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Associated Press

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 7:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 15 at 7:02 AM

French lead all-night bombing campaign in Mali town of Diabaly, conquered by Islamists

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — French forces led an all-night bombing campaign over a minuscule Malian town, not even big enough to appear on most administrative maps, in an effort to dislodge the Islamist extremists who seized the area, including its strategic military camp.

Meanwhile, a convoy of 40 to 50 armed trucks carrying French troops crossed into Mali from Ivory Coast, where they were stationed, as France prepares for a possible land assault.

French President Francois Hollande launched an attack on Mali's rebels, who are linked to al-Qaida, last week after the rebels began advancing south. France's action pre-empted a United Nations-approved plan for a military operation in Mali, which was expected to start about nine months from now. Hollande decided a military response could not wait that long.

French officials have acknowledged that the rebels are better armed and prepared than they expected. Despite France's five-day-old aerial assault, the Islamist fighters have succeeded in gaining ground, most notably taking Diabaly on Monday, which puts them roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Mali's capital, Bamako. When the air raids began last week, the closest known point they occupied was 680 kilometers (420 miles) away from the capital.

"They bombed Diabaly. They bombed the town all night long. I am hiding inside a house," said Ibrahim Toure, who irons clothes for a living and happened to be passing through Diabaly on his way to visit relatives, getting caught when the Islamists encircled the town. "It only stopped this morning at around 6 a.m."

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AP source: Lance Armstrong ends years of denial, tells Winfrey he doped during career

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong has finally come clean.

After years of bitter and forceful denials, he offered a simple "I'm sorry" to friends and colleagues and then admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs during an extraordinary cycling career that included seven Tour de France victories.

Armstrong confessed to doping during an interview with Oprah Winfrey taped Monday, just a couple of hours after an emotional apology to the staff at the Livestrong charity he founded and was later forced to surrender, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the interview is to be broadcast Thursday on Winfrey's network.

The confession was a stunning reversal for the proud athlete and celebrity who sought lavish praise in the court of public opinion and used courtrooms to punish his critics.

For more than a decade, Armstrong dared anybody who challenged his version of events to prove it. Finally, he told the tale himself after promising over the weekend to answer Winfrey's questions "directly, honestly and candidly."

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AP PHOTOS: A look at Lance Armstrong's career as he admits he used performance-enhancing drugs

Lance Armstrong finally comes clean about using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career. Here are some images chronicling his victories and the doping scandal that led to his downfall.

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Obama weighing potential executive action on guns, still pushing assault weapons ban

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing powerful opposition to sweeping gun regulations, President Barack Obama is weighing 19 steps that could be taken through executive action alone, congressional officials said.

Those steps could include ordering stricter action against people who lie on gun sale background checks, striking limits on federal research into gun use, ordering tougher penalties against gun trafficking, and giving schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.

Obama is expected to unveil his proposals as early as Wednesday, barely over a month since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., thrust the gun issue into the national spotlight after years of inaction by Obama and lawmakers.

At the same time Obama is vowing not to back off his support for sweeping gun legislation that would require congressional backing — including banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and instituting universal background checks — despite opposition from the influential gun lobby.

"Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know," Obama said at a news conference Monday.

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NY agrees on 1st state gun control laws since Newtown massacre; urges states, US to follow

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers agreed to pass the toughest gun control law in the nation and the first since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, and now dare other states and Washington to follow

"This is a scourge on society," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday night, six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his progressive agenda in his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newton tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. "At what point do you say, 'No more innocent loss of life.'"

Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate, said it is landmark legislation. "This is not about taking anyone's rights away," said Klein, a Bronx Democrat. "It's about a safe society ... today we are setting the mark for the rest of the county to do what's right."

The measure, which calls for a tougher assault weapons ban and restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns, passed the Senate 43-18 on the strength of support from Democrats, many of whom previously sponsored bills that were once blocked by Republicans. The Democrat-led Assembly gaveled out before midnight and planned to take the issue up at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It is expected to pass easily.

The governor confirmed the proposal, previously worked out in closed session, also would mandate a police registry of assault weapons, grandfathering in assault weapons already in private hands.

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Northeastern lawmakers seeking $50.7B Sandy aid bill face roadblocks by fiscal conservatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — Northeastern lawmakers hoping to push a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package through the House face roadblocks by fiscal conservatives seeking offsetting spending cuts to pay for recovery efforts as well as funding cuts for projects they say are unrelated to the Oct. 29 storm.

The amendments by budget hawks set up a faceoff Tuesday, with Northeast lawmakers in both parties eager to provide recovery aid for one of the worst storms ever to strike the region as the House moves toward expected votes on the emergency spending package.

The base $17 billion bill by the House Appropriations Committee is aimed at immediate Sandy recovery needs, including $5.4 billion for New York and New Jersey transit systems and $5.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund.

Northeast lawmakers will have a chance to add to that bill with an amendment by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for an additional $33.7 billion, including $10.9 billion for public transportation projects.

The Club for Growth, a conservative group, is urging lawmakers to oppose both Sandy aid measures. Sandy aid supporters, nonetheless, voiced confidence Monday they would prevail. The Senate passed a $60.4 billion Sandy aid package in December with bipartisan support.

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Hagel reaching out to all 100 senators in push to win confirmation for Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans' reservations about one of their own heading the Pentagon are caught up in potent politics, from a proxy fight over President Barack Obama to more parochial concerns about nuclear weapons facilities.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Obama's choice to be his new defense secretary, has reached out to all 100 senators and will be meeting personally with dozens of them starting this week, according to an official working on his confirmation.

The sessions — and, more importantly, what Hagel says — will be vital for a nomination that faces outright opposition from a handful of Republicans, including the second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas; nervous questions from influential Democrats such as New York Sen. Chuck Schumer; and plenty of non-committal senators.

Hagel's very public confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee will probably occur within weeks.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Thousands of anti-government protesters rally for 2nd day in Pakistan despite police clashes

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Thousands of anti-government protesters heeding the call of a firebrand cleric rallied in the streets of the Pakistani capital Tuesday for a second day despite early morning clashes with police who launched tear gas and fired shots into the air to push back stone-throwing demonstrators.

The protest called by Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has rocketed to national prominence after his return from Canada late last year, has galvanized many Pakistanis who say the current government has brought them only misery. But critics fear that Qadri and his demands for election reforms may derail the country's upcoming democratic elections, possibly at the behest of the country's powerful military.

During an early morning speech, Qadri called for the government to resign and called on his followers to stay in the streets of the capital until their demands are met. Many had brought blankets to ward off the cold and slept there overnight.

"I give you time ... to dissolve the national and all four provincial assemblies otherwise the nation will dissolve them on their own," he said. He vowed to address his followers again Tuesday.

Qadri has issued numerous vague demands for electoral reforms, such as vetting political candidates to make sure they're honest and restructuring the system so that the common people have more opportunity to take part in politics.

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Speculation mounts ahead of Facebook's mystery press event Tuesday — search, perhaps?

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook's mystery "press event" on Tuesday could reveal a more robust search feature that would intensify the competition between the social networking giant and its rival Google Inc.

Facebook is holding the event at 10 a.m. (1 p.m. EST) at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The company has not said what it plans to announce. Last week, it invited bloggers and journalists to "come see what we're building."

The company probably won't be showing off a new office building —unless it decided to make its invitation very literal.

It's also unlikely to be unveiling a much-rumored "Facebook phone" —unless CEO Mark Zuckerberg has changed his mind recently. Last fall, as he'd done on numerous occasions, he publicly shot down speculation that Facebook was building its own smartphone.

"It is so clearly the wrong strategy for us," Zuckerberg said at a September technology conference in his first public interview after Facebook's May initial public offering. "It doesn't move the needle for us."

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Jefferson scores 23, Hayward adds 22 to help Jazz stop Heat 104-97

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Al Jefferson scored 23 points, Gordon Hayward added 22 — including a jumper with 40 seconds remaining — and the Utah Jazz held on to beat the Miami Heat 104-97 on Monday night.

The Heat were down 21 points in the third quarter but fought back to pull within two behind a 32-point effort by LeBron James. However, James was called for goaltending and an offensive foul on back-to-back possessions late, then missed a 3-pointer with Miami down six with 2:19 left.

Hayward's fadeaway 14-footer gave Utah the cushion it needed.

The Jazz were shooting 67.6 percent at halftime but made only 4 of 19 in the fourth to let the Heat back into the game.

Utah held a 40-23 advantage on the boards, and 47-26 edge in bench scoring.

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