, Afghanistan - and partly because Iranian dealers are profiting so handsomely.

Ghazal Tolouian, a psychologist who treats dozens of meth addicts at a therapy camp in a mountain village northwest of Tehran, says most of her clients fall into two categories: students “who want to pass university entrance exams successfully,” and “people who have to work a second and third shift to make ends meet and earn more money.”

Anti-narcotics and medical officials say more than 2.2 million of Iran’s 80 million citizens already are addicted to illegal drugs, including 1.3 million on registered treatment programs. They say the numbers keep rising annually, even though use of the death penalty against convicted smugglers has increased, too, and now accounts for more than nine of every 10 executions.

Parviz Afshar, an anti-narcotics official, said for every meth lab they detect, two more might spring up, often involving small-scale “cooks” operating in residences where production is particularly hard to detect.

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AP Exclusive: Disney gave wording suggestions to health officials during measles outbreak

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - As the measles outbreak spread last month, Disneyland executives sent a series of emails to California health officials asking them to emphasize that the theme park was not responsible for the illnesses and was safe to visit, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

There is no evidence Disneyland - or health officials, who incorporated at least some of the theme park’s suggestions - tried to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak or mislead the public. Nor is it unusual for companies to try to get public officials’ ear during a crisis.

But the email exchange pulls back the curtain on what can be a delicate process. And it shows Disneyland’s concern about the disease’s potential harm to “The Happiest Place on Earth” even as the theme park worked with health authorities to alert the public to the danger.

As the infections multiplied, Disneyland forwarded suggestions to the California Department of Public Health and tried to insert language into an update from the Orange County Health Care Agency, according to correspondence spanning the first two weeks of the outbreak. The emails were obtained through a public records request.

In one exchange, a Disneyland official wanted the state to make it clear the park was not responsible for the outbreak. In another, Disneyland wanted the state to clarify that it was safe for vaccinated people to visit the theme park. In that instance, the state updated its website to address Disneyland’s concern.

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Superstition times 3: 2015 calendar has 3 Friday the 13ths - and 3 chances for bad luck

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Get ready for superstition - times three.

Friday is the first of three Friday the 13ths this year.

Each year has at least one Friday the 13th, but there can be as many as three. 2012 was the last year with three Friday the 13ths; the next will be 2026.

Here’s a look at the mysterious date through the eyes of a numerals-obsessed educator who calls himself Professor 13; a British journalist moving her family to a new home on Friday the 13th - while wearing a four-leaf clover; a physics professor who used to tempt fate by breaking mirrors and walking under ladders on Friday the 13th; and a New Jersey woman whose cat rescue operation finds it hardest to locate homes for black cats.

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