AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EDT


Under fire on abortion, Trump fights to court women

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Donald Trump is fighting to convince a skeptical Republican Party he can improve his standing among women, even as he takes back an explosive comment about abortion and attacks the credibility of a female reporter police say was illegally grabbed by the GOP front-runner’s campaign manager.

It took Trump’s campaign just hours to backtrack on Wednesday after he said that should abortion become illegal, women who undergo the procedure should face “some sort of punishment.” The plan sparked an immediate backlash from both sides of the debate, prompting Trump to release two statements clarifying his position. His second statement said only those who perform abortions would be “held legally responsible, not the woman.”

“The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb,” Trump said.

The flap comes as Trump works to hold off a challenge from chief rival Ted Cruz in Wisconsin’s high-stakes primary on Tuesday. With a win, Trump’s grasp on his party’s presidential nomination could be unbreakable. A loss would give concerned Republican officials across the nation a realistic hope of wresting the nomination away from the New York businessman at the GOP’s national convention in July.

Frustrated Republicans are privately grappling with fears about Trump’s impact on their party’s appeal among women and young people, yet few dared criticize the GOP front-runner directly when pressed this week. Their silence underscored the deep uncertainty plaguing the party — particularly its most prominent women — who have few options in dealing with the brash billionaire.

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With jihadis at the door, Syrians rush to rescue history

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — With Islamic State group militants on the doorstep of his hometown in eastern Syria, Yaroob al-Abdullah had little time. He had already rushed his wife and four daughters to safety. Now he had to save the thousands of ancient artifacts he loved.

In a week of furious work in summer heat, tired and dehydrated from the Ramadan fast, the head of antiquities in Deir el-Zour province and his staff packed up most of the contents of the museum in the provincial capital. Then al-Abdullah flew with 12 boxes of relics to Damascus.

The pieces included masterpieces: A nearly 5,000-year-old statuette of a smiling worshipper. A colorful mural fragment from a 2nd-century temple for the god Bel. Thousands of fragile clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing, including administrative records, letters and business deals that provide a glimpse at life nearly 4,000 years ago in the Semitic kingdom of Mari.

The move, carried out in 2014, was part of a mission by antiquities officials across Syria to evacuate everything that could be saved from Islamic State extremists and looters. The extent of the operation has been little known until now, but its participants described to The Associated Press a massive effort — at least 29 of Syria’s 34 museums largely emptied out and more than 300,000 artifacts brought to the capital.

The pieces are now hidden in secret locations known only to the few specialists who handled them, said Maamoun Abdulkarim, who as head of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus oversaw the operation. “Other than that, no one knows where these antiquities are — not a politician, not any other Syrian.”

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Obama, Asian leaders to huddle on North Korea nuclear threat

WASHINGTON (AP) — Working to display a united front, the United States and key Asian countries will seek Thursday to put more pressure on North Korea as world leaders open a nuclear security summit in Washington.

President Barack Obama, the summit’s host, will also seek to smooth over tensions with China over cybersecurity and maritime disputes as he and President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines. The summit also offers Obama his last major chance to focus global attention on disparate nuclear security threats before his term ends early next year.

Though nuclear terrorism and the Islamic State group top this year’s agenda, concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program are also commanding focus as the two-day summit gets under way. Those long-simmering concerns have escalated of late following the North’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch.

Obama planned to have a joint meeting Thursday morning with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, two U.S. treaty allies deeply concerned about North Korea. It’s a reprise of a similar meeting the three countries held in 2014 during the last nuclear security summit in The Hague.

China’s influence over the North will be front and center later in the day when Obama sits down with Xi. The White House said that meeting was also an opportunity for Obama to press U.S. concerns about human rights and China’s assertive territorial claims in waters far off its coast.

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India’s once-gleaming Golden Temple dulled by air pollution

AMRITSAR, India (AP) — The chronic air pollution blanketing much of northern India is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.

There is little to be done short of replacing the 430-year-old temple’s gold-plated walls — an expensive project already undertaken more than a century ago and then again in 1999.

To cut down on pollution, environmentalists and religious leaders have launched a campaign that includes persuading farmers to stop burning spent crops to clear their fields, removing industry from the area and cutting back on traffic. A community kitchen called a “langar” that serves up to 100,000 people free meals every day at the temple is also switching from burning wood to cooking with gas.

But so far the campaign hasn’t had much impact, with change happening slowly and still no pollution monitoring equipment installed.

“As far as pollution goes, we are paying attention,” said Jaswant Singh, environmental engineer at the State Pollution Control Board, a government regulatory authority. “We are in the process of procuring equipment so that we can check the pollution area, pollution from every source on a day-to-day basis.”

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Murder-for-hire plot featured on ‘Cops’ headed to trial

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) — If the State of Florida’s attempted murder-for-hire case against Dalia Dippolito unfolds like a reality show, maybe that’s because it was made with television in mind.

Dippolito, 33, became the key figure in a special edition of TV’s “Cops,” which worked with Boynton Beach police to show her allegedly conspiring to kill her newlywed husband. But this wasn’t the show she wanted: Her defense lawyers say the entire plot was an act, and that she was performing for police in an ill-conceived attempt to create content for her own reality TV show pitch.

The Boynton Beach department had been planning ride-alongs with the “Cops” crew for months when they said a great case appeared out of nowhere in the summer of 2009: Mohamed Shihadeh, who owns check cashing stores and delis, walked in with a salacious tip, saying his former lover had asked him for help finding a hit man to murder her husband.

Born Dalia Mohamed in New York, Dippolito obtained a Florida real estate license, but her new husband Michael Dippolito — a convicted con-man — said they met when he called for her services as a prostitute. He said the sex was great, romance followed and they married as quickly as they could.

But the police informant said she wanted his money: about $250,000 in savings and their $225,000 townhouse, which the new husband had paid for in cash and put in her name just days before she allegedly planned to have him killed.

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Officials: US mulls new rules on dollars to help Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration may soon tell foreign governments and banks they can start using the dollar in some instances to facilitate business with Iran, officials told The Associated Press, describing an arcane tweak to U.S. financial rules that could prove significant for Tehran’s sanctions-battered economy.

While no decision is final, U.S. officials familiar with internal discussions said the Treasury Department is considering issuing a general license that would permit offshore financial institutions to access dollars for foreign currency trades in support of legitimate business with Iran, a practice that is currently illegal.

Several restrictions would apply, but such a license would reverse a ban that has been in place for several years and one the administration had vowed to maintain while defending last year’s nuclear deal to skeptical U.S. lawmakers and the public.

The United States and other world powers reached agreement with Iran last summer to give the Islamic Republic billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for its promise to curtail programs that would allow it to develop nuclear weapons

Because of its status as the world’s dominant currency, the dollar often is used in money conversions. For example: If the Iranians want to sell oil to India and be paid in euros instead of rupees, so they could more easily purchase European goods, the process commonly starts with the rupees being converted into dollars.

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AP Exclusive: How a tainted Kenyan runner won small US races

NEWPORT, Kentucky (AP) — The runners came in all sizes, shapes and ages, from 5 to 99. Celebrating the Fourth of July, some raced in starry tops, shorts and headbands. For them, the 5K through the grounds of a Kentucky whiskey distillery, raising funds for that night’s Independence Day fireworks, was strictly fun.

For super-fit Kenyans at the front chasing cash prizes, it was strictly business.

Stragglers in the 2015 Great Buffalo Chase were still catching their breath as Lilian Mariita bashfully climbed onto the second step of the winners’ podium, $2,500 the richer. But her whole way of life — crisscrossing America, cashing in at small races, sending winnings back home to her dirt-poor village in Kenya — was about to crumble.

Normally, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would have no reason to police the annual jog in Frankfort. This time, acting on a tip, drug testers were waiting.

Lab techs found steroids in Mariita’s urine sample. She was banned for eight years, the longest of any Kenyan runner. The 27-year-old’s racing career is over, and now she is back at square one: in Nyaramba, the muddy tea-plantation village in western Kenya she thought she’d escaped in 2011, when she left for the promise of a new life pounding American roads.

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No charges for 2 Minneapolis officers in fatal shooting

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two white police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black man last fall will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor announced Wednesday in a decision that drew outrage from community members who said the move showed the legal system is rigged against African-Americans.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his decision not to charge the officers in the death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark was based on forensic evidence that showed Clark was not handcuffed, as claimed by some people who said they saw the shooting, and had attempted to grab an officer’s weapon, which made them fear for their lives and justified use of deadly force.

Clark ignored warnings to take his hands off Mark Ringgenberg’s gun before he was shot and told Ringgenberg and officer Dustin Schwarze: “I’m ready to die,” the prosecutor said.

Freeman painstakingly described his decision, starting with police reports and witnesses. Community members who attended the presentation said the prosecutor relied too heavily on police accounts and disregarded what others said they saw.

“This is a fairy tale. None of this happened,” said Mel Reeves, an organizer for a group called Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar Clark. “It’s not justice. It sends us a clear message that the police are above the law.”

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7 hurt, homes, businesses damaged after tornado in Oklahoma

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — At least seven people were injured after severe storms spawned multiple tornado touchdowns in northeastern Oklahoma, damaging homes and businesses, authorities said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Jankowski said a tornado touched down and lifted up numerous times Wednesday night as it swept through the northern Tulsa and Owasso areas.

About one square mile of a mostly residential area sustained damage, Tulsa Fire Department spokesman Stan May said. One home was destroyed and other residences and businesses sustained roof and structural damage, he said.

Police and fire officials were going door to door in the area to make sure everyone was accounted for. There were no immediate reports of anyone missing, May said.

“We want to check each house,” he said. “We’ve got some elderly people in the area. We want to make sure people have the medicines they need.”

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A guide to the Final Four in Houston

March Madness lived up to its billing with all those upsets, crazy finishes and memorable performances.

Now that the calendar is turning to April, it’s time for the main event: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Villanova and Syracuse in the Final Four.

Houston, here they come — and it figures to be quite a show.

To get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of the matchups, the top teams and players before the games start on Saturday:

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