Monday, April 30, 2012

Associated Press Modified: April 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm •  Published: April 30, 2012
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US, China tap-dance around blind activist, seek resolution ahead of talks on broader themes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The blind Chinese lawyer at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing is a taboo topic in each capital. Neither side wants the biggest human-rights issue between the two since Tiananmen Square to disrupt high-level strategic and economic talks set to begin on Thursday.

President Barack Obama's administration and China's officials have signaled that the global economy, North Korea, Iran and Sudan — issues in which millions of lives are at stake — have become far more important in U.S.-Chinese relations. Thus, both refuse to admit anything is amiss as a high-profile dissident is believed to be sheltering with U.S. diplomats in China.

To listen to officials in both countries, Chen Guangcheng is an invisible man.

Obama himself refused to address the issue on Monday, declining to confirm that the blind lawyer is under U.S. protection in China or that American diplomats are attempting to negotiate an agreement for him to receive asylum.

"Obviously, I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I'm not going to make a statement on the issue," the president said at a joint White House news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

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Fresh attacks target symbols of Syrian power; bombings and rockets kill 9, wound 100

BEIRUT (AP) — In fresh attacks on symbols of state power, twin suicide bombs exploded Monday near a government security compound in northern Syria and rockets struck the central bank in Damascus, killing nine people and wounding 100.

The regime and the opposition traded blame, accusing each other of dooming a United Nations plan to calm violence that has largely failed so far. The head of the U.N. observer mission acknowledged that his force cannot solve the country's crisis alone and urged both sides to stop fighting.

The attacks are the latest in a series of suicide bombings that started in December and have mostly targeted Syrian military and intelligence positions.

The regime routinely blames the opposition, which denies having a role or the capability to carry out such attacks. After other similar bombings, U.S. officials suggested al-Qaida militants may be joining the fray, and an al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Syria.

The powerful blasts, which blew two craters in the ground and ripped the facade off a multistory building, came a day after Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the observer mission, took up his post in Damascus.

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AP EXCLUSIVE: As Afghan insider attacks grow, US reports only those resulting in allied deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) — The military is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops.

The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time an American or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But The Associated Press has learned it does not report insider attacks in which the Afghan wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target. It also doesn't report the wounding of troops who were attacked alongside those who were killed.

Such attacks reveal a level of mistrust and ill will between the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan counterparts in an increasingly unpopular war. The U.S. and its military partners are working more closely with Afghan troops in preparation for handing off security responsibility to them by the end of 2014.

In recent weeks an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of American soldiers but missed the group entirely. The Americans quickly shot him to death. Not a word about this was reported by the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the coalition is formally known. It was disclosed to the AP by a U.S. official who was granted anonymity in order to give a fuller picture of the "insider" problem.

ISAF also said nothing about last week's attack in which two Afghan policemen in Kandahar province fired on U.S. soldiers, wounding two. Reporters learned of it from Afghan officials and from U.S. officials in Washington. The two Afghan policemen were shot to death by the Americans present.

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Safety group: NYC highway where 7 died has inadequate guardrails, narrow lanes, dangerous curb

NEW YORK (AP) — The section of highway where an accident sent seven members of a Bronx family flying over a guardrail and plummeting to their deaths has narrow lanes, steep hills, tight turns, inadequate guardrails and no breakdown lane, an auto safety group said Monday.

The Bronx River Parkway "lacks modern transportation engineering features," said Robert Sinclair, spokesman for the American Automobile Association's New York City affiliate. He said it was conceived in 1907 and opened in 1925 as "the first limited access multilane highway in the U.S."

Three sections of the parkway in the Bronx, including one at or near the accident site, are on the state Transportation Department's 5 Percent List, a federally mandated report of locations "exhibiting the most severe highway safety needs."

The driver, Maria Gonzalez, clipped a highway divider and damaged a tire Sunday afternoon before her SUV plunged off a highway and six stories down into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, killing three generations of a family, including three children, police said.

Juan Gonzalez, the driver's husband, blamed the state, at least in part, for the crash.

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Obama, Romney trade barbs on handling of raid that killed terror mastermind

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama gave a steely defense of his handling of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and his use of it to burnish his re-election credentials a year later, saying Monday that it is appropriate to mark an anniversary that Republicans charge is being turned into a campaign bumper sticker.

He then jumped at the chance to portray presumed Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney as unprepared to make the kind of hard call required to send U.S. forces on that highly risky mission. Without mentioning Romney by name, Obama recommended looking at people's previous statements on the manhunt for the 9/11 mastermind.

Obama's re-election team has seized on a quote from Romney in 2007, when he said it was not worth moving heaven and earth to go after one person. On Monday, Romney said he "of course" would have ordered bin Laden killed, but his campaign criticized Obama for turning the successful death raid to political gain.