AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on November 28, 2012 at 6:02 AM

AP Exclusive: Accounts, clothing show Disney, Wal-Mart, Sears used Bangladesh factory in fire

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Amid the ash, broken glass and melted sewing machines at what is left of the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory, there are piles of blue, red and off-white children's shorts bearing Wal-Mart's Faded Glory brand. Shorts from hip-hop star Sean Combs' ENYCE label lay on the floor and are stacked in cartons.

An Associated Press reporter searching the factory Wednesday found these and other clothes, including sweaters from the French company Teddy Smith, among the equipment charred in the fire that killed 112 workers Saturday. He also found entries in account books indicating that the factory took orders to produce clothes for Disney, Sears and other Western brands.

Garments and documents left behind in the factory show it was used by a host of major American and European retailers, though at least one of them — Wal-Mart — had been aware of safety problems. Wal-Mart blames a supplier for using Tazreen Fashions without its knowledge.

The fire has elevated awareness of something labor groups, retailers and governments have known for years: Bangladesh's fast-growing garment industry — second only to China's in exports — is rife with dangerous workplaces. More than 300 workers there have died in fires since 2006.

Police on Wednesday arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers who died in Saturday's fire, the deadliest in the South Asian country's less than 35-year history of exporting clothing.

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Senate Democrats divided over cuts to benefit programs, raising roadblock to any fiscal deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Deep divisions among Senate Democrats over whether cuts to popular benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid should be part of a plan to slow the government's mushrooming debt pose a big obstacle to a deal for avoiding a potentially economy-crushing "fiscal cliff," even if Republicans agree to raise taxes.

Much of the focus during negotiations seeking an alternative to $671 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning in January has centered on whether Republicans would agree to raising taxes on the wealthy. President Barack Obama has insisted repeatedly that tax increases on the wealthy must be part of any deal, even as White House officials concede that government benefit programs will have to be in the package too.

"It is the president's position that when we're talking about a broad, balanced approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, that that includes dealing with entitlements," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

But even if GOP lawmakers agree to raise taxes, there is no guarantee Democrats can come up with enough votes in the Senate to cut benefit programs — as Republicans are demanding.

"I hope not if it means Social Security or Medicare benefit cuts," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

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Twin car bombs hit Damascus suburb populated by Christians, Druse; activists say 20 killed

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian state-run media say two car bombs have exploded in a Damascus suburb, inflicting several casualties.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights says 20 people were killed in the blasts. The activist group relies on reports from the ground.

The SANA state news agency says the Wednesday morning explosions targeted Damascus' eastern Jaramana suburb, which is mostly populated by Christians and Druse.

Rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad are predominantly members of the Syria's Sunni Muslim majority. They have frequently targeted the country's minority communities, perceived to be allied with Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot Shiite group that dominates the regime.

Damascus suburbs have become opposition strongholds since March last year, when the uprising began.

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Review: Kabul Bank sent hundreds of millions of dollars out of Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Hundreds of millions of dollars from Kabul Bank were spirited out of Afghanistan — some smuggled in airline food trays — to bank accounts in more than two dozen countries, according to an independent review released on Wednesday about massive fraud that led to the collapse of the nation's largest financial institution.

The report, which was financed by international donors, offers new details about how the men at Kabul Bank and their friends and relatives got rich off $861 million in fraudulent loans in what the International Monetary Fund has called a Ponzi scheme that used customer deposits and operated under nascent banking oversight in the war-torn country.

The report describes Kabul Bank as a sophisticated operation with one set of books for the eyes of regulators and another in the back room that logged how those running the bank and others were fattening their wallets.

Loans were made, but rarely repaid. Borrowers took out loans to pay back loans. Company documents and financial statements were fabricated. The bank's credit department used more than 100 corporate stamps for fake companies to make documents look authentic. The bank operated some of its more than 100 branches without a permit from the government.

The 87-page report, which was conducted to satisfy one of several benchmarks the IMF asked the Afghan government to meet in cleaning up the scandal, points to poor oversight by Afghan banking regulators, political interference in the criminal investigation and activities by a special judicial tribunal hearing the case that it said were "well outside the legal norms of criminal procedure."

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Senate Dems rally for Rice as GOP senators say they're more troubled by her Libya comments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats rallied to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's defense as Republicans said they were even more troubled by her account of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and signaled they would try to scuttle her nomination if President Barack Obama tapped her as the next secretary of state.

"The personal attacks against Ambassador Rice by certain Republican senators have been outrageous and utterly unmoored from facts and reality," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who called the criticism unfathomable in light of disclosures from the intelligence community.

As congressional Democrats and the Obama administration delivered a full-throated defense of the possible diplomatic nominee, Rice was meeting Wednesday with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Corker is next in line for the top GOP spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"We'll see and we're going to sit down and talk to her," Corker told The Associated Press. "She always delivers the party line, the company line, whatever the talking points are. I think most of us hold the secretary of state and secretary of treasury to a whole different level. We understand that they're going to support the administration, but we also want to know that they are independent enough, when administration is off-base, that they are putting pressure. I think that's what worries me most about Rice."

Rice answered questions Tuesday from Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the September attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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On Syria border, Turkey faces challenge of removing its own land mines, a legacy of the 1950s

AKINCI, Turkey (AP) — For two people walking into a Turkish minefield, they looked awfully assured.

The pair strode in from Syria on a recent afternoon, following a faint track across the grassy plain. They slipped into Turkey through a fence near a vacant military watchtower and vanished into an olive grove.

Such hazardous crossings are a smuggler's tradition at the border, where Turkish plans to clear a vast belt of land mines have been clouded by Syria's civil war. Last week, Turkey asked NATO allies to deploy Patriot missiles as a defense against any aerial attacks from Syria after shells and bullets spilled across the border, killing and injuring some Turks.

Starting in the 1950s, Turkish forces planted more than 600,000 U.S.-made "toe poppers" — mines designed to maim, not kill — and other land mines along much of its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria, which runs from the Mediterranean Sea to Iraq. The aim was to stop smugglers whose cheap black market goods undercut the Turkish economy and later to thwart Kurdish rebels from infiltrating Turkey's southeast.

However, the mines also killed and maimed civilians, took arable land from Turkish farmers and are now considered by many as a too-crude method of policing.

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Ark. man suspected in death of 6-year-old girl who was chained to dresser in 2011 due in court

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — After her father and stepmother were arrested last year for chaining her to a dresser, young Jersey Bridgeman received something of a fresh start when she began kindergarten this fall in northwestern Arkansas.

Then, last week, the 6-year-old's body was found in a vacant home two doors from where she had been living with her mother.

"The fact that she went through what she went through when she was 5. ... And then this happens," Chelsea Jouett said Tuesday after dropping a teddy bear off at Jersey's home. "She had such a rough life."

Police have arrested neighbor and family friend Zachary Holly, 28, in Jersey's death. Holly is due in court Wednesday in Bentonville, a city about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock that is best known as the home of Wal-Mart's headquarters.

Holly was being held on capital murder, kidnapping and residential burglary charges Tuesday night at the Benton County Jail. A judge is likely to appoint a lawyer to represent him during his court appearance Wednesday.

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Big lottery winners offer advice, cautionary tales as $500M Powerball drawing approaches

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — So you just won the $500 million Powerball jackpot, the second highest in lottery history. Now what?

Perhaps it's time for a tropical vacation or a new car. There are bills to pay, loans to settle, debts to square.

Past winners of mega-lottery drawings and financial planners have some more sound advice: Stick to a budget, invest wisely, learn to say no and be prepared to lose friends while riding an emotional roller-coaster of joy, anxiety, guilt and distrust.

"I had to adapt to this new life, "said Sandra Hayes, 52, a former child services social worker who split a $224 million Powerball jackpot with a dozen co-workers in 2006, collecting a lump sum she said was in excess of $6 million after taxes. "I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you've loved deep down, and they're turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me."

The single mother kept her job with the state of Missouri for another month and immediately used her winnings to pay off an estimated $100,000 in student loans and a $70,000 mortgage. She spent a week in Hawaii and bought a new Lexus, but six years later still shops at discount stores and lives on a fixed income — albeit, at a higher monthly allowance than when she brought home paychecks of less than $500 a week.

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In elf ears and wizard hats, 'Hobbit' fans revel in New Zealand premiere of Jackson's new film

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Wearing elf ears and wizard hats, sitting atop their dad's shoulders or peering from balconies, tens of thousands of New Zealanders watched their favorite "Hobbit" actors walk the red carpet Wednesday at the film trilogy's hometown premiere.

An Air New Zealand plane freshly painted with "Hobbit" characters flew low over Wellington's Embassy Theatre, eliciting roars of approval from the crowd.

Sam Rashidmardani, 12, said he came to see Gollum actor Andy Serkis walk the red carpet — and he wasn't disappointed.

"It was amazing," Rashidmardani said of the evening, adding his Gollum impression: "My precious."

British actor Martin Freeman, who brings comedic timing to the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, said he thought director Peter Jackson had done a fantastic job on "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

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Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa set to show up on Hall of Fame ballot for first time

NEW YORK (AP) — For several years, baseball fans have argued whether Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa belong in the Hall of Fame.

Starting on Wednesday, the voters who will actually decide that debate can get to work.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa are set to show up on the Hall ballot for the first time, with all sides eager to find out whether drug allegations will block the former stars from reaching the shrine.

The 2013 ballot will be announced at noon EST.

Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling are certain to be among the other first-time eligibles. Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are the top holdover candidates.

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