U.S. officials cite security steps for Sochi Games

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Citing rising threats of violence at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, U.S. officials said Friday they are prepared to work with Russian security officials to help protect American athletes and the 10,000 American spectators expected to attend.

As host country, Russia has prime responsibility for protecting athletes and spectators. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 7, and U.S. officials are already in Sochi.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have talked to their Russian counterparts about security for the Olympics, including the need to ensure protections for U.S. citizens.

"If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this," Hagel said, noting the U.S. will have two warships in the Black Sea during the Games.

"As of right now, the Russians have not requested any specific assistance or technology. We want them to know that if they need our help, we want to help," Hagel told Pentagon reporters.

Senior American officials said U.S. officials see the threats as troubling but not unusual for a high-profile event such as the Olympics. The senior officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name, said U.S. officials are taking seriously all threats, with the safety and security of all Americans in Sochi seen as taking the "highest priority."

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was alongside Hagel for a Pentagon briefing, said France also has received no request for assistance from the Russians and added: "If the question is do we have the intention to ensure the protection of your citizens that might have problems in Sochi, the answer is yes."

Judge orders Texas hospital to remove life support from pregnant, brain-dead woman

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- A judge on Friday ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman whose family had argued that she would not want to be kept in that condition.

Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. issued the ruling in the case of Marlise Munoz. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has been keeping Munoz on life support against her family’s wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. CST Monday to remove life support.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. Both the hospital and the family agree that the fetus could not be born alive at this point. However, John Peter Smith Hospital had argued that it had to protect the life of the unborn child.

Erick Munoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear that they didn’t want life support in this type of situation. Her parents agreed. His attorney argued to the judge Friday that keeping the woman on life support would set a dangerous precedent for future cases of pregnant, brain-dead women.

Attorneys for the family declined to say what the next steps were, pending a potential appeal from the hospital.

Bombings rock Egypt, killing 6, raising fears of spreading militancy; 14 killed in clashes

CAIRO (AP) -- A truck bomb blasted the main security headquarters in Cairo on Friday, one of a string of four bombings hitting police in the Egyptian capital within a 10-hour period, killing six people. The most significant attack yet in the city fueled a furious backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood amid rising fears of a militant insurgency.

In the hours after the blast, angry residents -- some chanting for the "execution" of Brotherhood members -- joined police in clashes with the group’s supporters holding their daily street protests against the government. Smoke rose over Cairo from fires, and fighting around the country left 14 more people dead.

The mayhem on the eve of the third anniversary of 2011’s once hopeful revolution pointed to the accelerating, dangerous slide Egypt has taken since last summer’s military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi: A mounting confrontation between the military-backed government and Islamist opponents amid the escalating militant violence.

Saturday, the anniversary of the start of the 18-day uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, raised the potential for new violence, as both military supporters and the Islamists vowed to take to the streets with rival rallies.

After Friday’s blasts, interim President Adli Mansour vowed to "uproot terrorism," just as the government crushed a militant insurgency in the 1990s. The state "will not show them pity or mercy," he said. "We ... will not hesitate to take the necessary measures."

U.S. stocks slump again, extending a global downturn as investors flee emerging markets

Fear is back in the market.

Investors are worried about slower economic growth in China, a gloomier outlook for U.S. corporate profits and an end to easy money policies in the United States and Europe. They’re also fretting over country-specific troubles around the world -- from economic mismanagement in Argentina to political instability in Turkey.

Those fears converged to start a two-day rout in global markets this week, capped by a 318-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average Friday. It was the blue-chip index’s worst day since last June. The Dow plunged almost 500 points over the two-day stretch.

The Dow finished down 2 percent at 15,879 Friday.The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 38 points, or 2.1 percent, to 1,790. The Nasdaq composite fell 90 points, or 2.2 percent, to 4,128.

Small-company stocks fell even more than the rest of the market as investors shunned risk.

Syrian government and opposition to meet together ‘in same room,’ UN mediator says

GENEVA (AP) -- Bending to intense international pressure, Syria’s government and the Western-backed opposition agreed Friday to face each other for the first time since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.

After three days of hostile rhetoric and five hours spent assiduously avoiding contact within the United Nations, the two sides will meet "in the same room," said the U.N. mediator trying to forge an end to the civil war that has left 130,000 people dead since 2011.

Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met separately with Assad’s delegation and representatives with the Syrian National Coalition, who arrived at the U.N. European headquarters five hours apart to ensure their paths would not cross.

"We never expected it to be easy and I’m sure it’s not going to be, but I think the two parties understand what’s at stake," Brahimi said. "Their country is in very, very bad shape."

Brahimi, a famously patient mediator, is credited with efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan after the U.S. ousted their governments. But he faces a formidable task to build peace in Syria, which has been flooded with al-Qaida-inspired militants. The conflict has become a proxy war between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Ukraine clashes resume, fireballs from burning barricades light up night sky

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- As riots spread from Ukraine’s embattled capital to nearly half of the country, President Viktor Yanukovych promised Friday to reshuffle his government and make other concessions -- but a top opposition leader said nothing short of his resignation would do.

Hours after the president’s comments, huge fireballs lit up the night sky in central Kiev and plumes of thick black smoke rose from burning tires at giant barricades erected by protesters.

Clashes resumed at the barricades, which are just yards from lines of riot police and also made up of bags of ice and scraps of furniture.

Angry demonstrators hurled firebombs, rocks and fireworks at officers. Riot police responded with tear gas and several dozen protesters were rushed to a makeshift medical triage area to be treated.

"We will force the authorities to respect us," 27-year-old protester Artur Kapelan said. "Not they, but we will dictate the conditions of a truce."

Bombing in Egyptian capital damages 1 of world’s rarest collection of Islamic artifacts

CAIRO (AP) -- Centuries-old glass and porcelain pieces were smashed to powder, a priceless wooden prayer niche was destroyed and manuscripts were soaked by water spewing from broken pipes when a car bombing wreaked havoc on Cairo’s renowned Islamic Art Museum.

Experts scrambled to try to save thousands of priceless treasures as ceilings crumbled in the 19th-century building, which had just undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation.

The explosions, which targeted police and the main security headquarters, shook the museum located in the nearby old Cairo district of Bab el-Khalq, propelling steal and ceiling plaster onto its glass cases and wooden artifacts.

"The museum was totally destroyed and needs to be rebuilt," Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim said.

"I am in a shock and speechless. Imagine if an attack struck the Metropolitan, what would happen? This museum is just like the Metropolitan in its significance," said former museum official Mohammed el-Kilani.

Mangled metal, screams of victims leave indelible mark on Indiana highway pileup rescuers

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) -- Cars were mangled, and some were burned despite the blowing snow. Other vehicles were crushed between jackknifed semi-tractors, so entwined that it was difficult to tell them apart.

People were screaming, but emergency responders couldn’t see many of them as they quickly tended the victims amid frigid conditions.

Within seconds, traffic along snow-covered Interstate 94 in northern Indiana had become a mile-long pile of debris after whiteout conditions swept in during Thursday’s evening commute. Three people were killed and nearly two dozen were injured.

"It was such a devastating scene, you don’t know where to start," said Coolspring Township Fire Chief Mick Pawlik, whose volunteer crew was among the first on the scene about 60 miles south of Chicago.

"There were people in cars that you couldn’t even see," Pawlik said during a news conference Friday. "But when people are stuck in their cars, they look at you like we’re Moses. ‘Part the water. Save us."’

GOP activists defend Christie -- but far from ready to say he’ll be their presidential nominee

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Chris Christie may have been nearly 200 miles away, but his struggles in New Jersey buzzed through the hallways of a Washington hotel this week as hundreds of Republican officials gathered to debate the GOP’s future.

Party activists from Mississippi to Massachusetts defended Christie’s leadership, insisting this is no time to write his political obituary. But they also said it’s far too soon to grant him presidential front-runner status.

Christie’s popularity has fallen in recent weeks amid revelations that senior members of his administration helped create massive traffic jams last fall, apparently to exact political retribution against a Democratic New Jersey mayor. Additional allegations of political bullying have emerged as federal prosecutors and Democratic legislators probe the matter. Four people close to Christie have been fired or have resigned.

A roadblock for a possible presidential run? More like a speed bump, one activist said Friday. It could even help Christie among party conservatives by turning him into a martyr, said another. But he still faces resistance among some of those conservatives.

A senior Christie adviser at the Republican National Committee meeting suggested the high-profile governor has already overcome the worst of his challenges, although federal prosecutors have subpoenaed his recent campaign and Democrats are pressing an abuse-of-power investigation.

Quebec firefighters search icy ruins of burned-out retirement home; 8 dead, 30 missing

L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) -- Using steam to melt the ice, investigators searched the frozen-over ruins of a retirement home Friday for victims of a fire that left at least eight people dead and about 30 missing.

The tragedy cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door.

"It’s absolute desolation," Mayor Ursule Theriault said.

The cause of the blaze that swept through the three-story building early Thursday was under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues.

Witnesses told horrific tales of people trapped and killed by the flames. Many of the 50 or so residents were over 85 and used wheelchairs or walkers. Some had Alzheimer’s.