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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

March 05, 2020 - 8:04 PM

Virus fears grip markets again; stocks and bond yields slide

NEW YORK (AP) — Fear dominated financial markets again on Thursday, and stocks fell sharply on worries about the fast-spreading virus outbreak. It's the latest shudder in Wall Street's most volatile week in more than eight years.

Major U.S. indexes lost roughly 3.5%, and Treasury yields touched more record lows in their latest yo-yo move. The slide nearly wiped out the surge stocks had ridden just a day earlier, which came in part on hopes that moves by authorities around the world could cushion the economic fallout.

These vicious swings are likely to continue, as long as the number of new infections continues to accelerate, many analysts and professional investors say. Thursday was the fourth straight day where the S&P 500 moved at least 2%, the longest such stretch since the summer of 2011.

The growing understanding that the spread of infections — and resulting damage to the economy — may not slow anytime soon is pulling sharply on markets. That pull has taken turns this week with the increasingly worldwide push that governments and central banks are trying to give markets through spending plans and interest-rate cuts.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note went as low as 0.901% for the first time in history, according to Tradeweb. Tumbling yields have brought the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage to a record low of 3.29%.

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Cruise ship is held off California coast for virus testing

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered a cruise ship with 3,500 people aboard to stay back from the California coast Thursday until passengers and crew can be tested, after a traveller from its previous voyage died of the disease and at least four others became infected.

A military helicopter lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-meter) Grand Princess by rope as the vessel lay at anchor off the coast of San Francisco, and authorities said the results would be available Friday. Princess Cruise Lines said fewer than 100 people aboard had been identified for testing.

“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

The precaution was prompted by the death of a Sacramento-area man who succumbed to the coronavirus after he had been on an earlier sailing of the ship, in February. Two other passengers from that voyage have been hospitalized with the virus in Northern California, and two Canadians who recently sailed aboard the ship tested positive after returning home, officials said.

Northern California officials also are awaiting test results from a man who died Thursday after being on a cruise where others have tested positive.

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US labs await virus-testing kits promised by administration

WASHINGTON (AP) — Trump administration officials doubled down on their promise to deliver 1 million tests for the coronavirus this week as states reported limited testing supplies and federal lawmakers expressed doubts about the government's timeline.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Thursday that a private manufacturer authorized to make the tests expects to ship the kits to U.S. laboratories by week's end. That amounts to the capacity to test roughly 400,000 people, given that it takes multiple test samples to a confirm a result.

The number of U.S. cases has grown rapidly in the last several days after more labs started testing and guidelines for eligibility were expanded. The U.S. tally stood at about 200 cases on Thursday, including 12 deaths — 11 in Washington state and one in California.

The test kits from Iowa-based Integrated DNA Technologies are one part of the government’s effort to ramp up testing. But the U.S. has trailed other countries in rolling out tests, because of problems with its test kits and because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially limited the number of eligible people.

Asked Thursday whether there were enough testing kits, Vice-President Mike Pence responded, ”I think we are we are ready today but we want to be ready tomorrow.”

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Warren ends presidential campaign, centring race on 2 men

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elizabeth Warren ended her once-promising presidential campaign on Thursday after failing to finish higher than third place in any of the 18 states that have voted so far. While the Massachusetts senator said she was proud of her bid, she was also candid in expressing disappointment that a formerly diverse field is essentially now down to two men.

“All those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years," Warren told reporters outside her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as her voice cracked. “That's going to be hard.”

Known for having “a plan for that,” Warren electrified progressives for much of the past year by releasing reams of policy proposals that addressed such issues as maternal health care, college debt, criminal justice reform and the new coronavirus. She planned to pay for many of her ambitious proposals with a 2 cent tax on fortunes worth more than $50 million, an idea that prompted chants of “Two cents! Two cents!” at her rallies.

But that energy — and an impressive organization — didn't translate into support once voters started making their decisions last month. She failed to capture any of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday and finished an embarrassing third in Massachusetts.

The Democratic contest now centres on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is trying to rally progressives, and former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is appealing to moderates. They are both white men in their late 70s, a fact that is prompting soul-searching for some Democrats who heralded the historic diversity that characterized the early days of the primary.

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Alabama executes inmate convicted in killing of 3 officers

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A man convicted in the 2004 killings of three police officers in Alabama who were shot by another man was executed Thursday evening.

Inmate Nathaniel Woods, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. CST Thursday following a lethal injection at the state prison in Atmore, authorities said. The inmate had no last words before the chemicals began flowing, but appeared to arrange his hands in a Muslim sign of faith.

Woods and Kerry Spencer were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in the slayings of the three Birmingham officers. The officers' deaths in a hail of gunfire rocked Alabama's largest city in 2004. Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisolm III and Charles R. Bennett died while trying to serve a misdemeanour domestic assault warrant on Woods at a suspected drug house.

Prosecutors said Spencer was the triggerman in the slaying, opening fire on the officers with a high-powered rifle inside the apartment, though Woods was convicted as an accomplice.

The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay to consider last-minute appeals and then denied the inmate's petitions. Alabama Gov. Gov. Kay Ivey denied a request for clemency.

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AP Exclusive: Gun found inside Epstein jail during lockdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators found a loaded gun Thursday that had been smuggled into the jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself last summer, following a weeklong lockdown that turned up other contraband and led to a criminal probe into guard misconduct, the federal Bureau of Prisons told The Associated Press.

The handgun was located by Bureau of Prisons officers inside a housing unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, prison officials said in a statement to the AP. It marked a massive breach of protocol and raised serious questions about the security practices in place at the Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for more than 175,000 federal inmates, and specifically at the jail, which had been billed as one of the most secure in America. Officials have not said where specifically the gun had been found, or how it had been smuggled inside the jail.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into potential misconduct by guards, focusing on the flow of contraband into the lockup uncovered during the search for the gun, three people familiar with the matter told the AP. They were not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Attorney General William Barr named a new director last week to take charge of the agency, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny since Epstein took his own life while in custody in August. But the agency has been plagued for years by serious misconduct, violence and a chronic staffing shortage

The investigation and search at the Manhattan facility began last week after officials received information that a gun may have been smuggled into the lockup and placed the jail on lockdown "in order to protect the public, staff and inmates until a comprehensive search could be completed,” the agency said in a statement.

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Trump defends his rhetoric in 1st TV town hall of 2020

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump defended the administration's response to the coronavirus and his confrontational style of name-calling political opponents as he fielded questions Thursday from select members of the public in his first TV town hall of the 2020 election cycle.

Trump, who regularly calls his top Democratic presidential opponents “Sleepy Joe" and “Crazy Bernie," was asked whether he could deliver his message without the controversial rhetoric. “When they hit us, we have to hit back. I really feel that," Trump said in response to the first of two questions about civility. “You can't turn your cheek.”

Fox News, the president's favourite network, hosted the live event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a rare instance where the president answered questions from the public.

The first question, from an undecided voter, was about the administration's response to the virus. The number of the cases in the U.S. stood at about 200 on Thursday, including 12 deaths — 11 in Washington state and one in California.

“Everybody has to be calm. It's all going to work out," Trump said, sounding defensive at times as a pair of Fox News journalists pressed him on the issue. “We hope it doesn't last too long."

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Judge sharply rebukes Barr's handling of Mueller report

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sharply rebuked Attorney General William Barr's handling of the special counsel's Russia report, saying Barr had made “misleading public statements” to spin the investigation's findings in favour of President Donald Trump and had shown a “lack of candour."

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton delivered the criticism in a 23-page order in which he directed the Justice Department to provide him with an unredacted version of the report so that he could decide if any additional information from the document could be publicly disclosed.

The scolding was unusually blunt, with Walton saying Barr had appeared to make a “calculated attempt" to influence public opinion about the report in ways favourable to Trump. The rebuke tapped into lingering criticism of Barr, from Democrats in Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller himself, that he had misrepresented some of the investigation's most damning findings.

The Justice Department in April released a 448-page redacted version of Mueller's report, which examined ties between Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign and potential obstruction of justice by the president. BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center later sued under the Freedom of Information Act for access to the entire document.

In his ruling, Walton said he needed to review the entire document itself because he could not trust that the Justice Department's redactions of the report were made properly and in good faith. The judge said it would be “disingenuous" to presume the redactions were “not tainted by Attorney General Barr’s actions and representations" throughout the process.

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Klobuchar calls for independent review of murder case

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — US Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked a top Minnesota prosecutor Thursday to initiate an independent investigation into the case of Myon Burrell, a black teen sentenced to life after an 11-year-old black girl was killed by a stray bullet.

“As you are aware, significant concerns about the evidence and police investigation have been raised by a press investigation, by members of the Hennepin County community, and by Myon’s family," she wrote in a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

In calling for an “independent investigation and an independent review,” Klobuchar yielded to increasing community pressure to reopen a case that dogged her Democratic presidential primary run. A yearlong Associated Press investigation published last month uncovered major flaws in the 2002 case, raising questions as to whether the 16-year-old blamed in the little girl's death may have been wrongfully convicted.

Klobuchar made her decision after meeting with Burrell’s family on Tuesday.

“As I told them," she wrote, “I believe that if any injustice was done in the quest for justice for Tyesha Edward, it must be addressed.”

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Schumer: I 'should not have used' critical words on justices

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that he “should not have used the words I used” when he declared at a rally in front of the Supreme Court that two justices would “pay the price” for their decision in an abortion case.

Republicans chastised Schumer for the remark and Chief Justice John Roberts in a rare rebuke said the words were “inappropriate" and “dangerous." Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Schumer's words “astonishingly reckless and completely irresponsible” and said they could have “horrific unintended consequences.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, floated the idea of a censure.

Schumer directed the comments at Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh while a significant abortion case was being argued at the high court.

“You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions,” Schumer said, naming the two appointees of President Donald Trump, according to video of the rally.

Schumer did not back down from the comments on Wednesday evening, with his spokesman criticizing Roberts as not remaining impartial. But Schumer clarified the next morning that he meant political consequences for the justices, not physical ones. He said it was a “gross distortion” to imply otherwise.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
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