Trump, amid combative start, pledges to rise to moment
WASHINGTON (AP) — After a combative start to his presidency, Donald Trump delivered a more unifying message Sunday and sought to reassure Americans he was up to the daunting task ahead, as he turned to the business of government.
Speaking in the White House East Room during a swearing-in ceremony for top aides, the president warned his staff of future challenges but declared he believed they were ready.
“But with the faith in each other and the faith in God, we will get the job done,” the president said. “We will prove worthy of this moment in history. And I think it may very well be a great moment in history.”
Trump’s reassurance came after a day marked by global protests against his presidency and his own complaints about media coverage of his inauguration. He said his staff was in the White House not to “help ourselves” but to “devote ourselves to the national good.”
Trump held up the letter left to him by his predecessor, Barack Obama — a White House tradition. “It was really very nice of him to do that,” Trump said. “We will cherish that.” He said the contents will remain private.
Severe storms: Death toll hits 16 amid Southeast tornadoes
ADEL, Georgia (AP) — Powerful storms kicked up apparent tornadoes and pushed the weekend death toll to 16 people killed and dozens injured as a fast-moving storm system punched through the Southeast for a second day on Sunday, authorities said.
An apparent tornado blew through a mobile home park early Sunday in southern Georgia’s rural Cook County — sheering off siding, upending homes and killing seven people, local authorities said. An eighth death was reported in Cook County by state officials, although it was unclear whether that victim lived in the park.
Coroner Tim Purvis said the tornado “leveled” the park before dawn Sunday and that emergency responders searched for survivors for hours after the twister struck. Purvis said the park had about 40 mobile homes, and roughly half were destroyed. The area was cordoned off by police.
Not far from the mobile home park, 19-year-old Jenny Bullard wore a sling on her injured arm as she combed through the rubble of her family’s brick house. All that remained standing Sunday afternoon was the master bedroom and parts of the kitchen.
“It’s a horrible tragedy,” Bullard said. “But all this stuff can be replaced. We can’t replace each other. We’re extremely lucky.”
Israeli leader accepts invitation from Trump to visit US
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Sunday accepted an invitation to visit the White House next month in hopes of forging a “common vision” for the region with President Donald Trump that could include expanded settlement construction on occupied territories and a tougher policy toward Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans to head to Washington in early February hours after delaying a vote on an explosive proposal to annex one of the West Bank’s largest settlements, apparently to coordinate his policy toward the Palestinians with the new administration.
The move put on hold legislation that threatens to unleash fresh violence and damage already faded hopes for Palestinian independence. It also may have marked Trump’s first presidential foray into Middle East diplomacy.
After eight years of frosty relations with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has welcomed Trump’s election as an opportunity to strengthen ties between the two allies. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was gearing up plans to expand settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — a policy that had been condemned by Obama.
Late Sunday, the two men held what Netanyahu’s office described as a “very warm conversation” by phone. It said they discussed the international nuclear deal with Iran, which both men have harshly criticized, and the Palestinian issue.
Avalanche survivors: sipping tea, then world crashed down
FARINDOLA, Italy (AP) — Some of the lucky ones were sipping hot tea near the fireplace in their mountain resort hotel, waiting for snowplows to arrive so they could finally go home, after a winter holiday made nerve-wracking by a day of ground-shaking earthquakes and heavy snowfall.
Suddenly, Vincenzo Forti and girlfriend Giorgia Galassi were knocked violently off a wicker sofa. A few other guests nearby tumbled off their chairs in the elegant yet rustic reception hall.
An avalanche of snow — and not a tremendously powerful earthquake as survivors first imagined — had just barreled down the mountainside Wednesday evening, smashing into the Hotel Rigopiano and trapping more than 30 holiday-makers, including four children, and workers inside.
On Sunday evening, rescuers spotted a man’s body in the wreckage, raising to six the number of confirmed dead. Twenty-three others remained missing, with hopes dependent on whether anyone might have found survival in some air pocket searchers hadn’t yet reached.
While the nine people who were eventually rescued, including all the children, remained hospitalized Sunday, some details of their harrowing survival accounts began emerging, through family, friends and rescuers who spoke with them at their bedside or by telephone.
Gambia’s ex-leader made off with millions, luxury cars
BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Exiled Gambian ruler Yahya Jammeh stole millions of dollars in his final weeks in power, plundering the state coffers and shipping out luxury vehicles by cargo plane, a special adviser for the new president said Sunday.
Meanwhile, a regional military force rolled in, greeted by cheers, to secure this tiny West African nation so that democratically elected President Adama Barrow could return home. He remained in neighboring Senegal, where he took the oath of office Thursday because of concerns for his safety.
At a press conference in the Senegalese capital, Barrow’s special adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty told journalists that the president “will return home as soon as possible.”
Underscoring the challenges facing the new administration, Fatty confirmed that Jammeh made off with more than $11.4 million during a two-week period alone. That is only what they have discovered so far since Jammeh and his family took an offer of exile after more than 22 years in power and departed late Saturday.
“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said. “It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”
Intensive negotiations ahead of Russia-led Syria talks
ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — Delegates from Russia, Turkey and Iran held hours-long talks in Kazakhstan Sunday on the eve of negotiations between Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad’s government, trying to forge common ground that would nudge forward a political settlement for the country’s civil war.
The talks between the two warring sides are the first in a year, and are meant as a first step to consolidate a cease-fire reached last month.
Whether Russia and Turkey will manage to bolster the cease-fire they brokered on Dec. 30 will be a key measure of success for the Astana meetings, Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi told reporters in the Kazakh capital Sunday.
The opposition delegation, which arrived in Astana earlier in the day, is made up of about a dozen rebel figures led by Mohammad Alloush, of the powerful Army of Islam rebel group. The Syrian government is sending its U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, and military delegates.
The U.N.’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is participating in the talks, which are to be followed by more political talks in February in Geneva. The new U.S. administration is not directly involved, because of the “immediate demands of the transition,” the State Department said Saturday, but Washington will be represented by the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, George Krol.
Partial results: Valls, Hamon advance in French primary
PARIS (AP) — Manuel Valls, a center-leaning former prime minister who rallied France together after extremist attacks, will confront stalwart Socialist Benoit Hamon in the country’s left-wing presidential primary runoff next week.
Hamon, a former government minister, was leading Sunday with 36.12 percent followed by Valls with 31.24 percent, based on about half of the vote count, according to the results published on the Socialist primary website.
Whoever wins the Jan. 29 primary runoff will face the April-May presidential election battling more popular candidates from the far right to the far left riding frustration with immigration and economic stagnation.
Tough-talking, center-leaning Valls jumped in the presidential race in December few days after President Francois Hollande declined to seek re-election —acknowledging his personal unpopularity would lead his Socialist party to defeat in the presidential battle.
Somber but combative, Valls called for left-wing voters to rally behind him as a bulwark against the French far right and “the America of Donald Trump, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.”
Russia set to move closer to decriminalize domestic violence
MOSCOW (AP) — In Russia, giving one’s spouse a slap is nothing extraordinary for many people. This week, the Russian parliament is expected to take a step closer toward decriminalizing it altogether.
Battery is a criminal offense in Russia, but nearly 20 percent of Russians openly say they think it is sometimes OK to hit a spouse or a child. In a bid to accommodate conservative voters, deputies in the lower house of parliament have given initial approval to a bill eliminating criminal liability for domestic violence that stops short of serious bodily harm or rape.
If the measure passes its second reading in the Duma on Wednesday, when the draft can be changed, approval in the third and final reading would be a foregone conclusion. From the Duma, it would proceed to the upper house, largely a rubber-stamp body, and then to President Vladimir Putin’s desk.
Data on domestic violence in Russia are obscure, but Interior Ministry statistics show that 40 percent of all violent crimes in Russia are committed in family surroundings. In 2013, more than 9,000 women were reported to have been killed in incidents of domestic violence.
The bill stems from a Supreme Court ruling last summer to decriminalize battery that doesn’t inflict bodily harm, but to retain criminal charges for those accused of battery against family members. Conservative activists objected, saying the ruling meant a parent spanking a child could be punished more harshly than a non-relative striking the child.
Royals’ Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.
It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.
Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.
Ventura, whose nickname “Ace” fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.
“Our team and our organization is hurting deeply,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “It’s certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.
Conference championships open with high-scoring matchup
The NFC championship game is expected to close out the Georgia Dome with a shootout, with oddsmakers expecting 60 points combined from the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.
That game opens conference championship Sunday at 3:05 p.m. on Fox, with the winner headed to Super Bowl 51 in Houston to take on the winner of the late game between the Patriots and Steelers.
Pittsburgh is a 4 1/2-point underdog in New England, where the weather shouldn’t be a huge factor. It’s cloudy, but the temperature should not drop below 35 degrees. That game starts around 6:40 p.m. on CBS.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
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