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Thursday, December 26, 2013,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Posted: Dec 25, 2013 4:00 PM

Updated: Dec 26, 2013 4:00 AM

Japanese PM Abe visits Yasukuni war shrine, drawing sharp rebukes from China and South Korea

TOKYO (AP) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid his respects Thursday at a shrine honoring Japan's war dead in a move that drew sharp rebukes from China and South Korea, who warned that the visit celebrates his country's militaristic past and threatens to further sour already bad relations.

The United States expressed disappointment "that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors."

Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians have long been a point of friction with China and South Korea, because the 2.5 million war dead enshrined there include 14 class A war criminals from World War II national leaders who were either executed or died in prison or during their trials.

Japan colonized Korea and occupied parts of China, often brutally, before and during World War II.

Abe, a nationalist who advocates revising Japan's pacifist constitution, has always wanted to visit Yasukuni as prime minister, but his visit still surprised some analysts, who thought he might take a pragmatic approach to leadership that focused on reviving the economy and trying to avoid alienating neighbors.

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Thailand's election commission urges government to delay polls after clashes kill at least 1

BANGKOK (AP) Thailand's election commission on Thursday urged the government to delay upcoming polls as clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters killed a police officer and injured nearly 100 people, adding to political turmoil threatening to tear apart the country.

The hours-long unrest took place outside a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on the ballot. Protesters threw rocks as they tried to break into the building to halt the process, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Four election commissioners left the stadium on a helicopter to escape the violence some of the fiercest since a long-running dispute between Thailand's bitterly divided political factions flared anew two months ago.

Protesters seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are demanding that the Feb. 2 elections be delayed until she leaves office and reforms are implemented, and have vowed to disrupt the polls if they go ahead. Yingluck has insisted that the elections should go ahead, in the knowledge that her party is likely win.

The election commission said in a statement that it was urging the government to consider "postponing the elections," citing the security situation. Commission head Somchai Srisutthiyakorn denied the body was "involving itself in politics" by urging a delay in the polls.

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Months after fire killed child beggars and angered many Senegalese, hopes of reform go nowhere

NDAME, Senegal (AP) Seven nights a week, 13-year-old Cheikhou and his younger brother Bamba would make their way to a wooden shack they shared with dozens of other barefoot child beggars, blanketing the floor with their tired bodies.

Then one night a knocked-over candle turned their home into an inferno. Cheikhou awoke to the sounds of people screaming. He joined some 50 boys fleeing for the door as neighbors filled plastic buckets, struggling in vain to put out the fire.

Cheikhou made it to safety, but at least eight young boys were dead, including his 10-year-old brother and three even younger cousins. The tragedy once again focused attention of the plight of the tens of thousands of Senegalese talibes, Islamic religious pupils, who are forced to double as street beggars.

In this West African country, Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 50,000 boys are forced to beg while spending years in boarding schools called daaras. The government has tried for years to ban the practice, but it remains deeply embedded in Senegal, where many poor parents view it as the only way to provide an education for their sons.

An untold number of talibes have been run down and killed while begging in traffic but the March tragedy appeared to be a game changer, if only because three of the school's marabouts teachers were detained for questioning and President Macky Sall declared that all substandard daaras would be closed.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. AP: AL-QAIDA LEADER TARGETS UN WORKERS

Abu Mohammed al-Golani, shadowy leader of a terror group fighting in Syria, sought to kidnap United Nations workers, according to letters obtained by The AP.

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String of Palestinian attacks has Israel fretting over potential new violent uprising

JERUSALEM (AP) A spate of violent Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets in recent weeks is raising concerns in Israel that it may be on the verge of a new type of Palestinian uprising.

In contrast to previous waves of Palestinian violence, the recent incidents do not appear to be an organized effort by militant groups but rather a collection of individual acts. Their rogue nature has made it difficult for Israeli leaders to respond or even identify their exact cause.

After years of relative quiet, Israel's Shin Bet security service has reported a steady rise in attacks since Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators resumed peace talks in July. In November, for instance, there were 167 attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank, compared to 136 in October, the agency said.

The past few days have been particularly dramatic. On Sunday, a pipe bomb believed to be planted by Palestinian militants exploded on a bus in central Israel in the most serious attack inside Israel in more than a year. The bus was evacuated moments before the blast, but the explosion caused heavy damage. The next day, an Israeli policeman was stabbed outside a West Bank settlement and on Tuesday an Israeli civilian was killed by a Palestinian sniper in a cross-border shooting from Gaza, sparking a series of Israeli airstrikes that killed a Palestinian girl.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the incidents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which are ruled by rival Palestinian governments were unrelated, calling them "atmosphere attacks." But he promised that Israel would respond nonetheless.

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Poll: Americans hopeful for a better 2014 as they recall important, memorable moments of 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) Ready to ring in the new year, Americans look ahead with optimism, according to a new AP-Times Square New Year's Eve poll. Their ratings of the year gone by? Less than glowing.

What the public thought of 2013:

GOOD YEAR OR GOOD RIDDANCE?

On the whole, Americans rate their own experience in 2013 more positively than negatively, but when asked to assess the year for the United States or the world at large, things turn sour.

All told, 32 percent say 2013 was a better year for them than 2012, while 20 percent say it was worse and 46 percent say the two years were really about the same. Young people were more apt to see improvement: 40 percent of people under age 30 called 2013 a better year than 2012, compared with 25 percent of people age 65 or older.

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Crews keep working but could be Friday before power returns to parts of US, Canada hit by ice

LITCHFIELD, Maine (AP) Some people in the United States and Canada who have been without electricity since Saturday may not get their lights back on for another day.

That could change as more snow creeps into Maine and parts of Michigan and cold temperatures keep ice from melting off power lines and tree branches, posing new risks for outages.

Bangor Hydro Electric in Maine is advising people it will be the end of the day Friday before it's more than 11,000 customers all are back on line. The number has fluctuated as some people get power back while others lose it. The utility said downed trees are the biggest problem facing line crews.

"We've had two beautiful, sunny days in Maine and the ice isn't going anyplace," said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "They're very concerned about more weight coming down on trees that are already compromised by ice."

Central Maine Power, with more than 30,000 people still without power as of late Wednesday, hoped to get power back for most by the end of the day Thursday but acknowledged some will still be without electricity on Friday. More than 100,000 were without power at the storm's peak.

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Kenya, Ethiopia leaders arrive in South Sudan to mediate between president and his rivals

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) African leaders arrived in South Sudan on Thursday to try to mediate between the country's president and the political rivals he accuses of attempting a coup that the government insists sparked violence threatening to destroy the world's newest country.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will meet with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir later on Thursday, said Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth.

World leaders have urged the country's leaders to stop the violence in which thousands are feared killed. The United States, Norway and Ethiopia are leading efforts to open peace talks between Kiir and his political rivals. Kiir said in a Christmas address that he is willing to "dialogue" with all his opponents.

The United Nations is investigating reports of mass killings since violence began spreading across South Sudan after a fight among the presidential guards on Dec. 15, pitting soldiers from Kiir's Dinka ethnic group against those from the Nuer ethnic group of former Vice President Riek Machar. South Sudan's top U.N. humanitarian official, Toby Lanzer, said on Monday that he believes the death toll has surpassed 1,000.

Leuth, the information minister, said the government has not yet established formal contact with Machar, who has been accused of leading what the government insists was a failed coup plot. Machar, he said, was expected to first renounce rebellion.

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Bomb blast hits bus in Egypt's capital, wounding 5

CAIRO (AP) A bomb blast hit a public bus in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Thursday, wounding five people, the Interior Ministry said, in an attack that raised concerns that a wave of violence blamed on Islamic militants that has targeted security forces and military for months is increasingly turning to hit civilians.

The blast came a day after the government declared its top political nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization, accusing it of being behind the violence. The group has denied the claim, saying the government is trying to scapegoat it. Egypt saw the deadliest bombing yet earlier this week, when a suicide bomber hit a police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura on Tuesday, killing 16 people, mainly police.

Bombings and shooting have increased since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July and launched a crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist supporters. Most of the attacks were originally centered in the Sinai Peninsula, where multiple militant groups operate, but they have spread to other parts of the country. Until now, the attacks have focused on police and the military.

In Thursday's attack, a homemade bomb planted in a main intersection went off as a public bus passed in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, Interior Ministry said in a statement. Authorities then found at least one more bomb attached to an advertisement billboard apparently intended to hit security forces who responded to the first, state TV reported. The other two explosives were defused.

The explosion shattered windows on the bus, and flying glass injured five people, one of them seriously, the ministry said.

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AP Exclusive: Iraqi intelligence officials say Syrian al-Qaida leader targeting UN workers

BAGHDAD (AP) The shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Iraqi intelligence officials offered the AP the letters, as well as the first known photograph of the Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of one of the most powerful bands of radicals fighting the Syrian government in the country's civil war.

The officials said they obtained the information about al-Golani after they captured members of another al-Qaida group in September. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.

"I was told by a soldier that he observed some of the workers of the U.N. and he will kidnap them. I ask God for his success," read an excerpt of a letter given by officials from Iraq's Falcon Intelligence Cell, an anti-terrorism unit that works under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The officials said other letters planned the kidnapping and killing of other foreigners, and Syrian and Iraqi civilians.

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