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

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Associated Press

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Putin says no need for further Russian retaliation to US sanctions

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin says there is no need for Russia to further retaliate against U.S. sanctions.

Putin spoke after President Barack Obama ordered a second round of sanctions targeting about two dozen members of Putin's inner circle and a major bank supporting them. Moscow made its first retaliatory shot by banning nine U.S. officials and lawmakers from entering Russia.

Putin said in televised remarks at Friday's session of the presidential Security Council that he sees no immediate need for further Russian retaliation and said sardonically that he would open an account in the Russian bank targeted by the latest U.S. sanctions.

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Acting Australian prime minister says nothing of significance spotted in plane search so far

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Search planes flying deep into the southern Indian Ocean have found nothing so far that could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, Australia's acting prime minister said Friday.

The planes are part of an international effort to solve the nearly 2-week-old mystery of what happened to Flight 370 with 239 people aboard. They are looking for two large floating objects detected by a satellite off the southwest coast of Australia, about halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic.

"The last report I have is that nothing of particular significance has been identified in the search today but the work will continue," said Warren Truss, who is acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is in Papua New Guinea.

Truss told reporters that two Chinese aircraft are expected to arrive in Perth on Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese aircraft will be arriving on Sunday. A small flotilla of ships coming to Australia from China is still several days away.

"We are doing all that we can, devoting all the resources we can and we will not give up until all of the options have been exhausted," Truss said. "We can't be certain that the sightings are in fact debris from the aircraft (but) it is about the only lead that is around at the present time."

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Foreigners, children among 9 killed in Taliban attack on Kabul hotel, Afghan officials say

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The four gunmen were swift as they entered the luxury hotel in Kabul, although it took them a few minutes to find the restaurant that was their target, Afghan officials said Friday as they pieced together details of the brazen attack that killed nine people, including four foreigners and two children who were shot in the head.

The Afghan capital has been hit by several attacks, but authorities appeared stunned that the militants had managed to get through the tight security at the Serena hotel — considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul.

The shooting spree was the latest in a series of high-profile attacks as the Taliban and allied militants step up a campaign of violence in the weeks leading to April 5 national elections.

It also came on the heels of an uptick in bombings and shootings against foreigners in Kabul, something that had been relatively rare. Earlier this month, a Swedish journalist was shot on the street execution-style and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.

The attacks show the Taliban are following through on their threat to use violence to disrupt next month's elections. The presidential vote will be the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

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Russian stocks tumble, Visa, MasterCard stop serving two Russia banks amid Crimea sanctions

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian stocks tumbled Friday as another credit rating agency put the country on notice of a possible downgrade and Visa and MasterCard stopped serving two Russian banks, a day after the U.S. ordered economic sanctions against two dozen people from President Vladimir Putin's entourage.

Fears over Russia's economic outlook have ratcheted up this week after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the treaty to annex Crimea following Sunday's hastily called referendum which overwhelmingly supported that move. The West considers the vote illegitimate.

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered economic sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin's inner circle and a major Russian bank that provides them support. Putin's chief of staff and four influential businessmen who are believed to be Putin's lifelong friends were among the 20 individuals sanctioned

The MICEX benchmark was down nearly 3 percent two hours into Friday trading with the companies co-owned by the Russians sanctioned by the White House leading the decline. The Russian stock market has lost than more 10 percent this month.

As Russian stocks were taking a pounding, two Russian banks including Bank Rossiya, the Russian lender which was put on the Treasury's sanctions list, said Visa and MasterCard stopped providing services to them. U.S. officials described Russia's 15th largest bank with $12 billion in assets as a "personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation."

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Health care Q&A: Am I stuck with my job's health plan? Do I need coverage when out of work?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The new health care law helps some people, hurts others and confuses almost everyone. Hoping to simplify things a bit, The Associated Press asked its Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus followers for their real-life questions about the program and the problems they're running into as the March 31 deadline approaches to sign up for coverage in new insurance markets.

Two of their questions and our answers:

CAN THEY FINE ME?

Q: "I'm currently unemployed and without health insurance. How does this affect me at this time? ... I'll be fined because I can't afford coverage?" — Cat Moncure, Harrisonburg, Va.

A: As long as you don't have income, the government doesn't require you to get health coverage and won't fine you. Specifically, if you don't make enough money so that you have to file a federal tax form, you're in the clear from the law's insurance mandate. The tax-filing threshold is $10,000 for an individual, $20,000 for a family.

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Even as tiny preschoolers, black children more likely to be suspended from US public schools

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers.

The racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, were highlighted in a report released Friday by the Education Department's civil rights arm.

The suspensions — and disparities — begin at the earliest grades.

Black children represent about 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of the students suspended more than once, the report said. Six percent of the nation's districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a "school-to-prison" pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

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Fate of 'sea gypsies,' environment hang in balance as Myanmar's 'Lost World' penetrated

MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO, Myanmar (AP) — Where the Indian Ocean rolls toward Myanmar's southwestern coast, a lacework of 800 islands rises, fringed with shimmering beaches of no footprints.

Here hornbills break a primeval silence as they flutter through soaring jungle canopy. Pythons slumber on the gnarled roots of eerie mangrove forests. Only rarely will you spot the people who live here: the Moken, shy, peaceful nomads of the sea.

The Mergui archipelago has been called the "Lost World," but outsiders have found it — first fishermen, poachers and loggers, and now developers and high-end tourists. The people losing this world are the Moken, who have lived off the land and the sea for centuries.

The islands are thought to harbor some of the world's most important marine biodiversity, and are a lodestone for those eager to experience one of Asia's last tourism frontiers before, as many fear, it succumbs to the ravages that have befallen many once-pristine seascapes.

As the world closes in, the long-exploited Moken are rapidly diminishing in numbers and losing the occupations that sustained them for generations. Though they are known as "sea gypsies," very few still live the nomadic life, and only some aging men can fashion the "kabang," houseboats on which the Moken once spent much of every year.

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Google enhances encryption technology for email service, making it harder for NSA to intercept

WASHINGTON (AP) — Google has enhanced the encryption technology for its flagship email service in ways that will make it harder for the National Security Agency to intercept messages moving among the company's worldwide data centers.

Among the most extraordinary disclosures in documents leaked by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden were reports that the NSA had secretly tapped into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.

Google, whose executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in November that he was outraged over the practice, didn't mention the NSA in Thursday's announcement, except in a veiled reference to "last summer's revelations." The change affects more than 425 million users of Google's Gmail service.

Yahoo has promised similar steps for its email service by this spring.

Google and other technology companies have been outspoken about the U.S. government's spy programs. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Internet use could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.

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AP PHOTOS: In Pakistan, the people left behind by a militant attack in the capital

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Zebunissa Abdul Rashid flips through an album of images of her late husband, stopping to share a sweet or funny story about the 72-year-old man who was killed by militants who stormed the court complex where the lawyer worked.

Rao Abdul Rashid was a loving father and husband and a "man of his word" who loved collecting perfumes in a cabinet in their bedroom.

"I miss his smile. I miss his smell. I miss opening the door for him," said the 60-year-old wife. "He was the first man of my life. I married him when I was 15 and after 4 decades and a half, they took him away from me."

Gunmen stormed Pakistan's main court complex in Islamabad on March 3, cutting down fleeing lawyers before blowing themselves up in a rampage that killed 11 people, including Rashid's husband, Rao Abdul Rashid. It was the worst terror attack in the capital since a 2008 truck bombing at the Marriott Hotel that killed 54 people.

In an assault that lasted roughly 20 minutes, gunmen swarmed through the narrow alleys between the complex's buildings, hurling grenades and firing automatic weapons wildly, witnesses said.

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Turkish lawyers apply to court seeking cancellation of Twitter ban

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's lawyers' association has asked a court to overturn the country's ban on Twitter.

Turkey blocked access to the social media network overnight Friday hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "rip out the roots" of the website.

Links of audio recordings and documents implicating Erdogan and other top officials in corruption have been posted on Twitter ahead of crucial local elections on March 30.

Turkey's main opposition party also said it would seek a cancellation.

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