---- — Charge: Alaska man fatally shot troopers
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — As two state troopers struggled to arrest his father, a 19-year-old man armed himself with an assault rifle and shot them seven times, killing them outside his home in a remote Alaska village, authorities said in charges filed yesterday.
Nathaniel Lee Kangas appeared in a Fairbanks court two days after Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich and 45-year-old Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson were shot to death. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and a count of third-degree assault.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported every seat was full and the walls were lined with law enforcement officers of several agencies as Kangas faced his charges.
The slayings of Rich and Johnson on Thursday in the isolated community of Tanana underscored the challenges law enforcement faces in this huge state. Like many troopers assigned to patrol multiple villages, Rich and Johnson were not based in the interior community of 238 people. They worked out of the troopers’ four-person rural service unit in Fairbanks 130 miles to the east, and they had to reach Tanana by plane.
Rich and Johnson had traveled to Tanana to arrest Kangas’ 58-year-old father, Arvin, on charges of driving without a license and threatening the village’s unarmed public safety officer, Mark Haglin.
Kiev, Moscow pitch differing narratives
MOSCOW — European military observers who were held more than a week by insurgents in eastern Ukraine walked free yesterday, with Kiev insisting the release proves Russia is fomenting unrest in Ukraine — as Moscow touted the insurgents as courageous humanists.
The latest battling narratives came a day after dozens of protesters died while trapped in a horrifying fire in Odessa, hundreds of miles away. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deaths show Ukraine’s acting leaders are “are up to their elbows in blood,” while authorities in Kiev blamed pro-Russia provocateurs.
The incidents highlight the intractability of Ukraine’s crisis, in which pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities and towns in the east and Ukrainian forces have tried to regain control in a limited military offensive. Looming on the other side of the border are tens of thousands of Russian troops, whom Kiev fears are waiting for a pretext to invade.
A pact struck between Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States in mid-April aimed to resolve the crisis emphasized the importance of an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the mission’s prospects became clouded a week later, when eight of its military observers and five accompanying Ukrainians were detained by insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, the crucible of unrest in the east. The insurgents alleged the observers were spying for NATO and carrying suspicious material; one from non-NATO member Sweden was released two days later, but the rest remained in custody until Saturday.
The insurgents’ leader in Slovyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying he ordered the release because of increasing insecurity in the city. In recent days, at least four Ukrainian soldiers were killed on the city’s outskirts — two of them when helicopters were shot down — and at least 10 civilians have been killed, according to Ponomarev.
Rescuers struggle to help Afghans hit by landslide in northeast
ABI BARIK, Afghanistan — Afghan rescuers and volunteers armed with shovels and little more than their bare hands dug through the mud yesterday after a massive landslide swept through a village the day before, turning it into an earthen tomb holding hundreds of bodies, officials said.
The government and aid groups rushed to bring food, water and shelter to the survivors as the government tried to ascertain just how many people were killed in the latest natural disaster to hit a country already reeling from nearly three decades of war.
Figures on the number of people killed and missing in the disaster Friday varied from 255 to 2,700. Fears of a new landslide complicated rescue efforts, as homes and residents sat buried under meters (yards) of mud.
“That will be their cemetery,” said Mohammad Karim Khalili, one of the country’s two vice presidents, who visited the scene Saturday. “It is not possible to bring out any bodies.”
Though figures on the death toll varied, residents knew the toll the tragedy had taken on their own families.
Obama enjoys annual dinner with correspondents’
WASHINGTON — On at least one night a year President Barack Obama and the journalists who cover him try to find something nice — and something funny — to say about each other.
The annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association has become an annual tradition in the nation’s capital, promising a black-tie evening of humor and celebrity gazing. The dinner attracts an array of journalists, government officials, politicians and media personalities as it raises money for college scholarships.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived last night at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The president was expected to speak after dinner but ahead of the featured entertainer, comic actor Joel McHale, the star of the NBC series “Community.”
The correspondents’ dinner has often come at key moments of Obama’s presidency. In 2011, Obama showed up the day before special operations troops killed Osama bin Laden. Last year’s dinner came nearly two weeks after the deadly Boston Marathon.
This time, the U.S. and Europe are anxiously watching Ukraine and Russia’s role in the turbulence in the eastern region of the former Soviet state.
Kerry: African nations need to take steps
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — America’s top diplomat said Saturday the U.S. is ready to help increase its ties with Africa, but nations across the continent need to take stronger steps to ensure security and democracy for its people.
In an Africa policy address to members of the Addis Ababa diplomatic corps and the Young Africa leader network, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted crises in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic and urged Africans to demand stability and financial development.
He called for an expansion of American investment in Africa and noted that U.S. companies IBM, Microsoft and Google already have spent more than $100 million on projects across the continent.
“So this is clearly a moment of opportunity for all Africans,” Kerry told about 100 Ethiopians at an environmentally-friendly auditorium on a mountaintop. “It is also a moment of decision.”
The Obama administration has sought to expand U.S. private investments in Africa, and last year financed about $1 billion to support American businesses across the continent, including an estimated $650 million in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rice backs out of delivering Rutgers commencement
NEW BRUNSWICK (AP) — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War.
Rice said in a statement yesterday that she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation to speak at the graduation.
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
The school’s board of governors had voted to pay $35,000 to the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony. Rutgers was also planning to bestow Rice with an honorary doctorate.
But some students and faculty at New Jersey’s flagship university had protested, staging sit-ins and saying Rice bore some responsibility for the Iraq War as a member of the Bush administration. Barchi and other school leaders had resisted the calls to disinvite Rice, saying the university welcomes open discourse on controversial topics.
Israel’s presidential candidates face tough task
TEL AVIV, Israel — Among those vying to become Israel’s next president are a former defense minister, a former foreign minister, a former finance minister, a respected long-serving lawmaker and a Nobel Prize winner. Amazingly, the man they all seek to replace has held all of those titles and more during a legendary 65-year political career.
Shimon Peres, the indomitable 90-year-old elder statesman of Israeli politics, concludes his seven-year term as the country’s ceremonial head of state this summer. While the group of potential successors is locked in a heated battle over the lofty post, whoever emerges victorious likely faces an even tougher task of breaking out of Peres’ enormous shadow.
Officially, the president has only two primary powers: assigning a potential prime minister to build a coalition government after elections and issuing pardons to criminals. But Peres, a two-time former prime minister, has risen above the post.
He restored honor to the presidency after replacing the disgraced Moshe Katsav, forced to resign in a sex scandal and later convicted of rape in 2007. Peres quickly became the country’s most popular political figure, finally basking in the public adoration that eluded him for most of his lengthy career.
He also became a de facto foreign minister who promoted Israel abroad thanks to his wide network of global contacts, presenting a respectable face for the country when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was often under fire for its West Bank settlement policies. He offered a bridge to the Arab world and was greeted like royalty in Europe and Washington, where President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.