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March 04, 2017 - 5:18 am

ATTORNEY GENERAL-RUSSIA-GRASSLEY

Sessions to amend testimony regarding Russian contacts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans on Monday to provide amended testimony regarding his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential election.

In a statement Friday, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says Sessions will also respond to questions raised by Democratic senators.

The nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had asked that Sessions appear again before the committee to discuss the subject. They say significant questions remain unanswered.

The Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, rejected their request.

Sessions has recused himself from any probe that examines communications between President Donald Trump's aides and Moscow. His decision came after revelations that Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so despite questioning from Congress.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Amid firestorm, Trump appears to waiver on Russia deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a new wave of questions about his ties to Russia, President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve — at least temporarily — his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters.

That's according to administration officials and Western diplomats.

In conversations with diplomats and other officials, Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow's recent provocations. But the reconsideration of a central tenet of his foreign policy underscores the growing political risks in forging closer relations with Russia.

Trump's new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow suggests the rising influence of a new crop of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia.

CONGRESS-HEALTH OVERHAUL

First House health care votes near, GOP dissenters persist

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans seem set to start muscling legislation through Congress reshaping the country's health care system.

Don't confuse that with GOP unity or assume that success is guaranteed. Unresolved disputes over taxes and Medicaid rage on. And conservatives complaining that Republican proposals are too timid could undermine efforts.

Two House committees — Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means — plan to begin voting Wednesday on the legislation unless problems emerge. Leaders want to push the package through the House this month and hope the Senate can consider it by Congress' early April recess.

It's an ambitious calendar for perhaps the year's most momentous congressional battle.

Republicans long sought to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul but lacked a consensus.

MALAYSIA-MISSING PLANE

Families aim to raise $50 million to search for Flight 370

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The families of those onboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have launched efforts to raise at least $50 million to fund a private search as they mark the third anniversary of the plane's disappearance.

The nearly three-year search in the southern Indian Ocean was suspended Jan. 17 with no trace of the plane, which disappeared March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Jacquita Gomes, whose husband was a flight attendant on the plane, said Saturday that families have no choice but to take matters into their own hands. She said Flight 370 "should not go down in history books as a mystery."

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said a final report on the plane's disappearance will be released this year.

IRAN-AIR DEFENSE TEST

Iran tests sophisticated Russian-made air defense system

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's official IRNA news agency is reporting the country has successfully test-fired a sophisticated Russian-made air defense system.

The Saturday report says the test of the S-300 system came during a recent military exercise named Damvand, the name of Iran's highest mountain.

Russia delivered the S-300 system to Iran in 2016, nearly 10 years after the initial contract had been signed. The delivery had been held up by international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program; the sanctions were lifted last year under terms of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

IRAQ

UN: If confirmed, chemical attacks in Mosul a war crime

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The United Nations is warning that the alleged use of chemical weapons in Mosul, if confirmed, would be a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.

"This is horrible," says Lise Grande, the humanitarian coordinator in Iraq in a statement Saturday. "There is never justification — none whatsoever — for the use of chemical weapons."

The alleged attack occurred this week in eastern Mosul, an area declared fully liberated by Iraqi forces in January in a neighborhood along the Tigris River that roughly divides the city in two.

Most of western Mosul is still under Islamic State group control despite a handful of recent gains on the city's southwestern edge by Iraqi forces over the past two weeks.

AFGHANISTAN

8 civilians killed in Afghanistan by alleged air strike

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan officials say that at least eight Afghan civilians, including four children, have been killed in an attack in western Farah province. However there is disagreement over what exactly caused the deaths.

Mohammad Naser Mehri, spokesman for the provincial governor, said Saturday that the incident was a roadside bomb explosion. But family members of the victims are claiming they were hit by an air strike.

Gen. Dawlat Warizi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press that an investigation of the incident is underway.

JORDAN-EXECUTIONS

Jordan executes 10 men convicted of terror charges

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A government spokesman says Jordan has executed 10 men convicted of terrorism charges, including deadly attacks on tourists, Jordanian security forces and a local writer.

Mohammed Momani said in a statement carried by the state news agency Petra that the 10 were hanged early Saturday at Swaqa Prison.

The statement says five others were executed for other crimes, including rape.

TRUMP-EPA

Environmental programs face deep cuts under budget proposal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration would slash programs aimed at slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, according to details of a draft Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal obtained by the Associated Press.

Under the tentative plan from the Office of Management and Budget, the agency's funding would be cut by roughly 25 percent and about 3,000 jobs would be eliminated, about 19 percent of the agency's staff.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to pay for increased military spending by cuts to domestic agencies and departments.

Proposed cuts include the climate protection budget, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and environmental justice programs.

An EPA spokesperson declined comment. The agency has the opportunity to respond to the proposal, and any final plan would be subject to congressional approval.

MEXICAN-IMMIGRANT-CENTERS

Mexico launches nationwide effort in US to help migrants

MIAMI (AP) — The Mexican government is beefing up its aid to migrants in the U.S. through the creation of 50 legal assistance centers in response to President Donald Trump's measures to curb illegal immigration.

Mexican consulates in the U.S. launched the offices Friday to assist Mexican nationals who are facing or in fear of deportation. The $50 million effort comes as the two countries are in a rift over Trump's plans for a border wall. He says Mexico will pay for it, and Mexico says it won't.

Consulates from Mexico have been juggling numerous inquiries in recent months from migrants concern about their fate and that of their U.S.-born children.

Miami's Mexican consul general, Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, said Friday that these centers would become "authentic advocates of the rights of Mexican migrants."

GREAT LAKES-ASIAN CARP

Members of Congress urge Trump to release Asian carp report

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Three members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump to break a logjam on preventing Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was scheduled this week to release a draft report on strengthening defenses against the carp at a lock-and-dam complex near Chicago. Instead, the Corps said it was delaying action indefinitely.

Shipping interests have opposed upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan, saying such changes could hamper cargo traffic.

Republican Reps. Bill Huizenga and Mike Bishop of Michigan and Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Ohio wrote Trump a letter Friday urging release of the report.

They say withholding it worsens the threat of Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes and damaging its fishing industry.

WAREHOUSE PARTY FIRE

All 36 victims of Ghost Ship fire died from smoke inhalation

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Investigators say smoke inhalation killed all 36 victims of a fire at a party at an Oakland warehouse.

The Alameda County coroner confirmed the causes of death Friday for the Dec. 2 fire at the warehouse and artists' colony known as the Ghost Ship.

Autopsies were performed in December, and the cause of death has been known for weeks, but came to light Friday when the San Francisco Chronicle called the coroner to check on the status of the investigation.

The result, while striking in its uniformity, is not surprising. Smoke inhalation is the most common cause of fire fatalities.

The blaze broke out during a dance party and quickly ripped through the cluttered warehouse. Oakland fire officials have yet to announce the cause of the blaze.

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