Obama arrives in Cuba for what he calls a “historic visit”
HAVANA (AP) — Stepping into history, President Barack Obama opened an extraordinary visit to Cuba on Sunday, eager to push decades of acrimony deeper into the past and forge irreversible ties with America’s former adversary.
“This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity,” Obama said as he greeted staff of the new U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Air Force One touched down on a rainy, overcast day in the Cuban capital. The president was joined by wife Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha.
Obama was greeted by top Cuban officials — but not President Raul Castro. The Cuban leader frequently greets major world figures upon their arrival at Jose Marti International Airport, but was absent on the tarmac. Instead, he planned to greet Obama on Monday at the Palace of the Revolution.
Obama’s whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Castro’s ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning.
Steps Obama has taken to ease US restrictions on Cuba
President Barack Obama aims to use his historic trip to Cuba starting Sunday to further his bid to restore ties after a half-century of acrimony. Though his visit will be one of the most visible symbols of the new approach, Obama has been rolling back restrictions on Cuba, punching hole after hole in the U.S. trade embargo.
What the Obama administration has done to increase engagement with Cuba:
—Loosened travel restrictions to allow Americans to go independently on educational, “people-to-people” trips instead of in organized groups. A formal tourism ban remains.
—Eliminated a ban on Cuban financial transactions going through U.S. banks, which effectively had cut off Cuba from the global banking system.
—Allowed Cuban citizens to open U.S. bank accounts and use them to send remittances back home.
10 Things to Know for Monday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:
1. OBAMA ARRIVES IN CUBA
His whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro’s effort to restore normal relations between their countries.
2. MIGRANT DEAL REMAINS WORK IN PROGRESS
Hundreds of mostly Syrian asylum-seekers continue to arrive in Greece despite the official start of an international agreement to send migrants back to Turkey.
Paris attacks suspect reported to be planning new acts
BRUSSELS (AP) — The top suspect in last year’s Paris attacks told investigators after he was captured that he was planning new operations from Brussels and possibly had access to several weapons, Belgium’s foreign minister said Sunday.
Salah Abdeslam had claimed that “he was ready to restart something from Brussels, and it’s maybe the reality,” Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.
Reynders gave credence to the suspect’s claim because “we found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons in the first investigations, and we have seen a new network of people around him in Brussels.”
Abdeslam, captured Friday in a police raid in Brussels, was charged Saturday with “terrorist murder” by Belgian authorities. He is a top suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.
Abdeslam was wounded during the raid, and a senior Belgian police official said that he was shot in the leg as he ran toward officers outside an apartment in the Molenbeek neighborhood.
Gaffe Proof? Trump vs. Clinton tests political pitfalls
WASHINGTON (AP) — When is a gaffe not a gaffe? When Donald Trump says it.
Over a period of 72 hours earlier in the month, the Republican front-runner faced a campaign crisis after unrest at his events forced him to cancel a rally in Chicago. He responded, not by apologizing but by justifying his supporters’ violent reactions to protesters at his events and offering to pay legal fees.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton spent much of the same period cleaning up misstatements about former first lady Nancy Reagan’s role in addressing the AIDS epidemic, whether her policies would kill coal-mining jobs and her husband’s 1993 health care plan.
The three-day window offered a glimpse into an extraordinary campaign cycle, in which strategists on both sides are wondering whether Trump’s penchant for provocation has shifted the gaffe gauge in American politics.
His bombast already has shaken up the Republican primary contest. Now, as the race moves toward the general election, new questions have arisen about a double standard in political rhetoric __ one for Trump and another for everyone else.
In Mississippi, retiring officials can pocket campaign cash
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When former Mississippi Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck shut down her campaign committee in the closing days of 2013, she took a parting gift — the $158,342 remaining in the account.
Tuck had already withdrawn more than $103,000 from the account in late 2007 and early 2008, as she was going to work at Mississippi State University as special assistant to the president, initially making $160,000 a year.
She’s hardly the only Mississippi official to cash out at the end of her career. An Associated Press review shows that of 99 elected officials who have left office in recent years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when they closed their campaign accounts.
At least four others besides Tuck — who is now vice president of campus services at Mississippi State and didn’t respond to the AP’s requests for comment — took more than $50,000.
Mississippi is one of five states where withdrawals are legal so long as state and federal income taxes are paid, with no restrictions on how it’s spent. A proposal to end the practice has consistently failed to win support from lawmakers, dying again this year without even a committee vote.
Migrants keep arriving in Greece despite deal to return them
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of mostly Syrian asylum-seekers continued to arrive in Greece by sea Sunday despite the start of an international agreement to send migrants back to Turkey.
While the deal between the European Union and Turkey is officially in effect, the process for deporting migrants has yet to be worked out. Greek and Turkish officials are set to hold discussions on Monday. And Greece is still awaiting the arrival of 2,300 European experts, including translators, to help carry out the agreement.
In the meantime, the EU said any new arrivals in Greece from now on will be subject to possible deportation.
At least 875 new refugees — mostly Syrians, along with Iraqis and Afghans — landed on four of Greece’s Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast between Saturday evening and daybreak Sunday. Two Syrian men were found dead of undetermined causes aboard a boat arriving on the island of Lesbos, and two girls were found drowned east of Rhodes, officials said.
The EU-Turkey plan, agreed to on Friday, aims to halt smuggling by sending migrants who do not qualify for asylum back to Turkey. As part of the deal, European nations will then accept refugees directly from Turkey, starting April 4. The hope is to discourage asylum-seekers from trying to make the dangerous trip across the Aegean Sea on their own in flimsy boats.
Istanbul bomber identified as militant with IS links
ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s interior minister on Sunday identified the suicide bomber who killed four foreign tourists in Istanbul as a militant with links to the Islamic State group.
Minister Efkan Ala said the bomber was Turkish citizen Mehmet Ozturk, who was born in 1992 in Gaziantep province, which borders Syria. He said Ozturk wasn’t on any list of wanted suspects and five other people were detained as part of the investigation.
Saturday’s explosion wounded dozens of others. Among the fatalities were two American-Israelis, another Israeli and an Iranian. The attack targeted Istanbul’s pedestrian Istiklal Street, which is lined with shops and cafes in an area that also has government offices and foreign missions.
“The identity of the terrorist who carried out this reprehensible attack has been determined…The findings obtained show that the terrorist is linked to the Daesh terror organization,” the minister said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
Istanbul remained tense a day after the bombing, with Turkish authorities postponing a high-profile soccer match between two major teams, citing an unspecified threat.
Israeli police: Arson in West Bank likely not Jewish crime
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police said they do not believe an arson attack on a Palestinian home Sunday was carried out by Jewish attackers. The house that was set ablaze belonged to a key witness to an arson attack by Jewish perpetrators that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents last year.
Palestinian officials say attackers broke the bedroom window of Ibrahim Dawabsheh’s home and set the house on fire. Dawabsheh and his wife escaped. He was unharmed but his wife suffered from light smoke inhalation.
Dawabsheh, a relative of last year’s victims, is a witness to the attack that killed them and is currently testifying before an Israeli court in the trial of two Jewish extremists.
Last July, suspected Jewish settlers hurled firebombs into a home, killing 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh. His mother, Riham, and father, Saad, later died of their wounds. Ali’s 4-year-old brother Ahmad survived.
Ibrahim Dawabsheh told Israeli Channel 10 TV News, “the minute I saw the fire, I was reminded of Saad’s family, of course.”
AP Investigation: Suspected rapist goes AWOL; no Army search
WASHINGTON (AP) — Army Pvt. Jameson T. Hazelbower went AWOL after learning he was suspected of raping a 15-year-old girl. Despite the potential threat to the public that he posed, the self-described sex addict roamed free for nearly three months before local police collared him in Winnebago, Illinois, near where he grew up.
And that was only by chance, according to interviews, police reports and court-martial records obtained by The Associated Press.
An officer responded to a call late on a Friday night in March 2014 about a suspicious vehicle parked in a cul-de-sac outside an apartment complex. Hazelbower, his pants down to his knees, was in the car with a girl, barely 14. She was unharmed.
Hazelbower’s case is a window into an obscure but significant aspect of the U.S. military’s legal system. Deserters suspected of serious crimes are to be prioritized for capture based on the severity of the offenses. But the Army never searched for Hazelbower and the U.S. Marshals Service was not called in, even though marshals have arrested more than 200 deserters over the past five years alone.
In fact, there was a lack of urgency to locate Hazelbower despite strident warnings from his superiors at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the records show. The military’s version of an arrest warrant described him as a “sexually violent predator” and a known drug abuser. Also, he had gone AWOL before. “CAUTION – ESCAPE RISK” is stamped in bold letters on the right side of the document.
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