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A half-hour away: How Trump opted against Iran strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — The planes were ready — their deadly cargo poised for delivery within a half-hour.

President Donald Trump had been given a series of options Thursday night on how to respond to Iran’s downing of an unmanned American surveillance drone. Senior military advisers zeroed in on a plan to launch strikes on a trio of sites within Iran, and it was up to Trump to give the final go-ahead.

If the planes took off, Trump later recounted to NBC, they would soon be at “a point where you wouldn’t turn back or couldn’t turn back.”

Trump’s decision point came at the culmination of a tense 24 hours inside the West Wing after the drone went down.

How would he make his decision? “My gut,” he told legislators.

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After calling off strikes on Iran, Trump suggests patience

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he abruptly called off the swiftly planned military strikes on Iran because the likely deaths of 150 Iranians would have been so out of proportion to the shootdown of an unmanned American surveillance drone. He also indicated he still hopes for talks with Iranian leaders rather than any escalation of military conflict.

“I am in no hurry,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that increasingly severe sanctions meant to push Iran to the nuclear negotiating table are “biting” the Iranian economy.

The aborted attack was a stark reminder of the potential for the escalating tensions of the past year between the U.S. and Iran to lead to full-scale conflict, even as the president repeatedly insists he does not want war and wants to negotiate with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

Iran on Friday showed no public inclination to negotiate, and it was unclear whether Trump, who said the U.S. military had been “cocked and loaded” to hit Iran, was considering new military options. After Iran downed a huge Navy surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, Trump alternately denounced it as a “big mistake” and dismissed it as a “fly in the ointment.”

Iran insisted the U.S. drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters when it was hit by an Iranian missile. Iran said it recovered debris in its waters. The U.S. military said Friday that although debris from the destroyed drone was spread across a wide area, none had yet been recovered by American forces, who were encountering high winds and heavy seas.

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Trump faces new sexual assault allegation; he issues denial

WASHINGTON (AP) — A New York-based advice columnist claims Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s, according to a first-person account published Friday by New York magazine.

Trump denied the allegations and said, “I’ve never met this person in my life.”

The allegation against Trump by E. Jean Carroll is included in her upcoming book about the “hideous men” that the Elle magazine columnist says she has encountered throughout her life.

Carroll wrote that after what started as a friendly encounter with Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in 1995 or 1996, the real estate mogul pushed her up against a dressing room wall, unzipped his pants and forced himself on her. Carroll said that in a “colossal struggle,” she pushed him off and ran from the store.

In his statement, Trump called the accusation “fake news” and said there was no evidence.

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Georgians keep protesting despite speaker’s resignation

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The speaker of Georgia’s parliament stepped down Friday in the wake of violent clashes that left at least 240 people injured, but the move failed to assuage protesters, who returned to the streets demanding that the interior minister also step down over a brutal police response.

A night of clashes Thursday was sparked by a Russian lawmaker who took the speaker’s seat as a group of international lawmakers met at the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi. It angered the opposition, which sees the current Georgian government as overly friendly to Russian interests.

The protests mark the largest outpouring of anger against the ruling Georgian Dream since it took power in 2012.

Officials said at least 240 people were injured when riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and unleashed water cannon on protesters outside Georgia’s parliament building during the clashes that lasted into early Friday. More than 100 people are still in the hospital, and two people lost eyes because of the rubber bullets, according to Giorgi Kordzakhiya, director of Tbilisi’s New Hospital.

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze blamed opposition leaders for the violence, saying they hijacked a “genuine” public outpouring but then “violated the law and the Constitution.”

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Court tosses black man’s murder conviction over racial bias

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday threw out the murder conviction and death sentence for a black man in Mississippi because of a prosecutor’s efforts to keep African Americans off the jury. The defendant already has been tried six times and now could face a seventh trial.

The removal of black prospective jurors deprived inmate Curtis Flowers of a fair trial, the court said in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The long record of Flowers’ trials stretching back more than 20 years shows District Attorney Doug Evans’ “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals,” with the goal of an all-white jury, Kavanaugh wrote.

In Flowers’ sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. Prosecutor Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn’t reach unanimous verdicts.

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US blacklists 5 Chinese groups working in supercomputing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is blacklisting five Chinese organizations involved in supercomputing with military-related applications, citing national security as justification for denying its Asian geopolitical rival access to critical U.S. technology.

The move Friday by the U.S. Commerce Department could complicate talks next week between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, aimed at de-escalating a trade dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

The five blacklisted organizations placed on the so-called Entity List includes supercomputer maker Sugon, which is heavily dependent on U.S. suppliers including chipmakers Intel, Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.

The other four are the Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology and three Sugon affiliates. The Commerce Department called their activities “contrary to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Sugon and the Wuxi Jiangnan Institute, which the U.S. said is owned by a Chinese army research institute, are involved in China’s push to develop next-generation “exascale” high performance computing to assist with military modernization. The technology involved supports such military-related tasks as running nuclear simulations, calculating missile trajectories and hypersonic algorithms, said Paul Triolo, technology analyst with the global risk-assessing Eurasia Group.

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Lawmakers decry perilous federal lockups for migrant kids

CLINT, Texas (AP) — Lawmakers on Friday were calling for swift change after reports this week of more than 250 infants, children and teens being held inside a windowless Border Patrol station, struggling to care for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

It’s a scene that is being repeated at other immigration facilities overwhelmed with too many migrant children and nowhere to put them.

“This facility wasn’t even on our radar before we came down here,” said law professor Warren Binford, a member of the team that interviewed dozens of children this week detained in Clint, about a half-hour drive from El Paso. Fifteen children had the flu, another 10 were quarantined.

At another Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, attorney Toby Gialluca said all the children she talked to last week were very sick with high fevers, coughing and wearing soiled clothes crusted with mucus and dirt after their long trip north.

“Everyone is sick. Everyone. They’re using their clothes to wipe mucus off the children, wipe vomit off the children. Most of the little children are not fully clothed,” she said.

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California to illegal pot shops: We’re coming for you

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is planning to intensify its enforcement against the state’s thriving illegal marijuana market, including launching an ad campaign Friday that urges consumers to seek out licensed shops with safe products.

The state has been under pressure by the legal industry to do more to stop the illicit pot economy, which in Los Angeles and other cities often operates in plain sight. According to some estimates, up to 80 percent of sales in the state remain under the table, snatching profits from legal storefronts.

“We are going to start having a more aggressive enforcement stance to come after the illegal market,” Lori Ajax, the state’s top cannabis regulator, said at an industry forum.

The state announced it was kicking off a public information campaign — Get #weedwise — that encourages consumers to verify that their purchases are tested and legal.

Ads will be hitting social media sites and billboards promoting a state website where shoppers can quickly check if a shop is licensed — CApotcheck.com.

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A perilous time to have temps running the Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s a perilous time to have temps running the Pentagon.

President Donald Trump’s brinkmanship with Iran is on the boil, spilling beyond diplomacy to a planned air attack on Iran that Trump said he ordered, then pulled back at least for now. This, as the U.S. undertakes an unusual troop deployment to the Mexican border , tends its nearly two-decade-old war in Afghanistan and grapples with stalled talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Through it all, the U.S. has no defense secretary , but rather an acting one who is taking over from another acting one, who suddenly quit.

And the latest one, Army Secretary Mark Esper, who takes over Sunday, might only be able to serve as acting Pentagon chief for less than two months under the rules, requiring yet another short-term boss before it’s all sorted out. On Friday night, Trump officially announced he intended to nominate Esper for the permanent job.

Temporary leadership is a hallmark of Trump’s administration . “It gives me more flexibility,” Trump has said of the many people in acting leadership jobs, not always by his choice.

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Roy Moore in uphill battle to woo skeptical Alabama voters

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — In a state that has long been reliably Republican, Roy Moore faces an uphill battle in winning over skeptical voters to take back the Alabama Senate seat he lost two years ago amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls.

With GOP leaders including President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aligned against him and Democrats portraying him as a radical, the one-time judge is laying out the argument that state voters are tired of Washington interference.

That may be. But some die-hard Republicans aren’t happy with Moore running again after questions about his relationships with young girls decades ago translated into a narrow 2017 victory for longshot Democrat Doug Jones.

“You can paint a leopard any color you want but he still has spots, and that’s what Moore has. Moore still has his spots,” 66-year-old retiree and faithful Republican Richard Clayton said Friday.

Eating breakfast at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, Fred Holiday said he likes what Moore stands for but still doesn’t think he should run for Senate.