- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

No mention of knife, ransom and blood: Japan’s media self-censor during hostage crisis

TOKYO (AP) - Images or mentions of knives, ransom or blood - or anything else that can be seen alluding to the hostage crisis involving two Japanese in Syria - have been omitted. Some anime and other entertainment programs are altering, canceling or postponing episodes violating those sensitivities - typical of the kind of self-restraint shown here to avoid controversy.

The fates of a Japanese journalist and Jordanian military pilot were still unknown Saturday after the latest purported deadline for a possible prisoner swap lapsed with no further messages from the Islamic State group holding them captive. Another Japanese hostage has purportedly been killed.

The restraint by broadcasters and other media has spilled over into politics as opposition lawmakers, mindful of the crisis, toned down their criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his team. When dozens of lawmakers appeared in their traditional kimonos this week to mark the opening of the annual session, they were attacked on blogs and social networks for looking too festive and insensitive.

The hostage crisis broke out on Jan. 20, with the release of an online video showing the two hostages with a black masked man wielding a knife, demanding $200 million ransom in exchange for their lives.

Not wanting to be seen as insensitive - a huge faux pas in a society that holds consideration for others in high esteem - Japanese broadcasters quickly screened out any buzzwords and related images, all in the name of “jishuku,” or self-imposed control.

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Mitt Romney out: Former GOP nominee ends 3-week flirtation with another White House run

WASHINGTON (AP) - He insists he could win, but Mitt Romney has stepped out of the 2016 presidential contest in favor of the “next generation of Republican leaders” following a three-week fact-finding effort that revealed significant resistance to a third campaign.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee on Friday formally ended his flirtation with another White House bid and encouraged his supporters to seek another candidate from the crowded field of prospective GOP contenders. Aides said it was a deeply personal and even painful decision for Romney.

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney told supporters on a conference call. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

The remark was both a recognition of his own limitations and an indirect swipe at the man who created the urgency behind Romney’s brief flirtation with a third presidential campaign: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents who is speeding toward a campaign of his own.

Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have served as Romney’s most likely rivals for the support of the GOP establishment, and both men felt an immediate impact from Romney’s announcement. It sparked a rush of activity by Romney loyalists - operatives and donors alike - suddenly freed to support another White House hopeful as the crowded field begins to take shape.

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Islamic State group militants target Iraq’s libraries in war on culture, learning in Mosul

BAGHDAD (AP) - When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people’s ideas.

Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books - including children’s stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science - into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.

The rest?

“These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned,” a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation, said the Islamic State group official made his impromptu address as others stuffed books into empty flour bags.

Since the Islamic State group seized a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria, they have sought to purge society of everything that doesn’t conform to their violent interpretation of Islam. They already have destroyed many archaeological relics, deeming them pagan, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous. Increasingly books are in the firing line.

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NYC to pay $5 million to kin of man killed in ‘Mafia cops’ case; he was mistaken for mobster

NEW YORK (AP) - Nicholas Guido was showing off his new car outside his mother’s home on Christmas Day 1986 when he was gunned down because he’d been mistaken for a mobster with the same name. The bad information, prosecutors said, came from two decorated police detectives who would later be convicted of moonlighting as hit men for the mob.

Twenty-nine years later, the city has reached a $5 million settlement with Guido’s family in part of the fallout from one of the most stunning police corruption cases in New York history.

“This tragic matter involves the murder of an innocent man. After evaluating all the facts, it was determined that settling the case was in the city’s best interest,” the Law Department said in a statement. The family’s lawyer didn’t immediately return a call Friday night seeking comment.

Guido’s mother, Pauline Pipitone, was washing dishes after Christmas dinner when gunfire erupted outside her Brooklyn home.

She ran over to the car and found her 26-year-old son sitting up at the wheel, she testified at the ex-detectives’ 2006 racketeering trial. “I went to touch his hand, and he must have just died,” she said. “His fingertips were cold.”

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Is he dead? Philippines awaits answer of costly commando raid on most-wanted terror suspects

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - The cellphone message of the Filipino police commandos to their base was triumphant: “Mike 1 bingo,” a code meaning they have killed one of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terror suspects, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.

But the euphoria among police generals monitoring the Jan. 25 dawn assault in a southern swampland was brief.

As daybreak lifted their night cover, the young commandos came under intense rebel fire, trapped in the marshy fringes of Mamasapano town, a Muslim rebel stronghold about 2-3 kilometers (1.2-1.8 miles) from where backup police forces waited. Unable to carry Marwan’s body, one of the commandos chopped off his finger and another took pictures as proof of his death, according to police officials.

Another policeman kept frantically calling for reinforcements by radio, but standby forces failed to penetrate the battle scenes and the pleas for help eventually vanished.

“There was radio silence, a very long silence,” Chief Superintendent Noli Talino, who helped oversee the operation, said in Friday’s eulogy, his voice cracking.

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China’s growing embrace of snow and ice sports helping drive bid for 2022 Winter Olympics

CHONGLI, China (AP) - Clad in neon-green from head to toe, Chinese snowboarder He Qiang is part of a growing cohort of middle-class enthusiasts in a country with little tradition of winter sports but that is now seeking to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The 28-year-old escapes his office job in the Chinese capital for the skiing mecca of Chongli, nestled in mountains near the Great Wall where Beijing hopes to stage Nordic skiing and other events in its bid to become the first city to hold both winter and summer Olympics.

“Snowboarding is just such an awesome feeling,” He said, as a rare snow storm swirled around him and frigid wind gusts whistled along the edges of his ski lift’s wind shield. “I can only imagine how much faster that will grow if we win the Winter Olympics.”

He says more friends are joining him on the three-hour bus ride to the sprawling Genting Resort with its 70 kilometers (45 miles) of trails is one of three key sites proposed to hold the games. Work has already begun on a high-speed rail line that will reduce travel time from Beijing’s northern suburbs to just 50 minutes.

Victory for Beijing would mean overcoming early concerns over region’s general lack of natural snow and its chronic air pollution. Once considered an outlier as host, Beijing now appears to be the front-runner following the withdrawal of other contenders and a thoroughly well prepared bid effort.

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Dueling narratives surround hip-hop music mogul ‘Suge’ Knight in deadly run-in with law

LOS ANGELES (AP) - As Marion “Suge” Knight sat jailed on suspicion of murder, dueling narratives cast him as attacker and victim in the hip-hop music mogul’s latest and most serious run-in with the law.

Sheriff’s deputies said he hit and killed a man with his pickup truck, injured another and then fled. His lawyer said he was an innocent victim who accidentally ran over his friend and the other man as he tried to escape an attack.

He turned himself in and was booked on Friday.

The incident was the latest in a long line of brushes with death and the law for the 49-year-old founder of Death Row Records, one of the genre’s leading labels.

Knight started the label that helped solidify West Coast rap with Dr. Dre, who had been a member of the legendary group N.W.A. The label also launched the career of Snoop Dogg and had Tupac Shakur in the last months of his life.

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Balloon crew surpasses world duration record by spending more than 138 hours aloft

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A pair of American and Russian pilots has traveled farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history, trying to eliminate any remaining debate over a century of records in long-distance ballooning.

The Two Eagles pilots surpassed the distance and duration records that have held since the 1970s and 1980s, and were aiming Friday for a safe landing somewhere on a beach in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev (too-kh-TY’-yev) of Russia lifted off from Japan Sunday morning, and by Friday, they beat what’s considered the “holy grail” of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew of Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman in the first balloon flight across the Atlantic.

By Friday afternoon, the Two Eagles team had been in the air more than 143 hours and was smashing the distance record, having traveled more than 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.

“The technology has improved so much in the last couple of years. I don’t think there’s going to be any question about the records,” said Katie Griggs, a regional director with the nonprofit Balloon Federation of America.

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Cosby’s show in Ohio draws a few protesters outside theater; comedian gets standing ovations

SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) - Bill Cosby’s stand-up tour has stopped in northern Ohio, where it drew several protesters before the show. The comedian himself received standing ovations before and after his performance.

Police in Sandusky had extra officers at the theater while Cosby performed Friday night.

The 77-year-old face sexual assault accusations from at least 15 women, with some of the claims dating back decades. He denies the allegations and has never been charged with a crime.

Bev Penfield was holding a sign reading “Respect women, rape is no joke.” She tells The Blade (https://bit.ly/1683JDshttps://bit.ly/1683JDs ) she felt she had to be there. Protester Cece Hesch says it’s about valuing entertainment over “doing the right thing.”

Cosby’s performances in other states have drawn protests; some have been canceled.

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Serena Williams beats Sharapova to win 6th Australian Open, 19th Grand Slam singles title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Serena Williams won her 19th Grand Slam title, continued her unbeaten run in six Australian Open finals and extended her decade-long domination of Maria Sharapova with a commanding 6-3, 7-6 (5) win on Saturday night.

Williams, coughing frequently and still affected by a recent cold, controlled the first set around a rain delay in the sixth game, when the match was stopped for 13 minutes for the roof to be closed.

Top-ranked Williams returned from the break and fired an ace to start a run of six straight points. She was broken while serving for the set but broke Sharapova for a third time to clinch it.

She is now second only to Steffi Graf (22) on the list of major winners in the Open era.

The 33-year-old Williams, the oldest winner of the Australian women’s title in the Open era, won the first six points of the second set and seemed on course for another lopsided victory before Sharapova hit back in a gripping second set.

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