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World briefly for Jan. 14

POSTED: January 14, 2013 9:16 a.m.

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A Malian intelligence agent posted near the central Malian town of Diabaly confirmed that French pilots launched a raid on Monday morning close to the town.

The bombing run marks an expansion of the battle to retake Mali's north. Until Sunday night, the raids had all occurred in distant northern areas. The bombardments near Diabaly follows airstrikes late Sunday 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the locality, in the rice growing region of Anatola, once the site of a major USAID-funded project.

The agent, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said that shots rang out near a military base in Diabaly. Soon after, he said French jets flew over the area, dropping bombs.

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Obama starts 2nd term with bad blood weighing down ties with Israel's Netanyahu

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama heads into his second term weighed down by an American government snarled in partisan gridlock, but also by an unproductive relationship with the leader of Israel, the bedrock U.S. ally in the tumultuous Middle East.

And the puzzle that is the U.S.-Israeli relationship under Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only growing more complex.

"It's troubled. It's the greatest dysfunction between leaders that I've seen in my 40 years in watching and participating," said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who served under six secretaries of state in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He was deeply involved in negotiations involving Israel, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians.

"I don't think we are headed for a showdown," he said, "but the relationship will continue to be dysfunctional."

Even so, the United States routinely backs Israel when much of the world is deeply critical of the Jewish state. For example the U.S. was among the few nations opposing the Palestinians' successful bid for upgraded status at the United Nations and did not criticize Israel's bombardment of Gaza late last year in retaliation for rocket attacks from the tiny Palestinian enclave.

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Lance Armstrong's final preparations for Oprah interview include a few miles of roadwork

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As days of preparations dwindled to hours before his blockbuster interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong went out for a training run and then retreated behind the stone walls of his Austin compound to huddle with a handful of close advisers.

After more than a decade of denying that he doped to win the Tour de France seven times, Armstrong was scheduled to sit down Monday for what has been trumpeted as a "no-holds barred," 90-minute, question-and-answer session with Winfrey. He is expected to reverse course and apologize, as well as offer a limited confession about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the prestigious bike race with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Winfrey and her crew will film the interview at Armstrong's home and broadcast it Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

If he was feeling any pressure, Armstrong hardly showed it during a jog under bright skies Sunday, even as members of his legal team began arriving one-by-one at his home nearby.

"I'm calm, I'm at ease and ready to speak candidly," he told The Associated Press, but declined to reveal how he would answer questions about the scandal that has shadowed his career like an angry storm cloud.

Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour titles last year in the wake of a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, "The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

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French surprise intervention in Mali aims to stop terrorists, but will it trap Paris, too?

PARIS (AP) — France, breaking its own rules with a surprise military intervention in Mali, appears to be halting the lightning advance of radical Islamists seen as a threat to Europe.

But the operation raises the specter of an African quagmire in a new theater of the West's war on terror just as France and other U.S. allies emerge from the old one in Afghanistan. And it undermines President Francois Hollande's promise to end the cozy, paternalistic ties France has long sustained with its former African colonies.

France fears a new sanctuary of terrorism could take root in Mali, and says fast action was the only choice after sudden extremist advances last week.

French authorities contend that Mali and its neighbors in West Africa, Europe and especially France are threatened by three radical organizations, including an al-Qaida affiliate, that control northern Mali and are looking to extend their grip to the crucial south and the capital of Bamako to set up a terror state.

French authorities acknowledged Sunday that the militants have turned out to be better-armed and equipped than France had initially thought.

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Beijing cancels outdoor activities, warns of hazardous air due to off-the-charts pollution

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing schools kept children indoors and hospitals saw a spike in respiratory cases Monday following a weekend of off-the charts pollution in China's smoggy capital, the worst since the government began being more open about air-quality data.

City authorities, who began releasing figures about some of the worst kinds of pollutants early last year, ordered many factories to scale back emissions and were spraying water at building sites to try to tamp down dust and dirt worsening the noxious haze hanging over the city.

Demand spiked for face masks and air purifiers, and hospitals saw surges of up to 30 percent in residents seeking help for breathing problems, state-run media outlets reported. Schools in several districts were ordered to cancel outdoor activities such as flag-raisings and sports classes, and in an unusual public announcement, Beijing authorities advised all residents to "take measures to protect their health."

"It's really terrible. I'm extremely upset, but there's really nothing much I can do," said a Beijing resident out for a morning stroll. Like many Chinese, the man would give only his surname, Kang.

Another man, a 60-year-old retiree surnamed Chen, said his elderly relatives had moved to stay with family members outside the city to avoid the pollution.

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'Argo,' 'Les Miserables' top films at Golden Globes; Foster shakes up night with coming-out

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Ben Affleck got some vindication and Jodie Foster made a revelation at the Golden Globe Awards.

Affleck's "Argo" earned him best motion picture drama and director honors at Sunday night's ceremony. The awards came just a few days after Affleck was surprisingly omitted from the best-director category at the Academy Award nominations. Affleck also stars in the real-life drama as the CIA operative who orchestrated a daring rescue of six American embassy employees during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

These wins seem to shake up the Oscar race, in which Steven Spielberg's stately, historical epic "Lincoln" was looking like a juggernaut. Despite seven Golden Globe nominations, "Lincoln" earned just one award: best actor for Daniel Day-Lewis' intense, richly detailed portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as he fought for passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. Spielberg's film heads into the Feb. 24 Academy Awards with a leading 12 nominations.

The other big winner of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's honors was "Les Miserables." Based on the international musical sensation and Victor Hugo's novel of strife and redemption in 19th century France, it won best picture musical or comedy, best actor for Hugh Jackman and best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway.

"Honestly, I would have played a musket, so I'm thrilled I got to sing a really good song," Hathaway joked backstage. She belts out the dramatic "I Dreamed a Dream" as the doomed prostitute Fantine.

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Lawmakers joining No Labels' 'problem-solving' group to combat DC gridlock

NEW YORK (AP) — There's a lot of political currency these days in being labeled a "problem-solver," a title that has become highly sought-after following a polarizing election and protracted fight in Congress over raising taxes and curbing spending.

With sharp divisions in Washington entering President Barack Obama's second term, lawmakers from both parties are seeking the political middle as voters increasingly view government as bitter and paralyzed.

For Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat representing conservative West Virginia, Washington has become a place where any politician faces "guilt by conversation," in which merely raising the need to address fundamental problems can imperil their political career. For former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose Republican presidential campaign fizzled during the GOP primaries, Washington's dysfunction has seeped into the corporate boardroom and onto the factory floor, hampering the economy and preventing hiring and investing.

"We have the politics of right, left and center in America. But we've forgotten the most important one of all and that's the politics of problem solving," Huntsman said.

Manchin and Huntsman were joining about a dozen members of Congress on Monday in New York to band together under the "No Labels" alliance that aims to put governing over political orthodoxy. Organizers are kicking off a new effort to attract members of Congress and lawmakers from across the political spectrum who want compromise after a lengthy campaign season put Washington in a virtual holding pattern.

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Newtown residents reflect on future of Conn. school building where gunman killed 26

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — A month after a gunman killed 26 people at an elementary school, some Newtown parents say the building should be demolished, while others believe the school should be renovated and the areas where the killings occurred removed.

Talk has turned to the future of the Sandy Hook Elementary School as life slowly begins moving forward in town. Resident at a public meeting Sunday made passionate arguments about whether their kids should ever return to the site of the tragedy.

"I have two children who had everything taken from them," said Audrey Bart, whose children attend the school but weren't injured in the shooting. "The Sandy Hook Elementary School is their school. It is not the world's school. It is not Newtown's school. We cannot pretend it never happened, but I am not prepared to ask my children to run and hide. You can't take away their school."

But fellow Sandy Hook parent Stephanie Carson said she can't imagine ever sending her son back to the building where 20 first-graders and six educators died.

"I know there are children who were there who want to go back," Carson said. "But the reality is, I've been to the new school where the kids are now, and we have to be so careful just walking through the halls. They are still so scared."

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Suspects to appear at Indian gang rape hearing to shift to 'fast track' court

NEW DELHI (AP) — Defense lawyers say the cases of five men charged in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus are expected to be shifted to a fast track court.

A hearing on whether to move the cases was to be held Monday. It had been set for last week but was rescheduled when it turned out that the official list of charges was not completely legible.

Five men have been charged with the Dec. 16 attack on the young woman, who died later in a Singapore hospital. They could face the death penalty if convicted. A sixth suspect, who says he is 17 years old, is likely to be tried in a juvenile court if medical tests confirm he is a minor.

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Red-hot stars, delicate pink ladies, sexy sirens make lasting Globes impressions

With all the pressure to strike the right style note at the Golden Globes — the kickoff to Hollywood's award season — Claire Danes had one more: a post-baby body.

"I am very strapped into this dress. It's Versace and they are masters of illusions," she said after her win Sunday for best actress in a TV drama. She wore a plunging red dress just a month after giving birth to her son.

Danes was one of many sirens in red on the red carpet, including Zooey Deschanel in Oscar de la Renta and Jennifer Lawrence and Marion Cotillard both in strapless coral gowns by Dior Haute Couture.

Also in Versace — in a less-loved look — was Halle Berry in a one-shoulder printed gown with a fuchsia-and-blush print. A floral ballgown by Carolina Herrera worn by Lucy Liu was another unconventional choice sure to become water-cooler fodder.

Among those wearing blush-colored gowns were Megan Fox — another new mom — in Dolce & Gabbana and Amy Adams in Marchesa. And there were lots of attention-getting sheer looks, including Jennifer Lopez's seemingly barely there gown by Zuhair Murad.

 

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