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

March 29, 2018 - 8:04 PM

Protests block streets after funeral for man shot by police

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A standing-room-only crowd packed into a church Thursday to celebrate the life of a 22-year-old black man who was shot to death by Sacramento police, prompting angry protests in California's capital city and a resolve to force changes in police departments around the country.

The musical and scriptural celebration of Stephon Clark's life was interrupted by his emotional brother Stevante, who hugged and kissed the casket, led the crowd in chanting his brother's name, pounded his chest and shouted. Others on the stage attempted to calm him, with limited success.

The Rev. Al Sharpton hugged and consoled him and told the crowd not to judge how families grieve.

"This brother could be any one of us, so let them express and grieve," Sharpton said as he delivered the eulogy with Stevante Clark clutching him around the neck. "We are proud of them for standing up for justice."

Later Thursday, about 100 protesters blocked downtown streets for the third day in a row during rush hour but did not prevent fans from entering a Sacramento Kings NBA game at a downtown arena as they had during two previous games. Stevante Clark had asked protesters not to block the game.

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Russia responds quid pro quo to diplomats' expulsions

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin's rupture with the United States and Europe.

The Russian move came as a hospital treating Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, said the woman was improving rapidly and was now in stable condition, though her father remained in critical condition.

The Skripals were found unconscious and critically ill in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities blamed Russia for poisoning them with a military-grade nerve agent, accusations Russia has vehemently denied.

Two dozen countries, including the U.S., many EU nations and NATO, have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain — a massive action unseen even at the height of the Cold War.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at news conference Thursday that Moscow will expel the same number of diplomats from each of those countries in retaliation.

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Trump warns he may freeze SKorea trade deal for NKorea talks

RICHFIELD, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened to hold up the trade agreement his administration finalized this week with South Korea in an effort to gain more leverage in potential talks with North Korea.

Speaking on infrastructure in Ohio, Trump highlighted the recently completed renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. But he warned, "I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea." The remark comes as the two Koreas have announced plans to hold bilateral meetings next month in advance of a possible meeting between Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un by the end of May.

Trump noted the "rhetoric has calmed down" with North Korea, but added he may put a hold on the first trade agreement concluded by his administration, "because it's a very strong card and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly."

Trump did not explain what leverage the U.S. would achieve by holding up the trade deal with South Korea. The South Korean embassy in Washington declined to comment.

The liberal government in Seoul wants Washington to engage with Pyongyang to help foster inter-Korean relations and reduce nuclear tensions. Trump may be suggesting that a prospective nuclear deal with North Korea is desired by South Korea, so by delaying it the U.S. could extract better trade terms with the South. But chances of a nuclear deal remain deeply uncertain.

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Californians to take their coffee with a cancer warning

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles judge has determined that coffee companies must carry an ominous cancer warning label because of a chemical produced in the roasting process.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said Wednesday that Starbucks and other companies failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any risks. He ruled in an earlier phase of trial that companies hadn't shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a non-profit group, sued Starbucks and 90 other companies under a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer. One is acrylamide, a carcinogen present in coffee.

"Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health," Berle wrote in his proposed ruling.

The coffee industry had claimed the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process that makes beans flavourful. It also argued coffee was good for the body.

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Mystery surrounds SUV cliff plunge that killed entire family

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nobody answered the door when a child-welfare worker went to the Washington state home of the big, free-spirited Hart family to investigate a neighbour's complaint that the youngsters were going hungry.

Three days later, the Harts' crumpled SUV was found at the bottom of a 100-foot seaside cliff in Northern California, all eight family members presumed dead in a mysterious wreck now under investigation. Five bodies have been recovered, but three children are still missing.

"There are a lot of unknowns on this," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. "Several of the questions that have been asked today will never be answered."

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash and said there is no reason so far to believe it was intentional. But they also said there were no skid marks or signs the driver braked as the GMC Yukon crossed a flat dirt pull-off area, about 75 feet wide, and went over the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway.

The case has thrown a spotlight on at least one previous run-in with the law by the Harts, along with neighbours' repeated concerns about the way the home-schooled youngsters were being treated.

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Relatives demand answers after Venezuela jail fire kills 68

VALENCIA, Venezuela (AP) — It wasn't long after Daniel Marquez's family showed up at the Venezuelan police station jail where he'd been locked up for nearly a year awaiting trial when black smoke began billowing from the building.

Guards ordered them to flee, forcing them and other inmate relatives to watch in horror from afar as the flames quickly grew.

One day later, Marquez's family took his blackened remains home in a simple wooden coffin, their despair as wide as the questions surrounding the blaze Wednesday that killed 68 people in one of Venezuela's worst jail fires.

"He didn't deserve to die like this," Sorangel Gutierrez, Marquez's sister-in-law, said as relatives wept before the casket of the 28-year-old father of two. His relatives say he was jailed because he couldn't pay a bribe to an officer who found a photo of an illegal weapon on his cellphone.

Varying versions of exactly what happened inside the police station's crowded jail cells circulated Thursday among relatives and human rights groups amid a deafening silence from officials, who have yet to provide a full account.

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Trump's VA pick draws concern over thin management record

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's selection of his White House doctor to run the massive Department of Veterans Affairs triggered concern Thursday among lawmakers and veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage an agency paralyzed over Trump's push to expand private care.

Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral entrusted with the health of the past three presidents, is a lifelong physician whose positions on privatizing operations in the second largest federal department and addressing ballooning health care costs are unknown. First named to the top White House post by President Barack Obama, he would be new to running a big bureaucracy if given leadership over a department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

In a statement, Trump praised Jackson as "highly trained and qualified." But representatives of veterans aren't sold on the choice, or on Trump's decision a day earlier to fire VA Secretary David Shulkin.

"There is little that we know about Dr. Ronny Jackson's vision and qualifications," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Our concern is whether President Trump was more interested in picking a secretary who would be politically loyal rather than someone who can work across the aisle to fix long standing problems of bureaucratic delay."

Similar doubts were expressed by Veterans of Foreign Wars, which praised Jackson's military background in a statement but pointed to a nominee biography devoid of "any experience working with the VA or with veterans, or managing any organization of size, much less one as multifaceted as the Department of Veterans Affairs." AMVETS echoed such sentiments.

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AP FACT CHECK: Science contradicts EPA warming memo

WASHINGTON (AP) — Climate scientists say an internal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo on how officials should talk to the public about global warming doesn't reflect reality.

EPA's public affairs office put out "a set of talking points about climate change" to help the agency have a consistent message, the Huffington Post reported this week.

The Associated Press, which also obtained the memo, contacted 15 climate scientists. They all said EPA wasn't accurately portraying the degree of knowledge that researchers know about climate change and humanity's role. For decades, scientists have being saying that the burning of fossil fuels increases greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which trap heat and change the planet's climate in many ways.

EPA defended the memo.

THE MEMO

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Bill Cosby judge won't step aside as lawyers target accuser

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The judge in Bill Cosby's retrial rejected demands from the comedian's defence lawyers to step aside during a Thursday hearing in which they made clear they plan to attack his accuser as a greedy liar who falsely accused him of sexually assaulting her to collect a payoff.

Judge Steven O'Neill shot down what amounted to a last-ditch effort to postpone the trial by defence lawyers who lost their bid to overturn his ruling allowing up to five additional accusers to testify against Cosby.

Lawyers argued the judge should remove himself because his wife is a social worker and advocate for assault victims, pointing to a $100 donation made in her name to an organization that gave money to a group planning a protest outside the retrial.

The judge said the donation was made 13 months ago by the department where his wife works at the University of Pennsylvania and he's "not biased or prejudiced" by her work.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday as the 80-year-old Cosby faces charges he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

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Kansas indictments highlight lax state rules on water parks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ken Martin remembers a Travel Channel episode about the world's tallest waterslide. The Richmond, Virginia-based amusement-park safety expert said he was horrified that test sandbags flew off the ride and that nylon straps with Velcro restrained multiple riders on rafts dropping 17 stories at up to 70 miles per hour.

"I am sitting on my couch and I am thinking, 'Oh my God. What are these people thinking?'" Martin recalled in an interview. "I started praying for anyone who got on that ride."

The Verruckt waterslide was a big attraction for the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, from its opening in 2014— until a 10-year-old boy's decapitation in August 2016 forced it to shut down. A Kansas grand jury earlier this month indicted the Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts and Verruckt's co-designer on numerous criminal charges, including second-degree murder over Caleb Schwab's death.

As water parks prepare to open across the country for the summer season, the Kansas indictments highlight the inconsistent patchwork of state regulations that cover amusement parks.

The federal Consumer Products Safety Commission says it knows of 12 deaths at water parks and another 22 at other amusement parks since 2010, and about 40,000 emergency room visits by park patrons in 2016.

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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