Tuesday April 16, 2013

As Iraqis prepare for vote, attackers kill at least 55 in violence across country

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Insurgents in Iraq deployed a series of car bombs as part of highly coordinated attacks that cut across a wide swath of the country Monday, killing at least 55 on the deadliest day in nearly a month.

The assault bore the hallmarks of a resurgent al-Qaida in Iraq and appeared aimed at sowing fear days before the first elections since U.S. troops withdrew. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but coordinated attacks are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida’s Iraq branch.

Iraqi officials believe the insurgent group is growing stronger and increasingly coordinating with allies fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad across the border. They say rising lawlessness on the Syria-Iraq frontier and cross-border cooperation with a Syrian group, the Nusra Front, has improved the militants’ supply of weapons and foreign fighters.

The intensifying violence, some of it related to the provincial elections scheduled for Saturday, is worrying for Iraqi officials and Baghdad-based diplomats alike. At least 14 candidates have been killed in recent weeks, including one slain in an apparent ambush Sunday.

Gun background check expansion in jeopardy as GOP support dwindles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan proposal to expand background checks to more gun buyers seemed in jeopardy Monday as a growing number of Republican senators expressed opposition to the proposal, perhaps enough to derail it.


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But there was plenty of time for lobbying and deal-making to affect the outcome, which remained uncertain.

The White House said President Barack Obama was calling lawmakers, as both sides hunted support for a nail-biting showdown.

As of Monday evening, some senators were saying the vote now appeared likely late this week, rather than midweek as top Democrats have hoped. Such a delay would give both sides more time to find support.

"The game hasn’t even started yet, let alone over," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who reached a background check compromise last week with Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., on which the Senate was preparing to vote.

At stake is what has become the heart of this year’s gun control drive in response to December’s killing of children and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Supporters consider a broadening of the buyers subjected to background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers can take..

Amid furious talk and speculation about missiles, NKorea marks founder’s birthday

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- North Koreans celebrated the birthday of their first leader Monday by dancing in plazas and snacking on peanuts, with little hint of the fiery language that has kept the international community fearful that a missile launch may be imminent.

Pyongyang fired off a rocket ahead of the last anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth -- the centennial -- but this time the day was simply the start of a two-day holiday for Pyongyang residents who spilled into the streets.

Girls in red and pink jackets skipped along streets festooned with celebratory banners and flags and boys on inline skates took a break to slurp up bowls of shaved ice.

There was no sense of panic in the North Korean capital, where very few locals have access to international broadcasts and foreign newspapers speculating about an imminent missile launch and detailing the international diplomacy under way to try to rein Pyongyang in.

Elsewhere in the region, however, the focus remained on the threat of a launch as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a tour to coordinate Washington’s response with Beijing, North Korea’s most important ally, as well as with Seoul and Tokyo.

Falling commodities, economic fears spook investors as Dow posts worst day of the year

NEW YORK (AP) -- Worries about an economic slowdown in China fueled a steep drop in commodity prices Monday, spooking investors and giving the stock market its worst day of the year.

The trigger for the sell-off came from China, where the world’s second-largest economy expanded 7.7 percent in the first three months of the year, well below forecasts of 8 percent or better. That news pummeled copper, oil and other commodities. Shares of oil and mining companies fared the worst because China is a huge importer of their products.

The decline came after a pile of negative economic reports. In addition to the concerns about China, a separate report showed weak manufacturing in the Northeast, and a home builders’ survey indicated housing activity isn’t going to be strong, either, said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist for Mizuho Securities.

"People are realizing that the global economy isn’t as strong as they expected it to be," he said.

Denver Post wins Pulitzer for coverage of movie-theater massacre

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Denver Post won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for its coverage of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., while The New York Times captured four awards for reporting on a harrowing avalanche, the rise of a new aristocracy in China and the business practices of Apple and Wal-Mart.

The Associated Press received the award in breaking news photography for its coverage of the civil war in Syria.

In awards that reflected the rapidly changing media world, the online publication InsideClimate News won the Pulitzer for national reporting for its reports on problems in the regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines.

The Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received the public service award for an investigation of off-duty police officers’ reckless driving, and longtime Pulitzer powerhouses The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post were recognized for commentary and criticism, respectively.

The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis captured two awards, for local reporting and editorial cartooning.

Foreign holdings of U.S. debt rose to $5.66 trillion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Foreign demand for U.S. Treasury securities rose to a record level in February, indicating that international investors remain confident in U.S. debt despite budget wrangling in Washington.

The Treasury Department said Monday that foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities increased 0.3 percent in February from January to a record $5.66 trillion. It was the 14th straight monthly increase.

China, the top foreign owner of Treasury debt, increased its holdings 0.7 percent to $1.22 trillion. Japan, the second-larger holder, trimmed its holdings 0.6 percent to $1.1 trillion.

Overall demand kept rising despite sharp disagreements between Congress and President Barack Obama over tax and spending issues. Still, Congress approved a measure to temporarily suspend the borrowing limit until May 19. That has allowed the government to take on more debt while the debate continues.

The increase left total holdings 10.8 percent higher than a year ago. Out of the total foreign holdings, 72 percent is owned by foreign governments including foreign central banks.

After China and Japan, the third-largest foreign holder was group of five nations classified as Caribbean banking centers. The group, which includes the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, raised its holdings 5.5 percent to $286.7 billion. Brazil, the next largest, increased its holdings 2.3 percent to $260 billion.