KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — One of the two men traveling on a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner with a stolen passport was a 19-year-old Iranian man believed to be trying to migrate to Germany, and had no terror links, police said Tuesday.
The announcement was the first certain piece of news in what has become a baffling mystery over the fate of flight MH370. On Tuesday, baffled authorities expanded their search for the Boeing 777 on the opposite side of the country’s coast from where it disappeared days ago with 239 people on board.
In the absence of any sign that the plane was in trouble before it vanished, speculation has ranged widely, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and terrorism, the last because two passengers were traveling on stolen passports. The terrorism theory weakened after Malaysian authorities determined that one of them was an Iranian asylum seeker.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters the 19-year-old was believed to be planning to enter Germany to seek asylum.
“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,” Khalid said. He added that the young man’s mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with the police. He said she contacted Malaysian authorities to inform them of her concern when her son didn’t get in touch with her.
Khalid said the other man traveling with the Iranian had arrived in Malaysia on the same day, and had yet to be identified.
He said investigators had not ruled out any possibility, including hijacking, sabotage or a personal motive to down the plane by either the crew or passengers. He also said that the police ” had no prior information or intelligence about any involvement of terrorists,”
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters). There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots didn’t send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams “have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca.” An earlier statement had said the western coast of Malaysia was “now the focus,” but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight.
“The search is on both sides,” Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said, adding that the previous statement didn’t mean that the plane was more like to be off the western coast.
The new statement said authorities are looking at a possibility that MH370 attempted to turn back toward Kuala Lumpur. If it did indeed retrace its path, the plane could conceivably have crashed into the sea on the western coast, the other side of Malaysia from where it was reported missing. But this doesn’t explain why it did not continue to show on radar while flying back toward Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia Airlines or other authorities have not addressed that question.
“All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities,” is all that the Malaysia Airlines statement said.
Malaysia’s air force chief also said Sunday there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.
Over the last three days the search mission has grown to include nine aircraft and 24 ships from nine countries, which have been scouring the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of Malaysia. Apart from the sea, land areas are also being searched.
China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, has urged Malaysian authorities to “speed up the efforts” while also contributing ships and helicopters to the search.
A shopping mall in Beijing suspended advertising on its large outdoor LED screen to display a search timer — an image of an airplane along with a digital clock marking the time since contact with the flight was lost.
Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand who police say were involved in handling reservations and issuing tickets used by the Iranian asylum seeker and his companion. Both men had both booked onward flights to Europe, and were traveling on stolen passports of an Italian and an Austrian.
Assuming the plane crashed into the ocean or disintegrated in midair, there will likely still be debris floating on the ocean, but it may be widely spaced out and the bulk of it may have already sunk.
The United States has sent two navy ships, at least one of which is equipped with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane that onboard sensors allow the crew to clearly detect small debris in the water. It said in a statement that the Malaysian government had done “tremendous job” organizing the land and sea effort.
The hunt began on Saturday morning at the point the plane was last known to be. But with no debris found, the search has been systematically expanded to include areas where the plane could have in theory ended up given the amount of fuel it had on board. That is an area many thousands of square kilometers (miles) wide.
Vietnamese planes and ships are a major component of the international search and rescue effort.
Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People’s Army, said authorities on land had also been ordered to search for the plane, which could have crashed into mountains or uninhabited jungle. He said that military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions also.
“So far we have found no signs (of the plane) … so we must widen our search on land,” he said.
- Society Culture
- Malaysia Airlines
Thomas Cook has unveiled a new service on Twitter that enables users to tweet a deal/offer request for a destination, and get an automatic reply with available offers.
The new service, known as ‘Holidays to go’ (Twitter handle: @TCOffers), encourages users to tweet their deal request for destinations by mentioning the Twitter handle. Upto three destinations can be mentioned in the tweet.
While the operator claims an “industry first”, it is reminiscent of KLM’s recent launch Local Eyes (@KLM_LocalEyes), an initiative where KLM employees across the globe take turn every week to tweet tips about a destination on requests from consumers via Twitter.
In addition, in early 2011 Skyscanner unveiled an initiative via @FlyScan encouraging people to tweet a flight request and get a tweet back with the best price available immediately.
The service scans for all tweets with the handle @TCOffers, and auto-tweets users with available offers.
If the automated system is unable to find a relevant offer to tweet, it sends the request to @ThomasCookCares team which will manually answer the query or find the right holiday deal.
It’s interesting to note the age of the Twitter handle. Thomas Cook stopped using the handle @TCOffers in December 2012. It had previously been tweeting any holiday promotions from Thomas Cook.
On the company’s decision to resume use of @TCOffers, group head of social media Jonathan Roberts says:
“The team decided to use this again as it was verified by Twitter, and feel it is a single place people can go to get all our offers as well as use it for ‘Holidays to go!
“The tweets were not automated (in 2012), it was a push channel, unless someone had a question, then we would answer.”
The company promises a reply tweet (with offers/deals) in seconds. However, a tweet to @TCOffers for deal request to Maldives was not answered for more than 60 minutes.
Roberts told Tnooz that the service is experiencing huge volume of requests since today’s launch and it has made the system to perform slow.
In 1986, a newborn wrapped in a red sweater was found abandoned in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant. Nearly three decades later, the baby is all grown up and looking for her biological mother, and tens of thousands of people are trying to help.
Katheryn Deprill began her quest on March 2 by posting a photo on her Facebook page in which she held up a sign that said, “Looking for my birth mother. … She abandoned me in the Burger King bathroom only hours old, Allentown PA. Please help me find her by sharing my post.”
Deprill, a 27-year-old married mother of three, figured the photo would be reposted by friends, maybe friends of friends. A week later, it’s been shared nearly 27,000 times by Facebook users around the world. Deprill’s story is rocketing around the media world, too.
But there’s still no sign of the mystery woman who left her in a restaurant bathroom.
Deprill, an EMT who lives outside Allentown in South Whitehall Township, said there’s so much she wants to tell her birth mom.
“Number one is, I would really like to say, ‘Thank you for not throwing me away, thank you for giving me the gift of life, and look what I’ve become,’” Deprill said Monday.
She’d like to know her family medical history, as well. And she has so many questions about the circumstances of her birth and abandonment.
“What made her do it? Why did she feel that she shouldn’t leave me at a hospital? Was she going through a horrible time?”
Deprill learned about her abandonment as a 12-year-old, when her sixth-grade teacher assigned the class to a project focusing on the students’ family backgrounds. Deprill came home and demanded answers from her adoptive parents, Brenda and Carl Hollis. They slid a scrapbook in front of her that held newspaper clippings from 1986.
The articles explained how a Burger King patron had heard a baby’s cries and discovered Katheryn on the bathroom floor. How a restaurant worker then called police. How police were trying to track down the mother.
“I comprehended it, but it still didn’t sink in that it was me, that a mother could just lay her baby down and walk away. That is just mind-blowing to me,” Deprill said.
She launched her search with the blessing of her parents. In fact, it was her mother who suggested holding up a sign and posting it on social media.
Deprill said she is “definitely not looking to replace my brothers and sister nor my adoptive parents, because I’ve had the best life. It was the best childhood ever.”
At the same time, “I would really like to see somebody who looks like me, and maybe I have (biological) brothers and sisters. … I’m really frustrated. I just wish I knew more about her.”
Some people have told Deprill that her birth mother is unlikely to come forward for fear of being prosecuted. But Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said there’s a two-year statute of limitations on child abandonment.
“Even if that were not the case,” he said via email, “I believe most DAs would exercise sound discretion and not prosecute someone under these circumstances.”
- Personal Finance – Lifestyle
- Family Relationships
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia said Monday it is drafting counterproposals to a U.S. plan for a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis, denouncing the new Western-backed government as an unacceptable “fait accompli” and claiming that Russian-leaning parts of the country have been plunged into lawlessness.
The Kremlin moves came as Russian forces strengthened their control over Crimea, less than a week before the strategic region is to hold a contentious referendum on whether to split off and become part of Russia.
In a televised briefing with President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said proposals made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are “not suitable” because they take “the situation created by the coup as a starting point,” referring to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Referring to a document he received from Kerry explaining the U.S. view of the situation in Ukraine, Lavrov said: “To be frank, it raises many questions on our side.”
“Everything was stated in terms of allegedly having a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and in terms of accepting the fait accompli,” he said.
Lavrov said Kerry delayed a visit to Moscow to discuss the situation, and Russia had decided to prepare new proposals of its own, though he did not say what they were.
“We suggested that he come today … and we were prepared to receive him. He gave his preliminary consent. He then called me on Saturday and said he would like to postpone it for a while,” the minister said.
But in Washington, State Department officials said that it was Russia’s refusal to discuss the American proposals that was hurting prospects for a negotiated solution — in particular, the idea of direct talks between Russian officials and those of the new Ukrainian government.
“We are still awaiting a Russian response to the concrete questions that Secretary Kerry sent Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday in this regard,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“Secretary Kerry made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that he would welcome further discussions focused on how to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals,” she said.
The statement said Kerry, in weekend discussions with Lavrov, reiterated Washington’s demand that Moscow pull back its troops from Ukraine and end attempts to annex the Crimean peninsula. Kerry also called on Russia to cease what the statement described as “provocative steps” to allow diplomatic talks to continue.
U.S. officials described a series of diplomatic maneuvers between Washington and Moscow over the weekend that initially led to an invitation for Kerry meet with Putin on Monday. The offer expired, however, after the two sides could not quickly agree to a page-and-a-half outline for potential negotiations that, above all, demanded Ukraine’s borders remain intact, according to the officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name.
The U.S. outline did call for ways to address any Russian concerns about the government turnover in Kiev that Moscow is calling a coup, and it introduced the potential for investigations into acts of violence by any party to the conflict, the officials said. Left unsaid, however, was precisely how those concerns might be assuaged, or what government would be tasked with leading such an investigation.
The U.S. outline also called on Russia to pull back from Crimea, both in military force and in influence, to halt the local government there from holding a March 16 vote on whether it should separate from Ukraine, the officials said. It further sought to gain Russian support for placing international monitors in Crimea, allowing the International Monetary Fund to work with Ukraine and backing a May 25 national election set by Kiev.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s foreign minister said Monday that his country was practically in a state of war with Russia, whose forces have effectively taken control over the Crimean Peninsula in what has become Europe’s greatest geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War.
“We have to admit that our life now is almost like … a war,” Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsya said before meeting his counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. “We have to cope with an aggression that we do not understand.”
Deshchytsya said Ukraine is counting on help from the West. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the lawlessness it said “now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine as a result of the actions of fighters of the so-called ‘Right Sector,’ with the full connivance” of Ukraine’s new authorities.
Right Sector is a grouping of far-right and nationalist factions whose activists were among the most radical and confrontational of the three-monthlong demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, which eventually ousted Yanukovych.
The Kremlin statement also claimed Russian citizens trying to enter Ukraine have been turned back at the border by Ukrainian officials.
Pro-Russia sentiment is high in Ukraine’s east and there are fears Russia could seek to incorporate that area as well.
Obama has warned that the March 16 referendum in Crimea would violate international law, and Putin countered that in phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron.
“The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, Obama spoke by telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping late Sunday, trying to court China’s support for efforts to isolate Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.
Obama appealed to Beijing’s vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations’ domestic affairs, according to a White House statement.
Obama “noted his overriding objective of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring the Ukrainian people are able to determine their own future without foreign interference,” the statement said, adding that the two leaders “agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China has been studiously neutral since the Ukraine crisis began and it remained unclear whether China would side with the U.S. and Europe or with Moscow.
The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, met on Ukraine for the fifth time in 10 days to hear a closed-door briefing from Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev. The council has been unable to take any action because Russia has veto power.
In Kiev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the businessman and Putin critic who was once Russia’s most famous prisoner, said Monday his country is ruining its longstanding friendship with Ukraine.
“The question of Crimea’s fate is very painful both for Ukrainians and for Russians. It’s not just a simple territorial dispute for some extra square kilometers,” Khodorkovsky told a packed hall at Kiev Polytechnic University.
“For Russians, it’s a sacred place, an important element in our historical memory and the most painful wound since the Soviet collapse,” Khodorkovsky said. Nevertheless, he said, the symbolism of Crimea for Russians cannot justify “such a blatant incursion into the affairs of a historically friendly state.”
He called for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine, but with broader regional powers and the protection of the rights of Russian speakers there.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s wealthiest man, was pardoned last December by Putin. Many believe he was convicted of tax violations and other crimes and sent to prison on trumped-up charges.
On Sunday, Khodorkovsky almost wept as he urged a large crowd in Kiev’s center not to believe that all Russians support their government’s actions in Crimea.
Heintz reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Lara Jakes, Matthew Lee and Julie Pace in Washington, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
- Politics Government
- Foreign Policy
- President Vladimir Putin
- John Kerry
- Sergey Lavrov
- President Barack Obama
KUALA LUMPUR/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Investigators in Malaysia are voicing skepticism that the airliner that disappeared early Saturday with 239 people on board was the target of an attack, U.S. and European government sources close to the probe said.
The fate of the Malaysian airliner that vanished about an hour into a flight to Beijing remained a mystery, as a massive air and sea search, now in its third day, failed to turn up any trace of the Boeing 777 plane.
Neither Malaysia’s Special Branch, the agency leading the investigation locally, nor spy agencies in the United States and Europe have ruled out the possibility that militants may have been involved in downing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
But Malaysian authorities have indicated that the evidence so far does not strongly back an attack as a cause for the aircraft’s disappearance, and that mechanical or pilot problems could have led to the apparent crash, the U.S. sources said.
“There is no evidence to suggest an act of terror,” said a European security source, who added that there was also “no explanation what’s happened to it or where it is.”
Meanwhile, dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries were still scouring the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses that could have led to a downing of the Boeing 777-200ER after it climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet.
Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.
Even so, one U.S. source said Malaysian authorities were leaning away from the theory that the plane was attacked. Their view was mostly based on electronic evidence that indicates the flight may have turned back toward the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur before disappearing.
Even that information has not been clearly confirmed, and investigators and intelligence sources say the fate of the Flight MH370 is still shrouded in mystery.
One reason was that the aircraft had failed to make automatic contact with a flight data-monitoring system after vanishing from radar screens, two people familiar with the matter said on Monday. Such contact could have helped investigators determine what happened.
The aircraft was equipped with a maintenance computer capable of talking to the ground automatically through short messages known as ACARS. “There were no signals from ACARS from the time the aircraft disappeared,” a source involved in the investigations said.
Also raising doubts about the possibility of an attack, the United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none, a U.S. government source said. The source described U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.
With no success so far, authorities were planning to widen the search from Tuesday, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters on Monday.
“Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” he said. “As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.”
Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out as investigators explore all theories.
A senior police official told Reuters that people armed with explosives and carrying false identity papers had tried to fly out of Kuala Lumpur in the past, and that current investigations were focused on two passengers who were on the missing plane with stolen passports.
“We have stopped men with false or stolen passports and carrying explosives, who have tried to get past KLIA (airport) security and get on to a plane,” he said. “There have been two or three incidents, but I will not divulge the details.”
Azharuddin also said the two men with stolen passports did not look like Asians, but he did not elaborate. Airport CCTV footage showed they completed all security procedures, he said.
“We are looking at the possibility of a stolen passport syndicate,” he said.
About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. The airline said other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.
A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area.
“The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,” said the source.
Asked about the possibility of an explosion, the source said there was no evidence of foul play and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical causes.
Still, the source said the closest parallels were the bomb explosions on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and a Pan Am aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Both planes were cruising at around 31,000 feet at the time.
Underlining the lack of hard information about the Malaysian plane’s fate, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft capable of covering 1,500 square miles (3,900 square km) every hour was sweeping the northern part of the Strait of Malacca, on the other side of the Malaysian peninsula from where the last contact with MH370 was made.
No distress signal was sent from the lost plane, which experts said suggested a sudden catastrophic failure or explosion, but Malaysia’s air force chief said radar tracking showed it may have turned back from its scheduled route before it disappeared.
SUPERIOR SAFETY RECORD
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.
U.S. planemaker Boeing declined to comment.
The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans who were not on the plane. Their passports had been stolen in Thailand during the past two years.
An Interpol spokeswoman said a check of all documents used to board the plane had revealed more “suspect passports”, which were being investigated.
“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said.
A Thai travel agent who arranged the tickets for the two passengers using the stolen passports said she had booked them on the flight via Beijing because they were the cheapest tickets, the Financial Times reported.
The travel agent in the resort of Pattaya said an Iranian business contact she knew only as “Mr. Ali” had asked her to book tickets for the two men on March 1.
She had initially booked them on other airlines but those reservations expired and on March 6, Mr. Ali had asked her to book them again. She told the newspaper she did not think Mr. Ali, who paid her in cash and booked tickets with her regularly, was linked to terrorism.
(Additional reporting by Siva Govindasamy, Niluksi Koswanage, Stuart Grudgings, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur; Ben Blanchard, Megha Rajagopalan and Adam Rose in Beijing; Martin Petty in Hanoi; Robert Birsel in Bangkok; Alwyn Scott in New York; Naomi O’Leary in Rome; Tim Hepher in Paris; Brian Leonal in Singapore; and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
- Society Culture
- Malaysia Airlines
After a state audit revealed massive corruption, the Florida town of Hampton could be completely wiped off the map if state lawmakers have their way, CNN reports.
Critics of the town (population less than 500) argue that it has long existed for the sole purpose of enforcing a speed trap on a 1,260-foot stretch of highway. Issued tickets (12,698 between 2011 and 2012, according to the New York Times) resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
But where did the money go? No one knows. Auditors were told by city officials that some of the records were “lost in the swamp,” according to CNN.
CNN notes that while it does have a bloated police department, the town isn’t filled with McMansions or flashy cars.
But there are some signs of extravagance. The excess in fines allegedly resulted in a city clerk being overpaid to the tune of $9,000. Perhaps most amazing, according to the audit, city employees charged $132,000 on an account at a BP convenience store located next to City Hall. Other alleged offenses include a failure to insure city police cars and failure to track what became of the revenue that came from ticketing motorists.
Now, state officials — including State Senator Rob Bradley — are seeking to erase the city and make it a part of Bradford County.
“It’s like something out of a Southern Gothic novel,” Bradley told Time magazine. “This town exists apparently just to write speeding tickets. Most people don’t understand why it exists in the first place.”
Hampton cops were a fixture out on U.S. 301. They sat on lawn chairs, pointing radar guns at unsuspecting motorists. They hid behind recycling bins. As more and more money came in, they idled in slick SUVs, trolled the median strips in riot gear and toted state-of-the-art firepower. Locals gave one the nickname “Rambo” because he slung an AR-15 rifle across his chest.
The town’s former mayor, Barry Layne Moore, was recently accused of selling oxycodone to an undercover police officer. Moore had only been mayor for a few weeks, according to CNN, and is “not connected to the city’s mess.” Even he called the city officials “either a bunch of crooks or a bunch of stupid people.”
“They made it sound as if I was running some kind of pill mill right out of my house, which is not the case at all,” he said. “If I was some kind of drug dealer, I would at least have a car. I ride a bicycle around town. I had my lights cut off twice last year. If I am a dope dealer, why are my lights getting cut off?”
The alleged corruption goes back years and involves three full-time city officials, according to the audit. The speed trap has been so lucrative, the town of Hampton could afford to employ one police officer for every 25 residents.
Another former mayor, Jim Mitzel, who served from 2000 to 2008, said he played a role in “greasing the revenue pipeline” from the speed trap. But he told CNN he thought the money would go back into the town.
“Where did all the money go?” Mitzel asked. “I hate to say it, but in somebody’s pocket.”
Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told CNN that the speed trap turned Hampton to “‘serve and collect’ instead of ‘serve and protect.’ Cash-register justice.” He also said the officials of Hampton made the over-the-top corrupt, white-suit-wearing Boss Hogg from the popular “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show “look like a Sunday school teacher.”
So, what happens now? The town has one month to come up with a plan to get its act together, according to the New York Times. Failure to do so will result in Bradford County taking over the town, and Florida maps getting a small but notable update.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).
- Politics Government
Moscow (AFP) – Russia vowed on Monday to unveil its own solution to the Ukrainian crisis that would run counter to US efforts and would appear to leave room for Crimea to switch over to Kremlin rule.
The unexpected announcement came as Ukraine’s new pro-European leaders raced to rally Western support in the face of the seizure by Kremlin-backed forces of the strategic Black Sea peninsula and plans to hold a Sunday referendum on switching Crimea’s allegiance from Kiev to Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine after a wave of deadly protests toppled a pro-Kremlin regime last month has set off the most explosive crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.
US President Barack Obama and his European allies are urging Russia to call its troops in Crimea back to their barracks and launch immediate negotiations with the new Ukrainian leadership, which Putin claims rose to power thanks to an “unconstitutional coup”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin in a televised meeting Monday that proposals he had received from US Secretary of State John Kerry on resolving the standoff “do not suit us very much” and were “framed as if there exists a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”
He said Russia had prepared a series of counter-proposals that would “take into account the interests of all Ukrainians”.
Lavrov said Washington was basing its solution on a recognition of Kiev’s new leaders while Russia still considered the ousted Viktor Yanukovych as the legitimate president of Ukraine.
But Lavrov gave no indication about when or where Russia’s proposals would be made public.
- Putin backs Crimea referendum -
Putin added new urgency to the standoff on Sunday by telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron that he fully backed the actions being taken by the self-declared rulers of Crimea — in power since an end-of-February seizure of the government by pro-Kremlin gunmen.
The Kremlin said Putin stressed “the steps undertaken by the legitimate authorities of Crimea are based on the norms of international law” — a comment strongly hinting that Moscow was ready to annex Crimea after handing the peninsula to Ukraine as a “gift” when it was a part of the Soviet empire in 1954.
Merkel — whose cautious approach to imposing sanctions on Moscow has clashed with the more hawkish positions of eastern European nations and Washington — bluntly responded that the Crimean referendum was “illegal.”
US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt told reporters in Kiev on Monday that Washington “is not prepared to recognise any result of the so-called referendum”.
The public vote will ask the predominantly ethnic Russian population to choose between swearing allegiance to Moscow and declaring greater autonomy from Kiev while remaining a part of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said that if Crimea’s leaders “want more rights and authority, then we are ready to do this.”
The country’s interim Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh meanwhile said the nation’s army — already on full combat alert — had launched training exercises aimed at evaluating how the heavily outnumbered force could resist an offensive from its nuclear-armed neighbour.
The diplomatic wrangling continued as Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk prepared to fly to the United States to meet Obama and address the UN Security Council.
His first meeting with the US leader on Wednesday should add credibility to Yatsenyuk’s untested government and provide Ukraine with a chance to iron out the details of crucial economic relief for its struggling economy.
The White House said Obama will discuss an economic support package that has already seen Washington pledge a quick infusion of more than $1 billion and the European Union promise to issue 11 billion euros ($15 billion) over two years.
Kiev says it needs about 25 billion euros ($35 billion) through 2015 to keep the country running after Russia froze a $15-billion bailout it promised Yanukovych as his reward for rejecting an EU trade deal in November that initially sparked the protests.
- Split between Russia and China -
The escalating crisis has seen Obama vow to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials held responsible for endangering the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
US officials have stressed that Putin himself is not on that list but have also warned that Washington could pull out of a G8 summit the Russian leader is hosting in Sochi in June.
The European Union for its part has halted visa talks and threatened to impose tough economic sanctions unless Putin quickly opens talks with Kiev.
The UN Security Council later on Monday will hold another meeting on Ukraine amid a rare but potentially significant split between allies China and Russia.
Beijing on Sunday affirmed its support for the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine — a stance that appears to signal that its own concerns about separatist movements in China outweigh the importance of preserving a united front with Russia on foreign affairs.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday warned against “provocative rhetoric and hasty actions” as he appealed for dialogue on Ukraine.
In a separate development, NATO announced it would deploy reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to monitor the crisis in Ukraine.
Crimea’s separatist government said on Monday it had invited the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the referendum even while keeping the group’s military observers from entering the region at gunpoint.
The European security body said it did not recognise the invitation as valid because it had not come from an OSCE members state but only an autonomous region of Ukraine.
- Politics Government
- Foreign Policy
- Barack Obama
DENVER (AP) — Colorado made roughly $2 million in marijuana taxes in January, state revenue officials reported Monday in the world’s first accounting of the recreational pot business.
The tax total reported by the state Department of Revenue indicates $14.02 million worth of recreational pot was sold. The state collected roughly $2.01 million in taxes.
Colorado legalized pot in 2012, but the commercial sale of marijuana didn’t begin until January. Washington state sales begin in coming months.
The pot taxes come from 12.9 percent sales taxes and 15 percent excise taxes. Voters approved the pot taxes last year. They declared that the first $40 million of the excise tax must go to school construction; the rest will be spent by state lawmakers.
Colorado has about 160 state-licensed recreational marijuana stores, though local licensing kept some from opening in January. Local governments also have the ability to levy additional pot sales taxes if they wish.
Monday’s tax release intensified lobbying over how Colorado should spend its pot money. Budget-writers expect the nascent marijuana industry to be extremely volatile for several years, making lawmakers nervous about how to spend the windfall.
Budget-writing lawmakers joke that plenty of interests have their hands out to get a piece of the pot windfall.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has already sent the Legislature a detailed $134 million proposal for spending recreational and medical marijuana money, including new spending on anti-drug messaging to kids and more advertising discouraging driving while high.
State police chiefs have asked for more money, too.
“The whole world wants to belly up to this trough,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat who serves on Colorado’s budget-writing Joint Budget Committee.
Other countries also are watching Colorado, which has the world’s first fully regulated recreational marijuana market. The Netherlands has legal sales of pot but does not allow growing or distribution. Uruguay’s marijuana program is still under development.
Colorado’s pot revenue picture is further complicated by the state’s unique budget constraints, known as the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights not only requires voter approval for tax increases, it limits budget-writers when those taxes earn more than the figure posed to voters. Last year’s pot vote guessed that the taxes would produce $70 million a year, and it’s not clear what lawmakers can do with tax money that exceeds that figure.
Colorado’s JBC plans a Wednesday briefing with lawyers to lay out their options for spending pot taxes beyond $70 million.
“There probably is a tendency to want to just grab on to this revenue from marijuana and feed my own pet projects, and I don’t think it’s going to be that simple,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs and another JBC member.
Colorado’s 2014-15 budget is under debate now and does not include any anticipated recreational marijuana taxes.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt
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COSTA RICAN ADVENTURE
Volcano adventures, hot springs and ocean views await couples in Costa Rica.
Steal: Book Costa Rican Vacations’ “Romantic Getaway” package and save more than 20% off the regular rate (savings of $780) on a seven-night stay in the Central American country. The itinerary offers three nights in the boutique Arenal Kioro near Lake Arenal with buffet breakfasts and entrance to the Titoku Hot Springs, along with four nights in the luxury, ocean-view boutique hotel Villa Buena Onda in Playas del Coco with breakfast, lunch and dinner during your stay. Rates for this package start at $2,700 per couple. This package is available April 1-June 30 (excludes Easter week).
Experience: The Arenal Kioro hotel has unparalleled views of the Arenal Volcano and its own tropical garden, bursting with lush vegetation and on-site hot springs. Villa Buena Onda offers large bedrooms and stunning ocean views of the Pacific. There’s a two-tier swimming pool and you can explore nearby beaches, go sailing or scuba-dive in the popular Guanacaste Province.
Book it! Go to vacationscostarica.com or call 1-800-606-1860.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club in Sarasota, on Florida’s Gulf Coast Kids eat for free.
FLORIDA FUN FOR ALL
Enjoy a family vacation at The Resort at Longboat Key Club on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Deal: Book the “Family Package” and receive a $75 credit to use at leisure at this Sarasota hotel. Kids 12 and under eat free. This offer is valid now through April 30. Rates start at $454 per night.
Experience: After golfing, paddleboarding and frolicking on the beach at this 410-acre playground, explore the seaside town of Sarasota. Take in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, visit the dolphin and whale hospital at Mote Marine Aquarium, or catch a Ski-A-Rees water ski show — a Sunday tradition in Sarasota.
Book it! Visit longboatkeyclub.com or call 1-888-237-5545. Use promo code OPALFAM.
Lobby of the Wolcott Hotel in Midtown New York. It opened in 1904.
110 YEARS OF HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE
Enjoy a unique slice of New York and American history with a staycation at the Wolcott Hotel in Midtown.
Deal: Now through March 31, reserve stays for $110 per night (more than 50% off the regular rate) through the end of the year when making reservations on the hotel’s anniversary Web page.
Experience: The Wolcott Hotel opened its doors in 1904 and was designed by John H. Duncan, the architect behind Grant’s Tomb, located at 122nd St. and Riverside Drive. Deemed a New York City landmark, the hotel is refined with intricate old-world architecture and decor. Walk inside and retrace the steps of some of the hotel’s celebrated first guests, including Mark Twain and Edith Wharton. Buddy Holly spent a good amount of time here recording some of his most popular hits. The stunningly detailed back ballroom, a buzzing dining room during the hotel’s early heyday, is now often used for high-profile magazine and movie studio shoots.
Book it! This offer is only good when booked through wolcott.com/ann110.
Conway Confidential is a content syndication provider specializing in travel, food and lifestyle.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The judge in the case against an Army general believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be tried on sex assault charges is considering new evidence that a top lawyer at the Pentagon may have unlawfully interfered in a decision on whether to accept a plea agreement that was ultimately rejected.
Attorneys for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair presented the evidence, and Judge Col. James Pohl dismissed the jury for the day Monday morning. Pohl then retired to his chambers, where he will weigh the email chain between the prosecution team at Fort Bragg and a top Pentagon lawyer.
It is unlawful in the military justice system for senior commanders to interfere in prosecutorial decisions.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Defense lawyers for an Army general facing sexual assault charges say they plan to press his primary accuser on inconsistencies in her story.
Attorneys for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair will get their chance Monday to cross-examine the female captain at the center of the closely-watched case.
The woman testified Friday that toward the end of their three-year affair Sinclair twice ended arguments by unbuttoning his pants and forcing her head into his lap as she cried.
The defense says they’ll show the woman is lying by presenting a trove of emails and text messages she exchanged with the general, many of them sexually explicit.
Sinclair is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever tried for sexual assault. He faces life in prison if found guilty.
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