- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

Malaysia says jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves

WANG KELIAN, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysian authorities said Monday a cluster of abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves as well as barbed-wire pens likely used to cage migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia’s most desperate people.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said forensics experts were exhuming the suspected graves found at 28 vacated camps in the hilly jungle area on the border with Thailand where trafficking syndicates were known to operate.

“It is a very sad scene,” Khalid told reporters at a police outpost in the town of Wang Kelian several kilometers (miles) from the camps, one of which appeared large enough to hold about 300 people. “I am shocked. We never expected this kind of cruelty.”

At one forest camp, police found several parts of a decomposed body inside a wooden pen. The parts were placed into white bags and brought to Wang Kelian, and district police chief Rizani Ismail said they would be examined by forensics experts. Police said they would begin digging up other suspected graves - mounds of earth, covered with leaves and marked by sticks - on Tuesday.

“We have discovered 139 of what we believe to be graves,” Khalid said. “We believe they are victims of human trafficking.”

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Biden phones Iraq’s prime minister, reinforces US support and thanks Iraqi fighting forces

WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden reassured Iraq’s government on Monday of U.S. support in the fight against the Islamic State group, telephoning Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with thanks for “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces” one day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military commitment.

Biden’s call followed harsh criticism from Iraqi and Iranian quarters after Carter questioned Iraqi forces’ “will to fight” the surging Islamic State group.

A White House statement on Monday describing Biden’s call said the vice president welcomed an Iraqi decision to mobilize additional troops and “prepare for counterattack operations.” Biden also pledged full U.S. support to “these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL,” the statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

In reaction to Carter’s remarks, which were aired Sunday in a TV interview, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister suggested the defense secretary had “incorrect information,” while Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, offered his own critical assessment of U.S. forces.

The heated exchanges came after the loss of Ramadi and amid other gains by the IS in recent days. The statements laid bare fissures among countries that have become allies of convenience against the militants. The criticism from both Iraq and Iran began when Carter told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Iraqi forces “vastly outnumbered” the Islamic State group, but still “showed no will to fight” and fled the IS advance on the capital of Anbar province.

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Twister kills 13 in Mexico border city; 12 people reported missing in Texas flash flooding

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (AP) - A tornado raged through a city on the U.S.-Mexico border Monday, destroying homes, flinging cars like matchsticks and ripping an infant from its mother’s arms. At least 13 people were killed, authorities said.

In Texas, 12 people were reported missing after the vacation home they were staying in was swept away by rushing floodwaters in a small town popular with tourists.

The baby was also missing after the twister that hit Ciudad Acuna, a city of 125,000 across from Del Rio, Texas, sent its infant carrier flying. Rescue workers began digging through the rubble of damaged homes in a race to find victims.

The twister hit a seven-block area, which Victor Zamora, interior secretary of the northern state of Coahuila, described as “devastated.”

Hundreds of people were being treated at local hospitals, authorities said, and as many as 800 homes had been destroyed, with thousands more damaged.

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The Latest on severe weather: Official says 12 people missing in Texas floods from 2 families

4 p.m. CDT

Authorities say the 12 people reported missing after flash-flooding in Central Texas were staying together in a home swept away by the rushing water in a small town popular with tourists.

Hays County Judge Bert Cobb says witnesses reported seeing the house pushed off its foundation by the swollen Blanco River and smash into a bridge.

Cobb says only pieces of the home have been found so far. He says main flooding activity happened around 4 a.m. Monday.

Cobb says one person rescued from the home told workers about the other people inside, saying the 12 were all connected to two families.

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Desperate for solutions, California looks Down Under for advice on surviving the drought

SYDNEY (AP) - California has turned to the world’s driest inhabited continent for solutions to its longest and sharpest drought on record.

Australia, the land poet Dorothea Mackellar dubbed “a sunburnt country,” suffered a torturous drought from the late 1990s through 2012. Now Californians are facing their own “Big Dry,” and looking Down Under to see how they coped.

Australia also faced tough water restrictions - along with dying cattle, barren fields and monstrous wildfires that killed 173 people. But when the rains finally returned, Australians had fundamentally changed how they handle this precious resource. They treat water as a commodity to be conserved and traded, and carefully measure what’s available and how it’s being used. Efficiency programs cut their average daily use to 55 gallons, compared with 105 gallons per day for each Californian.

The lesson: long droughts are here to stay, so societies had better plan ahead, says drought-policy expert Linda Botterill of the University of Canberra.

“We can expect longer, deeper and more severe droughts in Australia, and I believe the same applies in the U.S.,” Botterill says. “As a result, we need to develop strategies that are not knee-jerk responses, but that are planned risk-management strategies.”

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Afghan official: 19 police, 7 soldiers killed in ongoing siege of southern police compound

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - Taliban gunmen have surrounded a police compound in the volatile southern province of Helmand after killing 19 policemen and seven soldiers in an ongoing siege, a senior police officer said on Monday from inside the compound.

Napas Khan, the police chief in the Naw Zad district, told The Associated Press by telephone that the insurgents had advanced to within 20 meters (65 feet) of the compound after seizing police vehicles and weapons and blocking all roads out of Naw Zad.

“We need an immediate response from the government,” Khan said.

He said the attack started at before dawn on Monday when the insurgents overran multiple police checkpoints across the district.

“They destroyed or captured most of our checkpoints and now they have reached our police headquarters,” Khan said. “They are mostly firing at us from the hills overlooking our compound.”

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Charter nears deal to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion

Charter Communications Inc. is close to buying Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion, two people familiar with the negotiations.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because of the private nature of the deal talks.

One of the people said the deal will be announced early Tuesday morning.

Charter had wanted to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. earlier, but Time Warner Cable chose a $45 billion offer from Comcast Corp. instead.

Comcast walked away from the Time Warner Cable deal after regulators pushed back against it. Regulators had concerns that the two companies together would undermine online video competition. The combined company would have served more than half the country’s broadband subscribers, and consumer advocates said a merger would limit choices and lead to higher prices.

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Obama asks Americans to never stop repaying the debt owed to those who made ultimate sacrifice

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - President Barack Obama on Monday saluted Americans who died in battle, saying the country must “never stop trying to fully repay them” for their sacrifices. He noted it was the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces engaged in a major ground war.

Speaking under sunny skies to some 5,000 people in an amphitheater on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said the graveyard is “more than a final resting place of heroes.”

“It is a reflection of America itself,” he said, citing racial and religious diversity in the backgrounds of the men and woman who paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve “the ideals that bind us as one nation.”

His appearance is an annual rite for presidents at the cemetery nestled among verdant hills overlooking the Potomac River. It came months after the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, where the number of stationed troops has been reduced to about 10,000 from a peak of more than 100,000.

His tribute also took place against a backdrop of the increasingly complex U.S.-led effort to help Iraq defeat the Islamic State extremist group, which has been gaining momentum in recent weeks by capturing Ramadi there and taking Palmyra in neighboring Syria.

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Sanders seeks to tap into Elizabeth Warren liberals in underdog bid for Democratic nomination

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) - For Democrats who had hoped to lure Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into a presidential campaign, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the next best thing.

Sanders, who is opening his official presidential campaign Tuesday in Burlington, Vermont, aims to ignite a grassroots fire among left-leaning Democrats wary of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is laying out an agenda in step with the party’s progressive wing and compatible with Warren’s platform - reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs program.

“I think our views are parallel on many, many issues,” Sanders said in an interview with The Associated Press, describing Warren as a “good friend.”

Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in Washington and is running for the Democratic nomination. He and Democratic former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are vying to become the primary alternative to Clinton. Much of the energy behind a Clinton alternative has been directed to drafting Warren, but she has repeatedly said she won’t run.

For Sanders, a key question is electability. Clinton is in a commanding position by any measure. Yet his supporters in New Hampshire say his local ties and longstanding practice of holding town hall meetings and people-to-people campaigning - a staple in the nation’s first primary state - could serve him well.

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HEALTHBEAT: Plaques or tangles? Scanning brains of healthy seniors for clues about Alzheimer’s

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sticky plaque gets the most attention, but now healthy seniors at risk of Alzheimer’s are letting scientists peek into their brains to see if another culprit is lurking.

No one knows what actually causes Alzheimer’s, but the suspects are its two hallmarks - the gunky amyloid in those brain plaques or tangles of a protein named tau that clog dying brain cells. New imaging can spot those tangles in living brains, providing a chance to finally better understand what triggers dementia.

Now researchers are adding tau brain scans to an ambitious study that’s testing if an experimental drug might help healthy but at-risk people stave off Alzheimer’s. Whether that medication works or not, it’s the first drug study where scientists can track how both of Alzheimer’s signature markers begin building up in older adults before memory ever slips.

“The combination of amyloid and tau is really the toxic duo,” predicted Dr. Reisa Sperling of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who is leading the so-called A4 study. “To see it in life is really striking.”

The A4 study - it stands for Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s - aims to enroll 1,000 healthy seniors like Judith Chase Gilbert, 77, of Arlington, Virginia. The recently retired government worker is mentally sharp but learned through the study that her brain harbors amyloid buildup that might increase her risk. Last week, researchers slid Gilbert into a doughnut-shaped PET scanner as she became one of the first study participants to also have their brains scanned for tau.

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