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400-foot Ferris wheel stops: All 66 riders safely taken off

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
400-foot Ferris wheel stops: All 66 riders safely taken off

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Firefighters safely evacuated all 66 riders stranded aboard The Orlando Eye after the 400-foot Ferris wheel that towers above central Florida abruptly halted Friday afternoon, authorities said.

Orange County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy told The Associated Press no one was injured and everyone was taken off in an evacuation operation lasting three hours. She said the ride had initially stopped for more than 45 minutes.

Power was restored via a backup generator and firefighters on ladders clambered atop the enclosed capsules after each was slowly lowered to the ground, Kennedy said. She said the emergency crews had to reach in through a hatch and manually opened the doors of the gondolas because of limited power.

“All guests are safely evacuated,” she told AP by phone Friday evening, minutes after the last person was taken off.

Six elite rescue climbers with the squad who had trained by climbing the wheel before had gone to the scene but weren’t needed, Kennedy said. She noted they were part of a 40-person agency special operations team that had climbed the attraction in training even before the ride had opened, ready for any scenario.

“We’ve done live climbs … They had to climb the entire Eye,” she said, adding that “thankfully” the elite climbers didn’t need to be deployed on what she described as the tallest observation wheel on the East Coast.

Andrea Alava, a public relations manager for The Orlando Eye, issued a statement that operating systems for the attraction had shut as a safety precaution at about 3:45 p.m.

“The operating systems for the Orlando Eye indicated a technical default with the system that monitors the wheel position of the Orlando Eye. As a safety precaution, the attraction is designed to automatically shut down if communication with this system is interrupted,” the emailed statement said.

“Immediately following the default, the operations team began working to resolve the matter to allow guests to disembark the attraction. A backup system was employed that allowed capsules to be moved to the platform and opened manually,” it added.

The statement said Eye representatives kept up two-way visual and audio communication with the riders “to ensure their safety and comfort” and their priority was to ensure they safely disembarked. “With that completed, we are now focused on reinstating the systems and restoring full operations of the Orlando Eye.”

The Orlando Sentinel ( http://bit.ly/1f9nChM ) reported  that some of those stranded were tweeting from the ride that the ride had been stopping and starting after it initially halted. Photos tweeted by television stations showed firefighters using ladders to climb capsules as they helped people out.

“Yes we finally started moving! Hopefully we get down soon. They keep stopping hopefully to get people off.” Tweeted one rider about 5:40 p.m., the newspaper reported.

Kennedy said the last rider got down just after 7 p.m. Friday and that all were given precautionary medical checks but none required medical treatment.

The attraction’s website said the 400-foot wheel features fully enclosed and air-conditioned capsules and “provides breathtaking views of Central Florida in all directions” that include the Orlando skyline, nearby theme parks and distant Cape Canaveral on Florida’s Atlantic coast on clear days.

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New Puerto Rico agencies to buy TRANs amid economic crisis

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
New Puerto Rico agencies to buy TRANs amid economic crisis

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor signed a bill late Friday that allows certain public agencies to buy up to $400 million in tax and revenue anticipation notes as the government of the U.S. territory seeks more cash amid a worsening economic crisis.

The bill aims in part to help boost the liquidity of the U.S. territory’s Treasury Department, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said.

“This measure is needed given the absence of the government’s usual liquidity sources,” he said.

Some of the new agencies now authorized to buy such notes are government insurance companies that are flush with cash, said Puerto Rico-based economist Vicente Feliciano.

Banking institutions usually buy tax and revenue anticipation notes — or TRANs — but the governor’s move shows that investors may have been spooked by the island’s economic crisis, he said in a phone interview.

“It’s a sign of how critical the government’s situation is,” Feliciano said. “The central government is looking for spare change underneath the rug to see what it can find.”

The announcement comes just days after Garcia said the island’s $72 billion public debt is unpayable given the current level of economic growth, and that he would seek a payment moratorium from bondholders.

Tax and revenue anticipation notes are usually repaid with upcoming tax collections, but Feliciano noted that investors likely wonder whether there’ll be enough money this time as the island struggles to emerge from a nearly decade-long economic slump.

Last fiscal year, the island’s government issued $1.2 billion worth of TRANs, with $900 billion placed with banking institutions, according to statistics with Puerto Rico’sGovernment Development Bank. The newly approved bill states the bank will be responsible for overseeing a new fund that will collect certain government revenue that the government can access if the Treasury Department’s monthly revenue forecasts exceed collections.

Danica Coto on Twitter: www.twitter.com/danicacoto

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Egypt marks 2nd anniversary of Islamist ouster with mourning

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Egypt marks 2nd anniversary of Islamist ouster with mourning

CAIRO (AP) — Two years to the day after the army overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president, the sounds coming from the mosque at Cairo’sTahrir Square were sadly telling. At the focal point of Egypt’s upheavals, where authorities had hoped to stage celebrations, there was instead a prayer for the week’s dead, including soldiers cut down by militants in Sinai and the country’s chief prosecutor, assassinated by car bomb in the capital.

A sense of foreboding fills the air, with officials and media speaking of a state of war and urging national unity. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has promised swift justice, which critics fear will mean a further step away from democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but unbowed, has upped the ante by calling for revolt against his rule. There is fear of even worse attacks of the kind that have become sadly familiar around the region.

It all presents a major challenge for el-Sissi, who as army chief led the takeover against Morsi two years ago, when millions filled the streets outraged over Muslim Brotherhood misrule. He was later elected president, and the deal he has offered Egyptians — a curtailing of freedoms in exchange for stability and security — was one many seemed eagerly willing to embrace after several years of upheaval, in which the wider region has gone up in flames.

The first part of that equation has been carried out: the once-ruling Muslim Brotherhood has been largely crushed, thousands of its top people in jail and hundreds — including Morsi — handed the death penalty; public protests are restricted, as is political activity; the media has been cowed amid an atmosphere that seems to equate criticism with disloyalty; and even many liberal activists are in jail. The result has been quieter streets, without protests that often turned to riots the past three years, and violence against Christians and Shiites has lessened, though not stopped.

But stability, which for a time seemed attainable, seems to be in danger of unraveling. Militants affiliated with the regional Islamic State group have turned the northern part of the Sinai peninsula into a war zone, this week staging a brazen multi-pronged attack on army positions; last month a key tourist site at Luxor was attacked; on Tuesday chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated while leaving his Cairo home for work.

Islamic radicals have claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities generally blame the Muslim Brotherhood itself, claiming its leaders issue orders from behind bars. Some believe the group’s denials while others don’t, and proof is scarce.

Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Century Foundation, sees an “escalatory cycle … deteriorating security is eroding confidence in capacity of the regime but at the same time also reinforcing hard-line trends in Egyptian society with respect of how to deal with these security threats.”

After the killing of Barakat, an angry el-Sissi went on TV to promise more efficient justice. He also suggested that the death penalties against the Islamist leaders would — contrary to expectations — actually be carried out.

Action will be taken within days “to enable us to execute the law, and bring justice as soon as possible,” he said. In a thinly veiled reference to jailed members of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi blamed the violence on those “issuing orders from behind bars,” and warned: “If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out.”

“We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world,” el-Sissi said.

El-Sissi was alluding to the widespread global criticism of his heavy-handed rule — charges certainly also echoed by domestic opponents, not all of them Islamists.

On Friday, hundreds of mostly young Islamist demonstrators held several small protests in Cairo suburbs on Friday, carrying pro-Morsi signs and chanting “down with military rule.”

But el-Sissi also has wide support among Egyptians who have come to feel that liberal democracy is a bad fit in a society where almost half the people are illiterate and significant political forces would, if allowed, create a theocracy which would hardly be democratic.

“There’s progress and stability, we feel more order in the streets and the economy. But there’s nobody who’s not sad in Egypt these days because of the attacks in Sinai,” said Ibrahim Hamdy, a shopkeeper at a hardware store in a popular neighborhood of central Cairo, where Ramadan decorations hung from the buildings.

The crackdown on the Brotherhood and other opponents following Morsi’s ouster claimed hundreds of lives and landed thousands in jail. With most of the Brotherhood cadres in jail, youth supporters have been left leaderless. Some still protest several times a week in dilapidated Cairo suburbs where alleyways are too narrow for tanks to enter, or restive rural areas off-limits to the state.

Unprecedented, coordinated attacks by militants including massive suicide bombings on the army in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday underlined the failure to stem an insurgency that blossomed in the area after Morsi’s overthrow, despite a heavy-handed crackdown.

The army said 17 soldiers and over 100 militants were killed, although before the release of its official statement, several senior security officials from multiple branches of Egypt’s forces in Sinai had said that scores more troops also died in the fighting. The same day, a special forces raid on a Cairo apartment killed nine leaders of the outlawed Brotherhood, which said they were innocents “murdered in cold blood,” and called for a “rebellion.”

Sinai’s main insurgent organization, which calls itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s assault. El-Sissi has yet to address the public about the attacks, but in the past he has described the Brotherhood the root of all Islamic extremist groups. Just two days earlier, the assassination of Barakat was claimed by an obscure militant group.

The week’s events have pushed aside, for now, the talk of Egypt’s budding economic recovery. GDP is accelerating, foreign investment has doubled in a year and the stock market is rising. Unemployment is down and the country’s credit ratings are up. Gas lines are gone and the country has capital to invest, thanks in part to a multi-billion dollar aid package from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Among Brotherhood’s supporters, calls to abandon non-violence are growing, deepening an internal split over the issue. On Wednesday the group issued a call for revolt which may reinforce those urging the use of force.

Cairo-based security expert H.A. Hellyer said it was not inevitable but “increasingly likely” that the call will result in “a more militant and insurgency-style route.” Hellyer, of London’sRoyal United Services Institute, said such calls would find “a much more receptive audience against the backdrop of the political realities in Egypt and the crackdown.”

The events do not bode well for attempts to support democracy, form a more pluralistic society, or even elect a parliament, which el-Sissi had said would come at the end of the year.

Those elections, whenever they take place, are likely to produce a strongly pro-el-Sissi legislature. Islamists, in various forms, may still have a solid base of support but are likely to largely boycott — something that allowed el-Sissi to easily win election a year ago. The existing non-Islamic parties, an assortment of nationalists and liberals, were disorganized and hapless in opposition to Morsi and largely back el-Sissi now.

Follow Rohan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Brian_Rohan

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Rubio, Christie planning sleepover with the Romneys

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Rubio, Christie planning sleepover with the Romneys

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney will be hosting two rival Republican presidential contenders at a holiday sleepover Friday evening.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will both be staying over at Romney’s property in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, an aide to Romney confirmed.

The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of what the aide called the private nature of the event, said the former governor and his wife opened their home to the Christie and Rubio families after hearing they would be in town for the holiday weekend. Both candidates are scheduled to march in Wolfeboro’sFourth of July parade.

Christie, who formally jumped into the race this week, told reporters in New Hampshire Friday that he was grateful for the invitation.

“I suspect there might be a little politics discussed tonight with Mitt and Ann, but me and Mary Pat, and Andrew and Sarah are really happy that Mitt and Ann invited us to stay with them tonight,” he said, according to video posted by NJ.com.

A Rubio spokesman declined to comment.

Romney had considered another run for president in 2016, but announced in January that he’d decided against it. His endorsement is now coveted.

Christie was a top surrogate for Romney’s 2012 campaign and was considered a potential vice presidential contender. But he continues to receive heat in some Republican circles for leaving the trail and embracing President Barack Obama after New Jersey was hit by Superstorm Sandy just before the election.

Christie’s campaign also announced some of its top staffers Friday.

The campaign will be managed by Ken McKay, who formerly worked for the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association.

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Clinton warns GOP will repeal Obamacare

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Clinton warns GOP will repeal Obamacare

HANOVER, N.H. (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton is warning New Hampshire voters that if the country elects a Republican president, the next administration will repeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The Democratic presidential front-runner says she will offer continuity on the policies under Obama that have worked for the vast majority of Americans. And she says the federal budget was in order under her husband’s administration until it was “rudely interrupted” by Republicans.

Clinton tells 850 people at a park at Dartmouth College she hopes the U.S. will get a deal “that puts a lid” on Iran’s nuclear program. But she says Iran will still cause major problems as a sponsor of terrorism.

The event was moved outdoors and comes as rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has drawn big crowds around the country.

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Police deployed, citizens volunteer to protect mosques in Bahrain

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Police deployed, citizens volunteer to protect mosques in Bahrain

Manama, Jul 3 (EFE).- Police and citizen volunteers were spotted securing several mosques in Bahrain around the time of Friday’s communal afternoon prayers, security measures put in place for fear that terrorist attacks similar to those in Saudi Arabi…

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Same-sex couple in Mississippi goes to court to seek divorce

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Same-sex couple in Mississippi goes to court to seek divorce

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has asked the state Supreme Court to allow a lesbian couple to seek a divorce.

Hood sided Thursday with a similar request filed by the attorney for Lauren Czekala-Chatham (chick AH’ luh-CHAT’ um), who argued a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other states.

That was key to Chatham’s arguments as she seeks a divorce from Dana Ann Melancon (muh LAWN’ sawn). They were married in California in 2008.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has not ruled on either motion.

In 2013, DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. ruled that the Mississippi Constitution and statutes prevented him from granting a divorce to the couple.

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Proposal in Greek referendum no longer on the table, Germany says

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Proposal in Greek referendum no longer on the table, Germany says

Berlin, Jul 3 (EFE).- German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble spoke directly to the Greek government’s hope of an upper hand in negotiations to reach a bailout agreement following Sunday’s referendum, indicating that the proposal on which Greece wil…

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Official who was named defendant in US Supreme Court marriage case reads at gay wedding

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Official who was named defendant in US Supreme Court marriage case reads at gay wedding

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An official whose refusal to list a gay man as the surviving spouse on a death certificate led to last week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage has delivered a Bible reading at a gay wedding.

Ohio’s health director, Rick Hodges, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been friends with one of the grooms, Steve George, for 25 years. George worked in Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration.

The gay marriage case that gave same-sex couples the legal right to marry began in Ohio but ultimately combined six lawsuits filed by 32 couples, widowers and children in four states that didn’t recognize gay marriage. The lawsuit bore Hodges’ name because he heads the Ohio Department of Health, which records vital statistics.

The Ohio governor has said he believes marriage is between a man and woman, but after the high court’s decision he declared that the court’s ruling must be respected. He also attended George’s wedding to Jeff Gatwood.

Hodges said he saw no irony in being the defendant in a case against gay marriage one week and a reader at a same-sex wedding the next.

“I love my friend,” he said.

The passage he read involves Jesus being asked to identify the greatest commandment. Jesus answers that it is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these,” the passage reads.

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Russia mulls new selective sanctions against Western nations

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Russia mulls new selective sanctions against Western nations

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will consider new selective retaliatory measures against some specific Western countries, the nation’s security chief said Friday, pointing at Finland as a possible target.

The tough statement appears to herald a new round in spiraling Russia-West confrontation over Ukraine. It followed a session of Russia’sSecurity Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, who vowed to firmly resist Western pressure and ordered to draft a new response.

Russia may, for example, revise favorable conditions for Finnish timber traders in response to Helsinki’s refusal to issue a visa to the Russian lower house speaker, the council’s secretary, Nikolai Patrushev said. He added in televised remarks that Russia wouldn’t necessarily make the move, but wants to consider this and other retaliatory measures.

Finland has denied entry to the State Duma speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, because he was on the EU sanctions list. Naryshkin planned to lead a delegation to next week’s session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Moscow responded to the Finnish move by boycotting the meeting.

Travel restrictions against Russian officials and businessmen are part of the U.S. and the EU response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’sCrimean Peninsula and its support for pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine. The West also has slapped Russia with economic sanctions, which have cut its access to capital markets and banned transfers of military and energy technologies.

Speaking at the Security Council’s meeting, Putin said the West wants to punish Russia for its course. “We are conducting independent domestic and foreign policy. We aren’t trading in our sovereignty and some don’t like it,” he said.

Putin pointed at the EU’s decision last month to extend its sanctions through January and the U.S. warnings of possible new penalties as signals that “we shouldn’t expect some of our geopolitical opponents to revise their unfriendly course in the foreseeable future.”

He said that Russia should respond with “additional systemic measures in all key areas,” but refrained from specifics in his opening remarks.

Putin didn’t mention any specific countries, but Patrushev, his long-time lieutenant and a fellow KGB veteran, squarely blamed Washington for the Ukrainian crisis.

“The United States has initiated all those events in Ukraine. It has initiated a coup and put the current Ukrainian leadership in power,” he said in a reference to the massive public protests that chased Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president from office.

Patrushev claimed that the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict depends entirely on the U.S.

“If the U.S. takes steps to normalize the situation, it will be normalized. If it doesn’t want to do so, the situation will drag on for a long time,” he said.

The U.S. and the EU, in turn, have accused Moscow of fueling a rebellion in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons — accusations Moscow has denied. They said the sanctions against Russia should stay in place until it fulfills the terms of February’s cease-fire deal, which has been routinely violated.

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