AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on March 8, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 8 at 10:02 PM

Cardinals set Tuesday as start date for conclave to elect next pope

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The preliminaries over, Catholic cardinals are ready to get down to the real business of choosing a pope. And even without a front-runner, there are indications they will go into the conclave Tuesday with a good idea of their top picks.

Then it will be just a matter of agreeing on one man to lead the church and tackle its many problems.

The conclave date was set Friday during a vote by the College of Cardinals, who have been meeting all week to discuss the church's problems and priorities, and the qualities the successor to Pope Benedict XVI must possess.

That said, there doesn't appear to be a front-runner, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including governance within the Holy See itself.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pre-conclave meetings had given the cardinals a chance to discuss the "profile, characteristics, qualities and talents" a future pope must have.

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Stronger hiring adds 236,000 jobs and reduces unemployment to 7.7 pct., a 4-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The American job market isn't just growing. It's accelerating.

Employers added 236,000 jobs in February and drove down the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years. The gains signal that companies are confident enough in the economy to intensify hiring even in the face of tax increases and government spending cuts.

Last month capped a fourth-month hiring spree in which employers have added an average of 205,000 jobs a month. The hiring has been fueled by steady improvement in housing, auto sales, manufacturing and corporate profits, along with record-low borrowing rates.

Before the spree, employers added an average of 154,000 jobs from July through October and only 108,000 from April through June.

"The recovery is gathering momentum," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.

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Fiery, foot-stomping funeral held for Hugo Chavez as successor sworn in with strident speech

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hugo Chavez was lauded as a modern-day reincarnation of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar at a fiery, foot-stomping state funeral Friday, hours before his handpicked successor was sworn in as acting president over the fierce objections of the opposition.

Nicolas Maduro took the oath of office in the National Assembly before ruling party legislators, dignitaries and a boisterous crowd of sympathizers that chanted "Chavez lives! Maduro carries on!" Holding up a tiny blue-bound booklet of Venezuela's 1999 constitution in his right hand, Maduro pledged his "most absolute loyalty" to Chavez.

He broke into tears as he spoke of his mentor during a strident acceptance speech that included numerous attacks on the United States, capitalist elites and the international media.

Maduro also claimed the allegiance of Venezuela's army, calling it "the armed forces of Chavez" as he pumped his fist in the air, a gesture that was reciprocated by the defense minister watching from the gallery. Critics have voiced increasing concern about the overt support the military has shown to the ruling party since Chavez's death despite a ban on the army's participation in politics.

The opposition largely boycotted the swearing-in, calling it unconstitutional. Henrique Capriles, Maduro's likely opponent in presidential election that must be called within 30 days, spoke condescendingly of the former bus driver and union leader, referring to him as "boy" and accusing him of "shamelessly" lying to the country.

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New poll shows while most back gov't cutbacks, they'd also like more spent on pet programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Barack Obama and lawmakers spar over huge federal deficits, they're confronted by a classic contradiction: Most Americans want government austerity, a survey shows, but they also want increased spending on a host of popular programs: education, crime fighting, health care, Social Security, the environment and more. Less for defense, space and foreign aid.

The newly released General Social Survey asked people whether they believe spending in specific categories is "too much," ''too little" or "about right." It covers the public's shifting priorities from 1973, when Richard Nixon was president, through 2012 with Obama in the White House.

"Despite a dislike of taxes, more people have always favored increases in spending than cuts," wrote the survey's director, Tom W. Smith, of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

While people's priorities shift over the years, they've not changed on one category. Foreign aid has been stuck firmly in last place since the survey began. Last year, 65 percent of those surveyed thought there was "too much," 25 percent checked "about right" and a slim 11 percent said "too little." The numbers are not much changed from 1973 — when 73 percent said too much on foreign aid, 22 percent just right and 5 percent too little.

Various polls have consistently shown the public believes foreign aid is a far bigger slice of the spending pie than it actually is.

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Senate Democrats' path to hanging onto majority status in 2014 is riddled with challenges

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a surprising string of victories last fall, Democrats now face a challenging terrain as they look to hold onto their Senate majority in 2014 and prevent Republicans from gaining full control of Congress during President Barack Obama's final two years. His party must defend a hefty 21 seats, including seven in largely rural states that the president lost last fall.

The task of maintaining control of the Senate has grown more daunting in recent weeks, with four Senate Democrats announcing plans to retire. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan disclosed his decision on Thursday, following Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller. New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg has also said he will retire, but Democrats will be heavily favored to hold the seat. A fifth Democratic retirement could come soon from South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, who has not yet announced his intentions.

Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate, after November elections in which they did better than expected and gained two seats to pad their majority. That means Republicans would need to pick up six seats next year to take control for the first time since 2006.

Twenty months before the mid-term elections, Republicans are laying the groundwork to try to capitalize on the defense-playing Democrats, working to recruit strong candidates in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia — all states carried by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last year. They're also buoyed by history, which shows the party controlling the White House typically loses seats during the midterm of a second-term president.

"The map looks pretty good" for the GOP, said Greg Strimple, an Idaho-based Republican pollster for Senate and gubernatorial candidates. "If I had a deck of cards to play, I'd rather play the Republican deck than the Democratic deck."

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Abu Ghaith more of an adviser than plotter but could yield new details about terror network

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the charismatic al-Qaida spokesman, fundraiser and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, is likely to have a vast trove of knowledge about the terror network's central command but not much useful information about current threats or plots, intelligence officials and other experts say.

Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty Friday to conspiring to kill Americans in propaganda videos that warned of further assaults against the United States as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Believed to be more of a strategic player in bin Laden's inner circle than an operational plotter, Abu Ghaith would be the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to stand trial on U.S. soil since 9/11. Intelligence officials say he may be able to shed new light on al-Qaida's inner workings — concerning al-Qaida's murky dealings in Iran over the past decade, for example — but probably will have few details about specific or imminent ongoing threats.

He gave U.S. officials a 22-page statement after his Feb. 28 arrest in Jordan, according to prosecutors. They would not describe the statement.

Bearded and balding, Abu Ghaith said little during the 15-minute hearing in U.S. District Court in New York — in lower Manhattan just blocks from Ground Zero — and displayed none of the finger-wagging or strident orations that marked his propaganda in the days and months after 9/11.

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Kenya presidential race appears to go to Uhuru Kenyatta with 50.03 percent of vote

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's election commission posted complete results early Saturday showing that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta prevailed in the country's presidential elections by the slimmest of margins, winning 50.03 percent of the vote.

That result is likely to bring controversy in Kenya and an almost certain legal challenge from Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Kenyatta needed to break the 50 percent barrier to avoid a run-off with Odinga, but he did so by only 4,099 votes out of more than 12.3 million cast.

Monday's presidential vote was the first since Kenya's 2007 election sparked two months of tribe-on-tribe violence after a disputed election win was claimed by President Mwai Kibaki. More than 1,000 people were killed in attacks that included machetes, bows and arrows and police firearms.

A win by Kenyatta could greatly affect Kenya's relations with the West. Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in directing some of Kenya's 2007 postelection violence. His running mate, William Ruto, faces similar charges.

The U.S. has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father, wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would have only essential contact with the Kenyan government if Kenyatta is president.

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Storm that won't quit hits New England with surprising amount of snow, coastal flooding

WHITMAN, Mass. (AP) — The late-winter storm that buried parts of the country was forecast to be little more than a nuisance for most of New England. Try telling that to Connecticut and Massachusetts residents who spent two days shoveling as much as 2 feet snow.

"The forecast was 4 to 6 inches and I think I'm looking at about 12 to 14 inches," West Roxbury resident Mark Spillane said as snow continued to fall Friday. "I did not expect to have to bring out the snow blower."

The storm was centered far out in the Atlantic Ocean, and by the time it reached New England, forecasters were focused on the potential for coastal flooding and not snow, which in many places was predicted to reach a maximum of 6 or 8 inches.

The coastline was battered by three high tides during the duration of the storm, the worst Friday morning, when some roads in coastal towns were flooded with up to 3 feet of water. A vacant house on Plum Island, off the northeast coast of Massachusetts, was ripped from its foundation and collapsed into the sea. Other homes there were badly damaged.

But in most places, it was the persistent snow that threw people for a loop.

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2 Civil War sailors from the ironclad USS Monitor buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Va.

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — More than 150 years after the USS Monitor sank off North Carolina during the Civil War, two unknown crewmen found in the ironclad's turret when it was raised a decade ago were buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The evening burial, which included a gun salute and a band playing "America the Beautiful," may be the last time Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery overlooking Washington.

"Today is a tribute to all the men and women who have gone to sea, but especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who spoke at a funeral service before the burial.

The Monitor made nautical history when the Union ship fought the Confederate CSS Virginia in the first battle between two ironclads on March 9, 1862. The battle was a draw.

The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas, and 16 sailors died. In 2002, the ship's rusted turret was raised from the Atlantic Ocean floor, and the skeletons of the two crew members were found inside.

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Bieber resumes London tour after clash with paparazzi, fainting backstage

LONDON (AP) — It's been a rough week for Justin Bieber: Getting booed for being late, struggling to breathe mid-performance and fainting backstage, then caught on camera clashing with paparazzi.

But the 19-year-old pop sensation appeared to have recovered Friday for his final concert in London, singing and dancing to thousands of adoring fans at the O2 Arena.

Earlier Friday, the star made headlines when he got into an altercation with insult-hurling paparazzi, lashing out at a photographer with a stream of expletives as he was restrained by minders.

"Ahhhhh! Rough morning. Trying to feel better for this show tonight but let the paps get the best of me," the singer posted on Twitter soon after the altercation with the photographer, which took place as he got into a car earlier Friday. The scuffle was captured on video by Channel 5 News and widely broadcast by Britain's media.

"Sometimes when people r shoving cameras in your face all day and yelling the worst thing possible at u...well I'm human. Rough week," he wrote on the social networking site.

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