Missouri State Highway Patrol will take over supervision of security in Ferguson

FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri State Highway Patrol will take over supervising security in the St. Louis suburb that’s been the scene of violent protests since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, the governor announced Thursday.

Gov. Jay Nixon made the announcement that security will be overseen by Capt. Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol after the local police response drew heavy criticism. Nixon said the change is intended to make sure "that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately."

Johnson, who is black, said he grew up in the community and "it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence."

"Ferguson will not be defined as a community that was torn apart by violence but will be known as a community that pulled together to overcome it," Nixon said at a news conference.

Crowds have gathered to protest since Saturday’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. On Sunday night, some residents were seen looting stores, damaging buildings and vandalizing property. Since then, officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, "Hands up, don’t shoot," a reference to witness accounts that Brown had his hands raised when he was shot.


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Iraq’s al-Maliki steps aside as PM, supports al-Abadi, ending political deadlock

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister for the past eight years, relinquished the post to his nominated replacement late Thursday, ending a political deadlock that has plunged the country into uncertainty as it fights a Sunni militant insurgency.

Standing alongside fellow Dawa Party member, Haider-al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he was stepping aside in favor of his "brother," in order to "facilitate the political process and government formation."

Al-Maliki said the decision to back al-Abadi reflected his desire to "safeguard the high interests of the country," adding that he would not be the cause of any bloodshed. "My post is your confidence in me," he declared in a televised address.

Al-Maliki has been struggling for weeks to stay on for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.

The pressure intensified this week when his Shiite political alliance backed al-Abadi to replace him, and President Fouad Massoum nominated al-Abadi to form the next government. Al-Maliki for days has refused to step aside, threatening legal action against the president for what he said was a violation of the constitution.

Displaced Iraqis trade war for hardship in a Shiite holy city far from home

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) -- Abbas Mohammed Habib was born into Iraq’s rapidly expanding world of the displaced.

His mother Laila Ali was among tens of thousands of Shiite Turkmens driven from their homes when Islamic extremists captured the northern town of Tal Afar. Nine months pregnant, she fled with her husband and four young children, eventually squeezing into a bus for a 16-hour trip across the desert. They went an entire day without food or water.

As the extremist Islamic State group plowed across northern Iraq, centuries-old communities of religious minorities -- some viewed as apostates by the Sunni militants -- fled for their lives. Christians and Yazidis headed to the north, where many found refuge in the largely autonomous Kurdish region.

But the Turkmens, an ethnic group with historic ties to neighboring Turkey, said they were turned away by the Kurds, who fear that such an influx would dilute their majority and undermine their ambition of one day having an independent state. So some 50,000 Shiite Turkmens instead headed south to the holy city of Najaf, believing like so many other Iraqis that they would only be safe among those who share their faith.

In Najaf they have security, for now, but little else.

Palestinians voice cautious optimism in Gaza talks as truce with Israel holds

CAIRO (AP) -- Palestinian officials voiced cautious optimism Thursday, hinting at progress in Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Israel to bring an end to the fighting in Gaza and secure new arrangements for the war-battered territory.

But with the sides’ demands still seemingly irreconcilable, that optimism may be premature and a deal not so close in the making.

Israel and Hamas are observing a five-day cease-fire which began at midnight Wednesday, in an attempt to allow talks between the sides in Cairo to continue. The negotiations are meant to secure a substantive end to the monthlong war and draw up a roadmap for the coastal territory, which has been hard-hit in the fighting.

Israeli officials have largely kept quiet about the negotiations. But militant groups represented in Cairo said progress was being made toward a deal -- a stark turnaround from earlier posturing.

"The war is now behind us, and the chances for an agreement on a lasting cease-fire are encouraging," Ziad al-Nakhaleh, deputy leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, told The Associated Press. "Though we didn’t get all that we wanted, there was progress here and there."

In Hamas-ruled Gaza, suffering and loss from latest war breed dissent

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The group of neighbors surveyed the destruction wreaked on their residential complex by Israeli bombardment, with building after building flattened or punctured by shells. The men then began to voice something almost never heard out loud in Gaza: criticism of its Hamas rulers.

Exhausted by a month of pounding by Israel’s military -- on top of seven years of stifling closure of the tiny Mediterranean coastal strip -- they questioned Hamas’ handling of the crisis and the wisdom of repeatedly going to war with Israel.

"We do not want to be bombarded every two or three years. We want to lead a good life: Sleep well, drink well and eat well," said Ziad Rizk, a 37-year-old father of two, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He stared at the damaged apartment building where he lived. His sofa and a blue baby carriage were perched precariously on a tilting concrete slab that was his floor.

It is impossible to say how widespread such discontent is among Gaza’s 1.8 million residents. Under Hamas rule, it’s rare and dangerous to share even as much as a hint of criticism of the government with outsiders.

Still, the men’s boldness in voicing their opinions could be a telling sign that some Gazans see Hamas as weakened. It points to how desperate many Gazans have become after the most ruinous of three bouts of major Hamas-Israel violence since the militant group overran the territory in 2007. More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians, nearly 10,000 wounded and some 250,000 displaced since fighting started July 8.

Robin Williams: wife: He had Parkinson’s disease, was sober at time of death

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease at the time of his death, his wife said Thursday.

In a statement, Susan Schneider said that Williams, 63, was struggling with depression, anxiety and the Parkinson’s diagnosis when he died Monday in his Northern California home. Authorities said he committed suicide.

"Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly," Schneider said.

Schneider did not offer details on when the actor comedian had been diagnosed or his symptoms.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Department, which said Williams hanged himself, is conducting toxicology tests and interviews before issuing a final ruling.

Humanitarian dispute: Ukraine says it can block Russian aid convoy

KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russia (AP) -- Raising the stakes in Ukraine’s conflict, a Russian aid convoy of more than 200 trucks pushed up to the border on Thursday but then stopped, provocatively poised to cross into rebel-held territory.

The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops.

The United States has warned Russia that it needs to secure Ukraine’s permission for the convoy to enter.

"We’ve made that very clear to the Russians that they should not move these trucks in, without taking all of the steps the Ukrainian government has outlined," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.

Amid the tensions surrounding the convoy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called Russian and Ukrainian leaders to arrange three-way consultations on ways to de-escalate the crisis. Barroso’s office said that details will be worked out through diplomatic channels.