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Associated Press

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 4:30 AM

Russia's president Putin calls on separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Putin's statement came several hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers accused Moscow of lying about its role and dangerously escalating the conflict.

NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and later released what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the accusations of an invasion in a televised news conference on Friday, saying that Moscow "has not been presented with any facts" proving that it had happened.

For the second day, Russian markets reacted nervously to the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine with the Russian ruble diving to the all-time low of 37.10 rubles against the U.S. dollar in early morning trading.

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UN: The number of refugees from Syria tops 3 million, up by 1 million from a year ago

GENEVA (AP) — The civil war in Syria has forced a record 3 million people out of the country as more than a million people fled in the past year, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The tragic milestone means that about one of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, the Geneva-based agency said. More than half of all those uprooted are children, it said.

"The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Syria had a prewar population of 23 million.

The recent surge in fighting appears to be worsening the already desperate situation for Syrian refugees, the agency said, as the extremist Islamic State group expands its control of broad areas straddling the Syria-Iraq border and terrorizes rivals and civilians in both countries.

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10 Things to Know for Today

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

1. PUTIN URGES SEPARATISTS TO FREE UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS

The president's statement comes several hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops.

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With Ebola in mind, US campuses plan to screen students arriving from West Africa

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — College students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate their campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

With the virus continuing to kill in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the expected arrival of thousands of students from those countries has U.S. authorities on alert but cautioning against alarm.

"I can see why there would be concern; there's no vaccine for it," said Fatima Nor, an 18-year-old freshman at the University at Buffalo, where about 25 students from Nigeria are enrolled for fall. But she said knowing that the virus is transmitted strictly through direct contact with bodily fluids of sick people, and not by sitting next to someone in class, should be enough to calm nerves.

"As long as everyone keeps their personal space, it should be OK," said Nor, of Buffalo.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued no specific recommendations for colleges, some state health departments, including in South Carolina and North Dakota, have spelled out for administrators what symptoms to look for and how to react.

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In first for 9/11 anniversary, memorial plaza at ground zero will be open to public that night

NEW YORK (AP) — The Sept. 11 memorial plaza will be open on the night of the attacks' anniversary this year, marking the first time the general public will be able to visit ground zero on the commemoration date.

The plaza will be closed to the public during the remembrance ceremony and much of the rest of the day, but it will open from 6 p.m. to midnight for those who want to pay respects and view one of the most evocative observances — the twin beams called the Tribute in Light — from an especially "meaningful vantage point," memorial President Joe Daniels said in an email Thursday to victims' families.

A symbolic shift for a site that was inaccessible to the public for years after the attacks, the plan reflects its increasing openness as more gets rebuilt.

The memorial plaza, with its massive reflecting pools etched with the names of the dead, opened in 2011. But to control crowds amid construction elsewhere on the World Trade Center property, tickets and security screening were required until this spring. Since the ticketed, underground memorial museum opened in May, open access has been allowed during days and evenings at the plaza, which joins the streetscape of lower Manhattan even as it serves as a place of remembrance protected by police and security guards. Museum officials said that security measures would be in place for the public hours on Sept. 11 but that they couldn't disclose details.

The night hours on Sept. 11 will provide visitors a solemn setting for looking at the Tribute in Light, which first appeared on March 11, 2002, to mark the six months that had passed since the attacks. It has become a moving, quietly powerful element of the anniversaries since.

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Obama puts brakes on notion that US military force can solve Ukraine, Mideast crises

WASHINGTON (AP) — Faced with deepening crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, President Barack Obama is putting the brakes on the notion that American military power can solve either conflict.

While that stance is in keeping with Obama's long-standing aversion to military entanglements, it comes at a time when the effectiveness of his preferred options is being challenged and there are indications that some in the administration are ready to take more robust actions.

In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Obama has relied largely on coordinated U.S. and European Union sanctions to try to shift Russian President Vladimir Putin's calculus. While the White House can claim credit for inflicting some pain on Russia's economy, Putin appears to be only getting more aggressive, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia of sending two military columns across the border Thursday.

During a news conference at the White House, Obama warned that Russia likely will face more Western penalties because of its continued provocations. But he offered no indication that he was considering anything outside the realm of sanctions and explicitly ruled out the prospect of U.S. military intervention.

"We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem," Obama said.

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Malaysia Airlines to shed 6,000 staff as part of overhaul plan after disasters

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia Airlines will cut 6,000 workers as part of a $1.9 billion overhaul announced Friday to revive its damaged brand after being hit by double passenger jet disasters.

The staff reduction represents about 30 percent of its current workforce of 20,000. A search for a new CEO is underway but there is no move to change the airline's name, which some branding experts had said was necessary for a successful makeover.

Khazanah Nasional, the state investment company that owns 69 percent of the airline, said the overhaul includes the establishment of a new company that will take over the existing Malaysia Airlines business and its reduced staff.

The revamp and new investment in the carrier will cost about 6 billion Malaysian ringgit ($1.9 billion). Analysts say the substantial staff cuts suggest the airline will reduce flights to Europe and China.

The twin disasters and ongoing financial woes "created a perfect storm for the restructuring to take place," said Khazanah Managing Director Azman Mokhtar. "We need to have a fresh start."

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$10 billion Russian fund with US advisers, partners complicates West's sanctions over Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Barack Obama warns of stepped-up economic punishments against Russia for its military incursions inside Ukraine, U.S. sanctions have so far avoided one prominent financial institution: the $10 billion Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has partnered with brand-name American companies and whose advisers include top U.S. and European private equity executives.

Despite its ties to Russian state businesses and officials, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has managed to operate unaffected by the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's military actions in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government said Russian troops invaded southeastern Ukraine on Thursday with two columns of tanks and military vehicles.

The fund has been working to help replace Western investors in Russia with money from Asia and the Middle East. In one recent deal, the fund and its partners paid $700 million to a Russian petrochemical company that is partially owned by a sanctioned Russian businessman. The fund's head, Kirill Dmitriev, told the Associated Press that the company with which it did the deal, Sibur, has not been targeted by sanctions but otherwise declined to discuss fund investments.

Along with its team of Russian managers, the fund's international advisory board includes private equity executives Stephen Schwarzman of The Blackstone Group LP, Leon Black of Apollo Global Management LLC and David Bonderman of TPG Capital LP.

The fund has so far escaped the effects from sanctions because it has not been explicitly targeted. The situation illustrates the Obama administration's struggle to achieve conflicting goals — punishing Putin's circle without damaging American companies doing business in Russia.

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German fears of economic impact of Ukraine crisis growing, but Merkel's support strong

BERLIN (AP) — Ordinary Germans are spooked about the future. Businesses are starting to see black clouds on the horizon. And an economy that has been the envy of Europe is showing cracks, shrinking unexpectedly last quarter amid the conflict in Ukraine.

It might seem like enough to put any leader into trouble. But Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity remains sky-high — with nobody in sight to touch her.

It shows the German public is prepared to endure some hardships — such as a rise in energy costs if the sanctions war with Russia escalates — as long as Merkel is seen as dealing strongly with the crisis.

"She holds her line, and this gives the German electorate the impression she is doing a good job in the interests of Germany," said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University. "I don't think that there are very many governments in Europe with such a stable position as the German government at this moment."

Merkel's support stands at 65 percent according to the latest polls, and her party was also by far the most popular in Germany. While Merkel's measured approach has helped the perception that she is steering the country deftly through chaotic times, she also benefits from the fact that Germany is not in as vulnerable a position as others, especially Eastern European countries.

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AP Exclusive: Shelly Sterling talks about husband, sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Shelly Sterling was approached by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about buying the Los Angeles Clippers, the wife of disgraced team owner Donald Sterling did not know who Ballmer was. But in short order she convinced him that the team was worth an unprecedented $2 billion.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Shelly Sterling offered details of how she negotiated one of the richest deals in sports after her husband's racist rant to a girlfriend became public, prompting the NBA to ban him for life and decree he give up the team.

At that point, Shelly Sterling stepped in.

"I was given the task and I did it," she said Thursday. "I just did what I had to do."

Prospective buyers started lining up when Ballmer entered the scene. She already had a bid of $1.65 billion from David Geffen and an Egyptian princess was entering the bidding war.

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