AP News in Brief at 5:58 p.m. EDT



Syrian rebels that US aims to support weakening in face of Islamic State onslaught

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian rebels that the U.S. now wants to support are in poor shape, on the retreat from the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria, with some rebels giving up the fight. It is not clear whether the new U.S. promise to arm them will make a difference.

Some, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals.

The Obama administration is seeking $500 million to train and arm what it calls “moderate” factions among the rebels, a far larger project than a quiet CIA-led effort in Jordan that has been training a few hundreds fighters a month. But U.S. officials say it will take year to get the new program fully underway. The U.S. also faces the difficult task of what constitutes a “moderate” rebel in a movement dominated by Islamist ideologies.

Opposition activists complain that after long hesitating to arm the rebellion to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad — their main goal — the United States is now enlisting them against the Islamic State out of its own interests. They have long argued that the group, which aims to create a radical Islamic enclave bridging Syria and Iraq, was only able to gain such power in Syria because more moderate forces were not given international support.

“This decision is a year and a half too late,” said Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition opposition group. “Had it not been for Obama’s hesitation all along, this wouldn’t be happening in Iraq today nor would there be this proliferation of extremist factions in Syria,” he added.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric calls for quick deal on new prime minister amid insurgent onslaught

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s top Shiite cleric ratcheted up the pressure Friday on lawmakers to agree on a prime minister before the newly elected parliament meets next week, trying to avert months of wrangling in the face of a Sunni insurgent blitz over huge tracts in the country’s north and west.

The United States, meanwhile, started flying armed drones over Baghdad to protect American civilians and newly deployed U.S. military forces in the capital.

Less than three years after the last American troops left Iraq, Washington has found itself being pulled back in by the stunning offensive spearheaded by the al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The onslaught has triggered the worst crisis in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal and sapped public — and international — confidence in Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Many of al-Maliki’s former allies, and even key patron Iran, have begun exploring alternatives to replace him. But al-Maliki, who has governed the country since 2006, has proven to be a savvy and hard-nosed politician, and so far he has shown no willingness to step aside.

Al-Maliki can claim to have a mandate. He personally won the most votes in April elections, and his State of Law bloc won the most seats by far. But he failed to gain the majority needed to govern alone, leaving him in need of allies to retain his post.

Ukraine signs trade deal with EU over Moscow’s objections; Russia fends off new sanctions

BRUSSELS (AP) — Over Russia’s objections, Ukraine’s new president on Friday signed a free-trade deal binding his country more closely to Western Europe, sealing the very agreement that triggered the bloodshed and political convulsions of the past seven months.

Russia, meanwhile, fended off for the time being a new, more crippling round of Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine, where a fragile cease-fire between government forces and pro-Moscow separatists in the east expired Friday night with no immediate word from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on whether he would extend it.

“What a great day!” a beaming Poroshenko said in Brussels upon the signing of the economic agreement with the European Union. “Maybe the most important day for my country after independence.”

Since it became independent in the 1991 Soviet collapse, Ukraine has been involved in a delicate balancing act between Russia and the West. The Kremlin wants to keep Ukraine, the birthplace of Russian statehood and Russian Orthodox Christianity, in its orbit.

In November, under pressure from Moscow, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanuknovych spiked the EU pact, triggering huge protests that drove him from power. Moscow responded by annexing the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March, and pro-Russian separatists soon rose up in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

A look at Iraqi politicians considered possible candidates to replace embattled prime minister

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under increasing political pressure to step aside as Sunni militants led by fighters from the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overrun much of northwestern Iraq. Al-Maliki, a Shiite who is looking to secure a third consecutive term after winning April elections, has proven himself to be a skilled politician and hard-nosed negotiator. But there are growing calls from all quarters — including fellow Shiite and senior clerics — for him to step aside. Here’s a look at some of the names being mentioned to possibly replace him:

— Ibrahim al-Jaafari: From the Shiite holy city of Karbala, al-Jaafari heads the National Reform Trend, which is part of the broad Shiite coalition. He has played a prominent role in Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, serving on the American-appointed governing council and later as vice president in the interim government. He then served as prime minister in 2005 after the Shiite coalition won Iraq’s first elections after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Iraq ratified a new constitution under his watch in the fall of 2005, and held fresh parliamentary elections that December. Al-Jaafari secured Shiite backing to remain prime minister after that vote, but Kurds and Sunnis rejected his candidacy as the sectarian violence in the country surged in early 2006. The Shiite coalition agreed to drop al-Jaafari and picked a politician who was viewed at the time as a compromise candidate: Nouri al-Maliki.

— Bayan Jabr: Jabr, a civil engineer by training, served as interior minister under Jaafari in 2005 as sectarian bloodletting began to surge across Iraq. At the time, the ministry was accused of running death squads that targeted Sunnis, although Jabr denied any knowledge or involvement in such killings. He later served as finance minister during Maliki’s first term in office, which ended in 2010. Since then he’s served as a lawmaker in parliament from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council led by Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, one of the most powerful Shiite parties.

— Adel Abdul-Mahdi: Born in Baghdad and trained as an economist in France, Abdul-Mahdi has been often touted as a potential prime minister. Abdul-Mahdi, like Jabr, is a stalwart of the Supreme Council, and he twice came close to assuming the post but missed out in both cases to candidates from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. He served as vice president from 2006 to 2010, but his reputation was somewhat tarnished in 2009 when army officers seconded to his security detail were found to be involved in a deadly bank robbery.

— Ayad Allawi: Allawi, a secular Shiite and a surgeon by training, was chosen by the United States to lead Iraq as interim prime minister in 2004. He was trounced at the polls the following year, but has managed since to carve out a niche for himself as an alternative to religious-tinged politics by appealing to urban and educated Iraqis of all sects. A former member of Saddam’s Baath party, he survived an assassination attempt believed to have been ordered by the then-ruler. He later established an opposition group aimed at overthrowing the dictator. In Iraq’s post-Saddam order he has called for a greater say for the Sunni minority, and led a broad coalition focused on national identity rather than religious sect that won the most seats in Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary election. But he was outmaneuvered by Maliki, who after months of political jockeying — and Iranian and American arm-twisting — secured enough support to stay on for a second term.

Thousands of girls divorced in Nigeria in battle over whether females should study or marry

KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) — By the time she ran away, she bore the scars of an abused woman anywhere - a swollen face, a starved body, and, barely a year after her wedding, a divorce. But for Maimuna Abdullahi, it all happened by the time she was 14.

Maimuna is one of thousands of divorced girls in Nigeria, who were forced into marriage and have since run away or been thrown out by their husbands. They are victims of a belief that girls should get wed rather than educated, which led Boko Haram terrorists to abduct more than 200 schoolgirls two months ago and threaten to marry them off.

“I’m too scared to go back home,” Maimuna whispers, as she fiddles nervously with her hands. “I know they will force me to go back to my husband.”

Her former husband, Mahammadu Saidu, 28, does not deny beating her, and blames her few years of school for her disobedience.

“She had too much ABCD,” he says. “Too much ABCD.”

AP IMPACT: Documents show lapses in New York City jails may have led to 9 suicides in 5 years

NEW YORK (AP) — In one case, a mentally ill New York City inmate hanged himself from a shower pipe on his third try in three days. During that stretch, orders to put him on 24-hour watch were apparently ignored, along with a screening form that said he was “thinking about killing himself.”

Another inmate hanged himself with a bedsheet from an air vent in a solitary-confinement cell after repeatedly telling guards he was suicidal. The last time he said so, one of them replied, “If you have the balls, go ahead and do it.”

In yet another case, an inmate hanged himself from a metal bed that he stood on end to create a scaffold, despite a year-old jailhouse directive to weld all beds to the floor. The directive was issued after another mentally ill man committed suicide in exactly the same way.

Investigative documents obtained by The Associated Press on the 11 suicides in New York City jails over the past five years show that in at least nine cases, safeguards designed to prevent inmates from harming themselves weren’t followed.

“Is there a procedure? Yes. Did they follow it? Absolutely not,” said a tearful John Giannotta, whose 41-year-old son Gregory used a jail jumpsuit to hang himself from an improperly exposed bathroom pipe last year even though he, too, was supposed to be on suicide watch. The psychiatrist’s order wasn’t entered into the computer system until hours after his death.

With elections looming, Democrats fear contentious Senate votes so little gets done

WASHINGTON (AP) — A fear of voting has gripped Democratic leaders in the Senate, slowing the chamber’s modest productivity this election season to a near halt.

With control of the Senate at risk in November, leaders are going to remarkable lengths to protect endangered Democrats from casting tough votes and to deny Republicans legislative victories in the midst of the campaign. The phobia means even bipartisan legislation to boost energy efficiency, manufacturing, sportsmen’s rights and more could be scuttled.

The Senate’s masters of process are finding a variety of ways to shut down debate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., now is requiring an elusive 60-vote supermajority to deal with amendments to spending bills, instead of the usual simple majority, a step that makes it much more difficult to put politically sensitive matters into contention. This was a flip from his approach to Obama administration nominees, when he decided most could be moved ahead with a straight majority instead of the 60 votes needed before.

Reid’s principal aim in setting the supermajority rule for spending amendments was to deny archrival Sen. Mitch McConnell a win on protecting his home state coal industry from new regulations limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, faces a tough re-election in Kentucky.

Launch of new Russian space rocket aborted moments before blastoff as Putin watched

MOSCOW (AP) — The first launch of Russia’s new space rocket after two decades of development was aborted Friday moments before its blastoff, as President Vladimir Putin was watching via live feed.

The botched attempt to launch the Angara booster rocket was the latest mishap to dog Russia’s troubled space industries, whose Soviet-era glory has faded in a series of launch failures.

Angara is built to replace the Soyuz, a workhorse of the Soviet and then Russian space program, designed more than four decades ago. Following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles, Soyuz currently serves as the only way to deliver crews to the International Space Station.

Angara has been developed in several versions with various payloads of up to 35 metric tons. Its development has dragged on since 1994. Its first launch had been planned for 2005, but has been continuously pushed back.

Space officials said that an automatic safety system aborted the rocket’s blastoff from the Plesetsk launch pad in northwestern Russia for an unspecified reason.

Why has soccer gotten more popular in the US? The “on-demand generation” loves it

DENVER (AP) — Never mind that there were dozens of TV sets at the bar, many turned to pro wrestling, poker and bowling to provide background noise early one weekend morning. Jon Forget walked in, asked the bartender to change one set to soccer and got laughed out of the joint.

Fast forward almost two decades and there’s no room to sit at the bar Forget runs these days. His concept for a soccer pub near downtown Denver is taking off, and a new generation of American-born soccer fans piled in by the hundreds Thursday to watch the U.S. advance to the World Cup knockout round despite a 1-0 loss to Germany.

Forget’s success at the 3-year-old Three Lions pub is a microcosm of what’s happening around America during the World Cup. Social media numbers are strong, TV ratings are setting records and, other than Brazil, no country’s fans have bought more tickets to the games than those from the United States.

All this in a country that long fought against soccer’s global intrigue, even though the number of American kids playing the game has been rising slowly for decades.

“Over the past 25-30 years, you’ve seen people come over here from around the world and they know the game and they start influencing Americans,” Forget said. “This generation has the proper training, a lot more have played at a high level. They understand the game. It’s not boring to them.”

Shia LaBeouf, the actor who insists he’s not famous, makes a public mess, ends up in handcuffs

NEW YORK (AP) — Who can forget the time he put a paper bag on his head that read “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE"? Or when he was forced to apologize for plagiarizing parts of his short film? He then promised to retire from public life.

Now, he’s been escorted from a Broadway theater in handcuffs for allegedly yelling obscenities during a performance of “Cabaret.” The guy who insisted he’s not famous was heard screaming, “Do you know who I am"?

Witnessing Shia LaBeouf’s recent off-screen and offstage antics is getting to be like watching a slow-moving train wreck. Has he become the male equivalent of Amanda Bynes?

“Shia LaBeouf is certainly not alone in displaying unusual behavior and even immaturity,” said Jason Maloni, senior vice president at Levick, a strategic communications firm that guides clients through challenging media situations. “This is just the latest incident that put him crossways with an actor’s most important constituent — his fan base as well as his fellow professionals.”

Maloni added: “Bad behavior in a public setting followed by an arrest doesn’t make for a very effective visual. Frankly, he’s been perp-walked out of Broadway, quite literally. So he’s in some distress.”

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