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

Former Klan leader at center of latest GOP campaign joust

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — Republican front-runner Donald Trump drew sharp criticism from his rivals in both parties Sunday for refusing to denounce an implicit endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, raising the specter of racism as the presidential campaign hits the South.

Trump was asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether he rejected support from the former KKK Grand Dragon and other white supremacists after Duke told his radio followers this week that a vote against Trump was equivalent to “treason to your heritage.”

“Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK?” Trump said. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”

Trump’s comments came the same day he retweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini, the 20th century fascist dictator of Italy. And in a boost for his campaign in the South, he scored the endorsement of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of the most strident opponents of immigration reform on Capitol Hill.

But it was Trump’s statements about Duke that sparked a wave of censures with just two days to go before 11 states hold GOP primaries involving about a quarter of the party’s total nominating delegate count. Several states in the South, a region with a fraught racial history, are among those voting in the Super Tuesday contests.


As protests swirl, Oscars have feel of high-stakes showdown

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hollywood is bracing for an Academy Awards that more than any in recent memory, has the feel of a high-stakes showdown.

After a second straight year of all-white acting nominees prompted industry-wide scrutiny, viewers and stars alike are hanging on the opening words of host Chris Rock. The Dolby Theatre ceremony, heavily guarded by security, stands at the center of a swirling storm over diversity in the movies and at the Oscars, with the Rev. Al Sharpton leading a protest near the red carpet and some viewers planning a boycott of the broadcast.

The Academy Awards, normally decorous and predictable, are this year charged with enough politics and uncertainty to rival an election debate. Attendees were streaming down the red carpet at the 88th annual Academy Awards, with the ceremony to kick off at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC. With the sun out on a warm California day, organizers removed the roof above the red carpet.

Down the street from the Dolby Theatre, Sharpton led several dozen demonstrators in protest against a second straight year of all-white acting nominees. Demonstrators held signs reading “Hollywood Must Do Better” and “Shame on You.”

“This will be the last night of an all-white Oscars,” Sharpton vowed at the rally.


Opposition activists report airstrikes in northern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Warplanes carried out Sunday air raids on two villages in northern Syria as Russia said a northern town held by a predominantly Kurdish militia came under fire from the Turkish side of the border.

Sunday’s air raids came on the second day of a cease-fire brokered by Russia and the U.S., the most ambitious effort yet to curb the violence of the country’s five-year civil war. The truce has been holding since it went into effect at midnight Friday despite accusations by both sides of violations.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes hit the villages of Daret Azzeh and Qobtan al-Jabal. The group did not say whether the warplanes were Russian or Syrian.

The Local Coordination Committees said the warplanes were Russian.

It was not immediately clear if the warplanes struck areas controlled by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, known as the Nusra Front. Both the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group are excluded from the truce.


Clinton allies preparing for Trump nomination, fall campaign

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Emboldened by her South Carolina landslide, Hillary Clinton is shifting her focus to Republican front-runner Donald Trump as her party seeks consensus on the best ways to challenge the billionaire’s unpredictable nature in a general election.

As Clinton enters the series of Super Tuesday contests this week, allies of the former secretary of state, unaffiliated Democratic strategists and the national party are stockpiling potential ammunition about Trump, reviewing reams of court filings, requesting information about his business dealings from state governments and conducting new polls to test lines of attack.

Among the likely options: Questioning Trump’s qualifications and temperament to be president, scrutinizing his business practices and bankruptcy filings, and re-airing his inflammatory statements about women and minorities who will be central to the Democrats’ efforts in November.

“Is this the guy you would trust with the nuclear codes? Is this the guy you would trust with your son or daughter in the military? Is this the guy you would trust to run the economy?” asked Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut, a Clinton backer, pointing to a likely argument from Democrats.

Clinton, celebrating her rout of Democratic rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina’s primary, took direct aim at Trump’s message on Saturday night, telling supporters, “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again. America never stopped being great.”


States reduce jobless checks, adding pressure to unemployed

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — When Demetrius White recently lost his job as a $10-an-hour forklift driver loading pallets of shampoo, he applied for unemployment benefits to help support his family.

That aid will not last as long as it once did, because White is among the first group of people affected by a new Missouri law reducing the duration of jobless benefits. His $200-a-week checks will last no more than three months — just half as long as what has typically been available.

“That’s a dramatic change, really,” White said. “Thirteen weeks, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a job.”

States traditionally have offered up to half a year of aid for the unemployed as they search for new jobs. But since the end of the Great Recession, eight states have reduced the number of weeks that people can draw benefits, while others have cut the amount of money the unemployed can collect.

The cutbacks generally are intended to help shore up unemployment insurance trust funds, which went insolvent in 35 states following the recession that began in 2008. The changes could save hundreds of millions of dollars for businesses that pay unemployment taxes.


Twin bombing attacks in Baghdad market kill at least 59

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants attacked an outdoor market on Sunday in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 59 people and wounding nearly 100, officials said.

A bomb ripped through the crowded Mredi market in the Shiite district of Sadr City, a police officer said. Minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up amid the crowd that had gathered at the site of the first bombing, he added.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sad Main said the bombings killed 38 people and wounded another 62.

Multiple hospital officials later increased the casualty toll to 59 dead and 95 wounded. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

The attack was the deadliest in a wave of recent explosions that have targeted commercial areas in and outside Baghdad.


Debate rages in courts over ‘high-sensitivity’ DNA analysis

NEW YORK (AP) — One New York judge ruled the DNA evidence was scientifically sound. Another, just miles away, tossed it out as unreliable.

The same scenario is playing out in courthouses around the world amid a debate over whether a type of DNA analysis involving the amplification of tiny amounts of genetic material is reliable enough to convict someone for a crime.

The technique, known as low-copy number or high-sensitivity analysis can be used when investigators use “touch DNA” and are only able to collect a few human cells left behind when someone touches an object such as a gun, the handle of a knife, or even clothing.

While many prosecutors and forensic experts hail it as powerful tool that can help close cases, critics — most notably the FBI — argue it is inconclusive and unreliable. But there is no clear case law on the merits of the science, leaving judges to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.

“If the experts in the DNA field cannot agree on the weight to be given to evidence produced by high sensitivity analysis, it would make no sense to throw such evidence before a lay jury,” Brooklyn state Supreme Court Justice Mark Dwyer said last year in throwing out a DNA sample swabbed from a bicycle in an attempted murder case.


Home of Disneyland has a history intertwined with the KKK

ANAHEIM, California (AP) — The home of Disneyland, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth, is also the town where the Ku Klux Klan once ran the City Council, burned crosses and rallied 10,000 people in a city park.

That rally back in 1924 proved to be a turning point for Anaheim, which ousted the Klan and broke ground on Disneyland a generation later. Now a majority-Hispanic city of 350,000, it’s hardly welcome territory for a KKK protest against immigration.

Mayhem ensued Saturday as soon as six Klan members pulled up in a black SUV for a rally they had advertised in advance and pulled out signs saying “White Lives Matter.”

Dozens of protesters swarmed in and someone smashed a window. The SUV then sped away, leaving three Klansmen dressed in black shirts decorated with the Klan cross and Confederate flag patches outnumbered.

Police said one Klansmen carrying an American flag stabbed a protester with the bald eagle decorating the end of his pole. Counter-protesters, meanwhile, were seen stomping on Klan members. By the end, three people had been stabbed, one critically, and a dozen others arrested.


Smith calls out Cavs, LeBron sits for 113-99 loss at Wizards

WASHINGTON (AP) — That the Cleveland Cavaliers would drop a road game against a would-be playoff team while giving LeBron James a rare day off might not be all that surprising to most.

Still, trailing by as many as 30 points along the way to a 113-99 loss to John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Sunday did not sit well with Cleveland’s J.R. Smith.

“If we’re going to play with a lack of energy … and come out and play the way we did today,” Smith declared, “we shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

Smith, who had eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, continued: “We can’t play basketball like this going down the stretch. … You talk about contending or being a championship contender and you’re blown out … and get thrashed, make it look good at the end. We can’t do that. If we’re serious about who we’re supposed to be, we can’t do this.”

It was the second consecutive loss for Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland, which is in the middle of a stretch of three games in four days.


First Iran vote after nuclear deal gives reformists momentum

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian reformists appear have won all 30 seats representing the nation’s capital in parliament, a definitive rebuke to the hard-liners opposing President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to open the economy and cooperate with the West.

In the first elections held since last year’s nuclear deal, none of Iran’s three main political camps — reformists, conservatives and hard-liners — is expected to win an outright majority in the 290-seat parliament, but early results indicate the best reformist showing in more than a decade.

Moderate conservatives also gained seats, and if their tentative coalition with the reformists holds, they could end the domination of parliament by hard-liners who were opposed to the nuclear deal. The reformist gains reflect strong public support for the agreement’s promise of more economic opportunities now that the West has dropped crippling sanctions in exchange for limiting the nation’s nuclear program.

State television said Friday’s vote heralds “the end of the presence of a powerful majority in the parliament that overshadowed decision-making apparatus in the country over the past decade.”

Rouhani thanked voters Saturday night in a message that encouraged Iranians to help him end the nation’s isolation.