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Associated Press

Posted on February 2, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Updated Sunday, Feb 2 at 12:00 PM

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Despite safety emphasis, school shootings continue

WASHINGTON (AP) — There's been no real reduction in the number of U.S. school shootings despite increased security put in place after the rampage at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, Colorado and Tennessee, and elsewhere, gunfire has echoed through school hallways, and killed students or their teachers in some cases.

An Associated Press analysis finds that there have been at least 11 shootings this school year alone.

Experts say the rate of school shootings is statistically unchanged since the mid- to late-1990s, but still remains troubling.

LOUD MUSIC KILLING

NEW: Echoes of Zimmerman expected in Fla. trial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A white software developer is about to go on trial in Florida in the death of a black teenager — in a case that raises comparisons to the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of 47-year-old Michael Dunn.

Police say Dunn fatally shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis in 2012 outside a Jacksonville convenience store after arguing over loud music that Davis and his friends were playing from their SUV.

Dunn says he fired multiple shots into the SUV after the teens threatened him and one raised a shotgun. Dunn was arrested the next day.

Zimmerman, a Hispanic, was acquitted of second-degree murder last year in the death of Martin, a 17-year-old black teen.

CHRISTIE-TRAFFIC JAMS

NEW: Big-name Republicans defend NJ Gov. Christie

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Big-name Republicans are standing behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie days after a former loyalist said evidence exists that Christie knew about a politically motivated traffic jam last year even as it happened.

Christie has denied that claim and said he learned about the jam ordered by one of his aides only after it was over.

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein hasn't detailed the evidence.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says "nothing has been proven." The 2012 vice presidential candidate appeared Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

On other news talk shows, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said there was no reason for Christie to step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

SUPER BOWL-SUSPICIOUS POWDER

NYPD top cop: NYC mayor sent suspicious letter

NEW YORK (AP) — A suspicious letter was sent to New York City's mayor on the same day that suspicious powder was sent to at least five hotels near the site of the Super Bowl.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told the Daily News on Saturday the letter sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio (dih BLAH'-zee-oh) Friday was harmless. Police say the letter contained no powder.

It wasn't immediately clear where the letter was sent or who received it. The mayor's office didn't respond to a request for comment.

Bratton says it arrived the same day suspicious powder was mailed to at least five New Jersey hotels near the site of the Super Bowl and to the Manhattan office of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Authorities are still testing those substances but have said they don't appear to be dangerous.

MITT ROMNEY-SOCHI

Mitt Romney: Sochi Olympics will be safe

NEW YORK (AP) — Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes the 2014 Sochi Olympics should be safe, despite threats of terrorism in Russia.

Romney headed up the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and says security appears to be far more intense for the Sochi games.

He says that there's "no such thing as 100 percent security anywhere in the world," but that there will be "very adequate security" at Sochi.

He says the presence of security only goes so far, and that intelligence gathering is what helps protect events.

Romney made the comments on the red carpet for the NFL Honors, where he praised the event that includes seven AP sports awards.

SYRIA

UPDATE: Activists: More barrel bombs dropped; car bombs kill al-Qaida rival

BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say Syrian "barrel bombs" have buried people underneath rubble in four different areas of Aleppo. They say one bombing killed 10 people in one rebel-held neighborhood.

Activists also say a twin car bombing in the city killed a senior leader in an Islamic brigade opposed to al-Qaida, an attack that's likely to further exacerbate infighting among rebel groups.

KENYA-VIOLENCE

NEW: Riot outside Kenyan mosque linked to terrorists

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Police in Kenya have opened fire on Muslim youths wielding daggers at a mosque linked to recruiting Islamic extremists. Police say they raided the mosque in the port city of Mombasa because of intelligence that a meeting to recruit militants was going on. Witnesses and officials say at least one officer and a youth were killed.

AFGHANISTAN-PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Afghan presidential election campaign kicks off

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Campaigning is officially underway for Afghanistan's presidential election, with 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai.

The April 5 presidential vote will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable political transition as NATO combat forces ready their withdrawal after nearly 13 years of war.

The election faces many hurdles: allegations of vote-rigging marred the 2009 election and security is a major concern.

The specter of violence hangs over the campaign, with the Taliban vowing to disrupt the poll. On the eve of the campaign launch, two political workers were killed in western Afghanistan.

Early Saturday, Kabul was dotted with billboards and posters for the candidates.

Several political heavyweights — including Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani — held rallies to mark the campaign's first day.

UKRAINE-PROTESTS

Ukrainian president to end sick leave Monday

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The website of Ukraine's beleaguered President Viktor Yanukovych says he is to return to work on Monday from a short sick leave.

The announcement last Thursday that Yanukovych was on sick leave due to an acute respiratory illness raised concerns that he may have been taking himself out of action in preparation for declaring a state of emergency as the country's political crisis heads into its third month.

Protesters seeking Yanukovych's resignation held one of their largest gatherings in recent weeks on Sunday, with about 30,000 people assembling at the main protest site in Kiev's central square.

SWEDEN-PLANE INCIDENT

Man tried entering cockpit on flight from Dubai

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Police at Arlanda airport in Stockholm have detained a man who tried to enter the cockpit on a flight from Dubai to Stockholm.

Police spokesman Albin Naverberg says crew onboard handcuffed the man during the flight Sunday and handed him over to police when the plane landed in Stockholm.

Henrik Kelfve, spokesman for airport operator Swedavia, says the man tried to enter the cockpit on the Emirates' flight.

Naverberg says police detained him on suspicion of preparing aircraft sabotage after interviewing the plane's crew.

Swedish tabloid Expressen reported the man had been running through the plane, screaming he had a bomb, about an hour after the departure from Dubai. Naverberg said police had no details of any explosives and declined to comment further.

EUROPE-WEATHER

Bad weather causing travel chaos in the Balkans

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Tens of thousands of people are without electricity in Slovenia and Croatia after icy rain and sleet caused major disruption in the supply, as hundreds of motorists were evacuated overnight from their vehicles in Serbia where massive snow drifts have caused widespread travel chaos.

Authorities in Slovenia say the worst hit is the country's west. Several roads have been blocked.

In neighboring Croatia, freezing rain has also closed roads and shut the railway traffic in the northwest.

In Serbia, meanwhile, authorities used diggers to clear roads and evacuate several hundred people from snow drifts formed by strong winds in the north.

GROUNDHOG DAY

Handlers: Punxsutawney Phil predicts longer winter

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) — The handlers for groundhog Punxsutawney Phil say he's forecasting six more weeks of what already has felt like a brutally long and cold winter.

Pennsylvania's famed groundhog emerged from his lair in front of thousands of fans around daybreak Sunday.

Legend has it that if the furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another month-and-a-half. If he doesn't see it, spring will come early.

But the National Climatic Data Center says we shouldn't put much stock in Punxsutawney Phil's prediction. It says a groundhog's shadow isn't reliable "as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States." I

In reality, Phil's prediction is decided ahead of time by a group called the Inner Circle, whose members don top hats and tuxedos for the ceremony on Groundhog Day each year.

Phil is the most famous of a small group of groundhogs said to forecast the weather, including Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta.

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