spokesman

Around the World: February 17, 2015

Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.
 
Judge grants states' request to temporarily block Obama's executive action on immigration
 
A federal judge in South Texas on Monday temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.
 
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's decision comes after a hearing in Brownsville in January and puts on hold Obama's orders that could spare as many as five million people who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
 
Hanen wrote in a memorandum accompanying his order that the lawsuit should go forward and that without a preliminary injunction the states will "suffer irreparable harm in this case."
 
"The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle," he wrote, adding that he agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a "virtually irreversible" action.
 
The White House in a statement early Tuesday defended the executive orders issued in November as within the president's legal authority, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can set priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
 
Egypt: El-Sissi tells French radio he wants UN-backed coalition to fight extremists in Libya
 
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president says a U.N.-backed coalition to rid Libya of Islamic militants is the best option.
 
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, speaking to France's Europe 1 Radio in an interview aired Tuesday, says that Egyptian airstrikes against Islamic State group positions in Libya were in self-defense.
El-Sissi, a general-turned-politician, tells the radio channel: "We will not allow them to cut off the heads of our children."
 
Asked whether he wanted to see a U.N.-backed coalition for Libya, he said: "I think there is no choice."
 
Egypt's airstrikes on Monday were in retaliation for the mass beheading on a beach of Egyptian Coptic Christians. A video of the killings was released by the Islamic State late Sunday.
 
Ukraine army and rebels miss deadline to start withdrawing heavy weapons
 
LUHANSKE, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed rebels failed Tuesday to start pulling back heavy weaponry from the front line in eastern Ukraine as a deadline passed to do so.
 
Under a cease-fire agreement negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France last week, the warring sides were to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line on Tuesday. Both sides indicated Monday, however, that they would begin the pullout only after the other party does so.
 
While the fighting either stopped or subsided in other parts of war-torn eastern Ukraine, the situation around the key transportation hub of Debaltseve remained tense on Tuesday.
 
Associated Press reporters saw artillery rounds fired from Ukrainian government positions on the road leading to rebel positions around Debaltseve. Sustained shelling was heard in the area all morning, some coming from Grad rocket launchers.
 
Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said in televised comments early on Tuesday that the separatists continued to attack their positions overnight and that the pullout hinges on the cease-fire being fully observed.
 
"As soon as the militants cease fire, the Ukrainian side will begin to withdraw heavy weaponry from the frontline," he said.
 
Effort to boost military spending puts GOP in a bind on the budget
 
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressing Pentagon demands in a time of terror threats and Islamic State militants have put newly empowered congressional Republicans in a bind. Defense hawks want to wipe out previous spending cuts to steer more money to the military, but the GOP is divided over how to do it without piling billions onto the deficit.
 
Many deficit hawks insist that any increases for the military should be financed by cuts to domestic programs even as GOP pragmatists warn that could cause a budget logjam that would drag on for months. And that's before GOP leaders begin talks with President Barack Obama, who's demanding increases for domestic agencies, too.
 
At issue is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. While programs like Social Security, Medicare and food stamps run on autopilot, agency budgets are passed by Congress each year and require Obama's signature.
 
The problem stems from the hard-fought budget and debt bill of August 2011. A so-called supercommittee failed to reach a broad fiscal deal, resulting in spending cuts on the day-to-day operating budgets of virtually every federal agency. Two years later, the pain hit — across-the-board spending cuts.
 
The result was a blow to the Pentagon, with the department's core spending on ships, planes, personnel and warfighting equipment reduced. Instead of a core budget of $577 billion, defense spending would be limited to $523 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
 
Kosovo's joy has turned to despair as nation marks anniversary of independence declaration
 
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Jubilant throngs gathered around gigantic letters spelling "NEWBORN," when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia seven years ago. Today, there's a new national symbol: The bus stop where hundreds of people gather every day to flee a country they've given up on.
 
High hopes have turned to despair as Kosovars on Tuesday mark the anniversary of their dream of nationhood coming true. Tens of thousands of people, including at least 5,000 schoolchildren, have already fled on the nightly bus journey through Serbia and into the European Union. The mass movement of people — which some describe as an exodus — is a sign of simmering discontent with the governing elites in Europe's youngest, poorest and most isolated country. The departures, coupled with violent January protests, threaten to export Kosovo's economic and social troubles beyond its borders.
 
"I am so disappointed with my own place, I just want to leave," said Bislim Shabani, an ethnic Albanian heading to Germany with his wife and four children.
 
Shabani said he worked in a company that went bust in a botched privatization, leaving many workers mired in debt: "They owe me 12 months of wages. I couldn't provide for my family any longer."
 
Lured by promises of a secure future abroad, many are happy to turn their backs on a country with rampant unemployment and corrupt officials — who critics say enjoy the protection of a justice system that caters to the elite.
 
Russian prosecutions at appeals hearing seek 10-year sentence for opposition leader Navalny
 
MOSCOW (AP) — Prosecutors at an appeals hearing in Moscow are asking that opposition leader Alexei Navalny be sent to prison for 10 years.
 
Navalny was convicted in late December of fraud and given a 3 1/2 -year suspended sentence while his brother was sent to prison on charges of defrauding a French cosmetics company.
Russia news agencies on Tuesday quoted prosecutors at the appeals hearing at the Moscow city court saying that the gravity of the crime that Navalny allegedly committed calls for a prison sentence of 10 years.
 
Navalny, who was the driving force behind the 2011-2012 mass protests in Moscow, is organizing major anti-government protests in several Russian cities in March.
 
Fresh from Maine: US lobsters are becoming a New Year delicacy for China's rising middle class
 
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Now on the menu in Beijing for Chinese New Year: lots and lots of American lobster.
 
Exports of U.S. lobster to China have rocketed in the past few years, largely to satisfy the appetites of the communist country's growing middle class, to whom a steamed, whole crustacean — flown in live from the United States — is not just a festive delicacy and a good-luck symbol but also a mark of prosperity.
 
And that's good news for Maine, far and away the nation's No. 1 lobster state, where the boom has put more money in the pockets of lobstermen and kept shippers and processors busy during the usually slack midwinter months.
 
For Stephanie Nadeau, owner of The Lobster Co., a wholesaler in Arundel, Maine, the demand has meant 14-hour nights spent stuffing wriggling lobsters into crates so they can reach China in time for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Thursday this year. She said she sends 100,000 pounds a week to China this time of year.
 
"There's lot of orders, lots of demand right now — it is a race to get them there for Chinese New Year," Nadeau said.
 
Officials say suicide attack on police station in Afghanistan kills at least 20 officers
 
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban suicide bombers dressed as police officers attacked a police station Tuesday in Afghanistan, killing at least 20 people in the latest assault targeting local security forces, authorities said.
 
The attack happened in Pul-i-Alam, the capital of Logar province, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Kabul. There, the first bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the police headquarters, while a second blew himself up at a security checkpoint inside the compound, said Din Mohammad Darwesh, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
 
Then other bombers ran into a dining hall where police officers had gathered to eat lunch, killing many more officers, authorities said.
 
Gen. Abdul Hakim Esaqzai, the police chief of Logar province, said the bombing killed at least 20 people, including two civilians. He said the blast also wounded eight people.
 
The bombers wore police uniforms, allowing them to get inside the compound, said Muhibullha Ghayrat, a member of Logar's provincial council.
 
Storm that gave Southern states 1st winter blast takes aim at nation's capital, Mid-Atlantic
 
WASHINGTON (AP) — The season's first major snow storm to blast large parts of the South struck early Tuesday at the nation's capital, poised to head up the winter-weary East Coast.
After weeks of snow in the Northeast, the mid-February storm raked several Southern states Monday, when many schools and business were closed for Presidents Day. By Tuesday morning, it was moving into the Mid-Atlantic states, prompting the federal government to close Washington-area offices to most workers.
 
The federal government's closure, the first of the winter, was expected to keep tens of thousands of commuters off the roads and rails Tuesday morning and afternoon. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management said nonemergency personnel in the Washington area had excused absences while emergency employees and telework-ready employees were to follow their agencies' policies.
 
A winter storm warning remained in effect for the Washington area until noon Tuesday with the National Weather Service predicting 6 to 8 inches of snow. Forecasters said the heaviest snow would be falling in the early hours before lightening up between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.
 
The storm initially moved across Arkansas and Kentucky, dispersing snow, sleet and freezing rain that prompted power outages, fender benders and other woes before heading across North Carolina and Virginia toward the East Coast.
 
West Virginia train derailment sends tanker with crude oil into river; fires burn for hours
 
MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. (AP) — Fires burned for hours after a train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm in West Virginia, plunging at least one tanker into a river while sending a fireball skyward, authorities and residents say.
 
Federal railroad and hazardous materials officials are probing Monday's derailment. One person was treated for potential inhalation issues, but no other injuries were reported, the train company CSX said in a statement.
 
The office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the tanker cars were loaded with Bakken crude from North Dakota and headed to Yorktown, Virginia.
 
Officials evacuated hundreds of families and shut down two water treatment plants threatened by oil seeping into the river. Authorities say fire crews opted to let the tanker cars burn themselves out.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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