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McCain in Ukraine Tells Protesters They ‘Will Make Europe Better’.

Image: McCain in Ukraine Tells Protesters They 'Will Make Europe Better'

U.S. Senator John McCain met Ukrainian opposition leaders in Kiev on Saturday and voiced support for protesters camped out for weeks in the capital, a move sure to anger Moscow for what it sees as Western meddling in its backyard.

The street protests started after the November 21 decision by President Viktor Yanukovich – seeking the best possible deal for Ukraine to stave off bankruptcy – to walk away from a trade pact with Europe at the last minute and seek closer ties with its old Soviet master.

The movement has since grown in size and vehemence, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets in a series of rallies, becoming an all-out protest against the president and his cabinet.

McCain is the latest of a string of European and American dignitaries to tour the sprawling protest camp set up behind tall barricades – prompting Russia to accuse the West of excessive involvement.

McCain was due to be joined by the chairman of the Senate’s Europe subcommittee, Chris Murphy, on Sunday.

“I am proud of the people of Ukraine and their steadfast efforts for democracy,” McCain told reporters after meeting the country’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

McCain then met opposition leaders – the ex-boxing champion Vitaly Klitchko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybog – who are calling for Yanukovich’s government to resign and for early elections.

Police violence on November 30 against what was initially a pro-Europe demonstration shocked Ukrainians, setting a match to deep-seated anger over corruption and sleaze.

U.S. Democrats and Republicans have condemned the harsh measures and on Friday senators issued a resolution calling for the United States to consider sanctions in case there is further violence against peaceful demonstrators.

“I heard he (McCain) was here. It’s nice that they know of us, that they remember us. It is great that they support us,” said Volodimir Tarabanov, 28, who works for a delivery company in Kiev.

Thousands of Yanukovich supporters staged a rival rally in Kiev on Saturday, many bused in from Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine – the traditional stronghold of the president’s Party of Regions.

“We are here to support the president and stability,” 18-year-old Maria Nikolayeva said, holding the Party of Regions blue flag. “Yanukovich is our best prospect at the moment … I don’t see any alternative.”

In an attempt to defuse weeks of unrest, Yanukovich on Saturday dismissed the head of Kiev’s state administration and a national security aide over the violence on November 30. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said two more police officials involved that night were under investigation.

But protesters continued to stream into the capital for the weekend protest. Talks between the government and the opposition on Friday appeared to go nowhere.

Sweden’s foreign minister said Russia should not feel threatened if Ukraine moved closer to the European Union.

“Ukraine has a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia and we have nothing against that,” Carl Bildt told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Monaco.

“Why should they object that the Ukraine has an FTA with the EU? It is a win-win for Ukraine and Russia. Why they should see everything as a zero sum game? It’s not,” said Bildt, who was closely involved in EU talks with the Ukraine.

The proximity of rival demonstrations in Kiev – separated only by a line of riot police – raised fears of fresh violence.

“The most difficult matters should and can only be solved at the negotiating table. People should not be driven away from their work, from their families,” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told supporters. “Let’s tell the people to go back home to their families and their business.”

Sergei Bychok, a 43-year-old electrician, said he came to the pro-government rally because he wanted stability.

“I got my salary but a lot of people are here because they are afraid they won’t,” he said in a whisper, referring to widespread accusations among Yanukovich opponents that the authorities paid or pressured people to attend their rally.

In the square held by the anti-government protesters – now known as the “Maidan”, meaning “Square”, or the “Euro-maidan” – the atmosphere was peaceful.

For those who stayed overnight, the day began with early morning prayers followed by an aerobics session led from the stage. The crowds grew denser towards the evening with people holding up placards picturing Yanukovich and Azarov behind bars and sporting stickers reading “Raise Ukraine!”.

“I’m here for Europe and against Yanukovich. For me it’s almost the same because it’s the European Union association that is our chance to rid Ukraine of corruption,” said Oleh, a 22-year-old engineering student. “We will be here a month or as long as it takes.”
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


House Scraps Vote on Debt Ceiling.

The House scrapped a vote Tuesday night on a fiscal plan that contains almost none of Republicans’ initial conditions for ending the 15-day-old government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, said Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee.

House Speaker John Boehner was making a last-minute bid to influence the outcome of the showdown before the nation’s borrowing authority lapses Thursday.

As Republican leaders tried to gather member support for their latest idea, the Rules Committee put off a late-afternoon meeting, the first step before the legislation heads to the floor.

“We’re going to be prepared tomorrow to make some decisions,” Sessions said in the Capitol.

Unlike previous stopgap spending legislation, the House bill wouldn’t make major changes in the 2010 healthcare law known as Obamacare, and it contains none of the cuts to entitlement programs many Republicans were seeking before they would agree to a debt-limit increase.

House Republicans have a 232-200 majority, and they would need all but about 15 GOP members to support a plan. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the proposal is a path to default and urged Boehner to support an emerging bipartisan agreement in the Senate.

“We’re at the 11th hour here,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. “The train to avoid default was smoothly heading down the tracks and picking up speed, and all of a sudden, at the last minute, Speaker Boehner decides to throw a log on those tracks. Enough already.”

Ratings Watch

The House Republican plan emerged as Fitch Ratings put the United States’ AAA credit grade on “ratings watch negative,” citing the government’s inability to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner, according to a statement after New York markets closed.

The bill would keep the government open through Dec. 15 and suspend the debt limit until Feb. 7. It would prevent the government from making any contribution toward the health insurance of members of Congress and their staffs, the president, the vice president and high-ranking administration officials.

In contrast, the emerging Senate agreement would keep the government open through Jan. 15 and suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7. The Treasury Department would be able to use “extraordinary measures” to extend that deadline for three to four weeks, said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.

It contains no major changes in the health law. The Senate agreement also would give federal agencies flexibility to manage across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration if they occur in 2014.

Stocks Fall

Senators hadn’t reached agreement on some issues, including whether Treasury would get flexibility beyond Feb. 7 to pay bills.

U.S. stocks dropped after Senate leaders suspended their talks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.7 percent to 1,698.06, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.9 percent to 15,168.01 at 4 p.m. in New York.

Benchmark Treasury 10-year yields rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 2.73 percent at 5 p.m. EDT, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices. The rate touched 2.74 percent, the highest since Sept. 23. The rate on bills due Oct. 24 rose 20 basis points to 0.46 percent after touching 0.51 percent, the highest since the bills were sold. The rate was negative as recently as Sept. 27.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put their talks on hold Tuesday while they awaited House action.

‘Absolutely Shocked’

Democrats were furious with Boehner during their private caucus meeting, said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that room as mad as it was today all year,” Murphy said. “People are absolutely shocked that John Boehner would singlehandedly kill the momentum that had developed all day long yesterday.”

If the House bill passes and Senate Republicans try to delay it, the Senate could still amend it and send it back to the House by about 7 a.m. EDT Friday, said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss potential strategy.

If the House bill fails, the Senate could move its own legislation. That would create more procedural obstacles and could delay Senate passage into late next week if even a single senator objects, the aide said. Then that bill would have to go to the House.

Delay Tactics

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who spoke for more than 21 hours during a budget debate last month, wouldn’t rule out stalling maneuvers, saying he wants to see the details of the plan.

President Barack Obama has insisted that Congress raise the $16.7 trillion U.S. debt limit without add-ons and that stopgap spending bills be free of policy conditions. The White House has encouraged the Senate negotiations and rejected the House approach.

Unless Congress acts, the United States will be operating only on cash and incoming revenue starting Thursday. It will begin missing promised payments between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Graham, Boehner

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to Boehner and spoke to him by telephone earlier Tuesday, said he’s concerned that the speaker could become a “victim” of a failed Republican strategy to use a government shutdown as leverage to try to force changes in the healthcare law.

Graham also said he is “getting to the point of disgust” with Democrats, including Reid, for refusing to help Republicans devise a way to extricate themselves from an impossible negotiating position.

“Instead of trying to help us find a way out of a bad spot — we won’t be the last political party to overplay our hand, it may happen one day on the Democratic watch,” he said. “And if it did, would Republicans, for the good of the country, kind of give a little?” Graham asked, adding that Republicans went “too far” and “screwed up.”

The House plan falls far short of Republican efforts last month to defund or delay major parts of the 2010 health insurance law.

Boehner told Republicans the approach was the chamber’s only possible strategy to respond to the emerging Senate deal that he described as a hand grenade being lobbed at the House, said Rep. John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican.

‘Bipartisan Path’

Pelosi said there’s a ‘bipartisan path’ to preventing the lapse in borrowing authority. She urged Boehner to allow a vote on the Senate deal.

“Perhaps the speaker just needs to humor his troops so they can sow their oats,” the California Democrat said Tuesday on Bloomberg Television. “They’ve hijacked the Republican name. Republicans are not for jeopardizing our full faith and credit.”

The partial government shutdown began Oct. 1 after Republicans insisted on changes in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Backed by Cruz, they started with a plan to defund the law and ended up seeking a one-year delay of the requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Obama’s Europe Envoy to Face Benghazi Questions.

A confirmation hearing Thursday for President Barack Obama’s choice as chief American diplomat for Europe could provide some surprising fireworks on the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack, its plan to arm Syria’s rebels, and more.

Rarely is a potential assistant secretary of state expected to expound on such politically sensitive policy issues.

But Victoria Nuland‘s prominence as spokeswoman and adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry placed her in the middle of some of Obama’s biggest foreign policy challenges recently, including last year’s attack in Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Some Republicans say they hope to get answers from Nuland to their questions about the Benghazi attack at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“There are still some things that need to be known,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who told Clinton earlier this year he would have fired her after Benghazi. Paul told The Associated Press he hoped to learn what weapons were used in the attack and whether they had any connection to U.S. intelligence operations in Libya or Syria. Nuland, he said, “was Hillary Clinton’s spokeswoman and I’m guessing she was in the room for a lot of conversations.”

As a Russia expert, Nuland also probably will be called on to give her view of Moscow’s continued protection of American secrets leaker Edward Snowden and the overall trajectory of the “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations under Obama. That effort has stumbled over many issues, including Syria’s civil war and a Kremlin crackdown on pro-democracy organizations.

Benghazi presents greater unpredictability.

Leading Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have come out in favor of Nuland despite accusations by some in their party that she helped State Department superiors water down the now-infamous talking points used by the administration to inform Americans about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission.

“There are many questions still unanswered,” McCain told reporters Wednesday. He said he saw nothing wrong with how Nuland acted but he still wants the administration to provide more information about those who survived the attack and those who ultimately signed off on the talking points.

It’s unclear whether everyone shares that view.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the committee, said he wouldn’t raise the issue Thursday.

But Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who had a heated exchange with Clinton at her final Senate hearing in January, said only some of his Benghazi concerns were allayed in private discussions with Nuland. “We’ll see what happens at the hearing,” he said.

Republicans have focused on the administration’s talking points since they were used by Susan Rice, then Obama’s U.N. ambassador and now his national security adviser, for her public explanation five days after the attack. Rice blamed it on extremists hijacking a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.

As officials rescinded that account, some Republicans accused the administration of trying to mislead the country about an act of terrorism in the heat of a presidential campaign. Ten months later, congressional investigations continue.

As the talking points were being edited, Nuland insisted on removing a reference to a CIA warning about the potential for anti-American demonstrations in Cairo and jihadists trying to break into that embassy. In emails released by the administration, she warned that such wording “could be abused” by lawmakers to criticize her department. She specifically cited the concerns of her “building’s leadership.”

Few accuse the three-decade-long foreign service officer — a one-time adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and a former NATO ambassador — of instigating any sort of cover-up. But with Clinton weighing a possible run at the presidency in 2016, some Republicans want to hear more about why the points were edited and at whose insistence.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in May subpoenaed all Benghazi-related correspondence from Nuland and several other State Department officials.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations European affairs subcommittee, said he’d focus on U.S.-European trade talks, rebalancing the military burden among NATO allies, instability in Turkey and Russia’s crackdown on civil society groups. But he added, “I’m resigned to the fact that the Republicans are going to use any and every opportunity to talk about Benghazi.”

Benghazi isn’t the only possible flashpoint for the hearing.

Nuland was Clinton’s spokeswoman when she and former CIA Director David Petraeus lobbied Obama to send weapons to vetted, moderate units of the Syrian opposition.

A year later, administration officials say the president has approved such military assistance but the operation’s details are still being worked out. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, have made considerable gains on the battlefield and firmed up their grip over much of the country.

Many in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, believe the administration has acted too slowly on Syria.

As Obama’s top diplomat for Europe, Nuland also would be entrusted with coordinating U.S.-Russian cooperation on preventing Iran from reaching nuclear weapons capacity and combatting terrorism in places such as Chechnya. The suspected Boston Marathon bombers were ethnic Chechens.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Romney Wins Georgia, Tennessee.

mitt romney

Mitt Romney has won in Georgia. It’s a state that had appeared to be a potential battleground early in the campaign, but ended up being part of Romney’s Southern base.

Romney also added Tennessee‘s 11 electoral votes to his total, putting him ahead of President Barack Obama so far. Romney has 67 electoral votes so far, to Obama’s 64.

Romney had been far ahead of Obama in the polls in Tennessee, with strong support from white evangelical voters. Romney lost his party’s primary in Tennessee earlier this year to Rick Santorum.

Tennessee voters also re-elected Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

In Connecticut, Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy has defeated Republican former wrestling executive Linda McMahon in the race for the Senate seat that had been held by retiring independent Joe Lieberman. McMahon spent more than $42 million of her own money on the Senate bid.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



In Connecticut, a Democrat struggles to pull ahead.

BRIDGEPORT, Ct. (Reuters) – Late last week, Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democratic contender forSenate in Connecticut, stopped in at El Flamboyan restaurant in Bridgeport.

This is one of poorest sections of the state’s most populous city and home to the kind of Democratic Party loyalists Murphy needs in droves if he is to win on November 6.

With time running out before election day, he is locked in a close race with Republican Linda McMahon to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

McMahon, a nationally-known former wrestling executive, has emerged as a disciplined, aggressive opponent two years after losing a senate race in this Democratic state.

“Linda McMahon keeps running a race on character attacks, and I’m running a campaign about the issues,” Murphy told a crowd of reporters and a few lunch guests at the Puerto Rican restaurant. “Ultimately, if the campaign is about issues, we’ll do really well.”

Murphy has been struggling. In a state where Democrats have a 16-point voter registration advantage over Republicans and where President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won by 23 percentage points in 2008, recent polls suggest the race is a dead heat.

A Siena College Research Institute poll released on Wednesday found Murphy edging out McMahon 46 to 44 percentage points, and other polls show a similarly close race.

For Democrats, who hope to hold onto their 51-47 advantage over Republicans in the 100-seat U.S. Senate, the tight race in a Democratic state is a nail-biter they could live without. Last month, TheDemocratic Senatorial Campaign Committee began running ads attacking McMahon.

Weeks of negative campaigning on both sides has taken a toll on the appeal of both candidates. The Siena poll found 45 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Murphy, while 49 percent take an unfavorable view of McMahon.

McMahon poured some $50 million of her personal wealth into her unsuccessful campaign two years ago and has spent at least $27 million of her own money on this race.

Even Democrats say they have been impressed by how McMahon has improved as a candidate. Some express dismay at what they say was Murphy’s failure to anticipate some of the attacks McMahon has leveled against him.

“One of the apparent failures in the Murphy campaign was the neglect of doing opposition research on himself,” said Ronald Schurin, a professor at the University of Connecticut and a Democrat. As McMahon hurled attacks at him – for his poor attendance at congressional committee hearings, and for failing to make timely rent and mortgage payments years ago – Murphy has seemed “unprepared to respond quickly”, Schurin said.

For Murphy, who entered the race with relatively low name recognition, the danger is voters are being introduced to him by McMahon’s negative ads, rather than on his own terms. This is Murphy’s first state-wide campaign and he hails from a congressional district that has among the least amount of media.

Democratic strategist Martin Dunleavy said Murphy’s strong performance in debates, where Murphy has touted his support for increasing manufacturing jobs and criticized McMahon on issues like abortion and Medicare, has helped tilt the race’s dynamic.

He says Murphy has tried to use his limited financial resources to send out his own positive message, as well as a defined negative message against McMahon.

“He knew he was going to get out-spent and made a conscious effort to guard his resources and never wanted to play on her playground,” Dunleavy said.


“There are huge differences between Linda McMahon and I,” Murphy said at the Bridgeport stop. “She is a down-the line Republican when it comes to the issues that matter to families. She ultimately is going to be a vote to empower a very destructive Tea Party agenda in Congress that’s not good for Connecticut.”

“I’ve spent my entire life fighting for families, fighting for a fair tax code, fighting for support for cities,” he said.

It’s no secret the race is close, said Murphy: “Linda McMahon is trying to buy the election.”

McMahon spokesman Todd Abrajano responded that voters are responding to McMahon’s clear vision for the state and “independent-minded” campaign.

“This race is close because Chris Murphy has been a failed congressman for the last six years,” he said.

Observers on both side of the aisle describe Murphy as a formidable campaigner.

Six years ago, he ran for the House in a mud-slinging race against Rep. Nancy Johnson, a 24-year incumbent and moderate Republican. He beat Johnson by 12 percentage points, ascending from the State Senate to the U.S. Congress.

Johnson remembers Murphy as a strong debater and tireless opponent. “He’s a very good presenter,” she said.

It remains to be seen if Murphy can capture the support of more than loyal Democrats and voters who dislike McMahon.

Up the street in Bridgeport, Tony Mendez, the 42-year-old owner of “One-Two-Three-Wireless,” said that while he considers himself a Democrat and plans to vote for Obama, he will abstain from voting in the Senate race.

That is in part because he is tired of the negative campaign ads.

“I hate this jabbing at each other,” he said. “I see them and change the channel.”

(Reporting By Edith Honan; editing by Andrew Hay)


By Edith Honan | Reuters

Auburn killing suspect surrenders after 3-day manhunt that included fruitless search of house.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A man accused of killing three people at a party near Auburn University turned himself in after a three-day manhunt that included a tense but fruitless search of a Montgomery home by police tactical units.

A Montgomery defence attorney said she arranged for Desmonte Leonard to surrender after getting word that his family wanted her help. Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said the suspect was taken into custody at 7:57 p.m. Tuesday by a U.S. Marshal at the federal courthouse in Montgomery.

His surrender was a low-key ending to a search that included the inch-by-inch scouring of the house by police armed with tear gas and spy gear. Hours after police conceded Leonard had evaded them at the house, Dawson said the suspect walked up the courthouse steps and surrendered peacefully to the marshal waiting just inside.

“It’s been a trying case for all law enforcement involved,” Dawson said at a news conference.

Leonard, 22, is charged with three counts of capital murder in a shooting Saturday night after a fight over a woman. He is accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn college football players, and a current player was among the injured.

Dawson said that Leonard was being booked into a jail in Montgomery and will be moved to Opelika near the university for a first court appearance on Wednesday or Thursday.

After getting word that Leonard wanted help, Montgomery defence attorney Susan James said she contacted U.S. Marshals. Then she and her son, who works for her as an investigator, picked up Leonard. She wouldn’t say where except that it was about 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Montgomery. They drove him to meet investigators at the federal courthouse, where snipers were perched on the roof.

“He was very calm, very tired and very ready to get this over with and very respectful,” said James, a well-known attorney whose clients have included disgraced former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

She said they had time to talk while driving to Montgomery and added: “When the full story is told, it may sound different than the perception now.”

She said she agreed to help Leonard even though she hasn’t been retained. “You don’t want a bad end for anybody,” she said.

The Auburn police chief said Leonard appeared to be in good health, but he also declined to say where he had been hiding.

“In a case like this there is no relief because those boys aren’t coming home tonight,” Dawson said.

Auburn University President Jay Gogue commended law enforcement on Leonard’s surrender.

“We appreciate the dedication and commitment of the Auburn City Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. This is a difficult time for our campus and community. We’re remembering those who lost their lives, and it’s important that we pull together to help those who are grieving and recovering,” he said.

Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during their search for Leonard, and Police Chief Kevin Murphy said the man who ferried Leonard to the home could be arrested on similar charges.

Police surrounded a house in Montgomery Monday afternoon thinking Leonard was inside after they received two solid tips. They swarmed the home with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles, but after a tense, nine-hour search, they discovered Leonard had fled by the time they arrived. At one point, they believed they heard movement and coughing in the attic, but their search that lasted until early Tuesday turned up nothing.

Leonard had a connection to the house through someone other than the owner, said the city’s public safety director, Chris Murphy. He declined to elaborate. The woman is not accused of any wrongdoing.


AP writer Bob Johnson contributed to this report from Auburn.


Associated PressBy Jay Reeves,Phillip Rawls, The Associated Press | Associated Press 

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