AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EST


Trump wins Christie’s support in race laced with insults

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Donald Trump scored a powerhouse endorsement Friday as he sought to regain headway in a Republican presidential race that devolved into a series of fierce insults and schoolyard taunts heading into the weekend before Super Tuesday contests.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stunned the Republican establishment by swinging behind the New York billionaire, declaring “there is no better fighter than Donald Trump.” Taking the cue, Trump unleashed a raw assault on Marco Rubio, who went after him with fury on the debate stage the night before.

Trump called the first-term Florida senator “a nervous basket case,” ”a choke artist,” ”a frightened little puppy” and insulted the size of his ears. “This is a low-life,” Trump said of Rubio, not leaving out Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “Cruz lies, but at least it’s reasonable lies.” Earlier, Rubio joked that Trump might have wet his pants backstage on debate night.

Christie’s endorsement came after Rubio shattered months of relative peace with the Republican front-runner by repeatedly attacking Trump’s character in the debate. Christie caught the room by surprise when he stepped out to join Trump at a Forth Worth news conference announcing the governor’s support.

The shift marked the beginning of a long-awaited Trump takedown effort that was cheered by anxious Republicans nationwide who question Trump’s party loyalty and fear he’s unelectable in a general election.

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US, Russia-brokered cease-fire goes into effect across Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — A cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia came into effect across Syria on Saturday, marking the biggest international push to reduce violence in the country’s devastating conflict, but the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were excluded.

The cease-fire aims to bring representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks on a political transition. The U.N.’s envoy, Staffan de Mistura, announced that peace talks would resume on March 7 if the cessation of hostilities “largely holds.”

If they do, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria’s five-year civil war. But success requires adherence by multiple armed factions — and the truce is made more fragile because it allows fighting to continue against the Islamic State group and Nusra Front, which could easily re-ignite broader warfare.

The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the cease-fire despite serious skepticism about chances for success.

Less than an hour before the truce was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement worked out between the United States and Russia.

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An unlikely normalcy prevails in the Syrian capital

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — An unlikely normalcy prevails in the Syrian capital, where a mix of rural refugees and urbanites conduct their daily business and enjoy the easy cafe culture to the muffled sounds of explosions in the distance.

The serenity of the capital’s historic Marjeh Square reflects the adaptability of Syrians and resilience of human nature. It also underscores the strategically important success of President Bashar Assad in insulating his seat of power from the devastation that has swept much of the country in the nearly 5-year-old civil war.

The 19th century square located just outside the walls of the old city is only few miles away from the war-ravaged eastern suburbs of Damascus. Yet here, women in black abayas and others in cropped jeans take afternoon strolls, mingling with Syrians who fled their homes in battle zones in other parts of the country.

“As you can see nothing happens here,” said Saer al-Saleh, a 38-year-old from the central city of Homs who is studying in Damascus and was chatting with two friends in the square, noting that business and commerce goes on. “But outside of Damascus, places like Daraya, like Douma, are hot areas.”

As he spoke, two large explosions resounded from the suburbs. Men in the square looked in the direction of the sound without interrupting their discussion.

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Sheriff: Cop who killed Kansas gunman a ‘tremendous hero’

HESSTON, Kan. (AP) — A man who stormed into a Kansas factory where he worked and shot 14 people, killing three, had just been served with a protective order that probably set off the attack, authorities said Friday.

The assault at the Excel Industries lawnmower parts plant in the small town of Hesston ended when the police chief killed the gunman in a shootout.

Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton described the officer as a “tremendous hero” because 200 or 300 people were still in the factory and the “shooter wasn’t done by any means.”

“Had that Hesston officer not done what he did, this would be a whole lot more tragic,” Walton said.

The gunman was identified as Cedric Ford, a 38-year-old plant worker who was armed with an assault rifle and a pistol.

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Soccer’s world body elects Gianni Infantino as president

ZURICH (AP) — Gianni Infantino is the new president of soccer’s corruption-scarred world governing body, winning election after promising national leaders of the sport that he would share the wealth from FIFA’s $5 billion World Cup revenues.

Infantino was chosen on the second-ballot Friday to fill the unexpired term of longtime FIFA leader Sepp Blatter, who was forced out by the pressure of U.S. and Swiss investigations of bribery and corruption that emerged two days before the previous vote in May 2015.

The stunning outcome seemed to catch the 45-year-old Infantino off-guard. He had to compose himself before starting his acceptance speech and saluted voters by patting his heart with his right hand.

“We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA. And everyone in the world will applaud us,” said Infantino, who only became a candidate when a case of financial wrongdoing removed his own boss, Michel Platini, at Europe’s soccer body UEFA.

“I am convinced a new era is starting,” said the Swiss-born former lawyer. Blatter headed FIFA for more than 17 years.

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Iran votes in first elections since landmark nuclear deal

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in the country’s first election since its landmark nuclear deal with world powers, deciding whether to further empower moderates backing President Hassan Rouhani or support hard-liners long suspicious of the West.

The elections for Iran’s parliament and a powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts are tightly controlled by the establishment headed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which ultimately determines who can run.

But within the range allowed by the Islamic Republic, the voting may provide a referendum on Rouhani’s policies — and his promises that the nuclear deal, the lifting of most international sanctions and a greater degree of opening to the West can help boost a battered economy — a top concern for most voters.

Nearly 55 million of Iran’s 80 million people were eligible to vote. Participation figures and other statistics were not immediately available, though Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted late Thursday there would be a turnout of 70 percent.

Polls had been scheduled to close at 6 p.m., but the Interior Ministry said it would extend voting time until 11:45 p.m. in the capital. Authorities said election workers had begun counting ballots after that.

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Teen who killed teacher gets life with chance for parole

SALEM, Mass. (AP) — A teenager who raped and killed his high school math teacher was sentenced Friday to life in prison with eligibility for parole in 40 years.

The 2013 slaying of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer by Philip Chism was “brutal and senseless,” Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy said as he pronounced the sentence.

“Colleen Ritzer lived a life of quiet heroism,” Lowy said. “The crashing waves of this tragedy will never wane.”

Chism was 14 when he followed the 24-year-old Ritzer into a school bathroom, strangled her, stabbed her at least 16 times and raped her. His lawyers argued he was mentally ill, a contention rejected by the jury.

He will serve life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years on a murder charge. He received 40-year concurrent sentences on rape and robbery charges.

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Snyder lawyer called Flint water ‘scary’ before lead crisis

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder’s newest release of state emails and documents related to Flint’s water disaster appears to indicate that his aides’ reluctance to brief him, his own mismanagement — or both — led to delays in addressing the public health threat.

A full year before his administration helped the city reconnect to Lake Huron water after lead contamination was exposed, two top advisers were already advocating the move, citing E. coli and a General Motors plant’s rusting parts. Snyder’s chief legal counsel even told the chief of staff that using Flint River water was “downright scary.”

Yet the Republican governor insists those specific warnings — weeks before his re-election — were never given directly to him, and state officials decided then that it would cost too much to rejoin Detroit’s system.

With documents revealing such discussions in Snyder’s inner circle, even the governor’s allies acknowledge how badly the issue seems to have been handled.

“The right people were raising the right issues, they were sounding the alarms,” said John Truscott, a public relations strategist who was the spokesman for former GOP Gov. John Engler. “Why wasn’t it followed through on?”

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Infantino assumes FIFA destiny of banned Platini

ZURICH (AP) — New FIFA President Gianni Infantino is like the substitute who came off the bench to score the winning goal in a cup final to stun the favorites.

When Infantino stepped on the Zurich stage on Friday to be acclaimed as head of world soccer, he knew his former boss Michel Platini should have been there instead of him.

Had Platini not billed FIFA for 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) in 2011 and been banned last year from football as a result, the former France captain and not his UEFA No. 2 would be in charge of the global game.

Infantino stunned pre-election favorite Sheikh Salman of Bahrain by beating the Asian confederation president 115-88 in a second round of voting when rivals Prince Ali of Jordan collected four votes and Jerome Champagne failed to garner any.

Infantino raised his tally from the 88 collected in the first round as Prince Ali’s support dropped. It appeared Thursday’s late night talks with CONCACAF and Oceania delegates in their Zurich hotel restaurant paid off for Infantino.

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EU Med countries oppose unilateral actions on refugee crisis

LIMASSOL, Cyprus (AP) — The rift over how to handle Europe’s immigration crisis ripped wide open Friday. As nations along the Balkans migrant route took more unilateral actions to shut down their borders, diplomats from EU nations bordering the Mediterranean rallied around Greece, the epicenter of the crisis.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides — speaking on behalf of colleagues from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta and Greece — said decisions on how to deal with the migrant influx that have already been made by the 28-nation bloc cannot be implemented selectively by some countries.

“This issue is testing our unity and ability to handle it,” Kasoulides told a news conference after an EU Mediterranean Group meeting. “The EU Med Group are the front-line states and we all share the view that unilateral actions cannot be a solution to this crisis.”

Kasoulides urged EU countries to enact all EU decisions on immigration so there “will be no unfairness to anybody.”

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias blasted some European nations for imposing border restrictions on arriving migrants, saying that police chiefs are not allowed to decide to overturn EU decisions.

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