AP News in Brief 03-12-18

2 killed, 3 critically injured in NYC helicopter crash

NEW YORK — A helicopter crashed into New York City’s East River Sunday night and flipped upside down in the water, killing two of the six people aboard and leaving three others in critical condition, officials said.

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Video taken by a bystander and posted on Twitter shows the red helicopter land hard in the water and then capsize, its rotors slapping at the water.

The helicopter, a private charter hired for a photo shoot, went down near Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence. One person, the pilot, freed himself and was rescued by a tugboat, officials said.

The passengers were recovered by police and fire department divers, who had to remove them from tight harnesses while they were upside down, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

“It took awhile for the drivers to get these people out. They worked very quickly as fast as they could,” Nigro said. “It was a great tragedy that we had here.”

Trump backs off call for raising minimum age to buy gun

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check system as part of a new plan to prevent school shootings.

But in a move sure to please the gun lobby, the plan does not include a push to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, which President Donald Trump had repeatedly championed.

Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue, as well as a long list of others topics, as part of a longer-term look at school safety and violence.

The plan forgoes an endorsement of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, which the president, at times, seemed to embrace.

In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump’s call for action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead.

Critics of peace deal dominate Colombia election

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s fragile peace deal looked increasingly under threat Sunday as right-wing parties critical of the accord performed well in congressional elections seen as a dry run for a hotly contested presidential ballot in May, while the current president’s party slumped.

The vote was the first time former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were competing after disarming as part of the 2016 peace deal for ending a half century of guerrilla war.

As expected, support for their radical agenda was soundly defeated, with FARC candidates getting less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. That means their political party, also called FARC, will get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord.

“The FARC are in a tough spot,” said Leon Valencia, a former combatant who now runs the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a think tank. “A long war has generated lots of fear and rancor towards them.”

By contrast, many of the accord’s critics picked up seats, with the Democratic Center party led by former President Alvaro Uribe headed to being the biggest bloc in the Senate.

Administration’s words, deeds on Africa are colliding

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK, Kenya — On the outskirts of a sprawling reserve of Kenyan grasslands where endangered animals roam wild, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lavished praise on an American-funded forensics lab that tracks down elephant-poachers for prosecution, and urged aggressive action in Africa on conservation.

Yet earlier this month, the Trump administration quietly lifted the U.S. ban on importing African elephant trophies, to the dismay of environmental groups who said it sends precisely the wrong message.

U.S. words and deeds are colliding as Tillerson travels across Africa. On trade policy, HIV/AIDS and humanitarian aid, the United States at times seems at odds with itself, muddying efforts to show it wants the continent to flourish and is here to help.

In the case of the elephants, conservationists appeared to have a powerful ally in President Donald Trump, who intervened personally last year to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from lifting the Obama-era ban on tusks imported from Zambia and Zimbabwe. Trump took to Twitter to call the practice a “horror show.”

At the forensics lab at Nairobi National Park, the only such lab in east and central Africa, Tillerson agreed Sunday when famed conservationist Richard Leakey warned that the “huge interest” in wildlife products such as elephant and rhinoceros parts was fueling the international trafficking trade.

Democrat seeks coal-country help in Pa. House election

WAYNESBURG, Pa. — Democrat Conor Lamb went to Pennsylvania’s coal country for help in the final days before the first congressional election of 2018, telling union members Sunday that he won’t forget their support in a close race widely viewed as a key test of support for Republicans ahead of November’s midterms.

Lamb’s race against Republican Rick Saccone has crystallized the debate over whether a younger, charismatic Democrat appealing to win back traditionally Democratic voters can overcome a veteran Republican counting on party loyalty to carry him to victory in a GOP-leaning district at a time when President Donald Trump is pushing hard for the Republican, but remains a divisive figure.

Lamb, wearing muddy work boots, jeans and a green fleece top, told those inside a packed cinderblock building on the fairgrounds that keeping promises to fully fund labor union pensions, Medicare and Social Security is “non-negotiable.” He attacked Republicans as forgetting what it means to honor a promise.

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“People have paid into these programs over the course of a lifetime,” Lamb told more than 300 retired coal miners and Democratic activists in Waynesburg, 40 miles south of Pittsburgh. “I do not believe, as (House Speaker) Paul Ryan does, that these are entitlements or another form of welfare.”

Trump has visited the district twice — including a rally Saturday night — in an effort to buoy Republican Saccone in a southwestern Pennsylvania district Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Republican groups have heavily outspent Democratic groups on the race, a sign of the GOP’s fear of losing.