United States

Around the World: March 17, 2015

Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.

Israelis vote for new parliament as Netanyahu seeks fourth term, rules out Palestinian state
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis were voting in parliament elections Tuesday after a heated three-month campaign that focused on economic issues but ended with a dramatic last-minute pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu's comments marked a reversal of long-standing promises to the United States and were seen as a last-ditch effort to appeal to hard-line voters as he fights for his political survival in a tight race.
Polls have indicated Netanyahu's Likud Party is trailing slightly behind his centrist challenger, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, who supports peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu told Israel TV's Channel 10 that if a Palestinian state is established alongside Israel it would be controlled by Islamic extremists who "will attack us with rockets."
"Who wants such a thing?" Netanyahu said in the phone interview after casting his ballot early on Tuesday. He has repeatedly voiced his opposition to a Palestinian state in recent days.
A documentary prompts a murder charge: The saga of millionaire Robert Durst continues
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Robert Durst couldn't explain away similarities between his handwriting and a letter he said "only the killer could have written" that alerted police to his friend's shooting 15 years ago.
Confronted with new evidence by the makers of a documentary about his links to three killings, the troubled millionaire blinked, burped oddly, pulled his ear and briefly put his head in his hands before denying he was the killer.
Then he stepped away from the tense interview and went to the bathroom, still wearing the live microphone that recorded what he said next.
"There it is. You're caught!" Durst whispered before the sound of running water is heard. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
That moment didn't just make for a captivating finale to a six-part documentary on the eccentric life of an heir to a New York real estate fortune.
Analysis: Possible nuclear deal raises questions of the Iran's role in the world
As world powers edge toward a possible nuclear deal with Iran, the debate has been dominated by the question of whether it leaves an opening for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. But an accord could have another profound impact: Is this the beginning of the Islamic Republic's broad acceptance by the community of nations?
On the surface, the answer will almost certainly be no. The P5+1, as the negotiating countries are called, have not linked the nuclear issue to anything other than the gradual winding down of withering economic sanctions.
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran remain cut, as they have been since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. Iran is one of only four nations considered by the U.S. to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Rounds of sanctions have driven investors away, leaving Iran with few trading partners and a hobbled economy.
In the region, Western-allied and oil-rich Sunni-ruled Gulf states deeply distrust the non-Arab Shiite powerhouse and see its hand in destabilizing their part of the world by backing armed groups from Lebanon to Yemen to Iraq. That distrust fuels sectarian divisions that course through many of the region's conflicts and get exploited by extremist organizations including the Islamic State group, which considers Shiites heretics.
A deal could worsen those tensions. Arab powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt might conclude Iran has been allowed to stand on the threshold of a nuclear weapon and decide that they, too, must have nuclear programs — further inflaming the world's most combustible tinderbox.
Buoyed by economic growth and GOP stumbles, Obama claims upper hand in budget fight
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bolstered by a spate of upbeat economic news, President Barack Obama is claiming the upper hand in the budget fight unfolding in Congress, aiming to exploit recent Republican stumbles to give Democrats an advantage despite their status as a weakened minority.
But while Obama retains full use of the bully pulpit, his leverage over matters of government spending may prove limited.
The White House has put a spotlight on GOP missteps and infighting in recent weeks, arguing that Republicans who promised to govern effectively are falling down on the job since taking control of Congress earlier this year. Drawing an implicit contrast, Obama has been playing up his own, unilateral economic steps as a way to show he's the one setting Washington's agenda.
And as Republicans prepare to unveil their budget blueprint, Obama has stood firmly behind his insistence that Republicans increase spending on domestic programs — not just the Pentagon.
"The defining feature of this new Republican majority in Congress is them being on defense responding to the president's agenda," Brian Deese, an Obama senior adviser, said in an interview.
The current debate is over a budget resolution, a non-binding measure that doesn't require Obama's signature. Typically, Congress uses separate appropriations bills to fund various parts of the government, which makes it harder for the president to insist that Republicans pass funding for his priorities before he'll approve funding for theirs.
Defense attorney for Ferguson suspect says officers were shot 'accidentally'
CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — A man accused of shooting two officers last week in Ferguson was not targeting police or aiming at demonstrators at a late-night protest, his attorney said as he countered an earlier police description of the crime.
Defense attorney Jerryl Christmas also suggested Monday that St. Louis County police may have used excessive force when arresting the suspect, Jeffrey Williams, saying his client had bruises on his back, shoulders and face and a knot on his head.
Police spokesman Brian Schellman called the lawyer's allegations "completely false," adding that Williams was seen by a nurse when booked into the county jail, standard procedure for all incoming inmates.
"The nurse released Williams as fit for confinement," he said.
Williams is accused of shooting the two officers early Thursday outside Ferguson's police station, which has been the scene of protests since last summer's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Relief teams see flattened landscape after arriving in Vanuatu's cyclone-ravaged outer islands
PORT VILA, Vanuatu (AP) — Relief workers saw a flattened landscape and widespread destruction in Vanuatu's outer islands Tuesday after struggling for days to reach the areas of the South Pacific nation hardest hit by a fierce cyclone.
Radio and telephone communications with the outer islands were just beginning to be restored, but remained incredibly patchy three days after Cyclone Pam hit.
Australian military planes that conducted aerial assessments found significant damage, particularly on Tanna Island, where it appears that more than 80 percent of homes and other buildings were partially or completely destroyed, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
"We understand that the reconnaissance imagery shows widespread devastation," Bishop said. "Not only buildings flattened — palm plantations, trees. It's quite a devastating sight."
Teams of aid workers and government officials carrying medical and sanitation supplies, water, food and shelter equipment managed to land on Tanna and neighboring Erromango Island on Tuesday afternoon, said Colin Collett van Rooyen, Vanuatu director for aid group Oxfam. The two islands were directly in the path of the storm, which packed winds of 270 kilometers (168 miles) per hour when it hit early Saturday.
NJ Gov. Christie's Camden tax breaks reward political insiders over city itself
CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey has authorized more than $2 billion in economic development tax breaks since 2014, often to corporations with notable political connections. One grant went to a developer who owes millions of dollars on an unpaid state loan, an Associated Press review found.
That total of tax breaks handed out by New Jersey's Economic Development Authority is more than the total amount issued during the decade before Christie took office.
The aid has gone disproportionately to businesses in Camden, a beleaguered city of 77,000.
Development projects in the city received $630 million in future tax breaks last year. In his January state of the state address, Christie said that the money in future tax breaks awarded to Camden development projects means the city is "seeing a new tomorrow."
As Christie considers a Republican presidential campaign, a Camden renaissance would offer a useful counterpoint to New Jersey's lackluster economic performance. But a closer look at the grants — which will amount to nearly four times Camden's annual budget — indicates they may do less for the city than advertised and more for Christie's political alliances.
Most of the jobs coming to Camden are filled by existing employees who currently work just a few miles away. One tax break exceeded the value of the company that received it. And nearly all the recipients boast notable political connections.
In Germany, immigrant journalists fight racism with popular show about readers' hate mail
BIELEFELD, Germany (AP) — Yassin Musharbash, a leading German journalist with Jordanian roots, pulls out some recent "fan mail" and starts reading on the stage.
"We want to be informed by knowledgeable compatriots, not by foreigners," the 39-year-old quotes from a letter-to-the-editor that landed at the prestigious Zeit newspaper.
Gasps turned to incredulous laughter as he continues: "Musharbash is an Islamist who is secretively involved in jihad. He is trying to weaken the defensive forces of the West from inside."
Musharbash is among a troupe of German journalists with immigrant backgrounds who have been touring with a show called "Hate Poetry" that has sold out across the country. The show explores the growing rancor against Muslims in Germany by revealing hate mail filled with clichés and abuse — and seeks to combat it with humor.
The journalists, none of them professional actors, confront prejudice head-on in the show. But they also use irony, poking fun at the stereotypes by appearing on stage dressed like migrant workers from the 1960s or disguised as radical Islamists wearing caftans and face masks.
Chilean cuisine gains international notice by returning to indigenous roots, modifying dishes
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile is famous around the world for its wine, but until recently its food wasn't known beyond its long borders. Now, several chefs in the South American country's capital are revolutionizing Chilean cuisine one bite at a time.
While some chefs are reawakening the ancestral dishes of the indigenous Mapuche and Rapa Nui, others are reimagining typical fare by experimenting with local ingredients, including edible flowers from places such as Patagonia and the snow-peaks of the Andes mountains.
Foodies from around the world are increasingly traveling to Santiago to sample a half-dozen high-end restaurants. The city of seven million has traditionally been known more for street food like steak sandwiches and hot dogs smeared with creamed avocado than fine dining. Typical Chilean foods are generally not spicy or prepared in exotic ways, and include empanadas, shellfish soups and corn casseroles.
"Chilean food was never as important as it is now," said chef Rodolfo Guzman, whose Borago restaurant has been named in the Latin American section of the coveted San Pellegrino's World's Best Restaurant list. "We've developed in our kitchens all these foods that the Mapuche had been eating for hundreds of years."
Guzman opened Borago in 2007 after working in Spain's Basque country at Mugaritz, among the world's top-ranked restaurants. Since then, several sous chefs who worked at Borago have opened their own places.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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