Themes of civil rights struggle still resonate on MLK Day, 50 years later

ATLANTA (AP) -- As the nation remembered and reflected Monday on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., leaders and everyday Americans talked about how far the country has come in the past 50 years and how much more is to be done.

At Ebenezer Baptist Church in King’s hometown of Atlanta, civil rights leaders and members of King’s own family spoke about poverty, violence, health care and voting rights, all themes from the civil rights struggle that still resonate to this day.

"There is much work that we must do," King’s daughter Bernice King said. "Are we afraid, or are we truly committed to the work that must be done?"

The event in Atlanta featured music, songs and choirs and was one of many celebrations, marches, parades and community service projects held Monday across the nation to honor the slain civil rights leader. It was about 50 years ago today that King had just appeared on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year, and the nation was on the cusp of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King would win the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said not many states could boast a native son that merited a national holiday. "But we Georgians can," he told the audience.

United Nations chief withdraws last-minute invitation to Iran to attend Syrian peace talks

GENEVA (AP) -- A last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to join this week’s Syria peace talks threw the long-awaited Geneva conference into doubt Monday, forcing U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to rescind his offer under intense U.S. pressure after the opposition threatened to boycott.

With the invitation withdrawn, the main Western-backed opposition group said it would attend the talks aimed at ending Syria’s ruinous three-year civil war. The opposition said the conference should seek to establish a transitional government with full executive powers "in which killers and criminals do not participate."

The surprise invitation, extended Sunday by the U.N. secretary-general, set off a flurry of diplomatic activity to salvage the talks. The U.S. said the offer should be rescinded, and the opposition threatened to skip the event entirely.

The conference is set to begin Wednesday in the Swiss luxury resort city of Montreux, with high-ranking delegations from the United States, Russia and close to 40 other countries attending. Face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents -- the first of the uprising -- are to start Friday in Geneva.

Authorites say 2 people dead in Omaha plant explosion, unclear if
death toll could rise

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Omaha authorities confirm two people died and 10 others were seriously hurt in an explosion and partial building collapse at an animal feed processing plant Monday morning.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine says he’s been notified about two deaths in Monday’s explosion.

It’s unclear if the death toll will rise as crews sift through the rubble of the International Nutrition plant.

Interim Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger says the search is progressing slowly because the structure is unsafe.

Kanger said he doesn’t believe anyone remaining inside is alive.

Several of Obama’s key surveillance changes are hampered by legal,
logistics complications

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Several of the key surveillance reforms unveiled by President Barack Obama face complications that could muddy the proposals’ lawfulness, slow their momentum in Congress and saddle the government with heavy costs and bureaucracy, legal experts warn.

Despite Obama’s plans to shift the National Security Agency’s mass storage of Americans’ bulk phone records elsewhere, telephone companies do not want the responsibility. And the government could face privacy and structural hurdles in relying on any other entity to store the data.

Constitutional analysts also question the legal underpinning of Obama’s commitment to setting up an advisory panel of privacy experts to intervene in some proceedings of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the NSA’s data mining operations. Obama has asked Congress to set up such a panel, but senior federal judges already oppose the move, citing practical and legal drawbacks.

The secret courts now operate with only the government making its case to a federal judge for examining someone’s phone data. Civil libertarians have called for a voice in the room that might offer the judge an opposing view.

Christie administration: Hoboken being treated no differently than other
New Jersey cities

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on Monday pushed back against a claim that Superstorm Sandy relief funding was withheld from a severely flooded city because its Democratic mayor wouldn’t sign off on a politically connected real estate venture.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno strongly denied Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims as "false" and "illogical" on Monday, the day before Christie’s second-term inauguration. And Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, told reporters in a conference call that Hoboken has been treated no differently than other cities with respect to storm relief funds.

Zimmer said on Saturday that Guadagno pulled her aside at a supermarket opening in May and said Hoboken’s storm recovery funds hinged on Zimmer’s approval of a commercial development whose lawyer and lobbyist are close to the governor. On Sunday, Zimmer told CNN the ultimatum was delivered on behalf of the governor, a possible 2016 presidential candidate.

Guadagno said the mayor’s description of the conversation "is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined."

"Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false," she said.

Russian anti-terrorism agency studies Islamic militant video threatening to strike Sochi Games

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia’s counter-terrorism agency says it’s studying a video posted by an Islamic militant group that asserted responsibility for suicide bombings that killed 34 people last month and is threatening to strike the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Security experts say the Russians are right in taking the threat seriously.

The video was posted online Sunday by a militant group in Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus. The Olympic host city of Sochi lies only 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Dagestan.

Two Russian-speaking men featured in the video are identified as members of Ansar al-Sunna, the name of a Jihadist group operating in Iraq. It was unclear whether the men in the video had received funding or training from that group or only adopted its name.

There was no confirmation the two men were the suicide bombers who struck the southern Russian city of Volgograd last month as the video claims.

’Hello World!’ Comet-chasing spacecraft wakes from hibernation, sends signal back to Earth

BERLIN (AP) -- Waking up after almost three years of hibernation, a comet-chasing spacecraft sent its first signal back to Earth on Monday, prompting cheers from scientists who hope to use it to land the first space lander onto a comet.

The European Space Agency received the all-clear message from its Rosetta spacecraft at 1:18 p.m. EST -- a message that had to travel some 500 million miles.

In keeping with the agency’s effort to turn the tense wait for a signal into a social media event, the probe triggered a series of "Hello World!" tweets in different languages.

Dormant systems on the unmanned spacecraft were switched back on in preparation for the final stage of its decade-long mission to rendezvous with the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Systems had been powered down in 2011 to conserve energy, leaving scientists in the dark about the probe’s fate until now.

Because of the time it took Rosetta to wake up, and the long distance between the spacecraft and Earth, the earliest possible hour for a signal to arrive was 6:30 p.m.

Family of man held in North Korea both worried and encouraged by his
news conference

SEATTLE (AP) -- The family of an American missionary held more than a year in North Korea was heartbroken and encouraged by a brief news conference in which Kenneth Bae, wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, apologized and said he committed anti-government acts.

"Our end goal is to see Kenneth reunited so he can recover emotionally and physically. He has chronic health problems," family friend Derek Sciba told The Associated Press. Sciba is a friend of Bae’s sister, Terri Chung of Edmonds, and part of a group pushing for Bae’s release.

"On the one hand it’s heartbreaking to see him in a prison uniform at the mercy of folks in North Korea, but on the other hand it’s encouraging to see him and that he’s able to speak," Sciba said.

Bae made the comments at what he called a press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.

Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and several other members of the foreign media in Pyongyang.

Planning a wedding? Insurance firms sell policies covering weather, illness, change of heart

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Worried about the groom getting cold feet? There’s an insurance policy for that.

With the cost of the average American wedding reaching about $26,000, insurers have been selling a growing number of policies to protect against losses from extreme weather, illness and, in one firm’s case, even a sudden change of heart.

Cheryl Winter spent $500 for Hartford-based Travelers Cos. Inc. to cover her daughter’s $50,000 destination wedding last October in New Orleans, where her biggest concern was a potential hurricane. The weather cooperated, but the limousine never showed up. Her daughter took a taxi cab to the church, and they used the insurance policy to claim the deposit money they couldn’t get back from the limo driver.

"No one wants to be walking in the French Quarter in a long gown and high heels," said Winter, who lives in the Houston area.

The insurance is offered by a small number of U.S.companies. Insurers declined to provide data on the number of customers beyond saying they are growing steadily. It can cover losses from issues ranging from bankrupt wedding halls to cancelations forced by unexpected military deployments. Travelers says issues with vendors account for about a quarter of the claims, with most of those related to issues with photographers or videographers.