AP News in Brief at 12:09 a.m. EDT
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AP News in Brief at 12:09 a.m. EDT

Biden launches 2020 bid warning ‘soul’ of America at stake

WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring the “soul of this nation” at stake, former Vice-President Joe Biden pushed into the crowded 2020 presidential contest Thursday and quickly sparked a fierce debate over the direction of the modern-day Democratic Party.

Ignoring the political noise in his own party, Biden aimed directly at Donald Trump in an announcement video seizing on the Republican president’s response to the deadly clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago. That was the spur for him to launch a third presidential bid, Biden said, noting Trump’s comments that there were some “very fine people” on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden declared. “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

Yet Biden will get a chance to take on Trump only if he survives a Democratic field that now spans at least 20 contenders. And his party’s more liberal wing was far from welcoming in the hours immediately after he declared his candidacy. Justice Democrats, a group created from the remnants of Bernie Sanders’ failed 2016 campaign, came out against Biden on Thursday and spent much of the day assailing him on social media.

As an older white man with often centrist views, Biden must now prove he’s not out of step with Democrats trying to push the party to the left.

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Quarantines at 2 LA universities amid US measles outbreak

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than 200 students and staff at two Los Angeles universities have been placed under quarantine because they may have been exposed to measles and either have not been vaccinated or cannot verify that they are immune, officials said Thursday.

The order issued late Wednesday in connection with the University of California, Los Angeles, and California State University, Los Angeles, requires that affected people stay home, avoid contact with others and notify authorities if they develop measles symptoms. Los Angeles County public health officials issued quarantines of 24 to 48 hours until proof of immunity is established, according to a statement from UCLA. Some people may need to be quarantined for up to a week.

“Please be assured that we have the resources we need for prevention and treatment, and that we are working very closely with local public health officials on the matter,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in the statement.

Measles in the United States has climbed to its highest level in 25 years, closing in on 700 cases this year in a resurgence largely attributed to misinformation that is turning parents against vaccines. Roughly three-quarters of this year’s illnesses have been in New York state.

A UCLA student who was diagnosed with measles possibly exposed 500 people on campus to measles in early April, according to a statement from the school.

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Security heavy as Sri Lanka warns of further attacks

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said Friday that the Sri Lankan militant group blamed for the Easter bombings that killed at least 250 people had support from the Islamic State group, a day after Sri Lankan officials said they were still evaluating foreign ties.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that he could confirm links between a local Sri Lankan organization and “support being provided including the targets of these attacks” by the Islamic State group network, citing overnight briefings. He said Australian police were involved in the investigation.

In the capital Colombo, there was a visible increase of security overnight as authorities warned of another attack and pursued at least five suspects that could have access to explosives.

Armed soldiers surrounded St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the three churches struck on Sunday, and nearby shops were closed.

Gration Fernando crossed himself when he looked at the church after walking out of his shop there. Fernando says he, like other Sri Lankans, was worried about further attacks.

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Kim Jong Un visits war memorial following summit with Putin

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un paid his respects at a ceremony honouring the war dead Friday to wrap up a brief and generally successful visit to the Russian Far East for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin.

Kim arrived about two hours later than expected at a park near the headquarters of the Russian navy’s Pacific Fleet for the wreath-laying ceremony.

Wearing a black suit and a fedora, he followed two goose-stepping Russian soldiers carrying a plate of red flowers with his name spelled out in Korean in gold colours on a red ribbon. Kim then laid flowers, took off his hat and bowed as a Russian military band played music, including North Korea’s national anthem.

Kim was expected to return to Pyongyang later Friday by private train.

Following their talks on Thursday, Putin indicated that he might be willing to play a bigger role in breaking the stalemate over Washington’s push for denuclearization and Kim’s demands for sanctions relief.

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3 QBs and lots of defenders highlight 1st round of draft

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the top, two more QBs along the way — and a whole lot of guys who like nothing better than putting passers on the ground.

That was the look for the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

Arizona defied NFL custom and at least temporarily created a quarterback quandary by selecting Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray to start proceedings in a wet and wild selection show.

As thousands of fans withstood rain that began just about when Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke Murray’s name, the Cardinals spent a second straight high pick on a signal caller. Arizona moved up from 15th overall to 10th in 2018 to grab Josh Rosen.

NFL teams simply don’t do that, but with a new coach in college-trained Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals made the bold move. At least until they likely move Rosen elsewhere in a trade.

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‘Devastation’ as tornado rips through Louisiana town

A tornado killed two people as it tore through the northern Louisiana city of Ruston early Thursday, sending trees into houses, ripping roofs off buildings and causing a local public university to cancel classes, officials said.

“Devastation is the way it looks,” said Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker after flying over the city in a helicopter to assess the damage. “The number of houses with trees completely through them was incredible.”

The tornado was part of a thunderstorm that left a trail of damage from eastern Texas into northern Louisiana but Ruston — a city of about 24,000 people — appeared to get the worst of it.

A mother and son were killed when a tree fell on their home in Ruston overnight, officials said. During a news conference, Gov. John Bel Edwards identified the victims as Kendra Butler, 35, and Remington Butler, 14, who was a high school freshman.

Edwards declared a state of emergency as he toured the region and met with officials. Edwards, who’s led the state through multiple natural disasters, said the damage he saw Thursday was remarkable in the way it spared and devastated areas so close together.

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North Korea demanded US pay $2M for captured student in coma

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea insisted the U.S. agree to pay $2 million in medical costs in 2017 before it released detained American college student Otto Warmbier while he was in a coma, a former U.S. official said Thursday.

An envoy sent to North Korea to retrieve the 21-year-old student signed an agreement to pay the $2 million on instructions passed down from President Donald Trump, the former official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter.

The Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the situation, first reported the demand and that the envoy signed the agreement.

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the newspaper said. It is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration does not comment on hostage negotiations. U.S. policy is to refuse to pay ransom for the release of Americans detained abroad.

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John Havlicek, Boston Celtics great, dies at 79

BOSTON (AP) — John Havlicek’s legacy was built over 16 years with the Boston Celtics, eight of them as NBA champions, making him among the best to ever play the game.

One play immortalized him forever.

“Havlicek stole the ball! “Havlicek stole the ball!” Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most screamed, a moment that remains among the famous plays in NBA history.

The Celtics said Havlicek died Thursday in Jupiter, Florida. He was 79. The cause of death wasn’t immediately available. The Boston Globe said he had Parkinson’s disease.

Voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, Havlicek’s steal of Hal Greer’s inbounds pass helped the Celtics hold off Philadelphia in the 1965 Eastern Conference final.

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Judges: Michigan must redraw congressional, legislative maps

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan must redraw dozens of congressional and legislative districts for the 2020 election because Republicans configured them to guarantee their political dominance over the last decade by unconstitutionally diluting the power of Democratic voters, federal judges ruled Thursday.

In a 3-0 ruling — which will be appealed — the panel gave the GOP-led Legislature and new Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer until Aug. 1 to enact new maps for nine of 14 congressional seats and 25 of 148 legislative districts. The number of newly cast seats would be higher, though, because of the impact on adjacent districts.

The judges also ordered that special state Senate elections be held in 2020, halfway through senators’ normal four-year terms. The panel said it would draw its own maps if new ones are not submitted or if those that are proposed do not comply with constitutional requirements.

The decision was the latest development in a series of lawsuits alleging unconstitutional gerrymandering in a dozen states. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to set limits on partisan mapmaking.

Judge Eric Clay of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of Michigan’s Eastern District and U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist of Michigan’s Western District said mapmakers, political consultants and lawmakers involved in the Republican-controlled 2011 redistricting effort elevated “partisan considerations” at every step.

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Argentina’s Evita remembered through toys for poor children

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A half-deflated leather football, a box of marbles, a ragged doll and a handful of windup cars and trains line the display cabinets in the Evita Museum like ancient relics. These worn-out toys played a vital role in the rise of Peronism in Argentina, one of the most influential movements in Latin America.

Long before politicians started using social media to influence public opinion, the political movement of Juan Perón and his second wife also sought to touch voters on a personal level: handing out toys to 4 million children from Argentina’s poorest families. The practice was fundamental to the popularity and at times unconditional backing showered by Argentines on Peronism, which persisted far beyond the deaths of Perón and wife Eva María Duarte, famously known as Evita and idolized by her supporters as the “champion of the poor.”

To mark the 100th anniversary of her birth on May 7, 1919, the Evita Museum in Buenos Aires has inaugurated an exhibition titled “Childhood and Peronism, the toys of the Eva Perón Foundation.” It displays several dozen of the toys distributed by the party every Christmas Day and the Epiphany holiday between 1948 and 1955.

“Children were always given particular importance in Eva’s work, especially all matters concerning children’s rights,” Marcela Genés, the museum’s curator, told The Associated Press. “She herself had a very impoverished childhood and that stayed with her. Achieving justice for children was a particular focus for Eva.”

Juan Perón, an army general, served as president for two different spans. He first took office in 1946 and won re-election in 1951 with a landslide victory of 63.4% of the votes, still the highest percentage ever in Argentina. The beginning of his second term, in 1952, was overshadowed by Evita’s death at age 33 from uterine cancer. Three years later, he was overthrown and forced into exile by a military coup. After 18 years, Perón returned and was elected president again in 1973. He served until his death in 1974 and was succeeded by his widow, Isabel Perón, who herself was ousted by the military in 1976.

The Associated Press

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