12 killed, dozens hurt after jetliner crashes in Kazakhstan

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — A jetliner with 98 people aboard struggled to get airborne and crashed shortly after takeoff Friday in Kazakhstan, killing at least 12 people, authorities said.

The Bek Air jet, identified as a 23-year-old Fokker 100, hit a concrete wall and a two-story building soon after departing from Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital, airport officials said.

The aircraft's tail also struck the runway twice during takeoff, indicating that it struggled to get off the ground, Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said.

Fifty-four people people were reported hospitalized with injuries, at least 10 of them in critical condition, officials said.

The cause of the predawn crash was unclear. Authorities quickly suspended all Bek Air and Fokker 100 flights in Kazakhstan while the investigation got underway.

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New Russian weapon can travel 27 times the speed of sound

MOSCOW (AP) — A new intercontinental weapon that can fly 27 times the speed of sound became operational Friday, Russia's defense minister reported to President Vladimir Putin, bolstering the country's nuclear strike capability.

Putin has described the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle as a technological breakthrough comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite. The new Russian weapon and a similar system being developed by China have troubled the United States, which has pondered defense strategies.

The Avangard is launched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, but unlike a regular missile warhead that follows a predictable path after separation it can make sharp maneuvers in the atmosphere en route to target, making it much harder to intercept.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin that the first missile unit equipped with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle entered combat duty.

"I congratulate you on this landmark event for the military and the entire nation," Shoigu said later during a conference call with top military leaders.

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Wreckage found of Hawaii tour helicopter carrying 7

HONOLULU (AP) — The wreckage of a helicopter carrying seven people to one of the most rugged and remote coastlines in Hawaii was found Friday in a mountainous area on the island of Kauai, authorities said.

Officials said in a news release that they're sending additional resources and searching for possible survivors of the crash.

Searchers began looking for the helicopter carrying a pilot and six passengers after it was reported overdue from a tour of Kauai's Na Pali Coast on Thursday evening. Two passengers are believed to be minors, the Coast Guard said.

Steep terrain, low visibility, choppy seas and rain had complicated the search, the agency said.

The helicopter company, identified as Safari Helicopters, contacted the Coast Guard about 6 p.m. Thursday to say the aircraft was about 30 minutes overdue, authorities said.

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Navy SEALs call Edward Gallagher 'evil' in leaked videos

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Navy SEALs described their platoon leader, retired Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, as "evil," "toxic" and "perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving," in video footage of interviews obtained by The New York Times.

Gallagher's war crimes case earlier this year gained national attention after President Donald Trump intervened on his behalf despite strong objections from Pentagon leaders who said the president's move could damage the integrity of the military judicial system. The case also led to the Navy secretary's firing.

The footage published Friday was part of a trove of confidential Navy investigative materials that the Times obtained about the prosecution of Gallagher, who was accused of battlefield misconduct in Iraq. It shows members of Gallagher's SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon speaking to agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service about his conduct in sometimes emotional interviews.

They described how their chief seemed to love killing, how he targeted women and children and boasted that "burqas were flying."

The footage provides revealing insights of the men who worked with Gallagher and turned him in. They have never spoken publicly about the case, which has divided the elite fighting force known for its secrecy.

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Major Southern California highways reopen after heavy snow

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Major interstates reopened in Southern California on Friday after lengthy closures caused by a cold storm that drenched the region and blanketed mountains and desert areas with heavy snow.

The notorious Grapevine section of Interstate 5 in towering Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles was finally opened after a 36-hour closure forced by dangerous conditions that set in Christmas night.

Vehicles were being escorted in both directions by California Highway Patrol units.

The storm had largely departed by Thursday evening but cold air remained. The CHP said the closure continued into Friday because overnight temperatures fell into single digits and miles of roadway froze.

In the inland region to the east, the Cajon Pass section of Interstate 15 reopened after being closed for many hours. The major route for travel between greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas also reopened in the Mojave Desert after a lengthy shutdown between Baker, California, and Primm, Nevada.

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US adds detail on how soldier died in Afghanistan this week

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Special Forces soldier who died in Afghanistan this week was seizing a Taliban weapons cache when he was killed, the U.S. military said Friday.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Goble was with his unit when its members discovered an undisclosed amount of Taliban weapons in Kunduz Province, said Eric Pahon, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pahon said Goble and others were clearing out the cache when an explosion happened.

Pahon said the Taliban wrongly claimed that the service members were in a convoy and targeted by a roadside bomb during a raid.

Goble, 33, of Washington Township in Bergen County, New Jersey, was killed Monday and an Afghan service member was wounded. Goble served with the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group.

Details about what type of weapon or ammunition exploded are still under investigation.

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McGrath files to challenge McConnell in Senate race

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Calling her party's victory in the Kentucky governor's race a jolt of momentum for her own bid to unseat a Republican incumbent, Democrat Amy McGrath on Friday officially filed to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in what looms as a bruising, big-spending campaign next year.

McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, touted many of the same issues — health care and good-paying jobs — that Andy Beshear highlighted in ousting Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in last month's election for governor. Beshear ran a "great campaign" that focused on issues that hit home for Kentuckians, McGrath said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

"It absolutely gives us momentum because it shows that against an unpopular Republican incumbent, a Democrat can win," McGrath said. "And we win by talking about those bread-and-butter issues that Kentuckians really care about.

"And that's what I'm going to be talking about over and over again," she said. "With Mitch McConnell, we're not going to get any progress on these things."

McGrath became the latest in a crowded field of candidates from both parties to file for McConnell's seat. McGrath, who lost a hotly contested congressional race last year, has shown her mettle as a fundraiser, raking in nearly $11 million in her first few months as a Senate candidate, giving her a huge advantage over other Democratic candidates. McConnell has his own bulging campaign fund.

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The Fun Guy: Kawhi Leonard is the AP's male athlete of 2019

He was the Fun Guy. The board man who got paid. He overcame injury to reclaim his rightful place as one of the very best basketball players on the planet. He conquered the NBA world for a second time, bringing a championship to Canada. And then he joined the Los Angeles Clippers, ready to start anew.

"What it do, baby?"

For Kawhi Leonard in 2019, there finally is an answer to his infamous question: He did everything, without talking much.

Leonard is The Associated Press' male athlete of the year for 2019, comfortably winning a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers. He becomes the fifth NBA player to win the award, joining Larry Bird (1986), three-time recipient Michael Jordan (1991 through 1993), three-time recipient LeBron James (2013, 2016, 2018) and Stephen Curry (2015). The award has been made annually since 1931, and Simone Biles was announced Thursday as the women's recipient for 2019.

Leonard was the NBA Finals MVP for the second time, leading Toronto to its first championship — five years after he first smudged his fingerprints on both trophies with the San Antonio Spurs. He wound up leaving the Raptors in the summer for the Clippers, returning to his native Southern California and turning the historically woeful franchise into one of the top teams in the league.

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Controversy hits Romance Writers of America this holiday

NEW YORK (AP) — There's not a lot of love at the Romance Writers of America this holiday season. Lots of passion, but not too much love.

The organization, which bills itself as the voice of romance writers and cites 9,000 members, has been upended over the way it has treated one of its authors, Courtney Milan, a Chinese American writer and a former chair of its Ethics Committee.

The Texas-based trade association initially accepted the vote of its Ethics Committee that Milan had violated the group's code with negative online comments about other writers and their work. Then, just before Christmas, it reversed course, rescinding its vote "pending a legal opinion." Now its entire leadership has changed.

The controversy was sparked this summer when Milan in a tweet called Kathryn Lynn Davis' 1999 book "Somewhere Lies the Moon" an "(expletive) racist mess." Davis and fellow writer Suzan Tisdale filed complaints. Milan was suspended Monday, sparking an outcry from fellow Romance Writers of America members and making #IStandWithCourtney trend.

Author Felicia Grossman announced on Twitter that she had resigned her position at the association, saying it had "proven itself inconsistent with my values." Author Alyssa Day called the decision to punish Milan "appallingly and profoundly wrongheaded." Added writer Racheline Maltese: "Speaking out against racism is not an ethics violation."

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Lizzo named The Associated Press' Entertainer of the Year

NEW YORK (AP) — Breakthrough singer-rapper Lizzo has been named Entertainer of the Year by The Associated Press.

Voted by entertainment staffers of the news cooperative, Lizzo dominated the pop, R&B and rap charts in 2019 with songs like "Truth Hurts" and "Good As Hell." Though she released her first album in 2013, Lizzo dropped her major-label debut, "Cuz I Love You," this year and the success has made her the leading nominee at the 2020 Grammy Awards, where she is up for eight honors.

Outside of music, Lizzo has won over fans for promoting body positivity and denouncing fat shaming. Her live performances have been revered, and the 31-year-old classically trained flutist grinded as an independent and touring artist for years. She performed with Prince on his 2014 "Plectrumelectrum" album, released two years before his death.

Lizzo also had a role in the film "Hustlers," opposite Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Cardi B, and she voiced a character in the animated picture "UglyDolls."

Lizzo was also named Entertainer of the Year by Time magazine.