Officials: US training Syrian forces in Jordan to boost anti-Assad forces, stem extremist sway
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is training secular Syrian fighters in Jordan in a bid to bolster forces battling President Bashar Assad's regime and stem the influence of Islamist radicals among the country's persistently splintered opposition, American and foreign officials said.
The training has been conducted for several months now in an unspecified location, concentrating largely on Sunnis and tribal Bedouins who formerly served as members of the Syrian army, officials told The Associated Press. The forces aren't members of the leading rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, which Washington and others fear may be increasingly coming under the sway of extremist militia groups, including some linked to al-Qaida, they said.
The operation is being run by U.S. intelligence and is ongoing, officials said, but those in Washington stressed that the U.S. is providing only nonlethal aid at this point. Others such as Britain and France are involved, they said, though it's unclear whether any Western governments are providing materiel or other direct military support after two years of civil war that according to the United Nations already has killed more than 70,000 people.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the program.
Officially, the Obama administration has been vague on the subject of what type of military training it may be providing, while insisting that it is doing all it can -- short of providing weapons to the rebels or engaging in its own military intervention -- to hasten the demise of the Assad family's four-decade dictatorship.
Cyprus: Bankruptcy averted, but banks to stay closed until Thursday
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Cyprus ordered banks to remain closed for two more days over fears of a run by customers trying to get their money out, after striking a pre-dawn bailout deal Monday that averted the country's imminent bankruptcy.
The sudden midnight postponement of the much anticipated Tuesday bank opening by all but the country's two largest lenders was sure to hammer businesses already reeling from more than a week of no access to their deposits.
ATMs have been dispensing cash but often run out, and an increasing number of stores and other businesses have stopped accepting credit or debit cards. The two largest lenders, the struggling Laiki and Bank of Cyprus, have imposed a daily withdrawal limit of 100 euros ($130).
Cyprus clinched an eleventh-hour deal with the 17-nation eurozone and the International Monetary Fund early Monday for a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout. Without it, the country's banks would have collapsed, dragging down the economy and potentially pushing it out of the euro.
Under the deal, the country agreed to slash its oversized banking sector and inflict hefty losses on large depositors in troubled banks.
10 Things to Know for Tuesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:
1. US TRAINING SYRIAN REBELS
The operation, run by U.S. intelligence, has been going on quietly in Jordan for several months.
NJ man, 44, wins $338M Powerball jackpot; he tells media outlets he will help his family
PASSAIC, N.J. (AP) -- The winner of a $338 million Powerball jackpot told several media outlets Monday that his first priority will be helping his family.
Pedro Quezada, 44, entered Eagle Liquors store, where the ticket was sold, late Monday afternoon. The Passaic store owner ran Quezada's ticket through the lottery machine to validate that it was a winner as a newspaper and television outlets recorded the moment.
The New Jersey Lottery confirmed that the winning ticket was validated at the store at 4:30 p.m. Monday, but officials said they didn't yet know the winner's name.
Quezada, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told reporters in Spanish that he was "very happy" and that he intends to help his family.
His wife, Ines Sanchez, told the Bergen Record that Quezada called her with the news Monday afternoon.
It's not cheap to guarantee a seat for the Supreme Court's gay marriage cases
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The most expensive ticket to "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway: $477. The face value of a great seat for this year's Super Bowl: $1,250. Guaranteed seats to watch the U.S. Supreme Court hear this week's gay marriage cases: about $6,000.
Tickets to the two arguments that begin Tuesday are technically free. But getting them requires lining up days or hours ahead, or paying someone else to. The first people got in line Thursday, bringing the price of saving a seat to around $6,000.
For some, putting a value on the seats is meaningless.
"It's just not possible," said Fred Sainz a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, which began employing two people to stand in line Thursday.
The court will hear arguments Tuesday over California's ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the court will take up the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage say the cases are so potentially historic that they want to be inside the courtroom to watch, no matter what the cost in time or money.
Kerry, Karzai show rare US-Afghan unity, as US turns over detention center
KABUL (AP) -- Eager to overcome a bout of bickering, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a show of unusual unity between their two nations on Monday. The friendly display came as the U.S. military ceded control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan, ending a longstanding irritant in relations.
Kerry arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul on an unannounced visit amid concerns that Karzai may be jeopardizing progress in the war against extremism with anti-American rhetoric. After a private meeting, Kerry said he and Karzai were "on the same page" on security and reconciliation issues and brushed aside suggestions that relations were in peril.
Karzai infuriated U.S. officials earlier this month by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration pressed ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO's combat mission by the end of next year.
At a joint news conference after their talks, Karzai told reporters that his comments in a nationally televised speech had been misinterpreted by the media. Kerry demurred on that point but said people sometimes say things in public that reflect ideas they have heard from others but don't necessarily agree with.
"I am confident the president (Karzai) does not believe the U.S. has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace and that we are completely cooperative with the government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their efforts and their people," Kerry said. He noted that he had specifically raised the comment in question with Karzai and was satisfied with the response.
Investigators find link between suspect's gun and Colo. corrections chief but motive unknown
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements and his wife were watching television when the doorbell rang last Tuesday night. Clements opened the door and was shot to death.
"My life was changed forever," Lisa Clements told hundreds of people, including corrections guards and officials from around the country, who gathered at a memorial service for her husband Monday.
Nearly a week after Clements' death, investigators in Colorado say the gun suspect Evan Ebel used in a shootout with authorities in Texas is the same one used to kill Clements. However, they don't know yet whether Ebel is the person who shot Clements, whether he acted alone and what motivated the slaying of a corrections' chief admired by prisoner advocates and prison guards alike. Authorities warned that could take some time.
Until investigators determine whether Ebel, paroled from Colorado's prison system, in January, acted alone, "it's hard to know what his role was," Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office told The Associated Press.
"He remains a suspect in our investigation, obviously, especially after receiving this confirmed link from Texas," he said.
What spring? Storm dumps foot or more of snow across Midwest, carpets eastern US
HAMBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Five days into spring, warm weather and budding flowers were just a rumor Monday as the East Coast endured another blast of winter.
A wide-ranging storm that buried parts of the Midwest weakened as it moved east but still managed to carpet lawns and fields in a fresh layer of white. Many schools opened late or closed early, and hundreds of flights were canceled.
The cold temperatures and miserable mixture of snow and rain had people longing for more agreeable weather.
"I'm ready for flip flops," said Jessica Cunitz, 24 of Westchester County, N.Y., who stopped at a gas station along Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania to fill her overheating car with antifreeze. "It's supposed to be spring."
In Maryland, Michael Pugh donned a wool coat, knit cap, waterproof pants and heavy boots to trudge more than a mile through four inches of wet snow to his bank in downtown Hagerstown, about 70 miles west of Baltimore. He pronounced the weather "dreadful."
How do you burn through billions? A look at Boris Berezovsky's disappearing fortune
LONDON (AP) -- How do you burn through billions?
The death of Boris Berezovsky, whose body was found Saturday inside his upscale English home, has refocused attention on the fantastic wealth racked up by Russia's ruthless oligarchs -- and their propensity for spending it. Berezovsky, 67, had once been considered Russia's richest man -- but by this January, a British judge was wondering whether the tycoon would be able to pay his debts.
Police say post mortem examinations have found that Berezovsky died from hanging. There was no violent struggle, and no evidence of anyone else being involved, they said. His lawyer said the oligarch had been in "a horrible, terrible" emotional state. The tycoon had survived several assassination attempts, including a 1994 car bomb in Moscow, and there was speculation as to whether his death was natural, part of a conspiracy or a suicide.
To understand how one man could lose so much money, it helps to see how he made it in the first place.
LeBron flirts with triple-double, Heat pull away to top Magic 108-94 and win 27th straight
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- LeBron James badly missed a layup, got angry and committed a foul after the rebound. It was late in the third quarter, the game was tied and this Miami Heat winning streak seemed to be in jeopardy.
On the next possession, he threw down a fierce dunk.
Everything changed in that instant. The game became a runaway, and the Heat moved another step closer to the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and the greatest streak in the history of the league.
James finished with 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, and the Heat won their 27th straight game by pulling away down the stretch to beat the Orlando Magic 108-94 on Monday night.
That dunk started what became a 20-2 run over merely a 4½-minute portion of the third and fourth quarters, and it put the Heat in control for good.