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Associated Press

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Egypt: Hot air balloon crashes in ancient city of Luxor, killing at least 18 foreign tourists

LUXOR, Egypt (AP) — A hot air balloon flying over Egypt's ancient city of Luxor caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field on Tuesday, killing at least 18 foreign tourists, a security official said.

It was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt and likely to push the key tourism industry deeper into recession. The casualties included French, British, Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, the official said.

Three survivors of the crash — two tourists and one Egyptian — were taken to a local hospital.

According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon carrying at least 20 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered an explosion in its gas canister, then plunged at least 300 meters (1,000 feet) from the sky.

It crashed into a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of Cairo, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

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SPIN METER: It's prime time for sky-is-falling hype as budget crisis gets ready to bite

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his officials are doing their best to drum up public concern over the shock wave of spending cuts that could strike the government in just days. So it's a good time to be alert for sky-is-falling hype.

Over the last week or so, administration officials have come forward with a grim compendium of jobs to be lost, services to be denied or delayed, military defenses to be let down and important operations to be disrupted. Obama's new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, spoke of a "devastating list of horribles."

For most Americans, though, it's far from certain they will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day if the budget-shredder known as the sequester comes to pass. Maybe they will, if the impasse drags on for months.

For now, there's a whiff of the familiar in all the foreboding, harking back to the mid-1990s partial government shutdown, when officials said old people would go hungry, illegal immigrants would have the run of the of the land and veterans would go without drugs. It didn't happen.

For this episode, provisions are in place to preserve the most crucial services — and benefit checks. Furloughs of federal workers are at least a month away, breathing room for a political settlement if the will to achieve one is found. Many government contractors would continue to be paid with money previously approved.

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AP PHOTOS: An look at daily life inside secretive North Korea

Few people from outside North Korea ever get to see, with their own eyes, what life is like inside the country's restrictive borders — scenes ranging from a simple haircut to a mass synchronized swimming performance.

Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder is in North Korea and has been documenting scenes around the country that offer a glimpse into a largely unseen side of North Korea, capturing images of daily life that are at times quirky, at other times haunting.

Here's a gallery of some of his recent images.

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Police: Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel as Palestinian tensions mount

JERUSALEM (AP) — A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck Israel on Tuesday as tensions are mounting in the region weeks ahead of President Barack Obama's visit.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said remains of the rocket were found south of the city of Ashkelon, in southern Israel. The attack caused damage to a road but no injuries, he said. It was the first such projectile from the Palestinian territory to hit Israel since Israel-Gaza hostilities last November.

The rocket fire came one day after Israeli troops injured two Palestinian teenagers near a holy site close to Bethlehem, during one of the many demonstrations Palestinians in the West Bank have staged in recent days.

Initially, West Bank street protests broke out in support of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, particularly in support of four inmates on lengthy hunger strikes. Then, over the weekend, a Palestinian prisoner who was not on hunger strike died under disputed circumstances, prompting more demonstrations.

Israeli and Palestinian officials have traded barbs, each side saying the other is trying to exploit the latest unrest for political gains.

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Human Rights Watch says 140 people, half of them children, killed in Aleppo missile strikes

BEIRUT (AP) — At least 141 people, half of them children, were killed when the Syrian military fired at least four missiles into the northern city of Aleppo last week, Human Rights Watch confirmed Tuesday after a researcher visited the area.

The international rights group said the strikes hit residential areas and called them an "escalation of unlawful attacks against Syria's civilian population."

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the civil war pitting President Bashar Assad's regime against rebels fighting to oust him.

Rebels quickly seized several neighborhoods in an offensive on the city in July, but the government still controls some districts and the battle has developed into a bloody stalemate, with heavy street fighting that has ruined neighborhoods and forced thousands to flee.

A Human Rights Watch researcher who visited Aleppo last week to inspect the targeted sites, said up to 20 buildings were destroyed in each area hit by a missile. There were no signs of any military targets in the residential districts, located in rebel-held parts of Aleppo, said Ole Solvang, the HRW's researcher.

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C. Everett Koop, 'rock star' surgeon general under Reagan who fought smoking and AIDS, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Dr. C. Everett Koop has long been regarded as the nation's doctor— even though it has been nearly a quarter-century since he was surgeon general.

Koop, who died Monday at his home in Hanover, N.H., at age 96, was by far the best known and most influential person to carry that title. Koop, a 6-foot-1 evangelical Presbyterian with a biblical prophet's beard, donned a public health uniform in the early 1980s and became an enduring, science-based national spokesman on health issues.

He served for eight years during the Reagan administration and was a breed apart from his political bosses. He thundered about the evils of tobacco companies during a multiyear campaign to drive down smoking rates, and he became the government's spokesman on AIDS when it was still considered a "gay disease" by much of the public.

"He really changed the national conversation, and he showed real courage in pursuing the duties of his job," said Chris Collins, a vice president of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.

Even before that, he had been a leading figure in medicine. He was one of the first U.S. doctors to specialize in pediatric surgery at a time when children with complicated conditions were often simply written off as untreatable. In the 1950s, he drew national headlines for innovative surgeries such as separating conjoined twins.

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AP Survey: US budget impasse a bigger factor in slowing economy than any pullback by consumers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The political standoff over the U.S. budget is slowing the U.S. economy — more so than any hesitance by Americans to spend freely.

That consensus emerges from the latest Associated Press Economy Survey just as the budget impasse in Washington is about to trigger automatic spending cuts across the economy.

Many of the economists think consumer spending has slowed in response to higher tax burdens but will rebound later in the year. By contrast, they worry that the budget fights in Washington will persist for much of 2013 and drag on economic growth.

Twenty-three of the 37 economists who responded to the survey last week say the paralysis in Washington is a significant factor in slowing the economy. The next-biggest factors they cite, in order: too little job growth, excessive government regulation and taxes, stagnant wages and cautious bank lending. Only eight say they worry about consumers saving more and spending less.

The budget impasse that will set off $85 billion in spending cuts starting Friday will shave an estimated half-percentage point from economic growth this year.

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Senate to vote on moving ahead with Defense nominee Hagel

WASHINGTON (AP) — A deeply divided Senate is moving toward a vote on President Barack Obama's contentious choice of Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department, with the former Republican senator on track to win confirmation after a protracted political fight.

Twelve days after Republicans stalled the nomination, the Senate was slated to vote Tuesday on proceeding with the Hagel selection after GOP lawmakers signaled late Monday they would end their delaying tactics. If Hagel gets the necessary votes, it would just be a matter of time for a simple up-or-down vote, although Republicans could insist on the maximum 30 hours of debate before a final vote.

If confirmed, Hagel would succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and join Obama's retooled national security team just days before automatic, across-the-board budget cuts hit the Pentagon.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was optimistic about the vote's outcome and said it was critical for the Senate to act quickly.

"Given sequestration, it's really important that we have a secretary of defense who is in place when that hits, if it hits," Levin told reporters Monday. "I want to still say 'if' because I'm a perennial optimist."

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After creating blizzard conditions in Texas, Okla., Kan., winter storm plows into Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Another blizzard bore down on the nation's midsection early Tuesday after lashing the Texas Panhandle with hurricane-force winds, closing highways and cutting power to thousands in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. At least two people were killed in the storm, and Midwesterners still digging out from last week's deep snowpack braced for more.

Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James declared a state of emergency, an unwanted encore just five days after a major snowstorm dumped nearly a foot of snow on his city. Flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport were canceled, schools, government offices and businesses across the region were closed and James urged residents to stay home if they could.

Up to 15 inches or more were forecast for parts of western Missouri, with a foot or more in Kansas City alone: "This one has the potential to be quite serious," James said.

A strong low pressure system fueled the storm, which also included heavy rain and thunderstorms in eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Six counties in Arkansas and all parishes in Louisiana were under a tornado watch through Monday night.

The storm knocked power out to thousands of homes in Texas and Oklahoma and was blamed for the death of a 21-year-old man whose SUV hit an icy patch on Interstate 70 in northwestern Kansas and overturned Monday. In Oklahoma, a person was killed after 15 inches of snow brought down part of a roof in the northwest town of Woodward.

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'No response' increasingly — often maddeningly — common in world of high-tech communication

CHICAGO (AP) — Technology is supposed to make us easier to reach, and often does. But the same modes of communication that have hooked us on the instant reply also can leave us feeling forgotten.

We send an email, a text or an instant chat message. We wait — and nothing happens. Or we make a phone call. Leave a voicemail message. Wait. Again, nothing.

We tend to assume it's a snub, and sometimes it is.

Erica Swallow, a 26-year-old New Yorker, says she's heard a former boyfriend brag about how many text messages he never reads. "Who does that?" she asks, exasperatedly.

These days, though, no response can mean a lot of things. Maybe some people don't see messages because they prefer email and you like Twitter. Maybe we're just plain overwhelmed, and can't keep up with the constant barrage of communication.

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