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Thursday, January 29, 2015

NASA astronaut memorial stirs memories for shuttle veteran

NASA astronaut memorial stirs memories for shuttle veteran 
 

AP Photo
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NASA shows astronaut Ronald E. McNair. McNair was one of seven crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986, when the vehicle exploded shortly after liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center. All seven members of the crew onboard perished.
  
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) -- Each year around this time, NASA honors fallen astronauts, including the 17 men and women killed in three separate wintertime accidents in the sky and on the earth.

For Robert "Hoot" Gibson, it's a time to remember lost friends and some of their stunts, like playing a saxophone in orbit.

Gibson, who flew on five space shuttle missions, knew each of the 14 astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986, and in the Columbia disaster on Feb. 1, 2003.

On Thursday, he lit a candle of remembrance during a ceremony at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Behind him hung a photo of astronauts including Ron McNair.

Gibson and McNair were crewmates aboard Challenger during a mission in February 1984. McNair, a black belt in karate who also played jazz saxophone, serenaded the crew with music.

"He played `What the World Needs Now is Love,' and we put together a video," Gibson said in an interview.

The memorial came a day after the 29th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, in which McNair and six other astronauts died. Seven astronauts were killed aboard Columbia, and three died during ground testing of Apollo 1 in January 1967.

The memorial also honored another 40 one-time astronauts have died of various causes since NASA began.

Gibson left NASA in 1996 after post-flight work that included serving as chief astronaut. Now 68, the one-time Navy fight pilot lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Gibson feels fortunate to have flown in space, and he still remembers those who didn't make it back.

"You think about the contributions that those people made, and all the wonderful things they did and all the wonderful things that they were going to do in the future," he said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Islamic State releases new audio message by Japanese hostage

Islamic State releases new audio message by Japanese hostage 
 

AP Photo
Safi al-Kaseasbeh, left, father of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who is held by Islamic State group militants, attends a protest in front of the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Jordan on Wednesday offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to the Islamic State group in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with a Japanese hostage.

BEIRUT (AP) -- The Islamic State group released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan's release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

Earlier in the day, Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to the Islamic State group in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with a Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu'as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot's father met with Jordan's king who he said assured him that "everything will be fine."

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting the Islamic State's demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom's hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming the Islamic State group would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of the Islamic State group's demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with the Islamic State militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan's main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

"Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group," said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. "If the government doesn't make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime."

The pilot's family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah's palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

"Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home," the protesters chanted.

The pilot's father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

"The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine," al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government's handling of the crisis.

"I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations," he told The Associated Press. "The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does."

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "Please save Kenji's life," Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

"Kenji has only a little time left," she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan's main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister's official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto's release. "I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me," said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

The Islamic State group broke with al-Qaida's central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network's former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gunmen storm Libya hotel, killing American, 9 others

Gunmen storm Libya hotel, killing American, 9 others 

AP Photo
In this image made from video posted by a Libyan blogger, the Cortinthia Hotel is seen under attack in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Gunmen stormed the luxury hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Tuesday, killing several foreigners and guards, officials said. The attack, which included a car bombing, struck the hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean Sea. The blogger, @AliTweel, captured the moments shortly after the blast, when flames rose up from outside the hotel, appearing to be from the aftermath of the car bomb.
  
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- In the latest sign of Libya's descent into chaos, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel used by diplomats and businessmen in the capital on Tuesday, killing 10 people, including an American, a French citizen and three people from Asia.

Two attackers were killed following an hourslong standoff that included a car bomb that exploded in the parking lot of the seaside Corinthia Hotel. It was unclear if other gunmen were involved in the attack, which also killed five Libyan guards.

In Twitter posts and a statement on social media, a Tripoli affiliate of the Islamic State group was said to be behind the attack, but there was little evidence to back up the claims in a country that has been awash in armed extremist groups who would be equally suspect.

The SITE intelligence group reported that the two dead gunmen were identified online as sympathizers of IS and said the militants said the hotel was targeted because it houses diplomatic missions and "crusader" security companies. However, The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm the claims, which didn't conform with the group's earlier postings from Libya.

Militants claiming the attack on behalf of a group called the Islamic State of the Tripoli Province posted a brief video showing burned cars in the hotel's parking lot and said it was to avenge the 2013 abduction by American commandos of a Libyan al-Qaida operative, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Al-Ruqai died earlier this month in a New York hospital of complications from liver surgery while awaiting trial for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The assault highlights the growing threat from militant groups that operate with near impunity in a country torn between rival governments since the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Since Gadhafi's ouster, the country has been torn among competing militias and tribes vying for power. Libya's post-Gadhafi transition has collapsed, with two rival governments and parliaments - each backed by different militias - ruling in the country's eastern and western regions.

Amid the bloody political rivalry, multiple armed groups have emerged, including radical Islamist militias who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, including one based in the eastern city of Derna, a stronghold of radical groups, as well as regional militias and groups loyal to the former regime.

Tripoli, which has been controlled by Islamist militiamen mostly from the western city of Misrata since the summer, has been hit with a series of car bombs and shootings. The internationally recognized government has been forced to relocate to the country's east, where a former general has waged an offensive against Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead.

A senior U.S. State Department official confirmed that a U.S. citizen was among those killed in Tuesday's attack, but did not provide further details. Cliff Taylor, the CEO of a Virginia security company, Crucible LLC, identified the slain American as David Berry, a contractor with his company.

A French national and three citizens of a former Soviet republic were also among the dead, according to a spokesman for a Tripoli security agency, Essam al-Naas.

The Malta-owned Corinthia hotel, among the most luxurious in Tripoli, is frequented by diplomats and foreign businessmen visiting Libya, and is also where the United Nations support mission in Libya usually holds its meetings. The mission is currently hosting political talks with rival Libyan groups in Geneva, trying to resolve the country's political and security crisis.

The hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests but was largely empty at the time of the attack, according to hotel staff members. There was also a visiting American delegation.

The militia-backed government in Tripoli said the target was Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi, who normally resides at the hotel but was not there at the time of the attack. Spokesman Amr Baiou told reporters al-Hassi was unharmed.

A security official in Tripoli, Omar al-Khadrawi, said initial investigations pointed to a group of former Gadhafi loyalists.

Reports about how the attack unfolded were conflicting and it was not immediately possible to reconcile the different accounts.

Hotel staffers initially said that five masked gunmen stormed the Corinthia after security guards at the hotel's gate tried to stop them, firing randomly at the staff in the lobby as guests fled out the hotel's back doors into the parking lot.

One staffer said a car bomb exploded in the parking lot after a protection force entered the lobby and opened fire on the gunmen. Two guards were immediately killed, according to the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted by militants.

The car bomb incinerated at least five cars in the parking lot and damaged windows in the hotel's facade, he said.

Al-Naas, the security agency spokesman, said after a standoff of several hours, the attackers threw a grenade at the security forces on the hotel's 24th floor, killing themselves and a security guard. Ten people were also wounded in the attack, including security guards and guests.

"The operation is over," al-Naas said but added that the streets around the Corinthia remained closed. He said an investigation was underway and the car used by the gunmen is believed to be the same one used in an assault on the Algerian embassy 10 days ago that wounded three guards.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms" and urged all countries to help bring "the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice." In a statement approved by all 15 members, the council also urged all parties in Libya "to engage constructively" with U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon and resume "an inclusive political process aimed at addressing the political and security challenges" facing Libya.

The Corinthia previously came under attack in 2013 when gunmen abducted then prime minister Ali Zeidan, who was living there. He was released several hours later.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Twins who became 'significant rats' to cartel await sentence

Twins who became 'significant rats' to cartel await sentence 
 

AP Photo
This undated photo from a wanted poster released by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Pedro Flores, left, and his twin brother, Margarito Flores. The brothers are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Jan, 27, 2015, at federal court in Chicago on drug trafficking charges. The Flores twins cut deals to buy tons of narcotics from Joaquin "El Chapo” Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel in the 2000s, and later cooperated with U.S. investigators.
  
CHICAGO (AP) -- In the underworld of illegal drug trafficking, identical twins Pedro and Margarito Flores rose from middling Chicago dealers to partners of Mexico's most notorious cartel lord, eventually building a nearly $2 billion franchise that spanned much of North America.

Anyone convicted of trafficking a fraction as much cocaine and heroin could normally expect a life sentence. 

But the twins can enter their sentencing hearing Tuesday confident of receiving far less. Because they spilled secrets that led to the indictments of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a half-dozen of his lieutenants and about 40 lower-level traffickers, prosecutors are asking for a remarkably lenient term - around 10 years.

If credited for six years in protective custody, the pair could go free within a few years.

Guzman "ran the one of the biggest trafficking organizations in the last 100 years, and these brothers were crucial in helping to bring him and his people to justice," said Jack Riley, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Chicago and now the agency's No. 3 in Washington. "I don't think you can get bigger than that."

Details of the twins' story have been kept under seal for years, but recently opened federal government files, and an Associated Press review of documents in related cases, have lifted some of the secrecy surrounding the two, offering a fuller narrative of their journey from flamboyant teen traffickers to associates of Guzman, who was captured last year by Mexican authorities.

American authorities portray the twins as among the most valuable drug traffickers who ever became informants. Chicago criminal lawyer Joe Lopez, who represented several clients indicted on evidence from the twins, put it more starkly: "They're some of the most significant rats in U.S. history."

Drug-world figures weighed in on their importance, too, in their own way. After word spread in mid-2009 that the twins had turned informants, their father was kidnapped, according to government documents. A note left for the twins on the windshield of his abandoned car read, "Shut up or we are going to send you his head." He is presumed dead.

Prosecutors cited his death and the fact that the twins - as well as their mother, wives and children - will live in fear for the rest of their lives as one reason for leniency. They also want to use the lighter sentence as an enticement to urge other cartel associates to cooperate.

The threat of retaliation by cartel members looms over the case. Since becoming informants, the 33-year-old siblings have never appeared in public. Because of the constant danger, the name of their defense attorney has also been kept secret. And it's unclear how the brothers will be protected in prison or after their release.

The speed with which the 5-foot-4 twins ascended the drug-world hierarchy had something to do with location. Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, where they grew up, is surrounded by major rail lines and highways. It's an aspiring trafficker's dream - a transportation hub within a city that's a transportation hub to the nation.

As dealers in their teens, they had a reputation for being flashy but savvy, said Lopez, who had some clients from the same neighborhood. The twins' fondness for bling was illustrated by a list of items agents said they would forfeit. It included more than $400,000 in jewelry.

Only after the brothers fled Chicago around 2004 for Mexico, apparently fearing arrest following their indictment in Milwaukee, did their trafficking careers soar.

It's not clear how they first made contact with the Sinaloa cartel, but by mid-2005 they were summoned by Guzman himself, according to government filings. Flown to an airstrip in Sinaloa, they were taken to a secret mountain compound to hammer out drug deals with the kingpin.

From 2004 on, prosecutors say, the brothers ran their entire U.S. operation from a Mexican ranch, issuing orders by phone. Their network stretched to from New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada.

Strict rules governed the drug shipments. Guzman's people got the drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border - sometimes via tunnels - and were responsible until the packages were transferred to Flores associates in the U.S. If the drugs were lost somewhere between that point and Chicago, the brothers would be on the hook for the full cost.

Court documents say the twins approached U.S. authorities on their own in the summer of 2008, offering to cooperate. The papers do not explain why, though it happened during bloody conflicts between cartels, and the twins may have feared they would soon fall victim.

Still, they continued to do business with the cartel, now with the aim of gathering evidence.

According to court documents, they met Guzman again in his mountain compound in October 2008, when he made an ominous request of Margarito Flores: Could he obtain rocket and grenade launchers? They would use them, he was told, to attack a U.S. or Mexican government office to send the message that cartel suspects were not to be extradited.

The pressure on the twins was building.

Then something triggered U.S. agents' concern. On Nov. 30, 2008, they gave the brothers two hours' notice to get out of Mexico. They flew to Chicago with little but the clothing they wore.

But the brothers' scheming did not stop immediately.

In Chicago, the two sought to squirrel away millions in ill-gotten gains, toying with the idea of burying some of the money, filings say. While in custody, they also managed to purchase a $100,000 Bentley as a gift for Pedro's wife. They had to give it up when agents learned what they had done.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Spanish police arrest 4 suspected members of a jihadi cell

Spanish police arrest 4 suspected members of a jihadi cell 

MADRID (AP) -- Spanish National Police arrested four suspected jihadis Saturday in the country's North African enclave of Ceuta who allegedly had formed a terror cell and were ready to carry out an attack, the Interior Ministry said.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said investigators, working with their Moroccan counterparts, were struck by the similarities between the suspected cell members and the two French brothers who killed 12 people in an attack upon the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.

"These are two pairs of very radicalized brothers who are highly trained militarily, physically and mentally and are prepared to carry out an attack, and ready, according to the police, to blow themselves up in the act," Fernandez Diaz said.

Two houses in Ceuta were searched in Saturday morning police raids and four men, all Spanish citizens of Moroccan origin, were arrested, the agency said. Officers found an automatic pistol, ammunition, military fatigues, face-concealing hoods, Spanish vehicle license plates, large machetes, knives and documents.

The ministry said the four were following instructions given by the al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, via what it called "a powerful and aggressive communication campaign" including jihadi Internet forums and websites. Al-Baghdadi is now the leader of the extremist Islamic State group, which controls about a third of Iraq and Syria.

Investigators were still assessing the cell's "infrastructure to carry out terror attacks in the country," the ministry said.

Spain and Morocco have arrested dozens of suspected jihadist militants and recruiters in recent years, especially around Melilla and Ceuta, Spanish coastal cities in North Africa that are surrounded by Morocco.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Challenges on multiple fronts likely to test new Saudi king

Challenges on multiple fronts likely to test new Saudi king 
 

AP Photo
In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia's newly enthroned King Salman, right, talks with Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah during the funeral of Salman's half brother King Abdullah at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Saudi state TV reported early Friday that King Abdullah died at the age of 90.
  
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's new monarch inherits the throne at a moment when the oil-rich kingdom is being buffeted by a plunge in the value of its most valuable commodity, growing challenges by activists at home and deepening turmoil on its borders that stands to benefit rival Iran.

Those who know King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud note the 79-year-old's diplomatic skills, honed over nearly five decades as governor of the capital, Riyadh. Those abilities will be put to the test as he positions his country to confront a collapsing Yemen on its southern frontier and threats from the extremist Islamic State group to the north in Iraq.

But he is unlikely to bring fundamental changes to the country's policies and its embrace of the ultraconservative Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.

Saudi kings derive their legitimacy through the support of the clerical establishment, limiting the potential for radical change. Salman already has had plenty of opportunity to put his stamp on Saudi policies, both in his role as defense minister since 2011 and as he increasingly took over duties for his half brother, King Abdullah, who died early Friday.

Salman made clear he has no intention to shift course in a nationally televised address hours after he succeeded Abdullah, vowing to hew to "the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment."

His biggest immediate crisis is how to deal with deeply impoverished Yemen, which is home to what the U.S. sees as al-Qaida's most dangerous branch. Its militants have infiltrated the porous border to launch attacks against the OPEC heavyweight.

Yemen's U.S. and Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, quit just hours before Salman ascended to the throne, driven out by pressure from Shiite rebels known as Houthis who control the capital of Sanaa. The rebels have been accused of being backed by overwhelmingly Shiite Iran, although the Houthis deny any links.

"Their greatest worry is what's going on in Yemen, which is very much their backyard," said Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said that from a Saudi perspective, the advances by the Houthis in Yemen add to a "sense of encirclement by Iran," which is deepening its ties with Shiite-led Iraq and is the main regional patron for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Sunni monarchy of the Gulf island nation of Bahrain, a favorite getaway spot for Saudis just off the kingdom's coast, has failed to quell unrest led by its Shiite majority despite political and security backing by Riyadh.

Of more concern, Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition that includes Saudi air power is struggling to beat back the extremists of the Islamic State group across Saudi Arabia's northern frontier. Earlier this month, gunmen with belts of explosives attacked a Saudi security patrol near the kingdom's 745-mile (1,200-kilometer) border with Iraq, killing three soldiers and wounding at least three more. Saudi Arabia swiftly gave shoot-to-kill orders to all border patrol afterward.

Saudi Arabia took a dim view of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Riyadh had been taking steps to mend ties with Iraq's new leadership even before Salman's ascension. It announced this month that it was considering reopening an embassy in Baghdad for the first time in more than two decades.

Aziz Jaber, a political science professor at Baghdad's Mustansiriyah University, said Salman has no choice but to try to defuse political and sectarian tensions "because the chaos in the region has reached its peak, and danger is knocking everybody's door."

A nearly 60 percent drop in oil prices since summer could limit Salman's ability to maneuver in the long run.

The kingdom relies on oil revenues to fund most of its expansive budget, which covers lavish payouts to royal family members as well as perks such as subsidized fuel and large numbers of public-sector jobs to ordinary Saudis.

While the country has hundreds of billions of dollars in cash reserves stashed away, lower oil prices give it less flexibility to maintain spending levels at home and to influence its policies abroad. Current oil prices of below $50 a barrel are well short of what the kingdom needs to balance its budget - $89 a barrel in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund.

As OPEC's biggest oil exporter and one of the world's largest producers, Saudi Arabia has the ability to cut output significantly to try to drive up prices. It hasn't shown willingness to do so for now, preferring to maintain market share and pressure higher-cost producers rather that trim its own production. That policy, which has dealt a blow to Iran and its backer, Russia, is unlikely to change in the near future, analysts say.

"The Oil Ministry is largely headed by technocrats, and so it is relatively shielded from changes in the kingdom's political environment," Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a report Friday.

Ruling family members are nonetheless involved in the country's biggest industry. One of Salman's sons, Prince Abdulaziz, is the deputy oil minister.

Salman faces plenty of pressures at home too.

Within his own family, he bolstered those closest to him. Salman's designated heir, 69-year-old Prince Muqrin, is the youngest of the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.

Salman also named a second-in-line to the throne, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the son of Salman's late full brother Nayef. He also named one of his sons who is in his 30s, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as defense minister.

A ballooning youth population is putting pressure on the ruling family to do more to create well-paying jobs in the country, where more than half of the population of 20 million is under 25. Doing so will likely involve enticing more private-sector companies to a country where more than two-thirds of employed citizens work for the government.

Officials said last month that half of all public expenditures go for wages and allowances, so any cuts risk stirring resentment and undoing much of the goodwill generated by the extra spending that Salman's predecessor put in place after the 2011 Arab Spring.

The rapid rise of social media is also upending old assumptions, giving greater voice to everyone from young jihadists to Saudi women protesting restrictions on driving in the kingdom. The Arab Spring, while limited in the kingdom, also exposed younger generations to the possibility of challenging long-entrenched Arab regimes.

Salman will need to decide how harshly his government will deal with activists who test the limits of freedom in the ultraconservative country.

The kingdom, for instance, has come under renewed scrutiny from rights groups over its decision to publicly flog Raif Badawi. He was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes meted out over 20 sessions for criticizing Saudi Arabia's clerics and mocking the country's morality police on a blog that he founded. The first round of lashes was administered this month. Another Saudi man was recently arrested for filming a woman's public beheading and posting it online.

Salman's predecessor took some modest steps to empower women, including giving them seats on the government's advisory Shura Council and allowing them to participate in the Olympics for the first time in 2012.

But many limits on women's freedom remain. They cannot, for example, travel or marry without a male guardian's permission. Saudi women are increasingly challenging those strictures, particularly the prohibition on driving, by getting behind the wheel. Those acts of defiance are not likely to abate under Salman.

"People you talk to, they are much more willing to raise their voice now than before," said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs. "When Abdullah came, people had high hopes. I don't think that is there now. ... People think of (Salman) as another Al Saud prince who is not willing to share power, so I think people are going to accelerate their demands."

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK's legacy honored with tributes, rallies around nation

MLK's legacy honored with tributes, rallies around nation
 
AP Photo
Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during a service honoring King at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in Atlanta. Rev. Bernice King, urged those gathered to act out against injustice. But she also said they should remember his message of nonviolence.
  
ATLANTA (AP) -- Speakers honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at his spiritual home in Atlanta repeated the same message on his national holiday Monday: We've come a long way, but there's still much to be done to fulfill King's dream.

The holiday came against the backdrop of recent national protests over the deaths of unarmed black men and youths at the hands of the police around the U.S. Some new protests flared Monday: several dozen demonstrators blocked traffic while marching in Cleveland, Ohio, and protests also were reported in St. Louis, Missouri and Seattle, Washington.

In Atlanta, King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, urged those gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church for the 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service to act out against injustice. She also said they should heed her father's message of nonviolence.

"We cannot act unless we understand what Dr. King taught us. He taught us that we still have a choice to make: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation," she said. "I challenge you to work with us as we help this nation choose nonviolence." The courage and sacrifice of the civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s provide a model for those seeking to effect change today, she added.

She also made reference to the high-profile deaths. Those have included the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York City, as well as the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland, Ohio. All three were killed by white officers.

"I cannot help but remember many women and men who have been gunned down, not by a bad police force but by some bad actors in a police force," she said.

The Northeast Ohio Media Group reported about 60 people gathered Monday at a recreation center where a Cleveland police officer fatally shot the 12-year-old. Their march ended at the city's public square and police told the group some arrests were made.

In Seattle, authorities reported a handful of arrests after dozens chanting "black lives matter" disrupted traffic in Seattle, blocking part of a state highway and interstate off-ramps. Seattle officials advised motorists to take alternate routes when one side of a key state route was temporarily blocked.

The deaths have sparked a nationwide debate over police use of force, further fueled after two New York City police officers were shot to death last month by a man who suggested in online posts that he was retaliating for deaths in Missouri and New York. The gunman, who was black, committed suicide.

The name of the New York man who died in a white police officer's chokehold was invoked by some during peaceful tributes in New York.

"We will move forward as a city. We will move forward to deeper respect for all," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed at the city's main MLK Day event in Brooklyn.

Elsewhere, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that two dozen protesters interrupted a King event at Harris-Stowe State University in that area, leading to angry confrontations with students outside a campus auditorium. Police kept watch, but no arrests were reported.

President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, sought to focus on the next generation. In Washington, Obama and his wife Michelle went with one of their daughters, Malia, to a site for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington to paint murals and assemble "literacy kits" of flashcards and books to help youngsters improve their reading and writing skills.

In Philadelphia, activists pressed for several social justice causes under the King mantle, saying they wanted better police accountability, more education funding and a higher minimum wage. And in Denver some held signs up about the recent deaths as tens of thousands, including cowboys on horseback, made it one of the biggest turnouts in years for Denver's event. Drill teams and floats paraded in Las Vegas under the theme: "Living the Dream: Where Do We Go From Here?"

In Atlanta, many reflected both on the present and the past.

A day after he joined other actors from the movie "Selma" and hundreds of others in Alabama for a march to Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge - where civil rights protesters were beaten and tear-gassed in 1965 - actor David Oyelowo said during the Atlanta commemoration that playing King was a heavy burden.

He cried as he talked about putting himself in King's place. "I only stepped into his shoes for a moment, but I asked myself, `How did he do it?'" Oyelowo said.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis told the Atlanta crowd he was just 17 when King sent him a bus ticket to head to Alabama to join the civil rights movement. Lewis, who marched alongside King, recalled the man he called his hero a man who is "still a guiding light in my life."

"The memory of such a great man can never, ever fade," Lewis said. "I still think about him almost every day."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

'Selma' stars including Oprah march in Alabama, honoring MLK

'Selma' stars including Oprah march in Alabama, honoring MLK 

AP Photo
Oprah Winfrey locks arms with David Oyelowo, left, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie "Selma," Ava DuVernay, the director of "Selma" and rapper Common, far left, as they march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Selma, Ala.
  
SELMA, Ala. (AP) -- Oprah Winfrey and fellow actors from the movie "Selma" marched with hundreds Sunday ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, recalling one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights struggle. Their steps in tribute to King in Alabama came as key black members of Congress elsewhere invoked recent police shootings of young black men as evidence that reforms are needed to ensure equal justice for all.

Winfrey, a producer of "Selma" who also had a part in the film, joined in marching along with director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in the movie, and the rapper Common, who also had an acting role. They and others marched from Selma City Hall to the city's Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights protesters were beaten and tear-gassed by officers in 1965.

"Every single person who was on that bridge is a hero," Winfrey told the marchers before they walked up the bridge as the sun went down over the Alabama River. Common and John Legend performed their Oscar-nominated song "Glory" from the film as marchers crested the top of the bridge amid the setting sun.

Winfrey said the marchers remember "Martin Luther King as an idea, Selma as an idea and what can happen with strategy, with discipline and with love." Winfrey played the civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper in the movie, which was nominated for two Oscars, in categories of best picture and best original song.

"Selma" chronicled the campaign leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the subsequent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Law enforcement officers used clubs and tear gas on March 7, 1965 - "Bloody Sunday" - to rout marchers intent on walking some 50 miles to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, to seek the right for blacks to register to vote. A new march, led by King, started on March 21 of that year and arrived in Montgomery days later with the crowd swelling to about 25,000.

Today, the Selma bridge and adjoining downtown business district look much as they did in 1965, though many storefronts are empty and government buildings are occupied largely by African-American officials who are beneficiaries of the Voting Rights Act.

Lisa Stevens brought her two children, ages 6 and 10, so they could walk the bridge that King walked. "I wanted to bring my children here so they can know their history and for them to participate in this walk," said Stevens, who moved recently from New York to Greensboro, Alabama. 

"It's a part of their history and I think that they should know. Being that we're in the South now I want them 
to understand everything that is going on around them," she said.

McLinda Gilchrist, 63, said the movie should help a younger generation understand what life was like for those in the 1960s who sought to oppose discrimination. "They treated us worse than animals," Gilchrist said of the treatment of the original marchers at the hands of white officers.

"It was terrifying," recalled Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who still lives in Selma and was the youngest person to march there in 1965 as a teenager. Now a 64-year--old mother and grandmother, she spoke Sunday in New York of a harrowing experience of unarmed marchers going up against rifles, billy clubs and fierce dogs. She has since written a memoir, "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom."

For Monday's federal holiday, some were recalling King's leadership in light of fatal police shootings that have recently shaken the U.S., including the death of an unarmed black teen last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson on Sunday as they invoked King's legacy. They vowed to seek criminal justice reform.

"We need to be outraged when local law enforcement and the justice system repeatedly allow young, unarmed black men to encounter police and then wind up dead with no consequences," the St. Louis Democrat said. "Not just in Ferguson, but over and over again across this country."

Other King events planned Monday include a wreath-laying in Maryland, a tribute breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts, and volunteer service activities by churches and community groups in Illinois. In South Carolina, civil rights leaders readied for their biggest rally of the year.

King's legacy also was being celebrated at the church he pastored in Atlanta. The current pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, said the annual King holiday is a time when "all of God's children are busy spreading the message of freedom and justice."

In the Sunday sermon, Professor James Cone of New York's Union Theological Seminary urged Ebenezer's congregation to celebrate the slain civil rights leader "by making a political and a religious commitment to complete his work of justice."

Warnock closed the service by leading singing of the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome."


Friday, January 16, 2015

NCAA agrees to restore wins to Penn State, title to Paterno

NCAA agrees to restore wins to Penn State, title to Paterno
 

AP Photo
T-shirts displayed in the window of the Penn State Student Bookstore, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in State College, Pa., honor the 409 career coaching wins of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno. The NCAA announced Friday a settlement with the univeristy that will give the school back 112 wins wiped out during the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal and restore Paterno as the winningest coach in major college football history


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- The NCAA agreed Friday to restore 112 football wins it had stripped from Penn State and Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal and to reinstate the venerated late coach as the winningest in major college football history.

The agreement, swiftly approved by the boards of the NCAA and the university after intermittent talks heated up this week, lifts the last of the sanctions imposed in 2012 and wipes away the black marks that had tainted one of the nation's most celebrated college athletics programs.

After more than two years of criticism that the NCAA had overstepped its authority, officials with college sports' governing body did not back down. Instead, they said they were focused on ending litigation that had held up distribution of the university's $60 million fine to fund child abuse-prevention programs.

Before the deal, the NCAA had agreed last year to eliminate some of the sanctions, including reinstating Penn State's full complement of scholarships and letting the team participate in post-season play.

Friday's agreement threw out the rest of the sanctions, including eliminating a five-year probation period and scholarship and transfer rules, and restoring the wins that had been wiped out. It also bowed to Pennsylvania officials' desire to see the $60 million fine spent in Pennsylvania, not spread to abuse-prevention programs around the nation.

The pact emerged just days after a federal judge declined to rule on the constitutionality of the sanctions and weeks before a Pennsylvania court was to hold a trial on the legality of the penalties.

"Hopefully, today we'll begin to make right the damage that has been done," said Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who had sued the NCAA with state Treasurer Rob McCord. "Today is a victory for due process, which was unafforded in this case. Today is a victory for the people of Pennsylvania. Today is a victory for Penn State nation. The NCAA has surrendered."

The unprecedented scope of the sanctions had drawn intense criticism from Penn State alumni and fans who defended Paterno as innocent in the scandal and called the school's athletics program a national model. They accused the NCAA of rushing to judgment to assert its dominance, ultimately punishing people who had nothing to do with Sandusky.

The family of Paterno, who died as the scandal was unfolding, hailed the agreement, while lawyers for Sandusky's victims worried that the NCAA's retreat sent the wrong message. In State College, home to Penn State's sprawling main campus nicknamed Happy Valley, the news was welcome, although not everybody felt warmly toward the NCAA.

In the agreement, Penn State acknowledged that the NCAA had acted in good faith in the Sandusky matter, and university President Eric Barron said he believed the agency had a legitimate concern about institutional control.

NCAA officials said Friday that their motivation in the deal was to start funding abuse-prevention programs with the fine.

"The victors are those of us who were advocating for the children," said Harris Pastides, an NCAA board member and president of the University of South Carolina.

They did not back off their right to take such action.

"The board felt they had to quickly and decisively put forward a set of sanctions. I hope we never have to do this again," said Kirk Schulz, an NCAA board member and Kansas State's president.

The penalties sprung from the scandal that erupted when Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, was accused of sexually abusing boys, some of them on campus.

Penn State's then-President, Rodney Erickson, agreed to the sanctions in 2012, in the weeks after Sandusky was convicted. Just days earlier, former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a scathing report commissioned by Penn State's trustees, and the school removed an iconic bronze statue of Paterno from the school's Beaver Stadium.

Freeh's report accused Paterno and other top Penn State officials of burying child sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky to avoid bad publicity. The report portrayed the Hall of Fame coach as more deeply involved in the scandal than previously thought.

The alleged cover-up by Paterno, then-university President Graham Spanier and two other Penn State administrators allowed Sandusky to prey on other boys for years, it said.

Paterno was never charged with a crime, although Spanier and the two other former administrators continue to fight charges in court.

Paterno's family called Friday's announcement "a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy."

"This case should always have been about the pursuit of the truth, not the unjust vilification of the culture of a great institution and the scapegoating of coaches, players and administrators who were never given a chance to defend themselves," they said.

Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the victims who testified at Sandusky's trial, said he supported the restoration of Penn State's scholarships and bowl eligibility last fall, but does not believe Paterno's victories should be reinstated because they were "tarnished" by Sandusky.

He also said he sensed a shift in Penn State's attitude after the criminal case against Sandusky wrapped up and it concluded civil settlements with victims.

"There was a movement away from what I thought was a genuine mea culpa on the part of Penn State, having accepted the NCAA sanctions, and one toward, `Why did we cave so easily?' That was disappointing," Boni said.

The sanctions eliminated all wins from 1998, when police investigated a mother's complaint that Sandusky had showered with her son, through 2011, Paterno's final season as head coach after six decades with the team and the year Sandusky was charged.

The restored wins include 111 under Paterno and the final victory of 2011, after trustees fired Paterno in the wake of the charges against Sandusky and the team was coached by Tom Bradley. That returns Paterno's record to 409-136-3. He died of lung cancer at 85 shortly after the season ended.

Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts and is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.


Muslims protest weekly's prophet cartoon; 4 killed in Niger

Muslims protest weekly's prophet cartoon; 4 killed in Niger 
 

AP Photo
Supporters of a Pakistani religious party Jamaat-i-Islami rally to protest against caricatures published in French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Pakistani students are clashing with police during protests against the French satirical magazine that was attacked last week for publishing images of the Prophet Muhammad.
  
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -- Muslim anger flared over a French satirical weekly's latest caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with four people reported killed and dozens injured at a protest Friday in the West African country of Niger, and violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Pakistan, Jordan and Algeria.

Supporters say the cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo is a defiant expression of free speech following a terrorist attack on the publication's Paris offices that killed 12 people on Jan. 7, but many Muslims viewed it as another attack on their religion.

The new issue has a drawing of Muhammad, with a tear rolling down his cheek and a placard that reads "Je Suis Charlie" - a saying that has swept France and the world since the killings. The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam.

A French cultural center was set ablaze by protesters in the town of Zinder in southern Niger, and one security officer and three demonstrators were killed in the melee, said Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou. Another 20 security officers and 23 civilians were injured, he said.

The government of Niger, a former French colony, has banned the sale of Charlie Hebdo.

Many of the protests across the Muslim world began after midday prayers Friday, Islam's holy day.
Demonstrations were held in the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and the capital of Islamabad.

Clashes erupted in Karachi when protesters started heading toward the French consulate, throwing stones at police, who pushed them back with water cannons and tear gas.

Agence France-Presse photographer Asif Hassan was shot and wounded, said AFP news director Michele Leridon, although "his life does not seem in danger." AFP said it was trying to find out whether Hassan was targeted or shot accidentally.

Three other people, including two journalists and one police officer, were treated for minor injuries and released from Jinnah Hospital, said Dr. Seemi Jamali.

Police officer Naseer Tanoly said some of the protesters were armed and opened fire on the police, who shot into the air to disperse the crowd. The protesters were mostly students affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami political party.

Umair Saeed, an official with the party's student wing in Karachi, denied the students had weapons and said the police had opened fire.

About 1,000 people gathered in Islamabad to condemn the French publication. The demonstrators carried signs that read "Shame on Charlie Hebdo," and "If you are Charlie, then I am Kouachi" - referring to the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, who were killed after carrying out the attack on the newspaper office. They had claimed to be sent by al-Qaida in Yemen.

A second day of protests in Lahore drew about 800 people.

On Thursday, Pakistani lawmakers passed a resolution against cartoons of the prophet and marched outside parliament to protest Charlie Hebdo's latest cover.

The demonstrations overshadowed smaller rallies in Islamabad and elsewhere to commemorate the Peshawar school attack one month ago by Taliban gunmen that killed 150 people, many of them children. Those attending the rallies urged the government to do more to curb support for militancy and extremism, which many say have flourished at mosques and religious schools.

In Washington Friday night, dozens of Muslims primarily from Pakistan rallied to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Pakistan against terrorism and commemorating the Peshawar school attack one month ago.

In a rare protest in the Algerian capital of Algiers, thousands of young men marched to protest the French satirical newspaper. The demonstrators threw bottles and rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Protesters carried banners saying, "I am not Charlie, I am Muhammad," and chanted slogans that date back to a banned Islamist party whose election victory in 1991 precipitated a civil war.

Some broke through police barriers and surged toward the parliament building, prompting volleys of tear gas by police and running street battles. The office of the state airline was torched.

Police eventually dispersed the demonstrators by using snow plows and tear gas, according to media reports. It was not clear how many were arrested or hurt in the unrest.

The demonstration, which had a degree of official backing when authorities called for imams to dedicate Friday prayers to the life of the prophet, was unusual for Algiers, where protests have been banned since 2001.

Clashes broke out in the Jordanian capital of Amman between security forces and about 2,000 protesters organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group. Riot police used batons to disperse the people as they tried to march to the French Embassy.

The crowd chanted slogans against Charlie Hebdo and Jordanian officials for taking part in a unity march in Paris on Sunday. The Jordanian royal household denounced Charlie Hebdo's latest cover, saying publishing the cartoon was "irresponsible and far from the essence of freedom of expression." King Abdullah and Queen Rania, however, took part in the Paris march in solidarity with the victims of the terror attack.

Also Friday:
- About 160 men in Istanbul said funeral prayers to honor the Kouachi brothers.
- Several hundred worshippers marched briefly in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.
- Saudi Arabia's top council of senior clerics said Charlie Hebdo's latest depiction of the prophet served extremists looking to justify murder and terrorism.
- Qatar urged Western media "to respect others and their beliefs."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Immigrants can now get Mexican birth certificates in US

Immigrants can now get Mexican birth certificates in US 
 

AP Photo
FILE - Visitors walk from the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock, Ark., after the grand opening of the building in this Wednesday, April 25, 2007 file photot. The Mexican government on Thursday Jan. 15, 2015 will start issuing birth certificates to its citizens at consulates in the United States, seeking to make it easier for them to apply for U.S. work permits, driver's licenses and protection from deportation.
  
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- For Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally and hoping to stay in the country under President Barack Obama's new immigration policy, things just got one step simpler.

On Thursday, the Mexican government began issuing birth certificates to its citizens at its consulates in the United States.

That will make it a little easier for Mexicans hoping to obtain U.S. work permits, driver's licenses and protection from deportation.

Up until now, Mexico required its citizens to get birth certificates at government offices in Mexico. Many of those living in this country had to ask friends and relatives back home to retrieve the paperwork.

Pedro Zamora, a 52-year-old cook, took advantage of the new program to obtain his birth certificate at the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana, California. He plans to apply for a California driver's license this week.

Before the change took place, Zamora had to ask his sister-in-law to pick up his son's and daughter's birth certificates in Colima, Mexico, so they could apply for Obama's immigration program for those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. But Zamora said the paperwork got lost in the mail - twice.

"It would take seven or 15 days and there was a risk of losing it," Zamora said.

While Republicans in Congress are trying to undo Obama's plan to shield millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. from deportation, Mexico is trying to help them stay here and continue sending money back to relatives across the border.

About half of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are from Mexico, and immigration experts say roughly 3 million of them could be eligible under the administration's plan.

Immigrants will probably need to produce photo identification such as a passport to apply for the program. And to get a Mexican passport, they need a birth certificate.

That has proved to be a problem for many Mexican immigrants.

Those who cross the border illegally to reach the United States rarely carry documents with them on the treacherous journey, partly to avoid detection. And some Mexicans born in remote, rural communities do not make the necessary journey to the nearest government office to start the process of obtaining a birth certificate.

Mexico's 50 consulates in the U.S. can now access data in Mexico and print birth certificates here, said Arturo Sanchez, consul for press and commercial affairs in Santa Ana.

Consulates should be able to issue birth certificates for nearly all places in Mexico, though some villages where documents are not digitally recorded may not be covered, Sanchez said.

The new practice comes two weeks after California - home to more Mexicans than any other state - began issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

After handing out birth certificates in Santa Ana, Jose Antonio Meade, Mexico's secretary of foreign affairs, said his government hopes Obama's program moves forward and that "the gap that today exists between the rights of citizens and the rights of immigrants every day will continue closing."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents a San Diego-area congressional district, complained that U.S. and Mexican policies have combined to send more people across the border illegally.

"The administration's position and efforts seem to better align with Mexico's interests than they do with our own - and that's disappointing," he said.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said she believes Mexico is trying to make it easier for its citizens to stay here because of the money they send back.

Mexican migrant workers living abroad sent home $21.6 billion to their families in 2013, according to the country's central bank.

Vaughan, whose organization wants tighter limits on immigration, said ensuring birth certificates are authentic is critical because they are used to obtain key identity documents such as passports.

"If we can trust the Mexican government to do its due diligence and establish a system with integrity, then this will work," she said. But she added: "That is a big if."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2 men reach top of Yosemite's El Capitan in historic climb

2 men reach top of Yosemite's El Capitan in historic climb 
 

AP Photo
Kevin Jorgeson, bottom left, raises his arms beside Tommy Caldwell after both reached the summit of El Capitan, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, as seen from the valley floor in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Caldwell and Jorgeson became the first to free-climb the rock formation's Dawn Wall. They used ropes and safety harnesses to catch them in case of a fall, but relied entirely on their own strength and dexterity to ascend by grasping cracks as thin as razor blades and as small as dimes.
  
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) -- A pair of Americans completed what had long been considered the world's most difficult rock climb Wednesday, using only their hands and feet to scale a 3,000-foot vertical wall on El Capitan, the forbidding granite pedestal in Yosemite National Park that has beckoned adventurers for more than half a century.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to free-climb the rock formation's Dawn Wall, a feat that many had considered impossible. They used ropes and safety harnesses to catch themselves in case of a fall, but relied entirely on their own strength and dexterity to ascend by grasping cracks as thin as razor blades and as small as dimes.

The effort took 19 days as the two dealt with constant falls and injuries. But their success completes a yearslong dream that bordered on obsession for the men.

Caldwell was the first to finish Wednesday afternoon. He waited on a ledge for Jorgeson, who caught up minutes later. The two embraced before Jorgeson pumped his arms in the air and clapped his hands above his head. Then they sat down for a few moments, gathered their gear, changed clothes and hiked to the nearby summit.

About 200 people were waiting for them, including Caldwell's wife and Jorgeson's girlfriend, who welcomed them to the top with hugs and kisses. It will take the pair two to three hours to hike down the mountain.

In the meadow far below, another crowd broke into cheers. Relatives of the men watched on telescopic monitors.

Caldwell's mother, Terry, said her son could have reached the top several days ago, but he waited for his friend to make sure they got there together.

"That's a deep, abiding, lifelong friendship, built over suffering on the wall together over six years," she said.
President Barack Obama sent his congratulations from the White House Twitter account, saying the men "remind us that anything is possible."

The trek up the world's largest granite monolith began Dec. 27. Caldwell and Jorgeson lived on the wall itself, eating and sleeping in tents fastened to the rock thousands of feet above the ground and battling painful cuts to their fingertips much of the way.

Free-climbers do not pull themselves up with cables or use chisels to carve out handholds. Instead, they climb inch by inch, wedging their fingers and feet into tiny crevices or gripping sharp, thin projections of rock. 

In photographs, the two appeared at times like Spider-Man, with arms and legs splayed across the pale stone that has been described as smooth as a bedroom wall.

Both men needed to take rest days to heal. They used tape and even superglue to help protect their raw skin. At one point, Caldwell set an alarm to wake him every few hours to apply a special lotion to his throbbing hands.

They also endured physical punishment whenever their grip slipped, pitching them into long, swinging falls that left them bouncing off the rock face. The tumbles, which they called "taking a whipper," ended with startling jolts from their safety ropes.

Caldwell, 36, and Jorgeson, 30, had help from a team of supporters who brought food and supplies and shot video of the adventure.

The pair ate canned peaches and occasionally sipped whiskey. They watched their urine evaporate into the thin, dry air and handed toilet sacks, called "wag bags," to helpers who disposed of them.

There are about 100 routes up the rock known among climbers as "El Cap," and many have made it to the top, the first in 1958. Even the Dawn Wall had been scaled. Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy) made it up in 1970, using climbing ropes and countless rivets over 27 days.

No one, however, had ever made it to the summit in one continuous free-climb - until now.

"He doesn't understand the magnitude of the accomplishment and the excitement generated," said Caldwell's father, Mike Caldwell.

The pioneering ascent comes after five years of training and failed attempts for both men. They only got about a third of the way up in 2010 when they were turned back by storms. A year later, Jorgeson fell and broke an ankle in another attempt. Since then, each has spent time on the rock practicing and mapping out strategy.

On this try, as the world watched and followed on Facebook and Twitter, Jorgeson was stalled in a lower section that took 11 attempts over seven days.

"As disappointing as this is, I'm learning new levels of patience, perseverance and desire," Jorgeson posted online. "I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed."

Caldwell, of Estes Park, Colorado, is no stranger to El Cap. He has free-climbed 11 different routes and was the first to make such ascents of the Dihedral Wall and West Buttress. He was the third to free-climb the Nose on El Cap. He also made his way up a challenging El Capitan route in fewer than 24 hours - becoming only the second person to do so - only months after accidentally severing his left index finger with a table saw in 2001.

Jorgeson, of Santa Rosa, California, has an impressive list of climbs in the U.S., Europe and South Africa. He works as a climbing instructor and co-founded an advocacy group for climbers.

John Long, the first person to climb up El Capitan in one day in 1975, said it was almost inconceivable that anyone could do something as "continuously difficult" as Caldwell and Jorgeson's free-climb.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Defiant Charlie Hebdo fronts Muhammad, drawing more threats

Defiant Charlie Hebdo fronts Muhammad, drawing more threats 
 

AP Photo
The new chief editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Gerard Biard, left, and columnist Patrick Pelloux, right, comfort cartoonist Luz during a press conference in Paris, France, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. Twelve people died when two masked gunmen assaulted the newspaper’s offices on Jan. 7, including much of the editorial staff and two police. It was the beginning of three days of terror around Paris that saw 17 people killed before the three Islamic extremist attackers were gunned down by security forces. Charlie Hebdo had faced repeated threats for depictions of the prophet, and its editor and his police bodyguard were the first to die.
  
PARIS (AP) -- Charlie Hebdo released a new version of its irreverent and often offensive newspaper Tuesday, defiantly putting a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover that drew immediate criticism and threats of more violence.

The newspaper also skewered other religions, and ran a double-page spread illustrating Sunday's march in Paris that drew more than a million people to condemn terrorism, claiming that the turnout was larger "than for Mass."

"For the past week, Charlie, an atheist newspaper, has achieved more miracles than all the saints and prophets combined," it said in the lead editorial. "The one we are most proud of is that you have in your hands the newspaper that we always made."

Charlie Hebdo planned an unprecedented print run of 3 million copies Wednesday - one week to the day after the assault by two masked gunmen that killed 12 people, including much of its editorial staff and two police officers. It was the beginning of three days of terror that saw 17 people killed before the three Islamic extremist attackers were gunned down by security forces.

Surviving staff members are now using the offices of the Liberation newspaper, which has loaned out space.

The latest cover shows a weeping Muhammad, holding a sign reading "I am Charlie" with the words "All is forgiven" above him.

Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist with the weekly, said the cover meant the journalists are forgiving the extremists for the attack.

Renald Luzier, the cartoonist who drew the cover image under the pen name "Luz" said it represents "just a little guy who's crying."

Then he added, unapologetically: "Yes, it is Muhammad."

Speaking at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday at which he repeatedly broke down crying, Luzier described weeping after he drew the picture.

Charlie Hebdo had faced repeated threats and a firebombing for depictions of the prophet, and its editor and his police bodyguard were the first to die. Many Muslims believe all images of the prophet are blasphemous.

Before the new edition was even released, one of Egypt's top Islamic authorities had warned Charlie Hebdo against publishing more cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Dar al-Ifta, which is in charge of issuing religious edicts, called the planned cover an "unjustified provocation" for millions of Muslims who respect and love their prophet and warned the cartoon would likely spark a new wave of hatred.

Indeed, criticism and threats immediately appeared on militant websites, with calls for more strikes against the newspaper and anonymous threats from radicals, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based terrorism monitor.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo maintained the intentionally offensive tone that made the newspaper famous in France. The first two pages included drawings by the slain cartoonists: One showed a much-loved late French nun talking about oral sex; another showed Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders dividing up the world.

The lead editorial laid out a vigorous defense of secularism, and of the newspaper's right to lampoon religions and hold their leaders accountable - and ended with a critique of the pope.

But most of the controversy centered on the cover and its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

Around the world, news organizations took different approaches to illustrating stories about the Charlie Hebdo cover. In the United States, CBS programs and The New York Post ran images of the cover, while the ABC network didn't. The New York Times also didn't publish it, but included a link to it. CNN didn't show the cover online or on the air. 

The Associated Press had not run previous Charlie Hebdo cartoons showing Muhammad, and declined to run the latest one as well, based on its policy to avoid images designed to provoke on the basis of religion.

In Europe, Spain's leading daily newspapers published the image online and the state broadcaster showed it on news bulletins. In Britain, The Times of London, the Guardian and the Independent went with the image, while The Daily Telegraph didn't. The BBC showed the new cover on news programs. Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung all used it on their websites.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Divers retrieve 2nd black box from AirAsia crash

Divers retrieve 2nd black box from AirAsia crash


AP Photo
Indonesian divers hold FDR (Flight Data Recorder) of the AirAsia flight QZ8501 onboard the navy vessel KRI Banda Aceh, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Divers retrieved one black box Monday and located the other from the AirAsia plane that crashed more than two weeks ago, a key development that should help investigators unravel what caused the aircraft to plummet into the Java Sea.
 
PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia (AP) -- Divers retrieved the crashed AirAsia plane's second black box from the bottom of the Java Sea on Tuesday, giving investigators essential tools to piece together what brought Flight 8501 down.


The cockpit voice recorder was freed from beneath the heavy ruins of a wing early in the morning from a depth of about 30 meters (98 feet), a day after the aircraft's flight data recorder was recovered, said Tonny Budiono, sea navigation director at the Transportation Ministry.


"Thank God," he said. "This is good news for investigators to reveal the cause of the plane crash."

The device will be flown to the capital, Jakarta, to be downloaded and analyzed with the other box. Since it records in a two-hour loop, all discussions between the captain and co-pilot should be available.

The plane crashed 42 minutes into a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore on Dec. 28. All 162 people on board were killed, but only 48 bodies have been recovered so far.

The find is the latest boost in the slow-moving hunt to scour the shallow, murky stretch of ocean.

Over the weekend, the tail of the Airbus A320 was recovered, emblazoned with the carrier's red-and-white cursive logo. The black boxes are housed inside the tail, but were missing when the wreckage was pulled to the surface.

The devices were soon located after three Indonesian ships detected two strong pings being emitted from their beacons, about 20 meters (22 yards) apart. Strong currents, large waves and blinding silt have hindered divers' efforts throughout the 17-day search, but they took advantage of calmer early morning conditions on both days to extract the instruments.

The information pulled from the black boxes - which are actually orange - will likely be vital. Designed to survive extreme heat and pressure, they should provide investigators with a second-by-second timeline of the flight.

The voice recorder captures all conversations between the pilots and with air traffic controllers, as well as any noises heard in the cockpit, including possible alarms or explosions. The flight data recorder saves information on the position and condition of almost every major part in the plane, including altitude, airspeed, direction, engine thrust, the rate of ascent or descent and what up-or-down angle the plane was pointed.

"There's like 200-plus parameters they record," said aviation expert John Goglia, a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member. "It's going to provide us an ocean of material."

In their last contact with air-traffic controllers, the pilots of the AirAsia jet asked to climb from 32,000 feet (9,750 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,580 meters) to avoid threatening clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar. No distress signal was received.

Searchers also have been trying to locate the main section of the plane's cabin, where many of the victims' corpses are believed to be entombed.

Decomposition is making identification more difficult for desperate families waiting to bury their loved ones. Nearly all passengers and crew were Indonesian.

"I still believe many victims remain trapped there, and we must find them," said Gen. Moeldoko, Indonesia's military chief, who uses one name.
 

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