Tuesday January 29, 2013

Neglect, errors contributed to Brazil nightclub fire, with more than 230 dead

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) -- There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. And when a band member tried to put out a fire that had been started by pyrotechnics, the extinguisher didn’t work.

All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world’s worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.

Funerals began on Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed night spot.

According to state safety codes here, clubs should have one fire extinguisher every 1,500 square feet as well as multiple emergency exits. Limits on the number of people admitted are to be strictly respected. None of that appears to have happened at the Santa Maria nightclub.

"A problem in Brazil is that there is no control of how many people are admitted in a building," said Joao Daniel Nunes, a civil engineer in nearby Porto Alegre. "They never are clearly stated, and nobody controls how many people enter these night clubs."

Senators promise immigration bill
by summer, point
to pitfalls ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Key Democratic and Republican senators are pledging to get a wide-ranging immigration bill through the Senate by summer even as they point to numerous pitfalls ahead.

The group of eight senators unveiled proposals Monday to secure the border, allow more guest workers, require tougher verification measures by employers and create a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

They expressed optimism they can succeed where numerous past efforts have failed. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said November’s election losses show Republicans they need to take steps to win over Latino voters.

But the senators quickly encountered a cool reaction from other lawmakers, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said immigration legislation is too important to be written in a back room.

French military says forces have entered Timbuktu; militants burned manuscripts

SEVARE, Mali (AP) -- Backed by French helicopters and paratroopers, Malian soldiers entered the fabled city of Timbuktu on Monday after al-Qaida-linked militants who ruled the outpost by fear for nearly 10 months fled into the desert, setting fire to a library that held thousands of manuscripts dating to the Middle Ages.

French Col. Thierry Burkhard, chief military spokesman in Paris, said that there had been no combat with the Islamists but that the French and Malian forces did not yet control the town.

Still, there was celebration among the thousands of Timbuktu residents who fled the city rather than live under strict and pitiless Islamic rule and the dire poverty that worsened after the tourist industry was destroyed.

"In the heart of people from northern Mali, it’s a relief -- freedom finally," said Cheick Sormoye, a Timbuktu resident who fled to Bamako, the capital.

Timbuktu, a city of mud-walled buildings and 50,000 people, was for centuries a seat of Islamic learning and a major trading center along the North African caravan routes that carried slaves, gold and salt. In Europe, legend had it that it was a city of gold. Today, its name is synonymous to many with the ends of the earth.

Masked youth claim to defend Egypt revolution, but worry Islamists and opposition

CAIRO (AP) -- An unpredictable new element has entered Egypt’s wave of political unrest: a mysterious group of masked young men called the Black Bloc who present themselves as the defenders of protesters opposed to the Islamist president’s rule.

They boast that they’re willing to use force to fight back against Islamists who have attacked protesters in the past -- or against police who crack down on demonstrations. The youths with faces hidden under black masks have appeared among stone-throwing protesters in clashes with police around Egypt the past five days in the wave of political violence that has shaken the country.

During protests in Cairo on Monday, masked youths celebrated around a police armored vehicle in flames in the middle of Tahrir Square, waving their hands in V-for-victory signs.

Their emergence has raised concerns even among fellow members of the opposition, who fear the group could spark Islamist retaliation or that it could be infiltrated to taint their movement. Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi call the bloc a militia and have used it to depict the opposition as a violent force wrecking the nation.

Moreover, some Islamists have threatened to form vigilante groups in response, creating the potential for a spiral of violence between rival "militias."

Arsonist sentenced to death for murdering 5 who died of heart attacks in 2003 fire

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) -- An arsonist was sentenced to death on Monday for killing five men who died of heart attacks during a wildfire that ripped through the hills east of Los Angeles a decade ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Smith had the option of sentencing Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, to the harshest penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Today, after nearly ten years, justice has now been secured for the victims and their families, and those whose lives were affected by the actions of Rickie Lee Fowler," said District Attorney Michael Ramos.

Fowler was convicted in August of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson. A jury later recommended a death sentence for Fowler.

Prosecutors said Fowler lit the fire in 2003 out of rage after he was thrown out of a house where his family was staying.

Iran says monkey sent on successful space voyage in step toward manned missions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A gray-tufted monkey strapped in a pod resembling an infant’s car seat rode an Iranian rocket into space and returned safely, officials said Monday in what was described as a step toward Tehran’s goal of a manned space flight.

The mission also touched on concerns that advances in Iran’s rocket expertise could be channeled into military use for long-range weapons that might one day carry nuclear warheads. Iran says it does not seek atomic weapons.

Launching a live animal into space -- as the U.S. and the Soviet Union did more than a half-century ago in the infancy of their programs -- may boost a country’s stature. But John Logsden, a space policy professor emeritus at George Washington University, said Iran’s achievement should draw no concern.

"A slight monkey on a suborbital flight is nothing to get too excited about," he said. "They already had the capability to launch warheads in their region."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. had no way to confirm the monkey’s voyage, but that it was concerned by the reports because "any space launch vehicle capable of placing an object in orbit is directly relevant to the development of long-range ballistic missiles."

1st soldier to survive losing all limbs in Iraq war gets double-arm transplant

The first soldier to survive after losing all four limbs in the Iraq war has received a double-arm transplant.

Brendan Marrocco had the operation on Dec. 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, his father said Monday. The 26-year-old Marrocco, who is from New York City, was injured by a roadside bomb in 2009.

He also received bone marrow from the same dead donor who supplied his new arms. That novel approach is aimed at helping his body accept the new limbs with minimal medication to prevent rejection.

The military is sponsoring operations like these to help wounded troops. About 300 have lost arms or hands in the wars.

"He was the first quad amputee to survive" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there have been four others since then, said Brendan Marrocco’s father, Alex Marrocco. "He was really excited to get new arms."

A tell-all memoir by the late Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston

NEW YORK (AP) -- Cissy Houston has a few words, and a few more, for Bobby Brown.

In "Remembering Whitney," the mother of the late Whitney Houston writes that from the start she had doubted whether Brown was right for her daughter. And she thinks that Whitney might not have ended up so "deep" into drugs had they not stayed together.

"I do believe her life would have turned out differently," Houston writes. "It would have been easier for her to get sober and stay sober. Instead she was with someone who, like her, wanted to party. To me, he never seemed to be a help to her in the way she needed."

"Remembering Whitney" came out Tuesday, two weeks short of the first anniversary of Houston’s death. She drowned in a hotel bathtub in Beverly Hills, Calif., at age 48. Authorities said her death was complicated by cocaine use and heart disease.

During a recent telephone interview, Houston said she has no contact with Brown and didn’t see any reason to, not even concerning her granddaughter, Bobbi Kristina. She reaffirmed her comments in the book that Whitney Houston would have been better off without him. "How would you like it if he had anything to do with your daughter?" she asked.