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World briefly for Nov. 15

POSTED: November 15, 2012 8:19 a.m.

BEIJING (AP) — Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao as China's leader Thursday, assuming the top posts in the Communist Party and the powerful military in a once-a-decade political transition unbowed by scandals, a slower economy and public demands for reforms.

Xi was formally appointed as general secretary after a morning meeting of senior communists that capped a weeklong congress, events that underlined the party's determination to remain firmly in power. Xi also was named chairman of the military commission after Hu stepped down, breaking with the recent tradition in which departing party leaders hung on to the military post to exert influence over their successors.

The moves give Xi a freer hand to consolidate his authority as first among equals in the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power. Immediately after the announcements, Xi strode onto a stage in the Great Hall of the People, leading the six other newly appointed committee members, all conservative technocrats dressed in dark suits.

"We shall do everything we can to live up to your trust and fulfill our mission," the 59-year-old, pudgy Xi said in remarks that were broadcast on state television and worldwide.

Standing beside him were Li Keqiang, the presumptive premier and chief economic official; Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang; Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng; Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli; propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, who was appointed Thursday to run the party's executive secretariat; and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, once the leadership's top troubleshooter and now head of the party's internal watchdog panel.

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Palestinian militants kill 3 Israelis in rocket attack as Israeli military operation resumes

JERUSALEM (AP) — Militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip killed three Israelis on Thursday in a rocket attack likely to deepen a bruising Israeli air, naval and artillery offensive, the most intense assault on the Palestinian territory in four years.

The casualties were the first in Israel since it launched its operation on Wednesday with the assassination of Hamas' top military commander, followed by an onslaught of airstrikes and shelling by tanks and naval gunboats. Eleven Palestinians, including two children and seven militants, have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Gaza since the Israeli operation began.

Few in the Palestinian territory's largest urban area, Gaza City, came out following the call for dawn prayers on Thursday, and the only vehicles plying the streets were ambulances and media cars.

About 400 angry mourners braved the streets, however, to bury Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari, whose body was draped in the green flag of the Islamic militant Hamas movement. Some fired guns in the air and chanted, "God is Great, the revenge is coming." When the body was brought into a mosque for funeral prayers, some tried to touch or kiss it. Others cried.

"This crime will not weaken us. It will make us stronger and more determined to continue the path of jihad and resistance," Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said in a eulogy. "The enemy opened the battle and shall bear the consequences."

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A single spiteful email unlocks a Pandora's box, ruins a general's career, threatens others

WASHINGTON (AP) — It started in May with a spiteful email to the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. An anonymous writer warned Gen. John Allen that a friend with whom he was meeting in Washington the following week was trouble and he should stay away from her.

Allen thought the email was a joke because he didn't know how anybody else would know about his personal plans with his friend, Florida socialite Jill Kelley, a person close to Kelley said.

That email started a chain of events that led to the downfall of CIA Director David Petreaus, put Allen's career on hold and landed a decorated FBI agent in hot water for talking about an ongoing investigation. The FBI traced that email and others of a similar vein to Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer, who agents would soon learn had also been his lover.

The fast-moving scandal broke just days after President Barack Obama was elected to a second term in office. Obama's administration had been on the defensive for weeks because of a terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. Briefings on the attack had been postponed until after the election and are now focused more immediately on Petraeus' love life than on how terrorists were able to attack the poorly defended consulate.

Obama said Wednesday he's seen no evidence that national security was damaged by the revelations that ended his CIA director's career and imperil that of his Afghanistan war commander. But lawmakers aren't taking Obama's word for it and grilled FBI and CIA officials privately about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized by the case and why they didn't know about the investigation sooner.

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Florida socialite's climb has been halted by unfolding developments in generals scandal

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jill Kelley's climb to the top of Tampa's social ladder may be as spectacular as her fall from it.

Accounts of lavish parties at her bay front mansion with politicians and military generals have been replaced by reports of her family's financial woes and other dirty laundry, and claims she used her close friendship with David Petraeus to try to further lucrative business dealings. Now, even her "Friends of MacDill" Air Force base access pass has been unceremoniously revoked.

The tangled web enveloping the daughter of Lebanese refugees, her twin sister, former CIA chief Petraeus, and Marine Gen. John Allen, who succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan, has spread to include questions about a cancer charity Kelley and her doctor-husband, Scott, founded.

Although Petraeus' affair with his biographer, Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell, was the immediate cause of his downfall, Kelley and her relations with the Tampa base and the U.S. Central Command have surfaced as a sort of connective tissue for the growing scandal.

On Wednesday, a New York businessman said Kelley was introduced to him at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August as someone whose friendship with Petraeus would help facilitate a no-bid deal with South Korea on a coal-gasification project. She would supposedly be in a position to help broker the billion-dollar deal directly with the Korean president, and expected a 2 percent commission, said Adam Victor, president and chief executive officer of TransGas Development Systems.

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Analysis: Obama aims for big 2nd term and legacy but carefully eyes the fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama walked a narrow path between ambition and realism, defiance and accommodation when he addressed reporters for the first time since winning a hard-fought election that gives him four more years to carve his place in history.

While he avoided terms like "transformational," Obama signaled that he still hopes to accomplish big things in spite of Congress' almost paralyzing partisanship. That could include an overhaul of immigration laws, which could become a coveted bookend to his 2010 health care revision.

There was a bounce in Obama's step Wednesday in the White House East Room. But there was no dancing in the end zone, no taunting of defeated opponents. He jokingly claimed he forgot about the election the day after it ended, so eager is he to plunge into his second-term agenda.

Obama said he is willing to work with Republicans to head off the worrisome package of big tax hikes and program cuts scheduled to hit in less than seven weeks. But he reiterated that wealthy households must pay higher tax rates, something GOP lawmakers fiercely oppose.

After all, Obama said in tone, if not exactly in words, he defeated Mitt Romney last week running on that platform.

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Amid political storm, Obama heads to New York City to view Sandy recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the midst of a political tempest that has engulfed his former CIA director and his top military commander in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is traveling to New York City to view recovery efforts from the massive East Coast storm Sandy.

While there Thursday, Obama will meet with affected families, local officials and first responders who have been dealing with the deadly storm, which slammed into New York, New Jersey and other East Coast states late month, killing more than 100 people and leaving millions without power.

Obama traveled to New Jersey on Oct. 31 to meet with Gov. Chris Christie and view recovery efforts in coastal communities. The president viewed flattened houses, flooded neighborhoods, sand-strewn streets and a still-burning fire along the state's battered coastline. Parts of the New Jersey shore's famed boardwalks were missing.

Obama pledged to those affected by the storm that "we are here for you and we will not forget."

Obama also traveled to Louisiana in early September after the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Isaac.

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Booze v Soda: Adults get nearly as many empty calories from alcohol as sugary drinks

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans get too many calories from soda. But what about alcohol? It turns out adults get almost as many empty calories from booze as from soft drinks, a government study found.

Soda and other sweetened drinks — the focus of obesity-fighting public health campaigns — are the source of about 6 percent of the calories adults consume, on average. Alcoholic beverages account for about 5 percent, the new study found.

"We've been focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages. This is something new," said Cynthia Ogden, one of the study's authors. She's an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which released its findings Thursday.

The government researchers say the findings deserve attention because, like soda, alcohol contains few nutrients but plenty of calories.

The study is based on interviews with more than 11,000 U.S. adults from 2007 through 2010. Participants were asked extensive questions about what they ate and drank over the previous 24 hours.

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With marijuana legal in Wash. and Colo., police worry about keeping stoned drivers off roads

DENVER (AP) — It's settled. Pot, at least certain amounts of it, will soon be legal under state laws in Washington and Colorado. Now, officials in both states are trying to figure out how to keep stoned drivers off the road.

Colorado's measure doesn't make any changes to the state's driving-under-the-influence laws, leaving lawmakers and police to worry about its effect on road safety.

"We're going to have more impaired drivers," warned John Jackson, police chief in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village.

Washington's law does change DUI provisions by setting a new blood-test limit for marijuana — a limit police are training to enforce, and which some lawyers are already gearing up to challenge.

"We've had decades of studies and experience with alcohol," said Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Coon. "Marijuana is new, so it's going to take some time to figure out how the courts and prosecutors are going to handle it. But the key is impairment: We will arrest drivers who drive impaired, whether it be drugs or alcohol."

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BP says it's in advanced discussion on settling US penalties for Gulf well blowout

LONDON (AP) — British oil company BP said Thursday it is in advanced discussion with U.S. agencies about settling criminal and other claims from the Gulf of Mexico well blowout two years ago.

In a statement, BP said "no final agreement has yet been reached" and that any such agreement would still be subject to court approvals.

BP said the proposed settlement would not include civil claims under the Clean Water Act and other legislation, pending private civil claims and state claims for economic loss.

The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers and set off a spill which continued for 87 days, fouling large areas of the southern coast of the United States.

Any settlement is expected to dwarf the largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Department of Justice — the $1.2 billion fine imposed on drug maker Prizer in 2009.

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Writers Louise Erdrich, David Ferry, Katherine Boo, William Alexander win National Book Awards

NEW YORK (AP) — The National Book Awards honored both longtime writers and new authors, from Louise Erdrich for "The Round House" to Katherine Boo for her debut work, "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers."

Erdrich, 58, has been a published and highly regarded author for nearly 30 years but had never won a National Book Award until being cited Wednesday for her story, the second of a planned trilogy, about an Ojibwe boy and his quest to avenge his mother's rape. A clearly delighted and surprised Erdrich, who's part Ojibwe, spoke in her tribal tongue and then switched to English as she dedicated her fiction award to "the grace and endurance of native people."

The works of two other winners also centered on young boys — Boo's for nonfiction, and William Alexander's fantasy "Goblin Secrets," for young people's literature. David Ferry won for poetry.

Boo's book, set in a Mumbai slum, is the story of a boy and his harsh and illuminating education in the consequences of crime or perceived crime. The author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist currently on staff with The New Yorker, said she was grateful for the chance to live in a world she "didn't know" and for the chance to tell the stories of those otherwise ignored. She praised a fellow nominee and fellow Pulitzer-winning reporter, the late Anthony Shadid, for also believing in stories of those without fame or power.

Boo was chosen from one of the strongest lists of nonfiction books in memory, from the fourth volume of Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson series to Shadid's memoir "House of Stone." Finalists in fiction, which in recent years favored lesser known writers, included such established names as Dave Eggers and Junot Diaz. Publishers have been concerned that the National Book Awards have become too insular and are considering changes, including expanding the pool of judges beyond writers.

 

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