Pope begs forgiveness of sex abuse victims, vows bishops will be held accountable

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis begged forgiveness Monday in his first meeting with Catholics sexually abused by members of the clergy and went further than any of his predecessors by vowing to hold bishops accountable for their handling of pedophile priests.

Abuse victims and their advocates have long demanded that higher-ups be made to answer for the decades-long cover-ups of rape and molestation of youngsters in a scandal that has rocked the church and dismayed its worldwide flock of 1.2 billion.

The pope celebrated a private Mass with six victims -- two each from Ireland, Britain and Germany -- at his Vatican residence, and spent the rest of the morning listening to their accounts, one on one.

"Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness," Francis said.

"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," the pope said. "This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused, and it endangered other minors who were at risk."

3 Ukraine bridges blown up to block key roads into the rebel-held city of Donetsk

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- After Ukrainian forces’ seizure of a key rebel stronghold in the east, the major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk could be the next focus of major fighting.


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Three bridges on roads leading to Donetsk were blown up Monday -- possibly to hinder military movements, though the rebels claim it was the work of pro-Kiev saboteurs.

As nerves fray over the prospect of fighting in the sprawling cities, Russia urges Europe to put pressure on the government to end the fighting, but takes no overt action. Rebels in Ukraine and nationalists at home have called for the Kremlin to send in troops to protect the pro-Russia insurgents, but President Vladimir Putin, wary of more sanctions being imposed by the West, has resisted.

Separatist fighters driven out of the city of Slovyansk and other eastern towns by the Ukrainian army over the weekend are regrouping in Donetsk, a major industrial city of 1 million where pro-Russia rebels have declared independence as the Donetsk People’s Republic. Pavel Gubarev, the region’s self-described governor, had promised "real partisan war around the whole perimeter of Donetsk" before thousands of supporters at a rally Sunday.

Ukrainian authorities meanwhile say their strategy is to blockade Donetsk and the rebel-held city of Luhansk, the two largest cities in the separatist east, in order to cut off rebel supply lines. Civilians would be allowed to leave and seek aid elsewhere, national security council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said Monday, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Battles between Ukrainian forces and the separatists have left over 400 people dead and thousands homeless since the uprising began in April. Ukraine’s government ended a shaky, unilateral 10-day cease-fire last week, and has since stepped up its fight against the rebels.

White House: Most children arriving at U.S. border won’t get humanitarian relief to stay

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House said Monday that most unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief that would prevent them from being sent back from their home countries.

The pointed warning came as the White House finalized a spending request to Congress detailing the additional resources President Barack Obama wants in order to hire more immigration judges and open additional detention facilities to deal with the border crisis. White House officials said they planned to send the more than $2 billion request to lawmakers on Tuesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that while the administration will allow the immigration review process to take place, officials so far don’t expect many of the children arriving at the border to be able to stay in the U.S.

"It’s unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief," Earnest said. "It means they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned."

Still, it’s unclear how quickly that process will unfold. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged Sunday that such proceedings might be long delayed, and he said that coping with floods of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is a legal and humanitarian dilemma for the United States.

Washington state issues first recreational marijuana shop licenses to 24 stores

SEATTLE (AP) -- Washington state issued its first retail marijuana licenses Monday with a middle-of-the-night email alerting bleary-eyed pot-shop proprietors that they’ll finally be able to open for business.

"We’re pretty stoked," said John Evich, an investor in Bellingham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, in a 2:30 a.m. Pacific time interview with The Associated Press. "We haven’t had any sleep in a long time, but we’re excited for the next step."

Randy Simmons, the state Liquor Control Board’s project manager for legal marijuana, said Sunday night that the first two dozen stores were being notified so early to give them an extra few hours to get cannabis on their shelves before they are allowed to open their doors at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration.

The state licensed 14 stores in western Washington and 10 in eastern Washington.

Spokane has three stores. Vancouver, Tacoma and Bellingham each have two. Seattle and the other cities on the list have one each.

GM engineer says effort to fix ignition switches touched off GM recall problems

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors’ deadly ignition switch flaws emerged from an effort to improve its cars.

As the company began developing new small cars in the late 1990s, it listened to customers who complained about "cheap-feeling" switches that required too much effort to turn. GM set about making switches that would work more smoothly and give drivers the impression that they were better designed, a GM switch engineer testified in a lawsuit deposition in the spring of 2013.

The switches, though, were too loose, touching off events that led to at least 13 deaths, more than 50 crashes and a raft of legal trouble for the Detroit automaker.

Former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, hired by GM in March to investigate the switch problems, told a congressional subcommittee last month that GM wanted each small-car ignition to "feel like it was a European sports car or something." After years of lagging behind the Japanese, GM was eager to make better, more competitive small cars.

But as it turned out, the new switches in models such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion can unexpectedly slip from "run" to "accessory," causing engines to stall. That shuts off the power steering, making cars harder to control, and disables air bags in crashes. GM says the problem has caused at least 13 deaths, but some members of Congress put the death toll near 100.

With political leaders deadlocked, Iraqi parliament squabbles over date of next session

BAGHDAD (AP) -- With political leaders deadlocked, Iraq’s parliament squabbled Monday over when to hold its next session, potentially delaying the formation of a new government for weeks despite the threat from extremists who have seized control of a large chunk of the country and declared the establishment of an Islamic state.

The acting speaker of parliament initially announced that the legislature would not meet again until mid-August because there was no agreement among factions over the top leadership posts -- particularly the prime minister, with incumbent Nouri al-Maliki facing a campaign to replace him.

But after an uproar over the long delay, speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh announced Monday night that there was a preliminary agreement among lawmakers to meet Sunday, July 13. But even that appeared uncertain, since al-Hafidh added that an official announcement of the date would not come until Tuesday.

With politicians struggling to even agree on when to meet, it was hard to see how they could quickly forge a compromise on the much thornier issue of a new government. The impasse, coupled with the military’s sluggish counteroffensive, underlined just how difficult a task Iraqis face as they try to keep their country from fracturing along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The military suffered a new setback in its battle with the extremist advance Monday when the top commander of the armed forces battling militants in the west was killed by a mortar strike.

Judge approves NFL concussion settlement involving thousands of former players

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday granted preliminary approval to a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia came about two weeks after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on damages. Brody had previously questioned whether that would be enough money to pay all claims.

"A class action settlement that offers prompt relief is superior to the likely alternative -- years of expensive, difficult, and uncertain litigation, with no assurance of recovery, while retired players’ physical and mental conditions continue to deteriorate," Brody wrote.

More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.

The settlement is designed to last at least 65 years and cover retirees who develop Lou Gehrig’s disease and other neurological problems.

Immigration surge sends poor families into land bristling with cameras, guns and guard towers

MISSION, Texas (AP) -- The influx of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has grown so large that it now requires its own transportation system: government buses that spend each night idling on a Texas roadside, awaiting the latest arrivals.

The buses, joined by a fleet of Border Patrol vans, illustrate the immense and grindingly routine task facing Border Patrol agents in the 5-mile slice of deep South Texas that has become the epicenter of the recent surge in illegal immigration.

An Associated Press reporter recently spent several days in this arid terrain, revealing a daily tide of migration that sends impoverished families into a harsh landscape bristling with cameras, lookout towers and heavily armed patrols. Against that backdrop, human smugglers and drug cartels match wits with overwhelmed American authorities.

Deputy Rudy Trevino was patrolling a park along the border when he spied movement in the darkness. Swinging his spotlight toward the motion revealed 14 women and children who had just sneaked across the Rio Grande in a small boat.

The youngest, a 14-month-old boy from Guatemala, lay quietly in a baby carrier hung from his mother’s chest. The oldest, a 38-year-old woman from El Salvador, cried with her head in her hands, her 7-year-old daughter leaning against her.