Patriots owner Kraft pulls some punches, throws others

By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Robert Kraft is pulling his punches over “Deflategate.”
Well, some of them.
While the New England Patriots owner and once close confidant of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to celebrate yet another trip to the Super Bowl this week, he also couldn’t back down from a challenge Monday night to address the whole mess. So Kraft took a couple of shots during the Patriots’ availability, yet also made sure not to temper the festive mood.
“Everybody wants to protect their family,” Kraft said when asked about the aftermath of the deflated footballs case from the 2014 AFC championship game that resulted in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, a $1 million fine for the franchise and the loss of its first-round draft pick in 2016.
“I think our family was involved, or accused of being involved, in something that was mishandled and became inappropriate. Sometimes in a complicated situation in business, people start pointing fingers, and we want to assure everyone that we are together.”
Kraft then cited a Hebrew saying from the Old Testament.
“When tough times come,” he translated, “there’s nothing bad that happens that doesn’t have good associated with it.
“In a way, that galvanized our team.”
Sure looks that way considering the Patriots (16-2) had the NFL’s best record this season, eased to the conference title with lopsided wins over Houston and Pittsburgh and are 3-point favorites for Sunday’s Super Bowl against Atlanta (13-5).
After the home victory over the Steelers, Kraft accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy — no, Goodell was not on hand to present it — and made a not-too-veiled reference to “Deflategate.”
“For a number of reasons, all of you in this stadium understand how big this win was,” Kraft said. “And we have to go to Houston and win one more.”
He’s in Houston with his team now, and Kraft tried to stick to the business at hand, not carrying out any vendetta.
“I feel privileged to be here in the Super Bowl city,” he said. “There’s a time and a place to talk about problems. I’m going to stay focused on being here.”
Kraft is such a veteran of Super Bowls, having also been to one in 1997 with Bill Parcells as his coach, that he gets calls from other owners about how to handle the week. So it was no surprise when he revealed that Falcons boss Arthur Blank called him.
“Arthur asked me for some advice about being in (the Super Bowl),” Kraft said. “I told him, ‘Don’t let anyone ruin these two weeks for you. Focus on how lucky we are to be here.'”
Kraft must have heard the chorus of boos when his team captains were introduced onstage after Atlanta’s media session and before New England’s. The Falcons’ captains weren’t subjected to any such jeers.
It wasn’t in direct response to that moment, but Kraft did say something that reflects how his team hardly engenders the same warm feelings across America that the Cubs recently did.
“Jealousy and envy are incredible diseases,” he said. “We try to take it and turn it into something that’s positive.”
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No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Kansas headline week ahead in AP Top 25

By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Kansas didn’t get long to savor a win at Kentucky, not with another top-five matchup looming to headline this week’s schedule for AP Top 25 teams.
The third-ranked Jayhawks host No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday night, topping a heavy schedule of games matching two ranked teams. Each of the major conferences has at least one, though the Baylor-Kansas game is the only one featuring two top-10 teams.
It comes four days after Kansas beat the Wildcats 79-73 at Rupp Arena when those teams were ranked No. 2 and No. 4, respectively.
“It’s not very often you get to host a top-five team at home. We were able to do that last year in an epic game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, referring to the Jayhawks’ triple-overtime win against Oklahoma. “I’m sure this one will be hotly contested as well.”
Baylor (20-1) was ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history before losing at West Virginia on Jan. 10 . Kansas (19-2) suffered its own loss at West Virginia last week to snap an 18-game winning streak.
HEAVY LOAD: The Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences each had two games featuring two ranked teams, though the ACC’s first came Monday night with No. 21 Duke’s 84-74 win at No. 20 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (17-5) visit No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday trying to snap a three-game skid.
No. 23 Purdue (17-5) also has two games against ranked teams this week. The Boilermakers host No. 25 Northwestern — rolling with six straight wins to enter the poll for the first time since the 2009-10 season — on Wednesday then visit No. 17 Maryland on Saturday.
RISING CATS: If not for Baylor-Kansas, the biggest game to watch this week might have been No. 5 Arizona visiting No. 13 Oregon on Saturday.
The Wildcats (20-2) are surging with 14 straight wins and recently got Allonzo Trier — an athletic 6-foot-5 guard who returned for his sophomore season instead of entering the NBA draft — back from a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that sidelined him for the first 19 games.
The preseason Pac-12 favorite Ducks (19-3), who reached last year’s NCAA Elite Eight, had won a school-record 17 straight games before losing at Colorado over the weekend.
Other matchups involving two ranked teams include No. 22 Creighton at No. 16 Butler (Tuesday) in the Big East and No. 8 Kentucky at No. 24 Florida (Saturday) in the Southeastern Conference.
NEW NO. 1: Gonzaga’s still unbeaten — and now the nation’s top-ranked team.
The Bulldogs (22-0) moved into the top spot in Monday’s poll. They play with the No. 1 ranking for the first time Thursday at BYU, then host Santa Clara on Saturday.
This is Gonzaga’s second appearance at No. 1, the other time coming during the 2012-13 season. The Bulldogs are the fifth team to reach No. 1 this year, following Duke, Kentucky, Villanova and Baylor.
CONFERENCE WATCH: The ACC had a national-best six teams in the poll, led by No. 6 Louisville and No. 9 Virginia. The Big Ten was second with four teams, led by No. 10 Wisconsin.
All three of the Big 12’s ranked teams are in the top 10 with Baylor, Kansas and No. 7 West Virginia.
WATCH LIST: SMU (18-4) is the first team in the “Others receiving votes” category just outside the Top 25. The Mustangs host East Carolina on Wednesday then visit Tulsa on Saturday in American Athletic Conference play, though neither game is likely to create much of a boost considering Tulsa sat at No. 107 and East Carolina at No. 220 in the NCAA’s RPI listings as of Monday.
FAREWELL (FOR NOW): Xavier fell out from No. 24, snapping a streak of 29 straight poll appearances. The Musketeers (15-6) were No. 7 in the preseason poll, but have lost four of six — all to ranked teams — and now must play without point guard and No. 2 scorer Edmond Sumner due to a season-ending knee injury .
Xavier hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday then visits No. 22 Creighton on Saturday.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Lawrence, Kansas, contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at
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Some Baylor assistants finding jobs and mixed reactions

By JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former Baylor coach Art Briles conceded months ago that the sexual assault scandal that led to his firing likely ended his career.
That’s not the case for some of his former assistants, including his son.
At least three former assistants and staff members from last season have new jobs, while others are still looking as Baylor faces multiple lawsuits filed by alleged victims accusing the school of promoting “a culture of sexual violence.”
The reception at their new schools has ranged from quiet indifference to fan resistance strong enough to force one university, Texas, to defend the hire.
Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault survivor and activist, urged schools to stop hiring Briles’ former assistants until more details emerge either from Baylor or are forced out as the lawsuits proceed.
“I don’t think they should be coaching anywhere right now,” said Tracy, who met with Baylor players last year. “I’m really disappointed in these schools that think they need to hire them. There are other qualified people who we can be confident they can be men of character.”
Florida Atlantic hired Kendal Briles as the Owls’ offensive coordinator. Former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has the same position at Arizona State.
FAU officials declined comment on hiring Kendal Briles. Arizona State officials have said Bennett was “fully vetted” by the university’s human resources department and said, “We look forward to his contributions to our program.”
According to the Arizona Republic, new Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades provided Bennett a letter of recommendation that described him as a “valued person in the Baylor athletics family.” It was unclear if Rhoades wrote similar letters for other Baylor assistants. Baylor officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
At Texas, new Longhorns coach Tom Herman and school administrators have faced pushback from fans over the hiring of Casey Horny, a friend of Herman’s and a Baylor support staffer. He is now a $65,000-a year quality control assistant at Texas, a position that analyzes film.
The job wouldn’t create a ripple of publicity under normal circumstances. But fan reaction was swift, including an online petition and dozens of emails to administrators protesting the hire.
Angry Texas fans questioned Horny’s past support on social media for Art Briles, including tweeting the slogan “truthdontlie,” a phrase adopted by Briles’ defenders.
Last November, Horny, Kendal Briles and Bennett all were in a group of Baylor assistants who issued a statement refuting accounts from Baylor regents, who had laid much of the blame for the scandal on Art Briles .
“What message does this send to the female student body, faculty and staff of this great university?” asked one of dozens of emails sent to Texas President Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin.
Baylor fired Art Briles last May after the law firm Pepper Hamilton released a 13-page “Findings of Fact” from an investigation into allegations of sexual assault across campus. The report said the football program operated as if it was “above the rules” and made multiple references to unidentified football coaches interfering with or stifling assault investigations.
None of the Baylor assistants was identified by name in the report and the staff was allowed to stay. School regents later said the investigation found 17 women had reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 Baylor athletes since 2011, including four reports of gang rapes. In response to the report, Baylor fired Briles, and demoted former President Ken Starr, who later left the school. Baylor apologized to past victims and settled at least two lawsuits, but allowed Briles’ staff to remain for the 2016 season. Art Briles is suing Baylor officials for libel and defamation.
A new lawsuit filed last week alleges an even darker picture . A former Baylor student who said she was raped by two football players alleged in federal court there were at least 52 sexual assaults by as many as 31 football players over a four-year period, a far greater number of attacks than previously acknowledged by Baylor officials.
The lawsuit also claims the football program encouraged a “culture of drinking, drugs and sex.”
Art Briles’ attorney, Ernest Cannon, denied the lawsuit’s depictions of a lawless program that promoted sexual violence.
“If they were doing that it would be terrible, but they weren’t doing that,” Cannon said.
New coach Matt Rhule has hired his own assistants and the former Baylor staff who haven’t found work are under contract until May. Defensive back coach Carlton Buckels, who joined Baylor in 2011, declined comment on his job prospects.
At Texas, Perrin said he interviewed Horny “at length” and reviewed his background before approving the hire
“Like others, I question Coach Horny supporting some commentary on social media. After further discussion with Coach Horny, he understands such actions will not be tolerated at Texas,” Perrin said.
Herman later offered an even stronger defense of Horny, who he has known for 18 years.
“He had some uninformed and regrettable tweets that he’s apologized for,” Herman said in a recent radio interview.
“At the end of the day, those guys. … because you wear a green pullover with a ‘BU’ on it doesn’t mean that you’re not given an opportunity to coach if you’ve been forthright in everything you’ve seen and done,” Herman said. “And Casey has certainly has passed all of those tests with flying colors.”
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Super Bowl opening night a bit more tame than usual

HOUSTON (AP) — A man traipsing around Monday’s Super Bowl opening night in a full-length gown declaring himself “The Empress of Austria, Elizabeth I” was the most outrageous guest at what was a rather tame media night compared to the circus this event has been in the past.
The Empress, otherwise known as Julian Kurzwernhart, who said he’d been covering the Super Bowl for a television station in Austria for the past six years, spent more time being interviewed in his crazy getup than actually conducting interviews with the players from the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
“Why outfits? Oh yeah, that’s funny questions because we want to spread some Austrian flavor every year here and spread some Austrian charm and you guys have something to love,” he said. “It’s a crazy event and you have to dress up.”
The event, which is the first availability with the teams during Super Bowl week, was held at Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play.
While media mingled with players on the field, 10,204 fans filled the stands to get a glimpse of their favorite players.
There were a handful of other strange getups, such as a man from a television station who wore a long blonde wig and a jersey which was half that of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and half New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.
A reporter from a local television station sported an oversized red foam cowboy hat and asked everyone who spoke to him if they’d like to try on the matching blue one he held.
He handed the hat to Atlanta receiver Julio Jones who thanked him and placed it beside him on the podium next to his seat.
When the reporter informed him that he wanted him to try it on and not keep it and then tried to ask another question Jones jokingly snapped at him.
“Next question, I ain’t messing with you,” he said before cracking up.
Jones embraced the silliness of the night and said he couldn’t think of a question he wouldn’t answer.
“We have a lot of fans from everywhere, Australia, Mexico … and everyone wants answers and I’m going to answer them to the best of my ability,” he said. “It hasn’t been too crazy for me.”
Guillermo Rodriguez, a talk show personality on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, asked the players sign what he called a football, which was actually a soccer ball.
He asked questions like: “Do you think Nick will find love on ‘The Bachelor’?,” to Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and “What do you like pizza or pineapple?,” to Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.
His fun didn’t stop with the Falcons and he was even able to get a smile out of notoriously gruff New England coach Bill Belichick.
Rodriguez pronounced the coach’s name “belly check” and told him: “You know you are much prettier when you smile.”
He wasn’t able to get an autograph from the coach though.
“No,” Belichick told him. “Because it’s not a football.”
He eased up a second later telling him he might sign it later.
Rodriguez also had an extended exchange with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady where he told him his teammates said he smelled like flowers and asked him if his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen had a sister he could date.
“No,” Brady said simply.
Rodriguez followed up with: “I thought she had a twin.”
Brady then explained: “She does but she’s married,” which drew boos from Rodriguez. “I know. Too bad.”
Working alongside the traditional media on Monday night were a handful of people who are normally the ones fielding questions from reporters.
Gymnast Simone Biles, who won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics, worked as a correspondent for “Inside Edition”, Houston Rockets power forward Kyle Wiltjer, reported as what he called an unpaid intern for NFL Network. And Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers asked questions recorded by the team’s social media department.
Biles said she would not be asking any difficult questions about politics or new President Donald Trump.
“I’m all about the fun questions,” she said.
She said she might consider a career in media after she’s done competing.
“We’ll see,” she said. “It’s definitely different for me to be behind the camera on the other side.”
Wiltjer, who is a huge NFL fan, had a little fun with some of his questions. He opened with a serious query to Quinn about the importance of special teams before hitting him with a more entertaining one.
“I’m 6-foot-10 with a 7-1 wingspan, you think I can I block some kicks for you?,” Wiltjer said raising one of his long arms skyward.
That drew a big smile from the coach.
“There’s no question you could,” he said. “So let’s talk afterward.”
Actor Kel Mitchell entertained the players dressed as his character Ed from the 1997 movie “Good Burger.”
He did an extended interview with Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett about why the black unicorn is his spirit animal.
“Shout out to the black unicorn,” Mitchell bellowed.
Bennett replied by leaning into his microphone and neighing like a horse, which drew a huge laugh from Mitchell, who first gained fame from the Nickelodeon show “Kenan & Kel.”
But the loquacious Bennett, who grew up in Houston, was far from done having fun in the return to his hometown.
He did interview after interview, took pictures with anyone who asked and by the time he was finally coaxed off the field he was the only player remaining, with his teammates long gone from the event.
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Gonzaga moves to No. 1 for second time in school history

By JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
Being the top-ranked team in the country was new to Gonzaga in 2013. The Zags were considered one of the best teams in the West and had a long string of NCAA Tournament appearances, but going to No. 1 carried with it a new level of expectations.
They know what’s coming this time.
The lone remaining unbeaten team in Division I, Gonzaga moved to No. 1 in The Associated Press college basketball poll for the second time in school history.
“It definitely grows when you have that No. 1 by your name,” Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss said of being a target for opposing teams. “You see that throughout the country where other teams have been No. 1 and people really try to come out and give them a run for their money. We just have to stay focused and if we come to play like we have been, I feel like we’ll be all right.”
The Zags (22-0) jumped up from third when Villanova and Kansas both were beaten in a week when seven of the top 10 lost. Gonzaga won both of its games last week, blowing out Portland and Pepperdine.
Gonzaga received 46 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel Monday. The Zags were No. 1 for the last three weeks of the 2012-13 season.
Gonzaga is the fifth team to reach No. 1 this season, joining Duke, Kentucky, Villanova and Baylor.
“It’s great for the program, it’s great for the school, even the community,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I told the guys today, hey, we live in a big country. If you’re No. 1 at anything it’s pretty cool. But they understand. These polls are tracking who’s winning and who’s losing, and the only one that matters is the one at the end of the year. But we’re playing games and they’re keeping score, so if they want to rank us No. 1, fine by us.”
Baylor (20-1), one of the three top 10 teams to not lose, jumped from fifth to second. The Bears had six first-place votes and were one point ahead of Kansas (19-2), which dropped one place after losing at West Virginia before winning at Kentucky. The Jayhawks had nine first-place votes.
Villanova, which had been No. 1 for the last two weeks and six overall, dropped to fourth after losing at Marquette. The Wildcats (20-2), who also had a last-second win over Virginia, were No. 1 on four ballots.
Northwestern (18-4) is the week’s lone newcomer. The Wildcats were last ranked for one week in 2009-10.
Arizona, the other top 10 team to get through the week without a loss, moved from seventh to fifth and was followed by Louisville, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Wisconsin.
UCLA was 11th and was followed by North Carolina, Oregon, Cincinnati, Florida State, Butler, Maryland, Saint Mary’s, South Carolina and Notre Dame.
The last five ranked teams were Duke, Creighton, Purdue, Florida and Northwestern.
Xavier (15-6), which has lost four of six with all the losses to ranked teams, dropped out from 24th. The Musketeers, who had been ranked for the last 29 polls, were seventh in the preseason voting.
West Virginia, which beat Kansas and Texas A&M, had the week’s biggest jump from 18th to No. 7. Louisville, which beat Pittsburgh and North Carolina State by an average of 40 points, moved from 13th to No. 6.
Florida State’s fall from sixth to No. 15 followed the Seminoles’ losses to Georgia Tech and Syracuse. Kentucky also lost twice last week — to Tennessee and Kansas — and the Wildcats dropped from fourth to eighth.
AP Sports Writer Nick Geranios in Spokane contributed to this report.
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Oklahoma State wins at Oklahoma for 1st time since 2004

By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Moments like these are why Phil Forte came back for his sixth year.
The 23-year-old senior’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play was the difference in Oklahoma State’s 68-66 win over rival Oklahoma on Monday night for the Cowboys’ first win in Norman since 2004.
Forte, Oklahoma State’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, said this one ranked among his most memorable shots.
“It’s right up there just because of the rivalry and everything,” he said. “We knew coming in that we would get Oklahoma’s top game and every time that we play each other, it’s always a really good game and really competitive.”
With Oklahoma up 66-63, Oklahoma State’s Mitchell Solomon made two free throws with 24.1 seconds left, then Juwan Evans’s steal eventually led to Forte’s shot that put the Cowboys up 68-66.
“I was in the right spot, right time,” Forte said.
Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll blocked Kameron McGusty’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds that would have won it for Oklahoma.
“Big win for our program,” Forte said. “It’s been awhile.”
Evans scored 24 points for the Cowboys, who snapped their 12-game losing streak at OU. Evans made just 5 of 20 field goals, but drained 11 of 16 free throws and put Oklahoma’s defense on its heels with his quickness.
Forte and Lindy Waters each scored 11 points for Oklahoma State (14-8, 3-6 Big 12), which won its fourth straight.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Forte said. “This team has never given in. We kept fighting, kept working in practice every single day.”
McGusty, a freshman, scored a season-high 22 points for the Sooners (8-13, 2-7), who have lost four in a row.
“Got to grow through it,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Got to keep working at it. These guys will. Got to have more grit at the finish there.”
Oklahoma led 36-35 at halftime behind 13 points from McGusty. The Cowboys led by 10 in the second half before Oklahoma rallied to take the lead late.
The Cowboys won in atypical fashion. They entered the game averaging 88.4 points per game, fifth nationally, and had scored fewer than 70 points just once this season.
“That’s what I want our program to be about, is hard work, hustle, toughness, and I thought we did that tonight,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said.
Oklahoma State needed the win to boost its NCAA Tournament hopes. With a rough start to the conference season, the Cowboys couldn’t afford to lose to an opponent at the bottom of the conference standings, especially with an earlier loss to Texas, another struggling team.
Oklahoma remained on a skid after having shown signs of maturity a few weeks ago in wins against West Virginia and Texas Tech. The Sooners have now lost their past three Big 12 games, by five in two overtimes to Iowa State, by one to Texas and now by two to Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State outrebounded Oklahoma 44-31 and had 20 offensive rebounds for 13 second-chance points.
Undwerwood: “To finish the game 2 for your last 15 — that’s kind of a helpless feeling as a coach,” he said. “You don’t quite know where to go. But you shoot 33 percent on the road and you have to find a way to win. That was an NCAA Tournament-like game, where things get really hard and nothing’s easy.”
Oklahoma State plays at No. 7 West Virginia on Saturday with a shot at the kind of win that gets the tournament committee’s attention.
Oklahoma will play at Texas Tech on Saturday.
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Philippine anti-drug crackdown suffers legal setback

By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday prohibited a group of police officers from entering a slum community to prevent them from threatening villagers who have accused them of ruthlessly killing four residents in an anti-drug raid, in the latest setback for the president’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.
Court spokeswoman Gleo Guerra said the temporary order was aimed at protecting villagers who petitioned the court last week to stop police anti-drug raids in the Payatas community and help them obtain police records to prove the slain men were not drug dealers and did not fight back or provoke the police to open fire.
Court justices asked a lower appeals court to handle the petition but issued a temporary protection order barring four officers, who carried out the deadly raid in August, and their superiors from entering an area one kilometer (half a mile) around the petitioners’ homes and workplaces in Payatas, a garbage dump community in the Manila metropolis.
While the Supreme Court order applies only to a small poor community, it sets a precedent that could encourage others to seek court action against abuses committed by government enforcers of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left more than 7,000 drug suspects dead, including many slain in clashes with police, since he took office in June.
The crackdown has alarmed Western governments, U.N. officials and human rights watchdogs, which have accused policemen of extrajudicial killings. Duterte and police officials have denied the allegations, saying the deaths of at least 35 policemen and three soldiers prove drug suspects have fought back during raids.
“There was no legal remedy available before,” said lawyer Romel Bagares of Centerlaw, a legal group which filed the court petition for the Payatas villagers. “This shows that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of democracy and that it’s serious about protecting constitutional rights.”
The four policemen shot five villagers during a raid in Payatas, but one of them, Efren Morillo, survived and denied police allegations that he and his friends were drug dealers and fought back, according to the petition.
Morillo, a 28-year-old vegetable vendor, and the four slain men were shot with their hands bound. Three were ordered to kneel on the ground at the back of a shanty and were shot as they pleaded for their lives, the petition said.
Morillo and relatives of the dead men asked the court to order police to give them access to surveillance reports and other documents to prove they were innocent.
The court order came a day after national police chief Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa indefinitely stopped all police anti-drug raids and disbanded police anti-narcotics units after the anti-drug crackdown was used as a cover by a group of rogue officers to kidnap and kill a South Korean man for money.
The widely publicized scandal prompted Dela Rosa to form a counter-intelligence force to cleanse the 170,000-strong police force of criminals and corrupt officers. He has tendered his resignation twice but Duterte, who has pledged to defend police enforcing his crackdown, has ordered him to stay on.

European markets get a boost from run of solid data

By The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — European stock markets eked out some modest gains Tuesday after encouraging economic figures boosted hopes that the region’s recovery is gathering pace.
KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, France’s CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent to 4,799 while Germany’s DAX advanced 0.1 percent to 11,696. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.6 percent higher at 7,162. U.S. stocks were poised for modest losses at the open with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.1 percent.
EUROPE REVITALIZED: A series of economic releases provided clear signs of a recovery gathering steam in Europe. Quarterly growth edged up to 0.5 percent while unemployment fell to an eight-year low of 9.6 percent. And inflation spiked sharply higher to a four-year high of 1.8 percent. Altogether, the data stoked some speculation that the European Central Bank will soon be in a position to move away from its extraordinary monetary policies from a position of relative strength.
ANALYST TAKE: “The European Central Bank’s large bond-buying program appears to be finally working its magic,” said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at “Inflation is on the rise, unemployment is falling and the economic bloc is growing, all thanks to years of zero interest rates, several versions of bond purchases program and a resulting weak currency.”
TRUMP FACTOR: The market fallout of Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries has faded. On Monday, investors were rattled, with energy companies and airlines hit in particular. Technology companies also sagged on worries that future administration moves will make it harder for them to hire skilled, foreign-born workers. Trump also suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and stopped all entry by Syrians into the U.S.
JAPAN: Japan’s central bank left its lax monetary policy unchanged in its first board meeting of the year, but upgraded its growth estimates, citing signs of recovery in manufacturing. The most recent data, for December, paint a mixed picture, with stronger factory output but weaker retail sales and household spending. The Bank of Japan kept its 1-year-old minus 0.1 percent benchmark interest rate intact.
ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dipped 1.7 percent to finish at 19,041.34 as a stronger yen helped send shares lower. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.7 percent to 5,620.90. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.8 percent to 2,067.57. Markets in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan were closed for Lunar New Year holidays.
ENERGY: U.S. crude oil fell 16 cents to $52.47 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil prices, rose 9 cents to $55.41 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The euro rose 0.6 percent to $1.0764 while the dollar fell 0.3 percent to 113.32 yen.

Ambassador says US not building arms depot in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States is not building any weapons depot anywhere in the Philippines, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, denying the basis on which President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to abrogate a 2014 defense pact that allows U.S. forces to temporarily base in local camps.
Ambassador Sung Kim said that nothing is being planned now that even closely resembles a weapons depot.
“I think perhaps some misinformation was given to the president and that is why he made the statement expressing concerns about a possible weapons depot,” Kim told a forum of business leaders. “The fact is, we are not building a weapons depot anywhere in the Philippines.”
Projects being pursued under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement have to do with disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, he added.
Kim also pointed out that the agreement “provide for us to build facilities and structures in 5 Filipino bases” and it is “hard to imagine that we would be able to do anything on Filipino bases that are not acceptable to the Filipino people, Filipino leadership.”
Duterte on Sunday identified three areas where U.S. forces were supposedly bringing in armaments, including the western province of Palawan, which faces the disputed South China Sea.
He said he would not allow the Americans to store weapons in local camps under the two countries’ defense pact because the Philippines may get entangled if fighting erupts between China and the U.S.
“I’m serving notice to the armed forces of the United States, do not do it, I will not allow it,” Duterte said in the televised news conference after meeting top military and police officials.
He said if the U.S. builds a depot “I will consider a review and maybe ultimately abrogate” the pact all together.
Duterte has moved to rebuild once-frosty relations with China and has vowed to make Philippine foreign policy less dependent on the U.S. He has repeatedly threatened to scale back military exercises with American troops and stop agreements that allow U.S. forces to visit.

UN legal body orders Turkey to release judge

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A United Nations legal panel has ordered Turkey to release a judge who is among thousands of people detained in the aftermath of last year’s failed coup.
The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) on Tuesday ordered Ankara to free Judge Aydin Sefa Akay, who also serves as a U.N. jurist, by Feb. 14 and halt legal proceedings against him.
Akay is a member of a panel of judges that is reviewing the case of a former Rwandan government minister who was convicted of involvement in his country’s 1994 genocide.
In a statement, the MICT says that the order to release Akay is legally binding under a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring states to comply with the mechanism’s orders.
Turkey has detained thousands of people since the failed coup.