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


The Latest: Bundy asks holdouts at refuge to go home

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — The latest on an armed group that took over buildings at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

The attorney for the leader of an armed group occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge says the man wants those remaining at the refuge to “please stand down” and go home.

Ammon Bundy and seven others were arrested Tuesday. Bundy made an initial appearance in federal court in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday.

Mike Arnold, Bundy’s attorney, read a statement afterward in which Bundy urged those still at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to leave.

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Ammon Bundy urges last refuge occupiers to go home

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — A day after eight members of an armed anti-government group were arrested, their jailed leader on Wednesday urged a handful of remaining militants to abandon the Oregon wildlife refuge they have occupied for more than three weeks and where they are now surrounded by federal agents.

After militant leader Ammon Bundy made his first court appearance in Portland on Wednesday, his attorney, Mike Arnold, read this statement from his client: “Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts.”

It was unclear whether the remnant of Bundy’s followers still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns was ready to heed his advice.

Meanwhile, details began to emerge about the confrontation Tuesday on a remote highway that resulted in the arrest of Bundy and other leading figures in the group of occupiers, and in the death of militant Robert Finicum.

Bundy followers gave conflicting accounts of how Finicum died. One said Finicum charged at FBI agents, who then shot him. A member of the Bundy family said Finicum did nothing to provoke the agents.

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Rancher killed in standoff vowed to die before going to jail

BURNS, Oregon (AP) — A member of an armed anti-government group who was killed in a traffic stop in Oregon vowed a few weeks ago that he would die before spending his life behind bars.

LaVoy Finicum, a 55-year-old rancher from Cane Beds, Arizona, died Tuesday after law enforcement officers initiated the stop near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Finicum was a leader of the armed group that took over the southeast Oregon refuge Jan. 2 to protest federal land restrictions and object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.

He and other occupiers were heading to a community meeting in the town of John Day, about 70 miles north of Burns.

It’s unclear what happened in the moments before his death. Authorities said shots were fired but have declined to say how many, or if Finicum or any of the other activists exchanged gunfire with officers.

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Cruz looks to shore up support among Iowa evangelicals

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In Iowa, the evangelical vote can make or break a campaign — which is why both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are battling over support from the most conservative voters, as the race heats up ahead of the state’s leadoff caucus.

Cruz courted hundreds of social conservatives and evangelical voters who packed a Wednesday night rally, where he touted his anti-abortion beliefs while drawing sharp contrasts with Trump and his record on a variety of issues, including changing his position on abortion. Cruz also suggested that Trump doesn’t have the humility or temperament to be president.

Winning evangelical voters — who catapulted underdog candidates to victory in Iowa in 2008 and 2012 — is essential for Cruz to do well when Iowans vote on Monday.

“If evangelical pastors move the pews to the caucuses, then Ted Cruz wins Iowa,” said David Lane, an influential activist who has organized events across Iowa where Cruz and other Republican candidates have addressed pastors.

On Monday, Cruz addressed about 250 pastors in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. He gave his own assessment of where he sees the race, should Trump prevail in Iowa.

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Debate feud injects fresh chaos into GOP primary

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An explosive feud between Donald Trump and Fox News Channel is overshadowing the final sprint to Iowa’s presidential caucuses, injecting a new sense of chaos into the 2016 Republican contest.

On the eve of the final debate before Iowa voters weigh in, Trump refused to back off his decision to boycott Thursday’s prime-time faceoff. His campaign insisted that debate host Fox News crossed a line with a sarcastic statement mocking him and continued to criticize moderator Megyn Kelly. In turn, Fox accused Trump’s camp of trying to terrorize its employees.

“They think they can toy with Mr. Trump,” campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” ”Mr. Trump doesn’t play games.”

Trump reiterated his plans to skip the debate in an interview Wednesday on Fox News, saying, “I just don’t like being used.”

As the public clash intensified, Trump’s Republican competitors hunkered down for a day of private debate preparations filled with uncertainty. Skeptical that he would follow through on his boycott, the other campaigns held practice sessions with and without someone playing Trump.

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Obama, Sanders at the White House: Nice chat but that’s all

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his aides have said a lot of nice things about Bernie Sanders, but not this one: He’s ready to be president.

The key omission was particularly noticeable Wednesday as Obama and Sanders met for their first one-on-one since Sanders jolted the Democratic campaign and locked Hillary Clinton in an unexpectedly tight race.

The long-discussed meeting between Obama and his sometime critic was a moment for the president to display his public neutrality in the heated primary race to replace him — rebutting suggestions that he’s in the tank for Clinton. For Sanders, it was a chance to show he’s got some sway with a president who’s still popular among Democrats.

“By and large, over the last seven years on major issue after major issue, I have stood by his side where he has taken on unprecedented Republican obstructionism and has tried to do the right thing for the American people,” Sanders said after the meeting.

But neither the White House nor Sanders is suggesting the men are kindred spirits, or even close political allies. White House officials say the men lack much of a personal relationship and have markedly different approaches to politics. The president this week declared bluntly he doesn’t see Sanders’ upstart campaign as a reboot of his own battle against Clinton in 2008. Obama allies bristle at comparisons between Sanders and the president.

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France asks EU partners for new sanctions on Iran

PARIS (AP) — France has asked its European Union partners to consider new sanctions on Iran for its recent missile tests, officials have told The Associated Press, even as Paris welcomed the president of the Islamic Republic, which is flush with funds from the lifting of other sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The ambiguous signals emerging Wednesday from France came as President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate elected in 2013, signed billions of dollars in business deals on an earlier stop in Italy and met with Pope Francis in the first such Iranian foray into Europe since 1999.

France hopes for similarly lucrative deals during Rouhani’s two-day visit, along with regional peacemaking efforts as the once-pariah state emerges from decades of isolation.

But amid the courting of Iran, two officials from EU nations told AP that the request for new sanctions came shortly after the EU and the U.S. lifted sanctions on Tehran on Jan. 16 in exchange for U.N. certification that Iran had scaled back its nuclear programs. Iran said those programs were peaceful but critics feared it wanted to build nuclear weapons.

The two officials said the French request came after the United States had imposed new sanctions on Iran over the firing of a medium-range ballistic missile.

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Chaotic run-up to Syria peace talks reflects enormous gap

BEIRUT (AP) — The invitations are sent and preparations are underway at the U.N.’s Palais des Nations in Geneva, where the first peace talks in two years on the conflict in Syria are to begin Friday.

But two days before the talks, it is unclear who will attend — or even if the U.N. special envoy to Syria will be able to move the needle on any of the thorny issues on the agenda to help end the war that has killed 250,000 people in the last five years.

In the chaotic run-up to the talks, the warring sides and their international backers have bickered over who should be present and what should be discussed, with some threatening to boycott if their conditions are not met.

The drama continued Wednesday with a major opposition bloc saying it would only join the talks if progress is made toward lifting sieges on blockaded towns in Syria and implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions on other humanitarian issues. The Saudi-backed bloc known as the Higher Negotiating Committee was meeting to make a final decision on whether to go to Geneva.

The U.S. on Wednesday called on the opposition to attend the talks.

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APNewsBreak: Racial disparities seen in police stun gun use

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officers who drew their stun guns on the job last year were more likely to fire when the suspect was black or Hispanic, according to a first-of-its-kind set of statistics that could stoke the nation’s debate over race and police use of force.

The raw, preliminary data was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of an official analysis expected in the coming weeks. While police and state officials cautioned against passing judgment until then, at least one criminal justice expert said he would not be surprised to see similar findings elsewhere around the country.

Some civil rights groups said the statistics confirm what they suspected for years.

“We feel we’re vindicated,” said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches. “The NAACP has huge issues with how law enforcement use Tasers in communities across our state. We get a lot of complaints.”

State and municipal police in Connecticut reported a total of 641 incidents involving stun guns last year: 437 actual firings and 204 instances in which officers threatened to use their weapon but held their fire, according to the data.

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Brazil: 270 of 4,180 suspected microcephaly cases confirmed

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — New figures released Wednesday by Brazil’s Health Ministry as part of a probe into the Zika virus have found fewer cases of a rare birth defect than first feared.

Researchers have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October. On Wednesday, officials said they had done a more intense analysis of more than 700 of those cases, confirming 270 cases and ruling out 462 others.

But what that means is hard to say, according to some experts. It does not answer whether the tropical Zika virus is causing the babies to have unusually small heads. Nor does it really tell us how big the problem is.

“I don’t think we should lower our alarm over the Zika outbreak,” said Paul Roepe, co-director of Georgetown University’s Center for Infectious Disease.

Brazilian officials still say they believe there’s a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly and strongly suspect the Zika virus, which first appeared in the country last year, is to blame. The concern is strong enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month warned pregnant women to reconsider visits to areas where Zika is present, and officials in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil have suggested women stop getting pregnant until the crisis has passed.

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