BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court on Friday upheld the death sentences of three men convicted of organizing a brutal knife attack that killed 31 people earlier this year outside a railway station in the southern city of Kunming.
The Higher People's Court of Yunnan Province rejected appeals and upheld sentences handed out last month by a lower court, saying that the three men "all played a role in organizing, leading and plotting the terrorist activities at the Kunming Railway Station."
The railway station attack in March shook the country as tensions between the Uighur Muslim minority and the majority Han ethnic group spread beyond the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang. The knifing rampage raised fears of terrorist attacks throughout the country.
Five knife-wielding assailants hacked 31 people to death and injured 141 on March 1 before police were able to subdue them. Four of the assailants were shot dead at the scene. The only assailant captured alive was a pregnant woman, Patigul Tohti, who was later sentenced to life in prison on charges of joining a terror group and murder.
The three men sentenced to death, Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad, had been charged with organizing and leading a terror group and murder.
The sentences of all four defendants were upheld by the court Friday.
Local authorities arrested Ehet, Tohtunyaz and Muhammad two days before the attack while they were attempting to illegally leave China, the court said. Having lost the contact with the three men, the five other members of the group mounted the attack as planned, the court said.
Beijing has blamed religion-influenced terrorists with foreign ties for the Kunming attack and other violence that has caused hundreds of deaths this year in and outside Xinjiang. Critics say China's repressive ethnic policies and practices as well as economic disenfranchisement have alienated the Uighurs, possibly driving them into religious extremism.
PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — Ten miles from the Hawaii town of Pahoa that is being menaced by a stream of lava from Kilauea volcano, there's another community that was almost entirely swallowed by the molten rock nearly 30 years ago.
Today, a few dozen recently built homes sit on Kalapana's rolling black fields — offering a glimpse of life after lava.
"It's like nothing else. It's the newest land on Earth," said Hank Powers, a 47-year-old tour guide who is building a house on 24 acres of Kalapana lava fields.
Their example may be of little comfort to nearly 1,000 residents of Pahoa, who are watching as lava threatens to set fire to homes and split their town in half. As of late Thursday, the lava was 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road.
But Kalapana's residents show how some adaptability can make living with lava possible, albeit in some extreme conditions.
Powers said he moved in after getting accustomed to lava while taking people to view it as a tour guide. He's lived in Montana, Colorado and elsewhere in Hawaii, but he declares Kalapana's windy black plains his favorite.
The 47-year-old said he would be excited if lava returned. He's also prepared: he built his house so it could be loaded on a truck and moved away from a fresh flow if necessary.
Inexpensive real estate is a draw for some. A 7,500-square foot lot in Kalapana Gardens sells for $5,000-$8,000, according to Bill Parecki of Savio Realty in Pahoa. The average price of a home in the area is just over $55,000.
That's a fraction of what a home costs in Leilani Estates, a subdivision closer to Pahoa, where the average price is $207,000.
Ed Elarth, a 51-year-old who makes stone carvings and shell necklaces, said the new land has an energy that has made him feel healthier and younger since he moved in three years ago.
Life is rustic. People rely on solar and wind to power their homes, capture rain in a tank to wash with and truck in drinking water. Most people use composting toilets.
"A lot of people come out here and they can't handle it. It just drives them nuts," said Elarth. "Pele's got a way of weeding out the ones that don't belong here," he said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
All of Hawaii's islands were formed by lava that emerged from a hotspot in the Pacific Ocean where magma has been poking through the earth's crust for millions of years.
Powers said he could move his house to another spot on his 24 acres in Kalapana if another flow came. Or to a different lot he owns nearby. But he vows he would return after the new flow built more land.
"I'd just bring it back later. It would just be a little higher up," he said.
KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan authorities warned of more landslides at a tea plantation where a deadly torrent of mud swept away scores of homes this week, but residents said Friday there was no room left at the shelters and no alternative housing for them to move to.
Disaster officials estimate that at least 100 people were killed Wednesday when monsoon rains unleashed a cascade of muddy earth at the Koslanda plantation in Badulla district, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) east of Colombo. The death toll has yet to be confirmed, and many villagers believe the figure could exceed 200.
Kannusamy Mahendran, 34, whose home was still standing but in the danger zone, said residents have been warned of mudslides several times since 2002. But he said alternative housing has always been the problem.
"Officials come here and ask us to leave, but they don't tell us where to go," he said, adding that the families are at grave risk if another landslide barrels down the hills.
Mahendran said the government provided housing for only 25 of the 75 families in his neighborhood over the past years, and the rest are now being told to move into nearby schools and temples with the survivors of Wednesday's slide.
"But we can't go, (those shelters) are overcrowded," Mahendran said.
Some 1,600 people are currently in the shelters, most of them with homes still standing but vulnerable to more slides, said Rohana Keerthi Dissanayake, a top official in the region.
Local disaster relief official Udaya Kumara urged people in vulnerable areas to come to the camps, and promised to do his utmost to accommodate them.
"We can't give them the comforts of their homes, but we will give them whatever is possible. They must think that life comes first," he said.
Those whose kin are missing waited in agony as rescue workers using heavy machinery and sniffer dogs searched through the mud Friday.
Authorities said there was no hope of finding survivors, but many relatives say they want to give their loved ones a proper burial.
"They died tragically, but at least I want to give them a dignified funeral," said Sinniah Yogarajah, who lost all other five members of his household — his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and his 6-month-old grandchild.
As the scope of the disaster becomes clear, the government has asked the National Child Protection Authority to take charge of orphans.
Many children had left for school before Wednesday's 7:30 a.m. landslide, only to return to find their homes buried and their parents missing. Others looked as the mud engulfed their homes with their parents still inside.
Ravichandran Gajini, 14, said she and her 12-year-old brother, Suresh, watched their parents' last moments before the landslide swallowed up their home.
"We did not go to school that day and suddenly people shouted that there was an earth slip," she said. "We all ran out but my parents went back to collect our identity cards and the birth certificates."
She never saw her parents again.
Authorities were working to confirm how many children were orphaned. A government minister told Parliament on Thursday that they have found 75 orphans, but the number needs to be confirmed.
A large number of children in Sri Lanka's tea plantations drop out of school and work as domestic helpers or waiters in tea shops, and the government fears they could be exploited by recruiters.
Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is one of the world's leading tea producers.
Most of Sri Lanka has experienced heavy rain over the past few weeks, and the Disaster Management Center had issued warnings of mudslides and falling rocks. The monsoon season here runs from October through December.
Associated Press writer Eranga Jayawardena contributed to this report.
FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — Maine health officials obtained a 24-hour court order restricting Kaci Hickox's movement after the nurse repeatedly defied the state's quarantine for medical workers who have treated Ebola patients.
A judge granted the order Thursday limiting Hickox's travel, banning her from public places and requiring a 3-foot buffer until there's a further decision Friday.
The state went to court Thursday, following through with a threat to try to isolate her until the 21-day incubation period for Ebola ends no Nov. 10. In court documents, the judge indicated further action was anticipated Friday.
Police remained outside her home Friday. Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier went inside the home briefly Friday morning and said afterward, "We just had a good conversation." He said he was not there to arrest or detain her.
Police were under orders to monitor her movements after she twice let home, once to talk to reporters Wednesday and again for a bike ride with her boyfriend on Thursday.
The legal action is shaping up as the nation's biggest test case yet in the struggle to balance public health and fear of Ebola against personal freedom.
Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, says confinement violates her rights. She says that she has no symptoms and poses no risk to the public.
Hickox, 33, stepped into the media glare when she returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone to become subject to a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey. After being released from a hospital there, she returned to this small town, where she was placed under what Maine authorities called a voluntary quarantine.
She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease.
"I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based," she said Wednesday evening.
Some states like Maine are going above and beyond the CDC guidelines to require quarantines. So is the U.S military.
President Barack Obama, the nation's top infectious-disease expert and humanitarian groups have warned that overly restrictive measures could cripple the fight against the disease at its source by discouraging volunteers like Hickox from going to West Africa, where the outbreak has sickened more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000 of them.
"These kinds of restrictions could dissuade hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled volunteers from helping stop Ebola's spread, which is in the national interest of every one of our countries," Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday in Brussels.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Call it drugs for the departed: Medicare's prescription program kept paying for costly medications even after patients were dead.
The problem was traced back to a head-scratching bureaucratic rule that's now getting a second look.
A report coming out Friday from the Health and Human Services Department's inspector general says the Medicare rule allows payment for prescriptions filled up to 32 days after a patient's death — at odds with the program's basic principles, not to mention common sense.
"Drugs for deceased beneficiaries are clearly not medically indicated, which is a requirement for (Medicare) coverage," the IG report said. It urged immediate changes to eliminate or restrict the payment policy.
Medicare said it's working on a fix.
Investigators examined claims from 2012 for a tiny sliver of Medicare drugs — medications to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS — and then cross-referenced them with death records. They found that the program paid for drugs for 158 beneficiaries after they were already dead. The cost to taxpayers: $292,381, an average of $1,850 for each beneficiary.
Medicare's "current practices allowed most of these payments to occur," the report said.
Of 348 prescriptions dispensed for the dead beneficiaries, nearly half were filled more than a week after the patient died. Sometimes multiple prescriptions were filled on behalf of a single dead person.
Investigators don't know what happened to the medications obtained on behalf of dead people, but some may have been diverted to the underground market for prescription medicines. The report said HIV drugs can be targets for fraud since they can be very expensive; one common HIV drug costs about $1,700 for a month's supply, it said.
Medicare is the government's premier health insurance program, providing coverage to about 55 million seniors and disabled people. Prescription coverage delivered through private insurance plans began in 2006 as a major expansion of the program. But it's also been a target for scams.
The report did not estimate the potential financial impact across the $85 billion-a-year Medicare prescription program known as Part D. But investigators believe the waste may add up to millions of dollars.
"The exposure for the entire Part D program could be significant," said Miriam Anderson, team leader on the report. "The payment policy is the same for all drugs, whether they are $2,000 drugs to treat HIV or $4 generic drugs."
In a formal response, Medicare agreed with the investigators' recommendations.
"After reviewing this report, (Medicare) has had preliminary discussions with the industry to revisit the need for a 32-day window," wrote Marilyn Tavenner, the Obama administration's Medicare chief.
Medicare had originally maintained that the date of service listed in the billing records could instead reflect when a pharmacy submitted bills for payment. That billing date might have actually occurred after a prescription was filled, since some nursing home and institutional pharmacies submit their bills in monthly bundles.
However, the inspector general's investigators found that about 80 percent of the prescriptions for dead beneficiaries were filled at neighborhood pharmacies, undercutting Medicare's first explanation. As for the remainder, the investigators said they didn't see any reason pharmacies can't report an accurate date of service.
Investigators said they stumbled on the problem during an examination of coverage for AIDS drugs dispensed to Medicare beneficiaries. Sexually transmitted diseases are an increasingly recognized problem among older people.
That earlier investigation raised questions about expensive medications billed on behalf of nearly 1,600 Medicare recipients.
Some had no HIV diagnosis in their records, but they were prescribed the drugs anyway. Others were receiving excessively large supplies of medications. Several were getting prescriptions filled from an unusually large number of pharmacies.
Prescription drug fraud has many angles. When the high price of a drug puts it out of reach for certain patients, it can create an underground market. And some medications, like painkillers and anti-anxiety pills, are constantly sought after by people with substance-abuse issues.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A terminally ill woman who expects to take her own life under Oregon's assisted-suicide law says she is feeling well enough to possibly postpone the day she had planned to die.
Brittany Maynard said in early October she expected to kill herself Nov. 1, less than three weeks before her 30th birthday. She emphasized that she wasn't suicidal, but wanted to die on her own terms and reserved the right to move the date forward or push it back.
While she hasn't completely ruled Saturday out, Maynard says in a new video she feels she has some more of her life to live.
"I still feel good enough, and I still have enough joy — and I still laugh and smile with my friends and my family enough — that it doesn't seem like the right time right now," she says in the video.
"But it will come because I feel myself getting sicker. It's happening each week."
Maynard said she was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer earlier this year. Because her home state of California does not have an aid-in-dying law, she moved to Portland and has become an advocate for getting such laws passed in other states.
Maynard's story, accompanied by photos from her pre-illness wedding day, broke hearts across the globe while igniting a national debate on the issue of physician-assisted suicide.
One opponent is Philip Johnson, a 30-year-old Catholic seminarian from the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. He, like Maynard, has inoperable brain cancer and is plagued by headaches and seizures.
After learning of learning of Maynard's choice, he wrote an article explaining his view that "suffering is not worthless," and it's up to God to take life.
"There is a card on Brittany's website asking for signatures 'to support her bravery in this very tough time,'" Johnson wrote on the diocese website. "I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave. I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide."
Oregon was the first U.S. state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request. The patient must swallow the drug without help; it is illegal for a doctor to administer it.
Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity Act in 1994, then reaffirmed it — 60 percent to 40 percent — in 1997. It took more than a decade for another state to join Oregon, but four other states now have such laws.
More than 750 people in Oregon used the law to die as of Dec. 31, 2013, most of them elderly.