Nigeria’s president refused international help to search for kidnapped girls -- for weeks

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- The president of Nigeria for weeks refused international help to search for more than 300 girls abducted from a school by Islamic extremists, one in a series of missteps that have led to growing international outrage against the government.

The United Kingdom, Nigeria’s former colonizer, first said it was ready to help in a news release the day after the mass abduction on April 15, and made a formal offer of assistance on April 18, according to the British Foreign Office. And the U.S. has said its embassy and staff agencies offered help and were in touch with Nigeria "from day one" of the crisis, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yet it was only on Tuesday and Wednesday, almost a month later, that President Goodluck Jonathan accepted help from the United States, Britain, France and China.

The delay underlines what has been a major problem in the attempt to find the girls: an apparent lack of urgency on the part of the government and military, for reasons that include a reluctance to bring in outsiders as well as possible infiltration by the extremists.

Jonathan bristled last week when he said U.S. President Barack Obama, in a telephone conversation about aid, had brought up alleged human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. Jonathan also acknowledged that his government might be penetrated by insurgents from Boko Haram, the extremist group that kidnapped the girls. Last year, he said he suspected Boko Haram terrorists might be in the executive, legislative and judiciary arms of government along with the police and armed forces.

Egypt’s el-Sissi promises progress in 2 years; says will leave if
people rise against him

CAIRO (AP) -- Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s former military chief who is poised to win the presidency in elections later this month, said he has plans to make improvements in people’s living conditions within two years but will step down if they rise up against him -- without waiting for the army to remove him.

El-Sissi was speaking with the Emirates-based Sky News Arabia, giving his first televised interview as a presidential candidate to foreign media. The first part of the interview was aired Sunday. Riding on a wave of nationalist fervor, the 59-year old el-Sissi faces a single rival in the May 26-27 vote. The media and supporters tout him as the nation’s savior for ousting the elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in July following massive rallies against him and a rising specter of civilian infighting.

The protesters were complaining that a year into office Morsi and his Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood were monopolizing power. Morsi refused to step down or hold a referendum on his leadership following an ultimatum from el-Sissi.

The military also moved in to replace longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after days of protests against him. Mubarak stepped down, and the military ruled for a transitional period before Morsi was elected as part of the Brotherhood’s steady, subsequent sweep at the ballot box.

"Do you think I will wait for a third time? If people go down to protest, I will say, I am at your service," el-Sissi said. "I can’t wait until the army asks me to (step down), I can’t be like this. I fear for my country. I fear for the people."

Investigators: Fed govt failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells amid energy boom

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination and other environmental damage, congressional investigators say.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press before its public release, highlights substantial gaps in oversight by the agency that manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands.

Investigators said weak control by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management resulted from policies based on outdated science and from incomplete monitoring data.

The findings from the Government Accountability Office come amid an energy boom in the country and the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That process involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. It has produced major economic benefits, but also raised fears that the chemicals could spread to water supplies.

The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.

Insurgents: Ukraine region votes overwhelmingly for sovereignty

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ninety percent of voters in a key industrial region in eastern Ukraine came out in favor of sovereignty Sunday, pro-Russian insurgents said in announcing preliminary results of a twin referendum that is certain to deepen the turmoil in the country.

Roman Lyagin, election chief of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, said around 75 percent of the Donetsk region’s 3 million or so eligible voters cast ballots, and the vast majority backed sovereignty.

With no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to verify the insurgents’ claims. The preliminary vote count was announced just two hours after the polls closed in an election conducted with paper ballots.

A second referendum organized by pro-Russian separatists was held Sunday in eastern Ukraine’s industrial Luhansk region, but no immediate results were released.

Ukraine’s central government and the West had condemned the balloting as a sham and a violation of international law, and they have accused Moscow of orchestrating the unrest in a possible attempt to grab another piece of the country weeks after the annexation of Crimea.

Armed men identified as Ukrainian guardsmen fire on crowd; insurgent official says fatalities

KRASNOARMEISK, Ukraine (AP) -- Armed men identified as Ukrainian national guard opened fire Sunday on a crowd outside a town hall in eastern Ukraine, and an official for the region’s insurgents said there were fatalities.

The bloodshed in the town of Krasnoarmeisk occurred hours after dozens of armed men shut down voting in a referendum on sovereignty for the region. One of them identified the group as being national guardsmen.

An Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting said two people were seen lying unmoving on the ground and insurgent leader Denis Pushilin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying there were an unspecified number of deaths.

Several hours earlier, the men came to the town about 20 miles from the regional capital, Donetsk, and dispersed referendum voting that was taking place outside the town hall and they took control of the building. In the evening, more arrived in a van and a scuffle broke out with people who were gathered around the building. Then they fired shots.

Witnesses to the shooting posted a number of videos on YouTube. One of the videos shows several armed men holding AK-47s yelling to the crowd "go home, get out of here." One then cocks his weapon, and seconds later a man from the crowd steps forward and approaches another gunman, also carrying an AK-47, to speak with him. The gunman fires a warning shot over his head, but that doesn’t deter the man. He continues to approach as shots continue and the man is struck by a bullet, falls to the ground and can be seen bleeding from his leg.

Months-long fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province hits business,
adds more woes to Iraqi life

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Fighting in Iraq’s western Anbar province, now in its fifth month, appears to have bogged down, with government forces unable to drive out Islamic militants who took over one of the area’s main cities. But the impact is being felt much further, with the repercussions rippling through the country’s economy to hit consumers and businesses.

The large, desert province is a major crossroads. The main highways linking Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to Syria and Jordan run through it. So fighting has not only dislodged thousands of residents from their homes and forced shutdowns of their businesses. It has also disrupted shipping, inflating prices of goods in Baghdad and elsewhere. Fears of the road have gotten so bad Iraq has had to stop shipments of oil to Jordan.

Anwar Salah, co-owner of al-Baqiee travel agency in Baghdad, said his company used to run more than 13 trips a day by SUVs shuttling passengers between Baghdad and the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Now people avoid the highway, which runs near the flashpoint Anbar cities of Fallujah and Anbar, fearing militant checkpoints or clashes. So his firm is down to one trip every other day, and profits have plunged by 90 percent, he said.

"Most of the drivers who used to work for me are now either jobless or working in other professions," he said. "We are part of the country’s miserable situation."

Gunmen storm Iraqi military barracks, killing 20 troops in clashes and with shots to the head

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Militants in Iraq launched an audacious attack on a military barracks in a remote area in the country’s north and killed 20 troops overnight, including some who had been bound and shot at close range, authorities said Sunday as other attacks killed 18.

The killings at the military barracks in the village of Ayn al-Jahish outside of Mosul mirrored two previous assaults earlier this year in the area targeting security forces. It also represents the latest blow to the government’s efforts to achieve stability in restive Sunni-dominated areas.

Gunmen staged the assault late Saturday night, two police officers said, shooting some at short range while others died fighting the insurgents when they stormed the barracks. A medical official, who confirmed the causality number, said 11 troops had their hands tied behind their backs and suffered close-range gunshots to the head.

The slain troops were in charge of protecting an oil pipeline that sends Iraqi crude oil to international markets and guarding a nearby highway. Attacks on the pipeline are common in that area near Mosul, located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the barracks attack. However, it mirrored a February attack in the area claimed by the al-Qaida-breakaway group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. In that one, fighters from the group killed 15 soldiers at the barracks, beheading some of them. In April, militants killed at least 10 soldiers at a base outside of Mosul.

Arkansas plans to appeal ruling allowing Bible Belt state to issue same-sex marriage licenses

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) -- The state’s top lawyer will ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision to overturn a 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced his intent to appeal to the high court late Saturday night, but not before 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas’ Carroll County, heralding the arrival of gay marriage in the Bible Belt.

"Thank God," Jennifer Rambo said after Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued a marriage license to her and Kristin Seaton, a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The Fort Smith couple had traveled overnight to ensure they’d be first in line, and wed moments later on a sidewalk near the courthouse.

Carroll County was believed to be the only county that issued marriage licenses Saturday. Several courthouses were open for early primary-election voting but staffers said they were not prepared to issue marriage licenses.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza paved the way for the marriages Friday with a ruling that removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality." Piazza’s ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.

Richmond coaches killed in balloon crash remembered for their dedication, caring and cheer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- One was the constant in Richmond women’s basketball, the beloved assistant coach who had been on staff for 15 seasons, remaining through two coaching changes. The other was hardly out of college, always cheerful and willing to help and with a demeanor that led others to expect great things.

As the University of Richmond on Sunday grieved the losses of associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis in a fiery hot-air balloon accident, friends and colleagues praised them as shining faces of the program and whose expertise and cheer will be difficult to replace.

"There’s not a person in this business that doesn’t see Ginny as just a light," Joanne Boyle, now the coach at Virginia, said of Doyle, who was on her staff with the Spiders from 2002-05. "She was just a light for other people, and when you talk about this business and the genuineness and caring about the kids and what’s best for the student-athletes, she epitomized that, and I know people would line up to say that about her."

Doyle and Lewis died Friday night when their balloon drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond. They were there for a special preview of a festival set to open Saturday.

Doyle, 44, was hired by Bob Foley at Richmond in 1999. When Boyle got her first head coaching job, replacing Foley at Richmond, Doyle "just rose to the top" in an interview and Boyle decided to keep her on staff.

Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s R-rated comedy ‘Neighbors’ unseats Spider-Man at weekend box office

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Seth Rogen and Zac Efron have bested the web-slinger at the box office.

Rogen and Efron’s family-versus-fraternity comedy "Neighbors," was the top draw for moviegoers this weekend, unseating last week’s champ, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

The R-rated "Neighbors" debuted with $51 million in ticket sales, pushing Spidey to second place with $37 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Sustaining a No. 1 ranking is generally tougher in the summer than any other time of year," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "You don’t expect a comedy to be able to unseat an epic blockbuster, but historically it happens more than you think."

R-rated comedies have traditionally found success in the summer movie season: Think "Bridesmaids," "The Hangover," 2012’s "Ted" and last year’s "The Heat."