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

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Associated Press

Posted on April 24, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 24 at 5:05 AM

Obama warns Russia that more sanctions are 'teed up' but admits they may not stop Putin

TOKYO (AP) — Accusing Russia of failing to live up to its commitments, President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Thursday that the United States has another round of economic sanctions "teed up" — even as he acknowledged those penalties may do little to influence Vladimir Putin's handling of the crisis in Ukraine.

Obama's frank pessimism underscored the limits of Washington's ability to prevent Russia from stirring up instability in Ukraine's east and exerting influence over elections scheduled for next month in the former Soviet republic. A diplomatic accord that offered a glimmer of hope for a resolution to the tense dispute is crumbling, and Russia has warned of a firm response if the country's citizens or interests in Ukraine are attacked.

With no appetite in the U.S. for a military response, Obama is largely banking on Putin, the Russian president, caving under a cascade of economic sanctions targeting his closest associates. But the success of that strategy also depends on European nations with closer financial ties to Moscow taking similar action despite their concern about a boomerang effect on their own economies.

"I understand that additional sanctions may not change Mr. Putin's calculus," Obama said during a joint news conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "How well they change his calculus in part depends on not only us applying sanctions but also the cooperation of other countries."

The president's comments came one week after Russia signed an agreement with the U.S., Ukraine and Europe that called for pro-Russian forces to leave the government buildings they have occupied throughout eastern Ukraine and allow international monitors into the region. But there's been little indication that Russia is following through on its commitments.

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Ukraine's interior minister: city hall in eastern Ukraine cleared of pro-Russia protesters

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Police have cleared the city hall in a southeastern Ukrainian city of the pro-Russia protesters who had been occupying it for over a week, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Thursday as government forces appeared to be resuming operations in the east. Local police officials and protesters, however, presented quite another picture of what happened in the city of Mariupol.

Pro-Russia protesters and masked gunmen have been occupying government buildings across eastern Ukraine for nearly two weeks and refusing to recognize Ukraine's fledging government.

Avakov wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday that the Mariupol city hall "has been freed to resume work," but did not describe the action.

However, Yulia Lasazan, a spokeswoman for Mariupol's police department, told The Associated Press that about 30 masked men armed with baseball bats stormed the building in the early hours on Thursday and started beating the protesters. It was not clear why the protesters, some of whom were believed to be armed, did not offer resistance but called the police instead.

Five people were taken to a hospital, Lasazan said.

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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. OBAMA TO PUTIN: MORE SANCTIONS 'TEED UP'

The president accuses Russia of failing to meet its commitments toward easing the crisis in Ukraine.

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Feds propose e-cigarette regulations , including banning sales to minors, new product approval

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

While the proposal being issued Thursday won't immediately mean changes for the popular devices, the move is aimed at eventually taming the fast-growing e-cigarette industry.

The agency said the proposal sets a foundation for regulating the products but the rules don't immediately ban the wide array of flavors of e-cigarettes, curb marketing on places like TV or set product standards.

Any further rules "will have to be grounded in our growing body of knowledge and understanding about the use of e-cigarettes and their potential health risks or public health benefits," Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said.

Once finalized, the agency could propose more restrictions on e-cigarettes. Officials didn't provide a timetable for that action.

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Classes begin at South Korean school hit hard by ferry disaster; toll hits 159

ANSAN, South Korea (AP) — Students in the city hit hardest by the South Korean ferry disaster returned to classes Thursday, their school campus a tragic landscape of yellow ribbons, chrysanthemums and photos of classmates and teachers who make up the vast majority of the more than 300 people feared dead.

Danwon High School was at times the site of even more direct grieving, as relatives in funeral processions visited their loved ones' classrooms before moving on to cremate the body. Education officials said the first two days of classes will focus on helping students cope with losses and trauma, with help from psychiatrists and professional counselors.

Nearby at Olympic Memorial Museum, a flower-strewn temporary memorial to the approximately 250 students dead or missing drew a stream of black-clad mourners.

"I am very sad, but at the same time, I also feel resentful and angry," said businessman Lee Dong-geun. When "I entered, I saw the faces of those students and could not fight back my tears."

So far 159 bodies have been pulled from the water, with 143 people still missing. Hundreds of divers are working to retrieve the remaining bodies.

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As Vermont moves toward labeling GMO foods, manufacturers worry about costs, confusion

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont lawmakers have passed the country's first state bill to require the labeling of genetically modified foods as such, setting up a war between powerful lobbyists for the behemoth U.S. food industry and an American public that overwhelmingly says it approves of the idea.

The Vermont House approved the measure Wednesday evening, about a week after the state Senate, and Gov. Peter Shumlin said he plans to sign it. The requirements would take effect July 1, 2016, giving food producers time to comply.

Shumlin praised the vote and said he looked forward to signing the bill.

"I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food," he said in a statement.

Genetically modified organisms — often used in crop plants — have been changed at their genetic roots to be resistant to insects, germs or herbicides. The development in Vermont is important because it now puts the U.S. on the map of governments taking a stance against a practice that has led to bountiful crops and food production but has stirred concerns about the dominance of big agribusiness and the potential for unforeseen effects on the natural environment. Some scientists and activists worry about potential effects on soil health and pollination of neighboring crops.

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Utilities, gold and Treasurys perform the best in 2014 as the stock market stalls

NEW YORK (AP) — Financial markets rarely stick to the script, and this year is no different.

Investments traditionally considered safe bets such as utilities, gold and government bonds were supposed to flop in 2014 as investors started to pour money into higher-risk, higher-growth stocks that would benefit from a pickup in the economy.

Instead, these safe investments are among the year's best performers. Utilities, for example, are up more than twice as much as the next-best sector in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

The surprisingly strong returns from these so-called havens are happening for several reasons. In the U.S., a severe winter slowed the economy, and a slump in trendy technology stocks has undermined prices. From overseas, worries about China's economy are growing and chaos in Ukraine has increased global political tensions. Those drags on the market have left the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq composite off 1.2 percent for the year. The S&P 500, meanwhile, has eked out a gain of 1.5 percent.

Safe and steady assets have fared much better.

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Afghan police guard opens fire at Kabul hospital, kills 3 American doctors, wounds 2

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan says three doctors killed by an Afghan security guard at a Kabul hospital are American citizens.

Thursday's shooting at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul was the latest attack on foreign civilians in the Afghan capital this year.

The embassy says on Twitter: "With great sadness we confirm that three Americans were killed in the attack on Cure hospital."

The motive for the attack was unclear.

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FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet access rules that protect competition, free speech

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes, but enhance scrutiny of such deals so they don't harm competition or limit free speech.

That's according to a senior FCC official familiar with the matter who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is to present the proposed rules to the other commissioners on Thursday.

So-called "net neutrality" rules are hotly debated because without them, consumers' ability to freely access certain types of content could be constrained by giant conglomerates for business, political or other reasons.

The new rules are meant to replace the FCC's open Internet order from 2010, which was struck down by a federal appeals court in January. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that the FCC had the authority to create open-access rules but said it failed to establish that its 2010 regulations didn't overreach.

While the older rules technically allowed for paid priority treatment, it was discouraged. The new rules spell out standards that such deals would have to meet to be considered "commercially reasonable" and are designed to survive a court challenge in the future.

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Obama rejects talk that Pacific trade deal is in danger, pledges to defend Japan against China

TOKYO (AP) — As negotiations falter, President Barack Obama is rejecting suggestions that an Asia-Pacific trade deal is in danger and says the U.S. and Japan must take bold steps to overcome differences that are threatening completion of the cornerstone of his strategic rebalance to the region.

Talks broke off hours after Obama spoke and were not expected to resume soon.

Standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama also affirmed that the U.S. will defend its Asian ally in a potential confrontation with China over a set of disputed islands. At the same time, he called on both parties to peacefully resolve the long-running dispute that has heightened tensions between the two countries.

On the first full day of a four-nation visit to Asia, Obama called for the U.S. and Japan to resolve disagreements promptly over access to agriculture and automobile markets, issues that are hindering completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal, involving 12 nations overall, is a key component of Obama's efforts to assert U.S. influence in Asia in the face of China's ascendancy in the region.

"Now is the time for bold steps that are needed to reach a comprehensive agreement, and I continue to believe we can get this done," Obama said at a joint news conference with Abe at the Akasaka Palace. "All of us have to move out of our comfort zones and not just expect that we're going to get access to somebody else's market without providing access to our own. And it means that we have to sometimes push our constituencies beyond their current comfort levels because ultimately it's going to deliver a greater good for all people."

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