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

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Associated Press

Posted on May 22, 2014 at 5:05 AM

AP Exclusive: Air Force security failed test response to simulated capture of nuclear weapon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Armed security forces at a nuclear missile base failed a drill last summer that simulated the hostile takeover of a missile launch silo because they were unable to speedily regain control of the captured nuclear weapon, according to an internal Air Force review obtained by The Associated Press.

The previously unreported failure, which the Air Force called a "critical deficiency," was the reason the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana flunked its broader safety and security inspection.

The security team was required to respond to the simulated capture of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile silo, termed an "Empty Quiver" scenario in which a nuclear weapon is lost, stolen or seized. Each of the Air Force's 450 Minuteman 3 silos contains one missile armed with a nuclear warhead and ready for launch on orders from the president.

The review obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request sought to examine why the security force showed an "inability to effectively respond to a recapture scenario." It cited their failure to take "all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons" but did not specify those actions.

The prize for terrorists or others who might seek to seize control of a missile would be the nuclear warhead attached to it. In 2009, the Air Force cited a "post-9/11 shift in thinking" about such situations, saying that while this nightmare scenario once was considered an impossibility, the U.S. "no longer has the luxury of assuming what is and what is not possible."

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Marketplace bombing kills 31, wounds more than 90 in China's northwestern Xinjiang region

BEIJING (AP) — Assailants in two SUVs plowed through shoppers while setting off explosives on a busy street market in China's volatile northwestern region of Xinjiang on Thursday, the local officials said, killing 31 people and injuring more than 90.

The attack in the city of Urumqi was the bloodiest in a series of violent incidents that Chinese authorities have blamed on radical separatists from the country's Muslim Uighur minority. The Xinjiang regional government said in a statement that the early morning attack was "a serious violent terrorist incident of a particularly vile nature."

The two vehicles crashed through barriers at 7:50 a.m., drove right into the crowds while setting off explosives, the statement said.

The SUVs then crashed head-on and one of them exploded, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It quoted an eyewitness as saying there were up to a dozen blasts in all.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack. Recent violence has been blamed on extremists seeking to overthrow Chinese rule in the region, which is home to the native Turkic-speaking Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs) but has seen large inflows from China's ethnic Han majority in recent decades.

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Attack on market in China's volatile western region of Xinjiang the latest in wave of violence

BEIJING (AP) — A timeline of recent violent incidents linked to tensions in China's far northwestern region of Xinjiang between its native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group and China's majority Han. China tightly controls information about such incidents, and it's not always clear what transpired or the exact number of victims and attackers killed.

Aug. 4, 2008: Two Uighur men steal a dump truck and drive it into a group of policemen in the far western city of Kashgar, killing 16 people. The attack comes just days ahead of the opening of the Beijing Olympics, fulfilling expectations that extremists would attempt to disrupt the games.

July 5-7, 2009: Violence breaks out between police and protesting Uighurs in central Urumqi, then spreads through much of the city. A total of 197 people are killed, most of them Han Chinese, in the worst bloodshed in Xinjiang in decades.

July 18, 2011: A group of young Uighur men attack government offices and a police station outside the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, killing two officers and two hostages. Of the 18 attackers, 14 are shot dead.

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AP journalists see 11 people killed at Ukrainian military checkpoint

BLAHODATNE, Ukraine (AP) — At least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded Thursday when pro-Russian insurgents attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

AP journalists saw 11 bodies scattered around the checkpoint on the edge of the village of Blahodatne, near the town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. Witnesses said that more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded when the insurgents attacked the checkpoint, and some of them were in grave condition.

Three charred Ukrainian armored infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away by powerful explosions, and several burned trucks stood at the site of the combat.

In the town of Horlivka, a group of rebels claimed responsibility for the raid and produced an array of weapons they said they had seized. Their claims couldn't be independently confirmed.

A military helicopter landed on the site, carrying officials who inspected the area. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack, but wouldn't comment on casualties.

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AP Exclusive: Mentally ill inmate suffered gruesome death after 7 days locked alone in NY cell

NEW YORK (AP) — After a mentally ill Bradley Ballard made a lewd gesture to a female guard at the Rikers Island jail, he was locked in his cell alone for seven increasingly agitated days in which he was denied some of his medication, clogged his toilet so that it overflowed, stripped off his clothes and tied a rubber band tightly around his genitals.

During that period, guards passed Ballard's cell in the mental observation unit dozens of times, peering through the window in the steel door but never venturing inside — until it was too late.

The 39-year-old Ballard was eventually found naked and unresponsive on the floor, covered in feces, his genitals swollen and badly infected. He was rushed to a hospital but died hours later.

"He didn't have to leave this world like that. They could have put him in a mental hospital, got him some treatment," Ballard's mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, said from her Houston, Texas, home. "He was a caring young man."

Ballard's death last September, detailed in documents obtained by The Associated Press and in interviews with two city officials on condition of anonymity, came five months before another Rikers inmate in a similar mental health unit died in a cell that climbed to a suffocating 101 degrees because of malfunctioning heating equipment.

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China pursues influence, resources abroad but treads carefully to avoid straining ties with US

SHANGHAI (AP) — China is carrying on a high-stakes balancing act aimed at building influence and access to resources abroad without damaging ties with its most important economic partner — the United States.

In rapid-fire moves Wednesday, President Xi Jinping called at a conference of Asian governments for a new regional security structure that implicitly excludes Washington. Hours later, China agreed to buy Russian gas worth about $400 billion, binding the diplomatically isolated government of President Vladimir Putin more closely to Beijing and the huge Chinese economy.

Russian politicians hailed the deal as part of a new strategic relationship and a thumb in Washington's eye. But Xi appeared to be trying to reassure the United States and its Asian allies. In his speech to an audience that included Putin and the president of Iran, the Chinese leader said a military alliance aimed at outsiders would not help regional security.

Irked by the Obama administration's effort to shift its foreign policy emphasis to Asia at a time of Chinese territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam and other neighbors, Beijing is nevertheless treading carefully because it knows it cannot dominate any international organization, experts say. Instead, it is pressing to have its needs respected abroad.

Chinese leaders place "top priority" on the relationship with the U.S. even as they worry Washington is trying to contain their country's rise, said Joseph Cheng, a specialist in Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong.

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Neighbors shocked: Southern California man held for allegedly holding woman captive 10 years

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — In the neighborhood where Tomas Medrano lived, he was known as a hardworking, churchgoing man who doted on his wife and toddler daughter.

There were elaborate parties, neighbors say, and Medrano bought his wife her own car.

But police investigators say everything about that life was built on a lie.

The reality, detectives contend, is that a decade ago a man named Isidro Garcia drugged and kidnapped a 15-year-old girl, raped her and beat her after failed escapes, moved at least four times to hide her identity under a fake name and, after years of psychological abuse, married her and fathered a child.

Garcia, 41, of Bell Gardens, was arrested Monday after the now-25-year-old woman came forward to police after finding her sister on Facebook.

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Midterm, schmidterm: Nearly half in poll say it just doesn't matter who controls Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who cares which party controls Congress? Only about half of Americans. The other 46 percent, not so much, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Ask people whom they would rather see in charge on Capitol Hill, and Republicans finish in a dead heat with "doesn't matter."

Democrats fare only a little better: 37 percent would prefer their leadership, compared with 31 percent each for the GOP and whatever.

"I've never really noticed any difference in my life depending on which party is in," said Bob Augusto, 39, an oil refinery worker in Woodstown, New Jersey. He doesn't expect to vote in this fall's midterm election.

Nationally, Democrats have gained a modest edge since the previous AP-GfK poll in March, but it's not because people are liking them more. Support for Democratic leadership stayed essentially unchanged in the new poll, while Republicans lost some ground to the idea that it makes no difference who wins this November.

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Thailand's bitter political rivals meet for second round of peace talks mediated by army

BANGKOK (AP) — The opponents in Thailand's polarizing political crisis met Thursday for a second round of talks mediated by the country's army chief, who has invoked martial law and summoned the bitter rivals in a bid to end six months of turmoil.

The closed-door talks at an army facility in Bangkok were taking place two days after Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law, giving the army expansive powers and broadly censoring the media. Most Thais were watching the talks with a mix of skepticism and hope.

One of the army's explanations for declaring martial law was to avoid feared clashes between the two sides in the conflict, and prevent more violence. The crisis, which started in November, has left 28 people dead and hundreds injured, many by drive-by shootings and grenades hurled at protest sites.

Thailand has been gripped by bouts of political instability for more than seven years. The latest round of unrest started in November, when demonstrators took to the streets to try to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. They accused her of being a proxy for her popular billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence on a corruption conviction.

Many of Thailand's highest-profile political figures were summoned by the army chief for the gathering of rivals, which was unthinkable until now. They included the acting prime minister — who declined to attend the talks but sent four representatives in his place — and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, as well as Suthep's rival from the pro-government Red Shirt group, Jatuporn Prompan.

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Legendary Polynesian voyaging canoe to embark on 3-year odyssey around the world from Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — To take the Hokulea for a spin off the coast of Oahu is to see the Hawaiian islands in perhaps the same way as their discoverers did hundreds of years ago.

Those seafarers likely arrived on a boat resembling the double-hulled canoe, bridged by a modest deck, compelled by three sails, steered by a rudder, its components held fast with ropes rather than screws or nails.

Weather willing, the 62-foot vessel is scheduled to leave Hawaii Monday on its longest-ever ocean voyage. Relying on wind and stars to guide it, the Hokulea will chase the horizon for 47,000 miles, dropping anchor at 85 ports on six continents.

"We could be sailing around the world on a high-end yacht, but we're not," said Chad Kalepa Baybayan, one of five master navigators who take shifts on the Hokulea. "We're doing it on traditionally built voyaging canoes, reflective of the architecture of voyaging canoes across the Pacific. This is a cultural project for us. It has a lot of spiritual meaning."

The three-year tour — roughly south and west from Hawaii past Australia, around the Cape of Good Hope, to the Americas, and back via the Panama Canal — will make the Hokulea's watershed first voyage in 1976 look like a light jog.

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