Friday January 25, 2013

Palestinian president wants to meet Israeli centrists newly elected to parliament

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- The Palestinian president wants to meet with newly elected Israeli parliament members to lay out his views on peace, hoping a political surge of centrists will provide an opening to resume long-stalled negotiations on a Palestinian state, a senior aide said Thursday.

President Mahmoud Abbas’ main target appears to be Yair Lapid, leader of the moderate Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, who is expected to be influential in setting the priorities of the next government.

Lapid has said he wants Israel to make a serious push for peace, though it is unclear how far he will press the issue in coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent public appearances, he has barely breached the issue, focusing instead on domestic economic concerns.

In elections this week, Lapid’s party emerged as the second largest with 19 of 120 seats in parliament, after Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc that won 31 seats. Netanyahu will keep his job, but will have to bring other parties into his government to win a parliamentary majority, and Lapid’s faction is seen as key to any stable coalition.

Netanyahu and Lapid met Thursday, two days after the election, though formal coalition negotiations will only start next week, and could take up to six weeks.

Obama’s choice for secretary of state, Kerry spells out foreign policy for friendly panel

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen.


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John Kerry, President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, collected pledges of support Thursday and testified at his confirmation hearing that U.S. foreign policy should be defined by a helping hand as well as military strength.

The Massachusetts Democrat discussed Iran, Syria, climate change and a variety of issues with members of the Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing that recalled an unusual American life -- son of a diplomat, enlisted Navy man in Vietnam, anti-war protester, five-term senator and Obama’s unofficial envoy.

The nearly four-hour hearing also provided an odd juxtaposition as Kerry, a member of the panel for 28 years and its chairman for the last four, sat alone in the witness chair. At one point, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman who presided, mistakenly referred to Kerry as "Mr. Secretary."

The current secretary, Hillary Rodham Clinton, introduced Kerry, calling him "the right choice." She is stepping down after four years.

The committee is expected to approve Kerry’s nomination early next week, and a full Senate vote could occur before the month is out.

UK, Germans, Dutch warn of threat to Westerners in Libya; urge nationals to leave

LONDON (AP) -- Britain, Germany and the Netherlands urged their citizens to immediately leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday in response to what they called an imminent threat against Westerners.

European officials told The Associated Press that schools were among the potential targets.

The warnings came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified to Congress about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The warnings also came as French troops battled al-Qaida-linked militants in the West African nation of Mali, and followed the deaths of dozens of foreigners taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Algeria.

It remained, however, unclear if those two events were linked to the latest concerns about Libya.

The foreign ministries of the three European countries issued statements describing the threat as specific and imminent but none would elaborate.

Smoking penalty: Individual health care coverage could become unaffordable for many

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation.

The Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" to its detractors -- allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1.

For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year. A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums.

Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed last fall by the Obama administration. But older smokers could face a heavy hit on their household budgets at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge.

Workers covered on the job would be able to avoid tobacco penalties by joining smoking cessation programs, because employer plans operate under different rules. But experts say that option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually.

American who played key role in 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, sentenced to 35 years

CHICAGO (AP) -- An American drug dealer who had faced life in prison was sentenced instead to 35 years Thursday for helping plan the deadly 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India -- a punishment prosecutors said reflected his broad cooperation with U.S. investigators but that a victim’s family member called "an appalling dishonor."

It was David Coleman Headley’s meticulous scouting missions that facilitated the assault by 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group on multiple targets in Mumbai, including the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel. TV cameras captured much of the three-day rampage often called India’s 9/11. More than 160 people, including children, were killed.

Glimpses of the horror came through the teary testimony of one of the victims who described the gory scene as she huddled under a restaurant table with her friends as gunmen sprayed the room with bullets, then walked around executing men, women and children one by one. Her own clothes soaked with blood.

"I know what a bullet can do to every part of the human body," said Linda Ragsdale, a Tennessee children’s author, who was shot. "I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience."

Headley faced life in prison, and at 52 years old, even a 35-year term could mean he’ll never walk free. But federal prosecutors had asked for a more lenient 30 to 35 years, citing his extraordinary cooperation including as the government’s star witness at the 2011 trial of a Chicago businessman convicted in a failed attack on a Danish newspaper.

Obama nominates Mary Jo White to be next chair of Securities and Exchange panel

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney who built a reputation prosecuting white-collar criminals, terrorists and mobsters, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency has a lead role in implementing changes on Wall Street.

Obama also named Richard Cordray to stay on as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The president used a recess appointment last year to bypass congressional opposition and install the former Ohio attorney general as head of the bureau. That appointment expires at the end of this year.

White spent nearly a decade as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, handling an array of white-collar crimes and complex securities and financial fraud cases. She brought down mobster John Gotti and won convictions in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Obama said that experience makes White well-suited to implement legislation he championed to change the behavior on Wall Street.

"I’d say that’s a pretty good run. You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo," Obama said at the White House. "As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo does not intimidate easily, and that’s important because she has a big job ahead of her."

Mali’s Ansar Dine rebel group splits amid blistering French air strikes, growing African force

SAN, Mali (AP) -- Mali’s rebel movement showed new signs of discord on Thursday in the wake of punishing French air strikes, with one wing of the Ansar Dine group now pledging to negotiate an end to the country’s crisis and possibly even fight against its former comrades-in-arms.

France’s air and land campaign that began two weeks ago to save Mali’s embattled interim government has shaken up the military landscape and put the international spotlight on the former French colony. Mali’s government was on a new political defensive, urging its soldiers to respect human rights after new allegations that they had carried out summary executions in zones of battle against the radical Islamists.

Three al-Qaida-linked extremist groups have controlled Mali’s vast northeast for months, capitalizing on chaos that followed a coup d’etat in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in March. But in a new sign of splintering, former Ansar Dine leader Alghabass Ag Intalla told the Associated Press on Thursday that he and his men were breaking off from Ansar Dine "so that we can be in control of our own fate."

"We are neither AQIM or MUJAO," he said of the other groups, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, known by its French-language acronym. "We are a group of people from the north of Mali who have a set of grievances that date back at least 50 years."

The comments suggested that at least some of Islamist fighters are searching for an exit in the wake of the French airstrikes. French radio RFI reported earlier Thursday that Intalla’s new group will be called the Islamic Movement for the Azawad, a Tuareg term for northern Mali, and his men are willing to fight their former comrades-in-arms in Ansar Dine.