Syrian government defiantly denies attack that killed more than 100, UN Security Council meets
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria on Sunday strongly denied allegations that its forces killed scores of people -- including women and children -- in one of the deadliest days of the country’s uprising, and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session on the massacre.
The killing of more than 100 people in the west-central area of Houla on Friday brought widespread international criticism of the regime of President Bashar Assad, although differences emerged from world powers over whether his forces were exclusively to blame.
Britain and France had proposed issuing a press statement condemning the attack and pointing a finger at the Syrian government, but Russia told Security Council members it could not agree and wanted a briefing first by Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. observer team in the country. Russia has been Syria’s most powerful ally during the uprising, and along with China has used its veto power to shield Damascus from U.N. sanctions.
The massacre in Houla on Friday cast fresh doubts on the ability of an international peace plan put forward by envoy Kofi Annan to end Syria’s 14-month-old crisis.
The brutality of the killings became clear in amateur videos posted online that showed scores of bodies, many of them young children, in neat rows and covered with blood and deep
Nearly half of new veterans seek disability claims; weak economy may play a role
America’s newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.
A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.
What’s more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.
It’s unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims -- the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far.
Government officials and some veterans’ advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can’t find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.
Inmates, corruption rule Honduras’ deadly prisons despite calls for reform
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) -- Inside one of Honduras’ most dangerous and overcrowded prisons, inmates operate a free-market bazaar, selling everything from iPhones to prostitutes.
It’s more like a fenced-in town than a conventional prison, where raccoons, chickens and pigs wander freely among food stalls and in troughs of open sewage. But guards do not dare cross the painted, yellow "linea de la muerte" (line of death) into the inner sanctum run by prisoners, and prisoners do not breach the perimeter controlled by guards.
"The prisoners rule," assistant prison director Carlos Polanco told The Associated Press. "We only handle external security. They know if they cross the line, we can shoot."
The unofficial division of power at the San Pedro Sula Central Corrections Facility is mimicked throughout the country, where a Lord-of-the-Flies system allows inmates to run a business behind bars, while officials turn a blind eye in exchange for a cut of the profits they say is spent on prison needs.
This culture virtually guarantees that even in the glare of international scrutiny over a fire that killed 361 prisoners at another Honduran prison three months ago, little stands to change.
NATO official: No
evidence civilians died
in airstrike that Afghan officials say killed 8
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The U.S.-led coalition on Sunday disputed reports that eight civilians, including children, were killed in a NATO airstrike in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said an airstrike Saturday night killed eight members of a family, but a senior NATO official said that so far, there is no evidence of any civilian casualties. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.
Separately, NATO reported that three coalition service members were killed Sunday in eastern Afghanistan -- two during an insurgent attack and one from a roadside bombing.
Four others, including a British soldier, were killed in the south on Saturday, bringing to 169 the number of NATO deaths in Afghanistan so far this year. The British Ministry of Defense said the soldier was killed in an explosion in the Nahr-e Saraj region of southern Helmand province. The nationalities of the other three have not been disclosed.
The coalition said it was working to find out more about allegations that civilians were killed in the NATO operation that foreign forces were conducting Saturday night in Paktia province.
China boom: outsourcing surveillance to co-workers, neighbors shows expanding police power
BEIJING (AP) -- Every workday at 7:20 a.m., colleagues pick up Yao Lifa from his second-floor apartment and drive him to the elementary school where he taught for years.
This is no car pool. Yao is a prisoner, part of a China boom in outsourced police control.
By day, Yao is kept in a room, not allowed to work and watched by fit, young gym teachers and other school staff. At dinner time or later, he is sent back to the apartment that he shares with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. A surveillance camera monitors the building entrance, while police sit in a hut outside.
"At school, if I have to go to the bathroom, someone escorts me. Most of the time, I’m not allowed to speak with others or answer the phone," Yao said in a recent late-night Internet phone interview from his home in Qianjiang city. "When they bring me home, they sign me over to the next shift."
Like the blind activist Chen Guangcheng until his escape from house arrest last month, Yao belongs to an untold number of Chinese activists kept under tight control by authorities, even though in many cases they have broken no law.
Work just beginning in
case against shop clerk accused of killing NYC
boy who vanished in 1979
NEW YORK (AP) -- For prosecutors, the work is just beginning after the astonishing arrest last week of a man who police say confessed to strangling a 6-year-old New York City boy 33 years ago in one of the nation’s most bewildering missing children’s cases.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, was charged with second-degree murder in the 1979 death of Etan Patz, based largely on a signed confession he gave after he spoke voluntarily to detectives for hours, according to police.
But to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors need more than the confession, even though corroboration isn’t necessarily required by law, legal experts say. Piecing together that supporting evidence may be difficult: There’s no body and no physical evidence, plus a history of famous false confessions in other high-profile cases.
"We live in a day of CSI, fingerprinting, DNA, hand samples, and foot prints and treads on bottoms of shoes and boots. There’s going to be none of that here, and that’s tough," said Arthur Aidala, a former prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney. "You’re essentially relying on this guy’s own words, and whether he’s credible."
False confessions are common and happen for many reasons, said James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, "whether it’s that someone is coerced, scared, or is just a wacko looking for 15 minutes of fame."
Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ wins Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or
CANNES, France (AP) -- The Cannes Film Festival rewarded one of its favorite directors Sunday, as Michael Haneke won the top prize for a second time with his stark film about love and death, "Amour."
The Austrian director’s powerful and understated film stars two French acting icons -- 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva and 81-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant -- as an elderly couple coping with the wife’s worsening health.
Cannes jury member Jean Paul Gaultier praised the performances of the two actors and the "incredible connection" they established in the movie.
Haneke said he made the film because "I experienced something in my family that touched me." He thanked his wife and -- in a rare personal comment -- said he had promised her "we would never leave each other, like in the film."
Some viewers were surprised by the movie’s frank humanity, coming from a master of tightly controlled cinema whose movies often contain sudden bursts of violence.