AP News in Brief 05-06-19

  • Smoke rises from a fire on a plane at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. (Riccardo Dalla Francesca/via AP)

At least 40 dead in Russian plane’s fiery emergency landing

MOSCOW — A Russian airliner burst into flames while making an emergency landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport Sunday evening, and at least 40 people died, officials said.

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The Sukhoi SSJ100 operated by national airline Aeroflot had 73 passengers and five crew members on board when it touched down and sped down a runway spewing huge flames and black smoke.

Elena Markovskaya, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said early Monday that 41 people were killed. But Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said later that 38 survived, implying the death toll was 40.

The victims included one member of the crew and at least two teenagers, according to the Investigative Committee.

Video showed desperate passengers leaping out of the plane onto inflatable evacuation slides and staggering across the airport’s tarmac and grass, some holding luggage.

Possible attack on US forces led to deployments

WASHINGTON — A White House decision to dispatch an aircraft carrier and other military resources to send a message to Iran followed “clear indications” that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were preparing to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region, a defense official told the Associated Press.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the Pentagon approved the deployments and that U.S. forces at sea and on land were thought to be the potential targets. The official declined to be more specific.

White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement Sunday night that the U.S. is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region, an area that includes the Middle East.

Bolton said the move was in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” He didn’t provide details, but said the U.S. wants to send a message that “unrelenting force” will meet any attack on U.S. interests or those of its allies.

Trump threatens to hike tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump raised pressure on China on Sunday, threatening to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods in a tweet that sent financial markets swooning.

Trump’s comments, delivered on Twitter, came as a Chinese delegation was scheduled to resume talks in Washington on Wednesday aimed at resolving a trade war that has shaken investors and cast gloom over the world economy.

Trump turned up the heat by saying he would raise import taxes on $200 billion in Chinese products to 25% from 10% on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified sources, said China’s government was considering canceling this week’s talks. Beijing has responded to previous U.S. threats by saying it wouldn’t negotiate under pressure.

Israel lifts restrictions, calls cease-fire with Gaza

GAZA CITY — The Israeli army on Monday lifted protective restrictions on residents in southern Israel, while the Hamas militant group’s radio station in the Gaza Strip reported a cease-fire, signaling a deal had been reached to end the bloodiest fighting between the two sides since a 2014 war.

There was no official cease-fire announcement from either side, but the intense fighting over the past two days appeared to come to a sudden halt in the early morning hours.

The Israeli military announced its decision, saying: “As of 7 a.m., all protective restrictions in the home front will be lifted.”

Schools and roads had been closed, and residents had been encouraged to remain indoors and near bomb shelters as intense rocket fire pounded the area.

In Gaza, Hamas’ Al-Aqsa radio station had a short item saying a cease-fire had been reached. However, neither the strip’s Hamas rulers nor the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group that is active in Gaza issued any formal announcement.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars and numerous smaller battles since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

From wire sources

In the latest fighting, which erupted over the weekend, Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military responded with airstrikes on dozens of targets inside Gaza.

Palestinian medical officials reported 23 deaths, including at least nine militants as well as two pregnant women and two babies. Four Israelis also were killed from incoming fire, the first Israeli fatalities from rocket fire since the 50-day war in 2014.

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Boeing didn’t tell airlines that safety alert wasn’t on

Boeing said Sunday that it discovered after airlines had been flying its 737 Max plane for several months that a safety alert in the cockpit was not working as intended, yet it didn’t disclose that fact to airlines or federal regulators until after one of the planes crashed.

The feature was designed to warn pilots when a key sensor might be providing incorrect information about the pitch of the plane’s nose.

But within months of the plane’s debut in 2017, Boeing said, its engineers realized that the sensor warning light only worked when airlines also bought a separate, optional feature.

The sensors malfunctioned during an October flight in Indonesia and another in March in Ethiopia, causing software on the plane to push the nose down. Pilots were unable to regain control of either plane, and both crashed, killing 346 people.

It is not clear whether having the warning light would have prevented either the Lion Air crash or the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max near Addis Ababa. Boeing’s disclosure on Sunday, however, raised fresh questions about the company’s candor with regulators and airline customers.

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United Nations to offer first report on global biodiversity

Top scientists will tell the world Monday how bad off Mother Nature is.

The United Nations plans to issue its first comprehensive scientific report on biodiversity, looking hard at the threat of extinction for Earth’s plant and animal species and what it means for humanity.

Report Chairman Robert Watson said last month that there are five major threats to biodiversity: the conversion of forests and grasslands into farms; overfishing of the oceans; climate change; and pollution and the spread of invasive species.

Watson said governments are beginning to take the issue seriously because if they cannot solve the intertwined threats of extinction and climate change, the world may end up hungrier and thirstier.

For the past week, scientists from around the globe have met in Paris to come up with an authoritative statement. The summary from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services must be unanimously approved by more than 100 nations.

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Trump now says Mueller should not testify before Congress

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress, abandoning his previous declaration that he would leave that decision to his attorney general.

Escalating tensions with House Democrats as they seek to bring Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee, Trump tweeted: “Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!”

Democrats are seeking more information about Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he doesn’t plan to invite Mueller to testify on the report.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office last week that testimony from Mueller was “up to our attorney general.” William Barr has said he has no objection to Mueller testifying.

Trump again asserted on Twitter Sunday that Mueller’s report revealed “NO COLLUSION” and argued that there was “NO OBSTRUCTION.”

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Biden surge fueled by electability advantage. Will it last?

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Twenty of his rivals have lined up to run for president, believing the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination was wide open. But one week after launching his campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden is threatening to prove them wrong.

His liabilities may be glaring, but the 76-year-old lifelong politician has quickly emerged as the front-runner in the crowded contest by dominating the debate that matters most to many voters: electability.

Biden’s chief opponents privately concede that, for now at least, he has successfully cast himself as the candidate who can take down President Donald Trump. He may be out of step with the heart of the party on key issues, but Biden opens the race backed by a broad coalition of voters attracted to his personality, his governing experience and his working-class background — all elements that help convince voters he is better positioned than any other Democrat to deny Trump a second term.

One after another, voters who filled a community center in South Carolina’s capital to see Biden this weekend described him as a safe, comforting and competent counterpoint to the turbulent Trump presidency.

“With him you feel whole, and the country would be whole again,” said 62-year-old Barbara Pearson, who is African American and has long worked for county government. “I think he meets this moment.”

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Pilots made runway change before jet hit Florida river

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pilots of a chartered jet that ran into a river at a Florida military base made a last-minute change to the runway where they would make a landing, a federal investigator said Sunday.

The pilots on the Miami Air International plane requested the change to air traffic controllers shortly before landing at Naval Air Station Jacksonville Friday night.

The 9,000-foot-long runway where the Boeing 737 landed was essentially limited to 7,800 feet since there was a wire barrier set up to recover Navy aircraft in instances they couldn’t land on a carrier during training, said Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We don’t know what they were thinking or why they made that choice,” Landsberg said at a news conference. “That will be one of the things we look to find out.”

Landsberg didn’t elaborate on the significance of the runway change, but said it would be a focus of investigation.

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Maximum Security’s Preakness status unclear after Derby DQ

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The next stop in the chase for the Triple Crown is the Preakness, though both Maximum Security and Country House remain noncommittal for the May 18 race following Maximum Security’s disqualification from the Kentucky Derby.

Owner Gary West said Sunday he is unsure whether to enter Maximum Security in the Preakness as he ponders appealing the historic decision.

West also said he realizes the appeals process could extend well beyond the upcoming race at Pimlico in Baltimore. And with Kentucky racing stewards’ ruling that Maximum Security interfered with other horses that led to his disqualification, there might not be a point to racing the colt in the Triple Crown series’ middle jewel.

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“When you’re not going for the Triple Crown, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to wheel the horse back in two weeks,” West said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

“If there’s going to be an appeal it will almost certainly be before the Preakness, but appeals historically take some time to sort out. Win, lose or draw, we’re not going to know the outcome of that until probably months, if not years, down the road.”