The Daily Astorian | The Daily Astorian Thu, 5 May 2016 07:08:11 -0400 en The Daily Astorian | Spanish court seeks arrest of Putin-linked Russians Thu, 5 May 2016 07:00:08 -0400 MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge wants two senior Russian officials with links to the Kremlin arrested so they can be questioned in court about suspected money laundering and criminal association.

National court judge Jose de la Mata Amaya has issued international arrest warrants for Nikolai Aulov, deputy director of Russia's federal drug control agency, and Vladislav Reznik, who is a member of parliament's lower house for the main Kremlin party and deputy chairman of its financial markets committee. Both men are viewed as allies of President Vladimir Putin.

They are among 15 suspects in a years-long investigation into alleged Russian mafia activities in Spain, according to court documents released this week. The court said their whereabouts are not known.

The judge handed down his ruling in January. A national court spokesman said the case was never placed under judicial secrecy after the arrest orders were issued on Jan. 22 but it only became publicly known after Spain's El Mundo on Tuesday published a story based on documents outlining the judge's order.

The spokesman said he did not know whether those named in the document had Spanish lawyers. He spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with court policy.

The judge ordered that three suspects should be held without bail if they are captured. The others, including Aulov and Reznik, are to be brought to Spain for questioning so that a judge can determine whether they should also be held pending a possible trial.


Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report. Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.


This story has been corrected to show that the El Mundo story appeared on Tuesday

Mariner rescued after 2-month ordeal at sea Thu, 5 May 2016 07:00:09 -0400 HONOLULU (AP) — A Colombian mariner has been rescued after surviving a two-month ordeal in the Pacific by eating fish and seagulls to survive, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The man told the Coast Guard that his three companions on the disabled 23-foot skiff died at sea, but their bodies were not aboard the vessel that was adrift in a lightly traveled expanse of the ocean. He did, however, have the men's passports.

The four sailors had left Colombia more than two months ago, the Coast Guard said. At some point, their skiff's engine failed and they were left adrift.

The 29-year-old survivor, who was not identified, was spotted and rescued by the Panamanian-flagged Nikkei Verde, a merchant ship, more than 2,000 miles southeast of Hawaii.

He was transferred to a Coast Guard boat and arrived in Honolulu in good condition on Wednesday.

Coast Guard video showed the survivor dressed in a black t-shirt, jeans, a baseball cap and a life vest as he gingerly climbed down a ladder from the Nikkei Verde onto the Coast Guard's vessel. In the video, the survivor spoke through a Coast Guard interpreter and thanked his rescuers and God. He said he would have loved it if his friends from the skiff could have been there with him.

"This mariner had great fortitude and is very fortunate the crew of the Nikkei Verde happened upon him as the area he was in is not heavily trafficked," said Coast Guard Lt. Commander John MacKinnon.

The Coast Guard said it is not investigating.

Grand Rapids' $600K bike safety education campaign ramps up Thu, 5 May 2016 06:51:55 -0400 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Grand Rapids' $600,000 bicycle safety education campaign is ramping up with billboards, television commercials, radio spots, bus ads and social media promotion.

The Grand Rapids Press reports ( ) a kickoff event is Monday for the "Driving Change" effort.

Messaging will hit the streets in May, which is National Bike Month, and again in July, followed by a post-campaign survey to see if it does any good.

In the long term, data on traffic crashes involving bicycles will be used to measure the campaign's impact. Records show there were 71 bicyclist-involved traffic crashes in Grand Rapids in 2014, down 26 percent from the average of the previous 10 years.

Those involved in the effort say messaging that works in Grand Rapids will be available for other Michigan cities to try.


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press,

AP Top News at 9:47 a.m. EDT Thu, 5 May 2016 06:50:09 -0400 AP FACT CHECK: Bringing coal jobs back to AppalachiaBlasts in Syria kill 10 but Aleppo mostly calm amid truceTurkish prime minister announces decision to step downKenya: Woman rescued after 6 days in collapsed buildingSenate Dems field large roster of women in the Year of TrumpAlberta fire evacuees moved a 2nd time as weather shifts]]> AP Top Sports News at 9:44 a.m. EDT Thu, 5 May 2016 06:50:43 -0400 Johnny Manziel booked in domestic violence caseRepole in Derby chase with Outwork, son of top sire Uncle MoOscar De La Hoya hits Trump where it hurts, says he cheatsWith Lowry faltering, Dragic flourishing, Heat seek 2-0 leadSchedule, opponent turns postseason into grinding challengeFormer Lakers coach Byron Scott 'shocked' over firingYankees place Alex Rodriguez on DL with hamstring injurySidelined: LGBT laws, NCAA policy could keep teams at home]]> Kenya: Woman rescued after 6 days in collapsed building Thu, 5 May 2016 06:40:42 -0400 NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan woman was rescued Thursday after being trapped for six days in the rubble of a collapsed building.

A crowd applauded in celebration as the woman was carried away on a stretcher covered by a blanket and with an oxygen tank by her side to a Kenya Red Cross ambulance. The rescue was broadcast live on Kenyan television.

Before military engineers managed to break through the slabs of concrete that had trapped her medics had managed to give the woman oxygen and intravenously administer water and glucose, Kenya's Disaster Management Unit said. "This is a miracle," said Pius Masai, the head of the unit.

The woman was given oxygen while was trapped in small corner of her room, said Abbas Gullet, head of the Kenya Red Cross.

"We are very happy that even after six days someone has been found alive," Gullet said.

A nearly six-month-old baby was rescued on Tuesday, a development which raised hopes that more survivors would be found. The infant was found unharmed in a washbasin four days after the building collapsed Friday.

The death toll from the disaster has risen to 36 and 70 people remain missing, said Gullet.

With housing in high demand in Nairobi, some unscrupulous developers bypass regulations to cut costs and maximize profits.

The two owners of the collapsed building were released on $5,000 bail on Wednesday as they await formal charges from police.

After eight buildings collapsed and killed 15 people, President Uhuru Kenyatta last year ordered an audit of all the country's buildings to see if they are up to code. The National Construction Authority found that 58 percent of buildings in Nairobi are unfit for habitation. Most of Nairobi's 4 million people live in low-income areas or slums.

Iraq routed IS from Ramadi at a high cost: A city destroyed Thu, 5 May 2016 06:40:30 -0400 RAMADI, Iraq (AP) — This is what victory looks like in the Iraqi city of Ramadi: In the once thriving Haji Ziad Square, not a single structure still stands. Turning in every direction yields a picture of devastation.

A building that housed a pool hall and ice cream shops — reduced to rubble. A row of money changers and motorcycle repair garages — obliterated, a giant bomb crater in its place. The square's Haji Ziad Restaurant, beloved for years by Ramadi residents for its grilled meats — flattened. The restaurant was so popular its owner built a larger, fancier branch across the street three years ago. That, too, is now a pile of concrete and twisted iron rods.

The destruction extends to nearly every part of Ramadi, once home to 1 million people and now virtually empty. A giant highway cloverleaf at the main entrance to the city is partially toppled. Apartment block after apartment block has been crushed. Along a residential street, the walls of homes have been shredded away, exposing furniture and bedding. Graffiti on the few homes still standing warn of explosives inside.

When Iraqi government forces backed by U.S.-led warplanes wrested this city from Islamic State militants after eight months of IS control, it was heralded as a major victory. But the cost of winning Ramadi has been the city itself.

The scope of the damage is beyond that in other Iraqi cities recaptured so far from the jihadi group. Photographs provided to The Associated Press by satellite imagery and analytics company DigitalGlobe show more than 3,000 buildings and nearly 400 roads and bridges were damaged or destroyed between May 2015, when Ramadi fell to IS, and Jan. 22, after most of the fighting had ended. Over roughly the same period, nearly 800 civilians were killed in clashes, airstrikes and executions.

Now the few signs of life are the soldiers manning checkpoints, newly painted and decorated with brightly colored plastic flowers. Vehicles pick their way around craters blocking roads as the dust from thousands of crushed buildings drifts over the landscape. Along one street, the only sign that houses ever existed there is a line of garden gates and clusters of fruit trees.

The wreckage was caused by IS-laid explosives and hundreds of airstrikes by the Iraqi military and the U.S.-led coalition. Besides the fighting itself, the Islamic State group is increasingly using a scorched earth strategy as it loses ground in Iraq. When IS fighters withdraw, they leave an empty prize, blowing up buildings and wiring thousands of others with explosives. The bombs are so costly and time-consuming to defuse that much of recently liberated Iraq is now unlivable.

"All they leave is rubble," said Maj. Mohammed Hussein, whose counterterrorism battalion was one of the first to move into Ramadi. "You can't do anything with rubble."

As a result, U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi officials are rethinking their tactics as they battle IS to regain territory. The coalition is scaling back its airstrikes in besieged urban areas. Efforts are underway to increase training of explosive disposal teams.

The new approach is particularly key as Iraq and the coalition build up to the daunting task of retaking Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city, held by IS for nearly two years.

"They know they can't just turn Mosul into a parking lot," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who has been present for a number of meetings with coalition and Iraqi defense officials regarding the Mosul operation. The diplomat commented on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

In January, after IS was pushed out of Ramadi, thousands of families returned to their homes. But residents have since been barred from coming back because dozens of civilians died from IS booby traps. Officials estimate IS planted thousands of IEDs, improvised explosive devices, across the city. Janus Global Operations, an American firm, began working to remove them last month and said it has so far cleared more than 1,000 square meters — a fraction of a city block.

The vast majority of the city's population remains displaced.

Ramadi lies on the Euphrates River west of Baghdad and is the capital of Iraq's Sunni heartland, Anbar province. Even as IS swept over most of the province and northern Iraq in 2014, Ramadi had held out under tenuous government control. After months of fighting, in May 2015, Islamic State fighters captured it by unleashing a barrage of truck and suicide bombs that overwhelmed government forces.

They raised their flag above Anbar Operations Command center, the former provincial police and military headquarters that was once a U.S. military base, then proceeded to largely level the complex with explosives. Over the following days, they methodically destroyed government buildings.

Militants took over homes, converting living rooms into command centers and bedrooms into barracks. They dug tunnels under the streets to evade air strikes, shut down schools, looted and destroyed the homes of people associated with the local government. They set up a headquarters in the campus of Anbar University, on the city's western edge.

Over the course of the eight-month campaign to push IS out of Ramadi, coalition aircraft dropped more than 600 bombs on the city. The strikes targeted IS fighters, but also destroyed bridges, buildings and roads, the Pentagon has acknowledged. Government forces seized districts on the outskirts and in December launched their final assault.

As Iraqi ground forces moved into Ramadi, IS methodically laid explosives and blew up swaths of the city's infrastructure. The electrical grid was almost completely destroyed and the city's water network was also heavily damaged. The jihadis bombed the city's remaining bridges and two dams. Though most of the population had already left, IS fighters tightened checkpoints along main roads out of the city to prevent civilians from fleeing. They later used families as human shields as they made their escape.

"ISIS made a concerted effort to ensure the city would be unlivable," said Patrick Martin, an Iraq researcher at the Institute for the Study of War.

As his convoy of troops approached Ramadi, Maj. Hussein said he watched IS fighters set fires in Anbar University to destroy sensitive documents. The fires burned for days.

The complex is now largely destroyed. A gymnasium used by IS to store documents has been torched. Charred sports equipment — a boxing glove, cleats, pieces of a track suit — line the hallways. Iraqi artillery fire punched thick holes into the university's library. Only the two main reading rooms are safe to visit; the rest of the four-story building is believed to be booby-trapped.

Trying to uproot dug-in fighters, coalition aircraft and Iraqi artillery unleashed devastation. Haji Ziad Square, for example, is a strategic intersection with lines of sight down major thoroughfares by which troops had to approach. So IS fighters deployed heavily there. The new multistory Haji Ziad Restaurant made a prime sniper post. Iraqi troops called in intense coalition strikes on the square to help clear the militants.

Similarly, a complex of around 40 large residential towers stood across from Anbar University on a key route for Iraqi forces entering the city. Before-and-after imagery shows at least a dozen of them were levelled. Multiple bomb craters are evident, including at least two that measure more than 45 feet across.

In a district along the western edge of downtown Ramadi, a dense strip of buildings, homes and bustling shops, not a single building escaped unscathed from the IS occupation and the coalition airstrikes. Key streets throughout the city are blocked by craters as each side tried to hamper the other's movement.

Tens of thousands of Ramadi's residents live in camps or with extended family in Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands are in other nearby villages. Thousands more live in a small resort town on Habbaniyah Lake south of Ramadi that has become a sprawling camp.

Where Iraqis came to jet-ski and boat as recently as 2012, the beach is now lined with tents. The 300-room hotel and hundreds of chalets in the complex are filled with people displaced from Ramadi, Fallujah, Hit and smaller villages across Anbar.

Umm Khaled, 30, once lived with her family in a two-bedroom home in Ramadi's center. Now, pregnant with her fourth child, she lives in a small shelter on the edge of the Habbaniyah resort that her husband built with corrugated metal and plastic tarps.

She said she kept tabs on her Ramadi home since fleeing two years ago. The house remained undamaged. Then the offensive to retake the city began, and she heard from another fleeing family that her home had been hit by a missile or a bomb. The day the city was declared liberated, Umm Khaled said the camp burst into celebration, children set off fireworks and young men danced.

Days later came more sobering news. Her husband returned to Ramadi to see what was left, and he brought back pictures on his phone.

"It was like there was nothing. And it's not just our house — the entire neighborhood," said Umm Khaled, who did not want her full name used because she feared for the safety of family members still living under IS rule.

Without a home to return to and no jobs, her family is forced to remain in the camp and is dependent on handouts from aid organizations. The little cash savings her family had was depleted months ago, making it impossible to return to Ramadi and rebuild.

According to the United Nations' satellite mapping agency, UNITAR, an estimated 5,700 buildings out of the city's total of around 55,000 were seriously damaged or destroyed.

With an eye to reducing destruction in the fight against IS moving forward, coalition planes are using fewer airstrikes and smaller, more targeted munitions.

In Hit — a small town to the west of Ramadi retaken from IS in April — Iraqi commanders complained that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get requests for airstrikes cleared by coalition forces. Brig. Gen. Sami Khathan al-Aradi said progress in Hit was slower because of the reduced airstrikes.

"Our allies have their own standards, their own regulations," al-Aradi explained, implying that Iraqi planes would have used airstrikes more liberally.

Mosul is roughly two-thirds larger in area than Ramadi, and some 1 million to 1.5 million residents are still in the city — a far higher number than those who were in Ramadi as Iraqi forces fought to regain it — putting large numbers in harm's way when an assault is launched.

The destruction of Mosul on the same scale as Ramadi would result not just in billions of dollars of damage. It also would risk further alienating the Sunni minority population. Long oppressed under the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad, some Sunnis originally welcomed IS fighters into Mosul and parts of Anbar province. But after months of increasingly brutal IS rule, the group's support among Sunnis appears to have eroded.

Widespread destruction also can spark cycles of revenge attacks within Anbar's communities, where tribal law often demands death and destruction be repaid in "blood money." In Ramadi's eastern edge, local security officials have already begun methodically razing homes of suspected IS sympathizers.

Hamdiya Mahmoud's family home was destroyed by IS militants. Amid the rubble that was once her son's bedroom, she points to a dresser showered with shards of plaster and concrete that was a gift to her son and his wife on their wedding day.

"I didn't let my youngest son go to school to save money to build this house," Mahmoud said, breaking into sobs, "This house is really priceless to me, it's like one of my sons." Mahmoud said she would not seek revenge for the damage done to the property. But as her husband looked over the ruins of his house, he was less forgiving.

"I swear to God," said Ali Hussein Jassim, "if I learn who did this I will not keep silent."


Butler reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Ali Hameed in Baghdad, Osama Sami in Ramadi, Iraq, and AP photographer Bilal Hussein in Beirut contributed to this report.


Follow George at; Butler at and Alleruzzo at


Online: The DigitalGlobe imagery of Ramadi:

The Latest: Autopsy shows slain student was stabbed 4 times Thu, 5 May 2016 06:30:06 -0400 ATLANTA (AP) — The Latest on the stabbing death of a Fort Valley State University student in central Georgia (all times local):

9:15 a.m.

Authorities say an autopsy shows that a student killed on his college campus in central Georgia was stabbed four times in the upper torso.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent J.T. Ricketson tells The Telegraph ( in Macon that former student Joseph Anthony Scott is accused of stabbing freshman Donnell Phelps with a pocket knife with a 3 1/2-inch blade.

The 24-year-old Scott faces charges including murder and aggravated assault in the death of the 19-year-old Phelps and an attack on a campus security officer, who is expected to survive.

Police say Scott was harassing and groping three young women near the school cafeteria Tuesday, and Phelps came to their aid by trying to intervene. They say Scott began stabbing Phelps, who collapsed on the ground near the school's infirmary and later died.


7:30 a.m.

A candlelight vigil is planned to remember a Georgia college freshman who was stabbed to death at Fort Valley State University as he tried to help three female students.

School officials say the freshman class plans the vigil for 19-year-old Donnell Phelps at 7 p.m. Thursday on the campus, about 30 miles southwest of Macon in central Georgia.

Twenty-four-year-old former student Joseph Anthony Scott faces charges including murder and aggravated assault in Phelps' death and an attack on a campus security officer, who is expected to survive.

Police say Scott was harassing and groping three young women near the school cafeteria Tuesday, and Phelps came to their aid by trying to intervene. They say Scott pulled out a pocket knife and began stabbing Phelps, who collapsed on the ground near the school's infirmary and later died.

Image of Asia: Directing traffic on a North Korean street Thu, 5 May 2016 06:30:07 -0400 In this photo by Wong Maye-E, a traffic policewoman directs vehicles at a street junction in front of a sidewalk decorated with Workers' Party flags in Pyongyang, North Korea. Members of North Korea's ruling party have gathered in Pyongyang ahead of their biggest political conference in decades. Foreign experts say North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un will likely use the meeting to place his loyalists into key positions, strengthen his push to upgrade his country's nuclear arsenal and cement his grip on power.

Blasts in Syria kill 10 but Aleppo mostly calm amid truce Thu, 5 May 2016 06:40:45 -0400 DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A car bomb exploded in the main square of a central Syrian village on Thursday and once people gathered to help the victims, a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives belt nearby, killing at least 10 people and wounding scores, state media and the regional governor said.

The twin attack in the central province of Homs came hours after a truce brought relative calm to the northern city of Aleppo, which has been the center of violence in recent weeks.

The truce was announced by U.S. officials in agreement with Russia, in an effort to extend Syria's fragile cease-fire to the deeply contested city. The Syrian military said the truce would last only 48 hours.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, meanwhile, said in remarks that came in the form of a letter to the Russian president that Aleppo will eventually be victorious, comparing the Syrian government forces' resistance in the city to the protracted World War II battle of Stalingrad.

The 10 killed in Homs included four children and three women, state TV said. As many as 49 were wounded in the attack, which took place in the village of Mukharam al-Fawkani, located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of the central city of Homs, Syria's third-largest.

Homs Gov. Talal Barrazi told The Associated Press that the blasts were trigged by a car bomb and a suicide attacker. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the attack and the death toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Islamic State group has in the past months claimed to be behind several similar deadly attacks in Homs province.

The area of the blasts is close to where Syrian troops and IS gunmen have been fighting for control of the vital Shaer gas field, which fell to the Islamic State on Wednesday after the extremists overran 13 government checkpoints and captured a Syrian soldier. The Observatory said 34 government troops and 16 militants have been killed in three days of fighting there.

In Aleppo, Syrian state media reported some violations of the truce, saying militants fired more than 20 shells into government-held parts of the city, where 280 civilians have been killed over the past two weeks, according to the Observatory. The activist group said Thursday's shelling killed one person and wounded others.

The opposition's Halab Today TV also reported relative calm in Aleppo province, adding that there was sporadic shelling of some villages in the province, which borders Turkey.

In his letter to Vladimir Putin that was carried on Syrian state media, Assad vowed that Aleppo and other Syrian cities and towns will defeat "the aggression" the way the Soviet Red Army defeated Nazi forces in Stalingrad.

"Aleppo today, as well as all Syrian cities embrace the heroic Stalingrad and pledge that despite the viciousness of the aggression ... our cities, villages, people and army will not accept anything less than defeating the aggression," Assad said.

It was unclear why Assad was making the comparison, but the rhetoric could be playing to Russian patriotic sentiment ahead of Victory Day next week — May 9 marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Also Thursday, Russian media reported that renowned conductor Valery Gergiev will be leading a concert in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra to support the restoration of the UNESCO heritage site and in honor of the victims of Syria's war.

Gergiev offered his support to Palmyra, badly damaged by IS extremists who held the town for 10 months before Syrian troops captured it under the cover of Russian airstrikes in March, Russia Today said. The St. Petersburg theater announced the concert, dubbed "With a Prayer for Palmyra," would start 1400 GMT on Thursday.

Elsewhere, a salvo of rockets struck southern Turkey from Syrian territory, wounding four people, Turkey's state-run agency said. The Anadolu Agency said three rockets hit the Turkish town of Kilis early Thursday.

The rockets were fired from IS-controlled territory in Syria, according to the private Dogan News agency. It said one policeman was among the wounded. The agency carried photographs of damaged buildings and vehicles.

Such incidents have become a regular occurrence in the border town, which is home to a significant Syrian refugee population. Cross-border fire has left 20 people dead and dozens of others wounded this year.

The Turkish military typically fires back in line with its rules of engagement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned IS on Wednesday that no attack on Turkey would go unanswered.


Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Dominique Soguel contributed to this report from Istanbul.

Murray beats Simon to reach Madrid Open quarterfinals Thu, 5 May 2016 06:21:16 -0400 MADRID (AP) — Andy Murray put on another impressive performance on clay Thursday, defeating Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the Madid Open.

The second-seeded Murray broke Simon's serve in the final game of the first set and twice in the second to stay on track to defend his title.

"I didn't return that well at the beginning," Murray said. "But when I got into a rhythm, I was able to dictate a lot of points. I used my variety well and served well. He wasn't able to put me under much pressure on my serve after the first couple of games."

In the women's tournament, 19-year-old qualifier Louisa Chirico defeated Daria Gavrilova of Australia 7-6 (1), 6-2 to reach the semifinals.

The 130th-ranked Chirico became the first American teenager to reach the semifinals of a top clay-court event since Ashley Harkleroad in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2003.

Chirico beat 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic in the second round, and took advantage of the late withdrawal of Victoria Azarenka in the third round. She will next face either 38th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia or wild-card entry Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

Murray's match against Simon was a rematch of the 2008 final in Madrid, when the British player won his first title at the tournament.

The match at the "Magic Box" was interrupted for a few minutes late in the second set after a spectator fell ill and had to be attended to by paramedics. The match was allowed to resume while doctors stayed on the stands.

Murray's win in Madrid last year was his first at a Masters tournament on clay. This year, he reached the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in three sets.

He will next face either Joao Sousa of Portugal or Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

The 16th-seeded Simon was trying to reach the quarterfinals of a tournament for the third time this season. He had already done so in Miami and Portugal, failing to advance both times.

"It's obviously very tricky against Simon," Murray said. "He lulls you into a false sense of security in points. Sometimes the better you hit the ball, the better it comes back. It's tough to get the balance between being aggressive and being patient."


Tales Azzoni on Twitter:

AP Top U.S. News at 9:17 a.m. EDT Thu, 5 May 2016 06:20:09 -0400 Doctor called to help Prince is a longtime pain specialistPainful options for some Brooklyn subway riders amid repairsEx-Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, ousted in tea party wave, has diedClock starts for voters to reject new California tobacco ageFlorida Supreme Court considers overturning death sentencesPot legalization backers kick off California campaignKansas City streetcars making comeback after 6-decade hiatus]]> Cruz's long White House run could mean newfound GOP clout Thu, 5 May 2016 06:40:37 -0400 AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In finishing the Republican presidential race well ahead of Donald Trump's other rivals, Ted Cruz is likely to be a leading GOP voice for the foreseeable future.

Less clear is whether Cruz harnesses that clout to boost Trump's White House bid — after all the bad blood between them — or simply solidifies his place as a champion of conservative causes, Senate troublemaker and star of Texas politics.

"There's no question" Cruz remains No. 1 in Texas despite falling to Trump nationally, says political consultant Matt Mackowiak, who's based in the state.

"There's no bigger draw, there's no one whose endorsement means more, there's no one who has a larger organization," Mackowiak said. "To me right now, he is the Texas leader, and the national leader, of the conservative movement. That wasn't the case when the race started."

In the Senate, Cruz infuriated leaders in both parties instead of working cooperatively on legislation and other issues. He incited House conservatives, who helped take down John Boehner as House speaker, and he can be expected to resume those allegiances, and his show-horse ways, in using the Senate as a platform for a possible 2020 presidential bid.

"Clearly, he didn't come here to remain in the Senate," John Cornyn, Texas' senior senator and Senate majority whip, recently told a Dallas TV station. "He came here to run for president."

During his White House campaign, Cruz reveled in, rather than toned down, his bomb-throwing mentality, an approach that left many Republican colleagues disdainful of him when he was the last viable alternative to Trump.

As a mostly powerless first-term senator, though, Cruz used his short time in Washington before running for president to frame contentious national issues in ways that boosted his political career. His all-night quasi-filibuster failed to stop President Barack Obama's health care law but caused a national stir. The 2013 government shutdown he helped force didn't advance GOP goals but made Cruz a hero in conservative grassroots circles.

Brendan Steinhauser, a former tea party organizer who later managed Cornyn's 2014 re-election campaign, said Cruz can succeed with more of the same: "I think he has to continue to fight and be who he is."

"There's obviously a lot more people paying attention to him as a senator," Steinhauser said. "I think he's got some political capital. It's how you decide to spend it."

Meantime Cruz's place atop the political heap in the largest conservative state is secure. Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick enthusiastically endorsed his presidential bid.

Cruz isn't expected to face a serious Republican primary challenge when he's up for Senate re-election in 2018. The primary race is probably the only one that will matter because a Democrat hasn't won statewide office in Texas in 21 years.

Patrick served as the Cruz campaign's Texas chairman and suggested that if Trump wins the presidency, he should tap Cruz to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

"It is my hope that after a few weeks, Trump and Cruz meet," Patrick wrote on Facebook. "The race between the two had been very heated but I hope they can mend fences sooner than later."

An immediate endorsement from Cruz seems unlikely. Cruz didn't mention the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee during his concession speech Tuesday, which came hours after Cruz unloaded on Trump, calling him "utterly amoral," a "pathological liar" and a "serial philanderer."

Cruz's relationship with Trump worsened during the presidential campaign. After calling him "terrific" and avoiding conflict as some of the other GOP White House contenders criticized the front-runner and saw their popularity plummet, Cruz finally went after the billionaire in January. But Cruz saved his harshest and most personal words for the morning of what turned out to be his last day as a candidate.

Cruz could have continued campaigning through the end of the Republican primary season, but weeks of facing more harsh criticism from Trump might have tarnished him before a possible second presidential bid — especially if Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November.

Not endorsing Trump could prove wise should the New Yorker lose the general election handily. Cruz supporter Shak Hill, who ran for U.S. Senate in Virginia in 2014, said he'd rather not hear Cruz mention Trump again.

"For Senator Cruz, and other like-minded conservatives like me, a short-term endorsement would violate a longtime principle and fight," Hill said. He said Cruz should not speak in opposition to Trump "but I would absolutely not endorse. Principles matter."


Bauer reported from Indianapolis.

Man sues Connecticut police, city for mistaken arrests Thu, 5 May 2016 06:11:31 -0400 BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut man is suing the city of Bridgeport and its police department after he was arrested three times and was detained in a repeated case of mistaken identity.

The Connecticut Post reports ( ) Pedro Martinez filed the suit Tuesday in Bridgeport federal court following numerous run-ins with police officers who mistook him for another Pedro Martinez wanted in Texas.

The lawsuit states that after Martinez's third arrest in August 2015, Bridgeport officers refused to compare his fingerprints with the Martinez from Texas and kept him in custody. Martinez was arraigned on criminal charges, but was later released by a Superior Court judge because his fingerprints didn't match the wanted man.

Attorney Robert Berke says the illegal detainment violated his client's civil rights.

Bridgeport officials declined to comment.


Information from: Connecticut Post,

'Romeo and Juliet' takes on local twist in Gaza performance Thu, 5 May 2016 06:11:10 -0400 GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" has opened to audiences in the Gaza Strip, albeit with a distinctly Palestinian twist.

Instead of the forbidden love story of Renaissance-era European aristocracy, the star-crossed young couple in Gaza's version of the play is divided by politics stemming from the deep internal Palestinian split between two rival movements.

Yousef, a son of a member of Gaza's ruling Islamic militant group Hamas, falls in love with Suha, the daughter of a fanatical member of the rival Fatah party, rather than Shakespeare's feuding Montagues and Capulets.

Dubbed "Romeo and Juliet in Gaza," the performance has brought a rare taste of foreign culture to this conservative and isolated territory. But it is even more noteworthy for its critical look at the political rift that has crippled life in Gaza for nearly a decade.

"It's a call for love; to give a space for love and for youths to dream of a beautiful future away from the current state in Gaza, especially the youths and their suffering," said director Ali Abu Yassin.

In 2007, Hamas routed forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and ousted his Fatah party in a week of deadly street battles. Since then, Abbas' rule has been confined to the West Bank, while Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza. The measures, which Israel says are needed to prevent Hamas from importing arms, have brought Gaza's economy to a near standstill.

Attempts by Hamas and Fatah to reconcile, meanwhile, have repeatedly faltered. The rift is so deep that today some families may reject a marriage proposal based on the political affiliation of the suitor.

The "great resemblance" between the feuding families in Shakespeare's original tragedy and "the reality of Gaza" inspired Abu Yassin and Atef Abu Saif, a renowned novelist, to come up with play, Abu Yassin said.

The play was performed eight times last month — just as the Hamas-controlled police prevented academics and national figures from holding a conference calling for unity with Fatah.

On a recent evening at Al-Mis'hal Cultural Center in Gaza City, the audience laughed and clapped — and on occasion, even got up on its feet in appreciation of the 70-minute performance on the theater's modest stage.

After the Palestinian national anthem was played, the black curtains opened to a scene of a cafe shop in a refugee camp neighborhood where youths were talking and playing cards.

To the 350 spectators, it was an accurate depiction of Gaza's reality: in a territory where unemployment is over 40 percent, cafes are often crowded with idle young men who have little else to do.

The same cafes are also packed with Fatah members, who continue to collect salaries from the West Bank government under the condition that they not work in Hamas' administration.

In the play, as Suha's father, a local doctor, enters the cafe, it is clear from his shaven face that he is from Fatah.

Yousef's father Awni, a bearded merchant representing Hamas, also frequents the cafe, where he quarrels with the Fatah doctor. At times they scuffle, prompting the cafe owner to kick them out.

"Don't reconcile! Keep cursing at each other" the owner yells at them.

"We will leave this land to you and go," he adds, drawing a burst of applause from the audience.

Then, laughter erupted when the doctor asked the cafe owner if he was following the reconciliation news between Hamas and Fatah. The two parties have held dozens of negotiation rounds and announced several agreements, but none has been implemented.

Abu Yassin, the 54-year-old director, said the warm reception reflects public discontent with the situation.

"They feel the play represents them, expresses what they can't express. They live with the story because it's exactly like them," said Abu Yassin.

Knowing the consequences, the old cafe owner advises Yousef to change his mind and not to fall in love with Suha because their families won't accept each other.

However, in the Gaza take on Shakespeare's famous story, the ending is different.

Yousef, like hundreds of young Gaza men, flees to board an illegal migrant boat promising a better life in Europe, as Suha screams for him to return. His fate is never revealed, a reminder of dozens of Gazans who disappeared when a migrant boat sank in 2014.

The European families in the original tragedy reconciled after the death of the star-crossed lovers, but in the Gaza version, they remain enemies.

Mohammed Zoghbor, a doctor who watched the play, says the ending reflects the lack of hope in the bitterly divided Palestinian society.

"The home remains divided, the families remain divided, the youths are divided and talks take place for the sake of talks without results," he said.

Abu Yassin said it is a coincidence that the play is being performed around the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. He said the play would be performed again soon as part of a series of activities organized by the British Council, a U.K.-backed cultural organization, to mark the anniversary.

Abu Yassin has directed dozens of plays and other arts in Gaza, which lacks a national theater, but "Romeo and Juliet in Gaza" was the most important and most successful, he says.

"What makes Shakespeare's work distinguished is that it fits all the times and all the places. It's universal," he said. "The theater here of course is not like the theater Shakespeare used to perform in, but it's still important to try to keep it operating."

10 Things to Know for Today Thu, 5 May 2016 06:10:34 -0400 Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:


Two months after the liberation of Ramadi, the AP learns that the city remains too devastated and full of explosive booby traps for former residents to return.


Foreign experts say Kim Jong Un will likely use the meeting to push his expansion of a nuclear arsenal that already worries his neighbors and Washington.


To do so, he would, if elected, have to undo regulations and reverse the power market's embrace of cheap natural gas.


Rescuers are creating room to release the woman, who has been given oxygen and is speaking to medics waiting to treat her.


The nation's financial regulator proposes a ban on clauses found in almost every credit card agreement, mortgage, bank account and other financial product.


Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box.


The documentary takes an extraordinary inside look at the group, which was dismantled in the final stages of planning an attack.


Many Democrats are finding less to like about the president's health care law, unsure about its place among their party's achievements.


The stars of the latest online TV sensation in the country are stray cats, eating food left out for them as viewers sit enraptured by their feline charms.


The Cavaliers pour in 25 3s — the most in any game, regular or postseason — in a runaway win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of their playoff series.

AP Top Entertainment News at 9:07 a.m. EDT Thu, 5 May 2016 06:11:12 -0400 Story about affair takes Fox News correspondent off airDisney CEO meets Chinese president ahead of park openingWorld Video Game Hall of Fame prepares to induct 2016 classActor Danny Glover to get award at Adirondack historic siteAttorney: Prince arranged to meet addiction doctor]]> Rapper French Montana signs with Bad Boy and Epic Records Thu, 5 May 2016 06:11:13 -0400 ATLANTA (AP) — Rapper French Montana has signed with Bad Boy Entertainment and Epic Records, the music companies told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The move means the rapper has left Interscope Records, but will remain under Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' Bad Boy imprint.

Combs is the founder of Bad Boy Entertainment and L.A. Reid is chairman and CEO of Epic Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. Last year, both companies signed a deal to partner with each other so Epic could provide Bad Boy music artists with promotion, marketing, sales and distribution.

While Montana debuts his new venture with Bad Boy and Epic, he'll be doing the same with his new video, "Figure It Out," featuring Kanye West and Nas.

Myanmar anti-Muslim activist arrested for post about Suu Kyi Thu, 5 May 2016 06:01:14 -0400 YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A prominent anti-Muslim activist has been arrested for posting a provocative statement on Facebook about Myanmar's army commander and the country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a Buddhist nationalist group and a human rights lawyer said Thursday.

Nay Myo Wai, chairman of Yangon based Peace and Diversity Party, was arrested Wednesday after a complaint was filed against him for a Facebook posting falsely claiming that army commander Min Aung Hliang had not seized power because he wanted to marry Suu Kyi.

He could face up to three years in jail and a fine if convicted of using a telecommunications network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate. The suit was filed by Wai Yan Aung, an executive member of the Burma Teachers' Federation.

Suu Kyi's government, which took power at the end of March, has been cautious in dealing with the widespread anti-Muslim sentiment, which has been spearheaded by nationalist Buddhist monks. The issue became a major problem when violence broke out in 2013 in the western state of Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Nationalists assert that the Rohingya do not represent a legitimate domestic minority, but are rather illegal immigrants who should be called Bengalis.

The previous military-backed government did virtually nothing to curb the sometimes violent sentiment against the Rohingya and other Muslims.

Nay Myo Wai has had a high profile in several demonstrations held with Buddhist monks, including one last week protesting the U.S. Embassy's use of the term "Rohingya." He has made public presentations of atrocity photos trying to link Muslims with terrorists, and last year issued death threats to Myanmar journalists who reported about an anti-U.N. rally in Yangon.

Win Ko Ko Lat, chairman of the Myanmar National Network, a Buddhist organization, said he believed the arrest of Nay Myo Wai was unfair because it was not confirmed that the Facebook account was controlled by him and he was not the sort of person to insult others.

"We will try to get him out," he said.

Human rights lawyer Robert San Aung, who represented many clients who faced political charges under the previous military-backed government, supported the arrest.

"This is right to arrest this man because he is causing problems for the whole country. He creates religious and social conflicts among people," he said. "It's already late to arrest him, he should have been arrested earlier."

Merck beats 1Q profit views with tight cost controls Thu, 5 May 2016 06:00:11 -0400 Merck posted an 18 percent jump in first-quarter income, beating Wall Street expectations, as reduced spending on marketing, administration and research easily offset lower sales of its medicines outside the U.S.

The second-biggest U.S. drugmaker on Thursday nudged up its 2016 financial forecasts and its shares edged up in premarket trading.

Merck reported first-quarter earnings of $1.13 billion, or 40 cents per share, up from $953 million, or 33 cents per share, in 2015's first quarter.

The Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said adjusted earnings, excluding asset write-downs and restructuring costs, amounted to 89 cents per share, four cents more than analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research had expected.

The maker of Type 2 diabetes pill Januvia and cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin is launching a new cycle of medicines as revenue from some older drugs declines, hurt by brand-name or generic competition.

Merck posted revenue of $9.31 billion in the quarter, just missing Street forecasts for $9.49 billion. While U.S. sales climbed 7 percent to $4.22 billion, sales oversees fell 7 percent to $5.09 billion.

Merck said revenue was reduced by 4 percent by the strong dollar, which reduces the value of medicines bought in local currencies. That's a smaller hit than seen in recent quarters.

Merck raised its 2016 profit forecast slightly to a range of $3.65 to $3.77 per share, up from its February forecast of $3.60 to $3.75 per share. It expects revenue of $39 billion to $40.2 billion, up from its prior forecast of $38.7 billion to $40.2 billion.

"The Global Human Health business performed well in the first quarter. The Januvia franchise demonstrated strong growth, and we remain pleased with the ongoing launch of Keytruda in markets around the world," Adam Schechter, the division's president, said in a statement. "Additionally, we are already seeing positive signs in the launch of Zepatier in the United States."

Sales of prescription medicines dipped 2 percent, to $8.1billion. Januvia and combo pill Janumet posted combined sales of $1.41 billion, while sales of Keytruda, one of the hot new cancer drugs that work by stimulating the immune system to better fight cancer cells, nearly tripled to $249 million. Zepatier, approved at the end of January for treating hepatitis C, posted initial sales of $50 million.

Merck noted a generic version of allergy spray Nasonex hit U.S. drug stores in March, and antibitoic Cubicin will get U.S. generic competition in June. Cheaper copycat versions of those drugs will begin cutting into sales of both, and some of its biggest sellers are approaching the end of their patent protection.

"Business development is a top priority, and we are actively pursuing the best external science through licensing or (small and mid-sized) acquisitions to bolster our pipeline and grow our company," CEO Kenneth Frazier said in a statement.

Sales of veterinary medicines, such as chewable Bravecto tablets for killing fleas and ticks on drugs, were flat at $829 million.

In premarket trading, Merck shares edged up 14 cents to $54.95.

Its shares have increased nearly 4 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has stayed nearly flat.


Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights ( using data from Zacks Investment Research.


Follow Linda A. Johnson @LindaJ_onPharma.

Repole in Derby chase with Outwork, son of top sire Uncle Mo Thu, 5 May 2016 06:00:37 -0400 LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Five years ago, Mike Repole was living the dream. He had already made his share of an estimated $4.1 billion fortune from the sale of the company that produced Vitaminwater, and now he had himself a Kentucky Derby favorite with a horse named Uncle Mo.

Repole would regale any and all about growing up in Queens, New York, near Aqueduct, heading the track after school, making bets and loving horses.

But Uncle Mo never made it to the Derby. A day before, he was withdrawn from the race because of what turned out to be a life-threatening liver ailment. The lightning-fast colt recovered, ran again and won, but was never the same. He was retired later in the year. Repole called Uncle Mo the best horse he'll ever own.

And he wasn't even talking about Uncle Mo's life after racing. As a stallion, at stud in the breeding shed. With just his first crop of 3-year-olds, Uncle Mo already is a leading sire in North America — "red hot," according to Coolmore Ashford Stud, where Uncle Mo is performing with mind-boggling success.

He's the proud sire of three of the 20 3-year-olds running in Saturday's Derby — from morning-line favorite Nyquist to long shot Mo Tom to a horse Repole owns, Wood Memorial winner Outwork. Tapit, a leading sire the past several years, also has three offspring in the Derby, but for a young sire like Uncle Mo to be so productive so early is rare.

"I always knew Mo was a once-in-a-lifetime horse," said Repole, who has made several visits to Ashford Stud, including Wednesday before the Derby draw in Louisville. "What I didn't expect five years ago was he would give me offspring that were brilliant also. I never thought Uncle Mo would be a better sire than he was a racehorse, but he's going to be."

While Outwork already has accomplished something Uncle Mo didn't — winning the Wood — it's Nyquist who's been this year's sensation for owner J. Paul Reddam. Like Uncle Mo, Nyquist won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was voted 2-year-old champion. Entering the Derby he's 7-for-7; Outwork is 3-for-4 and Mo Tom won the Lecomte and ran second in the Louisiana Derby.

"Uncle Mo's oldest crop are only 3-year-olds, but his success so far is unlike anything we have seen for a long time," Ashford's manager Dermot Ryan said. "It's fair to say that Uncle Mo is the hottest young sire in the country and as such he is extremely popular."

And valuable. His stud fee is up to $75,000, he's booked for the rest of the season and "the way he's going that will likely have a big increase next season," Ryan said.

Some of Uncle Mo's success: 20 of his 3-year-olds were nominated to the Triple Crown races (the most by any sire) and sales of Uncle Mo's are soaring — a pair of 2-year-olds recently went for more than $1 million each, and Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert picked out a yearling for $700,000. Repole is buying them up, too. He owns more than a dozen.

Through April 26, Uncle Mo's progeny totals 585 foals, including 323 of racing age with earnings of more than $8.5 million, according to Already, he's having a huge influence on his offspring as a big bay, durable, fast and smart.

"They have size and scope, and they look like him, too. His dominant genes are coming through," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Outwork and trained Uncle Mo. "What's great about him is he can put speed into a big horse. They old-timers will tell you that a really good sire will stamp his offspring. He is doing that."

Doug O'Neill sure is a believer. He trains Nyquist, who has won all seven of his races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile — like Uncle Mo did — and the Florida Derby. His brother, Dennis, picked out Nyquist at a price of $400,000.

"He just really loved the way he moved," O'Neill said. "And he picks out athletes first, the pedigree is secondary. But once he fell in love with him as an individual, the Uncle Mo was just a huge added bonus because of how good he was."

Now, O'Neill feels fortunate his brother was at the right place at the right time.

"The other Uncle Mo's were really looking good in the sales, too, even though none of them had run yet, but there was definitely a buzz about Uncle Mo. Fortunately, we jumped ahead of the hot Uncle Mo train."

Today, Uncle Mo hangs out with former stablemate Stay Thirsty at Ashford, and heads to the breeding shed in the early afternoons.

"He's a big, strong horse and is all stallion," Ashford stallion manager Richard Barry said. "He's a pleasure to be around and seems to excel at everything he does."

Repole's visit on Wednesday went well.

"Spending time with him brings back so many amazing memories," he said. "You're supposed to love your children the same, but Mo will always be my favorite."

For Repole, winning the Wood with Outwork was a great moment he shared with family and friends: "To come back five years later, a New York guy, and winning it? Probably the most special moment I've had in my racing career," he said.

Outwork will be Repole's third Derby horse. Stay Thirsty ran the year Uncle Mo was scratched and finished 12th. Overanalyze ran 11th in the 2013 Derby.

Just days away from the race, Repole will be one nervous owner.

"The anxiety before the race is not fun," he said. "The exhilaration after (winning) the race is fun. And to have a horse that's a son of Uncle Mo in it ... You can't ask for more."


Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at:

Bail hearing for man charged with Jewish center bomb plot Thu, 5 May 2016 05:50:09 -0400 MIAMI (AP) — A bail hearing is set for a man charged with plotting to bomb a Jewish synagogue and school in South Florida.

Federal prosecutors say they oppose bail for 40-year-old James Medina of Hollywood, calling him a flight risk and danger to the community. The hearing is Thursday in Miami federal court.

Medina faces life in prison if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The FBI says Medina plotted with an undercover informant to obtain an explosive device to use at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center during recent Passover observances.

Medina was arrested after the informant gave him a fake bomb.

FBI recordings show Medina allegedly supported the Islamic State group and claimed an obligation to attack Jews in the U.S.

Spain: Town that changed anti-Semitic name suffers vandalism Thu, 5 May 2016 05:50:10 -0400 MADRID (AP) — An ancient Spanish town that voted to change its anti-Semitic name has come under attack from extremist groups who have daubed signposts and buildings with offensive right-wing symbols and messages protesting the switch.

Castrillo Mota de Judios ("Jews' Hill Camp") Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez Perez said Thursday that the town filed a complaint with police after the latest weekend attack.

The north-central village of some 50 inhabitants held a referendum in 2014 to change its name from Castrillo Matajudios ("Camp Kill Jews") to its current form. Rodriguez said that there have been six vandalism incidents since then as well as protests whenever Jewish or Israeli representatives visited.

He said the graffiti and vandalism by people who don't live in the town would not change the town's push to honor its Jewish origins.

"They do it so that the town won't continue with the process of the name change and recognizing the town's Jewish past," said Rodriguez. "They want to intimidate us but they won't."

Town hall officials plan to visit Israel in July for a twinning ceremony with the village of Kfar Vradim.

In the latest attack, the old town name was sprayed onto new road signs and as well as the extremist symbol of a circle with a cross. Rodriguez said that previously the town hall had been pasted with flyers.

Documents show the town's original name was "Jews' Hill Camp" and that the "Kill Jews" name dates from 1627, after a 1492 Spanish edict ordering Jews to convert to Catholicism or flee the country. Those who remained faced the Spanish Inquisition, with many burned at the stake.

Researchers believe the village got its previous name from Jewish residents who converted to Catholicism and wanted to convince Spanish authorities of their loyalty. Others suspect the change may have come from a slip of the pen.

No Jews live in the village now but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shield includes the Star of David.

Consumer watchdog proposes ban on some arbitration clauses Thu, 5 May 2016 06:00:16 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — If government regulators get their way, it's going to become a lot easier to sue your bank.

By and large, U.S. bank customers have signed away their right to sue their bank in court, often without being aware of it. Buried in the fine print of credit card agreements, mortgages, insurance policies are what are known as binding, or mandatory, arbitration clauses. It means customers are generally required to take any disputes with a bank to a third-party mediator instead of going to court.

The nation's top consumer financial regulator wants to put a stop to that. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is announcing a proposal Thursday to ban arbitration clauses, which would affect the entire financial industry and the hundreds of millions of bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages that Americans use.

The CFPB's proposal does have a significant limitation. The ban would only apply when consumers want to create or join a class-action lawsuit. Financial companies will still be able to force individuals to settle disputes through arbitration; however cases where a lone customer wants to sue his or her bank are far less common.

"Many banks and financial companies avoid accountability by putting arbitration clauses in their contracts that block groups of their customers from suing them ... (and) effectively denies groups of consumers the right to seek justice and relief for wrongdoing," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in prepared remarks.

Under current rules, if a customer has a complaint over disputed charges or a particular practice a bank uses, they're required to go through a binding arbitration process. Consumer advocates say these arbitrators are often biased and routinely rule against consumers. If a customer loses an arbitration ruling, oftentimes it cannot be appealed.

The financial industry has argued that arbitration is more efficient way for customers to resolve disputes with banks. And for the most part, they are correct, and many disputes are resolved outside of the formal arbitration process.

A study commissioned by the CFPB in March 2015 showed customers rarely used the courts to sue their bank for a small claim. However, when large numbers of customers were negatively impacted by the same issue, the same study showed arbitration clauses hinder the ability for customers to seek relief.

Critics of the CFPB's ban say the proposal will only benefit class-action lawyers and lead to gigantic paydays.

"The CFPB is proposing to give the biggest gift to plaintiffs' lawyers in a half century," said Lisa Rickard and David Hirschmann of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a prepared statement.

Congress directed the CFPB to study the issue of mandatory arbitration under the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law. The CFPB announced an outline of its proposal in October, but had not laid out the exact details of what it planned to do.

Once the rules are published, the public will have the usual 90-day period to comment on the CFPB's proposal.

Alberta fire evacuees moved a 2nd time as weather shifts Thu, 5 May 2016 05:40:11 -0400 FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — A massive, raging wild fire moved south and forced three more communities south of Canada's main oil sands city to evacuate on Thursday.

Officials with the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo had been notified of changing weather patterns and weren't taking chances, ordering the evacuation of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation. The fire has already forced the evacuation of more 80,000 people and torched 1,600 homes and other buildings in Fort McMurray. The province of Alberta declared a state of emergency.

In the early hours Thursday, weary evacuees from Fort McMurray were sitting on buses headed for Edmonton after being forced out of their temporary shelter in nearby Anzac.

They had arrived there late Tuesday after being evacuated from their homes in Fort McMurray. By Wednesday morning, the Anzac recreational center was a bustling hub filled with people, tables of food and rows of cots. By that evening, it was eerily silent and empty.

There was some good news — Fort McMurray's water treatment plant was saved, and Scott Long of Alberta Emergency said the downtown core was being held "through some Herculean efforts" of firefighters. There was still no indication of injury or death from the fires.

But the images were largely ones of devastation — scorched trucks, charred homes and telephone poles, burned out from the bottom up, hanging in the wires like little wooden crosses

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley flew up to survey the situation first-hand, and tweeted "heartbreaking" pictures of the fire from above. As high as her helicopter was, she said the plumes of smoke reached even higher.

"So far, I'd have to say people have been amazing," she said in the evening, after a visit with evacuees at a giant Edmonton sports arena. "They've been incredibly patient. They've followed what they've been asked to do. They're focusing on taking care of each other, their families, their neighbors."

Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness in the heart of Canada's oil sands — the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

About 10,000 evacuees moved north, where oil sands work camps were being pressed into service to house people. But the bulk of the evacuees fled south to Edmonton and elsewhere, and officials said they eventually would like to move everyone south.

Shell said it has shut down production at its Shell Albian Sands mining operations— about 60 miles north of the city — so it can focus on getting families out of the region. Suncor, the largest oil sands operator, said it is reducing production at its regional facility - about 15 miles north of the city. Many other companies evacuated nonessential staff.


Associated Press reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.