---- — KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Protesters advanced on police lines in the heart of the Ukrainian capital yesterday, prompting government snipers to shoot back and kill scores of people in the country’s deadliest day since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago.
The European Union imposed sanctions on those deemed responsible for the violence, and three EU foreign ministers held a long day of talks in Kiev with both embattled President Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of the protests seeking his ouster. But it’s increasingly unclear whether either side has the will or ability to compromise.
Yanukovych and the opposition protesters are locked in a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych’s central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
Protesters across the country are also upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country’s ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15 billion aid infusion from Russia.
Despite the violence, defiant protesters seemed determined to continue their push for Yanukovych’s resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. People streamed toward the square yesterday afternoon as other protesters hurled wood, refuse and tires on barricades.
Obama budget will drop offer to trim cost-of-living hikes
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will propose an election-year budget that would drop reductions he had previously embraced in federal benefits, officials disclosed yesterday. He also will ask Congress to approve about $56 billion in new or expanded programs, stepping back from aggressive efforts to tackle long-term government deficits and debt.
Obama is scrapping his previous offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefit programs. That idea had been a central component of his long-term debt-reduction strategy, even though it was considered odious by many Democrats.
The decision amounts to a White House acknowledgement that Obama has been unable to conclude a “grand budget bargain” with GOP leaders, even by proposing a benefit reduction embraced by Republicans and opposed by many in his own party. But it is also a testament to the recently diminished importance of government red ink as a driving political issue amid falling deficits and public exhaustion over threats of federal shutdowns and defaults.
Officials said that some potential spending reductions included in last year’s Obama budget had been designed to initiate negotiations with Republicans over how to reduce future deficits and the nation’s debt. But Republicans never accepted Obama’s calls for higher tax revenue to go along with the cuts. The new budget for fiscal 2015 is to be released March 4.
“The president was willing to step forward and put on the table a concrete proposal,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “Unfortunately, Republicans refused to even consider the possibility of raising some revenue by closing some loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and the well-connected.”
Ariz. lawmakers OK bill allowing religious people to deny service to gays
PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Legislature gave final approval yesterday to legislation that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and others, drawing backlash from Democrats who called the proposal “state-sanctioned discrimination” and an embarrassment.
The 33-27 vote by the House sends the legislation to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and puts Arizona back at the forefront of a polarizing piece of legislation four years after the state enacted an immigration crackdown that caused a national furor.
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed.
Republicans stressed that the bill is about protecting religious freedom and not discrimination. They frequently cited the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people in the state from heavy-handed actions by courts and law enforcement.
The legislation prompted a heated debate on the floor of the House, touching on issues such as the religious freedom, constitutional protections and civil rights.
Today’s older drivers are less likely to be involved in crashes
WASHINGTON (AP) — Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the nation’s aging population swelled the number of older drivers on the road. Now, they say they’ve been proved wrong.
Today’s drivers aged 70 and older are less likely to be involved in crashes than previous generations and are less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released yesterday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That’s because vehicles are getting safer and seniors are generally getting healthier, the institute said.
The marked shift began taking hold in the mid-1990s and indicates that growing ranks of aging drivers as baby boomers head into their retirement years aren’t making U.S. roads deadlier.
Traffic fatalities overall in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since the late 1940s, and accident rates have come down for other drivers as well. But since 1997, older drivers have enjoyed bigger declines as measured by both fatal crash rates per driver and per vehicle miles driven than middle-age drivers, defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.
Australian police charge man with indecently assaulting ‘Modern Family’ star Sarah Hyland
SYDNEY (AP) — Australian police have charged a man with indecently assaulting a star of the hit television comedy “Modern Family,” Sarah Hyland, in Sydney.
The cast of the ABC series arrived in Sydney this week to shoot an Australian episode.
The 23-year-old was attending a social function for cast members at a Sydney hotel last night when she was allegedly groped on the chest by a man who had asked her to pose for a photograph, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported today.
The actress who plays big-eyed teenager Haley Dunphy immediately alerted private security guards, who called police to the scene.
New South Wales state police said in a statement on Friday that a 29-year-old man had been charged following the alleged indecent assault.
NJ police: Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice knocked out fiancee by hitting her with hand at casino
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A police complaint alleges Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked out his fiancee during an argument at an Atlantic City casino.
Police charged both Rice and Janay Palmer with simple assault in the incident Saturday at the Revel Casino.
A police complaint says Rice struck her with his hand, “rendering her unconscious.” Palmer is also accused of striking Rice with her hand.
Palmer’s attorney, Robert Gamburg, said yesterday he’s certain neither person committed a crime. Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, has said he hopes the case is shown to be a misunderstanding.
TMZ Sports released a video of what it says shows Rice dragging a seemingly motionless woman out of a Revel Casino elevator.