AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 12, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Mali official says Islamists being driven out of Konna, as French forces launch operations

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Islamist militants have been driven out of Konna, a city the extremists captured earlier this week, as French forces have launched military operations in north Mali, a Mali military official said Saturday.

Lt. Col. Diarran Kone said the military does not yet control the city of Konna and are still searching for any hidden Islamist extremist elements there.

"The Islamists have been chased out of the city of Konna. We are doing sweeps of the city to find any hidden Islamist extremist elements," said Lt. Col. Kone. "The full recover of the city is too early to determine as we do not yet control the city, and we remain vigilant."

Sanda Abu Mohammed, spokesman for Islamist group Ansar Dine, told The Associated Press he could not confirm if his fighters were still in Konna because communication networks have been down since late Friday.

"I cannot tell you if our fighters are still in the city of Konna or if they are not, because since yesterday afternoon I have not had contact with them as the telephone network has been down in this zone," Mohammed said.

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AP Interview: George P. Bush looking to Texas land commissioner run to launch political career

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — George Prescott Bush is gearing up to run for a little-known but powerful office in a state where his family already is a political dynasty and where his Hispanic roots could help extend a stranglehold on power Republicans have enjoyed for two decades.

The 36-year-old Fort Worth attorney says he is close to settling on campaigning for Texas land commissioner next year. He doesn't expect to make up his mind until he knows what Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, decides to do.

"We for sure are running, the question is the office," Bush told The Associated Press during the first interview about his political future since filing paperwork in November to seek elected office in Texas.

Bush's father is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his grandfather is former President George H.W. Bush and his uncle is former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Perry has been governor since George W. left for the White House.

Land commissioner traditionally has been a steppingstone to higher office, but Bush said little about any plans to eventually become a national political force.

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Ex-Mass. Sen. Scott Brown faces dramatic shifts as he considers chance to return to Washington

BOSTON (AP) — Three years ago, Scott Brown was a little-known Republican state senator from Massachusetts who shocked Democrats by winning a U.S. Senate seat in a special election that became a national rallying cry for the nascent tea party movement.

Much has changed since then for Brown. In the Senate, he compiled a voting record more moderate than his one-time tea party allies would have liked. Just two months ago, voters said a resounding "no" to giving him a full term.

Now Brown is considering whether to seize a chance to return to the Senate — in yet another special election — to take the place of Democratic Sen. John Kerry if he is confirmed as secretary of state. Democrats will be more than ready for Brown this time if he does run.

"The atmosphere would be completely different," said the state Democratic Party chairman, John Walsh. He acknowledged making "unforgivable mistakes" by taking for granted the race in which Brown won the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat.

"We are not asleep at the switch anymore," Walsh said.

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he's convinced his uncle's assassination wasn't work of 1 person

DALLAS (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."

Kennedy and his sister, Rory, spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The event comes as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of the president's death.

Their uncle was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. Five years later, their father was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel while celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother's death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others "trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing."

He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report.

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NY commission formed in wake of Superstorm Sandy urges subway flood walls, coastal barriers

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A commission formed to examine ways to guard against storms like Sandy released a report Friday that calls for flood walls in subways, water pumps at airports and sea barriers along the coast.

The final report was first obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The findings were officially released Friday by the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who formed the commission.

The report recommends short- and long-term protections in transportation and with building codes. It suggests improvements in insurance coverage and ways to finance those improvements.

Some of the specific recommendations involve using natural barriers to protect New York Harbor and Long Island. Others include roll-down gates and inflatable barriers to keep floodwaters out of subways.

"I thank the Rockefeller Foundation and the extraordinary members of the Commission for their hard work in developing these preliminary recommendations on a short timeline, and applaud their comprehensiveness and the vision they lay out for the future of New York State," Cuomo said Friday in a statement. "We will be reviewing them as part of our efforts to harden our critical infrastructure and to make New York State a leader in creating a more resilient, more effective infrastructure."

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Beauty queens from across country vie for Miss America title in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Beauties from every state are competing for the Miss America crown Saturday night, an honor that carries with it a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run as an advocate and role model.

The winner will go on tour, speaking to groups around the country and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, the organization's official charity.

The competition at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip is the culmination of a week of preliminary competitions and months of preparations for the titleholders from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each one has already proven her poise, charm and volubility by winning her state crown.

The queens have been staying at Planet Hollywood, but the humming slot machines and flashing marquees have been little more than a blurry backdrop for a tight schedule of rehearsals, media events and one-on-one interviews with the judges.

Among the preliminary winners were Miss Maryland and Miss Oklahoma. Miss Alabama won the $6,000 Quality of Life Scholarship for her commitment to community service.

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Report: Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to admit to doping during Oprah Winfrey interview

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong plans to admit to doping throughout his career during an upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey, USA Today reported late Friday.

The interview, scheduled to be taped Monday and broadcast Thursday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network, will be conducted at Armstrong's home in Austin, Texas.

Citing an anonymous source, USA Today reported that the disgraced cyclist plans to admit using performance-enhancing drugs, but likely will not get into details of the allegations outlined in a 2012 report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from the sport.

Armstrong representatives declined comment, including his attorney Tim Herman. The New York Times first reported last week that Armstrong was considering making a confession.

The 41-year-old Armstrong, who vehemently denied doping for years, has not spoken publicly about the USADA report that cast him as the leader of a sophisticated and brazen doping program on his U.S. Postal Service teams that included use of steroids, blood boosters and illegal blood transfusions.

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Artist paints portraits of Tibetan self-immolators to break silence among China's majority

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing-based artist Liu Yi is working on a series of black-and-white portraits he knows will never be shown in a Chinese gallery. His varied subjects — men and women, young and old, smiling and pensive — have one thing in common: They are Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest repressive Chinese rule.

Liu wants to paint a portrait of each of the hundred-or-so Tibetans who have self-immolated over the past three years, as a way of bearing witness to one of the biggest waves of fiery protests in recent history. With each brushstroke, Liu is making a heartfelt plea: The burning must end.

"When I'm painting, I'm thinking: 'Enough, enough, don't do this anymore. Stop,'" said the soft-spoken artist who has completed 40 so far. "That's enough."

Liu is rare among his contemporaries for addressing the largely taboo topic. Only a tiny handful of activists from the Han Chinese majority have spoken out, among them the prominent legal scholar Xu Zhiyong.

At the heart of the silence is Han Chinese indifference or even hostility to the Tibetan cause, despite some overlap with liberal Han activists who chafe at authoritarian controls. "We are victims ourselves," Xu wrote in a recent op-ed piece in which he apologized for the silence.

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Obama White House nixes calls for $850 quadrillion 'Death Star' super-weapon

WASHINGTON (AP) — A "Death Star" won't be a part of the U.S. military's arsenal any time soon.

More than 34,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Obama administration to build the "Star Wars" inspired super-weapon to spur job growth and bolster national defense.

But in a posting Friday on the White House website, Paul Shawcross, an administration adviser on science and space, says a Death Star would cost too much to build — an estimated $850 quadrillion — at a time the White House is working to reduce the federal budget.

Besides, Shawcross says, the Obama administration "does not support blowing up planets."

The U.S., Shawcross points out, is already involved in several out-of-this-world projects, including the International Space Station, which is currently orbiting Earth with a half-dozen astronauts.

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Kevin Durant scores 42 points as NBA-best Thunder hand Lakers a 6th straight loss, 116-101

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer in the final second of the first half and did a full reverse somersault to celebrate a 16-point lead. The Thunder were running the Lakers out of their own building, and not even Kobe Bryant could stop them.

Oklahoma City is again clearly among the best teams in the Western Conference, and the struggling Lakers may not have enough time left in the season to join them.

Durant scored a season-high 42 points, Russell Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists, and Oklahoma City easily sent the short-handed Lakers to their sixth straight loss, 116-101 on Friday night.

Kevin Martin scored 15 points and hit three 3-pointers for the Thunder, who romped to a 27-point lead in the second half. Oklahoma City has won seven of nine, while Los Angeles is on its longest skid since March 2007 while playing without injured stars Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Oklahoma City (28-8) matched the Clippers for the NBA's best record — and the Thunder made it look easy with a virtuoso game from Durant, who had 38 points midway through the third quarter.

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