News briefs: US anticipates 'major' attack

The Associated Press

Funeral stampede kills 32 in Iran; Earthquake in Puerto Rico; Cooler weather in Austrailia

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A stampede erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike last week, killing 32 people and injuring 190 others, state television reported.

According to the report, the stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway. Initial videos posted online showed people lying lifeless on a road and others shouting and trying to help them.

Iranian state TV gave the casualty toll in its online report, citing Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran's emergency medical services.

"Unfortunately as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions," he earlier said. 

Authorities later delayed Soleimani's burial, citing concerns about the massive crowd that had gathered, the semi-official ISNA news agency said. It did not say when the burial would take place.

US prepares for possible Iranian reprisal after drone strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials braced for Iran to respond to the killing of its most powerful general, noting heightened military readiness in the country and preparing for a possible "tit-for-tat" attempt on the life of an American military commander. 

President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 2 strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, after the death of an American contractor in Iraq. Now, as the massive demonstrations of Iran's public mourning period for Soleimani come to a close, officials believe the next steps by America' longtime foe will determine the ultimate course of the latest crisis.

While officials say American intelligence isn't clear on whether Iran's latest military moves are designed to bolster Tehran's defenses or prepare for an offensive strike, the U.S. is continuing to reinforce its own positions in the region, including repositioning some forces. One official said the U.S. anticipated a "major" attack of some type within the next day or two.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said no decision had been made about withdrawing troops from Iraq. Pro-Iranian factions in the Iraqi Parliament have pushed to oust American troops following Soleimani's killing on Iraqi soil. Esper spoke to reporters after a letter from a U.S. Marine general circulated that seemed to suggest a withdrawal had been ordered in response to a vote by the Iraqi Parliament over the weekend. "There's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq," Esper said.

Soleimani's death, which has sparked major protests, further nuclear development and new threats of violence, has raised the prospect of a wide and unpredictable conflict in the Middle East and escalated tensions between Iran and the U.S.

6.4 quake strikes Puerto Rico amid heavy seismic activity

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday, the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the U.S. territory in recent days and caused heavy damage in some areas.

Puerto Rico's power authority said on Twitter that one of the country's main power plants, which sits near the epicenter, had been damaged, but officials expect to restore power to the island later Tuesday.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at 4:24 a.m. just south of the island at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers. It initially gave the magnitude as 6.6 but later adjusted it. It said the quake was followed by a string of aftershocks from 5.6 to 4.5 in magnitude.

A tsunami alert was initially issued for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but later canceled. 

Albert Rodríguez, who is from the southwest town of Guánica, said the tsunami sirens went off before officials canceled the alert. He said there is widespread damage in his neighborhood.

Australian crews race to contain blazes as damage bill soars

BALMORAL, Australia (AP) — Bolstered by cooler weather and desperately needed rain, exhausted firefighters in Australia raced to shore up defenses against deadly wildfires before the blazes flare again within days when scorching temperatures are expected to return.

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster began to emerge on Tuesday. The Insurance Council of Australia said the estimated damage bill had doubled in two days, with insurance claims reaching 700 million Australian dollars ($485 million).

That estimate comes one day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised. Morrison's funding announcement came amid fierce criticism from many Australians who say he has been too slow to respond to the crisis. He has also faced backlash for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

The fires, fueled by drought and the country's hottest and driest year on record, have been raging since September, months earlier than is typical for Australia's annual wildfire season. So far, the blazes have killed 25 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. Three people in New South Wales state who were reported missing earlier Tuesday were later found, police said.

Across New South Wales, 130 fires were still burning on Tuesday, around 50 of which were uncontrolled. The day's cooler, rainier weather was providing thousands of weary firefighters a "psychological and emotional" reprieve as they scrambled to strengthen containment lines around the blazes before temperatures rise again, said Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

Harvey Weinstein jury selection to start in NY; new charges in LA

NEW YORK (AP) — Potential jurors in Harvey Weinstein's New York sexual assault trial are expected to fill a courtroom Tuesday as the former movie titan's legal problems deepen with new charges in Los Angeles. 

In New York, jury selection is set to start Tuesday and could take weeks as prosecutors, Weinstein's lawyers and the judge find people to serve on a lengthy trial in a high-profile case that has fueled societal pressure for accountability for sexual misconduct.

The trial involves charges that Weinstein raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed a sex act on another woman in the city in 2006.

Weinstein, 67, has said any sexual activity was consensual.

"In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty," his lawyer Donna Rotunno said Monday.

Death of Iran general spurs anxiety over fate of US hostages

WASHINGTON (AP) — The killing of a top Iranian general has ratcheted up the anxiety of families of Americans held in Iran, one month after the release of a New Jersey student had given them hope. 

The Trump administration has made a priority of bringing home hostages held abroad, but the prospect of a resolution for the handful of captives in Iran seems to have dimmed with the two nations edging dangerously close to conflict and warning of retaliatory strikes and continued agitation.

"He wasn't safe before now, but now he's really not safe," said Joanne White, whose son, Navy veteran Michael White of Imperial Beach, California, has been imprisoned since July while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. "I don't know if anyone is going to retaliate."

Iran has vowed revenge for the airstrike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani — the U.S. accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death — and has abandoned the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The Trump administration, while saying it remains committed to freeing Americans from Iran, has said it's prepared to respond to any attacks from the Islamic Republic.

The tensions are the worst in 40 years and are in contrast to the diplomatic breakthrough that resulted in December's release of Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Wang in exchange for the U.S. freeing a detained Iranian scientist. Crushing U.S. sanctions on Iran remain in place, but the release suggested Tehran could be open to using American captives as bargaining chips for future negotiations.

Iranian general transformed Syria's war in Assad's favor

BEIRUT (AP) — When Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare visit to Tehran last year, the powerful Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani was there to greet him, along with Iran's supreme leader and president. Iran's foreign minister wasn't, and he resigned in protest at being excluded from talks with a crucial ally.

It was a telling episode on who controls Iran's policy in Syria. 

Iran's frontman in Syria since 2011, Soleimani helped turn the tide in the now nearly 9-year-old civil war, intervening to save Assad as armed rebels reached the capital, Damascus, and seized several key cities. He welded together Shiite militias from across the region to back Syria's military and waged a series of sieges that captured back territory, wreaked heavy bloodshed and destruction and prevented the collapse of Assad's state. 

His killing in an U.S. airstrike in Iraq is likely to rattle thousands of Iran-backed fighters in Syria. The networks of militias he set up will remain in place, and Syria is likely to become a scene for confrontation with hundreds of U.S. troops stationed there.

The Iranian-backed militias are scattered all over Syria, including near civilians and some near American positions, said Danny Makki, a Syrian analyst based in Britain. If the U.S.-Iranian conflict escalates — "as is very likely," he said — the U.S. or Israel could strike the militias, or the Iranian-backed fighters could attack American positions, which are in the eastern part of Syria, including near Kurdish-controlled oil fields that Damascus is eager to regain.

US strike on Iran could have consequences in North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The U.S. strike that killed Iran's top military commander may have had an indirect casualty: a diplomatic solution to denuclearizing North Korea.

Experts say the escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran will diminish already fading hopes for such an outcome and inspire North Korea's decision-makers to tighten their hold on the weapons they see, perhaps correctly, as their strongest guarantee of survival.

North Korea's initial reaction to the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been cautious. The country's state media was silent for several days before finally on Monday issuing a brief report on the attack that didn't even mention Soleimani's name.

The Korean Central News Agency report didn't publish any direct criticism by Pyongyang toward Washington, instead simply saying that China and Russia had denounced the United States over last week's airstrike at the airport in Baghdad.

The North's negotiations with the U.S. have been at a stalemate since last February, when a summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump collapsed over disagreements about exchanging sanctions relief for nuclear disarmament. The North has recently pointed to that lack of progress and hinted it may resume tests of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Muslims in fear as police crack down in India's heartland

MEERUT, India (AP) — Sometimes Arshad Hussain disappears. He will be sitting on the bed, watching relatives, neighbors and journalists pour into his house when suddenly scenes of his dead son wash over him.

"I find myself on the street, staring at the concrete path where my son bled to death," he said quietly, leaning against the exposed brick walls of his house in Nehtaur, a small north Indian town about 190 kilometers (120 miles) from New Delhi.

His 20-year-old son, Anas Ahmad, was among 16 Muslims killed across the state of Uttar Pradesh on Dec. 20, the deadliest day in unrelenting violence that has engulfed India for almost a month. The victims included an 8-year-old boy.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to oppose a new law that grants a path to citizenship for immigrants of every religion except Islam. Many say the law, passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government, discriminates against Muslims and undermines the country's secular foundations.

The government, saying the protests are orchestrated by its opponents, has responded by banning gatherings of more than four people, partially shutting down the internet to make it more difficult to organize and detaining activists. Police have used baton charges, tear gas and sometimes live ammunition against protesters, leaving at least 23 dead nationwide.

Leagues finally cash in on sports betting by selling data

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Professional sports leagues struck out in their quest for a cut of sports betting money by claiming they needed payments to help protect the integrity of games.

They also fumbled an attempt to claim a share of betting proceeds by saying the games are the intellectual property of the leagues, and that they should be compensated when others profit off them.

But with two strikes against them, the leagues may have hit on a way to cash in: selling their official data to gambling companies, making the case that the leagues are creating new products for gamblers to bet on.

Six of the largest U.S. bookmakers already use official league data under terms they negotiated directly with the leagues.

"Last year it was, 'Here are the leagues with their hands out,'" said Scott Kauffman-Ross, senior vice president of fantasy and gaming for the NBA. "Now we realize there's a lot we can offer each other. More and more operators are starting to see the value in this."

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