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

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Associated Press

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 8:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 17 at 5:04 AM

UN report says Iran has neutralized half of its uranium stock closest to nuke-arms grade.

VIENNA (AP) — The U.N. nuclear agency says Iran has neutralized half of its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium that could be turned quickly into the core of a nuclear weapon.

The development leaves Tehran with substantially less of the 20-percent enriched uranium that it would need to for such a purpose. Uranium at that level is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material.

The U.N's International Atomic Energy Agency reported the development Thursday in a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press.

Iran denies any interest in atomic arms. But it has agreed to some nuclear concessions in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions crippling its economy under a deal in effect since January.

Diluting half of its 20-percent enriched stockpile were among the Iranian commitments under the agreement.

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Ukraine: 3 pro-Russian militants killed, 13 injured after clashes at Black Sea military base

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Three pro-Russian militants died and 13 were wounded when Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on a National Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine's interior ministry said Thursday.

A crowd of around 300 men armed with stun grenades and Molotov cocktails attacked the base, in the south-east part of the country late Wednesday, the interior ministry said in a statement. Servicemen inside fired warning shots but the attackers did not stop the assault and the army had to respond, it said.

There were no casualties among the Ukrainian servicemen, the ministry said, and 63 attackers were detained.

Speaking at the parliament Thursday morning, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the pro-Russian gang attempted to storm the base three times and carried automatic weapons.

Footage from outside the base on Thursday night showed an unidentified man who acted as an intermediary coming out of the building to the crowd and speaking to masked men armed with assault rifles. He told them the military asked for 10 minutes to think over an unspecified ultimatum and the masked men said they did not want any bloodshed.

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Putin urges Ukraine to reopen trade with Moldova's separatist province of Trans-Dniester

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has urged Ukraine to reopen trade and transportation routes into Moldova's separatist province of Trans-Dniester.

Russia and the Trans-Dniester authorities say that the Ukrainians have blocked transport routes to the region. Moldova has frozen ties with Trans-Dniester since the 1992 war.

Ukraine has voiced fears that the Russian troops could use region as a bridgehead for invading its southern region.

Trans-Dniester, located in eastern part of Moldova on border with Ukraine, has run its own affairs without international recognition since the 1992 war. Russian troops are stationed there.

Trans-Dniester has called on Russia to recognize its independence.

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Aiming to de-escalate military tensions with Russia, US and Ukraine try carrot-stick approach

GENEVA (AP) — Ukraine is hoping to placate Russia and calm hostilities with its neighbor even as the U.S. prepares a new round of sanctions to punish Moscow for what it regards as fomenting unrest.

The carrot-stick strategy emerged as diplomats from Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and Russia prepared to meet Thursday for the first time over the burgeoning crisis that threatens to roil the new government in Kiev.

It also comes as Russia hones a strategy of its own: Push the West as far as possible without provoking crippling sanctions against its financial and energy sectors or a military confrontation with NATO.

"I think we still have a chance to de-escalate the situation using the diplomatic means," Ukraine's foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told reporters late Wednesday ahead of the talks. "And we are trying hard."

However, Deshchytsia said the diplomatic discussions also must be tempered with efforts "to look for a more concrete and adequate response to Russia's plans and actions."

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Hoping to stabilize ferry, officers didn't order immediate evacuation, lost time, says crew

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday.

The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system.

Several survivors also told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

The loss of that precious time may have deprived many passengers of the opportunity to escape as The Sewol sank on Wednesday, not too far from the southern city of Mokpo.

Nine people, including five students and two teachers, were confirmed dead, but the toll was expected to jump amid fears that the missing 287 passengers — many high school students — were dead. The confirmed fatalities include a female crew member in her 20s, five high school students and two teachers. Coast guard officials put the number of survivors Thursday at 179.

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Classmates celebrating 60th birthday with trip to SKorean island among missing in ship sinking

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — Kim Jeong-keun woke up on his cabin bed to find out his friends had smeared lipstick on his face while he had been asleep, a prank harking back to their school days.

The 60-year-old Kim took it in good spirits and washed his face. After all, they were traveling together on a reunion voyage aboard The Sewol, celebrating their birthdays and remembering good old days from their elementary school in Incheon city, where the ferry departed Tuesday evening.

Within hours, the 17 former schoolmates were fighting for their lives as the multi-story ferry began to list. Only five of them, including Kim, have been rescued.

"We gathered once every three months. When we met last time in March, somebody suggested a trip to celebrate our 60th birthdays to Jeju," Kim said from a hospital in Mokpo, where he was being treated for a fracture in a rib bone.

In South Korea, as in many other countries, 60th birthdays are often celebrated as a milestone in one's lifetime.

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Good news on sign-ups, costs, prompts calls for unabashed defense of 'Obamacare' in campaigns

WASHINGTON (AP) — With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it's time to stop hiding from the president's health care overhaul, even in this year's toughest Senate elections.

Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace "Obamacare," the GOP's favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.

President Barack Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped 7 million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office — the government's fiscal scorekeeper — said it expects only a minimal increase in customers' costs for 2015. Over the next decade, the CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.

Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to "repeal and replace" the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.

"Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare," Mills said. "They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can't get away from it. So they'd better start defending it."

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A year later, little government response to Boston bombing as politics of terrorism shift

BOSTON (AP) — A year after homemade bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon, state and federal officials have enacted virtually no policy changes in response to the attack, a dramatic departure from previous acts of terrorism that prompted waves of government action.

"There was a great deal of concern right after this happened," said Rep. William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat. "Now, people are focused on so many different issues."

Washington's formal response to the attack has been limited to a series of investigations and reports that call for improved cooperation between the federal government and local law enforcement. In the Massachusetts Statehouse, legislators have created a license plate to honor the victims, while considering modest proposals to reimburse local police departments involved in the frantic search for those behind the attack.

Despite symbolic pledges of support from elected officials across the nation on this week's anniversary, there is little evidence of any significant impact on policy. Instead of allocating new federal resources, funding that helps cities prepare for terrorism may be reduced. And it's unclear if Congress will adopt any legislative remedies to address perceived intelligence failures that leave cities vulnerable to so-called lone wolf strikes.

"This is still an ongoing threat. I don't think there's anybody in law enforcement that would say what happened in Boston couldn't happen anywhere," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who testified before a congressional panel last year, calling for action.

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After years of enforced separation, some Israeli visitors return to Palestinian towns

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — This bustling center of Palestinian life is just a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem, but for Israelis it might as well be on the other side of the world.

Since a major round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting more than a decade ago, Israelis have been kept out of Palestinian cities by the Israeli military and their own fears. But after several years of relative calm, a few have begun trickling back in tours led by Palestinian guides and guarded by plainclothes Palestinian security agents.

On Wednesday, about two dozen visitors, Israelis and a few foreigners, visited the mausoleum of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a shrine to national poet Mahmoud Darwish — though hopes of talking to local residents went unfulfilled.

The trip fell in the week of the Jewish holiday of Passover, and those observing religious tradition unwrapped matza, or unleavened bread, during lunch at a local restaurant, as Arabic music played in the background.

The tour also came as another U.S. attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal appeared doomed.

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Robot sub finishes 1st full search of seabed in hunt for Malaysian plane; data being analyzed

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A robotic submarine completed its first successful scan of the seabed Thursday in the hunt for the missing Malaysian plane, and investigators were analyzing the sub's data while also trying to identify the origins of a nearby oil slick.

The Bluefin 21's first two missions were cut short by technical problems and deep water, but the unmanned sub finally managed to complete a full 16-hour scan of the silt-covered seabed far off Australia's west coast, the search coordination center said on Thursday. While data collected by the sub from its latest mission, which ended overnight, was still being analyzed, nothing of note had yet been discovered, the center said. The sub has now covered 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of seafloor.

Meanwhile, officials in the western city of Perth were analyzing an oil sample that search crews collected earlier this week about 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from an area where equipment picked up underwater sounds consistent with an aircraft black box. Angus Houston, who is heading up the search effort, has said the oil does not appear to be from ships in the region, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

The analysis could provide further evidence that officials are looking in the right place for Flight 370, which vanished March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. Searchers have yet to find any physical proof that the sounds that led them to the ocean floor where the Bluefin has been deployed were from the ill-fated jet.

Twelve planes and 11 ships were scouring a 40,300-square-kilometer (15,600-square-mile) patch of sea for any debris that may be floating on the ocean surface, about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.

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