In Brief | Nation & World


Pope shows his rebel side in Rio, telling pilgrims to shake up the church

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Pope Francis showed his rebel side Thursday, urging young Catholics to shake up the church and make a “mess” in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith. It’s a message he put into practice by visiting one of Rio’s most violent slums and opening the church’s World Youth Day on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach.

Francis was elected pope on a mandate to reform the church, and in four short months he has started doing just that: He has broken long-held Vatican rules on everything from where he lays his head at night to how saints are made. He has cast off his security detail to get close to his flock, and his first international foray as pope has shown the faithful appreciate the gesture.

Dubbed the “slum pope” for his work with the poor, Francis received a rapturous welcome in the Varginha shantytown, part of a slum area of northern Rio so violent it’s known as the Gaza Strip. The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into cheering crowds, kissing people young and old and telling them the Catholic Church is on their side.

“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” Francis told a crowd of thousands who braved a cold rain and stood in a muddy soccer field to welcome him. “No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.”

It was a message aimed at reversing the decline in the numbers of Catholics in most of Latin America, with many poor worshippers leaving the church for Pentecostal and evangelical congregations. Those churches have taken up a huge presence in favelas, or shantytowns such as Varginha, attracting souls with nuts-and-bolts advice on how to improve their lives.

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AP PHOTOS: Pope Francis ventures into crowds cheering him during tour of tough Rio shantytown

Pope Francis spent Thursday morning in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent shantytowns, whose residents gave him a warm and happy greeting.

The pontiff mounted an open vehicle to cruise through the narrow streets of the Varginha slum past residents crowding the route under a sea of umbrellas. As he is fond of doing, Francis also got down and walked into the crowds to shake hands and talk with people.

Later in the day, the pope headed to Rio’s famed Copacabana beach, to deliver an address to hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholics attending the church’s World Youth Day festival.

Here’s a gallery of images from the fourth day of the pope’ visit to Brazil.

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In aftermath of deadly train derailment, Spanish investigators focus on speed of locomotive

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) — By all accounts, the train was going way too fast as it curled around a gentle bend. Then in an instant, one car tumbled off the track, followed by the rest of the locomotive, which seemed to come apart like a zipper being pulled.

The derailment sent pieces of the sleek train plowing across the ground in a ghastly jumble of smashed metal, dirt and smoke.

But a day after Spain suffered its deadliest rail disaster in decades — which killed 80 people and maimed scores of others — one question surpassed all others: Why was the train moving so fast?

Investigators opened a probe Thursday into possible failings by the 52-year-old driver and the train’s in-built speed-regulation systems.

Experts said one, or both, must be at fault for the disastrous Wednesday night crash of the train that was carrying 218 passengers and five crew members to Santiago de Compostela, a destination of Catholic pilgrimage preparing to celebrate its most revered saint.

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Debate over America’s national security apparatus, muted after 9/11, is now back at full roar

WASHINGTON (AP) — After 9/11, there were no shades of gray. There are plenty now.

The vigorous debate over the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, underlined by a narrow House vote upholding the practice, buried any notion that it’s out of line, even unpatriotic, to challenge the national security efforts of the government.

Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, joined in common cause against the Obama administration’s aggressive surveillance, falling just short Wednesday night against a similarly jumbled and determined coalition of leaders and lawmakers who supported it.

It’s not every day you see Republican Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi facing off together against their own parties’ colleagues — with an assist from Rep. Michele Bachmann, no less — to help give President Barack Obama what he wanted. But that’s what it took to overcome efforts to restrict the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush warned the world “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” period, and those few politicians who objected to anything the U.S. wanted to do for its national security looked like oddballs.

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Feds in NY bring criminal charges against hedge fund SAC Capital, but not against owner

NEW YORK (AP) — One of Wall Street’s biggest and most successful hedge fund companies was a hotbed of insider trading and its embattled billionaire owner wanted to hear no evil, prosecutors said in an indictment unsealed Thursday that claimed the firm earned hundreds of millions of dollars illegally.

The criminal indictment and civil lawsuits brought against SAC Capital Advisors and related companies did not name billionaire Steven A. Cohen as a defendant, referencing him only as the “SAC owner” who “enabled and promoted” insider trading practices.

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said SAC “trafficked in inside information on a scale without any known precedent in the history of hedge funds.” He declined to comment on whether Cohen would be charged.

For more than a decade, the company earned hundreds of millions of dollars illegally as its portfolio managers and analysts traded on inside information from at least 20 public companies, Bharara said, announcing charges of wire fraud and four counts of securities fraud spanning 1999 to 2010. A court appearance for the firm’s lawyers was scheduled for Friday.

The possibility that the criminal case could topple the Stamford, Conn., firm, which once managed $15 billion in assets, led the prosecutor to note that the government was not seeking to freeze SAC’s assets. Bharara added that prosecutors were “mindful to minimize risk to third-party investors.”

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Feds: Halliburton agrees to plead guilty to destroying evidence in 2010 Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Halliburton Energy Services has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Federal officials said in a news release that a criminal information charging Hallburton with one count of destruction of evidence was filed in federal court in Louisiana.

Halliburton has agreed to pay the maximum fine, be on probation for three years and continue to cooperate with the government’s criminal investigation, according to the news release, which did not list the amount of the fine.

The Houston-based company has also made a $55 million voluntary contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It was not a condition of the court agreement, the news release says.

The company said in a statement Thursday night that it had agreed to plead guilty “to one misdemeanor violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation.”

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Vaccination rate for girls against cancer-causing HPV still lagging, health officials say

ATLANTA (AP) — Only about half of U.S. teenage girls have gotten a controversial cervical cancer vaccine — a rate that’s changed little in three years.

“We’re dropping the ball,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This is a huge disappointment.”

About 54 percent of teenage girls have received at least one of the three HPV shots. Only a third was fully immunized with all three doses.

Last year’s rates were essentially unchanged from 2011, and up only slightly from 2010. Rates for other vaccines aimed at adolescents have risen much faster.

A big part of the problem: Family doctors aren’t prodding patients to get HPV shots as forcefully as they recommend other vaccines, health officials said.

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UN chief says death toll in Syria war surpasses 100,000; car bomb claims 10 more lives

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The number of dead in Syria’s civil war has passed 100,000, the U.N. chief said Thursday, calling for urgent talks on ending 2½ years of violence even as President Bashar Assad’s government blasted the United States as an unsuitable peace broker.

In the latest example of the relentless carnage, a car bomb killed at least 10 people and wounded 66 in a pro-regime, residential area near the capital.

All international attempts to broker a political solution to the Syrian civil war have failed. Despite a stalemate that has settled in for months, both sides still believe they can win the war and have placed impossible conditions for negotiations.

The international community has been unable — and some say, unwilling — to intervene sufficiently to tip the balance in favor of either the Assad regime or the rebels.

“There is no military solution to Syria,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the United Nations. “There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table.”

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Alex Rodriguez wants to be activated; Yankees refuse and plan discipline over doctor

NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Rodriguez’s already strained relationship with the New York Yankees hit another low when he pushed to be activated from the disabled list Friday, the team refused and he had a lawyer join the discussion of his injury rehabilitation.

Already a target of Major League Baseball’s drug investigation, the third baseman angered the Yankees when he obtained a second medical opinion on his strained left quadriceps this week without informing the team in writing, a step required by the sport’s collective bargaining agreement. The Yankees intend to discipline him, most likely with a fine.

“Do you trust the Yankees?” Rodriguez was asked during an interview on WFAN radio.

A-Rod’s answer was telling.

“Um. You know, I’d rather not get into that,” he responded. “‘I’m just frustrated that I’m not on the field tomorrow.”

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In final arguments, prosecutors say Manning’s only mission was to spill secrets to WikiLeaks

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was a traitor with one mission as an intelligence analyst in Iraq: to find and reveal government secrets to a group of anarchists and bask in the glory as a whistleblower, a prosecutor said Thursday during closing arguments.

Maj. Ashden Fein said Manning betrayed his country’s trust and spilled classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, knowing the material would be seen by al-Qaida. Even Osama bin Laden had some of the digital files at his compound when he was killed, the prosecutor said.

“WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc. Manning used to ensure all the information was available for the world, including enemies of the United States,” Fein said.

Manning is charged with 21 offenses, but the most serious is aiding the enemy, which carries a possible sentence of up to life in prison. Defense attorneys will present their closing arguments Friday.

Manning, 25, was not the troubled, naive soldier defense attorneys have made him out to be, Fein said. He displayed a smiling photo of Manning from 2010 when he was visiting relatives in Maryland on leave.