Saturday, April 26, 2014

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Obama arrives in Malaysia for 1st visit by US president in more than 4 decades

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Saturday opened the first visit by a U.S. president in nearly half a century to Malaysia, the third stop on Obama's weeklong goodwill trip through Asia.

Stepping off his plane and onto a red carpet at an air base near Kuala Lumpur, Obama was met by an honor guard in crisp white uniforms. Malaysia's foreign minister and top envoys to the U.S. were on hand to greet Obama before he boarded his limousine for the drive to Kuala Lumpur's Parliament Square.

During the two-day state visit, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and be honored at a state dinner at the National Palace. He also plans to hold a town hall-style forum with young people.

Obama's long-awaited visit to Malaysia had been scheduled for last fall, but was postponed because of a U.S. government shutdown. His rescheduled visit comes as Malaysia has attracted international attention over the March 8 disappearance of a commercial airliner with 239 people on board.

Officials were preparing to widen the search area in a remote part of the ocean as Obama was arriving in Malaysia. The air base where Air Force One landed has been used as a staging ground for some of the recovery operations for the missing jet.

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5 NATO troops killed in helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The NATO-led military coalition in Afghanistan says five of its troops have been killed in a helicopter crash in the country's south.

The coalition said it was investigating the circumstances of the crash but gave no other information. The nationalities of those killed were not released.

The U.S.-led NATO force is preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year.

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SKorean prosecutor: 4 more of sunken ferry crew detained; all involved in navigation now held

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- All 15 people involved in navigating the South Korean ferry that sank and left more than 300 people dead or missing are now in custody after authorities on Saturday detained four more crew members, a prosecutor said.

Yang Jung-jin of the joint investigation team said two helmsmen and two members of the steering crew were taken in on preliminary arrest warrants issued late Friday. Eleven other crew members, including the captain, had been formally arrested earlier.

All are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need as the ferry Sewol sank April 16. The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took half an hour to issue an evacuation order, by which time the ship was tilting too severely for many people to get out.

Ten days after the sinking, 187 bodies have been recovered and 115 people are believed to be missing, though the government-wide emergency task force has said the ship's passengers list could be inaccurate. Only 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested or detained held non-marine jobs such as chef or steward, Yang said in a telephone interview from Mokpo, the southern city near the wreck site where prosecutors are based. A court hearing was held Saturday to determine whether formal arrest warrants will be issued against the four newly detained crew members.

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Francis deeply influenced by both saint popes: Owes papacy to JPII but style like John XXIII

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio almost became pope in 2005, he told a confidant that -- had he been elected -- he would have named himself after the pope he so admired: John XXIII.

When he did become pope in 2013, his first public words echoed what John Paul II had said upon his election -- that cardinals had searched far, to the "ends of the Earth," to find a new leader.

John XXIII and John Paul II, two of the 20th century's great spiritual leaders, changed the face of the Catholic Church and the papacy itself with their remarkable, and remarkably different, papacies. They also had a profound influence on Pope Francis, who will declare them both saints Sunday in history's first canonization of two popes.

John, embraced by progressives, reigned from 1958-1963 and is credited primarily with having convened the Second Vatican Council, which brought the 2,000-year-old institution into modern times. During his 26 years as pope, John Paul ensured a more conservative implementation and interpretation of the council, while helping to bring down communism and energizing a new generation of Catholics.

Just weeks after he was elected, Francis prayed at the tombs of both men -- an indication that he feels a great personal and spiritual continuity with them.

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Prom-date rejection investigated in school stabbing of teen remembered as 'bright light'

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The night before Maren Sanchez was fatally stabbed inside her high school, she asked to take a break from her drama group for a nail appointment. The junior prom she helped plan was the next day, and she wanted to look her best.

Sanchez, a 16-year-old junior, was attacked Friday in a school hallway, and a boy who's a student there has been charged with murder.

Instead of the prom that night, students gathered for a candlelight vigil and counselors were available for anyone who needed their help. They planned to be on hand Saturday as well, WFSB television station in Hartford reported. The prom was postponed indefinitely.

Police are investigating whether Sanchez was stabbed after turning down an invitation to the prom, an event she had been looking forward to attending with her boyfriend.

Family members and friends at the Jonathan Law High School in Milford were left reeling from the attack on Sanchez, an outgoing member of the National Honor Society who played guitar and was active in drama and other school activities.

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Frontiers of Lebanon, Syria, Israel meet in tiny patch of land, site of Mideast's conflicts

CHEBAA, Lebanon (AP) -- This small, scenic patch of land where the frontiers of Syria, Lebanon and Israel converge has long been a flashpoint, with Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops positioned face to face in close quarters across undefined and disputed borders.

The Syrian civil war has made the region known as Chebaa Farms even more dangerous.

Rival sides in Syria's conflict crisscross it smuggling weapons and fighters, and sectarian tensions are rising as Chebaa's mainly Sunni residents, joined by thousands of Sunni Syrian refugees, turn against Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group because of its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Even in a country with as many potential triggers for violence as Lebanon, Chebaa's unique geographic location brings together a collection of particularly bitter enemies. And with tempers fraying on all sides as Syria's war drags on, there are concerns that a misstep by just one of the players in this idyllic landscape of green, rocky hills could drag everyone into a wider, even nastier conflict.

For the Lebanese military, which officially controls its side of the disputed frontier, the main concern appears to be the influx of Syrian refugees.

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No quick finish expected in Afghan elections, as preliminary results point to long process

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan is expected to release preliminary results in its crucial presidential election on Saturday, but the results are only one step in a potentially long road to determine who will succeed President Hamid Karzai. Neither Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, nor ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai look set to win a majority, meaning the violence-weary country could be heading for a runoff.

WHEN WILL WE KNOW WHO IS AFGHANISTAN'S NEXT PRESIDENT?

Probably not for weeks. Final results from this round of voting are due May 14. With no candidate likely to get a majority, a runoff must be held 15 days later. The most likely scenario appears to be a matchup between Abdullah and Ahmadzai in late May. Then, the entire process of counting, handling complaints and making revisions begins again, meaning that it could be late June or even July before a final winner is declared.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

The U.S.-led military coalition is counting on Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power as part of its plan to withdraw most troops at the end of the year, nearly 13 years after toppling the Taliban's radical Islamic regime for sheltering al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden. The new president will face the daunting task of overseeing the foreign forces' withdrawal and also resetting relations with Washington, which have taken a battering from Karzai's increasing anti-American rhetoric. He will also be under pressure to quickly finalize a security agreement with the U.S. that Karzai has refused to sign. All eight candidates have vowed to sign the security pact to allow a small U.S. training force to help the Afghan military and police fight the Taliban.

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Potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates discuss gun rights, court NRA at annual meeting

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Several potential Republican presidential candidates courted gun-rights supporters Friday at the National Rifle Association's annual convention, talking up their pro-gun credentials while imploring the crowd to fight not just for their Second Amendment rights but for other freedoms they say are being threatened.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the NRA's annual leadership forum, a kind of political pep rally the organization considers one of its premier events. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire also recorded brief videos that were played for the crowd of more than 2,000 inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.

One after another, the possible 2016 contenders thanked the NRA and its members for flexing their considerable political muscle to help push back recent gun-control efforts, including legislation following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that would have required background checks for gun purchases. They said that same activism will be critical heading into elections this fall, in 2016 and beyond.

Jindal charged that Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both possible Democratic presidential candidates, think the Second Amendment is little more than "a phrase from a speech writer."

"If they had their way they'd simply cut and paste the Constitution and just get rid of the Second Amendment entirely," said Jindal, who approved several gun rights bills last year, including one that creates stiff penalties for those who knowingly publish the names of gun permit holders.

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Daniels hits 3 with 11.9 seconds left in OT and Houston beats Portland 121-116

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- James Harden found his shot, and Troy Daniels made his.

Harden scored a career playoff-best 37 points in Houston's 121-116 overtime victory over the Trail Blazers on Friday night, narrowing Portland's playoff advantage to 2-1 with Game 4 set for Sunday.

But it was the rookie Daniels who nailed a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds to go that pulled Houston out of a funk from losing the first two games of the series at home.

"Means a lot to me that coach called my name," said Daniels, who spent time in the D-League this season and didn't make his pro debut until March 5. "As a rookie, you never know when you're going to play. That shows how much confidence he has in me."

Dwight Howard added 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets. Only three teams have come back to win after losing the first two games of a seven-game series at home: The last was the 2004-05 Mavericks, who came back against the Rockets.

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Shiite rally bombing ahead of parliamentary elections in Iraq sparks deadly reprisal attacks

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A multiple bomb attack that killed at least 33 people at a campaign rally for a militant Shiite group likely unleashed a series of apparent sectarian attacks in Iraq, signaling the start of a new wave of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting ahead of elections next week, security officials said Saturday.

An al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, claimed responsibility for Friday's attack on the Baghdad rally, which drew about 10,000 backers of Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

It said on a militant website that the bombings were to avenge what it called the killing of Sunnis and their forced removal from their homes by Shiite militias. The authenticity of the claim could not be independently verified.

A senior Asaib Ahl al-Haq official said the 33 dead included 10 group members who had fought in the Syrian civil war. Its members fight with forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, a member of a Shiite sect. The Islamic State fights with Sunni rebels trying to oust Assad.

Such bomb attacks are not uncommon in Iraq, but targeting a gathering by a militant Shiite group had been expected to spark retaliation.

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