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AP Top News at 4:45 a.m. EDT

Senate hearing to focus on Russian disinformation tactics
WASHINGTON (AP) - Some tactics Russia used to meddle in last year's presidential election would give shivers to anyone who believes in American democracy, the Senate intelligence committee's top Democrat says. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia spoke ahead of a committee session Thursday that will address how the Kremlin allegedly uses technology to spread disinformation in the U.S. and Europe. Warner and the panel's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., provided an update the committee's investigation into activities Russia might have taken to alter or influence the 2016 elections and whether there were any campaign contacts with Russian government officials that might have interfered with the election process.


A look at latest ruling on Trump administration travel ban
HONOLULU (AP) - A federal judge in Hawaii who temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's revised travel ban hours before it was set to take effect issued a longer-lasting order Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson held a hearing Wednesday on Hawaii's request to extend his temporary hold. Several hours later, he issued a 24-page order blocking the government from suspending new visas for travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and halting the U.S. refugee program. Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin argued that even though the revised ban has more neutral language, the implied intent is still there. He likened it to a neon sign flashing "Muslim Ban," which the government hasn't bothered to turn off.


China's Xi to meet Trump in Mar-a-Lago on April 6-7
BEIJING (AP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump will meet for the first time on April 6-7 at the latter's Florida resort, China's foreign ministry announced Thursday. The future relationship between the world's No. 1 and No. 2 economies has been uncertain following the election of Trump, who accused China during his campaign of unfair trade practices and threatened to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator. It is unclear whether Trump will follow through with either threat. He is now seeking Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.


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NC lawmakers, gov reach deal to end 'bathroom bill' standoff
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said late Wednesday that they have agreed on legislation to resolve a standoff over the state's "bathroom bill" through a replacement measure that still restricts LGBT nondiscrimination protections. GOP leaders announced the new legislation would be debated and voted on Thursday, but it was unclear whether there were enough House and Senate votes to pass it. And leaders of gay rights groups were incensed about the anticipated proposal and vowed political punishment for elected officials who support it. Cooper, who ran successfully last fall on a platform that included repealing House Bill 2, said in a release that he supported the compromise.


Mosul lays bare the challenge of asymmetric warfare
BAGHDAD (AP) - As the fight for the Iraqi city of Mosul drags on, many might ask: Why has it taken the combined militaries of the United States and Iraq backed by an international coalition more than two years to dislodge a relatively small force of militants lacking heavy weaponry? Donald Trump raised the question during his campaign, promising to turn up the heat against the Islamic State group if he became president. Now the growing controversy over the high number of civilian casualties believed caused by recent U.S. airstrikes has touched on a major part of the answer: The militants are mingled among tens of thousands of civilians in Mosul and are willing to take the population down with them.


NTSB to begin probe of Texas bus-truck crash that killed 13
UVALDE, Texas (AP) - Federal investigators are getting their first look Thursday at the scene of a head-on collision involving a small church bus and a pickup truck that killed 13 senior adult church members onboard the bus. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported the lone bus survivor remains hospitalized in critical condition, and the pickup truck driver is in stable condition. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene to begin seeking the cause of the crash, NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said Wednesday. Twelve bus occupants, including the driver, were dead at the scene of Wednesday's crash, DPS Lt.


S Korea's Park questioned at court hearing on arrest request
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea's disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was being questioned Thursday by a court that will decide if she should be arrested over corruption allegations that have already toppled her from power. Live TV footage earlier showed a stern-looking Park entering the Seoul Central District Court building amid a barrage of camera flashes. She did not comment to reporters. The court is expected to decide by Friday morning whether to approve her arrest. If the court approves the arrest warrant requested by prosecutors, Park will be immediately sent to a detention facility as prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before laying formal charges.


Casino mogul Phil Ruffin among Trump's closest friends
WASHINGTON (AP) - Billionaire Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin has never been to the White House. On Thursday, he'll have dinner there with his friend, Donald Trump. "It's a lonely job, and I have been friends with him for a long time. It'll be nice to catch up," Ruffin said. Trump has had a rough few weeks, with fellow Republicans dooming a White House-backed health care plan, questions persisting about possible ties between his campaign and Russian interference in the election, and distracting feuds among some of his senior officials. In short: This president could probably use a friend. Trump is living alone in the White House while his wife stays in New York where their son is in school.


Distraction citied as pedestrian deaths spiked in 2016
WASHINGTON (AP) - Pedestrian deaths are climbing faster than motorist fatalities, reaching nearly 6,000 deaths last year - the highest total in more than two decades, according to an analysis of preliminary state data released Thursday. Increased driving due to an improved economy, lower gas prices and more walking for exercise and environmental factors are some of the likely reasons behind the estimated 11 percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in 2016. The figures were prepared for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. But researchers say they think the biggest factor may be more drivers and walkers distracted by cellphones and other electronic devices, although that's hard to confirm.


In lab simulating harsh Mars climate, a nascent potato grows
LIMA, Peru (AP) - In a lab in the Peruvian capital of Lima, a simulator mimicking the harsh conditions found on Mars now contains a hint of life: a nascent potato plant. After experimenting in the Andean nation's dry, desert soil, scientists have successfully grown a potato in frigid, high carbon-dioxide surroundings. Though still in early stages, investigators at the International Potato Center believe the initial results are a promising indicator that potatoes might one day be harvested under conditions as hostile as those on Mars. The findings could benefit not only future Mars exploration, but also arid regions already feeling the impact of climate change.

 

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