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AP Top News at 5:49 a.m. EST

Assad relies on foreign fighters in push to retake Aleppo
ALEPPO, Syria (AP) - Syria's President Bashar Assad is on the verge of recapturing all of Aleppo from rebels, but the victory won't be his alone. The battle for Syria's largest city has attracted thousands of foreign forces backing Assad - including Russian soldiers and Shiite fighters from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. The remarkable political and sectarian alignment underscores Aleppo's symbolic and strategic importance, which goes beyond the confines of Syria's civil war. Syria's former commercial center has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria. Assad has sent some of his most elite forces to take part in the offensive on eastern Aleppo neighborhoods, held by the rebels since 2012.


Post-election, Trump closes companies tied to Saudi Arabia
WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Donald Trump shut down some of his companies in the days after the election, including four that appeared connected to a possible Saudi Arabia business venture, according to corporate registrations in Delaware. News of the move comes days before Trump was expected to describe changes he is making to his businesses to avoid potential conflicts of interest as the U.S. president. The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, described shutting down the four companies as routine "housecleaning," and said there was no existing Trump business venture in Saudi Arabia. The four Saudi-related companies were among at least nine companies that Trump filed paperwork to dissolve or cancel since the election.


Obama orders review of election-season hacking
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyberattacks, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign and raised fresh concerns about Russia's meddling in U.S. elections, the White House said Friday. The review, led by intelligence agencies, will be a "deep dive" into a possible pattern of increased "malicious cyber activity" timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. The review will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government's response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.


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After weeks of protests, crowds celebrate Park's impeachment
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The previous time South Korea's parliament voted to impeach a president, ruling party lawmakers bawled and hurled ballot boxes, a man set himself on fire in front of the National Assembly, and thousands glumly held candlelight vigils night after night to save late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun. Twelve years later, the mood couldn't have been more different, with massive crowds returning to Seoul's streets on Saturday, a day after lawmakers voted in favor of removing disgraced President Park Geun-hye. The vote for impeachment left protesters basking in pride, believing that they had repaired a damaged democracy with their weekly demonstrations.


Advocates call Alabama execution an 'avoidable disaster'
ATMORE, Ala. (AP) - Defenders of a condemned inmate in Alabama are calling his execution an "avoidable disaster." For 13 minutes after he was sedated to avoid an unconstitutionally painful death, Ronald Bert Smith Jr. was seen coughing, gasping and moving. Smith's legal team says these movements Thursday night show "he was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure." Alabama's Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn disputes that Smith was in pain after being injected with midazolam, a sedative some states are using now that pharmaceutical companies are refusing to make other drugs available for executions. Smith was sentenced to die for shooting convenience store clerk Casey Wilson in 1994 robbery that prosecutors described as an execution-style murder.


At least 45,000 homeless after Aceh quake in Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - At least 45,000 people have been displaced by the powerful earthquake that hit Indonesia's Aceh province, authorities said Saturday, as the government and aid agencies pooled efforts to meet the basic survival needs of shaken communities. The estimate of the number of homeless people continues to grow while relief efforts fan out across the three districts near the epicenter of Wednesday's magnitude 6.5 quake, National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a press conference. "The basic needs of refugees must be met during the evacuation," the agency said in statement. Humanitarian groups are now coordinating their efforts from a main command post in the worst affected district Pidie Jaya, the agency said.


Dylann Roof's confession and journal detail racist beliefs
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Prosecutors are using the Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof's own words to portray him as a cruel angry racist at his death penalty trial. Roof's two-hour confession to killing nine people at a church Bible study, recorded the day after the shooting, was introduced as evidence Friday, along with a handwritten journal found in his car. "How could our faces, skin color and body structure be so different, but our brains exactly the same?" Roof wrote in one of the less offensive passages. In the video, Roof laughed repeatedly and made exaggerated gun motions as he described the massacre.


John Glenn, astronaut and senator, to lie in state in Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - John Glenn will lie in state in Ohio's capitol building before a celebration of his life of military and government service and two history-making voyages into space. The public viewing at the Ohio Statehouse and a memorial service at Ohio State University's Mershon Auditorium are planned for late next week. The dates and times were being worked out Friday, said Hank Wilson, of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. Statehouse officials meet Monday to authorize the public viewing. Glenn, who died Thursday at age 95, was the first American to orbit the Earth, in 1962, and was the oldest man in space, at age 77 in 1998.


Inside Kirk Douglas's intimate 100th birthday celebration
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Kirk Douglas knows how to make an entrance. With boxing gloves in every centerpiece and the theme from "Rocky" blaring over the speakers, Douglas, one of the golden age of Hollywood's last living legends, walked confidently into the Sunset Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel Friday afternoon to celebrate his 100th birthday at an intimate gathering of friends and family. Flanked by Anne Douglas, his wife of over 62 years, his son Michael Douglas, his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones and his grandchildren, Kirk Douglas looked out over the crowd of about 150 people, including Don Rickles, Jeffrey Katzenberg, his Rabbi and many of his closest friends and smiled.


Analysis: Most troubling is Russia's reaction to scandal
Troubling as the details of the McLaren Report were, a news item out of Russia earlier this week was equally so. The new chair of the country's "revamped" anti-doping agency will be Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole vault great who has spent the past year thumbing her nose at all the evidence and at those who've dared to mete out punishment for the malfeasance. Isinbayeva's appointment to the RUSADA board, made a mere two days before Part 2 of the McLaren report arrived, was all you needed to conclude that either Russia does not fully grasp the depths of depravity that Richard McLaren painstakingly detailed in his 144-page report or, maybe worse, that it just doesn't care.