Saturday June 22, 2013

Brazil’s president remains silent about massive protests while more violence flares

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- More than a week of massive, violent protests across Brazil invited only stoic silence Friday from President Dilma Rousseff, even after she had called an emergency meeting with a top Cabinet member in response to the growing unrest.

Only on Friday night did the government confirm that Rousseff would address the nation a few hours later, but through a prerecorded message. She was expected to meet in the evening with top bishops from the Roman Catholic Church about the protests’ effects on a papal visit still scheduled for next month in Rio and Sao Paulo state.

Trying to decipher the president’s reaction to the unrest has become a national guessing game, especially after some 1 million anti-government demonstrators took to the streets the night before across the country to denounce everything from poor public services to the billions of dollars spent preparing for next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The protests continued Friday, as about 1,000 people marched in western Rio de Janeiro city, with some invading an enormous $250 million arts center that remains empty after several years of work. Police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas, as helicopters buzzed overhead.

Other protests broke out in the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, and the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, and demonstrators were calling for mobilizations in 10 cities on Saturday.

Pres. chooses Bush-era Justice official to head FBI as agency faces surveillance controversy

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the FBI grapples with scrutiny over government surveillance, President Barack Obama on Friday moved to turn the agency over to James Comey, a top Bush administration lawyer best known for defiantly refusing to go along with White House demands on warrantless wiretapping nearly a decade ago.

Obama cited Comey’s "fierce independence and deep integrity" as he nominated him to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Mueller has led the agency for 12 years, longer than any previous director except J. Edgar Hoover, after Obama asked him to stay on beyond his initial 10-year term at a time of global threats. Mueller had moved into the director’s office just the week before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Obama applauded him during a Rose Garden ceremony for leading "one of the biggest transformations of the FBI in history to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again."

But Mueller is leaving as agency of 36,000 employees faces new challenges surrounding its intelligence gathering and criminal investigations. The bureau has parried questions in recent weeks over media leak probes; the Boston Marathon bombings; the attack at Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans; vast government surveillance programs into phone records and online communications; and a criminal probe into the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed those programs to the media. And just this week, Mueller revealed the FBI uses drones for domestic surveillance and said the privacy implications of such operations are worthy of debate.

"This work of striking a balance between our security but also making sure we’re maintaining fidelity to those values that we cherish is a constant mission," Obama said.

FAA moving toward easing restrictions on use of electronic devices by airline passengers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government is moving toward easing restrictions on airline passengers using electronic devices to listen to music, play games, read books, watch movies and work during takeoffs and landings, but it could take a few months.

An industry-labor advisory committee was supposed to make recommendations next month to the Federal Aviation Administration on easing the restrictions. But the agency said in a statement Friday the deadline has been extended to September because committee members asked for extra time to finish assessing whether it’s safe to lift restrictions.

"The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft; that is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions," the statement said.

The agency is under public and political pressure to ease the restrictions as more people bring their e-book readers, music and video players, smartphones and laptops with them when they fly.

Technically, the FAA doesn’t bar use of electronic devices when aircraft are below 10,000 feet. But under FAA rules, airlines that want to let passengers use the devices are faced with a practical impossibility -- they would have to show that they’ve tested every type and make of device passengers would use to ensure there is no electromagnetic interference with aircraft radios and electrical and electronic systems.

Egypt’s Islamists stage show of force ahead of June 30 protests against Morsi

CAIRO (AP) -- More than 100,000 supporters of Egypt’s Islamist president staged a show of force Friday ahead of massive protests later this month by the opposition, chanting "Islamic revolution!" and warning of a new and bloody bout of turmoil.

Adding to the combustible mix, comments by the U.S. ambassador that were interpreted as critical of the opposition’s planned protests sparked outrage, with one activist telling the diplomat to "shut up and mind your own business."

Friday’s mass gathering was ostensibly called by Islamists to denounce violence, but it took on the appearance of a war rally instead. Participants, many of them bearded and wearing robes or green bandanas, vowed in chants to protect Morsi against his opponents. Some who addressed the crowd spoke of smashing opposition protesters on June 30, the anniversary of Morsi’s assumption of power.

"We want to stress that we will protect the legitimacy with our blood and souls," declared Mohammed el-Beltagi, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic group from which Morsi hails.

Most participants were bused in from elsewhere in the Egyptian capital or from far-flung provinces. They waved Egypt’s red, white and black flag as well as the green banner of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and posters of the president. Many raised their fists in the air.

U.S. officials worry about difficulties in arming Syrian rebels after aid glitches

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Syrian opposition’s record so far in handling tens of millions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian and other nonlethal assistance paints a bewildering picture of logistical challenges ahead of any delivery of American weapons and ammunition.

No aid shipments appear to be heading to terrorists or corrupt hoarders, according to U.S. officials, but packages of food, medicine and other lifesaving supplies regularly face long delays because of political rivalries among various rebel factions.

Anecdotes abound.

An American shipment of humanitarian goods was held up for two weeks amid a dispute between opposition groups over whose label should be attached to the boxes, a senior administration official recounted this week. Aid-filled planes have landed in neighboring countries with no trucks at the landing sites for transporting the items into Syria. In Cairo, funds the U.S. was prepared to provide an opposition political office were flat-out rejected, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Although the Syrian opposition’s described dysfunction is nothing new, its problems are getting increased scrutiny since the Obama administration’s decision last week to authorize for the first time lethal military support to units fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Flooding forces evacuation of downtown Calgary, forces 75,000 from homes

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) -- Flooding forced the western Canadian city of Calgary to order the evacuation of its entire downtown Friday, as the waters reached the 10th row of the city’s hockey arena.

Overflowing rivers washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta. Police say as many as four people might have died.

About 350,000 people work in downtown Calgary on a typical day. However, officials said very few people need to be moved out, since many heeded warnings and did not go to work Friday.

Twenty-five neighborhoods in the city, with an estimated population of 75,000, have already been evacuated due to floodwaters in Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics and serves as the center of Canada’s oil industry.

Outside the city, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said two men were seen floating lifeless in the Highwood River near the hard-hit community of High River on Thursday, but no bodies have been found. They also say a woman who was swept away with her camper has not been located. And it wasn’t clear whether a man who was seen falling out of a canoe in the High River area was able to climb back in.

Police: 4 shot at N.C. law firm, Wal-Mart lot before suspect wounded by officers, caught

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- A man armed with a shotgun shot one person outside a North Carolina law firm Friday, darted across a busy street and wounded three others outside a Wal-Mart before officers subdued him, police said.

Officers confronted the man outside the store and caught up with him behind a nearby Toys "R" Us. He fired at them and they shot multiple rounds back, hitting the gunman, said Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden. The suspect was expected to survive as well as the four others he’s accused of shooting, Aden said.

Greg Siegel, a project manager at an Internet service provider near the shopping center, told the Greenville Daily Reflector he saw from his office window the gunman fleeing police. He said the man was dressed all in black and shot at police while he ran away.

"When the officers returned fire, I saw him get hit at least three times," Siegel said. "At least two hit him in the left leg. I couldn’t tell where else he was hit, maybe it was in the left shoulder, but it spun him around and knocked him down."

The gunman’s first target was seated in his car outside the Kellum Law Firm on the city’s south side, Aden said at a news conference. The firm’s main office in New Bern declined comment. Kellum has nine personal injury offices in the eastern part of the state.

Fire threatens Colorado mountain town of 400 where scene from Lampoon’s ‘Vacation’ filmed

SOUTH FORK, Colo. (AP) -- A massive wildfire threatened a tourist town in Colorado’s southwestern mountains on Friday, forcing its roughly 400 residents to flee ahead of the fast-burning blaze fueled by hot, windy weather.

Wildland firefighters teamed up with local firefighters to try to protect South Fork, which is surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest. State authorities said the 47-square-mile fire is about seven miles southwest of town and has been advancing at a rate of about a mile an hour. Thick smoke was limiting visibility.

Fire spokeswoman Penny Bertram wouldn’t speculate on the likelihood of the town burning. There’s a high probability of the fire reaching the town if the fire continues to behave as it has, though crews were staging resources to protect its buildings, she said.

"They’re hedging their bets," Bertram said.

Over 30 fire engines have been stationed near the town to protect it. An air tanker was also able to drop slurry ahead of the fire to try to slow its growth and giving firefighters a chance to dig a fire break, Bertram said.