Newtown plans quiet remembrances, ringing of bells to mark Sandy Hook shooting anniversary
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Newtown is planning to mark one year since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre with private memorial services and the ringing of bells for the victims.
Connecticut's governor has asked for houses of worship around the state Saturday to ring their bells 26 times — once for each of the 20 children and six educators gunned down inside the school on Dec. 14, 2012. Vigils were planned elsewhere in the country, and President Barack Obama and the first lady planned to observe a moment of silence at the White House.
Newtown officials have called for privacy and asked town residents to honor the victims through acts of service and kindness. At a joint appearance during the week in Newtown, some of the victims' families urged people to find ways to give back to their own communities.
"In this way, we hope that some small measure of good may be returned to the world," JoAnn Bacon, whose 6-year-old daughter, Charlotte, was killed at Sandy Hook.
The town had no formal events planned for Saturday, and officials have discouraged the news media from coming to Newtown.
Mandela's remains transferred to air base for ANC goodbye and flight to Eastern Cape funeral
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — On a final journey to his home village where he had wanted to spend his final days, the remains of Nelson Mandela were honored amid pomp and ceremony Saturday at an air base in South Africa's capital before being loaded onto a plane.
Meanwhile, at the airport near Mandela's simple village of Qunu in eastern South Africa, there was a buzz of activity, with military vehicles including SUVs and armored personnel carriers driving around as anticipation built over the coming-home of South Africa's most famous figure. Soldiers in full gear, male and female, were stationed on foot on either side of the road from the airport in Mthatha as cows grazed nearby. Some civilians were also already lining route, shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas.
Mandela had longed to spend his final months in his beloved rural village but instead he had spent them in a hospital in Pretoria and then in his home in Johannesburg where he had remained in critical condition, suffering from lung problems and other ailments, until his death.
There was a surprise announcement in the plans for Sunday's funeral in Mandela's home village of Qunu as retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu's family said he would not be attending because he had not received credentials as a clergyman.
"The Archbishop is not an accredited clergyperson for the event and thus will not be attending," Rev. Mpho Tutu, the archbishop's daughter, said in a statement. She is chief executive of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation.
Tribal rituals to feature in Mandela's state funeral
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — An ox will be slaughtered, the deceased will be wrapped in a leopard skin and a family elder will keep talking to the body's spirit: The state funeral for South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Sunday will also include those rituals from the tradition of the Xhosa people, to whom Mandela's Thembu clan belongs.
The funeral in Mandela's southeastern childhood village of Qunu will be an eclectic mix of traditional rituals, Christian elements and those of a state funeral.
Here's a brief look at the Xhosa people and the main elements of their burial traditions:
The Xhosa people
The majority of the country's 7 million Xhosa people live in the country's southeast, in the Eastern Cape province. Their language, Xhosa, is famous for its three click sounds. The Xhosa recognize the presence of ancestral spirits and call upon them for guidance. Veneration for the world of the ancestors, or Umkhapho in Xhosa, plays an important role in their culture. The ceremonial slaughtering of animals is one of the ways the ancestors are called upon for help, according to a website of South Africa's Tourism Department.
Secret Service must rely on foreign gov'ts abroad, must manage risks to traveling president
WASHINGTON (AP) — In the hours before President Barack Obama arrived at a Johannesburg soccer stadium to honor Nelson Mandela, the White House staff was in the dark on key details. Where would the president and Michelle Obama sit? When was Obama supposed to speak? Who else would be on stage when he did?
The result was an array of confusion and security risks that typically would not be tolerated by the Secret Service in the United States, underscoring how the agency is often at the mercy of foreign governments to make arrangements when the president travels overseas.
While there were metal detectors and x-ray machines at the stadium, they were not used on the initial crowds streaming in for the ceremony, according to Associated Press reporters on scene. Many people walked through with little or no screening. Inside the massive stadium there were few signs of the heavy security that routinely would accompany an event with the president and other world leaders.
The VIP section where Obama and dozens of other dignitaries sat, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, was protected by a short pane of protective glass that covered only those sitting in the first row of seats. Obama and his wife were seated several rows back. Large crowds were allowed to gather in front of where Obama sat, with no visible security nearby.
And when Obama made his way to the stage to deliver his speech, the South African sign-language interpreter who stood an arm's length away was a schizophrenic prone to violence. The interpreter has since been derided as a fraud.
AP PHOTOS: Signs around the world capture devotion to Mandela
Nelson Mandela became a hero around the world, as shown by the number of streets, schools, bridges and restaurants named for the South African leader. Here's a look at how Mandela has been honored in cities including London, Paris, New York, New Delhi, Montreal and Oakland.
Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo
School shooting is another tragedy for Colorado but highlights changes made since Columbine
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado high school student with an apparent grudge against a teacher wounded a classmate with a shotgun before killing himself, chilling a state that's still trying to make sense of mass shootings at Columbine High School and an Aurora movie theater.
Quick-thinking students at Arapahoe High School on Friday alerted the targeted teacher, who quickly left the building. Police immediately locked down the scene on the eve of the Newtown massacre anniversary — a somber reminder of how commonplace school violence has become.
Within minutes, the 18-year-old shooter was dead, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson identified the gunman as Karl Halverson Pierson, a senior who participated in debate activities. Robinson said Pierson had had an altercation with the teacher, but the sheriff did not provide details or elaborate on a motive.
The wounded classmate, a 15-year-old girl, was in critical condition with a gunshot wound, Robinson said. Two other students were treated for minor injuries and released.
Nobody wins $425M Mega Millions jackpot; officials raise prize to $550M for Tuesday's drawing
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — One of the largest jackpots in U.S. lottery history climbed even higher Saturday after no ticket matched all six numbers to win the $425 million top Mega Millions prize.
With the Friday the 13th drawing failing to produce any winner lucky enough to claim the fifth-biggest jackpot ever, officials raised the amount to $550 million for Tuesday's drawing. That now ranks as the fourth-biggest.
Paula Otto, the Virginia Lottery's executive director and Mega Millions' lead director, told The Associated Press early Saturday that she expects the amount to rise even higher before the drawing. It could approach or surpass the largest Mega Millions jackpot ever claimed, $656 million in March 2012. Had someone won Friday, it would have been that game's second-highest prize.
"We've never had a jackpot at this level in December leading into the holidays," Otto said. "If we keep rolling, we could well be at a billion dollars going into Christmas."
But each time the lottery fails to produce a jackpot, as it now has 21 straight times on this run, the pot gets even larger. That increases the number of tickets sold while decreasing the chances that nobody will win.
Mexican oil reform caps year of dramatic change, but true test lies ahead for president
MEXICO CITY (AP) — This week's opening of Mexico's oil industry to private and foreign investment caps a remarkable series of legislative victories by a president trying to re-engineer the country's most dysfunctional institutions.
Enrique Pena Nieto struck an unprecedented political deal with the two main opposition parties in his first days in office. Then he pushed through reforms meant to bring higher standards, greater openness and competition to the oligarch-dominated telecommunications industry, the education and tax systems, the banking system, and, now, the state-run petroleum business.
Even with that track record, the hardest work lies ahead.
Mexico has reams of progressive laws on the books, virtually all of which have been thwarted by corruption and inefficiency involving officials at every level. Many police officers work for drug traffickers. Federal regulators turn a blind eye to blatantly monopolistic practices among the nation's largest companies. As a result, Mexicans have been left deeply skeptical about the potential for change.
The second year of Pena Nieto's six-year term will show whether the 47-year-old president and his rejuvenated Institutional Revolutionary Party have the ability to protect his reforms from the swarms of special-interest exemptions typically inserted into Mexican legislation by members of Congress allied with special interests. Then the president and his team must prove they can impose their will on federal, state and municipal officials, from education bureaucrats to local courts, charged with enacting his laws on the ground.
Disappearance of activist in "smiling" Laos highlights government's quiet use of harsh tactics
BANGKOK (AP) — A year ago, Ng Shui-Meng watched a closed-circuit police video in disbelief as it revealed the moment her husband, the most prominent civil rights advocate in Laos, disappeared.
It shows Sombath Somphone being stopped by traffic police on his way home around 6 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2012. A man in a black windbreaker emerges from the police post and drives his car away. Two other men then escort the 61-year-old activist into a pickup truck.
His wife, who obtained the video a day after his disappearance, still doesn't know what happened next.
The apparent abduction has sent a chilling message to the country's already fragile civil society, and exposed Laos as one of Asia's most repressive societies rather than the languid land of smiles of backpacker blogs and tourism boosters.
Laos' media are under total state control, security watchdogs operate down to the grassroots and foreign human-rights organizations are banned. The communist government responds to even the small and peaceful public protests which periodically surface with swift suppression and arrests.
Once again seeking change, Kerry returns to Vietnam as secretary of state
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (AP) — Forty-four years after first setting foot in the country as a young naval officer, John Kerry returned once more to Vietnam on Saturday, this time as America's top diplomat offering security assurances and seeking to promote democratic and economic reform.
Making his 14th trip to the communist Southeast Asian nation since the end of the war that profoundly influenced his political career and foreign policy thinking, Kerry is trying to bolster the remarkable rapprochement with the former U.S. enemy that he encouraged and helped to engineer as a senator in the 1990s.
"I can't think of two countries that have worked harder, done more and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history, to change the future, to provide a future for people that is very, very different," Kerry told a group of businesspeople, students and others at the U.S. Consulate's American Center in Ho Chi Minh City.
The visit is Kerry's first to Vietnam since 2000 when he was part of then-President Bill Clinton's historic trip here, the first by an American president since the end of the war in 1975 and the start of the U.S. embargo against the former French colony. But, between 1991 and 2000, Kerry traveled at 13 times to Vietnam to try to normalize relations, beginning with visits to clear up lingering questions over the fate of American prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action from the conflict.
Here, in the city he first knew as Saigon, the capital of the former South Vietnam, Kerry met Saturday with members of the business community and entrepreneurs to talk up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging trade agreement that the U.S. is now negotiating with Vietnam and nine other Asian countries. To take full advantage of the economic opportunities offered by the pact, Kerry said Vietnam, which has been widely criticized for its human rights record, must embrace changes.