AP WIRE: NEWS

AP Top News at 2:20 a.m. EST

Trump administration lifts transgender bathroom guidance
WASHINGTON (AP) - Transgender students on Wednesday lost federal protections that allowed them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, as the Trump administration stepped into a long-simmering national debate. The administration came down on the side of states' rights, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that had been characterized by Republicans as an example of overreach. Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex. "This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.


7 Earth-size worlds found orbiting star; could hold life
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - For the first time, astronomers have discovered seven Earth-size planets orbiting a single nearby star - and these new worlds could hold life. This cluster of planets is less than 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, according to NASA and the Belgian-led research team who announced the discovery Wednesday. The planets circle tightly around a dim dwarf star called Trappist-1, barely the size of Jupiter. Three are in the so-called habitable zone, the area around a star where water and, possibly life, might exist. The others are right on the doorstep. Scientists said they need to study the atmospheres before determining whether these rocky, terrestrial planets could support some sort of life.


Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines
In Orange County, California, dozens of immigrant parents have signed legal documents authorizing friends and relatives to pick up their children from school and access their bank accounts to pay their bills in the event they are arrested by immigration agents. In Philadelphia, immigrants are carrying around wallet-size "Know Your Rights" guides in Spanish and English that explain what to do if they're rounded up. And in New York, 23-year-old Zuleima Dominguez and other members of her Mexican family are careful about answering the door and start making worried phone calls when someone doesn't come home on time. Around the country, President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.


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North Korea denies it was behind killing at Malaysia airport
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea denied Thursday that its agents masterminded the assassination of the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, saying a Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of "holes and contradictions." The North's response came a day after Malaysian police said they were seeking two more North Koreans, including the second secretary of North Korea's embassy in Kuala Lumpur, in connection with the Feb. 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam at a Malaysian airport. Malaysia police have not directly pinpointed North Korea as being behind the death of Kim Jong Nam, but have already arrested a North Korean man working at a Malaysian company along with three other Southeast Asian people.


Iraqi forces push up to Mosul's key military base by airport
BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's special forces say they have begun an assault against the Islamic State group on a sprawling military base south of Mosul that's adjacent to the city's airport. Two Iraqi special forces officers say their troops have reached the edge of the Ghazlani base on the city's southern rim on Thursday morning and that clashes there are underway. A federal police officer says his forces are also pushing toward the Mosul airport. All officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters. The advances come days after Iraqi forces officially launched the operation to push IS out of Mosul's western half.


UN hosts 'Geneva IV' talks: Sequel or new script for Syria?
GENEVA (AP) - Yet another sequel to chronically-fruitless Syria peace talks, or an entirely new script? After months of Syria bloodshed, stalled humanitarian aid deliveries and stop-and-start diplomacy, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is reconvening talks between government and opposition delegations on Thursday, in the latest bid to end the country's catastrophic six-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more. Hopes are not exactly high for "Geneva IV," the fourth round of U.N-mediated intra-Syrian talks since early last year. Battlefield gains by President Bashar Assad's forces against Western-backed rebels, a new diplomatic push led by Turkey and Russia, and uncertainty about the Trump administration's strategy on Syria - the U.S.


AP Analysis: Why Venezuelans have lost hope life will change
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela is so short on food that tens of thousands are going hungry or even starving. Its murder rate is among the highest in the world. Its economy is so crippled that the average shopper spends 35 hours a month waiting in line - three times more than in 2014. Yet even as the country becomes increasingly unlivable, the socialist government is more entrenched than it has been in years. A sense of hopelessness has settled over what was once among the richest nations in South America, a belief that nothing will really change. To understand why people have given up, look at Jhorman Valero and his family.


North Dakota officials plead with last protesters to leave
CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) - Most of the Dakota Access pipeline opponents abandoned their protest camp Wednesday ahead of a government deadline to get off the federal land, and authorities moved to arrest some who defied the order in a final show of dissent. The camp has been home to demonstrators for nearly a year as they tried to thwart construction of the pipeline. Many of the protesters left peacefully, but police made some arrests two hours after the deadline. Earlier in the day, some of the last remnants of the camp went up in flames when occupants set fire to makeshift wooden housing as part of a leaving ceremony.


Transgender wrestler's state bid spotlights Texas policy
EULESS, Texas (AP) - A 17-year-old transgender wrestler who qualified for the girls state tournament while transitioning from female to male has become a high-profile test of a year-old Texas policy now being criticized by the attorney who tried to keep the athlete from competing. Mack Beggs, a junior at Euless Trinity High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, won a regional championship after two opposing wrestlers forfeited, apparently over concerns that Beggs has an unfair advantage because of testosterone treatments that are part of the transition. Beggs, who has a 52-0 record, has a first-round match in the state tournament Friday in suburban Houston.


In Lebanon gyms, playtime and escape for Syrian children
BEIRUT (AP) - Every Sunday, the gymnasium along Beirut's airport highway echoes with the shouting and laughter of dozens of Syrian children enjoying a rare escape from a grim and confined life in exile. The Sport 4 Development program, run by the U.N. children's agency, aims to bring 12,000 children, mostly Syrian refugees, to blacktops and turf pitches this year to teach the basics of soccer and basketball, and to ease the pain of war and displacement. "We try to get them out of their stressful environments and the frights that they've lived through," said Maher Nakib, 40, the technical director of Hoops Lebanon, the sports association behind the project.

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