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AP Top News at 8:51 a.m. EST

The Latest: Syrian activists say IS has seized Palmyra
Syrian opposition activists say the Islamic State group has regained control of the ancient town of Palmyra nine months after it was driven out by Russian-backed Syrian government forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Palmyra Coordination group say IS militants fought their way into the town on Sunday, forcing government forces to retreat to the south. Russia had earlier said that it helped Syrian troops repel an attack on the town by launching more than 60 airstrikes. IS has been advancing on the town in recent days, capturing areas on its outskirts at a time when Syrian forces are focused on driving rebels out of the northern city of Aleppo.


Trump eyeing an accomplished executive to head State
WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Donald Trump has found an accomplished American executive in Rex Tillerson, but one whose longstanding support for free trade, international law and an expansive U.S. presence in the Middle East largely doesn't fit with what Trump has pitched to supporters. A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson came to Exxon Mobile Corp. as a production engineer straight out of the University of Texas at Austin in 1975 and never left. Groomed for an executive position, Tillerson came up in the rough-and-tumble world of oil production, holding posts in the company's central United States, Yemen and Russian operations.


Turkey hunts for answers, buries dead after blasts kill 38
ISTANBUL (AP) - Turkey declared a national day of mourning, launched a full investigation and began to bury its dead Sunday after twin blasts in Istanbul killed 38 people and wounded 155 others near a soccer stadium. The twin car-and-suicide bombings Saturday night near the Besiktas stadium enraged top officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed to hunt down the perpetrators. The attack was the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats. The attack targeted police officers, killing 30 of them along with seven civilians and an unidentified person, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters Sunday.


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Italian FM Gentiloni tapped to be premier, form next govt
ROME (AP) - Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni was chosen Sunday to be the country's next premier and pledged to get straight to work on forming a new coalition with the same Democrat Party-led majority. "I'm aware of the urgency to give Italy a government in the fullness of its powers, to reassure the citizens and to face with utmost commitment and determination international, economic and social priorities, starting with the reconstruction of the quake-hit areas," the 62-year-old Gentiloni said. Fellow Democrat Matteo Renzi has been staying on as premier in a caretaker role since he offered his resignation on Dec.


Nigerian church collapses, 160 dead, says hospital director
WARRI, Nigeria (AP) - Metal girders and the roof of a crowded church collapsed onto worshippers in southern Nigeria, killing at least 160 people with the toll likely to rise, a hospital director said Sunday. Mortuaries in the city of Uyo are overflowing from Saturday's tragedy, medical director Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital told The Associated Press. The Reigners Bible Church International was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday's ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop, congregants said. Hundreds of people, including Akwa Ibom state Gov.


Bombing at Egypt's main Coptic Christian cathedral kills 25
CAIRO (AP) - A bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt's main Coptic Christian cathedral killed 25 people and wounded another 49 during Sunday Mass, in one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory. The attack came two days after a bomb elsewhere in Cairo killed six policemen, an assault claimed by a shadowy group that authorities say is linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and which claimed responsibility for a pair of assassination attempts earlier this year in Cairo that targeted Egypt's former mufti, or chief Muslim theologian, and an aide to the country's top prosecutor.


Trump team challenges intel on Russian election influence
WASHINGTON (AP) - Donald Trump's presidential transition team on Saturday challenged the veracity of U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia was trying to tip the November election to the Republican. A top Senate Democrat demanded a full congressional investigation. The CIA has now concluded with "high confidence" that Moscow was not only interfering with the election, but that its actions were intended to help Trump, according to a senior U.S. official. The assessment is based in part on evidence that Russian actors had hacked Republicans as well as Democrats but were only releasing information harmful to Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton. The official was not authorized to discuss the private intelligence assessment publicly and insisted on anonymity.


Brexit uncertainties threaten brain drain for UK science
LONDON (AP) - Like many foreign scientists in Britain, Joanna Bagniewska was devastated when Britons voted to leave the European Union. The biology lecturer, a Polish migrant who found Britain a welcoming place to build her academic career over a decade, is suddenly seeing her job security and research prospects up in the air. "I'm worried that after my current contract finishes, one of the prerequisites could be a permanent residence card," she said. "I'd like to apply for EU grant money, but how much longer will it be available for?" Britain's top universities have long been among the world's most sought-after destinations for study and research, drawing the brightest minds from all corners of the globe.


Early audience reactions from 'Rogue One' premiere
LOS ANGELES (AP) - The force is strong with "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" according to early reactions from the film's premiere Saturday night in Los Angeles. Official reviews are under embargo until Tuesday morning in advance of the Dec. 16 release, but the crowd at the Pantages Theater went wild with applause as the credits rolled and took to social media to express their delight in the "Star Wars" spinoff film about the rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star. It's set right before the events of the original 1977 "Star Wars." Comedian Dane Cook suggested on Twitter that it might be "the best" Star Wars movie, while Rainn Wilson called it "amazing." Actor Wil Wheaton said he hadn't loved a Star Wars movie as much since the original.


Lousiville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy
NEW YORK (AP) - Lamar Jackson was trying to remember the last time he cried. He was pretty sure it involved losing a little league football game. On Saturday night, Louisville's spectacular sophomore quarterback found out winning can get a guy choked up, too. Jackson became the first Louisville player to win the Heisman Trophy, beating out preseason favorite Deshaun Watson of Clemson despite some late-season struggles. Watson, who finished third last season, was a distant second. Baker Mayfield finished third and Oklahoma teammate and fellow finalist Dede Westbrook was fourth. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers was fifth. Jackson, wearing a red velvet blazer with shiny black lapels and a black bow tie, said he could feel his heart pounding in his chest right before his name was announced.

 

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