Al-Qaida-linked group in Syria calls for an end to rebel infighting
BEIRUT (AP) -- The head of an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria reached out to rival rebel groups who have been engaged in a bloody battle with his fighters this month, calling for the two sides to end their infighting and instead unite against the government and its allies.
Rebel-on-rebel infighting between the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and an array or ultraconservative and more moderate rebel factions has killed more than 1,000 people across opposition-held northern Syria since it began in early January. The clashes are the most serious among the opponents of President Bashar Assad in Syria's nearly three-year civil war.
In a new 16-minute audio message posted online Sunday, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accused the other rebel brigades of stabbing his group in the back, and said the infighting only benefits the government.
"You know that we did not want this war, we did not go for it and we did not plan for it. It is clear that the beneficiaries of this war are the Nusayris and the Shiites," he said, using a derogatory term for Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
But he also called for reconciliation, saying the Islamic State "is extending its hand so that we refrain from attacking each other and so that we can join forces" against Assad and his allies.
A dream derailed: On city streets named for MLK, signs of hope amid the heartache
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A walk down the 6-mile city street named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. yields plenty of images that would surely unsettle the civil rights leader: shuttered storefronts, open-air drug markets and a glut of pawn shops, quickie check-cashing providers and liquor stores.
The urban decay along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Louis can be found in other major American cities, from Houston and Milwaukee to the nation's capital.
"It's a national problem," said Melvin White, a 46-year-old postal worker in St. Louis and founder of a 3-year-old nonprofit group that is trying to restore King's legacy on asphalt. "Dr. King would be turning over in his grave."
Nearly three decades into the observance of Monday's federal holiday, the continuing decline of the most visible symbols of King's work has White and others calling for a renewed commitment to the more than 900 streets nationwide named in the Atlanta native's honor. The effort centers in St. Louis, where the small nonprofit is working to reclaim MLK roadways as a source of pride and inspiration, not disappointment over a dream derailed.
White's goals are ambitious, his resources admittedly modest. A neighborhood park is planned across the street from the group's headquarters. An urban agriculture project to encourage residents to eat healthy and grow their own food has preliminary support from nearby Washington University, one of the country's wealthiest private colleges. Above all, Beloved Streets of America wants to build community from the ashes of what was once a thriving retail corridor when White was a child.
Iraq announces offensive against al-Qaida militants controlling parts of provincial capital
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militias launched an all-out offensive Sunday to push al-Qaida militants from a provincial capital, an assault that killed or wounded some 20 police officers and government-allied tribesmen, officials said.
Since late December, members of Iraq's al-Qaida branch -- known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar. They also control the center of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-al-Qaida groups that also oppose the Shiite-led government.
A military officer and two local officials said fierce clashes raged through Sunday night in parts of Ramadi, but gave no details.
Later, the commander of Anbar operations, army Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, said that Iraqi special forces retook al-Bubali village following fierce clashes with the militants who had held it for about three weeks. Al-Bubali lies on the road between Ramadi and Fallujah.
Fleih said that gunmen had booby-trapped several houses in the village before their retreat. He declined to give any figures regarding casualties.
Analysis: Egypt's referendum falls short of popular mandate sought by top general
CAIRO (AP) -- For all the self-congratulatory headlines in Egypt's pro-military media, the results of last week's constitutional referendum may have fallen short of the emphatic popular mandate the nation's military chief was looking for before announcing his presidential run.
Moreover, the outcome -- nearly everyone who cast a ballot approved the draft constitution, but turnout was low, at less than 39 percent -- has put on display the country's enduring divisions six months after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and nearly three years after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.
Another worrying aspect is that young Egyptians appear to have stayed away from the polls, probably because of frustration over the lack of real change and anger over the perceived return of Mubarak-era figures, along with such hated practices as police brutality and other heavy-handed tactics by security agencies.
The 98.1 percent "yes" vote cannot be seen as an accurate reflection of public opinion in "a country as big and as complex and divided as Egypt," said Khaled Fahmy, a political analyst who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo. "This is a very alarming figure. ... Something has gone very wrong."
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who led the July 3 coup that removed Morsi, has yet to say outright whether he will seek the land's highest office. His supporters had viewed the Jan. 14-15 referendum on the new constitution as a vote on the general's possible presidential bid.
Lawmakers argue chief element of Obama surveillance overhaul won't work
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A chief element of President Barack Obama's attempt to overhaul U.S. surveillance will not work, leaders of Congress' intelligence committees said Sunday, pushing back against the idea that the government should cede control of how Americans' phone records are stored.
Obama, under pressure to calm the controversy over government spying, said Friday he wants bulk phone data stored outside the government to reduce the risk that the records will be abused. The president said he will require a special judge's advance approval before intelligence agencies can examine someone's data and will force analysts to keep their searches closer to suspected terrorists or organizations.
"And I think that's a very difficult thing," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday. "Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place."
Under the surveillance program, the NSA gathers phone numbers called and the length of conversations, but not the content of the calls. Obama said the NSA sometimes needs to tap those records to find people linked to suspected terrorists. But he said eventually the bulk data should be stored somewhere out of the government's hands. That could mean finding a way for phone companies to store the records, though some companies have balked at the idea, or it could mean creating a third-party entity to hold the records.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said many Americans don't understand that threats persist a dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "New bombs are being devised. New terrorists are emerging, new groups. Actually, a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to be prepared," Feinstein said.
Ukraine anti-government protests escalate into intense street battles with police
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Anti-government protests in Ukraine's capital escalated into fiery street battles with police Sunday as thousands of demonstrators hurled rocks and firebombs to set police vehicles ablaze. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured.
Police responded with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons, but were outnumbered by the protesters. Many of the riot police held their shields over their heads to protect themselves from the projectiles thrown by demonstrators on the other side of a cordon of buses.
The violence was a sharp escalation of Ukraine's two-month political crisis, which has brought round-the-clock protest gatherings, but had been largely peaceful.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade demonstrators to stop their unrest, but failed and was sprayed by a fire extinguisher in the process. Klitschko later traveled to President Viktor Yanukovych's suburban residence and said the president has agreed to negotiate.
"There are only two ways for events to develop. The first one is not to negotiate," Klitschko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "A scenario of force can be unpredictable and I don't rule out the possibility of a civil war. ... And here we are using all possibilities in order to prevent bloodshed."
Police: Md. woman charged in children's death feared devil, thought exorcism was necessary
GERMANTOWN, Md. (AP) -- A Maryland woman charged with killing two of her children has told investigators that she thought an exorcism was necessary to remove the presence of the devil and evil spirits, a police captain said Sunday.
Zakieya Latrice Avery, 28, of Germantown, is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of the children, ages 1 and 2.
Montgomery County police responded to Avery's home Friday morning following a neighbor's 911 call. Police said they found the two children dead and two other siblings, ages 5 and 8, injured with stabbing wounds.
"She thought the devil was in the kids, and that's sort of the thing she centered it around as to why she had to conduct an exorcism," said Capt. Marcus Jones, director of the police department's major crimes division. "She just thought that there were evil spirits within the kids."
Another woman charged in the killings, Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, made similar statements during questioning, police said.
Postal union threatens protests, boycotts over new postal retail centers in Staples stores
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The opening of Postal Service retail centers in dozens of Staples stores around the country is being met with threats of protests and boycotts by the agency's unions.
The new outlets are staffed by Staples employees, not postal workers, and labor officials say that move replaces good-paying union jobs with low-wage, nonunion workers.
"It's a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services," said Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union.
The dispute comes as the financially struggling Postal Service continues to form partnerships with private companies, and looks to cut costs and boost revenues. The deal with Staples began as a pilot program in November at 84 stores in California, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as a way make it easier for customers to buy stamps, send packages or use Priority and certified mail.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the program has nothing to do with privatization and everything to do with customer service and driving up demand for the agency's products.
Afghan president again demands an end to US airstrikes, says it's condition for security deal
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's president demanded Sunday that the United States no longer carry out military operations or airstrikes and must jump-start peace talks with the Taliban before his country signs a security deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
President Hamid Karzai's deepening anti-American rhetoric comes as the Taliban intensifies its assaults ahead of the planned withdrawal and after Friday's militant raid on a popular Kabul restaurant, the deadliest single attack against foreign civilians in the course of the nearly 13-year U.S.-led war.
Although Karzai has made similar demands in the past, he has in recent weeks ratcheted up his condemnations of alleged U.S. failures as Afghans look fearfully ahead to an uncertain future.
Karzai made the statement after being presented with the findings of an investigation into a joint Afghan-U.S. military operation last week that resulted in civilian casualties which he blamed on a U.S. military air strike.
The U.S.-led international military coalition, however, provided a sharply different account Sunday of what happened during the two-day operation against insurgents in eastern Parwan province, saying it was an Afghan-led effort and carried out at the request of the government.