Obama now open
to legalization --
not necessarily citizenship path -- in immigration legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s new declaration that he’s open to legalizing many immigrants short of citizenship sounds a lot like House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders, an election-year compromise that numerous Republicans as well as Democrats crave.

But the drive for the first overhaul in three decades still faces major resistance from many Republicans who are wary that the divisive issue could derail what they see as a smooth glide path to winning November’s congressional elections. And they deeply distrust the Democratic president to enforce the law.

Just hours after Boehner pitched immigration to the GOP at a Maryland retreat, Obama suddenly indicated he would be open to legal status for many of the 11 million living here illegally, dropping his once-ironclad insistence on a special path to citizenship.

Democrats, including Obama, and other immigration proponents have warned repeatedly about the creation of a two-tier class system.

"If the speaker proposes something that says right away, folks aren’t being deported, families aren’t being separated, we’re able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here, and then there’s a regular process of citizenship, I’m not sure how wide the divide ends up being," Obama said in a CNN interview that was recorded Thursday and aired Friday.

Ukraine opposition activist’s story of torture fuels fears about extrajudicial torture squads

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The bloody images of Ukrainian opposition supporter Dmytro Bulatov, who says he was abducted and tortured for more than a week, have fueled fears among anti-government activists that extrajudicial squads are being deployed to intimidate the protest movement.

Bulatov, who was in charge of a vocal protest group before he disappeared Jan. 22, recounted a gruesome ordeal, saying his unidentified kidnappers beat him, sliced off part of his ear and nailed him to a door during his time in captivity.

"There isn’t a spot on my body that hasn’t been beaten. My face has been cut. They promised to poke my eye out. They cut off my ear," Bulatov, 35, said Friday in a short video from his hospital ward. "They crucified me by nailing me to a door with something and beat me strongly all the while."

The government has faced two months of major protests that started after President Victor Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of Russia. The demonstrations quickly grew into discontent over heavy-handed police, corruption and human rights violations.

Some opposition leaders believe the government will do anything to save itself, including sending brutal squads of torturers to quash the demonstrations.

Keystone XL pipeline clears big hurdle; report raises no major doubts, says alternatives worse

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a major hurdle toward approval Friday, a serious blow to environmentalists’ hopes that President Barack Obama will block the controversial project running more than 1,000 miles from Canada through the heart of the U.S.

The State Department reported no major environmental objections to the proposed $7 billion pipeline, which has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change. Republicans and some oil- and gas-producing states in the U.S. -- as well as Canada’s minister of natural resources -- cheered the report, but it further rankled environmentalists already at odds with Obama and his energy policy.

The report stops short of recommending approval of the pipeline, but the review gives Obama new support if he chooses to endorse it in spite of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. Foes say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming, and they also express concern about possible spills.

Republicans and business and labor groups have urged Obama to approve the pipeline to create thousands of jobs and move toward North American energy independence. The pipeline is also strongly supported by Democrats in oil and gas-producing states, including Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. All face re-election this year and could be politically damaged by rejection of the pipeline. Republican Mitt Romney carried all three states in the 2012 presidential election.

The 1,179-mile pipeline would travel through the heart of the United States, carrying oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas. It would cross Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska. An existing spur runs through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas.

Amanda Knox: A new name for long list of the famous, infamous caught up in extradition

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Roman Polanski. Edward Snowden. Manuel Noriega. Over the years, the famous and the infamous have been caught up in the legal process called extradition, which governs whether one country will turn over fugitives from justice to another country.

It may ultimately be the turn of Amanda Knox, whose murder conviction in the stabbing of her roommate has been reinstated by an Italian court, raising the specter of a long extradition fight. She says she’ll never willingly go back to Italy.

The Knox case is special because it raises the question of whether the U.S.government would send one of its own citizens to a foreign country to face a long prison term.

The answer: It’s been done before, though in less high-profile cases involving the governments of Canada, Mexico and other nations.

The U.S. has extradition treaties with more than 100 countries, including Italy, providing what would appear to be a strong legal foundation in favor of a request for Knox’s return to Italy.

Ex-official’s lawyer: Evidence contradicts what N.J. Gov. Christie said about lane closures

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- A former loyalist of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who oversaw lane closings near the George Washington Bridge says there is evidence that contradicts what Christie said about the shutdown during a two-hour news conference three weeks ago.

In a letter Friday, David Wildstein’s lawyer says his client "contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."

Attorney Alan Zegas also says evidence exists that suggests the governor knew about the closures as they happened in September. Christie has given a series of statements about when he learned of the lane closures but has denied knowing of any political motive until early January.

Wildstein was Christie’s No. 2 man at the agency that runs the bridge. He has since resigned.

Zegas and Christie’s office did not immediately return messages.

Activists: Nearly 1,900 killed in Syria during peace talks, including 430 civilians

BEIRUT (AP) -- Fighting in Syria killed nearly 1,900 people, including at least 430 civilians, during the week of U.N.-hosted peace talks in Switzerland, activists said Friday. The death toll indicates that violence barely paused as the warring parties met but struck uncompromising stances, failing to reach any agreements that could help resolve the conflict.

The figures were reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Its director, Rami Abdurrahman, said the week’s bloody toll was about average at this point in the three-year conflict.

The number included at least 430 civilians, killed by bombs, snipers, missiles, and other causes. The rest were rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. The Observatory obtains its information from activists on the ground, and also keeps a running total.

The conference didn’t produce any tangible results, although connections made in Switzerland are likely to develop into prolonged negotiations to try to resolve the war.

The conflict began as largely peaceful protests against Assad in March 2011, but the uprising since became an increasingly sectarian civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people. It has forcibly displaced one-third of the entire prewar population of 23 million, including over 2 million who have flooded into neighboring countries. Tens of thousands more are blockaded in rebel-held areas, where Assad loyalists prevent food and aid from entering to break their resistance.

Stocks end tough January with another decline; S&P 500 index down 4%

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock investors were hit from all sides in January.

Concerns about the global economy and U.S.company earnings, as well as turmoil in emerging markets, led the Dow Jones industrial average to its worst start since 2009. However, many investors remain hopeful that the problems will not spill over into the rest of 2014.

They even see the downturn as healthy, given the U.S. market’s rapid rise last year.

The Dow slid 5.3 percent in January while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 3.6 percent and the Nasdaq composite declined 1.7 percent.

Investors entered the year with some degree of skepticism and nervousness. The stock market went basically straight up in 2013. The S&P 500 index ended 2013 with a gain of nearly 30 percent, its best year since 1997.

Small investors fight urge to sell as stock markets drop worldwide; ‘Is this all of it?’

NEW YORK (AP) -- January’s global sell-off in stocks has left many small investors more puzzled than panicked -- and unsure how to act.

They’re holding on for now as prices continue to tumble, but their anxiety is mounting. The number of small investors who say they feel "bearish" soared this past week, according to a U.S. survey. Some stock funds have been hit with their biggest withdrawals since 2012.

If more people start selling, it would reverse a new and surprising trend in some of the world’s biggest economies: individuals moving back into stocks after years of shunning them.

"I don’t know what to do," says Ken Duska, a retiree in Mingo Junction, Ohio, who is sticking with his investment plan for the moment, though he’s not sure that’s wise. "After (the) upswing last year, it probably isn’t going to continue."

Small investors around the world were on edge even before growing signs of a slowdown in China and plunging emerging-market currencies dragged many stock indexes down to their worst start of a new year since 2010. They worried stocks were overdue for a drop, after soaring by double-digit percentages in countries like the United States, Japan and France in 2013. In the U.S., many noted, the market had not fallen by 10 percent or more, known on Wall Street as a correction, for more than two years.

In Mass., jury could prove sympathetic to Boston Marathon bombing suspect

BOSTON (AP) -- Given the powerful grief and anger over the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston would seem to be a particularly hostile place for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to stand trial. But it might just be his best hope of escaping a death sentence.

Opposition to the death penalty runs deep in liberal Massachusetts. In a Boston Globe survey in September, 57 percent of Massachusetts residents polled favored life in prison for Tsarnaev, while 33 percent favored execution.

As Tsarnaev’s lawyers weigh whether to attempt to move his trial out of town, away from those most deeply traumatized by the bombing, some legal experts say staying put might be a better strategy, even though emotions in the city are raw.

"I’d rather take my shot with the citizens of Massachusetts," said Christopher Dearborn, a professor at Boston’s Suffolk Law School. "We’re at the highest irony here: We’re going to have a death penalty trial in a state where a majority of our citizens don’t support the death penalty."

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they will seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev, 20, when he goes on trial in the bombing last April that killed three people and injured more than 260 at the crowded finish line of the race. No trial date has been set.

FBI: Powder mailed to sites near Super Bowl stadium appears not
to be dangerous

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A suspicious powder mailed to several locations in New York and New Jersey, including at least five hotels near the site of Sunday’s Super Bowl, appears not to be dangerous, the FBI said Friday.

The agency said further testing was being conducted on the substance, but it is "within normal values."

White powder also was found in a letter sent to former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s business in New York City, where police said preliminary tests showed it posed no threat.

A federal law enforcement official, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said powder from one envelope tested positive for baking soda. It’s not clear where that letter was sent.

Hackensack University Medical Center received a number of people for evaluation because they came in contact with the letters, but a hospital spokeswoman said there were no reported illnesses or injuries.