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WORLD BRIEFLY: Snowden not seen on flight to Cuba

Monday, June 24, 2013 | 6:10 p.m. CDT; updated 7:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 24, 2013

Here are today's top national and world stories from The Associated Press.

NSA leaker Snowden not seen on flight to Cuba

WASHINGTON — The U.S. assumes National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden remains in Russia, and officials are working with Moscow in hopes he will be expelled and returned to America to face criminal charges, President Barack Obama's spokesman said Monday. He declared that a decision by Hong Kong not to detain Snowden has "unquestionably" hurt relations between the United States and China.

Snowden left Hong Kong, where he has been in hiding, and flew to Moscow but then apparently did not board a plane bound for Cuba as had been expected. His whereabouts were a mystery. The founder of the WikiLeaks secret-spilling organization, Julian Assange, said he wouldn't go into details about where Snowden was but said he was safe.

Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries, Assange said.

Obama, asked if he was confident that Russia would expel Snowden, told reporters: "What we know is that we're following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that the rule of law is observed."

Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, earlier Monday said the U.S. was expecting the Russians "to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged."

Prosecution, defense begin in George Zimmerman murder case

SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman was fed up with "punks" getting away with crime and shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin "because he wanted to," not because he had to, prosecutors argued Monday, while the neighborhood watch volunteer's attorney said the killing was self-defense against a young man who was slamming Zimmerman's head against the pavement.

The prosecution began opening statements in the long-awaited murder trial with shocking language, repeating obscenities Zimmerman uttered while talking to a police dispatcher moments before the deadly confrontation.

The defense opened with a knock-knock joke about the difficulty of picking a jury for a case that stirred nationwide debate over racial profiling, vigilantism and Florida's expansive laws on the use of deadly force.

Berlusconi convicted in sex-for-hire trial, sentenced to 7 years

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's flamboyant former premier, was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from politics for life Monday for paying an underage prostitute for sex during infamous "bunga bunga" parties and forcing public officials to cover it up.

It was the most damaging setback yet for the 76-year-old Berlusconi, who has been tried numerous times for his business dealings but never before for his personal conduct.

Still, he vowed that his days as a political force are not over. He has two levels of appeal — and his supporters quickly rallied around him.

The charges against the billionaire media mogul resulted from what became widely known in Italy as "bunga bunga" parties hosted in 2010 by Berlusconi, then the sitting premier, at his villa near Milan, where he wined and dined beautiful young women.

Berlusconi's defense described the dinner parties as elegant soirees; prosecutors said they were sex-fueled gatherings that women were paid to attend. The woman at the center of the scandal, Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, has described aspiring showgirls stripping provocatively for the then-Italian leader.

IRS chief: Screening was broader, lasted longer than previously revealed

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service's screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency said Monday.

An internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press said that besides "tea party," lists used by screeners to pick groups for close examination also included the terms "Israel," ''Progressive" and "Occupy." The document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway.

In a conference call with reporters, Danny Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered wide-ranging and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them. He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately.

"There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum" on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained "inappropriate criteria that was in use."

Werfel's comments suggest the IRS may have been targeting groups other than tea party and other conservative organizations for tough examinations to see if they qualify. The agency has been under fire since last month for targeting those groups.

Obama says immigration bill good for economy, business and workers

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama campaigned from the White House for immigration legislation on Monday in advance of a Senate test vote on a bill calling for more than $30 billion worth of new security measures along the border with Mexico and offering a chance at citizenship for millions living in the country illegally.

Far outnumbered, conservative critics attacked without letup in speeches and electronic appeals. "It will encourage more illegal immigration and must be stopped," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, exhorted supporters, urging them to contact their own senators with a plea to defeat the measure.

After three weeks of desultory debate, the end game was at hand in the Senate for the most ambitious attempt to overhaul the nation's immigration system in decades. The bill had more than the 60 votes required to send the measure over a key hurdle and on its way toward Senate passage by week's end.

Democrats appeared unified on the issue. Republicans were anything but, as evidenced by the divide among potential 2016 presidential contenders. Among them, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was an enthusiastic supporter of the bill, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Cruz were opposed.

Bombings in Iraq kill at least 42 people, wound dozens

BAGHDAD — A series of evening bombings near markets in and around Baghdad and other blasts north of the capital killed at least 42 people and wounded dozens of others Monday in the latest eruption of bloodshed to rock Iraq.

The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since the beginning of April. Militants, building on Sunni discontent with the Shiite-led government, appear to be growing stronger in central and northern Iraq.

The violence came as tens of thousands of Shiites poured into the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, for the annual festival of Shabaniyah, marking the anniversary of the birth of the ninth-century Shiite leader known as the Hidden Imam. Tight security measures were in force to try to prevent insurgent attacks on the worshippers.

One of the deadliest attacks came at night when two bombs placed near a market blew up less than a minute apart in Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighborhood of Husseiniyah, killing ten people and wounding 30 others.

Police said the second bomb went off among a group of people who had gathered at the scene to help the victims of the first blast.

Supreme Court returns Texas affirmative action plan to lower court

WASHINGTON — Affirmative action in college admissions survived Supreme Court review Monday in a consensus decision that avoided the difficult constitutional issues surrounding a challenge to the University of Texas admission plan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the court's 7-1 ruling that said a court should approve the use of race as a factor in admissions only after it concludes "that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity."

But the decision did not question the underpinnings of affirmative action, which the high court last reaffirmed in 2003. Kennedy was a dissenter in the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003.

The Texas ruling seemed certain to generate more challenges to race-conscious admissions plans, even as civil rights advocates celebrated that the door on affirmative action had not been slammed shut. One indication that the court did not decide anything of great moment Monday came from the lineup of justices who joined Kennedy's opinion.

Both Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has gratefully acknowledged the role of affirmative action in her education at Princeton University and Yale Law School, and Justice Clarence Thomas, an affirmative action opponent who has said he felt stigmatized by the racial preference that helped him get into the same law school as Sotomayor, sided with Kennedy on Monday. Thomas also wrote separately to say he would have gone further and overturned the court's 2003 ruling.

Smithfield drops Paula Deen amid fallout from racial slurs

NEW YORK — Paula Deen lost another part of her empire Monday: Smithfield Foods said it was dropping her as a spokeswoman.

The announcement came days after the Food Network said it would not renew the celebrity cook's contract in the wake of revelations that she used racial slurs in the past.

Smithfield sold Paula Deen-branded hams in addition to using her as a spokeswoman. In a statement, the company said it "condemns the use of offensive and discriminatory language and behavior of any kind. Therefore, we are terminating our partnership with Paula Deen."

QVC also said it was reviewing its deal with Paula Deen Enterprises to sell the star's cookbooks and cookware.

"QVC shares the concerns being raised around the unfortunate Paula Deen situation," QVC said in a statement. "We are closely monitoring these events and the ongoing litigation. We are reviewing our business relationship with Ms. Deen, and in the meantime, we have no immediate plans to have her appear on QVC."


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