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Associated Press

Posted on December 25, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 26 at 12:00 AM

Egypt's military-backed interim government declares the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military-backed interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization Wednesday, intensifying its campaign of arrests and prosecutions targeting its members and tightening the noose on the group's network of charities and businesses.

The unprecedented executive decision likely ends any chance of reconciliation between the government and the 85-year-old Brotherhood, still Egypt's most organized political group. It marks a stunning reversal of fortunes for the long-outlawed organization that saw member Mohammed Morsi reach Egypt's highest office in the country's first democratic election, only to be ousted in a popularly backed military coup in July. And it takes a step that not even autocrat Hosni Mubarak took in his nearly 30-year rule.

Hossam Eissa, deputy prime minister and minister of higher education, read the government's declaration, saying the decision was in response to Tuesday's deadly bombing in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura which killed 16 people and wounded more than 100. It was the deadliest militant bombing since Morsi's ouster and showed growing reach of the country's Islamic insurgency, previously concentrated in the northern Sinai.

Although Eissa and the government offered no proof of the Brotherhood's involvement, the accusation instilled in the public mind the image of the group as being behind the surge in violent attacks.

The Brotherhood has denied being responsible for the Mansoura attack. Earlier Wednesday, an al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, said it was behind the suicide bombing to avenge the "shedding of innocent Muslim blood" at the hands of Egypt's "apostate regime" — a reference to the security forces' crackdown on Islamists following the coup.

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AP Exclusive: Iraqi intelligence officials say Syrian al-Qaida leader targeting UN workers

BAGHDAD (AP) — The shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Iraqi intelligence officials offered the AP the letters, as well as the first known photograph of the Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of one of the most powerful bands of radicals fighting the Syrian government in the country's civil war.

The officials said they obtained the information about al-Golani after they captured members of another al-Qaida group in September. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.

"I was told by a soldier that he observed some of the workers of the U.N. and he will kidnap them. I ask God for his success," read an excerpt of a letter given by officials from Iraq's Falcon Intelligence Cell, an anti-terrorism unit that works under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The officials said other letters planned the kidnapping and killing of other foreigners, and Syrian and Iraqi civilians.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. AP: AL-QAIDA LEADER TARGETS UN WORKERS

Abu Mohammed al-Golani, shadowy leader of a terror group fighting in Syria, sought to kidnap United Nations workers, according to letters obtained by The AP.

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Japanese Prime Minister Abe visits Yasukuni war shrine in move that draws rebuke from China

TOKYO (AP) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a shrine honoring Japan's war dead Thursday in a move that drew a quick rebuke from China warning that already poor relations would worsen.

The visit to the shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead including convicted class A war criminals, appears to be a departure from Abe's "pragmatic" approach to foreign policy, in which he tried to avoid alienating neighboring countries. It was the first visit by a sitting prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went to mark the end of World War II in 2006.

Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians have long been a point of friction with China and South Korea, because of Japan's brutal aggression during World War II.

Abe, wearing a formal black jacket with tails and striped, gray pants, spent about 15 minutes at the Shinto shrine in central Tokyo. TV cameras followed him inside the shrine property, but were not allowed in the inner shrine where he paid respects to the war dead.

"I prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace," he told waiting reporters immediately afterward.

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Rocks, tear gas fly as Thai protesters seek to disrupt election process

BANGKOK (AP) — Protesters seeking to halt preparations for elections in Thailand fought with police in the capital on Thursday as the country's long-running political crisis again turned violent.

Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets toward protesters trying to get into a sports stadium where candidates were gathering to draw lots for their position on polling papers, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. The demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, hurled rocks.

Inside the stadium, the lot-drawing process appeared to be going on unaffected.

The protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down. They oppose the polls scheduled for Feb. 2 because Yingluck is seen as sure to win them.

Thailand has been wracked by sometimes violent political conflict since Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup. The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields influence in the country.

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AP PHOTOS: Christmas celebrations around the world capture festive spirit

Around the world, the holidays are in full swing. There are Christmas lights in Hong Kong, midnight Mass in Bethlehem, and even Santa distributing sweets in India.

Pope Francis ushered in his first Christmas as pontiff with a sermon drawing on the theme of humility as he cited Jesus' humble beginnings as a poor and vulnerable baby. Thousands gathered at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to hear midnight Mass near the site of Jesus' birth.

Here's a gallery of images from Christmas celebrations around the world.

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Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo

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To avoid health insurance gaps, consumers need patience and persistence

CHICAGO (AP) — The deadline has passed, and so too the surprise grace period, for signing up for health insurance as part of the nation's health care law.

Now what?

For those who were able to navigate the glitch-prone and often overwhelmed HealthCare.gov website, there's still work to be done to make sure success online leads to actual coverage come the new year.

The first step experts recommend is to call your insurance company and double-check they received your payment.

What if you missed the Christmas Eve deadline and still want insurance in 2014, as the health law requires of most Americans? You may be without health insurance for a month, but you can still sign up for coverage that will start in February.

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Painful memories remain a decade after deadly Christmas mudslide east of Los Angeles

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A decade after a Christmas Day mudslide swept through a Southern California church mountain retreat, worshippers have continued their mission at a new spot.

Fourteen people — including nine children — were killed on Dec. 25, 2003, when a flood of water, boulders and debris tore through a campground in the foothills of San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Members of the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and Foundation held summer and winter camps at the 45-acre site at Waterman Canyon for more than four decades.

Now, the group holds summer camp in nearby Crestline and has abandoned winter sessions, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported in Wednesday's editions (http://bit.ly/JdsS3Ghttp://bit.ly/JdsS3G ).

Before the deadly mudslide, a swath of the hillside had been scarred by fall wildfires, leaving the area prone to erosion and flash flooding. A Pacific storm that Christmas dropped nearly 4 inches of rain on the region.

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Crowds gather for reenactment of George Washington's daring 1776 Delaware River crossing

WASHINGTON CROSSING, N.J. (AP) — George Washington has made his annual Christmas Day ride across the Delaware River.

Washington's daring Christmas 1776 crossing of the river turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. The 61st reenactment of it was staged Wednesday.

Hundreds of people gather each year to hear Washington's stand-in deliver stirring words to the troops and watch three boats make the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

During the original crossing, boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river. The troops marched 8 miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton.

Thirty Hessians were killed. Two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march, but none died in battle.

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Serena Williams easily wins 2013 AP Female Athlete of Year honors; adds to '02, '09 AP awards

Serena Williams likes to make one thing clear: She is never satisfied, no matter how many matches and tournaments she wins.

Driven as ever, Williams won plenty this year. She went 78-4 with 11 titles, including at the French Open and U.S. Open, raising her Grand Slam championship total to 17. She compiled a 34-match winning streak. She earned more than $12 million in prize money, a record for women's tennis. In February, she became the oldest No. 1 in WTA rankings history and never left that perch.

Thanks to all of that, Williams was honored Wednesday as The Associated Press' 2013 Female Athlete of the Year. It's the third AP award for Williams, following 2002 and 2009. Only two women have been chosen more often as AP Athlete of the Year since the annual awards were first handed out in 1931.

"Whenever I lose, I get more determined, and it gives me something more to work toward," Williams told the AP in an interview shortly before the start of the U.S. Open. "I don't get complacent, and I realize I need to work harder and I need to do better and I want to do better — or I wouldn't keep playing this game."

The vote by news organizations was about as lopsided as many of Williams' matches this season. She received 55 of 96 votes, while Brittney Griner, a two-time AP Player of the Year in college basketball and the No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft, finished second with 14. Swimmer Missy Franklin was next with 10.

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