U.S. officials: No direct link to Russian government in downing of Malaysia plane in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

The officials briefed reporters Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used in discussing intelligence related to last week’s air disaster, which killed 298 people.

The plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the intelligence officials said, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch. They were not certain that the missile crew was trained in Russia, although they described a stepped-up campaign in recent weeks by Russia to arm and train the rebels, which they say has continued even after the downing of the commercial jetliner.


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Plane crash bodies finally removed from war zone; Europe imposes more sanctions on Russia

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) -- A train bearing the dead from the downed Malaysian airliner finally reached Ukrainian government-held territory Tuesday, but the pro-Russian separatists in control of the crash site showed little willingness to allow the full-scale investigation demanded by world leaders.

Five days after the plane was blown out of the sky, refrigerated railcars bearing victims’ bodies -- gathered up after several days in the sun -- rolled out of the war zone and into a weedy railyard in the city of Kharkiv.

The dead will be flown to the Netherlands, the homeland of most of the victims, for identification.

The Dutch government declared Wednesday a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon.

It was unclear how many of the 282 corpses reported found so far were on the train. The crash killed all 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Lax security, slipshod collection spark fear of evidence contamination at Ukraine crash site

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) -- When international monitors and Malaysian aviation experts arrived Tuesday at the two main sites where the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 smashed into the undulating countryside of eastern Ukraine, there was almost no perimeter tape.

The only security consisted of two armed men who did not stop reporters from walking across the fields to the twisted metal.

Amid the stench of decay and buzzing flies, one piece of the Boeing 777’s fuselage that had previously been lying on the ground was propped up against a post.

The lack of security and images of separatist rebels rifling through the wreckage in the days after last Thursday’s crash killed all 298 people aboard are an investigator’s worst nightmare and have stirred fears that vital evidence was contaminated or may have disappeared altogether, hampering efforts to piece together exactly what happened to the doomed flight.

"We are keeping a very close eye on that," said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "Looking at the fuselage now compared to what it was on Day One. And we have noted some differences."

New challenge to Obama health law: Split rulings by appeals courts but subsidies keep flowing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s health care law is snarled in another big legal battle, with two federal appeals courts issuing contradictory rulings on a key financing issue within hours of each other Tuesday.

But the split rulings don’t necessarily mean another trip to the Supreme Court for the Affordable Care Act.

And White House spokesman Josh Earnest immediately announced that millions of consumers will keep getting financial aid for their premiums -- billions of dollars in all -- as the administration appeals the one adverse decision.

In that first ruling, a divided three-judge panel in Washington called into question the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their premiums, saying financial aid can be provided only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges.

About 100 miles to the south in Richmond, Virginia, another appeals court panel unanimously came to the opposite conclusion, ruling that the Internal Revenue Service correctly interpreted the will of Congress when it issued regulations allowing health insurance tax credits for consumers in all 50 states.

In battle against crime, Chicago tries counterintuitive idea: wiping away some arrest records

CHICAGO (AP) -- Desperate to curb the gun violence wracking their city, Chicago lawmakers are leading the way toward a counterintuitive idea -- fighting crime by making it easier for young people to wipe away minor arrest records.

The goal is to give tens of thousands of teens a better chance to find work or get into college, rather than letting a minor episode with police possibly doom them to a life on the gang-dominated streets of some of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.

A law recently passed by the state Legislature made Illinois one of the few states to automatically expunge the criminal records of juveniles who were arrested but never charged.

Mariama Bangura, 17, was arrested last year after she was accused of threatening a teacher. Though she was never charged, she worries that the incident could sink her adult ambitions.

"I want to be a nurse or massage therapist, and what if the whole thing keeps coming up?" she asked. "I want a career."

Squatters in notorious Venezuelan vertical slum evicted, military will take control of tower

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The first of thousands of squatters who transformed a half-built skyscraper into a vertical slum were moved out by armed soldiers Tuesday, marking the beginning of the end for the Tower of David’s haphazard community.

Police in riot gear and soldiers with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood on side streets as dozens of residents boarded buses for their new government-provided apartments in Cua, a town about 23 miles (37 kilometers) south of Caracas.

Ernesto Villegas, the government minister overseeing Caracas’ redevelopment, told reporters that the eviction was necessary because the 45-story building in the heart of the capital is unsafe.

He said children have fallen to their deaths from the tower, which in some places is missing walls or windows. The damp, foul-smelling concrete lobby attested to the lack of working plumbing.

Villegas said the tower, initially a symbol of failed capitalism, had gone on to represent community. The squatters’ invasion was part of a larger appropriation of vacant buildings encouraged by the late former President Hugo Chavez.

Turkish PM says he, Obama no longer talk directly

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he no longer holds "direct" telephone conversations with U.S. President Barack Obama, suggesting a rift between the leaders who were once close.

In an interview with Turkey’s ATV television late Monday, Erdogan said that "in the past, I used to call him directly. Because I was not able to get direct results on Syria, now our foreign ministers talk to each other."

Erdogan did not elaborate. But the Turkish leader is known to have been frustrated by U.S. reluctance for a military involvement in Syria to end the violence there.

Erdogan told ATV he speaks with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss Iraq.

In the past, Obama cast Turkey as a model democracy and the two would frequently talk by telephone.

Seeking the limelight, Biden courts key Dem groups

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Caught in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s perpetual shadow, Vice President Joe Biden is working to boost his political profile among key Democratic voting blocs.

It’s a move that could help Biden fashion himself as a more liberal alternative in the 2016 presidential race.

Major speeches this week to the NAACP and the Urban League will give Biden prime opportunities to court African-American voters. He’ll do his part to help Democrats in the battleground state of Nevada when he campaigns Wednesday for House candidate Erin Bilbray. And last week, Biden wooed liberal activists at a pair of grassroots summits, where some chanted "We love Joe" as he left the stage.

Like Clinton, Biden hasn’t said whether he will run for president in 2016, but he says he plans to consider it.

Senate panel advances global disabilities pact

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Senate panel has advanced a treaty promoting equal rights for disabled around the world. but full ratification still appears a major doubt.

Tuesday’s vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was 12-6.

Among Republicans, treaty backers John McCain and John Barrasso joined Democrats in voting yes. Among GOP senators who’ve previously stated their opposition, none switched sides.

Republican objections concern U.S. sovereignty, abortion and homeschooled children. The Obama administration says the accord changes nothing in U.S. law.

The treaty extends many provisions in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Advocates say it benefits American veterans and others working, studying or traveling abroad.

The treaty fell five votes short of ratification by the full Senate in December 2012. The administration and Senate Democrats are making another push for its passage.

US job-training review emphasizes data, employers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the U.S. economy adds new jobs, Americans must have the skills to fill those jobs, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

Obama spoke at a signing ceremony for bipartisan job-training legislation aimed at improving business engagement and accountability in federally funded programs. Obama said it will give states and cities more flexibility in managing their job-training programs.

The White House used the occasion to release a six-month review of federal job-training programs. The review concludes that the government needs to better engage U.S. employers, improve the use of data, and boost apprenticeship programs so workers can earn while they train.

The report also said the government is working to tailor training and grants to better match jobs that are in demand. And it stressed the need for regional partnerships and for programs that provide stepping stones for a seamless transition from one level of education to the next.

The report was overseen by Vice President Joe Biden.