---- — KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban attack against a popular Kabul restaurant killed 21 people, authorities said yesterday, making it the deadliest single attack against foreign civilians in the course of a nearly 13-year U.S.-led war there now approaching its end.
The attack comes as security has been deteriorating and apprehension has been growing among Afghans over their country’s future as U.S.-led foreign forces prepare for a final withdrawal at the end of the year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is deferring signing an agreement allowing U.S. forces to stay past the planned withdraw until after the country’s April 5 presidential election, criticized America while condemning the attack.
“If NATO forces and in the lead the United States of America want to cooperate and be united with Afghan people, they must target terrorism,” he said without fully elaborating on what America should be doing. He added that America had followed a policy that “was not successful in the past decade.”
The dead from Friday’s assault against La Taverna du Liban included 14 foreigners and eight Afghans, all civilians. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said late Saturday that three Americans were killed. Previously, those identified included two U.S. citizens working for the American University of Afghanistan and a victim identified by the United Nations as a Somali-American.
Madonna apologizes for using racial slur on Instagram, says she’s not a racist
Madonna apologized yesterday for using a racial slur on Instagram to refer to her white son, seeking forgiveness a day after calling those who criticized her language “haters.”
On Friday night, the singer posted a picture of her 13-year-old son, Rocco, boxing and included the comment, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” She then added a variation of the N-word.
She quickly deleted the comment when outraged Instagram users berated her for the use of the word, and was initially defiant. But in a statement to The Associated Press yesterday, a contrite Madonna said: “Forgive me.”
“I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the N word on Instagram. It was not meant as a racial slur. I am not a racist. There’s no way to defend the use of the word. It was all about intention,” she said. “It was used as a term of endearment toward my son who is white. I appreciate that it’s a provocative word and I apologize if it gave people the wrong impression.”
Besides Rocco, she has three other children, including Lourdes, David and Mercy. Mercy and David are black, adopted from the African nation of Malawi.
Philly police confirm second school shooting suspect released without being charged
Police charged a boy with aggravated assault and related crimes yesterday in connection with a shooting that wounded two students inside a Philadelphia high school gymnasium, but released a second boy from custody without charging him.
Police were not releasing the name of the 17-year-old suspect who was charged, because it wasn’t immediately clear if he was to be tried as an adult. Police also didn’t identify the boy who was released. He had surrendered Friday night, hours after the 3:30 p.m. shooting at the Delaware Valley Charter High School in north Philadelphia.
It remained unclear yesterday whether the shooting was accidental or intentional.
“A quick response by Philadelphia police allowed officers to immediately secure the school and determine this was not an active shooter incident,” police said.
The wounded boy and girl each were shot in an arm, and by Saturday police confirmed that both had been hit by the same bullet.
Main Syrian opposition group votes in favor of attending coming peace talks
ISTANBUL (AP) — The main, Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted yesterday in favor of attending a coming peace conference aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war, paving the way for the first direct talks between the rival sides in the nearly three-year conflict.
The vote in Istanbul came as food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s capital for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad’s government ahead of the peace conference, Palestinian and United Nations officials said.
The Syrian National Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the U.N.-sponsored talks.
The Coalition’s leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, said in a speech late yesterday that they are heading to the conference “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime.”
“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution — at the top of them removing the butcher from power,” Jarba said.
Voters overwhelmingly support Egypt’s new constitution
CAIRO (AP) — Almost everyone who cast ballots supported Egypt’s new constitution in this week’s referendum, results announced yesterday show, but a boycott by Islamists and low youth turnout suggest the country is still dangerously divided.
Nearly 20 million voters backed the new constitution, almost double the number of those who voted for one drafted in 2012 under the government of toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Only a narrow sliver of voters — 1.9 percent — voted against the charter, after a massive government-sponsored campaign supporting it and the arrest of activists campaigning against it.
“Despite a milieu of intense social upheaval and acts of terrorism and sabotage that sought to derail the process, Egyptians have now marked yet another defining moment in our roadmap to democracy,” presidential spokesman Ehab Badawy said. “The outcome represents nothing less than the dawning of a new Egypt.”
The expected overwhelming support for the charter is seen as key to legitimizing Egypt’s military-backed interim government, and the political plan put in place since Morsi’s ouster in July. Analysts say it also suggests military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup against Morsi, has enough popular support to make a rumored run for the presidency himself.
It was the first vote since the military removed Morsi following massive protests in July.
Hundreds celebrated in the streets after officials announced the results, including Hoda Hamza, a housewife who waved an Egyptian flag in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and carried a picture of el-Sissi with an inscription reading: “By the order of the people, el-Sissi is president.”
Wildfire in suburban Los Angeles reduced to embers
GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles was a smoldering shadow of its former self, but hundreds of residents of a foothill neighborhood remained evacuated and extremely dangerous fire conditions were expected to last well into yesterday.
Another wave of evacuees returned Friday evening to their homes, this time in Azusa, 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, a day after their neighbors in Glendora did the same. But one Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove remained too close to the remaining fire, so its residents would have to spend another night away, Los Angeles County emergency officials said.
Flare-ups occurred within the burn area of about 3 square miles but none escaped the perimeter, said Mike Wakowski, commander of the multi-agency firefighting force. Containment was estimated at 30 percent.
“Things are progressing nicely,” Wakowski said. “It’s looking pretty good.”
Crews took advantage of the good weather, continued Saturday mop up.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The chemical spill that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands in West Virginia was only the latest and most high-profile case of coal sullying the nation’s waters.
For decades, chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies, spoiling private wells, shutting down fishing and rendering streams virtually lifeless, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal environmental data.
But because these contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a massive spill such as the recent one in West Virginia.
“I’ve made a career of body counts of dead fish and wildlife made that way from coal,” said Dennis Lemly, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist who has spent decades chronicling the deformities pollution from coal mining has caused in fish.
“How many years and how many cases does it take before somebody will step up to the plate and say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to change this’?”
Obama’s proposals to curb NSA surveillance practices do little to calm Big Brother concerns
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s orders to change some U.S. surveillance practices puts the burden on Congress to finally deal with a national security controversy that has spooked Americans and outraged foreign allies. But his proposed changes already have broad political support and avoid major action on one National Security Agency spy system that has far more reach.
Obama said very little Friday to assuage fears that the NSA will continue to sweep up billions of phone, email and text messages from across the globe.
In a speech at the Justice Department, Obama admitted that he has been torn between how to protect privacy rights and how to protect the U.S. from terror attacks — what officials have called the main purpose of the spy programs.
“The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple,” Obama said.
His speech had been anticipated since former NSA analyst Edward Snowden made off with an estimated 1.7 million documents related to surveillance and other NSA operations and gave them to several journalists around the world. The revelations in the documents — which brought upon Snowden criminal charges that he is hiding from in Russia — sparked a public debate about whether Americans wanted to give up some privacy in exchange for intelligence-gathering on terror suspects.
NJ mayor: Christie administration said Sandy funds wouldn’t arrive until project went forward
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Christie administration withheld millions of dollars in Superstorm Sandy recovery grants from a New Jersey city because its mayor refused to sign off on a politically connected commercial development, the mayor said yesterday.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow to her city if she allowed the project to move forward.
Zimmer said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at an event in May and told her Sandy aid was tied to the project — a proposal from the New York City-based Rockefeller Group aimed at prime real estate in the densely populated city across the river from New York City.
“I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor — she made it very clear — that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn’t be able to help me,” Zimmer told The Associated Press.
“There is no way I could ethically do what the governor, through the lieutenant governor, is asking me to do,” she said.
Chemical spill in West Virginia only latest, most high-profile case of coal tainting US waters