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

Last Updated Jul 12, 2018 at 12:40 am EDT

Trump rattles NATO, questioning its value, assailing Germany

BRUSSELS (AP) — Under fire for his warm embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump jolted the NATO summit Wednesday by turning a spotlight on Germany’s ties to Russia and openly questioning the value of the military alliance that has defined American foreign policy for decades.

Trump declared that a joint natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Angela Merkel’s government “totally controlled” and “captive to Russia.” So, in a stroke, he shifted attention away from his own ties to the Kremlin just days before he meets one-on-one with Putin.

With scorching language, the president questioned the necessity of the alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting after a day of contentious meetings: “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?”

German Prime Minister Merkel hit back immediately, not only denying Trump’s contention but suggesting that his comfortable upbringing in the U.S. gave him no standing to spout off on the world stage about Germany.

Drawing on her own background growing up in communist East Germany behind the Iron Curtain, she said:

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With V-for-Victory sign, rescued Thai boys celebrate freedom

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — As ecstatic relatives watched and waved from behind a glass barrier, the 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from deep within a flooded cave in Thailand made the V-for-Victory sign Wednesday from their beds in a hospital isolation ward where they are recovering from the 18-day ordeal.

An American involved in the operation described the perilous zero-visibility dives that brought the boys out safely as a “once in a lifetime rescue.”

Derek Anderson, a 32-year-old rescue specialist with the U.S. Air Force based in Okinawa, Japan, said that at times during the risky rescue, the boys had to be put into harnesses and high-lined across the rocky caverns. At other times, they endured dives lasting up to half an hour in the pitch-black waters.

“The world just needs to know that what was accomplished was a once in a lifetime rescue,” Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. “We were extremely fortunate that the outcome was the way it was. It’s important to realize how complex and how many pieces of this puzzle had to come together.”

He said the boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, were “incredibly resilient.”

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Croatia in World Cup final for 1st time, beats England 2-1

MOSCOW (AP) — Croatia’s legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kicks wins needed to get this far. England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in, dominated play and appeared headed to its first World Cup final since 1966.

Then the second half started and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.

Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute , Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croatia shocked England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday that advanced a nation of just over 4 million to a World Cup final against France.

“Mentally strong team,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “It’s just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way.”

When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys. Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations that advanced to a World Cup final, doing it in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits.

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Immigrant parents happy but traumatized after kids returned

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Immigrant parents who reveled after joyful reunions with their young children spoke Wednesday of the traumatic impact of being separated from their sons and daughters for months after they were taken from them at the U.S. border.

The administration has been scrambling to reunify the families this week to meet the first of two deadlines set by a federal judge in San Diego who ordered thousands of children be given back to their immigrant parents. Scores of children separated from their families were sent to government-contracted shelters or foster care hundreds of miles away from where their parents were detained.

Roger Ardino, from Honduras, was happy to be back with his 4-year-old son, Roger Jr., who sat on his lap and played with the microphones as the father spoke to reporters. The father said he was still shaken by the ordeal he had to go through just to speak to his boy while he was in government custody. The two were separated in February.

He described feeling a pain in his heart and like he couldn’t breathe after his son was taken away. The father held up his wrist and told reporters that after they were separated, he threatened to use a razor on himself if he couldn’t speak to his son.

He spoke Wednesday at Annunciation House, an El Paso, Texas-based shelter, along with another father recently reunited with his child. They arrived there Tuesday.

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A new round of proposed Trump tariffs would hit US consumers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Now consumers are in the cross-hairs.

Americanscould soon find themselves paying more for goods they might not have known were imported from China. It’s a potential consequence of a new round of tariffs the Trump administration is proposing to slap on Chinese imports as soon as September.

And it marks a new phase in the U.S. trade war with China. Before now, the administration had deliberately avoided imposing tariffs on consumer goods in order to spare U.S. shoppers from direct economic pain. But late Tuesday, when the administration issued a list of 6,000 products worth $200 billion that it proposes to hit with 10 per cent tariffs, it included consumer items ranging from baseball gloves to seafood, vacuum cleaners, toilet paper and burglar alarms.

The administration will hold hearings on the proposed list late next month. President Donald Trump is threatening to impose the tariffs in retaliation for duties that China slapped on $34 billion of U.S. goods on Friday. Those duties, in turn, were a response to new tariffs the United States had imposed on China.

If China were to back down, the Trump administration might hold off on the newest tariffs. But economists say Beijing is unlikely to do so.

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US Navy now allows women to wear ponytails, lock hairstyles

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Navy says it will now allow servicewomen to sport ponytails and other hairstyles, reversing a policy that long forbade females from letting their hair down.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said it makes the Navy more inclusive.

Many black women had asked for changes to the female grooming standards. A female sailor, Yeoman First Class LaToya Jones, announced the new policy during a Facebook Live event Tuesday with Richardson. The new standards went into effect Wednesday.

Lock hairstyles, or ropelike strands, are also now allowed. Wider hair buns too. And women can wear ponytails while in uniform.

Capt. Thurraya Kent is the senior member of the working group that recommended the changes. The group told the Navy that adding grooming options would eliminate a distraction, be more inclusive of different hair textures and enable people to keep their hair natural instead of processing it chemically.

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Execution blocked after company objects to use of its drug

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A twice-convicted killer who wants to die rather than spend his life in prison was about an hour from eating his final meal Wednesday when he found out a Nevada judge had indefinitely delayed his execution after a pharmaceutical company objected to the use of one of its drugs to put someone to death.

Instead of carrying out what would have been the first execution in Nevada since 2006 and the first in the U.S. using an untried combination of three drugs, state officials must now reassess their options.

Scott Raymond Dozier, 47, was put on suicide watch as a precaution while officials planned a psychological evaluation at the state prison in the remote northeastern city of Ely before he returns to death row. Dozier was also placed on suicide watch after his execution was postponed in November.

Dozier was with family members and two close friends when he found out the execution had been postponed, said his attorney Thomas Ericsson. He wasn’t shocked because he knew the drug company’s last-minute lawsuit could derail things, and there was no outburst or anger, Ericsson said. They didn’t immediately talk about their next steps, he said.

“I would say he and his family had prepared themselves,” Ericsson said.

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US soon to leapfrog Saudis, Russia as top oil producer

The U.S. is on pace to leapfrog both Saudi Arabia and Russia and reclaim the title of the world’s biggest oil producer for the first time since the 1970s.

The latest forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that U.S. output will grow next year to 11.8 million barrels a day.

“If the forecast holds, that would make the U.S. the world’s leading producer of crude,” says Linda Capuano, who heads the agency, a part of the Energy Department.

Saudi Arabia and Russia could upend that forecast by boosting their own production. In the face of rising global oil prices, members of the OPEC cartel and a few non-members including Russia agreed last month to ease production caps that had contributed to the run-up in prices.

President Donald Trump has urged the Saudis to pump more oil to contain rising prices. He tweeted on June 30 that King Salman agreed to boost production “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels.” The White House later clarified that the king said his country has a reserve of 2 million barrels a day that could be tapped “if and when necessary.”

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Hugs and sobs: Families separated in US return to Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Donelda Pulex stepped off the airplane into the sun, clutching her 5-year-old daughter’s hand and burst into heaving sobs. Fourteen-year-old Hermelindo Juarez hid his face as his father comforted him. Efildo Daniel Vasquez walked cautiously behind his 8-year-old son.

Quiet, confused and exhausted, 11 families who had been detained and separated after they were caught crossing the U.S. border illegally returned home Tuesday to Guatemala aboard a U.S. government-chartered flight that read “World Atlantic.”

Greeted by first lady Patricia Marroquin, they lined up on the tarmac, shuffling — their shoelaces had been taken as a security precaution. U.S. immigration officials handed over paperwork in manila envelopes to Guatemalan officials. The immigrants walked single-file into a squat grey building at the country’s military base to be processed back into their country, along with dozens of others also deported.

Chartered flights full of deportees from the United States regularly arrive in the Central American country, but Tuesday’s flight was among the first containing families separated at the border under President Donald Trump’s contentious zero tolerance policy. More than 2,300 children were separated from their families before a June 20 order stopping the practice.

While some Central American migrants say they were fleeing to protect their families from severe violence, parents who spoke with The Associated Press said they made the difficult, dangerous journey to the U.S. for a better life. They were seeking a chance at a steady job or a better education for their children.

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Firefighter killed in gas explosion, fire near Madison

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (AP) — A massive natural gas explosion killed a firefighter and levelled portions of a city block in a southern Wisconsin community, including a bar the firefighter owned, authorities said Wednesday.

The blast in downtown Sun Prairie on Tuesday evening also injured at least 11 other people and left residents of the Madison suburb wondering how they’ll put their downtown back together.

“It’s just hard to look at the pictures (of the explosion and ruined downtown) and see what our city looks like now,” resident Erin Updike said.

The blast happened after police got a call at 6:30 p.m. that a construction crew working on a downtown street had punctured a WE Energies natural gas line. Police and firefighters arrived to investigate and were evacuating the area when the gas exploded shortly after 7 p.m. The blast ignited four-story high flames that burned long into the night and belched a smoke plume visible for miles.

“It looked like flames shooting out of heaven and just debris going everywhere,” said Sun Prairie resident Benjamin Berry.