Thursday April 4, 2013

NKorea denies SKoreans passage across border to enter factory that is last symbol of detente

PAJU, South Korea (AP) -- In past deadly confrontations between North and South Korea, a jointly operated industrial park stayed open, churning out goods.

But in the latest sign that North Korea’s warlike stance toward South Korea and the United States is moving from words to action, the North on Wednesday barred South Korean managers and trucks delivering supplies from crossing the border to enter the Kaesong industrial park.

It’s an announcement that further escalates a torrent of actions that analysts say is aimed at pressuring the U.S. and South Korea to change their policies toward North Korea.

The Kaesong move came a day after the North said it would restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant. Both could produce fuel for nuclear weapons that North Korea is developing and has threatened to hurl at the U.S., but which experts don’t think it will be able to accomplish for years.

The North’s rising rhetoric has been met by a display of U.S. military strength, including flights of nuclear-capable bombers and stealth jets at annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that the allies call routine and North Korea says are invasion preparations.

Obama to return 5 percent of salary in solidarity with furloughed federal workers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will return 5 percent of his salary each month to the Treasury in a show of solidarity with federal workers smarting from government-wide spending cuts, the White House said Wednesday.

Obama’s decision grew out of a desire to share in the sacrifice that government employees are making, said a White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Hundreds of thousands of workers could be forced to take unpaid leave -- known as furloughs -- if Congress does not reach an agreement to undo the cuts.

The president is demonstrating that he will be paying a price, too, as the White House warns of dire economic consequences from the $85 billion in cuts that started to hit federal programs last month after Congress failed to stop them. In the weeks since, the administration has faced repeated questions about how the White House itself will be affected. The cancellation of White House tours has drawn mixed reactions.

A 5 percent cut from the president’s salary of $400,000 per year amounts to $1,667 per month. The move will be retroactive to the March 1 -- the day the cuts started to kick in -- and will remain in effect for the rest of 2013, the White House official said.

The notice followed a similar move a day earlier by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who committed to taking a salary cut equal to 14 days’ pay -- the same level of cut that other Defense Department civilians are being forced to take. As many as 700,000 civilians will have to take one unpaid day off each week for up to 14 weeks in the coming months.

Scientific gumshoes find possible clues on dark matter but haven’t cracked the case yet

GENEVA (AP) -- It is one of the cosmos’ most mysterious unsolved cases: dark matter. It is supposedly what holds the universe together. We can’t see it, but scientists are pretty sure it’s out there.

Led by a dogged, Nobel Prize-winning gumshoe who has spent 18 years on the case, scientists put a $2 billion detector aboard the International Space Station to try to track down the stuff. And after two years, the first evidence came in Wednesday: tantalizing cosmic footprints that seem to have been left by dark matter.

But the evidence isn’t enough to declare the case closed. The footprints could have come from another, more conventional suspect: a pulsar, or a rotating, radiation-emitting star.

The Sam Spade in the investigation, physicist and Nobel laureate Sam Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he expects a more definitive answer in a matter of months. He confidently promised: "There is no question we’re going to solve this problem."

"It’s a tantalizing hint," said California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll, who was not part of the team. "It’s a sign of something." But he can’t quite say what that something is. It doesn’t eliminate the other suspect, pulsars, he added.

Israel, Gaza militants exchange
fire in heaviest fighting since November truce

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Palestinian militants launched several rockets into southern Israel and Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday in the heaviest exchange of fire between the sides since a cease-fire ended a major flare-up last year.

There were no casualties reported, but the violence nonetheless threatened to shatter the calm that has prevailed for more than four months. Israel’s new defense minister issued a stern warning.

"We will not allow shooting of any sort (even sporadic) toward our citizens and our forces," Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief of staff, said in a statement.

By nightfall Wednesday, calm appeared to have returned. A small al-Qaida-influenced group was suspected. The rocket fire coincided with unrest in the West Bank over the death of a Palestinian prisoner.

Yaalon said he holds the Islamic militant Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, responsible for all such attacks from the seaside strip.

Evoking shuttle diplomacy of Kissinger and others, Kerry heads back to a precarious Mideast

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Evoking the U.S. shuttle diplomacy of decades past, Secretary of State John Kerry is making his third trip to the Middle East in a span of just two weeks in a fresh bid to restart long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, which begins Saturday, his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders represent some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts at engagement, a renewed determination in a part of the world that has frustrated American administrations for the past six decades.

"His diplomacy will be based on what he hears from the parties," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. Kerry, she said, will be making clear that both sides have to want to get back to the negotiating table "and that they’ve also got to recognize-- both parties -- that compromises and sacrifices are going to have to be made if we’re going to be able to help."

Kerry is going at a precarious time. Overnight and into Wednesday, Israel and Gaza militants engaged in the heaviest fighting since a cease-fire was declared in November. The militants fired several rockets into southern Israel, and Israel responded with its first airstrike in Gaza since the fighting subsided. No injuries were reported on either side.

Kerry had planned to leave Monday for talks in London and then South Korea, China and Japan. But officials said he moved up his departure to Saturday for a first stop in Turkey, where he’ll seek to build on recent efforts by that nation and Israel to repair ties and coordinate on stemming violence in Syria. Kerry then travels to Jerusalem and to Ramallah in the West Bank, which he visited with Obama last month before returning to Israel a second time.

Shipyard worker missing after cruise ship breaks away from moorings while docked in Ala.

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- U.S. Coast Guard officials are searching for a missing shipyard worker after a disabled Carnival Cruise ship broke free from its mooring in Mobile, Ala.

Petty Ofc. Second Class Bill Colclough says a crew is searching the Mobile River for the man. He went missing after the ship drifted from its mooring Wednesday afternoon. Colclough was unsure of where the worker was when the ship became dislodged.

The U.S. Coast Guard tweeted that high winds are likely to blame for the Triumph becoming dislodged. The National Weather Service reported winds between 35 and 65 mph blowing through the area. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen says the ship drifted and is resting against a cargo vessel.

The Triumph was disabled Feb. 10 by an engine fire that stranded thousands of passengers onboard for days in the Gulf.

Suspect ID’d in death of drug-crusading W.Va. sheriff shot near courthouse in Williamson

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) -- A sheriff known for cracking down on the drug trade in southern West Virginia’s coalfields was fatally shot Wednesday in the spot where he usually parked his car for lunch, a state official said, and a suspect was in custody.

State Police told Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin that Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum died of his wounds, said his chief of staff Rob Alsop.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous identified the suspect as 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard and said he was being treated at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington for gunshot wounds late Wednesday.

Baylous said the suspect’s condition was unknown, but Maynard was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after a short pursuit in Delbarton that ended with Maynard crashing his car.

The courthouse was evacuated after the shooting, streets into the city were temporarily blocked off and officers held white sheets around the crime scene, Crum’s body further shielded by two vehicles.

In response to Newtown tragedy, Connecticut expected to approve sweeping gun-control law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut lawmakers were expected to approve sweeping new restrictions on weapons and large-capacity magazines Wednesday, a response to the Newtown school shooting that will give the state some of the country’s tightest gun-control laws.

The December massacre of 26 people inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, which reignited a national debate on gun control, set the stage for changes here that may have been impossible elsewhere: The governor, who personally informed parents that their children had been killed that day, championed the cause, and legislative leaders, keenly aware of the attention on the state, struck a bipartisan agreement they want to serve as a national model.

"The tragedy in Newtown demands a powerful response, demands a response that transcends politics," said Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat. "It is the strongest and most comprehensive bill in the country."

The legislation adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and creates what officials have called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition. Some parts of the bill will take effect immediately, including background checks for all firearms sales

Connecticut will join states including California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in having the country’s strongest gun-control laws, said Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.

In Colorado, Obama says ‘doesn’t have to be a conflict’ between citizen safety and gun rights

DENVER (AP) -- Ratcheting up pressure for Congress to limit access to guns, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that steps taken recently by Colorado to tighten its gun laws show "there doesn’t have to be a conflict" between keeping citizens safe and protecting Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

"I believe there’s no conflict between reconciling these realities," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery in Denver, where he planned to step up his call for background checks for all gun purchases and renew his demand that Congress at least vote on banning assault weapons and limiting access to large-capacity ammunition magazines.

"There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights," he said, noting that it’s been just over 100 days since the shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and reignited the national debate over access to guns.

In danger of losing congressional momentum on the issue, Obama was appearing in Colorado -- which has a deep-rooted hunting tradition and where gun ownership is a cherished right -- to highlight state efforts to tighten gun laws. His intent is to use Colorado’s example and public pressure to prod reluctant members of Congress to act.

Colorado recently expanded background checks for gun purchases and placed restrictions on ammunition magazines. Prospects for passage of similar measures by Congress appear bleak, largely because of concerns by conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats who come down more on the side of gun rights.