In brief | Nation & World, January 28, 2014


Ukraine president says he will scrap harsh anti-protest laws

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s beleaguered president on Monday agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest laws that set off a wave of clashes between protesters and police last week, a potentially substantial concession to the opposition that stopped short of meeting all of its demands.

In a possibly major sticking point, a proposed amnesty for arrested protesters would not be offered unless demonstrators stopped occupying buildings and ended their round-the-clock protests and tent camp on Kiev’s central Independence Square, according to a statement by Justice Minister Elena Lukash on the presidential website.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been under increasing pressure since he pushed the tough laws through parliament, setting of clashes and protests in other parts of the country in a sharp escalation of tensions after weeks of mostly peaceful protests over his rejection of a deal to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union.

Contentious issue of Assad’s future blocks progress in Syria talks

GENEVA — The key issue of a transitional government to replace President Bashar Assad blocked any progress Monday in Syrian peace talks, described by one delegate as “a dialogue of the deaf.”

The chief U.N. mediator expressed frustration over inflammatory public remarks by the two sides as he sought to identify some less-contentious issues in hopes of achieving any progress at all at the bargaining table. But even the most modest attempts at confidence-building measures faltered — including humanitarian aid convoys to besieged parts of the central city of Homs and the release of detainees. Veteran mediator Lakhdar Brahimi somberly declared at the end of the day that he had little to report.

“There are no miracles here,” Brahimi said, adding that both sides nevertheless appeared to have the will to continue the discussions. Asked how he planned to bridge the enormous gap between the two sides, the veteran diplomat quipped: “Ideas, I’ll take them with great pleasure.”

After debacles of 2012, GOP tries to train unpolished candidates

WASHINGTON — Having watched several promising campaigns collapse in 2012 after candidates made catastrophic mistakes, national Republican leaders are leaving nothing to chance as they prepare for this year’s midterm elections.

They’re summoning contenders— especially those who seem inexperienced, unpredictable or inclined to provocative opinions — to first-of-a-kind training at the GOP’s Senate campaign headquarters to learn, in part, what not to say and how not to say it.

It’s a delicate intervention, but one deemed essential by officials smarting from campaign debacles that cost the GOP winnable races, including Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana, last time.

“Hopefully, everyone has paid attention to the huge blunders that were made,” said Ari Fleischer, former top aide to President George W. Bush who helped draft a post-election analysis for the Republican National Committee. “You can’t buy enough ads to cover up a candidate who is flawed.”

Scientists find plague DNA in 6th-century teeth, warn of new strains

LONDON — Scientists say two of the deadliest pandemics in history were caused by strains of the same plague and warn that new versions of the bacteria could spark future outbreaks.

Researchers found tiny bits of DNA in the teeth of two German victims killed by the Justinian plague about 1,500 years ago. With those fragments, they reconstructed the genome of the oldest bacteria known. They concluded the Justinian plague was caused by a strain of Yersinia pestis, the same pathogen responsible for the Black Death that struck medieval Europe. The study was published online Tuesday in the journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The two plagues packed quite a punch. The Justinian Plague is thought to have wiped out half the globe as it spread across Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. And the Black Death killed about 50 million Europeans in just four years during the 14th century.

By wire reports