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Associated Press

Posted on December 31, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 31 at 6:02 AM

DIGITS: Looking back at 2013, polls suggest this wasn't America's best year

About half of Americans expect 2014 to be a better year than 2013, according to the recent AP-Times Square New Year's Eve poll. And judging by the typical questions pollsters use to measure the public mood, it doesn't seem like it could be much worse.

A look at how the public rated the nation's performance in 2013:

RIGHT DIRECTION? NOT QUITE YET

Whether people think the nation is heading the right way or the wrong way is a basic measure of optimism that pollsters have used for decades to gauge the public mood. In AP-GfK polling this year, few thought the United States had found the right path.

The December AP-GfK poll showed the share of Americans who feel the nation is heading in the right direction rebounded to 34 percent from its October low of 22 percent, but it's not clear yet whether that's a directional shift or just a temporary recovery — what Wall Street calls a dead-cat bounce.

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Thousands of police, troops tighten security in Russian city hit by 2 suicide bombings

VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Thousands of police officers and paramilitary forces are on duty in the Russian city of Volgograd, which is reeling from two suicide bombings in two days that killed 34 people and raised fears that a terrorist campaign may have begun that could stretch into the Winter Olympics.

In the wake of Sunday's bombing at the city's main railway station and Monday's blast on a trolleybus, police reinforcements and Interior Ministry troops have been sent into the city, regional police official Andrei Pilipchuk was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency. He said more than 5,200 security forces are deployed in the city of 1 million.

The Health Ministry said three more victims died on Tuesday, raising the toll to 34 — 18 from the station bombing and 16 from the bus. Officials said 65 other people were hospitalized with injuries.

Volgograd authorities have canceled mass events for New Year's Eve, one of Russia's most popular holidays, and asked residents not to set off fireworks. In Moscow, festivities were to go ahead but authorities said security would be increased.

There has been no claim of responsibility for either bombing, but they came only months after the leader of an Islamic insurgency in southern Russia threatened new attacks on civilian targets in the country, including on the Winter Games that are to begin Feb. 7 in Sochi.

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Officials: Weather shift could increase risk of health hazards near ND oil train derailment

CASSELTON, N.D. (AP) — A shift in the weather could heighten the risk of potential health hazards after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed in North Dakota and set off explosions, authorities said, urging residents of a nearby town evacuate.

About 2,400 people live in Casselton, about a mile from Monday's fiery derailment. The Cass County Sheriff's Office called on residents there and those living five miles to the south and east to leave their homes because of the weather shift, which it said the National Weather Service was forecasting.

"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Sheriff Paul Laney said.

No one was hurt, and the cause was still being investigated.

Sheriff's officials said that the evacuation unfolded in calm and orderly fashion in recent hours, with the majority of nearby residents heeding a strong recommendation by authoriites to leave.

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New Year's revelers around world ready to ring in 2014 with light shows, fireworks displays

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Sydney Opera House and harbor bridge will sparkle with tons of exploding fireworks at midnight Tuesday, and Dubai will try to create the world's largest fireworks show to ring in 2014.

Sydney officials promised that the Australian city's renowned pyrotechnics show would be more extravagant than ever, with more than 1.6 million revelers expected to line the harbor for a view.

Dubai, home to world's tallest tower, is known for its glitz, glamor and over-the-top achievements, and this New Year's Eve the city is planning to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show ever.

Organizers plan to light up the city's coastline with a flying falcon made out of fireworks that moves across a massive man-made palm-shaped island alongside a countdown in fireworks. Organizers say they will also create a burst of light out of fireworks to imitate a sunrise and dazzle spectators with a United Arab Emirates flag that could also break records for being the largest ever made out of fireworks.

The 6-minute extravaganza will include 500,000 fireworks from 400 firing locations, all synchronized by 100 computers from stations across the city, said Barrett Wissman, co-chairman of IMG Artists that is managing the event. Guinness World Record officials will be on hand to measure the scale of the event.

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Calif. judge says orders girl kept on life support until Jan. 7

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A California girl declared brain dead after tonsil surgery will remain on life support for at least another week after a state judge on Monday extended a deadline.

Jahi McMath's mother, Nailah Winkfield, hailed the decision as an answer to her prayers and a sign that she has been right to keep fighting for the teen, who doctors have said will never recover.

With television cameras clustered outside the hospital, the family maintained a vigil as the deadline approached.

When Winkfield heard of the judge's decision to push back the deadline, she wept and hugged relatives outside the hospital.

"Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?" Winkfield said. "I don't care what anyone has to say about what I'm doing. ... I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi."

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Despite Japan's push for workplace equality, women still underemployed, snubbed for promotions

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants women like Tomo Tamai to go back to work.

Tamai is eager to do so, nearly two years after her first child was born, but so far the 35-year-old former national government employee has only been able to find an internship.

Abe, who took office a year ago, has made the advancement of women a pillar of his economic revival policies in the most aggressive and ambitious initiative to back the rise of Japanese women in years. Tamai's struggles show why doubts remain about whether it's enough to overcome entrenched discrimination in the workplace.

"It is a bunch of flag-waving," said Tamai, who holds a doctorate in literature from Nihon University. "I don't see how he has the vision to realize the goal of helping us, those people struggling to raise a child, working and doing housework."

The government is beefing up child care. It is encouraging companies to grant three years of maternity leave, or flexible hours during that period. It is also asking publicly held companies to promote women to leadership positions so they hold 30 percent of such posts by 2020.

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Passengers on ship trapped in Antarctic ice to be evacuated by helicopter when weather clears

SYDNEY (AP) — Passengers on board a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for a week are expected to be rescued by helicopter, after three icebreakers failed to reach the paralyzed vessel, officials said Tuesday.

The 74 scientists, tourists and crew on the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, had been hoping the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis would be able to crack through the thick ice and allow them to continue on their way. The Aurora came within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the ship on Monday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.

On Tuesday, the weather remained bleak, and the crew on the Aurora said their vessel would also be at risk of getting stuck if it made another rescue attempt, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.

A helicopter on board a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, will be used to collect the passengers. The Snow Dragon, which is waiting with the Aurora at the edge of the ice pack, was also unable to crack through the ice, as was France's L'Astrolabe.

But the helicopter must wait for a break in the weather before it can attempt a rescue, and conditions aren't expected to improve before Wednesday, the maritime authority said. The passengers will be flown back to the Snow Dragon in groups of 12, and then transferred by barge to the Aurora.

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Suspected Jewish vandals burn cars in West Bank, spray graffiti against Kerry, police say

JERUSALEM (AP) — Suspected Jewish vandals set fire to three vehicles in a West Bank village early on Tuesday and sprayed threatening graffiti referring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his expected visit to the region, police said.

The graffiti read in Hebrew, "Blood will spill in Judea and Samaria," the Israeli term for the West Bank, and also, "Regards to Kerry," according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

After spraying the graffiti on a building wall, the vandals fled the Palestinian village of Jalazoun. Rosenfeld said that police were investigating.

The incident came as Israel released more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis as part of a U.S.-sponsored deal to restart Mideast peace talks.

The prisoners received hero's welcomes upon their return to the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the men in the middle of the night at his headquarters in Ramallah, and pledged not to sign a final peace deal with Israel until all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are released.

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Small improvement for Michael Schumacher after 2nd surgery, doctors say

GRENOBLE, France (AP) — Doctors treating Michael Schumacher say the Formula 1 champion was showing surprising improvement that allowed a second surgery for head injuries he suffered during a ski accident, but cautioned that his brain still had extensive bruising.

Schumacher was skiing with his son when he fell and struck a rock Sunday in the French Alps.

"There are hematomes a little bit everywhere," said Dr. Emmanuel Gay, describing the extensive bruising throughout Schumacher's brain. But Gay said surgeons decided upon a second operation after Schumacher's unexpected, though small, improvement on Monday.

They offered no predictions Tuesday on whether or when they would bring him out of an induced coma, intended to relieve swelling.

"We cannot tell you any more on the future," said Gerard Saillant, a surgeon and friend of the family.

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'Selfie' and 'twerk' top Michigan school's annual list of annoying words and terms

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan university has issued its annual list of annoying words, and those flexible enough to take selfies of themselves twerking should take note.

In addition to "selfie" and "twerking," there was a strong sense among those who nominated words to this year's list that the word "hashtag" and term "Mr. Mom" had both run their course.

"Selfie," a term that describes a self-taken photo, often from a smartphone, led the way among the more than 2,000 nominations submitted to Lake Superior State University's 39th annual batch of words to banish due to overuse, overreliance and overall fatigue. Even President Barack Obama got into the act this month when he took a well-publicized selfie with other world leaders in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

"It's a lame word. It's all about me, me, me," wrote David Kriege of Lake Mills, Wis. "Put the smartphone away. Nobody cares about you."

Since 1975, the list has grown to more than 800 words, many from the worlds of politics, sports and popular — maybe too popular — culture.

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