AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on June 23, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 23 at 10:02 PM

In Baghdad, Kerry hands Iraqi leaders dire warning on nation's future, demands quick action

BAGHDAD (AP) — Warning of the "existential threat" posed by Sunni militants, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. is prepared to take military action even if Baghdad delays political reforms, noting that the risks of letting the insurgency run rampant threaten dangers beyond Iraq's borders.

But he stressed military action would not be in support of the present Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Kerry, on a few hours' visit to Baghdad, urged Iraq's leaders to quickly set aside divisions as the only means of stopping the vicious Sunni insurgency and said Iraq's future depended on choices Iraq's leaders make in the next days and weeks.

"The future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq's leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL," Kerry told a news conference, using the acronym for the al-Qaida-breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, that has captured huge swathes of Iraqi territory in the north and west.

"Not next week, not next month, but now," he said. "It is essential that Iraq's leaders form a genuinely inclusive government as rapidly as possible."

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US memo outlining legal basis for drone killings is released; document is heavily redacted

NEW YORK (AP) — The secret U.S. government memo outlining the justification for the use of drones to kill American terror suspects abroad was released by court order Monday, yielding the most detailed, inside look yet at the legal underpinnings of the Obama administration's program of "targeted killings."

The 41-page memo — whose contents had previously been summarized and released piecemeal — was heavily redacted for national security reasons, with several entire pages and other passages whited out.

But it argues among other things that a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen is permissible under a 2001 law passed by Congress soon after 9/11. That law empowered the president to use force against organizations that planned and committed the attacks.

"The release of the memo will allow the public to better assess the lawfulness of the government's targeted killing policy and the implications of that policy," said Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued for release of the memo. "Despite the release of this memo, the public still knows scandalously little about who the government is killing and why."

He said the memo contains the first formal acknowledgment by the government that the CIA is involved in the program.

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

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

1. SECRET MEMO ON DRONE KILLINGS RELEASED

The Justice Department says the government may be justified in killing a U.S. citizen abroad if the person has joined the enemy.

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Egypt court sentences 3 Al-Jazeera journalists to 7 years each on terrorism-related charges

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges after a trial dismissed by rights groups as a politically motivated sham. The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for the newly elected president to intervene.

The ruling stunned the defendants and their families, many of whom had hoped their loved ones would be released because of international pressure on the case. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who a day earlier had discussed the case in a meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, denounced the verdict as "chilling and draconian."

The unprecedented trial of journalists on terror charges was tied up in the government's fierce crackdown on Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood since the ouster last year of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi by el-Sissi, then the army chief. Further fueling accusations that the trial was politically motivated is the Egyptian government's deep enmity with the Gulf nation Qatar, which was a close ally of Morsi and which owns the Al-Jazeera network.

Prosecutors had accused the three — Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed — of promoting or belonging to the Brotherhood and of falsifying their coverage of protests by Morsi's supporters to hurt Egypt's security and make it appear the country is sliding into civil war. The government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

The journalists, who were detained in December, say they are being prosecuted simply for doing their job and are pawns in the political rivalry. During the 5-month trial, prosecutors presented no evidence backing the charges, at times citing random video footage found with the defendants that even the judge dismissed as irrelevant. They depicted typical activity like editing as a sign of falsification.

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Chemical weapons watchdog: Syria hands over last of declared chemical weapons stockpile

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Syria finished handing over to Western powers Monday the 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it acknowledged possessing, completing a deal reached last fall under threat of U.S. airstrikes.

The most dangerous material will be transferred to an American ship, which will move into international waters and use specialized equipment to destroy the chemicals over the next two months. Other material will be disposed of at toxic waste sites in various countries.

Questions persist over whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is hiding undeclared poison gases or attacking rebels with chlorine — a toxic industrial gas that is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon.

But politicians and activists hailed Monday's milestone as a victory for international diplomacy, and, at the least, a clear reduction in the amount of chemicals available for use in Syria's bloody civil war.

The news came amid extremely high tension across the Middle East, as Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Syria and a Syrian cabinet member warned that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been funneling weapons to rebels in Syria.

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Separatists agree to abide by Ukrainian government's cease-fire; presidents trade demands

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine agreed Monday to respect a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president, raising hopes for an end to months of fighting that have killed hundreds and ravaged the country's industrial heartland.

The announcement came as the Russian and U.S. presidents traded demands over the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged direct talks between the government and the rebels. President Barack Obama warned Putin that Moscow will face additional costs if it does not help ease the crisis.

The insurgents' pledge to respect the cease-fire came on the first day of talks between a former Ukrainian president, the Russian ambassador, European officials and the eastern separatists who have declared independence. While the government side was nominally not represented, ex-President Leonid Kuchma attended the discussions at the request of the sitting president.

The negotiations were launched in line with President Petro Poroshenko's peace plan, which started Friday with a weeklong unilateral cease-fire in the fighting that has killed more than 350 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Alexander Borodai, one of the rebel leaders who took part in Monday's talks in Donetsk, said rebels would respect Poroshenko's cease-fire, which lasts through 0700 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) Friday.

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Racial politics churn GOP Senate primary runoff in Miss. as Cochran seeks black support

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Race is roiling the Republican Senate runoff in Mississippi, a state with a long history of divided politics where the GOP is mostly white and the Democratic Party is mostly black.

National tea party groups say they are working to "ensure a free and fair election" by sending several dozen observers to precincts to watch who votes during Tuesday's GOP contest, concerned about six-term Sen. Thad Cochran's efforts to persuade Mississippi Democrats to cast ballots. Challenger Chris McDaniel and the tea party portray cross-party voting as dangerous and even illegal, though state law allows it.

"Thad Cochran and his establishment handlers are out trolling, begging for Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican runoff," Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund chairwoman Jenny Beth Martin said in announcing that her group and two others have hired an attorney to watch Tuesday's primary.

While Cochran rarely mentions race, he readily acknowledges he's seeking support from black and white voters.

"I think it's important for everybody to participate," he said. "Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi. People have really contributed a lot of energy and effort to making sure the political process is open to everyone."

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With 24.7 million viewers, US-Portugal game scores big viewership goal

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States' 2-2 World Cup draw with Portugal is almost certainly the most-watched soccer game ever in the U.S., an emphatic confirmation of the sport's rising popularity in a country slower to embrace it than the rest of the world.

The Nielsen company said that Sunday's gripping game was seen by an average of 24.7 million viewers on ESPN and Univision. That matches it with the 24.7 million U.S. viewers who watched the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.

ESPN said an additional 490,000 people streamed coverage of the game on their mobile devices through the company's app. Streaming numbers for 2010 weren't immediately available, but it's very unlikely they were that high because streaming apps were not as sophisticated then.

Many factors were in place to make it so popular: It was an exciting game, interest in the U.S. team was high because of the first-game victory against Ghana and World Cup viewing in general has been high. The Sunday evening time slot also meant many Americans were available to watch.

"It indicates that a large group in our audience is really following the story of the World Cup, which is really terrific," said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president of programming.

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Supreme Court rebukes EPA, but mainly leaves intact program to deal with carbon emissions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court largely left intact Monday the Obama administration's only existing program to limit power plant and factory emissions of the gases blamed for global warming. But a divided court also rebuked environmental regulators for taking too much authority into their own hands without congressional approval.

The justices said in a 5-4 vote along ideological lines that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot apply a permitting provision of the Clean Air Act to new and expanded power plants, refineries and factories solely because they emit greenhouse gases.

The decision underscores the limits of using the Clean Air Act to deal with greenhouse gases and the administration's inability to get climate change legislation through Congress.

"The Supreme Court put EPA on a leash but not in a noose," said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University's Center for Climate Change Law.

"It reaffirmed that EPA can regulate greenhouse gases, but it can only go so far in reinterpreting the statute," Gerrard said. "The court invalidated a small corner of a secondary program. The main event — EPA's proposed rules on existing power plants — remains to be fought another day."

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Neymar leads Brazil by example; Mexico also through; Dutch win group by beating Chile

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil relied on its star Neymar for two early goals to beat Cameroon 4-1 Monday and reach the World Cup's knockout stage for a South American showdown against Chile, a 2-0 loser to the Netherlands.

Winning Group B with its third straight victory made sure that the Dutch avoided the host so early in the tournament. Instead, the Netherlands will face Mexico, which beat Croatia 3-1 to advance alongside Brazil from Group A.

Spain beat Australia 3-0 in an inconsequential game between already eliminated teams, a victory providing a little balm on the disappointing defense of its title.

With free-flowing games and buckets full of goals the rule in this outstanding tournament, it took until the final minutes of the Group A games for Brazil to make sure it advanced as group leader on goal difference over Mexico.

"We are progressing match after match and that's important," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.

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