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

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Associated Press

Posted on April 24, 2014 at 9:04 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 25 at 6:02 AM

Obama says US stands shoulder-to-shoulder with South Korea against nuclearized North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that the U.S. stands "shoulder to shoulder" with its ally South Korea in refusing to accept a nuclearized North Korea.

Addressing a joint news conference alongside South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama said threats by North Korea will get it "nothing except further isolation" from the global community. North Korea has threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, possibly while Obama is in the region on a weeklong trip.

Obama also noted that his visit comes at a time of "great sorrow" for South Korea, which is mourning the loss of more than 300 people in a ferry that sank off the country's southwestern coast. The vast majority of the victims were high school students.

"So many were young students with their entire lives ahead of them," Obama said, invoking his two daughters, both close in age to many of the ferry victims. "I can only imagine what the parents are going through at this point, the incredible heartache."

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Number of suicides across military services dropped in 2013, rose among some soldiers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Suicides across the military dropped by more than 15 percent last year, but new detailed data reveals an increase in the number of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who took their own lives.

The overall totals provided by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps give some hope that prevention programs and increased efforts to identify troops at risk may be taking hold after several years of escalating suicides. But the increase among Army National Guard and Reserve members raises questions about whether those programs are getting to the citizen soldiers who may not have the same access to support networks and help that their active duty comrades receive.

Not only did the Army National Guard and Reserve suicides increase from 140 in 2012 to 152 last year, but the 2013 total exceeded the number of active duty soldiers who took their own lives, according to the Army. There were 151 active duty soldier suicides last year, compared with 185 in 2012, Army officials said.

The Pentagon plans to release a report Friday on military suicides. But those numbers differ a bit from the totals provided by the services because of complicated accounting changes in how the department counts suicides by reservists. Some of the Pentagon numbers were finalized a year ago, while the services have more recently updated totals that reflect the results of some death investigations.

According to the four military services, there were 289 suicides among active duty troops in 2013, down from 343 in 2012. The vast majority were in the Army, the nation's largest military service. The Navy saw a 25 percent decline, from 59 in 2012 to 44 in 2013. The Marines went from 48 to 45, while the Air Force went from 51 to 49.

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Lavrov accuses West of plotting to seize control of Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of plotting to control Ukraine and said the pro-Russian insurgents in the southeast would lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in the capital Kiev.

"The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people," Lavrov said on Friday.

Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in Geneva last week calling on all parties in the country to lay down arms and vacate public buildings. Pro-Russian militia have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine while the nationalist Right Sector movement is still in control of two public buildings in Kiev.

The West has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine's east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russian insurgents.

"For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction," U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

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AP Exclusive: Aid group faces funding crisis as international donors turn away from N. Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A funding crunch for aid to North Korea has become so severe 500,000 rural schoolchildren are as of this month no longer receiving assistance and aid to millions more could soon dry up, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The report underscores the flight of international donors to countries with less political baggage and more willingness to let aid workers do their jobs.

Just a short walk from one of the World Food Programme's two still-functioning food factories in the heart of Pyongyang, children snack on ice cream and sweets at street-side stalls. Well-heeled guests in luxury hotels sip on cappuccinos while white-hatted chefs back in the kitchen whip up pizzas smothered in cheese and sausage. This is the face North Korea prefers the world see. If there is hunger here, it is anything but obvious.

But while the North has come a long way since the famine and economic breakdowns believed to have killed hundreds of thousands in the mid-1990s, it continues to suffer widespread food shortages made worse by frequent natural disasters, limited economic growth and the lack of seeds, fertilizers and fuel, according to an internal, preliminary version of the report being prepared by WFP for current or prospective donors.

The report, noting statistics that every third North Korean child is stunted and every fifth child is underweight, said it is "very concerned" about the long-term physical and intellectual development of malnourished children. North Korean officials were not available to immediately comment on the contents of the report.

The report also highlighted concern with WFP's own funding crisis.

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Analysis: If Israeli-Palestinian talks collapse, expect a search for out-of-the-box ideas

JERUSALEM (AP) — Nine months of U.S.-driven diplomacy have left Israelis and Palestinians less hopeful than ever about a comprehensive peace agreement to end their century of conflict. Although a formula may yet be found to somehow prolong the talks past an end-of-April deadline, they are on the brink of collapse and the search is already on for new ideas.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts have exposed vast differences: On sharing Jerusalem, resolving the situation of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, and even borders, the sides seem nowhere close to agreement. And Thursday, Israel said it halted the talks in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision a day earlier to form a unity government with the Islamic militant Hamas movement, which Israel and the West consider a terrorist group.

"Unfortunately, under the current conditions, it is apparently not possible to reach 'end of conflict' — or, in more poetic language, a peace agreement," said dovish Cabinet member Amram Mitzna, a former general in charge of the West Bank.

Mohammed Madani, a leading member of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, said the Palestinian leader told visiting Israeli politicians that the Palestinians "cannot continue with talks in vain."

He said the Palestinians will press with their applications for membership as a state with various United Nations and other world bodies, a strategy aimed at entrenching the view that all the area Israel captured in the 1967 war is a foreign country and not — as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have it — "disputed territory."

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With vivid memories of Moscow's rule, Baltic states lead Europe in curbing Russia gas reliance

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Later this year, a ship the size of an aircraft carrier will arrive at Lithuania's port of Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea. The 300-meter (984-foot) vessel is not a warship, but a floating natural gas import terminal — aptly named "Independence" — that will be key to the Baltic region's plan to reduce its reliance on Russia's energy supplies.

The countries in this northeastern corner of the European Union are among the most dependent on Russia to keep their homes warm and industries running. The three Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania get all their gas from Russia and lack connections to the wider European pipeline system that would allow them to import from elsewhere. Poland meets 70 percent of its energy needs with Russian supplies.

As a result, the states, which still have fresh memories of domination by Moscow during the Cold War, have been among the swiftest countries in Europe to act to reduce that dependence.

Moscow's use of gas supplies as a means of putting pressure on Ukraine — like the Baltics, once part of the Soviet Union — has driven new urgency into projects to diversify energy supplies in the region, even as the full 28-member EU has struggled to come up with a united approach.

Historical factors help make Poland and the Baltic states particularly skeptical about Moscow's intentions. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union during World War II, and thousands were deported to labor camps. During the Cold War, Poland was ruled by communists installed and backed by Moscow.

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Calorie counts will be on restaurant menus and beyond, once FDA issues labeling rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — Diners could soon see calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants.

But will they be able to get that same clear information at grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theaters or airplanes?

The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see which establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, which are expected this year.

The idea is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know that it has 1,000 calories.

But non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard for exemption, and the rules have been delayed.

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Seabed search for missing Malaysian jet set to widen with no clues found in targeted area

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The seabed search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is set to widen as a sonar scan of the most likely crash site deep beneath the Indian Ocean nears completion without yielding a single clue, authorities said Friday.

Meanwhile in Beijing, about 50 relatives of Chinese passengers on the plane continued a sit-in protest outside the Malaysian Embassy after officials failed to show up to update them on the search.

The Australian search coordination center said a robotic submarine had scanned 95 percent of a 310-square-kilometer (120-square-mile) search area since last week but had found nothing of interest. The U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21 is creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor near where signals consistent with airplane black boxes were heard on April 8.

The search area is a circle with a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius, 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) deep off the west Australian coast. The search of the target area is scheduled to be completed within days.

"If no contacts of interest are made, Bluefin 21 will continue to examine the areas adjacent to the 10-kilometer radius," the center said in a statement.

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In Tornado Alley, shelters face dilemma with people who won't leave their pets behind

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Jerry Starr thought he was taking the safe approach when a twister was reported heading toward his suburban neighborhood outside Oklahoma City last May. He grabbed his teenage daughter Dyonna and his dog and drove to the local City Hall, which serves as a public storm shelter.

But when he arrived, a police officer told him that the only way they could come in was if Tobi, his shih tzu-yorkie mix, stayed outside. No pets allowed. So Starr and Tobi rode out the storm in his car, one of the most dangerous places he could be.

"I love her and there's no way I was going to live knowing I was abandoning her," said Starr, of Del City.

Modern forecasting technology now gives residents hours of notice of threatening conditions and precise projections of a storm's likely path. Residents are bombarded with broadcast warnings to take shelter.

But as the spring storm season arrives in Tornado Alley, emergency officials are still wrestling with a dilemma posed by man's best friends. Since many public shelters won't accept animals, people wind up dashing across town to rescue their pets or staying in unprotected houses rather than hunkering down in safety.

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To union or not to unionize: Northwestern football players vote on that question

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Northwestern football players will file into an on-campus hall adjacent to their home stadium to cast secret ballots Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes.

Just don't expect results any time soon.

After the vote, the ballot boxes will be sealed for weeks or months — perhaps even years — as an appeal by the Evanston-based university runs its course.

The full National Labor Relations Board agreed Thursday to hear the school's appeal of a regional director's March ruling that the players are employees and as such can unionize, triggering a rule that the ballots be impounded.

Last month's decision by the Chicago-area head of the NLRB, Peter Ohr, sent shockwaves through the world of college sports, prompting sharp criticism from Northwestern and college athletic departments nationwide.

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