- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

Islamic State killed hundreds as it took Iraq’s Ramadi; Shiite militias vow counter-offensive

BAGHDAD (AP) - The Islamic State group killed at least 500 people - both civilians and Iraqi soldiers - and forced 8,000 to flee their homes as it captured the city of Ramadi, a provincial official said Monday, while Shiite militias vowed to mount a counter-offensive and reclaim the Anbar provincial capital.

The statements followed a shocking defeat as IS seized control of Ramadi on Sunday, sending Iraqi forces fleeing in a major loss despite the support of U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the extremists.

Bodies, some burned, littered the streets as local officials reported the militants carried out mass killings of Iraqi security forces and civilians. Online video showed Humvees, trucks and other equipment speeding out of Ramadi, with soldiers gripping onto their sides.

“We do not have an accurate count yet,” said an Anbar spokesman, Muhannad Haimour. “We estimate that 500 people have been killed, both civilians and military, and approximately 8,000 have fled the city.”

The estimates are for the past three days, since Friday, when the battle for the city reached its final stages. The 8,000 figure is in addition to the enormous exodus in April, Haimour said, when the U.N. said as many as 114,000 residents fled from Ramadi and surrounding villages at the height of the violence.

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Push for new war powers for Obama in the fight against Islamic State group stalls in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) - A move to write new war powers to authorize the Obama administration’s 9-month-old battle against Islamic State militants has stalled in Congress. It might even be dead.

President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to mind. And while lawmakers say they don’t want to give up their check on a commander-in-chief’s authority to use military might, they have little interest in having what would be the first war vote in Congress in 13 years.

Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was recently asked whether Congress was still going to craft a new AUMF.

“What does that stand for?” Corker joked, knowing that it stands for Authorization for the Use of Military Force. But his five words said a lot.

After Obama ordered airstrikes in August over Iraq and in September over Syria against IS militants, lawmakers complained that he was justifying the action with dusty war powers written to authorize conflicts after 9/11. Today, there is hardly a word about it on Capitol Hill.

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Amtrak trains heading south out of NYC for first time since last week’s deadly derailment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Amtrak trains began rolling between New York and Philadelphia early Monday, the first time in almost a week following a deadly crash in Philadelphia, and officials vowed to have safer trains and tracks while investigators worked to determine the cause of the derailment.

Amtrak officials said Sunday that trains along the busy Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston would resume service Monday in “complete compliance” with federal safety orders following last week’s deadly derailment.

Company President Joseph Boardman said Amtrak staff and crew have been working around the clock to restore service following Tuesday night’s crash that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.

At a service Sunday evening at the site to honor the crash victims, Boardman choked up as he called Tuesday “the worst day for me as a transportation professional.” He vowed that the wrecked train and its passengers “will never be forgotten.”

Boardman said Sunday that Amtrak would be offering a “safer service.”

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Waco on guard after shootout at restaurant among rival biker gangs leaves 9 dead, 18 injured

WACO, Texas (AP) - Many streets were nearly deserted in Waco, apart from law enforcement officials keeping watch, as night fell following a shootout between rival motorcycle gangs at a restaurant that left nine bikers dead and raised the specter of further violence.

Authorities increased security to quell other possible attempts at criminal activity in the Central Texas town following the melee Sunday that also left 18 bikers wounded, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

The violence erupted shortly after noon at a busy shopping center along Interstate 35 after members of at least five rival gangs gathered at Twin Peaks restaurant for a meeting, Swanton said. Preliminary findings indicate a dispute broke out in a bathroom, escalated to include knives and firearms and eventually spilled into the restaurant parking lot, according to police.

“I was amazed that we didn’t have innocent civilians killed or injured,” Swanton said.

The interior of the restaurant was littered with bullet casings, knives, a club, bodies and pools of blood, he said. Authorities were expected to work throughout the night to process the evidence at the scene about an hour and a half south of Dallas. About 150-200 bikers were inside during the shootout, and at least 100 were detained, authorities said. It wasn’t immediately clear how many were arrested.

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1 dead, 21 hurt as tilt-rotor Osprey carrying Marines crashes in Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) - Smoke and fire rushed from a crash site in Hawaii after a U.S. Marine Osprey went down in a “hard landing,” killing one Marine and injuring 21 other people, some critically.

Twenty-two people were aboard the MV-22 Osprey, including 21 Marines and one Navy corpsman assigned to the unit, spokesman Capt. Brian Block said in an email.

The tilt-rotor aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, had a “hard-landing mishap” at about 11:40 a.m. Sunday at Bellows Air Force Station on Oahu, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit said in a statement.

The injuries ranged from critical to minor, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific spokesman Capt. Alex Lim said.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, Lim said.

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Frustration with Latin America’s left on the rise as leaders hit by economic slowdown, scandal

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela’s socialist government is struggling to put food on the shelves amid runaway inflation. Brazil’s president is facing calls for impeachment. And even Cuba’s communist government, an iconic touchstone for generations of leftists, is embracing closer ties with the U.S.

Whether it’s because of corruption scandals or stagnant growth, the popularity of the crop of leftist Latin American governments that have been running the region since the start of the millennium appears to be waning. Voters that embraced what became known as the pink tide that swept away the pro-Washington, free-market policies dominant in the 1990s are increasingly tuning hostile against the populist firebrands they once rallied behind.

Across the region, polling numbers are tanking and street protests are on the rise.

Triggering the growing disenchantment are some serious economic headwinds. Most leaders came into power just as China’s economy was soaring and with it demand for South America’s abundant natural resources. Now that the world’s second-largest economy is cooling, the commodities boom that allowed governments to spread the wealth and endear themselves to the poor is ending.

“It’s not easy to govern in Latin America right now,” said Raul L. Madrid, co-editor of a 2010 book on leftist governments in the region. “Many of these governments rode frustration with high levels of inequality and corruption to power. But you can’t rail against the establishment as effectively as you once did when you are the establishment at this point.”

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Unproven stem cell procedures flourish across the US, outpacing regulation

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - More than 170 clinics across the country are selling experimental stem cell procedures for dozens of diseases and conditions - a mushrooming industry that has flourished despite little evidence of its safety or effectiveness.

The rise of the U.S. stem cell industry illustrates how quickly fringe medicine can outpace government oversight. Over the last five years, academic stem cell researchers have watched in dismay as doctors treat patients with experimental techniques that they say could take years, if not decades, to become sound medicine.

“It’s sort of this 21st century cutting-edge technology. But the way it’s being implemented at these clinics and how it’s regulated is more like the 19th century. It’s a Wild West,” says Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California at Davis.

Stem cells have long been recognized for their ability to reproduce and regenerate tissue. And while there are high hopes that they will someday be used to treat a range of debilitating diseases, critics say stem cell entrepreneurs have little more than anecdotes to support their offerings.

In 2010 there were only a handful of doctors promoting stem cell procedures in the U.S., mainly plastic surgeons promoting “stem cell facelifts” and other cosmetic procedures. But today there are clinics throughout the country promoting stem cells for dozens of conditions and diseases, including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, erectile dysfunction and hair loss. The cost of these procedures is high, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

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Weary Gazans find relief in ancient bathhouse that has survived centuries of conflict

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - After dawn prayers in Gaza, a few dozen men descend a metal staircase to gather in the steamy confines of Hamam al-Sumara, a centuries-old bathhouse where residents of the isolated territory find respite and relief.

Stained glass windows in the central dome allow rays of light to pierce the clouds of steam. On the heated marble platforms below, men recline between visits to the steam room or massages.

“I come to this bath for treatment of diseases such as muscle spasms or cramps, getting rid of inflammation,” said Shafiq Al-Aqqad. He also comes here to celebrate happy occasions, like weddings.

Historic bathhouses like this one can be found across the Middle East, where they preserve a tradition of public bathing that goes back to ancient times. Hamam al-Sumara, Arabic for the Samaritans’ Bath, dates back 1,000 years but has been renovated, most recently in the 1990s by the Palestinian Authority.

Gaza City used to boast a half dozen bathhouses, but most were dismantled to make room for the city’s rapid expansion in the last century, including after the 1948 war, when some 200,000 Palestinians came to Gaza after fleeing or being expelled from their homes in what is now Israel. Gaza had previously been home to just 60,000 people.

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Ad it up: A splendid drama, ‘Mad Men,’ comes to a moving end with Don Draper making a big move

NEW YORK (AP) - “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner promised a finale that was “dramatic and appropriate.”

He delivered. This incomparable drama set in the 1960s New York advertising world concluded its seven-season run Sunday night on AMC with a resolution that rang true to its spirit and likely left its devotees satisfied, even as they bade it farewell with regret.

Spoiler alert: Read no further if you don’t want to know what happened.

“A lot has happened,” Don Draper (series star Jon Hamm) tells Stephanie, a damaged young woman from his past, after his wayward odyssey from New York finally brings him to her doorstep in Los Angeles.

Mainly, he is distraught after hearing from his daughter Sally, back in New York, that her mother, his ex, is dying of lung cancer.

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Russian soldiers taken prisoner in eastern Ukraine transferred to Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Two Russian officers captured while fighting in war-torn eastern Ukraine are being transported to the capital, Kiev, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Monday.

The Russians were wounded and taken prisoner near the front line town of Shchastia in the Luhansk region on Sunday, Ukrainian officials reported.

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have been fighting government troops for a year, and Russia has vehemently denied it is supplying them either with weaponry or troops. When several Russian soldiers were captured on Ukrainian territory last summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin said they had simply got lost.

Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, told The Associated Press on Monday that the two men are now being questioned by the Ukrainian Security Service and are on their way to Kiev where they will face the media.

A video posted by a member of parliament on Sunday showed one man who said he was a Russian Army sergeant.


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