YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — In a historic breakthrough, President Barack Obama on Monday stepped onto the soil of long-shunned Myanmar and into the flag-waving embrace of its once repressed people. "You gave us hope," he declared, the first U.S. president to visit what not long ago had been an international outcast.
Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets to welcome Obama to a place still learning its basic freedoms.
Speaking to a national audience from the University of Yangon, Obama offered a "hand of friendship" and a lasting U.S. commitment, yet a warning as well. He said the new civilian government must nurture democracy or watch it, and U.S. support, disappear.
The visit to Myanmar was the centerpiece of a four-day trip to Southeast Asia that began in Bangkok and will end Tuesday in Cambodia, where Obama will attend an East Asia Summit.
Obama seemed to revel in the history of what he was witnessing in Myanmar — a nation shedding years of military rule, and a relationship between two nations changing fast.
Palestinian civilian death toll mounts as Israel targets militants in residential areas
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Palestinian civilian death toll mounted Monday as Israeli aircraft struck densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip in a campaign to quell militant rocket fire menacing nearly half of Israel's population.
An overnight airstrike on two houses belonging to an extended clan in Gaza City killed two children and two adults, and injured 42 people, said Gaza heath official Ashraf al-Kidra.
Shortly after, Israeli aircraft bombarded the remains of the former national security compound in Gaza City. Flying shrapnel killed one child and wounded others living nearby, al-Kidra said. Five farmers were killed in two separate strikes, al-Kidra said, including three who had been identified earlier by Hamas security officials as Islamic Jihad fighters.
Civilian casualties began to shoot up on Sunday, after Israel said it was stepping up attacks on the homes of suspected Hamas activists. After that warning, an Israeli missile flatted a two-story house in a residential area of Gaza City, killing at least 11 civilians, most of them women and children.
It remained unclear who the target of that missile attack was. However, the new tactic ushered in a new and risky phase of the operation, given the likelihood of civilian casualties in the crowded territory of 1.6 million Palestinians. The rising civilian toll was also likely to intensify pressure on Israel to end the fighting. Hundreds of civilian casualties in an Israeli offensive in Gaza four years ago led to fierce international condemnation of Israel.
Justin Bieber dominates at American Music Awards; Nicki Minaj wins 2 honors, PSY performs
Justin Bieber may be Canadian, but he was the all-American boy at Sunday night's American Music Awards.
The pop singer dominated the awards show, winning three trophies, including artist of the year. His mom joined him onstage as he collected the award, beating out Rihanna, Maroon 5, Katy Perry and Drake.
"I wanted to thank you for always believing in me," Bieber said, looking to his mom.
The 18-year-old also won the honor in 2010. He said it's "hard growing up with everyone watching me" and asked that people continue to believe in him.
But the teenager who brought his mom as a date also got in some grinding with Nicki Minaj — who shared the stage with him and took home two awards — and a kiss on the neck from presenter Jenny McCarthy.
Obama to meet with Cambodia's longtime 'strongman' amid rights concerns, but also growth
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — President Barack Obama arrives in Cambodia on Monday having just won four more years in office, but that is nothing compared to his host, Hun Sen. The 60-year-old Cambodian prime minister has held power since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and says he's not stepping down until he is 90.
Hun Sen is known as one of Asia's most Machiavellian politicians, with a knack for making sure his rivals end up in jail or in exile. A laudatory biography is subtitled "Strongman of Cambodia," and some would say that's putting it mildly.
Yet, through his country's civil wars, a U.N. peace process and several elections, the one-time communist cadre has always managed to come out on top. Over the last decade, he has also overseen modest economic growth and stability in a country plagued by desperate poverty and nearly destroyed under the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" regime.
Obama is going to Phnom Penh — the first visit ever by a U.S. president to Cambodia — because it is hosting the annual East Asia Summit. But White House aides say the president will also raise human rights concerns in his meeting with Hun Sen.
"He is intelligent, combative, tactical, and self-absorbed," says historian David Chandler, a Cambodia expert at Australia's Monash University and a critic of Hun Sen's rule.
Loose ends, recurring partisan tensions to drive education agenda in Obama's second term
WASHINGTON (AP) — Loose ends and thorny partisan issues that have long dogged attempts to move forward on education await the next Congress as President Barack Obama's second term begins.
Soaring campaign-year aspirations to close the achievement gap and boost college graduation rates to the highest in the world may have to fall back to earth — at least temporarily — as lawmakers and Obama tackle a number of gritty funding-related issues that just can't wait.
First up is sequestration, the automatic, government-wide spending cuts set to knock out 8.2 percent of the funding to almost all of the Education Department's programs — unless Congress acts before the end of the year to avert the cuts.
Programs intended to reduce educational inequities will take a hit of $1.3 billion, according to the White House's Office of Management and Budget. Special education, already funded far below the levels Congress originally promised, will be slashed by more than $1 billion. Most of the reductions won't take effect until next fall, when the 2013-14 school year starts, but Impact Aid, which helps districts that lose revenue due to local tax-exempt federal property, would be cut immediately.
Education advocates are optimistic a plan will be hashed out that will leave most major education programs relatively unscathed.
Art's perfect theft: Flemish Renaissance masterpiece missing for 7 decades
GHENT, Belgium (AP) — The main suspect in the legendary art heist is said to have whispered with his dying breath: "Only I know where the 'Adoration' is..."
More than seven decades later, the whereabouts of a panel belonging to one of Western art's defining works, the "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," also known as the "Ghent Altarpiece," remains a mystery.
If the stunning heist of Picasso, Monet and Matisse paintings in Rotterdam, Netherlands, last month focused attention on the murky world of art theft, the gothic Saint Bavo cathedral in Ghent has been at the center of a crime that has bedeviled the art world for decades.
"The Just Judges" panel of the Van Eyck brothers' multi-panel Gothic masterpiece hasn't been seen since 1934, when chief suspect Arsene Goedertier suffered a stroke at a political rally and died after murmuring those fateful words to a confidant.
The theft has kept the country enthralled ever since, with its heady mix of priceless art and scintillating detective story.
Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell devastated, regrets damage of affair with ex-spy chief
WASHINGTON (AP) — Paula Broadwell, whose extramarital affair with CIA chief David Petraeus led to his resignation, is telling friends she is devastated by the fallout.
A person close to Broadwell said Sunday she deeply regrets the damage that's been done to her family and everyone else's, and she is trying to repair that and move forward. The friend spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
A group of friends and neighbors welcomed Broadwell, her husband, Scott, and their young sons back to their home in Charlotte, N.C., after Broadwell spent more than a week being hounded by media while staying at her brother's home in Washington. The family friend said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her neighbors.
Broadwell is still being investigated by the FBI over classified documents found on her laptop and in her home, which investigators believe the author gathered while researching her biography of Petraeus in Afghanistan. Investigators say many of the documents are old and may no longer be classified despite their labels, and say Broadwell told them she did not get them from Petraeus.
The FBI stumbled onto their relationship after tracking anonymous emails Broadwell allegedly sent to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, warning Kelley to stay away from Petraeus and Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen.
Marine Corps forms new fighter jet squadron to fly beleaguered F-35B out of testing phase
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Marine Corps is forming the first squadron of pilots to fly the next-generation strike fighter jet, months after lawmakers raised concern that there was a rush to end the testing of an aircraft hit with technical problems.
So far two veteran pilots of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing have been trained to fly the F-35B. They are becoming the first members of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 that will debut at a ceremony Tuesday at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.
The first F-35B arrived Friday and 15 more are slated to arrive over the next year. The Defense Department has pumped a half a billion dollars into upgrading the facilities, hangars and runways at the base to make way for the next-generation fighter jet, officials said.
The pilots of the new squadron are expected to fly the aircraft by year's end.
The Marines are the first in the military taking the steps toward putting the planes in operation. The F-35B would replace Cold War-era aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier.
Afghan president: US still holding detainees who Afghan courts have ruled should be freed
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president has accused U.S. forces of continuing to capture and hold Afghans in violation of an agreement signed earlier this year between the two countries.
Hamid Karzai's late Sunday statement, which did not include any specific demands for the U.S., was made days after the beginning of negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in the country after the majority of troops draw down in 2014. Karzai's critics say he frequently strikes populist, nationalist stances that give him leverage in talks with the Americans.
The Afghan president said some detainees are still being held by U.S. forces even though Afghan judges have ruled that they be released. He also decried the continued arrest of Afghans by U.S. forces.
The two countries signed the detainee transfer pact in March but the handover of detention facilities has been slowed by the U.S., which has argued both that the Afghans are not ready to take over their management and insisted that the Afghan government agree to hold without trial some detainees that the U.S. deems too dangerous to release.
"These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. President," said the statement, released by Karzai's office after the president was briefed by judicial authorities on the transfer. He urged Afghan officials to "take serious measures" to push for taking over all responsibility for the detention center on the edge of the main U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan.
Ravens take control of AFC North with 13-10 victory over Steelers
PITTSBURGH (AP) — It really doesn't matter to the Baltimore Ravens who starts at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the mission remains the same.
So do the results.
While injured starter Ben Roethlisberger watched from the sideline, Baltimore pounded backup Byron Leftwich during a 13-10 victory on Sunday night that put the Ravens in complete control of the AFC North.
The Ravens (8-2) sacked Leftwich three times, intercepted him once and sent him crumbling to the Heinz Field turf on a handful of occasions as Baltimore built a two-game lead over the Steelers (6-4) heading into the season's final six weeks.
"We took the mentality as a team that we're going into a fistfight," Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo said.