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

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

March 01, 2019 - 8:04 PM

Final assault on last IS-held pocket in Syria resumes

OUTSIDE BAGHOUZ, Syria (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian forces on Friday resumed military operations to liberate the last piece of territory held by the Islamic state group in Syria after evacuating thousands of civilians and hostages who have been besieged inside, a spokesman said.

Mustafa Bali said fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have begun clashing with the militants and advancing after the last batch of civilians left the territory.

"Those left inside are fighters who do not wish to surrender," he told The Associated Press.

The military campaign to uproot the militants from the eastern banks of the Euphrates River began in September, pushing them down toward this last corner in the village of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border. The military operation was halted on February 12 as the SDF said a large of civilians and hostages were holed up in the territory, which sits atop caves and tunnels where they had been hiding.

The remaining speck of IS-controlled land in Baghouz village is also along the Euphrates from one side and the desert near the Iraqi border from the other. Thousands of civilians were living in a tent encampment and houses along the riverside.

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Eyeing 2020, White House steps up 'socialism' attack on Dems

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the White House gears up for the 2020 campaign, it's pressing the case that Democrats are rallying behind what it's calling the policies of "socialism."

Trying to portray Democrats as out of step with ordinary Americans, Vice-President Mike Pence said in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the choice in the next election is "between freedom and socialism, between personal responsibility and government dependence."

It was the latest step in a co-ordinated effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to drive up enthusiasm among the GOP base by sowing fears about the policies pushed by Democrats.

"The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment America ceases to be America," Pence told the crowd of conservative activists.

Pence also took aim at "Medicare-for-all" and the Green New Deal, policy proposals prominent in the crowded Democratic contest for the presidential nomination.

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Pakistan frees captured Indian pilot in 'gesture of peace'

WAGAH, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan handed over a captured Indian air force pilot to Indian officials at a border crossing on Friday, a "gesture of peace" by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan aimed at defusing a dramatic escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbours over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, walked across the border near the Pakistani town of Wagah after being taken in a convoy earlier in the day from the eastern city of Lahore, escorted by military vehicles and soldiers, their weapons drawn. Dressed in a blue blazer and grey dress pants, he was greeted by Indian policemen and military personnel on the Indian side.

The freed pilot was scheduled to undergo a detailed medical exam before boarding a flight from Amritsar, near the India-Pakistan border, to New Delhi for a debriefing with top air force officials about his captivity.

"The nation is proud of your exemplary courage," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

The Pakistani military has said it shot down Varthaman's MiG-21 fighter jet on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday and that the pilot safely ejected.

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Oakland teachers strike ends with tentative deal for raise

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Striking teachers in Oakland, California, celebrated after reaching a contract deal Friday with school administrators to end a seven-day walkout.

To cheers and applause, union leaders from the Oakland Education Association announced that teachers had won everything they demanded — higher pay, smaller classes and more school resources — in a week of marathon negotiating sessions with the district.

"This is a historic contract with a win in every major proposal we made," the Oakland Education Association said in a statement.

"We have achieved so much in the seven days of our historic strike in Oakland," union President Keith Brown told a news conference. "Our power in the streets prevailed."

The deal includes an 11 per cent salary increase and a one-time 3 per cent bonus, once the deal is ratified, Brown said.

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Don't panic: How parents can deal with internet hoaxes

NEW YORK (AP) — The latest parental panic on social media — over a purported challenge for kids to complete harmful tasks — elevates the importance of establishing an open dialogue with children and taking advantage of online parental controls.

Warnings about the "Momo challenge" swept Facebook and other social media in recent days, as parents worried about purported videos that encourage children to hurt themselves or do other harmful tasks such as turning on stoves without telling their parents. The parental warnings were accompanied by a disturbing image of a grinning creature with matted hair and bulging eyes.

But the challenge is believed to be a hoax. It's unclear how many videos exist or to what extent they have circulated, among children or elsewhere. Some of the videos might have been made in response to media attention surrounding the challenge. Meanwhile, the image of the grinning creature is reportedly from a Japanese sculpture.

Fact-checking site Snopes said the challenge first appeared in mid-2018 linked to suicide reports without actual evidence. YouTube said it hasn't received "any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge" on its service.

So why the panic? Experts say internet hoaxes focused on children tap into fears that parents have about protecting their children online and elsewhere. In addition to anxiety about "screen time " in general, there is certainly plenty of problematic videos that children shouldn't watch. It's hard for parents to police everything children do online. Fears were compounded when some school systems, local media and even police sent out their own warnings, accompanied by fuzzy facts.

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Parents blame North Korea's 'evil regime' for son's death

CINCINNATI (AP) — Unlike President Donald Trump, Otto Warmbier's parents don't believe North Korea's leader.

The parents of the American college student who was sent home from North Korea in a vegetative state spoke out Friday, after Trump's comment this week that he takes Kim Jong Un "at his word" that he was unaware of any mistreatment during the young man's 17 months of captivity. Warmbier died at age 22 soon after his return in June 2017.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who have expressed appreciation of Trump in the past and were guests at his 2018 State of the Union address, said in a statement Friday they had been respectfully silent while Trump and Kim met in Vietnam.

But no longer.

"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity," they said. "No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

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It's Bernie 2.0: More professional, more personal this time

NEW YORK (AP) — A young civil rights activist named Bernard Sanders was arrested and dragged off to jail for protesting school segregation on the South Side of Chicago in the summer of 1963.

Most voters didn't learn about that episode until photos surfaced in late February 2016, almost 10 months into the Vermont senator's first presidential campaign. Sanders had been struggling to win over African-American voters, but his topsy-turvy campaign team didn't know such powerful evidence of his civil rights bona fides existed until five days before South Carolina's primary.

Sanders lost the Southern contest, which is heavily influenced by the black vote, by almost 50 points.

As he launches his second presidential campaign this weekend, Sanders and his team are determined not to repeat the same mistake. The 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist will hold high-profile rallies in Brooklyn and Chicago, where he'll open up about his working-class roots and early activism — including the arrest — as he tries to prove he's learned from his 2016 stumbles.

"What is different of course this time is we're built to win and planning to win from the very beginning," said Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, who last week became the first Muslim hired to lead a major U.S. presidential effort.

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Chaos erupts, 2 arrested during Texas execution

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Chaos erupted outside Texas' death chamber when the son of the condemned inmate pounded on the chamber windows, shouted obscenities and threw fists after his father spoke his final words.

Billie Wayne Coble, a Vietnam War veteran who killed his estranged wife's parents and brother and threatened to do the same to her in 1989, told five witnesses that he selected to attend his Thursday night execution that he loved them. Coble then nodded as they watched from a witness room, saying: "Take care."

When he finished speaking, his son, grandson and daughter-in-law became emotional, and the men swung and kicked at others in the death chamber witness area. Officers stepped in but said the men continued to resist and were eventually moved to a courtyard, where both were handcuffed and arrested.

"Why are you doing this?" the woman asked. "They just killed his daddy."

As the men were being subdued outside, a single dose of pentobarbital was injected into Coble. He gasped several times and began snoring as the lethal dose of drug was being administered inside the death chamber at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

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2 day care workers charged after video shows child thrown

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Charges have been filed against two Missouri day care centre workers after surveillance video showing a 3-year-old girl being thrown against a cabinet went viral.

The woman accused of throwing the girl, 27-year-old Wilma Brown, was charged with felony child abuse on Thursday in St. Louis County. Relatives said the girl sustained a head gash that required seven stiches during the incident on Feb. 1 at Brighter Day Care and Preschool.

The girl's family said they were initially told the girl fell, but five days later watched surveillance video with the centre's director that showed a worker throwing the child into a cabinet.

A warrant has been issued for Brown's arrest. Brown doesn't have a publicly listed telephone number and couldn't be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

Prosecutors also charged 22-year-old Ariana Silver for a separate incident on Feb. 27 that was also allegedly captured by surveillance video. Charging documents allege Silver squeezed a 4-year-old girl's arm and punctured her skin, and then carried the girl by her foot.

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Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis suffers stroke, expected to recover

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rock 'n' roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis is recovering after a minor stroke, but he's expected to make a full recovery.

A statement from his publicist says the 83-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer had a stroke Thursday night and is recuperating in Memphis. His publicist, Zach Farnum, said no scheduled shows have been affected.

Nicknamed "The Killer," Lewis is known for his outrageous energy and piano skills on songs like "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin'."

He is scheduled to perform at the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April and his publicist said he has plans to record a gospel album soon.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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