AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on July 21, 2013 at 5:02 AM

Updated Sunday, Jul 21 at 12:00 PM

To troops and furloughed Defense civilians, Hagel offers empathy but no hope for budget help

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The audience gasped in surprise and gave a few low whistles as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered the news that furloughs, which have forced a 20 percent pay cut on most of the military's civilian workforce, probably will continue next year and might worsen.

"Those are the facts of life," Hagel told about 300 Defense Department employees, most of them middle-aged civilians, last week at an Air Force reception hall on a military base in Charleston.

Future layoffs also are possible for the department's civilian workforce of more than 800,000 employees, Hagel said, if Congress fails to stem the cuts in the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

On the heels of the department's first furlough day, and in three days of visits with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Hagel played the unenviable role of messenger to a frustrated and fearful workforce coping with the inevitability of a spending squeeze at the end of more than a decade of constant and costly war.

The fiscal crunch also lays bare the politically unpopular, if perhaps necessary, need to bring runaway military costs in line with most of the rest of the American public that has struggled economically for years.

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People rally in cities across US in 'Justice for Trayvon' rallies, pushing for federal charges

ATLANTA (AP) — Crowds chanted "Justice! Justice!" as people rallied in dozens of U.S. cities, urging authorities to press federal civil rights charges against a former neighborhood watch leader found not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.

The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network organized the "Justice for Trayvon" rallies and vigils outside federal buildings Saturday in at least 101 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other locations.

One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of Martin in a gated central Florida community, people gathered nationwide Saturday to press for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. They also called for changes in the nation's self-defense laws.

"No justice! No peace!" some chanted. Many also sang hymns, prayed and held hands.

The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns, and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin, identifies himself as Hispanic. Martin was black.

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Ohio police to resume search after finding 3 bodies; 'pray to God' no more found, mayor says

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — Police plan to continue a search Sunday for possibly more victims after three bodies were found wrapped in plastic bags in a Cleveland suburb.

The bodies, believed to be female, were found about 100 to 200 yards apart and a 35-year-old man was arrested and is a suspect in all three deaths, although he has not yet been charged, East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said Saturday.

The suspect is a registered sex offender and has served prison time, the mayor said. In police interviews, the man led them to believe he might have been influenced by convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, Norton said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"He said some things that led us to believe that in some way, shape, or form, Sowell might be an influence," the mayor said.

Sowell was found guilty in 2011 of killing 11 women and hiding their remains around his Cleveland home. He is in prison on a death sentence.

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Police: Woman apparently fell while riding Six Flags' Texas Giant roller coaster; no foul play

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A woman who died while riding a 14-story roller coaster at Six Flags amusement park in North Texas apparently fell from the ride, police said.

Park spokeswoman Sharon Parker confirmed that a woman died while riding the Texas Giant roller coaster — dubbed the tallest steel-hybrid coaster in the world — but did not give specifics of what happened.

"We are committed to determining the cause of this tragic accident and will utilize every resource throughout this process," Parker said in a statement Saturday. "It would be a disservice to the family to speculate regarding what transpired."

Arlington Police Sgt. Christopher Cook told The Associated Press that police believe the woman fell from the ride at the Six Flags Over Texas park in Arlington. He added that there appears to have been no foul play.

The Arlington Police Department spokesman also said police, fire and emergency medical services responded to the park around 6:45 p.m. Friday in reference to a woman who had fallen from a train car while riding a roller coaster. He said the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Israel's Netanyahu: Talks with Palestinians will be tough, deal must be ratified in referendum

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister says he expects recently announced peace talks with the Palestinians to be tough, and that any agreement reached would have to be ratified in a national Israeli referendum.

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday at his weekly Cabinet meeting, his first on-camera remarks since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks over the weekend — ending a five year deadlock.

Netanyahu said his main guiding principles will be to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel and to avoid a future Palestinian state becoming an Iranian-backed "terror state."

Final status negotiations aim to reach a deal on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security arrangements. The Palestinians say talks will be based on Israel's pre-1967 borders.

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Belgium's King Albert abdicates after 20-year reign with son Philippe ready to take throne

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's King Albert abdicated on Sunday after a 20-year reign, clearing the way for his son, Philippe, to take over as this fractured nation's seventh king later in the day.

The 79-year-old Albert signed away his rights as the kingdom's largely ceremonial ruler at the royal palace in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who holds the political power in this 183-year-old parliamentary democracy.

Less than two hours later, Belgium will get a new king when Philippe, 53, takes the oath before the nation's legislators at the parliament building a short walk across the Royal Park in the heart of the city.

"Belgium is modernizing itself and it gives me joy," Albert said. He also called for continued "cohesion" between the nation's 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million French-speakers.

Under crystal chandeliers in a gilded hall at the royal palace, Di Rupo called Albert "a great head of state" and told the outgoing king, "You are closing an important page in the history of our country."

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US fighters drop unarmed bombs on Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in air emergency

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Two U.S. fighter jets have dropped four unarmed bombs in Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park when a training exercise went wrong.

The two AV-8B Harrier jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard each jettisoned an inert bomb and an unarmed explosive bomb in the World Heritage-listed marine park off the coast of Queensland state on Tuesday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.

The four bombs were dropped in more than 50 meters (164 feet) of water away from coral to minimize possible damage to the reef, the statement said. None exploded.

The jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had intended to drop the ordnances on the Townshend Island bombing range but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.

The pilots conducted the emergency jettison because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb load, the navy said.

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Helen Thomas was only reporter with name inscribed on chair in White House briefing room

WASHINGTON (AP) — Covering 10 presidents over five decades, Helen Thomas aged into a legend. She was the only reporter with her name inscribed on a chair in the White House briefing room — her own front row seat to history.

Starting as a copy girl in 1943, when women were considered unfit for serious reporting, Thomas rose to bureau chief.

Working at a news service, where writers expect obscurity, she became one of journalism's most recognized faces. Thomas embraced her role as a Washington institution, doing cameos in movies, giving lectures, writing books about her life until the spotlight landed on inflammatory remarks she made about Israel.

The uproar pushed her out of the White House press room at age 89.

Thomas, 92, died surrounded by family and friends at her Washington apartment on Saturday, the family said in a statement. A friend, Muriel Dobbin, told The Associated Press that Thomas had been ill for a long time, and in and out of the hospital before coming home Thursday.

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Warner Bros.: Superman is coming back and his co-star will be Batman

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Superman is coming back, and he'll have a caped co-star.

"Man of Steel" director Zack Snyder made a surprise appearance at Comic-Con on Saturday to announce he is making another Superman film and it will include Batman — the first time the two superheroes will be united on the big screen.

He declined to reveal many details, saying the script is just being written. He then invited an actor onstage to read a passage to hint at the story line.

"I am the man who beat you," read Harry Lennox, before an image of the Superman logo, backed by the Batman symbol, flashed on the screen.

Warner Bros. confirmed the first-ever pairing in a statement.

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Westwood goes for 1st major, grabs 2-shot lead over Woods, Mahan with round left at Muirfield

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Lee Westwood has contended enough in the majors that he can identify important moments, even if he could barely see his ball.

He had a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods, standing in grass up to his knees in the dunes left of the par-3 16th hole. It was one of the few bad shots Westwood hit Saturday at Muirfield, and by far his worst predicament. Westwood slashed at the ball and it didn't reach the green. He used a putter to belt his next shot up the hill to 12 feet.

What followed was a finish that allowed him to believe he was closer than ever to ending his 20-year pursuit of a major.

Westwood poured in the putt to salvage bogey. He picked up two shots on Woods with a birdie on the next hole. He closed with a solid par, giving him a two-shot lead going into the final round, and most significant Sunday of his career.

"That was probably the biggest momentum thing I did all day — walk off there with a bogey," Westwood said. "That's what's been missing, making those putts. And back it up with a birdie at the next. Those are the sort of things you need to do."

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