Thursday, January 31, 2013

Published:

Hagel, Obama's pick for Pentagon, criticized by GOP senators but seems headed for confirmation

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican senators hammered former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing Thursday on issues ranging from Israel and Iran to his support for a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. But with most Democrats in his corner, an unflustered Hagel seems headed for approval as defense secretary.

Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska, described his views as mainstream and closely aligned with those of President Barack Obama, the Democrat who nominated him. But several GOP members of the Armed Services Committee sought to portray him as radical and unsteady. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., called his ideas "extreme" and "far to the left" of Obama.

Hagel said he believes America "must engage -- not retreat -- in the world," and insisted that his record is consistent on that point.

He pointed to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an example of an urgent national security threat that should be addressed first by attempting to establish dialogue with Iranian rulers, although he said he would not rule out using military force.

"I think we're always on higher ground in every way -- international law, domestic law, people of the world, people of the region to be with us on this -- if we have ... gone through every possibility to resolve this in a responsible, peaceful way, rather than going to war," he said.

___

14 dead, at least 100 injured in explosion at headquarters of Mexico's Pemex; dozens trapped

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- An explosion at the office headquarters of Mexico's state-owned oil company in the capital killed 14 people and injured 100 on Thursday as it heavily damaged three floors of a building, sending hundreds into the streets and a large plume of smoke over the skyline.

Another 30 people were reported trapped in the debris late Thursday, as soldiers with rescue dogs, trucks with mounted lights and a Pemex crane were brought in to extract victims. The Interior Ministry said it was uncertain of the exact number of people trapped because many were outside having lunch when the explosion occurred about 3:45 p.m. local time in a basement parking garage next to the iconic, 51-story tower of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, one of the tallest buildings in Mexico City.

"It was an explosion, a shock, the lights went out and suddenly there was a lot of debris," employee Cristian Obele told Milenio television, adding that he had been injured in the leg. "Co-workers helped us get out of the building."

President Enrique Pena Nieto said authorities have not yet found out what caused the blast in the 14-story building in a busy commercial and residential area. Pemex first said it had evacuated the building because of a problem with the electrical system. The company later tweeted that the Attorney General's Office was investigating the explosion and any reports of a cause were speculation.

Ana Vargas Palacio was distraught as she searched for her missing husband, Daniel Garcia Garcia, 36, who works in the building where the explosion occurred. She said she last talked to him a couple hours earlier.

___

10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. HAGEL KEEPS HIS COOL UNDER FIRE

Republican senators hammer away during his confirmation hearing. But Obama's pick for defense secretary still seems headed for approval.

___

Negotiators talking through ventilation pipe to Ala. captor in bunker; standoff enters 3rd day

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) -- Speaking into a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe, hostage negotiators tried Thursday to talk a man into releasing a kindergartener and ending a standoff in an underground bunker that stretched into its third day.

The man identified by multiple neighbors and witnesses as 65-year-old retired truck driver Jimmy Lee Dykes was accused of pulling the boy from a school bus on Tuesday and killing the driver. The pair was holed up in a small room on his property that authorities compared to tornado shelters common in the area.

James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, said the shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and a PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through.

There were signs that the standoff could continue for some time: A state legislator said the shelter has electricity, food and TV. The police chief said the captor has been sleeping and told negotiators that he has spent long periods in the shelter before.

"He will have to give up sooner or later because (authorities) are not leaving," Arrington said. "It's pretty small, but he's been known to stay in there eight days."

___

SUPER BOWL WATCH: Beyonce belts, avocados aplenty, Ravens practice moved

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Around Super Bowl XLVII and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the game:

___

GRIDIRON TO LEMONADE STAND

Donald Driver didn't waste much time finding a new job.

The Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver announced his retirement Thursday morning, then helped kids from Junior Achievement sell lemonade at a pop-up stand in the Super Bowl media center.

___

Marine leader says infantry skeptical about women in combat; some positions may be closed

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The head of the Marine Corps -- the most male of all military branches -- said Thursday the infantry side is skeptical about how women will perform in those units, and some combat positions may end up being closed again if not enough females meet the rigorous, physically demanding standards.

Gen. James Amos made the remarks to reporters at a defense conference in San Diego hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the defense trade group AFCEA.

Amos says most Marines support the Defense Department's lifting of the ban last week, which opened thousands of positions to women.

He pointed out that over the past decade, many male service members already have been fighting alongside women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Women who serve in supply troops, as clerks and with military police have ended up on the unmarked front lines of modern warfare, blurring the distinction between combat and noncombat jobs. More than 150 women have been killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in support roles.

___

Clinton says she did what she could about Syria, warns of bigger Iranian role and larger war

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a parting warning Thursday about Syria's civil war, accusing Iran of playing an increasingly prominent role in directing the violence, which she said heightened the danger of a larger regional conflict that draws in Israel or other neighbors.

"I've done what was possible to do," Clinton told reporters on the eve of her last day as secretary of state.

But she painted a harrowing picture of a war that could still get worse.

"The worst kind of predictions about what could happen internally and spilling over the borders of Syria are certainly within the realm of the possible now," she said.

The conflict "is distressing on all fronts," Clinton told a roundtable of journalists Thursday, a day before John Kerry is sworn in as her successor. She pointed the finger primarily at Iran, accusing it of dispatching more personnel and better military materiel to President Bashar Assad's regime to help him defeat rebel forces. Its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, is also playing a bigger role in the conflict.

___

Vigilantes in southern Mexico announce 'charges' against 53 prisoners

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Vigilantes who have taken up arms against drug cartel violence and common crime in southern Mexico announced Thursday they will bring charges ranging from organized crime to kidnapping and extortion against 50 men and three women who they have been holding prisoner at improvised jails.

Villagers armed with hunting rifles, old pistols and small-bore shotguns set up armed patrols and roadblocks in the township of Ayutla almost one month ago to defend their communities against crime, saying authorities have failed to bring peace and safety to the Pacific coast state of Guerrero. So far, the state government has tolerated but not formally recognized the self-defense squads.

The growing movement toward self-policing, which has since spread to other towns in Guerrero, has sparked concern among human rights officials who say residents shouldn't be allowed to take the law into their own hands.

"What is happening in Guerrero state is a warning sign that should alert authorities to do their duty and guarantee public safety, to avoid having these (vigilante) activities grow and outstrip the power of official institutions," said the head of the National Human Rights Commission, Raul Plascencia. But in townships like Ayutla, it is clear the vigilante movement already has authorities cowed.

Villagers in squads of about a dozen patrol roads and search passing motorists, checking their identification against handwritten lists of "bad guys."

___

'30 Rock' ends a 7-season marathon of spoofing modern life and the world of TV

NEW YORK (AP) -- You wanted resolution on the "30 Rock" finale?

You got it. Sort of. At least, the sort befitting "30 Rock," with its loopy storytelling mixed with joy in spoofing the culture of TV.

Closure, if that's what it is, came in a two-minute postscript on this hour episode Thursday on NBC. Which, among other things, included this sly touch: a reference to the snowglobe revelation with which the medical drama "St. Elsewhere" famously concluded a quarter-century ago.

But there was more. Just before the final fade-out, NBC President Kenneth the former Page (Jack McBrayer) was pitched a new comedy series taking place right there at network headquarters, 30 Rock.

Hmmm. This was no ending. It was a Mobius strip.

___

Waiting for next Jackie: Super Bowl comments show hazards of gay player coming out in NFL

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Brendon Ayanbadejo has heard from many players who applaud his support of gay marriage -- some of them teammates, others from the opposing side of the line.

Then, just days before the biggest game of the year, he received a striking reminder of the macho attitudes that still prevail in the NFL.

San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver said he wouldn't welcome a gay player on his team. Even though he quickly backtracked, the comments underscored what Ayanbadejo already believed:

The league is still a long way from embracing its first openly gay player.

"It's going to take a very courageous person to come out," said Ayanbadejo, a backup linebacker and special teams ace for the Baltimore Ravens.