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World briefly for Nov. 29

POSTED: November 29, 2012 9:25 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid increasing anxiety that the White House and top Republicans are wasting time as the government slides toward an economy-rattling "fiscal cliff," administration officials are heading to Capitol Hill for talks with congressional leaders.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and senior White House aide Rob Nabors were to visit separately Thursday with the four leaders of the House and Senate to discuss how to avert a series of tax increases and spending cuts due to begin in January. Republicans complain that the White House is slow-walking the talks and has yet to provide specifics on how President Barack Obama would curb the rapid growth of benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

There's been little evident progress in negotiations between the White House and the lead GOP negotiator, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Boehner's lieutenants say the White House has been slow to engage.

"We have not seen any good-faith effort on the part of this administration to talk about the real problem that we're trying to fix," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Obama is mounting a public campaign to build support and leverage in the negotiations, appearing at the White House with middle-class taxpayers and launching a campaign on Twitter to bolster his position.

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Palestinians certain to win UN recognition as a state but opposition could delay independence

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians are certain to win U.N. recognition as a state on Thursday but success could exact a high price: delaying an independent state of Palestine because of Israel's vehement opposition.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote, which the Palestinians view as a historic step in their quest for global recognition.

The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel and the non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.

In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. But the Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

For Abbas, the U.N. bid is crucial if he wants to maintain his leadership and relevance, especially following the recent conflict between his Hamas rivals in Gaza and Israel. It saw the Islamic militant group claim victory and raise its standing in the Arab world while his Fatah movement was sidelined and marginalized.

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Eyes on Ariz. and Mo. as hunt for winners begins in record $579.9 million Powerball jackpot

CHICAGO (AP) — The richest Powerball jackpot ever — and the second-largest top prize in U.S. lottery history — has been won. The question now becomes: Who are the lucky winners waking up to new lives as multimillionaires?

Powerball officials said early Thursday morning that tickets sold in Arizona and Missouri matched all six numbers to win the record $579.9 million jackpot.

The numbers drawn Wednesday night are: 5, 16, 22, 23, 29 and Powerball of 6.

It was not clear whether the winning tickets belonged to individuals or were purchased by groups. Arizona lottery officials said early Thursday morning they had no information on that state's winner or winners but would announce where it was sold during a news conference later in the day. Lottery officials in Missouri did not immediately respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment.

Americans went on a ticket-buying spree in the run-up to Wednesday's drawing, the big money enticing many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in U.S. history.

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Obama invites Romney to private White House lunch; government efficiency among likely topics

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bitter campaign foes just weeks ago, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are sharing lunch at the White House with an eye on overlapping interests rather than the sharp differences that defined their presidential contest.

In their first meeting since the election, Obama and the Republican nominee are to meet in the White House's private dining room Thursday, fulfilling a promise Obama made in his victory speech the night of Nov. 6.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had no specific agenda for the meeting, but he said the president would like to discuss Romney's ideas for making government more efficient. Obama has proposed merging some functions of government related to business and has asked Congress for authority to undertake some executive branch reorganization.

"The president noted that Gov. Romney did a terrific job running the Olympics and that that skills set lends itself to ideas that could make the federal government work better, which is a passion of the president's," Carney said.

Obama aides said they reached out to Romney's team shortly before Thanksgiving to start working on a date for the meeting. The two men will meet alone in the White House's private dining room, with no press coverage expected.

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Crackdown on copper mine protest in Myanmar injures dozens hours before Suu Kyi visit

MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — Security forces used water cannons and other riot gear Thursday to clear protesters from a copper mine in in northwestern Myanmar, wounding villagers and Buddhist monks just hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the area to hear their grievances.

The crackdown at the Letpadaung mine near the town of Monywa risks becoming a public relations and political fiasco for the reformist government of President Thein Sein, which has been touting its transition to democracy after almost five decades of repressive military rule.

The environmental and social damage allegedly produced by the mine has become a popular cause in activist circles, but was not yet a matter of broad public concern. However, hurting monks — as admired for their social activism as they are revered for their spiritual beliefs — is sure to antagonize many ordinary people, especially as Suu Kyi's visit highlights the events.

"This is unacceptable," said Ottama Thara, a 25-year-old monk who was at the protest. "This kind of violence should not happen under a government that says it is committed to democratic reforms."

According to a nurse at a Monywa hospital, 27 monks and one other person were admitted with burns caused by some sort of projectile that released sparks or embers. Two of the monks with serious injuries were sent for treatment in Mandalay, Myanmar's second biggest city, a 2½ hour drive away. Other evicted protesters gathered at a Buddhist temple about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the mine's gates.

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UN war crimes court acquits former Kosovo prime minister of murder, torture charges

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A U.N. war crimes tribunal on Thursday acquitted the former prime minister of Kosovo and two of his former Kosovo Liberation Army comrades for the second time of murdering and torturing Serbs and their supporters in Kosovo's war for independence.

The verdicts came in the U.N. court's first ever retrial, which was ordered after appeals judges branded the 2008 acquittal of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and KLA fighter Idriz Balaj and the conviction of a third KLA commander, Lahi Brahimaj a "miscarriage of justice" because of widespread intimidation of prosecution witnesses.

The acquittals clear the way for a return to the political scene for Haradinaj, seen before his 2005 indictment as a unifying force in deeply divided Kosovo, but could complicate talks between Pristina and Belgrade on Kosovo's future.

His British lawyer, Ben Emmerson, confirmed that Haradinaj wants to return to power.

"With the consent of the people, he will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country," Emmerson told reporters at the court.

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Owner of Bangladesh factory ravaged in fire says he didn't know it needed emergency exits

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The owner of a Bangladesh clothing factory where a fire killed 112 people says he was never informed the facility was required to have an emergency exit, a sign of how far removed the leaders of the nation's garment industry are from issues of worker safety.

"It was my fault. But nobody told me that there was no emergency exit, which could be made accessible from outside," factory owner Delwar Hossain was quoted Thursday as telling The Daily Star newspaper. "Nobody even advised me to install one like that, apart from the existing ones."

"I could have done it. But nobody ever suggested that I do it," said Hossain, who could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Activists in the South Asian country hope the tragedy will invigorate their lengthy — but fruitless — efforts to upgrade safety standards and force stronger government oversight of the powerful industry.

The Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in a Dhaka suburb was making clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other major global retailers. When a fire broke out over the weekend, many of the 1,400 workers were trapped inside the eight-story building because exit doors were locked. A fire official said the death toll would have been much lower if the factory had had an emergency exit.

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A look at some prominent press scandals on release of judge's report on phone hacking scandal

LONDON (AP) — After a yearlong inquiry full of sensational testimony, Britain's Lord Justice Brian Leveson is releasing his report Thursday into the culture and practices of the British press and his recommendations for future regulation to prevent phone hacking, data theft, bribery and other abuses.

The long-simmering scandal has already led to scores of arrests and some criminal charges. Dozens of cases have been settled out of court after victims of press intrusion sued. Here are some of the cases the Leveson inquiry has investigated:

MILLY DOWLER

The 13-year-old girl was abducted and murdered in 2002. In July 2011, it was reported that employees of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had hacked into her telephone while police were still searching for her, giving her parents false hope that she was alive. Her mother, Sally Dowler, told the inquiry that when she could again leave a message on her missing daughter's phone, she shouted: "She's picked up the voice mails! ... She's alive!" Outrage over this case prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to commission the Leveson inquiry.

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NJ spruce that survives Superstorm Sandy takes brilliant stand as Rockefeller Center tree

NEW YORK (AP) — An 80-foot Norway spruce that made it through Superstorm Sandy was transformed into a beacon of shimmering glory Wednesday when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others turned its lights on at Rockefeller Center.

Thousands of onlookers crowded behind barricades on the streets that surrounded the center during the traditional tree-lighting ceremony for the Christmas holiday season. A video screen projected an image of the tree for those who did not have a direct line of sight.

"It makes me want to sing and dance," said Zuri Young, who came several hours early with her boyfriend to watch the lighting for the first time.

"I've heard a lot about it. I was kind of sick of staying home and watching it on television," the 19-year-old nursing student from Queens said.

Illuminated by more than 30,000 lights, the tree from the Mount Olive, N.J., home of Joe Balku was topped by a Swarovski star. The 10-ton tree had been at the homestead for years, measuring about 22-feet tall in 1973 when Balku bought the house. Wednesday, its girth reached about 50 feet in diameter.

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B.J. Upton headed to Braves for $75 million; Andy Pettitte returns to Yankees for $12 million

B.J. Upton is on his way to Atlanta, while Andy Pettitte is staying in pinstripes.

With the winter meetings only days away, baseball's offseason began to heat up Wednesday with a pair of moves involving potential closers: Ryan Madson joined the Angels and Jonathan Broxton remained with the Reds.

Hours later, the Braves made big news.

Looking for a new center fielder and some right-handed pop, Atlanta found both in Upton, who had 28 homers and 31 steals for Tampa Bay last season. The fleet-footed free agent agreed to a $75.25 million, five-year contract, a person familiar with the deal said Wednesday night.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been completed. It was expected to be announced Thursday once Upton passes his physical.

 

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