Chavez funeral a platform for Venezuela government's bid to bolster support for his legacy
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The stage is set for President Hugo Chavez's last appearance on the world stage, with leaders from five continents in Venezuela's anxious capital for a funeral Friday to remember a man who captivated the attention of millions and polarized his nation during 14 tumultuous years in power.
The ceremony will mark a dramatic exit for a president who quarreled publicly with presidents and kings and ordered troops via live television to defend his country's borders. It promises to also give his successors a prime opportunity to rally public support for continuing his political legacy.
Yet with basic details about the event unknown just hours before its scheduled start, the funeral also reflected a leader who tightly controlled all aspects of his government. Government officials said it would begin at 11 a.m. local time, but didn't specify where it would take place or what would actually happen.
For nearly two years, and even after his death Tuesday, Chavez's government has been similarly tight-fisted with information about Chavez's cancer, not indicating exactly where or what it was.
More than 30 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were scheduled to attend. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, represented the United States, which Chavez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.
UN Security Council approves new sanctions against North Korea for latest nuclear test
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council responded swiftly to North Korea's latest nuclear test by punishing the reclusive regime Thursday with tough, new sanctions targeting its economy and leadership, despite Pyongyang's threat of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
The penalties came in a unanimous resolution drafted by the U.S. along with China, which is North Korea's main benefactor. Beijing said the focus now should be to "defuse the tensions" by restarting negotiations.
The resolution sent a powerful message to North Korea's new young leader, Kim Jong Un, that the international community condemns his defiance of Security Council bans on nuclear and ballistic tests and is prepared to take even tougher action if he continues flouting international obligations.
"Taken together, these sanctions will bite, and bite hard," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. "They increase North Korea's isolation and raise the cost to North Korea's leaders of defying the international community."
The new sanctions came in response to North Korea's underground nuclear test on Feb. 12 and were the fourth set imposed by the U.N. since the country's first test in 2006. They are aimed at reining in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development by requiring all countries to freeze financial transactions or services that could contribute to the programs.
New TSA policy allowing small knives and bats on airliners fuels growing protest
WASHINGTON (AP) — Flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals and even insurance companies are part of a growing backlash to the Transportation Security Administration's new policy allowing passengers to carry small knives and sports equipment like souvenir baseball bats and golf clubs onto planes.
The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, which representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, said it is coordinating a nationwide legislative and public education campaign to reverse the policy announced by TSA Administrator John Pistole this week. A petition posted by the flight attendants on the White House's "We the People" website had more than 9,300 signatures early Friday urging the administration to tell the TSA to keep knives off planes.
"Our nation's aviation system is the safest in the world thanks to multilayered security measures that include prohibition on many items that could pose a threat to the integrity of the aircraft cabin," the coalition, which is made up of five unions, said in a statement. "The continued ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security and must remain in place."
Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, whose 26,000 members include federal air marshals, complained that he and other "stakeholders" weren't consulted by TSA before the "countersafety policy" was announced. He said the association will ask Congress to block the policy change.
The Coalition of Airline Pilot Associations, which represents 22,000 pilots, said it opposes allowing knives of any kind in airliner cabins.
Bin Laden spokesman set to appear in NY court to face charge he plotted to kill Americans
NEW YORK (AP) — A senior al-Qaida leader and member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle was due in court to face a charge he plotted against Americans in his role as the terror network's top propagandist who lauded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and warned there would be more.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was born in Kuwait and was bin Laden's son-in-law, was captured in Jordan over the last week, authorities said.
Abu Ghaith was to appear Friday morning in federal court in Manhattan to enter a plea to one count of conspiracy to kill Americans. There was no immediate response to phone and email messages left with his attorney.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the capture of the international fugitive on Thursday, saying "no amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice."
The case marks a legal victory for President Barack Obama's administration, which has long sought to charge senior al-Qaida suspects in American federal courts instead of military tribunals at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But it runs counter to demands by Republicans in Congress who do not want high-threat terror suspects brought into the United States.
Furlough plans vary widely at federal agencies as $85 billion in budget cuts begin
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal workers could face seven days of furloughs at the Housing and Urban Development Department, but Homeland Security personnel might see twice that number. At the Environmental Protection Agency, workers would get four-day holiday weekends with a catch — one day would be a furlough day.
Other agencies are avoiding furloughs altogether.
Government agencies vary widely in how they are dealing with $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect last week, according to labor unions that represent federal workers.
"It just depends on their flexibility," said Patrick Lester, director of fiscal policy for the Center for Effective Government. "If they are largely personnel-driven, there's no way to avoid personnel-related cuts."
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 600,000 federal workers, is trying to keep track of all the different plans, as their members face the prospect of lost wages and growing frustration about getting their work done.
Coroner: Lion broke woman's neck with paw after escaping cage
DUNLAP, Calif. (AP) — The investigation into a lion attack that killed a 24-year-old woman who loved big cats is focusing on a cage door that the 550-pound animal managed to escape through to reach the volunteer intern, officials say.
Authorities said Thursday they believe the 5-year-old male lion broke the neck of the woman at a Central California animal park after it got out of its feeding cage and attacked as she cleaned its bigger area.
The investigation is continuing into how the powerful beast and Dianna Hanson came tragically to be in the same place at the same time, Fresno County coroner David Hadden said.
"The lion had been fed, the young woman was cleaning the large enclosure, and the lion was in the small cage. The gate of the cage was partially open, which allowed the lion called Cous Cous to lift it up with his paw," Hadden said. "He ran at the young lady."
Hanson was talking with a co-worker on a cellphone in the moments before she was killed, the coroner said. The co-worker became concerned when the conversation ended abruptly and Hanson failed to call back. The co-worker then called authorities when she went to check on Hanson.
Forest Service may let more fires burn this year after coming in $400M over budget last year
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After coming in $400 million over budget following last year's busy fire season, the Forest Service is altering its approach and may let more fires burn instead of attacking every one.
The move, quietly made in a letter late last month by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, brings the agency more in line with the National Parks Service and back to what it had done until last year. It also answers critics who said the agency wasted money and endangered firefighters by battling fires in remote areas that posed little or no danger to property or critical habitat.
Tidwell played down the change, saying it's simply an "evolution of the science and the expertise" that has led to more emphasis on pre-fire planning and managed burns, which involve purposely setting fires to eliminate dead trees and other fuels that could help a wildfire quickly spread.
"We have to be able to structure (fire management) this way to help all of us," Tidwell told The Associated Press. "So that we're thinking about the right things when we make these decisions."
The more aggressive approach instituted last year was prompted by fears that fires left unchecked would quickly devour large swaths of the drought-stricken West, Tidwell said. New Mexico and Colorado reported record fire seasons in 2012, and with dry conditions remaining in much of the region 2013 could be another bad year in the West.
Tenn. police chief uses polygraph to weed out racist applicants for the force
COOPERTOWN, Tenn. (AP) — A police chief hired to rebuild a tiny Tennessee department dismantled by scandal is using a lie-detector test to keep racists off his force.
Coopertown Police Chief Shane Sullivan took over the department in November, becoming the 11th chief in as many years. He was hired on the heels of a series of police scandals that for a few months left Coopertown with no police at all. Years before that, a mayor was voted out of office after the local prosecutor accused him of racism and running a notorious speed trap.
Law enforcement experts say Sullivan's polygraph approach is unusual, though some departments use the devices for other purposes during the application process. Others try to root out bias in other ways. One polygraph expert warned that lie detectors can't accurately predict racism for reasons that include people's inability to recognize their own racism.
Sullivan said he doubts racists will even apply for the force if they know about the tests.
"I think the polygraph will definitely keep these people from applying," the 39-year-old chief said.
AP PHOTOS: Images from towns in the radiation zone, abandoned after Japan's nuclear disaster
TOMIOKA, Japan (AP) — Two years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami wrecked Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, many towns nearby remain abandoned, too affected by radiation for residents to return for more than short visits.
About 160,000 people were displaced by the nuclear disaster, and even some areas outside the 20-kilometer (12-mile) zone that initially was completely off-limits are too contaminated to be cleaned up in the foreseeable future. In others, work is proceeding on cleaning soil, leaves, grass and buildings to help reduce radiation to safer levels.
It remains unclear how effective the cleanup will be or how many people will eventually return to their homes, given fears over potential risks from the radiation and the lack of jobs in an area that depended mainly on farming, fishing and work at the now defunct nuclear plant.
For now, the area is mostly deserted, the fields and homes overgrown with weeds.
Here's a gallery of images from abandoned towns in the area around the crippled nuclear plant.
Justin Bieber recovering after fainting backstage at London concert
Justin Bieber is recovering after fainting backstage at a concert in London.
A spokeswoman for Bieber said late Thursday that the 19-year-old pop star was given oxygen and took a 20-minute reprieve after fainting backstage at London's O2 Arena.
Bieber posted a shirtless photo of himself in a hospital bed late Thursday with the caption: "Gettin better listening to Janis Joplin." Before that on Twitter he thanked "everyone pulling me thru tonight."
"Best fans in the world," he wrote. "Figuring out what happened. Thanks for the love."
Jazz Chappell, a 20-year-old concertgoer who brought her younger sister and her friend to the show, said Bieber announced he couldn't breathe and needed water. He resumed performing, but then had to be helped offstage by a backup dancer. In the nearly 30 minutes he was offstage, some fans started to leave. Once his manager announced what had happened, Chappell said many fans in the audience were gasping and crying, while others kept cheering for him to return.