AP News in Brief 03-02-19

Final assault on last IS-held pocket in Syria resumes

OUTSIDE BAGHOUZ, Syria — U.S.-backed Syrian forces on Friday resumed military operations to liberate the last piece of territory held by the Islamic state group in Syria after evacuating thousands of civilians and hostages who have been besieged inside, a spokesman said.

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Mustafa Bali said fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have begun clashing with the militants and advancing after the last batch of civilians left the territory.

“Those left inside are fighters who do not wish to surrender,” he told The Associated Press.

The military campaign to uproot the militants from the eastern banks of the Euphrates River began in September, pushing them down toward this last corner in the village of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border. The military operation was halted on February 12 as the SDF said a large of civilians and hostages were holed up in the territory, which sits atop caves and tunnels where they had been hiding.

Eyeing 2020, White House steps up ‘socialism’ attack on Dems

WASHINGTON — As the White House gears up for the 2020 campaign, it’s pressing the case that Democrats are rallying behind what it’s calling the policies of “socialism.”

Trying to portray Democrats as out of step with ordinary Americans, Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the choice in the next election is “between freedom and socialism, between personal responsibility and government dependence.”

It was the latest step in a coordinated effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to drive up enthusiasm among the GOP base by sowing fears about the policies pushed by Democrats.

“The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment America ceases to be America,” Pence told the crowd of conservative activists.

Pakistan frees captured Indian pilot in ‘gesture of peace’

WAGAH, Pakistan — Pakistan handed over a captured Indian air force pilot to Indian officials at a border crossing on Friday, a “gesture of peace” by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan aimed at defusing a dramatic escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, walked across the border near the Pakistani town of Wagah after being taken in a convoy earlier in the day from the eastern city of Lahore, escorted by military vehicles and soldiers, their weapons drawn.

The freed pilot was scheduled to undergo a detailed medical exam before boarding a flight from Amritsar, near the India-Pakistan border, to New Delhi for a debriefing with top air force officials about his captivity.

From wire sources

“The nation is proud of your exemplary courage,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

The Pakistani military has said it shot down Varthaman’s MiG-21 fighter jet on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday and that the pilot safely ejected.

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2 day care workers charged after video shows child thrown

ST. LOUIS — Charges have been filed against two Missouri day care center workers after surveillance video showing a 3-year-old girl being thrown against a cabinet went viral.

The woman accused of throwing the girl, 27-year-old Wilma Brown, was charged with felony child abuse on Thursday in St. Louis County. Relatives said the girl sustained a head gash that required seven stitches during the incident on Feb. 1 at Brighter Day Care and Preschool.

The girl’s family said they were initially told the girl fell, but five days later watched surveillance video with the center’s director that showed a worker throwing the child into a cabinet.

A warrant has been issued for Brown’s arrest. Brown doesn’t have a publicly listed telephone number and couldn’t be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

Prosecutors also charged 22-year-old Ariana Silver for a separate incident on Feb. 27 that was also allegedly captured by surveillance video. Charging documents allege Silver squeezed a 4-year-old girl’s arm and punctured her skin, and then carried the girl by her foot.

Chaos erupts, 2 arrested during Texas execution

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Chaos erupted outside Texas’ death chamber when the son of the condemned inmate pounded on the chamber windows, shouted obscenities and threw fists after his father spoke his final words.

Billie Wayne Coble, a Vietnam War veteran who killed his estranged wife’s parents and brother and threatened to do the same to her in 1989, told five witnesses that he selected to attend his Thursday night execution that he loved them. Coble then nodded as they watched from a witness room, saying: “Take care.”

When he finished speaking, his son, grandson and daughter-in-law became emotional, and the men swung and kicked at others in the death chamber witness area. Officers stepped in but said the men continued to resist and were eventually moved to a courtyard, where both were handcuffed and arrested.

“Why are you doing this?” the woman asked. “They just killed his daddy.”

As the men were being subdued outside, a single dose of pentobarbital was injected into Coble. He gasped several times and began snoring as the lethal dose of drug was being administered inside the death chamber at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

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It’s Bernie 2.0: More professional, more personal this time

NEW YORK — A young civil rights activist named Bernard Sanders was arrested and dragged off to jail for protesting school segregation on the South Side of Chicago in the summer of 1963.

Most voters didn’t learn about that episode until photos surfaced in late February 2016, almost 10 months into the Vermont senator’s first presidential campaign. Sanders had been struggling to win over African-American voters, but his topsy-turvy campaign team didn’t know such powerful evidence of his civil rights bona fides existed until five days before South Carolina’s primary.

Sanders lost the Southern contest, which is heavily influenced by the black vote, by almost 50 points.

As he launches his second presidential campaign this weekend, Sanders and his team are determined not to repeat the same mistake. The 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist will hold high-profile rallies in Brooklyn and Chicago, where he’ll open up about his working-class roots and early activism — including the arrest — as he tries to prove he’s learned from his 2016 stumbles.

“What is different of course this time is we’re built to win and planning to win from the very beginning,” said Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, who last week became the first Muslim hired to lead a major U.S. presidential effort.

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Canada allows extradition case against Huawei CFO to proceed

TORONTO — Canada said Friday it will allow the U.S. extradition case against Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to proceed.

Canadian Department of Justice officials issued a statement saying they diligently reviewed the evidence and the case can go ahead.

Meng is due in court on March 6, at which time a date for her extradition hearing will be set. The decision to proceed is a formality and allows a judge to hear arguments on whether to grant the U.S. request.

Canada arrested the daughter of Huawei’s founder at the request of the U.S. on Dec. 1 at Vancouver’s airport. Meng is wanted on fraud charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

“There is sufficient evidence to be put before an extradition judge for decision,” the statement said.

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Mars lander starts digging on red planet, hits snags

NASA’s newest Mars lander has started digging into the red planet, but hit a few snags, scientists said Friday.

The German drilling instrument on the InSight lander struck what appeared to be a couple of stones. It only managed to burrow between half a foot (18 centimeters) and about 1 ½ feet (50 centimeters), far short of the first dig’s goal, said the German Aerospace Center.

The hammering device in the “mole” was developed by the Astronika engineering company in Poland.

“This is not very good news for me because although the hammer is proving itself … the Mars environment is not very favorable to us,” said the company’s chief engineer, Jerzy Grygorczuk.

Over time, the team is shooting for a depth of up to 16 feet (5 meters), which would set an otherworldly record. The lander is digging deep to measure the planet’s internal temperature.

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‘Who’s the Boss?’ and ‘Soap’ actress Katherine Helmond dies

LOS ANGELES — Actress Katherine Helmond, an Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress who played two very different matriarchs on the ABC sitcoms “Who’s the Boss?” and “Soap,” has died, her talent agency said Friday. She was 89.

Helmond died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease last Saturday at her home in Los Angeles, talent agency APA said in a statement.

A native of Galveston, Texas, Helmond’s credits date back to the 1950s and she worked steadily in small roles through the decades. But her real fame, and all seven of her Emmy nominations, didn’t start arriving until she was nearly 50.

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She was probably best known for playing Mona Robinson, Judith Light’s mother on “Who’s the Boss?,” which also starred Tony Danza and a young Alyssa Milano.

She won a best supporting Golden Globe for her work in 1989.

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