AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on May 23, 2014 at 8:03 PM

Putin promises to respect results of Ukraine's presidential election, but violence persists

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday that Russia will respect the results of Ukraine's presidential election, a strong indication the Kremlin wants to cool down the crisis. But new violence and rebel vows to block the balloting made prospects for peace appear distant.

New clashes were reported between pro-Russia separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine as Kiev continued an offensive to try to halt the uprising.

Associated Press reporters saw two dead Ukrainian soldiers near the village of Karlivka, and another body near a rebel checkpoint, both in the Donetsk region. A rebel leader said 16 more people died Friday in fighting there — 10 soldiers, four rebels and two civilians — but there was no immediate way to verify his statement.

In Kiev, the Defense Ministry said 20 insurgents were killed in an attack on a convoy of government troops Thursday by about 500 rebels, the largest insurgent assault yet reported. The clash could not be independently confirmed and it was unclear why such a large attack in a populated region would have gone unreported for more than a day. The ministry also said one soldier was killed Friday near the same area.

On Thursday, 16 troops were killed near the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in the deadliest raid yet on Ukrainian troops.

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Ukraine's presidential election aims to bring country back from chaos but east is rejecting it

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukrainians vote Sunday in an early presidential election that could be a crucial step toward resolving the country's crisis, but separatists in the east are threatening to block the vote. The election — which comes six months after the outbreak of protests that led to the president's ouster and a deepening chasm between pro-Europe and pro-Russia Ukrainians — aims to unify the fiercely divided country or at least discourage further polarization.

A look at the vote:

WHY THE EARLY ELECTION?

After months of protests against his rule and scores of protesters killed by snipers, President Viktor Yanukovych signed an agreement with opposition leaders on Feb. 21 calling for early presidential elections by December. But he fled later in the day, eventually resurfacing in Russia, and parliament decided to hold the presidential election May 25.

Since Yanukovych's ouster, Russia has portrayed the interim government, including acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, as a junta, and annexed Crimea in March.

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Thai coup makers hold ex-prime minister as troops disperse small-scale protests

BANGKOK (AP) — Ousted members of Thailand's former government surrendered to the new military junta Friday, as soldiers forcefully dispersed hundreds of anti-coup activists who defied a ban on large-scale gatherings to protest the army's seizure of power.

Troops detained at least two activists during the protest in downtown Bangkok, which descended into scuffles but ended without injury and marked one of the first open challenges to the military since Thursday's coup.

The junta, though, remained firmly in charge, summoning more than 100 top political figures — the entire ousted government, their associates and a handful of their opponents. It also banned those on its wanted list from leaving the country.

Among the officials who showed up at an army compound in Bangkok were former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sacked earlier this month for nepotism by the Constitutional Court, and her temporary replacement Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, according to Yingluck's aide Wim Rungwattanachinda.

After about 30 minutes, Yingluck left the facility and was taken to another army location by soldiers, said Wim, who added that it appeared she would not be immediately released.

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AP-GfK Poll: Sign-up success fails to translate into broad approval for Obama's health law

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama celebrated when sign-ups for his health care law topped 8 million, far exceeding expectations after a slipshod launch. Most Americans, however, remain unimpressed.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that public opinion continues to run deeply negative on the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature effort to cover the uninsured. Forty-three percent oppose the law, compared with just 28 percent in support.

The pattern illustrates why the health care law remains a favored target for Republicans seeking a Senate majority in the midterm elections.

The poll does have a bright spot for the administration: Those who signed up for coverage aren't reeling from sticker shock. Most said they found premiums in line with what they expected, or even lower.

But even that was diminished by another finding: More than one-third of those who said they or someone in their household tried to enroll, were ultimately unable to do so. For the White House, it's an uncomfortable reminder of the technical problems that paralyzed the HealthCare.gov website for weeks after it went live last fall.

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In wake of high-profile breaches, Visa, MasterCard push for microchips in US payment cards

NEW YORK (AP) — Visa and MasterCard are renewing a push to speed the adoption of microchips into U.S. credit and debit cards in the wake of recent high-profile data breaches, including this week's revelation that hackers stole consumer data from eBay's computer systems.

Card processing companies argue that a move away from the black magnetic strips on the backs of credit cards would eliminate a substantial amount of U.S. credit card fraud. They say it's time to offer U.S. consumers the greater protections microchips provide by joining Canada, Mexico and most of Western Europe in using cards with the more advanced technology.

Chips aren't perfect, says Carolyn Balfany, MasterCard's group head for U.S. product delivery, but the extra barrier they present is one of the reasons criminals often choose to target U.S.-issued cards, whose magnetic strips are easy to replicate.

"Typically, fraudsters are going to go to the path of least resistance," Balfany says.

The chip technology hasn't been adopted in the U.S. because of costs and disputes over how the network would operate. Retailers have long balked at paying for new cash registers and back office systems to handle the new cards. There have been clashes between retailers, card issuers and processors over which processing networks will get access to the new system and whether to stick with a signature-based system or move to one that requires a personal identification number instead. These technical decisions impact how much retailers and customers have to pay — and how much credit card issuers make — each time a card is used.

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California kidnapping case will be framed by victim's credibility among other legal issues

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Neighbors say Isidro Garcia is a doting father, loyal husband and good provider for his family. That doesn't mean he's not all the things prosecutors say he is: an abusive rapist who kidnapped a 15-year-old girl and eventually made her his wife.

The narrative that unfolded around the couple this week in a Los Angeles suburb spans a decade, but the criminal case against Garcia centers on a three-month period when he is accused of grooming the teen through sexual abuse and taking her from her Santa Ana home.

Authorities focused on the early allegations of abuse because they occurred in the county and are not subject to a statute of limitations, according to Whitney Bokosky, deputy district attorney for Orange County. She said the charges may be amended or expanded as the case moves forward.

"Nobody is saying this girl was tied up in some basement somewhere. This was more of a mental kind of prison she was living in," Bokosky said.

Garcia, 41, is charged with rape, kidnapping and three counts of lewd acts on a child dating back to 2004.

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Texas man charged in 2012 slaying of Iranian student, women's rights activist in Houston

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A federal fraud investigation led to a Jordanian-born man being charged with murder in district court in the shooting death of an Iranian student and women's rights activist two years ago, prosecutors said. Authorities are also now taking a new look at an unsolved killing to see if the cases are related.

Ali Irsan, 57, was indicted by a grand jury in Houston on Thursday in the January 2012 killing of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, who also was an outspoken critic of the government in Tehran.

The 30-year-old was shot to death as she talked with a friend on her cellphone. Her body was discovered slumped behind the wheel of her car after it crashed into the upscale Houston townhome complex where she lived with her parents.

An FBI-led police team arrested Irsan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, on Thursday along with his wife, Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, 37, also a Jordanian national, and daughter, Nadia Irsan, 30, a U.S. citizen, on charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., theft of public money and benefits fraud, prosecutors said.

The federal criminal complaint alleges Irsan and his wife falsified documents to receive Social Security disability benefits with help from his daughter.

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UN torture panel slams Vatican on sex-abuse scandal, says responsible for cases worldwide

GENEVA (AP) — In a report that could expose the Catholic Church to new legal arguments by clerical sex abuse victims, a U.N. committee found Friday that the Vatican does exercise worldwide control over its bishops and priests and must comply with the U.N.'s anti-torture treaty.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture concluded that Vatican officials failed to report sex abuse charges properly, had moved priests rather than discipline them, and had failed to pay adequate compensation to victims. Although the panel did not explicitly say that the Holy See had violated any of its obligations under the anti-torture treaty, which it ratified in 2002, panel members said that was implicit in the criticism.

"Legal scholars will tell you that when the committee addresses a problem and makes a recommendation, it sees the state as not meeting the requirements of the convention," the panel vice chair, Felice Gaer, told reporters. "It's absolutely clear what we're saying."

But the Vatican dismissed the 10-member panel's conclusions as "fundamentally flawed" and insisted it didn't exercise direct control over its priests worldwide.

The report's most immediate impact may be to empower victims pressing the Vatican to take more legal responsibility for priests who raped and molested children. The Holy See long has sought to distance itself from the conduct of pedophile priests and the bishops overseeing them, saying the church's own structure isn't the centrally organized, top-down hierarchy that the lawyers for victims have often described.

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Tennessee looks backward, to the electric chair; other states looking at old methods, too

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The disarray surrounding lethal injection in the U.S. is beginning to steer states back toward methods of execution that many had long ago deemed less humane than the needle.

Tennessee jumped out front this week with a law that could essentially bring back the electric chair. Elsewhere around the country, lawmakers have been talking about reviving the firing squad and the gas chamber, methods largely abandoned a generation ago.

The reason: Lethal injection — the primary means of execution in all 32 states with capital punishment — is under fire as never before because of botched executions, drug shortages caused by a European-led boycott, and a flurry of lawsuits over the new chemicals that states are using instead.

The Tennessee legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday would allow the state to use electrocution against any current or future death row inmate if lethal injection drugs become unavailable.

In truth, Tennessee never did abandon the electric chair; killers who committed their crimes before the state adopted lethal injection in 1999 have been given the choice of electrocution or the needle.

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CANNES WATCH: Uma Thurman wows; designers pop up; Tarantino on digital; 'Twilight' reunion

CANNES, France (AP) — The Associated Press is all over the Cannes Film Festival — from its glitzy premieres to the celeb parties and quirky moments in between. Here's what reporters have seen and heard:

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LOOK OF THE DAY: UMA THURMAN

A ravishing Uma Thurman wowed the crowd at Cannes' "Clouds of Sils Maria" premiere in a canary yellow custom-made Atelier Versace couture gown in silk cady and chiffon.

The gathered waist and separate trains, which blew in the breeze, gave the gown a classical, timeless vibe — but the psychedelic color gave it an edgy lift.

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