In wake of tense Trump call, Pence aims to soothe Australia

SYDNEY — More than two months after President Donald Trump got into a spat with the leader of Australia, Vice President Mike Pence will be working to smooth over any lingering hard feelings.

Pence will meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday as part of his 10-day, four-country trip to Asia. His agenda includes reassuring Turnbull about the state of the unusually strained U.S.-Australia alliance and laying out the new administration’s priorities for the Pacific Rim.

“Partly, you could call it a diplomatic clean-up mission,” said Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute, an analyst on Asian security issues. Auslin said Pence will be more focused on offering Turnbull a roadmap for how the two countries can work together during Trump’s presidency. “It’s about re-establishing relations.”

The affection the longtime allies usually share for each other is rooted in decades of cooperation on defense, intelligence and trade. Australia has fought alongside the U.S. in every major conflict since World War I, and is one of the largest contributors to the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria. The country is also part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing program with the U.S., along with Canada, Britain and New Zealand.

But Australia was unhappy with Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Then, Trump and Turnbull had a contentious phone call in January over a refugee resettlement deal struck by the previous Obama administration.

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Justice Dept. warns sanctuary cities in immigration fight

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration intensified its threats to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, warning nine jurisdictions Friday that they may lose coveted law enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation.

It sent letters to officials in California and major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, all places the Justice Department’s inspector general has identified as limiting the information local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities about those in their custody.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. But some of the localities remained defiant, despite risking the loss of funds that police agencies use to pay for everything from body cameras to bulletproof vests.

“We’re not going to cave to these threats,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said, promising a legal fight if the money is pulled.

Playing off Sessions’ recent comments that sanctuary cities undermine the fight against gangs, the Justice Department said the communities under financial threat are “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.”

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Trump tells young immigrants in US illegally to ‘rest easy’

WASHINGTON — Young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and now here illegally can “rest easy,” President Donald Trump said Friday, telling the “dreamers” they will not be targets for deportation under his immigration policies.

Trump, in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, said his administration is “not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

The president, who took a hard line on immigration as a candidate, vowed anew to fulfill his promise to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But he stopped short of demanding that funding for the project be included in a spending bill Congress must pass by the end of next week in order to keep the government running.

“I want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall,” Trump said in the Oval Office interview. Asked whether he would sign legislation that does not include money for the project, he said, “I just don’t know yet.” Throughout the campaign, he had firmly and repeatedly guaranteed that Mexico, not U.S. taxpayers, would pay for the wall.

Eager to start making progress on other campaign promises, Trump said he would unveil a tax overhaul package next week — “Wednesday or shortly thereafter” — that would include a “massive” tax cut for both individuals and corporations. He would not provide details of rate proposals or how he planned to pay for the package but asserted the cuts for Americans will be “bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever.”

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Champs-Elysees gunman had long criminal record, praised IS

PARIS — The gunman who shot and killed a police officer on the famed Champs-Elysees just days before the French presidential vote spent 14 years in prison, including for attacking other officers, Frances’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said Friday — a lengthy criminal history that gave a jolt to an already nail-biting election and fueled growing security concerns.

Yet, despite an arrest as recently as February, the 39-year-old assailant, Karim Cheurfi, had shown no signs of radicalization, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said, and was released for lack of evidence of a threat.

That all changed Thursday when Cheurfi, a Frenchman born in the Paris suburbs, opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on the crowded boutique-lined boulevard synonymous with French glamour, striking a police officer with two bullets to the head and wounding two others before being shot and killed by police.

Security forces found a note praising the Islamic State group at the scene of the attack, which apparently fell from the gunman’s pocket. That, along with an unusually quick claim of responsibility by the Islamic State group were the only signs that he had entered the world of Islamic extremists, Molins said. Scraps of paper scrawled with the addresses of police stations and a satchel of weapons, munitions and the Muslim holy book were discovered in his car.

Thursday’s shootings followed the arrest this week of two men in Marseille on suspicion of plotting an attack around Sunday’s hotly contested first-round presidential vote, fueling France’s worst fear: a terrorist attack as crowds gather at polling stations across the nation.

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Pence reaffirms US-Australia alliance after Trump spat

SYDNEY — Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure Australia on Saturday that the U.S. remains committed to the countries’ longtime alliance, as he tried to patch up relations that were left frayed when President Donald Trump got into a spat with Australia’s leader over a refugee resettlement deal.

Pence met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Australian leaders in Sydney as part of his 10-day, four-country trip to the Pacific Rim. His agenda includes reassuring Turnbull about the state of the unusually strained U.S.-Australia alliance and laying out the new administration’s priorities for the region.

“I bring greetings this morning from the President of the United States,” Pence told Turnbull and other Australian officials ahead of their meeting. “I spoke to him first thing and he wanted me to pass along his very best regards to you. And the president wanted me to — early in this administration — to reaffirm the strong and historical alliance between the United States and Australia.”

Pence’s visit Down Under is widely viewed as an effort to smooth over relations with Australia in the wake of a highly-publicized argument between Turnbull and Trump. After taking office, Trump was infuriated upon learning that the previous Obama administration had agreed to a refugee resettlement deal with Australia. Under the agreement, the U.S. would take up to 1,250 refugees that Australia houses in detention camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Trump’s anger over the deal led to a tense phone call with Turnbull in January and an angry tweet in which the president dubbed the deal “dumb.”

The fallout has strained the typically cozy alliance between the U.S. and Australia. A majority of Australians view Trump unfavorably, and some critics of the president have urged Australia to distance itself from the U.S. in favor of stronger ties with China. Turnbull has resisted pressure to choose between the two countries, both of which are considered vital allies; the U.S. is Australia’s most important security partner, while China is its most important trading partner.

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US Treasury rejects Exxon Mobil request to drill in Russia

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has rejected a request from Exxon Mobil to waive U.S. sanctions against Russia to allow the company to resume oil drilling around the Black Sea.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday in a brief statement that the administration “will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions.”

Exxon said it understood the decision, while suggesting that the outcome will merely help European oil companies operating under less-stringent restrictions.

The decision comes just two days after it was reported that Exxon was seeking a waiver to resume a joint venture with Rosneft, a Russian state-owned oil company. Exxon said it filed the request in 2015.

The disclosure of Exxon’s application was criticized in Congress by lawmakers who said the Trump administration should not reduce sanctions after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted of Exxon’s request, “Are they crazy?”

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Ivanka Trump’s brand ramped up China trademark work in 2016

SHANGHAI — Ivanka Trump’s brand intensified its work in China as her father closed in on the Republican nomination for U.S. president, with her company applying for nearly twice as many trademarks in a five-month span as it had in the preceding eight years.

Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for 36 trademarks in China between March and July of last year. From 2008 through 2015, it applied for a total of just 19 trademarks, China’s trademark database showed .

Three of the 2016 applications were granted preliminary approval on April 6, the same day Ivanka Trump dined with China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, the Associated Press revealed this week in an article that documented how Ivanka Trump’s brand has continued to expand even as she builds a new political career in her father’s administration. Ivanka Trump still owns her brand, but has stepped back from management and put its assets in a family-run trust.

China’s foreign ministry has said that the government treated Ivanka’s trademarks just like everyone else’s.

Ethics experts have questioned whether that’s possible, particularly in a country where the ruling Communist Party influences the courts and bureaucracy. Politically sensitive decisions on, for example, the intellectual property of the family of the U.S. president, may well have been subject to high-level political review.

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Arkansas events show risk of ambitious execution schedule

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ push to put eight men to death in less than two weeks has so far resulted in just one lethal injection, and legal experts say that shows the risks of pursuing the nation’s most ambitious execution schedule since the death penalty was restored in 1976.

Ledell Lee was executed minutes before his death warrant was set to expire late Thursday. It was the first time since 2005 that Arkansas had put an inmate to death.

Three other planned executions were canceled this week because of court decisions. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. And three remaining lethal injections face similar hurdles.

“If I were in the state’s shoes, I would be prepared for almost double the level of scrutiny,” said Brian Gallini, a law professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

At the heart of Arkansas’ plans is the sedative midazolam, one of three drugs used in lethal injections. The state is racing to carry out the executions before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month.

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Venezuela officials say at least 12 people killed overnight

CARACAS, Venezuela — At least 12 people were killed overnight during looting and violence in Venezuela’s capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities said Friday.

Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working class neighborhood near Caracas’ biggest military base where opposition leaders say a group of people were hit with an electrical current while trying to steal a refrigerator from a bakery.

Two days of huge protests on the streets of Caracas against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro spilled into a violent Thursday night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than two dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chavez when it was swamped with tear gas.

The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six other people were injured.

“This was a war,” said Liliana Altuna, whose butcher shop was ransacked by looters armed with guns who grabbed everything in sight.

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United CEO won’t add chairman title in 2018 as was planned

DALLAS — United Airlines said CEO Oscar Munoz, who came under withering criticism for the airline’s handling of a passenger-dragging incident, will not automatically add the title of chairman in 2018 as planned.

The company said Friday that Munoz proposed rewriting his employment contract to remove the expectation that he would become chairman at next year’s annual meeting of parent United Continental Holdings Inc.

United also said Friday that Munoz received $18.7 million in compensation last year.

Munoz was widely faulted for his early responses to the April 9 incident on board a United Express plane. He first blamed the 69-year-old passenger who was dragged off by airport security officers. Munoz later apologized repeatedly for United’s handling of the situation.

The incident is under investigation by Congress and the Transportation Department. Lawyers for the passenger, Kentucky physician David Dao, have hinted at a lawsuit. And there have been calls online to boycott United.

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