Posted: Jan 18, 2014 4:00 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2014 4:00 AM
Blasts hit anti-government protest site in Thai capital, wounding 28 people in fresh violence
BANGKOK (AP) Two explosions shook an anti-government demonstration site in Thailand's capital on Sunday, wounding at least 28 people in the latest violence to hit Bangkok as the nation's increasingly volatile political crisis drags on.
Police said the blasts near Victory Monument, in the north of the city, were caused by fragmentation grenades the same kind that killed one man and wounded dozens Friday in a similar explosion targeting protest marchers.
The demonstrators, who control several small patches of Bangkok, are vying to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government and derail Feb. 2 elections she called in a bid to quell the crisis.
Witnesses said the explosions occurred about two minutes apart. The first blast went off about 100-200 meters (yards) from a stage set up by protesters, leaving a small crater beside a vendor's stall. The second went off near a row of vendors selling anti-government T-shirts, leaving bloody clothes and a ripped white-and-blue plastic tarp scattered across the ground.
Protester Theerayuth Uthakapintanont said that the second blast struck two vendors who were selling merchandise to protesters in the street.
Main Syrian opposition group votes in favor of attending coming peace talks
ISTANBUL (AP) The main, Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted Saturday in favor of attending a coming peace conference aimed at ending the country's bloody civil war, paving the way for the first direct talks between the rival sides in the nearly three-year conflict.
The vote in Istanbul came as food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria's capital for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad's government ahead of the peace conference, Palestinian and United Nations officials said.
The Syrian National Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the U.N.-sponsored talks.
The Coalition's leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, said in a speech late Saturday that they are heading to the conference "without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad's regime."
"The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution at the top of them removing the butcher from power," Jarba said.
Voters overwhelmingly support Egypt's new constitution, though results hide divided country
CAIRO (AP) Almost everyone who cast ballots supported Egypt's new constitution in this week's referendum, results announced Saturday show, but a boycott by Islamists and low youth turnout suggest the country is still dangerously divided.
Nearly 20 million voters backed the new constitution, almost double the number of those who voted for one drafted in 2012 under the government of toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Only a narrow sliver of voters 1.9 percent voted against the charter, after a massive government-sponsored campaign supporting it and the arrest of activists campaigning against it.
"Despite a milieu of intense social upheaval and acts of terrorism and sabotage that sought to derail the process, Egyptians have now marked yet another defining moment in our roadmap to democracy," presidential spokesman Ehab Badawy said. "The outcome represents nothing less than the dawning of a new Egypt."
The expected overwhelming support for the charter is seen as key to legitimizing Egypt's military-backed interim government, and the political plan put in place since Morsi's ouster in July. Analysts say it also suggests military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup against Morsi, has enough popular support to make a rumored run for the presidency himself.
It was the first vote since the military removed Morsi following massive protests in July. Hundreds celebrated in the streets after officials announced the results, including Hoda Hamza, a housewife who waved an Egyptian flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square and carried a picture of el-Sissi with an inscription reading: "By the order of the people, el-Sissi is president."
Bomb kills 20 troops in military compound in northwest Pakistan
BANNU, Pakistan (AP) A bomb planted by the Taliban ripped through a vehicle carrying security forces inside a Pakistani army compound in the country's volatile northwestern region Sunday, killing 20 troops, officials and the militants said.
The blast was a heavy blow for the Pakistani military which has been fighting a stubborn insurgency in the country's northwest. Bombs and shootings have killed thousands of security forces and left thousands more wounded and maimed.
The vehicle was hired by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, said police official Inyat Ali Khan from the Bannu region where the explosion occurred. It was part of a convoy that was about to leave the military base in the town of Bannu and drive west to the North Waziristan tribal area, he said.
The convoy was part of a regular Sunday morning troop rotation going into North Waziristan, said a military source. He said the bulk of the casualties were from the Frontier Corps because the bomb was planted in a vehicle hired by the paramilitary force to transport their personnel. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The explosion killed 20 security personnel and wounded another 30, the Pakistani military said in a statement.
NJ mayor: Christie administration said Sandy funds wouldn't arrive until project went forward
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) The Christie administration withheld millions of dollars in Superstorm Sandy recovery grants from a New Jersey city because its mayor refused to sign off on a politically connected commercial development, the mayor said Saturday.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Gov. Chris Christie's lieutenant governor and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow to her city if she allowed the project to move forward.
Zimmer said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at an event in May and told her Sandy aid was tied to the project a proposal from the New York City-based Rockefeller Group aimed at prime real estate in the densely populated city across the river from New York City.
The Democratic mayor said the Republican administration officials wanted Rockefeller's plans for the property approved, while Zimmer said she preferred to go through normal channels and hear from all stakeholders, including the public and owners of adjacent property. Rockefeller Group owns about three blocks of the 19-block area.
"I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor she made it very clear that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn't be able to help me," Zimmer told The Associated Press.
Last evacuees of wildfire in suburban Los Angeles return home; blaze containment at 61 percent
GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) Hundreds of residents who fled a wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles returned home Saturday as red-flag warnings of extremely dangerous fire conditions expired, but officials say that bone-dry winter conditions remain a threat for the region.
The last wave of evacuees in the Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, were allowed to return home Saturday evening.
"It's exhilarating ... very thankful (to the firefighters) for saving our community," resident Alexandra Ramos told KNBC-TV.
Crews focused on securing fire lines around the roughly 3-square-mile blaze and looked ahead to rehabilitating the burn area to prevent erosion and possible mudslides, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Robert Brady. Containment increased from 30 percent earlier in the day to 61 percent.
"It's starting to look fairly good," Brady said. "We're still in very dry conditions, so I would remind people to be careful out there."
Postal union threatens protests, boycotts over new postal retail centers in Staples stores
WASHINGTON (AP) The opening of Postal Service retail centers in dozens of Staples stores around the country is being met with threats of protests and boycotts by the agency's unions.
The new outlets are staffed by Staples employees, not postal workers, and labor officials say that move replaces good-paying union jobs with low-wage, nonunion workers.
"It's a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services," said Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union.
The dispute comes as the financially struggling Postal Service continues to form partnerships with private companies, and looks to cut costs and boost revenues.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the program has nothing to do with privatization and everything to do with customer service and driving up demand for the agency's products.
Screen Actors Guild Awards winner 'American Hustle' has Oscar look of 'Argo'
Hollywood loves a sequel, and this awards season is shaping up to be one.
Just as "Argo" emerged as the unlikely victor over "Lincoln" last year, another 1970s-set crowd-pleaser is turning into the Academy Awards favorite over a solemn historical epic about slavery.
David O. Russell's "American Hustle" took the Screen Actors Guild Awards' top honor for outstanding cast on Saturday night, beating out Steve McQueen's acclaimed "12 Years a Slave." Because actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the SAG Awards (which last year picked "Argo") are considered one of the best indicators of the Oscars.
Just days ago, the Academy Awards nominations set up a trio of front-runners, bestowing 10 nods on "American Hustle" and "Gravity," and nine on "12 Years a Slave." But though no actor was individually honored by the guild for "American Hustle," the Abscam tale now appears to have an edge over its Oscar rivals.
Speaking for a cast that includes Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper credited Russell as the epitome of the actor's director.
Sasheer Zamata, 1st black female 'Saturday Night Live' cast member since 2007, makes debut
NEW YORK (AP) Sasheer Zamata made a low-key but notable debut on "Saturday Night Live" as the first black female cast member since 2007.
As usual for a "SNL" newcomer, Zamata kept a low profile on Saturday's broadcast. She participated in sketches in roles including Rihanna and a teenager at a slumber party.
The 27-year-old comedian and improv performer was signed earlier this month in the wake of criticism of "SNL" for its lack of ethnic diversity. Black male cast members Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah were among those voicing complaints last fall.
The NBC series has had only four black women cast members in its 39 seasons. The most recent was Maya Rudolph. The biracial actress left in 2007.
The show has also recently hired two black female writers.
Serena Williams' winning streak ends in upset loss to Ivanovic in 4th round of Australian Open
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The powerful serve that carried Serena Williams to 25 consecutive wins suddenly became the target of Ana Ivanovic's attack in a major fourth-round upset at the Australian Open.
Williams had a back complaint she'd tried to keep secret before Sunday but Ivanovic noticed quickly that the best serve in women's tennis wasn't coming in as fast as expected, and started taking big swipes.
The No. 14-seeded Ivanovic ended Williams' bid for a sixth Australian and 18th Grand Slam title with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory that took the hottest of favorites out of contention at Melbourne Park and opened up one side of the women's draw.
"It's not easy playing such a champion ... but she is also just a human," said Ivanovic, who beat Venus Williams in the final at Auckland, New Zealand earlier this month. "I just went out there swinging."
Williams hadn't lost a match since August, and had a phenomenal record of 78-4 in 2013. She came into the fourth round on the second-longest winning streak of her career and was playing her 70th match at Melbourne Park, a record in the Open era. Williams set the mark for most match wins (61) ever at the Australian Open with her third-round victory.