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Ukraine, US work to reduce tensions with Russia
GENEVA (AP) - Ukraine is hoping to placate Russia and calm hostilities with its neighbor even as the U.S. prepares a new round of sanctions to punish Moscow for what it regards as fomenting unrest. The carrot-stick strategy emerged as diplomats from Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and Russia met Thursday for the first time over the burgeoning crisis that threatens to roil the new government in Kiev.


Putin hopes no need to send troops into Ukraine
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected claims that Russian special forces are fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, but recognized for the first time that the troops in unmarked uniforms who had overtaken Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Moscow were Russian soldiers. Putin expressed hope for a political and diplomatic solution of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, saying he hopes that he won't have to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, which has been engulfed by violent protests against the new authorities in Kiev. He poured scorn at the West, accusing it of trying to weaken and isolate Russia and made it starkly clear that he doesn't fear further Western sanctions.


Evacuation came too late for many on sinking ferry
MOKPO, South Korea (AP) - An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday. The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system.


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UN: Iran cuts stock closest to nuke-arms grade
VIENNA (AP) - Iran has converted most of a nuclear stockpile that it could have turned quickly into weapons-grade uranium into less volatile forms as part of a deal with six world powers, the U.N. atomic agency reported Thursday. The development leaves Iran with substantially less of the 20-percent enriched uranium that it would need for a nuclear warhead. Iran denies any interest in atomic arms. But it agreed to some nuclear concessions in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions crippling its economy under the deal, which took effect in January.


Defend 'Obamacare' unabashedly, some Democrats say
WASHINGTON (AP) - With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it's time to stop hiding from the president's health care overhaul, even in this year's toughest Senate elections. Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace "Obamacare," the GOP's favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.


Samples collected from oil slick not from plane
PERTH, Australia (AP) - Investigators were analyzing data collected by a robotic submarine that completed its first successful scan of the seabed Thursday in the hunt for the missing Malaysian plane, but say tests have ruled out that a nearby oil slick came from the aircraft. The unmanned sub's first two missions were cut short by technical problems and deep water, but the Bluefin 21 finally managed to complete a full 16-hour scan of the silt-covered seabed far off Australia's west coast, the search coordination center said. While data collected during the mission, which ended overnight, were still being analyzed, nothing of note had yet been discovered, the center said. The sub has now covered 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of seafloor.


Robber who was homesick for prison to be sentenced
CHICAGO (AP) - Walter Unbehaun has spent nearly all of his adult life behind bars, so it's not surprising that he faces sentencing Thursday for yet another crime, a bank robbery last year. His reason for robbing the bank is surprising, though: He was homesick for prison. The 74-year-old high-school dropout and part-time bathtub repairman probably isn't the first long-term convict to find he prefers being barked at by guards to life on the outside, which has its own demands. But living alone and feeling unhappy, Unbehaun decided to change his situation by committing a crime in order to get caught.


Little government response to bombing a year later
BOSTON (AP) - A year after homemade bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon, state and federal officials have enacted virtually no policy changes in response to the attack, a dramatic departure from previous acts of terrorism that prompted waves of government action. "There was a great deal of concern right after this happened," said Rep. William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat. "Now, people are focused on so many different issues."


Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy
PARIS (AP) - Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the incoming head of the Nuclear Energy Agency told The Associated Press. Size is relative - the modular plants could be about as big as a couple of semi-trailers - easily fitting on the dimensions of coal plants they're ultimately intended to replace in the U.S. They would have factory-built parts that are slotted together like Lego blocks and hauled by train or truck - making assembly possible anywhere.


Portland plans reservoir flush after teen cited
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Call it the Big Flush 2, and this time the sequel promises to be much bigger than the original. Portland officials said Wednesday they are flushing away millions of gallons of treated water for the second time in less than three years because someone urinated into a city reservoir.