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

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Associated Press

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Nicest man on ship: Captain had 40 years' experience, love of sea, but abandoned sinking ferry

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — A colleague calls Capt. Lee Joon-seok the nicest person on the ship. With more than 40 years' experience at sea, Lee could speak with eloquence about the romance and danger of a life spent on ships.

But his reputation now hinges on the moments last week when he delayed an evacuation and apparently abandoned the ferry Sewol as it went down, leaving more than 300 people missing or dead, most of them teenagers.

"He was generous, a really nice guy," said Oh Yong-seok, a 57-year-old helmsman, adding that the captain always asked about his wife and kids and was happy to dispense personal and professional advice. "He was probably the nicest person on the ship."

Still, there is no getting away from a video of Lee — on the day his ferry sank with hundreds of people trapped inside — being treated onshore after allegedly landing on one of the first rescue boats.

Lee and eight members of his crew have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. On Saturday, the handcuffed captain was paraded before flashing cameras, his face hidden beneath the dark hood of a windbreaker. He brusquely denied fleeing the ship, without elaborating, and said he delayed evacuation because of worries about sending passengers into cold waters and fast currents before rescuers arrived.

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SKorea ferry toll hits 150 as search gets tougher; divers break cabin walls to reach victims

JINDO, South Korea (AP) — The grim work of recovering bodies from the submerged South Korea ferry proceeded rapidly Wednesday, with the official death toll reaching 150, though a government official said divers must now rip through cabin walls to retrieve more victims.

The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol when it sank one week ago survived.

Even with about 150 people still missing, the funeral halls in Ansan are already full, Oh Sang-yoon of the government-wide emergency task force center said in a statement. He said the center "is taking measures to accommodate additional bodies by placing mortuary refrigerators at the funeral halls in Ansan," and directing mourning families to funeral homes in nearby cities.

On Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the ferry are taken, descriptions of the dead are read over a loudspeaker. Relatives rush over to the main notice board and peered at details added by an official.

Some relatives cry out and run from the tent. Others stand red-eyed and shell-shocked.

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10 Things to Know for Today

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

1. SUPREME COURT DEALS BLOW TO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

By a 6-2 majority, the court declares that state voters can outlaw using race as a factor in college admissions.

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Material that washed ashore in western Australia being examined in Malaysian jet search

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Authorities say unidentified material that washed ashore in southwestern Australia is being examined for any link to the lost Malaysian plane.

The search coordination center said Wednesday evening that police secured the material that washed ashore 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Augusta in Western Australia. Its statement did not describe the material found.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is examining photographs to assess whether further investigation is needed and if the material is relevant to Flight MH370.

Augusta is near Australia's southwestern tip about 310 kilometers (190 miles) from Perth, where the search has been headquartered.

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Dozens of Sherpas leave Everest following deadly avalanche; some expeditions cancel climbs

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Dozens of Sherpa guides packed up their tents and left Mount Everest's base camp Wednesday, after the avalanche deaths of 16 of their colleagues exposed an undercurrent of resentment by Sherpas over their pay, treatment and benefits.

With the entire climbing season increasingly thrown into doubt, the government quickly announced that top tourism officials would fly to base camp Thursday to negotiate with the Sherpas and encourage them to return to work.

But while Nepal's government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough for the Sherpas in the wake of last week's disaster, the deadliest ever on the mountain, one top official blamed the walkout on "hooligans."

"It was crowd behavior — some hooligans were creating problems, but things are getting back to normal," said Sushil Ghimire, secretary of Nepal's Tourism Ministry. He and other top officials were to fly by helicopter Thursday to base camp.

While it was unclear just how many of the 400 or so Sherpas on the mountain had joined the walkout, a number of expedition companies have already canceled their climbs, and the lucrative climbing season is in disarray. Most attempts to reach Everest's summit are made in mid-May, when a brief window normally offers better weather.

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AP PHOTOS: Under cover of darkness, Syrians make grueling nighttime trek to safety in Lebanon

MOUNT HERMON, Lebanon (AP) — As the late-day sun slipped behind the mountains in front of them, a ragtag group of around a dozen Syrians desperate to flee their country's bloody civil war set off on their treacherous nighttime trek across the rugged frontier into neighboring Lebanon.

Ahead of them: at least a nine-hour climb in darkness up — and down — the 2,814-meter (9,232-foot) Mount Hermon. Once in Lebanon, they will join the more than 2.5 million other Syrians across the region who have escaped the civil war in their homeland to begin the life of a refugee.

On a recent night, those making the journey included a young couple with a newborn baby; a sick, elderly woman accompanied by her daughter and son; and a young man, both legs wrapped in bandages from heel to hip, who was secured with a rope face down to a horse for the hike.

At the foot of the mountain on the Lebanese side of the border, 32-year-old Syrian laborer Ibrahim Abdulghani saddled two horses. A flash of light from up the mountain signaled the Syrians were starting to descend. He rode up to meet them and guide them down through the wind and rain lashing the rocky slope.

Among them was 74-year-old Farizeh Kabalan, who could not walk. Abdulgahni put her and her meager belongings, all of which fit into a plastic bag, on a horse and slowly picked their way down the mountain to a Lebanese army checkpoint at the base. Once there, Kabalan collapsed into the hands of four Red Cross workers, who loaded her into an ambulance.

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Blow to affirmative action: Supreme Court OK's voter-approved ban for Michigan universities

WASHINGTON (AP) — A state's voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

The 6-2 decision upheld a voter-approved change to the Michigan Constitution that forbids the state's public colleges to take race into account. That change was indeed up to the voters, the ruling said, over one justice's impassioned dissent that accused the court of simply wanting to wish away inequality.

The ruling bolsters similar voter-approved initiatives banning affirmative action in education in California and Washington state. A few other states have adopted laws or issued executive orders to bar race-conscious admissions policies.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said voters in Michigan chose to eliminate racial preferences, presumably because such a system could give rise to race-based resentment. Kennedy said nothing in the Constitution or the court's prior cases gives judges the authority to undermine the election results.

"This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it," Kennedy said.

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Missouri executes inmate William Rousan, who was convicted of killing a farming couple in 1993

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

William Rousan's last words were, "My trials and transgressions have been many. But thanks be to my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, I have a new home in his heavenly kingdom."

Before dying, Rousan, 57, mouthed words to his brother-in-law and a minister he had invited. As the drug was administered, Rousan breathed deeply twice and then was still. He was declared dead at 12:10 a.m., nine minutes after the procedure started.

Michael Lewis, the son of the slain couple, Charlie and Grace Lewis, spoke afterward.

"I draw no real satisfaction from Mr. Rousan's incarceration or execution, for neither can replace or restore the moments lost with my parents or give my sons back the grandparents they never got to know," he said.

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Almost blind Michigan man 'seeing something new every day' thanks to new retina procedure

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his vision.

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost completely blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the surgical implantation of a "bionic eye," he's regained enough of his eyesight to catch small glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.

"It's awesome. It's exciting — seeing something new every day," Pontz said during a recent appointment at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. The 55-year-old former competitive weightlifter and factory worker is one of four people in the U.S. to receive an artificial retina since the Food and Drug Administration signed off on its use last year.

The facility in Ann Arbor has been the site of all four such surgeries since FDA approval. A fifth is scheduled for next month.

Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited disease that causes slow but progressive vision loss due to a gradual loss of the light-sensitive retinal cells called rods and cones. Patients experience loss of side vision and night vision, then central vision, which can result in near blindness.

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Pope John XXIII, soon to be saint, ushered in Vatican II and changed face of papacy

VATICAN CITY (AP) — On the night of Oct. 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII did something so natural that it's astonishing it was so revolutionary at the time. He came to the window of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and spoke to thousands of candle-bearing faithful below — not in the arcane, scripted words of pontiffs past but in those of a father and pastor looking out for his flock.

"Going home, you will find your children. Give them a caress and tell them 'This is the caress of the pope,'" John said to the torch-lit cheers from St. Peter's Square.

While much of the focus of Sunday's dual canonization will be on the globe-trotting, 26-year papacy of Pope John Paul II and his near-record sprint to sainthood, many older Catholics will be celebrating the short but historic pontificate of the "Good Pope," John XXIII.

John's words, delivered on the opening night of the Second Vatican Council, came to define his papacy. The speech epitomized how John captured the hearts of Catholics with his simple, paternal affection while using his intuitive cunning to launch Vatican II and bring the 2,000-year institution into the modern world. It's a combination embodied by the current pope, Francis.

"He was courageous. A good country priest, with a great sense of humor and great holiness," Francis told reporters last summer when asked about John's attributes. "He was one of the greats."

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