AP Top News at 3:15 a.m. EDT

Under fire, Trump defends call to soldier's grieving family
MIAMI (AP) - President Donald Trump emphatically rejected claims Wednesday that he was disrespectful to the grieving family of a slain soldier, as the firestorm he ignited over his assertions of empathy for American service members spread into a third contentious day. "I have proof," he insisted. The controversy over how Trump has conducted one of the most sacred of presidential tasks generated new turmoil in the White House. After one slain soldier's father accused the president of going back on a promise to send a check for $25,000, the White House said the money had been sent. Chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, was left angry and frustrated at the way the issue has become politicized.


Solace or silence? Not all families of fallen get Trump call
WASHINGTON (AP) - Some got sympathy and solace. Some got silence. One got a promise of cash. Relatives of people who died in military service have recounted varied interactions with President Donald Trump in the difficult days and weeks after their loved one's death. Despite Trump's boast that he reaches out personally to all families of the fallen, interviews with families members did not support his claim. Some never heard from him at all, and a few who did came away more upset. The Associated Press reached out to the families of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president and made contact with about half the families.


Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended
EDGEWOOD, Md. (AP) - A man with a lengthy criminal past who showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded. Less than two hours later, Radee Labeeb Prince drove to a used car lot about 55 miles (90 kilometers) away in Wilmington, Delaware, and opened fire on a man with whom he had "beefs" in the past, wounding him, police said. The shooting rampage set off a manhunt along the Interstate 95 Northeast corridor. Police cruisers were stationed in medians, and overhead highway signs displayed a description of Prince's sport utility vehicle and its Delaware license plate.


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Uncertainty as Mideast turns a page with IS defeat in Raqqa
BEIRUT (AP) - The Middle East may have turned a page with the defeat of the Islamic State group in its self-declared capital of Raqqa, but the future is looking even more tangled, and potentially as violent. The downfall of a common enemy could open up cracks in temporary alliances created to fight the extremists, and rivalries for influence are now likely to take center stage. Already, a multitude of players in the crowded theaters of Iraq and Syria are racing for the spoils of war. And while the group fights its last battles in what remains of its self-styled caliphate, world powers and smaller players alike are vying to create new facts on the ground.


Catalan leader faces looming deadline to end secession bid
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Catalonia's separatist leader is facing an imminent deadline to withdraw a bid to secede from Spain. But an official from Carles Puigdemont's party says that he has no intention of doing that and he plans to make a full declaration of independence in the next few days if Spain's government resorts to taking over control of Catalonia's semi-autonomous powers. PDECat party coordinator Marta Pascal outlined Puigdemont's plans after a meeting late Wednesday. Spain has threatened to take direct control of the autonomous region if Puigdemont fails to meet the 0800 GMT (4 a.m. EDT) Thursday cutoff. Spain's government says it would be willing to hold off on doing that if the Catalan government were to call a snap regional election.


China's conflicted goals: Freer markets, more party control
BEIJING (AP) - China's ruling Communist Party is expanding its role in business even as it promises freer markets and support for entrepreneurs on the eve of President Xi Jinping's second five-year term as leader. Party officials are tightening their control over state-owned enterprises and want a voice in how some foreign companies are run. State companies that dominate energy and other fields are being made even bigger through mergers. Some are forming ties with private sector success stories such as tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to draw on their skills. Beijing's conflicting goals are raising concerns that leaders might put off changes needed to reinvigorate a cooling economy that faces surging debt and trade tensions with Washington and Europe.


After Obama, Israel's Netanyahu relishing in Trump love fest
JERUSALEM (AP) - Widely unpopular around the world, President Donald Trump can take solace in the adulation of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, who showers him with praise and even holds his tongue over issues Israel might normally complain about. Trump provides the nationalist Netanyahu with a degree of support he rarely enjoys in the West. Several days ago, he pleased the prime minister mightily by refusing to certify the nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu was one of the few voices around the world who hailed the move, along with Saudi Arabia. Beyond a confluence of interests, Trump and Netanyahu seem to share a sort-of outsider status and a gift for populist stratagems that outrage their countries' more liberal establishments while delighting their bases.


Older couples die together or cling to each other in fires
Some had just celebrated marriages of half a century or longer. They spent their time volunteering and playing with grandchildren. A few had lived through both world wars. The vast majority of the 42 people killed in the wildfires that have ravaged Northern California were in their 70s and 80s. Several were couples who died together, including childhood sweethearts who had grown old together. A 95-year-old man and his 75-year-old wife spent their final moments huddled in the wine cellar of their home where they had lived for 45 years. The oldest victim - 100-year-old World War II veteran Charles Rippey, who used a walker - is believed to have been trying to make it to his 98-year-old wife, Sara, who had limited mobility after a stroke.


Recovery, reconstruction go slowly after Mexico earthquake
MEXICO CITY (AP) - Wearing a hardhat, Rodrigo Diaz Mejia steps onto the hood of a crushed car and then gingerly into an apartment cracked open by the Sept. 19 earthquake. Inside he spots a photo of two young boys hanging on a wall spider-webbed with deep cracks. He puts it under his arm to carry it out for the family. For weeks, the mechanic by trade has been climbing through broken walls and over buckled floors in the increasingly unstable buildings of the Tokio 517 apartment complex in central Mexico City to emerge with prized photos, clothes and documents for grateful residents.


Letters from young Obama show a man trying to find his way
WASHINGTON (AP) - A young Barack Obama questioned his place in the world and his racial identity, agonized over whether he'd make enough money as a community organizer, and lamented his incompatibility with his ex-girlfriend in 30 pages of letters he wrote to her that are now being archived by Emory University in Atlanta. The nine full letters, sent by Obama to his college girlfriend, Alexandra McNear, are being made public to researchers through Emory University's Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library. The university has had the letters since 2014 but could only make them public now, officials said.