Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 18, 2017

Pence reassures Japan of U.S. resolve to rein in North Korea, Theresa May calls for surprise election, and more


Pence reassures Japan of U.S. resolve to rein in North Korea

Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. would stand by Japan "100 percent" and keep pushing until North Korea curbs its missile and nuclear weapons programs. Pence, arriving after a visit to South Korea, said the U.S. had demonstrated its resolve with recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan, and that "all options are on the table" but President Trump "is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region and with China to achieve a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." Kim In Ryong, North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, said the U.S. focus on the North Korean nuclear program reflected a "gangster-like logic" that's turning the Korean Peninsula into "the world's biggest hotspot," creating "a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment."


Theresa May calls for surprise election, seeking Brexit mandate

British Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly announced Tuesday that she would call an early election for June 8 in a clear bid to win a strong mandate as her government negotiates the terms of its departure from the European Union. May took power last July after former Prime Minister David Cameron, who preceded her as Conservative Party leader, resigned after voters rejected his call to remain in the 28-nation trading bloc. May, who previously had ruled out holding snap elections, formally initiated the two-year Brexit process last month. "I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I have to make," May said.


Court blocks first of 8 planned Arkansas executions

The Arkansas State Supreme Court blocked two executions late Monday that would have been the first carried out in the state in 12 years. The state challenged the decision in the case of convicted murderer Don Davis, who had already been served what was to be his last meal, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case early Tuesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "disappointed in this delay for the victim's family." The court also stayed the scheduled execution of Bruce Ward, who was also convicted of murder. The halted executions were the first among eight that the state had planned to carry out this month before its supply of a key lethal injection drug expires. One other prisoner had already received a stay. State officials acknowledged they were unlikely to reschedule the two newly blocked executions before the drug expires, but said they would push ahead with the five remaining cases, which were not affected by the State Supreme Court ruling.


Trump slams Democrat leading polls in Georgia special election

Georgia voters in a red House district go to the polls on Tuesday for the second special election providing an early glimpse of what Americans think of President Trump. Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat, was leading the 18-candidates in polls ahead of the vote, but his 41 percent would not be enough to avoid a runoff, and the leading three Republicans combined have slightly more support. The vote is being held to fill the seat vacated by former Congressman Tom Price, a leading opponent of ObamaCare who stepped down to become Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services. Price won re-election last year with 62 percent of the vote. Trump made a last-minute tweet calling Ossoff a "super liberal Democrat" who wants to "protect criminals, allow illegal immigration, and raise taxes." Ossoff's campaign manager called GOP attacks on the Democrat "truly shameful."


Turkey opposition challenges referendum result

Turkey's main opposition party on Monday called for election officials to nullify the results of a landmark referendum granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. The opposition said there were major irregularities in the referendum, which international monitors said "fell short" of international standards. Specifically, critics said the electoral board accepted ballots without official stamps that should have served as a key safeguard against fraud. Erdogan deflected the challenge. President Trump on Monday called Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory, breaking with his State Department.


Poll finds most Americans no longer think Trump keeps promises

A new Gallup poll released Monday found that just 45 percent of participants believed that President Trump keeps his promises, down sharply from 62 percent in February. Only 36 percent said they saw Trump as "honest and trustworthy," down from 42 percent in February. In the last two months, Trump has announced reversals on several key policies, saying he no longer believed NATO to be obsolete, declining to label China as a currency manipulator, and shifting criticism of the Export-Import Bank to praise. Trump also approved an airstrike against a Syrian military base after years spent urging former President Barack Obama to stay out of the country's civil war. He also dropped America's largest non-nuclear weapon in Afghanistan despite touting an "America first" foreign policy.


1,000 Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strike

Thousands of Palestinians protested in the West Bank and Gaza as more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike demanding better conditions and an end to detentions without trial. Marwan Barghouti, a prominent member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, led the hunger strike. Barghouti, whom polls have long shown to be a favorite to succeed Abbas, was arrested in 2002 during a violent uprising, and convicted of several murders. He was sentenced to five life terms.


Justice Neil Gorsuch officially joins the Supreme Court

Justice Neil Gorsuch officially took his seat on the bench Monday as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about what court should hear appeals on discrimination claims filed by federal employees. Gorsuch, after receiving a warm welcome from his new colleagues, jumped right in, asking the attorney for the employee in the case several pointed questions about whether a straight reading of the law really left any question about which court had jurisdiction. Gorsuch's participation in his first case brought the high court to full strength with nine justices, and its 5-4 conservative majority restored, for the first time since Justice Antonin Scalia died more than a year ago.


Prince had no prescription for meds found at his house

The late singer Prince had bottles of opioid painkillers in his home when he died last year, but none of the drugs had been prescribed to him, according to court documents unsealed Monday. Some of the medications were found in vitamin pill bottles, others in envelopes. Some were prescribed to Kirk Johnson, Prince's former drummer and longtime friend. Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg said he had written an Oxycodone prescription intended for Prince, but he put it under Johnson's name to safeguard the rock star's privacy. So far, no charges have been filed in connection with Prince's death almost exactly one year ago.


Kenyan runners sweep men's and women's races at Boston Marathon

Geoffrey Kirui won the men's division and fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat won the women's race in the 121st Boston Marathon on Monday. Three American runners challenged the leaders, with three-time U.S. Olympian Galen Rupp sticking close to Kirui, who only pulled away in the last two miles to claim Kenya's first men's victory in five years. Americans Jordan Hasay and Desi Linden took third and fourth, respectively, in the women's race, the first time two U.S. women had finished in the top four since 1991. Six U.S. men finished in the top 10. "It's so exciting to see Americans being competitive here," said Rupp, the Olympic bronze medalist making his debut in the storied race.


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