Nation & World Briefly
Obama settles on Martin Dempsey to succeed Adm. Mullen
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama moved Monday to seal an overhaul of his national security team, selecting Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman amid protracted battle in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in the NATO-led effort against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and a winding down of the war in Iraq.
Obama announced a new lineup of his top military leadership group in the Rose Garden of the White House just before venturing across the Potomac to pay tribute to the nation’s war dead at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Memorial Day announcements had been expected, although there was no immediate indication what the military leadership moves might imply for possible changes in military strategy.
Already, the president had turned, in late April, to CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as secretary of defense and chose to move Army Gen. David Petraeus from his command of the Afghanistan war effort to the United States to replace Panetta at the CIA.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright had long been rumored to be Obama’s favorite, and the president singled him out for praise at the announcement.
But he turned instead to Dempsey, an accomplished veteran of the Iraq war, to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as his top military adviser.
Germany decides to
shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022
BERLIN (AP) – Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany, announced plans Monday to abandon nuclear energy over the next 11 years, outlining an ambitious strategy in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster to replace atomic power with renewable energy sources.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes the transformation to more solar, wind and hydroelectric power serves as a roadmap for other countries.
“We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power – or not to start using it – how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies,” Merkel said.
Merkel’s government said it will shut down all 17 nuclear power plants in Germany – the world’s fourth-largest economy and Europe’s biggest – by 2022. The government had no immediate estimate of the transition’s overall cost.
The plan sets Germany apart from most of the other major industrialized nations. Among the other Group of Eight countries, only Italy has abandoned nuclear power, which was voted down in a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Across nation, Memorial Day marked by parades, flyovers, flags while 9/11 anniversary looms
WASHINGTON (AP) – Americans from Washington to California marked Memorial Day with parades, barbecues and somber reflection in a holiday infused with fresh meaning by the approaching 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The National Memorial Day Parade in Washington honored veterans and America’s war dead but also featured special tributes to Sept. 11 first responders, victims and their families. The holiday comes less than a month after U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the attacks.
Elsewhere, military jets thundered through the sky above New York after a wreath-laying ceremony aboard an aircraft carrier that’s been turned into a museum, while hundreds of volunteers put small flags on the 25,000 graves at a sprawling military cemetery near Las Vegas. U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan also took time out to remember fallen comrades.
Along the parade route in Washington, children sat on parents’ shoulders and throngs cheered as high marching bands and floats passed. Special guests included Medal of Honor recipients, astronaut and Korean War veteran Buzz Aldrin and actor Gary Sinise, a veterans advocate who played Lt. Dan in the film “Forrest Gump.”
Hamilton Peterson, who lost his father and stepmother when the hijacked United Airlines 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., said the looming anniversary of the terror attacks should inspire Americans to be vigilant.
Bombings targeting Italian base kill 5 Afghans in normally calm western city
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car at the gates of an Italian military base Monday in one of two attacks on the relatively secure western city of Herat, killing at least five Afghans in a major commercial center slated to be handed over by NATO to Afghan control in July.
The bombings claimed by the Taliban were the second major attack in three days as insurgents expand their targets outside the southern and eastern theaters that were the focus of American offensives last winter. In other violence around Afghanistan, four NATO service members were killed Monday.
Taliban attacks inside Herat are rare, though there are violence-prone districts on the city’s outskirts. But insurgents have been increasing attacks around the country since the group announced its spring offensive in late April and reaching into areas that had been fairly quiet until now.
The expansion of Taliban assaults into new areas suggests that the insurgents are making a statement about their reach just as NATO is trying to shift some more secure areas of the country to Afghan control. The international alliance aims to transition cities or provinces piecemeal to reach the goal of total Afghan control by 2014.
Herat, western Afghanistan’s largest city, is one of seven areas scheduled to be handed over to Afghan control in July as the first step of the transition of nationwide security responsibility to Afghan troops. Support for the Afghan war has been waning in allied countries after nearly 10 years of fighting and many NATO nations are sketching drawdown plans. Some have argued that the death of Osama bin Laden means that there is less need to spend money and lives in Afghanistan.
AP Interview: Serbia’s president says after Mladic arrest, EU must boost efforts to join bloc
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Serbia’s president Boris Tadic said Monday it’s time the European Union did its part by boosting his nation’s efforts to join the bloc, arguing the arrest of war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic proves it is serious about rejoining the international fold.
Tadic also rejected speculation that authorities had known of Mladic’s hiding place, but delayed his arrest to coincide with a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The rumors have persisted because Mladic was found living not far from the capital, Belgrade, with relatives who share his last name.
“Any such comment makes no sense,” Tadic said. “The truth is that we arrested Ratko Mladic the moment we discovered him.”
Europe’s most wanted war crimes fugitive Mladic was arrested on Thursday in a village north of Belgrade after 16 years on the run. He is charged by a U.N. war crimes court for atrocities committed by his troops during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
But Tadic said he wants the international community to recognize what Serbia has done and act on its membership hopes. He also pledged to implement key reforms necessary for membership.
2 wildfires fueled by high winds, scorching temperatures destroy 12 homes in Texas Panhandle
AMARILLO, Texas (AP) – Two wildfires have destroyed at least 12 homes on the outskirts of the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo.
Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb says the fires began burning early Sunday evening. He says low humidity, temperatures in the 100s and high winds created favorable conditions for fires.
He says firefighters are still battling wildfires across Texas on Monday. About 2.8 million acres have burned in the state since November.
The Forest Service reports that a fire on the southern edge of Amarillo destroyed five homes and damaged four others. The fire destroyed about 200 acres and is about 90 percent contained.
Another fire to the northwest hit 1,243 acres, destroyed seven homes was about 80 percent contained on Monday.
US govt report says far fewer people died in Haiti quake than originally estimated
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Far fewer people died or were left homeless by last year’s devastating earthquake than claimed by Haitian leaders, a report commissioned by the U.S. government has concluded – challenging a central premise behind a multibillion-dollar aid and reconstruction effort.
The report, a copy of which was obtained Monday by The Associated Press, estimates that the death toll was between 46,000 and 85,000, far below the Haitian government’s official figure of 316,000. The report was prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development but has not yet been publicly released.
The report has inconsistencies, however, and won’t be released publicly until they are resolved, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Preeti Shah told the AP.
“The first draft of the report contained internal inconsistencies with its own findings,” Shah said in a telephone interview from Washington. “We are reviewing these inconsistencies … to ensure information we release is accurate.”
Shah would not elaborate or say whether the report could change significantly once the inconsistencies are resolved.
As the GOP moves to the right, presidential hopefuls abandon old centrist stands
WASHINGTON (AP) – In the first presidential election since the tea party’s emergence, Republican candidates are drifting rightward on a range of issues, even though more centrist stands might play well in the 2012 general election.
On energy, taxes, health care and other topics, the top candidates hold positions that are more conservative than those they espoused a few years ago.
The shifts reflect the evolving views of conservative voters, who will play a major role in choosing the Republican nominee. In that sense, the candidates’ repositioning seems savvy or even essential.
But the eventual nominee will face President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, when independent voters appear likely to be decisive players once again. Those independents may be far less enamored of hard-right positions than are the GOP activists who will wield power in the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary and other nominating contests.
“The most visible shift in the political landscape” in recent years “is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives,” says the Pew Research Center, which conducts extensive voter surveys. Many of them “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues,” Pew reports. They largely “agree with the tea party,” and “very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance.”
Activists say Syrian troops shell central town, armed residents put up fierce resistance
BEIRUT (AP) – Residents used automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to repel advancing government troops in central Syria on Monday, putting up a fierce fight for the first time in their two-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime.
The escalation raised fears the popular uprising may be moving toward a Libya-style armed conflict.
Until now, the opposition against Assad has taken the form of peaceful protests by unarmed demonstrators, though authorities have claimed, without offering solid proof, that it was being led by armed gangs and propelled by foreign conspiracies.
Activists said residents of the towns of Talbiseh and Rastan, which have been under attack since Sunday in central Homs province, decided to fight back with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and at least four civilians were killed.
“They felt that they cannot sit back any more and pray for God to help them,” said one Homs resident who has wide connections in the province. He, like all residents contacted by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Ohio State’s Jim Tressel resigns as football coach amid NCAA violations, sanctions
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Jim Tressel, who guided Ohio State to its first national title in 34 years, resigned Monday amid NCAA violations from a tattoo-parlor scandal that sullied the image of one of the country’s top football programs.
“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” Tressel wrote in the resignation letter he submitted on Monday morning. “The recent situation has been a distraction for our great university and I make this decision for the greater good of the school.”
Luke Fickell will be the coach for the 2011 season. He already had been selected to be the interim coach while Tressel served a five-game suspension.
Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said he was unaware of any buyout or severance package. He added that Tressel had returned from vacation Sunday night and met with athletic director Gene Smith, who then met with staff. Tressel typed his resignation and submitted it to Smith, he said.
Under terms of Tressel’s contract, which was worth around $3.5 million a year through the 2014 season, Ohio State is not required to pay him any money or provide any benefits upon his resignation.