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

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Associated Press

Posted on February 27, 2014 at 11:03 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 28 at 10:30 AM

Ukraine says Russian patrolling at 2 airports, calls for Security Council meeting

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian military were blocking a Ukrainian military airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea near the Russian naval base while unidentified armed men were patrolling another airport serving the regional capital, Ukraine's new Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Friday.

No violence was reported, and flights continued to operate at the airport serving Simferopol, the regional capital. It was not immediately clear whether the airport in Sevastopol, owned by the Ukrainian defense ministry, was open but there are no scheduled services to the facility.

The Russian foreign ministry refused to comment while a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry also had no comment.

Avakov wrote in a Facebook post that the Belbek international airport in Sevastopol was blocked by military units of the Russian navy.

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Avakov said.

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GOP derails Senate Dems' bill boosting vets benefits amid disputes over spending, Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran.

Each party covets the allegiance of the country's 22 million veterans and their families, and each party blamed the other for turning the effort into a chess match aimed at forcing politically embarrassing votes.

Republicans used a procedural move to block the bill after Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chided GOP lawmakers about their priorities.

"I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don't have the resources to protect our veterans," said Sanders, the measure's chief author.

Democrats noted that more than two dozen veterans groups supported the legislation. But Republicans said they still favor helping veterans while also wanting to be prudent about federal spending.

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Sen. Cruz blasts GOP leaders, refuses to endorse fellow Texan or others with party challengers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The sniping between establishment Republicans and tea partyers resumed Thursday as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz refused to endorse his state's senior senator in next week's Republican primary.

Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, faces tea party-backed Rep. Steve Stockman in Tuesday's election. Cruz declined to tell reporters how he plans to vote.

"I am not supporting any of the senators from my party or their opponents" in this year's primaries, Cruz said, adding that he might change his mind later.

Cruz, a tea party favorite and potential 2016 presidential candidate, has infuriated fellow Republicans by forcing uncomfortable votes on issues such as the debt, and by raising money for conservative groups trying to defeat veteran Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Cruz's comments are especially notable because he is a vice chairman of the GOP committee tasked with winning Senate elections. He criticized the committee's track record and policy of virtually always backing incumbents.

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US officials: Al-Qaida planning comeback in eastern Afghanistan after anticipated US drawdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Al-Qaida's Afghanistan leader is laying the groundwork to relaunch his war-shattered organization once the United States and international forces withdraw from the country, as they have warned they will do without a security agreement from the Afghan government, U.S. officials say.

Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari has been cementing local ties and bringing in small numbers of experienced militants to train a new generation of fighters, and U.S. military and intelligence officials say they have stepped up drone and jet missile strikes against him and his followers in the mountainous eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The objective is to keep him from restarting the large training camps that once drew hundreds of followers before the U.S.-led war began.

The officials say the counterterrorism campaign — a key reason the Obama administration agreed to keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014 — could be jeopardized by the possibility of a total pullout.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the number of al-Qaida members in Afghanistan has risen but not much higher than as many as the several hundred or so the U.S. has identified in the past.

"I think most are waiting for the U.S. to fully pull out by 2014," he said.

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Tea party to establishment: We're alive and ready to do battle in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The foot soldiers of the tea party movement dismiss the chatter about its demise and stand ready to use their unbending political force against both President Barack Obama and the Republican establishment this election year.

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the major grass-roots groups, marked the fifth anniversary of the movement Thursday, attracting hundreds of members and plenty of speakers to a Washington celebration in which they directed their animosity at the Washington establishment.

Keli Carender, national grass-roots coordinator, said the strength of the group was reflected in the $1.2 million and counting that it raised in 10 days.

To the "establishment and permanent political class," Carender said, "we don't need their millions, we've got our own."

Republican primaries this election year will be a crucial test for the movement as the GOP establishment has aggressively challenged tea party-backed candidates in Kentucky, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Michigan and elsewhere. Republicans blame the tea party for losses in winnable races in 2010 and 2012 that many believe cost the GOP a Senate majority.

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Tokyo bitcoin exchange files for bankruptcy, significant amount of virtual currency missing

TOKYO (AP) — The Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange in Tokyo filed for bankruptcy protection, acknowledging that a significant amount of the virtual currency had gone missing.

The exchange's CEO Mark Karpeles appeared before Japanese TV news cameras Friday, bowing deeply for several minutes.

He said a weakness in the exchange's systems was behind the massive loss of the virtual currency.

Speaking in Japanese at a Tokyo court, he apologized for the troubles he had caused so many people.

Kyodo News said debts at Mt. Gox totaled more than 6.5 billion yen ($65 million), surpassing its assets.

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GAO report: scant evidence of growing shortage of airline pilots; low pay appears to be issue

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's not clear there is a shortage of airline pilots even though regional airlines report difficulty over the past year in finding enough pilots to hire, according to a draft report by a government watchdog obtained by The Associated Press.

The U.S. airline industry will need to hire 1,900 to 4,500 new pilots annually over the next 10 years due to an expected surge in retirements of pilots reaching age 65 and increased demand for air travel, the Government Accountability Office said. The report, obtained late Thursday, was to be released Friday.

Eleven out of 12 regional airlines failed to meet their hiring targets for entry-level pilots last year, the report said. However, no major airlines were experiencing problems finding pilots. Some airline officials did express concern that service to some cities might have to be cut back if their regional partners cannot hire enough pilots, the report said.

Major airlines generally pay significantly higher salaries than regional carriers. The average starting salary for first officers at regional airlines is $22,400, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.

"Data indicate that a large pool of qualified pilots exists relative to the projected demand, but whether such pilots are willing or available to work at wages being offered is unknown," the report said. And, the size of these pools of pilots has remained steady since 2000, the report said.

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Aided by Gulf millions, exiled Palestinian operative Mohammed Dahlan seeks new Gaza foothold

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Fueled by millions in Gulf aid dollars that are his to distribute, an exiled Palestinian operative seems to be orchestrating a comeback that could position him as a potential successor to aging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

In a phone interview from London, Mohammed Dahlan spoke of his aid projects in the Gaza Strip, his closeness to Egypt's military leaders and his conviction that the 79-year-old Abbas has left the Palestinian national cause in tatters.

If staging a successful return, Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief once valued by the West for his pragmatism, could reshuffle a stagnant Palestinian deck. Some caution that Dahlan has made too many enemies in Abbas' Fatah movement and will continue to be ostracized by those planning to compete for the top job in the future.

Dahlan, 52, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is "not looking for any post" after Abbas retires, but called for new elections and an overhaul of Fatah.

"Abbas will leave only ruins and who would be interested to be a president or vice president on these ruins?" Dahlan said. "What I am interested in is a way out of our political situation, not a political position."

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AP Exclusive: Airport phone system didn't give location of Los Angeles airport shooting

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A dispatcher at Los Angeles International Airport couldn't immediately send police to a shooting last year because the emergency phone system didn't provide a location, according to an investigation that also found broken panic buttons that are supposed to quickly call for help.

A screening supervisor picked up the "red phone" seconds after shots were fired in the sprawling airport's Terminal 3 last Nov. 1, but she fled as the gunman approached with his high-powered rifle. Because no one was on the other end of the line to provide details and no location information was included with the call, the dispatcher was helpless, according to two officials briefed on preliminary findings of a review of the emergency response.

They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the final report won't be released until next month.

One of the officials likened the situation to a 911 call with police not knowing what address to go to. Airport dispatchers knew something was wrong but didn't know where to send help because the system didn't identify the locations of its emergency phones.

An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone and provided the location. Officers were sent nearly 90 seconds after the shooting started.

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Married priest ordained by Maronite Catholic Church in US for the 1st time in nearly 100 years

ST. LOUIS (AP) — For the first time in nearly a century, a married priest has been ordained by the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States — and his wife and daughter were on hand to support him.

Wissam Akiki was welcomed by hundreds of supporters during a ceremony Thursday night at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. He called it a "historic day" and said he had been given two great blessings: marriage to his wife of 10 years, Manal, and "the dream to serve the Lord thanks and church as a priest."

Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. that accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.

Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. But the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s, after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners.

Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions, and over the years popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America. Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.

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