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Update January 2018


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Update January 23, 2018

Philippine volcano explodes, villagers flee back to shelters

A huge column of ash shoots up to the sky during the eruption of Mayon volcano Monday, Jan. 22, as seen from Legazpi city, around 340 kilometers southeast of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Earl Recamunda)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' most active volcano ejected a huge column of lava fragments, ash and smoke in a thunderous explosion Monday, sending thousands of villagers back to evacuation centers and prompting a warning that a violent eruption may be imminent.

The midday explosion sent superheated lava, molten rocks and steam between 3.5 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles) into the blue sky, and then some cascaded down Mount Mayon's slopes and shrouded nearby villages in darkness, Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology and other officials said.

From the crater, the deadly debris billowed about three kilometers (1.8 miles) down on the southern plank of Mayon toward a no-entry danger zone. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, officials said.

The explosion was the most powerful since the volcano started acting up more than a week ago.

Due to its relatively gentle eruption last week, thousands left emergency shelters and returned to their communities in Legazpi city outside the danger zone. But Monday's blast sent nearly 12,000 fleeing back to evacuation centers, raising the number of people in those shelters to more than 30,000, Yucot said.

Authorities on Monday raised the alert level to four on a scale of five, which means an explosive eruption is possible within hours or days. A danger zone around Mayon was expanded to 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the crater, which means thousands of villagers will have to leave their homes, officials said.

Airplanes were ordered to stay away from the crater and ash-laden winds and several flights were canceled.

Volcanic ash fell in about a dozen towns in coconut-growing Albay province, where Mayon lies, and in nearby Camarines Sur province, with visibility being heavily obscured in a few towns because of the thick gray ash fall, Jukes Nunez, an Albay provincial disaster response officer, said by telephone.

"It was like night time at noon, there was zero visibility in some areas because the ash fall was so thick," Nunez said.

More than 30,000 ash masks and about 5,000 sacks of rice, along with medicine, water and other supplies, were being sent to evacuation centers, Office of Civil Defense regional director Claudio Yucot said.

Mayon lies about 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Manila. With its near-perfect cone, it is popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently.

In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers who had ventured near the summit despite warnings. Mayon's first recorded eruption was in 1616 and the most destructive, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried the town of Cagsawa in volcanic mud. The belfry of Cagsawa's stone church still juts out from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon's fury.

The Philippines lies in the "Ring of Fire," a line of seismic faults surrounding the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the northern Philippines exploded in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people.


Vietnam jails former oil execs in high-profile graft case

Trinh Xuan Thanh, center, is led to a court room by police in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Jan. 22. (Doan Tan/ Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — A former oil executive was sentenced to life in prison and a former high-ranking Vietnamese government official received a lengthy prison term Monday at the end of a major corruption trial.

The 22 defendants in the case were mostly current or former executives at PetroVietnam and were convicted of mismanagement, embezzlement or both in their tenures at the state energy giant.

Foreign media were not allowed to attend the two-week trial, though more than 100 Vietnamese gathered outside the courthouse as the sentences were announced.

Former PetroVietnam chairman Dinh La Thang, the first Politburo member to be jailed in decades, was sentenced to 13 years in jail by the People's Court in the capital, Hanoi. He was accused of deliberate economic mismanagement that cost the state millions.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, an ex-chairman of PetroVietnam's construction arm, was given life imprisonment for embezzlement. Thanh was also convicted of economic management. Germany accused Vietnam agents of snatching him from a Berlin park last year, a charge Vietnam denied, saying Thanh turned himself in to police voluntarily. The incident strained relations between the two countries.

In Germany, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said German, French, EU and U.S. diplomats were able to observe the trial, and that Germany had "taken note" of the fact that Thanh did not receive the death penalty. She declined to comment further, but voiced regret that the media and a German lawyer weren't allowed to attend the trial.

Thanh was also ordered to pay compensation of $1.5 million and Thang $1.3 million.

Three other former chairmen of PetroVietnam were sentenced to nine years in jail each for economic mismanagement. Punishment for the other defendants ranged from 22 years in prison to suspended sentences.

The Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted a judge as saying the prosecutions were "well-founded."

The Communist Party under the watch of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is waging an unprecedented crackdown on corruption, with PetroVietnam and the country's banking sector at the center.

Thang was convicted of "deliberately violating state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences" by choosing PetroVietnam's Construction Joint Stock Co., or PVC, to build a thermo power plant without a proper bidding and appraisal process.

Thang was accused of ordering an advance payment of $67 million to PVC, which did not use the funds for the proper purpose, causing losses of $5.5 million to the state.

A retired government official, speaking outside the court, said the sentences were tough enough.

"I think the sentences handed down were fair. It is necessary for the country to fight against corruption," the retiree, Hoang Dinh Thanh, 70, said.

Jonathan London, a lecturer at the Leiden University in the Netherlands and a Vietnam expert, said further reforms and commitments by the Communist authorities are needed to root out corruption.

He said while the jail sentences may be dramatic, history in other countries suggests in the longer term that corruption is not best fought by punishment "but precisely the kinds of institutional reforms and levels of commitment to transparency that Vietnamese public opinion has been calling for, but which Vietnamese leaders have been unfortunately unwilling to embrace."

Thang is accused of economic management in another case for his role in PetroVietnam's purchase of shares worth $36 million in Ocean commercial joint bank. PetroVietnam lost all of its investment when the State Bank of Vietnam bought the bank for nothing. He is expected to stand trial in the coming months.

Thang was once a rising political star but was dismissed from the all-powerful Politburo in May and was subsequently fired as Communist Party secretary of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested on Dec. 8.

In the meantime, Thanh is scheduled to be put on trial on Wednesday on charges of embezzling $622,000 from a property development project.

Another trial involving 46 defendants, including many former bankers, is currently taking place in Ho Chi Minh City.


Turkish troops face fierce battles in Syrian Kurdish enclave

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters shout slogans before heading towards the Syrian border, in Kirikhan, Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 21. Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces attacked a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria on Sunday in their bid to drive from the region a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia. (Furkan Arslanoglu/Depo Photos via AP)

Mehmet Guzel and Sarah El Deeb

Hassa, Turkey (AP) — Intense clashes erupted Monday as Turkish troops and their allies advanced on a Kurdish enclave in Syria, the third day of the Ankara offensive aimed at ousting the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia from the area, the militia and a war monitoring group said.

The Turkish offensive on Afrin, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, started on Saturday, heightening tensions in the already complicated Syrian conflict and threatening to further strain ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. Turkey says it aims to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep "secure zone" in Afrin, the Kurdish-controlled enclave that straddles its borders.

The U.N. Security Council was to convene later Monday to discuss the situation in Syria.

A NATO statement Monday said it has been in touch with Turkey over the developing offensive. NATO said Turkey has suffered from terrorism and has the right to self-defense but urged Ankara to do so in a "proportionate and measured way."

NATO also said it has no presence in Syria but that as members of the coalition against Islamic State militants, "our focus is on the defeat" of the extremist group.

The U.S-backed Kurdish militia said Monday it has repelled Turkish troops and their Syrian allies from Shinkal and Adah Manli, two villages they seized a day earlier in Afrin, the enclave the Kurdish militia controls in northwestern Syria. Afrin is encircled from all sides by Turkish-backed Syrian fighters, Turkish troops and Syrian government forces. The one road out of the enclave to government-controlled Aleppo has been closed by the Kurdish militia for security reasons.

The Kurdish group, the People's Defense Units or the YPG, said the Turkey-backed forces have opened a new front, pushing their way into two other villages in the district's north. The militia said it is fighting to push back the advancing troops in Balia and Qarna in northwest Afrin.

Associated Press journalists at Hassa, a Turkish village on the Turkey-Syrian border, saw at least eight tanks and five armored vehicles along with trucks preparing to cross into Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the Syrian Kurdish militia waged a ferocious counteroffensive late Sunday, repelling the Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters from the two villages they briefly captured. The Observatory said Turkey-backed troops were attempting once again to enter Afrin.

Access to Afrin is restricted and it is difficult to independently verify the reported developments.

Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization because of its affiliation to its own Kurdish insurgency. The militia formed the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, US' ally in the war against the Islamic State militants in Syria.

The U.S. has urged Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military offensive into Afrin is limited in scope and duration.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to expand the operation, threatening to go to Manjib to the east, which the U.S-backed Kurdish fighters had liberated of Islamic State militants in 2016 and currently administer.

The Kurdish militia has meanwhile blamed Russia for the Afrin attack, saying Russian officials have urged them to hand over the enclave to the Syrian government to avoid the Turkish offensive. Russian troops stationed in Afrin district had redeployed ahead of the Turkish offensive, which also includes airstrikes. At least 18 civilians have been killed in Afrin so far, according to the Observatory. One Syrian refugee was killed in a Turkish border town following rockets launched from Syria.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Monday that Moscow is "carefully watching the operation" in Afrin" and is in touch with both the Syrian and the Turkish government.

Meanwhile, Turkey's Interior Ministry announced the detention of 24 people for alleged terror propaganda on social media regarding the Olive Branch operation, according to the country's official Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan warned Kurds in Turkey on Sunday against taking to the streets to protest Turkey's military operation against Afrin. Police already broke up protests in Ankara and Istanbul on Sunday, detaining at least 12 demonstrators in Istanbul who were protesting the offensive. Police used tear gas to disperse a separate protest in the capital Ankara. It did not provide further details on the Ankara protests.


Trial in Kim Jong Nam's murder resumes in Malaysia

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, is escorted by police as she arrives for court hearing at Shah Alam court house in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, Jan. 22. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Eileen Ng

Shah Alam, Malaysia (AP) — The high-profile trial in Malaysia of two women accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader resumed Monday after a seven-week recess, with witnesses taking the stand to verify the authenticity of security camera videos capturing the attack.

Indonesia's Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam's Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's face in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur last Feb. 13. They pleaded not guilty to murder charges when their trial began Oct. 2. The two are the only suspects in custody, though prosecutors have said four North Koreans who fled the country were also involved.

Prosecutors, who last year showed the security videos to the court, called four employees of the airport and airport hotel to the stand Monday to explain how they extracted the relevant images from the main computer server and copied them to discs. This was to enable the court to accept the videos as formal evidence.

The court heard that the original videos in the main server were automatically deleted after 30 days.

Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad told the court they will call four more witnesses and that the defense will cross examine a previous witness, the chief police investigator, before prosecutors wrap up their case. So far, 29 witnesses have testified.

"Their whole case is based on the CCTV footages and VX, so the admissibility of the footages is very important. But they are taking a very simplistic approach and have failed to examine if the women have any motive," said Gooi Soon Seng, the lawyer for Siti Aisyah.

Gooi has said Kim's killing was a political assassination because of involvement by the North Korean Embassy. A police witness has testified that a car used to take the North Korean suspects to the airport on the day of the murder belonged to the embassy. The court also heard that an embassy official met the suspects before they fled and facilitated their check-in at the airport.

If they are convicted, the two women could face the death penalty but not if they lacked intent to kill. That is their defense.

Defense lawyers say the women believed they were playing a prank for a hidden-camera TV show. Prosecutors contend the women knew they were handling poison.

The court has heard that traces of VX were found on the women's clothing as well as on Huong's fingernails. An autopsy showed VX on Kim's face and in his eyes, blood and urine as well as on his clothing and bag. Doctors concluded the cause of death was "acute VX nerve agent poisoning," and ruled out any other contributing factors.

Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favor. It is thought he could have been seen as a threat to his half brother Kim Jong Un's rule.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Kim's death and have made it clear they don't want the trial politicized.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case in March. The judge could then decide there is no case against the women, who would be freed, or to let the case continue. If that's his decision, the defense will be called and the trial would last several more months.


Ecuador's president takes aim at WikiLeaks' Assange

Ecuador' President Lenin Moreno is shown in this Aug. 10, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Quito, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador's president is lashing out at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange even as he contends his government is working behind the scenes to help him out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Lenin Moreno said in a televised interview Sunday that Assange had become "more than a nuisance" after he violated terms of his asylum by interfering in other countries' political affairs.

Ecuador granted citizenship to Assange this month in an unsuccessful attempt to provide him diplomatic immunity so he could evade arrest in Britain. Moreno said other countries and "important personalities" he didn't name are working to mediate a solution.

Assange in 2012 sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case but Assange still faces arrest in Britain for jumping bail.


Update January 22, 2018

Afghan forces end deadly Taliban siege at Kabul hotel

 

Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 21. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Rahim Faiez

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — Security forces said Sunday they had killed the last of six Taliban militants to end an overnight siege at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel that left at least 18 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some of the 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by shimmying down bed sheets from the upper floors.

The militants, who wore suicide vests, pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours after the attack began about 9 p.m. Saturday. The gunmen roamed the hallways and targeted foreigners and Afghan officials inside the luxury, hilltop hotel.

The more than 150 people who were rescued or managed to escape included 41 foreigners, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish. Of those, 10 people were injured, including six security forces, he said.

Eleven of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline, Danish said. KamAir put out a statement saying some of its flights were disrupted because of the attack.

Six of those killed were Ukrainians, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who added that his office was working with Afghan law enforcement agencies "to clarify the circumstances of this terrorist act."

Two Venezuelan pilots for KamAir were among the dead, according to Luis Figuera. He told The Associated Press that his brother-in-law, Adelsis Ramos, was killed along with Pablo Chiossone, and that their bodies were identified by another Venezuelan pilot at a Kabul hospital.

A citizen from Kazakhstan also was among the dead at the hotel, according to Anuar Zhainakov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were at the hotel for a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.

Afghan officials said that also among the dead was a telecommunications official from Farah province in western Afghanistan; Waheed Poyan, the newly appointed consul general to Karachi, Pakistan; and Ahmad Farzan, an employee of the High Peace Council, a commission created to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other opposition groups.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the heavily guarded hotel that is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to strike the hotel Thursday night but postponed it because a wedding was underway there and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property.

Mumtaz Ahmad, a provincial telecommunication employee for Helmand province, said he was walking from his room to the reception for his group on Saturday night.

"When the elevator door opened, I saw two armed suicide bombers. People were escaping and the attackers were firing at them," he said.

Fire broke out in the six-story hotel as the fighting raged, filling some guest rooms with smoke. Explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. Live TV video showed people trying to escape through windows and from the upper stories as thick, black smoke poured from the building.

The Interior Ministry said it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building. It said a private company had taken over security about three weeks ago at the hotel, which is not part of the Intercontinental chain.

During a news conference, Danish said that an initial investigation showed that six insurgents entered the hotel from the northern side and stormed its kitchen. A person or persons inside the hotel might have helped the attackers gain entrance, Danish said, adding that the probe is continuing.

Two of the attackers were killed by special forces on the 6th floor of the hotel.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces had led the response efforts and that no foreign troops were hurt in the attack, according to initial reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States strongly condemns the attack, adding that Washington "stands with the government and people of Afghanistan. We remain firmly committed to supporting Afghan efforts to achieve peace, security and prosperity for their country."

Neighboring Pakistan also condemned the "brutal terrorist attack" and called for greater cooperation against militants.

Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists on their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of big attacks in recent years.

In other violence in Afghanistan this weekend, insurgents burst into a home in Balkh province in the north where several members of a pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western province of Farah, a roadside bomb early Sunday killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western province of Herat, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant bombs to target Afghan security forces.


Droves fill pope's final Mass in restive Latin America trip

Pope Francis arrives on the altar to celebrate Mass at Las Palmas Air Base in Lima, Peru, Sunday, Jan. 21. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Nicole Winfield

Lima, Peru (AP) — More than 1 million people turned out Sunday for Pope Francis' final Mass in Peru, giving him a warm and heartfelt farewell that contrasted sharply with the outcry he caused in neighboring Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slandering a bishop.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who publicly rebuked the pope on Saturday for those remarks, joined the pontiff and dozens of fellow bishops on a tented altar at a Lima airfield to celebrate the Mass. The crowd of 1.3 million people reported by the Vatican was the largest of Francis' weeklong, two-nation visit.

Francis tried to move beyond the scandal Sunday, joking with cloistered nuns that they were taking advantage of his visit to finally get out and get a breath of fresh air. And he denounced a corruption scandal in Latin America that has even implicated his Peruvian host, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who recently survived an impeachment vote by lawmakers.

In his homily Francis referred to the "grave sin of corruption," that kills the hope of people, urging Peruvians to have hope and show tenderness and compassion.

Thousands lined the streets as his black papal Fiat made its way to the airport, where a children's choir sang in farewell as Francis boarded a plane to head back to Rome.

Earlier in the day, he said the bribery scandal centered on Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht was "just a small anecdote" of the corruption and graft that have thrown much of Latin American politics into crisis.

"If we fall into the hands of people who only understand the language of corruption, we're toast," the pope said in unscripted remarks.

Francis was greeted by cheering crowds at nearly every stop of his Peru trip, but the cloud of sex abuse scandal trailed him.

"Francis, here there IS proof," read a banner hanging from a Lima building along his motorcade route Sunday.

The message was a reference both to Peru's own abuse scandal and to Francis' Jan. 18 comments in Iquique, Chile, that there was not "one shred of proof" to allegations that a protege of that country's most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, knew of Karadima's abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Karadima's victims have accused the bishop, Juan Barros, of witnessing the abuse and of complicity in covering it up. Barros has denied the accusations, and Francis backed him by saying the victims' claims were "all calumny."

Francis' remarks that he would only believe victims with "proof" were problematic because they were already deemed so credible by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" in 2011 based on their testimony. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn't lacking.

The pope's comments sparked such an outcry that both O'Malley, Francis' own top adviser on abuse, and the Chilean government made the highly rare decision to publicly rebuke him — an extraordinary correction of a pontiff from both church and state. The criticisms were all the more remarkable given that they came on the Argentina-born pontiff's home turf in Latin America.

O'Malley said Saturday that Francis' remarks were "a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse," and that such expressions of disbelief made abuse survivors feel abandoned and left in "discredited exile."

Chilean government spokeswoman Paula Narvaez said there was an "ethical imperative to respect victims of sexual abuse, believe them and support them."

The issue also had resonance in Peru. Last week the Vatican took over a Peru-based Roman Catholic lay movement, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, more than six years after first learning of sexual, physical and psychological abuse committed by its founder.

An independent investigation commissioned by the movement found that founder Luis Figari sodomized his recruits, forced them to fondle him and one another, liked to watch them "experience pain, discomfort and fear" and humiliated them in front of others. Figari's victims have criticized the Vatican for its years of inaction and for eventually sanctioning him with what they consider a "golden exile" — retirement in Italy at a retreat house, albeit separated from the community he founded.

The banner hanging from the building along Francis' motorcade route referred to evidence against Figari and featured a photo of him. Peruvian prosecutors recently announced they wanted to arrest him.

But for the most part, Peruvians welcomed him with open arms and flooded in huge droves to his final Mass. In contrast, Francis' send-off from Chile drew only 50,000 people, a fraction of the number expected.

"He is a symbol to us as Catholics," said Cindy Sanchez, a 24-year-old administrative assistant attending the Mass. "Listening to him gives us encouragement."

During his seven-day trip in Chile and Peru, Francis personally apologized to survivors of priests who sexually abused them, traveled deep into the Amazon to meet with indigenous leaders, decried the scourge of violence against women in Latin America and urged the Chilean government and radical factions of the Mapuche indigenous group to peacefully resolve one of the region's longest-running disputes.

But the pope also attracted unprecedented rejection: At least a dozen churches across Chile were set aflame, and riot police shot tear gas at and arrested protesters in the capital, Santiago.


Island volcano in Papua New Guinea erupts with ash, steam

Ash plumes rise from the volcano on Kadovar Island, Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific Sunday, Jan. 21. (Brenton-James Glover via AP)

Sydney (AP) — An island volcano in Papua New Guinea erupted again Sunday, sending plumes of steam and ash into the air.

Thousands of people have been evacuated from islands surrounding Kadovar Island off the South Pacific nation's north coast since the volcano there began erupting on Jan. 5. Flights nearby have been canceled due to the risk posed by ash plumes and ships were warned to stay away from the island.

Experts warned last week that seismic activity beneath the volcano meant that a major eruption could be imminent.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has previously said state resources were being made available to support evacuations and he has warned northern coastal communities to be alert for possible tsunamis.

Kadovar is off the northern coast of New Guinea, the larger island that includes Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea sits on the "Ring of Fire," a line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific that has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
 


Greeks rally over name dispute with neighbor Macedonia

Greek protesters wave flags and banners during a rally in front of a statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki on Sunday, Jan. 21. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Costas Kantouris and Demetris Nellas

Thessaloniki, Greece (AP) — Tens of thousands of flag-waving Greeks gathered in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Sunday to demand that Macedonia change its name because it's also the name of the Greek province of which Thessaloniki is the capital.

Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, which share a border, have been locked in the name dispute since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greeks feel deeply the use of the name Macedonia is a usurpation of their heritage and implies territorial claims on their province.

Macedonia is represented in international organizations as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and is seated in the United Nations under the letter T, right after Thailand. Greece successfully vetoed Macedonia's application to join NATO in 2008.

Sunday's rally was staged in front of a statue of Alexander the Great, the most famous ruler of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia. No public official was among the five keynote speakers. The best-known speaker was Fragoulis Frangos, a retired general and former chief of the Greek Army Staff, who is said to harbor political ambitions.

Several local lawmakers attended, as did the local bishop, Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessalonica, whom many people consider the real leader of the nationalist hardliners opposing an accommodation between the countries.

Anthimos, in speaking about the citizens of Macedonia, used the term Skopje, the name of its capital, which is how most Greeks refer to them.

"Demonstrate, my brothers for Macedonia ... Skopje will never be accepted with the name Macedonia by the people's conscience," Anthimos thundered from the pulpit during his sermon. "If we only shut (access) to the port (of Thessaloniki), they're dead the following week."

The rally didn't reach the magnitude of one in 1992, when the name issue first flared up. It was prompted by recent efforts on both sides of the border to find an acceptable compromise. The defeat last year of Macedonia's nationalist conservatives by the social democrats has improved the climate, and Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev accepted the invitation by Thessaloniki mayor Yannis Boutaris, an outspoken anti-nationalist, to spend New Year's in the city.

But those who took part in the rally would have none of it.

"Today, the message is aimed primarily at Greek politicians," said Giorgos Tatsios, president of the Greek Federation of Macedonian Cultural Associations. "Those who use the name of Macedonia and give it away with no scruples. We call on the government and, especially, the foreign ministry and (foreign minister Nikos) Kotzias to become the hero of Greek Macedonians and not hand over the name. If he does, he should know he is a traitor to the nation."

Naturally, there were dissenters, but they didn't show up, except for a few hundred anarchists, who had their own banner: "Against nationalism; the whole earth is our homeland." Some of them clashed with passers-by, prompting police to intervene.

People presumed to be right-wing extremists set fire to a building occupied by some of the anarchist counter-demonstrators in the center of the city. The building suffered extensive damage, but none of its occupants was present when masked men set fire to it.

Leftist prime minister Alexis Tsipras has said, most recently in an interview published Sunday in newspaper Ethnos, that he wouldn't mind a composite name that includes the word Macedonia. But his coalition partner, defense minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks party, has taken a hardline stance, saying he wouldn't accept the inclusion of the name Macedonia, suggesting the neighboring country call itself Vardarska.


Update January 20 -21, 2018

Tensions soar along Indian, Pakistan frontier in Kashmir

Indian policemen rescue villagers following shelling from the Pakistan side of the border, in Ranbir Singh Pura district of Jammu and Kashmir, India, Friday, Jan.19. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Aijaz Hussain and Munir Ahmed

Srinagar, India (AP) — Tensions have soared along the volatile frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, as rival troops shelled villages and border posts for a third day Friday.

Three civilians and two soldiers were killed on both sides in the latest clash, officials in the two countries said, as each blamed the other for initiating the violence.

Indian officials said two civilians, an army soldier and a paramilitary soldier died and at least 24 civilians and two soldiers were injured in Indian-controlled Kashmir. According to Pakistani officials, Indian fire on Friday killed a civilian and wounded nine others in Sialkot in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.

An Indian paramilitary officer said soldiers were responding to Pakistani firing and shelling on dozens of border posts and called it an "unprovoked" violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord.

Angered over the rising violence, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry summoned Indian Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh and condemned what it called "unprovoked cease-fire violations" by India.

Each country has also accused the other of initiating past border skirmishes and causing civilian and military casualties.

The fighting is taking place along a somewhat-defined frontier where each country has a separate paramilitary border force guarding the lower-altitude 200-kilometer (125-mile) boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab.

The contentious frontier also includes a 740-kilometer (460-mile) rugged and mountainous stretch called the Line of Control that is guarded by the armies of India and Pakistan.

The Indian officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with official policy, said Friday's shelling came after relative calm overnight in Jammu following two days of fighting that left at least three civilians and a soldier dead and several others wounded on both sides.

The border guard official said by Friday evening fighting had stopped in most places but continued at about half a dozen outposts.

The fighting escalated late Friday in Sunderbani sector, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers fired guns and mortars at each other's positions. Col. Nitin Joshi, an Indian army spokesman, said one soldier was killed in the Pakistani firing.

Indian police officer S.D. Singh said shells have landed in dozens of villages since early Friday. He said authorities deployed bulletproof vehicles to evacuate people who were injured and sick. Bullets and shrapnel scarred homes and walls amid the intense firing and shelling.

Dozens of schools in villages along the frontier have been closed and authorities advised residents to stay indoors as shells and bullets rained down. Some damage to houses was also reported on the Indian side.

Pakistan urged India to respect the cease-fire, investigate the latest incidents and maintain peace on the frontier. It also asked India to allow the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan to play its mandated role in accordance with Security Council resolutions.

"This unprecedented escalation in cease-fire violations by India is continuing" since 2017 despite calls for restraint from Islamabad, Pakistan's statement said.

India's foreign ministry condemned what it called "continued and unprecedented cease-fire violation by Pakistan, which has caused loss of lives and properties."

"Pakistan violates the cease-fire as a cover to infiltrate terrorists across the border into India. We of course retaliate in such cases," said Raveesh Kumar, India's foreign ministry spokesman. "We'll also take up the matter at appropriate level with the Pakistani side."

India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, a Himalayan territory claimed by both in its entirety. They have fought two of their three wars over the region since they gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

The exchange of fire comes days after Islamabad accused Indian forces of killing four Pakistani soldiers along the Line of Control in Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.


California DA says couple's abuse of 12 kids became torture

 David Allen Turpin, center, and Louise Anna Turpin, not seen, appear in court for their arraignment in Riverside, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 18. (Terry Pierson/The Press-Enterprise via AP, Pool)

Amy Taxin and Brian Melley

Riverside, Calif. (AP) — They were starved and shackled to their beds, sometimes for months. They were beaten and choked. They were given scant medical care, often denied use of a toilet and allowed to shower but once a year. They lived mostly at night, out of sight of neighbors, and knew virtually nothing of the outside world.

And yet, some of the children of David and Louise Turpin hatched an escape plan.

It took two years to carry out but last weekend a 17-year-old girl and her sister climbed out of the window of their Southern California home. The other girl turned back out of fear but the teen persisted and called 911. That act of courage and desperation freed her 12 siblings from a house of horrors that shocked police, a prosecutor said Thursday in announcing criminal charges that could send the parents to prison for life.

Prosecutors laid out horrifying details of the allegations but didn't offer any theories about the motivation for what they called an escalating climate of brutality that began in Texas and ended in a small, close-knit desert town a couple of hours southeast of Los Angeles.

"The victimization appeared to intensify over time," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. "What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse."

When sheriff's deputies arrived Sunday at the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on a dead-end street in Perris, they were appalled. They found a 22-year-old chained to a bed and a house that reeked and contained human waste, indicating that the children were prevented from using the toilet, authorities said.

The oldest child, a 29-year-old woman, weighed only 82 pounds and a 12-year-old was the weight of a typical 7-year-old, Hestrin said.

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple counts of torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment. David Turpin also pleaded not guilty to performing a lewd act on a child under age 14.

They were jailed on $12 million bail each.

Sharon Ontiveros, 63, stopped by the house with her 3-year old granddaughter, who left a stuffed animal with dozens of others on the front walkway.

"Sure, we're saying we should have known, but behind closed doors you don't know what's going on," she said.

As for the parents, she added: "They deserve no mercy whatsoever."

Prosecutors say the children range in age from 2 to 29. The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the 2-year-old, who was not malnourished. All the children's names begin with the letter J, according to court documents that didn't provide their full names.

David Turpin had worked as an engineer for both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin identified herself as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.

The charges include allegations dating to 2010, when the couple moved to Riverside County from outside Fort Worth, Texas.

The abuse began in Texas with the children being tied to beds with ropes and then hog-tied, Hestrin said. When one child was able to wriggle free, the couple began restraining them with chains and padlocks — for up to months at a time, Hestrin said.

While the children were deprived of food, the Turpin parents ate well and even tormented the children by putting apple and pumpkin pies on the kitchen counter, but not letting them have any, Hestrin said.

Similarly, the children were not allowed to play with toys, though many were found throughout the house — in their original packaging.

"This is depraved conduct," Hestrin said. "It breaks our hearts."

David Turpin's father, James, the children's' grandfather, said from his home in Princeton, West Virginia, that he did not believe the reports about the abuse.

"I'm going to talk with the children, find out the real story on this as soon as I can get a call through to them," James Turpin told The Associated Press.

David Turpin's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender David Macher, had only begun to investigate the allegations but said the case was going to be a challenge.

"It's a very serious case," he said. "Our clients are presumed to be innocent, and that is a very important presumption."

The siblings, who were schooled at home, were rarely seen outside the house, though the parents posted photos of them smiling together at Disneyland and in Las Vegas, where the couple renewed their wedding vows.

In addition to raising them largely in isolation, the parents may have been able to hide the abuse by functioning while other families slept. The children were reared on the graveyard shift, with the family staying up all night and going to bed shortly before dawn, Hestrin said.

One of the only things the children were allowed to do was to write in their journals.

Investigators were combing through hundreds of journals found in the home, Hestrin said. They are expected to provide powerful evidence against the parents.


Malaysia Airlines flight shakes violently, lands safely

In this Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 image made from video, Malaysia Airlines Flight 122 is on tarmac in Alice Springs, Australia. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

Sydney (AP) - A Malaysia Airlines plane landed safely in an Australian Outback city after the plane shook violently in midflight and passengers braced themselves for a hard landing.

Flight 122 had been heading from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur and was over the northwest Australian coastal town of Broome when it turned back Thursday. It landed safely in Alice Springs and the airline said "safety was not at any time compromised."

"We suddenly experienced a very violent shaking of the aircraft and that probably lasted about five minutes and it was coming from one of the engines," passenger Hugh Wolton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "We got a call from the captain on the deck describing how to make plans for an emergency landing, you know, the wording used things like 'impact,' so we were suddenly bracing ourselves for a rough landing."

Passenger Peter Brooks said the captain announced there would be "a couple of impacts" and some passengers thought the plane would come down in the desert. But about 45 minutes later the captain said they would land in Alice Springs, he said.

The airline said the Airbus A330-300 plane experienced a "technical fault" in one of its two engines and the pilot decided to divert the flight.

Passenger Cath Cat said the landing was ultimately smooth.

"We were aware of a sudden shuddering noise and then we were told to prepare for an emergency landing and there were instructions," Cat told Nine Network television. "But later — fairly rapidly actually — the pilot said that the situation was under control and that we were returning to Alice Springs and although it was an emergency landing technically, it was going to be like a commercial landing, which in fact happened and we were all very grateful for that."

The airline said passengers would be flown to Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

Malaysia Airlines suffered two disasters in 2014. Flight 370 vanished with 239 people on board while heading to Beijing and is believed to have crashed in the far Indian Ocean, and Flight 17 carrying 298 people from Amsterdam was shot down over Ukraine a few months later.


Baby dies, 17 injured after car hits crowd on Rio boardwalk

Rescue workers give first aid to people hurt after a car drove into the crowded seaside boardwalk along Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Rio de Janeiro (AP) — A motorist who drove into a crowded boardwalk along Rio's famed Copacabana beach killed a baby and injured 17 people, Brazilian authorities said Friday.

Rio de Janeiro's municipal health department reported that an Australian was among those hurt in the Thursday night incident. The 68-year-old was in serious condition and breathing with the help of a respirator.

The Australian Embassy initially said it was not aware any of its citizens was hurt, but the Department of Foreign Affairs later said in a statement that it was urgently consulting with Brazilian officials to determine if an Australian had been injured.

Eight other people remain hospitalized, many with broken bones. At least three children were among the injured, and the state health department confirmed the death of a baby girl.

The boardwalk was crowded on a hot summer night when the car jumped the curb, crossed the wide sidewalk and came to a stop in the sand.

Police have said it was not a terrorist attack and have arrested the driver. The driver told police he had not been drinking but lost control of his car. He also told them he has epilepsy.
 


Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor

A photo taken by a robotic probe, Friday, Jan. 19, shows a part of what is believed to be the handle of the fuel rods container and melted fuel in small lumps scattered on a structure below the Fukushima reactor core. (International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday that a long telescopic probe successfully captured images of what is most likely melted fuel inside one of its three damaged reactors, providing limited but crucial information for its cleanup.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the fishing rod-like device carrying a camera went deep into the plant's Unit 2 primary containment vessel. The images indicated that at least part of the fuel had breached the core, falling to the vessel's floor, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said.

"There is so much that we still haven't seen," Kimoto told reporters. "But we were able to obtain important information that we need in order to determine the right method for removing the melted fuel debris."

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 caused three reactors at the Fukushima plant to melt. The plant's decommissioning is expected to take decades.

Melted fuel has previously only been documented inside Unit 3, where an underwater probe captured images of large amounts of melted fuel debris that looked like molten lava mixed with broken parts of equipment and structures on the concrete floor.

During Friday's investigation, the device — developed by Toshiba Corp. and the International Research Institute for Decommissioning, a government-funded organization of nuclear companies — found deposits in the shape of pebbles, clay and other forms, Kimoto said.

Determining the location of the melted fuel is crucial in planning for its removal, the hardest process in the plant's decommissioning.

The government and TEPCO plan to determine the methods and start removing melted fuel from one of the three reactors in 2021. But experts say a lack of data is delaying the development of the precise type of technology and robots.

The images from Friday's probe show was what is believed to be a stainless steel handle of a case containing bundles of fuel rods sitting on a pile of pebble-shaped and clayish substances, in a sign the rods melted and breached the bottom of the core. The deposits seemed to be scattered in a wide area around the pedestal, the main structure that sits underneath the core.

Experts say they believe part of the fuel still remains inside the core of the Unit 2 reactor, while almost all of the fuel rods in Unit 1 and 3 melted and fell to the bottom of the primary containment chambers.


Update January 19, 2018

Powerful gale lashes Europe, 7 dead amid traffic chaos

Bicycles and a scooter overturned by heavy winds lie in a street in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Mike Corder

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) — A powerful storm pummeled Europe with high winds and snow Thursday, killing at least seven people in three countries, grounding flights, halting trains, ripping roofs off buildings and flipping over trucks.

The Dutch national weather service recorded wind gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) in the southern port of Hook of Holland as the storm passed over.

Amsterdam's Schiphol briefly halted flights for an hour in the morning, and airline KLM scrapped more than 200 flights even before the storm arrived. Trains were halted across the nation and in Germany.

Falling trees killed two 62-year-old men in the Netherlands, a woman south of the Belgian capital of Brussels, a 59-year-old man camping in the German town of Emmerich and a firefighter in the German town of Bad Salzungen.

In Lippstadt, in western Germany, a driver died when he lost control of his van in strong winds and drove into oncoming traffic. In German's eastern state of Brandenburg, police said a gust of wind flipped a truck over a highway, killing the driver.

Police spokeswoman Jose Albers told Dutch national broadcaster NOS that authorities also were investigating whether the powerful gusts were to blame for the death of a 66-year-old man who fell through a plexiglass roof in the central town of Vuren.

Social media in the Netherlands was flooded with images of people being blown from their bicycles, cargo containers falling off a ship and damage to buildings, including a roof that peeled off an apartment block in Rotterdam.

Water authorities in the low-lying nation closed an inflatable storm barrier east of Amsterdam to prevent flooding as the storm pushed up water levels.

Traffic on Dutch roads was plunged into chaos, with the wind blowing over tractor trailers, toppling trees and hampering efforts to clean up the mess. In Amsterdam, authorities temporarily halted all trams and closed the city's zoo.

Before halting all trains, the Dutch rail service reported numerous incidents including a collision between a train and a trampoline.

In neighboring Belgium, the port of Ghent closed down because of the high winds and tram traffic was halted in parts of Brussels.

In Germany, police reported several injuries as well as the four deaths and the national railway company suspended long-distance trains across the country as train tracks were littered with fallen trees. Deutsche Bahn's announcement Thursday afternoon came hours after all trains in two of Germany's populous western areas, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, were halted.

Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Stauss told n-tv television that the measure would remain all day Thursday as a precaution. He said regional and local trains were still running in Berlin, Bavaria and the far north.

In western Germany, some 100,000 people were left without electricity and schools closed down. The square in front of Cologne's famous Cathedral was partially cordoned off amid fears that masonry could be blown loose. A supermarket roof peeled off in Menden.

The storm toppled a crane in Kirtorf, central Germany.

In Britain, power was knocked out to thousands of homes. Gale-force winds damaged overhead power lines that supply trains and brought trees crashing onto the tracks, causing severe delays for thousands of commuters. Even Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle were delayed in their train trip to Cardiff in Wales.

In Romania, snowstorms and high winds forced the closure of dozens of schools, several main roads and Black Sea ports in the east. Interior Minister Carmen Dan said 32,000 people were left without power. Authorities also had to free a bus carrying 22 people that was stranded in snowdrifts in Romania's eastern Galati region.


Pope shocks Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slander

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass on Lobito Beach in Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Nicole Winfield

Santiago, Chile (AP) — Pope Francis accused victims of Chile's most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadimas, such accusations against Barros are "all calumny."

The pope's remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn't lacking.

"As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all," tweeted Barros' most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. "These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty."

The Karadima scandal dominated Francis' visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church cover-up was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

Karadima's victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Karadima's victims say Barros knew of the abuse, having seen it, but did nothing. Barros has denied the allegations.

His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno diocese and further undermined the church's already shaky credibility in the country.

Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I'll speak," Fracis said. "There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?"

Francis had defended the appointment before, calling the Osorno controversy "stupid" and the result of a campaign mounted by leftists. But The Associated Press reported last week that the Vatican was so worried about the fallout from the Karadima affair that it was prepared in 2014 to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and go on a yearlong sabbatical.

According to a Jan. 31, 2015, letter obtained by AP from Francis to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops' conference, the plan fell apart and Barros was sent to Osorno.

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who have mounted a three-year campaign against Barros, questioned why Francis was now accusing the victims of slandering Barros when the Vatican was so convinced of their claims that it planned to remove him in 2014.

"Isn't the pastoral problem that we're living (in Osorno) enough to get rid of him?" Claret asked.

The reference was to the fact that — guilty or not — Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don't recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.

Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database BishopAccountability.org, said it was "sad and wrong" for the pope to discredit the victims since "the burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims — and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed."

"He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis," she said in a statement. "Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?"

Indeed, Catholic officials for years accused victims of slandering and attacking the church with their claims. But up until Francis' words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.

German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago's Universidad Mayor, said the pope's comments were a "tremendous error" that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.

Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said Francis had gone much further than Chilean bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal, which many Chileans appreciated.

"Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: 'By the way, I don't think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,'" Navia said, adding that the comment will probably erase any good will the pope had won over the issue.

Navia said the Karadima scandal had radically changed how Chileans view the church.

"In the typical Chilean family, parents (now) think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen," Navia said.


UK and French leaders reach border deal, disagree on Brexit

French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May look at two Royal Air Force planes as they perform a fly past ahead of the start of an Anglo-French summit at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in southern England, Thursday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Jill Lawless

Camberley, England (AP) — The leaders of Britain and France met Thursday against a military backdrop to pledge closer cooperation on defense, security and borders after Britain leaves the European Union.

But President Emmanuel Macron also delivered a firm message: the U.K. cannot keep coveted access to the EU for its financial sector after Brexit unless it continues to play by the bloc's rules once it leaves.

"The choice is on the British side, not on my side," Macron said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"If you want access to the single market — including the financial services —- be my guest," he said. "But it means that you need to contribute to the budget and acknowledge European jurisdiction."

The future of Britain's financial sector — which employs more than 1 million people — is a key issue as Britain and the EU hammer out details of their relationship after Brexit. EU officials warn the U.K. it can't hang on to the benefits of membership without accepting its responsibilities, including free movement of people.

May said Britain would be leaving the single market, but wanted a free-trade deal with the bloc covering both goods and services.

She said London "will continue to be a major global financial center" after Brexit.

The visit, Macron's first to Britain since he won the French presidency in May 2017, was aimed at strengthening security and intelligence ties between nations that are both neighbors and historic rivals, and building goodwill as Britain negotiates its exit from the EU.

The venue — the Sandhurst military academy southwest of London — was selected as a signal that the relationship between western Europe's two biggest military powers won't be weakened once the U.K. leaves the EU in March 2019.

May treated the French leader to a pub lunch of crab and duck breast, followed by a serving of British military pomp. Macron was greeted at Sandhurst by troops from the Coldstream Guards in gray coats and bearskin hats.

Amid a sudden hailstorm, Macron and May inspected the honor guard before taking a salute from soldiers on horseback.

Senior ministers from the two countries attended the one-day meeting, and signed agreements on everything from space exploration to tackling online extremism.

In a significant gesture, May offered millions to ease French annoyance over a 2003 deal that placed British border controls in the northern French port of Calais. The town has become a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain, and the accord puts the burden of blocking their entry to the U.K. on France.

Alongside a new treaty aimed at better management of their joint border, Britain agreed to pay 44.5 million pounds for fences, security cameras and other measures in Calais and nearby English Channel ports. France also wants Britain to take in more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children.

May pointedly declined to give a number of migrants that Britain would take when asked by journalists at a joint press conference. Instead she stressed the need to clamp down on people smugglers and take other measures to stop migrants from getting to Calais.

Macron said the treaty would mean "smarter and more efficient management of the border" and a faster, more humane processing system for migrants.

The U.K. also said it will send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and dozens of personnel to join France's military mission against Islamic militants in Africa's Sahel region. France has led efforts to fight al-Qaida and IS-linked jihadi groups in the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

The leaders of the five main U.K. and French spy agencies also met for the first time, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing. France and Britain have both faced a string of violent attacks by extremists inspired or directed by the Islamic State group.

In a boost to Macron, Britain is throwing its backing behind the European Intervention Initiative, a multinational European military force that the French president has proposed. He also wants a common European defense budget and security doctrine.

In return, France will send troops to join a U.K.-led NATO battle group in Estonia in 2019, aimed at countering an increasingly assertive Russia.

Macron also came with the news that France will loan Britain the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century panorama depicting the Norman conquest of England.  It will go on display at an unspecified British venue in 2022.

Macron said that despite Brexit, "we are facing common challenges and sharing the same destiny."

"We are somehow making a new tapestry together," he said.


Drought-stricken Cape Town tightens water restrictions

In this Sunday, April 16, 2017 file photo, the Theewaterskloof Dam, a key source of water supply to Cape Town, South Africa, is shown at low levels. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Johannesburg (AP) — The South African city of Cape Town announced new water restrictions Thursday to combat drought, saying it was looking more likely that it will have to turn off most taps on "Day Zero," or April 21.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said 60 percent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit and that the city will fine households that use too much water.

"We have reached a point of no return," she said. Residents must use no more than 50 liters of water daily beginning Feb. 1, down from 87 liters currently.

Cape Town, a major tourist destination and a city of 3.7 million people, has assessed 200 water collection points for residents as it prepares for the possible April 21 cutoff.

Experts link the city's water shortages to factors including climate change and high population growth.

"We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them," de Lille said.


Ukraine passes bill to get occupied regions back from Russia

Protesters with a Ukrainian national clash with police during a rally outside the Supreme Rada in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 16. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's parliament on Thursday passed a bill that aims to reintegrate the eastern territories currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists, and goes as far as to declare support for taking them back by military force if necessary.

The bill describes the areas in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions as "temporarily occupied" by "aggressor country" Russia. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the new bill, saying it would help restore control of the east by "political and diplomatic means."

Russia warned, however, that the deal effectively kills the peace accords that Ukraine is party to and that were supposed to resolve the deadly conflict.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted weeks after Russia's annexation of Crimea, has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. The 2015 Minsk peace deal helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but clashes have continued and attempts at a political settlement have stalled.

The new bill, passed by the Supreme Rada after days of raucous debate, contains no reference to the peace deal brokered by Russia, France and Germany that obliged Ukraine to offer a broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to the rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

"We can't embed diplomatic and political agreements that are prone to change into the Ukrainian legislation," Ivan Vinnyk, a member of Poroshenko's faction in parliament, said on Thursday while explaining why the Minsk deal wasn't mentioned.

In a terse statement issued after the vote, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that the bill is nothing "but a preparation for a new war." The foreign ministry said the bill runs against Kiev's commitments under the Minsk accords and further alienates Ukrainians living in separatist-held areas.

"Sadly, we are witnessing the making of a situation which is fraught with a dangerous escalation in Ukraine and (carrying) unpredictable consequences for global peace and security."

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament's upper house, said the new bill effectively spikes the Minsk peace pact, the implementation of which the U.S. and the European Union have said was a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia.

"Kiev has gone from sabotaging the Minsk agreements to burying them," he said.

The bill backs a ban on trade as well as a transport blockade of the east that Ukraine introduced last year. Of all the documents issued by separatist authorities, Ukraine would only recognize birth and death certificates.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the chief rebel leader in the Donetsk region, also criticized the new bill as a flagrant violation of the Minsk agreement signed by Ukraine and the rebels, saying it would encourage hawkish elements in Ukraine and fuel hostilities.

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta research center, an independent Kiev-based think-tank, said the main purpose of the bill is to defend Ukraine's interests in international courts.
 


Update January 18, 2018

Japanese public TV says staffer sent missile alert in error

A smartphone shows Tuesday's NHK television's news website saying "North Korea appears to have fired a missile, seek shelter inside buildings and basements," in Tokyo Wednesday, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Wednesday that an erroneous alert about a North Korean missile fired at Japan was sent by a staff member who meant to transmit a different news flash.

NHK denied any mechanical flaw and said it is studying preventive measures, though it did not give further details.

The false alarm Tuesday came just days after emergency authorities in Hawaii sent a mistaken warning of a missile attack to mobile phones across the state, triggering panic.

The erroneous NHK news flash had been prepared for a possible emergency, the broadcaster said, adding that transmission of an alert usually involves checking by multiple staff members.

The false alert said North Korea appeared to have fired a missile at Japan and that the government was warning people to take shelter. NHK retracted the mistake in five minutes, first on the internet, and then apologized on air and other formats.

NHK said it was not sure how many of the 300,000 followers of its "NHK News and Disaster Prevention" service saw the alert or if anyone followed the instructions.

The broadcaster said most of the complaints it had received were from people who learned about the mistake when they saw the correction instead of the erroneous flash itself. Some, however, were simply trying to make sure a missile was actually not fired.

Tension has grown in Japan over North Korean missile tests as they have flown closer to Japanese coasts. NHK and other Japanese media generally alert each missile test, and the government has issued emergency notices when the missiles flew over northern Japan.

Japan is also stepping up its missile defense capabilities and is conducting missile drills across the country. Tokyo will have its first drill next week.


China planning to send robot sub to sunken ship

 

In this Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, photo, a rescue ship sails near the burning Iranian oil tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea off the eastern coast of China. (Ministry of Transport via AP)

Beijing (AP) — China is preparing to send a robot submarine possibly followed by divers to explore and plug holes in a sunken Iranian oil tanker whose 32 crew members are all believed to have died, the Transport Ministry said Wednesday.

No timeline was given from the deployment, although the Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Centre and a Hong Kong newspaper said authorities will send larger salvage vessels to support the operation.

They said divers might also be able to pump out oil from the 85,000-ton vessels' fuel tanks before they leak and contaminate the seabed.

China said that the Sanchi was lying under 115 meters (377 feet) of water in the East China Sea. It caught fire after colliding with a freighter on Jan. 6 and exploded and sunk on Sunday about 530 kilometers (330 miles) southeast of Shanghai.

The report said that an oil slick 58 square kilometers (22 square miles) in size from its cargo of natural gas condensate is being monitored for potential environmental damage with cleanup efforts being organized.

The cause of the collision remains under investigation. All 21 crew members of the freighter were reported safe.


UK citizens ask Dutch court to protect post-Brexit EU rights

Chris, Molly and Deborah Williams, three U.K. nationals living in the Netherlands, from left, pose for a photographer outside a district court in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Mike Corder

Amsterdam (AP) — A group of British citizens who live in the Netherlands went to a Dutch court Wednesday in a bid to retain their EU citizenship rights after Britain completes its divorce from the bloc, but lawyers for the Dutch state dismissed their case as a legal fiction.

In a case that could have far-reaching consequences for some 1 million Britons currently living in European Union countries outside the United Kingdom, lawyer Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm launched summary proceedings before a judge at Amsterdam District Court, asking judge Floris Bakels to put so-called "prejudicial questions" about the status of U.K. nationals post-Brexit to the European Court of Justice, the Luxembourg-based court that rules on EU law.

According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, any person who is a citizen of an EU nation automatically is also an EU citizen. EU citizenship grants rights including to move and live freely within the bloc.

Brexit negotiators have made progress on the protection of rights of EU citizens living in Britain and U.K. citizens living on the continent, but no full agreement has been reached yet on the issue and lawyers for the plaintiffs said the progress so far left their fate up in the air.

British lawyer Jolyon Maugham, who is funding the case, said that if the Dutch judge puts questions to the Luxembourg court, "The answer the Court of Justice gives will be an answer that applies to U.K. passport holders wherever they live."

"I am profoundly concerned about what the loss of EU citizenship means for the million or so U.K. citizens who live and work in the EU," Maugham said before the hearing. "I am also profoundly concerned for the 64-odd million people living in the United Kingdom who, but for this litigation, will lose the ability to exercise EU citizenship rights in the future."

Alberdingk Thijm said that that according to EU law, citizens' rights are clear when a country joins the bloc but nobody knows what happens when a country decides, as Britain has done, to leave. He urged the Dutch judge to ask the court in Luxembourg to clarify the issue.

"Your honor, the fate of British citizens living in the Netherlands is in your hands," he said.

But urging the judge to reject the request, lawyer Georges Dictus, representing the Dutch state and Amsterdam municipality, said that once Brexit is finalized, EU treaties will no longer apply to British citizens and that any rights must be laid out in an agreement between Britain and the EU.

Another lawyer representing the Dutch state, Erik Pijnacker Hordijk, called the case "fictional, artificial," and said the plaintiffs were attempting to use the Amsterdam court as a stepping stone to get to the EU court in Luxembourg. He urged the judge to reject their request, saying it could potentially delay Brexit negotiations as a ruling from Luxembourg would likely take many months.

He added that the Britons were taking their case to the wrong court.

"If British citizens believe they have a legal right to a particular treatment post-Brexit, they should direct themselves to their own government of a British judge," he said.

A ruling is expected in three weeks' time.


At least 33 bodies found in clandestine graves in Mexico

In this Jan. 15, 2018 photo, a man digs up a clandestine grave in Xalisco, Nayarit state, Mexico. (General Prosecutor of Nayarit via AP)

Maria Verza

Mexico City (AP) — Search dogs led authorities to the grisly discovery of four clandestine graves containing at least 33 bodies in a sugarcane field in Mexico's Pacific coast state of Nayarit and officials said Wednesday the killings were likely linked to the drug trade.

The graves were found in the township of Xalisco, which has long been the home base of a black-tar heroin trafficking ring that supplied the U.S. West Coast. The discovery comes amid a dispute between drug gangs in Nayarit following the March arrest of the former state attorney general, Edgar Veytia, on U.S. charges of drug smuggling.

Current state Attorney General Petronilo Diaz said local gangs have been engaged in power struggles since Veytia's arrest.

"The assumption is that these were people who were involved with one of the various criminal groups, but I can't say which one," Diaz said, referring to the bodies in the graves. He said some of the bodies had apparently been dismembered before burial.

"This breakdown among the drug gangs we are seeing now in Nayarit comes as a result of the arrest ... of an official (Veytia) from the previous administration," Diaz said. "That is when these criminal groups start fighting, and that's when this mess we're seeing started."

Corrupt officials in Mexico have sometimes enforced a sort of rough peace by favoring one drug gang over the others or dividing territories.

The burial pits came to light when some families searching for missing loved ones found remains on Saturday after receiving a telephone tip from local residents. The first pit contained nine bodies and was located near a stream in a sugar cane field. Trained dogs then led searchers to three other pits nearby.

The bodies were so badly decomposed that neither their gender nor identity could be immediately established. The remains had been buried for about an average of six months, investigators believe.

Only one body still had a legible tattoo that might help identify it; the others are being subjected to DNA testing, officials said.


7 dead as Myanmar police open fire to disperse protesters

In this Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, image made from video, a man recovers from a head wound in a hospital after being allegedly involved in a protest confrontation with police in the ancient city of Mrauk-U, Rakhine, western Myanmar. (DVB via AP)

Bangkok (AP) — Myanmar police opened fire at hundreds of protesters angry about a ban on a local festival, killing seven people, officials said Wednesday.

The protesters in Rakhine state marched through the ancient city of Mrauk-U and ransacked a government building on Tuesday after authorities banned the anniversary celebration of the founding of the old kingdom, saying they were not informed about it beforehand.

Deputy director of the regional government Tin Maung Swe said police warned the mob to stop but they were being physically attacked and officers had to respond after initially using rubber bullets.

The protest involved Rakhine Buddhists. Rakhine is also home to minority Rohingya Muslims, who have long faced persecution that has seen about 650,000 people driven away from their homes into Bangladesh since August.

The U.N. office in Myanmar said it was concerned with reports of violent clashes and urged respect for the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. It also called on security forces and demonstrators to act with restraint and avoid further violence, and for authorities to investigate any disproportionate use of force.


Hungary seeks to punish those who aid illegal migration

In this Feb. 22, 2016 file photo migrants walk behind a temporary protective fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Morahalom, 179 kms southeast of Budapest. (Zoltan Gergely Kelemen/MTI via AP)

Pablo Gorondi

Budapest, Hungary (AP) — A new set of laws would tax and possibly sanction Hungarian groups assisting illegal migration which receive foreign funding, Hungary's government said Wednesday.

Such groups would have to register with the courts and, if they get more than half of their funds from foreign sources, pay a 25-percent tax on the funds received from abroad, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said. Groups failing to register, and which authorities consider to be adding illegal migrants, could be fined.

Pinter, without mentioning anyone by name, gave an example of someone providing a smartphone containing maps and other information "showing the way to Europe" to a migrant in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and part of the "Balkan route" migrants use to try to reach Germany and other destinations in Western Europe.

Also, restraining orders could be issued against Hungarian citizens considered to be "organizing illegal migration," preventing them from going within eight kilometers (five miles) of Hungary's Schengen borders, those with countries outside the European Union, like Serbia and Ukraine. Foreigners found to be aiding illegal migrants could be banned from Hungary, Pinter said.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the expectations were that Hungarian non-governmental groups "which deal with illegal migrants or the issue of migration will follow the law and indicate to authorities ... that they are doing this activity."

The new laws would apparently not apply to, for example, religious charity groups or the Red Cross, which distribute food, medicines and other aid to migrants.

"Giving assistance is not the same as actively ... taking part in someone crossing the border illegally," Kovacs said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is an opponent of immigration, especially by Muslims, and Hungary built long fences along its southern borders in late 2015 to stop the flow of migrants.

The government has dubbed the bills "Stop Soros" laws, as it blames Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for Europe's migration challenges, partly because of his funding of groups that advocate for the rights of refugees.

Pinter said, however, that "I don't believe that so far George Soros has told anyone that he takes part in organizing" illegal migration.

Since the government expects groups or people to declare voluntarily if they aid illegal migration, "we are very curious to see" whether Soros will or will not acknowledge doing so, Kovacs added.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a rights group which provides legal aid to asylum-seekers and receives part of its funding from Soros' Open Society Foundations, drew attention to the government's proposed eight-kilometer restraining order and compared it to a 1969 decree by Hungary's then-communist government prohibiting citizens from going nearer than two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the borders.


Update January 17, 2018

Bitcoin prices fall as South Korea says ban still an option

A man passes by a screen showing the prices of bitcoin at a virtual currency exchange office in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 16. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Youkyung Lee

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — Prices of bitcoin and other digital currencies have skidded after South Korea's top financial policymaker said Tuesday that a crackdown on trading of crypto currencies was still possible.

Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said in an interview with local radio station TBS that banning trading in digital currencies was "a live option." He said the decision was subject to a thorough government review.

"There are no disagreements over regulating speculation," such as using real-name accounts and levying taxes on crypto currency trading, Kim said. Shutting down digital currency exchanges is "a live option but government ministries need to very seriously review it," he said.

Bitcoin closed at $10,772.08, down 20.7 percent from the day before as of 10:15 p.m. GMT on Tuesday, according to Coindesk. The price of ethereum, another digital currency, tumbled 27.8 percent to $931.79 as of 10:15 p.m. GMT.

South Korean officials' remarks have swayed the global markets for bitcoin and other crypto currencies in the past few weeks. The country has seen a huge bitcoin craze, with young and old betting on the crypto currency to build wealth. The high demand from South Korean investors has created what investors call a "kimchi premium," the extra price the South Koreans have to pay to buy digital currencies, sold in South Korea at higher than the average global prices.

Last week, the justice minister's remark that the country will ban bitcoin and other digital currencies triggered big sell-offs and a public outcry. The presidential office then said that no final decision had been made.

An online petition on the presidential office's website has drawn more than 210,000 requests from people asking the government not to ban trading in digital currencies.

"We the citizens were able to have a happy dream that we had never had in South Korea thanks to crypto currency," the petition reads. "You may think you are protecting the public but we citizens think that the government is stealing our dream."


Macron visits Calais to preview toughened migrant policies

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, speaks with French gendarmes during his visit to Calais, northern France, Tuesday, Jan.16. (Denis Charlet/Pool via AP)

Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet

Calais, France (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron traveled Tuesday to Calais, the epicenter of France's migrant crisis, to lay out a new approach to immigration: help for those who want to stay, expulsion for those using France as a transit point and sanctions for security forces who overstep the rules.

The northern port city is a magnet for migrants because it is the closest point between France and Britain and has two cross-Channel transport systems, the Eurotunnel and ferries.

More than 1,130 French security forces have been posted in Calais, including riot police, border police and gendarmes, to keep migrants out of the port and Eurotunnel and to stop them from setting up camps.

Macron laid out the broad lines of his immigration policy — humanity with a firm hand — in a speech before security forces, some of whom have been criticized for overzealous actions against migrants. The president's trip was a preview of a tough new immigration and asylum bill to be presented to the Cabinet in February.

Macron said the bill would include a provision launching "automatic" expulsion proceedings against migrants caught trying to enter Britain illegally from France.

"Calais is not a back door to Britain," Macron said, referring to the hundreds of people who attempt to reach Britain by sneaking onto trucks crossing the English Channel.

Macron declared that staying in Calais instead of applying for asylum in France is "a dead end" and vowed not to allow any migrant camp take root here again after authorities dismantled Europe's biggest migrant slum in 2016.

At that time, there were more than 7,000 migrants in the sprawling, filthy camp on the edge of Calais, compared to up to 700 in Calais today.

Macron is meeting Thursday with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Sandhurst near London, and on the agenda is a 2003 border control agreement that he wants to change.

The 2003 Touquet Accords effectively moved the British border to the French port of Calais, where British agents help. The accord has spared Britain from receiving floods of migrants at its doorstep like other European countries, putting the burden of blocking their entry to the U.K. on France.

During his speech to security forces, the French president mentioned three points he plans to raise with May, including "better management of unaccompanied minors, reinforced police cooperation in Calais with the countries of origin and transit" and getting British funds for development projects in Calais.

Macron suggested while meeting with representatives from Calais' economic sector later Tuesday that the British are ready to provide more financing. He said France's priority in ongoing talks with the U.K. government is for Britain to accept more of the unaccompanied minors who make it to France.

Calais, a former French tourist destination, has suffered because of the influx of migrants.

"I think we can improve the situation without knocking everything down," Macron said later at Calais City Hall.

In a surprise announcement, Macron said the state was taking over food distribution to migrants, an apparent bid to undermine aid groups who have for years provided meals.

The president issued a stern warning to the aid groups against discouraging migrants from going to centers where they can apply for French asylum — a move that would end their bid to go to Britain.

"I no longer want us to delegate food aid to associations that use it to keep alive false information," he said during a discussion with local officials.

At least three aid groups, including Doctors of the World, were boycotting a meeting with Macron at the end of his daylong visit, saying he left no room for real discussions on critical issues.

"(The situation) is catastrophic" because migrants have no rights to pitch tents now, said Francois Guennoc of the aid group Auberge des Migrants, which also declined to meet with Macron.

Macron also told security forces in Calais they will be sanctioned if they fail to honor their rules of conduct. He listed some of the claims: that police confiscate sleeping bags and even shoes from migrants, awaken them in the night, use tear gas on their belongings and food.

"There are no half-truths," the president said.

But Macron also said authorities would file defamation complaints against those who make false allegations against the police.

Macron also talked briefly Tuesday with Sudanese migrants at a special center in Croisilles, south of Calais, where migrants can apply for asylum in France. Many stay only briefly in such centers and quickly resume efforts to sneak across the Channel.

One migrant applying for asylum in France, identified only as Ahmed, 25, said he traveled from Sudan through Libya and Italy to end up in Calais last year. He told Macron he had no choice but to leave home because his mother was killed and his family disappeared. He said he wants to "learn French, get training and find a job as an auto mechanic."

Macron told Ahmed that his story seemed to meet the French criteria for granting asylum.


Even the eyelashes freeze: Russia sees minus 88.6 degrees F

In this photo taken on Sunday, Jan. 14, three women pose for a selfie as the temperature dropped to about -50 degrees (-58 degrees Fahrenheit) in Yakutsk, Russia. (sakhalife.ru photo via AP)

Moscow (AP) — Even thermometers can't keep up with the plunging temperatures in Russia's remote Yakutia region, which hit minus 67 degrees Celsius (minus 88.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas Tuesday.

In Yakutia — a region of 1 million people about 3,300 miles (5,300 kilometers) east of Moscow — students routinely go to school even in minus 40 degrees. But school was canceled Tuesday throughout the region and police ordered parents to keep their children inside.

In the village of Oymyakon, one of the coldest inhabited places on earth, state-owned Russian television showed the mercury falling to the bottom of a thermometer that was only set up to measure down to minus 50 degrees. In 2013, Oymyakon recorded an all-time low of minus 71 degrees Celsius (minus 98 Fahrenheit).

Over the weekend, two men froze to death when they tried to walk to a nearby farm after their car broke down. Three other men with them survived because they were wearing warmer clothes, investigators reported.

But the press office for Yakutia's governor said Tuesday that all households and businesses in the region have working central heating and access to backup power generators.

Residents of Yakutia are no strangers to cold weather and this week's cold spell was not even dominating local news headlines Tuesday.

But some media outlets published cold-weather selfies and stories about stunts in the extreme cold. Women posted pictures of their frozen eyelashes, while YakutiaMedia published a picture of Chinese students who got undressed to take a plunge in a thermal spring.


Serb leader's death in Kosovo raises Balkan region tensions

Flowers, candles and a picture of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, who was shot dead Tuesday morning by still-unknown assailants, are shown at the scene of the shooting in front of his office in the northern, Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Tuesday, Jan. 16. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

Goran Danilovic

Mitrovica, Kosovo (AP) — A leading Serb politician was shot to death Tuesday near his political party's offices in northern Kosovo, an attack that raised ethnic tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Unknown assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic, 64, in the Serb-controlled northern city of Mitrovica. Ivanovic was taken to a hospital, but doctors were unable to save him.

An autopsy showed he was shot six times in the upper torso. The assailants escaped in a car that was later found burned out. Kosovo police sealed off the area of the shooting while they searched for suspects.

Ivanovic was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions remain high a decade after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a separate country.

Ivanovic was considered a moderate who maintained relations with NATO and EU officials after Serbia lost control of northern Kosovo following NATO's 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Ivanovic, who was married with three children, had enemies both among Kosovo Albanians and nationalist Serbs because of his moderate policies.

A Kosovo court convicted him of war crimes from the 1998-99 Kosovo war. The verdict eventually was overturned and a retrial was underway.

In Pristina, the Kosovo government strongly denounced the slaying, saying it considered the attack a challenge to "efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory." Kosovo police offered a 10,000-euro ($12,250) reward for information about the attackers.

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a top security meeting to discuss the attack. Vucic called Ivanovic's killing "a terrorist act" and said Serbia would demand to be included in any investigations carried out by international missions based in Kosovo.

"Serbia will take all necessary steps so the killer or killers are found," he said.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the killing threatened the stability of both Serb-populated northern Kosovo and the whole Balkan region.

After a meeting of Kosovo's National Security Council, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj rejected Serbia's demand to take part in the investigation and said he might invite the FBI.

Haradinaj also said that Ivanovic's slaying was the result of "illegal involvement in the north of other institutions beyond Kosovo." He didn't elaborate on what outside forces he was accusing of being involved in Ivanovic's slaying.

At the news of Ivanovic's death, the Serb delegation at a previously scheduled session of the EU-mediated talks immediately left Brussels to return to Belgrade.

"Whoever is behind this attack ... whether they are Serb, Albanian or any other criminals, they must be punished," delegation leader Marko Djuric said.

Avni Arifi, who heads the Kosovo delegation to the talks, called on Serbia to return to the negotiations.

"There is no alternative to the dialogue," Arifi told Klan Kosova TV.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo to express the EU's condemnation of the killing. She appealed for both sides "to show calm and restraint."

The head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Jan Braathu, said he was "shocked and deeply saddened" and considered Ivanovic "among the most prominent Kosovo Serb representatives for almost two decades."

He also urged "all sides to avoid dangerous rhetoric and remain calm at this sensitive time, and recommit themselves to continue the work toward the normalization of relations and improvement of the lives of the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia."

NATO also urged Serbia and Kosovo to return to the talks, which are aimed at normalizing relations their relations.

"NATO fully supports the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, and calls for this dialogue to continue as soon as possible. This is critical for regional peace and security," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

Lungescu urged "all parties to exercise restraint to defuse tensions, and allow the judicial authorities to carry out a full investigation."

A NATO-led peacekeeping force established in 1999 "continues to guarantee a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement throughout Kosovo" following Tuesday's slaying, Lungescu said.


Malaysia's Najib criticizes Singapore ties under Mahathir

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, right, shakes hands with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak during the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat at the Istana or presidential palace in Singapore, Tuesday, Jan. 16. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

Annabelle Liang

Singapore (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak praised his country's relationship with neighboring Singapore on Tuesday, but added a jibe for his closest rival in upcoming elections.

"We believe in good relations with our neighbor, with Singapore, and we've proven that we can bring tangible benefits to the people if we work closely together," Najib said at a news conference in Singapore.

"The other side may have other ideas. We certainly do not want to return to the era of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric between our two countries," he added. "It was an era that we want to forget."

Najib's closest rival is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who heads Malaysia's opposition coalition.

Mahathir led Malaysia for 22 years before stepping down in 2003. During his term there were frequent sharp exchanges with neighboring Singapore and its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

"Talking to Lee Kuan Yew was a one-sided affair," Mahathir wrote in his memoirs. "His style of conversation, like his manner of addressing the Malaysian Parliament when he was a member, was to lecture his listeners about what was right and what was wrong."

Najib was speaking on the sidelines of the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat. The yearly meeting is an opportunity for the neighbors to strengthen their ties.

This time, officials discussed water and education. They also signed an agreement for a new high-speed rail link to be completed in 2024. It will ease traffic at the main causeway linking the countries, which sees over 300,000 crossings a day.

"Our bilateral relations are in very good shape. Both sides have been able to work well together," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Tuesday.

Singapore and Malaysia briefly merged in 1963, but fell apart after clashing on issues such as the rights of ethnic Malays.

Malaysia's polls are due by August.

Najib's United Malays National Organization is the linchpin of Malaysia's ruling National Front coalition but its support has dwindled in the last two elections. It lost the popular vote for the first time to the opposition in 2013.

Mahathir is still influential among ethnic Malay Muslims who account for about 60 percent of Malaysia's 32 million people.


Update January 16, 2018

Glowing red lava rolls down slopes of Philippine volcano

Lava cascades down the slopes of Mayon volcano as seen from Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines, Monday, Jan. 15. (AP Photo/Earl Recamunda)

Legazpi, Philippines (AP) — Glowing red lava was rolling down the slopes of a Philippine volcano as authorities maintain a warning of a possible hazardous eruption.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Tuesday morning the lava was quietly flowing in some places but at times Mount Mayon was erupting like a fountain. Lava had advanced up to 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) from the crater, and ash was falling nearby.

Nearly 15,000 people have fled the danger zone already. The alert level remained three on a scale of five, indicating an increased prospect of a hazardous eruption "within weeks or even days."

Mayon lies in Albay province about 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Manila. It has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently. Five climbers died in 2013.


Dolores O'Riordan, voice of The Cranberries, dies at 46

In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, Cranberries lead singer Dolores O'Riordan performs during the European Border Breakers awards, or EBBA awards, in Cannes, southern France. (AP Photo/Bruno Bebert)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Dolores O'Riordan, whose urgent, powerful voice helped make Irish rock band The Cranberries a global success in the 1990s, died suddenly on Monday at a London hotel. She was 46.

The singer-songwriter's publicist, Lindsey Holmes, confirmed that O'Riordan died in London, where she was recording,

"No further details are available at this time," Holmes said, adding that O'Riordan's family was "devastated" by the news.

Her Cranberries bandmates — Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan and Fergus Lawler — tweeted that O'Riordan "was an extraordinary talent and we feel very privileged to have been part of her life."

London's Metropolitan Police force said officers were called just after 9 a.m. Monday to a hotel where a woman in her 40s was found dead. The police force said the death was being treated as "unexplained."

The Hilton hotel in London's Park Lane confirmed that a guest had died on the premises.

Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins said O'Riordan and The Cranberries "had an immense influence on rock and pop music in Ireland and internationally."

O'Riordan was born on Sept. 6, 1971 in Ballybricken, southwest Ireland. In 1990, she answered an ad from a local band in nearby Limerick city — then called The Cranberry Saw Us — that was looking for a lead singer.

A name change and a confluence of factors turned The Cranberries into international stars. Their guitar-based sound had an alternative-rock edge at a time when grunge was storming the music scene.

The band's songs — on which O'Riordan was chief lyricist and co-songwriter — had a Celtic-infused tunefulness. And in O'Riordan the group had a charismatic lead singer with a distinctively powerful voice.

Heavy play on MTV for their debut single "Dream" and the singles that followed helped bring the group to the attention of a mass audience.

The Cranberries' 1993 debut album, "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?", sold millions of copies and produced the hit single "Linger."

The follow-up, "No Need to Argue," sold in even greater numbers and contained "Zombie," a visceral howl against Northern Ireland's violent Troubles that topped singles charts in several countries.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted Monday that "for anyone who grew up in Ireland in the 1990s, Dolores O'Riordan was the voice of a generation. As the female lead singer of a hugely successful rock band, she blazed a trail and might just have been Limerick's greatest ever rock star. RIP."

The band released three more studio albums before splitting up in 2003. O'Riordan released a solo album, "Are You Listening," in 2007, and another, "No Baggage," in 2009.

The Cranberries also reunited that year, resulting in the album "Roses" in 2012.

For a time, O'Riordan was one of Ireland's richest women, but she struggled with both physical and mental health problems.

The Cranberries released the acoustic album "Something Else" in 2017 and had been due to tour Europe and North America. The tour was cut short because O'Riordan was suffering from back problems.

In 2014, O'Riordan was accused of assaulting three police officers and a flight attendant during a flight from New York to Ireland. She pleaded guilty and was fined 6,000 euros ($6,600.)

Medical records given to the court indicated she was mentally ill at the time of the altercation. After her court hearing O'Riordan urged other people suffering mental illness to seek help.

She told London's Metro newspaper last year that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she spoke to the Irish News about her battles with depression.

O'Riordan said depression "is one of the worst things to go through," but that "I've also had a lot of joy in my life, especially with my children."

"You get ups as well as downs. Sure, isn't that what life's all about?" she said.

O'Riordan is survived by her ex-husband, the former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton, and their three children.


Twin bombings in Baghdad kill 38, shatter post-IS calm

Iraqi security forces gather at the scene of a double suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 15. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)

Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj

Baghdad (AP) — Twin suicide bombings rocked Baghdad on Monday, killing 38 people in the deadliest attack since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group last month, and raising fears ahead of national elections planned for May.

The bombers targeted the bustling Tayran Square, in the heart of the capital, setting off their explosive vests among laborers and street vendors during the morning rush hour. More than 100 people were wounded, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

No one has claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of IS.

Iraqi forces have driven IS from all the territory the extremists once held, but the militant group has proven resilient in the past and is likely to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks. That could undermine Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who hopes to extend the country's newfound sense of pride and unity in order to lead a diverse coalition to power in May.

Ambulances rushed to the scene as security forces sealed off the area with yellow tape. Slippers could be seen scattered about on the blood-stained pavement as cleaners hurried to clear the debris.

"It was a tremendous, I felt the ground shaking under my feet," said Munthir Falah, a secondhand clothes vendor whose chest and right leg were pierced by shrapnel. He said he fell to the ground and lost consciousness before later waking up in a hospital.

The father of three said government forces had failed to secure the capital. "They think that Daesh is done," he said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym. "They don't bother themselves to exert efforts to secure Baghdad."

Einas Khalil, a Baghdad housewife, blamed the security breakdown on the country's feuding politicians, many of whom are connected to different state-sanctioned militias or branches of the security forces.

"We were expecting this because of the upcoming elections," she said. "Every four years we have to live through this suffering because of political differences and disagreements."

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri denounced the attack as a "cowardly act against innocent people" and called on the government to take all necessary security measures. Al-Abadi met security officials in charge of Baghdad, ordering them to root out militant sleeper cells, according to a brief statement issued by his office.

A deterioration in security could undermine al-Abadi's claim to have vanquished IS and create an opening for his main rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to return to power.

Al-Maliki, who stepped down after IS swept across northern and central Iraq in 2014, was widely accused of pursuing sectarian policies that alienated the country's Sunni minority during his eight years in power. Many of Iraq's Sunnis, fed up with al-Maliki's rule, initially welcomed IS as liberators from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The government has proposed holding elections on May 12, but parliament must approve the date. Sunni leaders have called for the vote to be delayed until the 3 million people still displaced from the fighting can return to their homes.

Victory over IS has come at an almost incalculable cost in Iraq, where entire neighborhoods in several cities and towns were completely destroyed in the fighting.


Warning: Stifling sneezes can be health hazard in rare cases

In this Jan. 14, 2005 file photo, a man sneezes holding a tissue in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil)

Maria Cheng

London (AP) — Tempted to stifle a loud or untimely sneeze? Let it out instead, doctors in England warned Monday based on the very unusual case of a man who ruptured the back of his throat when he tried to suppress a sneeze.

In a case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, doctors described their initial confusion when the previously healthy man turned up in the emergency room of a Leicester hospital, complaining of swallowing difficulties and "a popping sensation" in his swollen neck.

The 34-year-old patient told them his problems started after he tried to stop a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He eventually lost his voice and spent a week in the hospital.

"When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour," said Dr. Anthony Aymat, director for ear, nose and throat services at London's University Hospital Lewisham, who was not involved in the case. "If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body."

While examining the sneeze-averse patient, doctors in Leicester heard "crackling in the neck" down to his ribcage, a sign that air bubbles had seeped into his chest. Worried about infection and other possible complications, they admitted him to the hospital, gave him a feeding tube and administered antibiotics, according to details published in BMJ Case Reports.

Dr. Zi Yang Jiang, a head and neck surgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he sees one or two cases arising from repressed sneezes each year, making them an "exceedingly rare" occurrence.

Jiang said it was bizarre that a single sneeze could generate enough force to cause the kind of physical damage that usually results from trauma, such as a gunshot wound to the neck. A collapsed lung is among the problems that retaining the air from an imminent sneeze can cause, he said.

"The whole point of sneezing is to get something out of your body, like viruses and bacteria, so if you stop that, those may end up in the wrong part of the body," he said. Jiang said in most cases, the excess air is later absorbed by the body.

The English patient made a full recovery and was advised to avoid plugging his nose while sneezing in the future. Doctors recommend letting sneezes rip into a tissue instead.

"The safest thing to do — although it's not socially acceptable — is just to sneeze loud," Aymat said.


Update January 15, 2018

Plane dangles off cliff after skidding off runway in Turkey

A Boeing 737-800 of Turkey's Pegasus Airlines is shown after skidding off the runway at the airport in Trabzon, Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 14. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

Zeynep Bilginsoy

Istanbul (AP) — A commercial airplane that skidded off a runway after landing in northern Turkey dangled precariously Sunday off a muddy cliff with its nose only a few feet from the Black Sea.

Some of the 168 people on board the Boeing 737-800 described it as a "miracle" that everyone was evacuated safely from the plane, which went off a runway at Trabzon Airport.

Images show the aircraft on its belly and perched at an acute angle just above the water. If it had slid any further along the slope, the plane would have likely plunged into the sea in the Turkish province of Trabzon.

Pegasus Airlines said no one was injured during the incident late Saturday, despite the panic among the 162 passengers on board Flight PC8622. The six-member crew, including two pilots, was also evacuated. Flights were suspended at Trabzon Airport for several hours before resuming again Sunday.

Passenger Yuksel Gordu told Turkey's official Anadolu news agency that words weren't enough to describe the fear on the aircraft.

"It's a miracle we escaped. We could have burned, exploded, flown into the sea," Gordu said. "Thank God for this. I feel like I'm going crazy when I think about it."

Another passenger, Fatma Gordu, told private Dogan news agency that there was a loud sound after landing.

"We swerved all of a sudden," she said. "The front of the plane crashed and the back was in the air. Everyone panicked."

Trabzon Gov. Yucel Yavuz said investigators were trying to determine why the plane had left the runway. The prosecutor's office launched an investigation.

The flight originated in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Airport officials would not discuss the status of plane Sunday and whether it had been towed off the slope.


Iran oil tanker explodes, sinks off China with no survivors

Friends and colleagues of the deceased Iranian seafarers aboard a tanker that sank off the coast of China weep at the headquarters of National Iranian Tanker Company, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Amir Vahdat

Tehran, Iran (AP) — A burning Iranian oil tanker exploded and sank Sunday after more than a week listing off the coast of China, as an Iranian official acknowledged there was "no hope" of missing sailors surviving the disaster.

The collision and disaster of the Sanchi, which carried 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, had transfixed an Iran still reeling from days of protests and unrest that swept the country at the start of the year.

Families of the sailors wept and screamed at the headquarters of the National Iranian Tanker Co. in Tehran, the private company that owns the Sanchi. Some needed to be taken by ambulance to nearby hospitals as they were so overwhelmed by the news.

"Thirty-two people died without a funeral and without coffins! They burned to ashes while their families were wailing here!" cried out one woman who didn't give her name. The government "has come after 10 days to sympathize with them? What sympathy are you talking about?"

State TV earlier quoted Mahmoud Rastad, the chief of Iran's maritime agency, as saying: "There is no hope of finding survivors among the (missing) 29 members of the crew."

President Hassan Rouhani expressed his condolences and called on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures, according to state TV. In a message, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his condolences and sympathy with the victims' families, his own website, Khamenei.ir, reported Sunday. The government also announced Monday as a nationwide day of public mourning over the disaster.

The cause of the Jan. 6 collision between the Sanchi and the Chinese freighter CF Crystal, 257 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast of Shanghai, remains unclear. The CF Crystal had 21 crew members, all of whom were reported safe.

But the Sanchi, carrying nearly 1 million barrels of a gassy, ultra-light oil bound for South Korea, burst into flames. Chinese officials blamed poor weather for complicating their rescue efforts. Thirteen ships, including one from South Korea and two from Japan, engaged in the rescue and cleanup effort Saturday, spraying foam in an effort to extinguish the fire.

But around noon Sunday, Chinese state media reported that a large explosion shook the Sanchi, its hull and superstructure completely stripped of paint by the flames. The ship then sank into the sea.

The Chinese say the ship left a 10-square-kilometer (3.8-square-mile) area contaminated with oil. However, the condensate oil the ship was carrying readily evaporates or burns off in a fire, reducing the chance of a major oil spill.

Chinese state media also said the ship's voice data recorder, which functions like "black boxes" on aircraft, had been recovered. Three bodies have been recovered from the sea, leaving 29 crew members still unaccounted for.

The tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according to the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

It's the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.


Earthquake in Peru destroys dozens of homes, kills 1 man

This photo shows residents in Chala, Peru, Sunday, Jan. 14, after an earthquake struck the area. (Andina Agency via AP)

Lima, Peru (AP) — A powerful earthquake struck off Peru's coast early Sunday, tumbling adobe homes in small, rural towns, killing at least one person and injuring dozens, officials said.

The sole fatality was a man crushed by a falling rock, officials said. They said many of those injured were in Caraveli province, a coastal area dependent on fishing and mining that is popular with tourists.

Sixty-five people were injured, the national chief of civil defense, Jorge Chavez, said.

The earthquake destroyed 171 homes, displacing the same number of families, Peru's National Emergency Operations Center said on its website Sunday night. It added that 736 families had been affected in some way by the tremor.

Emergency crews responded by bringing in tents and mattresses to displaced families, officials said.

"Everything that is needed is going to be sent," President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said. "We are already responding at full speed."

The U.S. Geological Survey said the early morning quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Acari in the Arequipa department of southwestern Peru.

The quake jolted people awake as far away as the capital city of Lima, some 350 miles (560 kilometers) from Acari.

Workers used large tractors to clear away boulders and debris that crashed down and blocked some roads.

The quake caused some damage in communities that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit this week, and officials said the damage would not change the pontiff's tour.


Missile-alert mistake feeds doubts about a real emergency

In this Saturday, Jan. 13 photo, cars drive past a highway sign that says "MISSILE ALERT ERROR THERE IS NO THREAT" on the H-1 Freeway in Honolulu. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat via AP)

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Brian Melley

Honolulu (AP) — A blunder that caused more than a million people in Hawaii to fear that they were about to be struck by a nuclear missile fed skepticism Sunday about the government's ability to keep them informed in a real emergency.

Residents and tourists alike remained rattled a day after the mistaken alert was blasted out to cellphones across the islands with a warning to seek immediate shelter and the ominous statement "This is not a drill."

"My confidence in our so-called leaders' ability to disseminate this vital information has certainly been tarnished," said Patrick Day, who sprang from bed when the alert was issued Saturday morning. "I would have to think twice before acting on any future advisory."

The erroneous warning was sent during a shift change at the state's Emergency Management Agency when someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button, state officials said.

They tried to assure residents there would be no repeat false alarms. The agency changed protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm — a process that took nearly 40 minutes.

The error sparked a doomsday panic across the islands known as a laid-back paradise. Parents clutched their children, huddled in bathtubs and said prayers. Students bolted across the University of Hawaii campus to take cover in buildings. Drivers abandoned cars on a highway and took shelter in a tunnel. Others resigned themselves to a fate they could not control and simply waited for the attack.

The 911 system for the island of Oahu was overwhelmed with more than 5,000 calls. There were no major emergencies during the false alarm, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

An investigation into what went wrong was underway Sunday at the Federal Communications Commission, which sets rules for wireless emergency alerts sent by local, state or federal officials to warn of the threat of hurricanes, wildfires, flash flooding and to announce searches for missing children.

The state of Hawaii "did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, calling the mistake "absolutely unacceptable."

"False alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urged Americans not to lose faith in their government.

"I would hate for anybody not to abide by alerts and warnings coming from government systems," Nielsen said on "Fox News Sunday." ''They can trust government systems. We test them every day. This is a very unfortunate mistake, but these alerts are vital. Seconds and minutes can save lives."

With mobile phones ubiquitous, wireless alerts can quickly disseminate information to a wide number of users, but there have been concerns about creating a panic if they are sent too broadly.

Authorities were criticized for not sending an alert to mobile phones when fires ripped through Northern California in October, killing 40 people. Officials had decided not to use the system because they couldn't target them precisely enough and feared a wider broadcast would lead to mass evacuations, including people not in danger, snarling traffic that would hamper firefighting and rescues efforts.

Lisa Foxen, a social worker and mother of two young children in east Honolulu, said she expects Hawaii officials to make necessary changes and restore trust in the system. The best thing to come out of the scare, she said, was that it pushed her family to come up with a plan if there is a real threat.

"I kind of was just almost like a deer in headlights," she said. "I knew what to do in a hurricane. I knew what to do in an earthquake. But the missile thing is new to me."

The false alarm triggered a broader discussion about national security at a time when North Korea has been flexing its muscles by launching test missiles and bragging about its nuclear capability. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, has also exchanged insults on Twitter with President Donald Trump about their arsenals.

The standoff has whipped up nuclear fears on Hawaii and led the islands to revive Cold War-era siren tests that drew international attention.

Rep. Tusi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, said officials should be held accountable for the "epic failure of leadership" behind the warning. She said the nuclear threat underscored the need for Trump to meet with Kim to work out differences without preconditions.

"The people of Hawaii are paying the price now for decades of failed leadership in this country" by setting "unrealistic preconditions," she said. "The leaders of this country need to experience that same visceral understanding of how lives are at stake."

Philip Simmons, an orchestral conductor, said the false alarm was one of the most horrifying events of his life, and he had no idea what to do. He said everyone from Gov. David Ige to the president should resign.

"The government has totally blown this," Simmons said. "They're completely inept at protecting the people of this country and notifying them of what's happening."

The mistake was not the first for the state's warning system. During a test last month, 12 of the state's 386 sirens played an ambulance siren. In the tourist hub of Waikiki, the sirens were barely audible, prompting officials to add more sirens and reposition ones already in place.


Pope: It's a sin if fear makes us hostile to migrants

Pope Francis leaves after celebrating Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Frances D'Emilio

Vatican City (AP) — Pope Francis has defined hostility and rejection of refugees and migrants as sin, encouraging people to overcome their "fully comprehensible" fears that these new arrivals might "disturb the established order" of local communities.

At his invitation, several thousand migrants, refugees and immigrants from 49 countries joined Francis at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, a day the Catholic Church dedicated to the issues and contributions of those who leave homelands in hope of a better life.

New arrivals must "know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in," he said. Local communities must "open themselves without prejudices to their rich diversity, to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities."

"It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences," Francis said.

"As a result, we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves. Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived with disturb the established order, will 'steal' something they have long labored to build up."

Similarly, he said, newcomers also are afraid: "of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure."

"These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view," Francis continued in his homily.

"Having doubts and fears is not a sin," the pope said. "The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection."

Francis elaborated: "The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor," instead of seeing it as a "privileged opportunity" to encounter God.

In his almost five-year-old papacy, Francis has stressed the Catholic church's mission to welcome vulnerable and marginalized people. His focus comes as wealthier countries, including several European Union nations and the U.S., are intent on increasing physical or legal barriers to migrants.

Later, greeting about 25,000 people in St. Peter's Square, Francis advocated responding to the migrations that "today are a sign of our times" in four ways: "welcome, protect, promote and integrate" migrants.
 


Update January 13-14, 2018

Rescuers expand search for survivors of ship fire off China

In this Thursday, Jan. 11 photo, smoke rises from a fire aboard the oil tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea off the eastern coast of China. (Ministry of Transport via AP)

Beijing (AP) — Rescue ships looking for 31 missing crew members from a burning oil tanker have expanded their search area to more than 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles), authorities said Friday.

The expanded search comes six days after the Iranian-owned Sanchi collided with a freighter in the East China Sea and burst into flames. The cause of the collision remains unclear.

Chinese state television cited officials at the scene in reporting Friday that authorities still have not found any survivors or put out the blaze on the Sanchi. One body has been recovered.

Twelve ships spraying foam are struggling to extinguish the tanker, which was carrying a cargo of nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil.

Search and firefighting efforts resumed Thursday after an onboard explosion rocked the tanker Wednesday. Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts and Chinese authorities fear the ship could explode, potentially setting off an environmental disaster.

The Panamanian-registered vessel had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. The Chinese freighter CF Crystal. had 21 crew members, who all were reported safe.


Haiti 'shocked and outraged' over reported Trump remarks

 

U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Evens Sanon

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (AP) — Haitians reacted with outrage Friday to reports that President Donald Trump used a vulgar remark to describe the country on the eve of the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.

President Jovenel Moise's government issued a strongly worded statement at what it called a "racist" depiction of Haiti.

"The Haitian government condemns in the strongest terms these abhorrent and obnoxious remarks which, if proven, reflect a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States," it said.

Trump was in a closed meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration on Thursday when he reportedly questioned why the U.S. would accept more people from Haiti and “(expletive) countries” in Africa, rather than places like Norway.

At first the White House did not deny that the remark was made. On Friday the president tweeted that his language was "tough" but insisted he did not say anything derogatory about Haitians aside from noting it's a poor country.

Haitians at home and abroad were stunned, and Internet message boards and radio stations were flooded with angry and anguished comments.

"It's shocking he would say it on the anniversary," said 28-year-old Natacha Joseph, who was selling rice and beans from a basket near the general hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince. "I will ask Jesus to protect Haiti from the devil, and Trump is the devil."

Motorcycle taxi driver Jean-Paul Maxon said he was angry that the president seemed to be unaware of Haiti's proud history as the first independent country founded by freed slaves.

"Trump will not last in office," Maxon said. "He attacked the wrong nation."

The government statement also pointed to history, noting that Haitian soldiers fought on the American side against the British in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812.

"The relationship between the two countries has been strengthened by the fact that millions of sons and daughters of Haiti have contributed and will continue to contribute to the prosperity and greatness of America," it said.

Haitian Sen. Yuri Latortue said the reported remarks were also galling because they came just before the United States marks the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

"Mr. Trump spits on the assassination of this black American icon, as well as on a whole generation of young people, black and white, who gave their lives in the civil rights movement," he said.

The United States and Haiti have long been closely intertwined. President Woodrow Wilson dispatched U.S. Marines to invade the Caribbean country in 1915 after its president was assassinated. A repressive occupation lasted until 1934. In more recent times, the U.S. supported the brutal dictator "Papa Doc" Francois Duvalier as well as the son who succeeded him until he in turn was ousted.

In the 1990s, U.S. intervention helped bring Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president, back to power after he was ousted in a coup, but then supported his removal in a rebellion in 2004.

After the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, the U.S. came to Haiti's assistance and was the largest provider of aid. But that support was also a source of frustration since much of the money was spent on U.S. troops that responded to the immediate aftermath and later aid focused on long-term projects that appeared to have little to do with the disaster, such as the development of an industrial park in the north of the country, far from the earthquake zone.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced more than 1 million, was on the minds of many as Moise and others prepared for a solemn memorial on Friday to mark the anniversary.

The president was expected to lay a wreath at a mass grave where many victims were buried. But government officials were also expected to meet with the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in the country for an explanation of Trump's reported remarks.

Former Prime Minister Laurant Lamothe said Trump showed "a lack of respect and ignorance" not previously shown by a U.S. president and "the world is witnessing a new low today."


Indonesia hard-line Muslims protest ban on Facebook accounts

A group of Muslims hold a banner during a rally outside the Facebook office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Niniek Kamini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Muslim hard-liners marched in Indonesia's capital on Friday to protest Facebook's blocking of accounts belonging to their group.

About 200 protesters organized by the Islamic Defenders Front, known by its Indonesian acronym FPI, marched after Friday prayers from a mosque to the Facebook Indonesia office, which was guarded by hundreds of police. They halted traffic along the way as they chanted "Allah Akbar," or "God is Great."

Many carried banners saying "Don't persecute Muslims" and "Please don't judge our status on Facebook."

The group wants to impose Shariah law in the secular nation. It has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups.FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif said they were demanding an explanation of why Facebook had blocked the group's accounts while allowing ones that denounced its leaders and Islam.

"We want justice and no more discrimination against Islamic accounts," he said.

Facebook spokeswoman Putri Ariani said it allows people to use its social networking site to challenge ideas and raise awareness, but removes content that promotes hatred and violence against people with different views.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, but has a secular government and a reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression. Most Indonesians practice a moderate form of Islam, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.


Investors cheer German deal, but some bemoan lack of vision

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a joint statement after the exploratory talks between Merkel's conservative bloc and the Social Democrats on forming a new German government in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

David McHugh

Frankfurt, Germany (AP) — Hopes for a new government in Germany sent the euro and markets higher Friday on relief that the Europe's biggest economy might soon get stable leadership. But it left some economists and business lobbyists saying it offers too little to support the country's prosperity over the longer term.

Friday's tentative deal to open formal coalition talks would see Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, the allied Bavaria-only Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democrats continue their coalition. The agreement follows the collapse of a proposal for Merkel's party to govern along with the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.

One primary reason for investors' cheer — which saw the euro jump to a three-year high of $1.2156 against the dollar — was simply relief that the country's political situation was being sorted out, almost four months after the Sept. 24 election.

It seems likely that Merkel, a known quantity for investors and a firmly pro-European politician, will remain chancellor.

Also, the deal avoids the risk of another election, which would have raised the prospect of more gains by populist parties such as the far-right AfD. Analysts have singled out the rise in populist, euroskeptic parties in many countries as one of the key risks to growth and markets in Europe. Several such parties want to weaken the euro ties or break up the currency bloc altogether, with uncertain consequences for the region's economies.

"The agreement is overdue," said Dieter Kempf, president of the Federation of Germany Industries lobby. "Germany urgently needs a government capable of taking action."

The most important points in the agreement between Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats include a promise not to increase taxes, some flexibility on reaching a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020, and a willingness to work with France on steps to fix chronic flaws in the shared euro currency.

Friday's deal was only an agreement to open full-fledged coalition talks that should produce a more detailed policy map for the next government. A deal must also be approved by the Social Democratic rank and file, who have been skeptical about joining with the conservatives again after suffering substantial losses in the election.

The plan has some increases in social spending, such as a 25 euro per month rise in child benefit, along with a decrease in the so-called solidarity tax imposed to help the former East Germany catch up with the west.

Kempf welcomed the flexible approach to cutting greenhouse emissions, saying that "there are grounds for hope that technical and economic realities will be more clearly recognized."

He also welcomes the promise not to raise taxes, yet said that the 28-page document was short on specifics: "What is lacking is a vision of in what direction a future government will shape our country." He said the proposals represented a "minimum" of possible steps and urged more definite proposals on areas such as the digital economy.

The deal includes a strong statement in favor of strengthening the European Union, including steps to make the eurozone currency union function better. That could include transforming the current European Stability Mechanism bailout fund into a full-fledged European Monetary Fund to help backstop crisis-hit countries. There was also mention of targeted investment that could "serve as the point of departure for a eurozone investment fund." The euro currency's lack of a central fiscal pot to even out recessions has been identified as one of its weaknesses. The currency union was threatened with breakup in 2011-2012 during a crisis over too much debt in several member countries. Germany has resisted fiscal sharing out of concern that it would wind up funding other countries on a long-term basis.

There was no mention of other fixes such as EU-wide deposit insurance or efforts to promote cross-border investment holdings, dubbed capital markets union.

Still, continuity has a certain appeal in a country where the economy grew 2.2 percent last year and unemployment is low at 3.6 percent. Far-reaching reforms that from 2004 under former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that lowered business costs are often credited for boosting the country's economic performance.

Clemens Fuest, head of the Ifo research institute in Munich, sharply criticized the agreement for containing too much in additional social outlays and little in the way of tax reductions. "This government program will bring a long term expansion of the state share of economic output, that is, higher taxes and more spending."

Carsten Brzeski, chief economist for Germany at ING, said that "as regards economic policies, the agreement is a continuation of the well-known policies of the last few years: cautious steps forward, rather than any visionary experiments."


Saudi stadiums open for women in a first to watch soccer

In this Sept. 23, 2017 file photo, Saudi men and women attend national day ceremonies at the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi women were allowed into a sports stadium for the first time Friday to watch a soccer match between two local teams — though they were segregated in the stands from the male-only crowd with designated seating in the so-called "family section."

The move was the first of Saudi Arabia's social reforms planned for this year to ease restrictions on women, spearheaded by the kingdom's 32-year-old crown prince. The kingdom has also announced that starting in June women will be allowed to drive, lifting the world's only ban on female drivers.

More than just an incremental step toward greater rights, the presence of women in the sports stadium underscored a wider effort to integrate women in society and grant them more public visibility in a country where gender segregation is widely enforced and where most women cover their faces and hair with black veils and don loose-flowing black robes, known as abayas.

The first stadium to open its doors to women was in the Red Sea city of Jiddah. The stadium in the capital, Riyadh, will open to women on Saturday, followed by the western city of Dammam on Thursday.

At the Jiddah stadium Friday, young Saudi women wearing bright orange vests over their abayas were deployed to help with the female crowds. "Welcome to Saudi families," read a sign in Arabic erected across the section of the stadium reserved for women.

"It's very festive and very well organized. A lot of people are just really happy to be here. I think there's a lot of excitement when you walked in, especially among the children," said Sarah Swick of the match between Saudi soccer teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin.

To prepare for the change, the kingdom designated so-called "family sections" in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowds. The stadiums were also fitted with female prayer areas and restrooms, as well as separate entrances and parking lots for female spectators. Local media said women would also have their own designated smoking areas.

"Family sections" are ubiquitous across the kingdom, allowing married couples, direct relatives and sometimes groups of friends to sit together, isolated from male-only tables at restaurants and in waiting areas at banks and hospitals. The sections also include women out on their own or in groups with other women.

Although only 20 riyals ($5.33) a ticket, the family section for Friday's match was still less than half full.

"A lot of people wanted to wait and see how it is. Some thought it wouldn't be very safe or organized," said Swick, who attended the game with her Saudi husband and son, and her American mother.

Swick, who grew up in Maryland and has been living in Saudi Arabia for the past nine years, has attended football games in the U.S. and soccer matches in France, but said she was impressed with how organized Friday night's match was.

"I definitely think we will come back," she said.

An Arabic hashtag on Twitter about women entering stadiums garnered tens of thousands of tweets on Friday, with some using the hashtag to share photos of female spectators wearing their team's colors in scarves thrown over their black abayas.

While many welcomed the decision to allow women into stadiums, others spoke out against it.

Some used the hashtag to write that women's place should be in the home, focusing on their children and preserving their faith, and not at a stadium where male crowds frequently curse and chant raucously.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen as the driving force behind the loosened restrictions on women. Still in place, however, are guardianship laws that prevent women from traveling abroad, obtaining a passport or marrying without a male relative's consent.

Set to inherit a country where more than half the population is under 25 years old and hungry for change, the young crown prince has looked to boost his popularity by curbing nearly four decades of deeply entrenched ultraconservative influence. His reforms, which include allowing movie theaters to open in March after a more than 35-year ban, are also aimed at creating more jobs and increasing local spending on entertainment as the country faces several more years of budget deficit amid continued lower oil prices.

The country's large, new stadiums were built with hundreds of millions of dollars when oil prices were nearly double what they are now. The government spent lavishly on them in an effort to appease young Saudis and provide spaces for fans eager to cheer on local clubs, as well as hold national parades and ceremonies.

In a one-off, the stadium in Riyadh allowed families to enter and watch National Day festivities in September — marking the first time women had set foot inside.

In 2015, a Saudi woman who tried to attend a soccer game in Jiddah was arrested after local media said she was spotted by security officers "deliberately disguised" in pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection.

Over the years, though, there have been some exceptions for foreign women.

In 2015, an Australian female supporter of Western Sydney Wanderers soccer club was permitted to attend a match at Riyadh's main stadium and a group of American women traveling with a U.S. Congress delegation also watched a local club match there.


Update January 12, 2018

Ecuador grants nationality to WikiLeaks founder

In this Friday May 19, 2017 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Gonzalo Solano

Quito, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after more than five years of living in asylum at the nation's embassy in London, officials announced Thursday.

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said officials accepted Assange's request for naturalization in December, and they continue to look for a long-term resolution to a situation that has vexed officials since 2012.

"What naturalization does is provide the asylum seeker another layer of protection," Espinosa said.

Ecuador gave Assange asylum after he sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation of sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case, but Assange has remained in the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.

He also fears a possible U.S. extradition request based on his leaking of classified State Department documents.

The Australian-born Assange posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow Ecuadorean national soccer team jersey on Instagram Wednesday and his name now appears in the Andean country's national registry.

The new citizenship status, however, appears to change little for Assange in the immediate future. He would still need to alert British authorities of any movement outside the embassy.

"Even if he has two or three nationalities, the United Kingdom will continue in its efforts against him," said Fredy Rivera, an expert in foreign affairs at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador.

Espinosa said Ecuador is trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including special legal immunity and safe passage.

Britain's Foreign Office said earlier Thursday it has rejected Ecuador's request to grant him diplomatic status in the U.K.

"Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice," the office said.

Though protected by Ecuador, the relationship between Assange and nation's leaders has at times been dicey. Ecuador has repeatedly urged Assange not to interfere in the affairs of other countries following his frequent online comments on international issues.

The biggest crisis came in October 2016, when the embassy cut his internet service after WikiLeaks published a trove of emails from then-U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign.

He was also a point of contention in Ecuador's 2017 presidential election. Conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso pledged to evict the Australian within 30 days of taking office, while current President Lenin Moreno said he would allow him to stay. Assange later taunted after Lasso's loss that he would "cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days."

Moreno issued a warning reminding Assange not to meddle in politics. He has also called Assange a hacker.
 


Rescuers 'searching for a miracle' in California mudslides

The roof of a structure damaged from storms sits over mud and rocks in Montecito, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Christopher Weber and Brian Melley

Montecito, Calif. (AP) — More than two full days after mudslides ravaged the coastal town of Montecito, the search for the missing became an increasingly desperate exercise Thursday, with growing doubts about whether anyone would be found alive. Seventeen people from ages 3 to 89 were confirmed dead, and more than 40 others were unaccounted for.

"In disaster circumstances there have been many miraculous stories lasting many days and we certainly are searching for a miracle right now," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. He noted that some people had been rescued Thursday.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Gary Pitney said most if not all rescues conducted Wednesday and Thursday were of people who were safe but just wanted to get out of the area.

"These were people that were sheltered in place that had needs that just took a while to get to some of them," Pitney said. "They were OK but they wanted to get out."

The air smelled of sewage and ash as more than a dozen firefighters climbed through rubble in the backyard of a mansion that had been torn apart. Some rescuers used poles to probe the muck for bodies, while others waded chest-deep in the mire. Two black Labrador retrievers swam around a debris-filled swimming pool, trying to pick up any scent.

"At this moment, we are still looking for live victims," Pitney said. But he confessed: "The likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors. You have to start accepting the reality of that."

He noted that one survivor pulled from the muck earlier in the week was suffering from hypothermia after just an hour.

Crews marked places where bodies were found, often far away from a home, and used that information to guess where other victims might have ended up as the surging mud carried or buried them.

The mudslide, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite warnings issued days in advance that mudslides were possible because recent wildfires had stripped hillsides of vegetation that normally holds soil in place.

The disaster was already unfolding when Santa Barbara County officials sent out their first cellphone alert at 3:50 a.m. County emergency manager Jeff Gater said officials decided not to send one sooner out of concern it might not be taken seriously.

As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.

From an aerial view, the community that is home for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Bridges, looked like two vastly different places.

Trashed areas were awash in a sea of mud, with only the tallest trees standing and some homes buried up to their roofs. Next to some of the devastated areas sat large estates untouched by the torrent, their lawns still green and the landscaping lush.

Santa Barbara County authorities offered wildly fluctuating numbers of the missing throughout the day. A spokeswoman early in the day sent a shudder through the community when she said the number of people unaccounted for had surged from 16 to 48. Within an hour, they said they had made a clerical error and the actual number of missing was eight.

"How does that happen?" resident David Weinert asked. "That's a crazy mistake to make."

Later in the day, however, the sheriff said the number was at 43, combining missing persons reports filed with law enforcement and also inquiries by people who hadn't been able to contact family members or friends.

Brown said some of those people could have left the area before or after the mudslides or may simply be out of touch with people concerned about them.

After a better look at the damage, officials lowered the number of destroyed homes from 100 to 64 and raised the number of damaged ones from 300 to 446.

Overall, 28 people were injured. Twelve remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.

All of the dead were from Montecito, Brown said. The cause of each death was listed as "multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides," which was due the recent wildfire

One of the victims was David Cantin, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was heavily caked in mud when she was pulled from the ruins of her home after a dramatic six-hour rescue.

Another was James Mitchell, who had celebrated his 89th birthday the day before with his wife, Alice, of more than 50 years. She also died.

Searchers had checked most of the debris zone for victims and some were doubling back to leave no stone unturned Thursday when a crew ended up in the backyard of Bill Asher, who lost his palatial home and a similar one he was restoring next door.

Asher returned with a pickax and five friends and trudged through the debris to salvage any possession he could find.

He was still shaken by his harrowing experience Tuesday with his pregnant wife and two young children as the violent gusher arrived with a deafening rumble.

"I looked out my front window and saw my car fly by," he said. "I screamed at my family and water started coming into the house. Windows went flying, doors went flying."

The family rode out the storm unharmed on kitchen counters as the debris smashed through the walls and water swirled around them.

Asher's return to the scene, where murky water was knee-deep, turned up at least one gem: his wife's engagement ring, the only keepsake she wanted him to find.


China's modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

 

In this Dec. 22, 2017, photo, a Pakistani police officer stands guard at the site of a new international trade route under construction in Haripur, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Aqeel Ahmed)

Joe McDonald, Munir Ahmed and Sylivester Domasa

Beijing (AP) — China's plan for a modern Silk Road of railways, ports and other facilities linking Asia with Europe has hit a $14 billion pothole in Pakistan.

Pakistan's relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their "Iron Brother." Despite that, plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Pakistan's water authority said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistani interests.

China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries.

From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping's signature "Belt and Road Initiative" are being canceled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid.

In some places, Beijing is suffering a political backlash due to fears of domination by Asia's biggest economy.

"Pakistan is one of the countries that is in China's hip pocket, and for Pakistan to stand up and say, 'I'm not going to do this with you,' shows it's not as 'win-win' as China says it is," said Robert Koepp, an analyst in Hong Kong for the Economist Corporate Network, a research firm.

"Belt and Road," announced by Xi in 2013, is a loosely defined umbrella for Chinese-built or -financed projects across 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. They range from oil drilling in Siberia to construction of ports in Southeast Asia, railways in Eastern Europe and power plants in the Middle East.

Other governments welcomed the initiative in a region the Asian Development Bank says needs more than $26 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030 to keep economies growing. Nations including Japan have given or lent billions of dollars for development, but China's venture is bigger and the only source of money for many projects.

Governments from Washington to Moscow to New Delhi are uneasy Beijing is trying to use its "Belt and Road" to develop a China-centered political structure that will erode their influence.

China's significance to Pakistan as a source of financing increased following U.S. President Donald Trump's Jan. 5 decision to suspend security assistance to Islamabad in a dispute over whether it was doing enough to stop Afghan militants.

"Belt and Road" is a business venture, not aid. A Cabinet official, Ou Xiaoli, told The Associated Press in April that lending will be on commercial terms. Beijing wants to attract non-Chinese investors, though that has happened with only a handful of projects, he said.

Among projects that have been derailed or disrupted:

—Authorities in Nepal canceled plans in November for Chinese companies to build a $2.5 billion dam after they concluded contracts for the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project violated rules requiring multiple bidders.

—The European Union is looking into whether Hungary violated the trade bloc's rules by awarding contracts to Chinese builders of a high-speed railway to neighboring Serbia without competing bids.

—In Myanmar, plans for a Chinese oil company to build a $3 billion refinery were canceled in November due to financing difficulties, the newspaper Myanmar Times reported.

There is no official list of projects, but consulting firm BMI Research has compiled a database of $1.8 trillion of infrastructure investments announced across Asia, Africa and the Middle East that include Chinese money or other involvement.

Many are still in planning stages and some up to three decades in the future, according to Christian Zhang, a BMI analyst.

"It's probably too early to say at this point how much of the overall initiative will actually be implemented," said Zhang.

The U.S. and Japanese governments express interest in building contracts or other potential "Belt and Road" opportunities for their companies. But they also are trying to develop alternative initiatives.

In November, the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corp. signed an agreement with Japanese partners to offer "infrastructure investment alternatives in the Indo-Pacific region," according to a White House statement.

The following month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan can "cooperate greatly" with China.

The stumbles for one of the world's most ambitious infrastructure ventures could help temper concerns Beijing will increase its strategic influence.

"There is a big possibility that China is going to have a lot of disagreements and misunderstandings," said Kerry Brown, a specialist in Chinese politics at King's College London. "It's hard to think of a big, successful project the 'Belt and Road Initiative' has led to at the moment."

Even Pakistan, one of China's friendliest neighbors, has failed to agree on key projects.

The two governments are developing facilities with a total cost of $60 billion including power plants and railways to link China's far west with the Chinese-built port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.

A visit by a Chinese assistant foreign minister in November produced no agreement on railway projects in the southern city of Karachi valued at $10 billion and a $260 million airport for Gwadar.

The same month, the chairman of the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority announced the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be withdrawn from joint development. The site is in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan's far north, part of the Kashmir region, which also is claimed by India.

"Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests," the official, Muzammil Hussain, told legislators, according to Pakistani news reports.

The Chinese Cabinet agency overseeing "Belt and Road," the National Development and Reform Commission, denied in a written statement that it asked for an ownership stake. It said the two sides had held only preliminary talks about the project.

A Pakistani Cabinet official who spoke on condition he not be identified further said the Chinese side asked for clarification of the ownership status of the dam site because Gilgit-Baltistan has yet to be formally made part of a Pakistani province. The water authority didn't respond to requests to clarify its chairman's comments.

"Belt and Road" is interwoven with official efforts to export Chinese rail, hydropower and other technology and steel, aluminum and other industrial goods.

In Thailand, work on a $15 billion high-speed railway was suspended in 2016 following complaints too little business went to Thai companies.

After more talks over costs, technology sharing and land ownership, Thai leaders announced a new plan in July for a first line to be built from Bangkok to the country's northeast. Building contracts went to Thai companies while China will supply technology.

In Tanzania, the government has reopened negotiations with China and another investor, the government of the gulf nation of Oman, over ownership of a planned $11 billion port in the city of Bagamoyo. The Tanzanian government failed to raise $28 million for its contribution, leaving it unclear what share the government might get.

Tanzania wants to make sure its people get more than just taxes collected from the port, said the director of the Tanzania Ports Authority, Deusdedit Kakoko.

"Land is for Tanzanians, and as the government we're ensuring they get a share," Kakoko said in an interview.

Despite such setbacks, Chinese officials say most "Belt and Road" projects are moving ahead with few problems.

Work on pipelines to deliver oil and gas from Russia and Central Asia is making "steady progress," said a deputy commerce minister, Li Chenggang, at a Nov. 21 news conference.

"We have a lot of room for further cooperation," said Li.

The state-run China Development Bank announced in 2015 it had set aside $890 billion for more than 900 projects across 60 countries in gas, minerals, power, telecoms, infrastructure and farming. The Export-Import Bank of China said it would finance 1,000 projects in 49 countries.

Acting as banker gives Beijing leverage to require use of Chinese builders and technology. But it can lead to complaints host countries fail to negotiate hard enough.

In Sri Lanka, the government sold an 80 percent stake in a port in the southern city of Hambantota to a Chinese state-owned company on Dec. 9 after falling behind in repaying $1.5 billion borrowed from Beijing to build it. That prompted complaints the deal was too favorable to Beijing.

"There is the perception of a Chinese incursion into their sovereignty by taking over the port," said BMI's Zhang.


N Korea: Popularity of 'Fire and Fury' foretells Trump's end

 

In this Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 photo, copies of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" are on display at a bookshop, in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Hyung-Jin Kim

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has found good material to attack U.S. President Donald Trump: Michael Wolff's bombshell new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

The book paints Trump as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of his office and whose competence is questioned by aides. Trump and other White House aides have blasted it as inaccurate trash. But it was the top-selling book in the U.S. last week, and its numbers are likely to grow far higher.

On Thursday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, run by its ruling Workers' Party, carried an article about the book's subject matter, how Trump reacted and why it is selling so well.

Its sales reflect "rapidly surging anti-Trump sentiments in the international community," the article said. "The anti-Trump book is sweeping all over the world so Trump is being massively humiliated worldwide."

The book's popularity "foretells Trump's political demise," the article said.

Last summer, Trump threatened North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" in an exchange of taunts with the North, which claimed it was examining plans to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have since traded threats of war and crude insults, as the North conducted nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Trump called Kim "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission." Kim called the 71-year-old American president "the mentally deranged U.S. dotard." In his New Year's address last week, Kim said he has a "nuclear button" that could fire weapons anywhere in the United States, and Trump responded that he has a much bigger and more powerful "nuclear button."

Recently, North Korea has taken steps toward improving ties with rival South Korea in what critics call a tactic to divide Seoul and Washington and weaken U.S.-led international pressure and sanctions on the country. On Tuesday, it had its first formal talks with South Korea in about two years and agreed to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in the South and hold military talks aimed at easing front-line animosity.

But North Korea hasn't stopped its rhetoric against Trump. Last week, the North's state media called Trump a "war maniac" and "madman."

After Tuesday's inter-Korean talks, Trump said during a phone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that the United States was open to talks with North Korea "at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances," according to a White House statement.

"Fire and Fury" was released last Friday and sold 29,000 copies through Saturday, NPD BookScan told The Associated Press. Digital sales already top 250,000 and audio sales exceed 100,000, according to John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, the parent company of the book's publisher, Henry Holt and Co. It has raised an initial announced printing of 150,000 to more than 1 million.


Police hunt for thieves after botched Ritz robbery in Paris

A police car drives past the Ritz hotel in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Michel Euler).

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — Paris authorities recovered all the jewels stolen from the Ritz Hotel in a dramatic heist, but were still searching for two thieves who got away, officials said Thursday.

Though ultimately unsuccessful, the robbery on Wednesday evening raised questions about security in one of the world's most prestigious neighborhoods, the Place Vendome. Its well-guarded buildings include the Justice Ministry, high-end boutiques and the 19th-century Ritz.

Workers cleaned up shattered glass Thursday and started to repair damage from the robbery. Otherwise business appeared to be returning to normal at the Ritz, with no significant increase in security.

Three perpetrators "entered by the service entrance, smashed the jewelry stands, grabbed jewels that were clearly expensive with the help of axes," said Jean-Michel Huguet of police union Alliance Police Nationale.

They seized watches from display cases holding wares from Rolex and Piaget, and then targeted the Alexandre Reza jewelry boutique inside the hotel.

The suspects inside threw bags of goods out of a window to at least two accomplices outside, according to a police official. The three inside were then blocked when they tried to flee through another door, and quickly arrested, the official said.

The accomplices outside fled, one on a motorcycle and another in a car. The motorcyclist dropped a bag with jewels and hatchets when his motorcycle hit a pedestrian during his escape. The pedestrian was slightly injured, said the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

Other jewels were found scattered amid the debris of the shattered display cases during overnight cleanup efforts, the official told The Associated Press.

The overall value of the jewels on display was estimated at about 4.5 million euros ($5.4 million).

An official close to the investigation said Thursday night that all the stolen jewels have been recovered, after authorities and jewelers carefully examined the contents of the bag and debris and found everything had been accounted for.

Another police official said some of the thieves apparently had guns. Two people inside the hotel hid from the thieves and alerted police, the official said.

Patrons at the hotel's renowned Hemingway Bar described panic as the thieves entered the hushed environment of the Ritz, where rooms start at 1,000 euros ($1,200) a night.

Several high-end Paris jewelry stores have been targets of dramatic robberies in recent years, including Cartier, Harry Winston and Chopard. Kim Kardashian West said she lost millions of dollars' worth of jewelry when she was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris apartment in October 2016.

The Ritz was an especially luxurious target. The hotel has housed such famous names as Ernest Hemingway and Coco Chanel. It was the last place Princess Diana stayed before her fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel, and hosts elite guests from around the world drawn to the refined neighborhood.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Philippine volcano explodes, villagers flee back to shelters

Vietnam jails former oil execs in high-profile graft case

Turkish troops face fierce battles in Syrian Kurdish enclave

Trial in Kim Jong Nam's murder resumes in Malaysia

Ecuador's president takes aim at WikiLeaks' Assange


Afghan forces end deadly Taliban siege at Kabul hotel

Droves fill pope's final Mass in restive Latin America trip

Island volcano in Papua New Guinea erupts with ash, steam

Greeks rally over name dispute with neighbor Macedonia


Tensions soar along Indian, Pakistan frontier in Kashmir

California DA says couple's abuse of 12 kids became torture

Malaysia Airlines flight shakes violently, lands safely

Baby dies, 17 injured after car hits crowd on Rio boardwalk

Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor


Powerful gale lashes Europe, 7 dead amid traffic chaos

Pope shocks Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slander

UK and French leaders reach border deal, disagree on Brexit

Drought-stricken Cape Town tightens water restrictions

Ukraine passes bill to get occupied regions back from Russia


Japanese public TV says staffer sent missile alert in error

China planning to send robot sub to sunken ship

UK citizens ask Dutch court to protect post-Brexit EU rights

At least 33 bodies found in clandestine graves in Mexico

7 dead as Myanmar police open fire to disperse protesters

Hungary seeks to punish those who aid illegal migration


Bitcoin prices fall as South Korea says ban still an option

Macron visits Calais to preview toughened migrant policies

Even the eyelashes freeze: Russia sees minus 88.6 degrees F

Serb leader's death in Kosovo raises Balkan region tensions

Malaysia's Najib criticizes Singapore ties under Mahathir


Glowing red lava rolls down slopes of Philippine volcano

Dolores O'Riordan, voice of The Cranberries, dies at 46

Twin bombings in Baghdad kill 38, shatter post-IS calm

Warning: Stifling sneezes can be health hazard in rare cases


Plane dangles off cliff after skidding off runway in Turkey

Iran oil tanker explodes, sinks off China with no survivors

Earthquake in Peru destroys dozens of homes, kills 1 man

Missile-alert mistake feeds doubts about a real emergency

Pope: It's a sin if fear makes us hostile to migrants


Rescuers expand search for survivors of ship fire off China

Haiti 'shocked and outraged' over reported Trump remarks

Indonesia hard-line Muslims protest ban on Facebook accounts

Investors cheer German deal, but some bemoan lack of vision

Saudi stadiums open for women in a first to watch soccer


Ecuador grants nationality to WikiLeaks founder

Rescuers 'searching for a miracle' in California mudslides

China's modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

N Korea: Popularity of 'Fire and Fury' foretells Trump's end

Police hunt for thieves after botched Ritz robbery in Paris

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