World

KABUL - A cousin and close associate of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated on Tuesday by a suicide bomber who hid his explosives under his turban, a provincial official said.

The bomber walked up to the home of Hashmat Khalil Karzai to greet him after morning prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and detonated the explosives after shaking hands with the president's cousin, said the official.

GAZA, Palestinian Territories - Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far.

Flares turned the sky over Gaza City orange overnight and by daybreak, as the conflict entered its fourth week, heavy clouds of dust hovered over the territory. A thick column of black smoke rose from a burning fuel tank at the power plant.

BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party announced Tuesday it is launching an investigation into former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was once one of the country's most feared leaders.

The party's anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said on its website that it is investigating Zhou for serious violations of party discipline, but gave no details.

VIENNA - Police say a herd of cows attacked and killed a German woman hiking through their fenced-in pasture after apparently being riled by the sight of her leashed dog.

They said Tuesday the 45-year old victim was rushed by about 20 cows and their calves. Attempts by an emergency crew to revive her were unsuccessful.

The attack occurred Monday on a mountain pasture in Austria's Tyrol province. The woman's name was not released, in accordance with Austrian confidentiality rules.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A group of Air New Zealand passengers were stranded for a third night Monday after being repeatedly told their plane was delayed due to mechanical problems.

The upside?

They're in Hawaii. And every passenger is getting 1,000 New Zealand dollars ($850) in compensation.

Flight NZ9 was due to depart late Saturday from Honolulu for Auckland, but airline officials told the 227 passengers the plane was unable to leave because of problems related to an engine sensor.

BRUSSELS - The United States and the European Union are preparing a powerful one-two punch against the Russian economy, with EU ambassadors meeting Tuesday to discuss a dramatic escalation in the trade bloc's sanctions on Russia.

Measures under consideration include limiting Russia's access to European capital markets and halting trade in arms and dual-use and sensitive technologies. A decision on proposed new EU sanctions was expected later in the day.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Niche retirement communities are growing particularly popular as the 76 million baby boomers reach retirement age. The communities are aimed at people of specific ethnic backgrounds, hobbies or collegiate allegiances. Here are some niche retirement communities found across the United States.

TAVARES, Fla. - When Arun and Usha Pancholi were deciding where to spend their retirement years, they wanted a place that combined the culture and camaraderie of life in India with the comforts and conveniences they had grown accustomed to after nearly five decades in Minnesota and Ohio.

RICHMOND, Va. - An appeals court's decision to strike down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban adds to the growing list of decrees on a hot-button issue that will likely end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Monday ruled that state laws barring gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions performed in other states violate the U.S. Constitution.

It's the second federal appellate court to overturn gay marriage bans, after the Denver circuit.

NEW YORK - A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by an atheist group seeking to stop the display of a cross-shaped steel beam found among the World Trade Center's wreckage.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday sided with a federal judge's ruling last year that the decision to include the beam in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum did not advance religion impermissibly.

COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - For tourist Bruce Pasarow of Buena Park, California, leaving Illinois before seeing what's billed as the "World's Largest Bottle of Catsup" was not an option.

The Collinsville water tower is a depiction of Brooks Old Original Rich and Tangy Catsup, which was once produced in the buildings beneath the tower.

Now, the sign is for sale. Owner Larry Eckert is asking $500,000 for the 65-year-old, 170-foot (52-meter)-tall landmark and adjacent warehouse.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - There's been no verdict and no mistrial after five days of deliberations in former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's defamation lawsuit against "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle.

Deliberations are to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, a day after jurors told federal Judge Richard Kyle they didn't think they could reach a unanimous verdict. The judge urged them to keep trying.

Jurors continued deliberating roughly four more hours Monday before calling it a day. Their discussions since last Tuesday have now topped 31 hours.

LOS ANGELES - A thunderstorm formed so rapidly over a Southern California beach that experts said Monday it was impossible for anyone to predict a lightning strike would turn a day of carefree fun into one of terror.

The phenomenon so rare that lifeguards lack an emergency warning system struck Sunday afternoon at Los Angeles' popular Venice Beach, killing a 21-year-old man and injuring a dozen others.

Along the beach, famous internationally for its jugglers, skaters, medical marijuana dealers and boardwalk preachers and hucksters, panic instantly set in.

NEW YORK - A California man who skipped town after being accused of molesting a boy was killed and three law enforcement officers trying to arrest him were wounded in a daytime shootout inside a small smoke shop in one of New York's most bustling neighbourhoods, officials said Monday.

The man, Charles Richard Mozdir, was recently featured on a CNN show about fugitives. He was wanted in a San Diego case and was charged with lewd acts upon a child younger than 14, a criminal complaint said.

DAKAR, Senegal - 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.

WASHINGTON - In an escalation of tensions, the Obama administration accused Russia on Monday of conducting tests in violation of a 1987 nuclear missile treaty, calling the breach "a very serious matter" and going public with allegations that have simmered for some time.

The treaty confrontation comes at a highly strained time between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and Putin's grant of asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Jurors in former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's defamation lawsuit against "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle went home for the day Monday after hours of deliberations during which they told the judge at one point they didn't think they could reach a unanimous verdict.

GAZA, Palestinian Territories - Signalling 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 neighbourhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City.

In central Gaza City early Tuesday, at least two major explosions hit a media complex housing the offices of Hamas-run Al Aqsa television and radio. The blasts shook surrounding buildings and started a fire on the roof of the office block, one of Gaza's tallest.

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, one of more than 20 legal decisions around the country favouring gay marriage proponents since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defence of Marriage Act last year.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond is the second federal appellate court to overturn gay marriage bans, after the Denver circuit, and is the first to affect the South, where states' rights have held particular sway for generations.

GAZA, Palestinian Territories - 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.

SHAKHTARSK, Ukraine - 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.

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John 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.

NAIROBI, Kenya - The Peace Corps is suspending its programs in Kenya because of security concerns and is pulling more than 50 volunteers out of the country until threat levels decrease, the Peace Corps and State Department said Thursday.

A statement to The Associated Press from the State Department said that the Peace Corps "has been closely monitoring the security environment in Kenya ... and has decided to officially suspend the program in Kenya." The Peace Corps will monitor the security situation and determine when volunteers can return, it said.

DONETSK, Ukraine - War literally came to Alexander Litvinenko's living room, when a missile punched a gaping hole into the wall of his ninth-floor apartment. The 53-year-old college philosophy teacher had just stepped into his study to check the news online, barely escaping death.

KIEV, Ukraine - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation Thursday following turmoil in government.

Yatsenyuk made the announcement from the dais of Parliament after two parties said they would pull out of the governing coalition.

"I am announcing my resignation in connect with the collapse of the coalition," Yatsenyuk said. He said Parliament could no longer do its work and pass necessary laws.