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Renewals may be banned on Payday Loans

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 13:16 Published in Local News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Senate has endorsed legislation that would prohibit borrowers from getting a renewal on payday loans.
State law currently allows borrowers to renew their loans six times. A payday loan can be no larger than $500 and can run only from 14 to 31 days.
The legislation was given first-round approval Wednesday by voice vote. It needs another affirmative vote to move to the state House.
Sponsoring Sen. Mike Cunningham, a Rogersville Republican, says his bill would prevent borrowers from getting into a trap by continuing to renew a loan and accumulate interest. His bill would give borrowers an extended time period to pay back a loan with no additional interest or fees.
 

UKRAINE: 25 KILLED, 241 INJURED IN KIEV CLASHES

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 06:26 Published in National News

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev, a tense calm descended Wednesday over the capital and the European Union threatened sanctions against Ukraine following deadly violence between riot police and protesters in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

Thousands of defiant protesters faced rows of riot police who have squeezed them deeper into the Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, which has been a bastion and symbol for the protesters, after overnight clashes that set buildings on fire and brought sharp rebuke from both the West and Russia.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country's post-Soviet history. The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine's future and what it described as a "coup attempt"; it criticized the West for the escalation of violence.

President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms."

The European Union appears poised to impose sanctions as it called an extraordinary meeting of the 28-nation bloc's foreign ministers.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called Wednesday for "targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed ... as a matter of urgency."

Sanctions would at first typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the 28-nation bloc and freezing their assets there.

"It is the political leadership of the country that has a responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of fundamental rights and freedoms," said Barroso, who heads the EU's executive arm. "It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine," he added.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit president's power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan. But the protesters still held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev's main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others, in every-day clothes and with make-up on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches to protesters from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

"The revolution turned into a war with the authorities," said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night's violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. "We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership; we must fight for our country, our Ukraine."

Yanukovych was defiant on Wednesday.

"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don't want to leave (the square) — they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind." He also called a day of mourning for the dead on Thursday.

Yanukovych's tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence. He still enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set-up a makeshift medical unit inside an landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor's office, police stations, prosecutors and security agency offices and the tax agency headquarters. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire. The building was still smoldering Wednesday morning and some protesters were driving around town in police cars they had seized during the night.

Tensions continued mounting. The government imposed restrictions for transport moving toward Kiev, apparently to prevent more opposition activists from coming from Western part of the country, and at least one train from Lviv was held outside Kiev. Several highways toward into Kiev were also blocked by police.

Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev told the ITAR-Tass news agency that he has dispatched a paratrooper brigade to Kiev to help protect arsenals. He refused to say if the unit could be used against protesters, the agency said.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych's government needs to keep Ukraine's ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin had a phone conversation with Yanukovych overnight. Peskov said that Putin hasn't given Yanukovych any advice how to settle the crisis, adding that it's up to the Ukrainian government.

Peskov also added that the next disbursement of a Russian bailout has remained on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a "coup attempt."

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, blaming the West for the failure to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence.

EU leaders took the opposite stance, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt putting the blame on Yanukovych in an unusually tough statement.

"Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands," Bildt said.

__

Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, Ukraine, Laura Mills and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

AS SYRIA THREAT EXPANDS, OBAMA MULLS OPTIONS

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 06:25 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the United States, Syria's civil war is threatening to start hitting closer to home.

Peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition are faltering. President Bashar Assad's military is on the offensive and the rebels are in disarray. Most distressing to the Obama administration, U.S. officials say al-Qaida-linked militants are squeezing moderates out of the insurgency and carving out havens for potential terrorist plots against the United States.

The accelerating U.S. national security threat is leading the administration to take a fresh look at previously shelved ideas, including more robust assistance to Western-backed rebels.

They are also are looking at newer, more far-reaching options, including drone strikes on extremists and more forceful action against Assad, whom President Barack Obama told to leave power 30 months ago.

Obama's top aides plan to meet at the White House before week's end to examine options, according to administration officials. They weren't authorized to talk publicly on the matter and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

"We have to examine what the alternatives some might be proposing are and whether they're in our national security interest," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. He expressed concern about stepped-up intervention leading to "unintended consequences."

For all the talk about policy changes, American officials remain hampered by the same constraints that have stymied the U.S. response throughout the three-year civil war, including concern that lethal assistance could end up in the hands of extremists. And then there also is Obama's own distaste for military action.

After more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has desperately sought to avoid embroiling the U.S. in another deadly and inconclusive war. He backed away last year from his threat to take military action in response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack when it became clear Congress would not vote its approval.

Even options short of direct strikes pose difficulties.

Grounding Assad's air force by enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria would most likely require a large-scale attack on the military's advanced air defense systems. Military support for the opposition continues in the form of small weapons and ammunition. But proposals for sending more powerful weaponry raise fears that it could fall into the hands of extremist rebel groups, which are melding with moderate rebels.

The U.S. remains opposed to Saudi Arabian deliveries of shoulder-launched, anti-aircraft missiles because of the potential risk to commercial aircraft.

"Right now we don't think that there is a military solution," Obama said last week following talks on Syria with French President Francois Hollande. At the same time, Obama called the situation on the ground "horrendous" and acknowledged "enormous frustration" with peace talks in Geneva, which ended last weekend without progress.

By any account, the U.S. policy of sending limited military aid for Syria's moderate opposition coupled with support for U.N.-brokered peace talks between the rebels and Assad's government isn't working.

Appalling scenes of emaciated children leaving the besieged city of Homs last week underscored the desperate plight of many Syrians — and the potential for more suffering. A second round of Geneva negotiations ended last weekend with little promise for a future breakthrough and with fresh American frustrations with Russia, which is Assad's most powerful military and diplomatic supporter.

The administration concedes Assad's hold on power has strengthened.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry offered lingering hope that peace talks could yield results.

However slowly, the potential for a terrorist base developing in northern Syria akin to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may be changing the administration's thinking.

In recent weeks, the president's senior national security aides have delivered dire warnings about extremist havens in Syria and about Americans and other Westerners joining the fight and being radicalized.

Testifying before Congress this month, National Intelligence Director James Clapper estimated there were about 26,000 extremists in Syria, including around 7,000 foreigners, in an insurgency encompassing 75,000 to 110,000 fighters. For example, Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most powerful rebel factions, has "aspirations" for attacks on the United States, he said.

In addition to worries about foreigners, officials cite concerns about small numbers of Americans who've fought in Syria and returned home. The officials describe these as a "handful," with European countries facing "several dozen" similar cases. But they believe some were probably recruited by extremists, indoctrinated and provided terror training. And more Americans may be heading over to fight.

The stark assessments have prompted questions from Congress about potential action. So far, the administration hasn't provided answers.

U.S. officials said missile strikes by drone or military aircraft against al-Qaida-linked forces have been considered, even if they are unlikely in the near future. The Pentagon has advised against any such strikes because of sketchy U.S. intelligence on the rebel forces in Syria, according to two U.S. officials.

To monitor the threat, officials said, the U.S. and its allies are trying to track any Western fighter returning home from Syria.

___

Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier in Washington and Matthew Lee in Paris contributed to this report.

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