Top Senate Dem sets Thursday showdown vote on guns, still no agreement on background checks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats set Congress' first showdown vote on new gun restrictions for Thursday as a small but growing number of Republicans appeared willing to join them in opposing conservatives' efforts to block debate from even starting.
Making it personal, relatives of victims of the Connecticut school shootings lobbied senators face-to-face at the Capitol on Tuesday in hopes of persuading enough Republicans to back a debate and votes on meaningful gun restrictions.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday that he does not know if Democrats will get the 60 votes needed to break an effort by conservatives to prevent consideration of the legislation. But at least six Republicans have indicated an openness to begin debate. There are 53 Democrats and two independents who generally vote with them in the 100-member Senate, but some moderate Democratic senators might defect on an issue that provokes strong emotions among their constituents.
"It would be a real slap in the face to the American people not to do something on background checks, on school safety, on federal trafficking which everybody thinks is a good idea," Reid said, mentioning the elements of the Democratic firearms measure.
A Senate vote to begin debating the legislation would be a temporary victory for President Barack Obama's gun-control drive. It remains unclear, though, whether there are enough votes for final approval of the legislation.
Sheriff: Student arrested in Texas community college stabbing attack, at least 14 wounded
CYPRESS, Texas (AP) — A student went on a building-to-building stabbing attack at a Texas community college Tuesday, wounding at least 14 people before being subdued and arrested, authorities said.
The attack about 11:20 a.m. on the Lone Star Community College System's campus in Cypress sent at least 12 people to area hospitals, including four taken by helicopter, according to Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Robert Rasa. He said several people refused treatment at the scene.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said officers responded to the campus after receiving a call about a male "on the loose" stabbing people. He said it was not immediately clear what type of weapon was used.
"Some of the details in the call slip did indicate that students or faculty were actively responding to work to subdue this individual," Garcia said, describing the man as being about 21 years old and enrolled at the college. "So we're proud of those folks, but we're glad no one else is injured any more severely than they are."
Student Michael Chalfan said he was walking to class when he saw a group of police officers running after the suspect. He said one of the officers used a stun gun to help subdue the man, who Chalfan said he recognized from a drama class last year.
North Korea urges foreigners to vacate South Korea, says nuclear war imminent
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Scores of North Koreans of all ages planted trees as part of a forestation campaign — armed with shovels, not guns. In the evening, women in traditional dress danced in the plazas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong Il's appointment to a key defense post.
Despite another round of warnings from their leaders of impending nuclear war, there was no sense of panic in the capital on Tuesday.
Chu Kang Jin, a Pyongyang resident, said everything is calm in the city.
"Everyone, including me, is determined to turn out as one to fight for national reunification ... if the enemies spark a war," he added, using nationalist rhetoric common among many North Koreans when speaking to the media.
The North's latest warning, issued by its Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, urged foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea.
Al-Qaida in Iraq formally unites with powerful Syrian militant group
BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida's branch in Iraq and the most powerful rebel extremist group in Syria have officially joined ranks against President Bashar Assad to forge a potentially formidable militant force in the Middle East.
The merger of the Islamic State in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra forms a new entity that could be an even stronger opponent in the fight to topple Assad and become a dominant player in what eventually replaces his regime.
The new group, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, underscores the growing confidence and muscle of Islamist radicals fighting on the rebel side in Syria's civil war. It also bolsters the Syrian government's assertions that the regime is battling terrorists and that the uprising is a foreign-backed plot.
While the U.S. and its European and Gulf allies are concerned about the rising prominence of Islamists among the rebels, the merger is unlikely to prompt a shift in the international support. Late last year, Washington declared that Jabhat al-Nusra had ties to al-Qaida and designated it a terrorist organization.
To try to counter the rising influence of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic extremists in the civil war, the U.S. and its allies have boosted their support for rebel factions deemed to be more moderate.
Pilot of fatal medical helicopter flight was texting, didn't check his fuel, investigators say
WASHINGTON (AP) — Texting by the pilot of a medical helicopter contributed to a crash that killed four people, federal accident investigators declared Tuesday, and they approved a safety alert cautioning all pilots against using cellphones or other distracting devices during critical operations.
It was the first fatal commercial aircraft accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in which texting has been implicated. And it underscored the board's worries that distractions from electronic devices are a growing factor in incidents across all modes of transportation — planes, trains, cars, trucks and even ships.
The five-member board unanimously agreed that the helicopter crash was caused by a distracted and tired pilot who skipped preflight safety checks, which would have revealed his helicopter was low on fuel, and then, after he discovered his situation, decided to proceed with the fatal last leg of the flight.
The case "juxtaposes old issues of pilot decision making with a 21st century twist: distractions from portable electronic devices," said board Chairman Deborah Hersman.
The helicopter ran out of fuel, crashing into a farm field in clear weather early on the evening of Aug. 26, 2011, near Mosby, Mo., a little over a mile short of an airport. The pilot was killed, along with a patient being taken from one hospital to another, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic.
Neighbors: 'Quiet' man goes on shooting rampage in Serbia, killing 13 in village near Belgrade
VELIKA IVANCA, Serbia (AP) — He went from house to house in the village at dawn, cold-bloodedly gunning down his mother, his son, a 2-year-old cousin and 10 other neighbors. Terrified residents said if a police patrol car hadn't shown up, they all would have been dead.
Police said they knew of no motive yet in the carnage Tuesday that left six men, six women and a child dead in Velika Ivanca, a Serbian village 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade.
After the rampage, police said suspect Ljubisa Bogdanovic, a 60-year-old who saw action in one of the bloodiest sieges of the Balkan wars, turned his gun on himself and his wife as authorities closed in. Both were in grave condition at a hospital in the Serbian capital.
In the small lush village surrounded by fruit trees, the suspect's older brother Radmilo broke down in tears, unable to explain why the massacre had happened.
"Why did he do it? ... I still can't believe it," he said sobbing, covering his face with his hands. "He was a model of honesty."
Wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia left populations heavily armed and traumatized
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The wars from 1991 to 1999 as Yugoslavia broke up took up to 200,000 lives, turned millions into refugees and left much of the region's people traumatized and heavily armed. It was the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.
The millions of weapons that remained in possession of civilians after the fighting have caused fatalities every week, as traumatized former soldiers either shoot family members or commit suicide or children find guns at home and die while playing with them.
All of the seven new countries that emerged have banned civilians from owning weapons with varying degrees of success.
Baghdad residents view 10-year anniversary of city's fall with grief, relief
BAGHDAD (AP) — Ten years ago, a statue fell in Baghdad's Firdous Square. Joyful Iraqis helped by an American tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon of the war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein.
But for the residents of the capital, it was only the beginning.
The toppling of the statue remains a potent symbol that has divided Iraqis ever since: Liberation for Shiites and Kurds, a loss for some Sunnis and grief among almost everybody over the years of death, destruction and occupation that followed the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces on April 9, 2003.
"Ten years ago, I dreamed of better life," said Rassol Hassan, 80, who witnessed the fall of the statue from his nearby barber shop. "Nothing has changed since then for me and many Iraqis, it has even gotten worse."
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that they are better off today than under Saddam's brutal dictatorship.
No UK taboo: Unlike in America, some Britons happy to publicly celebrate former leader's death
LONDON (AP) — While some Britons mourned the passing of Margaret Thatcher, others raised glasses of champagne in impromptu street parties. And "The Wizard of Oz" song "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead" is surging up the UK singles charts.
A Guardian newspaper cartoon depicted Thatcher descending into hell, the Socialist Worker front page said "Rejoice," and a movie marquee was rearranged to read: "Margaret Thatchers Dead LOL."
Many societies soften their take on divisive leaders as they age — notably the United States, where even unpopular presidents are warmly eulogized in death — but emotions in Britain are as raw as they were when the Iron Lady was in power.
Yes, Thatcher was an unusually divisive figure blamed by many for crippling Britain's labor unions and sabotaging workers' rights, but the willingness of small groups of Britons to publicly mock a longtime national leader hours after her death reflects a British contempt for power and its practitioners that many believe stands in contrast to attitudes in the United States.
There were no similar scenes of jubilation after the 1994 death of Richard Nixon, a polarizing figure who is the only U.S. president to resign from office, said Robert McGeehan, an associate fellow at the Institute for the Study of Americas.
Our data, ourselves? Art exhibit pushes boundaries of online privacy, data ownership
NEW YORK (AP) — Image after image splashes on the wall of the art exhibit — a snapshot of young people laughing and drinking, a picture of an elephant, an exposed belly of a woman barely covering her breasts with one arm. The photos were taken from their computers without their knowledge through a technological glitch.
Over in a corner, visitors can sort through Facebook profile photos from unwitting users through a website that organizes them by gender, country and adjectives such as "sly," ''smug" or "easy going." Think online dating site, for people who don't know they are on it.
The works are part of "The Public Private," an art exhibit that explores the gray areas of online privacy, surveillance and data collection in the age of Facebook and Google. The pieces shift across the boundaries between what's public and private, all through the lens of technology. But lines are never clear, if there are any at all, and that can be unsettling.
Its curator, Christiane Paul, says she hopes visitors will walk away with questions. The exhibit's goal, she says, isn't to universally declare Facebook bad or social media evil, but to get people thinking. It's only been nine years, after all, since Facebook's birth and six since Twitter was created, so art that explores social networking as a subject is just emerging.
"I don't think good art provides easy answers," says Paul, adjunct curator at Whitney Museum of American Art and a media studies professor at The New School, where the exhibit runs through April 17.