W.Va.governor: Water tests encouraging after chemical spill, but people still can’t use water

DRY BRANCH, W.Va. (AP) -- For Bonnie Wireman, the white plastic bag covering her kitchen faucet is a reminder that she can’t drink the water.

The 81-year-old woman placed it there after forgetting several times the tap water was tainted after a coal processing chemical leaked into the area’s water supply. Every time she turned on the water, she quickly stopped and cleaned her hands with peroxide -- just to make sure she was safe.

The widow of a coal miner, Wireman was angered about the chemical spill that’s deprived 300,000 West Virginians of clean tap water for four days, but doesn’t blame the coal or chemical industries.

"I hope this doesn’t hurt coal," said Wireman, who lives in an area known as Chemical Valley because of all the plants nearby. "Too many West Virginians depend on coal and chemicals. We need those jobs."

And that’s the dilemma for many West Virginians: The industries provide thousands of good paying jobs but also pose risks for the communities surrounding them, such as the chemical spill or coal mine disasters. The current emergency began Thursday after a foaming agent used in coal processing escaped from a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston and seeped into the Elk River. Since then, residents have been ordered not to use tap water for anything but flushing toilets.

Israelis pay final respects
to former prime minister and general Ariel Sharon
in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israelis from all walks of life flocked to parliament Sunday to catch a glimpse of Ariel Sharon’s coffin and pay their final respects to the iconic former prime minister and general.

A stream of visitors ranging from former army comrades to political allies to citizens who only knew him from afar remembered Sharon as a decisive leader, for better or for worse, and one of the final heroes of Israel’s founding generation.

"Words escape me. He was just a man who was larger than life," said a choked-up Shlomo Mann, 68, who served under Sharon’s command in the 1973 Mideast war. "Those who didn’t know him from up close can’t truly understand what a legend he was. There will never be anyone else like him."

The 85-year-old Sharon died Saturday eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma.

In a career that stretched across much of Israel’s 65-year existence, his life was closely intertwined with the country’s history. He was a leader known for his exploits on the battlefield, masterminding Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, building Jewish settlements on war-won land and then, late in life, destroying some that he deemed no longer useful when he withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

Kerry calls attendance a credibility test as Syrian opposition infighting
strains democracy

PARIS (AP) -- Syria’s Western-backed opposition came under steely pressure Sunday to attend peace talks in just over a week as envoys from 11 countries converged to help restore, and test, credibility of a rebel coalition sapped by vicious infighting and indecision.

But diplomacy’s limits were starkly apparent in Syria itself, where activists said rebel-on-rebel clashes have killed nearly 700 people in the deadliest bout of infighting since the civil war began.

The bloodshed, pitting al-Qaida-linked militants against several Islamist and more moderate rebel brigades, has begun to overshadow the broader war against the government.

Sunday’s meetings in Paris came just over a week before the scheduled talks in Switzerland, as the Syrian National Coalition nears collapse, its influence eroded by the chronic infighting, international pressure and disagreement over whether to negotiate with Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined 10 other foreign ministers who urged coalition President Ahmed al-Jarba to deliver his group to the Switzerland talks and finally meet face-to-face with the government it hopes to overthrow. Kerry said he was confident the coalition would be at the talks, and hinted at a diplomatic backlash from its allies if it skips the meetings.

Vote on new constitution could define Egypt’s post-Morsi future, gauge general’s popularity

CAIRO (AP) -- With a presidential run by Egypt’s powerful military chief seeming more likely by the day, this week’s constitution referendum, to be held amid a massive security force deployment, is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the regime he installed last summer.

The charter is an overhaul of an Islamist-backed constitution adopted in December 2012 during the rule of Mohammed Morsi, the ousted president, and his Muslim Brotherhood. Drafted by a 50-member panel of mostly secular-leaning politicians, it criminalizes discrimination, enshrines gender equality and guarantees a raft of freedoms and rights.

And crucially, the Jan. 14-15 vote provides the country’s increasingly popular military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with a first electoral test since he ousted Morsi in a military coup on July 3. A comfortable "yes" vote and a respectable turnout would be seen as bestowing legitimacy, while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

"It is not just a referendum on the constitution. It is on many things, including el-Sissi and the fight against violence by militants," said analyst and columnist Makram Mohammed Ahmed, who is close to the military. "I cannot imagine that a big ‘yes’ majority will automatically usher in a new legitimacy that will be swiftly recognized by the West, but it is a good constitution that must be given its due."

With the stakes so high, authorities are undertaking a massive security operation to protect polling stations and voters. The deployment involves 160,000 soldiers, including elite paratroopers and commandos backed by armored vehicles and helicopters, according to military and security officials.

Military struggling to keep experienced women in the ranks; new sabbatical program could help

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) -- Navy Cmdr. Valerie Overstreet wanted to start a family. But her job as a Navy pilot and the fact that she and her husband, also a naval officer, were stationed in different parts of the country made it complicated.

So she decided to take advantage of a fledgling Navy program that allowed her to take a year off and return to duty without risking her career or future commands.

Now, three years later, she’s got a 2-year-old daughter and a 9-month old son, she’s back at work at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and her promotion to captain has been confirmed.

For Overstreet, the year off gave her precious time to have her daughter and get started on her master’s degree. The Navy retains an officer it considers promising without requiring her to sacrifice her family life.

Across the military services, leaders are experimenting with programs that will give valued officers and enlisted troops, men and women, the incentive to stay. Also, as the Pentagon moves to bring women into more jobs closer to the combat zone, military officials believe it is crucial to keep midcareer female officers in the services so they can mentor those on the front lines.

Car bombings and clashes kill 21 civilians in Iraq as militant siege in 2 cities rages on

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A series of car bomb attacks and clashes between security forces and militants around and north of Baghdad killed at least 21 civilians, officials said Sunday, amid an ongoing standoff between Iraqi forces and al-Qaida-linked militants west of the Iraqi capital.

The deadliest blast occurred at a bustling bus station in central Baghdad when an explosives-laden car exploded outside, killing at least nine people and wounding 16, a police officer said. Thousands of people use the bus station every day or pass through the area. Last Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of security force recruits nearby, killing nearly two dozen.

Another parked car bomb targeted a gathering of buses and taxis in Baghdad’s northern Hurriyah neighborhood, killing four civilians and wounding 12, the same police officer said.

Shortly after sunset, fighting erupted in Baghdad’s western suburbs of Abu Ghraib as gunmen attacked a military convoy, authorities said. Army artillery shells later landed on the Sunni village of al-Mahsna in Abu Ghraib, killing five civilians and wounding 13, police said.

Later, a suicide car bomb exploded in the northern town of Tuz Khormato, followed minutes later by bomb hidden in a cart nearby, Mayor Shalal Abdoul said. He said the blasts killed three people and wounded 27.

Power to make recess appointments at stake in Supreme Court case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is refereeing a politically charged dispute between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans over the president’s power to temporarily fill high-level positions.

The case being argued at the high court Monday is the first in the nation’s history to consider the meaning of the provision of the Constitution that allows the president to make temporary appointments to positions that otherwise require Senate confirmation, but only when the Senate is in recess.

The court battle is an outgrowth of increasing partisanship and the political stalemate that’s been a hallmark of Washington for years, and especially since Obama took office in 2009.

Senate Republicans’ refusal to allow votes for nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau led Obama to make the temporary, or recess, appointments in January 2012.

Three federal appeals courts have said Obama overstepped his authority because the Senate was not in recess when he acted.

Pope Francis names
19 new cardinals,
focusing on the poor

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis on Sunday named his first batch of cardinals, choosing 19 men from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, including Haiti and Burkino Faso, to reflect his attention to the poor.

Francis made the announcement as he spoke from his studio window to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

Sixteen of the appointees are younger than 80, meaning they are eligible to elect the next pope, which is a cardinal’s most important task. The ceremony to formally install them as cardinals will be held Feb. 22 at the Vatican.

Some appointments were expected, including that of his new secretary of state, the Italian archbishop Pietro Parolin, and the German head of the Vatican’s watchdog office for doctrinal orthodoxy, Gerhard Ludwig Mueller.

But some names were surprising.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s selection of churchmen from Haiti and Burkino Faso, which are among the world’s poorest nations, reflects Francis’ attention to the destitute as a core part of the church’s mission.

Also chosen to become a ‘’prince of the church," as the cardinals are known, was Mario Aurelio Poli, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, a post Francis left when he was elected as the first Latin American pope in March.

His selections also came from Managua, Nicaragua; Santiago, Chile; and Rio de Janeiro. The appointees included churchmen from Seoul, South Korea, and the archbishop of Westminster, in Britain, Vincent Nichols.

In a sentimental touch, the three men too old to vote for the next pope include 98-year-old Monsignor Loris Francesco Capovilla, who had served as personal secretary to Pope John XXIII. The late pontiff will be made a saint along with John Paul II at the Vatican in April.