Nation & World briefs: 1-1-18

Perils abroad, full plate at home, as Trump opens 2nd year

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The glamour of his holiday break behind him, President Donald Trump is returning to Washington to face a hefty legislative to-do list, critical midterm elections and perilous threats abroad.

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Trump is starting his second year in office after a lengthy sojourn at his private Palm Beach club, capped by a New Year’s Eve bash. Before his departure, he fired angry tweets at Iran and Pakistan, slamming Islamabad for “lies & deceit” and saying the country had played U.S. leaders for “fools,” a reference to frustrations that Pakistan isn’t doing enough to control militants.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted that his government was preparing a response that “will let the world know the truth.”

Meantime North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a future threat. To that, Trump only said: “We’ll see.”

The president is hoping for more legislative achievements after his pre-Christmas success on taxes. He plans to host Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at Camp David next weekend to map out the 2018 legislative agenda.

Iran protests have violent night; at least 12 dead overall

TEHRAN, Iran — Protests across Iran saw their most violent night as “armed protesters” tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10 people, Iranian state television said Monday.

Later in the day, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three other officers during a demonstration in the central city of Najafabad, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran.

It was the first report of a police officer dying during five days of unrest and raised the death toll to at least 13.

The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, began Thursday in Mashhad over economic issues and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It said 10 people were killed by security forces during clashes Sunday night killed.

Chicago sees drop in homicides, shootings in 2017

CHICAGO — Chicago ended 2017 with fewer homicides than the year before, but gang violence in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods kept the total number of killings above the 600 mark for only the second time in more than a decade.

The Chicago Police Department released statistics Monday that show the number of homicides fell from 771 in 2016 to 650 last year. The number of shootings dropped from 3,550 to 2,785 during the same period.

Although the drops were significant, the homicide total in a repeat of 2016 eclipsed the number of killings in New York City and Los Angeles combined.

“You still have to start with the fact that 600 people dead in Chicago is a hell of a lot of people to be dead in one year,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, whose church is in one of the most violent neighborhoods on the city’s West Side.

Still, the drops — and the reasons behind the lower numbers — have police and others optimistic that some of their efforts will lead to more declines over the next year. Chief among those efforts will be the expansion of the high-tech strategies and equipment to fight crime, including devices that pinpoint where gunshots are fired.

2018 starts with record cold in parts of the Midwest

MILWAUKEE — Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the central U.S. as 2018 began Monday, breaking century-old records, icing over some New Year’s celebrations and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana and Wyoming through New England. Dangerously low temperatures enveloped much of the Midwest, yet didn’t deter hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan.

Despite sub-freezing temperatures and a warning of potential hypothermia from the local fire chief, throngs of people took part in the annual tradition in Milwaukee, warming up later with chili or heat from a beach fire pit.

A similar event was canceled from the Chicago lakefront, where the temperature dipped below zero as thick white steam rose from the lake Monday morning. Organizers said the arctic blast made jumping into the lake too dangerous.

“I’m not happy about it. But I was down by the lake and, gosh, if you were dropped in there, it’d take you 10 minutes to get out,” Jeff Coggins, who helped organize the thwarted Chicago event, told WBBM-TV.

Families from Florida, NY die in Costa Rica plane crash

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rican investigators are looking into what caused a charter aircraft to crash in woods in the country’s northwest soon after takeoff, killing two crewmembers and 10 U.S. citizens, including families from New York and Florida.

The families from the New York City suburb of Scarsdale and from Belleair, Florida, accounted for nine of the dead and were part of a tour organized by Berkeley, California-based Backroads. Their American guide was the 10th U.S. victim.

Costa Rican officials had said they were still seeking to establish the names of the Americans who died when the Nature Air plane went down at midday Sunday in Guanacaste.

But back at home, stunned family and friends began to confirm the victims’ identities.

A family in the suburbs of New York City said five of the dead were relatives on vacation. They identified them as Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary, all of Scarsdale.

Feds employ data-driven early warning system in opioid fight

PITTSBURGH — The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.

Patients would travel hundreds of miles to see Dr. Andrzej Zielke, eager for what authorities described as a steady flow of prescriptions for the kinds of powerful painkillers that ushered the nation into its worst drug crisis in history.

At least one of Zielke’s patients died of an overdose, and prosecutors say others became so dependent on oxycodone and other opioids they would crowd his office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room. Some peddled their pills near tumble-down storefronts and on blighted street corners in addiction-plagued parts of Allegheny County, where deaths by drug overdose reached record levels last year.

But Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor, was unaware of Zielke until Justice Department officials handed him a binder of data that, he said, confirmed what pill-seekers from as far away as Ohio and Virginia already knew. The doctor who offered ozone therapy and herbal pain remedies was also prescribing highly addictive narcotics to patients who didn’t need them, according to an indictment charging him with conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.

Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling AP he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.

In unusual step, victims told of destroyed rape kits

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Veronica was raped more than 13 years ago, she says neither the police nor the hospital staff believed her story that a longtime friend attacked her while his mother was in the next room.

“I was treated like a female crying wolf,” said Veronica, who says the man raped her while she was unconscious. She believes he drugged her drink.

She was surprised, earlier this year, when she got a call from the initial investigating officer, John Somerindyke, who apologized for how she was treated and for something that Veronica didn’t yet know: Her rape kit was among 333 kits that Fayetteville police had thrown away.

Years after the kits were discarded, Fayetteville police began working with a crisis group to call the victims and tell them what happened.

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The Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to end the backlogs, says Fayetteville police may stand alone in the effort to contact survivors about trashed rape kits. “I don’t know of any others that have taken it on like Fayetteville has by apologizing to survivors and to communities and trying to do what they can to fix it,” said Ilsa Knecht, director of advocacy and policy for the foundation, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay.

By wire sources