Homecoming ahead for Taliban-held soldier as questions mount over the swap that set him free
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl can expect a buoyant homecoming after five years in Taliban hands, but those in the government who worked for his release face mounting questions over the prisoner swap that won his freedom.
Even in the first hours of Bergdahl’s handoff to U.S. special forces in eastern Afghanistan, it was clear this would not be an uncomplicated yellow-ribbon celebration. Five terrorist suspects also walked free, stirring a debate in Washington over whether the exchange will heighten the risk of other Americans being snatched as bargaining chips and whether the released detainees -- several senior Taliban figures among them -- would find their way back to the fight.
U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl’s health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release. "Had we waited and lost him," said national security adviser Susan Rice, "I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government."
Republicans said the deal could set a troubling precedent -- one called it "shocking." Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the five Guantanamo detainees, "These are the hardest of the hard core."
Tireless campaigners for their son’s freedom, Bob and Jani Bergdahl thanked all who were behind the effort to retrieve him. "You were not left behind," Bob Bergdahl told reporters, as if speaking to his son. "We are so proud of the way this was carried out." He spoke in Boise, Idaho, wearing a long bushy beard he’d grown to honor his son, as residents in the sergeant’s hometown of Hailey prepared for a homecoming celebration.
Spanish prime minister: King Juan Carlos to abdicate in favor of son, Crown Prince Felipe
MADRID (AP) -- Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who led Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, will abdicate so his son Felipe can become the country’s next monarch, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the country Monday in an announcement broadcast nationwide.
Rajoy did not say when the handover would happen because the government must now craft a law creating a legal mechanism for the abdication and for 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe’s assumption of power.
Juan Carlos was expected to address the nation later Monday, the royal palace said in a tweet. The palace also tweeted a photo of the king shaking Rajoy’s hand and presenting him with a letter announcing the abdication.
Juan Carlos, 76, has been on the throne since 1975 and was a hero to many for shepherding Spain’s democratic and economic transformation, but has had repeated health problems in recent years.
But his longstanding popularity took a big blow following royal scandals, including an elephant-shooting trip he took in the middle of Spain’s financial crisis during which he broke his right hip and had to be flown from Botswana back to Spain for medical treatment aboard a private jet.
Last-minute dispute erupts between Hamas, Fatah over makeup of Palestinian unity government
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- A last-minute dispute erupted on Monday between rival factions Hamas and Fatah over the make-up of their unity government meant to end a crippling seven-year political split among the Palestinians.
It was not clear if the dispute would derail a ceremony planned for later in the day to swear in the new government of technocrats backed by both factions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said over the weekend he would swear in the new Cabinet on Monday.
Just hours before the planned ceremony, senior Hamas officials said that they oppose the Cabinet lineup in its current form because Abbas has removed the position of minister for prisoner affairs.
Abbas is perceived as having the upper hand in the unity negotiations because the Islamic militant Hamas group has severe money problems and needs the alliance with the Western-backed president.
EPA seeks to cut earth-warming pollution from nation’s power plants by 30 percent by 2030
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday will roll out a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, setting the first national limits on the chief gas linked to global warming.
The rule, which is expected to be final next year, is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce the pollution linked to global warming, a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.
Despite concluding in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, a finding that triggered their regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act, it has taken years for the administration to take on the nation’s fleet of power plants. In December 2010, the Obama administration announced a "modest pace" for setting greenhouse gas standards for power plants, setting a May 2012 deadline.
Obama put them on the fast track last summer when he announced his climate action plan and a renewed commitment to climate change after the issue went dormant during his re-election campaign.
"The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we’ve done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has drafted a plan that informed the EPA proposal.
Russian military exercise set to involve missile launches
MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian Defense Ministry says it has launched a military exercise involving the launch of high-precision missiles. The war games are taking place amid the backdrop of violence in eastern Ukraine.
In a statement Monday, the ministry said the maneuvers of the Western Military District will continue through Thursday and will involve the deployment of Iskander surface-to-surface missiles. It said the Iskander missiles, which are capable of hitting targets 280 kilometers away, will be airlifted by heavy transport planes to the exercise’s area.
It said the maneuvers will also involve long-range bombers firing cruise missiles at land targets. The ministry didn’t specify the areas where the exercise will be held.
The maneuvers come amid the tensions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia insurgents have battled government troops for nearly two months.
25 years later, many young Chinese know or care little about Tiananmen clampdown
BEIJING (AP) -- Born in 1989, Steve Wang sometimes wonders what happened in his hometown of Beijing that year. But his curiosity about pro-democracy protests and the crackdown on them passes quickly.
"I was not part of it," he said. "I know it could be important, but I cannot feel it."
A quarter century after the Communist Party’s attack on demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, it is little more than a distant tale to most young Chinese. The ruling party prohibits public discussion and 1989 is banned from textbooks and Chinese websites.
Many have managed to learn something about the crackdown, through people they know, by navigating around China’s tight Internet controls or by traveling abroad. Some are aware of the iconic image of resistance -- the lone Chinese man standing in front of a line of tanks moving down the Avenue of Eternal Peace.
But often, they seem not to care. They grew up in an atmosphere of nationalism and pride over two decades of strong economic growth. The turmoil caused by a student movement 25 years ago seems irrelevant to a generation more worried about finding jobs and buying an apartment.
Investigators seek clues to Mass. jet crash that killed newspaper co-owner, 6 others
BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) -- An airport employee watched as the Gulfstream jet raced past the end of a runway, plunged down an embankment and erupted in flames.
The witness account of the Saturday night crash that killed all seven people aboard, including Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz, provided some of the first clues as investigators began piecing together what went wrong during the attempted takeoff from a runway surrounded by woods outside Boston.
Luke Schiada, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said Sunday they were looking for the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder and would review the pilots’ experience and the aircraft’s maintenance history. He said investigators also are looking for surveillance video that may have captured the crash at Hanscom Field.
"We’re at the very beginning of the investigation," Schiada said.
The plane was carrying four passengers, two pilots and a cabin attendant, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Authors of Polish freedom -- Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik -- see democracy’s light and darkness
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- One was an electrician proud of his working class roots. The other an intellectual who writes on the nature of freedom. A study in contrast, Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik were nonetheless the two heroes of Poland’s democracy movement. And a quarter century after a historic election that brought freedom to their nation, they share a sense of wonder at the "miracle" of democracy -- and some disappointment at today’s Poland.
As Poland prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of communist Poland’s first partly free election, which set off a democratic chain reaction across eastern Europe that culminated in the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, Walesa and Michnik relived triumphs and rued missed opportunities in interviews with The Associated Press.
"If someone told me 30 years ago that I would live to see a democratic Poland, independent, with strong economic growth, with no censorship, with open borders, a Poland where human rights are respected, where I can read what I want, write what I want and travel where I want," Michnik said, "I would have said that it’s some kind of a miracle."
For Nobel peace laureate Walesa, the greatest wonder is how Poland saw the departure of the Red Army under his presidency, after decades of domination. He rejoices at Poland’s hard-won democracy, but wishes he had achieved more: a more effective state, equal opportunity and welfare for all, greater success in bringing communists to account.
"When I see how much we have spoiled, how careless we were, how much injustice we have caused, then I am displeased," said Walesa.
Ann B. Davis, actress who played housekeeper on ‘The Brady Bunch,’ dies in Texas
Emmy-winning actress Ann B. Davis, who became the country’s favorite and most famous housekeeper as the devoted Alice Nelson of "The Brady Bunch," died Sunday at a San Antonio hospital. She was 88.
Bexar County, Texas, medical examiner’s investigator Sara Horne said Davis died Sunday morning at University Hospital. Horne said no cause of death was available and that an autopsy was planned Monday.
Bill Frey, a retired Episcopal bishop and a longtime friend of Davis, said she suffered a fall Saturday at her San Antonio home. Frey said Davis had lived with him and his wife, Barbara, since 1976.
More than a decade before scoring as the Bradys’ loyal Alice, Davis was the razor-tongued secretary on another stalwart TV sitcom, "The Bob Cummings Show," which brought her two Emmys. Over the years, she also appeared on Broadway and in occasional movies.
Frey said Davis became part of his and his wife’s "household community" after she re-embraced her Christian faith and left Hollywood behind.