AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EST

Democrats' impeachment charges say Trump betrayed the nation

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, declaring he "betrayed the nation" with his actions toward Ukraine as they pushed toward historic proceedings that are certain to help define his presidency and shape the 2020 election.

The specific charges aimed at removing the 45th president of the United States: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of impeachment inquiry committees at the U.S. Capitol, said they were upholding their solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Trump responded angrily on Twitter: "WITCH HUNT!"

Voting is expected in a matter of days by the Judiciary Committee, which begins deliberations Wednesday, and by Christmas in the full House. The charges, if approved, would then be sent to the Senate, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump, but not without a potentially bitter trial just as voters in Iowa and other early presidential primary states begin making their choices.

In the formal articles announced Tuesday, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in "corrupting" the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America's ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.

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6 killed in New Jersey gunbattle, including police officer

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Six people, including a police officer and three bystanders, were killed in a furious gun battle Tuesday that filled the streets of Jersey City with the sound of heavy fire for hours, authorities said.

The dead included the two gunmen, Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said.

The slain officer, Detective Joseph Seals, 40, was credited by his superiors with having led the department in the number of illegal guns removed from the streets in recent years, and might have been trying to stop an incident involving such weapons when he was cut down by gunfire that erupted near a cemetery, authorities said.

The shooting then continued at a kosher supermarket about a mile away, where five more bodies were found, Kelly said.

Authorities believe the Jewish market was targeted by the gunmen, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted Tuesday night. Fulop, whose public safety director said earlier in the day that terrorism wasn't suspected, did not elaborate on why authorities now believe the market was targeted.

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Rescuer describes horror of New Zealand's silent eruption

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — The eruption was so silent that Lillani Hopkins didn't hear it over the hum of the boat’s engines. She didn't turn around until her dad whacked her.

Then she saw it. Huge clouds of ash and steam shooting into the sky. She was so excited, she grabbed her phone out of her dad’s bag and hit record. But then the plume stopped going up and started rolling out over the cliffs — and her awe turned to fear.

Just under the surface of the crater, pressure had been building for months. Now the super-heated water, about 150 degrees Celsius, or 300 Fahrenheit, burst out in a powerful spray. The blast also contained ash, rocks and a few boulders the size of exercise balls, but it was likely the scalding water that was most deadly.

There were 47 tourists on New Zealand's White Island at the time of Monday's eruption: 24 from Australia, nine from the U.S., five New Zealanders and others from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many had taken a day trip from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. Authorities believe 14 people were killed. Those who survived the blast had terrible burns and some ran into the sea screaming — a screaming that would not stop.

Three weeks earlier, New Zealand’s seismic monitoring agency GeoNet had raised the alert level on the island from 1 to 2, on a scale where 5 is a major eruption. The agency had noted the water level in the crater lake had been rising since August and that over the previous few weeks there had been an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which comes from magma deep in the volcano. Many people around the world have asked: How could the tours of the island continue in the face of such warning signs?

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UK political leaders chase undecided voters on eve of vote

LONDON (AP) — British political leaders rose early Wednesday to pursue undecided voters on the eve of Britain's election, zigzagging the country in hopes that one last push will get the wavering to the polls.

Though polls have consistently shown Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party in the lead, the size of the margin is seen as narrowing before Thursday's contest. All of the parties are nervous about the verdict of a volatile electorate weary after years of wrangling over Brexit — and likely to dump traditional party ties.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons seats are up for grabs in the election, which is being held more than two years early in a bid to break the political impasse over Brexit.

Johnson has tried to focus minds on the potential of an uncertain result and a divided Parliament, which would endanger his plan to lead the U.K. out of the European Union on Jan. 31. He started his day by helping load milk and orange juice bottles onto a delivery vehicle in West Yorkshire.

"This could not be more critical, it could not be tighter — I just say to everybody the risk is very real that we could tomorrow be going into another hung parliament,'' he said. "That's more drift, more dither, more delay, more paralysis for this country."

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Trump, allies aim to delegitimize impeachment from the start

WASHINGTON (AP) — They're calling it a circus, a farce and even zany.

President Donald Trump and his Republican allies spent weeks trivializing the House impeachment inquiry ahead of Tuesday's historic unveiling of formal charges against the president.

Where Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton treated the prospect of impeachment as a serious threat to their presidencies, Trump's boosters have tried to brush off the whole thing. Believing that acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate is all but certain, they're out to convince voters to punish the president's Democratic accusers — or at least tune out the Washington spectacle.

To that end, they have belittled the impeachment process with mockery, schoolyard taunts and an unyielding insistence that Trump did not a single thing wrong. They have stonewalled, refusing to allow witnesses to testify; protested by declining to send their own lawyers to hearings; and dished out the ultimate Trumpian insult: calling the proceedings boring.

In the process, the president and his allies have largely glossed over the substance of allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making light of what is likely to be only the third presidential impeachment in the nation’s history.

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Saudi Aramco starts trading, gaining 10% and reaching $1.8T

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia's oil company Aramco began trading for the first time on Wednesday, gaining 10% in its first moments on the market in a dramatic debut that pushed its value to $1.88 trillion, higher than any other listed company in the world.

Trading on the Saudi Tadawul stock exchange came after a mammoth $25.6 billion initial public offering that set the record as the biggest ever in history.

Aramco, owned by the state, has sold a 1.5% stake in the company, pricing its shares before trading at 32 Saudi riyals, or what is $8.53.

At pre-trading auction earlier in the morning, bids for Aramco reached the 10% limit on stock price fluctuation allowed by Tadawul. That pushed the price of Aramco shares in its debut to 35.2 riyals, or $9.39 a share.

Aramco is now the most valuable listed company in the world, worth more than Microsoft or Apple. It's also worth more than the top five oil companies -- Exxon Mobil, Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP — combined.

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No Christmas tinsel in Iraq, in solidarity with protesters

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Christmas tree in the middle of a central Baghdad plaza occupied by anti-government protesters is bare, save for portraits of those killed under fire from security forces. A tribute, the demonstrators explained, to a recent decision by Iraq's Christians to call off seasonal festivities to honour the losses.

Leaders of Iraq's Christians unanimously cancelled Christmas-related celebrations in solidarity with the protest movement — but the aims of their stance go deeper than tinsel and fairy lights. Slogans of a united Iraq free of sectarianism resonate deeply within the community, which since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein has fearfully observed its diminishing influence amid growing Shiite-dominated politics shaping state affairs. The Christians have also left Iraq in huge numbers over the years, after being targeted by militant Sunni groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

On a recent visit to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, said he was moved.

"Now there you feel you are Iraqi," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "A new Iraq is being born."

The protests erupted in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern provinces on Oct. 1, when thousands of Iraqis first took to the streets calling for sweeping political reforms and the end of Iran’s influence in Iraqi affairs. At least 400 have died at the hands of security forces and unidentified assailants firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the demonstrations.

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The people sing: 'Les Mis' soothes, breaks Hong Kong hearts

HONG KONG (AP) — For Hong Kong spectators mentally and physically drained from six months of pro-democracy protests that have convulsed the city, a rousing performance of "Les Miserables" proved almost too much to bear.

Audience members wept, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs, big tears rolling down their cheeks, as a Hong Kong theatre troupe aiming to both comfort and re-energize emotionally battered spectators belted out the rousing musical based on Victor Hugo's classic tale of rebellion in 19th century France.

Audience members said images from the protests flashed through their minds as they soaked up the free outdoor performance on Tuesday night.

The crowd several hundred strong joined with the troupe in singing "Do You Hear the People Sing?" — the stirring lyrics eloquently putting to words what many Hong Kong protesters feel.

"It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!" they sang. "Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?"

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California considers calling THC in pot a risk to moms-to-be

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than three years after California voters broadly legalized marijuana, a state panel is considering if its potent, high-inducing chemical — THC — should be declared a risk to pregnant women and require warnings.

Studies have indicated that a rising number of mothers-to-be have turned to marijuana products for relief from morning sickness and headaches, though it's effectiveness has not been backed by science.

Cannabis industry officials say too little sound research is available on THC to support such a move and warn that it could make marijuana companies a target for lawsuits with unverified claims of injuries from pot use during pregnancy.

"That seems like an open-ended checkbook. How do we defend ourselves?" said Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh, who heads the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.

Lawyers looking for a quick buck will say "give us $10,000 or we are going to take you into a long court case," he added.

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AP source: Yanks land ace Cole on record $324M, 9-year deal

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The New York Yankees landed the biggest prize of the free agent market, adding Gerrit Cole to their rotation with a record $324 million, nine-year contract on Tuesday night, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been announced.

Cole's deal established marks for pitchers in total dollars, topping the $245 million, seven-year contract Stephen Strasburg finalized a day earlier to remain with the World Series champion Washington Nationals.

Its $36 million average is a record for any player, beating the $35.5 million in outfielder Mike Trout's $426.5 million, 12-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels that started last season. Cole gets an even $36 million annually and can opt out after the 2024 season. He also has a full no-trade provision.

Agent Scott Boras negotiated the deals for Cole and Strasburg.

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