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Saturday, June 28, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Jun 28, 2014 4:00 AM

Updated: Jun 28, 2014 4:00 AM

Iraqi helicopters conduct airstrikes targeting Sunni insurgents in northern city of Tikrit

BAGHDAD (AP) The Iraqi military and witnesses say government helicopter gunships have conducted airstrikes in the northern city of Tikrit.

Tikrit is the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein and one of two major cities to fall in recent weeks to the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and allied Sunni militants.

Chief Iraqi military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi says the air raids targeted Sunni insurgents attacking army troops, who have established a bridgehead at a university campus on the city's northern outskirts.

Government troops were ferried in by helicopter to the sprawling campus early Friday morning.

A Tikrit resident confirmed that air raids took place at the University of Tikrit around dawn Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

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Russian foreign minister accuses United States of fueling confrontation in Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) Russia's foreign minister on Saturday accused the United States of encouraging Ukraine to challenge Moscow and heavily weighing in on the European Union.

Speaking in televised remarks Saturday, Sergey Lavrov said that "our American colleagues still prefer to push the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path."

He added that chances for settling the Ukrainian crisis would have been higher if it only depended on Russia and Europe.

Lavrov spoke after Friday's European Union summit, which decided not to immediately impose new sanctions on Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, but gave the Russian government and pro-Russian insurgents there until Monday to take steps to improve the situation.

Ukraine on Friday signed a free-trade pact with the EU, the very deal that angered Russia and triggered the bloodshed and political convulsions of the past seven months that brought Russia-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War times.

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Kerry: Syrian moderate rebels could help in the fight against extremists in neighboring Iraq

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday that the U.S. hopes to enlist moderate Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has reluctantly decided to arm and train in the battle against militant extremists in neighboring Iraq.

Obama sent Congress a $500 million request Thursday for a Pentagon-run program that would significantly expand previous covert efforts to arm rebels fighting both the Sunni extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The move that comes amid increased U.S. concern that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are becoming an intertwined fight against the same Sunni extremist group.

If approved by lawmakers, the program would in effect open a second front in the fight against militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, that is spilling over Syria's border and threatening to overwhelm Iraq.

"Obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL's presence and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq," Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba.

A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry later said the secretary did not mean to imply that Syrian rebels would actually cross the border to fight in Iraq. The official was not authorized to brief reporters by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Hobby Lobby's religious objection to covering contraceptives among last cases at Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court is poised to deliver its verdict in a case that weighs the religious rights of employers and the right of women to the birth control of their choice.

The court meets for a final time Monday to release decisions in its two remaining cases before the justices take off for the summer. The cases involve birth control coverage under President Barack Obama's health law and fees paid to labor unions representing government employees by workers who object to being affiliated with a union.

Two years after Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote that saved the health care law in the midst of Obama's campaign for re-election, the justices are considering a sliver of the law.

Employers must cover contraception for women at no extra charge among a range of preventive benefits in employee health plans. Dozens of companies, including the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, claim religious objections to covering some or all contraceptives. The methods and devices at issue before the Supreme Court are those that Hobby Lobby and furniture maker Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. say can work after conception, the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, as well as intrauterine devices, which can cost up to $1,000.

The Obama administration says insurance coverage for birth control is important to women's health and reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies, as well as abortions.

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Coup after coup: Clash of values leaves Thailand unable to escape cycle of military takeovers

BANGKOK (AP) Over the past decades, Chalad Worachat has resisted military regimes and dictatorial legislation by staging hunger strikes, five of them. Now the 71-year-old onetime parliamentarian is back on water and honey, despondent that after so many years and so much bloodshed, Thailand has been unable to break out of a cycle of military coups to achieve true democracy.

"We are not moving toward full democracy. We're going backward to dictatorship," he said on the 25th day of his sixth fast, which he vows to continue until the latest military regime adopts democratic principles. Sallow-faced and dressed in black, he reclined on a mat spread over a curbside across the street from the Parliament building, now empty.

Chalad has lain there before, sometimes to protest against individuals, at other times to stop moves like a 1983 bill that would have allowed unelected bureaucrats and military officers to become prime minister. But basically he has been fighting the same battle again and again.

"Thais have never learned about democracy, never really compared democracy with dictatorship to see which is better," he says. "They just look at what's in front of them and see a hero, but a hero never lasts long."

A military man has led Thailand for 54 of the 82 years since the Southeast Asian country ended absolute monarchy in 1932. It continues to bounce between coups and fragile democratic governments despite numerous advantages over many of its neighbors normally regarded as conducive to liberal democracy, including a vibrant economy, no rigid class structure and virtually no war on its soil in almost 250 years. This while once power-grabbing militaries have returned to their barracks in South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines even Myanmar to some extent.

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White House review of VA describes an agency struggling with distrust and a lack of resources

WASHINGTON (AP) Citing "significant and chronic system failures" in the nation's health system for veterans, a review ordered by President Barack Obama portrays the Department of Veterans Affairs as a struggling agency battling a corrosive culture of distrust, lacking in resources and ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health care needs.

The scathing report by deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors says the Veterans Health Administration, the VA sub agency that provides health care to about 8.8 million veterans a year, has systematically ignored warnings about its deficiencies and must be fundamentally restructured.

Obama ordered the review last month in a response to widespread reports of long delays for treatment and medical appointments and of veterans dying while on waiting lists. But Nabors' report goes far beyond the lengthy waits and manipulated schedules raised by whistleblowers and chronicled in past internal and congressional investigations.

The review offers a series of recommendations, including a need for more doctors, nurses and trained administrative staff proposals that are likely to face skepticism among some congressional Republicans who have blamed the VA's problems on mismanagement, not lack of resources.

"We know that unacceptable, systemic problems and cultural issues within our health system prevent veterans from receiving timely care," Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a statement following an Oval Office meeting Friday with Obama and Nabors. "We can and must solve these problems as we work to earn back the trust of veterans."

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In letter to ABC News, Elliot Rodger's dad says it's his duty to help prevent future killings

LOS ANGELES (AP) The father of the young man who killed six people and injured 13 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara, last month says it's his "duty" to help prevent future mass killings.

In a letter provided to ABC News on Friday, Peter Rodger wrote that he wants to help people recognize warning signs of mental illness within families.

He said his son, Elliot, hid his sickness from his parents, mental health professionals and law enforcement. In hindsight, the father said, he is beginning to understand there are traits, or "markers," that family members can look out for in loved ones.

"My duty now is to do as much as I can to try and stop this from happening again," the elder Rodger wrote. "It will be a long journey involving the personal choices of individuals and families, public discussions, mental health reforms, a change in the culture you name it. My sincere hope is that I can help by telling my story."

He said he has created a website AskForHelp.org with resources on mental illness and a place to share stories.

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Minority vote takes new dimension after black support in Mississippi race helps GOP incumbent

WASHINGTON (AP) Sen. Thad Cochran's GOP primary victory, thanks in part to black Mississippians who turned out to vote for him, exemplifies a new math that politicians of all persuasions may be forced to learn as this country's voting population slowly changes complexion.

Cochran's campaign courted black voters, perceiving their unhappiness with his tea party-supported opponent, Chris McDaniel, and his anti-government rhetoric and scathing criticisms of President Barack Obama. Blacks responded by turning out to help give Cochran an almost 7,000-vote win. The use of Mississippi's open primary to further their agenda showed political maturity by black voters and debunked a longstanding belief that they obediently vote Democratic and not according to their own interests.

They turned out for a primary runoff with no Democratic candidate involved. And they voted Republican even though the smart play for the Democrats would have been to usher McDaniel to victory and create a more winnable contest for Democrat Travis Childers in November.

"I think that Thad Cochran is a shot across the bow to be felt for a long time," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was the first minority presidential candidate to win a statewide primary or caucus in 1984 and 1988. "You cannot win in the new South or win in national elections with all-white primaries. This is a new America today."

Tests of this assertion are coming next month in Alabama and Georgia, also Southern states with large minority populations and open primaries. The Mississippi race may be a harbinger of more strategic voting for minority voters, especially African Americans, said D'Andra Orey, a political science professor at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.

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Bobby Womack, R&B singer-songwriter with brave 2nd act, dies at 70; influenced Rolling Stones

Bobby Womack, a colorful and highly influential R&B singer-songwriter who influenced artists from the Rolling Stones to Damon Albarn, has died. He was 70.

Womack's publicist Sonya Kolowrat said Friday that the singer had died, but she could provide no other details.

With an incomparable voice few could match, Womack was a stirring singer and guitarist in his own right and a powerful songwriter whose hits like "Across 110th Street," ''If You Think You're Lonely Now" and "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much" captured the imagination of future stars in rock 'n' roll and R&B.

"He had a style that nobody else could ever capture," longtime friend, gospel singer Candi Staton, said in a statement. "I loved him and I will miss him so, so very much."

Womack's death comes as something of a surprise. Though he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago and overcame addiction and multiple health issues, including prostate and colon cancer, recently, he seemed in good health and spirits when he performed earlier this month at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

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Mexican coach Miguel Herrera's euphoric sideline action thrills World Cup audience

SAO PAULO (AP) Mexico's national soccer coach Miguel Herrera just can't keep his joy bottled up, and his enthusiasm has made him one of the most entertaining and popular figures of the World Cup and an Internet sensation worldwide.

Memes of Herrera flood the Web, like one that shows his hair catching on fire cartoon-style. In one picture, he playfully sticks out his tongue while he photobombs three members of his team on the pitch. In a video, he dances happily to Spanish ska music.

Forget Coach Herrera's success in turning around the troubled Mexican team, which faces off Sunday against the Netherlands after becoming one of the international soccer tournament's biggest surprises. Soccer fans around the global have fallen in love with Herrera's colorful antics, which are often as absorbing as the goal replays.

"He is so authentic, so expressive and so genuine," said Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and World Cup commentator. "He's becoming the representation of the Mexicans' ability to celebrate and party. That is very seductive."

Although he wears a suit and a tie, Herrera rumbles up and down the sidelines like a classic Mexican wrestler. When his players score, he shakes his arms in the air and seemingly goes into a state of euphoria, throwing his short, stout body up and down the sidelines.

Topics: World Briefly

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