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Thursday, 06 February 2014 00:40

Early start Thursday for Sochi Olympics events

   SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Competition at the Sochi Olympics was officially starting Thursday, 32 hours before the opening ceremony.
   Early starts are needed with 12 men's and women's medal events added since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
   Men's snowboard slopestyle qualifying runs - without American star Shaun White, who withdrew Wednesday - were beginning 10 a.m. (0600 GMT) at X-Treme Park in the mountains above Sochi.
   Women's qualifying runs were following in the afternoon, and women's moguls qualifying was scheduled to start freestyle skiing events at 6 p.m. (1400 GMT).
   Men's slopestyle and women's moguls are among the first medals to be awarded Saturday.
   Down in Sochi, the new team figure skating competition begins 7.30 p.m. (1530 GMT) at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
   The men's short program is to be followed by the pairs.
 
Published in National News
   MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow police say an armed teenager burst into his school and killed a security guard and a teacher before being taken into custody.
   Police say a police officer who responded to an alarm Monday was wounded. No injuries have been reported among the children who were in the school at the time.
Published in National News
   PARIS (AP) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Syria's government is considering opening humanitarian access and a prisoner exchange in the run-up to a peace conference that would bring together the opposition and the leadership for the first time.
   Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday in Paris in a second day of talks to raise pressure on Syria's opposition to attend the peace conference, which is scheduled to begin in just over a week in Switzerland.
   Kerry said he and Lavrov, who last year hammered out an agreement that saw Syrian President Bashar Assad give up chemical weapons, agreed on the need to press for humanitarian access, a cease-fire and a prisoner exchange.  Assad has agreed to send a delegation.
Published in National News
Monday, 30 December 2013 02:52

14 dead after suicide bomber on Russian bus

   MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's main investigative agency says a Volgograd bus explosion was caused by a suicide bomber and officials raised the death toll to 14.
   The bombing comes a day after 17 people died in a railway station bombing also blamed on a suicide bomber.
   Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement that Monday's explosion on an electric bus involved a similar bomb, proving a link between the two attacks.
   Public health officials said that at least 14 people were killed in explosion during morning rush hour.
   No one has claimed responsibility for either bombing, but they came a few months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including Olympics in Sochi in February.
Published in National News
Thursday, 10 October 2013 03:38

Edward Snowden's father arrives in Moscow

   MOSCOW (AP) — The father of former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow Thursday morning to meet with his son who has received asylum in Russia and has been living at a secret location.

   Lon Snowden told Russian television outside Moscow's airport that he doubts his son, Edward Snowden, will return to the United States, where he is charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing NSA's highly classified surveillance of phone and Internet usage around the world.

   "I'm not sure that my son will be returning to the U.S. again," Lon Snowden said but added that "that's his decision." He also said he has not had direct contact with his son and would not say when or where he will be meeting him.

   Edward Snowden was stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month after his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. He was granted asylum in Russia in August. His whereabouts remain secret although his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, insists that Snowden lives in Russia.

   Lon Snowden said that it is his understanding that his son has now stopped leaking information.

   He thanked Russia and President Vladimir Putin for sheltering his son.

   Edward Snowden's asylum status has strained the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and President Barack Obama called off a meeting with President Putin at a Russia-hosted summit in September.

Published in National News
Thursday, 19 September 2013 01:46

McCain slams Putin in opinion piece for Pravda

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain is accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of corruption, repression and self-serving rule in an opinion piece for Pravda that answers the Russian leader's broadside published last week in an American newspaper.

   In an op-ed headlined "Russians Deserve Better That Putin," McCain singles out Putin and his associates for punishing dissent, specifically the death in prison of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The Russian presidential human rights council found in 2011 that Magnitsky, who had accused Russian officials of colluding with organized criminals, had been beaten and denied medical treatment.

   McCain also criticized Putin for siding with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the 2½ year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

   McCain insists that he is not anti-Russian but rather "more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today."

   "President Putin doesn't believe ... in you. He doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn't believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you," McCain wrote.

   The senator submitted the editorial to Pravda and was told it would be posted on Thursday. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the editorial.

   McCain assailed Putin and his associates for writing laws that codify bigotry, specifically legislation on sexual orientation. A new Russian law imposes fines and up to 15 days in prison for people accused of spreading "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors.

   On Syria, McCain said Putin is siding with a tyrant.

   "He is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world," the Arizona senator said.

   McCain also criticized the imprisonment of the punk rock band Pussy Riot. The three women were convicted of hooliganism after staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church.

   The article by McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, comes just days after the U.S. and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement that calls for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program within a week, and its complete eradication by mid-2014. Diplomatic wrangling continues, however.

   Last week, Putin blamed opposition forces for the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and argued President Barack Obama's remarks about America were self-serving in an opinion piece for The New York Times. Putin also said it was dangerous for America to think of itself as exceptional, a reference to a comment Obama made.

   McCain was not the first U.S. lawmaker to respond to Putin. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., wrote in an editorial for the Moscow Times about the suppression of the Russian people and the disregard for basic human rights.

Published in National News

   BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin says that Syria's move to join an international convention banning chemical weapons has proven its good faith.

   Speaking at a summit of an international security grouping dominated by Russia and China, Putin said Friday the move showed that Syria has "serious intentions to embark on that path."

   Syria made a formal bid Thursday to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The U.N. welcomed the move, but said that it could take 30 days for Syria to become a member.

   Russia proposed on Monday that Syria surrenders control over its chemical weapons to the international community for its eventual dismantling to avoid a U.S. military strike, and Damascus quickly jumped at the offer. Top U.S. and Russian diplomats are holding talks in Geneva to discuss the plan's specifics.

Published in National News

   GENEVA -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva Thursday morning to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

   Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts on Thursday and Friday. They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

   Officials with Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles.

   One official said the task is "doable but difficult and complicated."

   The official said the U.S. is looking for signs of Russian seriousness and thinks it will know in a relatively short time if the Russians are trying to stall. Another official described the ideas that the Russians have presented so far as "an opening position" that needs a lot of work and input from technical experts. The U.S. team includes officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons from Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publically on the sensitive negotiations.

   The hastily arranged meeting in Geneva comes as the White House tries to pin success or failure of the diplomatic track on Russia's willingness to take a tough line with its ally Syria. Syrian rebels, however, are disappointed at best in President Barack Obama's decision to forgo a military strike in favor of an agreement to take access to chemical weapons away from President Bashar Assad.

   At the same time, the CIA has begun delivering light weapons and other munitions to the rebels over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear, The Washington Post reported late Wednesday. The deliveries have lagged, the newspaper said, because of logistical challenges and U.S. fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of extremists. Some U.S. lawmakers have chided the administration, which said months ago it would send lethal aid, for not moving more quickly to help the rebels.

   Obama also found opposition in Congress to putting on hold his request for authorization to punish Assad militarily for his government's alleged role in a chemical attack on Damascus suburbs last month. His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, asserted in an opinion piece in The New York Times that a potential strike by the U.S. would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond Syria and unleash a new wave of terrorism.

   In meetings planned for later Thursday and again Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry will prod Moscow to put forward a credible and verifiable plan to inventory, quarantine and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks, according to U.S. officials.

   Kerry is accompanied by American chemical weapons experts to look at and possibly expand on Russian ideas for the complex task of safely dealing with the vast stockpiles in the midst of a brutal and unpredictable conflict. Russian technical experts will join Lavrov in the meetings.

   "Our goal here is to test the seriousness of this proposal, to talk about the specifics of how this would get done, what are the mechanics of identifying, verifying, securing and ultimately destroying the chemical weapons," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said shortly before Kerry left Washington.

   The U.S. is hoping that an acceptable agreement with the Russians can be part of a binding new U.N. Security Council resolution being negotiated that would hold Syria accountable for using chemical weapons. Russia, however, has long opposed U.N. action on Syria, vetoed three earlier resolutions, blocked numerous, less severe condemnations and has not indicated it is willing to go along with one now.

   A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said Thursday's meeting will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on "the herculean task" of dismantling Syria's chemical weapons while the country is at war.

   In his column posted Wednesday on the Times website, Putin asserted that it is "alarming" that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries "has become commonplace for the United States."

   "Is it in America's long-term interest? I doubt it," Putin wrote. "Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan `you're either with us or against us."'

   Putin said he favored taking advantage of Syria's willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control and welcomed Obama's interest in continuing to discuss Syria with Russia.

   "If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust," he wrote. "It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues."

   American ships in the Mediterranean Sea remained ready to strike Syria if ordered, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. Syrian rebels appeared skeptical that U.S. forces would be put to use, saying the Americans have repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their rebellion. They pointed to Obama's statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels.

   Meanwhile, Assad's forces have gained the advantage.

   "We're on our own," Mohammad Joud, an opposition fighter in the war-shattered northern city of Aleppo, said via Skype. "I always knew that, but thanks to Obama's shameful conduct, others are waking up to this reality as well."

   Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London, said the Syrian opposition will struggle with morale and sense of purpose.

   "Assad's regime is going to be stronger because while they've agreed to give up their chemical weapons, they get to keep everything else to fight the opposition that has lost territory in the past year and has now suffered a big blow," Kamel said.

   White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to put a deadline on diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff but said bringing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under international control "obviously will take some time."

   "Russia is now putting its prestige on the line," Carney said Wednesday. Asked if U.S. prestige also was on the line, Carney responded: "The United States leads in these situations. And it's not always popular and it's not always comfortable."

   On Capitol Hill, action on any congressional resolution authorizing U.S. military intervention in Syria was on hold, even an alternative that would have reflected Russia's diplomatic offer. Senators instead debated an energy bill.

   "The whole terrain has changed," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters after a meeting of Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We want to make sure we do nothing that's going to derail what's going on."

   That didn't stop Republicans from announcing their opposition to Obama's initial call for military strikes and criticizing the commander in chief. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., accused the president of engaging in "pinball diplomacy."

Published in National News
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 00:37

Oil falls below $109 a barrel on Syria proposal

   BANGKOK (AP) — Oil prices, which have shot up in recent days over the threat of a U.S. strike against Syria, fell below $109 a barrel Tuesday after Damascus reacted favorably to a proposal to turn over its chemical weapons.

   Benchmark oil for October delivery fell $1.16 per barrel to $108.36 at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.01 to close at $109.52 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

   Oil prices have risen sharply in recent days following President Barack Obama's call for military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in retaliation for what the White House says was a chemical weapons attack against civilians.

   But on Monday, there was reason to hope for a diplomatic solution when Syria's foreign minister welcomed a suggestion to move all the country's chemical weapons under international control. Analysts said it could also hurt Obama's attempts at gaining congressional support for military intervention.

   "Backed by the U.N., Russia is arranging for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to avert a confrontation," said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. "By deflecting the approaching strike, Russia has also created greater uncertainty in the U.S. Congress on the vote over Syria though the U.S. is still leaning towards a strike." Obama plans to address the nation from the White House on Tuesday about Syria.

   Brent, the benchmark for international crudes, dropped $1.03 to $112.69 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

 

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.8 cents to $2.774 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1 cent to $3.614 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil retreated 1.8 cents to $3.0999 per gallon.

Published in National News

   ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — China is warning other world powers of global economic risks of a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria'a civil war.

   Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."

   He spoke in St. Petersburg on Thursday ahead of a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 leading world economies.

   He cited estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.

   He urged a negotiated U.N. solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that "the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging."

Published in National News
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