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(Mountain Home) – Come to the Donald W. Reynolds Library serving Baxter County on Tuesday, August 5, at 4PM for a Cell Phone Question and Answer Session.

Learn how to take and send pictures and video; maintain a list of contacts, access the Internet, and more on your cell phone. Bring your phone to get some hands-on help from tech-savvy Teen Library Council volunteers. Any variety of cell phone is welcome and all questions are welcome.

For additional information, contact Teen Librarian John Dyer at john.d@baxlib.org or 870-580-0703 or visit www.baxlib.org.

(Salem) – The 2014 Fulton County Fair will be held from July 28, to August 2, in Salem, Arkansas. This year’s fair theme is “Where Everyone Wins” and the fair offers a week-long venue for family fun and education.

Wednesday is First National Banking Co. Day at the Fair and the day will start with Veterans Day. All veterans are invited to attend a special program planned in their honor at 10 AM. A special tribute will be given to World War II veterans and the speaker will be Colonel James Paul Rowlett, Director of Intelligence Arkansas National Guard. Colonel Rowlett grew up in Salem and is retired from the US Air Force. FNBC will provide lunch for veterans and their spouses. Call the Fulton County Fair office at 870-895-5565 to pre-register for Veterans Day to help in planning food.

Livestock, including poultry and rabbits, will check in from 5-7PM on Wednesday. Come out and support our youth and see the results of their hard work during the summer.

Hall Rodeo, LLC returns to the Fulton County Fair with an ACA sanctioned rodeo on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Rodeo action will get underway at 8PM each night. Rodeo producer Cline Hall is a popular area producer and promises a night of fast paced rodeo action. Call Hall 501-412-3644 for more information and to enter.

Thursday is Bank of Salem Day at the Fair and events start with Senior Day. This event is for all seniors, age 60 and older, and is sponsored by the Bank of Salem and White River Area Agency on Aging. Senior Day starts at 10AM and will feature free admission, a free lunch, games, golf cart tours of the livestock exhibits, and goodie bags and door prizes from area businesses. The medical community will have health screenings available throughout the day.

Livestock judging will start on Thursday morning with swine judging at 8AM. Sheep and goat judging and poultry and rabbit judging will also be held on Thursday morning. Hall Rodeo will have a second performance on Thursday night.

Also on Thursday night area FFA Chapters and 4-H clubs will compete for awards in the Fulton County Fair FFA Olympics. The competition will start at 7PM in the Everett Show Arena. Trophies will be awarded to the winning chapters and to individual members. FFA chapters who want to compete should contact Heath Shrable or Denny Young.

Friday is North Arkansas Electric Cooperative Day at the Fair and will start with beef and dairy cattle judging at 9AM. Kid’s Day will be held on Friday and it will start 10AM at the Salem City Park Pavilion on Civic Center Road. North Arkansas Electric will have a magician to start off the Kid’s Day and he will be followed by games, activity stations, door prizes, a puppet show, and tours of fair exhibits for pre-school through 4th grade students. North Arkansas Electric will provide lunch for kids and their parents or group chaperones. Pre-registration is encouraged to plan for the meal. Contact the Fulton County Fair Office at 870-895-5565 to pre-register.

Friday night is the Annual Fulton County Fair Truck Pull sponsored by North Arkansas Electric, Salem Auto Supply and Hill’s Auto Sales. It will start at 7PM in the arena. The Mo-Ark Truck Pulling Association will bring the popular X-Factor Sled to the fair for a sanctioned pull. For more information on the pull call Michael Roork at 870-371-0108.

Saturday is Hill’s Auto Sales Day at the Fair, The Junior Livestock Premium auction will start at 4PM in the Everett Show Arena. 4-H and FFA members from Fulton County will offer poultry, rabbits, goats, market hogs, and calves that the youth have exhibited at the county fair. The sale will be conducted by Perryman & Perryman Auction Company. Business owners and individuals are encouraged to support the youth in their efforts by attending the sale and bidding on these animals. Contact the fair office or Auctioneer Danny Perryman, 870-458-2020, for information on the sale.

The fair will conclude on Saturday night with a new event. Hill’s Auto Sales will sponsor a Tough Truck Competition at 7:30PM in the arena. Any car, truck, SUV, van or dune buggy can entered this timed event. Entry forms are available at Hill’s Auto Sales, Salem Auto Supply or at the Fulton County Fair Office.

Gate admission will cover all events except the carnival and it is $6 for teens and adults, $4 for youth age 6-12 and under 6 is free. Parking is free. For more information on the county fair call 870-895-5565 or visit www.fultoncountyfair.org.

Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, accompanied by House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, to outline their agreement on a compromise plan to fix  the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation's veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, accompanied by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, to outline their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation’s veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans’ health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill’s chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Washington) (AP) – A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An agreement announced by the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees is intended to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for 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, lawmakers said.

The bill also would expand a scholarship program for veterans, allow all veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition and grant the VA secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeal rights.

“This bill makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs panel.

The measure also “strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists,” Sanders said at a news conference with Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., his House counterpart.

Miller said the bill would “go a long way to resolve the crisis” that is gripping the VA. The agency 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.

Sanders and Miller reached agreement on a plan to reform the VA over the weekend after more than six weeks of sometimes testy talks.

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.

Sanders and Miller acknowledged the bill’s steep cost, but said it would include about $12 billion in new spending after accounting for about $5 billion in unspecified spending cuts from the VA’s budget.

“Funding for veterans’ needs must be considered a `cost of war’ and appropriated as emergency spending,” Sanders said. “Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who fight our battles.”

The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate. 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. “There are much-needed reforms that need to be implemented” at the VA, Earnest said Monday.

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.

Garry Augustine, executive director of the Disabled American Veterans, called the compromise a promising first step to rebuild the VA and provide enrolled veterans with timely health care.

“While no veteran should be forced to wait too long or travel too far to get their care, we remain concerned that simply giving veterans plastic cards and wishing them good luck in the private sector is not a substitute for a coordinated system of care,” Augustine said. “The VA must remain fully responsible for ensuring the best health outcomes for veterans.”

An updated audit by the VA this month showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has said the VA is making improvements, but said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care. The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans.

The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

A Palestinian carries the body of a child at the morgue in Gaza City's Shifa hospital, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, July 28, 2014. An explosion killed 10 people, 9 of them children, at a park at Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza Strip. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack and fighting in the war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Palestinian carries the body of a child at the morgue in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, July 28, 2014. An explosion killed 10 people, 9 of them children, at a park at Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza Strip. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack and fighting in the war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

(Gaza City) (AP) – Hamas and Israel blamed each other for an explosion at a Gaza park Monday that killed at least 10 Palestinians – including nine children playing on a swing – in a horrific scene that underscored the heavy price civilians are paying in the conflict.

Israel’s military said a rocket misfired by Gaza militants was responsible, and it later released aerial photos that it said showed the weapon’s path. Gaza officials blamed Israeli airstrikes.

The blast took place on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Afterward, dozens of Palestinians crowded the spot at the park in the Shati refugee camp northwest of Gaza City, where pools of blood could be seen on the ground. Some cried out, pleading for God’s mercy.

Witnesses said the youngsters had been playing on a swing set.

“The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” Nidal Aljerbi, a witness, told The Associated Press.

Another man stood beside a pool of blood and cried: “We don’t want an agreement. We don’t want a cease-fire. All of us, children, women, will give our souls for God!”

In a hectic scene, Palestinians shed tears outside the doors of the morgue at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, and relatives crammed into the hall. The bodies of three children lay on shelves in the mortuary, their clothes heavily bloodstained, their flesh torn by shrapnel.

The strikes occurred on a day of heavy fighting after a temporary humanitarian cease-fire. At the same time, international efforts to end the three-week war intensified.

The streets near the park were strewn with shattered glass from homes and shops, and the ground was marked with the bloody footprints of those who helped carry the bodies to ambulances.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, denied Israel was involved. “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short,” he said.

Early Tuesday, the military released aerial photographs that it said showed the paths of two misfired rockets that hit the Shifa Hospital and the park. It said the paths were detected by Israeli military radar and sensors.

Lerner said that since the start of the fighting, Israel has identified about 200 failed rocket launches that struck within the Gaza Strip.

In a text message, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the killings would be avenged.

“The massacre against the children in Shati refugee camp is a war crime,” Zuhri said. “Such a crime is a result of the silence of the international community. This crime will not break our will, and the occupation will pay the price.”

The United Nations on Monday called for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting that has killed at least 1,085 Palestinians, 52 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side.

The United Nations says civilians make up more than three-fourths of the dead and a majority of the wounded. Children account for at least 30 percent of the casualties, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

In another tragic episode involving children, four Palestinian boys, cousins ages 9 to 11, were killed July 16 on a beach west of Gaza City by shellfire from a navy ship. Israel later apologized for the deaths.

Israel blames the civilian deaths on Hamas, accusing it of firing from residential neighborhoods and using civilians as human shields.

The Israeli military says it is doing its utmost to spare civilians, including issuing evacuation warnings to homes and neighborhoods that are about to be hit in Israel’s air and ground operation.

Gaza is densely populated, with 1.7 million people squeezed into a small strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea, leaving little room for escape.

Over the course of the war, there have been similar instances in which each side blamed the other for strikes that have had horrific results.

(Gaza City) (AP) – Signaling an escalation of Israel’s Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a “prolonged” war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighborhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City.

The warnings came on a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which nine children were killed by a strike on a Gaza park where they were playing, according to Palestinian health officials – a tragedy that each side blamed on the other.

Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in border areas of Gaza, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in the town of Jebaliya, which was among the areas warned to evacuate, the Red Crescent said.

Many Jebaliya residents said they did not dare attempt an escape. Sufian Abed Rabbo said his extended family of 17 had taken refuge under the stairway in their home.

“God help us. We have nothing to do but pray,” the 27-year-old told The Associated Press by phone. “I don’t know who left and who stayed, but in our street, we are all very scared to move.”

Later Monday, Israeli forces fired a large numbers of flares over Gaza City, turning the night sky a bright orange.

The latest bloodshed came despite mounting international calls for a cease-fire and followed failed attempts by both sides to agree to even a lull in fighting of several hours for the start of the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 10 people, including nine children under the age of 12, were killed and 46 wounded in the blast at a park in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Each side blamed the other.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the explosion was caused when a rocket launched by Gaza militants misfired and landed in the park. Palestinian police and civil defense said an Israeli missile hit as children were playing on a swing set.

“The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit,” said Nidal Aljerbi, a witness.

After three weeks of bloodshed, both Israel and Hamas are holding out for bigger gains and a cease-fire remains elusive, despite an appeal by the U.N. Security Council and growing pressure from the United States.

Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border that militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons. Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees Gaza’s 7-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.

Netanyahu defended the Gaza air and ground offensive, saying in a televised speech Monday that “there is no war more just than this.”

Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels. However, there is growing U.S. frustration with the mounting number of Palestinian casualties – at least 1,072 killed and 6,450 wounded since July 8, the vast majority civilians, according to Hamas health officials.

The Israeli military says 52 soldiers have been killed, including four killed Monday in a mortar attack on southern Israel. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai citizen working in Israel also have been killed.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The Obama administration pushed back Monday against a torrent of Israeli criticism over Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas.

Israel had accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire early in its Gaza campaign, but Hamas rejected the idea.

Netanyahu said Monday that Israel won’t end its offensive until Hamas’ network of tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border has been neutralized. “We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign,” he said. “We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded defiantly. “His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children,” he said.

Israel’s last major Gaza invasion ended in January 2009 after 23 days, one-third of that time with troops on the ground. Already, the current ground operation, which began 11 days ago, has lasted longer than the one in 2009.

In recent days, Israeli leaders have debated whether to withdraw from Gaza after the tunnels are demolished, or to expand the ground operation to deliver a more painful blow against Hamas. Those in favor of an escalation have argued that unless Hamas is toppled and disarmed, a new round of Israel-Gaza fighting is inevitable. Opponents say attempting to reoccupy densely populated Gaza, even if for a short period, could quickly entangle Israel politically and militarily and drive up the number of dead.

In his remarks Monday, Netanyahu didn’t let on which way he is leaning. However, he insisted that “preventing the arming of terror groups and demilitarizing Gaza must be part of any solution,” indicating that Israel’s aims are broader than initially stated.

For now, ground forces have largely operated on the edges of Gaza.

The Israeli military has said it has located 31 tunnels, is aware of the existence of 10 more and has so far demolished close to 20.

Gaza militants have repeatedly used the tunnels to sneak into Israel, including on Monday when several infiltrated into southern Israel. The army said one Hamas militant coming through a tunnel was killed in a firefight, but that searches in the area were continuing.

The Hamas military wing said nine of its fighters infiltrated and attacked an army post.

After three weeks of battle, “our fighters still have a lot of surprises in store for the leaders of the occupation and their elite soldiers,” the group said in a statement.

The blast at the Gaza park occurred within minutes of a separate strike Monday afternoon on nearby Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s largest medical facility. Several people were wounded in the blast near one of the hospital’s outpatient clinics, Hamas health officials said.

Lerner, the army spokesman, denied Israel was involved in the two attacks. “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach (Shati) camp,” he said, adding that the military had identified 200 “failed launchings” so far.

Early Tuesday, the military released aerial photographs that it said showed the paths of two misfired Hamas rockets it said hit the park and Shifa Hospital. It said the rockets were detected by Israeli military radar and sensors.

Gaza’s police operations room and civil defense department blamed the attacks on Israeli airstrikes.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bozum said he believes that shrapnel found in the dead and wounded is evidence of Israel’s role in the incident.

(Ukraine) (AP) – Panicky residents in an eastern Ukrainian town fled their homes Monday carrying a few possessions in plastic bags and small suitcases as shells exploded in the distance, fighting that also prevented an international police team from reaching the area where the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed.

“Mom, hang in there,” exclaimed a weeping woman who was fleeing Shakhtarsk with her mother. Associated Press reporters saw a high-rise apartment block in the town being hit by at least two rounds of artillery.

The fighting there and elsewhere in the area kept Dutch and Australian police for the second day from reaching the site where the plane crashed after being shot from the sky. They had planned to begin searching for remaining bodies and gathering forensic evidence and the delay strained tempers among international observers.

“There is a job to be done,” said Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights, despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a ceasefire.”

The plane was downed on July 17 while flying over a part of eastern Ukraine where government forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels have been fighting for months. Ukrainian and Western officials say the plane was shot down by a rebel missile, most likely by mistake, and that Russia supplied the weapon or trained rebels to use it. Both the rebels and Moscow deny that.

A Ukrainian official said Monday that data from the recovered flight recorders show that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed due to a massive, explosive loss of pressure after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, said the plane suffered “massive explosive decompression” after it was hit by fragments he said came from a missile.

There were signs that government forces were gaining some ground in their fight with the rebels.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian troops entered Shakhtarsk, although checkpoints blocking the western entrance into town remain under rebel control. It also said fighting was taking place in Snizhne, which lies directly south of the crash site, and in other towns in the east.

Meanwhile rebels in Donetsk said on Twitter that fighting took place in the village of Rozsypne, where some of the wreckage still lays strewn and uncollected.

A rebel military leader, Igor Ivanov, told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti that the village had fallen into government hands, but that information could not immediately be confirmed.

And in a possible indication of sagging morale within the rebels’ ranks, the deputy leader of the rebels in Donetsk announced Monday that his immediate superior, Alexander Borodai, had left for Russia. Viktor Antyufeyev, who is a Russian national like Borodai, said he will take over as the separatist government’s acting prime minister.

The rising loss of life was underlined by a report released Monday by the United Nations.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that at least 1,129 people have been killed between mid-April, when fighting began, and July 26. The report said at least 3,442 people had been wounded and more than 100,000 people had left their homes. A U.N. report from mid-June put the death toll at 356.

Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s top human rights official, also called for a quick investigation into the downing of the plane, which she said may be a war crime.

The U.N. said rebel groups continue to “abduct, detain, torture and execute people kept as hostages in order to intimidate” the population in the east. It said rule of law had collapsed in the rebel-held areas and that 812 people had been abducted in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since mid-April.

It also reported heavy damage to electrical, water and sewage plants and cited the government estimate cost of rebuilding, $750 million, money the government would have to find by cutting social programs.

In their campaign to wrest control over more territory from separatist forces, Ukraine’s army has deployed a growing amount of heavy weaponry. Rebels have also been able to secure large quantities of powerful weapons, much of which the United States and Ukraine maintain is being supplied by Russia.

The U.S. also says that Russia has been firing into Ukraine, and released satellite images Sunday that it says back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov on Monday dismissed the images as fake. He said in a statement carried by the Russian news agencies that the satellite images released by the U.S. State Department can’t serve as a proof because they lack precise locations and their resolution is too low.

With allegations that Russia is supplying weapons to the rebels and allowing Russian fighters to cross into Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it plans to begin deploying a border-observation mission on the Russian side on Tuesday. The mission is to be deployed at two checkpoints. It is unclear if they will be able to assess whether the border is being crossed at areas without checkpoints.

In this photo taken on Sunday, July 27, 2014,  Medical personnel inside a clinic taking care of Ebola patients in the Kenema District on the outskirts of Kenema, Sierra Leone.  Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has closed some border crossings and ordered strict quarantines of communities affected by the Ebola outbreak. The announcement late Sunday came a day after Sirleaf formed a new taskforce charged with containing the disease, which has killed 129 people in the country and more than 670 across the region.(AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

In this photo taken on Sunday, July 27, 2014, Medical personnel inside a clinic taking care of Ebola patients in the Kenema District on the outskirts of Kenema, Sierra Leone. Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has closed some border crossings and ordered strict quarantines of communities affected by the Ebola outbreak. The announcement late Sunday came a day after Sirleaf formed a new taskforce charged with containing the disease, which has killed 129 people in the country and more than 670 across the region.(AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

(Sengal) (AP) – No one knows for sure just how many people Patrick Sawyer came into contact with the day he boarded a flight in Liberia, had a stopover in Ghana, changed planes in Togo, and then arrived in Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola, one of the deadliest diseases known to man.

Now health workers are scrambling to trace those who may have been exposed to Sawyer across West Africa, including flight attendants and fellow passengers.

Health experts say it is unlikely he could have infected others with the virus that can cause victims to bleed from the eyes, mouth and ears. Still, unsettling questions remain: How could a man whose sister recently died from Ebola manage to board a plane leaving the country? And worse: Could Ebola become the latest disease to be spread by international air travel?

Sawyer’s death on Friday has led to tighter screening of airline passengers in West Africa, where an unprecedented outbreak that emerged in March has killed more than 670 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. But some health authorities expressed little confidence in such precautions.

“The best thing would be if people did not travel when they were sick, but the problem is people won’t say when they’re sick. They will lie in order to travel, so it is doubtful travel recommendations would have a big impact,” said Dr. David Heymann, professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The important thing is for countries to be prepared when they get patients infected with Ebola, that they are isolated, family members are told what to do and health workers take the right steps.”

The World Health Organization is awaiting laboratory confirmation after Nigerian health authorities said Sawyer tested positive for Ebola, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said. The WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions since the outbreak came to light.

“We would have to consider any travel recommendations very carefully, but the best way to stop this outbreak is to put the necessary measures in place at the source of infection,” Hartl said. Closing borders “might help, but it won’t be exhaustive or foolproof.”

The risk of travelers contracting Ebola is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva, experts say. Ebola can’t be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.

Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the WHO. And the most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.

Still, witnesses say Sawyer, a 40-year-old Finance Ministry employee en route to a conference in Nigeria, was vomiting and had diarrhea aboard at least one of his flights with some 50 other passengers aboard. Ebola can be contracted from traces of feces or vomit, experts say.

Sawyer was immediately quarantined upon arrival in Lagos – a city of 21 million people – and Nigerian authorities say his fellow travelers were advised of Ebola’s symptoms and then were allowed to leave. The incubation period can be as long as 21 days, meaning anyone infected may not fall ill for several weeks.

Health officials rely on “contact tracing” – locating anyone who may have been exposed, and then anyone who may have come into contact with that person. That may prove impossible, given that other passengers journeyed on to dozens of other cities.

Patrick Sawyer had planned to come home for two of his three daughters’ birthdays next month, his wife, Decontee Sawyer, told KSTP-TV in Minnesota.

“It’s a global problem because Patrick could have easily come home with Ebola, easy,” she said. The Associated Press left phone and email messages for her Monday.

International travel has made the spread of disease via airplanes almost routine. Outbreaks of measles, polio and cholera have been traced back to countries thousands of miles away. Even Ebola previously traveled the globe this way: During an outbreak in Ivory Coast in the 1990s, the virus infected a veterinarian who traveled to Switzerland, where the disease was snuffed out upon arrival and she ultimately survived, experts say.

Two American aid workers in Liberia have tested positive for the virus and are being treated there. U.S. health officials said Monday that the risk of the deadly germ spreading to the United States is remote.

The mere prospect of Ebola in Africa’s most populous nation has Nigerians on edge.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Alex Akinwale, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, said he is particularly concerned about taking the bus, which is the only affordable way to travel.

“It’s actually making me very nervous. If I had my own car, I would be safer,” he said. “The doctors are on strike, and that means they are not prepared for it. For now I’m trying to be very careful.”

It’s an unprecedented public health scenario: Since 1976, when the virus was first discovered, Ebola outbreaks were limited to remote corners of Congo and Uganda, far from urban centers, and stayed within the borders of a single country. This time, cases first emerged in Guinea, and before long hundreds of others were stricken in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Those are some of the poorest countries in the world, with few doctors and nurses to treat sick patients let alone determine who is well enough to travel. In Sawyer’s case, it appears nothing was done to question him until he fell sick on his second flight with Asky Airlines. An airline spokesman would not comment on what precautions were being taken in the aftermath of Sawyer’s journey.

Liberian Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told The Associated Press last week that there had been no screening at Liberia’s Monrovia airport. That changed quickly over the weekend, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a new policy on inspecting and testing all outgoing and incoming passengers will be strictly observed. She also announced that some borders were being closed and communities with large numbers of Ebola cases would be quarantined.

International travelers departing from the capitals of Sierra Leone and Guinea are also being checked for signs of fever, airport officials said. Buckets of chlorine are also on hand at Sierra Leone’s airport in Freetown for disinfection, authorities said.

Still, detecting Ebola in departing passengers might be tricky, since its initial symptoms are similar to many other diseases, including malaria and typhoid fever.

“It will be very difficult now to contain this outbreak because it’s spread,” Heymann said. “The chance to stop it quickly was months ago before it crossed borders … but this can still be stopped if there is good hospital infection control, contact tracing and collaboration between countries.”

Nigerian authorities so far have identified 59 people who came into contact with Sawyer and have tested 20, said Lagos State Health Commissioner Jide Idris. Among them were officials from ECOWAS, a West African governing body, airline employees, health workers and the Nigerian ambassador to Liberia, he said. He said there have been no new cases of the disease.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld privacy protections against police searches of cellphones, but Missouri voters looking to fortify those rights will get their chance next week.

The Aug. 5 ballot measure known as Amendment 9 would require police to obtain a warrant before searching or seizing “electronic communications and data,” such as cellphones, emails and computer flash drives. Supporters argue that including those protections in the Missouri Constitution could help guard against excessive government intrusion, and they cite the recent National Security Agency eavesdropping scandal as motivation.

“People are outraged at the invasion of their privacy, and they want to fight back,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and organizer of the Protect Our Privacy campaign committee.

But the proposal may have little actual effect because courts already have ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s search-and-seizure protections apply to modern digital devices, said Kansas City attorney David Oliver, whose firm deals with privacy cases

“This may make the proponents feel good, that there is this provision in Missouri’s constitution,” he said. “I don’t think it has that much practical significance.”

Still, amendment backers say a constitutional safeguard is far more preferable than continuing to rely on the courts – or Congress – for updated interpretations of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, written two centuries ago. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed nearly three decades ago in a belated attempt at legal catch-up, albeit at the dawn of the Internet but before cellphones and digital cloud storage.

“It is a core American value that the government doesn’t go on fishing expeditions, searching through our papers and things, looking at our communications, following us around,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, which has launched a “Yes on 9″ campaign to boost support for the proposed amendment. “Amendment 9 makes it crystal clear that those protections that have been part of our democracy for over 200 years also cover our electronic communications.”

The exact question before voters will read: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that the people shall be secure in their electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects?”

The resolution to place the measure on the ballot was approved in the Missouri House 114-28, and it received only one `no’ vote in the Senate. That vote was cast by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from University City who said she objected to the proposal’s overly broad wording and the possible restrictions it might place on police and prosecutors, including those fighting sex trafficking and child pornography.

But both Schaaf, who co-sponsored the resolution, and Mittman said a broadly written amendment was needed, even though the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police must show probable cause and obtain search warrants before seizing cellphones

“Technology has taken off at a startlingly fast rate,” Mittman said. “Our rules, regulations, ordinances and statutes have not kept up with the pace of change.”

As of Monday, just nine days before the vote, no organized opposition had emerged, including among Missouri prosecutors and law enforcement officers. The digital privacy amendment is one of five proposed constitutional changes on the statewide ballot.

Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, president of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, said he expects few problems should voters approve the measure, though he noted it could conflict with a 2013 state law that allows drivers to show electronic proof of car insurance. He also noted that even before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, his deputies would request warrants before searching phones and computers during traffic stops if the owner did not provide verbal consent.

“I don’t see any problem with the passage of this amendment,” Bond said. “I don’t really have any heartburn over it.”

(Little Rock) (AP) – Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wants to defend in court a $5 million tax break the Legislature gave the natural gas industry after the state’s top finance official said the exemption was unconstitutional.

McDaniel on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the measure approved earlier this year exempting sand used in natural gas drilling from state sales taxes. The tax break was included in the Department of Finance and Administration’s revenue services division budget, an approach the lawsuit argues is unconstitutional.

DFA Director Richard Weiss, the defendant in the case, agreed in a Friday court filing that the approach was unconstitutional.

McDaniel asked to intervene so he could defend the tax break.

Lawmakers approved the break in March, overriding a veto by Gov. Mike Beebe.

(Little Rock) (AP) – A Little Rock native who has worked for several nonprofits will be the first Arkansas director for the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group.

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign announced Monday it had hired Kendra Johnson as its state director as part of its $8.5 million Project One America campaign to promote LGBT equality in three southern states.

Johnson was born and raised in Little Rock and has worked at several nonprofits, including Better Community Development and the Women’s Project. She has an undergraduate degree from Spelman College and a graduate degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Johnson’s hiring was announced as court fights are underway at the federal and state level over Arkansas’ ban on gay marriage.