Obama Embraces Cuban Relations
WASHINGTON (AP) - The plans by President Barack Obama to move toward normalized relations with Cuba are sweeping. Obama is looking to expand economic ties with Cuba, open an embassy in Havana, and review that country's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. is also easing restrictions on travel to Cuba -- but tourist travel will still be banned. Obama says the U.S. intends to create more opportunities for Americans and Cubans to work together. He says the U.S. is ending an outdated approach to Cuba that has failed to advance U.S. interests. The developments follow more than a year of secret discussions between the U.S. and Cuban officials. The talks happened in Canada and the Vatican and included personal involvement by Pope Francis. American subcontractor Alan Gross (photo), who spent five years in a Cuban prison, is thanking President Barack Obama and supporters for working to free him. Gross, who lost more than 100 pounds and developed health problems, says he never grew angry at the Cuban people. (photo AP)

Pope Had Major Role In Talks
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis is praising what he calls "small steps" of diplomacy and peacemaking between the U.S. and Cuba. In his first public comments about the breakthrough, Francis told new ambassadors today that diplomacy is a "noble job." Francis played a crucial role in bringing the two sides together, writing letters to Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro this past summer, inviting them to find humanitarian solutions to their differences and offering the Vatican as a facilitator in negotiations.

Reaction In Havanna
HAVANA (AP) - One man in the Cuban capital of Havana says it's "a wish come true." Carlos Gonzalez is among the Cubans celebrating the news that his country and the United States are re-establishing diplomatic relations. Gonzalez, an I-T specialist, says it will "open the road to a better future for the two countries." One 72-year-old retiree called it "a victory for Cuba," saying it was achieved "without conceding basic principles." In Cuba, bells pealed and schoolchildren interrupted lessons to mark the historic news. Havana residents gathered around television sets in homes, schools and businesses to hear the historic national broadcast in which President Raul Castro announced that Cuba was restoring relations with the United States. Castro said, "We should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner in spite of our differences." In his address, he called on Washington to end its embargo against Cuba, saying it had caused "enormous human and economic damage."

Putin Holds Out Hope For Ties With West
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Western sanctions have been an important factor in the current economic crisis, but not the only one. Putin said Thursday the influence of Western sanctions acounts roughly for 25 to 30 percent of factors behind the Russian crisis. He accused the West of trying to infringe on Russia's sovereignty, adding that the Ukrainian crisis was just a pretext for Western action. He said that the reason for Western action wasn't Crimea, it was because of efforts to "defend our independence and the right for existence." Despite his tough rhetoric, Putin held out hope for normalizing ties with the West, saying that Russia still hopes to expand its gas supplies to southern Europe using a prospective gas hub on Turkey's border with Greece.

Shortcomings In Child Abuse Prevention
BUTTE, Montana (AP) - An Associated Press investigation has found that at least 786 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span while in plain view of child protection officials. The children lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services. The AP canvassed the 50 states, District of Columbia and the military. The true number of such fatalities where a prior open case existed is undoubtedly higher than the 786. Seven states reported 230 open-case maltreatment deaths that AP did not include. Those states failed to make a distinction between case files opened only due to the incident that ultimately led to a child's death and case files that already existed at the time the child was fatally injured.









U.S. Links North Korea To Hacking
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of the movie "The Interview," following terrorist threats against moviegoers. The comedy is about a CIA plot to kill North Korea's leader. A U.S. official says federal investigators have now connected a hacking of Sony Pictures to North Korea, which has publicly denied it was involved. (photo: CNN)

Man Found Dead Near School
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman says an elementary school lockdown ended Wednesday after police secured the scene when a man was found dead in a car parked in the school's lot. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Sonya Toler says the shooting is considered a homicide, though police have yet to confirm the victim's identity. Police believe he may have been shot about 11 p.m. Tuesday when some residents heard gunfire in the area. But the body wasn't found until a witness saw a parked car missing a window and moved closer to find a man slumped over the steering wheel and three bullet casings near the car shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday. The lockdown was precautionary because the car was parked in the Sunnyside Elementary School lot. It was lifted at 3:45 p.m. Police haven't named any suspects.

Assault In West End
Two men were taken to the county jail this week accused of assaulting a man in the West end. Police charged John Skaggs and Edwin Rivera with aggravated and simple assault. Timothy Harris told police he was in the 700 block of West Chestnut Street Monday afternoon when two men hit him in the face with rocks and a beer bottle, kicked him while he was on the ground, and threatened to shoot him. Harris was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.

Penn Hills Couple Found Dismembered
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A Pennsylvania man has been charged with killing and dismembering his mother and stepfather. Allegheny County police charged 47-year-old Frederick C. Harris III on Wednesday with criminal homicide and abuse of a corpse in the deaths of 73-year-old Olivia and 76-year-old Lamar Gilbert. Neighbors say Harris had been living in their home recently. Olivia Gilbert's daughter asked Penn Hills police to check on the couple Tuesday afternoon after they hadn't been heard from since Saturday. Their body parts were found in trash bags and containers inside their house. Harris has been in custody since Tuesday. He is being arraigned overnight by a district magistrate. Court records don't list an attorney for him.

Corbett Mulls Future
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - His days as Pennsylvania governor numbered, Gov. Tom Corbett says his options for life outside of government could include working on a 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Corbett said he has "great interest" in the evolving field of potential candidates for the Republican nomination. Corbett will step down in January after serving one four-year term. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential hopeful, campaigned for Corbett in his unsuccessful re-election bid. Corbett says he knows former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also potential contenders. Corbett says he's not settled on any candidate, but would be available if the right candidate seeks his help. Corbett says he also might teach or accept a seat on a corporate board.







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