---- — BEIRUT (AP) — Nine Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Syria and two Turkish pilots held hostage in Lebanon returned home Saturday night, part of an ambitious three-way deal cutting across the Syrian civil war.
Thousands of well-wishers greeted the Shiite pilgrims in Beirut, with one man being carried out of the airport on the shoulders of a crowd. Meanwhile, a plane carrying the two freed Turkish Airlines pilots landed in Istanbul, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials greeted them.
Their planes departed just minutes apart, crisscrossing in the skies as part of the carefully-calibrated plan. The hostage release ends an ordeal that began a year and a half ago when Syrian rebels kidnapped the pilgrims, triggering tit-for-tat kidnappings that included the two Turkish pilots.
The deal, negotiated by Qatar and Palestinian officials, also was meant to include freeing dozens of women held in Syrian government jails to satisfy the rebels who abducted the pilgrims. However, it wasn’t immediately clear Saturday night whether any of the women had been freed. The Syrian government and its official SANA news agency did not mention any such release.
The nine Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped in May 2012 while on their way from Iran to Lebanon via Turkey and Syria. Turkish Airlines pilots Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca had been held since their kidnapping in August in Beirut.
AP sources: 476,000 applications filed for Obamacare
WASHINGTON (AP) — Administration officials say about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through federal and state exchanges, the most detailed measure yet of the problem-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
However, the officials continue to refuse to say how many people have actually enrolled in the insurance markets. Without enrollment figures, it’s unclear whether the program is on track to reach the 7 million people projecting by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period.
Obama’s advisers say the president has been frustrated by the flawed rollout. During one of his daily health care briefings last week, he told advisers assembled in the Oval Office that the administration had to own up to the fact that there were no excuses for not having the website ready to operate as promised.
The president is expected to address the problems on Monday during a health care event at the White House. Cabinet members and other top administration officials will also be traveling around the country in the coming weeks to encourage sign-ups in areas with the highest population of uninsured people.
The first three weeks of sign-ups have been marred by a cascade of computer problems, which the administration says it is working around the clock to correct. The rough rollout has been a glaring embarrassment for Obama, who invested significant time and political capital in getting the law passed during his first term.
Authorities capture 2 Fla. prisoners who were released by bogus documents at motel
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Two convicted killers who were freed from prison by phony documents were captured together without incident Saturday night at a Panama City motel, authorities said.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were taken into custody about 6:40 p.m. at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn. They were apprehended several hours after their family members held a news conference urging the men to turn themselves in.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not immediately release any other details about their capture or its investigation.
A woman who answered the phone at the motel said she saw police coming and they went into room 227. The woman, who didn’t want to give her name, said authorities didn’t stop by the office before they moved in.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at the Franklin Correctional Facility in the Panhandle before they were released. The bogus paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge’s forged signature, duped prison officials and reduced their sentences to 15 years.
2 San Francisco Bay Area maintenance workers killed when struck by train amid operators strike
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A commuter train that is part of a San Francisco Bay Area system whose employees are on strike hit and killed two maintenance workers Saturday afternoon, officials said.
The accident that killed one system employee and one contractor in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek occurred shortly before 2 p.m. as the train was on a routine maintenance run operated by a manager, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials said.
BART officials said in a statement that the manager was an “experienced operator” and the train was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident.
Officials from the two unions representing BART workers, who have been on strike since Thursday, have warned of the danger that could come with allowing managers to operate trains.
At least one of the unions, Amalgamated Transit Union 1555 announced that its 900 workers would not be picketing on Sunday out of respect for the victims and their families.
Brutality of Syria’s civil war on display for world to see via YouTube, social media
BEIRUT (AP) — Amid all the bloodshed, confusion and deadlock of Syria’s civil war, one fact is emerging after 2½ years — no conflict ever has been covered this way.
Amateur videographers — anyone with a smartphone, Internet access and an eagerness to get a message out to the world — have driven the world’s outlook on the war through YouTube, Twitter and other social media.
The tens of thousands of videos have at times raised outrage over the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad and also have sparked concern over alleged atrocities attributed to both sides.
The videos have also made more difficult the task of navigating between truth and propaganda — with all sides using them to promote their cause. Assad opponents post the majority of videos, and nearly every rebel-held area or brigade has a media office that produces and disseminates them. To a lesser degree, regime supporters produce some videos — but they also pick apart opposition videos, trying to show they are fake.
In the Vietnam War, the 1991 Gulf War and the second Gulf War in 2003, foreign media directly covered the conflicts, often with reporters embedded with or accompanying the American military.
US rebuilding ties with Pakistan, releasing huge package of suspended military, economic aid
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has quietly decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan that was suspended when relations between the two countries disintegrated over the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden and deadly U.S. airstrikes against Pakistani soldiers.
Officials and congressional aides said ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again.
American and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan are open. Controversial U.S. drone strikes are down. The U.S. and Pakistan recently announced the restart of their “strategic dialogue” after a long pause. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is traveling to Washington for talks this coming week with President Barack Obama.
But in a summer dominated by foreign policy debates over the coup in Egypt and chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the U.S. hasn’t promoted its revamped aid relationship with Pakistan. Neither has Pakistan.
The silence reflects the lingering mutual suspicions between the two.
Neighboring Pennsylvania, New Jersey illustrate array of efforts to legalize gay marriage
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania and New Jersey are on tracks that could lead to the Northeast being the first full region in the country to legalize gay marriage — but the routes are hardly parallel and the horsepower anything but equal.
A flurry of recent court decisions has gay couples in New Jersey, where same-sex marriage has long been debated, hurrying to make wedding plans for when they can legally marry starting Monday — even as a moderate Republican governor with apparent presidential aspirations appeals.
Across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, advocates are pecking away at a 1996 gay marriage ban by introducing bills in the Legislature, defiantly issuing marriage licenses in localities and taking the issue to court — with few people conceding the tactics will work anytime soon in a big state with a socially conservative spine.
“I don’t think it is going to happen next year. ... It’s going to take leadership from the top,” said state Rep. Mike Fleck, an openly gay Republican who represents a rural, conservative district in Huntingdon County, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains.
The different approaches — and levels of success — in the two neighboring states illustrate the many ways the effort to legalize same-sex marriage is playing out nationally in the months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a federal law that restricted the rights of gay couples.
Ga. revisits nation’s strictest standard for avoiding death penalty due to mental disability
ATLANTA (AP) — The state that was the first to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates is revisiting a requirement for defendants to prove the disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest burden of proof in the nation.
A state House committee is holding an out-of-session meeting Thursday to seek input from the public. Other states that impose the death penalty have a lower threshold for proving mental disability, and some don’t set standards at all.
Just because lawmakers are holding a meeting does not mean changes to the law will be proposed, and the review absolutely is not a first step toward abolishing Georgia’s death penalty, said State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
Georgia’s law is the strictest in the U.S. even though the state was also the first, in 1988, to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 2002, ruling that the execution of mentally disabled offenders is unconstitutional.
The Georgia law’s toughest-in-the-nation status compels lawmakers to review it, Golick said.
JPMorgan would pay $13B under tentative deal over mortgage-backed securities
WASHINGTON (AP) — JPMorgan Chase & Co. has tentatively agreed to pay $13 billion to settle allegations surrounding the quality of mortgage-backed securities it sold in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, a person familiar with the negotiations between the bank and the federal government said Saturday.
If the agreement is finalized it would be the government’s highest-profile enforcement action related to the financial meltdown that plunged the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been finalized, said Attorney General Eric Holder, Associate Attorney General Tony West, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and the bank’s general counsel, Stephen Cutler, negotiated the tentative settlement in a Friday night phone call.
The person said the tentative agreement does not resolve a criminal investigation of the bank’s conduct. It is being handled by federal prosecutors in Sacramento, Calif.
On Friday night, Holder told the bank that a non-prosecution agreement was a non-starter — meaning that the Justice Department will continue to conduct the criminal investigation of the financial institution, said the person. As part of the deal, the Justice Department expects JPMorgan to cooperate with the continuing criminal probe of the bank’s issuance of mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007, the person said.
Argentine commuter train slams into same station where 52 died; at least 80 injured this time
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A commuter train slammed into the bumper at the end of the line Saturday at the same station in Argentina’s capital where 52 people were killed in a similar crash last year. This time there was no immediate report of deaths, but at least 80 people were injured.
A mob quickly formed, unleashing its fury at the train operators. Passengers chanted “murderer, murderer!” at the injured driver through the shattered cabin window. Officers intervened and the driver was soon hospitalized under police custody.
Police in riot gear then took control of the Once (ohn-say) station after the angry crowd broke glass and threw stones in the street outside.
At least 80 people were injured, including an 8-year-old boy, according to the Security Secretariat. Of those, five people had broken bones, but none of the wounds were life-threatening, said Security Secretary Sergio Berni. Some of the injured here hit by shattered glass from the train’s windows, he said.
Berni said it was too early to say why the train failed to stop, crashing through the bumper at the end of the line and ending up wedged between the floor and ceiling of the platform. One end of the huge iron hydraulic bumper that protects the end of the line was driven deep into the train car, while the other end was lifted over the platform and jammed into the turnstiles.