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Monthly Archives: April 2015

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Baltimore officials: No immediate decision in Gray case

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Having weathered two all-night curfews with no major disturbances, Baltimore officials are now trying to manage growing expectations they will immediately decide whether to prosecute six police officers involved in the arrest of a black man who later died of injuries he apparently received while in custody.

In an effort to be transparent, authorities have told the community they plan to turn over the findings of a police investigation into Freddie Gray’s death to a state’s attorney by Friday. Gray’s death from a spinal injury a week after his April 12 arrest is what sparked riots Monday — the worst the city has seen since 1968.

Prosecutors will review the information and eventually decide how to move forward, authorities have said.

But protesters on the streets and high school students who met with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday have said there are rumors circulating that some kind of “verdict” will be rendered as soon as Friday.

“It became very clear … that people misunderstood,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Both Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts spent much of the day Wednesday trying to explain that no final resolution to the case would come Friday.

Hassan Murphy, a lawyer for Gray’s family, underscored their comments, saying, “This family wants justice and they want justice that comes at the right time and not too soon.”

Said Rawlings-Blake: “Whatever time the state’s attorney’s office needs to make that determination, the family wants to get it right.”

Gray, 25, was pinned to a sidewalk, handcuffed and hoisted into a police van where he was put in leg irons after Baltimore officers said he made eye contact with them and ran.

Batts said another man who was in the van during the tail end of Gray’s ride told investigators that Gray was “was still moving around, that he was kicking and making noises” up until the van arrived at the station. Batts said the man also said the driver did not speed, make sudden stops of “drive erratically.”

But somewhere along the way, Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury, and the six officers involved were suspended with pay amid the criminal investigation.

The mayor and others tried to stay focused on the positive Wednesday, applauding residents for obeying the 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew that first went into effect Tuesday night and for preventing a repeat of Monday night’s violence. The second nighttime curfew of the week ended at 5 a.m. Thursday with no major disturbances reported.

“Things are looking really good today,” Gov. Larry Hogan told a news conference Wednesday. “Things looked yesterday a lot better than they did the day before. Today they look better than yesterday, so we’re making a lot of progress.”

There were signs throughout the city of life getting back to normal, with schools reopening and cars rolling as usual through streets that had been cleared of debris.

But widespread protests Wednesday night — not only in Baltimore, but in several cities including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. — made it clear that tensions over the case are far from subsiding.

Hundreds of people rallied and marched in New York and Boston to protest the death of a Baltimore man who was critically injured in police custody as Philadelphia activists prepared for their own demonstration.

More than 100 people were arrested in New York on Wednesday night after police on a loudspeaker warned them they would be taken into custody if they marched in the street.

Police said most arrests were for disorderly conduct. Final figures were expected later on Thursday.

Protesters first rallied in Manhattan’s Union Square, where they chanted “No justice, no peace!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!,” a reference to the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year.

Then a group of protesters spilled into the street, disrupting traffic. Dozens of police officers moved in with plastic handcuffs and began making arrests while officers with batons pushed the crowd back onto the sidewalk.

In Boston, activists gathered in a park behind police headquarters in Roxbury and continued with a peaceful march to a park at Dudley Square, across from the Roxbury neighborhood police station.

Nikea Ramsey, whose brother, Burrell Ramsey-White, was shot and killed in an encounter with Boston police in 2012, said, “Me and my family, we stand with Baltimore. We stand with Ferguson. This is too much and it’s getting out of hand.”

In a statement, Darnell Williams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said the civil rights organization “supports those who have chosen to exercise their First Amendment Right to peacefully assemble and let the world know that when we truly recognize that #BlackLivesMatter we take a large step towards ensuring that #AllLivesMatter.”

Boston organizers said they want “amnesty” for the some 300 protesters and rioters who have been arrested in Baltimore, as well as a lifting of the city curfew and state of emergency declaration.

In Philadelphia, protesters plan to conduct the “Philly is Baltimore” demonstration Thursday afternoon at City Hall. They’ve drawn parallels between the death of a local man shot during a traffic stop and the April 19 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

The district attorney is not pressing charges in the December shooting death of Brandon Tate-Brown in Philadelphia, saying evidence indicates that he was reaching into his car for a loaded pistol. A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that officers planted the gun.

In New York on Wednesday night, small groups of protesters split off from the main demonstration with one group heading to Times Square, where it held a die-in by lying on the ground. Another group marched to the entrance of the Holland Tunnel as others blocked streets.

Comrade Shahid said he showed up because he believes “the police have become out of control.”

“If you kill somebody, it’s murder. If the police kill you, it’s nothing,” Shahid said. “It’s making this country’s youth anarchists.”

Gray’s arrest was recorded on cellphone videos by bystanders. His death has led to protests, rioting and looting in Baltimore.

Baltimore police say they chased Gray when he fled at the sight of an officer in a drug-infested neighborhood this month. Officers pinned him to the sidewalk and then lifted him and took him, his legs dragging on the ground, to a police van.

Gray, who asked repeatedly for medical help during the half-hour ride to a police station, died a week later.

Police say Gray died of a “significant spinal injury.” An attorney for Gray’s family says his spine was “80 percent severed in the neck area.”

Gray’s death was the latest in a series of high-profile cases around the country in which black men have died as the result of encounters with police.

Similar protests have erupted over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York last year, and the death earlier this month in South Carolina of Walter Scott. Scott was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer who has since been charged with murder.

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Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols, Juliet Linderman, Matthew Barakat, Tom Foreman Jr., Jessica Gresko, Brian Witte and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report. LeBlanc reported from Boston.

GOP divided as Supreme Court ruling on health care law nears

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans are divided over how to respond to an approaching Supreme Court decision on President Barack Obama’s health care law, even as growing numbers concede that their long-sought goal of repealing the statute will have to wait.

Should the plaintiffs prevail in the GOP-backed lawsuit, the justices could annul one of the law’s backbones: federal subsidies helping around 7.7 million people afford health insurance in more than 30 states. Republicans broadly agree that Congress should react by temporarily replacing that aid, aware that abruptly ending it would anger millions of voters before the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

Yet when it comes to choosing an overall response to a court ruling, GOP lawmakers have suggested at least five different proposals — so far. None has won consensus backing from Republicans.

The divisions underscore the challenge Republicans face between satisfying conservative supporters who want the law dismantled and providing help should millions lose their ability to afford coverage. But the sheer existence of the GOP proposals could help in court because it might suggest to the justices that despite Democrats’ claims that eliminating the subsidies would spark health insurance chaos, Congress is already working on ways to avoid that.

Republicans say they remain uniformly intent on dismantling the 2010 law, but there’s also no agreement on what the replacement should be. Increasingly, many acknowledge that as long as Obama remains in office, any repeal effort will mostly serve to tee up the issue for the 2016 elections.

“I think it needs to be part of the presidential campaign, and then the winner will be able to point to that as part of their mandate,” said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas. Meanwhile, he said, “what we all need to do is unite around one approach, if that’s at all possible, and that’s been a challenge because there are competing good ideas out there.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is helping to craft a plan he says would temporarily protect people who lose subsidies and eliminate the law’s requirements that individuals buy coverage and that companies cover their workers. He said that would “allow the full replacement debate to be the 2016 election campaign, and then a Republican in the White House in 2017 who’ll actually sign” alternative legislation.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who faces a tight re-election race next year, would extend the current subsidies until August 2017 but also eliminate the coverage requirements for individuals and employers, which Obama considers key parts of the law and would be unlikely to accept. Conservative freshman Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has introduced narrower legislation replacing the current subsidies with a new tax credit that would be phased out over 18 months as Congress worked on a broader response.

Some conservatives prefer to focus on repeal. One large group of House conservatives led by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, is writing a plan expected to revoke the entire law and instead provide new health care tax deductions for families.

“What did we tell the voters last November? We told them we’re committed to getting rid of this law,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leading House conservative. “Put it on the president’s desk, actually make him veto it.”

Republicans will be able to use special budget rules this year shielding legislation addressing the health law from Senate filibusters, which take 60 votes — a difficult hurdle — to end. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says that once the court has ruled, GOP leaders will decide whether to use that process to send Obama legislation repealing the health care overhaul or addressing the justices’ ruling.

Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is working on one replacement bill with other lawmakers.

“I don’t think the guy named Obama will sign a law repealing Obamacare,” said Ryan, using a nickname for the law. He said if the court annuls the subsidies, “what happens? And that’s where it’s open-ended.”

The House voted in February to repeal the health care law, as it has dozens of times since 2011.

The Senate hasn’t voted on repeal yet. Such a vote could be difficult for the half-dozen GOP senators facing competitive re-election fights in closely divided or Democratic-leaning states in 2016, when Senate control will be at stake.

The court should rule by late June.

Plaintiffs say the Obama administration is unlawfully providing subsidies to people buying health coverage in the 37 states using healthcare.gov, the federally run insurance marketplace. They say the law’s language limits those subsidies to people purchasing policies on the 13 state-run insurance exchanges.

Of the 11.7 million Americans enrolling for health coverage through government-established marketplaces for 2015, nearly 9 million bought it in states using federally run exchanges, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Of those 9 million, around 7.7 million qualified for subsidies, which they receive as tax credits.

Supporters say the law was intended to provide subsidies in all states. They say eliminating the payments would make many people drop coverage, driving up premiums for everyone else because only the sickest and most expensive recipients would retain their policies.

Business: World shares fall after US reports meager 1Q growth

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TOKYO (AP) — World stock markets were mostly lower Thursday after the U.S. economy skidded to a near halt in the first three months of the year and Japan’s central bank held off from expanding its monetary stimulus.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1 percent to 6,954.02 while France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.1 percent to 5,033.48. Germany’s DAX edged up 0.1 percent to 11,442.19. Tokyo’s benchmark dived nearly 3 percent. Wall Street appeared set for a weak start, with Dow futures down 0.3 percent. S&P 500 futures were down 0.2 percent.

U.S. BLUES: A severe winter, weak exports and cutbacks in oil and gas drilling sapped economic growth to a feeble 0.2 percent in January-March, the poorest performance in a year, the Commerce Department reported. Markets registered their disappointment, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 down 7.91 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,106.85 on Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 74.61 points, or 0.4 percent, or 18,035.53 points.

THE QUOTE: “Equities are unwinding across the globe as growth fears resurface following an alarming” report on the U.S. economy, Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG, said in a commentary. “Some analysts have gone as far as saying the US recovery has ground to a halt.”

JAPAN ECONOMY: Japan reported that its industrial output slipped 0.3 percent in March from a month earlier and 1.2 percent from the year before, on weak demand for electrical machinery, fuel products and metals. The data were not as bad as expected however and the central bank kept its ultra-loose monetary policy intact despite expectations for stimulus. Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda remains upbeat about the prospects for a “moderate recovery,” despite halting progress toward his 2 percent inflation goal and weakening industrial production and household spending.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 slid 2.7 percent to 19,520.01 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.9 percent to 28,133.00. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.7 percent to 2,127.17 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent to 5,790.00. Markets in Taiwan, mainland China and Southeast Asia also fell.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.119 from $1.1117 on Wednesday, the currency’s highest level against the dollar in almost two months. The dollar slipped to 118.92 yen from 119.01 yen.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude oil was up 55 cents at $59.12 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.52 to $58.58 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil, gained 28 cents to $66.12. On Wednesday, it gained $1.20 to $65.84.

 

Investors look set to farewell April on a downbeat note.

U.S. stock futures are slipping early Thursday, matching declines across international markets.

Here are the 4 things you need to know before the opening bell rings in New York:

 

1. Earnings and economics: Earnings season continues in full swing with Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) reporting ahead of the open. Expedia (EXPE), LinkedIn (LNKD, Tech30) and Visa (V) will report after the close.

On the economic front, the U.S. government posts weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET. It will also report personal income and spending numbers at 8:30 a.m. ET.

2. Oil climbs: Crude futures ticked up 1% in electronic trading to hover just above $59 a barrel. Oil is trading at its highest level this year, helped along by a weaker than expected U.S. supply report on Wednesday.

 

3. International markets: European markets are heading south in early trading, with France’s CAC index down 0.8%. Shares in oil giant Shell (RDSA) rose 1.7% in London after its first quarter profit result beat analysts expectations. Telecoms equipment maker Nokia (NOK) disappointed investors with its first quarter earnings — the stock tanked 9%.

Asian markets ended the session lower. Japan’s Nikkei tumbled 2.7% after the central bank left its policy unchanged.

 

4. Wednesday market recap: It was a soggy session across U.S. markets, with the Dow Jones industrial average losing 75 points, while the S&P 500 fell 0.4% and the Nasdaq closed 0.6% lower.

Still, major U.S. indexes are on track for slim gains for April.

Nepal quake toll tops 5,000 as aid reaches epicenter area

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PASLANG, Nepal (AP) — Aid reached a hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal’s earthquake for the first time Wednesday, four days after the quake struck and as the death toll from the disaster passed the 5,000 mark.

But it will still take time for the food and other supplies to reach survivors in remote communities who have been cut off by landslides, said Geoff Pinnock, a World Food Program emergencies officer.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Pinnock from the village of Majuwa, 20 kilometers (16 miles) downhill from Gorkha town, a staging area for relief efforts to areas worst hit by Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake.

Nearby, five cargo trucks filled with rice, cooking oil and sugar stood on a grassy field fringed with banana and acacia trees beneath the soaring Himalayas, waiting for a helicopter to carry the supplies to remote, quake-hit villages.

Soon, the U.N. food agency was expected to deliver shipments of high-energy food biscuits to areas without enough water for cooking, Pinnock said. The first aid shipments had reached Dhading district, just east of Gorhka, near the epicenter, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu.

Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the quake had reached 4,989. Another 18 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while 61 died in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet, putting the total over 5,000.

The disaster also injured more than 10,000, police said, and rendered thousands more homeless. The U.N. says the disaster has affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal’s population of 27.8 million — and that 1.4 million needed food assistance.

“Under normal circumstances, a government would have the capacity to respond to maybe 10, or 20, or 30,000 people in need. But if you’re looking at 8 million as we are here, you need a bit of time to scale everything up,” Pinnock said.

Planes carrying food and other supplies have been steadily arriving at Kathmandu’s small airport, but the aid distribution process remains fairly chaotic, with Nepalese officials having difficulty directing the flow of emergency supplies.

About 200 people blocked traffic in the capital Wednesday to protest the slow pace of aid delivery. The protesters faced off with police and there were minor scuffles but no arrests were made.

Police arrested dozens of people on suspicion of looting abandoned homes as well as causing panic by spreading rumors of another big quake. Police official Bigyan Raj Sharma said 27 people were detained for stealing.

But in a sign that life was inching back to normal, banks in Kathmandu opened for a few hours Wednesday and stuffed their ATMs with cash, giving people access to money.

Thousands of people lined up at bus stations in the capital, hoping to reach their hometowns in rural areas. Some have had little news of family and loved ones since Saturday’s quake. Others are scared of staying close to the epicenter, northwest of Kathmandu.

“I am hoping to get on a bus, any bus heading out of Kathmandu. I am too scared to be staying in Kathmandu,” said Raja Gurung, who wanted to get to his home in western Nepal. “The house near my rented apartment collapsed. It was horrible. I have not gone indoors in many days. I would rather leave than a live a life of fear in Kathmandu.”

In some heartening news, French rescuers freed a man from the ruins of a three-story Kathmandu hotel more than three days after the quake. Rishi Khanal, 27, said he drank his own urine to survive.

Khanal had just finished lunch at a hotel last Saturday and had gone up to the second floor when everything suddenly started moving and falling. He was struck by falling masonry and trapped with his foot crushed under rubble.

“I had some hope but by yesterday I’d given up. My nails went all white and my lips cracked … I was sure no one was coming for me. I was certain I was going to die,” he told The Associated Press from his hospital bed on Wednesday.

Khanal said he was surrounded by dead people and a terrible smell. But he kept banging on the rubble all around him and eventually this brought a French rescue team that extracted him after being trapped for 82 hours.

“I am thankful,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Binaj Gurubacharya, Jerry Harmer and Rishi Lekhi in Kathmandu contributed to this report.

Japan PM to make historic address to Congress, talk trade

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek support for a trans-Pacific trade pact that has divided U.S. lawmakers as he makes the first address by a Japanese leader to a joint meeting of Congress.

Abe will be promoting his staunch support of an even-tighter relationship between former wartime adversaries in both trade and defense as the allies contend with a rising China, and can expect a warm reception Wednesday morning.

But the Japanese leader, who has faced opposition at home to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, lands in the midst of a bruising battle in Washington over legislation that would give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate a deal that is a cornerstone of his second-term agenda. In a reversal of politics-as-usual, it’s Obama’s own Democratic base that opposes him, and Republicans who support the deal.

After an Oval Office meeting with Abe on Tuesday, where the two leaders declared progress in bilateral trade talks that are critical for completing a wider TPP agreement among nations accounting for 40 percent of global GDP, Obama conceded to reporters: “It’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town.”

Abe, who called for an “early conclusion” of TPP, may play a small part in trying to tip the balance in what is viewed as a strategic push to shape the economic future of Asia-Pacific. His ambassador to Washington, Kenichiro Sasae, told reporters last week that he expected Abe “would appeal to Congress that we need to work together to make this TPP a success.”

Since winning election in December 2012, Abe has been strong advocate of closer ties with the U.S., an alliance that emerged from the ashes of World War II, which ended 70 years ago. He’s been granted the full pomp and ceremony at the White House, and was being feted Tuesday night with a state dinner.

But it’s the invitation to address Congress that sets him apart from his predecessors. While past Japanese prime ministers — including Abe’s own grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, in 1957 — have addressed the House, it will be the first time for a leader of the East Asian nation to speak to both chambers.

Another theme of his speech will be security cooperation, which is set to intensify with the revision this week of U.S.-Japan defense guidelines that will allow Japan’s military to play a bigger role in global military operations and work more closely with U.S. forces, and possibly come to their defense.

Yet sensitive history still stalks Abe, a nationalist who has been urged by another close U.S. ally, South Korea — and some U.S. lawmakers — to apologize for Japanese conduct during the war, including sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Asian women by Japan’s imperial army.

Abe sidestepped a question on the issue Tuesday. Echoing past comments, Abe said he was “deeply pained” by the suffering of “comfort women.” It appeared unlikely he would make a direct apology in Wednesday’s speech, which will be watched closely in Seoul and Beijing.

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Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

Syrian insurgent gains expose Assad weaknesses

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BEIRUT (AP) — In the span of a month, Syrian insurgents have routed government forces across the country’s northwest, flushing them out of strongholds in a string of embarrassing defeats for President Bashar Assad.

The first to go was the city of Idlib, which fell to opposition fighters at the end of March, followed by the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour last week and the Qarmeed military base on Monday. Troops are now under fire at the few remaining outposts still in government hands.

The disintegration of government forces in Idlib province, coupled with recent losses in southern Syria, has punctured the notion that Assad is on his way to defeating the four-year-old rebellion and undermined his claim to be a bulwark against the Islamic State group, which had eclipsed the rebels over the past year.

The campaign also points to a new unity and assertiveness within the constellation of opposition forces, which has long been riven by infighting. And it has exposed the government’s fundamental weaknesses — including lack of manpower, battle fatigue and a heavy reliance on Iran and other allies.

“It’s really indicative of some huge problems the regime has,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst for the International Crisis group. “What we’re seeing now is the best evidence yet of a trend we’ve already known about: the regime’s attrition rate is quite high and it can’t replace the soldiers and militiamen that it loses with equally effective Syrian manpower.”

Now in its fifth year, Syria’s conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and wounded more than 1 million. The relentless bloodshed has left the government scrambling to find recruits to fill its ranks, including by trying to curb widespread draft-dodging.

The government has consistently focused on what it considers the territory key to its survival: the heavily populated corridor running from south of Damascus up to the city of Homs and over to the Mediterranean coast. Rebels and the Islamic State group have carved off most rural areas to the north, east and south.

But even with the narrow focus on major cities and highways, the government has relied on the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran-backed foreign fighters to gain and hold territory. And it can only count on its allies’ support in the corridor where Hezbollah and Iran also have strategic interests.

In peripheral areas like Idlib, the increasingly beleaguered troops have been on their own.

Most of Idlib province — save the provincial capital and a few smaller towns and villages — has been out of government hands for years. Assad may be calculating that the cost of keeping the province is greater than the price of losing it.

Still, analysts caution against viewing the opposition’s latest advances as a harbinger of Assad’s imminent downfall.

Bonsey said the insurgents could well make further rapid gains in Idlib and the southern province of Daraa.

“But we shouldn’t judge from those two provinces what might happen in areas that are of higher strategic importance to the regime and its backers,” he said. “For sure, the level of investment there and their capacity to defend those areas is going to be higher.”

The opposition’s long-term success will largely hinge on whether it can maintain the previously unseen unity and coordination seen in the latest campaigns. The Idlib offensive has drawn together an estimated 10,000 fighters from across the ideological spectrum, who have coordinated fighting on multiple fronts.

The al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front and the hard-line Ahrar al-Sham group headline the operation through a coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah, or Conquest Army. It has been working in tandem with a spattering of other groups, including mainstream rebel brigades once commonly referred to as the Free Syrian Army.

Muayad Zurayk, an activist in Idlib city, attributed the opposition’s success in the province to the joint operations room.

“All operations stemming from the coordinated command center are done in the name of Jaish al-Fatah,” he said, referring to the unified command. “It is forbidden to mention the name of any faction.”

For Syria’s notoriously fractious insurgent groups, this sort of coordination is no minor accomplishment. The opposition’s lack of a unified command has been among its greatest weaknesses.

On Syria’s ever-shifting battlefield, it is notoriously difficult to pin down concrete evidence of what forged this newfound cohesion among armed opposition groups.

Some observers, however, attribute it to the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two of the largest supporters of the anti-Assad movement.

“I think it has a lot to do with the new Saudi relationship with Turkey,” said Mustafa Alani, the director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. “You’re talking about strategic understanding between them.”

The two countries were long at odds over Egypt, where Riyadh supports the military-backed government and Ankara backs the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. But Saudi Arabia and Turkey set their differences aside after the death of Saudi King Abdullah in January and the ascension to the throne of King Salman.

The new monarch has presided over a more pro-active foreign policy, including an air campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen, known as Houthis, who are supported by Iran. Riyadh appears similarly assertive in Syria, where it hopes to forge greater rebel unity in the struggle to topple Assad, another ally of Iran.

“I think the Qatari-Turkish alliance was working on the issue long before the Saudis became part of it,” Alani said. “The Saudis came in immediately after King Salman took power.”

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Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.

Shipping company says crew of vessel seized by Iran is safe

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BERLIN (AP) — The operator of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel boarded by Iranian forces as it was traversing the Strait of Hormuz said Wednesday it has confirmed the crew is safe but that the company is still trying to determine why the ship was seized the previous day by Iran.

The MV Maresk Tigris was en route Wednesday to Bandar Abbas, the main port for Iran’s navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats, according to Maersk Line, the company that had chartered it. Tehran has not offered any clarification on the incident, which comes at a critical time during Iran’s relations with the United States and the West.

Cor Radings, a spokesman for the ship’s operator, Rickmers Ship Management in Singapore, said the company had been in touch by phone with the crew earlier in the day.

“We have had the confirmation that they are in relatively good condition and safe on board the ship,” he said.

Iranian forces remain on board the ship, Radings said, adding there has been no contact yet with Iranian authorities.

Iranian forces boarded the MV Maresk Tigris on Tuesday after firing warning shots across the bridge, prompting the U.S. Navy to dispatch a destroyer and a plane to the area in response.

Radings confirmed reports that there were no Americans on board, identifying the 24 people crew members as “mainly from Eastern Europe and Asia.” He said the ship was owned by “private investors” but would not elaborate.

Iranian state television on Tuesday said the crew members were from Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and Myanmar and that the ship was seized based on a court order due to unspecified violations. Iranian officials could not be reached for comment.

Danish shipper Maersk Line chartered the container ship and was hauling commercial goods and had no “special cargo” such as military equipment, said Radings, speaking by phone from Spain.

Maersk Line spokesman Michael Storgaard would only identify the goods on board as “general cargo” and said his company was still trying to determine why the Iranians had boarded the ship.

“We are not able at this point to establish or confirm the reason behind the seizure,” Storgaard said, adding the ship is en route to Bandar Abbas under Iranian escort.

The U.S., other world powers and Iran are trying to hammer out a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Last week, the U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and guided missile cruiser to the Arabian Sea amid worries that a convoy of Iranian cargo ships was headed to Yemen to deliver arms to the Shiite rebels fighting to take over Yemen.

In Tuesday’s incident, the intercepted ship was traveling through the narrow Strait, which is technically Iranian and Omani territorial waters, but under international agreement is open to foreign ships making an innocent passage, according to the Pentagon.

It wasn’t clear whether the ship had strayed off course into coastal waters not protected by that agreement.

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Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.

Baltimore streets once rocked by riots quiet after curfew

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore streets previously rocked by riots were quiet Wednesday morning at the lifting of a nighttime curfew that was enforced by 3,000 police and National Guardsmen.

The curfew ended at 5 a.m. with no reports of disturbances in the early morning hours. The morning rush was getting underway with traffic flowing on most streets downtown.

The curfew, which went into effect at 10 p.m. Tuesday, got off to a not-so-promising start, however, as about 200 protesters initially ignored the warnings of police officers and the pleas of community activists to disperse.

Some threw water bottles or lay down on the ground. A line of police behind riot shields hurled tear gas canisters and fired pepper balls at the crowd and slowly advanced forward to push it back. Demonstrators picked up the canisters and hurled them back at officers. But the crowd rapidly dispersed and was down to just a few dozen people within minutes.

The clash came after a day of high tension but relative peace in Baltimore, which was rocked by looting and widespread arson Monday in the city’s worst outbreak of rioting since 1968.

Police, city leaders and many residents condemned the violence, and hundreds of volunteers showed up Tuesday to sweep the streets of glass and other debris.

Just before midnight Tuesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts declared the curfew a success.

“We do not have a lot of active movement throughout the city as a whole. … Tonight I think the biggest thing is the citizens are safe, the city is stable,” he said. “We hope to maintain it that way.”

Batts said a total of 10 people were arrested after the curfew went into effect: two for looting, one for disorderly conduct, and seven for violating the curfew.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials made appearances throughout the day, promising to reclaim and restore pride to their city. Baltimore Public Schools CEO Gregory Thornton said in a notice posted on the school system’s website that schools will be open Wednesday. The notice said after-school sports and clubs will also take place.

But life was unlikely to get completely back to normal anytime soon: The curfew was to go back into effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday and baseball officials — in what may be a first in the sport’s 145-year history — announced that Wednesday’s Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards would be closed to the public.

The violence set off soul-searching among community leaders and others, with some suggesting the uprising was not just about race or the police department, but also about high unemployment, high crime, poor housing, broken-down schools and lack of opportunity in Baltimore’s inner-city neighborhoods — issues that are not going away anytime soon.

Activists also stressed that they would continue to press authorities for answers in the case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. His case is what spurred Monday’s riots.

A group of pastors announced plans to hold a rally and prayer vigil for the city of Baltimore and Gray’s family at noon Wednesday and to “draw public attention to 17 police accountability bills the state legislature failed to pass during the recent legislative session.”

Meanwhile, under the state of emergency Gov. Hogan declared Monday, the more than 200 people arrested since the unrest began could wait longer than usual to have their day in court.

Normally, state law requires that people arrested without warrants appear before a court official within 24 hours of their arrests. But as part of the state of emergency, the governor extended the period to no later than 47 hours, according to a letter he sent Tuesday to Judge Barbara Baer Waxman, the administrative judge for the Baltimore District Court.

“This exercise of my authority is necessary to protect the public safety and to address the more than 200 arrests that were made by Baltimore Police Department and other law enforcement officials,” Hogan wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

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Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman, Matthew Barakat, Tom Foreman Jr., Jessica Gresko and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.

After historic arguments, court to rule on same-sex marriage

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Pivotal Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote could decide the same-sex marriage issue for the nation, did not tip his hand Tuesday in historic arguments at the Supreme Court. But Kennedy’s record on the issue could give encouragement to gay and lesbian couples.

As advocates and protesters demonstrated outside, the author of the court’s three prior gay rights rulings talked about the touchstones of dignity and concern for children in same-sex households that drove his favorable earlier opinions.

But he also worried about changing the definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman, a meaning that he said has existed for “millennia-plus time.”

“It’s very difficult for the court to say ‘We know better'” after barely a decade of experience with same-sex marriage in the United States, Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples.

The 78-year-old justice’s likely role as a key, perhaps decisive vote was reinforced during arguments that lasted 2½ hours in a rapt courtroom and appeared to divide the court’s liberal and conservative justices over whether the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry. Those couples can do so now in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and the court is weighing whether gay and lesbian unions should be allowed in all 50 states.

“Same-sex couples say, of course, ‘We understand the nobility and the sacredness of marriage. We know we can’t procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled,'” Kennedy said in an exchange with lawyer John Bursch, who was defending the state marriage bans

Later, Kennedy also seemed concerned about adopted children in same-sex households if only one partner is considered a parent. “Under your view, it would be very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt those children,” Kennedy said.

Tuesday’s arguments offered the first public indication of where the justices stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. In the court’s last look at same-sex marriage in 2013, the justices struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law. Federal courts with few exceptions have relied on Kennedy’s opinion in that case to invalidate gay marriage bans in state after state.

The court divided 5-4 in that case, with the liberals joining Kennedy in the majority. Their questions on Tuesday suggested they would vote to extend same-sex marriage nationwide, while conservative justices’ questions and comments were much more skeptical.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor both said marriage was a fundamental right and a state would need a truly compelling reason to deny it to a class of people. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said heterosexual couples would retain the same marriage benefits they currently have, whether or not same-sex couples also could marry.

Bursch argued repeatedly that states could prohibit same-sex unions because marriage always has been about biological bonds between parents and their children.

Justice Elena Kagan said some people have difficulty with that argument, finding it “hard to see how permitting samesex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children.”

If the definition of marriage is changed, Bursch said, “then adults could think, rightly, that this relationship is more about adults and not about the kids.”

The actual cases before the court involve same-sex couples in which both partners want recognition as adoptive parents. In one case, Detroit-area nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are seeking joint adoption of their four children, and Bursch was quick to say he was not talking about them.

“We all agree that they are bonded to their kids and have their best interest at heart,” he said.

Most of the questions from conservative justices appeared skeptical of gay-marriage arguments.

Chief Justice Roberts said gay couples seeking to marry are not seeking to join the institution of marriage. “You’re seeking to change what the institution is,” he said to Bonauto.

Roberts also said people would be more accepting of change achieved through the democratic process, rather than imposed by courts. Only 11 states have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples through the ballot or the legislature. Court rulings are responsible for all the others.

Yet the chief justice also questioned the states’ argument.

“If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?” he asked.

Justice Samuel Alito suggested that basing marriage on lasting bonds and emotional commitment — instead of providing stable homes for children — might open the right to marry to siblings who live together, close friends who are not romantically or sexually involved and groups of more than two people. “What would be the logic of denying them the same right?” Alito asked.

Justice Antonin Scalia said he worried that a court decision in favor of same-sex marriage would force ministers to stop officiating at weddings altogether if they refused to perform same-sex weddings. Bonauto and some of Scalia’s colleagues tried to persuade him that ministers have a right to refuse any couple for religious reasons.

Scalia also said the issue is not whether there should be same-sex marriage “but who should decide the point,” embracing the states’ argument.

Justice Clarence Thomas asked no questions, as is his custom.

The session was interrupted once by a protester who yelled that supporters of gay marriage “will burn in hell.” He was removed by security.

In the last part of the session, devoted to whether states have to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere, both Kennedy and Roberts directed skeptical questions to a lawyer for same-sex couples, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier.

Why should one state “have to yield” in recognizing a marriage from another state? Kennedy asked.

And Roberts suggested that states’ rights would be undermined if residents of states that forbid same-sex unions could get married elsewhere, then return home and demand recognition.

“One state would basically set the policy for the entire nation,” he said.

People on both sides of the issue gathered outside the marble courthouse.

“Homo sex is a sin,” read one sign. A man shouted into a microphone that gays violate the laws of God, while a group of same-sex advocates tried to drown him out by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Cheers went up when the court’s doors opened, allowing a lucky few who lined up days ago to get inside.

The cases before the court come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 14 remaining states that allow only heterosexual marriage. Those four had marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in November, the only federal appeals court that has ruled in favor of the states since the Supreme Court 2013 ruling.

Massachusetts was the first state to allow same-sex marriage, in 2004. As recently as last October, barely a third of the states permitted it.

The Supreme Court decision is expected in late June.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Excerpts from arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday about whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry and whether states must recognize gay marriages performed in other states:

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Chief Justice John Roberts, on the institution of marriage:

“You’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.”

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Justice Anthony Kennedy:

“The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia, plus time. … This definition (of marriage) has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say ‘Oh well, we know better.'”

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Roberts, to the proponents of gay marriage:

“If you prevail here, there will be no more debate. I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted. People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it’s imposed on them by the courts.”

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Mary Bonauto, representing same-sex couples:

“In terms of the question of who decides, it’s not about the court versus the states. It’s about the individual making the choice to marry and with whom to marry, or the government.”

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Justice Samuel Alito, to supporters of gay marriage:

“Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?”

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Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the federal government:

“Gay and lesbian people are equal. They deserve equal protection of the laws, and they deserve it now.”

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Kennedy:

“Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can’t procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled.”

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John Bursch, representing states that ban same-sex marriage:

“If this court ensconces in the Constitution a new definition of marriage and it reduces the rate that opposite-sex couples stay together, bound to their children, because of that different understanding, even a 1 percent change … is many, many children.”

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Justice Elena Kagan:

“It’s hard to see how permitting same-sex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children.”

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Roberts:

“If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

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Roberts, on the question of forcing states that ban same-sex marriage to recognize those unions formed in other states:

“It’d simply be a matter of time until they would in effect be recognizing that within the state, because we live in a very mobile society and people move all the time. In other words, one state would basically set the policy for the entire nation.”

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Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, representing same-sex couples:

“These petitioners have built their lives around their marriages, including bringing children into their families, just as opposite-sex couples have done. But the non-recognition laws undermine the stability of these families, though the states purport to support such stability.”

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Joseph Whalen, associate solicitor general for Tennessee:

“Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and other states with a traditional definition of marriage have done nothing here but stand pat. They have maintained the status quo. And yet other states have made the decision, and it certainly is their right and prerogative to do so, to expand the definition, to redefine the definition, and then to suggest that other states that have done nothing but stand pat now must recognize those marriages imposes a substantial burden on the state’s ability to self-govern.”

Associated Press writers Connie Cass, Anne Flaherty and Sam Hananel contributed to this report

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Follow Mark Sherman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/shermancourt .

Business: World stocks uneven as investors await weak US growth data

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HONG KONG (AP) — World stock markets were uneven Wednesday as investors waited for a U.S. growth report that is expected to provide the latest sign of slowing momentum in the world’s biggest economy and a Fed policy statement.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 5,190.98 and Germany’s DAX added 0.4 percent to 11,864.69. Britain’s FTSE 100 crept up 0.2 percent to 7,048.12. U.S. stocks were poised to open lower, with Dow futures down 0.1 percent to 18,045.00. Broader S&P 500 futures lost 0.1 percent to 2,110.30.

US ECONOMY: Investors are pulling back as signs mount that growth in the world’s biggest economy is slowing. A Conference Board report on Tuesday showed that consumer confidence unexpectedly fell to its lowest in four months, knocked by a slowdown in hiring. Further bad news is expected when an initial estimate of first quarter growth is released later Wednesday. Economists are expecting quarterly growth of 1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in the previous period, because of severe winter weather and a stronger dollar that’s hurting American manufacturers.

FED STATEMENT: Hours after the U.S. economic data is released, the Federal Reserve is set to issue a policy statement from its two-day meeting. Investors will be looking for any hints on when it will raise interest rates but expectations now are that they’ll stay at record lows until at least September. The tempered outlook has also weakened the dollar against other major currencies.

ANALYST VIEW: “Traders looking for direction will look no further” than U.S. first quarter GDP data and the Fed statement, said Will Leys, a CMC Markets sales trader in Sydney. “These events could potentially confirm a soft run of U.S. data, and continue the greenback’s recent wane. Conversely, if there’s a surprise to the upside, the Fed’s first rate raise may be back on the cards.”

ASIA’S DAY: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent to 28,400.34 and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 2,142.63. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China ended flat at 4,476.62 after swinging between losses in the morning and gains in the afternoon. Australia’s S&P ASX/200 sank 1.9 percent to 5,838.60. Japan’s stock market was closed for a holiday.

EARNINGS: Weak first quarter corporate earnings reports from major companies put a damper on Asian investor sentiment. Samsung Electronics Co. said its first quarter earnings plunged 39 percent as consumers switched to Apple’s bigger iPhones. LG Electronics Inc. said profit plunged 59 percent because of losses at its TV business. State-owned Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. reported that profit edged up just 1.5 percent as the world’s second biggest economy slowed.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 119.14 yen from 118.82 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.0997 from $1.0972.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude dipped 38 cents to $56.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 7 cents to close at $57.06 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude fell 42 cents at $64.24 a barrel in London.

Wall Street is looking calm ahead of a big day for earnings and economic news.

U.S. stock futures are steady in early trading.

Here are the four things you need to know before the opening bell rings in New York:

1. Earnings season: Fiat-Chrysler (FCAU), MasterCard (MA) and Time Warner (TWC) are due to deliver results ahead of the open.

Baidu.com (BIDU, Tech30) and Yelp (YELP) are among the firms reporting after the close.

Twitter (TWTR, Tech30) surprised the market with the early release of its quarterly results on Tuesday after they were leaked…on Twitter. Sales were down, but earnings were better than Wall Street expected. Shares were steady premarket after falling sharply following the earnings release.

 

2. Economics updates: Investors will get a glimpse as to where the U.S. economy stands when the government releases its first look at gross domestic product at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists expect the data to show growth slowed in the first quarter of the year.

The Federal Reserve will conclude its two-day meeting on monetary policy and release its monthly statement at 2 p.m. ET. All eyes will be on chair Janet Yellen for any clues as to when the Fed will start hiking interest rates.

3. Dollar dips: The U.S. dollar is declining versus the euro and British pound ahead of the Fed’s statement. The greenback has lost ground against major currencies in recent weeks as expectations for a hike in interest rates have been pushed back.

CMC chief markets analyst Michael Hewson said recent signs of softness in the U.S. economy have “raised expectations that any move on rates by the Fed could well be deferred, and this in turn has weakened the U.S. dollar.”

 

4. International markets overview: European markets are dipping in early trading, though luxury goods maker Hermes (HESAF) rose nearly 3% in France after reporting a lift in quarterly sales.

Asian markets ended in the red. Japan’s Nikkei was closed for a holiday.

Samsung (SSNLF) shares bucked the downward trend with a 1.4% gain in South Korea after its earnings update revealed some signs of recovery for the troubled electronics maker.

It was a mixed finish for major U.S. stocks on Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 72 points, while the S&P 500 rose 0.3% and the Nasdaq fell 0.1%.

Nepal troops ready aid for remote quake-hit villages

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GORKHA, Nepal (AP) — Preparing to make a push into the most isolated parts of quake-devastated Nepal, soldiers on Tuesday were readying food, water and other emergency supplies to be loaded onto helicopters in this small town near the earthquake’s epicenter.

Gorkha, which would barely count as a village in much of the world, is the district’s administrative, transport and trading center for surrounding tiny villages. It was being used as a staging post to get rescuers and supplies to those remote communities, some of which are believed to be nearly completely destroyed. The death toll from Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 quake rose past 4,400, officials said.

“In the rural areas, 90 percent of the people have been affected by this calamity,” district official Surya Mohan Adhikari said. “They have lost their homes and livestock, they have no way of getting food.”

“It is very difficult to reach them,” he added. “They are cut off by road slides on the mountain roads, and the wind and rain is making it difficult for helicopters to land.”

Nepal was facing a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands rendered homeless by the earthquake are living in the open without clean water or sanitation.

Chaos reigned back at Kathmandu’s small airport, with the onslaught of relief flights creating major backups on the tarmac. Four Indian air force aircraft carrying communication gear, aid supplies and rescue personnel were forced to return to New Delhi Monday because of airport congestion, tweeted Sitanshu Kar, India’s defense ministry spokesman.

The United Nations says it was releasing $15 million from its central emergency response fund for quake victims. The funds will allow international humanitarian groups to scale up operations and provide shelter, water, medical supplies and logistical services, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Monday.

Trucks carrying food were on their way to affected districts outside the hard-hit and densely-populated Kathmandu valley, and distribution of the food was expected to start Tuesday.

Citing government figures, Haq said an estimated 8 million people have been affected by the quake in 39 of Npael’s districts, and more than 1.4 million need food assistance, including 750,000 who live near the epicenter in poor quality housing.

The U.N. humanitarian country team for Nepal is coordinating international relief efforts with the government and a clearer picture of needs should emerge within the next 48 hours, Haq said. The immediate priority is search and rescue, and removing debris to find survivors still trapped, he said.

Buildings in parts of the capital, Kathmandu, were reduced to rubble, and there were shortages of food, fuel, electricity and shelter. As bodies were recovered, relatives cremated the dead along the Bagmati River, and at least a dozen pyres burned late into the night.

Conditions were far worse in the countryside, with rescue workers still struggling to reach mountain villages three days after the earthquake. Some roads and trails to the Gorkha district were blocked by landslides — but also by traffic jams that regularly clog the route north of Kathmandu.

World Vision aid worker Matt Darvas arrived in the district Monday afternoon and said almost no assistance had reached there ahead of him.

Newer concrete buildings were intact, Darvas said, but some villages were reported to be devastated. He cited a “disturbing” report from the village of Singla, where up to 75 percent of the buildings may have collapsed and there has been no contact since Saturday night.

Timalsina said 223 people had been confirmed dead in Gorkha district but he presumed “the number would go up because there are thousands who are injured.”

He said his district had not received enough help from the central government, but Jagdish Pokhrel, a clearly exhausted army spokesman, said nearly the entire 100,000-soldier army was involved in rescue operations.

“We have 90 percent of the army out there working on search and rescue,” he said. “We are focusing our efforts on that, on saving lives.”

The country’s death toll rose to 4,352, said Deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam. Another 61 were killed in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet. At least 18 of the dead were killed at Mount Everest as the quake unleashed an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts.

Some 8,063 people have been injured, Bam said. Tens of thousands are believed to be homeless.

The quake has strained the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people south of the mountain, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and climbing.

Rescue workers and medical teams from at least a dozen countries were helping police and army troops in Kathmandu and surrounding areas, said Maj. Gen. Binod Basnyat, a Nepal army spokesman. Contributions came from large countries like India and China — but also from Nepal’s tiny Himalayan neighbor of Bhutan, which dispatched a medical team.

Two teams of U.S. Army Green Beret soldiers happened to be in Nepal when the quake struck, and the 26 Americans — who were training with the Nepalese army — are staying to help with search-and-relief efforts. The 11-member crew of a C-130 cargo plane that brought them also will remain to evacuate any American citizens if needed, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. A second U.S. cargo plane carrying members of a Los Angeles urban search-and-rescue team was due to arrive Tuesday, he said.

Medical and rescue teams from Russia, Japan, France, Switzerland and Singapore were expected in Kathmandu over the coming days, the Nepal army said.

Fearful of strong aftershocks, tens of thousands of families spent a third night outdoors in parks, open squares and a golf course, bundled against the chilly Himalayan night.

Among them was Prabina Mainali, a 26-year-old teacher who gave birth to a boy Monday in a Kathmandu hospital — a bit of good news in a sea of despair.

“It’s hard that he can’t be in his own home right now. He should be there, we should be there, but we aren’t safe. We’re afraid of the aftershocks,” Mainali said, feeding the as-yet unnamed infant from a bottle as a half-dozen relatives cooked a meal on a gas cooker outside the tent in a grassy park.

“We’re not safe at home. Here we have less to worry about,” she said, adding that her house was not seriously damaged, but windows and other glass inside was shattered.

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10.00 a.m. (0415 GMT)

Army troops are loading blue tarpaulin sheets, medical kits and dehydrated food, water bottles, sacks of rice and blankets at a flat area that is being used as a helipad in Gorkha town.

Gorkha district was the epicenter of Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake that has killed more than 4,300 people.

With the weather clearing it seems that for now helicopters will be able to pick up the supplies and relay to smaller villages.

The weather has been erratic over the last two days — there has been some rain and cloud cover making it difficult for helicopters to land in some areas close to the epicenter.

— Katy Daigle, Gorkha, Nepal

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9.45 a.m. (0400 GMT)

A team of 37 New Zealand urban search-and-rescue experts due to leave Monday night for Kathmandu has been told at the 11th hour not to come.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in a statement that Nepal’s government had informed him they had enough expertise in the country and the team was no longer required.

New Zealand has contributed 1 million New Zealand dollars ($761,000) to the relief effort following Saturday’s earthquake that killed more than 4,300 people.

— Nick Perry, Wellington, New Zealand

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9.30 a.m. (0345 GMT)

Army troops are loading bags of rice and cornmeal into a storage room at the district headquarters in Gorkha, the epicenter of Saturday’s massive earthquake.

District official Surya Mohan Adhikari says the supplies will be sent out later in the day to villages that need them most.

He said that in the rural areas 90 percent of the people have been affected “by this calamity. They have lost their homes and livestock. They have no way of getting food.”

He says it is very difficult to reach them. They are cut off by landslides on the mountain roads, and the wind and rain is making it difficult for helicopters to land.

Adhikari said they have reports of some 300 casualties, but that number is rising. Nationwide, more than 4,300 people have been killed in the magnitude 7.8 quake.

— Katy Daigle, Gorkha, Nepal

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9.00 a.m. (0315 GMT)

A Nepal police official says at least 4,352 bodies have so far been recovered after last week’s massive earthquake that struck just outside of capital Kathmandu.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam says the toll includes 1,176 bodies recovered in Sindhupalchuk district, just northeast of the capital.

He says 8,063 people have been injured in the magnitude 7.8 quake.

Another 18 people were also killed in a quake-triggered avalanche that swept the Everest base camp. In neighboring India 61 people were killed and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet.

— Binaj Gurubacharya, Kathmandu, Nepal

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8.45 a.m. (0300 GMT)

A local seismologist says major aftershocks are now unlikely to occur as the 72-hour mark after Saturday’s devastating earthquake approaches.

Lok Bijaya Adhikari, chief of Nepal’s National Seismological Center, says the number and strength of aftershocks have been receding. There have been more than 100 aftershocks since Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 temblor that left more than 4,300 people confirmed dead so far. The largest of these was magnitude 6.7 on Sunday.

The ground shook Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. but measured only magnitude 4.5.

Smaller aftershocks are expected to continue for a month and Kathmandu residents could continue to feel tremors because the epicenter is close to the city.

— Binaj Gurubacharya, Kathmandu, Nepal

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8.15 a.m. (0230 GMT)

Health workers fear a major health crisis among the survivors of Saturday’s massive earthquake who are living in the open or in crowded tents with no access to sanitation or clean water.

Baburam Marasini, director of Nepal’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, says their main concern is making sure people get clean water.

He says “we fear diseases.” He says the department is asking people to take precautions such as eating with a clean spoon and not with their hands as most people here normally do.

He says people are also being asked to drink clean water. Attempts are also being made to reach rural areas quickly where a clear picture of the death toll — now more than 4,300 — is still not available.

— Binaj Gurubacharya, Kathmandu, Nepal

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8.15 a.m. (0230 GMT)

A government official says business owners are being asked to open their shops amid anxiety among locals about dwindling food and medical supplies in the wake of Saturday’s earthquake that has left more than 4,300 people dead.

Naindra Prasad Upadhaya, an official at the Commerce and Supplies Ministry says the government has made arrangements to pick up food and supplies directly from factories and distribute them free in areas where necessary.

Water has been the big issue. There will be more tankers bringing water to the areas where people are camped out in Kathmandu and surrounding areas, he says. Food will also be sent to the rural areas on helicopters, he says.

Police are on the lookout for businesses that are overcharging to take advantage of demand and scarcity, and such people will be arrested and punished, he said.

— Binaj Gurubacharya, Kathmandu, Nepal

Associated Press writers Todd Pitman and Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu, and Muneeza Naqvi, Tim Sullivan and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Obama, Abe putting joint face on trade amid opposition in US

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Eager to build on the U.S.-Japan alliance, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will work to strengthen economic ties further while confronting stiff resistance from the U.S. president’s own political party to a massive new Pacific Rim trade deal.

Trade is one of the top agenda items for Abe’s state visit to the U.S. as the two countries work toward a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would further open vast Asian and Pacific rim markets to U.S. exports.

Abe’s visit comes as Obama’s negotiators work to complete the trade agreement, and as Obama seeks authority from Congress to put the deal, once completed, on a fast track to approval later this year. Obama is pressing for the trade agreement and the negotiating authority against mounting pressure from liberals and labor unions who fear trade agreements can cost American jobs.

The U.S. and Japan are the agreement’s biggest participants and the talks between the two countries would go far in advancing the broader negotiations. But while Obama and Abe won’t be ready to announce a trade breakthrough, officials on both sides say they will likely declare they have made considerable progress in closing remaining gaps. The toughest sticking points are U.S. tariffs on Japanese pickup trucks and barriers in Japan on certain U.S. agricultural products.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting and the pomp and circumstance of a state visit, Obama took Abe to the Lincoln Memorial Monday afternoon. Obama played tour guide, leading the Japanese leader up the steps into the memorial where they examined the Gettysburg Address sketched into the marble walls.

Also on Monday, Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers meeting in New York approved revisions to the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines. The new rules boost Japan’s military capability amid growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing. The changes, which strengthen Japan’s role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern U.S.-Japan defense cooperation.

Indeed, China’s economic and military footprint serves as a major backdrop for Abe’s visit.

Obama has undertaken an effort to rebalance the U.S. role in Asia and has argued time and again that without a trade agreement with Asian countries, China will step into the breach.

“If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” Obama said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We will be shut out — American businesses, American agriculture. That will mean a loss of U.S. jobs.”

Abe is sure to get a flavor of the opposition Obama confronts from Democrats and from the political left. He will address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, and a coalition of trade deal critics plan to place a giant Trojan Horse, symbolizing the fast-track authority Obama seeks, well within view of his motorcade.

Likewise, Republican supporters of the trade deal were applying pressure on Abe. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan urged Abe to stand up to the Japanese farms and auto lobbies in favor of more open trade.

Educated at the University of Southern California, Abe will be the first Japanese leader to address both houses of Congress. He intends to deliver his remarks in English.

Abe’s visit comes on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and has already prompted demands that he use his trip to address the use of sex slaves by the Imperial Army during the war. The issue has been a major irritant with South Korea, which has demanded an apology from Abe.

Nothing seemed to underscore the reconciliation between the countries more than the agreement to boost the U.S.-Japan defense relationship, which would allow Japan to play a bigger role in global military operations with an eye on potential threats from China and North Korea.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the shift marks a historic transformation in the post-WWII relationship between Tokyo and Washington that recognizes the “evolving risks and dangers both in Asia-Pacific and across the globe.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida agreed, saying “the security situation around Japan is becoming more harsh and difficult.”

The revisions come with a renewed pledge of the U.S. position that the Senkaku Islands — a group of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea — fall under Japanese administration and are within the scope of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty. China also claims the islands, which Beijing calls Diaoyu.

In his interview Monday, however, Obama tried not to portray the U.S. as an antagonist to China but said, “We don’t want China to use its size to muscle other countries in the region around rules that disadvantage us.”

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Iraq faces huge challenges dislodging Islamic State in Anbar

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi forces are on a westward push to retake Anbar, a sprawling Sunni-dominated desert province captured by the Islamic State group in their offensive last year. But as the battles for Tikrit and Ramadi have shown, it will be a hard slog for a much-diminished Iraqi army — especially given Baghdad’s reticence to arm Sunni tribesmen and local fears of the Shiite militias backing government forces.

Earlier this month, Iraqi forces captured the northern Sunni-majority city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group, but only with the backing from Iranian-trained and Iran-funded Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes — methods that cannot work in Anbar province.

The Islamic State is estimated to hold at least 65 percent of the vast province at this point.

The past weeks of seesaw battles in Anbar, with progress in areas like Garma east of Fallujah, a stalemate in the biggest city of Ramadi and an Iraqi rout near Lake Tharthar, show that the army still needs help. But relying on erstwhile Shiite militia allies may not be palatable to locals.

“The Iraqi soldiers fighting in Anbar are not well-trained enough for this battle. Many of the soldiers are there for the money, but the (Shiite militias), they are believers in this fight,” said an Iraqi brigadier general involved in the Anbar campaign. “There isn’t yet a clear plan to liberate Anbar because of the political and tribal disputes.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, he said some tribes might be supportive but others were with the Islamic State group. He also lamented how soldiers would throw down their weapons and flee when hard-pressed.

On Friday, government reports of advances in Anbar were belied by an Islamic State attack on a water control system on a canal north of Islamic State-occupied Fallujah that killed a division commander and at least a dozen soldiers.

In the past few years, Iraq’s army has been hollowed out by corrupt commanders siphoning off salaries and equipment and not training soldiers to do much more than man checkpoints.

A force that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands is now estimated by U.S. officials to be around 125,000 at best and probably a lot less, once all the so-called “ghost-soldiers” — non-existent names on the payroll — are purged.

Shiite leaders and parliamentarians insisting that Anbar can only be retaken with the help of the militias.

The army has had some victories around Baghdad and in the eastern Diyala province with the help of Shiite militias. But if they were used in Anbar, it would only further alienate the Sunni population in the province, where the Islamic State group has been entrenched since January 2014.

Dhari al-Rishawi, a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar who helped form the Sunni militias known as Sahwa or Awakening Councils, which with the U.S. military drove al-Qaida out of the province in 2006, said people are terrified that the army will be bringing the Shiite militias.

“We know that if the militias are involved, there will be Iranian advisers and that would be a disaster because in this region there is a lot of sensitivity over Iranian interference,” al-Rishawi told The Associated Press. “The tribes of Anbar are ready to fight the Islamic State and eject them but on the condition that the state arms them.”

Plans to create a National Guard with Sunni fighters have stalled because the Shiite-dominated government suspects many of supporting the Islamic State group and refuses to arm them.

Under the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunni Awakening force was dismantled after the U.S. pulled out in 2011, further alienating the local population.

Since taking over large parts of the province, the Islamic State group hasn’t been idle.

“In one and a half years, ISIS has become embedded within the civil structure of many portions of Anbar province and they have killed a lot of people that oppose them and the government wasn’t able to do anything,” said Richard Brennan, an Iraq expert at the Rand Corporation, using an alternate acronym for the group. “The government has to convince those remaining that it’s worth the risk to oppose ISIS.”

With the Islamic State in control of large parts of Ramadi as well as all of Fallujah — a city the U.S. military only retook with difficulty in 2004 — the Iraqi troops have some incredibly difficult urban fighting ahead of them. Also, the U.S.-led coalition would be unable to back the Iraqis with air power in dense urban combat.

So far, the bulk of the fighting has been done by the Iraqi special forces division, which continued to be trained and equipped by the Americans even after the U.S. withdrawal, but they can’t be everywhere and the regular Iraqi army often hasn’t been able to hold on to its gains.

In some places, it is the militias that have played this role, but that wouldn’t agree with the disaffected Sunnis of Anbar.

“We are caught between the hammer of the Islamic State and the anvil of the militias and we don’t know where to go,” al-Rishawi said.

Ukraine says rebels firing rocket launchers again

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian military officials said Tuesday that separatist rebels in the east have resumed the use of rocket launchers that should have been withdrawn under a February peace deal.

The army said in a statement that rebels fired Grad rockets Monday evening at the government-held town of Avdiivka, which lies on the fringes of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

There has been a recent uptick in clashes along the front separating government and rebel forces. Speaking at an investor conference in Kiev, President Petro Poroshenko warned that the resumption of full-blown war is a perennial threat.

“War could start at any moment, but we are ready to do everything possible to dispel any room for doubts or retreats,” he said.

More than 6,000 people have died and another million have been displaced by the conflict that has raged over the past year.

A cease-fire tortuously negotiated by France, Germany and Russia in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, requires the warring sides to pull back their most powerful arms by distances over 50 kilometers (30 miles).

Responsibility for checking whether the deal is being implemented lies with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the OSCE’s special monitoring mission said late Monday that its monitors have been prevented by rebels from visiting a location where heavy arms have allegedly been deployed.

For the third time in four days, the rebels have prevented the mission “from freely accessing the eastern part of Shyrokyne,” the OSCE said in statement.

Shyrokyne lies directly on the front line and is a short distance east of the key industrial port city of Mariupol, which is in government hands.

Fighting there has never entirely subsided despite the Minsk agreement, but clashes appear to have intensified in recent days.

The OSCE has said the clashes it saw Sunday in Shyrokyne were the worst it had seen since fighting began in the area in mid-February.

The mission said it observed dozens of tank shots and the deployment of plenty of other weapons proscribed under the peace deal.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in Washington that Russia has deployed more air defense systems into eastern Ukraine and positioned several near the front lines.

Kiev would like to see international peacekeepers on the ground, but that proposal has been greeted with hostility by Russia and coolness by Western countries.

Supreme Court to hear historic same-sex marriage arguments

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land.

The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

The court is hearing extended arguments, scheduled to last 2 ½ hours, which also will explore whether states that do not permit same-sex marriage must nonetheless recognize such unions from elsewhere.

Same-sex couples can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

The cases before the court come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 14 remaining states that allow only heterosexual marriage. Those four states had their marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in November. That is the only federal appeals court that has ruled in favor of the states since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law.

Justice Anthony Kennedy has written the court’s three prior gay rights decisions, including the case from two years ago. All eyes will be on Kennedy for any signals that he is prepared to take the final step in granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Such an outcome was inconceivable just a few years ago.

The first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry was Massachusetts, in 2004. Even as recently as October, barely a third of the states permitted it. Now, same-sex couples can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia, a dramatic change in the law that has been accompanied by an equally fast shift in public opinion.

The main thrust of the states’ case is to reframe the debate.

“This case is not about the best marriage definition. It is about the fundamental question regarding how our democracy resolves such debates about social policy: Who decides, the people of each state or the federal judiciary?” John Bursch, representing Michigan, wrote in his main brief to the court.

Other arguments by the states and more than five-dozen briefs by their defenders warn the justices of harms that could result “if you remove the man-woman definition and replace it with the genderless any-two-persons definition,” said Gene Schaerr, a Washington lawyer.

The push for same-sex marriage comes down to fairness, said Mary Bonauto, who will argue on behalf of the plaintiffs. The people who have brought their cases to the Supreme Court are “real people who are deeply committed to each other. Yet they are foreclosed from making that commitment simply because of who they are,” she told reporters last week.

Arguments made by Bonauto, other lawyers for same-sex couples and more than six-dozen supporting briefs have strong echoes of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court struck down state bans on interracial marriage. In that case, the justices were unanimous that those bans violated the constitutional rights of interracial couples.

No one expects unanimity this time. But many believe the justices will take the final step toward what gay rights supporters call marriage equality, in part because they allowed orders in favor of same-sex couples to take effect even as the issue made its way through the federal court system.

That was action through inaction, as other judges played a major role over the years. Only 11 states have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples through the ballot or the legislature. Court rulings are responsible for all the others.

A decision is expected in late June.

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Follow Mark Sherman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/shermancourt .

Riots in Baltimore raise questions about police response

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BALTIMORE (AP) — National Guard troops fanned out through the city, shield-bearing police officers blocked the streets and firefighters doused still-simmering blazes early Tuesday as a growing area of Baltimore shuddered from riots following the funeral of a black man who died in police custody.

The violence that started in West Baltimore on Monday afternoon — within a mile of where Freddie Gray was arrested and placed into a police van earlier this month — had by midnight spread to East Baltimore and neighborhoods close to downtown and near the baseball stadium.

It was one of the most volatile outbreaks of violence prompted by a police-involved death since the days of protests that followed the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed during a confrontation with a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

At least 15 officers were hurt, including six who remained hospitalized late Monday, police said. Two dozen people were arrested.

State and local authorities pledged to restore order and calm to Baltimore, but quickly found themselves responding to questions about whether their initial responses had been adequate.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was asked why she waited hours to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, while the governor himself hinted she should have come to him earlier.

“We were all in the command center in the second floor of the State House in constant communication, and we were trying to get in touch with the mayor for quite some time,” Gov. Larry Hogan told a Monday evening news conference. “She finally made that call, and we immediately took action.”

Asked if the mayor should have called for help sooner, however, Hogan replied that he didn’t want to question what Baltimore officials were doing: “They’re all under tremendous stress. We’re all on one team.”

Rawlings-Blake said officials believed they had gotten the unrest that had erupted over the weekend under control “and I think it would have been inappropriate to bring in the National Guard when we had it under control.”

But later on, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts made it clear events had become unmanageable. “They just outnumbered us and outflanked us,” Batts said. “We needed to have more resources out there.”

Batts said authorities had had a “very trying and disappointing day.”

Police certainly had their work cut out for them: The rioters set police cars and buildings on fire in several neighborhoods, looted a mall and liquor stores and threw rocks at police with riot gear who responded occasionally with pepper spray.

“I understand anger, but what we’re seeing isn’t anger,” Rawlings-Blake said. “It’s disruption of a community. The same community they say they care about, they’re destroying. You can’t have it both ways.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in her first day on the job, said she would send Justice Department officials to the city in coming days. A weeklong, daily curfew was imposed beginning Tuesday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the mayor said, and Baltimore public schools announced they would be closed Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, said up to 5,000 troops would be available for Baltimore’s streets.

“We are going to be out in massive force, and that just means basically that we are going to be patrolling the streets and out to ensure that we are protecting property,” Singh said at a news conference Monday night.

Singh said they will be acting at the direction of Baltimore police.

Col. William Pallozzi, the superintendent of the state police, said a request for up to 500 additional law enforcement personnel in Maryland had been sent. Pallozzi added that the state is putting out a request for up to 5,000 more law enforcement personnel from around the mid-Atlantic region.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings and about 200 others, including ministers, tried unsuccessfully to quell the violence at one point Monday night, marching arm-in-arm through a neighborhood littered with broken glass, flattened aluminum cans and other debris. As they got close to a line of police officers, the marchers went down on their knees. They then rose to their feet and walked until they were face-to-face with the police officers in a tight formation and wearing riot gear.

But the violence continued, with looters later setting a liquor store on fire and throwing cinder blocks at fire trucks as firefighters labored to put out the blazes.

Monday’s riot was the latest flare-up over the death of Gray and came amid a national debate over police use of force following the high-profile deaths of several black men in encounters with police — from the Brown death in Ferguson to the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Gray was black. Police have declined to specify the races of the six officers involved in his arrest, all of whom have been suspended with pay while they are under investigation.

While they are angry about what happened to Gray, his family said riots are not the answer.

“I think the violence is wrong,” Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka Gray, said late Monday. “I don’t like it at all.”

The attorney for Gray’s family, Billy Murphy, said the family had hoped to organize a peace march later in the week.

Hours before the riots began Monday, mourners filled the 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church to attend Freddie Gray’s funeral.

Gray was arrested on April 12 after making eye contact with officers and then running away, police said. He was held down, handcuffed and loaded into a van without a seat belt. Leg cuffs were put on him when he became irate inside.

He asked for medical help several times even before being put in the van, but paramedics were not called until after a 30-minute ride. Police have acknowledged he should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested, but they have not said how he suffered a serious spine injury. He died April 19.

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Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.

Business: Global markets lower ahead of major earnings, Fed meeting

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global stock markets were dented Tuesday by downbeat economic data from Europe ahead of major earnings reports and the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 0.8 percent to 7,049.37 and Germany’s DAX declined 0.7 percent to 11,955.50. France’s CAC 40 sank 1 percent to 5,217.49. Wall Street was set to extend losses, with S&P 500 futures down 0.3 percent and Dow futures 0.2 percent lower.

BRITISH GDP: Britain’s economic growth slowed to a quarterly rate of 0.3 percent in the first three months of this year, the Office of National Statistics said. The figure represents a slowdown from 0.6 percent growth in the last quarter of 2014. The U.K. statistics agency said output decreased in construction, production and agriculture and growth slowed in service industries.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 outperformed the region, gaining 0.4 percent to 20,058.95. Other markets were weaker with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng flat at 28,442.75. South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.5 percent to 2,147.67. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,948.50. Stocks in mainland China and Southeast Asia were weaker.

EARNINGS: Investors are waiting for an update on the health of corporate Asia with major tech and auto companies expected to report quarterly financial results this week, including Samsung, LG and Sony. Honda Motor Co. reported Tuesday that its profit dropped 43 percent as the costs of air bag recalls offset the positives of a weak yen and strong vehicle sales in Asia. Shares of the Japanese automaker rose 0.3 percent before the earnings release.

FED WATCH: Investors are looking ahead to Wednesday when the Federal Reserve ends a two-day meeting at which policymakers will discuss when to raise a key interest rate that has been held near zero for 6 ½ years. After its March meeting, the Fed opened the door to a rate increase this year by no longer saying it would be “patient” in starting to raise its benchmark rate. But weak economic data recently might complicate that picture.

THE QUOTE: “The Fed will have to acknowledge the weaker data of late when it meets tomorrow,” DBS Bank said in a daily report. “It will be hard to blame either on dock strikes or the weather, given that payrolls dipped in March and capex has been falling since August.”

US DATA: The Conference Board releases its April index on U.S. consumer confidence on Tuesday. In March, an improving job market drove U.S. consumer confidence higher after a dip in February, a promising sign for the economy as it heads into spring. The U.S. government also releases its estimate of economic growth in the January-March quarter. Gross domestic product is expected to have risen 1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in the previous quarter.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude declined 41 cents to $56.58 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract shed 16 cents to close at $56.99 on Monday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 20 cents to $64.63 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 118.96 yen from 119.12 yen in the previous global trading session. The euro rose to $1.0918 from $1.0876.

 

Wall Street is very focused right now on earnings and Apple.

Here are the five things you need to know before the opening bell rings in New York:

1. Amazing Apple: All eyes are on Apple (AAPL, Tech30) this morning as the tech giant’s stock approaches its all-time high.

Shares are rising by about 1% premarket, setting them up to possibly surpass the previous intraday trading record of $133.60. The iPhone maker reported its second-best quarter ever on Monday evening.

2. Earnings: Ford (F), UPS (UPS), Pfizer (PFE), and Coach (COH) are reporting ahead of the open.

Twitter (TWTR, Tech30), GoPro (GPRO), Kraft Foods (KRFT) and Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) will report after the close.

Shares in oil giants BP (BP) and Total (TOT) are both rising by roughly 1% to 2% in Europe after the firms reported their latest results.

Shares in Commerzbank (CRZBY) are declining by about 4% in Germany after the bank said it plans to raise an additional €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) to strengthen its financial position.

 

3. Economics: There’s a few key economic reports to watch Tuesday.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home index comes out at 9 a.m. ET, giving investors an overview of the strength of the U.S. housing market.

The Conference Board will publish its monthly consumer confidence index at 10 a.m.

In the U.K., official statistics show the nation’s economy grew by a slower-than-expected rate in the first quarter. Gross domestic product increased by 2.4% in the first three months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. These are the last set of growth numbers to be released ahead of the U.K. election in early May.

 

4. Stock market overview: U.S. stock futures are looking relatively soft ahead of the open, despite the positive sentiment surrounding Apple.

European markets are mostly moving down in early trading.

Most Asian markets ended the day with losses. The Shanghai Composite index dipped by 1.1%, moving back after hitting a seven-year high on Monday.

5. Monday market recap: Overall trading on Monday was relatively lackluster. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 42 points, the S&P 500 fell 0.4% and the Nasdaq closed with a 0.6% loss.

Review: ‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —    It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Whedon (and Marvel’s) sequel to the third highest grossing film of all-time, there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheros, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” (which featured the rarest of superhero movie insults: “mewling quim”) should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — “Age of Ultron” for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” could have amped up the brio. But it instead pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers, now assembled, assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional, vaguely Eastern European snowy republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological, lab experiments gone wrong) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing the most for. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (I’m looking at you, “Man of Steel.”)

In Sokovia, they encounter the duplicitous twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). She can, with a crimson-colored magic, read minds, and he’s lightning quick. They, however, aren’t the movie’s real villains: That’s the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and with the supposed cause of world peace, begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human (and Avenger) life. Spader plays Ultron too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron, which skips around the globe, to Seoul and South Africa, due to only slightly logical pursuits of rare metals and a tissue-generating invention. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

Most successful are the tender scenes between Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk and Johansson’s former Russian spy. She’s something like his LSD trip guide, soothing Ruffalo’s enraged “big guy” with her soft voice, petting his hand until he shrinks back to Banner and the green dissipates.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs — the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters — are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. Paul Bettany, previously the voice of Iron Man’s computer, J.A.R.V.I.S., arrives late as the Vision, a preternaturally poised floating hero resembling a red Powder.

The movie’s hefty machinery — the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen, and the mammoth action scenes have a way of crushing the smaller moments. Better is when the Avengers are just sitting around, musing about the physics governing Thor’s heavy hammer.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut (the next “Avengers” movies are slated for 2018 and 2019), “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a Walt Disney release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction.” Running time: 141 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Rescuers struggle to reach many in Nepal quake, fear worst

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KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The death toll from Nepal’s earthquake soared past 3,300 Monday, and how much higher it would rise depended largely on the condition of vulnerable mountain villages that rescue workers were still struggling to reach two days after the disaster.

Reports received so far by aid groups suggest that many communities perched on mountainsides are devastated or struggling to cope.

Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centered. Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision, said it is likely that many communities can be reached only by helicopter.

“Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls,” Darvas said.

Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 18 people died there and 61 were injured.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam said Monday that Nepal’s death toll had risen to 3,218 people. That does not include the avalanche dead, which are counted by the mountaineering association. Another 61 people were killed in neighboring India, and China reported 20 people dead in Tibet.

Kathmandu district chief administrator Ek Narayan Aryal said tents and water were being handed out Monday at 10 locations in Kathmandu, but that aftershocks were leaving everyone jittery. The largest, on Sunday, was magnitude 6.7.

“There have been nearly 100 earthquakes and aftershocks, which is making rescue work difficult. Even the rescuers are scared and running because of them,” he said.

In Kathmandu, tens of thousands of people spent the night sleeping in parks or on a golf course. Others camped in open squares lined by cracked buildings and piles of rubble.

“We don’t feel safe at all. There have been so many aftershocks. It doesn’t stop,” said Rajendra Dhungana, 34, who spent Sunday with his niece’s family for her cremation at the Pashuputi Nath Temple.

Acrid, white smoke rose above the Hindu temple, Nepal’s most revered. “I’ve watched hundreds of bodies burn,” Dhungana said.

The capital city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings. The earthquake killed well over 1,000 people in Kathmandu and destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods, but many were surprised by how few modern structures collapsed in the quake.

Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicenter. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near Lamjung, a district about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. While not far away, poor roads and steep mountains make Lamjung difficult to reach. Even before the quake, it could take six hours to drive from Kathmandu to parts of the area. Now, many of the few roads are believed to be cut off by small landslides.

The earthquake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years. It and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan. Nepal’s worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

Rescuers aided by international teams spent Sunday digging through rubble of buildings — concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood — to look for survivors. Because the air was filled with chalky concrete dust, many people wore breathing masks or held shawls over their faces.

Hundreds of people in Kathmandu’s western Kalanki neighborhood nervously watched the slow progress of a single backhoe digging into the rubble of the collapsed Lumbini Guest House, once a three-story budget hotel.

Most areas were without power and water. The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses.

Most shops in Kathmandu were closed after the government declared a weeklong period of recovery. Only fruit vendors and pharmacies seemed to be doing business.

“More people are coming now,” fruit seller Shyam Jaiswal said. “They cannot cook so they need to buy something they can eat raw.”

Jaiswal said stocks were running out, and more shipments were not expected for at least a week, but added, “We are not raising prices. That would be illegal, immoral profit.”

The quake has put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

The first nations to respond were Nepal’s neighbors – India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation. Nepal remains closest to India, with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.

Other countries sending support Sunday included the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Israel and Singapore.

An American military plane left Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base for Nepal, carrying 70 people, including a disaster-assistance response team and an urban search-and-rescue team, and 45 tons of cargo, the Pentagon said.

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Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi and Tim Sullivan in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Saudi-Led Air Campaign Resumes in Yemeni Capital

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    AL MUKALLA, Yemen — Warplanes of the Saudi-led military coalition bombed targets in the Yemeni capital on Sunday for the first time since Saudi officials said they were shifting the focus of their campaign against a Yemeni rebel group toward political negotiations and humanitarian relief.

Also on Sunday, at least seven people were killed and dozens wounded in escalating violence in the southern city of Taiz, which was emerging as the latest lethal flash point in Yemen’s civil war.

In addition to the bombings in Sana, the capital, which struck a military base and the presidential palace, the coalition carried out airstrikes in several other provinces, suggesting a broadening, rather than a scaling back, of the monthlong Saudi air offensive against Houthi rebels.

Despite vague talk of negotiations last week, there was little sign that any of the combatants in Yemen’s conflict were preparing to halt the fighting. Rather, the violence heightened in recent days as it became more apparent that the warring parties were locked in a standoff, with the Saudis insisting that the Houthis retreat and the Houthis demanding an unconditional end to the airstrikes.

Saudi Arabia said the military operation was intended to shake the grip of the Houthis on crucial Yemeni cities and to restore the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced from power and into exile, by the Houthis this year.

But the air campaign has killed scores of civilians and earned derision from critics in Yemen and abroad who have called it strategically incoherent for failing to either dislodge the Houthis and their allies or to force them to negotiate.

Nonetheless, Saudi officials asserted last week that the campaign, which they called Operation Decisive Storm, had achieved its objectives and that they would shift from military operations to a political process. But on Sunday, a senior Yemeni official, Riyadh Yaseen, who serves as the foreign minister for the Saudi-backed exiled government, said the first operation had “not ended.”

“There will be no deal with the Houthis whatsoever until they withdraw from areas under their control,” Mr. Yaseen said, speaking in London, according to Reuters.

More than 1,000 people have been killed over the past month, including at least 500 civilians, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of people have been killed in Aden, Yemen’s second largest city, which has been devastated by factional street fighting for more than a month.

There are growing fears that Taiz, a densely populated city northwest of Aden, is suffering the same fate as clashes there intensify. The city has already experienced severe shortages of fuel and food, residents said.

As in Aden, local forces were fighting against an alliance of the Houthis and heavily armed security units loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former autocratic president.

Taiz was a focal point of the nationwide uprising against Mr. Saleh in 2011 that led to a deal brokered by Persian Gulf nations that removed him from power. Residents said the local militias opposing the Houthi and Saleh forces now include many young people who participated in the protests four years ago.

A prominent, longtime opponent of Mr. Saleh, Sheik Hamoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi, was said to be leading the opposition to Mr. Saleh’s forces in Taiz.

As they meet fierce resistance in the city, the Houthis and their allies have been accused by residents of deploying deadly and frequently indiscriminate force. Witnesses said that on Sunday, the Houthis unleashed barrages of mortar shells that struck at least one hospital.

Ali al-Sirari, a local human rights activist, said the shelling by the Houthis came after they were forced to retreat. They “hysterically shelled many areas in the city with tanks,” he said. Residents said at least seven people, including three children, were killed.

Supporters of Senate Iran bill swatting away amendments

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate proponents of a bill empowering Congress to review and potentially reject any Iran nuclear deal must first win a battle with some colleagues determined to change the legislation in ways that could sink it.

“Anybody who monkeys with this bill is going to run into a buzz saw,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned ahead of this week’s debate.

The high-profile debate comes as negotiators from the U.S. and five other nations are rushing to finalize, by the end of June, an agreement requiring Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions choking its economy.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart plan to meet Monday for the first time since they laid out the framework for a nuclear deal earlier this month. The State Department said Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would meet in New York where the two are attending a conference at the United Nations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Another member of Congress trying to discourage any changes in the bill was Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who urged senators to stick with the plan as it emerged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The bill was approved, 19-0, by the Senate committee has 62 co-sponsors from both parties.

Some lawmakers, however, want changes that could cost them the support of President Barack Obama, who grudgingly backed the measure, and his fellow Democrats.

If there is a final deal with Iran, Obama can use his executive authority to ease some sanctions on his own and work with the European Union and the United Nations to lift others. Obama also can waive sanctions that Congress has imposed on Iran, but he cannot formally lift them.

The bill would block Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in.

If 60 senators vote to disapprove of the deal, Obama would lose his waiver power altogether. The president is betting he will not.

If Congress disapproves, the president will almost respond with a veto. As long as he can get more than one-third of the Senate to side with him, he can prevent his veto from being overridden.

Backers of the bill are trying to keep lawmakers focused on how it would give Congress a say on a critical national security issue. They say the measure is not meant to be about how Iran increasingly is wielding influence in the Middle East, its support of terrorist groups or human rights violations. They worry that adding too many divisive amendments would cause Democrats to drop their support.

Even so, some senators are proposing amendments to pressure Iran to end its support of such groups, stop threatening to destroy Israel and recognize its right to exist, and release U.S. citizens held in Iran.

Other amendments would prevent sanctions relief if Iran cooperates with nuclear-armed North Korea or until international nuclear inspectors are guaranteed access to Iranian military sites.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a presidential candidate, has an amendment with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would require Congress to sign off on any final nuclear deal, not just disapprove of it. An amendment from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., would make any deal a treaty, thus needing to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.

“The president should have to get 67 votes for a major nuclear arms agreement with an outlaw regime,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

Cotton wants to lower the number of votes needed to reject a deal from 60 to 51. That means opponents of any deal would only need Republican votes to sink it.

He also wants to see amendments requiring that Congress be notified of any violations of an agreement, not just ones that are legally defined as material breaches.

A third set of amendments would prevent sanctions relief until they meet goals the U.S. established at the beginning of the negotiations. Critics of the talks claim the administration has backtracked and agreed to too many concessions for Iran.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee chairman and a co-author of the bill, said he too would like to see Iran change its behavior and he wants any final deal to be a good one that will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But he said that’s not what the bill is about.

“This bill is about the process,” Corker said. “It’s not a bill about the content of any deal, and hopefully, that’s how the bill will remain.”

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Business: Asian markets rise after Wall Street gains

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BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Monday after Wall Street gained on strong earnings and investors looked ahead to Apple results and this week’s U.S. Federal Reserve meeting.

KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.1 percent to 4,441.93 points and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.7 percent to 28.245.14. Sydney’s S&P ASX 200 added 0.7 percent to 5,973.30 and Seoul advanced 0.2 percent to 2,163.17. Taiwan, Singapore and Manila also rose. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 was unchanged at 20,024.76. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500 gained 0.2 percent. The Nasdaq composite, dominated by tech stocks, advanced 0.7 percent.

U.S. ECONOMY: Investors were looking ahead to Wednesday’s meeting of the Fed board amid concern data this week will show the U.S. economy weakened in the first quarter. The Fed has no plans to update forecasts. Still, the meeting “will be closely watched to see if markets had been too eager to push out Fed hike expectations, especially now that oil prices have pushed above $55 / barrel,” said DBS in a report.

EYES ON APPLE: Investors looked ahead to Apple Inc.’s quarterly results, due out after U.S. markets close on Monday. The world’s most valuable company by market capitalization will be among 150 market-moving names in the S&P 500 including Ford, Visa, Pfizer and Exxon Mobil that report earnings this week. Apple, though still driven largely by iPhone sales, is being closely watched for signs of how its new Apple Watches are doing with customers.

WALL STREET: Shares advanced Friday after investors were encouraged by quarterly results from Microsoft, Amazon and Google. Microsoft beat expectations while Google fell short but reported strong growth in mobile advertising. Amazon reported a loss but said sales by its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, rose 49 percent.

GREECE: Greece’s European creditors are trying to discourage talk that they are making plans for Athens to leave the shared euro after a meeting Friday failed to produce agreement on economic reforms in exchange for financial help. Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis was rebuked for failing to come up with a list of reforms. The eurozone’s top official, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said he hoped “some extra urgency” will be injected into the process following the meeting in Riga, the Latvian capital, of 19 finance ministers. Greece is forecast to have enough money for its government to pay its bills for another few weeks.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 2 cents to $57.13 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract shed 49 cents to close at $57.15 in the previous session. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 7 cents to $65.35 in London after gaining 43 cents the previous day to close at $65.28.

CURRENCY: The dollar edged down to 118.9510 yen from Friday’s 118.9580. The euro was unchanged at $1.087.

 

INVESTORS ANTICIPATE APPLE’S EARNINGS

Investors are hoping for details on the company’s move into the watch market after it started taking online orders for the Apple Watch this month when it reports its second-quarter earnings after the market closes Monday. The technology company is coming off a blowout first quarter, during which it sold 74.5 million iPhones.

GREEK CREDITORS DISCOURAGE EURO EXIT SPECULATION

Failure to produce an agreement on economic reforms is raising tension over Greece’s place in the Eurozone after a meeting Friday failed to produce agreement on economic reforms in exchange for financial help. European creditors are trying to discourage talk that they are making plans for the nation to leave the euro currency.

EYES ON THE FED

The financial world awaits potential details on Wednesday over how much longer the Federal Reserve can hold its key interest rate near zero. Most economists expect the record lows to hold until September.

DEUTSCHE BANK REORGANIZING

The bank is spinning off some branches, closing offices and cutting less profitable businesses at its investment banking division. The move comes as it struggles to maintain the profits investors want while it meets stricter regulatory demands and settles allegations of misconduct.

OIL PRICES WILL LIKELY DAMPEN CHEVRON EARNINGS

Chevron will likely report a profit drop in its latest results as oil prices continue sliding. The company has been taking steps to cuts spending and lower costs.

Nepal quake: Hundreds dead, history crumbles, Everest shaken

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KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A powerful earthquake struck Nepal Saturday, killing at least 906 people across a swath of four countries as the violently shaking earth collapsed houses, leveled centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest. It was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years.

At least 876 people were confirmed dead in Nepal, according to the police. Another 20 were killed in India, six in Tibet and two in Bangladesh. Two Chinese citizens died at the Nepal-China border. The death toll is almost certain to rise, said deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam.

It was a few minutes before noon when the quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 7.8, began to rumble across the densely populated Kathmandu Valley, rippling through the capital Kathmandu and spreading in all directions — north toward the Himalayas and Tibet, south to the Indo-Gangetic plains, east toward the Brahmaputra delta of Bangladesh and west toward the historical city of Lahore in Pakistan.

Shirish Vaidya, a businessman, was with his family in his two-story house won the outskirts of Kathmandu, when the quake struck.

“It is hard to describe. The house was shaking like crazy. We ran out and it seemed like the road was heaving up and down,” he told The Associated Press. “I don’t remember anything like this before. Even my parents can’t remember anything this bad.”

A magnitude-6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later, and smaller aftershocks continued to jolt the region for hours. Residents ran out of homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls. And clouds of dust began to swirl all around.

“Our village has been almost wiped out. Most of the houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking,” said Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung village near the epicenter. He said half of the village folks are either missing or dead. “All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don’t know what to do. We are feeling helpless,” he said when contacted by telephone.

Within hours of the quake, hospitals began to fill up with dozens of injured people. With organized relief largely absent, many of the injured were brought to hospitals by friends and relatives in motorized rickshaws, flatbed trucks and cars.

In Kathmandu, dozens of people gathered in the parking lot of Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses were spread on the ground for patients rushed outside, some wearing hospital pajamas. A woman with a bandage on her head sat in a set of chairs pulled from the hospital waiting room.

Doctors and nurses hooked up some patients to intravenous drips in the parking lot, or gave people oxygen.

As night fell, thousands of scared residents continued to camp out in parks and compounds, too scared to return to their homes. Meteorologists forecast rain and thunderstorms for Saturday night and Sunday.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was attending a summit in Jakarta, tried to rush back home but made it as far as Bangkok where his connecting flight to Kathmandu was canceled because the capital’s international airport was shut down.

While the extent of the damage and the scale of the disaster are yet to be ascertained, the quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, is heavily reliant on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

A mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche swept the face of Mt. Everest after the earthquake, and government officials said at least 8 climbers were killed and 30 injured. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Dane who is climbing the Everest with a Belgian, Jelle Veyt, said on his Facebook page that they were at Khumbu Icefall , a rugged area of collapsed ice and snow close to base camp at altitude 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), when the earthquake hit.

He wrote on his Facebook that they have started to receive the injured, including one person with the most severe injuries who sustained many fractures.

“He was blown away by the avalanche and broke both legs. For the camps closer to where the avalanche hit, our Sherpas believe that a lot of people may have been buried in their tents,” he wrote in English. “There is now a steady flow of people fleeing basecamp in hope of more security further down the mountain”

The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.8. It said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time (0611 GMT) at Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. Its depth was only 11 kilometers (7 miles), the largest shallow quake since the 8.2 temblor off the coast of Chile on April 1, 2014.

The shallower the quake the more destructive power it carries.

A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage. This means Saturday’s quake — with the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 — was about 16 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

“The shallowness of the source made the ground-shaking at the surface worse than it would have been for a deeper earthquake,” said David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, north of London.

A major factor in the damage was that many of the buildings were not built to be quake-proof. An earthquake this size in Tokyo or Los Angeles, which have building codes for quake resistance, would not be nearly as devastating.

The power of the tremors brought down several buildings in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers.

Among them was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu’s landmarks built by Nepal’s royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.

Hundreds of people buy tickets on weekends to go up to the viewing platform on the eighth story, but it was not clear how many were up there when the tower collapsed. Video footage showed people digging through the rubble of the tower, looking for survivors.

The Kathmandu Valley is densely populated with nearly 2.5 million people, and the quality of buildings is often poor.

A Swedish woman, Jenny Adhikari, who lives in Nepal, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that she was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when the earth began to move.

“A huge stone crashed only about 20 meters (yards) from the bus,” she was quoted as saying. “All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died,” she told the newspaper by telephone. Melamchi is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Kathmandu.

Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

The sustained quake also was felt in India’s capital of New Delhi and several other Indian cities.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and disaster preparedness in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, have reported building damage. There have also been reports of damage in the northeastern state of Assam.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered “all possible help” that Nepal may need.

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Naqvi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Seth Borenstein in Washington DC contributed to this report.

Hostage deaths a reminder of risk of ‘deadly mistakes’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years ago, President Barack Obama stood before a military audience and spoke of the “heartbreaking tragedy” of accidental civilian deaths caused by U.S. military strikes in the fight against terrorism in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now, with news of the death of two Western hostages in a CIA drone strike — American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto — the president has received a brutal reminder that every U.S. commander-in-chief may have to face the loss of civilians as collateral damage in wartime.

“It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” Obama said.

On Friday, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of condolences to the hostages’ families.

“Having lost thousands of innocent civilians in the war against terrorism, Pakistan can fully understand this tragic loss and stands with the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto in this difficult time,” the ministry said. “The death of Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto in a drone strike demonstrates the risk and unintended consequences of the use of this technology that Pakistan has been highlighting for a long time.”

Meanwhile, in Italy, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is seeking to explain to Parliament why it took three months to learn about the death of Lo Porto in the U.S. drone strike. Gentiloni told lawmakers Friday that in an inaccessible war zone, where hostage-taking is frequent, it took that long for U.S. intelligence to verify Lo Porto had been killed.

Military technology may grow ever more sophisticated, but there still is no surefire way to ensure innocents will not be caught in harm’s way, even by the most elite of U.S. forces.

In 2010, the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 tried to rescue Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove from Taliban captors in Afghanistan. She was killed by a grenade thrown in haste by one of the American commandoes.

“Sometimes you get it wrong,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University. “There’s no way to have a perfectly clean war.”

He pointed to the U.S. prisoners of war killed in World War II when American submarines targeted Japanese cargo ships in the Pacific, some of which were transporting allied prisoners. More than 21,000 American POWs were killed or injured from “friendly fire” from American submarines or planes on what the survivors called “hell ships,” according to “Death on the Hellships: Prisoners at Sea in the Pacific War,” by Gregory Michno.

At the war’s end, when the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, at least 10 American POWs being held there were among the 140,000 who were killed.

Speaking of the current U.S. drone program, Mansoor said that while civilians have died over the years, such losses have been dwarfed by the military benefits. Under the rules of war, he added, the potential gain from hitting a military target needs to be commensurate with the possibility of damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure.

In the case of the hostages killed when the CIA targeted an al-Qaida compound, Mansoor said, “It was simply incomplete information and you’re never going to have complete information. … There’s no way to completely excise these sorts of collateral damage incidents from military affairs.”

Instances of more typical “friendly fire,” in which U.S. forces have been killed by members of their own military, date to earliest days of the nation and stretch all the way to the modern battlefield, despite better training and the precision of the latest weapons.

In 1758, during the French and Indian War, a detachment of the British Army led by Col. George Washington got into a firefight with a fellow infantry unit that had arrived to offer assistance. At dusk on a foggy day, they apparently mistook each other for French forces, and at least 13 British troops were killed.

In the Civil War, Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died of pneumonia eight days after being hit by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia.

Flash forward 150 years, and Michael O’Hanlon, a national security and defense specialist at the Brookings Institution, said it’s inevitable that “if you try to use drones to kill terrorists, you’re going to sometimes hurt innocent people.”

He said the U.S. goes to great lengths to protect civilians, “but you’re never going to be 100 percent certain.”

O’Hanlon said the U.S. had already begun limiting its use of armed drones in Pakistan because of Pakistani concerns and exaggerated claims of civilian casualties in that country.

“We’re already in that era of greater restraint,” O’Hanlon said.

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News researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac

Loretta Lynch wins confirmation as attorney general

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Loretta Lynch won confirmation as the nation’s first black female attorney general Thursday from a Senate that forced her to wait more than five months for the title and remained divided to the end.

The 56-43 vote installs Lynch, now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, at the Justice Department to replace Eric Holder. Holder has served in the job throughout the Obama administration, becoming a lightning rod for conservatives who perceived him as overly political and liberal, and even getting held in contempt of Congress.

Lynch, 55, is seen as a no-nonsense prosecutor, and has wide law enforcement support. The issue that tore into her support with Republicans was immigration, and her refusal to denounce President Barack Obama’s executive actions limiting deportations for millions of people living illegally in this country. Questioned on the issue at her confirmation hearing in January, she said she believed Obama’s actions were reasonable and lawful.

Democrats angrily criticized Republicans for using the issue against her, saying an executive branch nominee could not be expected to disagree strongly with the president who appointed her, but Republicans were unapologetic.

Announced GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Lynch’s comments rendered her “unsuitable for confirmation as attorney general of the United States. That was a shame.”

Yet after returning from the campaign trail to rail against Lynch on the Senate floor Thursday, Cruz was the only senator absent when the vote was called. He voted “no” on a procedural vote earlier in the day, which spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter insisted “was the vote that mattered.” She did not explain why Cruz missed the confirmation vote, but an invitation on his campaign website showed he had a fundraiser in Dallas to attend.

Still, Lynch won the support of 10 Republicans, more than expected in the days heading into the vote. In a surprise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was among those voting “yes.”

Obama said the U.S. would be better off with Lynch.

In a speech to his advocacy group, Organizing for Action, Obama said Lynch had established credibility with both law enforcement and civil rights groups, adding that he wanted to work with her to rebuild trust between police and communities in the U.S.

“She’s spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that’s the foundation of our democracy,” Obama said.

Lynch grew up in Durham, North Carolina, the daughter of an English teacher and a minister. Her father, Lorenzo Lynch, 83, watched from the Senate visitors’ gallery Thursday as his daughter won confirmation.

Afterward, he told reporters: “The good guys won. And that’s what’s been happening in this country all along, even during slavery.”

The long delay in confirming Lynch since she was nominated in November incensed Democrats, with Obama himself weighing in last week to lament Senate dysfunction and decry the wait as “crazy” and “embarrassing.” There were various reasons for the delay, most recently a lengthy and unexpected impasse over abortion on an unrelated bill to combat sex trafficking that McConnell insisted on finishing before moving to Lynch.

Yet Democrats controlled the Senate when Lynch was nominated last November and could have brought up her nomination for a vote then. They held off with the GOP’s encouragement after being routed in the midterm elections and spent the time confirming judges instead.

There was an expectation that Republican leaders would move Lynch’s nomination swiftly this year, especially since many GOP members of Congress are eager to be rid of Holder. Instead, the nomination became tangled in the dispute over Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and seemed to stall.

There was never any real doubt that she would win confirmation in the end, but going into the vote only five Republicans had declared their support. In addition to McConnell, the Republicans who ended up voting “yes” were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Ayotte, Portman, Johnson and Kirk all face voters next year.

In a statement, McConnell said Holder’s Justice Department “has too often put partisan and ideological considerations ahead of the rule of law. It is a department desperately in need of new direction and leadership. I am hopeful that Ms. Lynch will use her lengthy professional experience and skills to provide the new leadership, reform and improved relations with the Congress.”

In floor debate ahead of the vote, Democrats lambasted Republicans for opposing Lynch on immigration.

“What my colleagues are saying today is it doesn’t matter if you are qualified … that makes no difference. We have a new test. You must disagree with the president who nominates you,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “This defies common sense.”

Yet in the end even the Senate’s hardliners on immigration refrained from trying to drag out the final vote into Friday.

Lynch has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001. She’ll take over a Justice Department focused on fighting terrorism and cyberattacks, and consumed in a national debate over law enforcement’s treatment of black men.

As attorney general Loretta Lynch assumes a portfolio that includes fighting terrorism, preventing cyberattacks and dealing with police and race — issues strikingly similar to what she’s dealt with as top federal prosecutor for much of New York City and its eastern suburbs.

She inherits a Justice Department consumed by efforts to stop the flow of Islamic State recruits to Syria and prevent destructive computer crimes against American corporations. And she arrives with the department at the center of an ongoing national dialogue on relations between police and minority communities, something she pledged at her confirmation hearing to address.

The Senate’s long-delayed confirmation Thursday of Lynch, 55, makes her the first African-American woman to hold the position. She’s expected to be sworn in next week to replace Eric Holder following his six-year tenure, which made civil rights protections a cornerstone priority.

Lynch will have limited time in the twilight of the Obama administration to craft ambitious new policy proposals and is seen as unlikely to depart in radical ways from Holder’s priorities. But supporters expect her to bring her own understated and low-key management style, and she sought to assure anxious Republicans in recent months that she would arrive in Washington with her own law-and-order perspective.

“She’s a professional prosecutor, a career law-enforcement person, and she’s also someone who is apolitical,” said Robert Giuffra, a New York lawyer who has known Lynch for years.

The workload itself won’t be unfamiliar for Lynch, who since 2010 has been the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, one of the busiest Justice Department offices in the country. The job has given her the opportunity to oversee cases against terrorists, cybercriminals and elected officials — all common Justice Department targets. Her office also is involved in the civil rights investigation arising from the death of a black Staten Island man who was placed in a chokehold by a white police officer.

In addition, she’ll need to build relationships on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who criticized Holder as overly political repeatedly clashed with him and once held him in contempt.

“I think DoJ badly needs a new attorney general to start to reset relationships, first and foremost with members of Congress, the overseers,” said Ron Hosko, former head of the FBI’s criminal division and president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “I think that the negativity, the friction, between Holder and the oversight committees ultimately hurt” the department.

Never known as a publicity seeker, the Harvard-educated Lynch has kept an even lower profile in recent months while her nomination was in limbo, caught up in a partisan dispute over a human trafficking bill. Her office has recently brought several noteworthy cases against suspected Islamic State group recruits, but without the typical fanfare of a news conference. Her chief media spokesman retired last year and was never replaced.

As a Brooklyn prosecutor, she attracted attention for her leading role in one of the most sensational police brutality cases in city history, the 1997 broomstick torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a precinct bathroom. Even in that case, she encouraged a far more junior member of the trial team, Kenneth Thompson, to deliver opening statements rather than taking the opportunity herself.

“It shows that Loretta is more interested in doing justice than getting the limelight,” said Thompson, now the Brooklyn district attorney.

She served from 1999 to 2001 as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District — which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island — before entering private practice. She returned to the position in 2010 and was appointed to the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a position that required her to spend more time in Washington and drew her closer to Holder.

During her second tenure, Lynch’s office has won convictions in a thwarted al Qaida-sanctioned plot to attack New York City subways, and against a Canadian drug kingpin who was one of New York’s biggest marijuana suppliers. More recently, her office brought a tax evasion case against former Republican Congressman Michael Grimm that resulted in his guilty plea and resignation.

Lynch is not expected to radically reshape the Justice Department in the remaining year and a half of the Obama administration, and at her confirmation hearing in January, she carefully endorsed some of the staples of Holder’s legacy and spoke of the need to continue repairing bonds between law enforcement and minorities.

But in nuanced ways, she also created space between herself and the outgoing attorney general. She said the death penalty, which Holder personally opposes, was an effective punishment and voiced unequivocal opposition to the prospect of marijuana legalization.

It also remains to be seen how aggressively she will support Holder’s efforts to transform the criminal justice system’s treatment of nonviolent defendants.

Supporters expect her to bring not only her own perspective but also a unique biography that she says instilled in her the value of public service. She grew up in North Carolina at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the daughter of a librarian and a fourth-generation Baptist preacher who carried her on his shoulders as he opened his Greensboro church to protesters planning sit-ins and marches.

“If confirmed as attorney general,” she told lawmakers in January, “I will be myself. I will be Loretta Lynch.”

___

Associated Press writer Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.

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