WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will provide $46 million in new security assistance to the Ukraine's military but stop short of fulfilling an urgent request from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for lethal aid to help his country fight Russian-backed separatists.
Poroshenko pleaded his case during remarks Thursday to a rare joint meeting of Congress. While he thanked the U.S. for the nonlethal equipment it is providing his country's beleaguered military, he said more was needed to stop provocations near the Russian border.
"Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket," he said during a 40-minute address that was repeatedly interrupted by applause from lawmakers.
Hours later, Poroshenko arrived at the White House for discussions with President Barack Obama, a meeting meant to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the West's support for Ukraine.
"The picture of President Poroshenko sitting in the Oval Office will be worth at least a thousand words — both in English and Russian," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Ukraine and Kremlin-backed separatists have been locked in a months-long fight for control of eastern Ukrainian cities that sit on Russia's border, aggression that followed Russia's annexation of the strategically important Crimean Peninsula.
Ahead of Thursday's White House meeting, U.S. officials said Obama would announce a security assistance packages that will provide Ukrainian forces with countermortar radar to help detect incoming artillery fire. The U.S. also will provide vehicles and patrol boats, body armor and heavy engineering equipment.
Despite some support for Poroshenko's request within the Obama administration, officials said the president continues to oppose lethal assistance and does not envision directly arming the Ukrainian military as an effective way to end the conflict.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also pressed Obama to ramp up military aid to Ukraine. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was expected to vote Thursday afternoon on bipartisan legislation that would increase military and nonmilitary assistance, as well as impose broad sanctions on Russia's defense, energy and financial sectors.
"President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations," the committee's chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said. "In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. We are left with no choice but to apply tough sanctions against Russia, coupled with military assistance to Ukraine."
The legislation would authorize $350 million in fiscal 2015 for military assistance, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, ammunition, counter-artillery radars and surveillance drones.
The U.S. and Western allies have condemned Russia's provocations in Ukraine, levying a series of economic sanctions and restricting Putin's involvement in some international organizations. But the penalties have done little to shift Putin's calculus. In recent weeks, the West has accused Russia of moving troops and equipment across its border with Ukraine, though the Kremlin denies such involvement.
Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists inked a cease-fire agreement Sept. 5, though the deal has been violated repeatedly. On Wednesday, shelling in rebel-held parts of the east killed at least 12 civilians, as a top leader of pro-Russian rebels rejected Ukrainian legislation meant to end the unrest by granting self-rule to large swaths of the east.
Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman, won Ukraine's presidential election in May after his country's Russian-backed leader fled amid popular protests. Western leaders have praised Poroshenko's commitment to reform, and Obama will press him Thursday for more aggressive political and economic actions that can stabilize the fragile nation.
At the heart of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is the former Soviet republic's desire to strengthen ties with Europe. Poroshenko has only deepened those efforts, making a high-profile appearance at the NATO summit this month and overseeing the backing of a deal this week to strengthen economic and political ties with Europe.
The deal lowers trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine, requires Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards and forces the Kiev government to undertake major political and economic reforms.
Following a vote by Ukrainian lawmakers, Poroshenko called the deal "a first but very decisive step" toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Shoppers crowded the streets and markets of Sierra Leone's capital Thursday, stocking up for a three-day shutdown when volunteers will identify people infected with Ebola and hand out 1.5 million bars of soap, as authorities struggle to slow an accelerating outbreak.
The outbreak sweeping West Africa has also touched Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, and is believed to have sickened more than 5,300, according to figures released by the World Health Organization on Thursday. In a sign that the outbreak is picking up steam, more than 700 of those cases were recorded in the last week for which data is available.
The disease is now estimated to have killed more than 2,600 people; most deaths have been in Liberia. But the World Health Organization has said that the official toll is probably a gross underestimate and that most patients are at home — and infecting others in the community — not in treatment centers.
The U.N. Security Council will discuss the Ebola threat later Thursday.
In an attempt to slow the outbreak and identify the sick in hiding, Sierra Leone's 6 million people must stay home starting Thursday at midnight, except for thousands of volunteers who will go house-to-house delivering bars of soap and information about how to prevent Ebola. More than six months into the world's largest Ebola outbreak, there are still affected areas without access to water or soap, WHO said Thursday.
Authorities have said they also expect to discover hundreds of new cases during the Friday, Saturday and Sunday exercise. Many people during this outbreak have not sought treatment for Ebola out of fear that hospitals are merely places people go to die. Still others have been turned away by centers overwhelmed by the increasing number of patients.
Sierra Leone's government says it has prepared screening and treatment centers to accept the expected influx of patients after the shutdown.
As shoppers rushed to buy last-minute items, some merchants worried about how they would feed their own families after losing three days' worth of income. Much of Sierra Leone's population lives on $2 a day or less, and making ends meet is a day-to-day struggle.
"If we do not sell here we cannot eat," said Isatu Sesay, a vegetable seller in the capital. "We do not know how we will survive during the three-day shutdown."
The outbreak is overwhelming the resources deployed to fight it. Sierra Leone and Liberia have only about 20 percent of the beds they need to treat patients.
In recent weeks, several countries have promised aid. France announced Thursday that it will set up a military hospital in Guinea in the coming days. The United States plans to send 3,000 military personnel to the region and build more than a dozen treatment centers in Liberia. Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams has arrived in Monrovia to set up a command center for the operation.
Ebola, which is spread through the bodily fluids of those who have symptoms or of the dead, puts health workers at a particularly high risk. Some 318 have become infected, with about half of them dying.
A French nurse for Doctors Without Borders who became infected in Liberia was being flown to Paris on Thursday.
With no licensed treatment for Ebola, public health experts have kept the focus on isolating the sick and tracking down anyone those infected have come into contact with. In past outbreaks, stopping the chain of transmission has been crucial to defeating the disease, but the current outbreak has ballooned out of control, leading to more stringent measures including travel restrictions, the cordoning off of entire communities and now Sierra Leone's nationwide lockdown.
Confusion and fear about the disease and anger over some of these measures has occasionally sparked unrest. In Guinea this week, a team that was doing disinfection and education on prevention methods was attacked. A group of young people set upon the team in a village in the country's southeast, the epicenter of the disease, and they have been missing since, a local government official said.
Though there is no recognized treatment for Ebola, doctors have been testing out experimental ones in this outbreak. For instance, some patients have been given the blood of Ebola survivors, a measure some scientists think can help patients fight off the virus.
British nurse William Pooley, who was infected while working in Sierra Leone and has since recovered, has flown to the United States to donate his blood to an American patient, according to the Foreign Office. It was not disclosed which American patient would be receiving blood from Pooley.
Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London; Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal; Nicolas Garriga and Sylvie Corbet in Paris; and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.
BELL, Fla. (AP) — A man killed six of his grandchildren, his adult daughter and himself in a shooting at a home in a small town in North Florida Thursday, a sheriff said.
Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz at a news conference identified the man as 51-year-old Don Spirit. He said the children ranged in age from 3 months to 10 years old. He would not say if the woman killed was the mother of any of the children, some of whom lived at the home.
Schultz said a deputy who arrived on a report of a shooting Thursday afternoon made contact with Spirit who then committed suicide. Authorities then found the other seven bodies.
Schultz said Spirit was the only suspect and that some people were left alive at the home. Schultz also said Spirit had a criminal history. According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, Spirit was released from prison in February 2006 for a gun charge.
He would not identify those killed because relatives hadn't all been notified. He also wouldn't say what weapon was used and didn't have a motive.
"There are certain things in life you can explain. And there are certain things you cannot explain. This is something I cannot explain," Schultz told The Gainesville Sun.
A photo on The Sun's website shows several police vehicles on a rural road. A sheriff's deputy was keeping people away behind police tape.
Bell is a town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Greg Mortenson doesn't want to talk about his best-selling "Three Cups of Tea" book, but everybody else does — including his own charity.
Three years ago, "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer alleged that Mortenson fabricated much of the book and mismanaged the charity he co-founded, Central Asia Institute. The allegations pushed Mortenson to lock himself in his bedroom. He fought off depression and eventually underwent heart surgery. The Central Asia Institute lost most of its donors, with contributions plummeting from a high of about $22 million in 2010 to $2.7 million last year.
The organization's new leaders have slashed the budget and cut school construction programs, but they still had to borrow from savings to meet expenses. Board chairman Steve Barrett is worried about the organization's long-term financial health.
So Barrett and the other board members are calling on Mortenson to help reverse the skid by appearing in promotional videos and resuming the speaking engagements he put on hold in 2011. Mortenson, who said he's feels healthier than he has in 18 years, has reluctantly agreed.
"There's a lot of pressure on me to go out and start talking to the public and the media, which I was reluctant to do. Not only because things kind of quieted down and I'm kind of liking my life, but I also don't want to have to open up all these cans of worms again," he told The Associated Press in an interview at his Bozeman home on Tuesday.
"I feel like a criminal coming back," he added.
He knows the questions that will dog him. Did he make up the story about how he decided to devote his life to building schools? Was he really kidnapped by the Taliban when visiting a remote part of northwestern Pakistan? Did he lie to sell books?
Mortenson doesn't relish the prospect of having to answer those questions, but that's exactly what Central Asia Institute wants. The organization wants Mortenson to tell his side of the story in hopes that it can move past the "60 Minutes" piece and get back to educating children.
Krakauer told the AP Wednesday that Mortenson must come clean before the public will forgive him. He believes that Central Asia Institute will not prosper as long as Mortenson is its public face.
"Greg needs to go, right now," Krakauer said. "Until Greg is gone, there is no hope for having an honest organization."
Barrett, for his part, said Mortenson must be involved in any effort to bring the institute back to financial stability.
"Greg is recognizable, he commands an audience and people want to hear what happened," Barrett said. "People are going to be wondering, so he has to be a part of it."
It's a risky gambit, and Mortenson is not sure if the public will give him a second chance. But he said the Central Asia Institute is doing good work by supporting the education of children, especially girls, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and it's up to him to raise funds to make sure it can continue.
"You wish the past could just be done with, but there are still a lot of questions. So I'd like to answer those questions (and) let the public decide, but then let me move on and help those girls and kids overseas," Mortenson said.
Mortenson apologized for letting people down. He insists the stories in "Three Cups of Tea" are true, though he has changed the telling of some of them since they were published. He also disputes the Montana attorney general's findings that he enriched himself by taking charter flights on Central Asia Institute's dime, and by keeping all the speakers' fees and the royalties from books the organization bought and gave away.
An attorney general's investigation resulted in Mortenson reimbursing the organization more than $1.1 million, removing him from any financial decisions and making wholesale changes to the organization's leadership.
Mortenson said he plans to eventually leave the organization. First, he wants to help raise contributions so they match expenses. Then, he wants to see the graduation of the first wave of girls who entered Central Asia Institute's schools built in Afghanistan about a decade ago.
He still is the highest-paid employee of Central Asia Institute, drawing $169,000 in salaries and benefits last year.
If he left Central Asia Institute, Mortenson said he would go on a long trip overseas before pursuing new projects advocating for girls' education. He said he has been quietly helping groups working in Uganda and South Sudan.
He also has not shelved his writing career. He said he has written enough during the past two years to have material for three books, all about empowering girls and women. But he said he is under pressure to write a book in response to 60 Minutes and Krakauer.
He said he won't do it.
"Some people like to make themselves look good by making others look bad. It's not in my nature to make others look bad,' he said.
ATLANTA (AP) — An uptick in Georgia's unemployment rate overtook education as the top issue in the governor's race Thursday, as Democratic candidate Jason Carter seized on the opportunity to blame Gov. Nathan Deal while the Republican incumbent questioned the federal statistics used to develop the number.
Georgia's Department of Labor reported the employment rate had increased in August to 8.1 percent — up from 7.7 percent in July and close to the 8.2 percent rate reported last year. August is the fourth month in a row with reported increases in the unemployment rate.
Education and the economy have dominated the campaign, with Carter arguing that Deal has harmed the economy with cuts to schools and higher education and Deal pointing to job growth while maintaining that he protected education from steeper cuts than other areas of government.
Deal told reporters that the unemployment rate reported Thursday doesn't square with other measures of the state economy, including the number of jobs counted in Georgia rising to its highest level since June 2008 and a drop in initial unemployment applications. Holding up a spreadsheet, he said almost all states led by Republican governors — colored red— had increased unemployment rates and Democrat-led states —colored blue — had lower rates.
"Now I don't know how you account for that, maybe there is some influence here that we don't know about," Deal said. "But when you say that California is in a better position in terms of unemployment than the state of Georgia, there is something that just doesn't ring true about those numbers."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics generates local unemployment rates by using household surveys and modeling, and sometimes revises initial rates after more study. Georgia's July unemployment rate, for example, was revised down slightly from 7.8 percent to 7.7 percent. The agency is scheduled to release rates for all states on Friday.
Carter called the unemployment rate "disturbing" economic news and told reporters that Deal is making excuses to cover fundamental problems in the state. He blamed cuts to the state's technical college system in part for the unemployment figures and said higher investment in education will have long-term impact on Georgia's economy.
He acknowledged those results can take time. However, he said that lag shouldn't be a reason for staying the same but "an argument for why we have to change now."
"The disinvestment from our children and from our people is now evident," Carter said. "We are reaping what we have sown in this state."
Economists and other experts vary on how much stock to place in the unemployment rate. Some argue it can be valuable when used in combination with other measures. For Wesley Tharpe, a tax and economic policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, four months of increasing unemployment is hard to discount.
"There is always some variability in month to month numbers that sometimes get changed later on," Tharpe said. "The fact it continues to go up month to month when the national economy is recovering is very worrisome."
Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, said unemployment rates don't give an accurate snapshot of economic health, and the state appears to be doing better economically than the unemployment rate alone might suggest. Dhawan, who does a monthly forecast for the state's economy, said sales and income taxes and job growth are more reliable measures and called the unemployment rate is a "problematic statistic."
"It's what I call my triangle of money," he said. "If jobs are being created, sooner or later that money shows up."
BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group on Thursday released a video showing a British journalist who says he is a prisoner of the extremists.
In a slick, three-minute video shot with three cameras, John Cantlie, a photojournalist, said he worked for publications including The Sunday Times, The Sun and The Sunday Telegraph and came to Syria in November 2012 where he was subsequently captured by the Islamic State group.
The group which now controls roughly a third of Syria and Iraq has beheaded two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, and has threatened to kill another British hostage.
The British government declined to comment on the video.
In Copenhagen, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the Islamic State group "is not just a threat to the stability of the Middle East region but to all of us in our homelands."
Asked about the video, he told reporters that he had heard about it but has not yet seen it.
"Obviously we'll look very closely at any material that's been released on the Internet," he said, declining further comment.
The just over three-minute long clip released Thursday by the Islamic State group's media arm, Al-Furqan, was different than previous videos.
Entitled "Lend me Your ears," it is previewed as the first in a series of lecture-like "programs" in which Cantlie says he will reveal "the truth" about the Islamic State group.
Wearing an orange T-shirt and sitting behind a desk, he criticized the war on the Islamic State group and said he and other British and U.S. hostages have been abandoned by their governments. Cantlie's name has not been mentioned among foreign hostages held by the group.
He was briefly held up by Islamic extremists along with a Dutch photographer in Syria in July 2012.
No Islamic State fighters appear in the video, which was posted online by users associated with the Islamic state group and reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism watchdog.
In addition to beheaded U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines, the Islamic State group has threatened to kill Alan Henning, a British former taxi driver who was taken captive in December shortly after joining an aid convoy and crossing the border from Turkey into Syria.
Associated Press writers Jan Olsen in Copenhagen and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.