TIME Education

Processing Issue Delays Bar Exam Submissions

(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — Law school graduates sweated their way through the second and final day of their bar exams Wednesday, some relieved to see paper and pencil after running into a technical glitch that kept test takers in several states from uploading the first day’s answers from their computers.

The Florida-based software provider ExamSoft Worldwide Inc. said the processing problem created a six-hour backlog that had been cleared by early Wednesday morning. The cause was being investigated, spokesman Kenneth Knotts said.

After spending a full day Tuesday inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center writing essays and answering multiple-choice questions on her laptop, Julia Pascuzzo of Pittsburgh spent four hours in her hotel room facing error messages while trying to upload her work.

“I thought it was my computer until I finally logged onto Facebook and saw that my colleagues were having the same problem,” the Cornell University graduate said during a break from Wednesday’s testing. “I fell asleep and then at 3 in the morning I woke up with this panic attack and I was able to manually upload it.”

Knotts said the processing problems did not affect the exam takers’ answers. But test takers said it cut into their sleep and the time they had to prepare for day 2.

“It definitely takes away from the relief that you have for finishing — that there still might be more problems,” said Will VanDerlinder of Elmira, who tried for two hours to submit the exam.

Knotts said he couldn’t say what time the delays began or how many people were affected. The company, which administers bar exams in 43 states, listed 16 states that extended their deadlines for submitting the exams.

“We understand that is a stressful time for bar exam takers, and their experience last night was unacceptable to us,” ExamSoft said in a website apology. “We will work very hard to repair the trust they have placed in our care.”

John McAlary, executive director of the New York State Board of Law Examiners, said about 90 percent of the more than 10,000 test takers in his state had been able to upload their results by Wednesday morning. New York extended the deadline from 8:30 p.m. Wednesday until midnight and was prepared to extend it further if necessary, he said.

“It’s the most important exam they’re taking in their life and any little bump in their view is significant,” McAlary said.

“It’s a pressure cooker under the best of circumstances and no one wants to have anything enhance the pressure,” said Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. “I know that there will be a lot of investigation following this to see what happened and make sure it never happens again.”

Test takers pay $100 to $150 to download the company’s application to their laptops, which they bring to test sites. Users are instructed to connect to the Internet and upload the file upon leaving.

With Minnesota’s 9 p.m. Tuesday submission deadline looming, Maggie Watson took screenshots of the upload failures and sent copies of fail-to-upload emails to the state bar examiner after repeated tries.

“Once I did that four, five, six times, I thought, ‘What’s going on?'” said Watson, who graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington and took the exam in St. Paul. The deadline was extended after it passed, she said.

“It seemed a little crazy,” said Meredith Schlacter, who graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and flew to Buffalo for the exam. “There’s one program that every state uses — they had to have anticipated that thousands of people would be using it at the same time.”

Several exam takers said they welcomed the bubble sheets, filled in with pencil, for the other half of the test.

“It’s really nice to be able to type your essays. I wouldn’t want to have to handwrite them,” said VanDerlinder, a University at Buffalo graduate, “but the added stress of a tech failure is not good.”

The states extending deadlines were Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Rhode Island.

TIME Economy

Revised Data: U.S. Economy Grew Faster in 2nd Half of 2013

(WASHINGTON) — Fueled by healthier consumer spending, the U.S. economy grew in the second half of last year at the strongest pace in a decade and more than previously estimated, new government data show.

Revised data released Wednesday also suggest a possible factor behind the pickup: Americans saved much more in 2012 than previously thought, leaving more to spend in 2013.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent in last year’s third quarter, up from a previous estimate of 4.1 percent. Growth was 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 2.6 percent. The average 4 percent annual pace was the best six-month showing since 2003.

The government’s newly revised figures show that growth was accelerating before harsh weather in the first quarter contributed to a sharp contraction.

But growth was weaker in 2011 and 2012 than the government had previously estimated, the revisions show. Overall, the growth trend since the Great Recession was little changed by the government’s updates. The new figures show that growth has averaged 2.3 percent at an annual rate from the end of the recession in June 2009 through last year. That’s a scant downgrade from the previous estimate of 2.4 percent.

In 2013 as a whole, the economy expanded 2.2 percent, up from the previous estimate of 1.9 percent. It grew just 2.3 percent in 2012, down from 2.8 percent. And growth in 2011 was marked down to 1.6 percent from 1.8 percent.

The changes stem from a comprehensive revision the government conducts each year to the nation’s gross domestic product data. GDP, the broadest measure of the economy’s output of goods and services, includes everything from restaurant meals to television production to steel manufacturing. Most of the changes were made to the previous three years’ figures.

The revisions are based on updated data from agencies such as the Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service. Many monthly surveys of consumer spending, manufacturing and retail businesses are updated with more comprehensive annual reports.

Newly available tax data showed that Americans earned more than was previously thought in 2012. Personal income, after taxes and adjusted for inflation, grew 3 percent that year, much higher than the previous estimate of 2 percent.

But the bulk of that gain likely went to wealthier Americans. Most of the upward revision resulted from a sharp increase in interest and dividend payments. Business income was also revised higher. Wealthier Americans own the vast majority of stocks and other financial assets.

The higher interest and dividend payments probably included many one-time payments that were made ahead of tax increases that kicked in at the beginning of 2013.

With income much higher, so was savings. The saving rate was revised to 7.2 percent in 2012, up from the previous estimate of 5.6 percent. Americans also saved more in 2011 and 2013. Though more savings can slow growth in the short run, it can lay a foundation for faster growth in the future.

TIME India

About 150 May Be Trapped in Landslide in India

A landslide hit the village of Ambe in Pune district, Maharashtra state, and buried about 40 houses

(NEW DELHI) — A landslide hit a village in western India following torrential rains Wednesday, sweeping away scores of houses and burying more than 150 people, an official said.

Federal rescue workers were being hampered by continuing rains and poor roads leading to the village of Ambe in Pune district in Maharashtra state, where the landslide buried about 40 houses, said local commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh.

“There are constraints. It’s a hilly area and heavy rains are still continuing,” Deshmukh told CNN-IBN.

Residents began the work of clearing the debris, he added.

Landslides are common in the area during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September.

The Pune district about is 151 kilometers (94 miles) southeast of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The nearest medical center is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the village.

TIME Gaza

15 Killed at Gaza U.N. School; Israel Holds Fire

Palestinians collect human remains from a classroom inside a UN school in the Jabalia refugee camp after the area was hit by shelling on July 30, 2014.
Palestinians collect human remains from a classroom inside a UN school in the Jabalia refugee camp after the area was hit by shelling on July 30, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

Israeli tank shells hit a U.N. school in Gaza, where hundreds of Palestinians sought refuge, leaving 15 dead and 90 injured

Update: July 30, 8:26 a.m. ET

(JEBALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip) — Israeli tank shells slammed into a crowded U.N. school sheltering Gazans displaced by fighting on Wednesday, killing 15 and wounding 90 after tearing through the walls of two classrooms, a spokesman for a U.N. aid agency and a health official said.

The Israeli military said mortar shells had been fired from near the school, and that soldiers fired back.

Later Wednesday, the Israeli military declared a four-hour humanitarian cease-fire in parts of Gaza beginning at 3:00 p.m. Hamas had no immediate comment.

Israeli airstrikes and shelling also killed 40 Palestinians elsewhere in the coastal territory on Wednesday, including multiple members of two families struck in their homes, health officials said.

The new violence further dimmed hopes of a cease-fire.

The strike at the U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp came as part of Israel’s heaviest air and artillery assault in more than three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting.

The Israeli campaign escalated on Tuesday, with airstrikes destroying key symbols of Hamas power, including the home of the top Hamas leader. Gaza’s only power plant was shut down after shells set its fuel tank on fire.

On Wednesday, Israeli aircraft struck dozens of Gaza sites, including five mosques it said were being used by militants, while several other areas came under tank fire.

In Jebaliya, tank shells hit the U.N. school before dawn, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. The agency is sheltering more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting at dozens of U.N. schools across the coastal strip.

Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night.

“We were scared to death,” he said. “After 4:30 a.m., tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school.”

“One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside,” he said.

In one classroom, the front wall was blown out, leaving debris and bloodied clothing. Another strike tore a large round hole into the ceiling of a second-floor classroom. The wall of the lavatories was also damaged.

The Israeli military said it fired after its soldiers were targeted by mortars operating from the vicinity of the school.

“In response, soldiers fired toward the origins of fire. And we’re still reviewing the incident,” the military said in a statement.

About two hours after the strike, hundreds of people still crowded the school courtyard, some dazed, others wailing.

Aishe Abu Darabeh, 56, sat on the ground with her relatives.

“Where will we go?” she asked. “Where will we go next? We fled and they (the Israelis) are following us.”

Four of the dead were killed just outside the school compound, two in their home nearby and two in the street, after returning from pre-dawn prayers, their relatives said.

The bodies of two members of the al-Najar family, 56-year-old Shaher and his 41-year-old brother, Bassem, were laid out in one of the rooms of their small home, surrounded by wailing relatives. Outside the gate, another relative held on to his crying son, hugging him tight and saying: “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

Palestinian civilians wounded during Israeli shelling in a UN school wait at the Kamal Awdan hospital in Beit Lahia on July 30, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

Abu Hasna, the U.N. agency spokesman, said the international community must step in.

“It’s the responsibility of the world to tell us what we shall do with more than 200,000 people who are inside our schools, thinking that the U.N. flag will protect them,” he said. “This incident today proves that no place is safe in Gaza.”

Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official, said at least 15 people were killed and about 90 wounded in the school strike.

In all, 55 Palestinians were killed by airstrikes and tank shelling in different areas of Gaza on Wednesday, al-Kidra said.

In the southern town of Khan Younis, 10 members of one family were killed when an airstrike hit a relative’s home where they had sought refuge from the fighting, al-Kidra said.

After the strike, relatives climbed over large piles of debris, surveying shattered windows and demolished walls.

“When the strike happened, I was sleeping, me and my brother and one of my relatives, we were sleeping. And we tried to look through the window to see what happened. But we couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. And when we came down, we saw everything was damaged,” said Mohammed al-Astal, a relative.

In the Gaza City neighborhood of Tufah, shelling killed at last seven members of another family, including four children, said Ayman Sahabani, the head of the emergency room at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The total number of Palestinians killed since the start of fighting July 8 rose to 1,284, al-Kidra said. In addition, more than 7,100 Palestinians have been wounded.

Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians.

Israel has said its Gaza operation is meant to stop Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of Hamas military tunnels used for attacks in Israel.

Gaza militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets toward Israel over the past three weeks, according to the Israeli army.

The Israeli military has said it is hitting targets linked to militants, such as rocket launching sites, weapon depots and Hamas military tunnels. Over the past 23 days, Israeli forces have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to the militants’ ability to launch rockets at Israel, a statement said.

The military has not provided details on strikes in which multiple members of one family were killed. There have been several dozen such strikes, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al- Mezan.

The military says Hamas militants often launch rockets from crowded residential areas, thus endangering nearby civilians. The army says it has also given civilians a chance to leave dangerous areas by sending warnings in phone calls and leaflets.

On Wednesday, aircraft dropped leaflets over Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood. The leaflets urged residents to stay away from Hamas militants and to report possible rocket launches. The leaflet gave a contact phone number and email.

“The Israeli Defense Forces are going into a new phase in the coming operation and does not want to harm civilians,” the leaflet said. “The army is warning residents in the areas where the operation will take place that for your safety, you have to keep away from terrorists and the locations from which they operate.”

Separately, Israeli troops in Gaza’s border areas are searching for Hamas military tunnels used for carrying out attacks in Israel. Israeli leaders have said troops would not leave until all the tunnels have been demolished.

The army said 32 tunnels have so far been located but did not say how many remain. Since Tuesday morning, troops have demolished three more tunnels, a statement said.

__

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

TIME georgia

Last Crew Member of Enola Gay Dies in Georgia

Obit Enola Gay Survivor
Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk, in Stone Mountain, Ga., Aug. 25, 2010. Bita Honarvar—AP

He was 93

(ATLANTA) — The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II and forcing the world into the atomic age, has died in Georgia.

Theodore VanKirk, also known as “Dutch,” died Monday of natural causes at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

VanKirk flew nearly 60 bombing missions, but it was a single mission in the Pacific that secured him a place in history. He was 24 years old when he served as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

He was teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee in Tibbets’ fledgling 509th Composite Bomb Group for Special Mission No. 13.

The mission went perfectly, VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 seconds behind schedule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” fell toward the sleeping city, he and his crewmates hoped to escape with their lives.

They didn’t know whether the bomb would actually work and, if it did, whether its shockwaves would rip their plane to shreds. They counted — one thousand one, one thousand two — reaching the 43 seconds they’d been told it would take for detonation and heard nothing.

“I think everybody in the plane concluded it was a dud. It seemed a lot longer than 43 seconds,” VanKirk recalled.

Then came a bright flash. Then a shockwave. Then another shockwave.

The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima.

Three days after Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The blast and its aftermath claimed 80,000 lives. Six days after the Nagasaki bombing, Japan surrendered.

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly. VanKirk told the AP he thought it was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.

“I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run. There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese,” VanKirk said.

But it also made him wary of war.

“The whole World War II experience shows that wars don’t settle anything. And atomic weapons don’t settle anything,” he said. “I personally think there shouldn’t be any atomic bombs in the world — I’d like to see them all abolished.

“But if anyone has one,” he added, “I want to have one more than my enemy.”

VanKirk stayed on with the military for a year after the war ended. Then he went to school, earned degrees in chemical engineering and signed on with DuPont, where he stayed until he retired in 1985. He later moved from California to the Atlanta area to be near his daughter.

Like many World War II veterans, VanKirk didn’t talk much about his service until much later in his life when he spoke to school groups, his son said.

“I didn’t even find out that he was on that mission until I was 10 years old and read some old news clippings in my grandmother’s attic,” Tom VanKirk told the AP in a phone interview Tuesday.

Instead, he and his three siblings treasured a wonderful father, who was a great mentor and remained active and “sharp as a tack” until the end of his life.

“I know he was recognized as a war hero, but we just knew him as a great father,” Tom VanKirk said.

VanKirk’s military career was chronicled in a 2012 book, “My True Course,” by Suzanne Dietz. VanKirk was energetic, very bright and had a terrific sense of humor, Dietz recalled Tuesday.

Interviewing VanKirk for the book, she said, “was like sitting with your father at the kitchen table listening to him tell stories.”

A funeral service was scheduled for VanKirk on Aug. 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He will be buried in Northumberland next to his wife, who died in 1975. The burial will be private.

TIME Military

Senate Confirms McDonald as VA Secretary

(WASHINGTON) — The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, with a mission to overhaul an agency beleaguered by long veterans’ waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays.

McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati, will replace Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over in May after Eric Shinseki resigned.

McDonald has pledged to transform the VA and promised that “systematic failures” must be addressed. He said improving patient access to health care is a top priority, along with restoring transparency, accountability and integrity to the VA.

The 97-0 vote to confirm McDonald comes as Congress appears poised to approve a $17 billion compromise bill to overhaul the VA.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it was important that Congress act on the reform bill as quickly as possible in order “to give Mr. McDonald and his team the resources they need to ensure American veterans are getting the care we’ve promised them.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said McDonald “has a tough job ahead of him,” but said that if McDonald “is willing to work in a collaborative and open manner with Congress, he will find a constructive partner on this side of the aisle.”

House and Senate negotiators have approved the VA bill, which is intended to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat them, and make it easier to fire executives at VA. The vote by the 28-member conference committee late Monday sends the bill to the full House and Senate, where approval is expected later this week.

The measure includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.

Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the Senate panel, say the bill will require about $12 billion in new spending after accounting for about $5 billion in unspecified spending cuts from the VA’s budget.

Despite the steep cost, Miller said he is confident he can sell the bill to fellow Republicans, including tea party members.

“Taking care of our veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and our members understand that,” Miller said Monday. “The VA has caused this problem and one of the ways that we can help solve it is to give veterans a choice, a choice to stay in the system or a choice to go out of the system” to get government-paid health care from a private doctor.

Pressed on the point by reporters, Miller said there will be “an educational process that will have to take place” before the House votes on the compromise plan later this week. “Obviously some of our members will need a little more educating than others.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp., R-Kan., a tea party favorite and a member of the House veterans panel, said “throwing money at the VA won’t solve their problem,” adding that “a fundamental change in culture and real leadership from the president on down is the only way to provide the quality, timely care our veterans deserve.”

Sanders, for his part, said funding for veterans should be considered as a cost of war, paid for through emergency spending.

“Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who fight our battles,” he said.

Miller and Sanders both predicted passage of the bill by the end of the week, when Congress is set to leave town for a five-week recess.

If approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, the veterans’ bill would be one of the few significant bills signed into law this year.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama welcomes the bipartisan deal as “much-needed reforms that need to be implemented.”

The White House is especially pleased that the bill includes emergency spending “to provide VA the additional resources necessary to deliver timely, high-quality care to veterans through a strengthened VA system,” Earnest said.

The VA has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.

The compromise measure would require the VA to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live at least 40 miles from one of them. Only veterans who are enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away would be eligible to get outside care.

The proposed restrictions are important in controlling costs for the program. Congressional budget analysts had projected that tens of thousands of veterans who currently are not treated by the VA would likely seek VA care if they could see a private doctor paid for by the government.

TIME justice

Jury Awards Ventura $1.8M in Defamation Case

(ST. PAUL, Minn.) — A jury awarded former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura $1.8 million on Tuesday in his lawsuit against the estate of “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle.

On the sixth day of deliberations, the federal jury decided that the 2012 best-selling book defamed Ventura in its description of a bar fight in California in 2006. Kyle wrote that he decked a man whom he later identified as Ventura after the man allegedly said the Navy SEALs “deserve to lose a few.”

Ventura testified that Kyle fabricated the passage about punching him. Kyle said in testimony videotaped before his death last year that his story was accurate.

Legal experts had said Ventura had to clear a high legal bar to win, since as a public figure he had to prove “actual malice.” According to the jury instructions, Ventura had to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that Kyle either knew or believed what he wrote was untrue, or that he harbored serious doubts about its truth.

The jury told the judge Monday that it didn’t believe it could reach a unanimous verdict, but the judge instructed them to continue. On Tuesday, attorneys for both sides agreed that the verdict did not need to be unanimous and would allow a verdict if only eight of 10 jurors agreed.

After finding in favor of Ventura, the jury was also tasked with awarding damages for any harm to his reputation, humiliation and embarrassment. Jurors had to find that Ventura suffered an economic loss as a direct result of Kyle’s statements, or that Kyle used Ventura to profit unjustly.

Neither Ventura nor Chris Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, were in the courtroom for the verdict. Chris Kyle was slain at a Texas gun range last year, so his widow is executor of his estate with control over proceeds from book royalties and movie rights.

In his closing argument, Ventura attorney David Bradley Olsen said he believes Kyle’s estate has earned more than $6 million from the book, and suggested that $5 million to $15 million would be reasonable compensation for what he said was irreparable harm to Ventura’s reputation.

“The verdict will tell the world Chris Kyle’s story was a lie,” Olsen said.

Olsen said Kyle’s claims that Ventura said he hated America, thought the U.S. military was killing innocent civilians in Iraq and that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” had made him a pariah in the community that mattered most to him — the brotherhood of current and former SEALs.

“One-point-five million people have bought the book,” he said. “Millions more heard Fox TV trash Jesse Ventura because of it. And the story went viral on the Internet and will be there forever.”

Defense attorney John Borger had told jurors in his own closing argument that the 11 witnesses presented by the defense “tell a compelling and consistent story” that backed Kyle’s version.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who is not related to the author, told jurors they weren’t charged with determining whether Ventura was punched, but rather whether he was defamed by the remarks Kyle attributed to him.

Chris Kyle, regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history, included a brief account in his book of a confrontation at a bar in Coronado, California, with a man he called “Scruff Face.” In promotional interviews, Kyle identified the man as Ventura, a former SEAL who became a pro wrestler and movie actor before being elected for one term as Minnesota governor in 1998. Ventura was in Coronado for a SEAL reunion and graduation ceremony.

Olsen said inconsistencies in testimony from defense witnesses about what happened the night of Oct. 12, 2006, were so serious that their stories couldn’t be trusted. He also pointed out that people who were with Ventura that night testified that the alleged confrontation never happened. And he said Ventura would never have said any of the remarks attributed to him because he remains proud of his and his parents’ military service.

“The statement is completely out of character for Jesse Ventura. He never said anything like that in his life, and he never will,” he said.

Ventura testified that his income as a television personality fell sharply as job offers dried up in the wake of “American Sniper.” Borger said Ventura’s career as an entertainer was in decline well before that.

TIME Afghanistan

Suicide Bomber Kills Afghan President’s Cousin

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A powerful cousin of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by a suicide bomber hiding explosives in his cap on Tuesday, a provincial official said. It was the latest attack targeting Afghan power brokers and government officials as insurgents and political factions struggle for power ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat forces by the end of this year.

Hashmat Khalil Karzai was a staunch supporter of the president and had played an active role in the campaign to choose his cousin’s successor.

The attacker blew himself up while bowing to kiss Karzai’s hand following morning prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a reception room at the Karzai family home in the southern province of Kandahar, a provincial government spokesman said.

It was similar to the September 2011 killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants.

President Karzai condemned the attack. “Just like all other Afghans who are the daily targets of terrorist attacks, our family too is no exception and as every other Afghan, we too will have to bear it,” he said in a statement.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack, which comes at a sensitive time in Afghanistan as an audit is taking place under international supervision of all 8 million ballots cast last month in the second round of the country’s presidential election. The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles.

Hashmat Karzai was campaign manager for former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is competing against Abdullah Abdullah.

The president, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has appealed for a speedy conclusion to the audit, saying that Afghanistan urgently needs a new leader.

Dawa Khan Minapal, the provincial government spokesman, initially said the explosives were hidden in a turban but later said they were under a cap worn by the bomber. He said one person also was wounded and authorities were investigating how the bomber got the explosives through the security checks at the Karzai home in the district of Karz.

It was not the first time that Karzai’s family members have been targeted. The president’s powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was the head of the provincial council, was slain in his home in the city of Kandahar by his bodyguard in July 2011.

British Ambassador Richard Stagg also expressed condolences to the Karzai family.

Hashmat’s “killers must not be allowed to prevent the desire of ordinary Afghans to see a peaceful political transition based on the votes they cast,” Stagg said in a statement.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

PLO Offers 24-Hour Truce, Says It Speaks for Hamas

(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — A senior PLO official has called for a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza war, saying he is also speaking in the name of Hamas.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Tuesday that Israel must bear the consequences if it rejects this call.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the offer.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev brushed aside the offer. He says that until Israel hears from Hamas directly, “it’s not serious.”

TIME Mexico

Strong Quake Shakes Mexico’s Gulf Coast

(MEXICO CITY) — A strong earthquake shook much of eastern Mexico on Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.3 quake was centered in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, about 260 miles (418 kilometers) east-southeast of Mexico City. The epicenter was relatively deep, 59 miles (95 kilometers) below the surface.

State Gov. Javier Duarte issued a Twitter post saying there were no reports of damage yet, though local news media said the 5:46 a.m. (6:46 a.m. EDT; 1046 GMT) quake was felt strongly.

It rocked buildings at least as far away as Mexico City.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser