- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gov. Haley’s call to take down flag follows 15 years of GOP refusal to revisit the issue

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - For 15 years, South Carolina lawmakers refused to revisit the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds, saying the law that took it off the dome was a bipartisan compromise, and renewing the debate would unnecessarily expose divisive wounds.

But opinions changed within five days of the massacre of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, as a growing tide of Republicans joined the call to remove the battle flag from a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse and put it in a museum.

On Monday, Gov. Nikki Haley did what a previous Republican governor found to be political suicide. Herself a Republican, she not only called for the flag’s removal but pledged to call legislators back to Columbia if they don’t deal with it in a special session Tuesday. Just hours before they return to work, a rally to bring the flag down will be held outside the Statehouse.

Haley’s announcement came days after authorities charged Dylann Storm Roof, 21, with murder. The white man appeared in photos holding Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence.

Haley has for years deflected questions about the flag. But she said Monday she was moved by the outpouring of love and forgiveness that followed the “true hate” of the crime. She noted her entire family attended Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal on Sunday, when the church reopened its doors.


Iraqis return to shattered Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, after Islamic State group routed

TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) - Abdel Mowgood Hassan climbs over toppled bricks and a torn-away front door to enter his uncle’s house in Tikrit, the first of his relatives to make a cautious return home since Islamic State militants were driven out.

“It’s safe,” Hassan calmly says. “I checked for booby traps.”

He is one in a trickle of civilians to return to Saddam Hussein’s hometown in recent days after Iraqi forces and allied militias captured the city in April from the Islamic State group. But while police now patrol the streets, its Sunni civilians are worried about the future, apprehensive about the Shiite militias that liberated Tikrit and fearful the Islamic State group could come back.

U.S.-trained Iraqi police officers look over identification papers for all those returning to Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, wanting to stop the extremists from infiltrating this city on the banks of the Tigris River. Occasionally, loud explosions still echo through Tikrit’s largely empty streets, as officers detonate roadside bombs and explosives left behind by the militants after their nearly 10-month occupation. Cleaners in orange jumpsuits sweep away debris as workers try to restore water and power.

Iraqi forces, backed by Sunni fighters, Iranian-advised Shiite militias and U.S.-led airstrikes, retook the city on April 1. Tikrit’s capture marked Iraq’s biggest victory yet against the Islamic State group, which holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-declared caliphate.


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Following the massacre of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina bipartisan momentum sees lawmakers and a growing tide of Republicans now argue this battle symbol belongs in a museum.


Obama’s trade allies hope thin Senate margin will hold in Tuesday’s crucial vote on fast track

WASHINGTON (AP) - Backers of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda are imploring key senators to stand by their previous votes when they revisit the issue in a showdown set for Tuesday.

Opponents meanwhile are mounting an equally emotional push to keep Obama from obtaining “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements with Pacific Rim countries and others.

At least 60 of the Senate’s 100 members must back the measure for it to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday and complete a near-miraculous resurrection of the White House priority. In a May 21 vote, 62 senators backed fast track, but they didn’t expect it to return to their chamber.

The House revived the fast track legislation last week after Democrats initially derailed it in a complicated legislative package. Republican leaders - who support Obama on trade while most of his fellow Democrats oppose him - restructured the package and then passed the key elements, with only 28 House Democrats.

Obama’s allies now are counting on the 14 Senate Democrats and 48 Republicans who supported fast track in May to do so again. Lawmakers generally dislike voting both yes and no on a contentious issue, figuring it’s better to draw the enmity of only one side.


Clinton to address South Carolina shooting at church meeting near site of Ferguson unrest

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton is putting America’s struggle with race relations at the forefront of her presidential campaign, joining with church members near the epicenter of violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, as the nation grapples with the deadly shootings of nine black church members in South Carolina.

The leading Democratic presidential contender plans to attend a community meeting Tuesday at a church in Florissant, Missouri, a short drive from the site of the unrest in Ferguson after the August death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old, who was shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s death spurred outrage and led to a national “Black Lives Matter” movement demanding changes in how police deal with minorities.

Clinton largely avoided giving race relations a prominent role in her 2008 Democratic campaign against Barack Obama, who was vying to become the nation’s first black president at the time. Yet the former secretary of state has leaned into a number of issues closely watched by African-Americans this time, discussing the need to change the criminal justice system, improving access to voting and helping minority small business owners.

Clinton’s campaign hopes to mobilize black voters in large numbers in the 2016 election, building upon the coalition of minority, young and liberal voters who powered Obama’s two White House campaigns. The message has taken fresh urgency since last week’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, which happened shortly after Clinton campaigned in the city.

“This is a time for people in the public domain and the public square to speak what they believe, not give us political talk,” said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, whose organization has called for the removal of public displays of the Confederate flag. “This tragedy is a time when we get to test their convictions.”


European Central Bank increases limit on emergency liquidity assistance to Greek banks

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - A banking official says the European Central Bank has increased the amount of emergency liquidity that Greek lenders can draw on, the second time it has done so in two days.

The ECB held a teleconference Tuesday morning and agreed on the increase, the official said, but declined to provide a figure. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the decision was not publicly announced, said the ECB would remain on call for a revision should that become necessary.

Worried Greeks pulled an estimated 4 billion euros out of banks last week ahead of critical meetings in Brussels to discuss a deal on the country’s troubled bailout.

Eurozone officials are now discussing the latest Greek reform proposals, with hopes high for a deal this week.


Dearth of physical therapy expertise undermines recovery of Nepal’s injured quake survivors

TRISULI, Nepal (AP) - The powerful earthquakes that shook Nepal in April and May took more than 8,700 lives, but they also injured more than 22,000 people who are now struggling to recover from broken bones, lost limbs and other injuries, uncertain if they will ever be able to return to the lives they once knew.

For those who reached hospitals for immediate treatment, the government provided free surgery and initial medical care. But many are now discharged and on their own. Only a handful of big hospitals in Nepal have physical therapy facilities or experts who are able to teach rehabilitation exercises vital for the fullest possible recovery.

“They don’t do proper follow-up, which means basically the injury can bring like really long term impairments. And if they don’t get proper treatment and proper physical treatment then they will not be able to get back to their daily activities,” said Aurelie Viard, of Handicap international, a non-profit organization that has provided physical therapy, equipment and treatment.

Viard acknowledged that the top priority for many is getting food and shelter. But for those who can benefit from physical therapy, “our work is to convince them that if they don’t do proper treatment now, they won’t be able to do it later,” he said.

Survival, not rehabilitation, is uppermost in the mind of Sedar Tamang, who lost his left leg after it was crushed by a boulder.


Police: Items recovered from hunting cabin sent for testing; might be linked to NY escapees

BELLMONT, N.Y. (AP) - Items recovered from a remote hunting cabin have been sent to labs for DNA testing to determine if they are linked to a pair of convicted killers who escaped from a nearby prison more than two weeks ago, authorities said as searchers converged on a wooded area in the hamlet in far northern New York.

State Police Maj. Charles Guess on Monday characterized the latest search effort - one of many over the past 17 days - as a confirmed lead. He said at a news conference that authorities had “specific items” from the Adirondack cabin about 20 miles west of the prison where inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped on June 6.

Guess would not elaborate on the items, but said they were sent to labs for DNA and other testing.

Acting Franklin County District Attorney Glenn MacNeill told WPTZ-TV on Sunday that a hunter had reported seeing a person fleeing from a camp in the area.

Terry Bellinger, owner of nearby Belly’s Mountain View Inn, said the hunter told him he saw a man run into the woods as he approached the camp Saturday on an ATV. When the hunter went into the cabin, he noticed two things out of place: a jug of water and an open jar of peanut butter on a table. Bellinger said the hunter went to his restaurant, where he talked to police for several hours.


Music mogul Diddy out on bail after arrest at UCLA, where son is on football team

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hip-hop music mogul Diddy was released from jail after an alleged assault with a weight-room kettlebell at the athletic facilities of UCLA, where his son is on the football team, police said.

Diddy, 45, whose real name is Sean Combs, was freed late Monday night after posting bail, several hours after his afternoon arrest, jail records showed.

Officials did not identify the victim of the assault or say what led to it. No one was seriously injured, campus police said in a statement.

The jail records show that Combs’ bail was $160,000, but sheriff’s officials reached by phone said he posted $50,000. The reason for the discrepancy wasn’t clear.

Combs’ son Justin Combs is a redshirt junior defensive back on the UCLA football team, which has been working out on campus. He has played in just a handful of games in his three years with the team.


AP PHOTOS: On Athens’ walls, graffiti artists give their take on Greece’s financial crisis

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Graffiti in Athens used to be all about football, politics or teenage crushes - silly enough to be laughed off, rare enough to be frowned upon.

Now, it’s hard to find a building, private or public, whose walls are not blighted by black, red, blue (that’s usually the neo-Nazis) or silver spray-paint. Most seem devoid of any purpose, other than that of a dog marking its territory.

But amid it, meticulously-executed, thought-provoking gems can be found. Some were commissioned by property owners sick of cleaning scrawlings off their wall: They appreciated the art and hoped it would deter taggers.

And over the past five years of Greece’s economic depression, more and more paintings comment on the country’s financial and social woes.

One such artwork is in the central Exarcheia district, an anarchist and leftist hangout with more than its fair share of defaced buildings. Flanked by the shuttered windows of an abandoned old house, a haggard face supported in its hands looks out of a wall. On the crepitating stucco below, a battered 5-euro banknote is painted.

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