Mall attackers claim 137 hostages killed in Kenyan assault on mall; government denies
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The militant group behind the four-day takeover of a Nairobi mall claimed Wednesday that Kenyan government forces used chemical weapons in their assault on the building, then carried out "a demolition" to cover evidence and buried 137 hostages.
In a series of Twitter posts from an account believed to be genuine, al-Shabab said that "having failed to defeat the mujahideen inside the mall, the Kenyan govt disseminated chemical gases to end the siege."
They added "to cover their crime, the Kenyan govt carried out a demolition to the building, burying evidence and all hostages under the rubble."
Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu immediately denied the claim, telling told The Associated Press no chemical weapons were used and that the official civilian death toll remains 61.
"Al-Shabab is known for wild allegations and there is absolutely no truth to what they're saying," he said. But officials said the death count will likely rise. Estimates varied between only a few bodies to dozens of bodies possibly still inside the mall.
Iran's new president tones down anti-Israel rhetoric in first speech to world leaders at UN
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Iranian president's first speech to world leaders was absent anti-Israel rhetoric and offered up negotiations with the U.S. and its allies over the disputed nuclear program, showing a more moderate face of the hard-line regime in Tehran.
However, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani also took repeated digs at America and the West on Tuesday, much like those that were staples of his predecessor's annual messages to the United Nations General Assembly.
Rouhani's speech signaled Iran's return to a more measured, if still resolute, approach in its foreign policy even as it delivered a reality check that diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he did not think Rouhani's speech was conciliatory. But his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "set an incredibly low bar for dignified behavior" and Rouhani delivered a less polarizing, less divisive speech, he said.
"Given how vitriolic that Ahmadinejad's language was, in contrast he certainly appears as a moderate," Sadjadpour said.
Senate pushes toward test vote Wednesday on Obamacare despite Cruz's marathon
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled Senate is on a path toward defeating tea party attempts to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law, despite an overnight talkathon on the chamber's floor led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The freshman Cruz and other conservative Republicans were trying to delay a must-pass spending bill, but were virtually sure to lose a test vote on that legislation planned for later Wednesday.
Since Tuesday afternoon, Cruz — with occasional remarks by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and other GOP conservatives — have controlled the Senate floor and railed against Obamacare. By 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Cruz and his allies had spoken for more than 14 hours, the eighth longest since precise record-keeping began in 1900.
That surpassed March's 12-hour, 52-minute speech by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., like Cruz a tea party lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential contender. Paul was demanding information on the Obama administration's use of drones to monitor Americans.
Republican leaders and several rank-and-file GOP lawmakers had opposed Cruz's time-consuming effort with the end of the fiscal year looming. They fear that Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans won't have enough time to respond to the Senate's eventual action.
Analysis: Republicans in a risky fight with Obama on health care, budget, government shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) — Under relentless pressure from their right wing, Republicans are in the midst of a risky fight with President Barack Obama they know they will lose, little more than a year before an election that history says they should win.
To minimize the damage, the party must redefine victory as something less than a full defunding of Obama's 3-year-old health care law, yet convince the most conservative GOP supporters that Republican lawmakers succumbed after a principled fight. All without triggering a government shutdown or a default by the Treasury, or otherwise offending independents whose ballots will settle the 2014 elections.
Already, party leaders are making that effort. "I just don't happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare," Sen. Mitch McConnell said archly Tuesday. "All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded."
That was one day after rejecting the path outlined by the party's rebel-in-chief, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who staged a speaking marathon on the Senate floor Tuesday and Wednesday in which he said politicians in both parties routinely ignore the voters' wishes.
Seeking to turn the heat on to Democrats, McConnell said that four years ago they voted for the health care law with the "excuse that they didn't know how it would turn out. Well, they don't have that excuse now. I think we deserve to know where they stand now."
Obama administration unveils premiums and choices in 36 states as health overhaul debut nears
WASHINGTON (AP) — With new health insurance markets launching next week, the Obama administration is unveiling premiums and plan choices for 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead to cover uninsured residents.
Before tax credits that work like an upfront discount for most consumers, sticker-price premiums for a mid-range benchmark plan will average $328 a month nationally for an individual, comparable to payments for a new car.
The overview of premiums and plan choices, released Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, comes as the White House swings into full campaign mode to promote the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to a skeptical public. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, refuse to abandon their quest to derail "Obamacare" and flirt with a government shutdown to force the issue.
Sebelius stressed the positive in a preview call with reporters. Consumers will be able to choose from an average of 53 plan options when the new markets open Oct. 1 for people who don't have health care on the job.
"For millions of Americans, these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets," she said.
Violent militant Sunni group, Jundullah, sets sights on Pakistan's minority religions
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Sunni militant group known for targeting rival Muslims has emerged as a dangerous new player in Pakistan, sending a pair of suicide bombers this week to detonate themselves inside a church in the deadliest ever attack against Pakistani Christians.
The brutal assault, which killed 85 worshippers during Sunday services, was the first time that a militant group has taken direct aim at Pakistan's tiny Christian community.
That points to a frightening evolution in the country's multifaceted violence — threatening a new wave of bloodshed, this time targeting non-Muslim religions, which account for barely 5 percent of Pakistan's mainly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million.
Already a nervous minority, Pakistan's Christians are among the poorest in the country, often living in squalid settlements tucked away in the country's sprawling cities.
The community has come under brutal attacks before. But in most cases, they were unorganized mob attacks by radical Muslims who burned down entire Christian neighborhoods, usually over a personal or property dispute that escalated into charges a Christian committed blasphemy against Islam, stirring up a mob. Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws have also landed dozens of Christians in jail over flimsy charges that could get them death penalties.
Massive quake in southwest Pakistan kills 210, rescuers struggle to help people in remote area
QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Rescuers struggled Wednesday to help thousands of people injured and left homeless after their houses collapsed in a massive earthquake in southwestern Pakistan the day before as the death toll rose overnight to 210.
The earth moved with enough force to create a small island visible off the southern coast after the huge tremor, said Pakistani officials.
The magnitude 7.7 quake struck in the remote district of Awaran in Pakistan's Baluchistan province on Tuesday afternoon. Such a quake is considered major, capable of widespread and heavy damage.
It was felt as far away as New Delhi, the Indian capital, some 1,200 kilometers (about 740 miles) away, but no damage or injuries were immediately reported there.
A provincial official in Baluchistan, Additional Home Secretary Zahid bin Maqsood, put the death toll at 210 and said 375 people had been injured, while a spokesman for the provincial government, Jan Mohammad Bulaidi, put the death toll at 238 — conflicting figures likely due to the difficulty in contacting local officials and people in the remote region.
Explorer says underwater 'yellow brick road' is leading to more Mass. pirate booty
BREWSTER, Mass. (AP) — He calls it "the yellow brick road" because it's literally sprinkled with gold dust.
This road runs along Cape Cod's shifting seafloor, and undersea explorer Barry Clifford believes it leads to undiscovered treasure from the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah.
About two weeks ago, Clifford and his dive team took a previously unplanned trip back to the wreck site, and Clifford returned more convinced than ever that the road he's exploring is a path to riches.
"We think we're very, very close," Clifford said.
The Whydah sank in a brutal storm in 1717 with plunder from 50 ships on board. Clifford discovered the wreck site in 1984 off Wellfleet and has since pulled up 200,000 artifacts, including gold ornaments, sword handles, even a boy's leg.
Amazon unveils faster, slimmer, lighter tablets with 'Mayday' 24/7 live video helpers
SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon is refreshing its line-up of tablet computers with new devices called Kindle Fire HDX, which are significantly faster and lighter than the previous generation.
The 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions also have sharper, more colorful displays than older models, and both have more pixels per inch than the latest iPad.
To help those who are unfamiliar with tablets, the new Kindles come with a feature called "Mayday", which allows users to summon a live customer service representative in a tiny video window. The helpers can explain new features or troubleshoot problems while guiding users with on-screen hand scribbles. They can even take control of the device from afar.
CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the feature to reporters Tuesday, saying it is "completely unique" and takes advantage of Amazon's massive cloud computing and customer service infrastructure. It also builds on Amazon.com Inc.'s reputation for excellent customer service.
"You shouldn't have to be afraid of your device," Bezos said.
Spithill, Oracle win 7th straight against Kiwis to set up epic America's Cup finale
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Skipper Jimmy Spithill and his mates aboard Oracle Team USA are on the brink of finishing one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
An America's Cup that had the look of an embarrassing loss for software tycoon Larry Ellison's American syndicate comes down to a winner-take-all race Wednesday: Two 72-foot, space-age catamarans are set to make a final, adrenaline-fueled sprint around San Francisco Bay, on a five-leg course framed by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
It'll be Spithill and Oracle Team USA, on an almost unfathomable seven-race winning streak, against Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand, who have been marooned on match point for a week and could suffer one of the most ignominious losses ever.
Weather-permitting, Race 19 is scheduled to start at 4:15 p.m. EDT.
"It's not over. That's the key point here is, we've got to finish it off," said Spithill, a 34-year-old Australian who lives in San Diego with his American wife and their two young sons.