AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

Trump expected to tap Exxon’s Tillerson to lead State Dept.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump moved closer to nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of State on Saturday, a decision that would bring a business leader with close ties to Russia into the Cabinet.

Trump has privately signaled that he plans to tap Tillerson for the powerful Cabinet post, but had not formally offered him the job as of Saturday evening, according to people who have spoken with Trump and his transition team. Some advisers worry that Tillerson’s Russia connections would lead to a contentious Senate confirmation hearing and keep alive questions about Trump’s own relationship with Moscow.

Trump and Tillerson met privately in New York on Saturday, their second meeting in a week. The president-elect’s transition team said an announcement was not expected over the weekend.

Tillerson rose to prominence through Exxon’s Russian energy business and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship. He has argued against sanctions the U.S. and European allies imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

In an interview airing Sunday, Trump praised Tillerson as “much more than a businessman.”


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.

Trump’s public dismissal of the CIA assessment raises questions about how he will treat information from intelligence agencies as president. His view also puts Republicans in the uncomfortable position of choosing between the incoming president and the intelligence community.

In a statement late Friday, Trump’s transition team said the finger-pointing at Russia was coming from “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” On Saturday, spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN there were “people within these agencies who are upset with the outcome of the election.”


Twin blasts near Istanbul soccer stadium kill 29 , wound 166

ISTANBUL (AP) — Twin attacks by a suicide bomber and a car bomber near an Istanbul soccer stadium Saturday night killed 29 people and wounded 166 others in the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats.

The bombs targeted police officers, killing 27 of them along with two civilians, Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters early Sunday. He added that 10 people had been arrested in connection with the “terrorist attack.”

The civilian death toll was lower because fans had already left the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium after the soccer match when the blasts occurred. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions.

“We have once again witnessed tonight in Istanbul the ugly face of terror which tramples on every value and decency,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

The first bomb went off just outside the facility known popularly as Besiktas Stadium after the local team and neighborhood. The second blast that came moments later was attributed by authorities to a suicide bomber.


At least 60 killed as crowded church collapses in Nigeria

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The roof of a crowded church collapsed onto worshippers in southern Nigeria on Saturday, killing at least 60 people, witnesses and an official said.

The Reigners Bible Church International in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state, 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 Gov. Udom Emmanuel, were inside when metal girders crashed onto worshippers and the corrugated iron roof caved in, they said. Emmanuel and Weeks, who preached that God will make his followers rich, escaped unhurt.

Bodies of at least 60 victims have been retrieved but the toll could mount as a crane removes debris, according to a rescue official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The governor’s spokesman, Ekerete Udoh, said the state government will hold an inquiry to investigate if anyone compromised building standards. Buildings collapse regularly in Nigeria because of endemic corruption with contractors using sub-standard materials and bribing inspectors to ignore shoddy work or a lack of building permits.


Islamic State militants re-enter Syria’s historic Palmyra

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants re-entered the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria on Saturday for the first time since they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces nine months ago.

The activist-run Palmyra Coordination network said the militants had nearly encircled the city and entered its northern and northwestern neighborhoods. The group, which maintains contacts inside the city, said IS fighters were approaching the city’s UNESCO heritage site as well.

Osama al-Khatib said government soldiers were fleeing Palmyra.

“The army as an institution has dissolved,” he said. Some soldiers and militiamen remain in the city, along with 120 families who have not been able to leave, Khatib said. He spoke to The Associated Press from Gaziantep, Turkey.

“There is strong fighting on all sides,” he reported. “There is no exit except through a corridor to the west.”


KKK, other racist groups disavow the white supremacist label

PELHAM, N.C. (AP) — In today’s racially charged environment, there’s a label that even the KKK disavows: white supremacy.

Standing on a muddy dirt road in the dead of night near the North Carolina-Virginia border, masked Ku Klux Klan members claimed Donald Trump’s election as president proves whites are taking back America from blacks, immigrants, Jews and other groups they describe as criminals and freeloaders. America was founded by and for whites, they say, and only whites can run a peaceful, productive society.

But still, the KKK members insisted in an interview with The Associated Press, they’re not white supremacists, a label that is gaining traction in the country since Trump won with the public backing of the Klan, neo-Nazis and other white racists.

“We’re not white supremacists. We believe in our race,” said a man with a Midwestern accent and glasses just hours before a pro-Trump Klan parade in a nearby town. He, like three Klan compatriots, wore a robe and pointed hood and wouldn’t give his full name, in accordance with Klan rules.

Claiming the Klan isn’t white supremacist flies in the face of its very nature. The Klan’s official rulebook, the Kloran — published in 1915 and still followed by many groups — says the organization “shall ever be true in the faithful maintenance of White Supremacy,” even capitalizing the term for emphasis. Watchdog groups also consider the Klan a white supremacist organization, and experts say the groups’ denials are probably linked to efforts to make their racism more palatable.


Mexico’s drug war marks a decade amid doubts, changes

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — Ten years after Mexico declared a war on drugs, the offensive has left some major drug cartels splintered and many old-line kingpins like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in jail, but done little to reduce crime or violence in the nation’s roughest regions.

Some say the war has been a crucial, but flawed, effort. Others argue the offensive begun by then-President Felipe Calderon on Dec. 11, 2006, unleashed an unnecessary tragedy with more than 100,000 people dead and about 30,000 missing — a toll comparable to the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

In some places, homicide rates have lessened. In others, the killings continue unabated. The drawn-out conflict has also had a profound effect on those close to the cross-hairs of suffering: youths inured to extreme violence; adults so fed-up with poor and corrupt policing that they took up arms as vigilantes; and families who banded together in the face of authorities’ inability to find their vanished loved ones.

A law enforcement official in the northern border state of Tamaulipas told The Associated Press he now routinely encounters young cartel gunmen who have few regrets about their vocation. In fact, they see killing as the best way to afford things like smartphones, cars and girlfriends.

“I ask them, ‘What do you want to be?’ And they say, ‘To be a chief look-out and have a narco-corrido song written about me,” said the official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name. “As young as they are, they have no other aspiration in life.”


Non-OPEC oil producers to cut output 558,000 barrels a day

VIENNA (AP) — OPEC has persuaded 11 non-members to cut oil production, a move aimed at draining a worldwide oil glut and boosting low prices that have squeezed government finances in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Officials said Saturday that non-members agreed to cut 558,000 barrels per day for six months starting Jan. 1, and that the deal was renewable for another six months after that. The figure was less than the 600,000 barrels a day that OPEC had hoped for.

Those non-member cuts come on top of an OPEC decision Nov. 30 to reduce member output by 1.2 million barrels a day.

Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih called Saturday’s deal “historic” and said it would stabilize the market through next year and encourage industry investment. The announcement came after OPEC member states met with Russia and other non-OPEC countries in Vienna for talks.

Al-Falih said the deal “is meant to accelerate the natural process of rebalancing” the oil market.


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. He barely held it together while giving his acceptance speech, with the former Heisman winners standing behind him on stage.


Republican John Kennedy wins Louisiana Senate race in runoff

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana voters chose Saturday to send Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy to the U.S. Senate, filling the nation’s last Senate seat and giving the GOP a 52-48 edge in the chamber when the new term begins in January.

Kennedy had always been the runoff election’s front-runner in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump. He defeated Democrat Foster Campbell, a state utility regulator whose chances were seen as such a long-shot that national Democratic organizations offered little assistance to Campbell’s campaign.

As he celebrated the victory, Kennedy said he represented change in Washington.

“I believe that our future can be better than our present, but not if we keep going in the direction the Washington insiders have taken us the last eight years,” he said. “That’s about to change, folks.”

Voters also filled two open U.S. House seats Saturday, choosing Republican Clay Higgins, a former sheriff’s captain known as the “Cajun John Wayne,” in the 3rd District representing southwest and south central Louisiana and Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson in the 4th District covering northwest Louisiana.