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AP Top News at 5:47 a.m. EDT

Italy toll rises to 247 as anguish mounts over quake past
AMATRICE, Italy (AP) - Rescue crews raced against time Thursday looking for survivors from the earthquake that leveled three towns in central Italy, but the death toll rose to 247 and Italy once again anguished over trying to secure its medieval communities built on seismic lands. Dawn broke over the rolling hills of central Lazio and Le Marche regions after a night of uninterrupted search efforts. Aided by sniffer dogs and audio equipment, firefighters and rescue crews using their bare hands pulled chunks of cement, rock and metal apart from mounds of rubble where homes once stood searching for signs of life.


Welcome to the Trump-Clinton conspiracy election
LOS ANGELES (AP) - It's a conspiracy: The 2016 campaign features one candidate who warned against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and another who was a leader of the so-called "birther" movement. Donald Trump and his surrogates hint at a mysterious "illness" afflicting rival Hillary Clinton. Pushing back, Clinton warns of murky ties between Trump and the Russian government, insinuating that her Republican opponent may be a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rumors and innuendo long confined to the far reaches of the Internet are dominating the presidential race, forcing Clinton to grapple - once again - with the kinds of whispers that have dogged her family for decades.


AP-NORC Poll: Gender matters, but does it hurt or help?
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - There's no "glass ceiling" keeping a woman from the presidential nomination anymore, but most Americans still think Hillary Clinton's gender will influence the November election. They're just divided on whether it's more of a curse than a blessing. According to a new poll from the Associated-Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, most Americans see Clinton's gender playing a role in the campaign, with 37 percent saying her gender will help her chances of being elected president, 29 percent arguing it will hurt her, and 33 percent thinking it won't make a difference. "I think it will help her in a way because we haven't had a woman before," said Nayef Jaber, 67, of San Rafael, California.


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Turkey: US says Syria Kurds are pulling back in north Syria
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Turkish counterpart that Syrian Kurdish forces have started withdrawing east of the Euphrates River, Turkish officials said Thursday. The pullback was a major demand by Ankara after Turkey sent in tanks and special forces backed by U.S. airstrikes across the border to help Syrian rebels take a key Islamic State stronghold the previous day. Turkey's incursion into northern Syria was also meant to contain an expansion by Syria's Kurds amid the neighboring country's civil war, now in its sixth year. According to Turkish ministry officials, Kerry and Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by telephone on Thursday to discuss the Turkish military operation to retake the IS-held border town of Jarablus in northern Syria.


US pursues Syria cooperation with Russia amid new volatility
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is launching a fresh bid to enlist Russia as a partner in Syria despite more than a month of dashed hopes as the situation on the ground becomes more volatile and uncertain with the introduction of Turkish ground forces. As the military picture grows more chaotic and complicated by the day, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later this week to try to hammer out a diplomatic initiative that would see greater cooperation that could lead to a resumption in talks on a political transition. Before talks can begin, though, U.S.


N. Korea missile test adds to 'Military First' celebration
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - North Korea marked its "Military First" holiday on Thursday with mass dancing, outdoor concerts and boasts of a successful - and potentially game-changing - submarine-launched ballistic missile test it hopes will serve as a warning to Washington and Seoul to stop holding joint military exercises Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion. Television news broadcasts and the front pages of morning newspapers Thursday showed images of the launch, conducted in the early hours the day before. The test sent a "Pukguksong" missile soaring from a submerged position off the North's port city of Sinpo. It flew an estimated 500 kilometers (310 miles) toward the seas around Japan, the longest distance it has yet achieved in a submarine launch.


In Iran, unique system allows payments for kidney donors
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - The whirling hum of a dialysis machine could have been the soundtrack to the rest of Zahra Hajikarimi's life but for an unusual program in Iran that allows people to buy a kidney from a living donor. Iran's kidney program stands apart from other organ donation systems around the world by openly allowing payments, typically of several thousand dollars. It has helped effectively eliminate the country's kidney transplant waiting list since 1999, the government says, in contrast to Western nations like the United States, where tens of thousands hope for an organ and thousands die waiting each year.


Colombia's president rushing plebiscite on deal with rebels
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Colombia's president is moving fast to hold a plebiscite on a landmark peace deal reached with leftist rebels, presenting to congress Thursday the full text of the accord that he says will end a half-century of bloody combat. "Today is the beginning of the end to the suffering, pain and tragedy of war," President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday night in a televised address after the deal was announced in Havana, where talks went on for four years. He said he would hold an Oct. 2 yes-or-no vote on the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.


Bold moves, tepid gains: Have central banks met their limit?
WASHINGTON (AP) - The world's key central banks have worked themselves into contortions to try to rev up economic growth, raise inflation and coax consumers and businesses to borrow and spend more. They've pumped trillions into financial systems and driven interest rates about as low as they can go - even below zero in Europe and Japan. Yet after several years, the results are ... meh. As central bankers meet this week at an annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the global landscape remains bleak. Growth is sluggish. Inflation barely registers. Businesses won't invest. And consumers remain mostly hunkered down eight years after a financial crisis that jolted central banks to take radical steps in the first place.


French burkini bans face legal challenge as tension mounts
PARIS (AP) - France's highest administrative authority is studying whether local bans on full-body burkini swimsuits are legal, amid growing concerns about police forcing Muslim women to disrobe. Images of uniformed police appearing to require a woman to take off her tunic, and media accounts of similar incidents, have elicited shock and anger online this week. Several towns in strictly secular France have banned burkinis this summer, but some fear they are worsening religious tensions. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told BFM television that burkinis represent "the enslavement of women," but said enforcement of the bans must be handled respectfully. Rights groups argue the bans are discriminatory and have appealed to the Council of State, which holds a hearing Thursday.