Greece secures high participation in critical bond swap, staves off imminent bankruptcy
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece took a critical step toward staving off an imminent bankruptcy after securing the support of the vast majority of its bondholders to accept steep losses on their holdings of Greek debt, a move that should pave the way for the country's second massive international bailout.
Following weeks of intense discussions, Greece's Finance Ministry said Friday that 85.8 percent of private investors holding its Greek-law bonds had signed up to the deal, and that it aimed to use legislation forcing the holdouts to participate. It extended the deadline for holders of bonds that are governed by foreign laws, of whom 69 percent have so far signed up, until March 23.
The deal aimed to slash the country's national debt by €107 billion ($140 billion), with private bond holders accepting a face-value loss of 53.5 percent in exchange for new bonds with more favorable repayment terms. A total of €206 billion ($273 billion) out of Greece's €368 billion ($487 billion) national debt is in private hands.
If the swap had failed, Greece would have faced defaulting on its debts in two weeks, when it faced a large bond redemption. Getting the bond swap through is a key condition for Greece to get its hands on a €130 billion ($172 billion) package of rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
"We have achieved an exceptional success ... and I believe everyone will soon realise that this is the only way to keep the country on its feet and give it a second historic chance that it needs," finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said in Parliament Friday.
AP Interview: Syrian opposition leader rejects UN envoy's call for dialogue with Assad regime
BEIRUT (AP) -- The leader of Syria's main opposition group rejected calls Friday by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan for dialogue with President Bashar Assad's government, saying they were pointless and unrealistic as the regime massacres its own people.
As the prospects for diplomacy faltered, Turkey's state-run television TRT said two Syrian generals and a colonel defected to Turkey on Thursday.
If confirmed, the military defections would be significant as most army defectors so far have been low-level conscripts. On Thursday, Syria's deputy oil minister announced his defection, making him the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition.
In a telephone interview from Paris, Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council, told The Associated Press that Annan already has disappointed the Syrian people.
Annan, who has been appointed joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, has said his mission was to start a "political process" to resolve the conflict in the country. He is due this weekend in Syria where he will meet with Assad.
Though NYPD says it doesn't consider religion, documents describe 'focus' on Muslim Americans
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Police Department kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims, according to newly obtained documents that spell out in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion.
The NYPD has faced intense criticism from Muslims, lawmakers and even the FBI for widespread spying operations that put entire neighborhoods under surveillance. Police put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the northeastern U.S.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended his department's efforts, saying they have kept the city safe, were completely legal and were not based on religion.
"We don't stop to think about the religion," Bloomberg said at a news conference in August after The Associated Press began revealing the spying. "We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there."
In late 2007, however, plainclothes officers in the department's secretive Demographics Unit were assigned to investigate the region's Syrian population. Police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring.
Path ahead for Romney runs South, through heavily evangelical, conservative states
Mitt Romney's struggle with white evangelical voters doesn't bode well for him as he moves through the GOP presidential primary, with Mississippi and Alabama just ahead.
In the five states so far where born-again Christians were a majority of GOP primary voters, Romney has trailed either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich among evangelicals by an average of 20 points, according to exit polls. About 4 in 10 born-again voters who were asked said it was deeply important that a candidate share their religious beliefs.
Still, exit polls also show an opening for Romney to draw a bit more of the evangelical vote. In Ohio and Tennessee, evangelicals who said shared religious beliefs are less important when choosing a candidate were significantly less likely than other evangelicals to see Romney as too moderate.
The key question for Romney is whether enough of these evangelicals are present in the contests ahead to make any difference for his candidacy.
In the 2008 Republican presidential primary, about three-quarters of Republicans in Mississippi and two-thirds in Alabama identified themselves as white evangelicals. Primaries in Mississippi and Alabama are set for Tuesday, with Louisiana to follow on March 24.
Officials say Afghanistan, US reach agreement on handover of prisons, key to long-term pact
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A last-minute agreement has been reached on how to handle the transfer of U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan to the Kabul government, Afghan and Western officials said Friday.
The issue -- along with night raids by international forces in Afghan villages -- has threatened to derail a long-term partnership between the two countries. They are in negotiations to formalize a role for U.S. forces after NATO's scheduled transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai set Friday as the deadline for handover of control of the Parwan detention facility, a U.S.-run prison that holds about 3,000 detainees, most of them Afghan citizens.
The deal comes as relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have become more tense in recent weeks following the burning of Qurans and other religious materials at Bagram military base near the capital Kabul, sparking riots and attacks that killed some 30 people.
The U.S. has apologized and said the Qurans came from the Parwan detention center and were taken out because they had extremist messages written in them, but that they should not have been sent to be burned. Karzai said soon after the Quran burnings became public that these types of incidents would not occur if the Afghans were in charge of the detention facility.
Another month of strong hiring expected to be reported for February as job market strengthens
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Employers likely added more than 200,000 jobs for a third straight month in February, adding to evidence that the recovery is building momentum.
Economists forecast that the economy likely generated a net gain of 210,000 jobs, according to FactSet. That's below January's 243,000 jobs but still a healthy figure. The unemployment rate, which has fallen for five straight months, is projected to stay 8.3 percent.
If the unemployment rate were to fall for a sixth straight month, it would mark the first such streak since 1984.
It will be hard to match the jobs report for January. The employment gains came from across many industries and up and down the pay scale. Manufacturing, restaurants and hotels, retail, and professional services such as accounting all reported big job gains.
A key reason why the unemployment rate has dropped since last year is that many out-of-work people have stopped looking for work. Only people without jobs who are actively seeking one are counted as unemployed.
HEALTHBEAT: Birth control cost varies widely, study suggests more women choose IUD if free
WASHINGTON (AP) -- What does birth control really cost anyway?
It varies dramatically, from $9 a month for generic pills to $90 a month for some of the newest brands -- plus a doctor's visit for the prescription.
Want a more goof-proof option? The most reliable contraceptives, so-called long-acting types like IUDs or implants, can cost $600 to nearly $1,000 upfront to be inserted by a doctor.
That's if you don't have insurance that covers at least some of the tab -- although many women do. And if those prices are too much, crowded public clinics offer free or reduced-price options. But it might take a while to get an appointment.
Questions about cost and access to birth control have been swirling for weeks now, intensifying after a Georgetown University law school student testified before congressional Democrats in support of a new federal policy to pay for contraception that she said can add up to $1,000 a year, not covered by the Jesuit college's health plan. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh's verbal assault on her comments became the latest skirmish in the birth control wars.
Officials lack motive for shooting at Pitt psych clinic; 2, including gunman, are killed
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gregory Brant found himself barricaded in a first-floor waiting room at a University of Pittsburgh psychiatric clinic, hoping he wouldn't be shot. For 15 minutes, it was fear and pandemonium.
A man armed with two semiautomatic handguns entered the clinic lobby Thursday afternoon and opened fire, killing one person and wounding several others before he was shot dead, apparently by campus police.
Authorities don't know why the shooting happened and released no information on the gunman. Officials said it appears he acted alone.
Six people were wounded and a seventh person suffered unspecified injuries. All are expected to survive.
"We heard a bunch of yelling, some shooting, people yelling, 'Hide! Hide!'" Brant said. "Everyone's yelling, 'Stay down!'"
Entire Pacific nation of Kiribati could one day move to Fiji to escape climate change
Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.
Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.
"We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it," Tong said. "It wouldn't be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won't be a matter of choice. It's basically going to be a matter of survival."
Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.
Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island's underground fresh water, which remains vital for trees and crops. He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly.
Spine specialists say once neck healed, Manning's concern will be arm strength, not safety
Fans hear the words "neck fusion" and wonder why Peyton Manning is even considering playing again, fearful he'll risk a career-ending injury -- or worse -- the next time he takes a hit.
But safety isn't Manning's issue, several spine specialists said. Arm strength is.
Manning's surgically repaired neck will be able to take a hit just fine once the fusion is healed, with the bone actually stronger than others in his neck. Nerves are delicate, however, and only time will tell if they'll recover enough for the four-time NFL MVP to be the quarterback he once was.
"His risk really is very low," said Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., who has worked with NHL star Sidney Crosby and whose DISC Sports & Spine Center provides medical services for the U.S. Olympic team.
"If I was a team, I'd ask, 'Did (the fusion) heal? Do you have a CAT scan that showed it healed? Is the rest of neck in pretty good shape?'" Bray asked. "If those two answers are yes, then it gets down to, 'OK, get out on the field and show me you can perform,' because it will only get better from here with time."