Posted: Mar 9, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated: Mar 10, 2012 4:01 AM
UN envoy Kofi Annan in Syria to press for end to violence
BEIRUT (AP) U.N. envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday in Damascus during a high-profile international mission to mediate an end to the country's yearlong conflict, even as activists reported fresh shelling by regime forces that sent families fleeing for safety in the northern province of Idlib. Thick black smoke billowed over the area.
The state-run news agency SANA reported that talks between Assad and Annan had begun but there were no further details on the meeting, aimed at a halting violence that began with crackdowns on mostly peaceful protests but appears to be transforming into a civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the government was shelling the Idlib region after tanks moved toward the area in recent days. There was no independent confirmation, but smoke rose into the sky behind some apartment buildings, according to an Associated Press team in the area.
Some families were seen fleeing the violence, clutching their belongings, or taking shelter.
Military reinforcements have been pouring into Idlib for days, including dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, activists said. There have been concerns Idlib would be the focus of an offensive following the government recapture of the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in Homs after a bloody, monthlong siege.
US officials: Syrian regime under stress, but Assad's inner circle and army still loyal
WASHINGTON (AP) Top U.S. officials all the way up to President Barack Obama are predicting the Syrian regime's days are numbered, but recent U.S. intelligence reports suggest that the Syrian leader commands a formidable army that is unlikely to turn on him, an inner circle that has stayed loyal and a Syrian elite that still supports his rule.
While intelligence officials would not be drawn on a timeline for the regime's possible collapse, their sober assessment hinted at a continuing campaign lasting several months, if not longer, with an inevitable continued loss of life. For the past year, the Syria's government has tried to crush a popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring movements. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed.
A worsening economy could ultimately drive Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, with food prices recently doubling, unemployment rising and refined fuel products running out.
But so far, there have been no mass protests over food or fuel shortages nor any discernible slowing in military activity because of a lack of supplies, according to three senior intelligence officials, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity to provide a snapshot of recent intelligence reports and analysis of the crisis.
Satellite imagery shows a new ferociousness to the embattled regime's attacks, including artillery shelling of multiple mosques, schools, playgrounds and a hospital, in the Sunni neighborhood of Homs, the officials said. The continuing violence, they said, has driven some 2,000 refugees over the Lebanese border and displaced up to 200,000 more Syrians inside the country.
US developing plans to restart programs to fund military training, equipment in Yemen
WASHINGTON (AP) The Pentagon is planning to restart programs that would fund military training and equipment in Yemen, nearly a year after they were shut down because of escalating chaos in the embattled country.
While no agreements have been cemented, U.S. defense officials said as much as $75 million in military assistance could begin to flow later this year. The officials said the Pentagon and State Department are putting together a letter to send to Congress to request the aid be restarted.
The plan is in line with the Obama administration's intention to provide significant security and civilian aid to Yemen in 2012-13 as long as the Middle Eastern country continues to move toward a new government and funding is kept out of the hands of insurgents.
One senior military official said discussions have begun over how best the United States can help Yemen, which is putting a new U.S.-backed government in place. The official said it may be difficult to relaunch the counterterrorism training that was suspended about a year ago because Yemeni forces are engaged in battle with the al-Qaida-linked insurgency.
Instead, the training program could shift to focus less on fighting tactics and more on how to plan combat operations and strategize against the enemy.
Activists seek federal action to curtail seclusion, restraint in schools
WASHINGTON (AP) Tens of thousands of students, most of them disabled, are strapped down or physically restrained in school, and disability advocates hope that a new Education Department report detailing the practice of "seclusion and restraint" will spur federal action to end it.
The report, compiled and made public for the first time by the department's civil rights arm, revealed that 70 percent of students subjected to the techniques have disabilities.
Secluding and restraining children is controversial, and there are currently no federal standards on the use of the techniques in schools.
The American Association of School Administrators says using these techniques as a last resort in volatile situations protects students and faculty from physical harm and keeps some children with behavioral problems in schools who might otherwise go into residential institutions. But advocates say that the use of seclusion and restraint is far too culturally accepted in schools and has led to abuse and that Congress or the Education Department should act to set federal standards to curtail the practice.
They point to high-profile news reports and a Government Accountability Office study in 2009 illustrating cases of children as young as preschool age duct taped to chairs and locked alone for hours. The GAO, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, said it couldn't determine if these types of allegations were widespread, but the agency did find "hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on schoolchildren during the past two decades."
China reports $31.5 billion February trade deficit as imports rebound but growth weakening
BEIJING (AP) China reported its biggest monthly trade deficit in at least a decade in February as imports rebounded after a Lunar New Year holiday slowdown, but a broader measure showed global and Chinese demand both weakening.
Exports grew 18.4 percent over a year earlier to $114.5 billion, up from a 0.5 percent contraction in January, when factories were idled for a two-week holiday break, customs data showed Saturday. Imports jumped 39.6 percent to $145.9 billion, reviving after the previous month's 15 percent decline.
China's global trade deficit was $31.5 billion the biggest since at least the 1990s and a rare exception to a recent string of multibillion-dollar surpluses.
The deficit reflected China's relatively strong growth amid Europe's debt crisis and U.S. economic troubles. The economy expanded by 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2011 and the government's growth target this year is 7.5 percent.
But a broader measure, combining February's strong showing with the January slump, showed growth in both imports and exports decelerating markedly.
AP Enterprise: Japan nuclear evacuation led to deaths of sick and elderly, could happen again
MINAMI-SOMA, Japan (AP) The doctors and nurses at Futaba Hospital pleaded for help as a radioactive plume wafted over their hospital. They had been ordered out but had no vehicles to evacuate the hundreds of patients in their care. After two days of waiting in the cold with no electricity, help finally came.
Nearly two dozen patients died in the chaotic, daylong odyssey that followed.
Japan's government says only one person, an overworked employee at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, died as a result of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. But one year later, details from a new report and interviews with local authorities show many more perished because of bad planning and miscommunication between government agencies.
In fact, if the calamities that unfolded on March 11, 2011, were to be repeated today, hundreds of thousands of lives would still be at risk, according to mayors, hospital administrators and disaster response officials interviewed by The Associated Press. They say little has been done to fix systemic planning shortfalls and communication problems between government agencies that compounded that day's horrors.
"We have set a terrible precedent for the rest of the nation and for any town in the world where nuclear plants are located," said Katsutaka Idokawa, the mayor of Futaba, one of two towns straddled by the devastated Fukushima facility. "I see this disaster as a meltdown of Japan itself."
With Pennsylvania psych clinic rampage, woman loses another child to fatal shootings
PITTSBURGH (AP) Mary Schaab's only daughter was fatally shot 17 months ago, so she understood the horror and pain of losing a child, even before a Pennsylvania state trooper knocked at her door late Thursday to tell her the same thing had happened again this time to her son.
Up until then, Schaab had not been especially worried as she watched the television news coverage that day about a gunman who killed one person and shot several others at the Pittsburgh psychiatric hospital where Michael Schaab worked.
"We sat and watched the news for hours and not even thinking (he might be a victim) because he worked on another floor, an upper floor," Mary Schaab said, referring to news accounts of the shooting on the first floor lobby of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
Police now believe Michael Schaab was returning from a lunch break and just happened to be in the lobby when police say John Shick, 30, opened fire. University of Pittsburgh police shot and killed Shick, but not before the gunman wounded six others.
"A trooper came by and told us, about 10 or 11 last night," the Greensburg mother said Friday.
Hiker missing for almost a month found alive in NM forest; huddled with cat when temps dropped
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night.
Family members reported her missing Feb 14. But for various reasons, authorities didn't start searching for her until this week. The 41-year-old Page, who has a history of mental illness, was found Wednesday emaciated and malnourished but well-hydrated.
Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. The nearest town tiny Dusty, N.M. was 10 miles away.
"Her cat was in better shape than she was," New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue incident commander Marc Levesque said. "Her cat was also hunting. (Page) ran out of food a while back."
Page apparently purposefully hiked off a trail between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12. A Forest Service law enforcement agent spotted her silver Chevy passenger car on Feb. 12, but didn't think much of it because hikers leave vehicles near trails all the time, said Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the state police.
Bruce Springsteen performs at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater for Sirius 10th anniversary
NEW YORK (AP) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band worked a packed house into a total frenzy at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater.
Springsteen sprang through the balconies of the historic landmark and shimmied down pipes attached to the wall.
He also stretched, Gumby-like, to grasp the hand of a guy who leaned out of a box seat.
Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons, blasted out sax solos to a great crowd response.
He's part of Springsteen's new brass section. The Boss recently noted that it "takes a village" to fill the Big Man's shoes.
Person familiar with deal: Redskins to send 3 No. 1s to Rams for No. 2 overall draft pick
WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Redskins are poised to pay a hefty price to move into position to take Robert Griffin III.
A person familiar with the trade said the Redskins have a deal in place to acquire the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft from the St. Louis Rams. Washington will give up its first- and second-round selections this year, plus first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 in the trade, which can't be completed until the new league year begins Tuesday.
FOXsports.com and ESPN.com first reported details of the deal Friday night. A person confirmed the trade to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither team has announced it.
The deal shifts the Redskins up four places from sixth in the April draft, leapfrogging any other team that would have an interest in the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor. The Indianapolis Colts are expected to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick.
The bold move demonstrates how badly the Redskins are in need of a franchise quarterback after two decades of struggles. Coach Mike Shanahan has already whiffed on three in his two seasons in Washington, with Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck combining to produce an 11-21 record.