Tuesday, April 15th9.3°C
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Ferry sinks off coast

A South Korean passenger ship carrying more than 470 people, including many high school students, is sinking off the country's southern coast Wednesday after sending a distress call, officials said. There are no immediate reports of causalities.

The ferry with 476 people including 325 high school students was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call Wednesday morning as it began leaning to one side, according to Ministry of Security and Public Administration.

A total of 18 helicopters and 34 rescue boats have been sent to the area and 110 people have been rescued so far, ministry officials said.

Photos from south Korean media show the ship on its side as rescue vessels are nearby.

Park Hye-rang, a local coast guard officer, said by phone that 147 passengers had been rescued so far, but gave no further details.

The students are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul and they were on their way to the Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi Province, which governs the city. The ship left Incheon port, just west of Seoul, on Tuesday evening, according to the state-run Busan Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration.

A total of 18 helicopters and 34 rescue boats have been sent to the area, Vice Minister Lee Gyeong-og told a televised news conference. He said President Park Geun-hye has ordered a through rescue operation to prevent any human casualties.

The Canadian Press


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Backpacks left at marathon

Update -- 8:40 p.m.

Police have blown up two unattended backpacks found near the Boston Marathon's finish line. They say they've taken a man into custody in connection with them.

Police spokesman Dave Estrada says the backpacks were discovered Tuesday evening, a year after two bombs in backpacks exploded at the end of the marathon and killed three people.

Police say the bomb squad detonated the two backpacks found Tuesday as a precaution.

Police have kept people away and tweeted asking people to avoid the area. Trains are bypassing the nearby Copley Square station.

Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in last year's Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes. Former Mayor Thomas Menino spoke at the nearby Hynes Convention Center.


Police say they've taken a man into custody in connection with two unattended backpacks found at the Boston Marathon finish line.

Police spokesman Dave Estrada says the backpacks were discovered Tuesday evening, a year after two bombs in backpacks exploded at the end of the marathon and killed three people.

The bomb squad is checking the backpacks found Tuesday. Police have cleared the area. Trains are bypassing the nearby Copley Square station. The police department has tweeted asking people to avoid the area.

Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in last year's Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes. Former Mayor Thomas Menino spoke at the nearby Hynes Convention Center.



Still no sign of missing plane

A robotic submarine hunting for the missing Malaysian jet aborted its first mission after only six hours, surfacing with no new clues when it exceeded its maximum depth along the floor of the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

Search crews sent the U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21 into the depths Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 after failing for six days to detect any new signals believed to be coming from its black boxes.

But the 16-hour mission was cut short when the unmanned sub, which is programmed to hover 30 metres (100 feet) above the seabed, entered a patch that was deeper than its maximum depth of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet), the search co-ordinationcentre and the U.S. Navy said.

A built-in safety feature returned the Bluefin to the surface and it was not damaged, they said.

The data collected by the sub was later analyzed and no sign of the missing plane was found, the U.S. Navy said. Crews were shifting the Bluefin's search area away from the deepest water and were hoping to send it back on another mission later Tuesday.

Search authorities had known the primary search area for Flight 370 was near the limit of the Bluefin's dive capabilities. Deeper-diving submersibles have been evaluated, but none is yet available to help.

A safety margin would have been included in the Bluefin's program to protect the device from harm if it went a bit deeper than its 4,500-meter limit, said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney.

"Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting," he said. "They may not have very reliable prior data for the area."

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick about 5,500 metres (3.4 miles) from the area where the last underwater sounds were detected.

Crews collected an oil sample and sent it back to Perth in western Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days, said Angus Houston, the head of the joint agency co-ordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

He said it does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's defence minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, pledged to reveal the full contents of the black boxes if they are found.

"It's about finding out the truth," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "There is no question of it not being released."

Up to 11 planes and as many ships were scouring a 62,000-square kilometre (24,000-square mile) patch of ocean about 2,200 kilometres (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth on Tuesday, hunting for any floating debris.

The weekslong surface search is expected to end in the next two days. Officials haven't found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be found have "greatly diminished."



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Gunmen fortify positions

Pro-Russian insurgents dug in Tuesday across eastern Ukraine, fortifying positions around seized buildings and erecting new barricades even as Ukrainian troops and tanks set up outside one eastern city now controlled by armed men.

In Kyiv, Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced an "anti-terrorist operation" to root out the separatists, but it was unclear how that measure differed from the one announced Monday, which resulted in no visible action.

Much of the focus Tuesday was on the eastern city of Slovyansk, 160 kilometres from the Russian border, which has come under ever more secure control of the gunmen since it was taken over last weekend.

An Associated Press reporter saw at least 14 armoured personnel carriers with Ukrainian flags, one helicopter and military trucks parked 40 kilometres north of the city Tuesday. Other heavy military equipment appeared nearby, along with at least seven busloads of government troops in black military fatigues.

"We are awaiting the order to move on Sloyvansk," said one soldier, who gave only his first name, Taras.

Government troops at a checkpoint there, located outside the town of Izyum, searched vehicles driving by for weapons.

Despite fears of a possible imminent assault by Ukrainian troops, the city appeared calm. Roads into Slovyansk were dotted with militia checkpoints, at least one with a Russian flag. Another bore a sign "If we don't do it, nobody will."

Still, the threat the Ukrainian military posed to the highly organized, pro-Russian insurgents was unclear. One video posted online late Monday showed a hapless Ukrainian tank stuck in the mud in a field reportedly outside Slovyansk. Residents chased it on foot, shouting "Who are you going to fire at?"

The insurgents, many of them armed, continued to occupy government, police and other administrative buildings in at least nine cities in the country's Russian-speaking east of the country, demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia. The central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, and many local security forces have switched to their side.

Ukraine's security services on Tuesday identified a man it says is a Russian foreign intelligence agent who is running the pro-Russian operations in Slovyansk. It named him as Igor Strelkov, and said he also co-ordinated Russian troops in Crimea during the seizure of military facilities there.

Russia itself still has tens of thousands of troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border. Western governments accuse Moscow of fueling the unrest in eastern Ukraine and worry that any bloodshed could be used as a pretext for a Russian invasion, in a repeat of events in Crimea a few weeks ago. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula after seizing it last month following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president in February.

In a phone call Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged President Barack Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against protesters in the country's east.

A wave of sit-ins, meanwhile, has hit the eastern city of Horlivka, where a police station was seized Monday by unidentified gunmen. Outside the station, a sign pinned to a barricade of tires listed items required by protesters, including blankets, drinking water and tape to cover up windows smashed during the storming.

Anatoly Zhurov, a 53-year-old Horlivka resident, said the insurgents' goal was to resist the government in Kyiv.

Elsewhere, the Interior Ministry said a police station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk that had been seized by pro-Russian gunmen was "liberated" Tuesday, but a small airport nearby was still controlled by the militia.

Turchynov, speaking to the parliament in Kyiv, gave few details of the "anti-terrorist operation," saying only that it would be conducted in a "responsible and balanced" manner. He blamed Russia for sponsoring the camouflage-wearing insurgents, who are often armed and move with a precision unlikely for local militia.

"(Russia wants) the whole south and east of Ukraine to be engulfed by fire," Turchynov said, adding the government operation aimed to "defend the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, stop crime and stop attempts to tear our country into pieces."

Russia strongly warned Kyiv against using force against the pro-Russian protesters, saying that could prompt Moscow to walk out of Thursday's international conference on Ukraine in Geneva.

"You can't send in tanks and at the same time hold talks. The use of force would sabotage the opportunity offered by the four-party negotiations in Geneva," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.

In a sign that Ukraine's economic situation is becoming even more dire, its central bank increased its benchmark interest rate by a whopping 7 per cent to 14.5 per cent. The move aims to contain the risk of inflation by supporting the currency, which has been falling to record lows in recent days.

However, hiking interest rates can damage the economy by making loans and mortgages more expensive.

Ukraine has relied on cheap gas supplies from Russia for years. Moscow raised the gas prices for Kyiv in the past weeks, leaving Ukraine scrambling to pay the mounting gas bills as well as past bills that Putin now says adds up to over $35 billion.

In the wake of Moscow's threats to cut off energy supplies to Ukraine, the German utility company RWE AG said Tuesday it has started supplying gas to Ukraine via Poland and could sell it up to 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. Ukraine consumes between 52 and 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year.



Ambassador abducted

Masked gunmen abducted the Jordanian ambassador in the Libyan capital early Tuesday, officials said, the latest in a wave of abductions in the North African nation still plagued by lawlessness more than two years after the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Assailants travelling in two cars opened fire on Ambassador Fawaz al-Etan's vehicle in Tripoli, wounding the driver and forcing the diplomat out at gunpoint, said Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Said al-Aswad.

A spokeswoman for Jordan's Foreign Ministry, Sabah al-Rafie, confirmed the kidnapping but had no further details. She said the Jordanian government was following the matter closely with Libyan authorities.

The motives behind the abduction were not clear, and there was no immediate word from the kidnappers.

The ambassador's sister, Khawala al-Etan, told The Associated Press that she learned of her brother's abduction when she saw his picture flash across her TV screen.

"I was shocked and started crying," she said, adding that her brother has been subject to previous kidnapping attempts. "He was always under threat."

She appealed to his abductors to release her brother.

Abductions have been rife in Libya since the country's 8-month civil war ended with Gadhafi's killing in October 2011. Diplomats and journalists have been among those targeted in the kidnappings.

The Canadian Press


Boston Marathon's day of tributes

The anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings started with a solemn wreath-laying ceremony Tuesday at the site of the twin explosions that killed three people and injured more than 260.

The ceremony was the first in a day dedicated to honouring the victims and the first responders, doctors and nurses who helped them. It was attended by the families of the three bombing victims — Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lu Lingzi — as well as relatives of Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the aftermath of the blasts.

Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley were among those who attended the ceremony held in a light rain amid the music of bagpipes. O'Malley offered a prayer.

Vice-President Joe Biden, Patrick and former Mayor Tom Menino will be among the dignitaries expected to honour the victims later Tuesday during a program at the Hynes Convention Center. Speakers also will include survivors of the bombing.

Between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., a flag-raising ceremony and moment of silence will be held at the marathon finish line, to mark the time and place where two bombs exploded on April 15, 2013.

Authorities say two brothers planned and orchestrated the attack and later shot and killed Collier during an attempt to steal his gun. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died following a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and is awaiting trial. He faces the possibility of the death penalty.

The Tsarnaevs, ethnic Chechens who lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and the Dagestan region of Russia, settled in Cambridge, outside Boston, more than a decade ago after moving to the U.S. as children with their family.

Prosecutors have said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left a hand-scrawled confession condemning U.S. actions in Muslim countries on the inside wall of a boat he was found hiding in following the police shootout.

The Canadian Press


Obama, Putin break silence

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time in more than two weeks but showed little sign of agreement Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

The White House said Russia initiated the phone call, which came as pro-Russian forces deepened their insurgency in Ukraine's east, seizing more than a dozen government buildings.

"The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine," the White House said in a description of Obama's call with Putin. "The president emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."

In its own description of the call, the Kremlin said Putin told Obama reports of Russian interference in the region were "based on unreliable information." The Russian leader also urged Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against those protesters.

Both sides did suggest that plans would go forward for talks on Thursday in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe. But the White House said Obama told Putin that while a diplomatic solution remained his preferred option, "it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine's borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials."

U.S. officials say there is compelling evidence that Russia is fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, but have suggested Obama has not yet concluded that Putin's actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors.

"We are actively evaluating what is happening in eastern Ukraine, what actions Russia has taken, what transgressions they've engaged in," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose."

Administration officials confirmed Monday that CIA chief John Brennan visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv over the weekend, breaking with the administration's typical practice of not disclosing the director's travel. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accused Brennan of being behind Ukraine's decision to send troops into the east to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency.

While U.S. officials denied those accusations, confirmation of Brennan's visit could provide fodder for Russian officials to create a pretext for further incursions into eastern Ukraine.

Obama and Putin last spoke on March 28. Since then, pro-Russian forces have undertaken a rampage of storming and occupying local government offices, police stations and a small airport in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has proved powerless to rein in the separatists, who are demanding more autonomy from the central government in Kyiv and closer ties to Russia.

The White House has blamed the unrest on Russia, saying there are undeniable similarities between the situation in eastern Ukraine and the Kremlin's maneuvers in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine last month.

"The evidence is compelling that Russia is supporting these efforts and involved in these efforts," Carney said. "You saw this co-ordinated effort in a number of cities across eastern Ukraine all at once that sure didn't look organic to observers from the outside."

Despite those assertions, it was unclear whether the U.S. planned to respond with deeper economic penalties. Obama has repeatedly warned that Russian advances into eastern Ukraine would mark a serious escalation of the crisis that would warrant a stronger international response, including the prospect of sanctions on Russia's energy sector and other key industries.

But the administration has avoided saying whether Russia's actions in the east thus far have crossed that line. U.S. officials are also still trying to rally support for sector sanctions from Europe, which has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia and would therefore be more likely to be negatively affected by the penalties.

As part of that effort, Obama spoke Monday with French President Francois Hollande. The French leader said in a statement that he and Obama discussed the importance of avoiding provocations in Ukraine and establishing a policy of strong and calibrated sanctions along with other European partners.

A high-ranking European Union official said foreign ministers did decide Monday to sanction more Russians with asset freezes and visa bans, though they appeared to stop short of the broader penalties on Russia's economy.

___

Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Nedra Pickler in Washington and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press


NSA leaks lead to Pulitzer

The Washington Post and The Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize in public service Monday for revealing the U.S. government's sweeping surveillance efforts in stories based on thousands of secret documents handed over by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The Pulitzer for breaking news was awarded to The Boston Globe for its "exhaustive and empathetic" coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that followed.

The awards are American journalism's highest honour.

The winning entries about the NSA's spy programs showed the government has collected information about millions of Americans' phone calls and emails based on its classified interpretation of laws passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The disclosures touched off a furious debate in the U.S. over privacy versus security and led President Barack Obama to impose limits on the surveillance.

The stories were written by Barton Gellman at The Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill of The Guardian. The British newspaper has an American website.

"I think this it's amazing news," Poitras said in New York. "It's a testament to Snowden's courage, a vindication of his courage and his desire to let the public know what the government is doing."

At the Globe, staff members said the announcement of the award -- coming just a day before the anniversary of the bombing -- was met with a moment of silence in the newsroom for the victims.

The attack last April 15 killed three people and wounded more than 260 near the finish line of one of the world's most celebrated races, transforming a celebratory event into a scene of horror and heroics.

The New York Times won two Pulitzers in photography: Tyler Hicks was honoured in the breaking news category for documenting the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Kenya, and Josh Haner was cited for his essay on a Boston Marathon blast victim who lost his legs.

The Center for Public Integrity's Chris Hamby won the award for investigative reporting for his reporting on how some lawyers and doctors rigged a system to deny benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting was given to The Washington Post's Eli Saslow for reporting on the prevalence of food stamps in America.

No award was handed out for feature writing.

The winners of the public service award receive gold medals. The other awards carry a $10,000 prize.

The prize for national reporting was awarded to David Philipps of The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colorado, for an investigation that found that the Army has discharged escalating numbers of traumatized combat veterans who commit crimes at home.

The Pulitzer for international reporting went to Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters for their reports on the violent persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

The Oregonian newspaper was awarded a Pulitzer for its editorial writing, with the judges honouring a selection of works that focused on reforms in the public employees retirement system.

The prize was the third in the newspaper's history for editorial writing.

The Tampa Bay Times' Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia won in local reporting for delving into the squalid housing for the city's homeless.

"These reporters faced long odds. They had to visit dicey neighbourhoods late at night. They had to encourage county officials to be courageous and come forth with records," said Neil Brown, the Tampa Bay Times' editor and vice-president. "And in the end what they were ultimately doing was standing up for people who had no champion and no advocate."



Woman suffocated 6 babies

Authorities say a Utah woman accused of killing six babies that she gave birth to, over 10 years, told investigators that she either strangled or suffocated the children and then put them inside boxes in her garage.

According to a probable cause statement released by police Monday, Megan Huntsman said that between 1996 and 2006, she gave birth to at least seven babies at her home and that all but one of them were born alive.

Huntsman, 39, said she killed them immediately after they were born, and put their bodies inside the boxes. The statement said each baby was wrapped in either a towel or a shirt, and placed in a plastic bag.

Huntsman is being held on $6 million bail — $1 million for each baby she's accused of killing. It wasn't immediately clear if she had an attorney.

Huntsman was arrested Sunday on six counts of murder after police found the infants' tiny bodies. A seventh baby found appears to have been stillborn, Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman said.

Formal charges have not yet been filed against Huntsman and no other arrests have been made but Buhman said the investigation remains open.

Investigators were trying to determine if the seven babies had the same father or multiple fathers, Buhman said.

The gruesome case has raised a series of questions about how the killings occurred despite Huntsman carrying out what neighbours said seemed like a normal existence. Police declined to comment on a motive and on what Huntsman said during an interview with investigators.

Her estranged husband found the first infant's body while cleaning out the garage after recently getting out of prison. Authorities do not believe he was aware of the killings and he isn't a person of interest at this time.

Police Capt. Michael Roberts said officers responded to a call from him Saturday about a dead infant, and then they found the six other bodies.

Family and neighbours identified the estranged husband as Darren West, who has been in prison on drug-related charges.

Roberts said police believe West and Huntsman were together when the babies were born.

"We don't believe he had any knowledge of the situation," Roberts told The Associated Press

Asked how West could not have known about the situation, Roberts replied, "That's the million-dollar question. Amazing."

The Canadian Press


Blast at bus station kills 71

A massive explosion ripped through a bus station during the morning rush hour in Nigeria's capital, killing at least 71 people and wounding 124 in a bombing that marked the bloodiest terrorist attack ever in Abuja.

President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene and blamed Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group which operates in the northeast of Nigeria and which has been threatening to attack Nigeria's capital. One official said he believed the bomb buried in the earth while the emergency management agency said the explosives were apparently hidden in a vehicle.

The blast destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars, said police spokesman Frank Mba, who gave the death toll.

Survivors screamed in anguish and the stench of burning fuel and flesh hung over the site where billows of black smoke rose as firefighters worked to put out the fires. Reporters saw rescue workers and police gathering body parts as ambulances rushed the wounded to the hospitals. State television has broadcast calls for blood donations.

Security personnel battled to belatedly cordon off the area as a bomb detonation team was combing it for secondary explosives, a common occurrence here. Thousands of bystanders gathered, ignoring warnings to stay away. While violence has torn the northeast where Boko Haram has killed thousands, the capital in the middle of Africa's most populous country has been relatively peaceful.

Two notable exceptions occurred when Boko Haram members rammed two explosives-laden cars into the lobby of the United Nations office building in 2011, killing at least 21 people and wounded 60 and when militants from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta in October 2010 exploded two car bombs at Independence Day celebration, leaving at least 12 people dead and 17 injured. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta which carried out that attack has been largely dormant since then, except for some sabotage of oil pipelines.

There was no immediate claim for Monday's bombing though bus stations are a favoured Boko Haram target. In March 2013, the extremists drove a car bomb into the main bus station in Kano, Nigeria's second biggest city, killing at least 25 people.

Boko Haram's campaign to make Nigeria an Islamic state with Sharia, or Islamic law, enforced throughout the country poses the greatest threat to its cohesion and security and threatens nearby countries where the fighters have gone to train and fight.

"The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development," said Jonathan. "Government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward ... But the issue of Boko Haram is temporary. Surely, we will get over it."

In May 2013, Jonathan declared a state of emergency and deployed thousands of troops to curb the violence in northeast Nigeria after the extremists took control of entire towns and villages. Security forces quickly forced the Islamic insurgents out of urban areas but have been battling to dislodge them from hideouts, despite near-daily air bombardments and ground assaults this year on forests and mountain caves along the border with Cameroon.

The military has claimed it has the upper hand in the war, but the extremists have fought back with more frequent and ever-deadlier attacks.

The Canadian Press


Passenger tried to open door

A California-bound Southwest Airlines flight was diverted to Omaha, Neb. on Sunday after witnesses said a passenger tried to open a door.

The captain of the Chicago-to-Sacramento flight landed on Eppley Airfield to "have an unruly passenger removed" before continuing on to Sacramento, the airlines said in a statement.

The flight with 5 crew members and 134 passengers arrived safely at its destination about two hours behind schedule.

"Some gentleman just decided that he wanted us to visit the Lord today and ... open up the back hatch while we were all already up in the air," Monique Lawler told KABC-TV after reaching her final destination in Los Angeles.

She said the man acted strangely during the flight, and that at one point he came out of the bathroom soaking wet. She said when he went to the back of the cabin to try to pry open the door, a flight attendant screamed for help.

A doctor told KCRA-TV in Sacramento he and two other passengers tackled the man and restrained him until air marshals led him in handcuffs off the plane.

"He was going to do bad things to the plane so it was pretty scary," Scott Porter said.

The airline had no further details about the incident.

A call to the Omaha Airport Authority seeking information about the passenger wasn't immediately returned.

The Canadian Press


City burns as residents flee

Firefighters struggled for a second night early Monday to contain blazes that have killed 12 people, injured 500, destroyed 2,000 homes and forced 10,000 people to flee the densely populated hills that gave this Chilean port city its unique beauty.

Fires they thought were contained 24 hours after they started Saturday kicked up again with Sunday afternoon's winds and raged out of control, threatening more neighbourhoods.

With no municipal water or fire hydrants to use, routes to the blazes blocked by narrow streets jammed with abandoned vehicles and countless embers being stoked, fire crews could do little but watch some neighbourhoods burn.

From the sky, 20 helicopters and planes were mobilized to drop water on hotspots, but Chile's national emergency office said the battle was far from won.

"This won't be extinguished, not today nor tomorrow," the office tweeted after issuing a new alert when fires kicked up again Sunday afternoon.

The blaze began in a forested ravine next to ramshackle housing on one of Valparaiso's 42 hilltops, and spread quickly. Hot ash rained down over wooden houses and narrow streets. Electricity failed as the fire grew, turning the night sky orange and reducing neighbourhoods on six hilltops to ashes.

Schools were closed Monday in the city, since some were damaged and others were overflowing with evacuees.

President Michelle Bachelet toured the shelters and cancelled this week's trip to Argentina and Uruguay, ordering her ministers to meet with her Monday morning to explain their responses. "It's a tremendous tragedy. This could be the worst fire in the city's history," she said.

Valparaiso is a picturesque oceanside city of 250,000 people surrounded by hills that form a natural amphitheatre. The compact downtown includes Chile's congress and its second-largest port. But most of the people live in the hills, and the city owes its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to their colorful homes, built on slopes so steep that many people commute using staircases and cable cars.

But what's beautiful in postcards can be dangerous for those who live there: Many people have built on land not fit for housing, and entire communities lack municipal water connections.

"We are too vulnerable as a city. We have been the builders and architects of our own danger," Valparaiso Mayor Jorge Castro said Sunday in an interview with Chile's 24H channel.

The fires destroyed at least 2,000 houses by Sunday evening, and the death toll rose to 12, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said. Three of the 12 victims were identified, and the others are so badly burned that DNA tests will be done, the national forensics service said. More than 500 people were treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.

It was already the city's worst fire since 1953, when 50 people were killed. Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone and put the military in charge of maintaining order. Some 1,250 firefighters, police and forest rangers battled the blaze while 2,000 sailors in combat gear patrolled streets to maintain order and prevent looting.

Chile's emergency response system generated automatic phone calls to each house in danger as the mandatory evacuations expanded. Many people stuffed their cars with possessions after getting these calls, and streets quickly became impassible. Water trucks and firefighters were stuck downhill as people abandoned their vehicles and ran. Some carried television sets and others took canisters of natural gas, fearing an explosion if flames reached their homes.

Shelters were overflowing.

"I had to flee when I saw the fire was coming down the hill," said Maria Elizabeth Diaz, eight months pregnant and trying to rest with her two sons at Valparaiso's Greek School. "I lost everything. Now I've been ordered to rest because I was having contractions. My little one knows that he can't arrive quite yet."

The Canadian Press


Rape: 527 asked for DNA

French police demanded that male students and staff at a high school in western France — 527 people in total — give DNA samples as they searched for the assailant who raped a teenage girl.

The DNA dragnet started Monday in La Rochelle, and prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle said so far no one had refused. She had warned that anyone who decided not to give a DNA sample would be considered a suspect and could be taken into custody.

The testing of male students, faculty and staff at Fenelon-Notre Dame high school is expected to last through Wednesday. Pagenelle said investigators had exhausted all other leads in the Sept. 30 rape of the girl in a dark bathroom at the school.

"The choice is simple for me," she said. "Either I file it away and wait for a match in what could be several years, or I go looking for the match myself."

Police recovered genetic material from the girl's clothing but had no matches to it in the country's DNA database. France has an extensive DNA database, with a total of 2 million profiles on file as of 2012 — about 3 per cent of the population.

"This happened during the school day in a confined space," Chantal Devaux, the private Roman Catholic school's director, told French media. "The decision to take such a large sample was made because it was the only way to advance the investigation."

Summonses went out last week to 475 teenage students, 31 teachers and 21 others — either staff or males who were on campus at the time. Pagenelle's office, which required parental permission for minors, says it will discard any DNA results from people who were eliminated as suspects.

The Canadian Press


Ukraine to deploy troops

Turning to force to try to restore its authority in the vital industrial east, Ukraine's government announced Sunday it was sending in troops to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency, despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin.

Accusing Moscow of fomenting the unrest, Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised address that such a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" would ensure Russia did not "repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine's east." Turchynov pledged to offer amnesty to anyone surrendering their weapons by Monday morning.

Reliance on the military is a response that hints at concerns over the reliability of the police, who have often proven unable or unwilling to repel pro-Russian gunmen and other Moscow loyalists from seizing key state facilities. With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border, there are fears that Moscow might use unrest in the mainly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for an invasion.

Speaking late Sunday on Russian state television, ousted president Viktor Yanukovych accused the CIA of being behind the new government's decision to turn to force, a claim the CIA denied as "completely false."

Yanukovych claimed that CIA director John Brennan met with Ukraine's new leadership and "in fact sanctioned the use of weapons and provoked bloodshed."

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said that while the agency doesn't comment on Brennan's travel itinerary, the "claim that director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false."

Ukraine now has "one foot into a civil war," Yanukovych declared, flanked by his former prosecutor general and interior minister, the two associates most despised by the protesters whose monthslong demonstrations were ignited by Yanukovych's decision to back away from closer relations with the European Union and turn toward Russia. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February, saying he feared for his life.

Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia outside the eastern city of Slovyansk — the first reported gunbattle in the east, where armed pro-Russian men have seized a number of key government buildings to press their demands for referendums on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia, following the pattern set by the vote in Crimea last month. A Ukrainian security officer was killed and at least two others wounded.

Calling such attacks a "Russian aggression," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post Sunday that special forces of up to 12,000 people will be drawn from volunteers who will be tasked with resisting attacks from pro-Russian forces in their local areas.

Russia's Foreign Ministry was quick to dismiss Turchynov's decree as "criminal" and accused Ukrainian officials of using radical neo-Nazi forces.

In an emergency session of the UN Security Council late Sunday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin denied claims that Moscow was behind the violence.

"It is the West that will determine the opportunity to avoid civil war in Ukraine. Some people, including in this chamber, do not want to see the real reasons for what is happening in Ukraine and are constantly seeing the hand of Moscow in what is going on," Churkin said.

In response, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, "These are not protests, these are professional military operations."

Unrest has spread to several municipalities in eastern Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was the support base for Yanukovych. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine's east widely fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government will suppress them.

Several town halls and other government buildings were occupied by crowds of supporters of the referendum drive to give eastern regions wide powers of autonomy.

A police station and the local security services headquarters in Slovyansk, 150 kilometres west of the Russian border, were the latest to fall to storming Saturday by well-armed and effectively co-ordinated militia. Both were still in the hands of gunmen Sunday, despite a government drive to retake them.

The police station was surrounded by a reinforced line of barricades, but there was a less noticeable presence of the automatic rifle-toting pro-Russian gunmen of the day before. Hundreds of residents beyond the barricades sang songs and shouted in support of the men seizing the building.

The only confirmed casualties in Slovyansk were among Ukrainian government forces.

Turchynov said a Security Service captain was killed and two colonels were wounded in Sunday's gun battle. An Associated Press reporter saw a bullet-ridden SUV on the side of the road and a pool of blood by the front passenger seat door, where the clash was reported to have occurred.

Turchynov said pro-Russia militiamen were responsible for the attack.

Vladimir Kolodchenko, a legislator from the area who said he witnessed the attack, said a car carrying four gunmen pulled up by a wooded area where government troops were standing by several parked armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles.

Kolodchenko, who expressed sympathy for the pro-Russian groups, described the attack as a provocation and an attempt to create a pretext for an all-out assault on Slovyansk.

Those leading the storming of government buildings say Russian-speakers rights can only be assured with full autonomy for eastern regions — a move they insist should be endorsed by referendums. A similar vote in Crimea last month resulted in the peninsula splitting off from Ukraine and being annexed by Russia.

In Luhansk — a town of 420,000 across the border from Russia — heavily armed men still control the security services building. In Donetsk, 80 miles to the west, an occupied regional government building is now serving as the headquarters of a self-declared autonomous region billing itself the Donetsk Republic.

All occupations have drawn crowds of sympathizers.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Sunday afternoon accusing "the Russian special service and saboteurs" of fomenting unrest and pledging to present "concrete evidence" of Russia's involvement at a summit on Ukraine in Geneva on Thursday.

In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov late Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed strong concern" that the attacks "were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea," according the State Department.

The Russian Foreign Ministry denied Kerry's claims, saying Lavrov blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the failure of the Kyiv government "to take into account the legitimate needs and interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population." Lavrov also warned that Russia may pull out of the Ukraine summit if Kyiv uses force against "residents of the southeast who were driven to despair."

Two rival rallies in another regional capital in eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv, turned violent on Sunday when a group of pro-Russian protesters followed several pro-Ukrainian activists, beating them with bats and sticks, Interfax Ukraine news agency reported. Interfax quoted Kharkiv authorities as saying 10 people were injured at the rallies.

An attack was also reported on a police station in the nearby city of Kramatorsk. A video from local news website Kramatorsk.info showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building. The website also reported that supporters of the separatist Donetsk Republic occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tires around it and planted a Russian flag nearby.

Regional news website OstroV said three key administrative buildings were seized in another city in the area, Enakiyeve. In Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea just 50 kilometres from the Russian border, the city hall was seized by armed masked men. Local news website 0629.com.ua said 1,000 protesters were building a barricade around it, while armed men raised the Russian flag over the building.

The Canadian Press




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