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Monthly Archives: December 2015

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New Year revelers unfazed by attack worries _ in most places

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In Bangkok, police-flanked partygoers will ring in the new year at the site of a deadly bombing that took place just months ago. In Paris, residents recovering from their city’s own deadly attacks will enjoy scaled-back celebrations. And in Belgium’s capital, authorities anxious after thwarting what they say was a holiday terror plot have canceled festivities altogether.

As the final hours of 2015 draw to a close, many are bidding a weary and wary adieu to a year marred by attacks that left nations reeling and nerves rattled. Still, most places are forging ahead with their celebrations as many refuse to let jitters ruin the joy of the holiday.

“We still have this fear but we need to continue to live,” said Parisian Myriam Oukik. “We will celebrate.”

A look at how people around the world are doing exactly that:

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NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand, the first nation with a sizable population to celebrate the New Year, counted down the seconds to midnight with a giant digital clock on Auckland’s landmark Sky Tower. Horns blared and crowds cheered as the tower was then lit up with fireworks, with colors shifting from green to red to white.

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AUSTRALIA

Australian officials, struggling to contain the threat from home-grown extremists, encouraged revelers to enjoy the evening and assured that thousands of extra police would be out patrolling the major cities.

“Don’t change your way of life,” Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle recently urged residents of the nation’s second-largest city, expected to gather by the hundreds of thousands despite blistering temperatures to watch nearly 11 tons of fireworks light up the sky. “Don’t let events from around the world challenge the way that we live.”

Melbourne’s rival, Sydney, takes seriously its position as one of the first major cities in the world to ring in each new year. More than 1 million are expected to gather along the famed harbor to watch a glittery display featuring a multicolored firework “waterfall” cascading off the Harbour Bridge and pyrotechnic effects in the shapes of butterflies, octopuses and flowers.

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JAPAN

New Year’s Eve is Japan’s biggest holiday, and millions crammed into trains to flee the cities for their hometowns to slurp down bowls of noodles, symbolizing longevity, while watching the annual Red and White NHK song competition. As midnight approaches, families bundle up for visits to neighborhood temples, where the ritual ringing of huge bronze bells reverberates through the chill.

Tokyo is on special alert for security issues this year, with posters in subways and other public spaces warning people to keep their eyes open for suspicious packages or activities.

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KOREAS

South Koreans mark New Year’s Eve with traditional bell ringing ceremonies, fireworks and outdoor music and dance performances. Thousands of people, including North Korean refugees, are expected to gather at a town near the border with rival North Korea to watch one of the ceremonies and wish for peaceful Korean unification.

North Korea is expected to mark the new year with a speech by leader Kim Jong Un, which outside observers use to pore over for insight on the reclusive country’s policy direction.

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MALAYSIA

Security has been beefed up in Malaysia’s biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, where fireworks will ring in the new year at a historical square as well as at the Petronas Twin Towers, one of the world’s tallest buildings.

Malaysian authorities have detained more than 150 suspects linked to the Islamic State group over the past two years, some of whom were allegedly plotting to launch attacks in strategic areas of Kuala Lumpur.

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CHINA

An official New Year’s Eve celebration is planned near Beijing’s Forbidden City with performances and fireworks, and one of China’s most popular TV stations will broadcast a gala from the National Stadium, otherwise known as the iconic Bird’s Nest.

For security reasons, Shanghai is closing subways near the scenic waterfront Bund because of a stampede last New Year’s Eve that killed 36 people and blemished the image of China’s most prosperous and modern metropolis.

Beijing’s shopping and bar areas are under a holiday security alert that started before Christmas and has resulted in armed police standing guard at popular commercial areas. Police commonly issue such alerts during holiday periods.

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PHILIPPINES

No specific threats timed for New Year’s revelries have been detected in the capital, Manila, or other major cities, although government forces are always on alert due to the presence of small but violent Muslim militant groups in the country’s south.

Concern on New Year’s Eve is instead focused on the use of illegal fireworks, which last year injured more than 850 people. Shopping malls and cities have organized fireworks displays to discourage people from lighting their own firecrackers. A huge religious sect, the Iglesia ni Cristo, will attempt to break the world record for the largest fireworks display and the highest number of sparklers to be lit in one place.

An annual thanksgiving procession of the Black Nazarene, a black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, was held a day earlier than usual on Thursday to prevent injuries from mounds of trash and unexploded firecrackers that litter Manila’s streets after New Year’s revelries. A larger procession of the statue will be held Jan. 9.

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THAILAND

Less than six months after a pipe bomb killed 20 people at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, tens of thousands are expected to ring in the new year at the same intersection with live music and a countdown.

Up to 5,000 police will be in the area, with explosive ordnance disposal experts making a sweep ahead of time.

Noisier still will be the celebration along the Chao Phraya River, where tourism officials have promised spectacular fireworks over two of the kingdom’s most iconic landmarks, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun — the Temple of Dawn.

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INDONESIA

Indonesia is on high alert after authorities said last week that they had foiled a plot by Islamic militants to attack government officials, foreigners and others. About 150,000 police officers and soldiers have been deployed to safeguard churches, airports and other public places.

National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Charliyan said security is focused on anticipating attacks in vulnerable regions including the capital, Jakarta, the tourist resort of Bali and restive West Papua, where President Joko Widodo is celebrating the New Year.

More than 9,000 police are deployed in Bali, the site of Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack, which killed 202 people in 2002.

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INDIA

Hotels and restaurants in and around New Delhi have been advertising grand party plans with live bands, dancing and plenty of drinks.

With security being a concern, police and anti-terror squads on Tuesday conducted mock terror-attack drills at a crowded shopping mall and food court. Witnesses, however, were unimpressed. Mona Arthur, a Delhi journalist who was in the mall at the time, dubbed the exercise a “mockery of a mock drill.”

She and a friend were shopping when two police officers ran past them. Then a security official said two terrorists had entered the mall.

“The whole thing was comical,” said Arthur, who was irritated that no information was given to shoppers on where to go or what to do.

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

In the megacity of Dubai, three separate firework displays are set to wow spectators. The show starts from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 meters (905 yards). Already, organizers say the tower has been fitted with 400,000 LED lights and 1.6 tons of fireworks will be used in the display.

From there, fireworks also will light up the sky around the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and later down near the Dubai Marina. Fireworks also will be on display in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the country of seven emirates.

The fireworks will end a year of challenges for the United Arab Emirates, which saw global oil prices drop below $40 a barrel and dozens of its soldiers killed in the ongoing Saudi-led war against Shiite rebels in Yemen. Meanwhile, the Mideast as a whole still reels from the onslaught of the Islamic State group.

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GAZA STRIP

Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers banned New Year celebrations in the Palestinian coastal enclave. Police spokesman Ayman Batniji said hotels and restaurants were allowed to hold parties a day earlier, or a day later.

“Celebrating the new year contradicts the instructions of Islamic religion,” Batniji said. “It’s a Western custom that we don’t accept in Gaza.”

The militant Hamas group wrested control of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah movement in 2007.

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KENYA

Police in Kenya, which has been repeatedly attacked by al-Shabaab militants based in neighboring Somalia, are urging vigilance as many people prepare to celebrate in hotels and watch midnight fireworks displays. Unauthorized fireworks have been banned as a safety hazard “in view of the elevated threat of terrorism,” police said.

“Kenyans should remain vigilant at all times and know that we are facing a real terror threat since the split of al-Shabaab into two groups, one supporting al-Qaida and another Islamic State,” Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet told The Associated Press. “We are facing a real terror threat because these two groups are struggling to outsmart each other. This therefore is not a time to drop our guard, particularly during this festive season.”

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FRANCE

The French are still recovering from the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, and authorities are preparing for a possible worst-case scenario on New Year’s Eve. About 60,000 police and troops will be deployed across the country on Thursday.

“The same troops who used to be in Mali, Chad, French Guyana or the Central African Republic are now ensuring the protection of French people,” said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Paris has canceled its usual fireworks display and will instead display a 5-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysée.

In previous years, more than 600,000 French and foreign visitors gathered on the famous avenue for New Year’s Eve. This year, it will be closed to vehicles for just one hour instead of the usual three.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said the “noble and decent” show will be aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”

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BELGIUM

Authorities in Belgium’s capital canceled planned New Year’s Eve fireworks amid fears of a terrorist attack.

The decision came one day after authorities arrested two men in connection with an alleged plot to unleash holiday season attacks against police, soldiers and popular locations in Brussels.

Mayor Yvan Mayeur said it would be impossible to screen the thousands of revelers who would otherwise be gathering in Brussels to ring in the new year.

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BRAZIL

Rio de Janeiro’s main soiree on Copacabana Beach will have dual themes: the 100th anniversary of samba music and the kickoff to the Olympics, which the city will host in August. More than 2 million people are expected on the beaches Thursday.

Police say more officers will be on hand this year than the 1,600 deployed for last year’s bash. Capt. Ivan Blaz, spokesman for Rio’s police force, told The Associated Press that they have received no reports of terrorism.

The partying will happen at a time when Brazil is mired in crisis. The economy has plunged, the opposition is pushing to impeach President Dilma Rousseff and a host of financial and government scandals have soured Brazilians.

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NEW YORK

Around 1 million people are expected to converge on New York City’s Times Square for the annual celebration. The party begins with musical acts, including Luke Bryan, Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood, and ends with fireworks and the descent of a glittering crystal ball from a rooftop flagpole.

This year’s festivities will also be attended by nearly 6,000 New York City police officers, including members of a new specialized counterterrorism unit.

People usually begin filling the square and adjoining blocks before sundown for the televised spectacle. Everyone arriving gets screened for weapons with a metal-detecting wand.

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LAS VEGAS

Officials are urging revelers to leave bags, backpacks and strollers at home as police ready for hundreds of thousands of partiers to flood the Las Vegas Strip. It’s not a first-of-its-kind request, but it’s getting extra emphasis following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and, more recently, a driver in Las Vegas who witnesses say intentionally plowed into pedestrians, killing one person.

Nearly 1,000 uniformed officers and an undisclosed number of undercover officers will be posted along the popular 4-mile-long, casino-filled corridor.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman lamented the prospect that fear might keep people from celebrating New Year’s Eve, or any event.

“It can’t be. We cannot let that rule,” she said.

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Associated Press staffers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; Nirmala George in New Delhi; Louise Watt in Beijing; Nicolas Garriga in Paris; Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia; Jason Corben in Bangkok; Mauricio Savarese in Rio de Janeiro; Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo; Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip; Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; David B. Caruso in New York; Kimberly Pierceall in Las Vegas and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. Woman celebrate the coming of a new year as they wait for the annual New Years Eve fireworks display in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Consent amid wine, pills to be a key question in Cosby case

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ELKINS PARK, Pa. (AP) — Entertainer Bill Cosby has long maintained that his extramarital conquests over the years were all consensual.

A jury may ultimately decide if that’s true after the 78-year-old actor was arrested Wednesday on felony assault charges in suburban Philadelphia stemming from a 2004 encounter with a former Temple University employee less than half his age.

The case marks the first time Cosby has been charged with sexual misconduct despite years of lurid allegations, and it sets the stage for perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-news era.

Prosecutors armed with new evidence this year believe his accuser, Andrea Constand, was too impaired by the pills and wine Cosby gave her to consent to the sexual activity that followed at his home.

Cosby gave a deposition after the woman sued him in 2005. He said she never told him to stop. But police now say that’s because she was “frozen,” ”paralyzed,” and “in and out of consciousness.”

“On the evening in question, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills that he provided, and to drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move or to respond to his advances,” incoming Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Hours later, Cosby arrived at a small courthouse to be arraigned.

Holding a cane, Cosby walked slowly and unsteadily into court on the arms of his lawyers to answer the charges against him. He had no comment as he was released on $1 million bail.

“Make no mistake: We intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge, and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law,” his attorney Monique Pressley said in a statement.

The decision to prosecute came just days before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out. It represents an about-face by the district attorney’s office, which under a previous DA declined to charge Cosby in 2005 when Constand first told police that the comic put his hands down her pants.

Prosecutors said Cosby gave Constand pills and wine, then penetrated her with his fingers without her consent while she was impaired, unable to resist or cry out.

In court papers, they said Constand was given the cold medicine Benadryl or some other, unidentified substance. Steele noted that Cosby has admitted giving quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with.

The former “Cosby Show” star and breaker of racial barriers was charged with aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. He did not have to enter a plea.

Wearing a black-and-white hooded sweater, Cosby tripped on a curb as he made his way into court. Inside, he seemed to have trouble seeing the paperwork and finding the place to sign, and his lawyers helped him hold the pen. But he seemed at ease, laughing and chatting with his attorneys.

When the judge said, “Good luck to you, sir,” he shouted: “Thank you!”

Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in Constand’s related civil lawsuit against Cosby and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations.

“Reopening this case was not a question. Rather, reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers,” said Steele, who is the top deputy in the DA’s office and will take over next week.

In court documents, prosecutors said there are probably other women who were similarly drugged and violated by Cosby. Steele urged them to come forward.

Constand, now 42, lives in Toronto and works as a massage therapist. Her attorney, Dolores Troiani, welcomed the charges.

“She feels that they believe her, and to any victim, that is foremost in your mind: Are people going to believe me?” Troiani said. The attorney added: “Naturally it is troubling that it took until the eleventh hour for this day to arrive. She is hopeful that her patience has encouraged other victims to come forward.”

Cosby also faces a raft of defamation and sexual-abuse lawsuits filed in Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania. But in nearly every case, it is too late to file criminal charges. One exception: a 2008 case involving a model at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. It is still under investigation by police.

A key question if the Pennsylvania case goes to trial is whether the judge will allow testimony from some of those other accusers to show a pattern of “bad acts.” The judge could decide such testimony would be unfair to Cosby.

In Los Angeles, celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represents more than two dozen Cosby accusers, pronounced the arrest “the best Christmas present they have ever received.” She said her clients are willing to testify if called.

Cosby in 1965 became the first black actor to land a leading role in a network drama, “I Spy,” and he went on to earn three straight Emmys. Over the next three decades, the Philadelphia-born comic created TV’s animated “Fat Albert” and the top-rated “Cosby Show,” the 1980s sitcom celebrated as groundbreaking television for its depiction of a warm and loving black family headed by two professionals, one a lawyer, the other a doctor.

He was a fatherly figure off camera as well, serving as a public moralist and public scold, urging young men to pull up their saggy pants and start acting responsibly.

Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple, where Cosby was a trustee and proud alumnus, said she was assaulted after going to his home in suburban Cheltenham in January 2004 for some career advice.

Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to charge Cosby, saying at the time that the comedian and his accuser could be portrayed in “a less than flattering light.” Constand eventually settled a lawsuit against Cosby in 2006 on confidential terms.

Cosby’s lawyer noted pointedly Wednesday that the charges come “on the heels of a hotly contested election” for DA in which the handling of the Cosby case became a major issue. Castor was seeking to reclaim his job as DA but lost to Steele.

Constand’s allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention at the time but exploded into view in late 2014, first online, then in the wider media, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked the moralizing Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine.

That opened the floodgates to even more allegations.

The women were mostly from the world of modeling, acting or other entertainment fields, and Cosby or his representatives denied any wrongdoing, accusing some of them of trying to extract money from him or get ahead in show business.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press persuaded a judge to unseal documents from the Constand lawsuit, and they showed the long-married Cosby acknowledging a string of affairs and sexual encounters.

Cosby, who makes his home mostly in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, testified that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.'” He denied giving women drugs without their knowledge.

In his deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand three half-pills of Benadryl for stress without telling her what they were. He said he groped Constand, taking her silence as a green light.

“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby testified. He said Constand was not upset when she left.

The AP generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to have their names published, as Constand has done.

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Associated Press writers Errin Haines Whack in Philadelphia; Michael R. Sisak in Elkins Park; and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this story. This booking photograph released by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office shows Bill Cosby, who was arrested and charged Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in district court in Elkins Park, Pa., with aggravated indecent assault. Cosby is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in January 2004. (Montgomery County Office of the District Attorney via AP)

Mom of ‘affluenza’ teen back in US after Mexico deportation

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The mother of fugitive Texas teen Ethan Couch, known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving accident, has been returned to the U.S. from Mexico minus her son, whose own deportation was delayed by a Mexican judge.

Tonya Couch arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Mexico in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and was taken in handcuffs through the terminal to an unmarked Dodge Charger early Thursday morning. She was wearing blue street clothes and looked away from cameras as she walked, flanked by two marshals.

It was unclear why she was brought to Los Angeles instead of Texas, where she and her son live and where he was on probation for the 2013 drunken-driving crash. U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Eugene Hwang said he could not reveal any details about her trip through California or say how long she might remain here, citing security concerns in transporting someone in custody.

Richard Hunter, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service in South Texas, said during a news conference in Houston on Wednesday that a three-day court injunction granted in Mexico to Ethan Couch will likely take at least two weeks to resolve.

But the injunction did not apply to Tonya Couch, who was deported immediately and put on a plane, an official with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute told The Associated Press.

Ethan Couch was transported late Wednesday from a detention facility in Guadalajara to one in Mexico City, the official said. The decision to move Couch was made because the Mexico City facility for detaining migrants is larger and better equipped to hold someone for days or weeks.

Authorities believe the 18-year-old Ethan Couch, who was sentenced only to probation for the 2013 wreck in Texas, fled to Mexico with his mother in November as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation. Both were taken into custody Monday after authorities said a phone call for pizza led to their capture in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

The ruling earlier Wednesday by the Mexican court gives a judge three days to decide whether the younger Couch has grounds to challenge his deportation based on arguments that kicking him out of the country would violate his rights.

Hunter said the legal maneuver basically takes the decision out of an immigration agent’s hands and asks a higher authority to make the deportation decision. He said such cases can often take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on the priorities of the local courts.

“It also depends on the fact the Couches have legal counsel. And it seems to me, if they wanted to, they could pay them as much money as they want to drag this thing out,” Hunter said. “We’re hopeful that’s not the case.”

During the sentencing phase of Ethan Couch’s trial, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation during the legal proceedings drew ridicule.

“Couch continues to make a mockery of the system,” said Fort Worth attorney Bill Berenson, who represented Sergio Molina, who was paralyzed and suffered severe brain damage in the crash.

Ethan Couch’s attorneys in the U.S. issued a statement Wednesday saying they couldn’t comment on the case because they weren’t licensed to practice law in Mexico. It wasn’t immediately clear which attorneys were handling the case in Mexico.

Mexican police say Couch and his mother spent three days in a rented condo at a resort development in Puerto Vallarta before finding an apartment. One of the Couches’ telephones had been used to order delivery from Domino’s Pizza to the condominium complex in Puerto Vallarta’s old town, according to a police report issued by the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office.

Agents from the prosecutors’ office went to the complex, where a tourism operator told them that the people who had occupied the condo were asked to vacate because the owners were coming to stay over Christmas, the report said. The Couches then moved to an apartment, and the agents set up a surveillance operation in the surrounding streets.

On Monday evening, two people matching the Couches’ description were spotted and intercepted. The police report said they behaved evasively, claimed to be carrying no IDs, gave inconsistent stories about their names and failed to provide proof of their legal migratory status in Mexico.

They were taken into custody and handed over to immigration officials.

Authorities in Texas said an arrest warrant was being issued for Tonya Couch on charges of hindering an apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.

Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding near Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.

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Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City, Elizabeth Rivera in Guadalajara, Mexico, Michael Graczyk in Houston, and Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas contributed to this report. Tonya Couch, center, is taken by authorities to a waiting car after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Los Angeles. Authorities said she and her son, Texas teenager Ethan Couch, who was sentenced to probation after using an “affluenza” defense for a 2013 wreck in Texas, fled to Mexico together in November as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation. Both were taken into custody Monday, Dec. 28, after authorities said a phone call for pizza led to their capture in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Pro-government militia leader assassinated in Yemen’s Aden

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A drive-by shooting in Yemen killed a top pro-government militia leader and five of his companions in the southern city of Aden on Thursday, just hours after he reluctantly handed over control of the city’s strategic port to government troops, Yemeni security officials said.

The officials said gunmen opened fire from a speeding car in the early morning hours, killing Ahmed al-Idrisi and five others as they were leaving a wedding party in the Mansoura neighborhood.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Yemen’s al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates have exploited the country’s civil war to run lucrative smuggling operations through the Aden port.

The officials claimed that al-Idrisi publicly backed the internationally recognized government but maintained secret deals with extremists and anti-government forces.

Yemen’s fighting pits the country’s internationally recognized government and a U.S-backed Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president.

Meanwhile in Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, one of the last hospitals that is working, al-Tharwa, said it came under attack on Wednesday and that “bullets and shrapnel” wounded at least 20 of its staff.

Taiz is in government hands, but it is besieged by the rebels who have been indiscriminately shelling the war-devastated city and blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid for months, according to residents and aid groups.

The U.N. says the war in Yemen has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when fighting escalated after Saudi Arabia began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

All officials and residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared reprisals.

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A Coca-Cola beverages factory is seen after Saudi-led air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Business: Asia stocks mixed after Wall Street falls on lower oil price

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BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed in thin trading Thursday after the latest decline in oil prices pulled Wall Street lower. Markets in Japan and South Korea were closed for the New Year holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 percent to 3,560.34. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.2 percent to 5,308.70 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.1 percent to 21,870.01. Singapore and Taiwan also fell. Benchmarks in New Zealand, Thailand and Indonesia gained.

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 117.11 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,603.87. The Dow is on track to end 2015 down 1.2 percent. Standard and Poor’s 500 index dropped 15 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,063.36. The index is up only 0.2 percent for the year. The Nasdaq composite lost 42.09 points, or 0.8 percent, to 5,065.85. The Nasdaq is up about 7 percent for year.

OIL DOLDRUMS: Benchmark U.S. crude for February delivery shed 3.4 percent on Wednesday, extending its losses for the year to 40 percent. Energy companies fell the most among the 10 sectors in the S&P 500, 1.5 percent. The sector is down 23.8 percent for the year. Southwestern Energy fell 6.8 percent, while Consol Energy sank 5.6 percent.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “On the eve of the new year, the fact is that lingering and familiar risks are not purged at the stroke of midnight,” said Mizuho Bank. It cited fluctuating oil prices and uncertainty about the impact of monetary policy changes in the United States, Europe and Japan. “Instead the risk landscape is a continuum that warrants caution.”

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 22 cents to $36.82 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract plunged $1.27 on Wednesday to close at $36.60. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 16 cents to $36.62 in London. It slid $1.33 in the previous session to $36.46.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 120.42 yen from Wednesday’s 120.49. The euro also fell, to $1.0926 from $1.0936.

 

Breaking News: Bill Cosby charged with sexually assaulting a woman

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NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Bill Cosby was charged Wednesday with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home 12 years ago — the first criminal case brought against the comedian out of the torrent of allegations that destroyed his good-guy image as America’s Dad.

The case sets the stage for perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-all-the-time era and could send the 78-year-old Cosby to prison in the twilight of his life and pioneering career.

Prosecutors accused him of plying former Temple University employee Andrea Constand with pills and wine, then penetrating her with his fingers without her consent, while she was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to resist or cry out.

She was “frozen, paralyzed, unable to move,” Montgomery County District Attorney-elect Kevin Steele said. In court papers, prosecutors said the drugs were the cold medicine Benadryl or some other, unidentified substance. Steele noted that Cosby has admitted giving quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with.

The TV star acknowledged under oath a decade ago that he had sexual contact with Constand but said it was consensual. Calls to his attorneys were not immediately returned.

He awaited arraignment in the afternoon on a charge of aggravated indecent assault, punishable by five to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.

The decision came down just days before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations for bringing charges was set to run out.

The case represents an about-face by the district attorney’s office, which under a previous DA declined to charge Cosby in 2005 when Constand first told police that the comic violated her by putting his hands down her pants at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Cheltenham.

Prosecutors reopened the case over the summer as damaging testimony was unsealed in Constand’s related civil lawsuit against Cosby and as dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations that made a mockery of his image as the wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable from TV’s “The Cosby Show.”

“Reopening this case was not a question. Rather, reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers,” said Steele, a top deputy in the DA’s office who will take over in January.

In court papers, prosecutors said there are probably other women who were similarly drugged and violated by Cosby. Steele urged them to come forward as well.

Constand, now 42, lives in Toronto and works as a massage therapist. Her attorney, Dolores Troiani, welcomed the charges.

“She feels that they believe her, and to any victim, that is foremost in your mind: Are people going to believe me,” Troiani said. The attorney added: “Naturally it is troubling that it took until the eleventh hour for this day to arrive. She is hopeful that her patience has encouraged other victims to come forward.”

The case adds to the towering list of legal problems facing the TV star, including defamation and sexual-abuse lawsuits filed in Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.

A key question if the case goes to trial is whether the judge will allow supporting testimony from other accusers to show similar “bad acts,” even though it is too late to bring charges in most if not all of those instances. The judge could decide such testimony would be unfair.

Cosby in 1965 became the first black actor to land a leading role in a network drama, “I Spy,” and he went on to earn three straight Emmys. Over the next three decades, the Philadelphia-born comic created TV’s animated “Fat Albert” and the top-rated “Cosby Show,” the 1980s sitcom celebrated as groundbreaking television for its depiction of a warm and loving black family headed by two professionals, one a lawyer, the other a doctor.

He was a fatherly figure off camera as well, serving as a public moralist and public scold, urging young people to pull up their saggy pants and start acting responsibly.

Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple, where Cosby was a trustee and proud alumnus, said she was assaulted after going to his home in January 2004 for some career advice.

Then-District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to charge Cosby, saying at the time that the comedian and his accuser could be portrayed in “a less than flattering light.” Constand eventually settled a lawsuit against Cosby in 2006 on confidential terms.

Her allegations and similar ones from other women in the years that followed did not receive wide attention at the time but exploded into view in late 2014, first online, then in the wider media, after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked the moralizing Cosby as a hypocrite and called him a rapist during a standup routine.

That opened the floodgates on even more allegations.

The women were mostly from the world of modeling, acting or other entertainment fields, and Cosby or his representatives denied their allegations, accusing some of them of trying to extract money from him or get ahead in show business.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press persuaded a judge to unseal documents from the Constand lawsuit, and they showed the long-married Cosby acknowledging a string of affairs and sexual encounters.

Cosby, a longtime resident of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, testified that he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women. He denied giving women drugs without their knowledge and said he had used the now-banned sedative “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.'”

In his deposition, Cosby said he gave Constand three half-pills of Benadryl for stress, telling her only that they were her “friends.” He said he fondled Constand, taking her silence as a green light.

“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby testified. He said Constand was not upset when she left.

Prosecutors said Cosby used wine and drugs to render her incapable of resistance after “the much younger, athletic” Constand blocked two previous sexual advances.

Constand’s lawyer has said Constand is gay and was dating a woman around the time she met Cosby in the early 2000s. The AP generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to have their names published, as Constand has done.

Cosby’s fall has been especially painful to the many members of the black community who regarded his commercial and cultural success with great pride.

“There is a fatal difference now between Cliff Huxtable and Bill Cosby that can never be overcome, because Cosby depended as a figure and an icon on the goodwill he established through his characters,” said author and professor Michael Eric Dyson, who wrote a book on Cosby a decade ago.

“It does add a creepy subtext and a shadow of tremendous moral weight that will inevitably be brought up each time his name is evoked.”

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FILE – In this combination of file photos, entertainer Bill Cosby pauses during an interview in Washington on Nov. 6, 2014, and Andrea Constand poses for a photo in Toronto on Aug. 1, 1987. Cosby was charged Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, with drugging and sexually assaulting Constand at his home in January 2004. They are the first criminal charges brought against the comedian out of the torrent of allegations that destroyed his good-guy image as America’s Dad. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, left, and Ron Bull/The Toronto Star/The Canadian Press via AP, right) MANDATORY CREDIT; TORONTO OUT; NO SALES; NO MAGAZINES

Gains in Iraqi city vindicate US-led strategy, at high cost

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BAGHDAD (AP) — The advance of Iraqi forces into the heart of Ramadi, a restive city that fell to the Islamic State group earlier this year, in some ways vindicated the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy for rolling back the extremists — but victory has come at a high cost, and the same tactics might not work elsewhere.

The battle for Ramadi was waged by the Iraqi military — rather than Shiite or Kurdish militias — with elite counterterrorism units advancing under the cover of coalition airstrikes and raising the Iraqi national flag over the main government complex in the provincial capital on Monday.

Pockets of resistance remain, but the majority of Ramadi is under government control for the first time since May, when IS militants punched their way into the city with a series of massive suicide car bombs, scattering and humiliating Iraq’s beleaguered security forces.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi said “heavy and concentrated airstrikes” by the U.S.-led coalition killed IS fighters, destroyed their vehicles and blew up suicide car bombs before they could be deployed, allowing his forces to advance into the city.

“I think this fight shows the Iraqis are ready to fight and these calls for U.S. ground troops are not the best strategy moving forward,” said Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq.

“What we saw in terms of the combination of airstrikes and intelligence support and then forces on the ground, it has worked very, very well,” he said.

Over the past six months, the coalition has launched more than 600 airstrikes, hitting about 2,500 different targets, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, told reporters on Tuesday. He said at its peak there were up to 1,000 IS fighters in Ramadi, and that only 150-250 remain.

But while the airstrikes eventually helped flush out the militants, they smashed large parts of the city into rubble.

The city has suffered “huge devastation,” Al-Belawi said. He estimates that more than half of the city’s buildings have been destroyed, including government offices, markets and houses. Most residents fled earlier this year, and it could be months or longer before they are able to return.

Even before IS rolled in, Ramadi bore scars from the eight-year U.S. intervention in Iraq. U.S. troops fought their bloodiest battles in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, which was the first Iraqi city to fall to IS and remains under its control.

When IS captured Ramadi earlier this year, the militants blew up the homes of members of the security forces, but even those demolitions did not compare with the destruction wrought by the U.S.-led warplanes, according to al-Belawi.

The recapture of Ramadi has nevertheless lifted the morale of Iraq’s troops. State TV has repeatedly shown footage of soldiers waving Iraqi flags and brandishing machine guns, chanting and dancing inside the government complex in central Ramadi. Some can be seen slaughtering sheep in celebration near heavily damaged buildings.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who toured parts of Ramadi on Tuesday, had earlier hailed the advance, vowing that 2016 would be “the year of the final victory,” when IS would be driven from Iraq.

But the high cost of liberating Ramadi raises questions about whether the same tactics can be brought to bear in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which remains under IS control, or other dense urban areas in Iraq and Syria, where IS militants live among civilians.

“This approach has a very high cost in material damage and human casualties,” said Lina Khatib, a senior research associate at the Arab Reform Initiative, a Paris-based think-tank.

“To use the same approach everywhere in the region… the scale of damage would be immense,” she said.

There is also the question of what do with Sunni areas like Ramadi once the militants are driven out. Distrust of the Shiite-led government runs deep in the sprawling Anbar province, which is overwhelmingly Sunni. Many residents initially welcomed IS as liberators.

U.S. troops were able to pacify Anbar and other Sunni areas starting in 2006 with the help of the Sahwa, or “awakening” movement — Sunni tribes and militias who allied with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor of the IS group. But the Sahwas later fell out with the central government, which contributed to the IS group’s resurgence.

Al-Belawi insisted that the Sunni fighters had returned and allied with his forces, helping them to advance.

“Most of these fighters fought al-Qaida in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, they know their areas very well and the whereabouts of the local Daesh fighters and their movements,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

But Warren, the coalition spokesman, said Sunni fighters “were not a significant player” in the assault on Ramadi, but were mainly holding ground already cleared by the army.

IS militants still control an estimated 30 percent of the city, according to Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar province. IS launched a number of small-scale attacks Tuesday.

The IS group’s territory in Iraq makes up only about half of its self-declared caliphate. Even if Iraq drives the extremists out, they would retain their grip on large parts of Syria, where an increasingly complex civil war has sucked in regional powers and left the U.S. with few reliable allies.

“I expect that IS will continue to be weakened in Iraq,” Khatib said. “But this does not mean IS is weakened in general because it can still have a significant presence in Syria.”

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George reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

China finds storm caused sinking of cruiser that killed 442

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BEIJING (AP) — An official investigation has concluded that the capsizing of a cruise ship in China that killed hundreds earlier this year was caused by a strong storm, but that representatives of the shipping company and local authorities should be punished for management flaws, state media said Wednesday.

The disaster on the Yangtze River on the evening of June 1 killed 442 people. Just 12 people survived the capsizing of the Eastern Star, which was carrying many elderly tourists on a 10-day cruise from Nanjing in China’s east upstream to Chongqing.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the Cabinet’s investigation team concluded that the Eastern Star was brought down “by strong winds and heavy rains” associated with a downburst, a strong downdraft that is “a very rare weather phenomenon.”

The conclusion backs up the initial finding that the disaster was caused by strong winds, although passengers’ relatives previously raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its voyage despite a weather warning.

Xinhua said the investigation team also found that seven people from the shipping company and 36 local government and party officials should be given administrative punishments for flaws in their daily management, which would likely include demotions and firings.

The seven people included the ship’s captain, Zhang Shunwen, whose license should be revoked and his contract terminated, the investigation concluded. It also recommended that his case be sent for further investigation to determine whether he should face criminal charges.

The captain was arrested after he was rescued from the river, with investigators looking into why he chose to sail into the storm instead of dropping anchor. A government agency in years prior had cited the ship for safety violations, but no one tied to the capsizing has been convicted of wrongdoing.

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This story has been corrected to show that 12 survived the sinking, not 14.

US accuses Iran of conducting rocket test near warships

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian naval vessels conducted rocket tests last week near U.S. warships and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the American military said Wednesday, causing new tension between the two nations after a landmark nuclear deal.

The vital strait, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman that is the route for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea, is crucial for ships taking part in the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. In the past, Iran has threatened to block the strait, which lies at the entrance of the Persian Gulf.

While the United States has complained previously about other Iranian war games and maneuvers there, Saturday’s incident comes after a series of weapons tests and other moves by the Islamic Republic following the nuclear deal.

Iranian media and officials did not immediately discuss the tests Wednesday.

Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said in a statement that Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval vessels fired “several unguided rockets” about 1,370 meters (1,500 yards) from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and a French frigate, the FS Provence. Raines said commercial sea traffic also was nearby, though the missiles weren’t fired in the direction of any ships.

Raines said the Iranian vessels announced over maritime radio that they’d carry out a live fire exercise only 23 minutes beforehand.

Iran’s “actions were highly provocative,” Raines said. “Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law.”

A French military official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to publicly named, confirmed the rocket fire took place Saturday. However, the official said the French military did not consider it to be a threatening event as the rocket fire clearly wasn’t directed toward the Western fleet.

The French frigate is now escorting the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group.

NBC News first reported news of the Iranian rocket fire.

The Strait of Hormuz is only about 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point between Iran and Oman. Ships traversing the chokepoint have even less room to maneuver. The shipping lane in either direction is only 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) wide, with a 2-mile (3.22-kilometer) buffer zone between them.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain, on the southern coast of the Gulf. It conducts anti-piracy patrols in the greater Gulf and serves as a regional counterbalance to Iran.

While the U.S. didn’t retaliate to Saturday’s rocket test, the Strait of Hormuz has been the scene of a battle between the two countries’ navies. On April 18, 1988, the U.S. attacked two Iranian oil rigs and sunk or damaged six of its vessels, including two naval frigates, in Operation Praying Mantis. That came after the near-sinking of the missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts by an Iranian mine.

A few months later, in July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the strait mistook an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and killing all 290 passengers and crew onboard. The shoot-down of the jet came shortly after the U.S. vessel reported coming under fire from Iranian speedboats.

Saturday’s rocket fire comes after Iran and world powers led by the U.S. agreed to a landmark nuclear deal to limit the Islamic Republic’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. While heralded by moderates in Iran, hard-liners have criticized the deal.

In the time since, Iran has conducted missile tests criticized by the U.S., as well as aired footage on state television of an underground missile base. Iran also sank a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier in February near the strait. It seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship and later released it in May after earlier surrounding U.S.-flagged cargo ship transiting the strait.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report. In this Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Navy, guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley participates in a replenishment-at-sea with fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lenthall in the Gulf of Oman. Iranian naval vessels conducted rocket tests last week near the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and a French frigate, the FS Provence, and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the American military said Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015 causing new tension between the two nations after a landmark nuclear deal. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class M. J. Lieberknecht/ U.S. Navy via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Business: Global stocks mixed, with some cheered by overnight rally

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TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mixed in Wednesday trading, with only some markets cheered by an overnight rally as investor sentiment grew cautious on lower oil prices.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 lost 0.4 percent to 4,682.53 in early trading, and Germany’s DAX fell 0.3 percent to 10,830.93. Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.6 percent to 6,276.17. U.S. shares were set to drift lower, with Dow futures down 0.1 percent at 17,607 and S&P 500 futures losing 0.1 percent to 2,069.40.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.3 percent to finish at 19,033.71, but trading was muted on the last trading day of the year ahead of the New Year’s holiday. People clapped in rhythm at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Japan’s customary ceremony to close out the year. South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.3 percent to 1,961.31. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.5 percent to 21,882.15, while the Shanghai Composite added 0.3 percent to 3,572.88. Other regional shares were also mixed, rising in Indonesia but dropping in Taiwan and Singapore.

U.S. ECONOMY: The latest batch of U.S. economic data added to the upbeat sentiments. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index increased from the previous month, reflecting positive views on the economy and job market. Separately, a key gauge of home values indicated that U.S. home prices climbed 5.5 percent in October from a year earlier.

THE QUOTE: “This year’s Santa rally is doing what many of its predecessors have done,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets. “The stock market continues to push higher on thin volume and with no need for a macro catalyst. At the moment, the market is all about sentiment and perceived value.” Spooner warned that caution could set in after the new year comes.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 74 cents to $37.13 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, losing some of the overnight price recovery. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 65 cents to $37.14 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 120.44 yen, up from 120.37 yen late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.0937 from $1.0977.

AP Business Writer Alex Veiga contributed to this report.

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama

 

Iran Hands Over Stockpile of Enriched Uranium to Russia

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-   A Russian ship left Iran on Monday carrying almost all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, fulfilling a major step in the nuclear deal struck last summer and, for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently leaving Iran with too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

The shipment was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and confirmed by a spokesman for Russia’s civilian nuclear company, Rosatom. Mr. Kerry called it “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitment,” and American officials say that it may be only weeks before the deal reached in July takes effect.

On “implementation day,” roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets will be unfrozen, and the country will be free to sell oil on world markets and operate in the world financial system.

For President Obama, the peaceful removal of the fuel from Iran is one of the biggest achievements in his foreign policy record, the culmination of a seven-year effort that at various times involved sanctions, cybersabotage of Iran’s main nuclear facility and repeated Israeli threats to bomb the country’s facilities.

Less than a year ago, many inside the Obama administration — and almost all senior officials in Israel, which regards Iran as a dangerous foe — said they doubted Iran would agree to part with a stockpile of fuel that gave it the potential power to build a weapon, even though the Iranians have said that was not their intention.

Mr. Kerry, in a statement, said the ship, which Russian officials said was the Mikhail Dudin, carried 25,000 pounds of nuclear material. That included, Mr. Kerry said, the fuel that was closest to bomb-grade quality: It had been enriched to 20 percent purity. Iranian officials said that fuel was for a specialty reactor to make medical isotopes, but it was considered a threat because it would require relatively little further enrichment to produce a weapon.

Ridding Iran of the material was a major goal of the multistep agreement to unravel what the United States and international regulators called a military endeavor in the guise of a civilian nuclear program.

Iran is still disassembling centrifuges, which enrich uranium, and disabling a plutonium reactor, among other steps that are required under the nuclear agreement struck in July.

For face-saving purposes, Iran is calling the uranium shipment part of a “fuel swap.” But the fuel it is receiving, partly from Kazakhstan, is natural uranium, which would require substantial processing to be used for either a nuclear reactor or a weapon.

Mr. Kerry’s statement said that with the removal of the fuel, Iran’s “breakout time” — the time needed to produce a weapon — had already moved from two to three months to six to nine months. Before the deal goes into effect, that time is supposed to extend to a full year.

Iran is permitted to hold 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of low-enriched uranium under the deal. But that is not enough to produce a single weapon.

In a telephone interview, the Rosatom spokesman, Sergei Novikov, said the shipment fulfilled the requirement between Iran, the United States and five other world powers, including Russia, to remove Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to this level.

The other fuel that can be used to make a bomb, plutonium, is made by irradiating uranium in a nuclear reactor. The process transforms some of the uranium into plutonium. The agreement requires Iran to disable its reactor at Arak and redesign it to minimize its plutonium output. The Obama administration has said these two requirements close for Iran both paths to becoming a nuclear power.

Despite the progress toward carrying out the nuclear agreement, hostility and mistrust between Iran and the United States have not abated. The Iranians have expressed anger over a new American law that curtails visa-free travel, saying it amounts to a sanction that violates the nuclear agreement, and they are threatening unspecified retaliation.

The law prohibits citizens from 38 countries, mostly in Europe, from traveling to the United States without a visa if they have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the past five years, a limit that Iranians — and some Europeans — say could discourage business opportunities in Iran.

The intent of the American law is greater antiterrorism protection from the Islamic State, which has been linked to the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Iran opposes the Islamic State and has called Iran’s inclusion in the new law nonsensical.

On Monday, Iranian news media reported that a senior parliamentary official in Tehran, Alaedin Boroujerdi, had written to counterparts in Europe, China and Russia, calling on them to object to the new visa law as a “destructive blow” to the nuclear accord. A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, said Iran may take “its own steps in response.”

In Washington, Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesman, reiterated at a daily briefing that the Obama administration contends it can carry out the new visa law in a way that does not “interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran.”

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

Officials: ‘Affluenza’ teen, mother detained in Mexico

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DALLAS (AP) — Authorities said a Texas teenager serving probation for killing four people in a drunken-driving wreck after invoking an “affluenza” defense was in custody in Mexico, weeks after he and his mother disappeared.

Mexico’s Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said in a statement that its agents had been working with American authorities via the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara since Dec. 26 to track down and capture 18-year old Ethan Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch. The office said the two were located and detained Monday evening in a beachside neighborhood of the Pacific Coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

After their detention, they were handed over to Mexican immigration authorities for deportation, the statement said.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office also told local media outlets that the two had been taken into custody. A spokeswoman for the office could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press for further comment.

Authorities began searching for the pair after Ethan Couch failed to keep a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on Dec. 10, leading authorities to issue the juvenile equivalent of an arrest warrant for him.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson has said he believes the two fled in late November after a video surfaced that appears to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. If found to be drinking, Couch’s probation could be revoked and he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

A spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department has declined to say whether Tonya Couch is facing any charges.

There was no immediate comment Monday night from the U.S. Marshals Service, which had issued a wanted poster promising a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to Couch’s whereabouts and capture.

In June 2013 at age 16, Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a dark two-lane road south of Fort Worth when he crashed into a disabled SUV off to the side, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in Couch’s pickup truck.

Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Because of his age, he wasn’t certified as an adult for trial and a judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.

During the sentencing phase of his trial, Couch’s attorneys relied on a defense expert who argued that Couch’s wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew widespread ridicule.

Anderson, the sheriff, was among those critical of the judge’s decision not to incarcerate Couch. The sheriff said that the teen has never expressed remorse for his actions and that his case sparked more outrage than any other Anderson has encountered in his law enforcement career.

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Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Belgium: 2 suspected of plotting attacks arrested

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Two people have been arrested in Belgium on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels during the holidays, the federal prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.

The investigation revealed “the threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays,” the prosecutor’s office said.

A source close to the investigation said the Belgian capital’s main square, thronged this time of year with holiday shoppers and strollers, was one of the suspected targets.

“On the Grand Place, there are a lot of people, as well as soldiers and police who are patrolling, as well as a police station nearby,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the judge conducting the investigation to make public statements.

The two suspects, who the source said were male, were arrested following searches Sunday and Monday in the Brussels area, the Liege region and Flemish Brabant, the prosecutor’s office said. It did not disclose their names or further information about them.

One was charged with acting as the leader and recruiter of a terrorist group planning to commit terrorist offenses, the other with participating in a terrorist group’s activities as a principal actor or co-actor, the prosecutor’s office said.

During the searches, military-type training uniforms, propaganda materials from the Islamic State group and computer material were seized and are being examined. However, no weapons or explosives were found, the prosecutor’s office said.

Six people were taken in for questioning, but four were released, the office said.

The prosecutor’s office said no additional details would be made public, but that the probe was not connected to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, in which numerous suspects, including presumed ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and fugitive Salah Abdeslam, had connections to Belgium.

On Nov. 21, after the Paris attacks that killed 130 and injured hundreds, the terrorist alert level for all of the Belgian capital was temporarily raised to its maximum level.

Police and soldiers in Brussels have also been ordered to take special precautions to ensure their own safety, said Benoit Ramacker, spokesman for the Belgian government’s Crisis Center.

Police and army patrols were greatly beefed up in Brussels following the Paris attacks, and Ramacker said a new official threat assessment conducted Monday evening after the latest searches and arrests concluded the officers and soldiers deployed to protect others from extremist attacks might become targets themselves “in the exercise of their functions.”

Nine people suspected of links to the Paris attacks have also been arrested in Belgium, with the most recent arrest occurring Dec. 22. Belgium has also been one of the leading sources in Europe for foreigners recruited to fight for Islamic State and other extremist Islamic organizations.

On Jan. 15, Belgian anti-terrorism police targeting a group of returnees from Syria raided a house in the eastern city of Verviers, killing two suspected jihadis linked to Abaaoud, the leader of the Paris attacks, and arresting a third. Abaaoud, however, was not there.

Calm urged after Ohio grand jury doesn’t indict officers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Officials are urging calm as they brace for expected protests after a grand jury voted not to indict a white Cleveland police officer for fatally shooting a 12-year-old black boy who was carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun.

Small groups of protesters gathered Monday outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center and at the recreation center where Tamir Rice was shot by then-rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann in November 2014. The size of those protests likely was reduced by a cold and steady rain that fell throughout the day.

County Prosecutor Tim McGinty announced that Loehmann and his field training officer wouldn’t be indicted because of “indisputable” evidence that Tamir was reaching for what officers thought was a real gun tucked in his waistband, and urged those who disagreed with the grand jury to protest peacefully.

“It is time for the community and all of us to start to heal,” McGinty said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson made a similar plea, as did Tamir’s family. Attorneys for the family condemned the grand jury’s decision but called on people to express themselves “peacefully and democratically.” Deputies set up metal barricades outside the Justice Center after McGinty’s news conference on Monday afternoon.

Outside the recreation center, protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace!”

Cleveland resident Art Blakey held a sign that read, “Indict, Convict, Send Killer Cops to Jail!” He said he wasn’t surprised by the grand jury decision.

“There never has been any justice in these police murders,” he said. “We’re supposed to swallow these things whole as if this is business as usual.”

Activists have said they’re planning a protest outside the Justice Center on Tuesday afternoon.

The grand jury had been meeting several times a week since mid-October to hear evidence and testimony about the shooting. McGinty said he recommended to the grand jury that Loehmann and patrolman Frank Garmback not be indicted because they had no way of knowing that Tamir was carrying an Airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets instead of the actual firearm it’s modeled after, a Colt semi-automatic pistol.

A man called 911 that November afternoon to report that a “guy” was pulling a gun out of his pants and was pointing it at people. He also told the dispatcher that it might be a juvenile and the gun might not be real. But the 911 call taker didn’t relay that information to the dispatcher who gave the officers their high-priority radio assignment for what is known in police parlance as a “gun run.”

“Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police,” McGinty said.

There was no immediate comment from Loehmann after the decision was announced. An attorney for Garmback issued a statement that said the officers “acted within the bounds of the law.”

Steve Loomis, president of Cleveland’s largest police union, said the organization was pleased with the grand jury’s finding but added the decision “is no cause for celebration, and there will be none.”

In a statement, Tamir’s family said it was “saddened and disappointed by this outcome — but not surprised.” It accused the prosecutor of “abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment.”

A video of the shooting recorded by a surveillance camera and released publicly in the days following Tamir’s death sparked outrage and helped fuel the national Black Lives Matter protest movement that gathered momentum after black men were killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. Officers in both of those killings were cleared of criminal charges by grand juries.

The surveillance video shows Loehmann shooting Tamir less than two seconds after he emerged from a police cruiser driven by Garmback that skidded to a stop just a few feet from the boy.

Loehmann and Garmback’s legal issues haven’t ended with the grand jury decision. Jackson said the city will begin an internal review to determine whether the officers should be disciplined for their roles in the killing. The officers and the city are being sued by Tamir’s family in federal court, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland said Monday that there’s an ongoing civil rights investigation concerning Tamir’s death.

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Associated Press reporters Mitch Stacy, Kantele Franko and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, John Seewer in Cleveland and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report. FILE – In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty answers questions during a news conference in Richfield, Ohio. McGinty said Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, that a grand jury declined to indict Timothy Loehmann, a white rookie police officer, in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black youngster who was shot while playing with what turned out to be a pellet gun. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Business: Global shares make modest gains, capped by weak oil prices

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TOKYO (AP) — Shares in Europe made modest gains Tuesday as Asia recovered from an overnight drop in oil prices and a sell-off in Shanghai.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX rose 0.9 percent to 10,746.55 while France’s CAC 40 also rose 0.9 percent to 4,658.51. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged 0.4 percent higher to 6,257.15. Wall Street looked set to reverse Monday’s losses, with both Dow and S&P futures up 0.3 percent.

THE QUOTE: “Asian markets have looked past the wobble in oil prices and Chinese data yesterday to push tentatively into the green,” Angus Nicholson of IG said in a market note. “However, volumes are very low throughout the region, even lower than the pre-Christmas trade last week, so it is difficult to read too much into them.”

ENERGY: Monday’s news that Iran intends to increase exports by 500,000 barrels per day once economic sanctions are removed deepened concern over excess global supplies, pushing prices 3.4 percent lower. But on Tuesday, benchmark U.S. crude rose 16 cents to $36.97 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, also gained 16 cents, to $36.78 a barrel.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index rose 0.6 percent to 18,982.23 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.3 percent to 21,988.24. South Korea’s Kospi was 0.1 percent higher at 1,966.31 and the Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.9 percent to 3,563.74. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.2 percent to 5,267.30. Shares in New Zealand were higher, Taiwan fell and Southeast Asian shares were mostly higher.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was slightly higher at 120.37 yen, up from 120.26 on Monday. The euro slipped to $1.0977 from $1.0985 in the previous session.

 

Obama’s ‘Boots on the Ground’: U.S. Special Forces Are Sent to Tackle Global Threats

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    WASHINGTON — They are taking on a larger combat role in Afghanistan, where the war was supposed to be over. They are headed to Syria to help fight the Islamic State in its stronghold. And President Obama recently ordered nearly 300 of them to Cameroon to assist African troops in their battle against a militant group that has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.

With the Middle East in tumult, radical groups holding swaths of territory in Africa, and a presidential campaign fanning fears of a growing terrorism threat, the White House has steadily expanded the global missions of American Special Operations troops.

Even as Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he opposes American “boots on the ground” in far-flung parts of the world, his administration continues to carve out exceptions for Special Operations forces — with American officials often resorting to linguistic contortions to mask the forces’ combat role.

The Obama administration long ago showed its inclination to rely on Special Operations troops and clandestine missions as an alternative to large wars of occupation. But the spread of the Islamic State over the past year — from its hubs in Syria and Iraq to affiliates in Africa and South Asia — has led the White House to turn to elite troops to try to snuff out crises in numerous locations.

These deployments, as well as other missions being considered, have upended the Obama administration’s goal of withdrawing from countries that for more than a decade have been crucibles of combat for the American military.

The White House is now considering a Pentagon proposal to maintain at least one base in Afghanistan for years to come, according to American military officials. Senior officials spoke about issues related to Special Operations forces only on the condition of anonymity because most of the specifics of their missions are classified.

This plan would run counter to Mr. Obama’s original pledge to remove all troops from Afghanistan except for a counterterrorism force and the troops guarding the United States Embassy in Kabul. Mr. Obama revised his withdrawal plans in October, saying that about 5,500 troops would remain in the country through the end of his term in early 2017.

The proposal would use that Afghanistan base as a hub for Special Operations troops and intelligence operatives throughout Central and South Asia, part of a larger network of bases the Pentagon is envisioning in part to tackle the Islamic State and its more than half-dozen affiliates in countries like Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

Special Operations officers are gaining influence elsewhere in the administration’s fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, even as discussions of expanding their role threaten to reinvigorate historical rivalries with the military’s conventional forces and with other parts of the government.

In another new initiative, the State Department is poised to expand its long-faltering campaign to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, and one of the candidates being considered to lead the effort is Michael D. Lumpkin, a retired member of the Navy SEALs who is the Pentagon’s top Special Operations policy official.

The effort to overhaul the agency responsible for countering Islamic State messaging, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, could draw on Mr. Lumpkin’s understanding of covert operations to improve the State Department’s efforts.

During the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 13,000 Special Operations forces were deployed on missions across the globe, but a large majority were assigned to those two countries. Now, roughly half of the 7,500 elite troops overseas are posted outside the Middle East or South Asia, operating in 85 countries, according to the United States Special Operations Command.

There is other, subtler, evidence of the sway of senior Special Operations officers.

When Mr. Obama appeared before reporters in the Pentagon briefing room this month to discuss his administration’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Syria, he was flanked by a coterie of top national security officials, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Standing beside them was Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the Special Operations Command, whose presence raised eyebrows at the Pentagon.

The threat from the Islamic State has become more prominent in the presidential campaign since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and many candidates have proclaimed a need for more Special Operations troops to be deployed far and wide. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has talked about embedding Special Operations troops with Iraqi soldiers on the front lines, and Hillary Clinton said she would consider sending more special operators to Syria than the 50 that Mr. Obama recently authorized to assist rebels fighting Islamic State.

These calls for more American Special Operations troops have come even as some of the same candidates said they opposed boots on the ground in places such as Syria. Mr. Obama himself tried to draw a distinction during an interview this month with CBS News, when a reporter asked if recent Special Operations deployments in Iraq and Syria meant that he was reversing his pledge.

“You know, when I said, ‘No boots on the ground,’ I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert,” he said.

Defense Secretary Carter, in a discussion this month about a new deployment of as many as 200 troops, including scores of Special Operations forces, to Iraq to conduct raids and gather intelligence, spoke in Pentagon jargon. He called it a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.”

Senior American officials disagree on what exactly these troops will be doing, with top aides to Mr. Obama playing down any fighting role. “This is not a combat mission,” one senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives to the Pentagon. “This is to enable partners.”

But in a conference call with reporters on Dec. 2, Col. Steven H. Warren, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said, “I mean, a raid is a combat operation. There is no way around that. So, yeah, more Americans will be coming here to Iraq, and some of them will be conducting raids inside of both Iraq and Syria.”

Critics say using Special Operations troops this way is a half-step.

“The problem is that the expeditionary targeting force can easily become a waste of U.S. blood and money,” Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote recently. “The Obama administration reacts to every new problem with ISIS by making a limited increase in military force that is too little and too late.”

The same criticism has been leveled at the administration’s decision to send up to 50 Special Operations forces to advise and assist rebels against the Islamic State in eastern Syria.

The White House is also relying on Special Operations troops elsewhere. About half of the 3,500 American forces in Afghanistan are special operators and have recently fought pitched battles in Helmand Province against the Taliban.

Mr. Obama announced in October that he had ordered 300 troops, most of them special operators, to Cameroon to work with soldiers from Cameroon, Chad, Benin, Niger and Nigeria to counter the Nigeria-based extremist group Boko Haram. The American troops, Mr. Obama said, would provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the region, largely by operating unarmed surveillance drones. The troops would not engage in combat, he said.

As these deployments widen, General Dunford recently directed the Special Operations Command, or Socom to update for the first time in several years its role in coordinating a global response by commandos to terrorist activities — with a particular eye on the Islamic State. The directive has echoes of an effort begun more than a decade ago by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to put Socom in charge of the global hunt for Qaeda operatives.

That effort was thwarted in part by regional military commanders who bristled at losing their autonomy in the areas they oversaw. Now, as the influence of the Islamic State spreads, some military experts think Socom is well suited to the mission.

“Regional solutions will be limited solutions, thus the need for a global approach, led by Socom as the motivating force behind a global network to defeat the Islamic State,” said James G. Stavridis, a former four-star admiral who is now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.

But others are less certain, seeing peril in trying to fight the Islamic State with a military-centric model similar to the one adopted to combat Al Qaeda.

“This is an inordinately more complex situation than with Al Qaeda after 9/11,” said Jeffrey W. Eggers, a former Navy SEAL who worked on national security affairs at the Obama White House and is now a fellow at the New America Foundation. “We need a little humility about Socom’s ability to get its arms all the way around this problem.”

Iraq: Military making progress in fight for Ramadi

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi military forces on Monday retook a strategic government complex in the city of Ramadi from Islamic State militants who have occupied the city since May.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool initially announced that Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, had been “fully liberated.”

But Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar, quickly clarified that government forces had only retaken a strategic government complex and that parts of the city remained under IS control. IS fighters have retreated from about 70 percent of city, but still control the rest and government forces still don’t fully control many of the districts from which the IS fighters have retreated.

The Iraqi military launched a long-promised campaign to retake the city, located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Baghdad, last week. Their progress had been hampered by snipers, booby traps and the destruction by IS militants of all bridges leading into Ramadi.

Midwest storm brings twisters, floods, and it’s not over yet

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GARLAND, Texas (AP) — As residents of North Texas surveyed the destruction from deadly weekend tornadoes, the storm system that spawned the twisters was bringing winter storm woes to the Midwest and worsening flooding already being blamed for more than a dozen deaths.

At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in the tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage. The storms and flooding in Missouri and Illinois were the latest in a succession of severe weather events across the country that have led to at least 43 deaths in less than a week.

The damage began to come into view Sunday in North Texas, where local officials estimated as many as 1,450 homes were damaged or destroyed. Vehicles were mangled, power lines fell and trees were toppled. Heavy rain, wind and falling temperatures hampered cleanup efforts Sunday afternoon.

“This is a huge impact on our community and we’re all suffering,” Garland Police Lt. Pedro Barineau said of the suburb about 20 miles northeast of Dallas, where eight people died, 15 were injured and about 600 structures, mostly single-family homes, were damaged.

The weather service said an EF-4 tornado, which is the second-most powerful with winds up to more than 200 mph, hit the community at about 6:45 p.m. Saturday.

Natalie Guzman, 33, took photos of her family’s home in a Garland neighborhood. The garage wall had collapsed and the roof fell in. The only part of the house that appeared to be spared was the master bathroom, where her brother-in-law took shelter Saturday night. He was the only one at home and told her he had just enough time to get himself and his dogs into the bathroom.

“It was worse than I thought,” Guzman said, comparing the scene to the photos he had sent Saturday.

In the nearby town of Rowlett, City Manager Brian Funderburk said Sunday morning that 23 people were injured, but that there were no deaths and no reports of missing people. The weather service said damage indicated it was likely an EF-3 tornado, which has winds up to 165 mph.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement Sunday night that as many as 600 homes were damaged in Rowlett.

Homes in the neighborhood that had been searched by emergency responders were marked with a black “X.” In some instances, it looked like homes had been picked up and set back down in a big pile. State troopers blocked off roads, utility crews restored power and people walked around, hushed and dazed.

Three other people died in Collin County, about 45 miles northeast of Dallas, according to sheriff’s deputy Chris Havey, although the circumstances were not immediately clear.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made disaster declarations Sunday for four counties — Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and Ellis — and warned that the number of victims could rise.

On the other side of the state, the Department of Public Safety in Amarillo strongly discouraged travel throughout the entire Texas Panhandle — a 26-county area covering nearly 26,000 square miles — because blowing and drifting snow had made the roads impassable. Interstate 40, the main east-west highway across the Panhandle, was almost completely shut down. DPS said only a small section of the highway in Amarillo remained open.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency as there were blizzard conditions and an ice storm warning out west and flood warnings in the east, where one community had received 9 inches of rain. The state Department of Emergency Management said eight storm-related injuries were reported. About 60,000 homes and businesses were without power.

Further north, rain caused dangerous driving conditions and flooding in Missouri, where Gov. Jay Nixon also declared a state of emergency, and Illinois.

Six people died overnight when two separate vehicles drove into flooded roadways in south-central Missouri, Pulaski County Sheriff Ronald Long said. Greene County authorities said two fatalities there were associated with the flooding.

In southern Illinois, authorities said three adults and two children drowned Saturday evening when the vehicle they were riding in was swept away and sank in a rain-swollen creek.

The storm system was moving to the northeast and was expected to bring a mix of snow and ice into the Upper Midwest. Forecasters said parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin could see up to 10 inches of snow.

Also Sunday, the death toll in the Southeast linked to severe weather just before Christmas rose to 19 when Alabama authorities found the body of a 22-year-old man whose vehicle was swept away while attempting to cross a bridge.

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Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk in Houston; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Maria Sudekum in Kansas City, Missouri; Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis; Terry Tang in Phoenix; and Jonathan Landrum Jr. in Atlanta contributed to this report. Pam Russell, left, and Linda Hart rescue Pam’s cat, Larue, from Russell’s house a day after a tornado hit on Delta Drive in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Chicago police shooting of grandmother, teen draws criticism

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CHICAGO (AP) — Bettie Jones, known in her Chicago neighborhood for her work with anti-violence community groups, was killed by police responding to a domestic disturbance just hours after she hosted family on Christmas Day.

The fatal shooting of Jones, 55, and 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, a college student visiting his father for the holiday, at a West Side apartment has raised further questions about a police department already under intense scrutiny. Grieving relatives and friends of the two victims gathered Sunday to remember them and criticize city officials who they said had once again failed residents.

The shooting happened early Saturday morning at the small two-story apartment, where Jones lived in a ground-floor apartment and LeGrier’s father in an upstairs unit. Police, who were responding to a 911 call made by LeGrier’s father after an argument with his son, have released few details beyond a brief statement.

It said that officers “were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer’s weapon” and added that Jones “was accidentally struck.”

Both Jones and LeGrief were black, and their deaths come amid scrutiny of police after a series of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of officers across the country gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. It also comes amid a federal civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department that was launched after last month’s release of police dashcam video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Police did not disclose the race of the officer or officers, saying only that those involved will be placed on administrative duties.

LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, during a vigil Sunday placed candles on the porch of the home. On either side of the door, Post-It notes indicated where two bullets hit siding on the house.

“I used to watch the news daily and I would grieve for other mothers, other family members, and now today I’m grieving myself,” Cooksey said at a news conference outside the residence earlier Sunday.

Others who spoke said police should have used stun guns or other nonlethal methods if they felt they needed to subdue LeGrier.

“Why do (police) have to shoot first and ask questions later?” Jacqueline Walker, a friend of Jones, asked. “It’s ridiculous.”

Family spokesman Eric Russell said Jones’ many grandchildren had hoped to thank her for their Christmas gifts over the weekend.

Autopsy findings released Sunday by the Cook County medical examiner’s office say Jones died from a gunshot to the chest and LeGrier from multiple gunshot wounds.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi on Sunday said only that the shootings are being investigated by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, the main police oversight agency.

LeGrier’s cousin, Albert Person, said LeGrier’s father had invited his son to a holiday gathering at another home on Christmas. Person said the son’s refusal to go caused friction, but he downplayed the severity of the argument.

“What family doesn’t fight on the holidays?” he said.

LeGrier’s father, Antonio LeGrier, told the Chicago Sun-Times his son appeared to be a “little agitated” when the father returned to the apartment. Around 4:15 a.m., the elder LeGrier said he heard loud banging on his locked bedroom door and that his son said, “You’re not going to scare me.” He said his son tried to bust the door open, but he kept him from doing so and called police. He added that he called Jones on the floor below to say his son was a “little irate” and not to open the door unless police arrived.

He said Jones told him his son was outside with a baseball bat. Person said the teen was back in the house by the time police arrived.

When they did arrive, Antonio LeGrier said he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He said he heard gunshots as he made his way down from the second floor and then saw his son and Jones lying in the foyer.

He said his son had emotional problems after spending most of his childhood in foster care. He described him as a “whiz kid” on break from Northern Illinois University, where he majored in electrical engineering technology.

Cooksey denied that her son ever exhibited “combative behavior.” She said he “might’ve been angry with his father and they might’ve got into it,” but that he was not angry or violent.

It’s not clear whether Jones tried to intervene before being shot or if she was hit by gunfire while answering the door.

Sam Adam Jr., a lawyer for the Jones family, said Jones and LeGrier were apparently shot near the doorway of the home, but that shell casings were found some 20 feet away. He said that raised questions about whether police could have perceived LeGrier as a threat at such a distance.

It couldn’t be independently verified that the casings had any link to Saturday’s shooting.

Adam also said police took the hard drive of a home-security camera from across the street, but it was unknown if it or other cameras in the neighborhood captured the shootings.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said in a statement Saturday that IPRA would share its evidence with the county prosecutor’s office.

“Anytime an officer uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city,” Emanuel said in the statement.

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Janet Cooksey, center, the mother of Quintonio LeGrier, is comforted by family and friends during a news conference to speak out about Saturday’s shooting death of her son by the Chicago police, on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Chicago. Grieving relatives and friends of two people shot and killed by Chicago police said Sunday that the city’s law enforcement officers had failed its residents. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Business: Global stocks mixed after Christmas break

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BEIJING (AP) — Global stocks were mixed in light trading Monday as markets reopened following the Christmas break.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX slipped 0.1 percent to 10,727.00 and France’s CAC-40 shed 0.3 percent to 4,647.47. Markets in London were closed for a holiday. On Thursday, the CAC-40 fell 0.2 percent and Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.2 percent. The DAX rose 1.8 percent on Wednesday, its last pre-Christmas trading day. Wall Street looked set for a lukewarm start, with futures for the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.2 percent and Standard & Poor’s 500 dipping 0.1 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index added 0.6 percent to 18,873.35 while the Shanghai Composite Index shed 2.6 percent to 3,533.78. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was off 1 percent at 21,919.62 and Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.3 percent to 5,207.60. Seoul’s Kospi retreated 1.3 percent to 1,964.06. New Zealand advanced while Taiwan and Singapore declined.

WALL STREET: Stocks closed lower Thursday in light Christmas Eve trading. The energy component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.9 percent, the most of its 10 industry sectors. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 declined 0.2 percent. The Nasdaq composite lost less than 0.1 percent. The S&P 500 ended the week up nearly 3 percent and is back into positive territory for the year.

ANALYST’S TAKE: Trading “easing off into thin holiday markets should not lull one into complacency,” said Mizuho Bank in a report. “Watch for renewed momentum in 2016!”

JAPANESE DOLDRUMS: Industrial production in November declined 1 percent month on month following two months of gains. Retail sales fell for the first time since June 2015. Analysts blamed unusually warm weather that hurt clothing sales and lower prices for fuel and fresh food. “Increased purchasing power gained by lower oil prices and larger seasonal bonuses for large corporations will probably provide only limited support to boost Japan’s retail sales because overall wage growth remains slack,” Harumi Taguchi of IHS Global Insight said in a report.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude shed 64 cents to $37.46 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract gained 60 cents to close at $38.10. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, lost 62 cents to $37.27 per barrel in London. In the previous session, the contract rose 53 cents to close at $37.89.

CURRENCY: The dollar rose to 120.59 yen from 120.43 yen. The euro weakened to $1.0972 from $1.0976.

 

Pope issues Christmas indulgence to spread message of mercy

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis issued a Christmas Day prayer that recent U.N.-backed peace agreements for Syria and Libya will quickly end the suffering of their people, denouncing the “monstrous evil” and atrocities they have endured and praising the countries that have taken in their refugees.

Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis issued a plenary indulgence for Catholics in hopes of spreading the church’s message of mercy in a world torn by war, poverty and extremist attacks. The sun-soaked St. Peter’s Square was under heavy security, as it has been since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks by Islamic extremists that left 130 dead.

An indulgence is an ancient church tradition related to the forgiveness of sins. Francis announced it after delivering his annual “Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world)” speech listing global hotspots and his prayers for an end to human suffering.

Francis referred to the “brutal acts of terrorism” that struck the French capital this year as well as attacks in Egypt’s airspace, in Beirut, Mali and Tunisia. He denounced the ongoing conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine and issued consolation to Christians being persecuted for their faith in many parts of the planet.

“They are our martyrs of today,” he said.

In an indirect reference to the Islamic State group, he said: “May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples.”

Francis said he hoped the plenary indulgence he issued for this, his Holy Year of Mercy, would encourage the faithful “to welcome God’s mercy in our lives, and be merciful with our brothers to make peace grow.”

“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he said.

Libya has been in a state of lawlessness since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. Syria has seen a five-year war that has killed over 250,000 people and forced millions to flee the country. The surge of refugees flowing out of Syria to Europe has created a migration crisis for the entire continent.

“We pray to the Lord that the agreement reached in the United Nations may succeed in halting as quickly as possible the clash of arms in Syria and in remedying the extremely grave humanitarian situation of its suffering people,” he said. “It is likewise urgent that the agreement on Libya be supported by all, so as to overcome the grave divisions and violence afflicting the country.”

Francis praised both individuals and countries that have taken in refugees fleeing “inhuman conditions,” saying their generosity had helped the newcomers “build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them.”

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Christmastime tornadoes ravage South; at least 14 killed

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ASHLAND, Miss. (AP) — Instead of doing some last-minute shopping or wrapping gifts, families across the South spent Christmas Eve taking stock of their losses after an unusual outbreak of December tornadoes and other violent weather killed at least 14 people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.

“Santa brought us a good one, didn’t he?” Bobby Watkins said as he and his wife took a walk amid the destruction in rural Benton County, Mississippi, where four people — including a married couple and two neighbors on the same street — were confirmed dead and their homes destroyed. “I may have lost some stuff, but I got my life.”

Unseasonably warm weather Wednesday helped spawn twisters from Arkansas to Michigan. The line of springlike storms continued marching east Thursday, dumping torrential rain that flooded roads in Alabama and caused a mudslide in the mountains of Georgia.

Authorities confirmed seven deaths in Mississippi, including that of a 7-year-old boy who was in a car that was swept up and tossed by a storm. Six more died in Tennessee. One person was killed in Arkansas.

Dozens more were injured, some seriously, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Search teams combed damaged homes and businesses for people still missing, including at least one man in hard-hit Benton County. The hunt was made complicated because so many had left for the holidays.

“Until they know for sure where those folks are, they’re going to keep looking, because we’ve had in some cases houses leveled, and they’re just not there anymore,” Flynn said.

In Linden, Tennessee, Tony Goodwin ducked into a storm shelter with seven others as the storm passed. He emerged to find his house had been knocked off its foundation and down the hill.

He managed to climb inside and fetch some Christmas gifts that had been under his tree. Goodwin’s neighbors weren’t so fortunate. Two people in one home were killed.

“It makes you thankful to be alive with your family,” he said. “It’s what Christmas is all about.”

Chris Shupiery grabbed his Santa hat along with a chain saw as he set out to help clean up on Thursday. He cut up fallen trees not far from Goodwin’s home.

“This was just the right thing to do, come help a family in need,” Shupiery said. “Suit up, try to cheer people up and try to make them feel a little better with Christmas coming around.”

In Benton County, Mississippi, relatives helped Daisy and Charles Johnson clean up after the storm flattened their house. They carried some of the couple’s belongings past a Santa Claus figure on a table.

Daisy Johnson, 68, said she and her husband rushed along with other relatives to their storm shelter across the street from the house after they heard a twister was headed their way.

“We looked straight west of us and there it was. It was yellow and it was roaring, lightning just continually, and it was making a terrible noise,” she said. “I never want to hear that again for as long as I live.”

Mona Ables, 43, was driving home when the storm hit. She abandoned her car, ran to a house and banged on a window, seeking shelter.

The startled man inside couldn’t open the door, which appeared to be blocked, Ables said. She huddled next to the house as another stranger pulled up, also looking for shelter.

“He and I just huddled together and saw trees fly past us, and a shipping container flip over,” Ables said. “And as the debris started hitting us, he just covered me, and within a minute it was all over and there was destruction all around us and we were fine.”

Peak tornado season in the South is in the spring, but such storms can happen at any time. Exactly a year ago, twisters hit Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens.

Glenda Hunt, 69, was cooking chicken and making dressing Wednesday night at her Benton County home, where Christmas Eve lunch is a family tradition, when her daughter called to warn her of the approaching storm.

Hunt and her husband ducked into their storm shelter and wrestled the door shut against the wind’s powerful suction. She started praying when she heard sheet metal hitting trees.

On Thursday, heavy farm equipment and corn were strewn across the couple’s property. Their house sustained heavy structural damage but was still standing.

“We’re OK and that’s all that matters,” Hunt said. “But the Lord did save my furniture.”

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Schelzig reported from Linden, Tennessee; Associated Press writers Josh Replogle in Miami; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Claudia Lauer in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Russia, Qatar to encourage Syrian opposition to talk to govt

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and Qatar have agreed on steps to encourage the Syrian opposition to sit down for talks with the Syrian government, the Russian foreign minister said Friday.

Russia is a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Qatar and other Middle East countries accuse of war crimes.

Speaking to reporters after his talks with Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah on Friday accused Assad of supporting terrorist groups. Lavrov, meanwhile, insisted that “it’s up to the Syrian people” to decide Assad’s future.

The Russian minister said the two countries still disagree on Assad’s future but added that he and al-Attiyah have agreed to encourage the Syrian opposition to launch talks with the Syrian government.

“We have reached an understanding with our Qatari counterparts about what we can do to help make sure such a delegation (of the Syrian opposition) is formed so the Syrian talks can be effective,” Lavrov said.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, greets Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah as they enter a hall for their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 25, 2015. Lavrov and al- Attiyah are expected to discuss bilateral issues as well as a political settlement in the war-torn Syria. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Turkey says 19 migrants drown after boat capsizes

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ISTANBUL (AP) — Another 19 people, including six children, drowned Thursday in the waters of the Aegean off the coast of the Turkish city of Izmir after their boat capsized.

The Turkish coast guard said rescue teams managed to save 21 people and were still looking for one other survivor. The boat capsized near the town of Dikili, which lies directly across from the Greek Island of Lesbos.

There was no mention of nationalities.

Thursday’s deaths are the third in as many days between Turkey’s southwestern coast and nearby Greek islands and coincides with falling temperatures and rougher seas.

The Greek coastguard on Wednesday said a small plastic boat carrying migrants from Turkey sank off the small island of Farmakonissi, drowning at least 13, mostly children. Another 11 migrants died Tuesday in the Aegean.

Earlier this week, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migrants said more than 1 million asylum-seekers have entered Europe, almost all arriving by sea. It said 3,692 people have drowned trying to get into Europe.

Most people entered Europe via Greece, which took in 820,000 people this year, nearly all of them crossing from Turkey by boat across the Aegean Sea. Of the deaths, the IOM said 706 drowned trying to get to Greece.

In an effort to stanch the flow, the European Union, which is facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, has earmarked $3.2 billion for Turkey to deal with migrants in its territory.

Turkey, which according to the authorities is hosting 2.5 million Syrian refugees, is a stepping stone for migrants fleeing war and seeking better economic opportunities in the European Union.

In a separate incident late Wednesday, coast guards caught two suspected smugglers and rounded up 45 Syrian would-be migrants heading from Mugla province in southwest Turkey to the Greek island of Symi, local media reported.

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A Syrian woman with her children wait for a bus after their arrival by ferry at the Athens’ main port of Piraeus, early Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. The Geneva-based International Organization for Migrants says more than 1 million people have entered Europe as of Monday. Almost all came by sea, while 3,692 drowned in the attempt. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Paris climate goals mean emissions need to drop below zero

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — If governments are serious about the global warming targets they adopted in Paris, scientists say they have two options: eliminating fossil fuels immediately or finding ways to undo their damage to the climate system in the future.

The first is politically impossible — the world is still hooked on using oil, coal and natural gas — which leaves the option of a major cleanup of the atmosphere later this century.

Yet the landmark Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 countries on Dec. 12, makes no reference to that, which has left some observers wondering whether politicians understand the implications of the goals they signed up for.

“I would say it’s the single biggest issue that has to be resolved,” said Glen Peters of the Cicero climate research institute in Oslo, Norway.

Scientists refer to this envisioned cleanup job as negative emissions — removing more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than humans put in it.

Right now we’re putting in a lot — about 50 billion tons a year, mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

There are methods to achieve negative emissions today but they would need to be scaled up to a level that experts say could put climate efforts in conflict with other priorities, such as eradicating hunger. Still, if the Paris climate goals are to be achieved, there’s no way to avoid the issue, said Jan Minx of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate change in Berlin.

“My view is, let’s have this discussion,” he said. “Let’s involve ourselves in developing these technologies. We need to keep learning.”

The Paris Agreement was historic. For the first time all countries agreed to jointly fight climate change, primarily by reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Governments vowed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial times. But even 2 degrees of warming could threaten the existence of low-lying island nations faced with rising seas. So governments agreed to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), which is just half-a-degree above the global average temperature this year.

That goal is so ambitious — some would say far-fetched — that there’s been very little research devoted to it. In Paris, politicians asked scientists to start studying how it can be done.

Minx and others said it’s clear the goal cannot be reached without negative emissions in the future, because the atmosphere is filling up with greenhouse gases so fast that it may already be too late to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C.

“We are late with climate policy. We need to buy back some time,” Minx said.

That means allowing warming to exceed 1.5 degrees temporarily and then bringing it down by removing carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere.

The task would be enormous. One recent study said hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide would have to be removed in the second half of this century.

That has led some scientists to consider controversial geoengineering solutions like fertilizing the oceans with iron to make them absorb more carbon.

But the more viable methods being discussed today include planting more forests, which absorb carbon dioxide naturally as they grow, and combining bioenergy with carbon capture technologies.

Bioenergy comes from burning biological sources such as trees or crops. That results in zero net emissions, if the carbon dioxide released when one tree is burned is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed when a new tree grows up.

However, if you also capture the emissions from the bioenergy plant and bury them underground, you are actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Although the technology exists, it has received very little attention from policy makers, advocates say. There’s only one large-scale biomass facility worldwide using the method: a bioethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois.

“It’s been treated as an esoteric, maybe unnecessary field of research,” said Henrik Karlsson, who heads Biorecro, a Swedish company that specializes in the process.

The obstacles are many. Carbon capture technology is very expensive. And then there’s the issue of finding places to store the carbon dioxide once you’ve captured it.

Typically it is injected into rock formations deep underground, but “people don’t like carbon stored under them,” said Peters. “It’s not just a few tons. It’s billions of tons a year.”

Another problem is that to reach a point where the method actually generates enough negative emissions to enable the 1.5-degree target, bioenergy would need to be much a bigger part of the global energy mix. It’s just 10 percent today.

Critics say that could mean converting millions of acres of farmland used for food production to grow biocrops, which could clash with Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, which says the battle against climate change must be carried out “in a manner that does not threaten food production.”

Right now the idea of achieving negative emissions may seem like a pipe dream. Governments are still trying to stop record emissions from growing even higher, while allowing developing countries including India and China to expand their economies.

Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said the temperature goals governments adopted in Paris don’t match the actions nations are taking to limit emissions.

“It’s so easy to have this kind of target,” he said. “I don’t understand that given the history of the (U.N. climate talks), everyone is taking this seriously.”

Peters said achieving the 1.5-degree C target is “pretty unlikely” and that even the higher temperature target would be difficult and most likely require negative emissions.

“It’s really hard to see that 2 degrees will remain on the table unless you have some fundamental technological breakthrough,” he said. “There are just too many competing interests.”

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