Wednesday April 3, 2013

North Korea vows to restart nuke facilities in latest escalation on
already tense peninsula

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Tuesday it will restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material, in what outsiders see as its latest attempt to extract U.S. concessions by raising fears of war.

A spokesman for the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will quickly begin "readjusting and restarting" the facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex, including the plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant. Both could produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The reactor began operations in 1986 but was shut down as part of international nuclear disarmament talks in 2007 that have since stalled. North Korea said work to restart the facilities would begin "without delay." Experts estimate it could take anywhere from three months to a year to reactivate the reactor.

The nuclear vows and a rising tide of threats in recent weeks are seen as efforts by the North to force disarmament-for-aid talks with Washington and to increase domestic loyalty to young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by portraying him as a powerful military commander.

Tuesday’s announcement underscores concerns about North Korea’s timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, although it is still believed to be years away from developing that technology.


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Buyer beware: New health insurance subsidies could result in surprise federal tax bills later

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Millions of people who take advantage of government subsidies to help buy health insurance next year could get stung by surprise tax bills if they don’t accurately project their income.

President Barack Obama’s new health care law will offer subsidies to help people buy private health insurance on state-based exchanges, if they don’t already get coverage through their employers. The subsidies are based on income. The lower your income, the bigger the subsidy.

But the government doesn’t know how much money you’re going to make next year. And when you apply for the subsidy, this fall, it won’t even know how much you’re making this year. So, unless you tell the government otherwise, it will rely on the best information it has: your 2012 tax return, filed this spring.

What happens if you or your spouse gets a raise and your family income goes up in 2014? You could end up with a bigger subsidy than you are entitled to. If that happens, the law says you have to pay back at least part of the money when you file your tax return in the spring of 2015.

That could result in smaller tax refunds or surprise tax bills for millions of middle-income families.

Sentencing transcript shows judge wanted long sentence for Colo. prison chief slaying suspect

DENVER (AP) -- Court transcripts show that the man suspected of killing Colorado’s corrections chief knew he was being sentenced to four more years in prison for punching a guard in the face.

But a paperwork and communication mistake in court led to Evan Spencer Ebel’s release in January.

The transcripts show Ebel told the judge he’d be 33 when he was released, and asked for a more lenient sentence. The judge told him at the 2008 hearing that four years on top of an already under way eight-year sentence was fair.

The judge, however, didn’t use the word consecutive, and the court clerk didn’t write it down. So prison officials let Ebel serve the term at the same time as his previous sentence. Ebel died in a shootout with Texas deputies.

GOP Sen. Kirk announces support for gay marriage, says ‘government has no place in the middle’

CHICAGO (AP) -- GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois said Tuesday he supports gay marriage, becoming the second sitting Republican senator to make such an announcement in recent weeks.

Kirk, who has opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, said in a post on his blog that "same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage."

"Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most," said Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January 2012. "Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back -- government has no place in the middle."

Kirk went through months of rehabilitation before returning to work in Washington this January. He said in his blog post that when he went back to the Senate he promised himself he would return "with an open mind and greater respect for others."

Kirk is Illinois’ ranking Republican lawmaker. His announcement brings to 50 the number of U.S. senators -- the vast majority of them Democrats -- who are on record in support of gay marriage, according to Freedom to Marry, a group that supports gay marriage.

Serbia, Kosovo talks
fail to reach accord

BRUSSELS (AP) -- EU-mediated talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have broken up without a deal, the Serbian prime minister says.

The talks, which took place in Brussels, were an attempt to resolve one of the most difficult issues dividing the two sides -- the status of Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, an EU official said. The talks broke up early Wednesday.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province, declared independence in 2008. While many countries have recognized it as an independent country, Serbia has not.

Neither have many ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo, who reject the authority of the government in Pristina, the Kosovo capital.

Serbia is required to normalize relations with its neighbors if it wants ultimately to join the European Union.

Pope prays at tomb of Pope John Paul II on anniversary of death; Vatican stresses continuity

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis prayed Tuesday before the tomb of Pope John Paul II on the eighth anniversary of the beloved pontiff’s death in what the Vatican said was evidence of Francis’ "profound spiritual continuity" with popes past.

In his three weeks as pope, Francis has jolted the Catholic Church with several gestures that broke with papal tradition, including renouncing certain liturgical vestments, choosing to live in the Vatican hotel rather than the papal apartments, and washing the feet of a Muslim woman during a Holy Thursday ritual re-enacting Jesus Christ’s washing of his apostles’ feet.

But Francis has also visited with his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, and spoken on the phone with him at least three times. And on Monday, he visited the tomb of St. Peter, the first pontiff, which is located in the necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Tuesday, he waited until the basilica was closed to the general public to visit the tomb of John Paul II, the Polish pope who died in 2005. The tomb is located in the St. Sebastian chapel, just inside the entrance of the basilica. He also prayed before the tombs of Popes Pius X and John XXIII.

"As with the visit yesterday to the tomb of St. Peter and the Vatican grottoes, this evening’s visit to the basilica expresses the profound spiritual continuity of the popes’ petrine ministry, which Pope Francis lives and feels intensely, as he has shown repeatedly with his phone calls to his predecessor Benedict XVI," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement.

Man whose conviction in deadly Ariz. fire was questioned enters plea, clears way to freedom

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A man who has spent more than 40 years in prison for a 1970 hotel fire that killed 29 people agreed to a deal with prosecutors Tuesday that cleared the way for him to be released after his conviction was called into question.

The plea deal marks a stunning reversal for Louis Taylor, who was 16 years old when he was arrested in the fire at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson, where employees of an aircraft company were celebrating at a Christmas party. He is expected to be set free later Tuesday or Wednesday once his paperwork is processed.

Taylor, 59, showed no visible reaction as he accepted the deal and said "no contest" 28 different times -- for each murder count leveled against him. When it was all finished, Superior Court Judge Richard Fields said, "Welcome back, Mr. Taylor."

Taylor was sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences and repeatedly has maintained his innocence. Taylor, who is black, contends he was wrongly convicted by an all-white jury after he says police failed to investigate other suspects. Reports at the time indicate Taylor was helping people escape the blaze before being arrested later that night.

Prosecutors still believe that Taylor is guilty, but said they would not be able to pursue a new trial due to a lack of evidence and living witnesses.

German pastor accused of inciting violence at anti-Nazi protest warns trial may deter activism

BERLIN (AP) -- A German pastor due to stand trial for allegedly inciting violence at an anti-Nazi demonstration said Tuesday that authorities risk deterring people from standing up to right-wing extremists if he is convicted.

Prosecutors accuse Lothar Koenig of serious breach of the peace, attempted obstruction of justice and attempted coercion at a protest in the eastern city of Dresden two years ago.

Koenig, 59, allegedly used a van equipped with a loudspeaker to urge protesters to attack officers and later tried to drive a police vehicle off the road, Dresden prosecutor Lorenz Haase told The Associated Press.

Koenig, who faces several years in prison, denies the charges, saying he was part of a group trying peacefully to block thousands of neo-Nazis from commemorating German victims of Allied bombings in World War II.

"I’ve been working against violence for 22 years," he said in a telephone interview before the trial, which starts Thursday. "If I’m convicted then the message will be, don’t get involved, stay at home."

Daredevil ‘mudding’ was ‘medication’ for ‘BUCKWILD’ reality star found dead in SUV in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The sport of tearing into trails in backwoods in trucks and all-terrain vehicles, known among enthusiasts as "muddin’," is a part of life for many amateur daredevils who love to get dirty in rural West Virginia, just as it was for "BUCKWILD" cast member Shain Gandee.

It was a fitting pastime for the 21-year-old, one of the stars on a show that warned viewers not to mimic the "wild and crazy behavior" they witnessed -- swearing, fighting, four-wheeling, even swimming in the bed of a dump truck-turned-swimming-pool.

He and two others were found dead inside an SUV on Monday about a mile from Gandee’s Sissonville home. The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday that autopsies confirmed they died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The vehicle was stuck so deep in a mud pit that its tail pipe was submerged; it is possible the gas flooded the cabin because of the clogged exhaust.

In one episode, he describes four-wheeling as a stress-reliever: "This is my medication right here," he says before getting stuck in a mud pit and blowing up his engine. And there was no place he enjoyed being more than behind the wheel in the woods, said Gandee’s cousin Ashley Gandee Lewis.

Just two days before he died, Gandee had gone mudding with people he met Saturday at the grand opening of her general store in Proctorville, Ohio.