Under tight security, relatives mourn Tiananmen crackdown victims on 25th anniversary

BEIJING (AP) -- Yin Min held the ashes of her son and wept, she said, as she marked 25 years since he was killed in the crackdown by Chinese tanks and troops on protests at Tiananmen Square. Outside, guards kept a close eye on her home while police blanketed central Beijing to block any public commemoration of one of the darkest chapters in recent Chinese history.

"How has the world become like this? I don’t even have one bit of power. Why must we be controlled so strictly this year?" Yin said in a telephone interview. "I looked at his ashes, I looked at his old things, and I cried bitterly."

China allows no public discussion of the events of June 3-4, 1989, when soldiers backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers fought their way into the heart of Beijing, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of unarmed protesters and onlookers.

On Wednesday, scores of police and paramilitary troops patrolled the vast plaza and surrounding streets in Beijing’s heart, stopping vehicles and demanding identification from passers-by. Chinese censors scrubbed domestic blogs and social media websites of comments marking the crackdown.

The silence in the mainland about the anniversary of a pivotal event that shocked the world contrasted with boisterous commemorations in Hong Kong.


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New problem for health law: Application ‘inconsistencies’ could jeopardize coverage for some

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A huge new paperwork headache for the government could also be jeopardizing coverage for some of the millions of people who just got health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law.

A government document provided to The Associated Press indicates that at least 2 million people enrolled for taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance have data discrepancies in their applications that, if unresolved, could affect what they pay for coverage, or even their legal right to benefits.

The final number affected could well be higher. According to the administration the 2 million figure reflects only consumers who signed up through the federally administered HealthCare.gov website and call centers. The government signed up about 5.4 million people, while state-run websites signed up another 2.6 million.

For consumers, a discrepancy means that the information they supplied, subject to perjury laws, does not match what the government has on record.

For example, someone who underestimated his income, and got too generous a subsidy as a result, could owe the Internal Revenue Service money next year.

Videos show couple who disappeared in Afghanistan appealing for help

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The family of a pregnant American woman who went missing in Afghanistan in late 2012 with her Canadian husband received two videos last year in which the couple asked the U.S.government to help free them and their child from Taliban captors, The Associated Press has learned.

The videos offer the first and only clues about what happened to Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle after they lost touch with their families 20 months ago while traveling in a mountainous region near the capital, Kabul. U.S. law enforcement officials investigating the couple’s disappearance consider the videos authentic but say they hold limited investigative value since it’s not clear when or where they were made.

The video files, which were provided to the AP, were emailed to Coleman’s father last July and September by an Afghan man who identified himself as having ties to the Taliban but who has been out of contact for several months. In one, a subdued Coleman -- dressed in a conservative black garment that covers all but her face-- appeals to "my president, Barack Obama" for help.

"I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom," the 28-year-old says in the other recording, talking into a wobbly camera while seated beside her husband, whose beard is long and untrimmed.

Though Coleman mentions a child, no baby is shown in the videos. The families say they have no information about the name or gender of the child, who would be about 18 months old.

Assad wins Syria’s presidential election in a landslide

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has been re-elected in a landslide, officials said Wednesday, capturing another seven-year term in the middle of a bloody 3-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country.

Syria’s parliament speaker, Jihad Laham, announced the final results from Tuesday’s election, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7 percent. Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. The Supreme Constitutional Court put turnout at 73.42 percent.

Assad’s victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. The opposition and its Western allies denounced the election as a farce, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling it a "great big zero."

Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry after the results were announced. Thousands of Assad supporters flocked the streets to celebrate, some waving large Syrian flags and others carrying photos of Assad as car horns blared. Some men broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!"

Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television aired live footage from the government stronghold of Latakia and the war-ravaged city of Homs, which the government recaptured last month, showing crowds of people celebrating with flags and posters of Assad amid cries of "God, Syria, Bashar!" Fireworks lit up the night sky in Latakia.

Taliban video shows tense handover of captured US soldier to Americans in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- As a thin, tense-looking Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. forces, one of his Taliban captors leaned in and warned him: "Don’t come back to Afghanistan. You won’t make it out alive next time."

Then, the American soldier, wearing traditional loose-fitting Afghan trousers and a long tunic, was led away to a U.S. military helicopter, where he was patted down for explosives or other weapons before climbing aboard.

The weekend handover in the dusty desert was documented in a 17-minute video emailed to news organizations Wednesday by the Taliban, which touted the exchange of Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees as a victory, while debate raged in the U.S. over the deal and whether the 28-year-old from Hailey, Idaho, should be punished as a deserter.

Bergdahl’s hometown on Wednesday canceled plans for a welcome-home celebration later this month, citing concerns over its ability to handle the large crowds -- both for and against the soldier -- that were expected. The town of 8,000 has been swamped with critical emails and phone calls over Bergdahl.

Some Americans have questioned whether he deserves a hero’s welcome, since he was captured after walking away from his unit, unarmed, in 2009. U.S. lawmakers and others have also complained that Congress should have been consulted about the prisoner exchange, that the deal will embolden the Taliban to snatch more American soldiers, and that the released Afghans will filter back to the battlefield.

Bill allowing force-feeding of hunger-striking inmates pits Israeli government against doctors

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Proposed legislation to permit the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike is pitting Israel’s government against much of the country’s medical community, including the main doctors’ association which contends the practice amounts to torture.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked to fast-track the bill as a hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian detainees entered its sixth week.

At least 65 of 290 participating detainees have been hospitalized since the first group began a hunger strike on April 24. Many are administrative detainees, held for months or years without charges.

There have been near-daily Palestinian demonstrations backing the prisoners, including one in the West Bank on Wednesday in which dozens of university students threw stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas.

Families of hunger strikers say they support the fast, despite the risks.

Rebels capture 3 bases in eastern Ukraine, president-elect promises peace initiatives

LUHANSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Russian insurgents captured three government bases in eastern Ukraine in a series of humiliating defeats for the beleaguered armed forces on Wednesday, as the president-elect promised new initiatives to help end the mutiny in the country’s industrial heartland.

Petro Poroshenko, speaking in Warsaw after meeting with President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, rejected a call from Ukraine’s interim authorities to introduce martial law in the restive east, saying he would seek to pacify the region with an offer of amnesty and a promise of early regional elections.

Poroshenko’s overture, expected to be detailed in his inaugural address on Saturday, came as the Ukrainian troops suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks on Wednesday.

National Guard forces ran out of ammunition and had to flee their base near the eastern city of Luhansk after hours of battle in which six militants were killed and three Ukrainian servicemen were injured.

The defeat came as rebel forces seized a border guard headquarters on the city’s outskirts after besieging it for two days, then forced guards out of another base in the nearby town of Sverdlovsk on the Russian border. The guards there were granted safe passage and left with their weapons.

Some young South African men become casualties during botched rite of passage into manhood

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- The young South African thought he was going to the hills to become a man. He came back with a horrifying injury that made him an outcast.

In 2012, Asanda lost his penis to gangrene in a botched circumcision ritual performed by a traditional surgeon wielding the same spear on more than a dozen initiates. He was an unusual case among thousands of men hospitalized after such ceremonies in past years because he broke a code of secrecy about the tradition and spoke out in protest. For that, he endured public humiliation and even a severe beating a few months ago.

"People would just stare at me, as if I were not a man," 25-year-old Asanda told The Associated Press. He did not want his family name published for fear of a bigger backlash from his community.

This month, youths in some rural areas will head to secluded huts for circumcision rituals meant to usher them into manhood, an annual rite of passage during the current South African winter, and in the summer at year’s end. Officials hope to prevent another wave of injuries and deaths triggered by factors including infection and the tight binding of penis wounds, which cuts off blood supply, as well as sleep deprivation, exposure to winter cold and other harsh conditions.

Septic shock causes many fatalities. The problem is most severe in the Eastern Cape province, where nearly 500 young men have died in circumcision rituals since 2006, including 83 last year, according to the provincial health department.