- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s civil defense directorate says at least 220 people dead in hajj stampede

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) - At least 220 people were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede Thursday at the annual hajj pilgrimage, Saudi authorities said.

The crush happened in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers (three miles) from the holy city of Mecca. Mina houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

The Saudi civil defense directorate said at least 450 other pilgrims were injured in the stampede.

Photos released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers in orange and yellow vests helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the white tents.

Some 2 million people are taking part in this year’s hajj pilgrimage, which began Tuesday.


A look at major hajj-related incidents in Saudi Arabia after 220 killed in stampede

CAIRO (AP) - Every year, millions of Muslims converge on the Saudi holy cities of Mecca and Medina for the annual hajj pilgrimage, with the massive ceremonies representing a major security and logistical challenge for the kingdom’s authorities.

On occasion, the hajj and events surrounding it have been marred by accidents and tragedies, such as Thursday’s stampede near Mecca that killed at least 220 people.

Here’s a look at some deadly hajj-related incidents:


2015: At least 220 people are killed and 450 injured in a stampede in Mina, on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca. In the lead-up to hajj, at least 111 people are killed and scores wounded when a crane collapses in bad weather, crashing onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.


Pope prepares for historic address at US Capitol, and dysfunctional Congress pauses to listen

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fresh from enrapturing crowds all over Washington, Pope Francis is bringing his resonant message of humility and hope to Capitol Hill as he becomes the first pontiff in history to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.

Lawmakers of all political backgrounds and religious affiliations have thrilled to the pope’s arrival, pledging to pause from the bickering and dysfunction that normally divide them and hear him out Thursday morning. Tens of thousands of spectators will be watching from the West Lawn of the Capitol and many more on TV from around the world as the pope addresses a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, diplomats, lawmakers and their guests.

After the sergeant at arms announces him by bellowing “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See,” Francis will enter the chamber and climb to the dais where the president delivers the annual State of the Union address and monarchs and heads of state have addressed Congress. Behind him will sit Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the first and second in line to the presidency, both Catholics.

Ahead of Francis’ remarks lawmakers of both parties have busily sought political advantage from his stances, with Democrats in particular delighting in his support for action to overhaul immigration laws and combat global warming and income inequality. One House Republican back-bencher announced plans to boycott the speech over Francis’ activist position on climate change, which the pontiff renewed alongside President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

But Boehner, a Republican and a former altar boy who invited the pope to speak after trying unsuccessfully to lure the two previous pontiffs to the Capitol, has dismissed concerns that the politically engaged Francis will stir the controversies of the day.


Democrats to filibuster stopgap funding measure over GOP effort to defund Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate is preparing to vote on legislation that would keep the government open beyond next Wednesday’s deadline at a price Democrats are certain to reject - stripping taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood.

The stopgap spending bill is widely expected to fail Thursday. The next steps aren’t set in stone, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised there won’t be a government shutdown. That suggests he would soon press ahead with a stopgap measure that’s free of the Planned Parenthood dispute.

Some of Capitol Hill’s most ardent conservatives are unafraid of extending the battle over Planned Parenthood, even if it would result in a partial government shutdown. GOP leaders, on the other hand, are motivated chiefly by a desire to avoid another shutdown like the 2013 episode that hurt the party politically, and McConnell appears to enjoy support from a majority of the Republican rank and file.

“I’d rather it defund Planned Parenthood, but if the votes aren’t there I don’t see the point of having a standoff,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is using his rivalry with GOP leaders in Washington to help define his presidential campaign, responded in an editorial essay in Politico that simply the threat of a shutdown is sending “Republican leadership running for the hills.”


The Latest: Hungary considering letting migrants pass through en route for West

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


11:10 a.m.

More than 10,000 refugees and other migrants have entered Hungary in a single day, the highest figure this year, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he was willing to consider letting people through to Western Europe.

Police said Thursday that 10,046 people arrived in Hungary the day before, surpassing the previous mark of 9,380 set Sept. 14, just before Hungary closed down its border with Serbia.


Dealers, owners feel frustrated and betrayed by Volkswagen emissions scandal, seek answers

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Bob Rand bought his Volkswagen Passat last year for its clean emissions and high gas mileage. He liked the car so much he convinced his son and a friend to buy one, too.

Now, as Volkswagen comes clean about rigging diesel emissions to pass U.S. tests, Rand is desperately trying to sell the fully loaded model with white leather seats for $10,000 below what he paid. His sole bite has been from a man who offered $7,500 on speculation that he could resell it in Mexico.

“Volkswagen was somebody that you could rely on for cutting-edge products and quality and all those things and now you find out that they’re not above lying just flat out,” said Rand, who plans to join a class-action lawsuit against VW. “That’s probably about as bad a thing as a company can do is lie to your face when you’re buying a $35,000 car.”

Rand’s anger at the world’s top-selling car company was echoed Wednesday by private dealers, auto wholesalers and owners across the U.S. as fallout from the smog test trickery mounted.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first disclosed Friday that stealth software makes VW’s 2009-2015 model cars powered by 2.0-liter diesel engines run cleaner during emissions tests than in actual driving. On Wednesday, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned and took responsibility for the “irregularities” found by U.S. inspectors - a scandal that has wiped out billions in the company’s market value and raised the possibility of criminal investigations and billions more in fines.


Xi trades football for hardball political negotiations in Washington, DC

SEATTLE (AP) - With his feel-good tours of Boeing, Microsoft and a local high school complete, Chinese President Xi Jinping departs Washington state Thursday for the other Washington, where tougher discussions on cybersecurity, intellectual property protections and human rights await.

President Barack Obama’s administration said this week that he won’t paper over disagreements between the two countries on those topics, even as the leaders find ground where they can work together on other issues, including trade and climate change.

Xi struck a gracious tone during his 48-hour stay in Seattle, during which he toured Boeing’s plant in Everett, visited Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, and received a football jersey with his name on it from high school students in Tacoma.

In his public remarks, at a dinner banquet and at a meeting of top corporate leaders from both nations, Xi stressed the importance of U.S.-China business relations and vowed that his country would work to remove barriers to foreign investment and to improve intellectual property protections.

He also expressed a willingness to work with the U.S. on cybersecurity - a priority for Washington. White House officials have said hacking attacks originating from China are approaching epidemic levels. The administration believes Chinese espionage was behind one of the worst U.S. government data breaches in history, the theft of fingerprint images of those applying for security clearances. On Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management announced that an estimated 5.6 million images were stolen - not 1.1 million as first thought.


War-weary Colombia nears peace following breakthrough in long-running talks

HAVANA (AP) - President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of Colombia’s largest rebel group vowed to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict in the coming months after reaching a breakthrough in talks that put the country closer to peace that it has been in half a century.

Speaking in Havana, where talks between the sides had been dragging on for years, Santos announced on Wednesday that government and rebel negotiators, prodded by Pope Francis to not let a historic opportunity for peace slip away, had set a six-month deadline to sign a final agreement. After that, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would demobilize within 60 days.

“We are on different sides but today we advance in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is toward peace,” said Santos, minutes before a forced, cold-faced handshake with the military commander of the FARC guerrillas, known by his alias Timochenko.

The U.S. government lauded the breakthrough, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying that “peace is now ever closer for the Colombian people and millions of conflict victims.”

In a joint statement, Santos and the FARC rebels said they had overcome the last significant obstacle to a peace deal by settling on a formula to punish human rights abuses committed during about 50 years of bloody, drug-fueled fighting. The formula is designed to demand accountability from belligerents while insulating a deal against possible legal challenges from victims.


Syria and Ebola failures show 21st century shortcomings of UN power structure forged in 1945

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The worsening war in Syria, allegations of child sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and the mishandling of the Ebola epidemic cast a spotlight on the inadequacies of the United Nations in a globalized world, operating with a power structure that hasn’t changed since 1945.

With age, the organization has grown bloated, say many who know it well. It is also underfunded and overwhelmed by the tasks it faces.

The world body is trying to deal with almost 60 million global refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers - the greatest number since World War II. It is seeking to provide emergency supplies to keep alive 100 million people but has received less than 30 percent of the $20 billion it needs this year.

Beyond Syria, where more than 250,000 people have been killed since 2011, conflicts escalate from Yemen and Iraq to South Sudan and Mali, forcing tens of thousands to flee hoping for a better life in Europe.

Since the U.N. was born after World War II, it has grown from 51 members to 193.


Officials: Suicide bombing kills 25 at mosque during Eid prayers in Yemen’s capital Sanaa

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - A suicide bomber blew himself up during prayers at a mosque for the Eid al-Adha holiday on Thursday, killing 25 people in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, security officials said.

Dozens were wounded in the blast at the al-Bolayli mosque, said the officials, who remain neutral in the conflict that has splintered the country. It is located in an area where many people support the Shiite Houthi rebels who control Sanaa.

The security officials said the suicide bomber placed an explosive device in his shoe, causing an initial explosion. As worshippers rushed to the door, he detonated himself in the middle of the crowd.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

There were puddles of blood and debris outside the mosque, whose ornate facade was damaged by the blast. Police and some Houthi fighters came to inspect the aftermath.

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