California Democrats to push for free preschool
The 29-year-old from Vail, Colo., announced her decision Tuesday, exactly one month before the opening ceremony in Russia.Her personal publicist, Lewis Kay, said in a statement that Vonn „will have surgery shortly.”In a posting on Facebook, Vonn said she is „devastated” to miss the Olympics, „but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level.”She took home two medals from the 2010 Vancouver Games, including becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic gold in the downhill. Vonn is also a four-time overall World Cup champion, the most recognized name in Alpine skiing — and, as it happens, the girlfriend of Tiger Woods.Add it all up, and she would have been the focus of plenty of media coverage in Sochi, and certainly a main character in NBC’s coverage for a U.S. audience.But Vonn tore two ligaments in her right knee during a high-speed crash at the world championships last February, sidelining her for about 10 months. She re-tore her surgically repaired ACL in a training crash in November, a key setback. Then, after returning to competition in early December by finishing 40th, 11th and fifth in a set of World Cup races at Lake Louise, Alberta, Vonn sprained her MCL during a race at Val d’Isere, France, last month.”I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL,” Vonn said Tuesday via Facebook.”I’m having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the World Championships at home in Vail next February,” she wrote. „On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for gold. Thank you all so much for all of the love and support. I will be cheering for all of the Olympians and especially team USA!”Mikaela Shiffrin, the reigning world champion in slalom, and Julia Mancuso, a three-time Olympic medalist, will now be the American women with the best chance of stepping on the Alpine skiing podium in Sochi.Shiffrin, the U.S. teenager who has been labeled the „next Vonn” by some, wrote on Twitter: „It’s hard to swallow that @lindseyvonn won’t be competing in Sochi, but I’m incredibly impressed at her determination. She’s a true #hero.”Another American ski racer, Stacey Cook, posted on Facebook: „Bummed Lindsey Vonn. Our team is not the same without you. You leave big shoes to fill for the rest of the year. …”After skiing in two downhills and a super-G at Lake Louise, Vonn sounded optimistic, declaring she would be in Sochi, „fighting for my medal.”But a couple of weeks later in France, during a downhill — with Woods watching in the finish area — Vonn lost her balance, sending her left ski into the air, and forcing all her weight onto her right knee. She grimaced as she pulled up, then clutched that right knee.Kay said Tuesday that an MRI after that episode „showed an MCL sprain, which coupled with the torn ACL, has made it impossible to stabilize her knee and be ready to safely ski again next month.”
Among allegations aired by Snowden last year were that the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ had in 2009 targeted an email address listed as belonging to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and monitored emails of senior defense officials.Israel played down the disclosures. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the matter examined and that „there are things that must not be done” between allies.Glenn Greenwald, who as a writer for Britain’s Guardian met face-to-face with the fugitive Snowden and has written or co-authored many of the newspaper’s stories based on his material, was asked in an Israeli television interview whether the ex-contractor had more secrets to tell that related to Israel.”Yes. I don’t want to preview any stories that aren’t yet published, but it is definitely the case that there are a huge number of very significant stories that are left to report,” said the Brazil-based Greenwald, speaking to Channel Ten TV by video link.”We have only had these documents for seven months, which, given their volume and complexity, is not a very long time. There definitely are stories left that involve the Middle East, that involve Israel. The reporting is going to continue at roughly the same pace that has been happening.”Editorials Argue Why Edward Snowden Should Get Cle … Play videoLast month, several Israeli cabinet members and lawmakers said news of U.S. spying on Israel was an opportunity to press Washington to free jailed Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was sentenced to a life term in 1987 in the United States for spying for Israel. A succession of U.S. presidents have spurned Israeli calls for his pardon.In what appeared to be a bid to calm the clamor, Netanyahu said Israel constantly sought Pollard’s release and did not need a „special occasion” to discuss his case with Washington.Greenwald voiced understanding for the Pollard linkage.”I think you are absolutely right to contrast the Jonathan Pollard case with revelations of American spying on their closest allies within the Israeli government, because it does underlie, underscore exactly the hypocrisy that lies at the center of so much of what the U.S. government does,” he said.(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ken Wills)
Pressure mounts on Bangladesh PM after walkover re-election
The United States led international pressure for a swift re-run that would include all the major parties, brushing aside Hasina’s insistence that a boycott by Zia’s opposition did not undermine her legitimacy.Zia, who has been confined to her home for about two weeks, reiterated her calls for Hasina to stand aside and let a neutral caretaker government organise the new election.”I’m calling on the government to cancel the farcical polls, step down and reach an understanding (with the opposition) to organise a free, fair and neutral election under a non-party government,” she said in a statement released overnight Monday.”The scandalous election on January 5 not only demonstrated the people’s lack of confidence in the government but also proved that free, fair, credible, peaceful and participatory elections cannot be held without a non-party neutral government and credible election commission.”The opposition has enforced a 48-hour general strike since Monday to force Hasina to cancel the polls.View galleryMap of Bangladesh showing three of the places where heaviest protests took place during Sunday’s …At least 26 people were killed during the election, the bloodiest vote in Bangladesh’s history, while hundreds of opposition supporters torched or trashed polling stations.The result was never in doubt, with Hasina’s Awami League and a handful of allies winning all the seats being contested.The vote’s credibility had been undermined even before polling day as 153 Awami League members or allies were declared elected unopposed to the 300-seat parliament.Police arrest senior opposition officialsIn a defiant appearance before the press on Monday, Hasina rejected any idea that the election’s legitimacy had been compromised by the absence of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and 20 other opposition parties.View galleryBangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a press conference after the national election in Dha …Police on Tuesday responded swiftly to Hasina’s order to „eliminate militancy and combat violence” by arresting three senior BNP officials, including a close Zia aide, an officer told AFP.Zia, in her first comments since the election, called the low voter turnout a „silent revolution” against Hasina, while the Awami League had no „moral or constitutional grounds” to hold on to power.”The people did not participate in the murder of democracy,” she said.The US also called for a new vote that would „credibly express the will” of the people.”With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.View galleryBangladeshi protestors burn election material at a polling station in the northern town of Bogra on …”While it remains to be seen what form the new government will take… we encourage the government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible.”UN leader Ban Ki-moon called for the two parties „to resume meaningful dialogue” urgently „for an inclusive political process”.There was also criticism from former colonial power Britain, with junior foreign minister Sayeeda Warsi saying „the true mark of a mature, functioning democracy is peaceful, credible elections that express the genuine will of the voters”.In a defiant press conference on Monday, Hasina said the opposition election boycott should „not mean there will be a question of legitimacy”.”People participated in the poll and other parties participated,” she added in reference to a handful of allies who did stand.Asked about the prospect of sanctions on her government, Hasina was dismissive, saying: „What crimes did we commit that they would impose sanction on us?”The Prime Minister made clear she was in no mood to extend any olive branches to Zia, her bitter rival for the last two decades, accusing the two-time former premier of stoking the violence.”If they come forward to discuss with us, they have to leave all these terrorist activities behind because what they are doing is absolutely killing people, killing police, killing innocent people.”Any agreement on a new vote carries huge risks for Hasina, with an eve-of-election poll showing she would have lost in a straight contest with the BNP.Analysts expect the standoff will fan the flames after the deadliest year of unrest since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan in 1971.Since late October, around 180 people have died in electoral violence in a country that has experienced nearly 20 coups since independence.
Trapped Chinese, Russian ships ‘break through Antarctic ice’
China’s Xue Long, which became stuck after rescuing passengers from the Russian vessel, „pulled free of the ice and navigated into the open waters”, the official Xinhua news agency reported from on board.State broadcaster China Central Television said the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) spent 14 hours working to break through the ice and finally reached open waters at 6pm Beijing time (1000 GMT).And the Russian vessel Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been trapped in frozen seas since Christmas Eve, was now moving slowly after a crack appeared in the ice, its captain Igor Kiselyov told Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency.”Finally the wind changed to the west and as a result a crack appeared in the ice. We went into it and we are now slowly moving north,” he said.”We are going at a slow speed and by changing course, we have moved forward already more than 20 miles,” Kiselyov added.View galleryGraphic on the Russian and Chinese ships trapped in Antarctic ice. Both ships broke free on Tuesday, …He acknowledged the sailing conditions were „hard”, with thick fog and visibility of no more than 500 metres.Nevertheless, the going was better than before, he said, with the ship moving through smaller chunks of ice.A crew of 22 remained on the Akademik Shokalskiy after the 52 passengers including tourists, journalists and scientists were airlifted last Thursday by a helicopter from the Xue Long to the safety of an Australian vessel.The 52, who spent Christmas and New Year stranded aboard the ship in Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay, were due to arrive at Australia’s Casey research base Tuesday night, with a return to Australia expected in two weeks.But the Chinese icebreaker itself became trapped after its mercy mission, until breaking free Tuesday.View galleryImage taken by expedition doctor Andrew Peacock of www.footloosefotography.com on December 30, 2013 …A westerly wind had been expected to give it its best chance of escaping, according to the China Daily newspaper before the breakout.The wind was expected to help push away some of the heavy ice surrounding the ship, according to Xinhua, which noted that the biggest floes were three times thicker than the Xue Long’s ice-breaking capacity.Chinese state media hailed the ship’s rescue mission.”Its performance, especially the success in rescuing all the passengers, has been given the thumbs up by global public opinion,” the Global Times said. „China should be proud of it.””Xue Long’s mission is an epitome of China’s attitude toward its international obligations,” it added.The Chinese ship has 101 people on board, while 22 crew remain on the Shokalskiy.The ice surrounding the Xue Long was up to four metres (13 feet) thick, with the nearest open waters 21 kilometres (13 miles) away, Xinhua reported.In recent days, it had prepared for a breakout by warming up its engine and creating a channel about one kilometre long and described as an „ice-breaking runway”.The Polar Star, a US Coast Guard icebreaker, had cut short a stop in Australia to go to the aid of both ships.It had originally been expected to arrive on Sunday but it was unclear whether it would now turn back.
Iran rejects U.S. suggestion of Syrian peace talks role
ANKARA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran on Monday appeared to rule out participation in Syrian peace talks later this month, dismissing a U.S. suggestion that it could be involved „from the sidelines” as not respecting its dignity.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday there might be ways Iran could „contribute from the sidelines” in a so-called Geneva 2 peace conference in Montreux, Switzerland, on January 22, and on Monday U.S. officials said Tehran might still be able to play a helpful role.United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was sending out invitations on Monday to potential participants the talks, but while he wants Iran to attend there was no agreement yet on whether to invite it.The key players in the talks are President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition rebels who have been fighting for nearly three years to oust him.Syrian opposition groups and Washington, which accuse Tehran of supporting Assad with manpower and arms during the uprising against him, have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, although the United Nations special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has backed Tehran’s involvement.While there has been a warming in U.S.-Iranian ties this year including a November 24 deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program, there are no visible signs that this has led to greater improvement in other areas such as Syria, where they are on opposite sides of the civil war.Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Iran being a formal member of the peace talks because it does not support a 2012 international agreement on Syria.That „Geneva 1” accord called for the Syrian government and opposition to form a transitional government „by mutual consent”, a phrase Washington says rules out any role for Assad. Russia, a sponsor of the plan, disputes that view.On Monday, U.S. officials said Iran could improve its chances of playing a role on the sidelines of the Syria peace talks by working with Damascus to stop the bombardment of civilians and improve humanitarian access.”There are … steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about playing a positive role,” one of the officials said in Brussels.”Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people. It includes calling for and encouraging humanitarian access.”Another official made clear that the comment on bombardment referred to Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo, where dozens have been killed in raids in which the Syrian air force has used improvised barrel bombs.NO INDICATION–Iran had however given no indication it was ready to take any of these steps, a U.S. official said, and noted there was opposition to Tehran’s participation from other nations. The official did not identify these, but they are likely to include Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival.The U.S. officials, who declined to be named, said Washington still believed it was „less likely than likely” that Iran would play any role at the conference, even on the sidelines, and Iran and the United States had not discussed the matter directly.State Department spokesman Marie Harf said that for the Iranians even to be considered for any role in the talks „they would have to demonstrate that they would do things that would be less destructive in Syria.”White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran would have to publicly endorse the terms of the „Geneva I” accord if it wanted to participate in the process.In remarks quoted by state television, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman said Tehran supported a political solution to end the Syrian civil war, in which at least 100,000 people have been killed and millions uprooted.”But in order to take part in the Geneva 2 conference, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not accept any proposal which does not respect its dignity,” the spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, was quoted as saying.U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would meet on January 13, and voiced the hope they could agree on Iran’s participation.Haq also said the opposition had not yet named members of its delegation for the conference. He said the United Nations urged the Syrian opposition to announce the composition of their „broadly representative” delegation as soon as possible.REBEL GROUPS-In Syria, rival Islamist rebel groups fought in the city of Raqqa on Monday, residents said, as local fighters tried to drive out a foreign-led al Qaeda affiliate which has also seized towns across the border in Iraq.Activists opposed to Assad said dozens of Syrian members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had changed sides to join other Sunni Islamist factions which have taken advantage of a local backlash against the ISIL and the foreign al Qaeda jihadists prominent among its commanders.The battles in Raqqa, a provincial capital on the Euphrates river in Syria’s largely desert east, left bodies clad in the black favored by al Qaeda fighters lying in the streets. They followed similar violence elsewhere in recent days that have seen the ISIL lose manpower and abandon some of its positions.”The ISIL has split roughly into two groups – locals who are beginning to defect and foreign fighters who seem intent on going on fighting,” Abedelrazzaq Shlas, an opposition activist in the province, told Reuters.The fighting comes as groups in Iraq identifying themselves as ISIL have seized Sunni Muslim towns hundreds of miles away on the Euphrates in Iraq, challenging a Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad which they see as allied, like Assad, to Shi’ite Iran.Speaking from Istanbul, Abdallah al-Faraj, a member of the Syrian National Coalition from Raqqa, said the ISIL has been driven out from most of the city and its units were heading to the town of al-Manakhel, 50 km (30 miles) away, where they have a training base and could be re-grouping.Faraj said although the defeat of the ISIL is strengthening Nusra Front, which is also linked to al Qaeda, the Nusra are seen as a less hardline group, composed of local fighters as opposed to foreigners.(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Roberta Rampton and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)