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AP Top News at 12:44 p.m. EDT

Aftershocks rattle Italian quake zone; toll rises to 250
PESCARA DEL TRONO, Italy (AP) - Aftershocks in central Italy rattled residents and rescue workers alike Thursday, as crews worked to find more earthquake survivors and the country anguished over its repeated failure to protect ancient towns and modern cities from seismic catastrophes. A day after a shallow quake killed 250 people and leveled three small towns, a 4.3 magnitude aftershock sent up plumes of thick gray dust in the hard-hit town of Amatrice. The aftershock crumbled already cracked buildings, prompted authorities to close roads and sent another person to the hospital. It was only one of the more than 470 temblors that have followed Wednesday's pre-dawn quake.


Chicago Story: How 3 top GOP donors are approaching 2016
CHICAGO (AP) - What's a Republican fundraiser to do in the Trump era? Three Chicago friends explain their very different paths this year, with one raising money for Donald Trump, another for Hillary Clinton and a third sitting it out. Ron Gidwitz, Dan Webb and William Kunkler raised buckets of cash for Mitt Romney four years ago. This time, however, their party's nominee has sent them spinning off in three directions. Gidwitz is hosting fundraisers for Donald Trump. Webb wrote a big check for Hillary Clinton. And Kunkler won't do anything for either candidate, saying he prefers not to enable "stupid behavior." It's also a tale in miniature of the Republican fundraising scene in other parts of the country, too.


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.


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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.


Turkey: US says Syria Kurds are pulling back in north Syria
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Syrian Kurdish forces have started withdrawing east of the Euphrates River, Turkish officials said Thursday, a move that could fulfill a major demand by Ankara and the United States a day after Turkey sent in tanks across the border to help Syrian rebels take a key Islamic State stronghold. The Turkish officials were quoting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who relayed the news in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart. Turkey's surprise incursion Wednesday to capture the town of Jarablus was a dramatic escalation of Turkey's role in Syria's war. But Ankara's objective went beyond fighting extremists.


Iran: Forces will warn any vessel after US warship incident
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's naval forces will warn or confront any foreign ship entering the country's territorial waters, the Iranian defense minister said Thursday, remarks that came after an incident this week involving a U.S. warship. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Gen. Hosein Dehghan as saying that "if any foreign vessel enters our waters, we warn them, and if it's an invasion, we confront." He added that Iranian boats patrol to monitor traffic and foreign vessels in its territorial waters. Dehghan's comments came after four Iranian small boats sailed near the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze on Wednesday in the Persian Gulf.


Auto, technology industries clash over talking cars
WASHINGTON (AP) - Cars that wirelessly talk to each other are finally ready for the road, creating the potential to dramatically reduce traffic deaths, improve the safety of self-driving cars and someday maybe even help solve traffic jams, automakers and government officials say. But there's a big catch. The cable television and high-tech industries want to take away a large share of the radio airwaves the government dedicated for transportation in 1999, and use it instead for superfast Wi-Fi service. Auto industry officials are fighting to hang on to as much of the spectrum as they can, saying they expect they will ultimately need all of it for the new vehicle-to-vehicle communications, or V2V.


Quake damages scores of Myanmar's heritage Bagan temples
BAGAN, Myanmar (AP) - It was a time of conquest and conversions. Above all, it was a time of construction, on a scale never seen before. Over 250 years, from the 11th century onwards, the rulers of Bagan built more than 10,000 magnificent religious monuments. The stupas, temples and monasteries became the defining emblems of Bagan, the capital of the Pagan (pronounced PUH'-gahn) empire that ruled Myanmar from roughly 1044 to 1287. On Wednesday, scores of the monuments - of which only about 2,200 remain - were damaged in a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake. Yet much of what fell was modern material, sanctioned by Myanmar's former army rulers who had put top priority on restoring the temples with little regard for the original architectural styles.


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.


Yosemite, and President Obama, head into virtual reality
NEW YORK (AP) - In a new project with National Geographic, Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to project himself into virtual reality - in this case, a 360-degree representation of Yosemite National Park. The 11-minute VR video, narrated by Obama, is one part paean to the wonders of America's national parks and one part warning of the threat posed by climate change. It's also a testament to how powerful VR can be when done right. National Geographic joined Facebook's Oculus Studios and VR specialists Felix & Paul Studios to produce the free video, which came out Thursday to mark the centennial of the National Park Service .