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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Latest: Clinton to campaign with mother of Sandra Bland

The Latest: Clinton to campaign with mother of Sandra Bland

AP Photo
In this Feb. 9, 2016, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her first-in-the-nation presidential primary campaign rally in Hooksett, N.H. Clinton’s campaign has spent months fighting the perception that the former secretary of state has a complicated relationship with the truth and is disconnected from the problems facing Americans. So far, it hasn’t worked.    

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Here's the latest on the 2016 presidential race as Republican and Democratic candidates head from New Hampshire to South Carolina and beyond. All times local:

5:22 p.m.

Hillary Clinton will campaign next week with the mother of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who was discovered hanged in her jail cell three days after being pulled over for a routine traffic stop near Houston.

Geneva Reed-Veal will join the Democratic presidential candidate at a Feb. 17 voter mobilization event in Chicago.

Bland's death has become a symbol of the racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Her family, black leaders and other activists have questioned her treatment by white law enforcement officers and the determination she committed suicide.

Clinton is trying to boost her support among minority voters ahead of primaries later this month in South Carolina and Nevada.

Other African-American mothers whose children were victims of gun violence are planning campaign events for her in the coming weeks.
---
4:59 p.m.
A spokeswoman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's campaign for president says he is dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination.

Christie's decision to exit the race comes a day after his disappointing sixth-place finish in New Hampshire.
Campaign spokeswoman Samantha Smith says Christie broke the news of his decision to staff at his campaign headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, late Wednesday afternoon.
Christie is also calling donors and supporters to give them the news.
---
4:10 p.m.
Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign says it has raised $5.2 million in less than a day since the polls closed in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Sanders told supporters after his resounding victory over Hillary Clinton in the primary that he was "going to hold a fundraiser right here, right now, across America." His campaign says the total is the most Sanders has raised in less than a day.

The average donation since Sanders' speech is $34. Sanders raised $20 million in January, with most of it coming online and pulled in $3 million in the day after he narrowly lost the Iowa caucuses.
---
4:00 p.m.
John Kasich says he knows the value of getting to know members of the other party in order to get things done - and he has the scars to prove it.

Speaking at a local business in Charleston, South Carolina, Kasich says he has a scar on his forehead from a Democrat who headbutted him during a game of basketball. He tells the story as an example of the value of Congressional bonding in achieving results.

He then continued his fitness comparisons, adding, "if you don't go to the gym you get flabby, and if the country doesn't solve its problems it gets flabby."
---
3:12 p.m.
Carly Fiorina is dropping out of the 2016 Republican presidential race.

The former technology executive announced on Twitter that she is suspending her campaign.

The 61-year-old drew positive reviews for several strong debate performances, in which she promoted her business expertise and argued that as the lone woman in the GOP field she was best positioned to oppose likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But she struggled to build support in a crowded primary field and her poll numbers lagged.

Fiorina announced her candidacy in April. She previously ran unsuccessfully for Senate in California.
Fiorina struggled with criticism of her time at Hewlett-Packard, where she was ousted from the top job in 2005, after leading a major merger and laying off 30,000 people.
---
3:05 p.m.
Hillary Clinton's campaign is questioning rival Bernie Sanders record on issues affecting minorities, as the race moves to the more diverse states of South Carolina and Nevada.

Just a day after a devastating defeat in New Hampshire, campaign supporters are attacking Sanders record on gun control, criminal justice and civil rights.

"Hillary Clinton has been a true friend to the African-American community for nearly 40 years," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, of New York. "And during that time Sen. Sanders has been largely missing in action."

Sanders plans to tout his work as civil rights activists during his college years at the University of Chicago. His aides argue that the more minority voters learn about Sanders, the more they will embrace his economic message.
---
2:07 p.m.
Tuesday's winners in the New Hampshire primary might have gained momentum but they didn't pick up many delegates.

That's because there weren't many delegates at stake, and both parties awarded them proportionally, 
meaning even the losers got some.

Bernie Sanders picked up a total of 15 Democratic delegates and Hillary Clinton won nine.
Clinton holds a sizable lead in the overall race for delegates because of strong support from superdelegates, the party officials who can back the candidate of their choice.

Overall, Clinton has 394 delegates Sanders has 44.

It takes 2,382 delegates to win the Democratic nomination for president
Among Republicans, Donald Trump won 10 delegates in New Hampshire and John Kasich won four. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each won three.
Overall, Trump has 17 delegates, Cruz has 11 and Rubio has 10. Kasich has five delegates, Bush has 4 and Ben Carson has three.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination.
--
1: 51 p.m.
Marco Rubio's campaign manager says the Florida senator's New Hampshire setback could extend the Republican nomination fight for at least another three months, if not longer.
"We very easily could be looking at May - or the convention" before there's a "functional nominee," Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan said in a brief interview with The Associated Press. "I would be surprised if it's not May or the convention."

There hasn't been a contested national convention since 1976. But Republican National Committee officials have already had preliminary discussions about just such a scenario given the possibility no candidate secures a majority of delegates in the state-by-state contests to come. This year's Republican National Convention will take place in July.
---
1:25 p.m.
One of the first voters to ask a question at Kasich's lead-off South Carolina town hall says she's a lifelong Democrat who plans to vote for the Ohio governor.

But she has one concern: "I keep reading that you have a prickly personality...Can you really bring people together to get things done?"

Kasich has pledged to run a positive campaign, but he's been known at times to be short-tempered in his home state of Ohio.

After jokingly telling the woman "No, I probably can't" get things done, Kasich says he's "mellowed out" since his early days in politics. He says his record in Congress and as governor serves as evidence that he can deliver on his promises.
---
12:56 p.m.
Jeb Bush says New Hampshire voters "pushed the pause button" on anointing any candidate as the favorite 
to win the Republican nomination.

Bush told reporters Wednesday after a campaign rally in Bluffton, South Carolina, that the New Hampshire primary had cancelled "the coronation after a third-place finish" - an apparent reference to GOP rival Marco Rubio, who slipped from third in the Iowa caucus to finishing fifth in New Hampshire. Bush finished fourth in New Hampshire's contest Tuesday night.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is joining Bush on the campaign trail in his home state. Graham endorsed the former Florida governor last month after ending his own presidential bid.
Graham introduced Bush to a crowd of about 300 people as "a guy who's been tested and will be ready on Day 1 to be commander-in-chief."
---
12:39 p.m.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to drop out of the 2016 race for the White House after finishing sixth in the New Hampshire primary.

That's according to a two people familiar with his plans, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Christie had banked his presidential prospects on a strong finish in the early-voting state, but finished behind most of his Republican rivals in Tuesday's election.

It was the final blow for a candidate who spent more than 70 days campaigning in New Hampshire.
Christie had trouble from the get-go raising money and building support in a crowded Republican field dominated by another brash East Coaster: businessman Donald Trump.
---
12:20 p.m.
Marco Rubio says his campaign is moving into a more aggressive phase after a disappointing finish in New Hampshire.

He told reporters on the flight Wednesday from New Hampshire to next-up South Carolina that it was a mistake during Saturday's debate to revert to talking points instead of engaging with New Jersey Gov. Chris 
Christie. He says he won't start intra-party fights but will be more willing to respond when necessary.

He said: "We're going to have to point out the differences in our records in a sharper way," adding that his fifth place finish in New Hampshire means he doesn't have "the luxury any longer to basically say, 'Look, I don't want to argue with Republicans.'"
---
11:50 a.m.
Ted Cruz is going after Donald Trump again, this time in South Carolina over who is an authentic conservative on health care, abortion and more.

The Texas senator, who came in first in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, said he's the only candidate in the crowded GOP nomination fight who will stand against abortion and defend gun rights. Cruz revived his criticism of Trump as a defender of President Barack Obama's health care law. Trump has called that a "lie."

Cruz spoke in Myrtle Beach, S.C. as the race shifted to the next state to vote in the contest.
---
11:40 a.m.
The White House isn't revealing President Barack Obama's reaction to Bernie Sanders' blowout in New Hampshire, but it is acknowledging he's settling in for a long ride.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz says it's clear that the fight between Sanders and Hillary Clinton - like Obama's race against Clinton in 2008 - "is a process that's going to go on for quite some time."

Obama has not publicly endorsed a candidate in the race, although recent remarks suggest he favors Clinton, his former secretary of state. Obama says he doesn't want to put his finger on the scale until voters get their say.

Still, Obama is slated to deliver a message on Wednesday that may again hint at his preference. The president is slated to address the Illinois General Assembly. The White House says he'll make the case for less ideological, more pragmatic politics. Clinton uses similar rhetoric in campaign speeches when she tries to draw contrasts with Sanders.
---
11:35 a.m.
Chris Christie fundraiser Ken Langone isn't crying over the New Jersey governor's sixth-place finish in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

The billionaire Home Depot co-founder says, "'yesterday was a great day for America, a fabulous day for America," though "it wasn't a great day" for conventional political candidates, including Christie.

He says, "the American people are effectively saying to both parties: We're sick and tired of the current situation."

Langone says he thought Christie would "do better," but that primary winner Donald Trump is a proxy for the frustrations people are feeling.

He says that, while Christie could continue on, "the question is, is it practical or well-spent or realistic."
---
11:30 a.m.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dined together Wednesday at a Harlem landmark, where they discussed issues that affect the African-American community around the country.

Sharpton says, "I think it is very important that he sent the signal that on the morning after a historic victory...he would come to Harlem and have breakfast with me."

Sharpton says the two men talked at Sylvia's Restaurant about affirmative action, police brutality and the water disaster in Flint.

Sharpton adds that he and various heads of national civil rights organizations plan to meet with Clinton next week.

He says he won't endorse a candidate until after that meeting with Clinton.
---
11:25 a.m.
Donald Trump wishes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would "disappear."

"I would get China to make that guy disappear in one form or another very quickly," Trump said on "CBS This Morning."

Host Norah O'Donnell asked whether Trump is calling for Kim Jong-un's assassination.

Trump shrugged, "Well, I've heard of worse things frankly."

He adds: "China has control, absolute control over North Korea...And they should make that problem disappear."
---
10:47 a.m.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has finished third in the New Hampshire primary behind winner Donald Trump and runner-up John Kasich.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush finished in fourth place, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished behind him in fifth.
Trump led the field, beating Kasich, the sitting Ohio governor, by nearly 20 points.

Cruz came in third, leading Bush by less than a percentage point. Rubio trailed Bush by less than a percentage point.
---
10:00 a.m.
Jeb Bush's campaign is unveiling a radio ad Wednesday in South Carolina featuring Jeb Bush's famous presidential brother, George W. Bush.

The former president says "There's no doubt in my mind that Jeb Bush will be a great commander-in-chief for our military."

George W. Bush has been enlisted to campaign for his brother in South Carolina, where Jeb Bush is making eight campaign stops in the state over the next three days following a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire.

The 60-second ad, "Steady Hand, will air throughout the state.
---
8:55 a.m.
Score one for optimism.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says his underwhelming debate performance and low finish in the New Hampshire primary won't stop him from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

He says on NBC's "Today" that he is "going to be the nominee. It is just going to take a little longer, but we are going to get there."

Rubio was hammered by his rivals, especially New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in last week's debate for being repetitive and scripted. Rubio went from a third place showing in Iowa to fifth place in New Hampshire with 10.5 percent.
---
8:28 a.m.
Donald Trump says he will release his tax returns "over the next few months," attributing the delay to the size and complex nature of his taxes.

The billionaire businessman, who is coming off of a major win in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, tells NBC'S "Today" that he thinks people will be surprised "at how little I pay."

He says, "I hate the way the government spends my money."

Trump says he is hoping to become more of a statesman, but notes that he sees nothing wrong with using foul language at his campaign rallies.

"Political correctness is killing us," he says. "It wasn't the worst thing in the world."
---
8:20 a.m.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he will not sit back and "be a marshmallow" and allow his Republican presidential rivals to attack him.

But speaking to NBC's "Today" Wednesday, Kasich said he will not allow the negative nature of the campaign to overshadow his positive message. Instead, he says he'll let his record speak for itself.

Kasich won second place in Tuesday's New Hampshire's primary, breaking out from a pack of traditional, establishment candidates. Kasich has refrained from engaging in many of the sharp attacks that have dominated much of the discourse between his competitors.
---
8:08 a.m.
Donald Trump says he talked with Chris Christie a "little bit" about the New Jersey governor dropping out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Trump says on "CBS This Morning" that he and Christie spoke after the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, in which Trump won a big victory and Christie fared poorly. Seeking endorsements from any rivals that quit the race, Trump said of Christie, "He's a friend of mine. I'm surprised he didn't do better."

He adds: "I'd like to see a lot of people drop out."

Christie has cancelled an event Wednesday in South Carolina, an organizer says.
---
7:56 a.m.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has cancelled an event in South Carolina on the heels of his disappointing finish in the New Hampshire GOP primary.

Brielle Applebaum of the Conservative Leadership Project says a Wednesday forum on legal and constitutional issues set for Charleston has been cancelled. South Carolina is next up on the GOP primary calendar and votes Feb. 20.

Christie told a crowd of supporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday night that he was headed home to New Jersey to "take a deep breath" and assess what comes next. On MSNBC Wednesday morning, first-place New Hampshire finisher Donald Trump said he had a "long talk" with Christie Tuesday night but did not go into detail about what was said.

Government sues Ferguson after city tries to revise deal

Government sues Ferguson after city tries to revise deal
  

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- The federal government sued Ferguson on Wednesday, one day after the city council voted to revise an agreement aimed at improving the way police and courts treat poor people and minorities in the St. Louis suburb.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Ferguson's decision to reject the deal left the department no choice except to file a civil-rights lawsuit.

"The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for the city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. ... They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer," Lynch told a Washington news conference.

The Justice Department complaint accuses Ferguson of routinely violating residents' rights and misusing law enforcement to generate revenue - a practice the government alleged was "ongoing and pervasive."

Ferguson leaders "had a real opportunity here to step forward, and they've chosen to step backward," Lynch said.

Ferguson spokesman Jeff Small declined to comment. Messages left with Mayor James Knowles III were not returned.

Ferguson has been under Justice Department scrutiny since 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson 18 months ago. A grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.

But a scathing Justice Department report was critical of police and a profit-driven municipal court system. Following months of negotiations, an agreement between the federal agency and Ferguson was announced in January.

A recent financial analysis determined the agreement would cost the struggling city nearly $4 million in the first year alone. The council voted 6-0 Tuesday to adopt the deal, but with seven amendments.

Hours before the lawsuit was announced, Ferguson leaders said they were willing to sit down with Justice Department negotiators to draw up a new agreement.

"We ask that if they (the Justice Department) feel there needs to be some additional changes to the agreement, we sit down and talk," Knowles said.

That seemed unlikely from the outset. Within hours of the Tuesday vote, Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement that the department would take "the necessary legal actions" to ensure Ferguson's police and court practices comply with the Constitution and federal laws.

Knowles said the seven amendments were formulated after the analysis showed the deal was so expensive it could lead to dissolution of Ferguson. The analysis suggested that the first-year cost of the agreement would be $2.2 million to $3.7 million, with second- and third-year costs between $1.8 million and $3 million in each year.

Ferguson has an operating budget of $14.5 million and already faces a $2.8 million deficit. Voters will be asked to approve two tax hikes in April, but approval of both would still leave the city short.

A big part of the cost was the requirement that Ferguson raise police salaries to attract better candidates, including more minority officers. Removal of the pay-raise clause was among the seven amendments.

Another new provision states that the agreement will not apply to any other governmental entity that might take over duties currently provided by Ferguson. That means, for example, that St. Louis County would not be beholden to the agreement if it takes over policing in Ferguson.

St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said if the county were ever asked to take over policing in Ferguson, "we would consider the implications of the consent decree before entering into such an agreement."

Knowles doesn't believe neighboring municipal departments would agree to cover Ferguson under the Justice Department's requirements.

Defiance has often defined Ferguson in the 18 months since Brown's death.

Days after Brown's death, then-Police Chief Tom Jackson released surveillance video showing Brown's involvement in a theft at a small grocery store just moments before the shooting, with the burly teenager pushing the store owner. The video's release only heightened anger among protesters.

Knowles has vigorously defended Ferguson. Even as protesters and civil rights leaders called for reforms, the mayor noted that Ferguson was already making changes to municipal courts aimed at easing the burden on people accused of minor violations. In fact, city revenue from court fees and fines has declined by hundreds of thousands of dollars since the shooting.

It's not uncommon for local governments to seek changes to agreements even after negotiations, but the overwhelming majority of investigations still end up in a settlement.

Samuel Bagenstos, the former No. 2 official at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, warned that the federal agency "is serious about bringing a lawsuit if they don't get a deal."

"If Ferguson insists on making significant changes to the deal they've already worked out, that's probably not going to work out well for them," said Bagenstos, now a law professor at the University of Michigan. "And I think at the end of the day, Ferguson understands that, and we'll probably see a deal pretty soon."

The Justice Department has initiated more than 20 civil rights investigations into law enforcement agencies in the last six years, including in Baltimore and Chicago. In the last 18 months, the department has reached settlements with police departments that included Cleveland and Albuquerque.

There have been occasional disagreements.

In 2012, the Justice Department sued Maricopa County, Arizona, after failing to reach agreement on allegations that the sheriff's office targeted Latinos with discriminatory stops and arrests. County officials voted in July to settle parts of that lawsuit.

The federal government also sued North Carolina's Alamance County following an investigation that alleged biased policing practices against Latinos there. But a federal judge last August ruled in the county's favor, saying the Justice Department failed to prove the sheriff ordered deputies to target Hispanic residents. That case is on appeal.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Exit polls: New Hampshire GOP voters feel betrayed by party

Exit polls: New Hampshire GOP voters feel betrayed by party
 

AP Photo
A "vote" pin decorates the sweater of ward clerk Lynn Lavigne as she opens absentee ballots for the New Hampshire primary, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, at a polling place in Manchester, N.H.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Voters in New Hampshire's primary are deeply unhappy with the federal government, and many Republican voters are down on politicians from their own party, according to early results of the exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and television networks.
Republican voters say the economy, government spending and terrorism are the most important issues facing the country. Democratic primary voters say the economy and income inequality are most important.
A closer look at the mood of the electorate:
---
ANGER, BETRAYAL AND OUTSIDERS
Half of Democratic voters said they're dissatisfied with the way government is working, with another 1 in 10 saying they're angry. That's even higher among Republican primary voters, with 9 in 10 voters saying they're either dissatisfied or angry.

Republicans are much more negative about their politicians than Democrats are about theirs. Half of Republicans said they feel betrayed by politicians from the Republican Party, while less than 2 in 10 Democrats say they feel betrayed by Democratic politicians.

Republican voters say they are more interested in nominating a candidate from outside the political establishment than Democrats. Republicans are evenly divided: nearly half preferred someone with experience and about the same number say they favored an outsider. In comparison, about 7 in 10 Democrats said they want a candidate who has experience in politics; about a quarter want someone outside the political establishment.
---
INDEPENDENTS
New Hampshire primary voters' independent streak often sets them apart from voters in other states, but they appear to be less of a factor this time around.

When President Barack Obama was running for re-election in 2012 and there was no contested Democratic primary, self-identified independents made up nearly half (47 percent) of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running against Obama, 44 percent of Democratic primary voters said they were independent.

On Tuesday, there were slightly fewer independents at either primary. About 4 in 10 Republican voters identified themselves as independent as did just about as many Democratic voters.
---
IMPORTANT ISSUES
About three quarters of GOP voters say they're very worried about the economy, while 6 in 10 say they're very worried about terrorism. On the Democratic side, only about a quarter say they're worried about each.
Three in 10 Republican voters say the economy is the most important issue facing the country. That's similar to the percentages who say government spending and terrorism are the most important issues.

Three in 10 Democratic primary voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, while a similar share said income equality was most important.

The economy, government spending and terrorism were the top issues chosen by Republicans as the most important facing the country, while less than 2 in 10 said immigration was the top issue.

More than half of GOP voters say immigrants currently in the country illegally should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, and two-thirds of GOP voters say they support a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
---
CANDIDATE QUALITIES
About a third of Republican voters said the most important quality in a candidate is someone who shared their values, while about the same proportion said it was someone who could bring about needed change.
Democratic voters said honesty, experience and someone who cares about people like them were the most important qualities in a candidate.

Even so, most voters in both primaries said they made their vote decisions based on candidates' positions on issues rather than personal qualities.
---
IDEOLOGY
The voters in New Hampshire have grown apart ideologically over the past several presidential elections. Four years ago, 53 percent of voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary described themselves as conservative. On Tuesday, three-quarters of the voters in the Republican primary said they were conservative.

Similarly, 56 percent of voters in the 2008 Democratic primary said their political ideology was liberal; on Tuesday two-thirds of Democratic voters consider themselves liberal.
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The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 44 randomly selected sites in New Hampshire. Preliminary results include interviews with 1,434 Democratic primary voters and 1,257 Republican primary voters and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Somalia spokesman: Video shows laptop handed to bomb suspect

Somalia spokesman: Video shows laptop handed to bomb suspect

AP Photo
Capt. Vlatko Vodopivec, the pilot who had landed a jetliner in Somalia with a large hole on its fuselage speaks, during an interview with The Associated Press in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Vodopivec says he has never doubted it was caused by a bomb and described the security at Mogadishu airport as "zero."
  
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Security video footage taken at Mogadishu airport shows two men handing what looks like a laptop computer to the suspected suicide bomber after he passed through the security checkpoint, Somalia's government spokesman said Sunday.

At least one of the men delivering the laptop was an airport employee, government spokesman Abdisalam Aato told The Associated Press.

The man who received the laptop is the suspected suicide bomber who was blown from the Daallo Airlines jet on Tuesday creating a gaping hole in the fuselage and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing back at the Mogadishu airport. It is believed the laptop-like device was the bomb that caused the explosion. The plane's pilot said that if the explosion happened when the aircraft was at a higher altitude it could have caused the jet to crash.

"At least 20 people, including the two men in the CCTV footage who handed over the laptop to the suspected bomber, were arrested in connection with the explosion in the aircraft," said spokesman Aato.

"It was a deliberate act of terrorism," he said. "Investigations are still ongoing." Somalia's government has said it will tighten security at the airport to prevent other threats.

The CCTV video shows two men, one in a bright orange airport security vest, handing a laptop-like bag to a passenger waiting to board.

The video of the apparent security lapse at the airport fits with the description of lax security by the pilot of the plane.

"The security is zero," pilot Vlatko Vodopivec told AP.

"When we park (the plane) there, some 20 to 30 people come to the tarmac," said Vodopivec, a veteran pilot who has made numerous flights to the airport. "No one has a badge or those yellow vests. They enter and leave the plane, and no one knows who is who ... They can put anything inside when passengers leave the aircraft."

The explosion happened about 15 minutes after the plane, with 75 passengers on board, took off from the airport and was at 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) ascending toward 31,000 feet.

"When we went past 10,000 feet, we switched off the fasten belts sign and the cabin crew started serving passengers," Vodopivec said in an interview in Belgrade. "When we climbed past 11,000 feet, it exploded. 

At first, I thought it was a window breaking. However, we soon sensed the smell of the explosives when smoke came rushing into the cockpit.

"All lasted very shortly," he said. "We immediately demanded an emergency return to the airport because that was the only solution. With a heavy heart, because there the security is minimal and we had to remain there for a couple of days afterward."

If the explosion happened at a higher altitude, the hole in the fuselage might have caused more severe structural damage, he said.

"If we were higher, the whole plane could have disintegrated after the explosion," Vodopivec said.

Because the plane was at a lower altitude, he was able to land safely, he said. "The plane acted normally and we virtually returned normally. Engines and hydraulics worked normally."

The explosion killed one passenger, Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, according to Somali officials who did not give further details. A man's body was found in the town of Balad, 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) north of Mogadishu, according to police who said he might have been blown from the plane.

Borle is suspected to have been the suicide bomber, the AP was told by a senior Somali civil aviation official, who insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Somalia faces an insurgency from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which has carried out deadly attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries.

Daallo Airlines, which is based in Dubai, has temporarily suspended its operations in Somalia's capital following the incident but hopes to restart them soon, said Mohammed Ibrahim Yassin, the airline's chief executive.

Vodopivec also highlighted additional security concerns in the Somali capital, including some planes that are struck by gunfire on approach to the airport.

"You can land at the airport only from the seaside," he said. "On the other side of the runway is the city. Bigger planes don't land over the city because of security concerns. Some planes landed with bullet holes in their fuselage."

Friday, February 5, 2016

In Brazil, pregnant women urged to be cautious with a kiss

In Brazil, pregnant women urged to be cautious with a kiss
 

AP Photo
A couple kisses during the "Carmelitas" block party, during Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Top Brazilian Health officials said this Friday that the active Zika virus has been found in urine and saliva samples, cautioning that further study is needed to determine whether the mosquito-borne virus in those body fluids is capable of infecting people.
  
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- In a sign of mounting global concern over the Zika virus, health officials on Friday warned pregnant women to think twice about the lips they kiss and called on men to use condoms 
with pregnant partners if they have visited countries where the virus is present.

U.N. officials also called on many Catholic-majority countries in Latin America to loosen their abortion laws to allow women to terminate pregnancies if they fear the fetus may be at risk for a rare birth defect that causes brain damage and an abnormally small head, which may be linked to the virus.

The flurry of recommendations began in Brazil, where a top health official warned pregnant women to be cautious with their kisses.

Paulo Gadelha, president of the Fiocruz research institute, told a news conference that scientists have found live virus in saliva and urine samples, and the possibility it could be spread by the two body fluids requires further study.

He said that calls for pregnant women to take special precautions, and suggested they avoid kissing people other than a regular partner or sharing cutlery, glasses and plates with people who have symptoms of the virus.

"This is not a generalized public health measure, for the love of God," he added, stressing both the seriousness of the discovery and reality that it was too soon to say how it could impact the epidemic.

Friday's announcement coincided with the start of Carnival, a five-day bacchanalia that sees millions of people take part in alcohol-fueled parties where kissing as many people as possible is a top pastime. 

Gadelha underscored that the discovery needn't alter Carnival plans for anyone but pregnant women.
He also stressed that the Aedes aegpyti mosquito, which spreads dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever as well as Zika, remains the virus' main vector and said the fight against the mosquito should be a top priority.

The Fiocruz team studied samples from two patients who showed symptoms of Zika and tested positive for the illness. Tests on cell cultures showed the virus in the samples was capable of damaging the cells, meaning it was active.

Myrna Bonaldo, who headed the Fiocruz team behind the discovery, said she was particularly surprised the virus was found in urine because Zika is generally thought not to thrive in acidic mediums.

"Each discovery is a surprise and a new find for us," she said. "For us scientists, it's extremely challenging to understand Zika virus."

Experts greeted Friday's announcement with caution, saying the sample size was small and noting little is known about how the virus spreads.

Still, Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, a professor of infectious diseases at Dartmouth College, said it "does create further concern."

"This virus is clearly throwing one curve ball after the other," she said.

Asked about the guidance to pregnant women, Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of the epidemiology department at Stony Brook University Hospital, said: "I can understand the Brazilian Health Ministry being concerned about not leaving out any potential mechanism for transmission, even if it's theoretical."

"Brazil is in a particularly difficult position" given the scope of the country's microcephaly outbreak, she said.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights was asking governments in Zika-affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to repeal any policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.

"How can they ... not offer (women) ... the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?" she said.

Pouilly gave the example of El Salvador, where about a quarter of women had experienced physical or sexual violence in the past year.

"So that also shows that many of these pregnancies are out of their control and countries obviously have to take that into account," she said. Pouilly said that safe abortion services should be provided to the full extent of the law. "The key point is that women should have the choice and (make) informed decisions," she said.

The National Conference of Bishops in Brazil, the South American country hardest hit by Zika, had no immediate comment on calls to loosen abortion laws. However, in a statement issued Thursday, the bishops said that the World Health Organization's declaration earlier this week that Zika was an international emergency didn't justify abortion.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said men who have visited an area with Zika should use condoms if they have sex with a pregnant woman - for the entire duration of the pregnancy.

The guidance issued Friday also says men might consider abstaining or using condoms even if they have sex with a woman who isn't pregnant.

Zika virus disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes. But U.S. health officials detected a case of sexual transmission of the disease in Texas this week and in Brazil, officials said they had confirmed the virus was contracted via blood transfusions. For most people who catch the virus, it causes mild or no symptoms.

U.S. officials have recommended pregnant women postpone trips to more than two dozen countries with 
Zika outbreaks, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Several Latin American nations have urged women to postpone pregnancies.

To date, the mosquito-borne virus has spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas.

One of those is Colombia, where health officials announced Friday that three people had died of Guillain-Barre syndrome after contracting the Zika virus. The country's National Health Institute director, Martha Lucia Ospina, said all three victims were confirmed to have been infected with Zika, adding that their deaths show the virus can kill.

Still, most international experts are cautious about whether Zika can trigger Guillain-Barre, a rare syndrome that causes paralysis, because other infections and conditions can lead to the illness.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

US Zika case sparks questions about sex and mosquito germs

US Zika case sparks questions about sex and mosquito germs
 

AP Photo
Severina Raimunda holds her granddaughter Melisa Vitoria, left, who was born with microcephaly and her twin brother Edison Junior at the IMIP hospital in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. The zika virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is well-adapted to humans, thrives in people's homes and can breed in even a bottle cap's-worth of stagnant water. The Zika virus is suspected to cause microcephaly in newborn children.
  
NEW YORK (AP) -- A sexually transmitted case of Zika in Texas has scientists scrambling to understand how much of a risk infection through sex is for the usually mosquito-spread illness.

Experts still stress that mosquitoes are the main culprit in the Zika epidemic menacing Latin America and looming over the United States.

"Mosquitoes would be the great river of transmission, while sexual transmission is going to be akin to a mountain stream," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

But the Texas case has spurred more discussion about additional ways in which Zika and other illnesses, commonly thought to be carried only by mosquitoes, might be spread.

Other types of transmission can be hard to spot in the midst of outbreaks in which many mosquito-borne infections are occurring, noted Dr. Ali Khan, a former disease investigator for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's very hard to parse this out in the middle of an epidemic," said Khan, now dean of the University of Nebraska's college of public health.

Discerning something like sexual transmission would have to occur in a place where an outbreak was not raging, he said.

That's what happened in Dallas.

The current Zika epidemic is on track to cause millions of infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, but no transmission was reported in the United States until the Dallas case this week.

Health officials said a person there - who had not traveled to an outbreak area - was infected. An investigation concluded the person caught the virus through sex with a person who had recently returned from Venezuela, where Zika infections have been growing.

Officials released few details about the case, except to say both patients have recovered. But it wasn't the first to raise the possibility of sexual transmission of the virus.

A Colorado State University researcher, Brian Foy, picked up the virus in Africa and apparently spread it to his wife back home in 2008. More recently, it was found in one man's semen in Tahiti.

Now, in the wake of the Dallas case, "we're all kind of scrambling in the scientific community how best to tackle this and how best to research it," said Foy.

Most people infected with Zika experience, at the most, only mild symptoms. But mounting evidence in Brazil has suggested a connection between the virus and babies born with brain defects and abnormally small heads.

The Zika epidemic and possible link to microcephaly cases in Brazil prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency on Monday, calling the virus' rapid spread and its apparent link to the birth defect an "extraordinary event" that poses a threat to the rest of the world.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Wednesday that the Texas sexual transmission case is "obviously a concern."

"We need to know more about how likely this is to happen. We also have to understand whether there are other human-to-human transmission routes, such as blood transfusion, such as mother-to-child transmission," he said.

Perhaps a bigger worry than sex is what dangers may lurk in blood donations from people who have been in Zika outbreak areas, said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University infectious diseases researcher.

"I would raise caution that any blood used in pregnant women should be tested for the presence of Zika virus," something that currently doesn't happen, Lipkin said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there are no approved tests for routine screening of blood donations for Zika virus, but it is looking into the issue. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people, the CDC says. This week, the Red Cross said they are asking travelers to Zika outbreak countries to wait at least 28 days before donating blood.

On Wednesday, Canadian health officials announced that people who have travelled outside of Canada, the continental United States and Europe will be ineligible to give blood for 21 days after their return. Canadian Blood Services says it is implementing the waiting period to mitigate the risk of the Zika virus entering the Canadian blood supply.

Meanwhile, the CDC said it will issue guidance in the coming days on prevention of sexual transmission of the Zika virus, focusing on the male sexual partners of women who are or may be pregnant.

It's a tall order, because so much is unknown about sexual transmission and Zika, experts said.

How long is someone infectious? How long does the virus live in the sperm? Does it only spread if the first person is suffering symptoms?

Foy said that in his case, he didn't begin to experience symptoms until after he and his wife had sex.

"It's completely black box right now" in terms of how little is known about the risk of sexual transmission, Foy said.

As worrisome as possible sexual transmission may be, experts stress that mosquitoes will continue to be the far greater concern. The bugs inject virus right into the blood stream - an extremely efficient way of spreading dangerous germs through the body.

"The mosquito is the deadliest animal on the planet," Schaffner said.


APNewsbreak: Few Zika samples being shared by Brazil

APNewsbreak: Few Zika samples being shared by Brazil
 

AP Photo
Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Castro speaks to the press before attending the Mercosur Health Ministers summit to address the spread of Zika virus in the region, at the Mercosur building in Montevideo, Uruguay, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. The ministers of 13 countries are meeting to coordinate actions to try and fight the spread of the mosquito born virus. Castro said that efforts are being made to create a vaccine against it.
  
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- U.N. and U.S. health officials tell The Associated Press that Brazil has yet to share enough samples and disease data needed to answer the most worrying question about the Zika outbreak: whether the virus is actually responsible for the increase in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil.

The lack of data is frustrating efforts to develop diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines. Laboratories in the United States and Europe are relying on samples from previous outbreaks. Scientists say having so little to work with is hampering their ability to track the virus' evolution.

One major problem appears to be Brazilian law. At the moment, it is technically illegal for Brazilian researchers and institutes to share genetic material, including blood samples containing Zika and other viruses.

"It's a very delicate issue, this sharing of samples. Lawyers have to be involved," said Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases in the World Health Organization's regional office in Washington.

Espinal said he hoped the issue might be resolved after discussions between the U.S. and Brazilian presidents. He said WHO's role was mainly to be a broker to encourage countries to share. When asked whether the estimate of other scientists that Brazil had provided fewer than 20 samples was true, he agreed it probably was.

"There is no way this should not be solved in the foreseeable future," he said. "Waiting is always risky during an emergency."

Last May, as the first cases of Zika in Brazil were emerging, President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law to regulate how researchers use the country's genetic resources. But the regulatory framework hasn't yet been drafted, leaving scientists in legal limbo.

"Until the law is implemented, we're legally prohibited from sending samples abroad," said Paulo Gadelha, president of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil's premier state-run research institute for tropical diseases. 

"Even if we wanted to send this material abroad, we can't because it's considered a crime."

The ban does not necessarily mean foreign researchers can't access samples. Some were shared with the 
United States, including tissue samples from two newborns who died and two fetuses recently examined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But a U.S. official said that wasn't enough to develop accurate tests for the virus or help determine whether Zika is in fact behind the recent jump in the number of congenital defects. The spike in cases prompted WHO to declare an international emergency Monday.

Given the drought of Brazilian samples, public health officials across the world are falling back on older viruses - or discreetly taking them from private patients.

The U.S. official, who shared the information on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the CDC was relying on a strain taken from a 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia to perfect its Zika tests. U.S. researchers trying to sequence Zika's genetic code have been forced to rely on virus samples from Puerto Rico for the same reason, he said.

In England, researchers are using samples drawn from Micronesia, the site of an outbreak in 2007. The French are relying on samples from Polynesia and Martinique. In Spain, scientists have a Ugandan strain of Zika supplied by the United States. Even Portugal, Brazil's former colonial master, doesn't have the Brazilian strain; the National Health Institute in Lisbon said its tests relied on a U.S. sample from the 1980s, among others.

Some researchers are bypassing Brazil's bureaucracy by getting samples sent to them for testing by a private lab, said Dr. Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, an expert on mosquito-borne diseases at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg.

"It's almost impossible to get samples from the country," Schmidt-Chanasit told AP, referring to Brazil. "It's not going via official government channels. Our source is simply the rich people who want a diagnosis."

In public, health leaders have been eager to boast about their excellent collaboration. WHO's chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, said after Monday's meeting that Brazil and the United States were working "very closely" on studies. When asked about sample sharing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told AP: "I don't think it's an issue."
Behind-the-scenes, it was another story.

Four officials at the World Health Organization told AP the Brazilians were starving international partners of up-to-date information.

"WHO has gotten zero from them, no clinical or lab findings," one of the officials said.

All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were talking without authorization.

Ben Neuman, a virologist at Reading University in England, said thousands of samples - or hundreds at a minimum - were needed to track the virus and determine how it's changing. "Science only works when we share," he said.

The virus sharing problems aren't limited to Brazil, said Gadelha of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation.

"This isn't a unilateral issue; it's a global problem," he said, adding he hoped the current crisis would speed efforts at international cooperation, which has long been an issue in outbreak response efforts.

More than a decade ago, WHO faced a similar problem when Indonesia refused to hand over bird flu samples, arguing that Western scientists would use them to make drugs and vaccines the country couldn't afford. At the time, Brazil had a leading role in ending the impasse, helping to broker an agreement ensuring developing countries were guaranteed access to products developed from shared viruses.

Lawrence Gostin, director of WHO's Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University, said there are no rules that force governments to hand over viruses, tissue samples or other information.

"If countries don't share, the only repercussions they face are public condemnation," he said.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Neighbor: Slain Virginia girl talked of online 'boyfriend'

Neighbor: Slain Virginia girl talked of online 'boyfriend'
 

AP Photo
Tammy Weeks holds one of her slain daughter's stuffed pandas during a news conference in Blacksburg, Va., on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Weeks says her 13-year-old daughter, Nicole Lovell, fought health problems all her life and had dreams of singing on "American Idol."

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- A 13-year-old girl who vanished from her bedroom was stabbed to death by a Virginia Tech student, and another freshman already charged with hiding the body was more deeply involved, authorities said Tuesday. A neighbor said the seventh-grader told friends she would sneak out to meet her "boyfriend" David, an 18-year-old she met online through the Kik messaging app.

Nicole Madison Lovell was killed Wednesday, the same day she vanished, by David Eisenhauer, a freshman at Virginia Tech now jailed on charges of kidnapping and murder, Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt said Tuesday.

The prosecutor also announced that Eisenhauer's classmate, Natalie Keepers, will face a more serious charge of being an accessory "before the fact" to first-degree murder, in addition to helping to dispose of the body. The new charge could mean a life sentence if convicted.

Eisenhauer said "I believe the truth will set me free" after he was arrested on Saturday, a police document says.

Nicole's mother discovered her missing last Wednesday morning, setting off an intense hunt for the girl, who suffered from bullying at school and online over her weight and a tracheotomy scar, and needed daily medication after surviving a liver transplant, lymphoma and a drug-resistant bacterial infection as a 5-year-old.

Police quickly zeroed in on Eisenhauer, and then found Nicole's body on Saturday, hidden off a North Carolina road, two hours south of campus.

Stacy Snider, a neighbor whose 8-year-old twins played with Nicole, told The Associated Press that before she vanished, Nicole showed her girls Eisenhauer's picture along with a thread of texts they had shared and said she would be sneaking out to meet him.

"She was talking about this boyfriend she had that was 18 and went to college, and his name was David. And showed some text messages off of a Kik and pictures. And that's what the girls told the police officers when they asked."

Snider said she learned all this from her girls only after Nicole vanished. "I would have told her mother. But we didn't know nothing about it until she came up missing, unfortunately," she said.

Her fate devastated her mother, Tammy Weeks, who also spoke at Tuesday's news conference, describing the health problems her daughter battled and the joys in her short life.

"Her favorite color was blue. Nicole was a very lovable person. Nicole touched many people throughout her short life," Weeks read from a statement before her sobs became uncontrollable and she was ushered away.

Blacksburg police said they have evidence showing Eisenhauer knew the girl before she disappeared Wednesday, but provided no more details.

"Eisenhauer used this relationship to his advantage to abduct the 13-year-old and then kill her. Keepers helped Eisenhauer dispose of Nicole's body," a police statement said.

Kik Interactive, based in Ontario, Canada, was "active in helping the FBI carry out their investigation," spokesman Rod McLeod said.

Also, at Kik's request, Apple stopped advertising Kik Messenger as appropriate for kids 9 and older on its iTunes store on Monday. "Yes, we did recently ask Apple to change our rating to 12+. This more closely matches the age (13) in our TOS (terms of service)," McLeod told the AP.

Kik, along with Instagram and Snapchat, are particularly popular with younger teens, and it's impossible to keep underage users from signing up. Even kids whose parents closely monitor their activity on sites such as Facebook often use smartphones with other social media where predators lurk, said Adam Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI in Richmond.

"Kids are crafty," Lee said. "They will have one account parents have access to, and half a dozen they shield from their parents' view."

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, agreed that parental oversight is a good thing, but cautioned against placing too much blame on technology.

"Although there has been an increase in crimes that have some social media-related nexus to them, the overall level of crime victimization - including sexual assaults and kidnapping and even peer bullying - has declined," Finkelhor said. "So it's a complicated picture."

Teens who are vulnerable online would be vulnerable in other situations as well, Finkelhor added, especially those who are "socially isolated or dealing with some emotional problem, not well supervised, suffering rejection by families or peers. They are looking for support, someone who can give them affirmation."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

UN health chief: Zika virus is 'spreading explosively'

UN health chief: Zika virus is 'spreading explosively'

AP Photo
A doctor draw blood from Luana, who was born with microcephaly, at the Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Recife, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Brazilian officials still say they believe there's a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly and strongly suspect the Zika virus, which first appeared in the country last year, is to blame. The concern is strong enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month warned pregnant women to reconsider visits to areas where Zika is present.

GENEVA (AP) -- The Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas, which could see up to 4 million cases over the next year, international health officials said Thursday, announcing a special meeting next week to decide if they should declare an international health emergency.

The warning from the World Health Organization came amid a call to arms by officials on both sides of the Atlantic over the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to a spike in a rare birth defect in Brazil.

Brazil's president - noting there is no medical defense against the infection - called for a crusade against the mosquitoes spreading it.

"As long as we don't have a vaccine against Zika virus, the war must be focused on exterminating the mosquito's breeding areas," said President Dilma Rousseff.

The U.N. health agency called the special session in part to convey its concern about an illness that has sown fear among many would-be mothers. It may also have acted quickly because the agency was criticized for its slow response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said Thursday while they have not yet seen spread of the disease in the 50 states, the number of U.S. travelers infected over the last year in the Caribbean or Latin America has climbed to 31.

The Zika virus was first discovered in Africa in 1947. But until last year, when it was found in Brazil, it had never been a threat in the Western Hemisphere.

The virus causes no more than a mild illness in most people. But there is mounting evidence from Brazil suggesting infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies - a birth defect called microcephaly.

Earlier this month, U.S. health officials advised pregnant women to postpone visits to Brazil and other countries in the region with outbreaks.

"For the average American who's not traveling, this is not something they need to worry about," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But "for people who are pregnant and considering travel to the affected areas, please take this seriously," she added. "It's very important for you to understand that we don't know as much as we want to know about this yet."

In Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan noted it had been less than a year since the virus arrived in the Americas, "where it is now spreading explosively."

Although there is no definitive proof that the Zika virus is behind the spike in brain defects in Brazil, "the level of alarm is extremely high," she added.

"The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions," Chan said.

Researchers are also looking into a potential tie between Zika infections and cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is now in more than 20 countries, transmitted by the same mosquito that spreads other tropical illnesses such as dengue and yellow fever.

Sylvain Aldighieri, head of WHO's epidemic response team in the Americas, estimated there could be 3 million to 4 million Zika infections in the region over the next year. He said the agency expects "huge numbers" of infections because of the widespread presence of the Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika and because people in the region have no natural immunity.

The same mosquito species spreading Zika in Latin America is also found in the southern United States. However, U.S. health officials reiterated Thursday they don't think the United States is vulnerable to a widespread outbreak of the Zika virus.

WHO warned China and all other countries that have dengue fever to be on the lookout for Zika infections. The agency said it could be many years before a vaccine is available and it might take six to nine months before there's any data showing a causal relationship between Zika and the babies born with malformed heads.

Monday's special session does not guarantee that a global emergency will be declared - WHO has held 10 such meetings to assess the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus and no emergency has been announced.

Declaring a global emergency is akin to an international SOS signal and usually brings more money and action to address an outbreak. The last such emergency was announced for the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which eventually ending up killing over 11,000 people. Polio was declared a similar emergency the year before.

Marcos Espinal, WHO's director of infectious diseases in the Americas region, said Brazil is conducting studies to determine if there is scientific evidence that Zika virus causes birth defects and neurological problems. More than 4,000 suspected cases have been reported in Brazil since October. However, tests so far have shown hundreds of them were not microcephaly.

Brazilian authorities estimate the country could have up to 1 million Zika infections by now. Most infected people don't get sick and those who do mostly suffer mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

The outbreak has mostly been in the poor and underdeveloped northeast, but the prosperous southeast, where Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located, is the nation's second hardest-hit region. Rio de Janeiro is of special concern, since it will host the Aug. 5-21 Summer Olympic games that are expected to be attended by millions from around the world.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the fact the Olympics will be held in August - during Brazil's winter - could limit Zika's impact on the games. Cooler weather tends to cut down mosquito populations.

Earlier this week, officials in Rio ramped up their fight against the mosquitoes that spread Zika, dispatching fumigators to the Sambadrome, where the city's Carnival parades will take place next month.

There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is in the same family of viruses as dengue. Scientists have struggled for years to develop a dengue vaccine; the first such shot made by Sanofi Pasteur was licensed last year in Brazil.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hopes of a turnaround in Flint jeopardized by water crisis

Hopes of a turnaround in Flint jeopardized by water crisis

AP Photo
FILE - Vehicles drive through downtown Flint, Mich., on Jan. 21, 2016. From its founding, Flint's fortunes essentially were entwined with a single industry. First it was the fur trade, which shifted to lumber, which gave way to the horse carriages that led to it being called Vehicle City. It was a fitting moniker for its next, most important role, as a powerhouse of auto manufacturing and the original home of General Motors.

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- In a city long stereotyped for despair, some began seeing reasons for hope: A smattering of just-opened restaurants, students filling new college classrooms, fields of green growing where abandoned houses had stood.

The red-brick streets of downtown Flint became lined with once-unlikely businesses like a crepe shop and wine bar, and nearby, hundreds did the previously unthinkable, moving into new apartments at the city's core.

A sprawling new farmers market began drawing hundreds of thousands for everything from mango ginger stilton at a cheese shop to thick, fresh-cut pork loins at a butcher. New programs lured students from around the globe to the city's campuses, an ice-skating rink opened, the planetarium got a state-of-the-art upgrade and performances such as "Blue Man Group" put Flint on their schedule.

Even some signs of blight were beginning to fall, with hundreds of abandoned homes cleared away.

"It felt different," said Kimberly Roberson, a Flint native who directs grant-making in the city for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, "until we hit lead."

A water crisis that has flooded homes with fear and poisonous toxins has taken a tandem swipe at the city's psyche, returning it to the negative headlines it was working hard to escape, drawing a new spotlight to poverty and other wounds it never was able to fix, and bringing a renewed sense of insecurity about what the future holds for a place that's been through so much.

From its founding, Flint's fortunes essentially were entwined with a single industry.

First it was the fur trade, which shifted to lumber, which gave way to the horse carriages, leading to its being called Vehicle City. It was a fitting moniker for its next, most important role, as a powerhouse of auto manufacturing and the original home of General Motors.

Chevrolets and Buicks and lesser-known cars rolled off Flint's production lines, making the city a magnet for workers and ancillary businesses. At its peak in the early 1970s, GM employed 80,000 people in Flint who cashed paychecks strengthened by the United Auto Workers union born in the city. Some 200,000 people lived within the city limits, alongside sprawling factories, booming commerce, model schools and thriving arts.

"This was the most beautiful place on earth," said Pamela Copeland, 72, who was a teenager when she arrived in Flint in its heyday.

No one says that anymore. The oil crisis of the 1970s and corporate cost-cutting in the 1980s and beyond led to the decimation of manufacturing jobs in the city. Its population plummeted; crime soared along with unemployment. The stately Tudors and colonials that were symbols of middle-class prosperity became run-down emblems of urban decline.

By the time filmmaker Michael Moore released his 1989 film "Roger & Me," excoriating GM's managers for the pain they caused their workers and the city, Flint's transition from boomtown to a drab, dangerous shell of its former self was sealed in the public consciousness. Moore was born in Flint and grew up in neighboring Davison, and his father worked at GM. What he didn't know while shooting the hard times in his hometown was it was just the start of the decline - tens of thousands more jobs would be lost, the exodus from the city would be exacerbated, and whole neighborhoods would be left virtually deserted.

"You look at that film now," Moore said in an interview, "it makes Flint look like paradise."

Staggering numbers of houses around Flint are burned out, boarded up or altogether razed. Holdout residents remain on blocks full of desertion and blight. Few neighborhoods are untouched by the devastation. 

The population, continuing its decades-long decline, has fallen below 100,000. Many schools have shuttered, and groceries are no easy find. But small liquor stores abound, advertising bottles of Olde English 800 for $1 and less.

Jeffery Carney, 48, had read of what was happening in his hometown, but didn't get his first glimpse until last February, when he was released from prison after 23 years for dealing drugs. On the ride to the downtown parole office for his formal release, he thought he was looking at a third-world country.

"I feel like I was in a nuclear holocaust," he said after picking up a case of water at a local firehouse recently. 

"Is it any hope anywhere?"

The water crisis, slow to gain widespread awareness outside the area, has brought a renewed, national look at the conditions in the city.

Under Michigan law, debt-plagued cities like Flint are put under the control of state-appointed emergency financial managers, who have immense latitude in decision-making. In efforts to get the city's finances in line, its water source was changed in April 2014, from a supply treated in Detroit and piped to Flint, to Flint River 
water treated and disseminated locally.

It wasn't long before residents began complaining of yellow and brown water from their taps, along with an unpleasant taste and smell. People began seeing rashes on their skin and hair falling from their heads. 

Workers at a remaining GM plant found their parts were corroding.

The City Council voted last March to reconnect to the Detroit water supply. The state's emergency manager refused.

"If we had access to democracy, we wouldn't be in this whole boat that we're in right now," said Nayyirah Shariff of the Flint Democracy Defense League.

And so the problems worsened even as officials insisted the water was safe. The water being used by families daily for everything from showers to preparing baby formula, had corroded the city's pipes, leaching lead, copper and other dangerous substances and carrying them through the taps. More people got sick. 

Many are suspicious a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease is due to Flint's water, though the state has not yet announced such a link.

Long before the pipes leached, though, frustration with Flint's stagnation was bubbling. Though abandoned houses have been cleared in neighborhoods dotted around the city, many of the most noticeable signs of progress have all been focused on a tight cluster of downtown streets. Blacks, 57 percent of the population, frequently note the positive developments seem mostly to benefit whites.

Some 42 percent of residents live in poverty, according to census data, and across the city, the average per capita income is just $14,527.

Alfreda Harris, a 60-year-old substitute teacher, came to Flint as a high schooler, her parents drawn by the abundant opportunities. Even as she recognizes some progress in Flint in recent years, she says not all have enjoyed its fruits.

"The hope is there for one segment of society, but it's not for the other," she said. "On the one hand, I can see there is hope. But the reinvention for real people, for everyday people, is not happening."

Sisters Sharhonda Lay, 30, and Shiquise Triplett, 31, echoed those sentiments. What use are new businesses downtown, they wondered, when they don't even have the money to patronize them?

"We're already in poverty, people don't have jobs, they're barely making it," Lay said. "You can't afford to go out and do nothing."

The city is a study in contrasts: The renewal of downtown not far from beaten-down neighborhoods, and a sense of helplessness expressed by residents who in the same breath voice a stubborn optimism.

Melissa Mays, 37, a marketing consultant who started a community group, Water You Fighting For?, to call attention to the water problems, fell in love with Flint after moving to the city in 2001. She observed the toughness of locals, and looked with pride at what she believed was the city's upswing. But after she and her three sons began suffering a bevy of medical problems they believe are linked to the water, she is ready to bid Flint goodbye, if only anyone would want to buy her home.

"Trapped is a pretty decent word," she said.

Daily life has become a trial for many. Megan Crane, a 33-year-old who left work as a line cook to return to school at Mott Community College, hollers at her sons, ages 7 and 8, to be sure to put down the toilet seat before flushing, fearful something toxic from the water could make it into the air. Food is prepared with bottled water. On good weeks, when money isn't so short, the family bathes using bottled water. On bad weeks, they close their eyes and mouths and hope for the best.

She lost 60 pounds as she began feeling nauseated by food and crippled by migraines. Her fiance was hospitalized with pneumonia. Snatches of her cat's hair fell out. It was a painful turnaround for a city she saw making progress.

"It's been setback after setback after setback. And it looks like things are starting to come back," she said. "Things were finally starting to look up for us, instead of being on everybody's top-10 worst list, and then this happens."

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