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

Last Updated Jan 14, 2018 at 11:20 pm EDT

Trump defends self after comments, says: ‘I’m not a racist’

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump, on the defensive in the wake of recent disparaging comments about Haiti and African nations that have revived questions about whether the leader of the world’s melting pot is a racist, declared Sunday that he is not one.

“No, No. I’m not a racist,” Trump told reporters who asked for his response to those who think he is a racist. “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.”

Trump also denied making the statements attributed to him, but avoided delving into the specifics of what he did or did not say.

“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments?” he asked, referring to lawmakers who were meeting with him in the Oval Office on Thursday when Trump is said to have made the comments. “They weren’t made.”

Trump stands accused of using “shithole” to describe African countries during an immigration meeting with a bipartisan group of six senators. The president, in the meeting, also questioned the need to admit more Haitians to the U.S., according to people who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorized to describe the meeting publicly.


Missile-alert mistake feeds doubts about a real emergency

HONOLULU (AP) — A blunder that caused more than a million people in Hawaii to fear that they were about to be struck by a nuclear missile fed skepticism Sunday about the government’s ability to keep them informed in a real emergency.

Residents and tourists alike remained rattled a day after the mistaken alert was blasted out to cellphones across the islands with a warning to seek immediate shelter and the ominous statement “This is not a drill.”

“My confidence in our so-called leaders’ ability to disseminate this vital information has certainly been tarnished,” said Patrick Day, who sprang from bed when the alert was issued Saturday morning. “I would have to think twice before acting on any future advisory.”

The erroneous warning was sent during a shift change at the state’s Emergency Management Agency when someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button, state officials said.

They tried to assure residents there would be no repeat false alarms. The agency changed protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm — a process that took nearly 40 minutes.


AP reporter recounts moments after Hawaii missile alert

HONOLULU (AP) — It was a beautiful Hawaii morning: nice breeze, blue skies, birds chirping. Then terror struck.

We were up early, my daughter and I, because this Saturday morning was her first day of ice skating lessons, a day we had been talking about and looking forward to for months.

We were also having construction done in our Honolulu apartment, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Nuuanu Valley and, in the distance, Pearl Harbor. So, I had been frantically clearing out the living room and covering our things with sheets so they wouldn’t be smothered in sawdust.

We got her skating clothes on and tacked up the living room, and I was just about to hop in the shower when, around 8:07 a.m., my phone started the aggressive, long pulsating tone that normally accompanies a flash flood or other warning.



Dozens escape casino shuttle boat off Florida’s Gulf coast

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say dozens of passengers and crew are safe after a casino shuttle boat was consumed by a huge fire while making a regular run to a casino ship off the Florida Gulf Coast.

Fire officials and witnesses say people leaped into chilly waters and reached shore in Port Richey in the greater Tampa Bay area after the fire Sunday afternoon.

Authorities say 15 people with chest pain, smoke inhalation and other minor injuries were taken to the hospital to be checked.

The shuttle boat routinely carried people back and forth from the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise, which is offshore because it can’t legally operate close to land, according to authorities. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages left seeking comment.

A cause wasn’t immediately clear.


Thai junta boss eyes staying on with little stopping him

BANGKOK (AP) — When Prayuth Chan-Ocha seized control of Thailand in a military coup, he vigorously denounced politicians as responsible for the country’s ills and positioned himself and his fellow generals as the cure.

Four years on, with many of the country’s problems still festering and the public growing impatient for long-delayed elections, the junta leader made a declaration that for many seemed to confirm suspicions that he planned to stay in power long past any polls.

“I am no longer a soldier. Understand? I’m just a politician who used to be a soldier,” the 63-year-old former-army-chief-turned-prime-minister told reporters at the turn of the year, adding, “But I still have a soldier’s traits.”

The world’s only nation still under formal military rule, Thailand is under increasing pressure both at home and abroad to return to civilian governance. The message now appears clear: In one form or another, the gruff general wants to be that civilian.

Should Prayuth decide to stay on, there’s little stopping him. For one, he still holds absolute power under rules he implemented when he staged the 2014 coup and he could simply put off elections yet again.


2 Koreas discuss Northern art troupe’s visit during Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Officials from the Koreas met Monday to work out details about North Korea’s plan to send an art troupe to the South during next month’s Winter Olympics, as the rivals tried to follow up on the North’s recent agreement to co-operate in the Games in a conciliatory gesture following months of nuclear tensions.

In a development that still shows their bitter animosities, the North issued a veiled threat on Sunday indicating it could cancel its plans to send an Olympic delegation to protest what it called South Korea’s “sordid acts of chilling” the prospect for inter-Korean reconciliation. The threat is relatively milder than the North’s typical fiery, bellicose rhetoric and it didn’t appear to put the recent reconciliatory mood in imminent danger.

“They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. “The South Korean authorities had better ponder over what unfavourable results may be entailed by their impolite behaviour.”

The KCNA criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in for crediting President Donald Trump for getting the North to sit down with the South. Trump has contended his tough stance helped persuade the North to hold talks. KCNA also accused South Korea of letting the United States deploy aircraft carriers and other strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula on the occasion of the Olympics.

Monday’s talks at the border village of Panmunjom will likely focus on the makeup of an art troupe and when and where in South Korea they would perform, according to South Korean officials.


Prayers for California mudslide victims; death toll hits 20

MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — Parishioners prayed Sunday for those killed and for families still searching for missing relatives in a Southern California community ravaged by mudslides, and authorities announced another body had been found, increasing the death toll to 20.

The body of 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa was discovered Saturday afternoon. His 2-year-old daughter, Lydia, remained missing. His 6-year-old son, Peerawat, nicknamed Pasta, and his 79-year-old father-in-law, Richard Loring Taylor, also were killed in the mudslides.

“This family is one of several that lost multiple family members,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. “And we know that the suffering of those who knew and loved all of the victims is immense.”

The list of those still missing in the mudslides has shrunk to four.

Because most churches in Montecito are in an evacuation area, many worshippers attended services in nearby towns. At a church in Santa Barbara, they carried flowers, lit candles and prayed for the families who have lost loved ones. The victims were their friends and neighbours, they said.


Trust and truth under Trump: Americans are in a quandary

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says.

“Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident.

Answering that question accurately is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson. But a year into Donald Trump’s fact-bending, media-bashing presidency, Americans are increasingly confused about who can be trusted to tell them reliably what their government and their commander in chief are doing.

Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.

Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source.


Chelsea Manning confirms US Senate run

NORTH BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Chelsea Manning on Sunday confirmed via Twitter that she is a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Three days after making her intention known to federal election officials, Manning tweeted “yup, we’re running for senate” with an attached campaign video indicating her intention to run in the 2018 Maryland Democratic primary. She sent a subsequent tweet seeking donations to her campaign.

The 71-second video weaves together images of white supremacists holding tiki torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as protesters clashing with police elsewhere.

“We live in trying times . times of fear . of suppression . of hate,” Manning said.

The montage shifts to the U.S. Capitol and President Donald Trump sitting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats.


Stunner: Keenum-Diggs TD sends Vikings past Saints 29-24

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As Case Keenum convened the Minnesota huddle with 10 seconds left, the situation staring down the Vikings was as simple as it was daunting.

With the go-ahead field goal by the New Orleans Saints that silenced this deafening stadium still fresh in the air, the Vikings were well beyond any moment of anxiety. All that was left for Keenum to do on that last snap was to throw the ball up like he used to do in his Texas backyards and hope for the best.

Keenum completed his last-ditch heave near the sideline Sunday on the game’s final play to Stefon Diggs, who slithered away from the Saints for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory and a spot in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

“At that point, I’m just a kid throwing a football to another big kid,” Keenum said with a smile, “and he just runs and scores.”

One more win, against the Eagles, and the Vikings will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on their home turf. Instead of the usual win-or-go-home stakes, they’re in a win-and-go-home situation.