Archive | September, 2009

Dublin: Thousands March In Protest Against Proposed Wideranging Government Cuts

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

Thousands of community workers, employers and activists took to the streets of Dublin

The Communities against Cuts campaign said an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people marched from Parnell Square to Molesworth Street before holding a rally outside the Dáil.

Women’s groups from Donegal, Roscommon, Mayo and Clare waved placards alongside Dublin Port workers and Trócaire supporters.

The campaign represents thousands of workers providing services to children, the elderly, disabled, recovering drug addicts, Travellers, young people and women in disadvantaged areas.

Campaign chairman David Connolly said Government cutbacks had already seen the closure of community development projects and the McCarthy report proposals, if implemented, would result in the loss of a further 6,500 jobs in the community sector.

The crowd chanted "bankers play while communities play" and "communities united will not be defeated" as they made their way to the Dáil.

Shoppers, tourists and office workers on their lunch breaks paused to watch the march and some took photographs with their mobile phones as the marchers banged Odhran and blew whistles and horns.

ICTU president Jack O’Connor told the crowds this was the first of many such marches and he urged people to fight against the cuts.

Impact deputy general secretary Shay Cody said the Government was "slashing and burning the vital services that we most need".

And Susan McKay of the National Women’s Council drew large cheers when she said women did not create the property boom and bust but they would be expected to clean up the mess.

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Thousands of people have protested in Dublin against cuts proposed in the McCarthy report.

Community activists, workers and employers from the community sector set off from Parnell Square at 1pm.

An estimated 12,000 people gathered outside the Dáil this afternoon to voice their concerns.

The new campaign, Communities Against Cuts, claims the ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ proposals could result in the loss of 6,500 jobs if implemented.

David Connolly of CAC urged backbench TDs and local councillors to resist current and planned spending reductions in the Budget.

Community groups provide childcare, drug rehabilitation, education & training, youth support, community development and a range of other services and would struggle to function without State support.

Cutbacks have already seen the closure of some projects and those in the sector say, if implemented, the McCarthy report proposals will devastate the sector.

The groups say the cuts could result in a huge social fall-out as people relying on the services provided have nowhere else to turn.

Terry Fagan, who works on the Dublin North Inner City Folklore Project, has been on a 24-hour fast outside the GPO to highlight the potential damage to the sector along with other colleagues.

He says the sector is seen as a soft target.

Oklahoma City: Boy 14 Escapes From Years Of Captivity And Torture Two People Facing Charges

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

A 14-year-old boy has told US authorities he escaped from a home where he had been kept for four-and-a-half years.

The American teenager claims he spent most of that time locked in a bedroom closet.

A security guard at a National Guard facility in Oklahoma City called police on Friday after the teen showed up malnourished and with scars and other signs of abuse.

Police Sergeant Gary Knight said: "He had scars from where he was stabbed. He had scars from being beaten. He had scars from being choked. He had scars over the majority of his body."

After police interviews, officers on Saturday arrested the boy’s mother, 37-year-old LaRhonda Marie McCall, and a friend, 38-year-old Steve Vern Hamilton, on 20 complaints each of child abuse and child neglect.

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MYFOX NATIONAL) – An Oklahoma mother faces 40 counts of child abuse and neglect after police say she locked her teenage son in a closet.

The boy, 14, said he was beaten, burned, starved and locked in the closet for 4 1/2 years. He was treated at a local hospital and released, and is now in protective custody

"This kid has endured a lot. He basically had been tortured for four years. Thankfully he was able to get free and let someone know what was going on," Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Gary Knight said.

Police said a sibling helped the boy escape. Police said the boy them scars on his stomach and torso where he said he had alcohol poured on him and was set on fire.

A day after he escaped, police tracked down and arrested his mother, Larhonda McCall, and her friend Steve Hamilton.

They both face about 40 counts each of child abuse and neglect.

Neighbours were shocked to hear what police said was happening next door.

"I have six children and nine grandchildren and I couldn’t imagine what the child could be going through dealing with something like that," concerned neighbour Gloria Milloy said.

"You never know what’s going on next door," added neighbour Renita Shaw. "It’s just a sign to tell us you have to pray — stay strong and pray."

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A 14-year-old boy had deep cuts around his wrists and was covered with burns, bruises and scars when he wandered into a National Guard armoury last week and said he had escaped from a home where he was locked in a bedroom closet, officials said Tuesday.

Two security guards who work at the armoury and saw the teen there Friday said they lost sleep over the weekend thinking about the boy and the torture he described.

"He said he wanted help, and as soon as he showed us the bruises, we took him inside" and called police, said one of the guards, Paul Clark. "His wrists looked like he either had been handcuffed or had ropes or chains around them. It really kind of took me aback."

Meanwhile, the manager of an apartment where the boy’s family lived until last month said it appeared a closet in a bedroom of the home had been used as a bathroom.

Investigators continued to conduct interviews and examine evidence as they prepared a criminal case against the teen’s mother, LaRhonda Marie McCall, 37, Oklahoma City police Sgt. Gary Knight said.

McCall and a friend, Steve Vern Hamilton, 38, were arrested Saturday on 20 complaints each of child abuse and child neglect. Both remained jailed Tuesday on $400,000 bond. Neither has been formally charged, and jail officials were not sure if either has an attorney. No one answered the phone at McCall’s home Tuesday.

Police believe the boy’s mother frequently tied him up to prevent him from escaping and had a lock installed on a bedroom closet where he often was kept for days at a time. Based on physical evidence and interviews, investigators have no reason to doubt the teen, who claimed he spent most of the last 4 1/2 years locked inside bedroom closets at various apartments where the family lived, Knight said.

McCall had seven other children, six of whom were minors and were taken into custody of the Department of Human Services, but none showed signs of abuse, Knight said.

Karen Gilleland, manager of the Hillcrest Apartments in south Oklahoma City, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after McCall was evicted for unpaid bills in August, a hole filled with human waste was found in the wall of a closet in their apartment unit.

Gilleland said she never realized McCall had more than seven children and that whenever Gilleland had been in the apartment during the several months the family lived there, the door to the bedroom where the soiled closet was found always was closed.

"I just wish I would have known about it," she said. "I would have done something."

Knight said Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of the apartment manager’s statements about the closet being used as a bathroom, but he had seen photographs of the boy’s body "and he was subjected to a number of types of abuse."

"He was frequently locked in the closet for hours if not days at a time," Knight said. "He wasn’t allowed to leave, never attended school, and never received medical attention."

Police started an investigation Friday after the malnourished boy showed up at the base, about a mile and a half from the town house where he lived, and asked where a police station was located so he could report being abused.

He told police the closet door was mostly blocked with a stepladder or a bed and that he managed to push the door open enough to escape.

Leslie Sanders, another security guard at the armoury, said the boy seemed believable and was concerned about the fate of his siblings.

"He was very straightforward with his answers," she said. "He still had a good enough heart to ask about his brothers and sisters."

Dr. Daniel Rybicki, a Gig Harbor, Wash., clinical psychologist who specializes in domestic violence and child abuse and consults in criminal and civil cases, said it’s not uncommon for an abusive parent to single out one child.

"There may be temperament variables, where one child is difficult to deal with, but it may be that there are a number of factors with what that child means to the parent," Rybicki said.

"It may be completely irrational and based on that parent’s own pathology."

SIPTU Warns Of Widespread Strike Action

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

SIPTU has warned of a wave of national strikes if tens of thousands of workers are not given an agreed wage increase.

The head of the country’s largest union warned of nationwide chaos by November if any of its 200,000 members in both the public and private sector were not given the increases agreed in last September’s national wage deal.

In the hardening of the union’s stance Jack O’Connor said no alternative had been negotiated by the Government and employers’ bodies to that deal. In September it was agreed:

* An initial 3.5% increase for private sector employees, followed by 2.5% for the following 12 months.

* A 3.5% rise for public sector workers on September 1 this year following an 11-month pay pause, to be followed by a further 2.5% in 2010.

However, in the private sector the vast majority of companies either cannot or claim they cannot afford the increases.

And in the public sector, the Government has not only forsaken the 3.5% increase but is widely expected to seek 5% decreases in wages in order to recoup some of the €4bn it needs to save this year alone. The demand from SIPTU for its 70,000 public service members alone would cost the Government €86m based on an average wage.

Jack O’Connor said: "We conducted a ballot February into March and we secured an overwhelming mandate to take industrial action and strike action to persuade the employers to either comply with the agreement that had been negotiated, or come to the table and renegotiate an alternative. We will be pressing ahead with that (industrial action) after renewing the ballot."

Yesterday the union served its 3.5% pay claim for the 34,000 members it has working in the HSE, including paramedics, nurses and manual grades.

The HSE said it would "process the claim through its normal channels" but pointed out that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had informed the Dáil that increases provided for under the last agreement would not be paid on their due dates.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions meets in Dublin this morning to decide an overarching response to Government plans to cut pay, conditions and numbers in the public service.

Union sources say that in addition to lobbying and campaigning against any cuts, the recommendation from ICTU is likely to entail further mass public protests on the streets and a number of unions are likely to signal they will join IMPACT and SIPTU in balloting for strike action.

Drug Abuse Rife In Overcrowded Prisons Where Gangs Combine Forces To Rule By Fear

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

PRISONS HAVE become dangerously overcrowded and the rate of drug taking is “enormously high”, a leading member of the prison visiting committee network has said.

Stephen Langton, chairman of the visiting committee at Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, and the national prisons visiting committee group, said the closure in 2005 by the then minister for Justice Michael McDowell of Spike Island Prison in Co Cork and the Curragh Place of Detention in Co Kildare was “a disgrace”.

It had led to current overcrowding levels, which the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly has said is putting the lives of inmates and safety of staff at risk.

Mr Langton told The Irish Times: “[Spike Island] was closed by Michael McDowell to give a slap to the Irish Prison Service (IPS) or to the Prison Officers’ Association. It wasn’t done for monetary reasons. It was the same with the Curragh.”

Both jails should have been kept open until the new Thornton Hall prison in north county Dublin was built, he said. The capacity in both closed jails could resolve current overcrowding “almost overnight”.

Accommodating prisoners on mattresses on the floor due to current levels of overcrowding was degrading and was a “worse crime” than many of the offences the inmates had committed.

He accused the Irish Prison Service of “massaging” prison occupancy rates. Numbers were managed “disingenuously” to produce an overall occupancy rate of 99 per cent.

This did not take into account that some jails such as Portlaoise Prison, where dissident republican factions were segregated, were only 50 per cent occupied while prisons like Mountjoy had at times a 135 per cent occupancy rate.

A large number of prisoners were on 23-hour lock-up in Mountjoy, either because they are gang members or have been threatened by gangs. Mr Langton believed these could easily be transferred to Portlaoise to ease overcrowding in Mountjoy without disturbing the existing segregation system in Portlaoise.

“If they are going to be locked up for 23 hours in Mountjoy why couldn’t they be locked up away from other inmates in Portlaoise?” Overcrowding was now so bad across the system that inmates were being released early to alleviate it. The issue would only be resolved by developing more non-custodial sentencing options.

Mr Langton also said the new system of annualised hours – where prison officer overtime was abolished in favour of a pay rise and longer working week – was “not working”. There were now too few prison officers available to man rehabilitative facilities such as libraries and workshops, which were closed as a result. Prisoners were left “hanging around”, increasing tensions.

Mr Langton said the IPS and the management in prisons had made very significant progress in trying to stem the flow of drugs. Drug dogs were now searching all visitors and airport-style visitor searching had also been introduced. However, drugs were still being thrown over perimeter walls in exercise yards.

“In the past I’ve walked to my car in the car park of Mountjoy and kicked blocks of cannabis out of the way. They’ve fallen short when being thrown over the walls.” Mr Langton believed a small number of prison officers in some jails were supplying drugs to inmates.

“The amount of [drugs] still available in prisons would indicate that somebody is bringing it in and not necessarily all of it by the inmates. It’s obvious when you are going around the prisons that you are talking to prisoners who are out of their heads.” However, on some visits to Mountjoy none of the inmates he had spoken to appeared drugged.

He believed drugs were at the root of the offending patterns of “at least three quarters” of Mountjoy’s inmates.

Some people who had been imprisoned without a drug habit were addicted by the time they had been released.

Tiny quantities of drugs had been concealed under the adhesive section of envelopes sent to inmates or under stamps. Small bags of drugs were also being passed mouth to mouth as inmates kissed relatives during visits, though visit monitoring had reduced this.

Mr Langton owns a construction company. He is from Dublin but lives in Co Westmeath. He was appointed to the Mountjoy visiting committee 12 years ago by the then minister for Justice John O’Donoghue.

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MAJOR DRUGS gangs from Limerick and Dublin are joining forces in prisons in a bid to intimidate other inmates and “rule by fear”, the chairman of the Mountjoy Prison visiting committee Stephen Langton said.

The co-operation between gangs in their efforts to dominate some jails had worsened this decade since the emergence of gangs like the McCarthy-Dundons in Limerick and similar groups in Dublin, he said.

In Mountjoy at any one time there were inmates from “15 or 16 gangs”.

These had to be segregated which proved very difficult.

“Gangs in jails have increased in number and stature, they have become fashionable,” he said.

He believed gangs were using smuggled mobile phones in jails to organise shootings and drug deals outside the jail.

“The phones are being brought in in bits and pieces,” Mr Langton said.

“They’re also wrapping them up in foam and throwing them over the prison walls.

‘‘You might have two prison officers in the yard with up to 70 prisoners. If 10 of them decide to rush for an object then the prison officers haven’t a chance. You’d want 20 prison officers in the yard to try and stop it.”

Like visiting committees in all jails, the Mountjoy committee chaired by Mr Langton is appointed by the Government to visit jails throughout the year, monitor conditions and compile reports for government.

Mr Langton told The Irish Times vulnerable inmates were being pressured by gangs into hiding parts of phones and other items in their cells.

Gangs often found inmates willing to perform tasks for payment in drugs.

Other inmates were threatened they would be harmed unless they did what they were told by the gangs.

Some gangs asked inmates to attack other prisoners with the promise of a financial reward on the outside on release.

Often gangs paid for prison attacks, including stabbings, to be carried out on their own former associates awaiting trial because they were planning to plead guilty to their crimes.

Mr Langton said some gangs believe a guilty plea by one gang member incriminates others who are facing charges for the same crime and are planning to plead not guilty.

“They’re attacked to make them change their [plea]. There are guys [in prisons] with €50,000 on their heads,” he said.

He believed the roll-out of technology to block mobile phone signals was slow and said the walls of Limerick and Mountjoy prisons were too thick for blocking technology to reach many parts of the jails. He doubted the technology would ever be rolled out there.

Waiting Times Putting Sick Children ‘At Risk’ Warns Top Surgeon

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

WAITING TIMES for cardiac surgery at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Dublin, are now posing a risk to children, a consultant paediatric cardiologist there said yesterday.

Dr Paul Oslizlok, who is also president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said a shortage of intensive care beds meant children’s heart operations were now being cancelled on a weekly basis. “It’s getting to crisis point,” he said. Dr Oslizlok said waiting times had been brought down to below three months but were now once again “getting up to six months” which he said “for many children is simply too long”.

Referring to the case of a Limerick toddler who died after being sent home from the hospital in 2003 after her heart operation was postponed due to a shortage of intensive care nurses to look after her following surgery, he said: “We have got another potential Róisín Ruddle on our doorsteps if we don’t act now. We are very worried really. We really haven’t experienced a situation like this for well over a decade and we are not even in the worst throes of the recession yet.”

Dr Oslizlok said the main problem was a shortage of intensive care beds. “The number of children who need cardiac surgery is increasing each year . . . and we simply do not have the capacity of intensive care beds.”

He said a review of intensive care bed capacity for the Health Service Executive found there was a critical shortage in Dublin, particularly in Crumlin, but the report had not been acted on.

In a statement last night the HSE said it had been working with the paediatric hospitals to improve the critical care services in the interim pending the opening of the new national paediatric hospital.

“A paediatric critical care network has been established to facilitate this work and additional service pressure funding has been allocated this year to the paediatric hospitals to progress additional consultant intensivist posts which have been approved recently. It is expected that these additional posts will be in place in early 2010,” it said.

Figures obtained by Fine Gael’s health spokesman Dr James Reilly showed nearly 9,000 operations were cancelled in the first six months of this year. Dr Reilly said this was a 27 per cent increase on the same period in 2008.

The HSE said the increase cited by Dr Reilly was linked to the increase in activity rather than a significant increase in cancellations alone. The cancellations, which it said were to give way to emergency cases, represented just 1.4 per cent of overall activity.

Dr Oslizlok said it was totally unacceptable that more operations were being cancelled year on year.

“It would seem that there is a problem that hasn’t been dealt with and there are consultants throughout the country that are ready to operate but are unable to do so for a variety of reasons, and often that reason is there isn’t an intensive care bed available or a post-operative bed available or perhaps other frontline staff are not available in the hospital,” he said.

In addition he said there simply weren’t sufficient step-down beds and as a result hundreds of patients were having their hospital discharge delayed. Until this was sorted there would continue to be operations cancelled, he said.

UN: Eight More Countries Join In Battle To Stop Use Of Child Soldiers

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

Eight more UN member states have agreed to sign on to the 2007 Paris Commitments aiming to protect children from being recruited by armed forces or armed groups.

Albania, Guinea, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Panama and Senegal endorsed the commitments on Tuesday at a ministerial session, bringing to 84 the number of countries which have done so.

The Paris Commitments were adopted in February 2007 as an expression of strengthened international resolve to prevent the recruitment of children and highlight the actions governments should take to protect children affected by conflict.

"It is important that all children, whether they have joined an armed group by force or by circumstance, have access to vital assistance to help them reintegrate and lead empowered and productive lives, said Ann Veneman, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund.

"The support for the? Paris Principles? And new endorsements show that the international community is mobilized to stop this unbearable phenomenon," said Alain Joyandet, France’s junior minister for cooperation.

Around a quarter of a million children are fighting in the ranks of armed groups across the world, down from around 300,000 five years ago, according to UN officials.

Breaking News: Pago Pago, American Samoa: Quake Triggers Tsunami Killing At Least 34

30 Sep

By J. P. Anderson:

Breaking News: 30 minutes ago:

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities. Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later. Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage.

The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 20 miles below the ocean floor, 120 miles (190 kilometers) from American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people, and 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Samoa.

Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile inland. Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region in Oakland, Calif., said Reynolds spoke to officials from under a coconut tree uphill from Pago Pago Harbor and reported that the park’s visitor center and offices appeared to have been destroyed.

Bundock said Reynolds and another park service staffer had been able to locate only 20 percent of the park’s 13 to 15 employees and 30 to 50 volunteers.

Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shaken awake by the quake, which lasted two to three minutes. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a general alert from American Samoa to New Zealand; Tonga suffered some coastal damage from 13-foot waves.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency also issued a tsunami warning all along that country’s eastern coast.

Mase Akapo, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in American Samoa, said at least 14 people were killed in four different villages on the main island of Tutuila, while 20 people died neighbouring Samoa. The initial quake was followed by at three aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude.

An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of about 20 victims in a hospital at Lalomanu town on the south coast of the main island, Upolu, and said the surrounding tourist coast had been flattened, with the dead including those who hesitated to leave right after the quake.

An unspecified number of fatalities and injuries were reported in the Samoan village of Talamoa. New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.

"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," Ansell told New Zealand’s National Radio from a hill near Samoa’s capital, Apia. "There’s not a building standing. We’ve all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need ’round here."

The Samoan capital was virtually deserted with schools and businesses closed.

Local media said they had reports of landslides in the Solosolo region of the main Samoan island of Upolu and damage to plantations in the countryside outside Apia.

American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono was at his Honolulu office assessing the situation but was having difficulty getting information, said Filipp Ilaoa, deputy director of the office.

Rescue workers found a scene of destruction and debris with cars overturned or stuck in mud, and rockslides hit some roads. Several students were seen ransacking a gas station/convenience store.

Chicken of the Sea’s tuna packing plant in American Samoa was closed after the tsumani hit, although the facility wasn’t damaged, the San Diego-based company said in a statement. Tuna canneries are American Samoa’s dominant industry, accounting for nearly 60 percent of all economic activity.

Prior to tsunami, Chicken of the Sea had announced plans to close the plant on Wednesday, laying off more than 2,100 workers.

Rear Adm. Manson Brown, Coast Guard commander for the Pacific region, said the Coast Guard is in the early stages of assessing what resources to send to American Samoa. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen said a C-130 was being dispatched Wednesday to deliver aid, assess damage and take the governor back home. A New Zealand air force P3 Orion maritime search airplane also was being sent.

One of the runways at Pago Pago (Pan-go, pan-go) International Airport was being cleared of widespread debris for emergency use, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in Los Angeles.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was deploying teams to American Samoa to provide support and assess damage.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of American Samoa and all those in the region who have been affected by these natural disasters," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

The ramifications of the tsunami could be felt thousands of miles away, with federal officials saying strong currents and dangerous waves were forecast from California to Washington State. No major flooding was expected, however.

The earthquake and tsunami were big, but not on the same scale of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 150,000 across Asia the day after Christmas in 2004, said tsunami expert Brian Atwater of the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle.

The 2004 earthquake was at least 10 times stronger than the 8.0 to 8.3 measurements being reported for Tuesday’s quake, Atwater said. It’s also a different style of earthquake than the one that hit in 2004.

The tsunami hit American Samoa about 25 minutes after the quake, which is similar to the travel time in 2004, Atwater said. The big difference is there were more people in Indonesia at risk than in Samoa.

PHOTOS:

A boat from Malaloa Marina is seen on the edge of the main highway in the village of Fagatogo, in American Samoa on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. Towering tsunami waves spawned by a powerful earthquake swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities.

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A main road in the downtown area of Fagatogo is seen flooded by water from a tsunami located in the main town area in American Samoa on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. Towering tsunami waves spawned by a powerful earthquake swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities

 

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Associated Press writer Keni Lesa in Apia, Samoa, Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, Jaymes Song in Honolulu and Seth Borenstein and Michele Salcedo in Washington contributed to this report.