UK judge: Putin ‘probably approved’ killing of ex-KGB agent
LONDON (AP) — Almost a decade after former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko lay dying in a London hospital bed, a British judge has concluded who poisoned him: two Russian men, acting at the behest of Russia’s security services, probably with approval from President Vladimir Putin.
That finding prompted sharp exchanges Thursday between London and Moscow, and a diplomatic dilemma for both countries. With Russia and the West inching closer together after years of strain, neither side wants a new feud — even over a state-sanctioned murder on British soil.
Judge Robert Owen, who led the public inquiry into the killing, said he was certain that two Russians with links to the security services had given Litvinenko green tea containing a fatal dose of radioactive polonium-210 during a meeting at a London hotel. He said there was a “strong probability” that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB spy agency, directed the killing and that the operation was “probably approved” by Putin, then as now the president of Russia.
Before he died, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his killing, but Owen’s report is the first public official statement linking the Russian president to the crime, and it sent a chilling jolt through U.K.-Russia relations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the evidence in the report of “state-sponsored” killing was “absolutely appalling.” Britain summoned the Russian ambassador for a dressing-down and imposed an asset freeze on the two main suspects: Andrei Lugovoi, now a Russian lawmaker, and Dmitry Kovtun.
Washington in bullseye of potentially historic storm
WASHINGTON (AP) — The forecast for a historic blizzard has been there for days, looming over the nation’s capital like the UFO from “Independence Day.” Projected snowfall totals have ticked steadily upward, to the point where the National Weather Service — known for its conservative predictions — says more than 2 feet of snow could land on Washington.
Residents and elected officials throughout the Eastern United States are heeding the warning.
States of emergency have been declared in five states and the District of Columbia. Schools and government offices are being closed pre-emptively. Thousands of flights have been canceled. Food and supplies are disappearing from grocery and hardware stores. College basketball games and concerts will have to wait.
“It’s going to be dangerous out there,” said Tonya Woods, 42, a Washington Metro station manager who lives in suburban Clinton, Maryland. “I say they should shut things down.”
On Thursday afternoon, she got her wish. The capital’s subway system announced that it will shut down entirely late Friday night and remain closed through Sunday for the sake of employee and rider safety. Underground stations usually stay open during major snowstorms.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. WHERE NOR’EASTER IS TAKING AIM
Washington, D.C., looks like the bull’s-eye of this weekend’s blizzard, with New York City also likely to see heavy snow, the U.S. weather service says.
2. RUSSIA DENOUNCES FINDINGS IN CASE OF POISONED SPY
The conclusion by British investigators that Putin likely approved the killing of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko “cannot be accepted by us a verdict,” a spokesman for the Russian leader says.
Would Flint crisis happen in wealthier, whiter community?
FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Ever since the full extent of the Flint water crisis emerged, one question has persisted: Would this have happened in a wealthier, whiter community?
Residents in the former auto-making hub — a poor, largely minority city — feel their complaints about lead-tainted water flowing through their taps have been slighted by the government or ignored altogether. For many, it echoes the lackluster federal response to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Our voices were not heard, and that’s part of the problem,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said this week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., where she also met with President Barack Obama to make her case for federal help for her city.
The frustration has mostly been directed at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed an emergency manager to run Flint. That manager approved a plan in 2013 to begin drawing drinking water from the Flint River, and the city began doing so the next year. But officials failed to treat the corrosive water properly to prevent metal leaching from old pipes.
Snyder, a Republican in his second term, was blasted by Hillary Clinton in her remarks after the recent Democratic presidential debate.
Ex-Oklahoma officer gets 263 years for rapes, sex assaults
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former police officer convicted of raping and sexually victimizing women while on his beat in a low-income Oklahoma City neighborhood was ordered Thursday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Jurors had recommended that Daniel Holtzclaw be sentenced to 263 years in prison for preying on women in 2013 and 2014. District Judge Timothy Henderson agreed, said Holtzclaw will serve the terms consecutively and denied his request for an appeal bond.
Holtzclaw waived his right to remain in custody in the county jail for 10 days, instead opting to be taken directly to prison. Defense attorney Scott Adams said Holtzclaw will appeal.
“It is what it is,” Adams said. “It wasn’t a surprise.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater had strong words for Holtzclaw, who was convicted last month on 18 counts, including four first-degree rape counts as well as forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, procuring lewd exhibition and second-degree rape. Holtzclaw was acquitted on 18 other counts.
Some Democrats fear Clinton’s message is failing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton has questioned Bernie Sanders’ electability. She’s criticized his plans for health care, foreign policy and Wall Street. And she’s tagged him with flip-flopping on gun control.
None of it appears to be sticking — and that’s raising concerns among Democrats who fear that a months-long primary campaign could create lasting damage for their party.
While most believe Clinton will still capture the nomination, some say she is failing to respond effectively to Sanders, fueling both his primary rise and strengthening the Republican argument against her. Others say she got too a late of a start going after Sanders and is still not hitting him enough — eroding her lead in states that should be safe.
“They didn’t take him seriously enough because they thought they had a gadfly,” said John Morgan, a Florida attorney and Clinton donor. “The gadfly wasn’t a gadfly — he was a lightning bug. And people have been following that lightning bug all over America.”
Though Sanders has dismissed questions about Clinton’s use of a private email account and server as secretary of state and how she responded to the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks, some Democrats say she needs a better response to his critique of her ties to Wall Street, which they argue reinforces months of Republican attacks on her character.
AP Conversation: Kasich bets against voter anger
BOW, N.H. (AP) — John Kasich isn’t angry.
And he’s betting his presidential aspirations that voters aren’t, either — despite the sustained political strength of leading Republicans he says are taking the country “into the dark.”
The second-term Ohio governor, trekking through New Hampshire, preferred not to go after his GOP rivals during an extended interview with The Associated Press. He didn’t even want to attack the Democratic president he hopes to replace. No, this man is trying to win the presidency on his terms, which run counter to fundamental assumptions about the mood of voters.
“Contrary to what we hear, they’re not angry, I don’t think they’re angry at all,” Kasich says. “I think they’re upset things are not going well for them. Their wages are stuck, a lot of things like that. But they really want to hear answers. And they want to be hopeful. Look, when people leave my town halls, a lot of them say, I’m hopeful again. Because these problems are not that hard. It’s all political mumbo-jumbo that’s screwing everything up.”
More than anything, the tell-it-like-he-sees-it governor condemned the angry politics that have shaped the 2016 Republican primary election. This, during an AP Conversation, the latest in a series of interviews with the presidential candidates. Kasich spoke to the AP aboard his campaign bus in New Hampshire, the unofficial staging ground for his underdog candidacy.
At least 3 killed as Somali extremists attack restaurant
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A suicide car bomber rammed the gates of a restaurant near a beach in Somalia’s capital before gunmen fought their way into the building in an attack claimed by an Islamic extremist group that killed at least three people on Thursday, a police official said.
The assailants may have taken some hostages inside the Liido Seafood restaurant, which is popular with Mogadishu’s elite and government officials, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said. It wasn’t immediately clear if any senior officials were trapped in the restaurant.
“The operation (to overpower the attackers) is ongoing now. The (attackers) are still inside and fighting our troops,” Hussein said from the scene of the attack as gunfire rang out in the background. He said he had counted at least three bodies outside the restaurant.
An unknown number of people are still trapped inside the restaurant, and the death toll is likely to rise when the attack is over, he said, adding that darkness is hampering efforts by the security forces to overwhelm the assailants.
Gunfire could be heard inside the restaurant, suggesting that the gunmen were killing civilians trapped inside, he said.
Alabama carries out 1st execution in more than 2 years
ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A man convicted of the 1992 rape and beating death of a woman received a lethal injection Thursday evening in Alabama’s first execution in more than two years.
Christopher Eugene Brooks, 43, was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m. at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, authorities said. The procedure began at 6:06 p.m., shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a last-minute defense request for a stay.
Brooks was convicted of capital murder in the death of 23-year-old Jo Deann Campbell, a woman authorities say he first met when they worked at a camp in upstate New York.
Prior to a three-drug combination being administered, Brooks had some final words, saying: “I hope this brings closure to everybody.” He thanked his loved ones repeatedly, adding “love you all … I will take you with me in my heart … I love y’all. Bye. I love y’all.”
A prison chaplain held Brooks’ hand and appeared to pray with him as the first drug, a sedative, began flowing. Brooks’ eyes closed, his mouth gaped open and his breathing slowed. A prison captain pinched the inmate’s upper left arm and pulled open his eyelid to check for consciousness before the final two drugs were administered.
Looking for diversity, Hollywood could turn on the TV
NEW YORK (AP) — As Hollywood continues to be battered by a backlash to the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations and in the film industry at large, it doesn’t have to look far for inspiration: Just turn on the TV.
Where the movies have lagged, television has recently exploded with diversity across the dial. Now, the film industry will be playing catch-up to the small screen, where some of the most talented people of color have turned for greater artistic freedom and the chance to tell more varied stories that don’t require capes or marketability in China.
Many previous Oscar nominees are already there.
Ava DuVernay, director of last year’s best picture-nominee “Selma,” is currently at work on “Queen Sugar,” a drama series for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “12 Years a Slave,” is in the second season of his acclaimed ABC series, “American Crime.” Forest Whitaker, who won best actor for 2016’s “The Last King of Scotland,” is part of a “Roots” remake for A&E. Two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis is on Shonda Rhimes’ “How to Get Away With Murder” for ABC.
“TV cares about its audience,” says Davis, who in September became the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. “TV wants to cater to the demographics of what is America.”
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