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

Romney, McCain: Trump a danger for America’s future

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In an extraordinary display of Republican chaos, the party’s most recent presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, lambasted current front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday, calling him unfit for office and a danger for the nation and the GOP.

“His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader,” Romney declared. He called Trump “a phony” who is “playing the American public for suckers,” a man whose “imagination must not be married to real power.”

Hours later, Trump lashed back, calling Romney “a choke artist” who lost to Barack Obama four years ago only because he was such a poor candidate.

The vicious feud marked a near-unprecedented scenario pitting the Republican Party’s most prominent leaders, past and present, against each other as Democrats begin to unite around Hillary Clinton.

Underlying the clash is a bleak reality for panicking Republican officials: Beyond harsh words, there is little they see to stop Trump’s march toward the presidential nomination. Party leaders are poring over complicated delegate math, outlining hazy scenarios for a contested national convention and even flirting with the idea of a third-party effort.


In field on edge of Greece, refugees’ desperation grows

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — By the hundreds they come, trudging along the sides of highways and across fields, dragging tired toddlers and pushing the elderly and injured in wheelchairs — a seemingly endless stream of humanity heading north for a better life.

Only their path has been blocked by border restrictions set up by European leaders balking at the sheer magnitude of the problem they face: How to care for and integrate hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants knocking at their door.

The fields on the outskirts of this Greek border town have become the flashpoint in Europe’s massive refugee crisis, the size of which the continent has not seen since World War II.

More than a million people, mostly Syrians fleeing a vicious five-year civil war, fled to the European Union in 2015. The first two months of this year have seen no letup despite the winter and its rough seas, and governments across the continent are bracing for even more with improving weather in the spring.

At the border, Macedonian authorities have set up coils of razor wire, leaving a narrow passage through which they control the migration flow. Over the past few weeks, the controls have grown increasingly stringent, and now only a trickle are allowed through.


N. Korea, on defense after sanctions, makes nuclear threat

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his country’s nuclear weapons made ready for use at a moment’s notice, the country’s official state news agency reported Friday.

Kim also said his country will ready its military so it is prepared to carry out pre-emptive attacks, calling the current situation very precarious, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

The threats in the statement are part of the authoritarian nation’s regular propaganda effort to show strength in the face of what it sees as an effort by its enemies South Korea and the United States to overthrow its leaders; it follows harsh U.N. sanctions over the North’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch and comes ahead of joint U.S.-South Korean war games this month that the North claims are invasion preparations.

North Korea has threatened nuclear war in the past, but it is unclear just how advanced the country’s nuclear program really is. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of crude atomic bombs, but there is considerable outside debate about whether it is technologically able to shrink a warhead and mount it on a missile.

“The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force both in quality and quantity,” the North’s dispatch Friday said, paraphrasing Kim Jong Un. It said that Kim stressed “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment.”


Military beginning to recruit women for combat jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The military services are already beginning to recruit women for combat jobs, including as Navy SEALs, and could see them serving in previously male-only Army and Marine Corps infantry units by this fall, according to new plans endorsed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and obtained by The Associated Press.

Some of the services predict that only small numbers of women will volunteer or get through training courses, details of the plans show. The Marine Corps estimates 200 women a year will move into ground combat jobs. And U.S. Special Operations Command said it anticipates a “small number” of volunteers for its commando jobs.

The Navy said it is already collecting submission packages from prospective SEAL candidates and could see women in entry-level enlisted and officer training in September and October. The Navy started collecting the packages last month.

All of the services say they have made required changes to base bathrooms and other facilities to accommodate women, and they will monitor training, injury assessments, and possible sexual harassment or assault problems.

The plans have been under review by senior Pentagon leaders and have not been made public.


Christian hamlet in Syria bears scars of fierce fighting

MAALOULA, Syria (AP) — Its historic churches pillaged by jihadis and buildings riddled with shrapnel, this ancient Christian town north of Damascus still bears the scars of the fierce fighting that devastated it two years ago.

Residents vividly recall the shock they felt when they returned to their town after it was recaptured by the Syrian army from the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, and other militants in 2014.

“We were horrified by what we saw: Everything was ruined, burned and plundered,” said Rayan Wehbi of the once-scenic hamlet that was seized by the jihadis in 2013. “After the militants stormed the city, they stole all they could and destroyed the rest.”

International journalists on a trip to Syria organized by the Russian government on Thursday visited Maaloula, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Damascus.

Although heavily armed Syrian soldiers could be seen patrolling the town, the relative peace in Maaloula contrasts sharply with other areas on the outskirts of Damascus where intense fighting continues to rage. The capital’s eastern suburbs, such as Douma or Harasta, are still held by the rebels even though government troops made some advances there recently.


Federal authorities seek to dismiss McClendon indictment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Federal authorities sought Thursday to drop a criminal indictment of bid rigging against Oklahoma energy tycoon Aubrey McClendon, who died in a fiery single-car crash just hours after the indictment was announced.

Meanwhile, attorneys for a northwest Oklahoma landowner filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against McClendon’s former company, Chesapeake Energy, alleging a conspiracy that involved another energy executive, ex-Sandridge Energy CEO Tom Ward.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Chicago-based antitrust division alleged in the indictment against McClendon that he and unnamed co-conspirators orchestrated the conspiracy to rig bids for landowner leases in northwest Oklahoma. Ward, a longtime friend of McClendon’s who co-founded Chesapeake in the 1980s, was the CEO of Sandridge at the time the conspiracy was alleged to have occurred.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg declined Thursday to confirm that Ward and Sandridge are the unindicted co-conspirators or that its investigation into the conspiracy is ongoing. Messages seeking comment Thursday from Ward and Sandridge were not immediately returned.

But Warren Burns, one of the attorneys who filed the class-action lawsuit, said it appears Ward and Sandridge Energy are the unindicted co-conspirators listed in the indictment against McClendon.


APNewsBreak: US seeks end to Yellowstone grizzly protections

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The federal government is proposing to lift threatened-species protections for hundreds of Yellowstone-area grizzlies, opening the door to future hunts for the fearsome bears across parts of three states for the first time since the 1970s.

The proposal caps a four-decade, government-sponsored effort to rebuild the grizzly population and follows the lifting of protections in recent years for more than a dozen other species, including the gray wolf, brown pelican and flying squirrel.

Hunting within Yellowstone National Park would still be prohibited. But the proposal could allow animals to be taken in surrounding parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

“By the time the curtain closes on the Obama administration, we are on track to have delisted more species due to recovery than all previous administrations combined,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told The Associated Press. “We’ve done that because of several decades of hard work, like with the grizzly bear.”

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America and came to symbolize the continent’s untamed wilderness. Hunters and trappers had nearly wiped them out across most of the Lower 48 states by the late 1800s.


AP interview: Man finds possible Malaysian plane debris

MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — An American adventurer said Thursday that he discovered part of an aircraft on a sandbar off the coast of Mozambique and initially thought it was from a small plane, and not from a Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared two years ago with 239 people aboard.

If confirmed that the piece of tail section came from Flight MH370, a small piece of the puzzle will have been found, but it might not be enough to help solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Blaine Gibson described how a boat operator took him to a sandbar named Paluma and then called him over after seeing a piece of debris with “NO STEP” written on it.

“It was so light,” said Gibson, who has told reporters that he has spent a long time searching for evidence of missing Flight MH370.

Photos of the debris appear to show the fixed leading edge of the right-hand tail section of a Boeing 777, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Flight MH370 is the only known missing 777.


Man charged in son’s death 23 years after shaking him

Christopher Barber served nearly five years in a Pennsylvania prison in the 1990s for shaking his fussy baby boy and flinging him onto a couch so hard that he suffered catastrophic brain damage.

Now Barber is behind bars again, charged with homicide, following his son’s death at age 23 after he lingered in a vegetative state the rest of his life, hooked to a breathing machine and fed through a tube.

Barber, 46, was arraigned Wednesday and jailed without bail. Prosecutors had him arrested after a pathologist ruled Christopher Kostenbader’s death last May a homicide, saying he succumbed to “complications due to the severe head injury that occurred in 1991 at the hands of the defendant.”

Cases like this one — in which prosecutors file new, more serious charges after the victim takes a turn for the worse much later — are unusual but hardly unprecedented. In November, a Southern California jail inmate who abused a baby girl in 2005 was charged with murder over her death a decade later.

The challenge for prosecutors in such cases is showing that the defendant’s long-ago actions led to the victim’s death.


Brady suspension back on the table after Deflategate appeal

NEW YORK (AP) — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could again be facing a four-game suspension for the scandal known as Deflategate after federal appeals court judges spent time Thursday shredding some of his union’s favorite arguments for dismissal.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan gave a players’ union lawyer a tough time, with Circuit Judge Denny Chin even saying evidence of ball tampering was “compelling, if not overwhelming,” and there was evidence to support a finding that Brady “knew about it, consented to it, encouraged it.”

“How do we as appellate judges reviewing an arbitrator’s decision second-guess the four-game suspension?” Chin asked attorney Jeffrey Kessler of the NFL Players Association.

The appeals court did not immediately rule, but it seemed to lean heavily at times against the union’s arguments, raising the prospect that the suspension Brady was supposed to start last September before a judge nullified it may begin next season instead.

The appeals panel seemed receptive to the NFL’s argument that it was fair for Commissioner Roger Goodell to severely penalize one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks after concluding he tarnished the game by impeding the league’s investigation into deflated footballs, including destroying a cellphone containing nearly 10,000 messages. The league had concluded that deflated balls were used when the Patriots routed the Indianapolis Colts at the January 2015 AFC championship game before they went on to win the Super Bowl.