Exposing frustration with critics, Obama vigorously defends foreign policy approach

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- President Barack Obama vigorously defended his foreign policy record Monday, arguing that his cautious approach to global problems has avoided the type of missteps that contributed to a "disastrous" decade of war for the United States.

Obama’s expansive comments came at the end of a weeklong Asia trip that exposed growing White House frustration with critics who cast the president as weak and ineffectual on the world stage. The president and his advisers get particularly irked by those who seize on Obama’s decision to pull back from a military strike in Syria and link it with virtually every other foreign policy challenge, from Russia’s threatening moves in Ukraine to China’s increasing assertiveness in Asia’s territorial disputes.

"Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?" Obama said during a news conference in the Philippines.

Summing up his foreign policy philosophy, Obama said it was one that "avoids errors."

White House advisers argue in part that Obama’s approach puts him on the side of a conflict-weary American public, some of whom voted for him in the 2008 election because of his early opposition to the Iraq war. Yet the president’s foreign policy record of late has provided plenty of fodder for his critics.

Arkansas residents rush to shelters, storm cellars as tornado kills at least 14

VILONIA, Ark.


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(AP) -- The sky turned black as the funnel cloud closed in, and Maggie Caro rushed with her husband and two children to a community shelter at a Vilonia school, where they were among the last to get inside the fortified gym before the doors were shut.

"They were screaming, ‘Run! Run! It’s coming!"’ Caro recalled.

And then all hell broke loose.

The half-mile-wide tornado carved an 80-mile path of destruction through the Little Rock suburbs Sunday evening, killing at least 14 people, flattening rows of homes, shredding cars along a highway and demolishing a brand-new school before it even had a chance to open.

Officials said the death toll could have been worse if residents hadn’t piled into underground storm shelters and fortified safe rooms after listening to forecasts on TV and radio, getting cellphone alerts or calls or texts from loved ones, and hearing sirens blare through their neighborhoods.

Mayor in eastern Ukraine shot in the back; US hits Russia with more sanctions

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city was shot in the back Monday and hundreds of men attacked a peaceful pro-Ukraine rally with batons, bricks and stun grenades, wounding dozens as tensions soared in Ukraine’s volatile east.

One presidential candidate said the mayor was deliberately targeted in an effort to destabilize the entire city of Kharkiv, a hub of 1.5 million people.

Armed insurgents tacitly backed by Moscow are seeking more autonomy in eastern Ukraine -- and possibly even independence or annexation with Russia. Ukraine’s acting government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest, which they fear Moscow could use as a pretext for an invasion.

Ratcheting up the pressure, President Barack Obama’s government levied new sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies with links to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The U.S. also revoked licenses for some high-tech items that could be used by the Russian military.

In Brussels, the European Union moved to add 15 more officials to its Russian sanctions list to protest Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine. That decision, reached by the ambassadors to the EU’s 28 nations, was being formally confirmed by the EU’s governments, officials told The Associated Press.

NBA says announcement on Sterling investigation coming Tuesday

Outrage over racist comments purportedly made by embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling hit a crescendo Monday, with corporations pulling their sponsorship deals with the team and coach Doc Rivers saying he believes "a very strong message" is coming from the NBA in response to the scandal.

That message will come Tuesday, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver holds a news conference in New York where he could reveal sanctions the league will impose on Sterling.

A suspension of indefinite length and hefty fine -- Silver can issue one of up to $1 million without approval of owners -- are possible options. However, it remains unclear how far Silver’s powers can reach at this point, even though the NBA constitution gives the commissioner’s office a lot of latitude to protect the game’s best interest.

Many players simply want Sterling ousted, with Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeting he "should not continue owning the clippers."

"It needs to be handled in the right way," Rivers said. "I don’t even know what the right way is. I have a hunch. But I don’t know."

Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader among 683 sentenced to death in another mass trial

MINYA, Egypt (AP) -- An Egyptian judge sentenced to death the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and 682 other people Monday in the latest in a series of high-stakes mass trials that have been unprecedented in scope, drawing sharp condemnation from international rights groups.

The verdicts -- which were appealed by general prosecutor-- come as the military-backed government has launched a massive crackdown against Islamist supporters of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi, under the banner of "war against terrorism" while tightening its grip on the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Suggesting there might be room for reversal, the same judge also reduced the sentences against 529 defendants indicted in a similar case in March, upholding the death penalty for only 37 and commuting the rest to life imprisonment.

Still, the three dozen death sentences that were upheld was an extraordinarily high number for Egypt, compared to the dramatic trial in the wake of the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, when only five people were sentenced to death and executed.

Judge Said Youssef said he was referring Monday’s death sentences -- which were for convictions of violence and killing policemen -- to the Grand Mufti, the nation’s top Islamic official -- a requirement under Egyptian law that is usually considered a formality but also gives room for the judge to change his mind. Of the 683, all but 68 were tried in absentia.

Judge upholds sale of widow’s $280K home over $6 tax bill

BEAVER, Pa. (AP) -- A widow was given ample notice before her $280,000 house was sold at a tax auction three years ago over $6.30 in unpaid interest, a Pennsylvania judge has ruled.

The decision last week turned down Eileen Battisti’s request to reverse the September 2011 sale of her home outside Aliquippa in western Pennsylvania.

"I paid everything, and didn’t know about the $6.30," Battisti said. "For the house to be sold just because of $6.30 is crazy."

Battisti, who still lives in the house, said Monday that she plans to appeal to Commonwealth Court. That court earlier ordered an evidentiary hearing, which led to last week’s ruling.

Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis wrote that the county tax claim bureau complied with notification requirements in state law before the auction. She had previously owed other taxes, but at the time of the sale she owed just $235, including other interest and fees.

Stowaway boy’s refugee mom says son has ‘strong affections’ for her, seeks reunion

SHEDDER REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia (AP) -- The Somali woman lives in a stick hut covered by ragged blankets in this dusty refugee camp. It was here that her 15-year-old son wanted to travel on a perilous journey as a stowaway on a plane from California.

Ubah Mohammed Abdule hasn’t seen her boy -- who was hospitalized in Hawaii after landing there last week in the wheel well of a jetliner -- for eight long years.

Clutching her black-and-white head covering, she wept Sunday as she stood before the flimsy shelter holding her meager possessions and spoke about her son, Yahya Abdi.

She was alarmed, she said, by the dangerous journey the teenager undertook. Those who stow away in plane wheel wells have little chance of surviving, and many who attempt it are Africans desperate for a better life in Europe or America.

Abdi had been unhappy in California and desperately missed his mother, according to those who know his family. So on April 20, he hopped a fence at San Jose International Airport and climbed into the wheel well of a jetliner bound for Hawaii. Somehow he survived the 5 1/2-hour trip over the Pacific, despite extreme cold and low oxygen levels. He has not spoken publicly about the ordeal.