Hopes for ferry victims painfully humble: to find bodies before sea does more damage
JINDO, South Korea (AP) -- Lee Byung-soo says he knew, when he saw his 15-year-old son’s body in the tent. It could not have been more horrifically obvious. But he wanted so much for him to be alive.
"Stop sleeping!" the truck driver yelled as he hugged Lee Seok-joon. "Why are you sleeping so much? Daddy will save you!"
He pumped his son’s chest and blew into his mouth to try to resuscitate him, "but I could only smell a rotting stench."
This is the kind of heartbreak that awaits the families of about 220 people still missing from the submerged ferry Sewol, or at least those whose relatives’ bodies are ultimately recovered. Families who once dreamed of miraculous rescues now simply hope their loved ones’ remains are recovered soon, before the ocean does much more damage.
"At first, I was just very sad, but now it’s like an endless wait," said Woo Dong-suk, a construction worker and uncle of one of the students. "It’s been too long already. The bodies must be decayed. The parents’ only wish right now is to find the bodies before they are badly decomposed."
U.S., Russia trade warnings on Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia has "days, not weeks" to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.
Biden, the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine during its conflict with Russia, planned to meet with government officials in the capital of Kiev Tuesday. The vice president also planned to announce new technical support to help the fledgling government with energy and economic reforms.
Biden’s trip comes days after the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe signed an agreement in Geneva calling for Moscow to use its influence to get pro-Russian forces to leave the numerous government buildings they now occupy in cites throughout eastern Ukraine. The U.S. asserted on Monday that photographs from Twitter and other media show that some of the troops in eastern Ukraine are Russian special forces, and the U.S. said the photos support its case that Moscow is using its military to stir unrest in Ukraine.
There was no way to immediately verify the photographs, which were either taken from the Internet or given to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last week by Ukraine diplomats.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected charges that Moscow was behind the troubles in eastern Ukraine and failing to live up to the Geneva agreement.
As Army shrinks, some young officers who served multiple tours are being pushed out
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- After the 9/11 attacks, tens of thousands of young men and women joined the military, heading for the rugged mountains of Afghanistan and dusty deserts of Iraq.
Many of them now are officers in the Army with multiple combat deployments under their belts. But as the wars wind down and Pentagon budgets shrink, a lot of them are being told they have to leave.
It’s painful and frustrating. In quiet conversations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Eustis in Virginia, captains talk about their new worries after 15-month deployments in which they battled insurgents and saw roadside bombs kill and maim their comrades. They nervously wait as their fates rest in the hands of evaluation boards that may spend only a few minutes reading through service records before making decisions that could end careers.
During the peak war years, the Army grew to about 570,000, as commanders worked to fill combat brigades and support units to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of newly minted officers came in during 2006-2008.
Already down to about 522,000, the Army must shrink to 490,000 by October 2015, and then to 450,000 two years later. If automatic budget cuts resume, the Army will have to get down to 420,000 -- a size service leaders say may not allow them to wage even one major, prolonged military campaign.
Stowaway survives long flight in jet wheel well, forces authorities to review security
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- A 16-year-old boy scrambled over an airport fence, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii -- a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.
The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., hopped out of the wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac Sunday. Authorities found the high school student wandering the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was found to be unharmed.
FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose.
It was not immediately clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some survive by going into a hibernation-like state.
On Monday, authorities tried to determine how the boy slipped through multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.
Affordable Care Act only chips away at goal of reducing the number of uninsured
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Swan Lockett had high hopes that President Barack Obama’s health overhaul would lead her family to an affordable insurance plan, but that hasn’t happened.
Instead, because lawmakers in her state refused to expand Medicaid, the 46-year-old mother of four from Texas uses home remedies or pays $75 to see a doctor when she has an asthma attack.
"If I don’t have the money, I just let it go on its own," Lockett said.
The federal health care overhaul has provided coverage for millions of Americans, but it has only chipped away at one of its core goals: to sharply reduce the number of people without insurance.
President Barack Obama announced last week that 8 million people have signed up for coverage through new insurance exchanges, but barriers persist blocking tens of millions of people around the nation from accessing health care. Questions of eligibility, immigrant coverage and the response from employers and state legislatures mean considerable work lies ahead for health care advocates and officials -- but cost remains a particularly high hurdle for low income people who are most likely to be uninsured.
U.S. weighs curbing deportations of people without serious criminal records
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don’t have serious criminal records, according to two people with knowledge of his deliberations.
The change, if adopted following an ongoing review ordered by President Barack Obama, could shield tens of thousands of immigrants now removed each year solely because they committed repeat immigration violations, such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, failing to comply with a deportation order or missing an immigration court date.
However, it would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists. They want Obama to expand a two-year-old program that grants work permits to certain immigrants brought here illegally as children to include other groups, such as the parents of any children born in the U.S.
John Sandweg, who served until February as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he had promoted the policy change for immigrants without serious criminal records before his departure and that it was being weighed by Johnson. An immigration advocate who’s discussed the review with the administration also confirmed the change was under consideration. The advocate spoke on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.
"Any report of specific considerations at this time would be premature," Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said Monday. Stevens said Johnson "has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review," including seeking input from people within DHS as well as lawmakers of both parties, and other stakeholders.
Yemen said strikes on al-Qaida base in southern mountains kill 55 militants
SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemeni forces, reportedly backed by U.S. drone strikes, hit al-Qaida militants for a second straight day Monday in what Yemen officials said was an assault on a major base of the terror group hidden in the remote southern mountains. The government said 55 militants were killed so far.
The sprawling base was a rare instance of a permanent infrastructure set up by al-Qaida’s branch in the country, Yemeni security officials said. Built over the past months, it includes a training ground, storehouses for weapons and food and vehicles used by the group to launch attacks, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to the press.
The assault appeared to be a significant escalation in the U.S. and Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group’s powerful branch in the southern Arabian nation. The United States has been striking al-Qaida positions in the country heavily with drone strikes the past two years, trying to cripple the group after it was driven out of several southern cities it took over in 2011.
But the group has proven highly resilient, spreading around the country and working from mountain areas. In a show of the group’s boldness, a video recently posted on Islamic militant websites showed the group’s leader Nasser al-Wahishi meeting openly with a gathering of dozens of militants in the southern province of Abyan.
The base is in a remote mountain valley called Wadi al-Khayala in the rugged Mahfad region at the border between Abyan, and the neighboring provinces of Shabwa, and al-Bayda.
Syria presidential elections set for June 3; opposition dismisses vote as ‘farce’
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria called a presidential election for June 3, aiming to give President Bashar Assad a veneer of electoral legitimacy in the midst of a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people and driven a third of the population from their homes.
The opposition and the United States denounced the vote as a farce, and a U.N. spokesman said it will "hamper the prospects for a political solution." But Assad’s government appears determined to hold the election as a way of exploiting its recent military gains.
The announcement Monday by Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham raises questions about how the government intends to hold any kind of credible vote within the deeply divided country, where large areas lie outside government control and where hundreds of thousands of people live in territory that is either contested, held by rebels or blockaded by pro-government forces.
"There will not be any voting centers in areas controlled by the gunmen," Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh told The Associated Press. He said the Syrian army was present in many provinces across Syria, "and this will make up for the areas outside of government control," he added.
But Nazeer al-Khatib, an opposition activist in the northern city of Aleppo, said "the only people who will vote are the ones who support Assad."