10 killed, dozens injured
in college tour bus crash
ORLAND, Calif. (AP) -- It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.
Those dreams were shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway crash that left 10 dead -- students, chaperones and both drivers -- and dozens hospitalized.
Desperate families awaited word from loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California’s key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.
"We’re trying to think positively," said Miguel Serrato, whose twin 17-year-old sisters had set off on the adventure Thursday on separate buses. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus.
But when a sheriff’s deputy asked her father Friday morning for Marisa’s dental records, a grim call made to several families Friday, Serrato said his family was "getting a little bit scared." His mother was booking a flight to head north.
Obama: Right to vote in U.S. faces biggest threat
in half a century
NEW YORK (AP) -- In an unsparing critique of Republicans, President Barack Obama on Friday said the GOP is threatening voting rights in America more than at any point since the passage of the historic 1965 law expanding rights at the ballot box to millions of black Americans and other minorities.
"The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Obama said in a fiery speech at civil rights activist and television talk host Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference.
The election-year warning comes as Obama seeks to mobilize Democratic voters to fight back against state voting requirements and early balloting restrictions that many in his party fear will curb turnout in November. The president vowed that he would not let the attacks on voting rights go unchallenged, but he offered no new announcements of specific actions his administration planned to take.
Obama’s speech came a day after he marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, where he praised President Lyndon Johnson’s understanding of presidential power and his use of it to create new opportunities for millions of Americans.
The president pinned efforts to curb access to the ballot box directly on the GOP, declaring that the effort "has not been led by both parties. It’s been led by the Republican Party." Mocking the Republicans, he said, "What kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?"
A new face for ‘Obamacare’ -- but same problems persist of making it work, dealing with GOP
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Abruptly on the spot as the new face of "Obamacare," Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.
Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul. Now the new secretary must keep the complex program running smoothly and somehow help restore a cooperative dialogue with Republicans who are hoping to use the law’s problems to regain control of the Senate in November.
At an upbeat Rose Garden event, Obama showered praise on Sebelius, a hero for his party’s liberal base, whose impending retirement had been a tightly guarded secret.
The president ignored calls for Sebelius to resign last fall, after the website for consumers to enroll in new coverage experienced weeks of crippling technical problems. Last month, as it started to look like sign-ups would beat expectations, Sebelius approached the White House about stepping aside, officials said.
"Under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done," Obama said. "And the final score speaks for itself." About 7.5 million people have signed up for subsidized private health insurance through the new law, exceeding an original target of 7 million widely thought to be unattainable because of the website problems.
4 years after BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, questions about cleanup workers’ long-term health
CHALMETTE, La. (AP) -- When a BP oil well began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, fisherman George Barisich used his boat to help clean up the millions of gallons that spewed in what would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
Like so many Gulf Coast residents who pitched in after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Barisich was motivated by a desire to help and a need to make money -- the oil had destroyed his livelihood.
Today he regrets that decision, and worries his life has been permanently altered. Barisich, 58, says respiratory problems he developed during the cleanup turned into pneumonia and that his health has never been the same.
"After that, I found out that I couldn’t run. I couldn’t exert past a walk," he said. His doctor declined comment.
Barisich is among thousands considering claims under a medical settlement BP reached with cleanup workers and coastal residents. The settlement, which could benefit an estimated 200,000 people, received final approval in February from a federal court. It establishes set amounts of money -- up to $60,700 in some cases -- to cover costs of various ailments for those who can document that they worked the spill and developed related illnesses, such as respiratory problems and skin conditions.
Syrian war adds urgency to plight of Lebanese, whose relatives vanished inside Syrian prisons
BEIRUT (AP) -- For 22 years, Mary Mansourati has been waiting for her son, Dani, to come home. His shirts are ironed and hanging in his closet. His trousers, neatly folded, are stacked on the shelves next to his bed in the family’s Beirut apartment.
Dani was 30 when he was detained by Syrian intelligence and has not been heard from since. He is among an estimated 17,000 Lebanese still missing from Lebanon’s civil war or the years of Syrian domination that followed.
The war in Syria has added new urgency to the plight of their families. Hundreds of Lebanese were detained by the Syrians, and their relatives are convinced they are still alive. Now they fear they will be lost in Syria’s labyrinth of overcrowded jails and detention facilities or be killed in the ongoing mayhem.
The war in Syria has also added a new generation of names to the already long rolls of the missing. There are no exact figures, but human rights organizations say tens of thousands of Syrians have vanished in the three years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began.
Elsewhere in the region, nearly 70,000 Iraqis are still missing from three wars over the past three decades, including sectarian bloodletting that was unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to government figures.
Donetsk Republic: One-building autonomy in eastern Ukraine highlights divisive tensions
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- To reach the People’s Republic of Donetsk, you need to pass a few club-wielding young men in masks, wind through a narrow corridor of sand-filled sacks and enter a gray office tower standing in the heart of this eastern Ukrainian city.
The self-styled autonomous territory -- really just an 11-story government building and its surroundings -- insists it is the true voice of the 4.3 million people living in the Donetsk region. It has become the latest focus of protest in the largely Russian-speaking east since Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in February.
The patch of Donetsk real estate where pro-Russia activists have been squatting for nearly a week is a hotbed of resentment against the perceived chauvinist Ukrainian nationalism taking hold among the nation’s leadership.
"They hate us. They take it in with their mother’s milk," said retiree Nelya Vladimirovna Ivanova, sitting along with hundreds of fellow rally members on the square.
In its current form, the Donetsk Republic poses little real threat to the central government’s authority, and rallies demanding autonomy have drawn at most a few thousand people.
Rwandan school helps orphans move past horror of genocide by teaching unity, erasing divides
RWAMAGNA, Rwanda (AP) -- Most of the kids in a school set amid the lush green, rolling hills of eastern Rwanda don’t identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi.
That’s a positive sign for Rwanda, which is now observing the 20th anniversary of its genocide, a three-month killing spree that, according to the official Rwandan count, left more than 1 million people dead, most of them Tutsis killed by Hutus.
The teenagers attending the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a school with dorms that creates tight-knit student families, say the ethnic slaughter that their parents or grandparents were a part of either as victims or perpetrators won’t be repeated. The school director echoes the sentiment.
"This is the generation now that will in the future make sure that this kind of politics doesn’t exist in the country. We promote unity and hope," said Jean Claude Nkulikiyimfura.
"One of the major debates is that better education would help the kids not to think, ‘Yes, I’m a Hutu. I’m a Tutsi.’ Good education would promote the idea of how do you develop yourself, how do you develop your community, instead of this division that was created mostly by their parents," he added.
In rare rebuke, Obama administration blocks Iran’s choice as UN envoy from entering the US
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States has blocked Iran’s controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, a move that could stir fresh animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.
The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi’s name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.
"We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this -- and that includes our position that the selection was not viable," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa."
Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line was limited to translation and negotiation.
Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, said the decision was not only regrettable but "in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations."