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AP News in Brief at 7:58 p.m. EST

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm •  Published: April 9, 2013
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Gun control showdown vote set Thursday in Senate; progress reported on background check deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Democrat is setting Congress' first showdown vote for Thursday on President Barack Obama's gun control drive as a small but mounting number of Republicans appear willing to buck a conservative effort to prevent debate from even beginning.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced his decision Tuesday as the White House, congressional Democrats and relatives of the victims of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., amped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to allow debate and votes on gun control proposals. Twenty first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, turning gun control into a top-tier national issue.

"We have a responsibility to safeguard these little kids," Reid said on the Senate floor, pointing to a poster-sized photo of a white picket fence that had slats bearing the names of the Newtown victims. "And unless we do something more than what's the law today, we have failed."

"We don't have the guts to stand up and vote yes or no? We want to vote maybe? Tell that to the families in Newtown" and other communities where there have been mass shootings, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of 13 conservative senators who signed a letter promising to try blocking debate, said the Senate bill puts "burdens on law abiding citizens exercising a constitutional right." He said none of its provisions "would have done anything to prevent the horrible tragedy of Sandy Hook."

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Despite warnings of war, no sense of panic in North Korea's capital

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Scores of North Koreans of all ages planted trees as part of a forestation campaign — armed with shovels, not guns. In the evening, women in traditional dress danced in the plazas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong Il's appointment to a key defense post.

Despite another round of warnings from their leaders of impending nuclear war, there was no sense of panic in the capital on Tuesday.

Chu Kang Jin, a Pyongyang resident, said everything is calm in the city.

"Everyone, including me, is determined to turn out as one to fight for national reunification ... if the enemies spark a war," he added, using nationalist rhetoric common among many North Koreans when speaking to the media.

The North's latest warning, issued by its Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, urged foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea.

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Tentative deal reached on farm workers, hang-up to immigration bill; industry approval needed

WASHINGTON (AP) — A tentative deal has been reached to resolve a dispute between agriculture workers and growers that was standing in the way of a sweeping immigration overhaul bill, a key senator said Tuesday. The agreement could smooth the way for release of the landmark legislation within a week or so.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who's taken the lead on negotiating a resolution to the agriculture issue, didn't provide details, and said growers had yet to sign off on the agreement. The farm workers union has been at odds with the agriculture industry over worker wages and how many visas should be offered in a new program to bring agriculture workers to the U.S.

But Feinstein said she's hoping for resolution in the next day or two.

"There's a tentative agreement on a number of things, and we're waiting to see if it can get wrapped up," Feinstein said in a brief interview at the Capitol.

"I'm very hopeful. The train is leaving the station. We need a bill."

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Sheriff: Student arrested in Texas community college stabbing attack, at least 14 wounded

CYPRESS, Texas (AP) — A student went on a building-to-building stabbing attack at a Texas community college Tuesday, wounding at least 14 people — many in the face and neck — before being subdued and arrested, authorities and witnesses said.

The attack about 11:20 a.m. on the Lone Star Community College System's campus in Cypress sent at least 12 people to hospitals, while several others refused treatment at the scene, according to Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Robert Rasa. Two people remained in critical condition Tuesday evening at Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, spokeswoman Alex Rodriguez said.

Diante Cotton, 20, said he was sitting in a cafeteria with some friends when a girl clutching her neck walked in, yelling, "He's stabbing people! He's stabbing people!"

Cotton said he could not see the girl's injuries, but when he and his friends went outside, they saw a half-dozen people with injuries to their faces and necks being loaded into ambulances and medical helicopters.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said it was not immediately clear what type of weapon was used, but there were indications when calls came in to the department that "students or faculty were actively responding to work to subdue this individual."

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Iran says at least 37 killed in earthquake in south, nuclear plant undamaged

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 37 and injured hundreds more in a sparsely populated area in southern Iran on Tuesday, Iranian officials said, adding that it did not damage a nuclear plant in the region.

The report said the earthquake struck the town of Kaki some 96 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Bushehr, a town on the Persian Gulf that is home of Iran's first nuclear power plant, built with Russian help.

"No damage was done to Bushehr power plant," Bushehr provincial governor Fereidoun Hasanvand told state TV. He said 37 people had died so far and 850 were injured, including 100 who were hospitalized.

The plant's chief, Mahmoud Jafari, confirmed the site's condition to semi-official Mehr news agency, saying that it is resistant to earthquakes of up to magnitude eight.

Water and electricity were cut to many residents, said Ebrahim Darvishi, governor of the worst-hit district Shonbeh.

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AP Exclusive: Cuba says it will give US Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped children

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba said Tuesday that it will turn over to the United States a Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped their own children from the mother's parents and fled by boat to Havana, ending days of drama that evoked memories of the Elian Gonzalez custody battle of more than a decade ago.

Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada told The Associated Press in a written statement Tuesday that Cuba had informed U.S. authorities of the country's decision to turn over Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn, and their two young boys.

She did not say when the handover would occur, but reporters saw Sharyn Hakken leaving the dock of Havana's Hemingway Marina in the back seat of a Cuban government vehicle and workers later said that all four Hakkens had been taken away.

An AP reporter spotted the family earlier Tuesday beside their boat at the marina. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Michael Hakken yelled out "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.

Tablada said the Foreign Ministry had informed U.S. diplomats on the island "of the Cuban government's willingness to turn over ... U.S. citizens Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn Patricia and their two minor sons."

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Pilot of fatal medical helicopter flight was texting, didn't check his fuel, investigators say

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texting by the pilot of a medical helicopter contributed to a crash that killed four people, federal accident investigators declared Tuesday, and they approved a safety alert cautioning all pilots against using cellphones or other distracting devices during critical operations.

It was the first fatal commercial aircraft accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in which texting has been implicated. And it underscored the board's worries that distractions from electronic devices are a growing factor in incidents across all modes of transportation — planes, trains, cars, trucks and even ships.

While no U.S. airline crashes have been tied to electronic device use, the Federal Aviation Administration in January proposed regulations prohibiting airline flight crews from using cellphones and other wireless devices while a plane is in operation. The regulations are required under a law passed last year by Congress in response to an October 2010 incident in which two Northwest Airlines pilots overflew their destination of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by 100 miles while they were engrossed in working on their laptops.

Regulations already in place prohibit airline pilots from engaging in potentially distracting activities during critical phases of flight such as takeoffs, landings and taxiing. In some cases, however, pilots are allowed to use tablet computers containing safety and navigation procedures known as "electronic flight bags," replacing paper documents.

The five-member board unanimously agreed that the helicopter crash was caused by a distracted and tired pilot who skipped preflight safety checks, which would have revealed his helicopter was low on fuel, and then, after he discovered his situation, decided to proceed with the fatal last leg of the flight.

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Voters head to polls in special election to pick Jesse Jackson Jr.'s House successor

CHICAGO (AP) — While Democrat Robin Kelly is widely expected to capture Tuesday's special election for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat over Republican Paul McKinley, any winner will face big challenges.

Illinois' newest member of Congress will have big shoes to fill: Jackson was a 17-year incumbent who served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and brought home nearly $1 billion to the district. He also had strong relationships with mayors, activists and voters across the district that includes city neighborhoods, suburbs and some rural areas.

Jackson resigned in November. He pleaded guilty in February in federal court to lavishly misspending $750,000 in campaign funds.

Political experts, voters and mayors agree that Kelly, 56, has the edge. She's a former state representative, has received big name endorsements including from President Barack Obama and received a huge boost from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC, which supported her gun control stance. Also, the district is solidly Democratic and has been for about six decades. McKinley is an ex-con-turned-community activist who barely won his primary.

Early estimates showed low voter turnout in parts of the district, especially the city. Tuesday's special election coincided with municipal contests in other parts of the state; Chicago held its municipal contests in 2011.

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Prosecutor paints Jodi Arias as manipulative liar while working to discredit defense witness

PHOENIX (AP) — The prosecutor in Jodi Arias' murder trial worked Tuesday to portray the defendant as a manipulative liar who "liked to play the victim" as he questioned a defense witness' contention that Arias suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the one-time boyfriend she has admitted to killing.

Psychotherapist Alyce LaViolette has been testifying for more than a week about her conclusion that Arias was a victim of both physical and emotional abuse by her lover.

Arias says the killing was self-defense, and described during her 18 days of testimony how Travis Alexander had grown more abusive in the months leading up to his death, once choking her into unconsciousness. She says on the day of the killing in June 2008 at Alexander's suburban Phoenix home, Alexander attacked her one last time and she was forced to fight for her life.

However, no other evidence or testimony — other than Arias' accounts — have been presented at trial showing Alexander had ever been physically violent in the past.

Authorities say she planned the attack well in advance. Arias initially denied involvement then blamed it on two masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense. Testimony has been ongoing for more than three months.

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Ron Johnson just the latest major CEO flameout

NEW YORK (AP) — Ron Johnson's short-lived tenure as J.C. Penney's CEO will go down as one of the biggest flameouts in corporate America. The former Apple executive was hailed as a big thinker when he was hired by the ailing department store chain but his radical moves ended up alienating shoppers, sent sales plunging and left the company in an even worse situation.

He lasted 17 months.

But Johnson isn't the only executive to be pushed out after failing to live up to big expectations. Here's a look at some major ousters in recent times.

CAROL BARTZ, YAHOO