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Sunday, June 1, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Jun 1, 2014 4:00 AM

Updated: Jun 1, 2014 4:00 AM

Hagel says White House moved quickly on prisoner swap because captive's life was in danger

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday the military operation to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees was not relayed to Congress because officials believed the soldier's life was in danger.

In his first extensive public comments about Saturday's operation, Hagel said intelligence the U.S. had gathered suggested that Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating."

Taliban members handed Bergdahl over to special operations forces in eastern Afghanistan, and later in the day the detainees were flown from the Guantanamo detention center to Qatar.

The Pentagon did not give Congress the required 30-day notice for the release of detainees.

Hagel said it was the administration's judgment the military had to move quickly to get Bergdahl out, "essentially to save his life."


After 5 years in captivity, US solider released by Taliban as part of prisoner trade

WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly five years after his capture by insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl climbed into an American helicopter. He took out a pen and wrote on a paper plate, "SF?" asking the troops who had come to find him in eastern Afghanistan if they were U.S. special operations forces.

Over the roar of the rotors, one of them shouted to Bergdhal: "Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time."

The only American prisoner of the Afghan war, Bergdahl broke down in tears.

The emotional moment was described by a defense official, one of several U.S. officials who detailed Bergdahl's release Saturday. In exchange for the 28-year-old American, President Barack Obama agreed to release five high-level Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten," Obama said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by Bergdahl's parents. "The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind."


French authorities: Suspect in Brussels Jewish museum shootings that killed at least 3

PARIS (AP) A man has been arrested in southeast France in the investigation of a shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels that left at least three people dead, the Paris prosecutor's office said Sunday.

An official with the prosecutor's office says the suspect has been handed to anti-terrorist investigators and could be held at least through Tuesday under French counterterrorism law. She says the man was arrested Friday during a customs inspection at a train and bus station in the port city of Marseille.

The man was found to have a revolver and an automatic weapon of the same type used in the Brussels shootings May 24. The official said ballistics analyses are under way to determine if it is the same weapon.

The man had arrived in Marseille on a bus from Amsterdam that had stopped in Brussels, she said. She would not provide further information and was not authorized to be publicly named when speaking of ongoing investigations.

The Paris prosecutor was expected to give a news conference Sunday on the matter.


Mickelson says he's cooperating in insider trading investigation involving him, investor Icahn

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson confirmed that FBI agents investigating insider trading approached him this week at the Memorial Tournament. The five-time major champion said Saturday he has done "absolutely nothing wrong."

A federal official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are analyzing trades Mickelson and Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters made involving Clorox at the same time activist investor Carl Icahn was attempting to take over the company. When Icahn's intent became public, the stock price jumped.

The official was unauthorized to speak about the investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Reports of the investigation appeared in several newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal.

Smiling as he stood before a room packed with reporters and cameras, Mickelson said the case had not been a distraction until FBI agents approached him after his opening round Thursday.

He said it would not affect his preparations for the U.S. Open in two weeks, the only major he lacks for the career Grand Slam.


AP Interview: Syrian presidential candidate Hassan al-Nouri calls Bashar Assad a strong leader

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) One of two candidates challenging Bashar Assad in next month's election has almost nothing but praise for the Syrian president, saying his handling of the country's conflict has proven he is a "great leader." His only, slight criticism is that officials in Assad's government have mismanaged the economy.

Still, Hassan al-Nouri insists he is serious about his candidacy in the June 3 vote, which Assad is almost assured of winning. In a 30-minute interview with The Associated Press, al-Nouri said he was running to represent the "silent majority," and called himself a "great candidate and a strong contender."

The election comes more than three years into an uprising against Assad's rule that has killed more than 160,000 people and forced another 2.7 million to seek refuge abroad. The civil war has destroyed much of the country, unleashed a regional humanitarian crisis and ripped apart the nation's economy and social fabric.

The Syrian opposition and its Western allies have denounced the vote as a sham designed to lend Assad a veneer of electoral legitimacy. The government, meanwhile, has touted the vote as the political solution to the conflict.

Assad has held power since 2000, when he took over after the death of his father, Hafez, who ran the country for 30 years. Previously, Assad and his father have been elected in single-candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-or-no ballots.


All 7 aboard Atlantic City-bound plane killed in crash in Massachusetts air field

BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) All seven people aboard a private plane that crashed in a Massachusetts air field and erupted into a fireball were killed, authorities said Sunday.

The Gulfstream IV crashed as it was leaving Hanscom Field about 9:40 p.m. Saturday for Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the air field.

"There were no survivors," Brelis said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people on board and their loved ones."

The names of the victims were not immediately released, and officials didn't say if they were traveling as a group to Atlantic City, a popular casino resort spot on the Atlantic coast.

Officials also did not speculate on what they think caused the crash. They said the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate and determine what happened.


Park officials: No 'viable chance of survival' for 6 climbers who likely fell at Mount Rainier

SEATTLE (AP) Six climbers on Mount Rainier likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in what would be among the worst alpine accidents ever on the iconic Washington mountain.

A helicopter crew on Saturday spotted camping and climbing gear in the avalanche-prone area. It is believed the group fell 3,300 feet from their last known whereabouts of 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge, Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patricia Wold said in a statement.

"There's not a viable chance of survival," park Ranger Fawn Bauer told The Associated Press.

Air and ground searches were suspended late Saturday afternoon. The danger of falling rock and ice in the area where searchers picked up the pings prevents a ground recovery effort.

"It would expose our rangers to pretty extreme conditions," Bauer said. "And, in all honesty, we may never be able to get on the ground there."


Protesters rally briefly in Bangkok as Thai troops move to thwart anti-coup activists

BANGKOK (AP) Hundreds of demonstrators shouting "Freedom!" and "Democracy!" rallied briefly Sunday near a major shopping mall in the heart of Thailand's capital to denounce the country's May 22 coup despite a lockdown by soldiers of some of the city's major intersections.

Thailand's new military rulers had deployed thousands of troops and police officers to several key locations across Bangkok to prevent an expected series of rallies from jelling. But only one small group of protesters showed up at a site that lacked any mass army presence.

They gathered on an elevated walkway beside the Terminal 21 shopping mall, chanting and holding signs saying "No Coup." Scores of police and helmeted soldiers with riot shields came to the scene, and the mall's owners shut the nine-story complex and asked customers to leave for their safety. There was no violence, however, and the protest fizzled after a couple of hours.

"I am here because I don't want a coup. I want elections and democracy," said a 66-year-old female protester who asked to be identified only as Ratchana because of concerns over being detained.

"This is the 21st century," she said. "There shouldn't be any coups, but they still keep happening ... because Thais are afraid" to speak out.


South Korean anger at crew of sunken ferry raises questions about fairness of impending trial

INCHEON, South Korea (AP) Less than two months after the ferry Sewol sank, court proceedings over the disaster are set to begin for 15 crew members over the disaster four of them for homicide. The job of defending them falls almost entirely on six state-appointed lawyers, three of whom started practicing law only this year.

The defendants are surrounded by hostility in South Korea, all the way up to President Park Geun-hye, who has called the crew's actions murderous. Private lawyers have abandoned their cases. Even the family of a deceased crew member who was praised as a hero speaks of him with shame.

The anger raises questions about the fairness of the crew members' impending trial, details of which will be worked out at a June 10 court hearing in Gwangju. All surviving crew members responsible for the ship's navigation have been charged with negligence and with failing to do their duty to protect passengers in the April 16 disaster.

Authorities have recovered 288 bodies and continue to look for 16 others in the wrecked ship off South Korea's southwestern coast.

There are allegations that the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co., dangerously overloaded the vessel and gave crew members inadequate emergency training, and some company officials also have been arrested. But they may be better able to defend themselves than the crew. The fugitive head of Chonghaejin, Yoo Byung-eun, is a billionaire. The Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-seok, reportedly made 2.7 million won ($2,635) a month.


Spurs beat Thunder in overtime to advance to NBA Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) San Antonio fought off Father Time, the league MVP and an injury to its best player to return to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime Saturday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to set up a rematch with the Miami Heat.

San Antonio will host Game 1 on Thursday night and will try to avenge last year's heartbreaking loss. San Antonio led Miami 3-2 before losing Game 6 in overtime, then dropping Game 7.

"People keep talking like we weren't close to winning, but we were ready to win last year," Spurs center Tim Duncan said. "We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still."

A trio of 30-somethings led the way for the Spurs. Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds, Boris Diaw scored 26 points and Manu Ginobili chipped in 15 points and six rebounds for the Spurs.

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