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


US strikes win global praise _ but ratchet up Russia tension

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The United States vowed Friday to keep the pressure on Syria after the intense nighttime wave of missile strikes from U.S. ships, despite the prospect of escalating Russian ill will that could further inflame one of the world’s most vexing conflicts.

Standing firm, the Trump administration signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack, and the Pentagon was even probing whether Russia itself was involved in the chemical weapons assault that compelled President Donald Trump to action. The attack against a Syrian air base was the first U.S. assault against the government of President Bashar Assad.

Much of the international community rallied behind Trump’s decision to fire the cruise missiles in reaction to this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of men, women and children in Syria. But a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the strikes dealt “a significant blow” to relations between Moscow and Washington.

At the United Nations, Russia’s deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, strongly criticized what he called the U.S. “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression” whose “consequences for regional and international security could be extremely serious.” He called the Assad government a main force against terrorism and said it deserved the presumption of innocence in the chemical weapons attack.

U.S. officials blame Moscow for propping up Assad.

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Ghastly images of Syrian attack led to Trump about-face

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump first saw the photos Tuesday morning.

The images were ghastly. Men and women gasping for breath. Small children foaming at the mouth and in agony. The lifeless bodies of babies sprawled on the ground.

This was the aftermath of a chemical attack ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad, who the U.S. would soon conclude had unleashed sarin gas, a brutal nerve toxin, on his own people. The president peppered his advisers with questions, according to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who later said Trump was immediately focused on getting to the bottom of “who was responsible.”

By the end of the briefing, the president had dispatched his team to draw up options for a response.

The leap to considering intervention was remarkable. In 2013, Trump had argued against military intervention in Syria when it was President Barack Obama’s decision to make. He had hardly portrayed himself as a humanitarian crusader on the campaign, when he adopted the slogan “America First.”

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After Syria strikes, US and Russia spiral into confrontation

WASHINGTON (AP) — After President Donald Trump’s election victory, the United States and Russia appeared headed toward their smoothest ties in decades. Not anymore.

The former Cold War adversaries are once again spiraling into confrontation, punctuated by a U.S. attack on a military base controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia’s client. No longer optimistic about a “reset” in relations, the U.S. and Russia openly bashed each other Friday, trading caustic accusations about who violated international law.

“That’s it. The last remaining election fog has lifted,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Facebook on Friday, declaring U.S.-Russian relations “completely ruined.” He said Washington came dangerously close to “a military clash” with nuclear-armed Moscow by firing 59 cruise missiles on the Shayrat air base. Trump said Assad’s forces launched a gruesome chemical weapons attack from the site earlier in the week.

Trump’s intervention, designed to punish Assad, was the clearest demonstration of his willingness to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin — and in a way no American leader has in a long time.

Trump’s praise for Putin, questionable assertions about Russia’s military activity in Ukraine and Syria, and insistence on a new relationship with Moscow had generated the perception that the billionaire businessman wouldn’t cross the former KGB agent. It’s a perception that gained added currency as various U.S. investigations gained steam into possible collusion on election meddling between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian intelligence.

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Stolen truck kills 4 in Stockholm; Sweden calls it terror

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A hijacked beer truck plowed into pedestrians at a central Stockholm department store on Friday, killing four people, wounding 15 others and sending screaming shoppers fleeing in panic in what Sweden’s prime minister called a terrorist attack.

A nationwide manhunt was launched and one person was arrested following the latest use of a vehicle as a weapon in Europe.

Nearby buildings were locked down for hours in the heart of the capital — including the country’s parliament — and the main train station and several large malls were evacuated.

“Sweden has been attacked,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a nationally televised press conference. “This indicates that it is an act of terror.”

Later Friday night, Lofven laid a bouquet of red roses and lit a candle near the site of the attack. Officials announced flags at government offices would fly at half-mast Saturday to honor the victims.

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Gorsuch confirmation rolls Supreme Court to the right

WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of turmoil, the Senate confirmed Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch as the Supreme Court’s youngest justice Friday, filling a 14-month vacancy after the death of Antonin Scalia and restoring a rightward tilt that could last for years.

Gorsuch will be sworn in Monday and will quickly begin confronting cases of consequence, including one involving separation of church and state that the justices will take up in less than two weeks.

At 49, he is decades younger than several of the other justices — two are in their 80s and one is 78 — raising the possibility that President Donald Trump will have a chance to appoint more conservatives to a court that has been somewhat balanced in recent years.

Vice President Mike Pence was presiding as the Senate voted 54-45 in favor of Gorsuch, a veteran of Denver’s 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals whose conservative rulings make him an intellectual heir to Scalia, who died in February 2016. Republicans blocked Barack Obama from filling the seat all last year.

The outcome was a major victory for Trump, his first big congressional win. And it was cause for celebration for conservatives, who have often seemed willing to forgive various Trump failings next to the chance to win this lifetime appointment to the most important court on the land.

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California governor: Drought over, conservation must go on

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to the state’s drought emergency on Friday after powerful storms quenched the state following four extraordinarily dry years that drained reservoirs and wells, devastated forests and farmland and forced millions of people to slash their water use.

The turnaround has been stark. After years of brown fields and cracked earth, monster storms blanketed California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains this winter with deep snow that flows into the network of rivers and streams that supply much of the state’s water.

Front lawns revived to bright green in neighborhoods throughout the state and rivers that had become dry beds of sand and gravel are now charged with water swelling up in their banks.

Still, lifting the order is a largely symbolic measure that doesn’t remove most of the restrictions. Officials insisted they’re holding onto some conservation rules for the 40 million residents of the nation’s most populous state.

California uses more water each year than nature makes available, and one wet winter won’t change the long-term outlook, environmentalists cautioned.

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Judge drops 2 non-capital charges in 9/11 case at Guantanamo

MIAMI (AP) — A military judge on Friday dismissed two relatively minor charges against the five prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center who have been accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Army Col. James Pohl accepted a defense argument that the five-year statute of limitations had run out on two non-capital charges: attacking civilian objects and destruction of property. The men still face vastly more serious charges, including nearly 3,000 counts of murder in violation of the law of war for their alleged roles planning and aiding the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. They could get the death penalty if convicted.

The defendants include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. All five face the same charges for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the hijackers who carried out the plot.

Mohammad and the others were initially charged in February 2008. Charges were later refiled in May 2011 after reforms adopted by Congress and President Barack Obama to the military commission, which combines elements of the civilian and military justice systems to prosecute men held at the U.S. base in Cuba for war crimes. The case has been bogged down in the pretrial stage largely because of issues related to the harsh treatment the men were subjected to while held in clandestine CIA detention facilities.

Prosecutors had argued that the statute of limitations does not apply to war crimes, but Judge Pohl disagreed in a 22-page ruling. It was unclear if the prosecution would appeal.

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Trump, Xi showdown fails to materialize at Mar-a-Lago

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — What was billed as a showdown between the leaders of the United States and China over trade and North Korea ended with little sign of confrontation Friday — or of concrete progress in resolving their differences.

President Donald Trump had predicted a “very difficult” meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After their first face-to-face at the Mar-a-Lago resort, he trumpeted they had developed an “outstanding” relationship.

U.S. officials said the two sides agreed to increase cooperation on trying to get North Korea’s to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and China acknowledged the need for more balanced trade with the U.S.

But the two days of meetings appeared heavier on optics than substance. The most powerful message for the Chinese leader may have been Trump’s decision to launch U.S. missile strikes at Syria.

Those strikes added weight to Trump’s threat last week to act unilaterally against North Korea’s weapons program — although a much heavier risk would be required to take military action against the nuclear-armed North, which has its artillery and missiles trained on a key U.S. ally, South Korea.

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Michigan boy, 11, hangs himself after social media prank

DETROIT (AP) — Tysen Benz was at home when he saw social media posts indicating that his 13-year-old girlfriend had committed suicide. The posts were a prank, but the 11-year-old boy apparently believed them.

Moments later, his mother found him hanging by the neck in his room in Marquette, Michigan. Now a prosecutor is pursuing criminal charges against a juvenile accused of being involved in the scheme, which Katrina Goss described as “a twisted, sick joke.”

Goss described her son as appearing “fine” just 40 minutes before she found him.

“I just want it be exposed and be addressed,” Goss said of school bullying in general and cyberbullying in particular. “I don’t want it be ignored.”

Using a cellphone he bought without his mother’s knowledge, Tysen on March 14 was reading texts and other messages about the faked suicide and decided he would end his life too, his mother said.

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US regulators accuse Google of underpaying female workers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Government investigators looking into how Google pays its employees have accused the tech giant of shortchanging women doing similar work to men.

A U.S. Department of Labor official disclosed the agency’s allegations during a Friday court hearing in San Francisco.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a Labor Department regional director, testified, according to a report published by The Guardian.

Google said it vehemently disagreed with the charges, which the Mountain View, California, company said it hadn’t heard until Wipper’s court appearance.

“Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap,” Google said in its statement.