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Wednesday, March 19, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Mar 18, 2014 4:00 PM

Updated: Mar 19, 2014 4:01 AM

AP photographer: Crimea self-defense forces storm Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP) Crimea's self-defense forces on Wednesday stormed the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, taking possession without resistance a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to annex the region.

An Associated Press photographer witnessed several hundred self-defense forces take down the gate and make their way onto the headquarters' premises. They then raised the Russian flag on the square by the headquarters.

The unarmed Crimean self-defense forces waited for an hour on the square before the moved to storm the headquarters. Following the arrival of the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, the Crimeans took over the building while Ukrainian servicemen did not offer any resistance.

The AP photographer was able to enter the headquarters and saw the Crimean self-defense forces roaming around while the Ukrainian servicemen were packing up and leaving.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into its territory following a referendum in which residents the strategic region overwhelmingly backed the move.

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In Russia's backyard, nations look West for assurance as Biden vows US will defend NATO allies

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) After moving to annex Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin insists he has no intention of invading other regions in Ukraine, much less other nations. But leaders in Russia's backyard aren't so sure, and they're looking to Vice President Joe Biden for assurances that the U.S. has a plan to prevent that from happening.

Biden was meeting in this Baltic capital Wednesday with the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia, two small countries that, like Ukraine, border Russia. Almost 10 years to the day after Lithuania and Latvia joined NATO, the Baltics are suddenly plunged into the type of eerie concern about foreign aggression they may have thought they'd left behind at the end of the Cold War.

A day after promising more sanctions and regional military exercises to send a stern signal to Putin, Biden was making the case that the U.S. stands ready to defend nations like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia whose NATO membership entitles them to a defensive response from the U.S. and others.

"Have no doubt: The United States will honor its commitment. We always do," Biden said Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland, which shares a border with both Russia and Ukraine.

Still, the entire region is reeling from Moscow's move to absorb Crimea into its orbit. Tough talk, sanctions and travel bans have not been enough so far to dissuade Putin and his military from seizing control of Crimea and then, after a Crimean referendum that the West has condemned as illegal, declaring it part of Russia. Other countries watching warily are concerned they could be next.

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Malaysia says files were recently deleted from flight simulator of pilot aboard missing jet

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Malaysia's defense minister says files were recently deleted from the home flight simulator belonging to the pilot aboard the missing Malaysian jetliner.

Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference Wednesday that investigators are trying to retrieve the files. He also said that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing.

Hishammuddin said background checks have been received from overseas agencies for all foreign passengers on the plane except for those from Ukraine and Russia which accounted for three passengers. He says none of the checks has turned up anything suspicious.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard went missing March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

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Democratic incumbent, GOP businessman offer clashing visions in Illinois governor's race

CHICAGO (AP) The race for Illinois governor is shaping up as a battle of vastly different visions on how to revive a lagging economy in one of the Midwest's last Democratic strongholds.

While the incumbent Democrat has increased taxes and pushed for raising the minimum wage, the multimillionaire Republican facing him this fall wants to curtail government unions and run President Barack Obama's home state like a business.

By winning the Republican primary Tuesday night, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner advances to a November matchup with Gov. Pat Quinn expected to be one of the hardest fought and expensive in the nation. As Republicans attempt to reclaim the state's top office for the first time in more than a decade, labor unions traditionally aligned with Democrats are trying to avoid another blow like they've felt under GOP governors elsewhere.

Rauner has labeled as role models Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, both of whom pushed anti-union policies. Those comments prompted organized labor to spend millions trying to derail a Rauner nomination.

The Winnetka venture capitalist, who sunk more than $6 million of his own money into his campaign to defeat three veteran lawmakers during his first bid for public office, targeted the "career politicians" and government "union bosses" he says have caused Illinois' woeful financial situation.

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Investors to seek clues as Yellen enters spotlight in first news conference as Fed chair

WASHINGTON (AP) Investors will be watching closely Wednesday for any hints of how a Janet Yellen-led Federal Reserve might differ from the path set by her predecessor, Ben Bernanke.

The Yellen era will begin in earnest when the Fed ends two days of policy discussions. It will be her first meeting as Fed chair, a position she assumed Feb. 3, after Bernanke stepped down after eight high-profile years.

After the Fed issues a statement at the end of its policy meeting and updates its economic forecasts, Yellen will preside over a news conference. She is widely expected to embrace Bernanke's approach of keeping interest rates low while gradually paring the Fed's economic stimulus.

Most analysts expect the Fed to announce a third reduction in the monthly pace of its bond purchases from $65 billion to $55 billion. Those reductions are expected to continue this year until the bond purchases end altogether by December.

The Fed's bond purchases have been intended to keep long-term borrowing rates low to spur spending and growth. Its decision to continue paring them signals its belief that the economy is showing consistent improvement.

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Police expert: Pistorius' girlfriend standing when 1st shot hit hip; arm, head shots last

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) Reeva Steenkamp was standing in a toilet cubicle and facing the closed door when she was hit in the right hip by the first of four hollow point bullets fired at her by Oscar Pistorius, a police ballistics expert testified Wednesday at the double-amputee Olympic runner's murder trial.

Steenkamp then fell back onto a magazine holder in the cubicle and was struck in the right arm and head by the last two shots fired by Pistorius with his 9 mm pistol through the door. Pistorius' girlfriend crossed her arms over her head to protect herself, Capt. Christiaan Mangena said, when she was hit in the arm and head. He testified that he believed the second bullet shot missed Steenkamp and ricocheted off a wall inside the cubicle and broke into fragments, which caused bruising on her back.

Mangena concluded through his analysis of the shooting scene and wounds on Steenkamp's body from post-mortem photographs that one of the final two bullets went through Steenkamp's left hand before penetrating her skull as she held it over her head. The policeman said he couldn't determine the order of the last two shots.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with premeditated murder in Steenkamp's shooting death on Feb. 14 last year and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He says he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake through a locked door in his bathroom because he thought she was a dangerous nighttime intruder.

Pistorius says Steenkamp went to use the toilet during the night without him knowing, but prosecutors maintain he killed her after a loud argument that caused her to possibly flee and hide in the toilet area.

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Missing plane unites Malaysians, douses flames of religious strife at least for now

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) The imam cupped his palms before his face and invited the congregation to pray. "Oh Allah, return to us those who are lost. Oh, Allah, grant safe passage to MH370," he said.

The prayer was not unusual. The setting was.

Gathered in the courtyard of a shopping mall in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, the Muslim religious leader was followed by a Christian reading from the Bible, then a Buddhist monk, a Hindu and finally a Taoist priest echoing the imam's pleas before hundreds of worshippers in a largely Muslim country where religious intolerance has been on the rise.

The baffling mystery over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people on March 8 has united Malaysia, a nation of numerous ethnicities, as never before in recent memory.

Tuesday night's interfaith ceremony would have been inconceivable 11 days ago in the country of 28 million people where religious differences and bigotry have often been on open display. For Malaysians the sight of non-Muslims bowing respectfully as Imam Hilman Nordin said prayers from the rostrum was an incredible step toward unity. While there have been interfaith prayers before, they have always been without a Muslim representative.

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Want to know goals for GOP, Dems? Look at what states are getting national party cash

WASHINGTON (AP) Republicans are trying to convert hard-won gains in statehouses to successes in this November's congressional elections and the 2016 race for the White House, according to a review of their campaign finance reports.

For Democrats, the next two years are more about protecting political turf and keeping a political machine humming.

Months before the midterm elections that will decide House and Senate control, with an eye on the 2016 presidential race, the major parties are making spending choices that give clues to their election strategies. An Associated Press analysis of the parties' spending since the 2012 presidential campaign suggests Republicans are trying to copy the Democrats' playbook: Build strong on-the-ground political operations in crucial states and collect as much data as possible.

"We have to make sure that we put together a process and an operation that gives our (presidential) nominee the best possible platform to be successful," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday.

"The RNC had become basically a U-Haul trailer of cash that gets hooked up to a nominee for a short period of time and then the national party went away for three years," he said, adding that six-month approach has left the GOP out of the White House for two terms.

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Expedition forming to retrace 1,200-mile trek of wandering Oregon wolf OR-7

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) Wildlife advocates are preparing to retrace the 1,200-mile path of a wandering wolf whose trek in 2011 across Oregon and California attracted worldwide attention, hoping their upcoming journey will help build greater acceptance of wolves as they reclaim lost territories across the West.

The wolf, dubbed OR-7 and wearing a GPS-equipped collar, became a celebrity at 2 years old after leaving a pack in northeastern Oregon in September 2011, just days after the state issued a kill order for his father and a sibling for preying on livestock.

"It is only through walking it that anyone can truly understand that journey," said Jay Simpson, who plans daily blog posts of panoramic photos and interviews with people the Wolf OR-7 Expedition contacts along the way. "It's not a thing you can understand on Google Earth."

Using traditional storytelling, real-time multimedia blogging, time-lapse photography and a documentary film, they hope to offer new insights into what the spread of wolves across the West means for the people who live here, inspire new attitudes that ease conflicts in ranch country and recognize conservationists working to protect wolves.

On his route, OR-7 passed through where the last Oregon wolf was killed by a bounty hunter in 1946, and where the last known California wolf was killed in 1924.

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Candidates vie for women's vote in Afghanistan's presidential election

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) The candidate strode down the aisle separating hundreds of male and female supporters at a campaign rally in Kabul. She shook hands with the women filling the chairs to her right. To the men on the other side, she simply nodded.

Habiba Sarabi is the most prominent woman running on a ticket in the April 5 election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Sarabi once served as Afghanistan's first female governor, and her current bid to become Afghanistan's first female vice president is part of an effort to get out the women's vote as candidates scramble for every ballot.

Women "can affect the transition, the political transition," she said in an interview after addressing the rally to support Sarabi and her running mate, presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul. The event was held in a wedding hall in a Kabul district dominated by her ethnic minority Hazara community.

But Sarabi, a 57-year-old former governor of Bamiyan province, still must conform to cultural norms in this deeply conservative Islamic society. Her challenge highlights the difficulties facing Afghan women who worry about losing hard-won gains as international combat forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

Afghan women were granted the right to vote in the constitution adopted after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001. Under the Taliban, women were also banned from school and forced to wear the all-encompassing burqa.

Topics: World Briefly

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