Latest AP World and National News 1p.m.

Monday, June 9, 2014


AP News in Brief

 

Bergdahl may yet face charges, top general says; Congress criticism of handling of deal mounts

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's top military officer said Tuesday the Army could still throw the book at Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the young soldier who walked away from his unit in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan and into five years of captivity by the Taliban.

 

Charges are still a possibility, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press as criticism mounted in Congress about releasing five high-level Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. The Army might still pursue an investigation, Dempsey said, and those results could conceivably lead to desertion or other charges.

 

Congress began holding hearings and briefings into the deal that swapped Bergdahl for Taliban officials who had been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and several lawmakers said that President Barack Obama didn't notify them as a law governing the release of Guantanamo detainees requires. White House staff members called key members of Congress to apologize, but that didn't resolve the issue.

 

Since Dempsey issued a statement Saturday welcoming Bergdahl home, troops who served with the soldier have expressed anger and resentment that his freedom — from a captivity that they say he brought upon himself — may have cost comrades' lives. Troops sat in stony silence at Bagram Air Field when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Bergdahl's release over the weekend.

 

"Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl," Dempsey said on Saturday.

 

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Friends, family describe freed US soldier Bergdahl as tough-minded, soft-hearted adventurer

 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl always seemed to be searching for something to define his life.

Growing up in the mountain town of Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl was as likely to be found inside, poring over a book at a local library, as he was to be spotted outside, riding his bicycle through the hills that border the small town.

 

Home-schooled, Bergdahl performed in a ballet. He joined a fencing club, dabbled in foreign languages, including working his way through tomes written in Russian, and he even crewed on a sailboat trip from South Carolina to California.

 

It may have been that curiosity, combined with his tendency to gravitate toward disciplines like martial arts, that led him to join the military in June 2008, recalled his former ballet teacher, Sherry Horton.

"I think Bowe would have liked the rigor — that's what he liked about ballet," she said. "And it was something that he really believed in, serving the country, and making sure that he was there for the side of good."

 

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Reassuring Europeans, Obama pledges US military boost in the face of worries about Russia

 

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to boost U.S. military deployments and exercises throughout Europe, an effort costing as much as $1 billion to demonstrate American solidarity with a continent rattled by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

But even as Obama warned that Moscow could face further punishments, leaders of Britain, France and Germany were lining up to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at week's end.

Those one-on-one meetings would appear to send a mixed message about the West's approach to relations with Russia, given that the same leaders are also boycotting a summit Putin had been scheduled to host this week.

 

Obama does not plan to hold a formal meeting with Putin while both attend events Friday marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that hastened the end of World War II, though the two leaders are likely to have some interaction. The U.S. president suggested there was no contradiction between efforts to isolate Russia and engaging directly with Putin.

"The fact of the matter is that Russia is a significant country with incredibly gifted people, resources, an enormous land mass, and they rightfully play an important role on the world stage and in the region," Obama said during a news conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. He added that it could be possible for Putin to "rebuild some of the trust that's been shattered during this past year" but said that would take time.

 

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Midwest VA hospitals had unauthorized waiting lists, and some waited 90 days for appointments

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The problems with delayed care and unauthorized wait lists that caused a furor at a Veterans Affairs health care campus in Arizona existed at several facilities in the Midwest, but in much smaller numbers, VA officials said in letters to two U.S. senators.

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintained 10 such "secret waiting lists" of military veterans in need of care at facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, the letters said. They also said at least 96 veterans waited more than 90 days for treatment at seven facilities in those states, including 26 in St. Louis and 19 in Columbia, Missouri.

The letters said that eight of the 10 lists "served to complement authorized lists to more fully support Veteran care and access." But the two other lists, including one at the Wichita facility, "placed Veterans at risk."

The information about conditions in the VA's Heartland Network was sent to U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas late last week, as the VA released a summary of 216 site-specific audits detailing widespread falsification of waiting list records and unreported treatment delays at VA facilities nationwide. In that release, the VA did not reveal any information about conditions at individual sites.

The VA is conducting a system-wide investigation after it was found that the Phoenix VA Health Care System had about 1,700 veterans in need of care on secret waiting lists, and another that had 1,400 waited over 90 days for primary care appointments. The scandal led to the resignation last week of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

 

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Crucial bridge along East Coast interstate system closes indefinitely over leaning columns

 

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Highway engineers say a crucial bridge on the Eastern Seaboard's interstate highway system could imperil drivers if traffic is allowed back on it.

The bridge, near Wilmington, Delaware, was closed Monday when its support pillars were found to be tilting. The Interstate 495 bridge won't reopen anytime soon, highway officials said Tuesday, and the 90,000 vehicles that cross it every day are being diverted onto the main north highway, I-95, further overloading one of the most crowded arteries in America.

 

Engineers say ground under the columns moved and caused the supports to tilt. Officials said they believe the mile-long bridge over the Christina River is not in any danger of collapsing under its own weight. But out of concern for public safety, they do not want to allow traffic back on it until they find out more about what caused the pillars to shift.

"We never said that it was ready to fail. We were concerned about the tilt because that was abnormal behavior for that structure," said Rob McCleary, chief engineer for DelDOT.

In a worst-case scenario, such as a crash that forced traffic to back up and stall in both directions on the six-lane bridge, certain parts of it might not be able to handle the weight load within acceptable safety standards, officials said.

 

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Strong support for Assad as Syrians vote during civil war in election derided as a sham

 

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Against a backdrop of civil war, tens of thousands of Syrians voted in government-controlled cities and towns Tuesday to give President Bashar Assad a new seven-year mandate, with some even marking the ballots with their own blood.

The carefully choreographed election was ignored and even mocked in opposition-held areas of Syria where fighting persisted, with some rebels derisively dropping their shoes in a phony ballot box in a show of disgust. Western leaders also called it a sham.

 

A victory for Assad is likely to bolster his base of support at home and provide further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power, making a protracted conflict the likely outcome in fighting that has already lasted three years.

Fears that the rebels would rain down mortar shells on government-controlled territory did not materialize, but fighting persisted.

 

State-run media reported that voting closed on midnight Tuesday, and election officials began the process of checking the number of votes against lists of registered voters to ensure numbers matched. In one central Damascus voting booth, 2,196 people cast their ballots — all but two were for Assad, counted an AP reporter who watched representatives of each presidential candidate tally votes.

 

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As he woos leaders abroad, Ukraine's president faces tough realities at home

 

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president-elect will likely have little trouble wooing Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, when he travels to Poland and France this week — many have already hailed the rise of the pragmatic, Western-leaning leader.

For Petro Poroshenko, who takes office on Saturday, the real task will be grappling with a pro-Russia uprising sweeping Ukraine's east, and a political system dominated by grudging political allies and holdovers from the previous corrupt administration.

That will mean proving to Ukrainians that his government is not a throwback to the corruption and political infighting that have long plagued Ukraine.

"For so long, corruption has been a cost-free, risk-free exercise in Ukraine," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is now an analyst at the Brookings Institution.

"While countries can tear themselves up by getting too bogged down in the past and in prosecutions, Poroshenko will have to deal with a lot of public suspicion, because so many of these players have been around for the last 10 years."

 

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Mississippi faceoff: Senate 6-termer Cochran tries to hold off tea party primary challenge

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Six-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel collided in Mississippi on Tuesday in a ferocious battle between insurgents and the establishment in a party divided along ideological lines. On the busiest night of the primary season, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California sought nomination to a fourth term.

Primary elections spread from Alabama to New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and Mississippi — and to Iowa, where Republican state Sen. Jodi Ernst battled four rivals for the right to oppose Rep. Bruce Braley in the fall for a Senate seat long in Democratic hands.

In addition to California, there were gubernatorial primaries in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico, and South Dakota, all states where Republicans sought new terms and Democrats were picking candidates to challenge them.

 

Dozens of nomination races for House seats dotted the ballot, too, including 38 in California's open primary system, which awarded spots on the November ballot to the two top vote-getters regardless of party.

 

The Senate contest between Cochran and McDaniel in Mississippi drew top billing, a heated race between a 76-year-old pillar of the GOP establishment who has helped funnel millions of dollars to his state and a younger state lawmaker who drew backing from tea party groups and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The campaign took a turn toward the sensational when four men, all McDaniel supporters, were arrested and charged with surreptitiously taking photographs of the senator's 76-year-old wife, who suffers from dementia and has long lived in a nursing home.

 

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Strife imitates art: 'Hunger Games' salute flashed in protest in Thailand; arrests threatened

 

BANGKOK (AP) — The three-finger salute from the Hollywood movie "The Hunger Games" is being used as a real symbol of resistance in Thailand. Protesters against the military coup are flashing the gesture as a silent act of rebellion, and they're being threatened with arrest if they ignore warnings to stop.

 

Thailand's military rulers said Tuesday they were monitoring the new form of opposition to the coup. Reporters witnessed the phenomenon and individuals were captured on film making the raised-arm salute.

 

"Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights," said anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngam-anong on his Facebook page. He called on people to raise "3 fingers, 3 times a day" — at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — in safe public places where no police or military are present.

 

The gesture emerged over the weekend as protesters joined small flash mobs, or stood alone, flashing three fingers in the air.

"We know it comes from the movie, and let's say it represents resistance against the authorities," Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the junta, told The Associated Press.

 

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New York vs. LA a long time in the making, especially in hockey

 

The last time New York and Los Angeles teams met in a big championship final, the Dodgers found themselves up against a pitcher who had undergone Tommy John surgery.

How long has it been? Well, here's a clue: The lefty on the mound was Tommy John himself.

Thirty three years after the Dodgers won a World Series against John and the Yankees, L.A. and New York finally meet again. This time it's on the ice, with the teams from the country's two biggest cities squaring off in the Stanley Cup final.

It may not bring thoughts back of Willis Reed limping onto the court, willing his team to a win in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Or Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in one game in 1977 as the Yankees beat the Dodgers.

The Big Apple and Hollywood don't have any championship history in hockey, but there's some buzz on both coasts for the first New York-Los Angeles major sports final since 1981.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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