Thursday, August 28, 2014

Scientists Dig Into Ebola's Deadly Genes For Clues

Augustine Goba, laboratory director at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone. On Thursday, officials at the National Institutes of Health announced that they were launching safety trials on a preliminary vaccine for Ebola. Researchers have already checked that still-not-tested vaccine against some of the more than 350 mutations in this strain of Ebola to make sure the changes the disease is making won’t undercut science’s hurried efforts to fight it, said Pardis Sabeti, a scientist at Harvard University and its affiliated Broad Institute. She and Gire, also at Broad and Harvard, are two of the lead authors of a study published Thursday in the journal Science that maps the killer disease strain based on specimens collected from 78 patients.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A single funeral caused many.
Stephen Gire and other health researchers on the ground in Africa had some hope that the Ebola outbreak was coming under control or at least plateauing in late May. Then came the funeral of a healer in Guinea. More than a dozen of the mourners contracted the disease there, probably by washing or touching the body, and took it to Sierra Leone, according to a new genetic mapping of the Ebola virus that scientists hope will help them understand what makes this killer tick.
"You had this huge burst after it looked like the outbreak was starting to die down," Gire said. "It sort of threw a wrench in the response." Ebola exploded after that funeral and has now killed at least 1,552 people in West Africa. It's probably more than that, with 40 percent of the cases in the last three weeks, according to the World Health Organization. WHO officials said Thursday the outbreak continues to accelerate and could reach more than 20,000 cases eventually.
Gire and more than 50 colleagues — five of whom died from Ebola while fighting the outbreak in Africa — have mapped the genetic code of this strain of Ebola, and in so doing showed how crucial that May funeral was. They hope to use that to track mutations that could become more worrisome the longer the outbreak lasts. This detailed genetic mapping also could eventually make a bit of a difference in the way doctors spot and fight the disease, especially with work in preliminary vaccines.
On Thursday, officials at the National Institutes of Health announced that they were launching safety trials on a preliminary vaccine for Ebola. Researchers have already checked that still-not-tested vaccine against some of the more than 350 mutations in this strain of Ebola to make sure the changes the disease is making won't undercut science's hurried efforts to fight it, said Pardis Sabeti, a scientist at Harvard University and its affiliated Broad Institute.
She and Gire, also at Broad and Harvard, are two of the lead authors of a study, published Thursday in the journal Science, that maps the killer disease strain based on specimens collected from 78 patients.
The virus has mutated more than 300 times from previous strains of Ebola, Gire said. Researchers have also pinpointed about 50 places in the genetic code where the virus has changed since this outbreak started. So far, they don't know what any of those mutations mean, but they hope to find out.
Gire said it is mutating in the faster side of the normal range for viruses of its type. That becomes worrisome because as time goes on and the disease spreads, it gives the strain more opportunity to mutate into something even harder to fight, perhaps making it stronger or easier to spread, Sabeti said. It could also mutate to make it weaker.
By putting the genetic underpinnings of this Ebola strain out in the public in a matter of days instead of the normal months or years, Sabeti hopes to rally researchers worldwide to look at the data, the changes in the disease, and find something that could help.
"We need to crowd source this outbreak response," Sabeti said. "I want high school students analyzing this sequence. You want people in every country working to do something." Because this "phenomenally elegant study" is in real time, not years later, "it is worth its weight in whatever, gold, diamonds, platinum," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci wasn't part of the study, but his agency did help fund it.
This study is "terrific" and has academic and practical value, said Erica Ollmann Saphire, a Scripps Research Institute professor and co-director of the global virus network. Saphire, who wasn't part of the study, said companies that are trying to find therapies for people already infected, such as those that use antibodies that bind to current strains, need to carefully track how this strain mutates to make sure their treatment works as best it can.
Some have wondered if the virulence of this outbreak is due to some more dangerous strain of Ebola. When scientists pore over the mutations they'll have a better idea of the answer, but so far nothing jumps out that says this version of the disease is genetically worse than others; the spread more likely can be attributed to population, social conditions and other human factors, Gire said.
Saphire noted this strain's death rate seems to be a bit lower than previous outbreaks, but Sabeti said it's not that much different. The research team knows about the death toll first hand: Six of the 59 study authors have died, two in the past week, Sabeti said.
Online:
The journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gaza Cease-Fire Holds As Sides Weigh Gains

Smoke, dust and debris rise from an explosion following an Israeli air strike on the house of Nafez Azzam, a leader for Islamic Jihad leader, one hour before the announcement of the cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis, in Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014.

JERUSALEM (AP) — An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday, as many people on both sides of the conflict wondered what was gained during 50 days of fighting.
The Gaza war — the third round of fighting since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007 — left more than 2,200 people dead, caused widespread destruction in the densely populated coastal territory and paralyzed large parts of southern Israel during much of the summer.
After more than seven weeks of fighting, the two sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will maintain a blockade tightened seven years ago, despite Hamas' long-running demand that the border restrictions be lifted.
On Wednesday, the Israeli military said there were no reports of violations since the cease-fire went into effect at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Tuesday. Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was announced.
Thousands of residents of southern Israeli communities in range of Hamas rocket and mortar fire fled their homes in favor of safer areas as criticism grew over the government's conduct of the war. Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deliberately not put the cease-fire to a vote in his security Cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue the fighting.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, a longstanding security hawk, lambasted the Israeli leadership in comments to Israel Radio early Wednesday for "wanting peace at any price," an approach that he said would undermine Israel's ability to deter militants.
Netanyahu came in for particularly piercing criticism from veteran political commentator Nahum Barnea, whose columns tend to reflect mainstream public opinion. "Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public," he wrote in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "Instead they received a slick spokesman and very little else."
In Gaza, life was slowly returning to normal Wednesday, as traffic policemen took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. Harried utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure damaged by weeks of Israeli airstrikes.
"We are going back today," said farmer Radwan al-Sultan, 42, as he and some of his seven children used an overloaded three-wheeled tuk-tuk to return to their home in the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. "Finally we will enjoy our home sweet home again."
While tens of thousands of Gazans dutifully heeded Hamas calls to flood the streets of Gaza City and other Gaza communities late Tuesday night, many appeared to be more interested in enjoying their freedom from Israeli air and artillery strikes rather than participating in any kind of victory celebration.
In the last 72 hours of the war, Israel had extended its attacks from crowded working class neighborhoods where support for Hamas is strong to high-rise residential structures in a number of less militant areas, in a possible attempt to leverage middle class opinion to pressure the group to accept a cease-fire agreement more or less on Israel's terms.
In comments to The Associated Press, a senior Israeli intelligence official said he had no doubt that the strikes on the high-rise buildings "created big pressure" on Hamas to accept the cease-fire. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with military regulations.
Some Gaza residents expressed optimism that Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo in the coming weeks would ultimately result in realizing the key Hamas demand of opening a seaport and airport in the territory.
While that seems unlikely — Hamas would have to accede to Israel's own demand of giving up its arsenal of rockets and other weapons — Gaza fisherman Ahmad al-Hessi exulted in Israel's apparent agreement to extend the maritime territory open to Gazan fishermen from three to six nautical miles.
"We heard last night we are allowed to fish six miles and it will be extended to 12 miles during negotiations," he said. "There is nothing better than this." The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees was meanwhile evaluating how many people will have to remain in its network of local schools because their homes were damaged or destroyed in the fighting.
Agency spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that with the already delayed Gaza school year now slated to start in 7-10 days, some of the agency's 150 Gaza schools will have to run extra shifts to accommodate the expected overflow.
__ Barzak reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

Battle For Ukraine's South Coast Heats Up

Relatives and friends say goodbye to volunteers, their unit's flag on the right, before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion unit fighting against pro-Russian separatists, in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. It was the second straight day that attacks were reported in the vicinity of Novoazovsk, which is in eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region but previously had seen little fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

NOVOAZOVSK, UKRAINE (AP) — Pushing west in a new offensive along Ukraine's strategic coastline, heavily armed Russian-backed separatist forces captured new territory Wednesday far from their previous battles with government troops.
The bold offensive along a new southeastern front raised the prospect that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea, which also would give them control over the entire Azov Sea.
After a third day of heavy shelling that sent many residents fleeing, rebel fighters with dozens of tanks and armored vehicles entered Novoazovsk, a resort town of 40,000 on the Azov Sea, the mayor told The Associated Press.
Novoazovsk lies along the road linking Russia to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol and onto Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in March. The separatist attack appears to have caught government forces off guard, and they were scrambling Wednesday to build up defenses. The offensive also adds to growing evidence that the rebels receive Russian support.
Oleg Sidorkin, the mayor of Novoazovsk, told the AP by telephone that the rebel forces had rolled into town from positions near Ukraine's southernmost border with Russia. To travel to this spot through Ukraine from the main front line around Donetsk and Luhansk, far to the north, the rebels would have had to cross territory controlled by government troops. The more logical conclusion is that they came across the nearby Russian border.
Ukraine and Western governments have long accused Russia of playing a direct role in the conflict, supplying troops and weaponry to the rebels. Russia consistently denies the claims, but its stance is increasingly dismissed abroad.
"Information, which in recent hours has gained another hard-facts confirmation, is that regular Russian units are operating in eastern Ukraine," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Wednesday. "This information, coming from NATO and confirmed by our intelligence, is in fact unequivocal."
The U.S. government accused Russia on Wednesday of orchestrating a new military campaign in Ukraine that is helping rebel forces expand their fight and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles.
"These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She also voiced concern about overnight deliveries of materiel in southeast Ukraine near Novoazovsk and said Russia was being dishonest about its actions, even to its own people.
Russian forces, she said, are being sent 30 miles (48 kilometers) inside Ukraine, without them or their families knowing where they are going. She cited reports of burials in Russia for those who've died in Ukraine and wounded Russian soldiers being treated in a St. Petersburg hospital.
Associated Press journalists on the border have seen the rebels with a wide range of unmarked military equipment — including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers — and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters. Ukraine also captured 10 soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division Monday around Amvrosiivka, a town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border.
On Wednesday, AP reporters saw more than 20 shells fall around Novoazovsk in a one-hour span. Many people were leaving the town, while others were rushing back in to evacuate relatives. Later in the day, access from the west was blocked by Ukrainian soldiers and the presence of rebels in Novoazovsk could not be independently confirmed.
A spokesman for Ukraine's security council, Col. Andriy Lysenko, said he had no information that Novoazovsk had been occupied. Earlier, he said the shelling around the town was coming from both Ukrainian and Russian territory. Ukrainian security officials said nearby villages had also come under shelling.
The artillery shells in Novoazovsk appeared to be flying between rebel and government positions. "It hit a tree, there was a blast and the shrapnel came down here," said Alexei Podlepentsov, an electrician at the Novoazovsk hospital, which was struck by shelling Tuesday.
In Mariupol, a city of 450,000 about 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the west, defenses were being built up. A brigade of Ukrainian forces arrived at the airport on Wednesday afternoon, while deep trenches were dug a day earlier on the city's edge. Other troops were blocking traffic from leaving the port heading east.
Ukraine has already lost more than 750 kilometers (450 miles) of coastline in Crimea, along with a major naval port and significant mineral rights in the Black Sea. If the separatists were to seize a land bridge to Crimea that would be a further loss of more than 250 kilometers (150 miles) of coastline. This would also give them or Russia control over the entire Azov Sea and any offshore oil and gas reserves.
This would leave Ukraine with about 450 kilometers (270 miles) of coastline to the west of Crimea. Fighting also persisted elsewhere Wednesday, and Lysenko said 13 Ukrainian troops had been killed over the past day.
In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city further north, at least three people were killed on a main road when their cars were hit by shrapnel from falling artillery shells. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, met Tuesday for their first one-on-one meeting, but there was no indication of a swift resolution to the fighting that has claimed at least 2,000 civilian lives.
Poroshenko called the talks "overall positive" and said Putin had accepted the principles of his peace plan, which includes an amnesty for those in the east not accused of serious crimes and calls for some decentralization of power.
Putin, however, insisted that only Kiev could secure a cease-fire deal with the separatists, saying the conflict was "Ukraine's business" because Russia was not in the fight. "I think we are in for more bad news," said Maria Lipman, an independent political analyst in Moscow. "This may be the first step toward what eventually may become de-escalation, but it is not a direct step."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Putin on Wednesday about the situation in Ukraine, both governments said. Merkel stressed Russia's responsibility for a de-escalation and for surveillance of its border, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.
Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they have captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain some sort of leverage over the mostly Russian-speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union. Putin has so far ignored requests from the rebels to be annexed by Russia.
In Moscow, Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the pro-Russia insurgency, told reporters he had no information about whether Russian soldiers had entered Ukraine near Novoazovsk. But he said the Ukrainian separatists have been joined by many volunteers from Russia and also Serbia.
AP reporters in eastern Ukraine have heard a variety of Russian accents from all over the country among the rebel fighters.
Jim Heintz in Kiev, Ukraine, Nicolae Dumitrache in Donetsk, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, and Lynn Berry and Laura Mills in Moscow contributed to this report.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AP Source: American Militant Said Killed In Syria

Provided by the Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office shows Douglas McAuthur McCain. On Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, a U.S. official said McCain, a U.S. citizen, is believed to have been killed in Syria and was there to fight alongside a terrorist group, most likely the Islamic State.

NEW HOPE,M INNESOTA. (ASSOCIATED PRESS ) — An American man believed to have been killed in Syria was there to fight alongside an extremist militant group, most likely the Islamic State, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
Investigators were aware that Douglas McAuthur McCain was in the country to fight with the militant group, but they did not yet have his body and were still trying to verify information about his death, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss by name an ongoing investigation and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
A relative, Kenneth McCain, told The Associated Press that the State Department had called to tell his family that Douglas McCain had been killed in Syria. "We do not know if he was fighting anyone," he said.
U.S. officials, concerned about what they say is the growing threat posed by the extremist Islamic State group, say surveillance flights and spy planes have begun over Syria on the orders of President Barack Obama. The move could pave the way for airstrikes against the group, which controls a large part of eastern Syria and crossed into Iraq earlier this year. The militant group also killed an American, journalist James Foley, and is holding an American woman hostage.
It was unclear when McCain, who had most recently lived in San Diego, traveled to Syria. He grew up outside Minneapolis in the town of New Hope. A cousin, Kenyata McCain, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she had spoken to McCain as recently as Friday and "he was telling all of us he was in Turkey."
"I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs," she told the newspaper. "But I didn't know that he was in support of ISIS. I didn't think he would be." At an apartment complex in New Hope, Shelly Chase remembered McCain as a friendly boy who welcomed her 9-year-old son, Isaac, when the Chase family moved in some two decades ago. Even though McCain was a few years older, the boys used to lift weights, hit punching bags and play basketball.
Both Shelly Chase and her son, now 28, fought back tears as they talked about McCain. "I'm holding in the tears, I really am, because this is hard. He was a good kid," Shelly Chase said. "Someone must have persuaded him."
Isaac Chase said he had always looked up to McCain. Chase joined the military in 2007, and said before he left, he knew McCain was running into trouble, sometimes smoking marijuana at the park. Minnesota criminal courts records show McCain had a few minor traffic offenses, including two instances where he was convicted of giving police a false name or ID.
"I don't know if he was just lost or what," Isaac Chase said. "He was a good person at heart." He said he last talked to McCain in 2008 when he was home on leave. McCain told Isaac he was proud of him, and he was trying to straighten out his own life, Isaac Chase said.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern about the influence of hard-line jihadists who are among the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials say fighters from the U.S. or Europe looking to join the cause could become radicalized and import those influences and terrorist skills when they return home.
FBI Director James Comey said in June that roughly 100 people had left the United States to join the conflict in Syria. Comey said the terrorism threat of today "has spread, metastasized. ... The traveler problem makes it even more difficult, because the people going to Syria are not from any particular demographic. They're not from any particular part of the United States."
Comey's remarks came during a visit to the FBI's field office in Minneapolis, which has struggled in recent years with several young Somali-Americans leaving the United States to join the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia.
FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said agents continue to investigate reports that several young men have left the Minneapolis area for overseas locations, including Syria. "We have done extensive outreach recently, as we have the last seven years, but we've had a concerted effort ... over the last few months," he said, as reports of travel to Syria surfaced.
Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Julie Watson in San Diego and Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.

Obama Defends Handling Of Veterans Affairs Issues

President Barack Obama is greeted by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., left, who has criticized the Obama administration on veterans issues, as he arrives at North Carolina Air National Guard Base in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Obama is in Charlotte to address the American Legion’s 96th National Convention.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — His standing with veterans damaged by scandal, President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his administration's response to Veterans Affairs lapses that delayed health care for thousands of former service members, but conceded more needed to be done to regain their trust.
His appearance also had deep political overtones in a state where the Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, is facing a difficult re-election and has sought to distance herself from Obama's policies, declaring as recently as Friday that his administration had not "done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans."
But Hagan and the state's Republican Senator, Richard Burr, were at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base to greet Obama. She welcomed him warmly and he gave her a peck on the cheek. Obama and Hagan were both addressing the American Legion's National convention, with the president's address to the legionnaires the latest administration response to the health care uproar that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.
Obama declared that the nation owes veterans for their service and that the lengthy wait times and attempts to hide scheduling flaws were "outrageous and inexcusable." "We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there," Obama said. "And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens."
Obama promised "a new culture of accountability" under new Secretary Bob McDonald. "Bob doesn't play," Obama said. He announced steps to strengthen access to mental health care by members of the military, to improve the transition for those leaving the military from care administered by the Defense Department to that run by Veterans Affairs, and to foster suicide prevention and better treatments for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Earlier this month, Obama signed a $16.3 billion law aimed at easing the long waits that tens of thousands of military veterans had endured to get medical care. The law, a product of rare bipartisanship in the House and Senate, followed reports of veterans dying while awaiting appointments to see VA doctors and of a widespread practice of employees covering up months-long wait times for appointments. In some cases, employees received bonuses based on falsified records.
The VA says investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix. Moving beyond the steps included in the law, Obama planned to take executive actions that:
— Automatically enroll military personnel who are receiving care for mental health conditions and are leaving the service in a program that transfers them to a new care team in the VA. — Undertake a study designed to detect whether people show signs of being vulnerable to suicide or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
— Spends $34.4 million in a VA suicide prevention study and about $80 million on a program to treat diseases, including post-traumatic stress syndrome. Obama also announced a partnership with lenders such as Wells Fargo Bank, CitiMortgage, Bank of America, Ocwen Loan Servicing and Quicken Loans to make it easier for active-duty service members to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions.
Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn

Mexican President Faces Protest On California Trip

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, calls for the release of Marine Andrew Tahmooressi, who was detained by the Mexican government for crossing the border with weapons, during a rally outside the Stanford Mansion where Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will appear with Gov. Jerry Brown, in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (AP) — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met Tuesday with lawmakers and swapped praise with Gov. Jerry Brown, but not all legislators rolled out the welcome mat at a luncheon held on the final day of his visit to California.
About 150 people, many waving American flags or holding signs, rallied across the street from the historic Stanford Mansion to call for the release of a Marine who is being detained in Mexico. At least three Republican lawmakers rejected the lunch invitation from Brown as a way to protest Mexico's incarceration of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held since April after crossing the border with weapons.
A total of 19 Assembly Republicans who planned to attend the lunch signed a letter to Pena Nieto demanding the release of the Marine. "It's so nice to have teamwork for a change," said state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a former gubernatorial candidate.
Donnelly was the only lawmaker to join the protesters on the street. "The president is here and the governor could just say, 'Could you do me a favor?' But he refuses to," said protester Edward Doolin of Vacaville.
While the demonstrators were kept across the street from the mansion, their chants of "Free our Marine" could be heard at the outdoor wine-and-appetizers reception that was being held for Pena Nieto. The governor, president and lawmakers then dined under an outdoor tent on smoked chicken, locally grown tomatoes and squash, and wine from Napa Valley vineyards.
Brown and Pena Nieto gave celebratory remarks to reporters and attendees before the lunch but did not take questions. They generally repeated comments they made the day before in Los Angeles. Brown said California and Mexico hold the promise of a "brighter future" while Pena Nieto praised the Democratic governor for his policies toward immigrants "whether or not they have legal status."
Neither spoke about the protesters or addressed the Tahmooressi case. Some Republican lawmakers, however, were critical of their colleagues protesting the visit of the Mexican president. State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside and a former Marine, said it did not help the process of trying to get Tahmooressi, an Afghanistan war veteran, back to the U.S.
"This is simply not the time to play politics when the well-being of this veteran's life hangs in the balance," Chavez said in a statement. He said members of Congress were working behind the scenes to resolve the matter.
Assemblyman Don Wagner of Irvine criticized Donnelly directly, saying a sidewalk protest by a member of the Legislature is not an effective strategy. "We do not need to stand on the street shouting the question when we can attend the lunch and ask the question directly," Wagner said in a statement.
Brown's lunch invitation was sent to every state lawmaker, and it appeared that a majority from the Assembly and the Senate attended. Reporters were barred from the lunch after the opening remarks, raising questions about whether it violated California's open meetings law.
"This isn't a policy meeting; it's a lunch," said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup, when asked why reporters could not attend. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a similar event in 2010 that also banned reporters.
Later Tuesday, Pena Nieto is scheduled to address a joint-session of the Legislature. His visit follows a trip to Mexico by Brown earlier in the summer, during which the governor discussed climate change and trade.
Mexico is California's largest export market.

Arab Strikes In Libya Shows Impatience With US

n this photo provided by Egypt's state news agency MENA, speaker of the Libyan Parliament Ageila Saleh Eissa, left, meets Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. A delegation of Libyan officials are visiting Egypt amid increasing fears among Libya's neighbors and Western countries that the North African nation is sliding deeper into turmoil, particularly after mysterious airstrikes against Islamist militias prompted allegations that outside powers were trying to swing the fight.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Egypt and the United Arab Emirates secretly carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias inside Libya, the United States publicly acknowledged Tuesday, another sharp jolt to American-led attempts over the past three years to stabilize Libya after dictator Moammar Gadhafi's overthrow.
One official said Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for months have been supporting a renegade general's campaign against Libyan militant groups, but that the Saudis don't appear to have played a role in recent strikes. The Libyan government is too weak and disorganized to fight the militants itself. Another official said the U.S. was aware that Egypt and UAE were planning strikes and warned them against it. Neither U.S. ally notified Washington before launching the strikes, officials said.
"Outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya's democratic transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She said Libya was in a "very fragile place."
But U.S.-led international efforts to secure the country clearly are fraying as impatience in the region grows. Libya is undergoing its worst violence since rebels ousted Gadhafi in 2011. Tripoli's international airport is largely destroyed and diplomats, foreign nationals and thousands of Libyans have fled. The U.S. embassy there is closed, nearly two years after the U.S. ambassador was killed while visiting Benghazi.
Since then, powerful militias have seized power and the central government has proved unable to create a strong police force or unified military. In recent months, Islamist fighters have confronted a backlash, losing their power in parliament and facing a counteroffensive by former Gadhafi and rebel Gen. Khalifa Hifter. Washington doesn't support the general. But some of Libya's neighbors, fearful of the growing power of the Islamist extremists, are helping him.
Although Britain, France, Germany and Italy joined the U.S. in expressing their concerns about the airstrikes, Egyptian officials denied involvement and the Emiratis haven't commented. The airstrikes reflect growing international division, with Egypt and the UAE, two of the region's most powerful, anti-Islamist governments, deciding they needed to act to prevent Libya from becoming a failed state and a breeding ground for jihadist activity throughout the Arab world.
A U.S. official said recent airstrikes were done without authorization from Libya's government. The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. The Egyptian and UAE role in the strikes was first reported by The New York Times.
Asked about American influence with its partners in Libya, Psaki lamented the "very complicated political situation" in the country. She said the U.S. remained committed to seeing democracy prevail in Libya even if that will "take some time." She acknowledged U.S. frustration with the pace of Libya's transition.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's spokesman, called for nations to refrain from adding to Libya's violence, as did the newly appointed U.N. envoy to the country, Bernardino Leon. He said an inclusive political process with all Libyans represented in parliament, government and other state institutions can end the instability, but "foreign intervention won't help Libya get out of chaos."
The strikes happened as Islamist-backed militias were engaged in ongoing fighting for control of the Tripoli airport. They occurred on two days in the last week. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri called reports of an Egyptian role "unsubstantiated rumors."
"We have no direct connection to any of the military operations on the ground in Libya," he said. But Egypt has been closely involved in Libya's ongoing contest for power for several months, according to several Egyptian officials. They said the effort began with intelligence collection about training camps, hideouts and barracks for extremist groups in the east such as Ansar al-Shariah, which the U.S. blames for the 2012 attack on its diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
That operation included an Egyptian elite force called "Rapid Intervention," which was formed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to combat terrorism inside and outside Egypt. Officials with knowledge of the operations say Egypt has been working with Saudi, Emirati and Libyan military officials to support Hifter's counteroffensive. They weren't authorized to speak publicly about the covert efforts and demanded anonymity. An American citizen who serves as a spokesman for the general, David Anthony LeVeque, confirmed that Egypt was assisting the fight against extremist Islamist factions. He said the Islamists were getting arms from Qatar.
Three years ago, the Emirates and Gulf neighbor Qatar played the most prominent Arab roles in the military intervention that led to Gadhafi's ouster. Both sent warplanes as part of the NATO-led effort. Qatar in particular supplied weapons to rebels.
But the two countries, both important U.S. allies, are in opposing camps now, jostling for influence in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sarah El Deeb and Jon Gambrell in Cairo, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


Ebola Has 'Upper Hand' Says US Health Official

People gather around a man suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in one of the main streets on the outskirts of the city center of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. The Ebola virus has the “upper hand” in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa, a top American health official has said, but experts have the tools to stop it.

MONROVIA, LIBERIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Ebola still has the "upper hand" in the outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa, but experts have the means to stop it, a top American health official said during a visit to the hardest-hit countries.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday and later planned to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has cases, but officials there have expressed optimism the virus can be controlled.
"Lots of hard work is happening. Lots of good things are happening," Frieden said at a meeting attended by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. "But the virus still has the upper hand."
Even as Liberia has resorted to stringent measures to try to halt Ebola's spread, frustration mounted over the slow collection of bodies from neighborhoods of Monrovia. A group of residents attached plastic ties to the wrists and ankles of one suspected Ebola victim and dragged his corpse to a busy street.
Authorities have decreed that all the dead must be collected by government health workers and cremated because contact with bodies can transmit the virus. There is no proven treatment for Ebola, so health workers primarily focus on isolating the sick. But a small number of patients in this outbreak have received an experimental drug called ZMapp. The London hospital treating a British nurse infected in Sierra Leone, William Pooley, said he is now receiving the drug.
It was unclear where the doses for Pooley came from. The California-based maker of ZMapp has said its supplies are exhausted. Two Americans, a Spaniard and three health workers in Liberia have received ZMapp. It is unclear if the drug is effective. The Americans have been released from the hospital, but the Spaniard died, as did a Liberian doctor.
In Nigeria, two more Ebola patients were declared to have recovered and were released from hospital, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Tuesday. Five people have died of the disease in Nigeria, while a total of seven have recovered. One person remains in the hospital in an isolation ward, Chukwu said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization announced that it is pulling out its team from the eastern Sierra Leonean city of Kailahun, where an epidemiologist working with the organization was recently infected. Daniel Kertesz, the organization's representative in the country, said that the team was exhausted and that the added stress of a colleague getting sick could increase the risk of mistakes.
The outbreak is the largest on record. Doctors took a long time to identify it, it is happening in a region where people are highly mobile, it has spread to densely populated areas, and many people have resisted or hid from treatment. The disease has overwhelmed the already shaky health systems in some of the world's poorest countries.
"Ebola doesn't spread by mysterious means. We know how it spreads," Frieden said in remarks carried on Liberian TV. "So we have the means to stop it from spreading, but it requires tremendous attention to every detail."
Liberian officials have sealed off an entire slum neighborhood in the capital. Sirleaf also has declared a state of emergency and ordered all top government officials to remain in the country or return from any trips.
Late Monday, her office said in a statement that any officials who defied the order had been fired. The statement did not say how many or who had been dismissed. According to WHO, the Ebola outbreak has killed over half of the more than 2,600 people sickened. The U.N. agency said an unprecedented 240 health care workers have been infected.
The agency attributed the high number of infections among health workers to a shortage of protective gear, improper use of such equipment, and a shortage of staff to treat the tremendous influx of patients.
In the current outbreak, as many as 90,000 protective suits will be needed every month, according to Jorge Castilla, an epidemiologist with the European Union Commission's Department for Humanitarian Aid. He did not say how many suits were lacking.
The outbreak also desperately needs more workers to trace the people the sick have come into contact with and more centers where patients can be screened for the disease in a way that contains any Ebola infections, Castilla said.
An Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic. Doctors Without Borders, which is running many of the treatment centers in the West Africa outbreak, said it is sending experts and supplies to Congo but warned that the charity's resources are stretched thin.
Associated Press writers Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal, and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

Putin And Poroshenko Meet For Bilateral Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin, second left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, watch, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Leaders of Russia, Belarus, two other former Soviet republics as well as top EU officials are meeting in Minsk, Belarus, for a highly anticipated summit to discuss the crisis in Ukraine which has left more than 2,000 dead and displaced over 300,000 people.

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The presidents of Russia and Ukraine met late Tuesday for their first bilateral talks at a much-anticipated summit in Minsk, which many voiced hopes may help bring an end to fighting between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko met in the Belarusian capital, the first such meeting between the countries' heads of state since Ukraine's pro-Russian ex-president was ousted from power in February, according to the Twitter account of the Ukrainian presidential administration. The meeting, which had not been previously announced by either side, was also confirmed by Kremlin.
The talks came as Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and shelling spread to a new front in the country's southeast. Kiev and many Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels in east Ukraine, a charge Russia has denied.
While it is still unclear if the two leaders will find common ground and pave a way for peace in east Ukraine, the face-to-face meeting was a remarkable breakthrough for both sides. Earlier, the two leaders sat on opposite sides of a large round table and were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke briefly to the press late on Tuesday and said talks between the leaders were "tough," but stopped short of saying that they had failed.
"Sadly, the situation there (in Ukraine) has gone so far that in the absence of agreements in principle any steps or technical accords are not going to lead to settlement," he said. Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, Poroshenko said the purpose of his visit was to start searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine would be taken into account.
"The fate of peace and the fate of Europe are being decided in Minsk today," the billionaire chocolate magnate said in his opening remarks. Putin devoted most of his opening statement to trade, arguing that Ukraine's decision to sign an association agreement with the 28-nation EU would lead to huge losses for Russia, which would then be forced to protect its economy. Russia had been counting on Ukraine joining a rival economic union it is forming with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine is set to ratify the EU association agreement in September. On the fighting, Putin said he was certain the conflict "could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives."
Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they have captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain some sort of leverage over the mostly Russian-speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union.
Poroshenko would be unlikely to agree to Russia's frequent call for Ukraine to federalize — devolving wide powers to the regions from the central government in Kiev — but could agree to give the regions some expanded powers. Poroshenko also has spoken against holding a referendum on Ukraine's joining NATO.
Putin has so far ignored requests from the rebels to be annexed by Russia, unlike in March, when he annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. But Associated Press journalists on the border have seen the rebels with a wide range of unmarked military equipment — including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers — and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters.
Ukraine's anti-rebel operation said on its Facebook page that 10 soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division were captured Monday around Amvrosiivka, a town near the Russian border. Ukraine's posting included videos of five of the men. One, who identified himself as Sergei Smirnov, said they were not told anything about their mission.
"We were just traveling through fields and then we stopped in the middle of the field and the BMP2 (armored vehicle) broke down," he said. Asked if he knew they were on Ukrainian territory, he said: "When we got into the village we saw a tank with Ukrainian flag. Then we understood." He said they then came under fire.
Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed official in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying the soldiers were patrolling the border and probably crossed it inadvertently. Meanwhile, towering columns of smoke rose Tuesday from outside a city in Ukraine's far southeast after what residents said was a heavy artillery barrage, and Ukraine accused the separatists and Russia of trying to expand the conflict.
It was the second straight day that attacks were reported in the vicinity of Novoazovsk, which is in eastern Ukraine's separatist Donetsk region but previously had seen little fighting. Novoazovsk lies on the Azov Sea on the road that runs from Russia to the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol and west to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia.
Ukraine said a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossed into Ukraine on Monday north of Novoazovsk, raising the possibility that pro-Russia separatists were aiming to take control of a strip of land that would link up Russia with Crimea.
In Kiev, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, blamed the shelling Tuesday on "Russian mercenaries." "Russia is trying from its side to open a new front," Lysenko told reporters.
Local residents in Novoazovsk, some hastily packing up in order to flee, told The Associated Press it was not clear what direction the firing had come from Tuesday. Lysenko said there were enough forces and equipment in Mariupol to defend the city of more than 450,000. An AP reporter saw excavators digging deep trenches Tuesday on its eastern edge.
Russia reportedly has tens of thousands of troops positioned in areas near the Ukrainian border, leading to persistent concerns that Moscow could be preparing an invasion. The fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, a month after Russia annexed Crimea. It has killed over 2,000 people and forced over 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.
Leonard reported from Novoazovsk, Ukraine. Jim Heintz in Kiev, Ukraine, Laura Mills and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

Can Ferguson Change The 'Ritual' Of Black Deaths?

A casket containing the body of Michael Brown is wheeled out of Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer on Aug. 9.

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — The choir sang, the preachers shouted and the casket stayed closed. The body was taken to the cemetery, and Michael Brown was laid to rest.
Thus went the most recent enactment of "the ritual" — the script of death, outrage, spin and mourning that America follows when an unarmed black male is killed by police. With a few variations, the ritual has followed its familiar course in the two weeks since the 18-year-old Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in this St. Louis suburb. It continues as we await the judgment of a grand jury considering whether or not Wilson should be charged with a crime.
Will the ritual ever change, and is it even possible that Ferguson could be part of that? This time, can recognition of the well-known patterns help heal the poisonous mistrust between police and many black people? Is the ritual already helping, in small gains buried beneath the predictable explosions of anger and media attention?
"This tragedy, because the world's attention has been galvanized, this is one of those things that's ripe for change," said Martin Luther King III after the funeral Monday. "There are no guarantees, but what we can say is we have to be committed to doing the work to bring about change and justice."
The ritual began to take shape in the 1960s, when instances of police mistreatment of black people led to organized resistance in many places across America — and sometimes to violence. As the decades passed, a blueprint developed for how black advocates confronted cases of alleged police brutality: protest marches, news conferences, demands for federal intervention, public pressure by sympathetic elected officials.
Sometimes this led to charges or even convictions of police officers. Sometimes there were riots: Miami in 1980 after police were acquitted in the death of a black motorist; Los Angeles' Rodney King rebellion in 1992; Cincinnati in 2001 when a 19-year-old was fatally shot by an officer; Oakland's uprising in 2009 after Oscar Grant was shot in the back while face-down on a train platform.
The 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman in Florida added the transformative element of social media. The public was now participating much more intimately in the ritual. And still, the unarmed black males kept dying. The chants of "No Justice, No Peace" kept rising.
So what happened after Brown was shot on Aug. 9 was predictable: First, protests and outrage. A narrative forms in favor of the deceased: According to accounts of several witnesses from Brown's neighborhood, he was shot with his hands up. He was a "gentle giant" headed to college. Pictures of Brown circulate that show him smiling, baby-faced — reminiscent of the childlike photos that first introduced us to Trayvon Martin.
The day after Brown's shooting, protesters are met with a militarized police response. Violence and looting erupt, and persist for days. Police respond with tear gas and rubber bullets, "scenes that have brought back visions of the 1960s when civil rights activists were met with force in the streets," says the president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, La June Montgomery Tabron.
"This has become an all-too-familiar scenario in America," Tabron says in a statement. Michael Brown's death goes viral. Ferguson trends on Twitter. A horde of media descends. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson arrive.
"Events surrounding the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown look all too familiar. As Yogi Berra would put it, it's 'deja vu, all over again,'" reads a column by Bill Press in the Daily Journal of Marietta, Georgia.
A backlash builds against the protesters. There are complaints that the liberal media skew the facts to create a false narrative about racist white police. As with Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, a narrative forms against the deceased: Based on a video released by police, Brown is characterized as a weed-smoking thug who robbed a store minutes before his death.
Social media spreads facts, rumors and lies at Internet speed. There is a chain email with a fabricated arrest record saying, falsely, that Brown was charged with several felonies. A photo circulates of someone who is not Brown pointing a gun — like the menacing photo of a gangsta rapper that some said was Martin.
"Every time a black person does something, they automatically become a thug worthy of their own death," the actor Jesse Williams says in a TV appearance. The media reports new versions of the old stories: White flight has created poor black neighborhoods policed by white cops. Black people don't trust the police. Black males are stereotyped as violent.
Then, the funerals. The main sermon at Brown's service was delivered by Sharpton, who is as much a part of the ritual as police tape. He began by issuing a collective call of responsibility: "All of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this."
Sharpton's solution is twofold: Change the nation's policies on policing, and repair the black community from within. "We got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America," he said to thunderous applause.
"Nobody is going to help us," Sharpton said, "if we don't help ourselves." Can it actually happen? In Michael Brown's case, can the ritual be remembered for more than riots? "Most definitely," said Ferguson resident Jeremy Rone as he completed a protest march on Saturday.
He said Brown's death should increase voter registration, which would "put the right people in the right places" to change the way police deal with the black community. Soon after the unrest started, a voter registration booth went up on the corner of the hardest-hit street.
Phillip Atiba Goff, a UCLA psychology professor and president of the Center for Policing Equity, does believe Ferguson has brought us into a different moment, "but with a small window." "While I think there will be a push for stronger accountability and data collection that comes from this, I worry that we will repeat the amnesia that followed Los Angeles, Newark, Watts, and so many other urban centers for the past 50-plus years," Goff said in an email.
"Whatever the immediate good that may come in the wake of the events of Ferguson," he said, "we fail to honor the legacy of Mr. Brown if our collective attention to these issues and collective memory lasts no longer than the month or two after peace returns to the streets of his hometown."
Hazar Khidir, a Harvard medical student who traveled to Ferguson with friends to support local community activists, suggested strict policies to regulate police conduct. The current protests, she said, "represent an opportunity to highlight a problem and bring about institutional change that saves other young black men from dying."
There are a few glimmers of institutional change. Those concerned that Brown's death might not be fairly investigated took note of the high-profile appearance of Eric Holder, America's first black attorney general, in Ferguson to meet with locals and discuss the federal probe he ordered. At least three police officers in the Ferguson area have been suspended for behavior that came to light due to newly heightened scrutiny of police. The White House is reviewing policies that have supplied police departments with military hardware, an issue that received much scrutiny in Ferguson.
"I trust that what's happening in the street-level conflicts and clashes in Ferguson are the birthing pains of a new American social order," Sam Fulwood III wrote for the Center for American Progress.
"I truly believe," he wrote, "something revolutionary is occurring there that signals a pivot point for American society." America likes to measure progress, to count it. When it comes to the killing of unarmed black males, progress will be found in the uncounted:
The young man who doesn't run from police. The officer who doesn't pull the trigger. The ritual that doesn't get repeated.
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington.