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By Philip Rucker,

Donald Trump won convincing victories Tuesday in the Michigan and Mississippi primaries, suggesting that the intensified GOP establishment assault on Trump’s character and record had not yet wounded the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

In both states, Trump galvanized huge populations of white working-class voters with his populist economic pitch, nativist rhetoric and outsider appeal to win by double-digit margins, further solidifying the billionaire mogul’s lead in the rollicking nomination battle.

The latest round of balloting also included a primary in Idaho and caucuses in Hawaii. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was projected to win Idaho decisively, followed by Trump in second and trailed by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

But the night’s marquee event was in Michigan, where late returns showed Kasich and Cruz competing for second place behind Trump. In Mississippi, Cruz was running a distant second.

Finishing far behind in both states was Rubio, who was on track to record some of his poorest results of the season and was in danger of not qualifying for a single delegate in either state, nor in Idaho.

Tuesday’s contests come at a critical juncture for the Republican Party. The runaway front-runner only a couple of weeks ago, Trump was forced onto the defensive over the past week by his own missteps and by a barrage of savage attacks from his rivals and opposing super PACs.

But Trump prevailed — and sought to seize the mantle of the party’s presumptive nominee as he claimed victory Tuesday night.

Speaking from his golf club in Jupiter, Fla., Trump delivered an impassioned and colorful defense of his business credentials, his candidacy and his personal brand itself. He vowed to work to reelect fellow Republicans up and down the ballot this fall and argued that his campaign was the only one truly expanding the GOP coalition.

“The turnout has been just massive for every week,” Trump said. “We will take many, many people away from the Democrats.”

“What we’re going to do is beat Hillary Clinton — and we’re going to beat her badly,” he added, referring to the leading Democratic candidate.

With a starkly different fate on Tuesday night was Rubio, who registered embarrassingly low vote totals in Michigan and Mississippi. Late returns showed him running in last place in both states, although he was hopeful of doing better in Idaho and Hawaii, both states where his campaign had made investments.

Rubio, who spent Tuesday campaigning in Florida, where he is under intense pressure to win, sought to brush aside Tuesday night’s results as the returns began rolling in.

“I believe with all my heart that the winner of the Florida primary next Tuesday will be the nominee of the Republican Party,” Rubio told a crowd in Ponte Vedra Beach. He then directly confronted Trump: “It’s not enough to stand up here and say you’re going to make America great again. You deserve to know how.”

Rubio has struggled to recover from a string of poor finishes in recent contests and has been an uneven performer in the two weeks since he went on the offensive against Trump.

In his victory remarks, Trump mocked Rubio for the attacks.

“He became hostile a couple of weeks ago, and it didn’t work,” Trump said. “Hostility works for some people but not for everybody. He would’ve been better off had he kept the original pitter-patter going.”

The scene at Trump’s victory party was surreal, with members of the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter dressed in cocktail attire sipping wine and nibbling from charcuterie boards and fresh fruit.

“What happened to Marco Rubio!? Aww, poor little Marco!” one attendee said after Michigan was called, borrowing one of Trump’s campaign-trail taunts.

Displayed near the candidate’s podium were bottles of Trump-branded wine and Trump-branded water, as well as piles of raw, unpackaged steaks he said were “Trump Steaks,” to push back against detractors who criticized him over those products.

In Michigan, the night’s marquee contest, Kasich was poised to register a relative surprise. The Midwesterner has been largely counted out of the national race, but Kasich campaigned harder across Michigan than any other candidate, holding upbeat town hall meetings throughout the state.

Late returns showed Kasich locked in a close race for second with Cruz, with each receiving about a quarter of the vote. The Ohioan was banking on a strong finish in Michigan to give him a needed jolt heading into his must-win home-state primary next Tuesday.

Addressing supporters Tuesday night in Columbus, Kasich projected victory there in a week.

“Think about where we started,” Kasich said. “In the contest going forward, the three of us that remain — we are in a virtual dead heat.” He was referring to Trump, Cruz and himself — writing off Rubio, whom Kasich’s campaign now sees as a spoiler.

At stake Tuesday were 150 convention delegates, which were to be awarded proportionally based on candidates’ performances by congressional district in each of the four states. Each state has thresholds for receiving delegates; in Michigan, for example, candidates must finish with 15 percent of the vote or better to qualify for delegates.

For Trump, Michigan represented the first test of his electoral strength in the Rust Belt. His populist pitches on trade, economic development and immigration resonated deeply with the working-class voters who flocked to the polls in huge numbers.

Michigan is the kind of Democratic-leaning state — Pennsylvania is another — that Trump and his advisers have argued he could make competitive in a general election.

Trump faced another test in Mississippi, a heavily Republican Bible Belt state where he had long been favored because of his anti-immigration, nativist rhetoric. He held a massive, raucous rally on Monday evening in Madison, Miss.

In both states, early network exit polling reported by CNN showed vast majorities of Republican primary voters were angry or dissatisfied with the federal government.

That data showed that Mississippi primary voters divided sharply along ideological lines between Trump and Cruz, with 46 percent identifying as “very conservative,” the most of any contest this year. Strong conservatives have been Cruz’s best constituency this year, and he led Trump by roughly 10 percentage points in the preliminary data. But Trump led by at least 20 points among Republicans who identify as somewhat conservative or moderate.

Fully 85 percent of the voters in Mississippi’s Republican primary said they were evangelical Christians, the exit polling shows. Cruz has focused on appealing to evangelicals with a socially conservative message, but in Mississippi as elsewhere, Trump appears to have blocked Cruz from gaining an edge. The early data found Trump with a small edge among evangelical Christians and a 2-to-1 lead among non-evangelicals.

Late returns showed Trump winning roughly half of the vote in Mississippi, similar to the landslides he won in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee last Tuesday. The fact that Trump’s Mississippi margin mirrored his double-digit wins in those states — as opposed to his much narrower, four-point win over Cruz in Louisiana on Saturday — suggested that Trump’s popularity had not slipped among conservatives despite the heavy attacks on him.

Some recent polls nationally and in key states have contained warning signs for Trump, indicating that his refusal to immediately disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, his debate-stage quip about his manhood, and fresh attacks on his business dealings and character — or a combination of all three — were taking their toll.

Trump is counting on his big wins in Tuesday’s contests, followed by a strong performance in Thursday night’s debate in Miami, to put himself back in full control of the nominating contest before next Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, which could be determinative.

But the GOP establishment has been trying to keep Trump on his heels. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, recorded phone calls sent to Republicans in Michigan and other states voting Tuesday on behalf of Rubio and Kasich. Romney has not endorsed a candidate, but he has become a fierce Trump critic, and in the calls he urged Republicans to vote against Trump.

“I believe these are critical times that demand a serious, thoughtful commander in chief,” Romney says in the calls. “If we Republicans were to choose Donald Trump as our nominee, I believe that the prospects for a safe and prosperous future would be greatly diminished — and I’m convinced Donald Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. So please vote tomorrow for a candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton and who can make us proud.”

Tuesday’s biggest prize was Michigan, which awards 59 of the 150 delegates. Although polls showed Trump with a substantial lead, Cruz made a hastily scheduled stopover in Grand Rapids late Monday, hoping to mobilize conservative voters there.

Michigan has relatively few evangelical voters and is hardly tailor-made for Cruz, though there are strong social conservative and libertarian strains in the Republican base. Cruz saw an opportunity to capi­tal­ize on his gains in last weekend’s contests and take advantage of Rubio’s struggles to finish a strong second.

Contending with him for that position was Kasich, who was on the rise in recent days while approaching the Michigan primary like a governor’s race. He campaigned in every corner — including the remote Upper Peninsula — and racked up a bushel of endorsements from local officials.

The exit polls showed more than 6 in 10 Michigan voters made up their minds well before Tuesday, and Trump won them by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But Kasich was the chief beneficiary of voters who decided in the final week, winning them with 43 percent compared with 25 percent for Cruz and 18 percent for Trump.

Ed O’Keefe in Miami; Jose A. DelReal in Jupiter, Fla.; David Weigel in Columbus, Ohio; and Scott Clement and Juliet Eilperin in Washington contributed to this report.

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By Associated Press,

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has caused a new stir with photos on the front page of its ruling party newspaper Wednesday that show the country’s leader Kim Jong Un standing beside a purported mock-up of a miniaturized nuclear warhead during a meeting with his top nuclear scientists.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper for the Workers’ Party said Kim met his nuclear scientists for a briefing on the status of their work and declared he was greatly pleased that warheads had been standardized and miniaturized for use on ballistic missiles.

The party newspaper photos showed Kim and the scientists standing by what outside analysts say appears to be the model warhead — a small, silverish globe presented on a low table in a hangar with a ballistic missile or a model ballistic missile in the background.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday it was analyzing the objects shown in the North Korean photos.

Pyongyang has previously said it has nuclear warheads small enough to put on long-range missiles, but experts have questioned such claims.

This was the first time the North has publicly portrayed what its designs look like, though it remains unclear whether the North has a functioning warhead of that size or if it is simply trying to develop one.

North Korea warned Monday of pre-emptive nuclear strikes after the United States and South Korea began holding their biggest-ever war games, which will go on until the end of April. Tensions have been high after North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, which prompted the United Nations to adopt tough new sanctions.

The North claims it tested its first H-bomb in the Jan. 6 nuclear test, which was followed last month by the launch of a rocket that put a satellite into orbit but which is seen as a violation of U.N. resolutions because it contains dual-use technology that could also be applied to long-range ballistic missiles.

Its development of smaller nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that could be used to deliver them to targets overseas has long been a matter of concern and could potentially shake up the security balance in Asia.

If the North succeeds in developing a credible warhead and missile, it would most deeply impact the United States, South Korea and Japan, but Russia and China, which are friendlier to the North, have strongly denounced its nuclear program.

__

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By William Booth and Ruth Eglash,

TEL AVIV — Less than a mile from where Vice President Biden spoke at a center for peace, a Palestinian attacker went on stabbing rampage Tuesday that left an American tourist dead and 10 wounded before the assailant was fatally shot by police, officials said.

The knife attack on the Mediterranean coast in the ancient port of Jaffa followed three other attacks around Israel on Tuesday.

It is unknown whether the assaults were timed to generate attention during Biden’s visit. But Israelis were left toggling between images on news and social media showing Biden’s Air Force Two jet landing at Ben Gurion airport and chaotic scenes of wailing ambulances and blood stains.

[Biden arrives in Israel to talk billions in military aid — and patch things up]

At least 14 Israelis were wounded, some seriously, in the four attacks. All of the four Palestinian assailants were killed at the scenes.

After hearing news of the knife spree, Biden “condemned in the strongest possible terms the brutal attack, which occurred in Jaffa during his meeting” and said “there is no justification for such acts of terror.”

Palestinians have sought to justify the attacks, saying their people are living desperate lives under an almost 50-year military occupation. Israeli leaders say the Palestinians are fueled by anti-Semitic propaganda. The peace process is currently moribund.

Biden came to Israel to patch up relations between the Obama White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a very public and deeply partisan spat over the Iran nuclear deal last year. Embarking on a two-day trip to Israel and the West Bank, Biden met with former Israeli president Shimon Peres.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba Samri said the attack in Jaffa appeared to have been carried out by a single assailant at two separate locations — the Ottoman-era Clock Tower and the ancient port — both popular with locals and tourists, in a city populated by Arabs and Jews.

The assailant was chased by a man with a metal pipe and was hit by another with a guitar before he was cornered by police and shot dead.

Vanderbilt University, in a message from Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos posted on its website late Tuesday, identified the slain American as Taylor Force, a student at the Owen Graduate School of Management. Zeppos said Force was on an Owen school trip to Tel Aviv, and all the other students and faculty on the trip are safe.

In Washington, the State Department condemned the attacks and offered condolences to the family of Force. “As we have said many times, there is absolutely no justification for terrorism. We continue to encourage all parties to take affirmative steps to reduce tensions and restore calm,” department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, near the Damascus Gate in the Old City in Jerusalem, just minutes from the hotel where Biden is planning to stay during his visit, a Palestinian gunman shot at Israeli policemen, injuring two. The assailant was shot dead by Israeli forces.

Another attack on Tuesday afternoon took place in Petah Tikvah, a city near Tel Aviv, where a Palestinian from the West Bank entered a supermarket and stabbed an Israeli man. According to police reports, the victim managed to pull the knife out of his neck and stab his attacker.

[An Israeli leader wants to put Jerusalem’s Arabs on the other side of new walls]

Earlier in the morning, a 50-year-old Palestinian woman was shot dead after attempting to stab Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli police said.

Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, said Israel is “in the midst of a war against ISIS-style Muslim extremist terror.” He said Israelis should not “be scolded” by the international community for taking tough countermeasures.

A leader of the Israeli opposition in parliament and a former peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, told the Jerusalem Post that Biden’s visit could help “lower the flames” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Tuesday’s bloodshed comes amid six months of near-daily stabbing, shooting and vehicle attacks by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Twenty-nine Israelis and five others, including two Americans, have died. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed during their attacks. Another 50 have been shot and killed by Israelis during violent clashes.

Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more:

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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Amid heavy rains, a Bay Area commuter train en route to Stockton derailed Monday night, injuring 14 people, authorities said.

The Altamont Corridor Express, also known as the ACE train, was traveling between Fremont and Pleasanton shortly after 7:15 p.m. when it struck a tree that had fallen onto the tracks, said Steve Walker, an ACE spokesman.

The first rail car derailed and landed in Alameda Creek, and a second rail car derailed but remained upright, Walker said. Other rail cars and the locomotive remained on the tracks, he said.

Fourteen people were injured in the derailment, according to the Alameda County Fire Department. Of those, four people were in serious condition but did not have life-threatening injuries, and 10 had minor injuries, the Fire Department said.

All of the passengers inside the overturned rail car were rescued and accounted for, Walker said. A total of 214 people were on-board the train, which departed San Jose about 6:40 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Stockton by 9 p.m.

The two ACE personnel on the train were not among those injured, Walker said.

The Fremont Police Department said Niles Canyon Road in Sunol, near the site of the crash, was closed as several agencies investigated the collision. The railroad tracks are owned by Union Pacific Railroad, which will be closely involved in the investigation into what caused the tree to fall on the tracks.

It’s unclear if the National Transportation Safety Board or the Federal Railroad Administration will be involved in the investigation into the causes of the crash.

As of Monday night, buses were en route to the site of the crash to pick up passengers that were left stranded by the crash. Buses are also being sent to ACE stations along the way to Stockton to pick up about 30 other riders who had planned to board the commuter train.

No ACE trains will operate Tuesday because of the train derailment, according to a statement.

One of the Bay Area’s smaller transit lines, the ACE train serves passengers from parts of the Central Valley to the East Bay and Bay Area.

The express service through the Altamont Pass began in 1998 and has been expanded since then.

The transit line runs from Stockton to San Jose, with stops in several cities including Tracy, Livermore and Fremont.

Cities along the route have seen major development over the last three decades, with some considered bedroom communities for the Bay Area.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.

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By Vanessa Williams and John Wagner,

“What took you so long?”

The question, posed to Sen. Bernie Sanders this week by a local newspaper editor about his first visit last month to the majority-black city of Flint, Mich., cut to the heart of his struggles to engage black voters and compete with front-runner Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

An awkward reality has defined the nominating contest between Sanders and Clinton this year: his failure to win over African American voters — or the states where they represent large portions of the electorate. As a result, Sanders in recent weeks has focused almost exclusively on winning in whiter states, where his campaign has resonated among younger and working-class voters.

It’s not how Sanders wanted it to be. A longtime civil rights proponent who marched on Washington in 1963, Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist who believes that his central promise to combat income inequality would benefit African Americans at least as much as anyone else.

“He’s running against somebody very well known in the African American community,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs. “He started off 10 months ago with almost no name recognition and no support. We think we’re making progress, but clearly we have more work to do.”

[Democrats Clinton and Sanders pounce on Flint water crisis — and each other]

Sanders has endured a series of crushing defeats in states with large black electorates. Despite heavy spending on TV and paid canvassers in South Carolina, Clinton beat him by more than 70 points among African American voters there and in Georgia — and by a whopping 85 points in Alabama. On Saturday, she won the Louisiana primary 71 percent to 23 percent, again thanks to her strong showing among black voters.

Without stating it explicitly, the Sanders campaign has made no secret of a strategy targeting whiter states. His advisers have argued repeatedly that he retained a path to the nomination that involved winning industrial — and whiter — Midwestern states. Campaign adviser Tad Devine talked about the need for the campaign to “pick our targets.”

Knowing that South Carolina wasn’t likely to tilt his way, Sanders left the state for 48 hours ahead of the primary to campaign in more heavily white states later on the calendar. He targeted five states in the run-up to Super Tuesday, all of them with relatively small black populations. He won four of them. Ahead of Saturday’s contests, Sanders did little campaigning in Louisiana. Instead, the campaign celebrated a trio of caucus conquests over the weekend in overwhelmingly white states: Kansas, Nebraska and Maine.

Richard Dickerson, a political consultant based in Birmingham, Ala., who has worked on campaigns across the country, said Sanders’s inability to gain traction with black voters leaves him little choice but to focus on states that are less diverse.

“I think that’s the best they can do,” Dickerson said. “It highlights their inability to reach the Democratic base.”

Winning the black vote was always going to be a challenge for Sanders. He is up against Hillary and Bill Clinton and their ­decades-long political relationships with African American leaders and voters. And as a longtime independent, he has never been active with the Democratic Party. Elected to the Senate from Vermont — a state that is 95 percent white — he has none of the relationships that the Clintons enjoy among Democratic activists.

“I think the easy part of getting black voters to turn to Bernie Sanders is what happens when they actually listen to him,” said Ben Jealous, a Sanders supporter and former leader of the NAACP. “The hard part is getting beyond the Clinton brand. The Clinton brand is a bit like Coca-Cola. You know, it’s a Southern brand. ­Everybody knows it. It tastes good. The question you have to ask is: Is it the best option for you?”

In addition, Sanders has connected with few black leaders and voters — although it’s not clear whether he missed opportunities or those individuals were un­receptive to him. The Sanders campaign disputes, for instance, the premise of the question posed to him Sunday in Flint by Bryn Mickle, the editor of the Flint Journal.

Mickle noted that Sanders had visited the city “just over a week ago.” In fact, Sanders first made Flint a campaign issue in mid-
January, when he called for Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation, saying the Republican “knew about the lead in Flint’s water” and “did nothing.” Sanders’s statement came on the eve of a weekend visit to South Carolina and appeared aimed at least in part to get the attention of that state’s African American voters.

The campaign also disputes the perspective of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who said with some bafflement that Sanders didn’t make an effort to contact her. “It’s very interesting to me that he hasn’t called,” said Weaver, who endorsed Clinton in mid-January and wore a large gold pin with the campaign’s logo on her lapel at the debate in Flint on Sunday. “It seemed to me that he’d talk to the mayor of any city he visits that is in crisis and ask what we in government need.”

Briggs, from the Sanders campaign, said the mayor was mistaken. “We tried to meet with her,” he said. “We called. We went to City Hall and waited outside her office. We invited her to the opening of a Flint field office. She never responded. She also did not show up at the very moving town meeting at the church in Flint.”

The Sanders campaign is not targeting white voters exclusively. One campaign ad, featuring the daughter of Eric Garner, who died when New York City police officers used a chokehold to restrain him, is clearly meant to convey his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In addition, he has collected endorsements from a group of famous African American supporters, including academic Cornel West, film director Spike Lee, actor Danny Glover, entertainer Harry Belafonte and rapper Killer Mike, who all have vouched for how Sanders’s agenda would benefit African Americans. Killer Mike has gone so far as to say that Sanders would help carry on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Although Clinton enjoys far broader backing among black elected officials, several have come forward to support Sanders, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was among Sanders’s biggest cheerleaders in his state, and former state senator Nina Turner of Ohio, who has a national profile among Democratic activists. In South Carolina, a half-dozen African American lawmakers campaigned on Sanders’s behalf.

But there are signs that he hasn’t reached out to black voters in the traditional manner of Democratic politicians. Sanders has demonstrated that he can draw large crowds almost anywhere — including thousands to a rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Monday. But he has not embraced another staple of the trail: retail politicking.

Clinton peppers her schedule with visits to restaurants, workplaces and houses of worship, providing opportunities to talk to voters in small groups or one-on-one (with TV cameras capturing the moment, of course).

Sanders has seemed like a fish out of water during his relatively few attempts to mingle with ­everyday people. On a Sunday morning, he’s much more likely to appear on a network talk show than in a pew of an African American church. That aloofness may have hurt him, particularly among African Americans in the South. Rather than coming into their communities, Sanders was only seen as a northerner talking at them in large settings.

Supporter Killer Mike seemed to understand that. He told reporters that he wanted to take the senator on a barbershop tour throughout the South. Sanders visited a barbershop in Atlanta owned by Killer Mike — who widely distributed a video of their discussion there — but a tour never happened.

Sanders also stumbled in Sunday’s debate, when he answered a question about whether he has any “racial blind spots” by suggesting that only black people live in ghettos.

“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car,” Sanders said.

Jealous, who was at the debate, acknowledged that Sanders’s answer missed the mark, but he criticized Clinton for failing to mention in her answer that as a high school student she supported Republican Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 on a platform opposing the Civil Rights Act. In her autobiography, Clinton writes about her transformation from Republican to liberal Democrat.

Ellison noted that there are parts of Bill Clinton’s legacy that should give black voters pause, including welfare reform, a crime bill that has been blamed for ushering in the era of “mass incarceration” and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has hurt African American workers in industrial states.

That argument does not appear likely to affect the outcome in Michigan, which votes Tuesday. In a new NBC News-Marist poll released Sunday, Clinton leads Sanders 57 percent to 40 percent overall — and 76 percent to 21 percent among black voters.

A commanding Clinton victory in Michigan on Tuesday would render Sanders’s path to the nomination all but impassable. And that, in turn, raises the question of whether it’s possible to win the Democratic nomination without the black vote.

The answer is no, said Dickerson, because many of the states that yield the largest number of delegates have significant percentages of black voters in the Democratic primary electorate. “It’s all about the delegate count,” he said.

Steve Friess contributed to this report.

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Al Shabaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishufrom their training camp south of the capital in this October 21, 2010 file photo.

Reuters/Feisal Omar/Files

WASHINGTON The United States launched an air strike in Somalia that killed more than 150 fighters with the al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab following U.S. intelligence on preparations for a large-scale militant attack, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The Saturday strike, using both manned aircraft and unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drones, targeted al Shabaab’s “Raso” training camp, a facility about 120 miles north of the capital Mogadishu, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. military had been monitoring the camp for several weeks before the strike and had gathered intelligence, including about an imminent threat posed by those in the camp to U.S. forces and African Union peacekeepers, officials said.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James described the strike as “defensive” in nature.

“There was intelligence … these fighters would soon be embarking upon missions that would directly impact the U.S. and our partners,” James told reporters.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the targets were U.S. forces and African Union fighters in Somalia, but declined to offer additional details.

Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States believed the threat was “imminent” and that the fighters were poised to soon depart the camp.

Al Shabaab could not be reached for comment.

Somalia’s Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer said the Somali intelligence agency had provided information about the camp to the United States in the run-up to the attack.

“There has to be intelligence on the ground for this to happen. Our intelligence had helped,” Omer told Reuters.

The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has remained a potent antagonist in Somalia, launching frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government.

The group, whose name means “The Youth,” seeks to impose its strict version of sharia law in Somalia, where it frequently unleashes attacks targeting security and government targets, as well as hotels and restaurants in the capital.

Al Shabaab was also behind deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda, which both contribute troops to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Omer said the U.S. drone strike was a major blow to al Shabaab.

“Instead of al Shabaab attacking civilians, it was a military target that was hit and there was a high success rate,” Omer said.

Davis said as many as 200 fighters were believed to be training at the Raso camp at the time of the strike and expressed confidence there were no civilian casualties.

“Their removal will degrade al Shabaab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, which include recruiting new members, establishing bases and planning attacks on U.S. and Amisom forces there,” Davis said.

He added that no U.S. forces on the ground participated in the strike, the largest in recent memory against the militant group, in terms of the number of fighters believed killed.

(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic in Nairobi; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Ralph Boulton and Andrew Hay)

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By Anna Fifield,

TOKYO — The United States and South Korea started huge military exercises Monday, including rehearsals for surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities.

The exercises always elicit an angry response from Pyongyang, but this year’s statement was particularly ferocious, accusing the United States and South Korea of planning a “beheading operation” aimed at removing Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The drills come amid a particularly tense time, with the international community — and the United States and South Korea especially — trying to punish Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test and missile launch. The U.N. sanctions passed last week are the toughest yet.

About 17,000 American forces and 300,000 South Korean personnel will take part in Key Resolve, 11 days of computer-simulated training, and in the Foal Eagle field exercises, which will last eight weeks and involve ground, air, naval and Special Operations services.

The Key Resolve part of the exercise will include a wartime plan adopted by South Korea and the United States last year, called OPLAN 5015, under which they will practice making precision attacks on North Korea’s leadership and weapons of mass destruction.

Key Resolve “highlights the longstanding and enduring partnership and friendship between the two nations and their combined commitment to the defense of [South Korea] and regional stability,” United States Forces Korea said in a statement.

About 28,000 American troops are still on the Korean peninsula, the result of the security alliance formed during the Korean War.

USFK also said it had informed the North’s Korean People’s Army — through the United Nations Command, which controls the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas — about the exercise dates and “the non-provocative nature of this training.”

But North Korea did not see it this way.

Pyongyang said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency on Monday that its army and people “will take military counteraction for preemptive attack so that they may deal merciless deadly blows at the enemies.”

“We have a military operation plan of our style to liberate south Korea and strike the U.S. mainland ratified by our dignified supreme headquarters,” the KCNA report warned.

It already had deployed “offensive means” to strike South Korea and also “U.S. imperialist aggressor forces bases in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. mainland.”

North Korea has a habit of making threats on which it cannot follow through. Last week, Kim ordered his military to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time, saying they were needed, given the “ferocious hostility” of new “gangster-like” sanctions leveled against Pyongyang.

Analysts doubt whether North Korea has the capability to attach its nuclear weapons to a missile, and firing one would be suicidal for North Korea, whose conventional military still uses Soviet-era equipment.

But Kim has shown himself willing to use the means available to him to express his anger. Last year, during a period of tensions with South Korea, he ordered his military onto a war footing, sending army units to the DMZ and submarines out of port.

South Korea and the United States would increase monitoring of North Korea during the exercises.

“We will carry out these exercises while keeping tabs on signs of North Korean provocations,” a South Korean official told reporters, according to Yonhap News Agency. “If the North provokes us during this exercise, the U.S. and our troops will retaliate with an attack ten-fold stronger.”

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The race for the Democratic nomination may be effectively over, or at least well on its way. But the populist fire that’s being stoked by Bernie Sanders’ campaign isn’t dying down -– at least if Sanders has anything to do with it.

On a night that he notched another caucus win, Sanders used Michigan as a backdrop Sunday for a renewed and refreshed attack on Hillary Clinton. He hit her for supporting trade deals and corporate welfare, for speeches to big banks and supporting a super PAC, amid a series of now-familiar fault lines that somehow took on new urgency.

“If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout where some of your friends destroyed this economy…” Sanders began, only for Clinton to try to jump in.

“Excuse me, I’m talking,” Sanders said.

“If you are going to talk, tell the whole story, Sen. Sanders,” Clinton responded.

“I will tell my story and you tell yours,” he shot back.

That they are doing, and will continue to do, even with the true drama of the campaign on the other side of the aisle.

“Excuse me, I’m talking” would count as one of the friendlier rejoinders had it come during a debate on the Republican side. But the sharpness matters for the Democrats –- and could be a dynamic that the party is happy to see last a while longer.

From the start, the debate in Flint was a chance for the two Democrats to respond to the tragic circumstances surrounding the city’s water supply. Clinton joined Sanders in calling for Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to resign, and both went deep in addressing a topic their GOP rivals have barely touched.

When the debate moved to areas where the Democrats actually disagree –- trade, gun control, Wall Street -– Clinton and Sanders engaged with each other fully.

“Let’s have some facts instead of rhetoric for a change,” Clinton said when Sanders attacked her over her super PAC and paid speeches to Wall Street banks.

Clinton has taken to calling Sanders a “one-issue candidate” – and Sanders accepted the label.

“Secretary Clinton said I’m a one-issue person. I guess so. My issue is trying to rebuild a disappearing middle class,” Sanders said.

Remarkably, for two veteran politicians who have now shared a stage seven times -– and will see each other again, in Miami, in just three days -– the lines between Sanders and Clinton don’t seem stale. They found plenty of reasons to agree with each other, in the safe territory of contrasting themselves with the GOP contenders.

“Compare the substance of this debate with what you saw on the Republican stage last week,” Clinton said.

“We are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health,” said Sanders. “And if you watch the Republican debates, you know why.”

Clinton and Sanders have kept the campaign about substance, for the most part, even if the same ground has been tread repeatedly. Given the noise being generated by the GOP these days, the passion on the Democratic side may be a welcome dynamic.

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By Lois Romano,

Nancy Reagan, a former film actress whose crowning role was that of vigilant guardian of President Ronald Reagan’s interests and legacy, died March 6 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94.

The cause was congestive heart failure, her office said.

As first lady from 1981 to 1989, Mrs. Reagan had a knack for inviting controversy — from her spending habits to her request that the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president’s schedule.

But the controversies during her years as first lady often obscured her profound influence on one of the most popular presidents in modern history. They were a universe of two, and their legendary devotion helped define the Reagan presidency.

President Obama said Sunday that Mrs. Reagan had “redefined” the role of first lady, and he praised her for becoming an advocate for Alzheimer’s disease treatments and research after her husband was diagnosed in 1994. “We remain grateful for Nancy Reagan’s life [and] thankful for her guidance,” the president and first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement.

Mrs. Reagan was often seen as the “bad cop” to her husband’s congenial “good cop,” putting her at odds with his senior staff, who wanted more exposure for the man known as the “Great Communicator.” After John W. Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate her husband in 1981, Mrs. Reagan kept his senior aides and a sympathetic public at bay while he convalesced. She argued vociferously against his running for reelection in 1984, in part because of fears about his safety.

“She defined her role as being a shield for the emotional and physical well-being of the president,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian for the National First Ladies’ Library. “I believe she would see her legacy as having helped forge her husband’s legacy.”

Frederick J. Ryan Jr., who is The Washington Post’s publisher and chief executive and who is chairman of the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said: “She set the standard that first ladies will aspire to for many years to come. Her contributions to the success of Ronald Reagan’s presidency may never be fully appreciated.”

Always working behind the scenes, she was involved in the hiring, and firing, of senior staff at pivotal junctures. She insisted, over the objections of some senior advisers, that her husband publicly apologize for the government’s secret arms sales to Iran, a scandal that rocked his presidency. It proved to be the right call. She also bucked the administration’s right-leaning ideologues in pushing for improved relations with the Soviet Union, conspiring with the secretary of state to do it.

Not six years out of the White House, Mrs. Reagan was tested in ways she could not have imagined. She spent a decade as primary caregiver for her husband as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, with him eventually not recognizing the woman he called “Mommy.” His illness prompted Mrs. Reagan to openly challenge the George W. Bush administration and other conservatives who sought to limit research on embryonic stem cells, work that scientists think could present a cure for Alzheimer’s.

[From 2004: Ronald Reagan, president who reshaped American politics, dies at 93]

Just before his death in 2004, she made a plea for more research funding, saying, “Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.” She expressed public gratitude when President Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research early in his presidency, noting that “time is short, and life is precious.”

Protecting ‘Ronnie’

As first lady of California when her husband was governor, Mrs. Reagan was an outspoken advocate for returning Vietnam War veterans. She met the first planes of returning POWs landing in California, and organized dinners at the Reagan home for veterans and their families.

In Washington, Mrs. Reagan’s most prominent initiative as first lady was the “Just Say No” drug-awareness campaign, aimed at preventing recreational drug use among young people. Later, she expanded the campaign globally and held a White House summit with 30 first ladies from around the world.

Like the current White House occupants, she brought young artists to perform in the White House, many of whom were showcased in a PBS television series, “In Performance at the White House.”

But time after time, her efforts at developing a substantive role for herself were overshadowed by parallel revelations about her lifestyle or her influence over her husband.

Still, she never backed down from her primary mission of protecting her “Ronnie.”

In a stunning parting shot at her husband’s advisers in November 1988, as Reagan prepared to leave office, she told the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t feel this staff served him well in general. I’m more aware if someone is trying to end-run him and have their own agenda.”

Mrs. Reagan saw herself caught in the crosshairs of the feminist movement; she was one of the last of the stay-at-home generation who represented everything the women’s movement was rebelling against. She was ridiculed for what became known as “the gaze” — an unflinching stare at her husband when he spoke publicly.

Still, she made no apologies. “My life didn’t really begin until I met Ronnie,” she said.

During his campaigns, she vastly preferred traveling with him rather than on her own, but by the 1980 presidential race, she agreed to keep a separate schedule to reach more voters. When she saw the president perform poorly during the debates in 1984, she intervened, instructing the staff to stop feeding him endless statistics to memorize — but to let him rely on his own instincts. It proved effective.

Mrs. Reagan took Washington by storm in 1981. Even before her husband — a movie star before he became governor of California — was sworn in, she swept into town with a larger-than-life cadre of wealthy California friends and celebrities who wore sable coats, knotted traffic with their shiny white limousines and threw lavish parties the likes of which were unprecedented at inaugural festivities. At first, the public seemed to embrace what was billed as the return of style and glamour after four years of the more modest style of peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.

But the glamour soon was seen as ostentation during a steep recession. After complaining that the White House residential quarters were in disrepair, and noting that she could find no set of matching china there, Mrs. Reagan turned to affluent friends to raise funds for $800,000 in renovations and $200,000 of new china.

Although no public money was spent, these two expenditures became symbols of excess. A high-profile trip to Britain for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana six months into the presidency only fueled her detractors.

Critics took to calling her “Queen Nancy,” which eventually became a popular postcard. By December 1981, a Newsweek poll reported that 61 percent of the public considered her less sympathetic than previous first ladies to the needs of the disadvantaged.

About the same time, it came to light that she had been accepting thousands of dollars in gifts of jewelry and gowns from designers, which she declared were loans that she would return. She vowed to stop borrowing the items, and White House lawyers agreed that they would be reported annually, as ethics laws require.

But five years later, it was discovered that she had continued to borrow the clothes. She acknowledged in her 1989 memoir, “My Turn,” that it was a mistake not to make public her practice of borrowing.

“During Ronnie’s first term, I was portrayed as caring only about shopping, beautiful clothes and going to lunch with my fancy Hollywood friends. During his second term, I was portrayed as a power-hungry political manipulator,” she lamented.

In an attempt to deflect the criticism a year after arriving in Washington, she donned a bag-lady costume at the 1982 Gridiron Dinner and sang “Second Hand Clothes,” a parody of “Second Hand Rose,” before the assembled journalists and Washington power players. No one saw it coming when she slipped away from the head table and appeared onstage.

The self-deprecating performance, which surprised even her husband and brought down the house, earned her a reprieve from her critics and much positive press coverage.

Controversial adviser

Controversy followed Mrs. Reagan long before she arrived in Washington. Her longtime loyalist and White House image impresario, the late Michael K. Deaver, wrote in “Nancy: A Portrait of My Years With Nancy Reagan,” published in 2004, that the first lady had something of a tin ear when it came to grasping how things would appear in the media.

When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966, Nancy took heat for moving her family out of the governor’s mansion — declaring it a fire hazard — and into a home in a high-end suburb.

“Being ‘right’ about the governor’s mansion, though, did not grant Nancy any reprieve from the slings and arrows of the media, then or later,” wrote Deaver, who accompanied the Reagans to Washington. “While Ronald Reagan went on to become the ‘Teflon president’ . . . by contrast Nancy would become something like the ‘flypaper first lady.’ ”

Mrs. Reagan was undeniably the president’s closest adviser and the most senior woman in the inner circle. At various times, she was intimately involved in staffing and political decisions.

“She had great antennae about who was for her husband’s agenda and who was for their own agenda,” said Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s last White House chief of staff and longtime confidant of the first lady.

But those who knew the couple well said that although he relied on her more than anyone else, the president had a stubborn streak and could not be pushed where he didn’t want to go. “I was around them for many years, and I never saw her push him into something he didn’t want to do,” said the late Martin Anderson, former White House domestic policy adviser for Reagan.

Former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, who covered Ronald Reagan as governor and president, wrote in his biography of Reagan that Mrs. Reagan was “a better listener than her husband. And she was also better than him at distinguishing between those who really cared about him or his policies and those who followed his banner to advance their own interests.”

A theatrical meeting

Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921, in New York, she was the only child of car salesman Kenneth Seymour Robbins and Edith Luckett, an actress. Her father had left before she was born, and she rarely saw him in subsequent years.

To find work as an actress, Mrs. Reagan’s mother left her for half a dozen years to be raised in Bethesda, Md., by her aunt Virginia and uncle Audley Gailbraith. She briefly attended Sidwell Friends School in the District.

The future first lady spoke of longing for her mother in those lonely years, and in 1929, they were reunited when Edith married Loyal Davis, a prominent, wealthy, politically conservative neurosurgeon who moved them to Chicago. Mrs. Reagan adored her stepfather, who eventually adopted her, and her name was legally changed to Nancy Davis.

She described herself as an average student. She attended the Girls’ Latin School of Chicago, graduated in 1939 and went on to Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in English and drama, graduating in 1943. She said she always had a love for theater because of her mother’s influence, and she moved to New York to pursue acting after college.

She described her fledgling career as any young woman’s fantasy, thanks to her mother’s contacts: She had dates with film legend Clark Gable at the Stork Club, visits to Katharine Hepburn’s apartment and eventually a contract with the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

As Nancy Davis, she had roles in 11 feature films from 1949 to 1956. Among her early roles was that of a psychiatrist in “Shadow on the Wall” (1950). Other films included “East Side, West Side” (1949) and “The Next Voice You Hear” (1950). She appeared opposite her husband only once, and that was in her last film, 1957’s “Hellcats of the Navy.”

She met Ronald Reagan when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Another actress by the same name had appeared on the Hollywood blacklist, and Mrs. Reagan was concerned about being confused with her. She asked a mutual friend to introduce her to Reagan to sort out the confusion. She admitted later that she had set her sights on him, pretty quickly folding her existence into his. He was an avid horseman, and she took up riding during their courtship.

On March 4, 1952, they were married in a small ceremony at the Little Brown Church near Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan’s best man was film star William Holden. Their first child, Patricia Ann — known as Patti Davis — was born seven months later. Their second child, Ron, came along in 1958.

Ronald Reagan came to the marriage with two children from when he was married to actress Jane Wyman: the late Maureen Reagan and Michael Reagan. Throughout his presidency and after, as Ronald and Nancy Reagan advocated family values, their relationship with their own children was a running drama, creating the public impression of a highly dysfunctional family.

Patti Davis’s 1992 memoir, “The Way I See It,” described a mother driven by appearances, abusive toward her and a habitual user of tranquilizers.

“As uncomfortable as it is to talk about, and write about, abuse is part of this story. I first remember my mother hitting me when I was eight. It escalated as I got older and became a weekly, sometimes daily, event. The last time it happened was when I was in my second year of college,” Davis wrote. (Mother and daughter reconciled when Ronald Reagan was struggling with Alzheimer’s, and they remained close in recent years.)

In 1984, Mrs. Reagan triggered a public feud with Michael when she acknowledged publicly that he was estranged from the family; he shot back that Ronald Reagan had yet to see his then-only grandchild, who was 19 months old. A few years later, Michael Reagan wrote his memoir, summed up by the title: “On the Outside Looking In.”

Although not as critical as Davis’s, his book told of feeling disconnected from his father, his mother (Wyman), and his father’s second family. During Reagan’s first presidential campaign in 1976, Michael Reagan wrote, he and his older sister, Maureen, “felt as though Nancy was pushing us out of the family circle and trying to bring Ron and Patti in,” despite their disinterest, because “the campaign staff . . . felt we made Dad look too old.”

He also said that he and Maureen called Mrs. Reagan “Dragon Lady” when they were younger. Later, Michael and the Reagans reconciled.

Looking to the stars

Hinckley’s assassination attempt in 1981, which gravely injured press secretary James S. Brady, was a seminal moment in the Reagan presidency, and it ratcheted up Mrs. Reagan’s already protective inclinations toward her husband. “I felt panicky every time he left the White House,” she wrote in her memoir.

Eventually, this overprotection led to her consulting an astrologer, Joan Quigley, who predicted “good” days for the president to travel or even leave the White House and “bad” days when he should stay home. Mrs. Reagan insisted that the staff follow her guidance.

Her reliance on astrology was not revealed until her bitter feud with then-Chief of Staff Donald Regan. At first, she welcomed Regan’s authoritarian management style, but she soon saw him as usurping her husband’s power for his own interests.

In 1986, the presidency was rocked by the Iran-contra affair, a rogue White House operation during which aides arranged for arms sales to Iran in return for hostages; proceeds from the sales funded anti-government revolutionaries in Nicaragua. She laid the blame at Regan’s door, because the chaos happened on his watch.

They clashed over a media and political strategy for handling the scandal, and for months their feud played out in public, with allies of both leaking unfavorable stories about the other. The daily drama prompted then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) to say on the House floor: “What is happening at the White House? Who is in charge? A constituent of mine asked, ‘How can the president deal with the Soviets if he cannot settle a dispute between his wife and the chief of staff?’ ”

Even her breast cancer diagnosis in 1987 proved controversial when she chose to have a modified radical mastectomy.

The decision was questioned by medical experts at the time because it ran counter to trends in breast-cancer surgery, which tended toward less-invasive lumpectomies.

The Soviet thaw

Mrs. Reagan saw early on in her husband’s term that he could have a profound impact on his legacy by working to thaw U.S.-Soviet relations, and she quietly conspired with the pragmatists in the administration to make it happen. Reagan credited his wife with “lowering the temperature of my rhetoric.”

Ronald Reagan had built his conservative credentials as a hard-liner, opposing the Soviet Union and communism. As far back as his days as head of the Screen Actors Guild, he refused to step up and help those in the entertainment industry whom then-Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) tried to expose as alleged communists.

In the White House, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” and he surrounded himself with ideologues who had no interest in extending an olive branch to the Soviets — or engaging in a nuclear-arms reduction.

But at some point, the president saw the benefits of opening a dialogue with the Soviet Union, and his wife saw an opportunity. “Nancy believed this was her husband’s destiny,” Deaver said in Kati Marton’s “Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History,” published in 2001. “A man of his age who had lived through two world wars would be the one to break the deadlock of the Cold War.”

Over the strenuous objections of national-security hawks, she worked with Secretary of State George Shultz to bring Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to the White House for dinner to break the ice. Despite Mrs. Reagan’s open disdain for her Soviet counterpart, Raisa Gorbachev, the first lady was credited for an attention to detail in 1987, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s state visit to the United States.

As the heads of state developed a warm relationship, the wives started their own cold war. Mrs. Reagan was said to be furious when Raisa Gorbachev said during her Washington visit, “I missed you in Reykjavik,” referring to the 1986 summit in Iceland. “I was told women weren’t invited,” Mrs. Reagan replied coolly.

During a tour of the White House, the first lady was taken aback by Raisa Gorbachev’s relentless questioning about historical and cultural minutiae, some of which Mrs. Reagan couldn’t answer.

“We were thrust together although we had very little in common and had completely different outlooks on the world,” Mrs. Reagan wrote in her book. “During about a dozen encounters in three different countries my fundamental impression of Raisa Gorbachev was that she never stopped talking, or lecturing, to be more accurate.”

After Washington

After the Reagans left the White House, they started the Nancy Reagan Foundation to support educational and drug-prevention after-school programs. After Ronald Reagan’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the couple created and funded the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago to study the illness.

In her final years, Mrs. Reagan lived quietly in California, lunching with old friends and spending her time advocating for stem cell research.

Survivors include her daughter, Patti Davis; her son, Ron Reagan; and her stepson, Michael Reagan.

“We’ve had an extraordinary life . . . but the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder,” she wrote of her husband’s illness in “I Love You, Ronnie,” a poignant collection of their love letters.

“There are so many memories that I can no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other, and go — and love, just love.”

Read more Washington Post obituaries : Pat Conroy, best-selling author of ‘Great Santini’ and ‘Prince of Tides,’ dies at 70 Delmer Berg, last surviving American volunteer of Spanish Civil War, dies at 100 Yolande Betbeze Fox, a Miss America who rebelled, dies at 87

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