- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope ends Cuban trip with Mass at shrine and address to families before heading to Washington

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) - Pope Francis ends his visit to Cuba on Tuesday with a Mass at the country’s most revered shrine and a pep talk with families before flying north to Washington for the start of his U.S. tour.

Francis’ address to families and symbolically potent flight to the United States underscore two of the big themes of his Cuba pilgrimage - encouraging reconciliation within families and between the U.S. and Cuba. He worked behind the scenes as mediator in 18 months of secret talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two nations.

On his arrival in Cuba, the pope described the success of the negotiations as an example of peacemaking for the entire world. The Vatican spokesman said Monday night that this trip was aimed partly at encouraging progress in the continuing effort to normalize U.S.-Cuba ties in fields ranging from commerce to environmental cooperation.

Beyond its importance to the pope, the state of the family has been a longtime concern for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba. Economic deprivation and successive waves of emigration have left many families broken and divided, and the church has focused intensely in recent years on trying to encourage traditional values like hard work, respect and fidelity that many Cubans worry have been lost over the years.

Those concerns about moral degradation are widespread among Cubans regardless of how religious they are.


EU holds more emergency migration talks as calls for humanitarian action multiply

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union’s two emergency meetings on the migration crisis this week won’t provide any quick solutions to ease the plight of tens of thousands of people seeking sanctuary in Europe.

As the EU scrambles to respond to scenes of people charging razor-wire fences, suffocating in trucks or bodies washing up on beaches, unity has crumbled as nations in the 28-member bloc trade barbs over who is to blame.

Nothing on the agenda of the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday will immediately help countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans to manage their borders now. Or next week.

The inaction certainly won’t stop the flow of people moving across Europe, nor will it provide any relief to authorities in individual EU countries trying to slow them down.

Indeed, more than 6,000 people could arrive in Greece alone on Tuesday when interior ministers meet in Brussels and on Wednesday, while EU leaders hold a summit to discuss medium and long-term policy plans.


The Latest: Norway warns migration crisis could get worse if no solution found in Syria

BRUSSELS (AP) - The latest developments as European governments struggle to cope with the huge number of people moving across Europe. All times local:


11:35 p.m.

Norway’s foreign minister warns that the refugee crisis will continue and could get worse if no political solution is found to end Syria’s civil war.

Borge Brende told reporters after meeting his Lebanese counterpart Gibran Bassil in Beirut that Norway has an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to receive “a substantial amount of refugees in the three coming years - in fact 7 percent of all the refugees that the UNHCR has asked for.”


Dinner with frenemies: Undercurrent of geopolitical tension on menu for China state dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) - It’s never good when tension is on the dinner menu.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan visit Washington later this week, President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, face the daunting task of trying to throw a warm and inviting dinner party for guests of honor accused of cyberspying on the U.S., trampling human rights and engaging in assertive military tactics.

China, in turn, is miffed at the U.S. for what it says are groundless accusations about hacking, and wants the U.S. to butt out of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Not to mention the Old Faithful of disputes, Taiwan.

Where will all this leave the few hundred guests selected to attend Friday night’s lavish state dinner honoring the Chinese president?

Most likely still thrilled to be there, geopolitics be damned.


Analysis: For Walker, it wasn’t one thing that led to campaign’s collapse - it was everything

WASHINGTON (AP) - For Scott Walker, it wasn’t one thing that led to the demise of his presidential campaign. It was just about everything.

Financial troubles. A bloated staff. Repeated stumbles and flip flops. A candidate that professed to be a fighter, but too often, didn’t show all that much fight.

The Wisconsin governor, who dropped out of the Republican race for president on Monday after only two months as a formal candidate, did so after making a litany of mistakes and missteps that could make for a “what not to do” manual for future candidates.

Walker entered the 2016 race as an ostensible Republican darling, shot into the national spotlight by his victories over unions and his triumph in a recall election. With Midwestern appeal and conservative credentials, and buoyed by a rousing performance at a Republican forum in January, he rose to the top very of early polls in Iowa.

That moment in Iowa proved to be Walker’s high point. As presidential primaries so often reveal, gleaming resumes don’t equal votes or big fundraising totals. And early favorites can quickly fade.


Yemeni pro-government forces’ push on capital stalls amid heavy battles with Shiite rebels

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - In Yemen’s Marib province, a key battleground in the fighting against Shiite rebels, frustration is growing in the ranks of troops backing the country’s president-in-exile after more than a week without gains on the ground.

The pro-government forces’ advance on the capital, Sanaa, has stalled as Iran-backed Houthi rebels put up heavy resistance and despite an airstrikes’ campaign by a Saudi-led coalition that has relentlessly pounded rebel positions.

The difficulty highlights the stark challenges facing the diverse set of fighters that make up the pro-government forces as they set their goal on Sanaa, about 165 kilometers (103 miles) to the west of Marib.

Ground commanders from the Yemeni army complain of poor logistical coordination, along with slow communication and decision-making between the Marib front-lines and the military leadership in Riyadh. Troops have grown nervous, commanders say, after two incidents when Saudi-led airstrikes hit and killed allied fighters.

In Yemen’s war, the coalition against the Houthis is a shaky combination of local and tribal militias, southern separatists, Sunni Islamic militants and army units loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.


Question about Volkswagen’s emissions testing crisis

German automaker Volkswagen AG admits that it rigged U.S. emissions tests so it would appear that its diesel-powered cars were emitting fewer nitrogen oxides, which can contribute to ozone buildup and respiratory illness. Here are some questions and answers about the ongoing crisis.

Q. Which vehicles does this affect?

A. Volkswagen installed software in roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the U.S. since 2008, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The software turned on the cars’ full emissions control systems when the cars were being tested by the government, and then turned off those systems during normal driving. The Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years are affected, as well as the Passat from the 2014-2015 model years. Volkswagen has halted the sale of 2015 models and is prohibited from selling 2016 models until they are fixed.


Former peanut executive gets 28 years in prison for role in deadly salmonella outbreak

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) - Before federal marshals led him from the courtroom en route to prison, possibly for the rest of his life, Stewart Parnell apologized years after his company’s peanut butter spawned a deadly outbreak of salmonella poisoning.

The former Peanut Corporation of America owner had remained publicly silent in 2009 after authorities traced salmonella blamed for killing nine people and sickening 714 to his plant in rural southwest Georgia. He refused to testify when called before a congressional hearing, and likewise never took the witness stand during the criminal trial that led to his conviction in U.S. District Court a year ago.

A judge Monday sentenced 61-year-old Parnell to 28 years in prison. It’s the harshest criminal penalty ever for a U.S. producer in a food-borne illness case and a span his attorneys say might as well be a life sentence. It came down after Parnell, in a shaky voice, spoke to those he had harmed.

“It’s just been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family,” Parnell told a courtroom filled with families of children who survived violent illnesses and elderly adults who died after eating his company’s peanut butter. “All I can do is come before you and ask for forgiveness from you and the people back here. I’m truly sorry for what happened.”

Ernest Carter of Chicago, whose grandmother died after snacking on peanut butter crackers linked to Parnell’s plant, called the apology “too little, too late.”


Ukraine’s richest man plays both sides of frontline - propping up government and rebel regime

KRASNODON, Ukraine (AP) - In this town deep in eastern Ukraine’s rebel heartland, about a quarter of the population works in the coal mines owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man. Here and elsewhere in territory controlled by the separatist insurgency, the tycoon keeps the lights on and people clothed and fed, with a mixture of jobs, electricity and aid.

At the same time, Akhmetov operates factories on the other side of the frontline, powering Ukraine’s economy and pouring hundreds of millions in taxes into government coffers. His steel products, which are finished in rebel territory, are then shipped to the West - where they bring in billions in revenue for Akhmetov that then indirectly props up the separatist government.

The billionaire is able to straddle the frontline by using his fortune and business empire as leverage. His companies provide more than 300,000 jobs across Ukraine, most in the rebel-held east. Meanwhile, his control over utilities that provide electricity and heating to both sides allow him to dictate terms to the government as well as the rebels. Cracking down on Akhmetov’s factories in government territory would threaten Ukraine’s depressed economy, while a collapse of utilities in the east would undermine the rebels’ grip on power.

It makes for a striking picture of economic cooperation between enemy areas: Coal produced in Krasnodon mines, on rebel territory, travels to the Avdiivka coking plant on the government side. Coke is then shipped back to rebel lands, to a metals smelter in Yenakieve, and the metals produced there are transported to government territory on the Azov Sea - for shipping to the West.

Meanwhile, Western purchases, which account for the most of Akhmetov’s profits, are helping to keep the rebel territory afloat by fueling economic activity. Akhmetov’s Metinvest metals and mining holding posted revenues of $1.8 billion in the first quarter of the year, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, with Europe accounting for 35 percent of sales and North America for 3 percent. Steel works in rebel-controlled Yenakiyeve accounted for a quarter of the company’s steel output in the first quarter.


Europe wants to create online tech giants, but struggles to find Silicon Valley’s magic touch

HELSINKI (AP) - Micha Benoliel grew up in France and launched his first technology startup there, but he never forgot the atmosphere of adventure and optimism in San Francisco, where he studied in the early 1990s.

So when he came up with an idea for a smartphone app that could send messages without Internet or cellular connections, he went back to California in 2011 to pursue his dream.

“I knew the only way to change the world was from here,” says Benoliel, the CEO of Open Garden, the maker of the FireChat messaging app.

As technology upends industries and lifestyles at breakneck pace, the Old Continent is not producing any of the online giants like Google, eBay or Facebook. Its best and brightest prefer to emigrate to Silicon Valley, or sell their ideas on to U.S. firms before they have a chance to establish themselves.

The European Union’s top executives in Brussels are trying to rectify that with a long-term plan of reforms and incentives but face an uphill battle. The 28-nation bloc is, above all, lacking in the risk-taking culture and financial networks needed to grow Internet startups into globally dominant companies.

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