'Enough is enough': US students stage walkouts against guns

AP Photo
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Declaring enough is enough, tens of thousands of young people from Maine to California walked out of school to demand action on gun violence Wednesday in one of the biggest student protests since the Vietnam era.

Braving snow in New England and threats of school discipline in places like Georgia and Ohio, they carried signs with messages like “Am I Next?,” chanted slogans against the National Rifle Association and bowed their heads in memory of the 17 dead in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“We’re sick of it,” said Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico, Virginia, just outside Richmond. “We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re not going to stop until Congress finally makes resolute changes.”

Around the nation, students left class at 10 a.m. local time for at least 17 minutes – one minute for each of the dead in Florida. At some schools, students didn’t go outside but lined the hallways, gathered in gyms and auditoriums or wore orange, the color used by the movement against gun violence, or maroon, the school color at Stoneman Douglas.

Over and over, students declared that too many young people have died and that they are tired of going to school afraid of getting killed.

“Enough is enough. People are done with being shot,” said Iris Foss-Ober, 18, a senior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis.

Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened punishment.

Protesters called for such measures as tighter background checks on gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons like the one used in the Florida bloodbath.

As the protests unfolded, the NRA responded by posting a photo on Twitter of a black rifle emblazoned with an American flag. The caption: “I’ll control my own guns, thank you.”

Walkouts interrupted the day at schools from the elementary level through college, and at some that have witnessed their own mass shootings. About 250 students gathered on a soccer field at Colorado’s Columbine High School, while students who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012 walked out of Newtown High School in Connecticut.

In joining the protests, the students followed the example set by many of the survivors of the Florida shooting, who have become gun-control activists, leading rallies, lobbying legislators and giving TV interviews. Their efforts helped spur passage last week of a Florida law curbing access to assault rifles by young people.

In Washington, more than 2,000 high-school age protesters observed the 17 minutes of silence by sitting on the ground with their backs turned to the White House as a church bell tolled. President Donald Trump was in Los Angeles at the time.

The protesters carried signs with messages such as “Our Blood/Your Hands” and “Never Again” and chanted slogans against the NRA.

In New York City, they chanted, “Enough is enough!” In Salt Lake City, the signs read, “Protect kids not guns,” ”Fear has no place in school” and “Am I next?”

Stoneman Douglas High senior David Hogg, who has emerged as one of the leading student activists, livestreamed the walkout at the tragedy-stricken school on his YouTube channel.

He said the students could not be expected to remain in class when there was work to do to prevent gun violence.

“Every one of these individuals could have died that day. I could have died that day,” he said.

At Aztec High School in a rural, gun-friendly part of New Mexico, students aimed to avoid politics and opted for a ceremony honoring students killed in shootings – including two who died in a December attack at Aztec.

“Our kids sit on both ends of the spectrum, and we have a diverse community when it comes to gun rights and gun control,” Principal Warman Hall said.

About 10 students left Ohio’s West Liberty-Salem High School – which witnessed a shooting last year – despite a warning they could face detention or more serious discipline.

Police in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta patrolled Kell High, where students were threatened with unspecified consequences if they participated. Three students walked out anyway.

The coordinated protests were organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington last year.

Congress has shown little inclination to tighten gun laws, and Trump backed away from his initial support for raising the minimum age for buying an assault rifle to 21.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had no immediate public comment on the walkout.

Historians said the demonstrations were shaping up to be one of the largest youth protests in decades.

“It seems like it’s going to be the biggest youth-oriented and youth-organized protest movements going back decades, to the early ’70s at least,” said David Farber a history professor at the University of Kansas who has studied social change movements.

“Young people are that social media generation, and it’s easy to mobilize them in a way that it probably hadn’t been even 10 years ago.”

The walkouts drew support from companies such as media conglomerate Viacom, which paused programming on MTV, BET and its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts.

Other protests planned in coming weeks include the March for Our Lives rally, which organizers say is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24.

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Maria Danilova in Washington; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Drew in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Mike Householder in Detroit; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston; Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis; and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.

Follow Binkley on Twitter at @cbinkley

Find all of AP’s coverage on the walkouts and the Parkland, Florida, shooting at https://apnews.com/tag/Floridaschoolshooting

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'Enough is enough': US students stage walkouts against guns
'Enough is enough': US students stage walkouts against guns
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Source: AP HEADLINES

'Multiple' fatalities when bridge collapses onto vehicles

AP Photo
AP Photo/Daniel A. Varela

MIAMI (AP) — A pedestrian bridge being built across an eight-lane highway collapsed at a Miami-area college Thursday, crushing eight vehicles under massive slabs and killing multiple people, authorities said.

Search and rescue missions were underway. Eight people were taken to hospitals. The number of fatalities was not immediately known.

“The main focus is to rescue people.” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez. “As soon as those efforts are over, our homicide bureau will take the lead.”

The main companies behind the bridge’s construction have faced questions about their work and one of the companies was fined in 2012 when a 90-ton section of a bridge collapsed in Virginia.

In Miami, the 950-ton, 174-foot span was assembled by the side of the highway and moved into place Saturday to great fanfare. The $14.2 million bridge connected Florida International University and the city of Sweetwater. It was expected to open to foot traffic next year.

“We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge. At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information,” the school said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene. Gov. Rick Scott said he was headed there as well.

“We have a national tragedy on our hands,” Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez said.

The “accelerated bridge construction” method was supposed to reduce risks to workers and pedestrians and minimize traffic disruption, the university said.

“FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said in the statement Saturday.

Cristina Rodriguez, a 23-year-old junior who was on spring break with other students, said she was not surprised when she heard the bridge collapsed.

“I just felt the bridge was done too quickly to believe the bridge was stable and sound to support everything that was on there,” said Rodriguez, who was not on campus Thursday but drives through the intersection almost daily.

MCM, the Miami-based construction management firm that won the bridge contract, took its website down on Thursday. But an archived version of the website featured a news release touting the project with FIGG Bridge Engineers, “a nationally acclaimed, award-winning firm based out of Tallahassee.”

The release said FIGG had designed “iconic bridges all over the country, including Boston’s famous Leonard P. Zakim Bridge and Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge.”

MCM said on twitter that it was “a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way.”

FIGG said in a statement it was “stunned by today’s tragic collapse.”

“In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”

FIGG was fined in 2012 after a 90-ton section of a bridge it was building in Virginia crashed onto railroad tracks below, causing several minor injuries to workers. The citation, from the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, said FIGG did not do the proper inspections of the girder that failed and had not obtained written consent from its manufacturer before modifying it, according to a story in The Virginian-Pilot.

Court documents show that MCM, or Munilla Construction Management, was accused of substandard work in a lawsuit filed earlier this month. The suit said a worker at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, where the company is working on an expansion, fell and injured himself when a makeshift bridge MCM built collapsed under the worker’s weight.

The suit charged the company with employing “incompetent, inexperienced, unskilled or careless employees” at the job site.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was monitoring the situation and would offer whatever support was needed.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who spoke at a ceremony celebrating the bridge’s construction over the weekend, told CBS there were going to be a lot of questions that have to be answered about what happened.

“Right now the most important thing is going to be to save people who are hopefully still alive,” he said.

Florida International University is the second-largest university in the state, with 55,000 students. Most of its students live off-campus. The bridge was supposed to be a safe way to cross a busy street and a plaza-like public space with seating where people could gather.

In August 2017, a university student was killed crossing the road that the bridge was supposed to span.

Florida International University is also home to the National Hurricane Center.

Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Curt Anderson in Miami and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

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'Multiple' fatalities when bridge collapses onto vehicles
'Multiple' fatalities when bridge collapses onto vehicles
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Trump congratulates Putin, gets backtalk from Republicans

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AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election, drawing bruising criticism from members of his own party, including a leading senator who scorned the election as a “sham.” Trump also said he and Putin might meet “in the not too distant future” to discuss the arms race and other matters.

What they didn’t discuss on Tuesday was noteworthy as well: Trump did not raise Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in England.

“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, called the president’s call “odd.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump “can call whomever he chooses” but noted that calling Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was “no surprise” that Putin was re-elected, commenting that some people were paid to turn out to vote and opposition leaders were intimidated or jailed. She also cited a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that said Russia’s election took place in an overly controlled environment that lacked an even playing field for all contenders.

Her comments were notably tougher on Russia than those coming from the White House.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s call, and noted that President Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory.

“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders said.

The action and reaction fit a Trump White House pattern of declining to chide authoritarian regimes for undemocratic practices.

Trump himself has long been reluctant to publicly criticize Putin. He said that during their hoped-for meeting the two men would likely discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, among other things.

“I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said.

Russia has received global condemnation after Britain blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attack that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia has denied the accusation.

Trump’s call came at a period of heightened tensions between the two nations after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other “malicious cyberattacks.” Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times.

“We’ve been very clear in the actions that we’ve taken that we’re going to be tough on Russia, particularly when it comes to areas that we feel where they’ve stepped out of place.”

The Kremlin said in a statement that Trump and Putin spoke about a need to “coordinate efforts to limit the arms race” and for closer cooperation on strategic stability and counterterrorism.

“Special attention was given to considering the issue of a possible bilateral summit,” the Kremlin statement said.

In addition, the two presidents expressed satisfaction with the apparent easing of tensions over North Korea’s weapons program, according to the Kremlin.

No details were released about the timing or location of a possible meeting, which would be their third since Trump took office in January 2017. They met on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany last summer and again more informally at another gathering of world leaders in Vietnam in November.

The presidents “agreed to develop further bilateral contacts, taking into account changes in the U.S. State Department,” the Kremlin statement said in a reference to Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Russia has repeatedly said it hoped for better ties with the U.S. under Trump.

Putin received calls from a number of other foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sent congratulatory telegrams.

The White House had said Monday that it was “not surprised by the outcome” of Sunday’s presidential election in Russia and that no congratulatory call was planned.

Trump continues to grapple with the shadow of the ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump’s associates – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos – have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

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Trump congratulates Putin, gets backtalk from Republicans
Trump congratulates Putin, gets backtalk from Republicans
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Source: AP HEADLINES

States: Federal money for opioid crisis a small step forward

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) — The federal government will spend a record $4.6 billion this year to fight the nation’s deepening opioid crisis, which killed 42,000 Americans in 2016.

But some advocates say the funding included in the spending plan the president signed Friday is not nearly enough to establish the kind of treatment system needed to reverse the crisis. A White House report last fall put the cost to the country of the overdose epidemic at more than $500 billion a year.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat who served on President Donald Trump’s opioid commission last year, said there are clear solutions but that Congress needs to devote more money to them.

“We still have lacked the insight that this is a crisis, a cataclysmic crisis,” he said.

By comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the U.S. is spending more than $7 billion annually on discretionary domestic funding on AIDS, an epidemic with a death toll that peaked in 1995 at 43,000.

States also have begun putting money toward the opioid epidemic. The office of Ohio Gov. John Kasich estimates the state is spending $1 billion a year to address the crisis. Last year, New Jersey allocated $200 million to opioid programs, and the budget proposal in Minnesota calls for spending $12 million in the coming fiscal year.

A spokesman for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who also served on the Trump commission, said the federal government still needs to do more.

“Governor Baker encourages members of Congress to work together on a plan forward to fully fund the bipartisan recommendations,” spokesman Brendan Moss said.

The commission’s chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, declined through a spokesman to comment.

The opioid allocation is part of the $1.3 trillion budget appropriation Trump signed Friday. In a budget deal full of compromises, this was one element both parties heralded.

Addiction to opioid painkillers, including prescription drugs such a Vicodin and OxyContin and illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, is causing deep problems across the country. It’s being blamed for shortened life expectancies, growing burdens on foster care systems, and strains on police and fire departments.

The budgeted response amounts to about three times as much as the federal government is spending currently to address the epidemic, not counting treatment money that flows through Medicaid and Medicare. A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the agency does not track how much money it spends on drug treatment.

“This bill provides the funding necessary to tackle this crisis from every angle,” U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is chairman of a subcommittee overseeing much of the funding, said in a statement. “It’s another major step in our effort to get this epidemic under control and save lives.”

The biggest chunk of new money in the congressional appropriation – $1 billion – is to be distributed to states and American Indian tribes. States with the highest overdose mortality rates would receive larger shares, a provision that’s important to hard-hit states with small populations such as West Virginia and New Hampshire. Every state would receive at least $4 million.

The plan also includes $500 million for opioid-related research and hundreds of millions more to expand treatment availability.

Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of an opioid policy research group at Brandeis University, said he believes it would take a 10-year commitment to funding $6 billion annually to build a system that would make medication-assisted treatment accessible to everyone who needs it.

The federal appropriation also contains money for law enforcement and equipment to help identify and intercept opioids at borders and ports of entry.

Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said he believes law enforcement is not the key to solving the epidemic but appreciates the additional federal money for policing.

“We are many years into this drug epidemic and the worst one in our history, and there have never been any new dollars for law enforcement to speak of,” he said.

Providing law enforcement in Kentucky with naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses, is a major expense for his office. Federal help is now available to defray some of those costs.

Some of the federal money also will go toward helping people being released from prison avoid the drugs and to expand specialized courts for veterans and people with drug dependency.

The federal spending plan also incorporates language inspired by the 2016 death of a 30-year-old woman, who overdosed on pain pills she was prescribed as she left a hospital following surgery.

The woman, Jessie Grubb, received the pills from a Michigan hospital despite medical records reflecting her past heroin addiction and recovery. Under the law, federal authorities are encouraged to establish procedures for health care providers to share information about addiction histories.

“In honor of Jessie, but really in honor of thousands of families and recovering addicts, this legislation will go a long way to save lives,” Grubb’s father, David Grubb, said this past week from the family’s home state of West Virginia.

Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill and Raby at http://twitter.com/jrabyap

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States: Federal money for opioid crisis a small step forward
States: Federal money for opioid crisis a small step forward
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Source: AP HEADLINES

In private, Trump has mused about Syria pullout for weeks

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said.

Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended – not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”

But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.

The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.

In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in US funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait.

The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week.

The State Department said it continually reviews appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized. And the agency said it continues to work with the international community, members of the Coalition, and our partners on the ground to provide needed stabilization support to vulnerable areas in Syria.

“The United States is working everyday on the ground and with the international community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from (Syrian President Bashar) Assad,” according to a statement from the Department.

Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Alastair Campbell on Feb. 23, when Trump said the U.S. was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further.

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon – very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said.

The public declaration caught U.S. national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. Inundated by inquiries from journalists and foreign officials, the Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification.

The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves.

“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.

Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable.

For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success.

Yet it’s unclear how Trump’s impulse to pull out could be affected by recent staff shake-ups on his national security team. Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both advocates for keeping a U.S. presence in Syria, were recently fired, creating questions about the longevity of the plan Tillerson announced in his Stanford University speech in January. But Trump also replaced McMaster with John Bolton, a vocal advocate for U.S. intervention and aggressive use of the military overseas.

The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States.

Other nations that make up the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS fear that Trump’s impulse to pull out hastily would allow the notoriously resourceful IS militants to regroup, several European diplomats said. That concern has been heightened by the fact that U.S.-backed ground operations against remaining IS militants in Syria were put on hold earlier this month.

The ground operations had to be paused because Kurdish fighters who had been spearheading the campaign against IS shifted to a separate fight with Turkish forces, who began combat operations in the town of Afrin against Kurds who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists that threaten Turkey’s security.

“This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month.

Beyond just defeating IS, there are other strategic U.S. objectives that could be jeopardized by a hasty withdrawal, officials said, chiefly those related to Russia and Iran.

Israel, America’s closest Mideast ally, and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about the influence of Iran and its allies, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, inside Syria. The U.S. military presence in Syria has been seen as a buffer against unchecked Iranian activity, and especially against Tehran’s desire to establish a contiguous land route from Iran to the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon.

An American withdrawal would also likely cede Syria to Russia, which along with Iran has been propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and would surely fill the void left behind by the U.S. That prospect has alarmed countries like France, which has historic ties to the Levant.

In calling for a withdrawal “very soon,” Trump may be overly optimistic in his assessment of how quickly the anti-IS campaign can be wrapped up, the officials said. Although the group has been driven from basically all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 95 percent of its former territory in Syria, the remaining five percent is becoming increasingly difficult to clear and could take many months, the officials said.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

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In private, Trump has mused about Syria pullout for weeks
In private, Trump has mused about Syria pullout for weeks
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Number of women running for US House seats sets record

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) — The number of women running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives set a record Thursday, the vast majority of them Democrats motivated by angst over President Donald Trump and policies of the Republican-controlled Congress.

Their ranks will continue to grow in the weeks ahead, with filing deadlines still to come in more than half the states.

In many places, women are running for congressional seats that have never had a female representative.

“It’s about time,” said Kara Eastman of Nebraska, one of two Democrats vying to challenge a Republican incumbent in a district centered in Omaha.

A surge of women into this year’s midterm elections had been expected since the Women’s March demonstrations nationwide just after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Numbers analyzed by The Associated Press show that momentum is continuing.

After Virginia released its candidate list Thursday, a total of 309 women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for the House. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012.

The AP analyzed data going back to 1992 from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and did its own review of candidate information released by the states.

While just over half the nation’s population is female, four out of every five members of the U.S. House are men. The women’s candidacies won’t necessarily change that. They still have to survive party primaries and win the general election, often against an incumbent with name recognition and a large reservoir of campaign cash.

Even with the record numbers, women are still outnumbered by male candidates. But experts say the sheer number of women running combined with so many House seats open due to retirements or resignations provides one of the best opportunities for women to make real gains in terms of representation and a change in priorities.

Many of the female candidates have focused their campaign messages on health care, education, early childhood development, family leave and workplace equality.

Eastman said she was motivated by Republican attempts to cut health coverage for low-income people and rollbacks of environmental protections.

She decided to run after her mother, who has since died, was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time and saw her prescription drug prices soar even though she was covered by Medicare.

“It’s a great thing for me to show my 16-year-old daughter,” Eastman, who runs a children’s health care nonprofit, said of her candidacy.

Linke is an Associated Press visual journalist who reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Follow the reporters on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill , https://twitter.com/maureenlinke and https://twitter.com/AP-Christina

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Number of women running for US House seats sets record
Number of women running for US House seats sets record
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Source: AP HEADLINES

The Latest: UK police: 21 total treated after spy poisoning

LONDON (AP) — The Latest on the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain and his daughter (all times local):

6:55 p.m.

British police now say a total of roughly 21 people have sought treatment after a nerve agent was used to attack and ex-Russian spy and his daughter.

Wiltshire acting police chief Kier Pritchard told Sky News on Thursday that “a number” of those people got blood tests, support and hospital advice.

He says only three people remain hospitalized. They are former Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and police Sgt. Nick Bailey.

Officials say Bailey is making progress. The ex-spy and his daughter remain in critical condition.

Police say the roughly 21 people treated include the three still hospitalized.

5 p.m.

The global chemical weapons watchdog says it is in touch with authorities in Britain about the use of a rare nerve agent in an attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

In a brief written statement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says that “the recent report that two people became seriously ill in the United Kingdom as a result of exposure to a nerve agent is a source of great concern.”

The organization based in The Hague did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking more detail on the nature of the contacts with Britain.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has told the House of Commons that enormous resources are being used to determine who is responsible for poisoning Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33. The pair were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on Sunday.

11:45 a.m.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd says a former Russian spy and his daughter who were poisoned with a nerve agent are in a critical but stable condition.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in the English city of Salisbury on Sunday.

Rudd says a police officer who treated them is in serious but stable condition and is “talking and engaging.” She says it’s highly likely the officer was exposed to the same nerve agent.

Rudd says the attack is an “outrageous crime” and a “brazen and reckless act” but cautions it is too early to say who was behind it.

9:10 a.m.

Britain’s Home Secretary says the investigation into the nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter is focusing on three sites – his home, a pub and a restaurant.

Amber Rudd told the BBC on Thursday that enormous resources are being directed at trying to figure out who might be responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Rudd, who is in charge of public security issues, says the police officer also injured in the incident Sunday is also in serious condition but is conscious and talking.

Rudd declined to say if she believed Russia was behind the attack, but says Britain will “if it is appropriate, attribute it to somebody. If that is the case, then we will have a plan in place.”

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The Latest: UK police: 21 total treated after spy poisoning
The Latest: UK police: 21 total treated after spy poisoning
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Trump says he won't back down on tariffs plan

AP Photo
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump insisted Monday that he’s “not backing down” on his plan to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite anxious warnings from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans of a possible trade war.

The president said that North American neighbors Canada and Mexico would not get any relief from his plan to place the tariffs on the imports but suggested he might be willing to exempt the two longstanding allies if they agreed to better terms for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“No, we’re not backing down,” Trump said in the Oval Office, seated with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ve had a very bad deal with Mexico, we’ve had a very bad deal with Canada – it’s called NAFTA,” Trump said.

The president opened the door to exempting the two countries from the planned tariffs, telling reporters, “that would be, I would imagine, one of the points that we’ll negotiate.” But he added, “If they aren’t going to make a fair NAFTA deal, we’re just going to leave it this way.”

Trump spoke shortly after a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ryan said the GOP leader was “extremely worried” about the tariffs setting off a trade war and had urged the White House “to not advance with this plan.” Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, circulated a letter opposing Trump’s tariff plan.

The administration says the tariffs are necessary to preserve the American industries – and that imposing them is a national security imperative. But Trump’s comments and tweets earlier in the day suggested he was also using them as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA. The latest round of a nearly yearlong renegotiation effort is concluding this week in Mexico City.

He tweeted, “Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S.”

In the meantime, Trump’s tariff plan has been branded “absolutely unacceptable” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission has said the European Union could respond by taxing American goods including Bourbon, blue jeans and Harley Davidson motorcycles.

The tariffs will be made official in the next two weeks, White House officials said Monday, as the administration defended the protectionist decision from critics in Washington and overseas.

Speaking on “Fox and Friends,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said: “25 percent on steel, and the 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions – firm line in the sand.”

Trump’s pronouncement last week that he would impose the tariffs roiled markets and rankled allies.

The across-the-board action would break with the recommendation of the Pentagon, which pushed for more targeted tariffs on metals imports from countries like China and warned that a wide-ranging move would jeopardize national security partnerships. But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversaw reviews of the industries that recommended the tariffs, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump is “talking about a fairly broad brush.”

Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the sweeping action would let China “off the hook,” adding the tariffs would drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies.

“China wins when we fight with Europe,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” ”China wins when the American consumer has higher prices because of tariffs that don’t affect Chinese behavior.”

Trump has threatened to tax European cars if the EU boosts tariffs on American products in response to the president’s plan to increase duties on steel and aluminum.

British Prime Minister Theresa May raised her “deep concern” at the tariff announcement in a phone call with Trump Sunday. May’s office says she noted that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity.”

But Ross rejected threats of retaliation from American allies as “pretty trivial” and not much more than a “rounding error.”

And Navarro argued Monday that “there are virtually no costs here.”

“If you put a 10 percent tariff on aluminum, it’s a cent and a half on a six pack of beer and it’s $25,000 on a $330 million (Boeing 777),” Navarro said.

Trade politics often cut along regional, rather than ideological, lines, as politicians reflect the interests of the hometown industries and workers. But rarely does a debate open so wide a rift between a president and his party – leaving him almost exclusively with support from his ideological opposites.

Labor unions and liberal Democrats are in the unusual position of applauding Trump’s approach on grounds it will bolster jobs in a depleted industry, while Republicans and an array of business groups are warning of dire economic and political consequences.

In the 2016 election, Trump’s criticism of trade agreements and China’s trade policies found support with working-class Americans whose wages had stagnated over the years. Victories in big steel-producing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana demonstrated that his tough trade talk had a receptive audience.

Both House candidates in next week’s special election in Pennsylvania have embraced the president’s plans for tariffs. They addressed the topic Saturday in a debate that aired on WTAE in Pittsburgh.

“For too long, China has been making cheap steel and they’ve been flooding the market with it. It’s not fair and it’s not right. So I actually think this is long overdue,” said Democratic candidate Conor Lamb.

“Unfortunately, many of our competitors around the world have slanted the playing field, and their thumb has been on the scale, and I think President Trump is trying to even that scale back out,” said Republican candidate Rick Saccone.

But Trump’s GOP allies on Capitol Hill have little use for the tariff approach. They argue that other industries that rely on steel and aluminum products will suffer. The cost of new appliances, cars and buildings will rise if the president follows through, they warn, and other nations could retaliate. The end result could erode the president’s base of support with rural America and even the blue-collar workers the president says he trying to help.

“There is always retaliation, and typically a lot of these countries single out agriculture when they do that. So, we’re very concerned,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., asked the administration to reconsider its stance. He said American companies could move their operations abroad and not face retaliatory tariffs.

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Follow Zeke Miller on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller and Kevin Freking at https://twitter.com/APkfreking

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Trump says he won't back down on tariffs plan
Trump says he won't back down on tariffs plan
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Source: AP HEADLINES

The day after: Pyeongchang breathes, bids Olympics farewell

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AP Photo/Michael Probst

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — From volunteers to support staff to the joint Korea women’s hockey team, people from many cultures bid farewell to each other and to the 2018 Winter Olympics on Monday as a swath of the eastern Korean Peninsula readied itself for something novel: relative normalcy.

Seven years after a successful Olympic bid that changed its people and its landscape forever, Pyeongchang exhaled.

“Farewell! Bye bye! Gamsahamnida!” volunteers using the Korean word for “thank you” shouted to departing buses in Gangneung, the coastal city near Pyeongchang where many events were held.

Workers yanked down paper signs by the hundreds and busloads of Olympians, journalists and support workers rolled toward train stations and highways Monday in the aftermath of a Winter Games that was as political as it was athletic.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach echoed that sentiment in the closing ceremony Sunday night, saying that the centerpiece political event of the games – a joint Koreas team marching together and, in some cases, competing together was a beacon for a troubled world.

“With your joint march you have shared your faith in a peaceful future with all of us,” Bach said. “You have shown our sport brings people together in our very fragile world. You have shown how sport builds bridges.”

The Korean women’s hockey team did that for sure.

Thrown together a just few weeks before the games, players from North and South were thrust together to make a go of it. With the help of their Canadian coach, they came together as a competent, if not particularly effective, team that captured the attention of many Olympics watchers.

Along the way, they developed what they uniformly say was camaraderie, and even great affection. On Monday morning, at the athletes’ village, they said their goodbyes with tears and extended hands.

“I feel really strange,” said South Korean hockey player Choi Ji-yeon. “I told them to take care and not get sick and meet again later.”

She added: “If they were people whom we can continue to keep in touch and meet again, then I would feel better, but I might never be able to meet them again.”

Their governmental counterparts were showing signs of communication as well. The detente achieved through the Olympic connections between North and South Korea fits the longtime goals of the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, who has advocated engagement with Kim Jong Un’s Pyongyang regime.

That happened at the opening and closing ceremonies, both with U.S. representatives looking on from nearby – Vice President Mike Pence for the opening, first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump for the closing Sunday night.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, a patron of South Korea and a loud opponent of the North’s nuclear program, is watching the contacts closely, particularly after South Korea’s presidential office said during the closing ceremony that the North was willing to hold talks with the United States.

Washington viewed that development warily. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, with Ivanka Trump on her South Korea Olympic trip, issued a written statement to that effect after the closing ceremony.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” she said. “In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”

North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, known for its invective toward the United States and the Seoul government, has been playing it low key when it comes to these Olympics. On Monday, it issued a synopsis of the games that was notable for its anodyne tone.

“When the players of the north and south of Korea participating in the 23rd Winter Olympics and other players and agents of different countries and region from across the world entered the stadium, the spectators welcomed them with applause,” it practically whispered.

Contrast that with this dispatch hours earlier about the United States: “We will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years. This is neither an empty talk nor any threat. The U.S. will have to pay dearly for stupid and wild vituperation.”

Twelve hours later, news of its willingness to talk emerged from Seoul.

As for the Olympics and the attention and people they bring to this relatively remote plateau of northeastern South Korea, it’s not quite finished yet. The Paralympic Games, held immediately after the Olympics using the same facilities, will be staged from March 9 to 18, albeit with a lower profile and attendance.

But for a few days, at least, with traffic cones down and most Olympic checkpoints removed, Pyeongchang can take a breather as the eyes of the world shift somewhere else.

Ted Anthony has been Asia-Pacific news director for The Associated Press since 2014. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @anthonyted.

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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The day after: Pyeongchang breathes, bids Olympics farewell
The day after: Pyeongchang breathes, bids Olympics farewell
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Few states let courts take guns from people deemed a threat

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AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The warnings around Nikolas Cruz seemed to flash like neon signs: expelled from school, fighting with classmates, a fascination with weapons and hurting animals, disturbing images and comments posted to social media, previous mental health treatment.

In Florida, that wasn’t enough for relatives, authorities or his schools to request a judicial order barring him from possessing guns.

Only five states have laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence. Supporters of these measures, deemed “red flag laws” or gun-violence restraining orders, say they can save lives by stopping some shootings and suicides.

Florida, where Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 assault weapon to kill 17 people at his former high school, lacks such a law. He was able to legally own the semi-automatic rifle, even though his mother, classmates and teachers had at times described him as dangerous and threatening, and despite repeated police visits to his home.

Red flag legislation has been introduced by Democratic state lawmakers, but it hasn’t been heard during this year’s session, and its fate is uncertain in a state Legislature controlled by Republicans who generally favor expanding gun rights.

After Wednesday’s shooting, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he will work to make sure people with mental illnesses don’t have access to guns, but offered no specifics. Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio – facing withering criticism over his acceptance of $3.3 million in career campaign cash donated through the National Rifle Association – is going a step further now.

Rubio said on a Sunday morning show that state legislators should “absolutely” consider enacting a law enabling family members or law enforcement officials to ask a court to remove guns from a person who poses a danger. Rubio, who once served as Florida’s House speaker, told Miami CBS affiliate WFOR that it’s an “example of a state law” that could have helped prevent the Florida shooting.

In 2014, California became the first state to let family members ask a judge to remove firearms from a relative who appears to pose a threat. Its legislature took action after a mentally ill man, Elliot Rodger, killed six students and wounded 13 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself.

California’s law also empowers police to petition for the protective orders, which can require authorities to remove firearms for up to one year. Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington also have some version of a red flag law.

More than a dozen others, including Hawaii, New Jersey and Missouri, are considering bills to enable family members or police to petition the courts to take weapons away from people showing signs of mental distress or violence.

The Florida shooting has revived debate about whether teachers and school administrators should have that authority as well, given that people at Cruz’s high school witnessed much of his erratic behavior.

California lawmakers voted to expand their law in 2016 so that high school and college personnel, co-workers and mental health professionals can seek the restraining orders, but Gov. Jerry Brown called the effort premature and vetoed it.

State Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said he plans to reintroduce the bill.

“We need to make sure that when people see signs, they have every ability to do something about getting guns out of the hands of mentally ill and dangerous people,” Ting told The Associated Press.

Circumstances similar to those in Florida played out seven years ago in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Jared Loughner had become increasingly disruptive and erratic at his community college in the months leading up to the shooting, frightening students and causing teachers to request campus police officers be on hand during his classes. Eventually, the school threatened him with suspension.

Soon after, he went to a gun store and legally bought the weapon he used to attack Giffords as she met with constituents, shooting her in the head and killing six people.

Without red flag laws, the main recourse available to family members is to have a troubled loved one committed to a psychiatric institution. Federal law permanently bans anyone who has been involuntary committed from owning guns, but such actions are more difficult to carry out than red flag laws, which are intended to be quick and temporary and have a lower standard of proof.

Without such a commitment, formal adjudication of serious mental illness or a felony conviction, many people can pass background checks and possess guns they already own.

The red flag laws act as a sort of timeout, so someone in psychological distress can get counseling while their fitness to possess a gun is evaluated, said Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center.

“It’s a way to allow for temporary removal of firearms in a situation just like this: where somebody has made threats, where they have been expelled from school because of those threats, they’re in counseling, and parents or the school or whoever it is understands that this person poses a threat,” she said.

Many gun-rights activists oppose the laws. They say they can be used to unfairly take away rights from people who have not been convicted of crimes, nor professionally evaluated for mental illness.

The NRA’s lobbying arm has said such laws enable courts to remove Second Amendment rights “based on third-party allegations and evidentiary standards” that are lower than what’s required in criminal proceedings.

Connecticut led the way with a 1999 law, passed after an employee shot and killed four executives at state Lottery headquarters. It allows police to remove guns based on probable cause that a person poses a “risk of imminent personal injury.”

In a study published last year, researchers at Duke, Yale, Connecticut and Virginia estimated that dozens of suicides have been prevented by the law, roughly one for every 10 gun seizures carried out. They said such laws “could significantly mitigate the risk” posed by the small number of legal gun owners who might suddenly pose a significant danger.

Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa.

Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento; Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; and Lisa Marie Pane in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Few states let courts take guns from people deemed a threat
Few states let courts take guns from people deemed a threat
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Source: AP HEADLINES