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Monthly Archives: February 2016

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Niecy Nash: “It’s Hard To Fight Naked”

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(PhatzNewsRoom / BlackDoctor.org)    —-    Actress Niecy Nash has been doing a lot lately. The married mother of three is currently on the critically-acclaimed HBO show Getting On as geriatric nurse Didi Ortley in an elderly care home, playing the straight woman among a bunch of loony doctors and medical staff. She’s the only one who seems to be the least bit concerned with the welfare of her patients, and as such is often the warm, beating heart of the show.

Nash is a star on the rise, with movie and television series roles like the over-the-top Officer Raineesha Williams on Reno 911.

To be a constantly working Black actress in Hollywood is a feat in itself. Nash says its two things that made this happen:

“One is my faith. God has really been kind in terms of me always keeping a job. And the other part is to diversify. Sometimes we start in one thing and we stay in that one thing. But I always like to try things I’ve never done. Okay, I’m doing an unscripted comedy like ‘Reno 911!’ How about I go over here and try hosting a home makeover show? Maybe I can be a correspondent. Let me go over here to ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ I think I can dance a little bit, let me try to be a dancing star. Let me write a book. I’m an author. It’s just constantly finding ways to continue to put your art into the world.”

But it was her book on sex and relationships called It’s Hard to Fight Naked that really got people talking about her.  In it, Nash simply stated that the secret to a happy marriage: one of them blowjobs. “A BJ a day keeps the divorce attorney away.”

After the critical acclaim and backlash from her statement, she explained the true meaning:

niecy nash jay tucker Niecy Nash: Its Hard To Fight Naked“When I wrote my book, I was sharing my advice and my experience based on my journey. I have a 65-year-old mother who said to me, ‘I have lived in this world for 65 years and I would have never written down what you wrote and I would have never written that book. But I lived long enough to know baby girl, that every word of it is true.’

“Here’s the double dip on that question of finding the energy. I feel like I’m built to be a wife. I feel like in that, there’s a responsibility that comes with the job. No you don’t always want to get up and go to work, that’s why it’s called a “blow job.” But at the end of that two week period when you receive your payment for services rendered, you feel like, ‘Oh, I needed that. That came right on time.’ So there is a call on my life in my role as a wife to be of service. And in turn, my service is repaid by covering and protecting. So I’m not going to be without what I need on the other side of it because…

…I’m also giving what is necessary for the relationship to have the reciprocity that it needs for us to both be fulfilled. So while I do have a family, I may not have to go into the kitchen because he knows I’ve been at work all day. So not only is he going to pick the baby up from school, he’s going to feed her and make sure he has something in the refrigerator for me too? Oh yeah, you about to get it when I get home.

There’s reciprocity in it. I’m not painting a picture of a woman who is just a martyr for the D-game. I’m not just going to live my life in service unto you, but what I am saying is that in the right relationship, being of service begets reciprocity of everybody’s needs being met…whatever they may be.”

So, what Nash is really saying is that she as a wife is a giver, but not in the sense that giving all of yourself just to please someone who doesn’t give back. But her giving inspires giving from her husband. So they are not in it 50/50, but 100/100.

Her advice actually reminds me of advice that a friend said that his father told him: “Whenever you’re in a heated argument with your wife and you’re at home, start getting undressed. After you get naked, only two things are going to happen: 1) she will start laughing or 2) you and her will start to get busy. Either way, the argument has stopped.”

In summary, the couple that comes together…ah, you know the rest.

Opposition activists report airstrikes in northern Syria

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BEIRUT (AP) — Warplanes carried out air raids Sunday on several parts of northern Syria as a top opposition official warned that continued violations of a fragile cease-fire could jeopardize a planned resumption of U.N.-brokered peace talks.

The acts of violence came as Russia said a northern town held by a predominantly Kurdish militia came under fire from the Turkish side of the border.

Sunday’s air raids came on the second day of a cease-fire brokered by Russia and the U.S., the most ambitious effort yet to curb the violence of the country’s five-year civil war. The truce has been holding since it went into effect at midnight Friday despite accusations by both sides of violations.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes hit the villages of Daret Azzeh and Qobtan al-Jabal in Aleppo province. The group did not say whether the warplanes were Russian or Syrian.

The Local Coordination Committees said the warplanes were Russian.

The Observatory and the LCC also reported air raids on the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour saying a woman was killed and 12 others were wounded.

It was not immediately clear if the warplanes struck areas controlled by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, known as the Nusra Front. Both the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group are excluded from the truce.

Meanwhile Syria’s state news agency said militants fired shells into government-held areas in the coastal province of Latakia from their bases near the Turkish border. The agency reported that the shelling killed and wounded a number of people, without giving further details.

Opposition activists and state media also reported clashes between troops and members of the Islamic State group mostly in the northern province of Aleppo. Still, both sides have said they will continue to abide by the truce.

Also Sunday, Riad Hijab, who heads the High Negotiations Committee, an umbrella for opposition and rebel factions, said in a statement directed to U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon that Russian, Iranian and government forces have not stopped hostilities since the truce went into effect.

Hijab said there has been 24 cases of shelling and five cases of ground attacks. He added that Russian warplanes carried out 26 airstrikes on Sunday alone targeting rebels that are abiding by the truce.

“The repeated violations by the regime and its allies have killed 29 and wounded dozens,” he said, adding that the opposition is abiding by the cease-fire and warning that “resuming the negotiations process in such circumstances would be difficult.”

The U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has called for a new round of indirect peace talks in Geneva on March 7, after the first round of talks collapsed earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the Russian military operating in Syria said it has information about an attack on the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from Turkish territories with the use of large-caliber artillery and has asked the United States for an explanation.

Russia has set up a center for monitoring the truce at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, where Russian warplanes are based.

On Saturday, members of the Islamic State group attacked the border town of Tal Abyad and the nearby village of Suluk that were captured months ago by Kurdish fighters, according to a Syrian rebel official.

Hours-long battles between Kurdish fighters and IS militants forced them out of Tal Abyad and other areas despite some presence of the extremists on the outskirts of the border town.

The Observatory said the battle of Tal Abyad lasted a full day and left 70 IS fighters, 20 Kurdish fighters and 10 civilians dead.

The head of the center. Lt. Gen Sergei Kuralenko, said Sunday that the suspected violation took place overnight and his center has turned to the corresponding U.S. center in Amman for an explanation, since Turkey is a member of the U.S.-led coalition, Russian news agencies reported.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the cease-fire aiming to reduce the violence in Syria is only being partially implemented.

Erdogan expressed hope that “today or tomorrow this cease-fire will be secured and calm prevails in Syria” after noting that it is only being adhered to “in about one-third” of Syrian territories.

Erdogan made the remarks at a news conference in Istanbul prior to embarking on a trip to Africa.

The Syrian conflict has killed 250,000 people, displaced half the country’s population and triggered one of the worst refugee crises since World War II.

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Associated Press writers Lynn Berry in Moscow, Dominuqe Soguel in Istanbul and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

In blow to Iran hard-liners, moderates win clerical assembly

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s moderates have dealt another blow to the country’s hard-liners, winning the majority of seats in last week’s vote for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered with choosing the nation’s supreme leader.

Top moderates — President Hassan Rouhani and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — both won seats in the assembly, along with 50 other of their allies. The vote for the 88-member Assembly of Experts was held at the same time as the country’s parliament elections. The final results of that vote were expected for later Monday.

According to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which gave the final results for the clerical assembly, moderates won 59 percent of the seats in the body. And though it’s seen as a historic win for the moderates, several prominent hard-liners, including Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati have also been re-elected.

Jannati, who finished last in Tehran, is also the hard-line leader of the country’s Guardian Council, an unelected, constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates. He has been the most potent force to oppose democratic reforms and disqualify reformist candidates from the parliamentary balloting and also the clerical assembly vote. Jannati and his allies in the Guardian Council disqualified Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, from running in Friday’s vote.

The most surprising was the loss of seats on the clerical assembly for some prominent hard-liners, including Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current Experts Assembly chief who was not re-elected.

Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of hard-liners and mentor of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also lost his seat in the assembly.

The Assembly of Experts serves a function similar to that of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, and will someday have to pick a successor to Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It also can directly challenge Khamenei’s rule, something it has never done before.

The assembly is elected every eight years. After Khamenei, who is 76 years old, underwent prostate surgery in 2014, speculation renewed about the state of his health.

Friday’s twin elections for parliament and the clerical assembly were the first to be held in Iran since it struck a landmark nuclear deal with world powers last year that brought about the lifting of crippling international sanctions.

The moderates previously held around 20 seats in the assembly and their win is seen as an expansion of their influence within the powerful body.

As for the parliament elections, none of Iran’s three main political camps — reformists, conservatives and hard-liners — is expected to win an outright majority in the 290-seat house but partial results so far indicate the best reformist showing in more than a decade.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks with media in a joint press conference with Swiss President Johann Schneider after their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. A 40-member economic and trade delegation is accompanying Schneider on his Iran trip, the first visit by a Swiss president after Iran’s Islamic Revolution 37 years ago. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Business: Stocks end strong week on flat note

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended a strong week on a flat note as lower oil prices and utility stocks offset encouraging economic news.

Still, the market ended Friday with a second straight weekly gain.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 57.32 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,639.97. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 3.65 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,948.05 and the Nasdaq composite added 8.27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,590.47.

All three indexes finished the week up by 1.5 percent or more. Oil, despite Friday’s decline, was up 3.6 percent for the week.

On Friday the market was buoyed early by a strong rally in overseas stocks triggered by word from China that it would not devalue its currency to make its imports more competitive.

Also, the Commerce Department said U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, grew at an annual rate of 1 percent in the fourth quarter, an improvement from the first estimate of 0.7 percent. Economists were expecting a reading of 0.4 percent growth.

“We are finally seeing some stabilization in the economic data – durable goods numbers, retail sales, and this second reading on GDP – that will hopefully end this debate on whether the U.S. economy is heading toward recession,” said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist with Prudential Financial.

Voya Market Strategists Douglas Cote and Karyn Cavanaugh, in a note to investors, said the GDP data could increase the likelihood of an interest rate increase at the Federal Reserve’s meeting in March.

But the stronger economic news kicked interest rates up sharply. That in turn hit relatively safe investments like government bonds and stocks that are attractive for their dividends, like utilities and consumer staples, hard.

Coca-Cola was the biggest decliner in the Dow, slipping 2.3 percent, followed by Wal-Mart and IBM. All three stocks have a dividend yield of 3 percent or more.

The Dow Jones utility index, a basket of 15 utility companies, fell nearly 3 percent, and the sector was the biggest loser in the S&P 500. Utility stocks tend to do better at times of low interest rates or economic uncertainty because their business is relatively stable and they pay a high dividend.

Government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 1.76 percent from 1.72 percent the day before. Gold prices also fell, closing down $18.40 to $1,220.40 an ounce.

Oil was unable to hold gains it had early in the day, and closed down 29 cents, or 1 percent, to $32.78 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 19 cents to close at $35.10. In other energy commodities, heating oil fell 1.9 cents to $1.051 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline futures fell 3.9 cents to $1.017 a gallon and natural gas rose 0.6 cents to $1.791 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other metals, silver fell 49 cents to $14.71 an ounce and high-grade copper rose 5 cents to $2.125 a pound.

 

Syrian army recaptures town in Aleppo province from IS group

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government troops backed by Russian airstrikes recaptured a town in Aleppo province from Islamic State militants on Thursday in a key advance just two days ahead of a U.S. and Russia-engineered cease-fire that is set to take effect in Syria.

In the rebel-held suburb of Daraya, opposition activists said the army escalated its attacks, dropping dozens of barrel bombs from helicopters on the devastated town located a few kilometers southwest of the Syrian capital, sending plumes of smoke rising into the sky.

Russia and the United States have set a deadline of midnight on Friday for the temporary cease-fire to take effect between the Syrian government and opposition forces. But fighting is expected to continue in many places, because the deal excludes groups deemed terrorist by the U.N. Security Council including Islamic State and the al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front.

The town of Khanaser captured by the army Thursday was seized earlier this week by the Islamic State group, cutting state forces’ access to the provincial capital, also called Aleppo, said the Syrian government and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group.

SANA said the army took Khanaser, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Aleppo city, after three days of heavy battles and that intense fighting was still underway to reopen the road. On Tuesday, IS seized Khanaser and surrounding hills, severing the government’s main land route to the city.

In the push on Khanaser, the Syrian army and pro-government Shiite militias were backed by Russian airstrikes, The Observatory said.

The cease-fire meant to start on midnight Friday is aimed at achieving a temporary “cessation of hostilities” that would bring back the Syrian government and its opponents to the negotiating table in Geneva.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he will convene the first meeting of a task force meant to monitor the cease-fire. Speaking to reporters Thursday in Geneva, he predicted a “crucial” day ahead of the start of the truce brokered by the United States and Russia.

The Syrian opposition has agreed to abide by the truce but expressed major concerns and reservations about what it said were ambiguities and the lack of any clear mechanism to implement the agreement.

Turkey’s prime minister echoed those concerns on Thursday, saying he is worried that Russia will continue to hit Syrian civilians or the moderate opposition during the truce. Ahmet Davutoglu has accused Russia of striking the moderate opposition in Syria over the past five months under the guise of hitting militants.

Davutoglu said the cease-fire would have “no meaning if Russia continues with its irresponsible bombings.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state-run Anadolu Agency that Saudi aircraft would arrive “today or tomorrow” at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to join the fight against Islamic State in Syria. Cavusoglu did not say how many planes Saudi Arabia would be sending to the base.

A key element of the cease-fire deal is humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria. The United Nations announced the first high-altitude airdrop of 21 metric tons of aid Wednesday over the city of Deir el-Zour, which is under siege from Islamic State extremists. But the World Food Program said later it faced “technical difficulties” and indicated the drop may have been off target.

In a further reflection of the complicated terrain across Syria’s zigzagging front lines, Davutoglu also warned Syria’s main Kurdish militia, a U.S.-backed group that has been fighting the Islamic State, against taking advantage of the truce for actions that threaten Turkey’s security.

Turkey would respond to such actions and will not be bound by the cease-fire agreement, the Turkish premier said.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish group, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terror organization because of its links to Turkey’s own Kurdish rebels and has been shelling its positions inside Syria along the border with Turkey, particularly in the northwestern region of Afrin. Kurdish officials have called for the group to be added to those excluded from the truce agreement.

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Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Iranians vote in first parliament elections since nuke deal

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians were voting Friday in parliamentary elections, the country’s first since its landmark nuclear deal with world powers last summer.

The vote is seen as a referendum on the policies of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, credited with bringing about the deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.

At the same time as parliamentary elections, Iranians are also voting for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered to choose or dismiss the country’s supreme leader.

Some 53,000 polling stations throughout Iran are taking ballots for the 290-member parliament and the 88-member Experts Assembly. Nearly 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote. State TV showed long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots in the twin elections as the polls opened.

In the parliament vote, reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani are pitted against hard-liners who oppose the nuclear deal and openings with the West.

The balloting is unlikely to change Iran’s course over major policies regardless of who wins but a win by reformists and moderates will give Rouhani the support he needs as he tries to repair the economy and move toward warmer ties with the United States.

The barring of a majority of reformists from the race by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates, means they are unlikely to win a majority alone but a substantial bloc would mean a new shift in Iran’s politics.

Among those who cast their ballot in the first hours of the voting was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader who has the final say on all state matters. He had urged Iranians to vote, saying it was both a “right” and a “responsibility” and that a high turnout would boost Iran’s image and might.

“Whoever likes Iran and its dignity, greatness and glory should participate in this election,” he said after casting his ballot in Tehran. “We have enemies who are eyeing us greedily. Turnout in the elections should be such that our enemy will be disappointed and will lose its hope. People should be observant and vote with open eyes.”

In the capital, Tehran, many voters had their favorite list saved on their cell phones and used them to write the names on the ballots. Others carried pocket-size campaign papers with the 30-seat list for Tehran. Many had blue papers, the color of the reformist-moderate faction, while others had with them yellow papers with the hard-liner lists.

A high turnout is likely to help reformists and moderates to return in significant numbers in order to reduce hard-liners’ ability to block Rouhani’s agenda of economic, social and political reforms.

Late Thursday, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted a turnout of 70 percent.

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Iran’s Parliament speaker Ali Larijani casts his ballot during parliamentary and Experts Assembly elections at a polling station in Qom, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Iranians were voting on Friday in parliamentary elections, the country’s first since its landmark nuclear deal with world powers last summer. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

DoD launches aggressive cyberwar against IS

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military has launched a newly aggressive campaign of cyberattacks against Islamic State militants, targeting the group’s abilities to use social media and the Internet to recruit fighters and inspire followers, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

The surge of computer-based military operations by U.S. Cyber Command began shortly after Defense Secretary Ash Carter prodded commanders at Fort Meade, Maryland, last month to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State group on the cyber front.

U.S. officials confirmed that operations launched out of Fort Meade have focused on disrupting the group’s online activities. The officials said the effort is getting under way as operators try a range of attacks to see what works and what doesn’t. They declined to discuss details, other than to say that the attacks include efforts to prevent the group from distributing propaganda, videos, or other types of recruiting and messaging on social media sites such as Twitter, and across the Internet in general.

Other attacks could include attempts to stop insurgents from conducting financial or logistical transactions online.

Several U.S. officials spoke about the cyber campaign on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Much of the effort is classified.

Carter mentioned the operations briefly Thursday, telling a House Appropriations subcommittee only that Cyber Command is beginning to conduct operations against the Islamic State group. He declined to say more in a public setting.

The more aggressive attacks come after months of pressure from Carter, who has been frustrated with the belief that the Pentagon — and particularly Cyber Command — was losing the war in the cyber domain.

Late last year Carter met with commanders, telling them they had 30 days to bring him options for how the military could use its cyberwarfare capabilities against the group’s deadly insurgency across Iraq and Syria, and spreading to Libya and Afghanistan. Officials said he told commanders that beefing up cyberwarfare against Islamic State was a test for them, and that they should have both the capability and the will to wage the online war.

But the military cyber fight is limited by concerns within the intelligence agencies that blocking the group’s Internet access could hurt intelligence gathering.

Officials said Carter told commanders that he wanted creative options that would allow the U.S. to impact Islamic State without diminishing the indications or warnings intelligence officers can glean about what the group is doing.

On Jan. 27, Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Fort Meade for an update.

Officials familiar with Carter’s meetings said the secretary was frustrated that as Cyber Command has grown and developed over the past several years, it was still focused on the cyberthreats from nations, such as Iran, Russia and China, rather than building a force to block the communications and propaganda campaigns of Internet-savvy insurgents.

“He was right to say they could be more forward leaning about what they could possibly do against ISIS,” said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You could disrupt their support networks, their business networks, their propaganda and recruitment networks.”

However, Lewis added, the U.S. needs to be careful about disrupting the Internet to insure that attacks don’t also affect civilian networks or systems needed for critical infrastructure and other public necessities.

U.S. officials have long been stymied by militants’ ability to use the Internet as a vehicle for inspiring so-called lone wolf attackers in Western nations, radicalized after reading propaganda easily available online.

“Why should they be able to communicate? Why should they be using the Internet?” Carter said during testimony before the defense appropriations subcommittee. “The Internet shouldn’t be used for that purpose.”

He added that the U.S. can conduct cyber operations under the legal authorities associated with the ongoing war against the Islamic State group.

The U.S. has also struggled to defeat high-tech encryption techniques used by Islamic State and other groups to communicate. Experts have been working to find ways to defeat those programs.

Cyber Command is relatively new. Created in 2009, it did not begin operating until October 2010.

Early on, its key focus was on defending military networks, which are probed and attacked millions of times a day. But defense leaders also argued at length over the emerging issues surrounding cyberwarfare and how it should be incorporated.

The Pentagon is building 133 cyber teams by 2018, including 27 that are designed for combat and will work with regional commands to support warfighting operations. There will be 68 teams assigned to defend Defense Department networks and systems, 13 that would respond to major cyberattacks against the U.S., and 25 support teams.

Analysis: Rubio finally makes move on Trump _ but too late?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Marco Rubio unleashed a campaign’s worth of harsh criticism on Donald Trump in the final Republican debate before Tuesday’s crucial primaries.

The problem may be that it took 10 debates and three Trump victories to get Rubio fired up.

Rubio, along with most of the other GOP presidential candidates, has treated Trump with kid-gloves for months, tiptoeing around glaring questions about the real estate mogul’s business record, political ideology, brash temperament and ambiguous policy proposals.

Only now, with Trump threatening to pull away from the field, did Rubio aggressively try to dismantle the billionaire businessman’s grip on the Republican race, with occasional help from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Rubio accused Trump of shifting his position on deportation and staffing his hotels and other businesses with foreign workers instead of Americans. He also punched holes in the real estate mogul’s vague proposal for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“What is your plan, Mr. Trump? What is your plan on health care?” Rubio pressed.

The senator also gleefully pointed out Trump’s propensity for repeating talking points over and over again, the same criticism that tripped up Rubio in a debate earlier this month.

“Now he’s repeating himself!” Rubio exclaimed.

Rubio’s assertive posture was sure to be cheered by the crush of Republican officials who have rallied around his campaign in recent days, desperate for the senator to become a viable alternative to Trump. But privately, many were likely wondering why it took so long for Rubio to make his move — and whether his strong showing came too late.

Next week’s Super Tuesday contests mark the biggest single-day delegate haul of the nomination contests. A strong showing by Trump could put the nomination within his grasp, raising the stakes for his rivals to stop him.

Rubio was sometimes joined by Cruz in tag-team attacks on Trump. It was a tactical shift for two senators who had trained their fire on each other in recent weeks, both betting that the best strategy was to clear the field of other rivals before moving on to Trump.

But Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses clearly changed their calculus. Trump dominated that contest, beating second-place Rubio by more than 20 points, and pulling ahead significantly in the early delegate count after victories in South Carolina and New Hampshire as well.

Trump appeared rattled at times as he faced the most sustained, face-to-face attacks of the campaign. Before Thursday, only Jeb Bush had made a real effort to tangle with Trump on the debate stage, though it did little to help the former Florida governor. Bush ended his campaign last week after disappointing showings in early primaries and a fundraising drought.

Rubio appeared to have taken lessons from Bush’s exchanges with Trump. The senator was prepared for Trump’s frequent habit of interrupting and almost willfully refused to back down when the businessman tried to talk over him. He also took a page out of Trump’s own playbook, lacing his more substantive critiques with some sharply personal attacks.

During a particularly biting exchange, Rubio said that if Trump hadn’t inherited family money, he would be “selling watches in Manhattan.”

Trump punched back with trademark insults.

After Rubio criticized his hiring practices, the businessman said, “You haven’t hired one person, you liar.” And when Cruz challenged Trump’s conservative credentials by suggesting he’s been too cozy with Democrats, the front-runner ripped the senator for being loathed by many of his Senate colleagues.

“You get along with nobody,” Trump said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

At times, the three-way fight between Trump, Rubio and Cruz devolved into a shouting match, with each struggling to be heard, let alone make a substantive policy point. The debate moderators were virtually helpless, as were the two other candidates on stage, John Kasich and Ben Carson.

For Rubio, the squabbling was a long way from the uplifting calls for a generational change in American politics and heavy focus on his family’s moving immigrant story that have been the cornerstone of his campaign. Those were the messages that have set Democrats on edge about the prospect of their eventual nominee, likely Hillary Clinton, facing the telegenic, 44-year-old Cuban-American in the general election.

Rubio’s next challenge — beyond topping Trump in at least some of the upcoming primaries — will be infusing that more optimistic message into his critique of Trump. He’s also likely to face the full force of Trump’s attacks for the first time in the campaign.

Even before the debate was over, Trump suggested he was eager to keep up the fight.

“This is a lot of fun up here, I have to tell you,” Trump said.

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Editors’ Note: Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for The Associated Press since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Sheriff: Kansas gunman kills 3, wounds 14, dies in shootout

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HESSTON, Kan. (AP) — A gunman armed with an “assault-style” weapon drove through a south-central Kansas town, taking shots at people, before storming the factory where he worked. Authorities said he killed three people and wounded 14 before being shot dead by an officer.

All the dead were shot Thursday inside Excel Industries, a plant in Hesston that makes lawn mower products, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said. Of those hurt, 10 were critically wounded, he said.

Walton would not identify the suspect or discuss a motive but said there were “some things that triggered this individual.”

The shooting came less than a week after authorities say a man opened fire at several locations in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, leaving six people dead and two severely wounded.

The shootings began about 5 p.m. when the gunman was in a car and shot a man on the street in the nearby town of Newton, striking him in the shoulder. A short time later, another person was shot in the leg at an intersection.

“The shooter proceeded north to Excel Industries in Hesston, where one person was shot in the parking lot before he opened fire inside the building,” the department said in a release. “He was seen entering the building with an assault-style long gun.”

Martin Espinoza, who works at Excel, was in the plant during the attack. He heard people yelling to others to get out of the building, then heard popping, then saw the shooter, a co-worker he described as typically pretty calm.

Espinoza said the shooter pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty. At that point, the gunman got a different gun and Espinoza ran.

“I took off running. He came outside after a few people, shot outside a few times, shot at the officers coming onto the scene at the moment and then reloaded in front of the company,” Espinoza told The Associated Press. “After he reloaded he went inside the lobby in front of the building and that is the last I seen him.”

A Hesston officer responding to the scene exchanged fire with the shooter, who was killed. The officer was not injured.

Walton said that about 150 people were likely in the plant at the time of the shooting and that the law enforcement officer who killed the suspect “saved multiple, multiple lives.” He said the gunman also had a pistol.

The officer who killed the man is “a hero as far as I’m concerned,” Walton said.

Erin McDaniel, spokeswoman for the nearby city of Newton, said the suspect was known to local authorities. She wouldn’t elaborate.

A nearby college was briefly locked down.

Later Thursday night, several law enforcement vehicles surrounded the suspect’s home in a Newton trailer park. The Harvey County Sheriff’s Department initially said authorities believed the suspect’s roommate could be inside. But McDaniel, the Newton spokeswoman, said later that the standoff had ended and no one was inside.

Hesston is a community of about 3,700 residents about 35 miles north of Wichita.

Excel Industries was founded there in 1960. The company manufactures Hustler and Big Dog mowing equipment and was awarded the Governor’s Exporter of the Year award in 2013 from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement late Thursday, calling the shootings “a tragedy that affects every member of the community.”

Walton said the FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had been called in to assist. A spokeswoman for the Kansas City office of the FBI did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday night.

“This is just a horrible incident. … There’s going to be a lot of sad people before this is all over,” Walton said.

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Associated Press writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report. Fisher reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Police guard the front door of Excel Industries in Hesston, Kan., Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, where a gunman killed an undetermined number of people and injured many more. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

US payments to Afghans in clinic attack called inadequate

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to wounded survivors and relatives of the 42 Afghans killed when an American AC-130 gunship attacked a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, which says the “sorry money” doesn’t compensate for the loss of life.

The payments amount to $6,000 for each person killed, with the wounded receiving $3,000 each, representatives of the victims of the Oct. 3 bombing told The Associated Press. All 460 staff who were employed at the hospital at the time of the attack are expected to receive some amount of cash compensation.

U.S. Forces in Afghanistan have “expressed their condolences and offered a condolence payment to more than 140 families and individuals,” the spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, said. He refused to give further details.

The trauma hospital was attacked during a firefight as U.S. advisers were helping Afghan forces retake Kunduz from the Taliban, who had captured the northern city on Sept. 28 and held it for three days.

Of the dead, 14 were hospital staff, 24 were patients, and 14 were caretakers, mostly relatives of patients. Another 27 staff were wounded. The hospital was destroyed and the charity, also known by its French acronym, MSF, ceased operations in Kunduz.

President Barack Obama apologized for the attack, which was one of the deadliest assaults on civilians in the 15-year war. The commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, called it a mistake. Internal military investigations have not been made public.

A joint U.S.-NATO assessment, obtained by The Associated Press, says the AC-130 gunship fired 211 shells at the compound for a half-hour before commanders realized the mistake and halted fire. Contrary to initial claims by Afghan officials, the report says there was no evidence the hospital had been overrun by Taliban gunmen or that there were hostilities there.

A parallel investigation by the U.S. military produced a 3,000-page report that officials say will be made public after it has been redacted. They have not given a firm date for its release.

Guilhem Molinie, MSF’s representative in Afghanistan, said the information in the reports has not been shared with the charity. “We are still totally in the dark on what happened on that night in Kunduz,” he said.

He said his group has discussed the “sorry money” with the U.S. military, calling the amount of the payments “ridiculous.” He said many of the families had lost their sole breadwinner and that the funds would run out soon.

“These amounts are absolutely not compensation for loss of life,” he said.

As condolence payments, these small amounts are seen as adequate to cover basic costs such as funerals, rather than as compensation, or blood money, for the deaths and injuries caused by the attack.

The United States has paid blood money up to $50,000 per death in some incidents, such as the multiple killing of Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier in 2013. The amount paid is assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Afghan government of former President Hamid Karzai paid compensation to the family of each person killed due to the conflict of 100,000 afghanis, or about $1,500 at current exchange rates.

The office of President Ashraf Ghani did not respond to a request for information. But Abdul Wase Basil, spokesman for the governor of Kunduz province, said the provincial government had paid compensation to 400 families who were affected by the violence of the siege of Kunduz city, which last about three weeks after the Sept. 28 Taliban onslaught. He said the wounded had been paid 20,000 afghanis ($290) each, and bereaved families 50,000 afghanis.

Zabiullah Khan, 25, lost both his hands and an eye in the bombing of the hospital, where he worked as a nurse. He was the sole supporter of his family of nine.

“I want to know why the American government bombed us, what did we do wrong,” he said. “Now we have no money coming in at all. I want the Americans to provide advanced treatment for me abroad.”

Anayatullah Hamdard lost his father, who was a doctor. He now represents the families in their dealings with the U.S. military and is hoping they can get legal advice on how to pursue more compensation. “We need someone with knowledge of war crimes to help us,” said Hamdard, an agriculture professor at Kunduz University.

Their legal options are limited by the agreements that govern the U.S. military’s presence in the country, which give the U.S. the exclusive right to prosecute its service members.

Molinie fears the lack of accountability, for U.S. or Afghan forces, following the Kunduz incident has encouraged a culture of impunity worldwide. Like other charities operating in war zones, MSF follows a policy of strict neutrality, treating anyone without asking their affiliation. But in recent weeks its facilities have been bombed in both Syria and Yemen.

The U.S. military has offered to rebuild the hospital in Kunduz. But Molinie said the priority was “making sure that the incredible chain of errors, mistakes, technical failures that were said to have happened in Kunduz will not happen again and could not happen again.

“Securing the basic assurance that we can run a hospital on the front line is much more important for us than rebuilding the hospital.”

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Associated Press writer Humayoon Babur contributed to this report. In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, file photo, an employee of Doctors Without Borders walks inside the charred remains of the organization’s hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S. military is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to wounded survivors and relatives of the 42 Afghans killed when an American AC-130 gunship attacked the hospital; Doctors Without Borders says the “sorry money” doesn’t compensate for the loss of life. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim, File)

Business: Asian shares gain following reassurances from China on yuan

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Asian shares were mostly higher Friday after China’s central bank governor pledged not to devalue the yuan for the sake of export competitiveness. But gains were limited as oil prices fell back and G20 financial leaders meeting in Shanghai offered mixed messages over the potential for new stimulus to stave off the risk of recession.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.3 percent to 16,188.41 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 1.6 percent to 19,186.72. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 closed nearly flat at 4,945.10. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.2 percent to 2,774.09 after plunging 6.4 percent Thursday. South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,920.16. Markets in Southeast Asia rose and Taiwan was higher.

CHINA CURRENCY: Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China’s central bank, told a conference on the sidelines of a meeting of financial leaders of the Group of 20 industrial nations that Beijing would not engage in devaluations for the sake of its export competitiveness. Zhou urged that the gathering focus on managing lackluster global demand, structural economic reforms and promoting “sustainable and balanced” growth.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “Taken alongside Ministry of Finance proposals that China can afford a fiscal deficit of 4 percent of GDP, further stimulatory support does look forthcoming in 2016,” Angus Nicholson of IG said in a commentary. “However, Zhou Xiaochuan is unlikely to be able to abide by all his statements today, at least if we take them at face value.”

G20 FINANCE AGENDA: Finance ministers and central bankers of the G20 rich and developing economies were seeking to douse hopes a two-day meeting in Shanghai that began Friday will produce specific growth plans similar to those rolled out in 2009 in response to the global crisis. Instead, many were urging faster progress on pro-growth structural reforms instead of relying on monetary and fiscal policy to boost growth.

WALL STREET GAINS: A late-day surge pushed U.S. stocks sharply higher Thursday, propelled by a recovery in energy companies and bank stocks, which have been hit hard this year. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 212.30 points, or 1.3 percent, to close at 16,697.29. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 21.90 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 1,951.70 and the Nasdaq composite rose 39.60 points, or 0.9 percent, to close at 4,582.20.

OIL: U.S. crude shed 1 cent to $33.06 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It closed up 92 cents or nearly 3 percent to $33.07 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, fell 11 cents to $35.59 a barrel. On Thursday, it rose 63 cents to $35.70 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 112.66 yen from 112.30 in the previous day’s trading. The euro climbed to $1.1055 from $1.1020.

 

Libya officials: French special forces on ground fighting IS

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — French special forces have been helping Libyan troops fight Islamic State militants in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi for two months, two Libyan military officials said Wednesday.

The French combat squad, consisting of 15 special forces, carried out four military operations against IS and other militant groups in Benghazi, the officials told The Associated Press. They said that French forces work with Libyan troops to pinpoint IS militant locations, plan operations and carry them out. They had also been training Libyan forces, they added.

According to the officials, the French forces were setting up an operations room in Banina air base in Benghazi alongside British and U.S. teams. They said that in addition to the special forces, a French intelligence unit is working with Britain and the U.S. units to collect information on the location of IS militants and their numbers.

Similar teams are also operating out of an air base in the city of Misrata, located to the east of the IS stronghold of Sirte, the officials said.

The Libyan officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The French defense ministry declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on special forces’ activities.

The Libyan officials said the presence of Western forces was not welcomed by ultraconservative Salafist factions, who are allied with Libya’s eastern army and perceive the foreign intervention as an “occupation.”

Washington is counting on the UK, France and Italy to join the international coalition against IS extremists gaining ground in Libya. Last week, the U.S. carried out airstrikes against the extremist group’s position in the western city of Sabratha, killing dozens of fighters as well as two Serbian hostages.

Libya’s chaos, five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, has allowed IS to take control of several cities. The divided country is ruled by two parliaments: an internationally recognized body based in the eastern city of Tobruk and a rival government, backed by Islamist-allied militias, that controls the capital, Tripoli.

The United Nations brokered a deal last year to unite the country’s various factions. A new unity government is awaiting endorsement by the eastern parliament. The unity government could pave the way international military intervention against the Islamic State group.

Also on Wednesday, Islamic State affiliates in Libya briefly took over the security headquarters of the western city of Sabratha, beheading 12 security officers before being driven out early in the morning, two city security officials said. The incident highlighted the enduring presence and unpredictable striking power of the local IS militants in the city, which serves as a hub for migrants heading to Europe.

Taher al-Gharabili, head of Sabratha Military Council, told The Associated Press that the gunmen “exploited a security vacuum” by deploying in the city center as the military was occupied conducting raids elsewhere.

A second security official said that the militants used the headless bodies of the officers they killed to block the roads leading to the security headquarters — which they occupied for about three hours. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the total number of officers killed in the occupation and ensuing clashes reached 19.

Sabratha has become the latest Libyan power center for the local IS affiliate.

On Monday, Italy said it has agreed to allow American drones to be armed and take off from an air base in Sicily, but only to defend U.S. forces while they target Islamic State group extremists in Libya.

An Italian defense ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity as the government hasn’t announced the deal, said Rome and Washington reached agreement last month. Permission will have to be asked of the Italian government every time, and decided on a case-by-case basis, for the drones to take off from Sigonella air base to protect military personnel deemed at risk during anti-IS operations in Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa. Permission won’t be granted for offensive missions under the arrangement.

So far the U.S. drones based in Sigonella have neither been armed nor requested to be used, the official said.

China accuses US commander of using smears to seek funds

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BEIJING (AP) — China’s Defense Ministry says the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific smeared China while seeking additional defense funding from Congress, in the latest accusation in a war of words accompanying rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian on Thursday strongly criticized Adm. Harry Harris Jr.’s testimony before Congress, in which Harris said China was militarizing the economically and strategically vital waterway and seeking “hegemony” in East Asia. China adamantly denies such accusations and says Washington and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.

“I have noted that according to media reports, Adm. Harris made his remarks while seeking additional defense budget funds from Congress,” Wu told reporters at a monthly news briefing.

“We don’t interfere in your seeking defense budget funds, but you can’t carelessly smear China while asking for more money,” Wu said.

In his testimony before the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Harris commented on the Chinese armed forces’ construction and extension of islands in the highly disputed South China Sea. China is also adding airstrips, harbors, radar stations and other infrastructure and deploying surface-to-air missiles on some.

Harris described Chinese militarization as being “as certain as a traffic jam” in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, he told senators that to believe otherwise, “you have to believe in a flat Earth.”

He has also dismissed as “tone deaf” a Chinese government official who compared China’s deployment of defense facilities on land features in the South China Sea to what the U.S. does in undisputed Hawaii.

In all, China has reclaimed more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land in the South China Sea as it looks to assert what it contends is its historical right to sovereignty over most of those waters.

Five other Asian governments have territorial claims there.

Harris’ use of the term “hegemony” in his testimony is especially grating to Beijing, which has long made its self-avowed aversion to that goal a centerpiece of its foreign policy message.

China claims it is entitled like any other nation to deploy whatever defensive systems it sees fit on its island claims. Despite that endorsement of the sovereign rights of nations, Wu reiterated China’s strong opposition to the potential deployment in South Korea of a defensive missile defense system against North Korea.

China says the system’s radar coverage would extend into China, harming its national security interests. Harris said it was “preposterous” that China would try to “wedge itself” between South Korea and the U.S. over the issue.

Despite raising fears of a confrontation at sea, the recent frictions don’t appear to be having a lasting effect on U.S.-China military exchanges. Wu said China remained fully committed to taking part in this June’s Rim of the Pacific naval drills that the U.S. Pacific Fleet hosts every two years.

“U.S.-China military-to-military relations are maintaining stable development momentum,” Wu said.

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FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2015 file photo, Adm. Harry Harris, Jr., US Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Harris delivered some choice put-downs of China as tensions rise over Beijing’s build-up in the disputed South China Sea. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, before a House panel, he described Chinese militarization as being “as certain as a traffic jam.” (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

What businesses worry about in UK vote on staying in EU

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LONDON (AP) — Britain will make a momentous decision on June 23 — whether or not to stay in the European Union — that will have wide-ranging consequences for businesses.

Though the vote is still far off, the prospect of months of uncertainty has unnerved investors, who have pushed the currency, the pound, to seven-year lows.

Some major businesses have come out vocally in support of the campaign to stay in the 28-country bloc, but popular sentiment is in flux. And senior politicians, including the mayor of London, have come out in favor of leaving, suggesting the debate will be hard fought.

Here’s a broad look at the risks investors and businesses are worried about.

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UNCERTAINTY

Markets abhor uncertainty, and the possibility that Britain may leave the EU has the financial world hedging its bets. The primary concern is that Britain’s departure would reduce investment in the country and slow economic growth, touching off a collapse in the pound. The pound has fallen every day this week since the vote’s date was set, leaving it 3.5 percent weaker against the dollar, at $1.3932.

In a report released Wednesday, Britain’s largest bank, HSBC, said the currency could fall between 15 percent and 20 percent against the dollar, pushing it to 1980s levels, if the country votes to leave the bloc. That could drive inflation up by 5 percentage points as import costs surge for firms and consumers, HSBC estimates.

The referendum is also fueling political uncertainty. Prime Minister David Cameron has staked so much personal capital on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the bloc and now campaigning to stay in a “reformed” EU, that a vote to leave could undermine his position. London Mayor Boris Johnson, one of Cameron’s primary rivals for leadership of the Conservative Party, is supporting the leave campaign.

There’s also no clarity on what exactly would happen if Britain were to decide to leave the EU because no one has ever done this before. Many economists agree Britain would remain a dynamic economy, but investors are worried about the transition phase.

“No one knows what the U.K.’s exit status will be,” said UniCredit economist Daniel Vernazza. “And investors are risk-averse, so sterling (the pound) is selling-off.”

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TRADE

The EU is first and foremost a trading bloc that includes 508 million people in 28 countries — together the world’s largest economy. While member states get easy access to each other’s markets, the bloc also uses its size to negotiate favorable trade treaties with non-members such as the United States and China.

With the terms of a so-called Brexit unclear, investors are concerned about what the country’s departure would mean for trade. And it’s not just trade within the EU. Trade talks with the United States are another example. “Exiting the EU will mean that the UK will no longer be party to such agreements and will have to negotiate its own terms,” UBS said in a report last year.

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LABOR

A vote to leave the EU could lead to labor shortages if workers from other European countries were sent home or more restrictions were imposed on those coming in. Certain sectors of the British economy, like construction, which depend on workers from the continent, might be hurt.

Leaving the EU could also threaten export-oriented service industries, which account for about 30 percent of the U.K.’s gross domestic product. Investors are concerned that Britain would be excluded from the so-called passport for services, which puts the qualifications of UK professionals such as lawyers and accountants on an equal footing with those of their counterparts in other EU states. This would make it more difficult for some professionals to work on the continent.

“The threat to the service sector from loss of free access to EU markets and exclusion from the formation of the rules of engagement could arguably affect the UK’s longer term growth outlook,” UBS said.

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INFLATION

A sustained depreciation of the pound could lead to inflation, which at the moment is muted. In the case of high inflation, the Bank of England would look to raise interest rates to put a lid on price increases. Raising rates, however, also weighs on the economy by making loans more expensive.

“Under a more benign scenario, markets and firms might assume a good ‘divorce’ settlement could be achieved. In turn, fears of paralyzing uncertainty could prove to be misplaced,” HSBC said. “But there is also a worse scenario, which would see the Bank of England forced to tighten policy despite a slowdown in growth.”

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INVESTMENT

Britain attracts a lot of foreign investment for the size of its economy. That means it is running one of the largest current account deficits in the advanced world, at 4.7 percent of GDP.

UniCredit’s Vernazza suggests this is probably OK as long as there is demand abroad for UK assets. “Right now there is, but Brexit could change this,” he said. “Quite quickly the U.K. may no longer be seen as an attractive place to invest.”

The U.K. is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the EU, receiving 20 percent of all such funds, he said. But there are concerns that investors may take their money — and things like their corporate headquarters operations — to the continent if Britain no longer offers a foothold in the EU.

Lawyer: US citizen, father of detainee, also held in Iran

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A U.S. citizen whose son has been detained in Iran for the past four months was also taken into custody after returning to the country this week, his lawyer confirmed Thursday in what is the first such action against an American national in Iran since last month’s prisoner swap between the two countries.

The Iranian lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabei, told The Associated Press that he has not been able to make contact with his client, Baquer Namazi, despite his efforts and was told by authorities that he would “be informed later” about the case.

The ailing, 80-year-old Namazi is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, he added. Tabatabei said he believes it is unlikely Namazi, who was detained on Monday, will face “political charges” but that he is probably held “for some investigation only.”

“It is unlikely that he will be charged,” the lawyer said, without elaborating.

Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, who is believed to be detained since October in Iran and also is held in Evin prison, are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens. However, Iranian authorities do not recognize dual nationality and treat such citizens as exclusively Iranian. Tabatabei said he was asked to represent both Namazis by Effie Namazi, Baquer’s wife. He has not made contact with the son either, he also said, and only learned from Effie Namazi that her son faces accusations of “cooperation with the hostile government of the United States.”

The son’s case is still in the “preliminary investigation” phase, the lawyer said. He added that he intends to argue that since Iran is not at war with any country, there is no “hostile” nation toward Iran.

Earlier this week, Siamak broke a “several days-long hunger strike” after his mother was able to reach him by phone and persuaded him to give up the fasting, Tabatabei said.

The Namazi family and friends first reported the news of Baquer’s arrest on Wednesday.

“I must share the shocking and sad news that Baquer was arrested,” Effie Namazi wrote in a Facebook post. “Now both my innocent son Siamak and my Baquer are in prison for no reason. This is a nightmare I can’t describe.”

Effie said he husband suffers from “serious heart and other conditions” that require medication.

Appearing at a Senate panel hearing Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was engaged on the matter but couldn’t comment because of privacy considerations.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. Department of State has “no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas” and takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously.

According to Haleh Esfandiari, a friend of the family and a Mideast expert at the Wilson Center, Baquer Namazi worked for the United Nations and at one point as a World Bank consultant, while also being a civil society activist.

Esfandiari, who was detained herself in Iran for more than three months in 2007, expressed shock at the detention, describing Baquer as a “not at all political” person who consistently spoke out against U.S.-led economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The family lived outside New York for a period after the Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979, though later returned to Iran, she said.

According to a Daily Beast article last year, the family has played a key role in trying to bridge ties between the long-time foes. It said Baquer Namazi was a governor of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan under the shah who was allowed to emigrate to the U.S. in 1983.

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who also advocated a warmer U.S.-Iranian relationship, was not included in January’s prisoner exchange that saw five American freed from Iranian prison and U.S. sentences, charges or warrants dropped against 21 Iranians in a deal that Kerry helped finalize.

Those allowed to leave Iran included Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Iran denies having any knowledge of the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a former FBI investigator who disappeared in the country in 2007.

The younger Namazi had been specifically criticized in hard-line commentary ahead of his arrest as Iranian conservatives warned against easing hostilities with the U.S.

He also had written several articles about international sanctions on Iran. In a 2013 opinion piece published by The International Herald Tribune, he described shortages of medical supplies and urged the West to “relax and rationalize” the restrictions so such goods could reach Iran.

Nations removed many oil, trade and financial sanctions on Tehran after last month’s U.N. confirmation that Iran had rolled back its nuclear program in accordance with last year’s seven-nation agreement.

After his release, Rezaian said his Iranian interrogators told him over his 18 months in detention that his newspaper didn’t know of his plight and the U.S. government wouldn’t lift a finger for his release.

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Klapper reported from Washington. AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report. FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007 file photo A veiled Iranian woman walks past graffiti art characterizing the U.S. Statue of Liberty, painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. A U.S. citizen whose son has been detained in Iran for the past four months was also taken into custody after returning to the country this week, his lawyer confirmed Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, who is believed to be detained since October in Iran, are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens. However, Iranian authorities do not recognize dual nationality and treat such citizens as exclusively Iranian. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, FIle)

Business: Global shares meander following mixed cues from Wall Street

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TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mostly higher Thursday after an overnight reversal of losses on Wall Street except for indexes in China, where economic growth worries lurked.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 added 1.6 percent to 4,222.41 in early trading, while Germany’s DAX rose 0.7 percent to 9,233.25. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 1.6 percent to 5,959.28. But U.S. shares were set to drift lower with Dow futures inching down 0.4 percent to 16,411. S&P 500 futures were also down 0.4 percent at 1,922.70.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite index fell 6.4 percent to 2,741.25, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong dipped 1.6 percent to 18,888.75. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index gained 1.4 percent to finish at 16,140.34 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.3 percent to 1,918.57. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 inched up 0.1 percent to 4,881.20. Shares rose in Taiwan, Indonesia and New Zealand.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “Despite the tenuous theoretical link between supply side-driven lower oil prices and weakening share markets, they again moved in lock step overnight,” said Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets. “Oil reversed a 4 percent drop to move 1 percent higher, and stocks followed.”

OIL BOUNCE: U.S. crude oil slipped 2 cents to $32.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It closed up 28 cents at $32.15 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude oil, which is used to price oil internationally, fell 75 cents to $33.66.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 112.28 yen from 112.08 yen in the previous day’s trading. The euro inched up to $1.1023 from $1.1011.

 

Analysis: Despite skepticism, Syrian truce may have a chance

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BEIRUT (AP) — After five years of carnage, the Syrian civil war can seem poised to go on indefinitely. But the “cessation of hostilities” engineered by the U.S. and Russia may actually stand a chance, in part because of the weakness of the mainstream rebels fighting President Bashar Assad.

The so-called Free Syria Army — and innumerable other militias roaming the shattered landscape — had clearly struggled to even fight Assad to a standoff. But Russia’s intervention on his side in September has given him what now appears to be a decisive boost.

The rebels have been routed and besieged in a string of key locations in recent months. Dozens of their commanders have been killed. Most critically, pro-Assad forces backed by Russian air power are close to encircling the rebels in their main stronghold of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The ability to supply it with fighters and weapons from Turkey has almost dried up.

As the clock ticks toward a truce meant to take effect at midnight Friday local time, the mainstream rebels find themselves fighting resurgent government forces, battle-hardened Hezbollah troops and a host of allied Shiite militiamen, as well as the Islamic State group.

Kurdish forces have cleared over 10 kilometers (7 miles) of opposition-held terrain north of Aleppo recently and are closing in on the opposition strongholds of Marea and Azaz near the Turkish border.

“It is clear that (the rebels’) American and European backers are no longer willing to support them in winning the fight,” said Randa Slim of the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “The best they can do is to try to help them get better terms for the deal.”

The rebels’ main regional backers, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are distracted with their own internal troubles. After threatening a ground incursion in Syria, the Turkish foreign minister said Monday a land operation has never been on the agenda.

If the fighting goes on, chances are good that many rebels would either surrender or slip away to join jihadi groups like the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front.

Even though the Russians have defended their intervention as aligned with the global campaign against IS militants in northeastern Syria, the opposition says most of the sorties have in fact targeted non-jihadi mainstream rebels and were plainly aimed at dislodging them from areas they held in the northwest and south. Tellingly, the Russians have played no role against the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq, which is an equal part of the fight for the U.S.-led coalition.

That impressive-seeming coalition, which includes most countries in the Arab world, has indeed scored some victories in Iraq, working closely with the Iraqi army in dislodging IS extremists from important places like Tikrit and Ramadi. A campaign to retake Mosul, the main city held by Islamic State in Iraq, is believed to be imminent.

There have been scant parallel successes in Syria, and the Islamic State is still well-entrenched in Raqqa, the main city the group holds in that country. A key difference: There can be no cooperation by the coalition with Assad’s army as long as the civil war goes on. And in any case, that army is occupied elsewhere.

In this way, the Syrian war has — in addition to causing a migrant crisis in Europe and unsettling politics in the U.S. — has also undermined the effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Along with the devastation to Syria itself — where half the people are displaced and over a quarter of a million have been killed — it adds up to an overwhelming global sense that the civil war must end.

If the cessation of hostilities were to become long-term or permanent, or lead to a negotiated transition period, it could be a net positive for some key players.

For Assad, whose demise was widely predicted since the early days of the rebellion, any outcome that leaves him standing in Damascus is a victory. And even though few will admit it, his early claim that his opponents were in large part imported jihadi terrorists will have been at least somewhat vindicated by the rise of the Islamic State.

For the mainstream rebels, avoiding total defeat against a force that included not just the Syrian army but also Iran, Hezbollah and Russia will be presentable as a success that should earn then a seat at a future negotiating table. If the fighting ends now, the coalition of rebel groups will remain in control of much of Aleppo and Idlib provinces, and key areas along the Lebanese border and near Damascus in the south.

Russia will get credit for helping end the war. The U.S. will have avoided a Middle East quagmire and ended a situation that is becoming more embarrassing by the day.

Turkey will be frustrated at Assad’s continued presence, but along with Syria’s other neighbors of Lebanon and Jordan, it will be relieved at a chance to stem the flow of refugees.

With so many of these refugees now in Europe — sparking popular resentment and even a re-evaluation of the European Union’s open internal border policy — there will be a sigh of relief from there as well.

For all the cynicism and perhaps justified pessimism surrounding the U.S.-Russian agreement for a cease-fire, the deal offers the most serious effort yet to halt the 5-year-old conflict. It is based on a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed a road map for a process designed to end the civil war and provide a new government in Syria within 18 months. And the U.S. and Russia have put some credibility on the line.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Zeina Karam is the AP’s news director for Lebanon and Syria and has covered Syria since 1997. Dan Perry is AP’s Middle East editor leading text coverage in the region. He reported from Jerusalem. Syrians walk past a shop with a painting of the national flag in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The Syrian government and the main umbrella for Syrian opposition and rebel groups announced on Tuesday they both conditionally accept a proposed U.S.-Russian cease fire that the international community hopes will bring them back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks to end the war.(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Libyans celebrate in Benghazi after army takes key city area

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyans took to the streets in Benghazi on Tuesday, honking car horns and waving Libyan flags in celebration after army units, backed by civilian fighters, cleared a major part of this eastern city of Islamic extremists, following nearly two years of deadly fighting.

The rare celebration comes hours after troops earlier in the day pushed into the once populous district of al-Laithi, a stronghold of Islamic militias who withdrew within hours. Over the past days, the army had made important advances and on Monday took control of a strategic port and a hospital.

Later Tuesday, families displaced from al-Laithi flooded back into the district to revisit their homes while others first waited for soldiers to inspect their houses for booby traps.

Residents posted photographs on social networking sites, showing tearful mothers bowing on the ground in front of their houses. Others hugged their sons who returned from the front lines. Streets of al-Laithi were largely blocked by large containers and sand bags used as defenses. In some of the buildings, personal belongings of the militiamen and Islamic militants lay scattered about after they retreated hurriedly.

Benghazi is Libya’s second largest city and was the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Moammar Gadhafi. Since 2014, it has endured fierce battles as the city became divided between warring parties, with militias — including al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates — one side and army commanders and local fighters who answer to army commander Khalifa Hifter and the internationally-recognized parliament on the other.

The fighting is still going on, especially in militia-controlled pockets in southern and western areas of Benghazi. Many parts of the city lie in ruins, with buildings levelled and their residents long gone.

The violence that has torn Benghazi is just a segment of Libya’s overall turmoil and chaos. The country is split between two parliaments and two governments, each backed by an array of militias and tribes. The United Nations brokered a deal last year and a unity government is awaiting endorsement from the internationally-recognized parliament.

That vote is expected to help pave the way for a unified military action against Libya’s Islamic State branch, which has taken control of the central city of Sirte and surrounding areas.

GOP says no hearings, no votes for Supreme Court nominee

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WASHINGTON (AP) — No hearing. No vote. Don’t even bother knocking on our door.

That’s the message Senate Republicans delivered to President Barack Obama and his sometime-soon nominee for the Supreme Court, an extraordinary election-year rebuff as the GOP insists that replacing Justice Antonin Scalia rests with voters in November’s election and the next president.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that his 54-member GOP caucus was united against taking any step in the Senate’s “advise and consent” process. The Judiciary Committee will not hold confirmation hearings for the nominee. The panel and the full Senate will not vote. And a handful of Republicans, including McConnell, said they would not even meet with the nominee when the individual makes introductions on Capitol Hill.

“Why would I? We’ve made the decision,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Judiciary panel.

After winning unanimous public backing from the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, McConnell told reporters that the panel would hold no hearings and ruled out a full Senate vote until the next president offers a nomination. Such steps would defy many decades of precedent that have seen even the most divisive choices questioned publicly by the Judiciary Committee and nearly always sent to the entire chamber for a vote, barring nominees the White House has withdrawn.

“In short, there will not be action taken,” McConnell told reporters.

As one rationale for their decision, Republicans pointed to a June 1992 speech by Vice President Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in which Biden said that if a seat on the court were to open up that year, “action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”

Obama is expected to announce a nomination in the next few weeks. With the issue certain to roil this year’s presidential and congressional elections, Democrats accused Republicans of following the lead of billionaire Donald Trump, a leading GOP presidential candidate who’s called on Senate Republicans to derail any Obama court selection. Democrats and some Republicans believe that if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee, he will cost Republicans seats in Congress.

“The party of Lincoln is now the party of Donald Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.

Filling the vacancy left by Scalia’s unexpected death on Feb. 13 is crucial because without him, the Supreme Court is left in a 4-4 ideological knot between justices who are usually conservative and its liberal wing. The battle has invigorated both sides’ interest groups and voters who focus on abortion, immigration and other issues before the court.

“He hasn’t seen the pressure that’s going to build,” Reid said when asked if he thinks McConnell might relent. “It’s going to build in all facets of the political constituency and the country.”

After meeting privately with GOP senators for the first time since Scalia’s death, McConnell and other leaders said rank-and-file Republicans were overwhelmingly behind the decision to quickly halt the nomination process.

“Why even put that ball on the field?” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said of hearings. “All you’re going to do is fumble it. Let the people decide.”

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who faces a tough re-election race this fall, are among the few who’ve voiced support for at least holding hearings on an Obama nominee. Democrats are hoping that other Republican senators facing re-election in states Obama won twice — New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — will relent over time or face retribution from voters.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “absolutely” possible the Senate would end up holding hearings, pointing to statements by Collins, Kirk and others. Earnest said Obama has spoken in the last day to Republican lawmakers, including some on the Judiciary panel.

Democrats note that in 1988, a Democratic-led Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy to the court, though he’d been nominated by President Ronald Reagan the preceding year. Republicans say it’s been over eight decades since a nomination occurred and was filled in the same election year.

Since the Senate started routinely referring presidential nominations to committees for action in 1955, every Supreme Court nominee not later withdrawn has received a Judiciary Committee hearing, according to the Senate Historical Office.

In remarks Tuesday at Georgetown University law school, Justice Samuel Alito sounded resigned to spending the rest of this year in a court whose members are locked in a 4-4 tie.

“We will deal with it,” Alito answered when asked about Republicans’ resolve to oppose anyone Obama nominates.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Josh Lederman and Mark Sherman contributed to this report. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., center, joined at by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the Senate will take no action on anyone President Barack Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans controlling the Senate — which must confirm any Obama appointee before the individual is seated on the court — say that the decision is too important to be determined by a lame-duck president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US, Brazilian health teams go into slums to start Zika study

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JOAO PESSOA, Brazil (AP) — Teams of U.S. and Brazilian health workers ventured into dicey slums, fought through snarled traffic and braved torrential downpours on the first day of their effort to determine if the Zika virus is causing babies to be born with a birth defect affecting the brain.

The eight teams, each made up of one “disease detective” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and three Brazilian health workers, went to work Tuesday in Paraiba, the impoverished state in northeastern Brazil that is one of the epicenters of the country’s tandem outbreaks of Zika and microcephaly.

Their goal is to persuade about 100 mothers of infants recently born with the defect as well to enroll in the study. They also need participation as controls of two to three times as many mothers from the same areas who delivered babies without microcephaly at about the same time.

The study aims to determine if the Brazilian government is right that Zika can cause microcephaly, or whether the mosquito-borne virus is not in fact to blame or is only partially responsible, as a growing chorus of doctors in Brazil and beyond have begun to suggest.

The seemingly straightforward task of locating the women and infants was fraught on day one by traffic jams, logistical snags and menacing weather, though the teams soldiered stoically on.

Stuck in the chronic gridlock of the state capital, Joao Pessoa, one team missed its first appointment, and the two home visits that it had scheduled for morning didn’t get underway until well after lunchtime.

“Obviously, we’ve seen the problems of logistics — to be able to reach the families, to have them be there,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, a Boston-born pediatrician who works for the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. “If things take longer, things take longer, but I think we’re all really dedicated to getting it done.”

Packed into a small sedan, Harrist, three Brazilian health workers and a driver weaved from the CDC’s headquarters in a beachfront hotel to the outskirts of Joao Pessoa along pothole-marred streets swimming with runoff from recent rains.

They turned onto a side street lined with trash, then turned again and again onto successively narrower and more pocked streets that carried them deep into the heart of the Taipa shantytown. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika proliferates in such neighborhoods, where omnipresent trash provides breeding grounds in discarded margarine tubs, yogurt containers and plastic bottle caps.

When the going got too rough, Harrist and her colleagues parked and headed on foot along a dirt road running with raw sewage and dotted by foraging chickens and goats to a three-room cinderblock home.

Janine dos Santos, a 23-year-old unemployed former towel factory worker, shares the space with her mother, two siblings and two children, including Shayde Henrique — born in November with the truncated head and brain damage caused by microcephaly.

“I didn’t expect to see all these people,” Santos said, adding that the visit renewed her hopes of understanding what happened to Shayde. “Not only me, but all the mothers, we want to understand the mystery behind all this — what really causes microcephaly?”

She and the family answered an extensive questionnaire probing everything from whether she used insect repellent during pregnancy to what was the source of their drinking water. The team also drew blood samples from mother and infant, setting off screams from a child who, like many infants with microcephaly, is rarely quiet.

Down the street, the team knocked at an abandoned warehouse where another new mother, 26-year-old Aline Ferreira, squats with her fisherman husband and three kids.

Her 4-month-old, Angeline Karolayne, is in good health and doesn’t suffer from microcephaly, and Ferreira agreed to take part in the study as a control case. Such cases will be a critical element in understanding whether Zika is triggering microcephaly and, if so, whether it’s doing so alone or with contributing factors.

Ferreira patiently responded to the litany of questions. “When I was pregnant, there were all these problems with Zika and microcephaly and … I could very well be in the place of any mother whose baby has microcephaly,” she said.

Organizers expect it will take a month to gather data, but acknowledge it could take longer. Ferreting out results from the data will take several more months.

Despite Tuesday’s rocky start, the CDC’s Harrist said the generosity and openness of the two young mothers her team managed to contact gave her hope.

“I’m actually encouraged by what happened today,” said Harrist, who worked in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

She said Santos and Ferreira seemed enthusiastic to join in the study. “I hope that means they think that the study is important,” she said.

Syria’s Assad assures Putin in phone call on truce details

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BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian president on Wednesday assured Russia’s Vladimir Putin of Damascus’ commitment to a Russia-U.S. proposed truce, even as a spokesman for a Saudi-backed alliance of Syrian opposition and rebel factions expressed “major concerns” about the ceasefire, due to begin later this week.

Salem Al Meslet, spokesman for the alliance known as the High Negotiations Committee, said his group is worried that Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would continue to strike at mainstream rebels under the pretext of hitting “terrorist groups” during the truce.

The agreement, engineered by the U.S. and Russia, is set to take effect at midnight Friday local time. It does not cover the Islamic State group, Syria’s al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front, or any other militia designated as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.

On Wednesday, Assad and Putin discussed the truce agreement in a telephone call, according to the Syrian state-run news agency and a Russian official. SANA said Putin called Assad, adding that the two leaders stressed the importance of continuing to fight the Islamic State, the Nusra Front “and other terrorist organizations.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed the phone call, saying there were differences in opinion between Moscow and Damascus but that Russia is one of the few countries still in contact with “the legitimate Syrian leader.” He did not elaborate.

Speaking in a conference call with journalists, he said Moscow was doing its part and is expecting the United States to also do its part to make sure the groups they support adhere to the cease-fire.

“The main goal is to stop the bloodletting in Syria,” he said.

Asked whether Moscow had a Plan B in case the truce did not hold, he replied: “We are concentrating on Plan A right now … it’s too early to speak of other plans.”

The truce agreement remains shaky at best and major questions over enforcement are still unresolved.

Also, it is not clear exactly where along Syria’s complicated front lines the fighting would stop and for how long — or where counterterrorism operations could continue. Also unresolved are how breaches in the truce would be dealt with.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told American lawmakers on Tuesday that he would not vouch for the success of the cease-fire agreement but that it is the best pathway for ending five years of violence in Syria that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced another 11 million from their homes.

Al Meslet, the opposition spokesman, said the HNC is holding open meetings in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and is seeking guarantees and clarifications from the United States about the mechanism for the implementation of the agreement.

Speaking in a phone interview with The Associated Press, he said however that the opposition wants to stop the bloodshed and would abide by the truce.

“The Americans are taking note of our concerns and we are waiting for their replies,” Al Meslet said.

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Associated Press writers Lynn Berry and Katherine Jacobsen in Moscow and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report. Syrian men pose for a picture as they gather in the Marjeh square in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The Syrian government and the main umbrella for Syrian opposition and rebel groups announced on Tuesday they both conditionally accept a proposed U.S.-Russian cease fire that the international community hopes will bring them back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks to end the war.(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Business: World stocks slide as oil slump weighs on investor sentiment

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HONG KONG (AP) — World stocks were mostly lower on Wednesday, as sliding oil prices and fresh signs of global economic weakness weighed on investor sentiment.

KEEPING SCORE: European stocks slid in early trading, with France’s CAC 40 losing 0.5 percent to 4,216.54 and Germany’s DAX shedding 0.7 percent to 9,350.26. Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 0.4 percent to 5,936.02. U.S. stocks were poised for a weak open. Dow futures dipped 0.1 percent to 16,381.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were down 0.1 percent to 1,914.80.

CRUDE CONCERNS: Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, told a meeting of energy leaders in Houston on Monday that output cuts aimed at boosting slumping crude prices won’t work. He said that the market should instead let some operators go out of business. Crude oil tumbled more than 4 percent. The long-term drop in oil prices, which are hovering around $30 a barrel after tumbling from more than $100 in mid-2014, has sliced into profits at energy companies. It’s also now starting to hurt income at big U.S. banks as higher-cost producers struggle to repay loans taken out during the boom.

ANALYST INSIGHT: “The disappearance of risk appetite after last week’s positive performance can be traced to bad news around oil once again,” said Bernard Aw, market strategist at IG.

GLOBAL ECONOMY: Worries about the world economy are also weighing on investors’ minds. Singapore and Hong Kong both reported Wednesday that growth slowed last year and that their governments forecast further weakness for 2016 on softer global demand for their exports and services. Meanwhile, China’s currency slipped as the central bank guided its exchange rate lower for the second straight day.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude futures skidded 72 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $31.15 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.52, or 4.6 percent, to settle at $31.87 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude, which is used to price oils internationally, fell 52 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $32.75 a barrel in London.

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.9 percent to finish at 15,915.79 as investors seeking haven in the yen pushed it higher, hurting shares of the country’s big exporters. South Korea’s Kospi edged 0.1 percent lower to end at 1,912.53, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.1 percent to 19,192.45. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China rose 0.9 percent to finish at 2,928.90. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slid 2.1 percent to 4,875.00. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines also fell.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.94 yen from 111.97 yen in the previous day’s trading. The euro weakened to $1.0981 from $1.1018.

 

Where will captured militants be held as terror fight grows?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has refused to send any suspected terrorists captured overseas to the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But if the U.S. starts seizing more militants in expanded military operations, where will they go, who will hold them and where will they be tried?

Those are questions that worry legal experts, lawmakers and others as U.S. special operations forces deploy in larger numbers to Iraq, Syria and, maybe soon, Libya, with the Islamic State group and affiliated organizations in their sights.

Throughout Obama’s presidency, suspects have been killed in drone strikes or raids, or captured and interrogated, sometimes aboard Navy ships. After that, they are either prosecuted in U.S. courts and military commissions or handed over to other nations.

This policy has been enough, experts say — at least for now.

“If you’re going to be doing counterterrorism operations that bring in detainees, you have to think through what you are going to do with them,” said Phillip Carter, former deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee policy. “If the U.S. is going to conduct large-scale combat operations or large-scale special ops and bring in more detainees, it needs a different solution.”

Rebecca Ingber, an associate law professor at Boston University who follows the issue, warns that if the U.S. engaged in a full ground war in Syria, “chances are there would need to be detention facilities of some kind in the vicinity.”

Obama has not sent a single suspected terrorist to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many have been detained for years without being charged or tried — something the president says is a “recruitment tool” for militant extremists.

He is to report to Congress this month on how he wants to close Guantanamo and possibly transfer some of the remaining detainees to the United States. That report also is supposed to address the question of future detainees.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., believes that the absence of a long-term detention and interrogation facility for foreign terrorist suspects represents a “major shortcoming in U.S. national security policy.”

Republican candidates who want to succeed Obama are telling voters that they would keep Guantanamo open.

“Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial, and convict them,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “Anti-terrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack so the same tactics do not apply. … But, here’s the bigger problem with all this: We’re not interrogating anybody right now.”

That’s not true, said Frazier Thompson, director of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. The tight-lipped team of interrogators from the FBI, Defense Department, the CIA and other intelligence agencies gleans intelligence from top suspected terrorists in the U.S. and overseas.

“We were created to interrogate high-value terrorists and we are interrogating high-value terrorists,” Thompson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Since it was established in 2009, that team has been deployed 34 times, Thompson said, adding that other government agencies conduct independent interrogations as well. “We are designed to deploy on the highest-value terrorist. We are not going out to interrogate everybody,” he said.

Thompson would not disclose details of the cases his team has worked or speculate on whether he expects more interrogation requests as the battle against IS heats up.

“If there is a surge, I’m ready to go. If there’s not, I’m still ready to go,” Thompson said.

The U.S. has deployed about 200 new special operations forces to Iraq, and they are preparing to work with the Iraqis to begin going after IS fighters and commanders, “killing or capturing them wherever we find them, along with other key targets,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said.

Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter IS, told Congress this month that in the final six months of 2015, 90 senior to midlevel leaders were killed, including the IS leader’s key deputies: Haji Mutazz, the top leader in Iraq, and Abu Sayyaf, the IS oil minister and financier.

In May, a Delta Force raid in Syria killed IS financier Sayyaf, yielding intelligence about the group’s structure and finances. his wife, known as Umm Sayyaf, was captured

Her case illustrates how the Obama administration is prosecuting some terrorist suspects in federal courts or military commissions or leaving them in the custody of other nations.

Umm Sayyaf, a 25-year-old Iraqi, is being held in Iraq and facing prosecution by authorities there. She also was charged Feb. 9 in U.S. federal court with holding Kayla Mueller and contributing to her death in February 2015.

Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who investigated and supervised international terrorism cases, including the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen the 1990s, said sending suspected terrorists through the American criminal justice system works. He said the courts are more effective than military commissions used at Guantanamo that have been slow in trying detainees who violate the laws of war.

“The current practice of investigating and prosecuting terror suspects has proved incredibly effective,” Soufan said, noting that since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, only seven people have been tried and convicted under military commissions. “During that same time period, hundreds of terrorists have been convicted in federal courts and almost all are still in jail.”

But it’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of the system.

The Justice Department declined to provide the number of foreign terrorist suspects who have been prosecuted or the number handed over to other countries, or their status. Lawmakers, including Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., have asked the Defense Department for the numbers.

Reports on how other countries handle the suspects are classified.

Raha Wala, senior counsel at Human Rights First, also is concerned about detention operations abroad.

“The government needs to be more transparent to the American people — and to the world — about who it is transferring overseas, and what procedures are in place to make sure we are not transferring individuals into situations where human rights will be abused,” he said.

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In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo, a sign for Camp 6 is posted outside the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has refused to send any suspected terrorists captured overseas to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But if the U.S. starts seizing more militants in expanded military operations, where will they go, who will hold them and where will they be tried? (AP Photo/Ben Fox)

Reach Deb Riechmann on Twitter at https://twitter.com/debriechmann

US, Russia agree on Syria cease-fire plan; questions remain

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The United States and Russia have agreed on a new cease-fire for Syria that will take effect Saturday, even as major questions over enforcing and responding to violations of the truce were left unresolved. Syria’s warring government and rebels still need to accept the deal.

The timeline for a hoped-for breakthrough comes after the former Cold War foes, backing opposing sides in the conflict, said they finalized the details of a “cessation of hostilities” between President Bashar Assad’s government and armed opposition groups after five years of violence that has killed more than 250,000 people.

The truce will not cover the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organizations by the U.N. Security Council. But where in Syria the fighting must stop and where counterterrorism operations can continue must still be addressed. And the five-page plan released by the U.S. State Department leaves open how breaches of the cease-fire will be identified or punished.

The announcement came after Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone Monday, capping weeks of intense diplomacy to stem the violence so that Assad’s government and “moderate” rebel forces might return to peace talks in Geneva. A first round of indirect discussions collapsed almost immediately this month amid a massive government offensive backed by Russian airstrikes in northern Syria.

Obama welcomed the agreement in the call with Putin, which the White House said was arranged at Russia’s request. The White House said Obama emphasized the key is to ensure that Syria’s government and opposition groups faithfully implement the deal.

“This is going to be difficult to implement,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “We know there are a lot of obstacles, and there are sure to be some setbacks.”

Putin called the agreement a “last real chance to put an end to the many years of bloodshed and violence.” Speaking on Russian television, he said Moscow would work with the Syrian government, and expects Washington to do the same with the opposition groups that it supports.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the agreement, calling it “a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people.” But he warned that much work lies ahead for its implementation.

Hours after the agreement was announced, Assad issued a decree setting parliamentary elections for April 13. A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December calls for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held during an 18-month transition period that would end the 5-year-old conflict in Syria. However, the country was due for parliament elections anyway, as the current parliament’s four-year term expires in May.

The leader of a Saudi-backed Syrian opposition alliance, meanwhile, said in a statement that rebel factions had agreed “in principle” to an internationally mediated temporary truce. Riad Hijab did not elaborate but urged Russia, Iran and the Assad government to end attacks, lift blockades and release prisoners held in Syria.

Syrian officials said the government was ready to take part in a truce as long as it is not used by militants to reinforce their positions.

Both sides have until Friday to formally accept the plan.

Even if the cease-fire takes hold, fighting will by no means halt.

Russia will surely press on with an air campaign that it insists is targeting terrorists but which the U.S. and its partners say is mainly killing moderate rebels and civilians. While IS tries to expand its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and neighboring Iraq, Nusra is unlikely to end its effort to overthrow Assad. The Kurds have been fighting IS, even as they face attacks from America’s NATO ally, Turkey. And Assad has his own history of broken promises when it comes to military action.

All of these dynamics make the truce hard to maintain.

“We are all aware of the significant challenges ahead,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “Over the coming days, we will be working to secure commitments from key parties that they will abide by the terms.”

Kerry said the cessation could lead to less violence, expanded humanitarian deliveries and help support the U.S. goal of a “political transition to a government that is responsive to the desires of the Syrian people.” Like previous U.S.-Russian statements, however, Monday’s document says nothing about Assad’s future — perhaps the biggest stumbling block to a sustained peace.

The plan largely follows the blueprint set by Washington, Moscow and 15 other countries at a conference in Germany earlier this month. That agreement called for a truce by Feb. 19, a deadline that was missed.

Beyond the new cease-fire date, the agreement sets up a “communications hotline” and, if needed, a working group to promote and monitor the truce. Violations are to be addressed by the working group with an eye toward restoring compliance and cooling tensions. The deal also calls for “non-forcible means” to be exhausted before other means are pursued for punishing transgressors.

Any party can report violations to the working group being co-chaired by the U.S. and Russia.

The two countries also will share “pertinent information” about territory held by rebels accepting the truce.

Russia has pushed for broad coordination. Putin apparently hopes that engaging the U.S. in military-to-military cooperation in Syria could help ease the strain in relations and also cast Moscow as a power equaling Washington.

The timing of the cease-fire is only days ahead of Moscow’s proposal earlier this month for it to start on March 1. Washington rejected that offer at the time, saying it wanted an “immediate cease-fire” and not one that would allow Syria and its Russian backer to make a last-ditch effort for territorial gains in the Arab country’s north and south.

While negotiations dragged, however, Russian airstrikes pummeled areas in and around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and Assad’s military made significant gains.

Inside the Hamidiyeh Souk, a popular Damascus bazaar, people expressed worries that a cease-fire wouldn’t be evenly observed, leaving Syrian authorities vulnerable.

“I hope there will be no cease-fire, because if there is a cease-fire, Turks will increase their support for criminals and traitors,” said Ahmad al-Omar, who is from Aleppo province in the north, adding that Turkey may let opposition fighters in through its border with Syria. The Associated Press reported from the bazaar on a government-approved visit.

But rebels who engage in violence could see their Western support cut off. In recent days, U.S. officials have spoken about the cease-fire being a “self-policing” mechanism. If a group fights Assad’s military, according to this logic, it essentially aligns itself with militants considered to be terrorists and can then be attacked.

That has the opposition concerned about Assad or Russia trying to provoke it into acts of self-defense.

The conflict began with violent government repression of largely peaceful protests in 2011 but quickly became a full-blown rebellion against Assad and a proxy battle between his Shiite-backed government and Sunni-supported rebels. A U.S.-led coalition is only attacking the Islamic State and other extremist groups, not Assad’s military.

The Syrian government’s supply route by land to the city of Aleppo was cut by heavy fighting Monday as the army, supported by allied militias and the Russian air force, fought to consolidate its recent gains. They are trying to seal the border with Turkey, a key supporter of the rebels, before a truce is reached.

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Klapper reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lynn Berry in Moscow, Zeina Karam and Philip Issa in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Josh Lederman in Washington and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report. In this undated image made from video, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, gestures while being interviewed in Damascus, Syria, by a journalist with Spanish El Pais newspaper published Sunday Feb. 21, 2016. During the interview Assad said that refugees can return to his country without fear of reprisals and asserted that the only way for regime change to happen in Syria is through a political process. (Syrian Presidency / El Pais video via AP) SPAIN OUT – NO CROPPING

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