AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT

Officer cleared of all charges in Freddie Gray case

BALTIMORE (AP) — Prosecutors failed for the second time in their bid to hold Baltimore police accountable for the arrest and death of Freddie Gray when an officer was acquitted Monday in the racially charged case that triggered riots a year ago.

A judge cleared Officer Edward Nero of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct, concluding that Nero played little role in Gray’s arrest and wasn’t responsible for the failure to buckle the black man into the police van where he suffered a broken neck.

Upon hearing the verdict, Nero hugged his attorney and appeared to wipe away a tear.

Nero, who is white, was the second of six officers charged in the case to stand trial. The manslaughter case against Officer William Porter ended in a mistrial in December when the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors plan to retry him in September.

Nero’s lawyers said he and his wife and family are “elated that this nightmare is finally over.”


Obama banishing Vietnam War vestige by lifting arms embargo

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Eager to banish lingering shadows of the Vietnam War, President Barack Obama lifted the U.S. embargo on selling arms to America’s former enemy Monday and made the case for a more trusting and prosperous relationship going forward. Activists said the president was being too quick to gloss over serious human rights abuses in his push to establish warmer ties.

After spending his first day in Vietnam shuttling among meetings with different government leaders, Obama will spend the next two days speaking directly to the Vietnamese people and meeting with civil society groups and young entrepreneurs. It’s all part of his effort to “upgrade” the U.S. relationship with an emerging economic power in Southeast Asia and a nation that the U.S. also hopes can serve as a counterweight to Chinese aggression in the region.

Tracing the arc of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship through cooperation, conflict, “painful separation” and a long reconciliation, Obama marveled during a news conference with the Vietnamese president that “if you consider where we have been and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable.”

President Tran Dai Quang said later at a lavish state luncheon that he was grateful for the American people’s efforts to put an end to “an unhappy chapter in the two countries’ history,” referring to the 1965-1975 U.S. war with Vietnam’s communists, who now run the country.

The conflict killed 57,000 American military personnel and as many as 2 million Vietnamese military and civilians.


Many Vietnam vets say they support lifting of arms embargo

CHICAGO (AP) — The way Terry Neilen sees it, lifting the ban on U.S. arms sales to Vietnam makes sense in the face of China’s growing influence in the region.

Fellow Vietnam veteran Ned Foote said Americans long ago forgave Germany and Japan for World War II, so there’s no reason not to do the same with Vietnam.

“We’re actually acting as a team in a sense,” said Neilen, of Saratoga Springs, New York, who served in the Army infantry in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. “They’re joining together to give a show of strength.”

Foote, who heads the New York State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, noted that the Vietnamese have helped account for missing American service members.

President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the half-century-old arms embargo was seen Monday by many veterans as a logical outgrowth of efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and the southeast Asian nation that has become a major trading partner since the war ended in 1975.


Sanders: Democratic convention could be ‘messy’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bernie Sanders predicted Monday that the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could be “messy” as he pushed the party to adopt his progressive agenda, but added, “Democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle.”

The Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press that his supporters hoped to see a platform at the July convention that reflects the needs of working families, the poor and young people as opposed to one that represents Wall Street and corporate America.

The Vermont senator said he will “condemn any and all forms of violence” but his campaign was bringing in newcomers to the process and first-time attendees of political conventions. He said the Democratic Party could choose to be more inclusive.

“I think if they make the right choice and open the doors to working-class people and young people and create the kind of dynamism that the Democratic Party needs, it’s going to be messy,” Sanders said. “Democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle but that is where the Democratic Party should go.”

Asked if the convention could be messy, Sanders said: “So what? Democracy is messy. Everyday my life is messy. But if you want everything to be quiet and orderly and allow, you know, just things to proceed without vigorous debate, that is not what democracy is about.”


VA Secretary McDonald compares health-care lines to Disney

WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Monday that the VA should not use wait times as a measure of success, comparing waits for VA health care to the hours people wait for rides at Disney theme parks.

“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Monday. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

McDonald’s comments set off a political firestorm, with Republicans denouncing the remarks as inaccurate and inappropriate.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called McDonald’s comments “flippant” and said they show “just how seriously the Obama administration’s VA is taking life or death problems” at the agency.

“This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines,” Ryan said on Twitter.


Iraqi leader cites early success in push to retake Fallujah

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister hailed “big successes” Monday by government troops after launching an offensive to retake Fallujah from Islamic State militants, but the operation promises to be one of the toughest challenges yet for the country’s struggling security forces.

Troops recaptured some agricultural areas in Garma, a district along the northeastern edge of Fallujah, under intensified Iraqi airstrikes and heavy artillery, said Col. Mahmoud al-Mardhi, who leads Shiite militia forces in the operation.

The U.S.-led coalition carried out two airstrikes, the Pentagon said, part of an aerial campaign that has seen an average of two bombings a day over the past week in the city about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi toured the Fallujah front line dressed in the all- black fatigues of Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces, saying the troops had achieved “more than what was planned for,” and “big successes,” but he did not elaborate.

He had triumphantly announced the start of the operation in a televised address late Sunday night, flanked by senior military commanders. The city has been under the control of Islamic State militants since January 2014.


Multiple blasts in Syria government strongholds kill 80

BEIRUT (AP) — A series of coordinated explosions including suicide bombings rocked two normally quiet coastal government strongholds in Syria Monday, killing more than 80 people and wounding 200 others, state media and opposition activists said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The morning blasts in pro-government cities of Tartus and Jableh were the first of their kind targeting civilians in those areas in the course of Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year. The targets included bus stations, a gas station and a hospital, marking a sharp escalation in the conflict as world powers struggle to restart peace talks in Geneva.

Several rounds of talks were held in the Swiss city earlier this year, although there was no breakthrough and the talks never really took off.

Russia, which is heavily invested in the Syrian war on behalf of President Bashar Assad’s government, keeps a naval base in Tartus and an air base in Latakia province, about five kilometers (three miles) north of Jableh. Insurgents fighting to topple Assad maintain a presence in rural Latakia.

Syria’s SANA news agency reported that four explosions struck Jableh. The attacks included a suicide bombing at the emergency entrance of the Jableh national hospital, state media said.


Left-leaning candidate wins Austria presidency in tight race

VIENNA (AP) — A pro-European Union candidate eked out a victory Monday over a right-wing, anti-migrant rival to become Austria’s next president, in a tight contest viewed Europe-wide as a proxy fight pitting the continent’s political center against its growingly strong populist and anti-establishment movements.

European mainstream parties joined Austrian supporters of Alexander Van der Bellen in congratulating him on his victory over Norbert Hofer, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declaring. “All of Europe is now breathing more easily.”

But with less than a percentage point separating the two, Hofer’s Freedom Party and its allies across Europe also had reason to celebrate what they cast as a major political surge by one of their own.

Hofer had been narrowly ahead of Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, after the counting of votes directly cast on Sunday. But around 700,000 absentee ballots still remained to be tallied Monday, and those numbers swung the victory to Van der Bellen.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said Van der Bellen collected 50.3 percent of the votes compared with 49.7 percent for Hofer of the Freedom Party. Only a little more than 31,000 votes separated the two, out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast.


Angelina Jolie to teach at London School of Economics

LONDON (AP) — Oscar-winning actress and activist Angelina Jolie has been appointed a visiting professor at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities.

The London School of Economics announced Monday that Jolie will be working with students studying for a master’s degree in Women, Peace and Security.

Among others appointed to teach the course is former British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“I hope other academic institutions will follow this example, as it is vital that we broaden the discussion on how to advance women’s rights and end impunity for crimes that disproportionately affect women, such as sexual violence in conflict,” Jolie said in a statement.

“I am looking forward to teaching and to learning from the students as well as to sharing my own experiences of working alongside governments and the United Nations.”


Senate-USOC exchange concerns, plans about Zika virus in Rio

A group of Democratic senators is concerned about how the Zika virus might affect American athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was one of 11 senators to sign a letter sent Monday to the U.S. Olympic Committee asking what steps it is taking to protect athletes against the spread of the mosquito-borne virus.

The letter cited recent information from the Centers for Disease Control showing a link between the disease and a birth defect, microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with undersized brains and skulls.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun responded by outlining steps the federation has taken, including the forming of an infectious disease advisory group with doctors who are available to answer athletes’ questions about the virus.

Blackmun said the USOC has created a medical emergency response plan to “provide pre-identified medical management strategies for any illness or injury in Rio.”

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