World in Brief
Reassuring Europeans, Obama pledges U.S. military boost in the face
of worries about Russia
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to boost U.S. military deployments and exercises throughout Europe, an effort costing as much as $1 billion to demonstrate American solidarity with a continent rattled by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
But even as Obama warned that Moscow could face further punishments, leaders of Britain, France and Germany were lining up to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at week’s end.
Those one-on-one meetings would appear to send a mixed message about the West’s approach to relations with Russia, given that the same leaders are also boycotting a summit Putin had been scheduled to host this week.
Obama does not plan to hold a formal meeting with Putin while both attend events Friday marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that hastened the end of World War II, though the two leaders are likely to have some interaction. The U.S. president suggested there was no contradiction between efforts to isolate Russia and engaging directly with Putin.
"The fact of the matter is that Russia is a significant country with incredibly gifted people, resources, an enormous land mass, and they rightfully play an important role on the world stage and in the region," Obama said during a news conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. He added that it could be possible for Putin to "rebuild some of the trust that’s been shattered during this past year" but said that would take time.
Friends, family describe freed U.S. soldier Bergdahl as tough-minded,
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl always seemed to be searching for something to define his life.
Growing up in the mountain town of Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl was as likely to be found inside, poring over a book at a local library, as he was to be spotted outside, riding his bicycle through the hills that border the small town.
Home-schooled, Bergdahl performed in a ballet. He joined a fencing club, dabbled in foreign languages, including working his way through tomes written in Russian, and he even crewed on a sailboat trip from South Carolina to California.
It may have been that curiosity, combined with his tendency to gravitate toward disciplines like martial arts, that led him to join the military in June 2008, recalled his former ballet teacher, Sherry Horton.
"I think Bowe would have liked the rigor -- that’s what he liked about ballet," she said. "And it was something that he really believed in, serving the country, and making sure that he was there for the side of good."
Strong support for Assad as Syrians vote during civil war in election derided as a sham
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Against a backdrop of civil war, tens of thousands of Syrians voted in government-controlled cities and towns Tuesday to give President Bashar Assad a new seven-year mandate, with some even marking the ballots with their own blood.
The carefully choreographed election was ignored and even mocked in opposition-held areas of Syria where fighting persisted, with some rebels derisively dropping their shoes in a phony ballot box in a show of disgust. Western leaders also have called it a sham.
A victory for Assad is likely to bolster his base of support at home and provide further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power, making a protracted conflict the likely outcome in fighting that has already lasted three years.
Fears that the rebels would rain down mortar shells on government-controlled territory did not materialize, but fighting persisted.
In Damascus, the dull sounds of explosions reverberated in the distance as government forces and rebels battled in nearby rural towns and plumes of gray smoke marked the skyline. Several mortar rounds reportedly hit in the capital, including one that fell near the Opera House on a major plaza.
As he woos leaders abroad, Ukraine’s president faces tough realities at home
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s president-elect will likely have little trouble wooing Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, when he travels to Poland and France this week -- many have already hailed the rise of the pragmatic, Western-leaning leader.
For Petro Poroshenko, who takes office on Saturday, the real task will be grappling with a pro-Russia uprising sweeping Ukraine’s east, and a political system dominated by grudging political allies and holdovers from the previous corrupt administration.
That will mean proving to Ukrainians that his government is not a throwback to the corruption and political infighting that have long plagued Ukraine.
"For so long, corruption has been a cost-free, risk-free exercise in Ukraine," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is now an analyst at the Brookings Institution.
"While countries can tear themselves up by getting too bogged down in the past and in prosecutions, Poroshenko will have to deal with a lot of public suspicion, because so many of these players have been around for the last 10 years."
Strife imitates art: ‘Hunger Games’ salute flashed in protest in Thailand;
BANGKOK (AP) -- The three-finger salute from the Hollywood movie "The Hunger Games" is being used as a real symbol of resistance in Thailand. Protesters against the military coup are flashing the gesture as a silent act of rebellion, and they’re being threatened with arrest if they ignore warnings to stop.
Thailand’s military rulers said Tuesday they were monitoring the new form of opposition to the coup. Reporters witnessed the phenomenon and individuals were captured on film making the raised-arm salute.
"Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights," said anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngam-anong on his Facebook page. He called on people to raise "3 fingers, 3 times a day" -- at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. -- in safe public places where no police or military are present.
The gesture emerged over the weekend as protesters joined small flash mobs, or stood alone, flashing three fingers in the air.
"We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities," Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the junta, told The Associated Press.
Ex-army chief, declared president-elect, tells Egyptians: ‘Time to work’
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s president-elect, the former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, told Egyptians it is now "time to work" to rebuild the economy after he was officially declared the landslide winner of last week’s election, restoring a career military man to the country’s top office.
Thousands celebrated in public squares around the country with cheers, fireworks and pro-military songs after the Election Commission officially announced el-Sissi’s victory with nearly 97 percent of the vote in an election that it said saw a turnout of just over 47 percent.
El-Sissi brings Egypt into a new phase in its tumultuous drama since the 2011 pro-democracy uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak after 29 years in power. The following year, Islamist Mohammed Morsi became the country’s first democratically elected president, only to face massive protests by millions against him and his Muslim Brotherhood.
El-Sissi, then the army chief, ousted Morsi last summer and led a heavy crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Islamists that killed hundreds and jailed thousands more. The now retired field marshal was elevated to heroic status among his supporters, who hailed his removal of Islamists and saw him as the hope for restoring stability after three years of turmoil.
El-Sissi now restores a chain of five Egyptian presidents of military background since the 1952 coup against the monarchy -- with Morsi the sole exception, not counting two interim presidents.
Obama plan to curb U.S. emissions seen as unambitious but positive for global climate talks
BRUSSELS (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s move to limit U.S. carbon emissions may prompt an important shift by China in its climate policies, where officials are increasingly worried about the costs of pollution anyway, according to a Chinese expert and activists closely following the international negotiations.
The initiative may be a crucial move in pressuring Beijing to accept binding goals to cut greenhouse gases, while also allowing the U.S. to start catching up with the European Union in the fight against climate change.
"This is the kind of leadership that’s highly needed," said Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace. The proposal should have been twice as ambitious, he added, but "it demonstrates that the Obama administration wants to seriously tackle climate change."
The plan, unveiled Monday, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants, many of which are coal-fired, by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Governments want an agreement by late next year in Paris to curb emissions of greenhouse gasses blamed for global warming. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which exempted developing nations from emissions limits, this deal is supposed to cover every country.
Attorney: 12-year-old Wisconsin girl charged
in stabbing plot against
friend is mentally ill
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A defense attorney for a 12-year-old girl accused of stabbing her friend says Wisconsin’s tough laws automatically charging children as adults in some cases could mean his client won’t get help she needs.
The girl and another 12-year-old face attempted homicide charges as adults in connection with the attack Saturday. Prosecutors say they conspired for months to kill their friend to please a fictional character named Slenderman that they read about online.
In Wisconsin, anyone 10 or older charged with homicide is automatically considered an adult. Four states have the next youngest threshold for children to be automatically considered adults in homicides, at 13.
The girl’s attorney says she should be in juvenile court, which offers more social services and mental health treatment than the adult system.
FBI: Suspect in San Francisco explosives case had ball bearings, screws, bomb components
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A search of a social media expert’s apartment in San Francisco turned up ball bearings, screws and components needed to make a homemade bomb designed to kill or maim, the FBI said in an affidavit unsealed Tuesday.
Investigators said they found the materials inside a bag at the apartment of Ryan Kelly Chamberlain during a search over the weekend. The discovery prompted a manhunt for the 42-year-old Chamberlain that ended with his arrest Monday in San Francisco.
The bag also contained a circuit board, screw top glass jar with batteries, a wire and a powdery green substance believed to be explosive material, FBI Special Agent Michael Eldridge said in the document.
"FBI bomb technicians believe that the circuit board described above was designed to serve as a remote control, allowing detonation of the device from afar," Eldridge said. "They further believe that the device was designed to maim or kill a human being or human beings."
The FBI has not said what, if any, specific plans Chamberlain might have had for the device, or how they were alerted to the material.
Mississippi faceoff: Senate 6-termer Cochran tries to hold off tea party primary challenge
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Six-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel collided in Mississippi on Tuesday in a ferocious battle between insurgents and the establishment in a party divided along ideological lines. On the busiest night of the primary season, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California also sought nomination to a fourth term.
Primary elections spread from Alabama to New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and Mississippi -- and to Iowa, where Republican state Sen. Jodi Ernst battled four rivals for the right to oppose Rep. Bruce Braley in the fall for a Senate seat long in Democratic hands.
In addition to California, there were gubernatorial primaries in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico, and South Dakota, all states where Republicans sought new terms and Democrats were picking candidates to challenge them.
Dozens of nomination races for House seats dotted the ballot, too, including 38 in California’s open primary system, which awarded spots on the November ballot to the two top vote-getters regardless of party.
The Senate contest between Cochran and McDaniel in Mississippi drew top billing, a heated race between a 76-year-old pillar of the establishment who has helped funnel millions of dollars to his state and a younger state lawmaker who drew backing from tea party groups and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The campaign took a turn toward the sensational when four men, all McDaniel supporters, were arrested and charged with surreptitiously taking photographs of the senator’s 76-year-old wife, who suffers from dementia and has long lived in a nursing home.
U.S. to revive panel on domestic terror threats
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department is reviving a task force dedicated to preventing acts of domestic terrorism.
Officials say the reconstituted panel will include national security lawyers from the Justice Department and representatives from the FBI, among other agencies.
Participants in the group will share information in hopes of disrupting violence motivated by extremist ideologies, like the April shooting outside a Jewish Community Center in Kansas.
Attorney General Eric Holder is announcing the creation of the panel Tuesday.
The task force was first formed nearly 20 years ago under then-Attorney General Janet Reno after the Oklahoma City bombing, and had been scheduled to meet the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But it never did, and the group was disbanded as attention turned to international terrorism.
U.S. home price gains slow in April amid tepid sales
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose in April compared with a year earlier, but the increase was the smallest annual gain in 14 months. Price gains have slowed this year as sales have faltered.
Data provider CoreLogic says prices rose 10.5 percent in April from 12 months earlier. That is a healthy gain, but it’s down from March’s 11.1 percent increase and February’s 12.2 percent gain.
On a month-to-month basis, April prices rose 2.1 percent. But CoreLogic’s monthly figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal patterns, such as warmer spring weather.
Higher mortgage rates, tight credit and a limited supply of available homes have slowed the housing recovery. Sales of existing homes ticked up in April after falling to a 20-month low in March. They were still 6.8 percent lower than a year ago.
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