AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST


Massive fireworks market blast kills at least 29 in Mexico

TULTEPEC, Mexico (AP) — A powerful chain-reaction explosion ripped through Mexico’s best-known fireworks market on the northern outskirts of the capital Tuesday, killing at least 29 people, injuring scores more and sending a huge plume of charcoal-gray smoke billowing into the sky.

Video of the blast showed a dramatic staccato of rockets exploding in flashes of light, leveling the open-air San Pablito Market in Tultepec in Mexico State as it bustled with shoppers stocking up on fireworks to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.

Vendors’ stands were reduced to piles of rubble, ash, and charred metal. It was the third devastating explosion and fire to ravage the market since 2005 and officials still have not said what caused this latest blast.

Crescencia Francisco Garcia said she was in the middle of the grid of stalls along with a few hundred others when the thunderous explosions began. She froze, reflexively looked up at the sky and then took off running through the smoke once she realized everyone was doing so. As she ran she saw people with burns and cuts, and lots of blood.

“Everything was catching fire. Everything was exploding,” Francisco said. “The stones were flying, pieces of brick, everything was flying.”

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Islamic State group claims Berlin Christmas market attack

BERLIN (AP) — The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday for a truck attack on a crowded Berlin Christmas market that German authorities said came right out of the extremist group’s playbook, inflicting mass casualties on a soft target fraught with symbolic meaning.

The Monday night attack on the popular market by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of former West Berlin left 12 dead and 48 injured — the first mass casualty attack by Islamic extremists carried out on German soil. German security forces were still hunting for the perpetrator after releasing a man from custody for lack of evidence.

The claim of responsibility carried on the Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency described the man seen fleeing from the truck as “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition.”

Germany is not involved in anti-IS combat operations, but has Tornado jets and a refueling plane stationed in Turkey in support of the coalition fighting militants in Syria, as well as a frigate protecting a French aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, among other assets.

The claim of responsibility came not long after German prosecutors said they had released a man picked up near the scene of the attack, initially suspected of driving the truck.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. AT LEAST 29 DIE IN MEXICO FIREWORKS BLAST

Another 70 people are injured in the rolling explosions and fire that tore through the sprawling outdoor marketplace outside Mexico City.

2. WHICH COUNTRIES CAST THEMSELVES AS SYRIA DEAL-MAKERS

Russia, Turkey and Iran meet in Moscow, saying their cooperation could pave the way for a future settlement in the Syrian conflict.

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Obama bans future oil leases in much of Arctic, Atlantic

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.

Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s order will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to undo permanent withdrawals.

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Trump family drops access offered for charity donations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s children may see his move to the White House as a way to raise money for their favorite causes.

Two recent fundraising pitches featuring the incoming first family were meant to benefit charities, but they also raised questions among ethics experts that the Trumps might be inappropriately selling access.

Last week, Eric Trump tried auctioning a coffee date with his sister Ivanka to raise money for a children’s hospital. Now, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are part of a venture that initially offered a private reception with their father during inauguration weekend in exchange for $1 million donations that would go to conservation charities. Some of those contributors could later go hunting or fishing with one or both of the sons, the invitation promised.

These events are dissolving as quickly as they become public, suggesting the family is learning on the fly what’s acceptable.

Trump aides say the Trump family has been focused on resolving the perception of conflicts when it comes to Trump’s business; how to handle their charitable endeavors has been a secondary concern. But in light of recent events, the Trump team is looking more quickly for solutions, said a Trump transition official, speaking on condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

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It’s a tough time in Oklahoma, except for Scott Pruitt

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The last few years have been grindingly tough for state government in Oklahoma as plunging oil prices decimated tax revenues, forcing agencies to lay off employees, shutter offices and scale back services.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the office of Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to become director of the Environmental Protection Agency. While living in the same harsh fiscal climate and preaching small-government conservatism, Pruitt has managed to increase his office’s expenses by 40 percent and add nearly 60 employees since taking over, creating a dynamo for legal attacks on the Obama administration and a launching pad for his political career.

Ambitious conservatives abound in deep-red Oklahoma, but the 48-year-old Pruitt has become known for an extraordinary talent for expanding his power and budget. This drive and ingenuity will soon be trained on a federal agency that has long been a nemesis for the GOP’s right wing.

“He’s known to be a fighter,” said Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, whose own general counsel was pushed out after Pruitt made him a target over several flawed executions. “He’s taken stances and led the charge.”

And he’s not worried about appearances.

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At soaring rate, Nepalis seeking jobs abroad come home dead

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A tiny young woman crouches just outside the airport, crying softly into her thin shawl. It’s cold out, but her sleeping toddler is heavy and warm in her arms.

Travelers swarm around: Himalayan trekkers load up expedition backpacks. A Chinese tour group boards a bus. A dozen flight attendants in crisp blue suits and heels click by.

Saro Kumari Mandal, 26, covers her head completely, a bundle of grief.

Hundreds of young Nepali men excitedly wave final goodbyes to friends and family. On this day 1,500 will fly out of the Kathmandu airport bound for jobs mostly in Malaysia, Qatar or Saudi Arabia — jobs that are urgently needed by the people of this desperately poor country.

But on this day, too, six young men will come back in wooden caskets, rolled like suitcases out of baggage claim on luggage carts.

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FBI sought evidence of intrusions in Hillary Clinton emails

NEW YORK (AP) — The FBI was trying to get a look at thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer partly to see if anyone had hacked in to steal classified information, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.

Investigating possible hacking appeared to be a secondary rationale for the email search, which FBI Director James Comey launched in the waning days of the presidential election.

When the FBI asked a magistrate judge in New York to issue a search warrant for Weiner’s computer on Oct. 30, an agent spent pages describing concerns it might contain evidence Clinton had mishandled classified information.

The warrant application, made public Tuesday, was filed two days after Comey informed Congress investigators had discovered email correspondence that could be pertinent to his recently closed probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

In the document, the agent wrote that thousands of emails between Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin had been discovered on a laptop used by Weiner, Abedin’s estranged husband.

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Volkswagen deal gives some diesel car owners buyback option

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Volkswagen reached a deal that will give at least some owners of the remaining 80,000 diesel vehicles caught in the company’s emissions cheating scandal the option of a buyback and provide compensation to all of them on top of any repurchase or repairs, U.S. regulators and a federal judge said Tuesday.

The $1 billion settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will give owners of 20,000 3-liter diesel cars the choice of a buyback. The figure does not include additional payments to owners.

Volkswagen believes it can bring the other 60,000 vehicles into compliance with pollution regulations and will not offer a buyback if that’s the case, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said in San Francisco.

The deal includes $225 million the German automaker will contribute to an environmental fund to offset the cars’ excess pollution, Cynthia Giles of the EPA said in a conference call with reporters.

Additional compensation for car owners will be substantial, according to the judge, but he did not provide a figure and said the sides still had more work to do.

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Richard Marx says he’s no ‘big hero’ after plane incident

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Marx says he wasn’t a hero for apparently intervening after an unruly passenger disrupted a Korean Air flight and had to be restrained.

Marx and his wife, Daisy Fuentes, documented the incident on Facebook and Instagram on Tuesday. The “Right Here Waiting” singer and Fuentes, a former MTV VJ, were married last year.

Fuentes wrote that her husband was the first to help subdue the man, and Marx criticized the flight crew for failing to properly restrain the man.

A Korean Air spokesman confirmed the incident aboard the flight from Hanoi to Seoul and that photos on Marx’s Facebook page were shot during the flight. Cho Hyun Mook said the matter was under investigation and that it appears that crew members responded in accordance with airline policies.

Marx posted a later update saying he and Fuentes were home safe and saying he wasn’t a “big ‘hero'” but “just did what I would hope anyone would do in the same situation.”

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