AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on December 29, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 29 at 5:00 AM

Indian woman who was gang-raped and severely beaten on a bus dies in Singapore hospital

NEW DELHI (AP) — Shocked Indians on Saturday were mourning the death of a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago in an ordeal that galvanized people to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.

The victim "passed away peacefully" early Saturday at Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side, Dr. Kevin Loh, the chief executive of the hospital, said in a statement.

After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital, the woman was brought Thursday to Mount Elizabeth, which specializes in multi-organ transplants. Loh said the woman had been in extremely critical condition since Thursday, and by late Friday her condition had taken a turn for the worse, with her vital signs deteriorating.

"Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days," Loh said. "She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome."

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Burden shifts to Senate party leaders to work out fiscal deal as deadline closes in

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders rushed to assemble a last-ditch agreement to avoid middle-class tax increases and possibly delay steep spending cuts in an urgent attempt to find common ground after weeks of postelection gridlock.

An impatient President Barack Obama pressed top lawmakers to cut a deal before the year-end deadline, even one that falls short of the ambitions he and congressional leaders may once have harbored for a bigger deficit reduction package.

"The hour for immediate action is here. It is now," Obama declared.

Following a White House meeting Friday among Obama and congressional leaders, aides to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., began racing against the clock for a bipartisan bargain.

The leaders could present legislation to senators as early as Sunday, with a vote possible on Sunday or Monday.

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Gay marriage law takes effect in Maine; couples tie the knot in the first hours of the new law

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Arriving in a limo, Donna Galluzzo and Lisa Gorney had all the trappings of a traditional wedding: Rings, flowers, wedding vows, an entourage and a friend to officiate.

With tears in their eyes, they were among the first gay couples to exchange wedding vows early Saturday morning after Maine's same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight.

"We're paving the way for people to go after us. I think it's just amazing. It's freeing. It's what's right," an emotionally drained Gorney said after their ceremony in front of City Hall.

After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine's largest city didn't have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect.

Steven Bridges and Michael Snell were the first in line, and they received cheers from more than 200 people waiting outside after they wed in the clerk's office.

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Woman hit with federal, state charges connected to guns used in NY firefighter ambush slayings

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — William Spengler raised no alarms in prison for 17 years and for more than a decade afterward. Well-spoken, well-behaved and intelligent, his demeanor was praised by four straight parole boards that nevertheless denied him parole, worried that bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer showed a violent streak that could explode again.

After his sentence was up in 1996, he stayed out of trouble until 2010, police said Friday. That's when Spengler went to a sporting goods store with a neighbor's daughter, picked out a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun and had her buy the guns that the convicted felon couldn't legally possess. On Monday, he used the weapons to ambush firefighters lured to a blaze he set at his house in upstate Webster, killing two people and wounding three others before killing himself.

On Friday, state and federal authorities charged the woman who bought the guns, 24-year-old Dawn Nguyen, with lying on a form that said she would be the owner of the guns she bought for Spengler.

The charges involve the semiautomatic rifle and the 12-gauge shotgun that Spengler had with him Monday when volunteer firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were gunned down. Three other people, including two other firefighters, were wounded before the 62-year-old Spengler killed himself. He also had a .38-caliber revolver, but Nguyen is not connected to that gun, police said.

Investigators were still working Friday to confirm their belief that a body found in Spengler's burned home was that of the sister he lived with, Cheryl Spengler, 67.

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Contract extension averts dockworkers strike — for now — at East and Gulf coast ports

NEW YORK (AP) — Dockworkers along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico agreed Friday to extend their contract for more than a month, averting a weekend strike that could have crippled major ports from Boston to Houston and bottled up billions of dollars' worth of cargo.

Talks aimed at reaching a new contract covering the 14,500 longshoremen will continue during the extension, which runs through Feb. 6.

The dockworkers' union and an alliance of port operators and shipping lines agreed to the extension after resolving one of the stickier points in their negotiations, involving royalty payments to longshoremen for each container they unload. Details were not disclosed.

Federal mediator George Cohen said the agreement on royalties was "a major positive step forward."

"While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved," he said.

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US banks closing year with strong profits and fewest failures since 2008 financial crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. banks are ending the year with their best profits since 2006 and fewer failures than at any time since the financial crisis struck in 2008. They're helping support an economy slowed by high unemployment, flat pay, sluggish manufacturing and anxious consumers.

As the economy heals from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, more people and businesses are taking out — and repaying — loans.

And for the first time since 2009, banks' earnings growth is being driven by higher revenue — a healthy trend. Banks had previously managed to boost earnings by putting aside less money for possible losses.

Signs of the industry's gains:

— Banks are earning more. In the July-September quarter, the industry's earnings reached $37.6 billion, up from $35.3 billion a year earlier. It was the best showing since the July-September quarter of 2006, long before the financial meltdown. By contrast, at the depth of the Great Recession in the last quarter of 2008, the industry lost $32 billion.

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Venezuela's vice president, others arrive in Havana to visit Chavez after cancer surgery

HAVANA (AP) — Venezuela's vice president arrived in Havana to visit President Hugo Chavez as he recovers from cancer surgery, Cuban official media said early Saturday.

Communist Party newspaper Granma published online a photo of Vice President Nicolas Maduro being greeted at the airport in the Cuban capital by the island's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez.

"From there, (Maduro) went directly to the hospital where President Hugo Chavez Frias is receiving treatment to greet his family members and Venezuelan Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza Monserrat, and to discuss with doctors the adequate moment to visit the President the same day," the paper said.

Granma added that Maduro was accompanied by Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores.

The previous night in Caracas, Venezuela, Maduro did not specify how long he would be away but said Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.

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NRA envisions armed volunteers, but experts say trained police are needed for school security

WASHINGTON (AP) — The student's attack began with a shotgun blast through the windows of a California high school. Rich Agundez, the El Cajon policeman assigned to the school, felt his mind shift into overdrive.

People yelled at him amid the chaos but he didn't hear. He experienced "a tunnel vision of concentration."

While two teachers and three students were injured when the glass shattered in the 2001 attack on Granite Hills High School, Agundez confronted the assailant and wounded him before he could get inside the school and use his second weapon, a handgun.

The National Rifle Association's response to a Connecticut school massacre envisions, in part, having trained, armed volunteers in every school in America. But Agundez, school safety experts and school board members say there's a huge difference between a trained law enforcement officer who becomes part of the school family — and a guard with a gun.

The NRA's proposal has sparked a debate across the country as gun control rises once again as a national issue. President Barack Obama promised to present a plan in January to confront gun violence in the aftermath of the killing of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn.

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With Chavez out of sight, confused Venezuelans don't know what to believe about his health

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — He's getting better. He's getting worse. He's already dead. The whole thing is a conspiracy and he was never sick in the first place.

The obsessive, circular conversations about President Hugo Chavez's health dominate family dinners, plaza chit-chats and social media sites in this country on edge since its larger-than-life leader went to Cuba for emergency cancer surgery more than two weeks ago. The man whose booming voice once dominated the airwaves for hours at a time has not been seen or heard from since.

His lieutenants have consistently assured Venezuelans over the last week that Chavez is slowly on the mend and will be back at the helm of the country he has dominated for 14 years. But when will he be back? Will he be well enough to govern? What type of cancer does he have? Is it terminal? If so, how long does he have to live?

Government officials have not answered any of those questions, leaving Venezuelans to their own speculations. The wildest conspiracy theories run the gamut from those who say there is no proof Chavez is even still alive to those who believe his illness is a made-up play for sympathy.

"Everything has been a mystery. Everyone believes what they want about the status of his health," said Ismael Garcia, a leftist lawmaker who belonged to the Chavez movement until a falling-out a few years ago.

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NY mayor urges residents to keep 2nd fatal subway push this month in perspective; woman sought

NEW YORK (AP) — For New York City, it wasn't an unusual sight: a possibly mentally ill woman pacing and mumbling to herself on an elevated subway station platform.

The woman eventually took a seat on a bench Thursday night, witnesses later said. Then, without any warning or provocation, she sprang up and used both hands to shove a man into the path of an oncoming train.

As police sought on Friday to locate the unidentified woman, Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents to keep the second fatal subway shove in the city this month in perspective. The news of the horrific death of 46-year-old Sunando Sen, who was from India and lived in Queens, came as the mayor touted drops in the city's annual homicide and shooting totals.

"It's a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York," Bloomberg told reporters following a police academy graduation.

The New York Police Department released a sketch of the woman and surveillance video of her fleeing the area and interviewed witnesses, including some who described her as acting agitated before the attack.

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