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

Last Updated Oct 21, 2017 at 11:20 pm EST

Former presidents call for unity at hurricane aid concert

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The five living former presidents put aside politics and appeared together for the first time since 2013 at a concert on Saturday to raise money for victims of devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George H.W. and George W. Bush gathered in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, to try to unite the country after the storms.

Texas A&M is home to the presidential library of the elder Bush. At 93, he has a form of Parkinson’s disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event. His wife, Barbara, and George W. Bush’s wife, Laura, were in the audience.

Grammy award winner Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance at the concert that also featured country music band Alabama, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer ‘Soul Man’ Sam Moore, gospel legend Yolanda Adams and Texas musicians Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.

The appeal backed by the ex-presidents has raised $31 million since it began on Sept. 7, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for George H.W. Bush.

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Funeral held for US soldier at centre of Trump fight

COOPER CITY, Fla. (AP) — Mourners Saturday remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

Some of the 1,200 mourners exiting the church after the service said the portrait of Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, was joined on stage by photographs of his slain comrades. The four died Oct. 4 in Niger when they were attacked by militants tied to the Islamic State. Johnson’s family asked reporters to remain outside for the service.

“We have to remember that one thing: that it wasn’t just one soldier who lost his life,” said Berchel Davis, a retired police officer who has six children in the military. He said the preacher and Rep. Frederica Wilson both made that a part of their talks. “That was a good gesture on everyone’s part.”

He and others said the fight between Trump and Wilson was never mentioned during the service.

Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia, were killed along with La David Johnson in Niger.

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Fox renewed O’Reilly contract despite knowing of allegations

NEW YORK (AP) — The parent company of the Fox News Channel says it knew a news analyst planned to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly when it renewed the popular personality’s contract in February.

The New York Times reported Saturday the company renewed O’Reilly’s contract after he reached a $32 million settlement with the analyst, Lis Wiehl.

In a statement, 21st Century Fox defended its decision because it said O’Reilly had settled the matter personally. It also said O’Reilly and Wiehl had agreed the financial terms would be kept confidential.

The company says O’Reilly’s new contract had added protections that allowed Fox to dismiss him if other allegations surfaced.

O’Reilly was ousted months later when it was revealed Fox had paid five women a total of $13 million to keep quiet about harassment allegations.

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Foreigners who joined IS faced almost certain death in Raqqa

PARIS (AP) — The forces fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group in Syria have tacit instructions on dealing with the foreigners who joined the extremist group by the thousands: Kill them on the battlefield.

As they made their last stand in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, an estimated 300 extremists holed up in and around a sports stadium and a hospital argued among themselves about whether to surrender, according to Kurdish commanders leading the forces that closed in. The final days were brutal — 75 coalition airstrikes in 48 hours and a flurry of desperate IS car bombs that were easily spotted in the sliver of devastated landscape still under militant control.

No government publicly expressed concern about the fate of its citizens who left and joined the Islamic State fighters plotting attacks at home and abroad. In France, which has suffered repeated violence claimed by the Islamic State — including the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris — Defence Minister Florence Parly was among the few to say it aloud.

“If the jihadis perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best,” Parly told Europe 1 radio last week.

Those were the orders, according to the U.S.

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Trump has no plans to block scheduled release of JFK records

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he doesn’t plan to block the scheduled release of thousands of never publicly seen government documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“Subject to the receipt of further information,” he wrote in a Saturday morning tweet, “I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.”

The National Archives has until Thursday to disclose the remaining files related to Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. The trove is expected to include more than 3,000 documents that have never been seen by the public and more than 30,000 that have been previously released but with redactions.

Congress mandated in 1992 that all assassination documents be released within 25 years, but Trump has the power to block them on the grounds that making them public would harm intelligence or military operations, law enforcement or foreign relations.

“Thank you. This is the correct decision. Please do not allow exceptions for any agency of government,” tweeted Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of a book about Kennedy, who has urged the president to release the files. “JFK files have been hidden too long.”

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Spanish PM aims to take over Catalan govt; residents aghast

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain announced an unprecedented plan Saturday to sack Catalonia’s separatist leaders, install its own people in their place and call a new local election, using previously untapped constitutional powers to take control of the prosperous region that is threatening to secede.

Catalonia’s president responded by making a veiled independence threat, telling lawmakers to come up with a plan to counter Spain’s “attempt to wipe out self-government.”

Even moderate Catalans were aghast at the scope of the move, greeting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s announcement with banging pots and honking cars in the streets of Barcelona, the regional capital.

In a televised address late Saturday, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called Rajoy’s plans to replace him and his cabinet an “attempt to humiliate” Catalonia and an “attack on democracy.” He called on the regional parliament to “debate and decide on the attempt to wipe out our self-government and our democracy, and act accordingly.”

Puigdemont called Rajoy’s move the “the worst attack” on Catalan people and institutions since Gen. Francisco Franco’s abolishment of Catalonia’s regional government in 1939.

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Japan votes for lower house; Abe’s party seen headed for win

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese are voting in a general election that will most likely hand Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition a majority in parliament.

Up for grabs Sunday are 465 seats in the more powerful lower house, which chooses the prime minister. Abe dissolved the chamber less than a month ago, apparently judging that the political environment turned in his favour.

Media polls have indicated voters see Abe’s government, despite recent scandals including his own, as a safer choice over an opposition with uncertain track records.

Scare over North Korea’s missile and nuclear development is also seen prompting their conservative choice.

An election victory would boost Abe’s chances for another three-year term as head of his Liberal Democratic Party next September, extending his premiership.

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Park hikers may have died in ‘sympathetic murder-suicide’

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Friends and relatives of a couple whose bodies were found in Joshua Tree National Park say they believe the two got lost while hiking in the sprawling desert park and struggled in the searing heat with little food or water before they died in a “sympathetic murder-suicide.”

Rachel Nguyen, 20, and Joseph Orbeso, 22, had been missing for nearly three months after going for a hike in late July and failing to return to their bed-and-breakfast. Their disappearance launched an exhaustive search. Crews spent more than 2,100 hours scouring the rugged terrain before finding their bodies in a steep canyon on Oct. 15.

Autopsies found both had gunshot wounds and evidence at the scene led detectives to believe Orbeso shot Nguyen and then himself, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Friday. The stunning announcement came days after Orbeso’s father, who was with searchers who made the discovery, said the bodies were locked in an embrace.

The Orange County Register reports there was evidence the pair had been battling the elements. The bodies were under a tree, with clothing covering their legs to protect them from the blazing sun. They appeared to have been rationing food and had no water.

Nguyen’s family said investigators told them that based on the circumstances and positioning of the bodies, they believed the two died in a “sympathetic murder-suicide.”

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Chinese propaganda faces stiff competition from celebrities

HONG KONG (AP) — When the propaganda film, “The Founding of an Army,” hit theatres in China recently, the reaction wasn’t quite what the ruling Communist Party might have hoped for.

Instead of inspiring an outpouring of nationalism and self-sacrifice for the state, it was roundly mocked for trying to lure a younger audience by casting teen idols as revolutionary party leaders.

Viewers more used to seeing the idols play love interests in light-hearted soap operas responded to the film by projecting “modern-day romantic narratives on the founding fathers of the nation,” said Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing. “It was hilarious.”

While China’s resurgent Communist Party once pushed its policies on an unquestioning public, it now struggles to compete for attention with the country’s booming entertainment industry and the celebrity culture it has spawned.

“Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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UK paper sorry for airbrushing out Solange Knowles’s braids

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Evening Standard newspaper has apologized to Solange Knowles for digitally altering an image of the singer on the cover of its magazine.

Knowles — who had released a song called “Don’t Touch My Hair” — complained on Instagram that an elaborate braided crown on her head had been digitally removed from the cover photo.

The magazine article featured the singer talking about her experiences spending time at her mother’s salon as a child. She also discussed braiding’s importance to her and praised it as “its own art form.”

The magazine said in a statement Saturday that the photo was altered for “layout purposes” but it was sorry for the offence caused. The statement said: “Plainly we made the wrong call and we have offered our unreserved apologies to Solange.”