Make Chiangmai Mail | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV

 

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Update January 2019


Home
Thailand News
World News
World Sports
Arts - Entertainment - Lifestyles
Book Review
Health & Wellbeing
Odds & Ends
Science & Nature
Technology
Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
World News
 

3 Iraqi refugees arrested in Germany over attack plot

Police officers are shown in front of a building during a raid in the village of Meldorf, Germany, Jan. 30. (Bodo Marks/dpa via AP)

David Rising and Frank Jordans

Berlin (AP) — German authorities arrested three Iraqi refugees on Wednesday on allegations they were planning an Islamic extremist bombing attack, and searched properties in three states in connection with their investigation.

Federal prosecutors said Shahin F. and Hersh F., both 23, and Rauf S., 36, were taken into custody in an early morning raid by a police SWAT team in the area of Dithmarschen, near the border with Denmark.

The suspects, who had refugee status in Germany, had been under surveillance for some time by a task force of around 200 investigators, said Holger Muench, the head of Germany's federal police.

"The case shows that the threat of Islamic terrorism is still present," Muench told reporters.

It wasn't immediately clear when the suspects came to Germany.

More than 1 million asylum-seekers entered Germany in 2015-16, most from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The involvement of several asylum-seekers in extremist attacks or plots has helped boost support for the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party.

Searches were carried out at other residences in northern and southwestern Germany of people linked to the three main suspects but not currently to the bomb plot.

The two younger men are suspected of preparing a bomb attack and violating weapons laws, and the older one is alleged to have aided them. Their last names weren't given in line with German privacy laws.

The men appear to have been in the early stages of planning, said Frauke Koehler, a spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutors Office.

"We believe that Shahin F. and Hersh F. were firmly committed to carrying out an attack," she told reporters. "But (...) according to our information the concrete target and timing of the attack weren't determined yet."

Prosecutors allege the two men decided in late 2018 to "carry out an attack motivated by Islamic extremism in Germany." There are indications that they sympathized with Islamic State, but Koehler said there was no evidence so far the men were members of, or directed by, the group.

In December, Shahin F. downloaded "various instructions" on how to build a bomb, and ordered a detonator from a contact person in Britain, prosecutors said. Its delivery, however, was stopped by British law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, the two carried out tests using around 250 grams (almost 9 ounces) of gunpowder extracted from New Year's fireworks, and asked Rauf S. to procure a firearm, prosecutors said.

He is alleged to have contacted Walid Khaled Y.Y., also an Iraqi, who offered them a Russian semi-automatic Makarov 9mm pistol, prosecutors said. But the seller wanted at least 1,200 euros ($1,370) for the weapon, which was considered too expensive so it wasn't purchased.

Y.Y.'s home in the Schwerin area was searched as part of Wednesday's operation, and he is being investigated for alleged weapons and drug violations, prosecutors in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania told The Associated Press.

In preparation for the possibility of using a vehicle in the attack, Shahin F. started taking driving lessons, federal prosecutors said. All three will appear before federal judges late Wednesday to decide whether they should be kept in custody while the investigation continues.

Koehler said authorities received a tip about the alleged plot in late 2018 from Germany's domestic intelligence service, but didn't say how the agency started tracking the suspects.

In the only mass-casualty Islamic extremist attack in Germany, Tunisian asylum-seeker Anis Amri hijacked a truck in 2016 and drove it into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.  IS later claimed responsibility.

Since that attack, Muench said police had foiled seven planned attacks.
 


Venezuelans take to streets in walkout to push Maduro out

People chant "Free elections" in a walk out against President Nicolas Maduro, in the financial district of Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 30. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Scott Smith and Christine Armario

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Doctors in scrubs, businessmen in suits and construction workers in jeans gathered on the streets of Venezuela's capital Wednesday, waving their nation's flag and demanding Nicolas Maduro step down from power in a walkout organized by the nation's reinvigorated opposition to ratchet up pressure on the embattled president.

Protesters said they were heeding the opposition's call for another mass demonstration despite the heavy-handed response by security forces over the last week to quell anti-government protests.

"I'm going out now more than ever," said Sobeia Gonzalez, 63. "We have a lot more faith that this government has very little time left."

The latest walkout comes one week exactly after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself the nation's rightful president amid a sea of supporters, hurling the nation into a new chapter of political tumult as the anti-Maduro movement tries to establish a transitional government and the socialist leader clings to power.

"We are staying in the streets," Guaido told students at a surprise appearance at the Central University of Venezuela. "Not just in protest of the crisis we are living in all of Venezuela, not just because of how bad things are, but also for the future."

The 35-year-lawmaker has transformed from a little-known opposition figure into a commanding force in the nation's politics with the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump and two dozen other nations recognizing him as Venezuela's interim president.

The turmoil has morphed into a larger geopolitical standoff as Maduro accuses the U.S. of orchestrating a coup by backing Guaido and enacting punishing oil sanctions while powerful Venezuela allies China and Russia continue to stand by the president.

On Tuesday, the government-stacked Supreme Court barred Guaido from leaving the country and froze his bank accounts as a probe into his anti-government activities led by Maduro-ally and chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab advances. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton warned that if Guaido is harmed Venezuela will face "serious consequences."

Guaido has thus far managed to avoid arrest and the Supreme Court did not strip him of his legislative immunity, though the new investigation could signal that Maduro's administration is moving to take a more punitive approach in the days ahead.

Speaking at the walkout, Guaido said he wasn't losing any sleep over the probe. "We don't want to leave the country," he said. "We want people to return."

Maduro huddled Wednesday with military troops, prayed with evangelical supporters and released a video urging the American people to rise up against Trump and support him as Venezuela's rightful leader. He said Trump has his eyes on Venezuela's vast oil reserves and warned against any U.S. military intervention.

"We won't allow a Vietnam in Latin America," Maduro said. "If the aim of the United States is to invade, they'll have a Vietnam worse than can be imagined."

Maduro has been overseeing military training exercises broadcast on state television on a near-daily basis over the past week in an apparent attempt to show he still has the backing of the armed forces, whose support is key to either man's claim to the presidency.

In an interview with Russia's state-owned RIA Novosti news agency, Maduro said he was "willing to sit down for talks with the opposition for the sake of Venezuela's peace and its future," an offer he has repeated often but that the opposition is reluctant to accept. He also accused Trump of ordering a hit on him from Colombia but offered no proof.

The already distressed nation is likely to face even tougher times soon after the U.S. imposed sanctions Monday on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, potentially depriving the Maduro government of $11 billion in export revenues over the next year.

Maduro called the sanctions "criminal" and vowed to challenge the U.S. in court.

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after Guaido declared during a huge opposition rally in Caracas that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro's "dictatorship."

Under Venezuela's constitution, the head of the National Assembly is empowered to take on the duties of the chief executive under a range of circumstances in which the presidency is vacated. The opposition contends that Maduro's reelection was a sham because, among other things, top opposition candidates were barred from running and that his new second term is therefore illegitimate.

The U.N. human rights office says security forces in Venezuela detained nearly 700 people in just one day of anti-government protests last week — the highest such tally in a single day in the country in at least 20 years — and that more than 40 people were killed.

Maduro's allies blame the opposition for the violence and deny the high death toll as well as reports that minors were among those arrested.

Guaido called on Venezuelans to take to the streets Wednesday holding signs stating "your reasons for fighting" and urging the armed forces to join them.

"I want a free Venezuela," several protesters in the Chacao district of the capital wrote on their signs as passing cars and trucks honked their horns in support. Others chanted, "Maduro is a delinquent, not a president!"

A row of National Guardsmen blocked off one street in Caracas to stop protesters from going through but there weren't any reports of violent confrontations as happened last week.

The walkout drew a cross-section of Venezuelan society ranging from professionals to blue-collar workers, though participation appeared to be lower in some of the poorer enclaves that are traditional government strongholds.

A few of demonstrators from the Catia neighborhood, where protesters set barricades on fire last week, said they didn't feel safe protesting there and joined the walkout from wealthier districts instead.

Among the protesters was Dr. Hugo Rosillo, who stood outside a children's hospital just blocks from Maduro's presidential palace. He said he and others were fed up with not being able to treat their patients facing life-threatening illnesses like cancer because of shortages of medical supplies.

The hospital has turned into just "a storeroom for cadavers," he said.


52 bodies of migrants found after boats capsize off Djibouti

 

Rescuers search for survivors on the beach after two boats carrying migrants capsized off the shore near Godoria, in northeast Djibouti Tuesday, Jan. 29. (International Organization for Migration via AP)

Cara Anna

Johannesburg (AP) — The remains of 52 people have been found after some 130 migrants went missing off Djibouti when two boats capsized in rough waters, the U.N. migration agency said Wednesday, as body bags were laid out on the sand.

Sixteen survivors were recovered, and the tiny East African nation's coast guard continued a search and rescue operation after Tuesday's accident, the U.N. said in a statement. Witnesses said large waves caused the overloaded boats to tip over about a half-hour after departing.

An 18-year-old survivor told the migration agency he had boarded one of the boats with another 130 people, including 16 women. There were no immediate details on the second boat.

Thousands of migrants from the turbulent Horn of Africa region set off every year from Djibouti to cross the Bab al-Mandab Strait for the Arabian Peninsula with hopes of finding work in rich Gulf countries.

The vast majority of the migrants are Ethiopian, young and male, the migration agency says.

The crossing is dangerous, with smugglers in some cases forcing migrants overboard before reaching their destination. Other boats have been fired on as they approach Yemen, where fighting continues between pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels.

"This tragic event demonstrates the risks that vulnerable migrants face as they innocently search for better lives," said the migration agency's Djibouti chief of mission, Lalini Veerassamy.

The agency's Missing Migrants Project says at least 199 people have now drowned off the Djibouti coast near Obock, where the latest capsizing occurred, since 2014.

More than 700 other deaths have occurred further off shore on the route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, according to the project's data.

The route also sees a flow of migrants from Yemen toward the Horn of Africa as people flee war.


Pakistani Islamists to rally against freed Christian woman

 

Activists from the Pakistani religious party Sunni Threek protest the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 30. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry)

Islamabad (AP) — A radical Islamist party in Pakistan says it has called on its followers to hold nationwide protests over the weekend after the country's top court this week upheld the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row after being convicted for blasphemy. Mohammad Shafiq Amini, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party acting head, is urging transport operators to stay off the roads on Friday and join their protest. He says police arrested hundreds of the party's supporters following Tuesday's refusal to re-examine Bibi's Oct. 31 acquittal. Bibi, who is in hiding at an undisclosed location, wants to join her daughters abroad but there is no word when that might happen. Her ordeal began in 2009, when she was sentenced to death, charged with insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammed.


20 dead as bombs target Sunday Mass in Philippine cathedral

A soldier views the site inside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in the southern Philippines after two bombs exploded Sunday, Jan. 27. (WESMINCOM Armed Forces of the Philippines Via AP)

Jolo, Philippines (AP) — Two bombs minutes apart tore through a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 20 people and wounding 111 others during a Sunday Mass, officials said.

Witnesses said the first blast inside the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital sent churchgoers, some of them wounded, to stampede out of the main door. Army troops and police posted outside were rushing in when the second bomb went off about one minute later near the main entrance, causing more deaths and injuries. The military was checking a report that the second explosive device may have been attached to a parked motorcycle.

The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, witnesses said. Cellphone signal was cut off in the first hours after the attack. The witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press refused to give their names or were busy at the scene of the blasts.

Police said at least 20 people died and 111 were wounded, correcting an earlier toll due to double counting. The fatalities included 15 civilians and five troops. Among the wounded were 17 troops, two police, two coast guard and 90 civilians.

Troops in armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles transported the dead and wounded to the town hospital. Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city.

"I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans," said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement.

"We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars. The law will give them no mercy," the office of President Rodrigo Duterte said in Manila.

It said that "the enemies of the state boldly challenged the government's capability to secure the safety of citizens in that region. The (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals."

Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. A Catholic bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, was gunned down by suspected militants outside the cathedral in 1997.

No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

It came nearly a week after minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead. Although most of the Muslim areas approved the autonomy deal, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The province is home to a rival rebel faction that's opposed to the deal as well as smaller militant cells that not part of any peace process.

Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact. They worry that small numbers of Islamic State-linked militants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for extremists.

"This bomb attack was done in a place of peace and worship, and it comes at a time when we are preparing for another stage of the peace process in Mindanao," said Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. "Human lives are irreplaceable," he added, calling on Jolo residents to cooperate with authorities to find the perpetrators of this "atrocity."

Security officials were looking "at different threat groups and they still can't say if this has something to do with the just concluded plebiscite," Oscar Albayalde, the national police chief, told ABS-CBN TV network. Hermogenes Esperon, the national security adviser, said that the new autonomous region, called Bangsamoro, "signifies the end of war for secession. It stands for peace in Mindanao."

Aside from the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group, other militant groups in Sulu include a small band of young jihadis aligned with the Islamic State group, which has also carried out assaults, including ransom kidnappings and beheadings.

Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding at least five hostages — a Dutch national, two Malaysians, an Indonesian and a Filipino — in their jungle bases mostly near Sulu's Patikul town, not far from Jolo.

Government forces have pressed on sporadic offensives to crush the militants, including those in Jolo, a poverty-wracked island of more than 700,000 people. A few thousand Catholics live mostly in the capital of Jolo.

There have been speculations that the bombings may be a diversionary move by Muslim militants after troops recently carried out an offensive that killed a number of IS-linked extremists in an encampment in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur province, also in the south. The area is near Marawi, a Muslim city that was besieged for five months by hundreds of IS-aligned militants, including foreign fighters, in 2017. Troops quelled the insurrection, which left more 1,100 mostly militants dead and the heartland of the mosque-studded city in ruins.

Duterte declared martial law in the entire southern third of the country to deal with the Marawi siege, his worst security crisis. His martial law declaration has been extended to allow troops to finish off radical Muslim groups and other insurgents but bombings and other attacks have continued.


Auschwitz survivors pay homage as world remembers Holocaust

Survivors of Auschwitz gather on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on Sunday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Vanessa Gera

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — The world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday amid a revival of hate-inspired violence and signs that younger generations know less and less about the genocide of Jews, Roma and others during World War II.

In Poland, which was under Nazi German occupation during the war, a far-right activist who has been imprisoned for burning the effigy of a Jew gathered with other nationalists Sunday outside the former death camp of Auschwitz ahead of official ceremonies remembering the 1.1 million people murdered there.

Since last year's observances, an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was fatally stabbed in Paris and 11 Jews were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Human Rights First, a U.S. organization, recalled those killings and warned that "today's threats do not come solely from the fringe."

"In places such as Hungary and Poland, once proudly democratic nations, government leaders are traveling the road to authoritarianism," said Ira Forman, the group's senior adviser for combatting anti-Semitism. "As they do so, they are distorting history to spin a fable about their nations and the Holocaust."

The Polish nationalist, Piotr Rybak, said his group was protesting the Polish government, accusing it of remembering only murdered Jews and not murdered Poles in yearly observances at Auschwitz.

That accusation is incorrect. The observances at the memorial site pay homage each Jan. 27 to all of the camp's victims, both Jews and gentiles.

Counter-protesters at Auschwitz on Sunday held up a "Fascism Stop" sign and an Israeli flag, while police kept the two groups apart.

Former prisoners placed flowers Sunday at an execution wall at Auschwitz. They wore striped scarves that recalled their uniforms, some with the red letter "P," the symbol the Germans used to mark them as Poles.

Early in World War II, most prisoners were Poles, rounded up by the occupying German forces. Later, Auschwitz was transformed into a mass killing site for Jews, Roma and others, operating until the liberation by Soviet forces on Jan. 27, 1945.

The clashes of views at Auschwitz come amid a surge of right-wing extremism in Poland and elsewhere in the West. It is fed by a broader grievance many Poles have that their suffering during the war at German hands is little known abroad while there is greater knowledge of the Jewish tragedy.

However recent surveys show that knowledge of the atrocities during World War II is declining generally.

A new study released in recent days by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Azrieli Foundation found that 52 percent of millennials in Canada cannot name even one concentration camp or ghetto and 62 percent of millennials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Its findings were similar to a similar study carried out a year before in the United States.

The past year in Poland has also seen high emotions triggered by a Holocaust speech law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of Nazi Germany, something that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel and a surge of a surge of anti-Semitic hate speech.

The United Nations recognized Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.


France: 'Yellow vest' violence prompts 'red scarves' rally

A man with his hand wrapped in a red scarf takes part in a rally in Paris, France, Sunday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

Paris (AP) — Some 10,000 people wearing red scarves marched through Paris on Sunday to protest acts of violence and vandalism on the sidelines of anti-government demonstrations by the largely peaceful yellow vest movement.

The "red scarves" demonstration came amid growing divisions around the 11-week-old yellow vest phenomenon, which has led to rioting in Paris and other cities, exposed deep discontent with President Emmanuel Macron and prompted national soul-searching.

Protest damage to the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris in December was a turning point for many of the counter-protesters at Sunday's march.

"We don't share all the demands expressed by the yellow vest movement, for instance demands about overthrowing the government, brutalizing institutions," Laurent Segnis, a member of Macron's centrist Republic on the Move party, said.

Others lamented their sense that the movement — which appeared in mid-November as a grassroots response to a fuel tax rise — is radicalizing as it approaches February.

Sunday's protesters wore red scarves or bright blue vests as a way to appropriate the yellow vest movement's brightly colored symbol of discontent. The movement and its protests are named after the high-visibility garments French drivers must carry in their vehicles in case of emergency.

Some 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, notably as weekly demonstrations in Paris routinely descend into clashes between riot police and participants who throw rocks at officers and set fires in the streets. Separately, 10 people have died in road incidents related to yellow vest blockades of provincial roundabouts and tollbooths.

The yellow vest movement, which includes people across France's political spectrum, sees Macron's government as favoring the wealthy. Many movement supporters dismissed the "red scarves" as Macron stooges, though the president's party didn't officially take part in the counter-demonstrations.

Some 69,000 people nationwide took part Saturday in the 11th week of yellow vest protests, down from more than 80,000 during the previous two weekends, according to the French Interior Ministry. The protests in Paris were scattered, with different groups staging events at different sites.

On Sunday, French police were investigating how a prominent yellow vest protester, Jerome Rodrigues, suffered an eye injury in Paris. Video images show Rodriguez collapsed on the ground Saturday near the Bastille monument, where protesters throwing projectiles clashed with police seeking to disperse them.

Police armed with guns that fire non-lethal rubber balls - ammunition that has seriously injured a number of demonstrators - were equipped with body cameras this weekend for the first time. Officials said the cameras were being used as an experiment to record use of the non-lethal weapons, providing context and eventual evidence if needed.


Russia and Putin mark 75 years since WWII siege of Leningrad

A Soviet World War II T-34 tank drives during a military parade at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square during the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad during World War II in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Irina Titova

St. Petersburg, Russia (AP) — The Russian city of St. Petersburg marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the devastating World War II siege by Nazi forces with a large military parade Sunday in the city's sprawling Palace Square.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later laid flowers at a monument in Piskarevskoye Cemetery, where hundreds of thousands of siege victims are buried.

The siege of the city, then called Leningrad, lasted nearly 2˝ years until the Soviet Army drove the Nazis away on Jan. 27, 1944.

Estimates of the death toll vary, but historians agree that more than 1 million Leningrad residents died from hunger or air and artillery bombardments during the siege.

On Sunday, more than 2,500 soldiers and 80 units of military equipment paraded as snow fell and temperatures hovered around minus-18 degrees Celsius (0 Fahrenheit). The vehicles included a T-34 tank; such tanks played a key role in defeating the Nazis and became a widely revered symbol of the nation's wartime valor and suffering.

During the siege, most Leningrad residents had to survive on rations of just 125 grams (less than 0.3 pounds) of bread a day and whatever other food they could buy or exchange at local markets after selling their belongings.

Among those who succumbed to the deprivations of the siege was Putin's 1-year-old brother. Putin himself was born after the siege, in 1952.

The Russian president did not attend the parade, which some civic groups had objected to as inappropriate, saying the day should commemorate the victims rather than flaunt military strength.

The Kremlin also announced Sunday that Putin had signed an order allocating 150 million rubles ($2.3 million) for creating new exhibits at the state museum of the siege.

"Today we mourn those who died defending Leningrad, who at the cost of their lives broke through the blockade. We recall those who worked in the besieged city, who, risking themselves, delivered bread and medicine along the Road of Life," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on social media.

Medvedev was referring to the ice road across Lake Ladoga that was the only conduit for supplies and evacuations during much of the siege.

Tamara Chernykh, 81, told The Associated Press that she still can't forget the tiny pieces of bread that her granny used to put under her pillow as a night treat for a starving four-year-old girl in besieged Leningrad during the deadly winter of 1941-1942.

In the daytime, Chernykh said she and her baby cousin mostly stayed put under several blankets in the darkness. There was no heating during the first and the coldest winter of the siege, when temperatures outside sometimes plunged to -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit).

Chernykh's grandmother, who gave the bread out of her own scant food ration, said the crumbs would bring good dreams. She died from starvation before the siege ended.

Germany has allocated 12 million euros ($13.5 million) to modernize a Russian hospital for veterans of the war and to create a center in St. Petersburg where Germans and Russians can meet, the German and Russian foreign ministers said Sunday.

"We are sure that this voluntary action will improve the life quality of the victims of the siege who are still alive and also serve the historical reconciliation of the peoples of both countries," ministers Heiko Maas and Sergey Lavrov said in the statement.


Landslides, flooding from dam kill 8 in central Indonesia

Residents ride a makeshift raft as they evacuate their flooded homes in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Masyudi Syachban Firmansyah)

Jakarta (AP) — Torrential rains overwhelmed a dam and caused landslides that killed at least eight people and displaced more than 2,000 in central Indonesia, officials said Wednesday.

The dead included two infants who drowned and a man who was electrocuted after the floods began late Tuesday, said Adnan Purichta Ichsann, the chief of Gowa district near Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi.

Rescuers were evacuating residents to shelters at a government office and mosques, Ichsann said. The national disaster agency said four people are missing and more than 2,000 were in temporary shelters. It said nine districts including Makassar were affected.

Indonesian TV and video posted on YouTube showed half submerged homes and rescuers in boats reaching people clinging to tire inner tubes in the floodwaters.

Staff at the Bili Bili dam, a rock-fill embankment, didn't have time to provide advance warning of the water release, Ichsann said.

"Torrential rain caused a dam to be overwhelmed by water, forcing us to open it to prevent a greater danger. This is what caused flooding in some areas," Ichsann said.

Deadly landslides and floods are a frequent occurrence during seasonal rains in Indonesia. A landslide in Sukabumi on the main island of Java earlier this month killed 32 people.

Ichsann said the death toll could rise as areas hit by landslides are still being searched.

Several bridges were damaged by the flooding and power cut off in affected areas.


Maduro foe claims Venezuela presidency amid protests

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of the nation until elections can be held during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro's resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Joshua Goodman

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated Wednesday as an opposition leader backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to embattled socialist Nicolas Maduro, who retaliated by breaking off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner.

For the past two weeks, ever since Maduro took the oath for a second six-year term in the face of widespread international condemnation, the newly invigorated opposition had been preparing for nationwide demonstrations Wednesday coinciding with the anniversary marking the end of Venezuela's last military dictatorship in 1958.

While Maduro has shown no signs of leaving, his main rival, National Assembly President Juan Guaido, upped the ante by declaring himself interim president before masses of anti-government demonstrators — the only way, he said, to rescue Venezuela from "dictatorship." Outside the capital, seven demonstrators were killed amid disturbances during protests that rocked several cities.

In a seemingly coordinated action, the U.S. led a chorus of Western hemisphere nations, including Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, that immediately recognized Guaido, with President Donald Trump calling on Maduro to resign and promising to use the "full weight" of the U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela's democracy.

"The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law," Trump said in a statement.

The stunning move, which to some harkened back to dark episodes of heavy-handed U.S. interventions in Latin America during the Cold War, drew a strong rebuke from Maduro. He responded by swiftly cutting off diplomatic relations with the United States, the biggest importer of the OPEC nation's oil, giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

"Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president. .... I've decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government," Maduro thundered while holding up a decree banning the diplomats before a crowd of red-shirted supporters gathered at the presidential palace.

"Don't trust the gringos," he said, rattling off a long list of U.S.-backed military coups — Guatemala, Chile, Brazil — in decades past. "They don't have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts and the ambition to take Venezuela's oil, gas and gold."

Not to be undone, Guaido issued his own statement, urging foreign embassies to disavow Maduro's orders and keep their diplomats in the country. A few hours later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would abide by Guaido's directive and ignore Maduro's order to withdraw its diplomats.

The 35-year-old Guaido, a virtually unknown lawmaker at the start of the year, has reignited the hopes of Venezuela's often beleaguered opposition by taking a rebellious tack amid a crushing economic crisis that has forced millions to flee or go hungry.

Raising his right hand in unison with tens of thousands of supporters, the fresh-faced leader of the opposition-controlled congress took a symbolic oath to assume executive powers he says are his right under two articles of Venezuela constitution to take over as interim president and form a transitional government until he calls new elections.

"Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela," he told the cheering crowd as he stood behind a lectern emblazoned with Venezuela's national coat of arms.

"We know that this will have consequences," he shouted, moments before quickly slipping away to an unknown location amid speculation he would soon be arrested.

The price of oil slipped for the third time in four days Wednesday, an indication that international energy markets are not overly concerned yet that the situation in Venezuela — America's third top oil supplier and owner of Houston-based Citgo — will disrupt global crude supplies.

The assault on Maduro's rule came after large crowds gathered in Caracas waving flags and chanting "Get out Maduro!" in what was the largest demonstration since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017.

While the protests in the capital were mostly peaceful there were no signs that security forces heeded Guaido's call to join the anti-Maduro movement and go light on demonstrators.

Hours after most demonstrators went home, violence broke out in Altamira, an upscale zone of Caracas and an opposition stronghold, when National Guardsmen descended on hundreds of youths, some of them with their faces covered, lingering around a plaza. Popping tear gas canisters sent hundreds running and hordes of protesters riding two and three on motorcycles fleeing in panic.

Blocks away, a small group knocked a pair of guardsman riding tandem off their motorcycle, pelting them with coconuts as they sped down a wide avenue. Some in the group struck the two guardsmen with their hands while others ran off with their gear and set their motorcycle on fire.

Elsewhere, four demonstrators were killed by gunfire in the western city of Barinas as security forces were dispersing a crowd. Three others were killed amid unrest in the border city of San Cristobal.

Amid the showdown, all eyes were on the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela — and to whom Guaido has been targeting his message.

Maduro, who lacks the military pedigree of his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, has sought to shore up support from the armed forces by doling out key posts to top generals, including heading the PDVSA oil monopoly that is the source of virtually all of Venezuela's export earnings. He has also been playing commander in chief, appearing last week at a military command meeting wearing camouflage fatigues and receiving the blessing of the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who said his troops were prepared to die for Maduro.

But beyond the public displays of loyalty from the top brass, a number of cracks have started to appear.

On Monday, Venezuelans awoke to news that a few dozen national guardsmen had taken captive a loyalist officer and seized a stockpile of assault rifles in a pre-dawn raid. The government quickly quelled the uprising, but residents in a nearby slum took to the streets to show their support for the mutineers by burning cars and throwing stones at security forces, who fired back with tear gas.

Disturbances continued into Tuesday, with small pockets of unrest in a few working-class neighborhoods where the government has traditionally enjoyed strong support.

Retired Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala, a one-time aide to Chavez and now in exile, said the opposition's newfound momentum has reverberated with the military's lower ranks, many of whom are suffering the same hardships as regular Venezuelan families.

"I am absolutely certain that right now, especially younger troops are asking themselves whether Maduro is their commander in chief or a usurper," Alcala said.

Though intimidation has worked for the government in the past, it may not this time, said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst. Discontent now appears to be more widespread and the ranks of security forces and government-allied groups have been thinned by the mass exodus of mostly young Venezuelans, he said.

"The government is resorting to its old tricks, but the people no longer believe them," Pantoulas said.


Telescopes capture moment of impact during eclipse of moon

 

This image from video provided by Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles shows an impact flash on the moon, bottom left, during the lunar eclipse which started on Sunday evening, Jan. 20, 2019. (Griffith Observatory via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — Astronomers managed to capture the moment of an impact during this week's eclipsed moon.

Spanish astrophysicist Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva said Wednesday it appears a rock from a comet slammed into the moon during the total lunar eclipse late Sunday and early Monday. The strike was seen by telescopes in Spain and elsewhere as a bright flash.

Madiedo said it's the first impact flash ever seen during a lunar eclipse, although such crater-forming impacts are common.

The object hit at an estimated 10 miles (17 kilometers) per second, and was 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and 12 inches (30 centimeters) across, according to Madiedo.

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles also recorded the impact during its livestream of the eclipse. A second flash was seen a minute after the first by some observers, said Anthony Cook, an astronomical observer at Griffith.

"It was in the brightest part of the moon's image," Cook said of the second suspected strike, "and there might not be enough contrast for the flash to be visible in our video."

Madiedo said lunar impact monitoring generally is conducted five days before and after a new moon, when flashes can be easily observed. To take advantage of the three-plus-hour eclipse, he set up four extra telescopes in addition to the four he operates at the observatory in Seville. "I did not want to miss any potential impact event," he explained in an email.

"I could not sleep for almost two days, setting up and testing the extra instruments, and performing the observation during the night of Jan. 21," he wrote. "I was really exhausted when the eclipse was over."

Then computer software alerted him to the impact.

"I jumped out of the chair I was sitting on. I am really happy, because I think that the effort was rewarded," he said.

Moon monitoring can help scientists better predict the rate of impacts, not just at the moon but on Earth, Madiedo noted. He helps run the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, or MIDAS, in Spain.


Hong Kong's legislature takes up China national anthem bill

Pro-Beijing protesters raise the Chinese National flag and the Hong Kong flag during a protest outside Legislative building in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Violet Law

Hong Kong (AP) — Hong Kong's legislature took up a controversial bill Wednesday that would punish anyone who "publicly and intentionally insults" the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in prison, raising concerns about Beijing's growing influence in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The move came after soccer fans repeatedly booed the anthem at the start of international qualifiers, upsetting leaders of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing. The measure would also require students to sing and study the song as part of their curriculum.

Ever since Beijing suppressed the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous city in late 2014, heckling China's national anthem has emerged as a form of protest. The bill, which also includes a maximum fine of $50,000 Hong Kong (US$6,410), will be up for passage this summer.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 but continues to enjoy civil liberties such as freedom of the press that are denied in China. The "one country, two systems" framework is supposed to last for 50 years but has been significantly eroded under authoritarian Chinese leader Xi Jinping, critics say.

"We're worried that by passing the bill, people's right and liberty to express themselves in terms of political ideology will be restricted," said Alvin Yeung, a lawmaker in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, known as LegCo.

Pro-Beijing legislator Holden Chow disagreed, saying the bill was merely about upholding the sanctity of national symbols.

"We are simply deterring people from showing disrespect to the national anthem," Chow said.

Before LegCo went into the morning session, student pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and several others staged a flash demonstration by mounting a black protest banner right under China's national five-star emblem at Hong Kong's government headquarters.

Emblazoned with the slogan "Freedom not to sing praises," the banner was swiftly removed by security and no arrests were reported.

In 2017, Beijing enacted a national anthem law and entered it as an amendment to Hong Kong's constitution. The anthem, "March of the Volunteers," begins with a call for defiance: "Rise up, you people who refuse to be subjugated."

The bill is virtually assured of passage since the legislators who tend to side with Beijing outnumber the pro-democracy camp. But the law wades into untested waters since it represents Beijing's first effort at requiring Hong Kong to pass a mainland Chinese law, a potential breach of "one country, two systems."

It shows that more and more laws passed by the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, will "sooner or later be fully applicable to Hong Kong," said Willy Lam, a political analyst and adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "This is a distributing trend."

Newspaper columnists have pointed to the example of American footballers kneeling at the playing of the U.S. anthem as a form of protest that should be tolerated. Some also decry the Hong Kong bill as carrying the harshest penalty of any jurisdiction that has a punitive national anthem law, including Russia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Passage of the national anthem bill could open up the floodgates to further legislative efforts long opposed in Hong Kong, including national security legislation that could significantly increase Beijing's sway over the territory.


Sonia Gandhi's daughter enters India politics ahead of vote

In this Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, file photo, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, sister of Congress party President Rahul Gandhi, waves to party supporters during an election campaign rally in Rae Barelli in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Ashok Sharma

New Delhi (AP) — A scion of India's most famous political dynasty on Wednesday formally entered politics, with the opposition Congress party assigning her a position as it prepares for national elections due before May.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the 47-year-old daughter of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. She has in the past helped her mother and brother, party president Rahul Gandhi, campaign in their constituencies in Uttar Pradesh but had never held a party post.

She is a popular figure in Indian politics, drawing crowds wherever she goes. The party hopes to capitalize on her popularity in the coming elections where it will be challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party.

The Congress party in a statement on Wednesday announced she will hold the title of All India Congress Committee general secretary, looking after the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh state.

The party is expected to face a tough election battle in the state with two powerful regional parties reaching an agreement that left the Congress party to fend for itself.

She is expected to campaign for the party elsewhere in the country, also in view of a formidable challenge from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which is considered to be a front-runner in the coming national elections.

She is married to a businessman and they have a son and a daughter.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will take up the party position in the first week of February, nearly 14 months after her brother Rahul took over as the party president from their mother, Sonia Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi stepped down as the party's longest-serving chief in 2017, leading the party for 19 years. She has been unwell in recent years and pushed her son to the fore.

Rahul Gandhi is the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead Congress. His father, Rajiv Gandhi, grandmother Indira Gandhi and great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru have all served as prime minister since India's independence from British colonialists in 1947. Rahul Gandhi entered politics in 2004.

The Congress party lost to Modi's BJP in 2014 and it suffered humiliating defeats in several state elections despite Rahul Gandhi's active campaigning to win back support. The trend was reversed recently as the Congress party won three state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states, raising the party' hopes for a good showing in the upcoming national vote.


With Trump out, Davos chief eyes fixing world architecture

 

Protesters burn fireworks during a demonstration against the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Bern, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan. 19. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Jamey Keaten and Masha Macpherson

Davos, Switzerland (AP) — The founder of the World Economic Forum says U.S. President Donald Trump would have been an "interesting discussion partner" at its annual Davos event starting this week, but acknowledges that the partial U.S. government shutdown scuttled those plans.

Klaus Schwab says he saw Trump shortly before Christmas and heard he had been "very much looking forward to coming back." Last year, Trump was a highlight attendee at the elite gathering in the Swiss Alps, where he dined with business executives and met foreign leaders.

Trump canceled the U.S. delegation's trip to Davos this year amid the partial government shutdown.

"He would have been an interesting discussion partner," Schwab said. "But of course, we have understanding: We see government stand still."

Now, the WEF chief is focusing on reshaping the "global architecture" that has split populists and globalists and left many people feeling left out. That could be a tall order as trade forecasts predict slowdown and economic growth has eased, in part after Trump tax cuts doped-up the economy and markets last year.

"I'm concerned because we are walking on very thin ice," Schwab said in an interview at the Davos conference center. "We are the back-end of a very strong, long positive economic cycle — maybe boosted by tax relief in the United States."

Schwab, who believes the world is going through a "Fourth Industrial Revolution" involving rapid technological change, says too many are being left behind. He wants to see more "equilibrium" between national or individual needs and imperatives facing the world.

"We are living in an interdependent, global humanity and there are global challenges like the environment, like terrorism, like mega-migration for which we have to find common solutions," he said.

The forum released Sunday a poll in which more than three-fourths of respondents said it was "important" or "very important" for countries to work together toward a common goal — a feeling that was strongest in places like South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Smaller majorities in Europe and North America felt the same way.

The poll of more than 10,000 people across 29 countries, considered to be a representative sample of various economic levels and continents, was conducted through online from Jan. 4-17.

WEF said the survey results pointed to a "rejection of populism."

But Schwab said leaders need to do a better job of addressing people's problems.

"We have really a gap in terms of shaping the future," he said. "So, it's not astonishing that people lose hope because if you don't know how your future looks particularly at times of rapid change, then you become really egocentric, you revert to a bunker mentality — and that's reflected not only on the political and national level."


IRA dissidents suspected in Northern Ireland car bomb blast

This photo taken on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 shows the scene of a suspected car bomb on Bishop Street in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (Steven McAuley/PA via AP)

London (AP) — Police in Northern Ireland said Sunday they suspect Irish Republican Army dissidents were behind a car bombing outside a courthouse in the city of Londonderry. Two men in their 20s have been arrested.

The device was placed inside a hijacked delivery vehicle and exploded Saturday night as police, who had received a warning, were evacuating the area. There were no reports of injuries.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland posted a photograph of a vehicle in flames and urged the public to stay away.

Police and army bomb-disposal experts remained at the scene on Sunday.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the bomb had been a "crude" and unstable device, and called the attack "incredibly reckless."

"The people responsible for this attack have shown no regard for the community or local businesses," he said.

Hamilton said the "main line of inquiry" was that the bomb had been planted by a group known as the New IRA.

More than 3,700 people died during decades of violence before Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord. Most militants have renounced violence, but small groups of IRA dissidents have carried out occasional bombings and shootings.

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has been suspended for two years because of a dispute between the main Protestant and Catholic political parties. Uncertainty about the future of the Irish border after Brexit is adding to tensions.

John Boyle, who is mayor of the city also known as Derry, said violence "is the past and it has to stay in the past."


World's oldest man, 113, dies at his home in northern Japan

In this April 10, 2018, file photo, Masazo Nonaka, then aged 112 years and 259 days, receives a certificate from Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living man. Nonaka died at his home on Sunday at the age of 113. (Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — The world's oldest man has died at his home — a hot springs inn — in northern Japan at the age of 113.

Masazo Nonaka died in the early hours of Sunday while sleeping at home in Ashoro on Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido, his family said.

He died peacefully from natural causes, according to his granddaughter Yuko Nonaka.

The supercentenarian, whose family has run a hot springs inn for four generations, was certified by Guinness World Records in April 2018 as the world's oldest living man at 112 years and 259 days.

Born on July 25, 1905, Nonaka grew up in a large family and succeeded his parents running the inn. The 106-year-old inn is now run by his granddaughter Yuko.

She said her grandfather appeared to be as usual until her elder sister noticed he was not breathing. He was pronounced dead by his family doctor.

"He didn't have any health problem. ... He went peacefully and that's at least our consolation," she said.

Nonaka, who enjoyed eating sweets, used to regularly soak in the springs, and would move about in the inn in a wheelchair, wearing his trademark knit cap.

He outlived all seven of his siblings, as well as his wife and three of their five children.

The fastest-aging country in the world, Japan as of September 2018 had a centenarian population of 69,785, nearly 90 percent of them women, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The world's oldest living person is also Japanese — Kane Tanaka, a 116-year-old woman from Fukuoka on the southern main island of Kyushu.


Pakistan arrests officers after shooting that left 4 dead

Relatives and local residents shout slogans to protest the alleged killing of a family by counter-terrorism officers in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Jan. 20. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Asim Tanveer and Munir Ahmed

Multan, Pakistan (AP) — Authorities in Pakistan have arrested more than a dozen counter-terrorism officers after police shot and killed a middle-aged couple, their 13-year-old daughter and another man in what they initially claimed was a shootout with insurgents, officials said Sunday.

The police killed grocery store owner Mohammad Khalil, his wife Nabila, their daughter Areeba and a family friend, Zeeshan Javed, after stopping their vehicle late Saturday. Police said Javed was a wanted terrorist and initially accused him of using the others as human shields.

Family members and witnesses say police killed the four in cold blood. They say police rear-ended the vehicle to stop it after a car chase. The police then removed three small children from the vehicle before opening fire, killing everyone inside, according to the witnesses. Video footage shot by a bystander and aired by Pakistani media appears to support the witnesses' accounts. No weapons were found at the scene.

The shooting sparked widespread outrage, with hundreds of mourners gathering in the eastern city of Lahore, where the victims of the shooting lived, and chanting against the police. Area residents left the bodies in the road as a form of protest following Saturday's shooting, which took place in the nearby town of Sahiwal.

Authorities say they have launched an investigation and arrested 16 officers involved in the shooting.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was "shocked at seeing the traumatized children who saw their parents shot before their eyes" and said "swift action will be taken." Usman Buzdar, the chief minister in the Punjab province, met with the family and promised that justice would be served.

Pakistan's security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings in the past. In one of the most notorious incidents, a police officer was accused of killing a 27-year-old aspiring fashion model from a prominent Pashtun tribe last January, sparking widespread protests and allegations of police brutality. The officer was suspended and placed under house arrest pending trial.


May plans next move in Brexit fight as chances rise of delay

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, Friday, Jan. 18. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Jill Lawless 

London (AP) — As Prime Minister Theresa May prepared her next move in Britain's deadlocked Brexit battle, a senior opposition politician said Sunday that it's unlikely the U.K. will leave the European Union as scheduled on March 29.

A government minister, however, warned that failure to deliver on Brexit would betray voters and unleash a "political tsunami."

May is due to present Parliament with a revised Brexit plan on Monday, after the divorce deal she had struck the EU was rejected by lawmakers last week. With just over two months until Britain is due to leave the bloc, some members of Parliament are pushing for the U.K. to delay its departure until the country's divided politicians can agree on a way forward.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said "it's inevitable" Britain will have to ask the EU to extend the two-year countdown to exit that ends on March 29.

"The 29th of March is 68 days away," Starmer told the BBC. "We are absolutely not prepared for it. It would be catastrophic."

Britain's political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies. Many economists expect Britain to plunge into recession if there is a "no-deal" Brexit.

May's government is split between ministers who think a disorderly departure must be avoided at all costs, and Brexit-backers who believe it would be preferable to delaying or reversing Brexit.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who quit the government in opposition to May's agreement with the EU, said a no-deal Brexit would have "short-term risks," but they would be "manageable."

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that "failure to deliver Brexit would produce a yawning gap between Parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences."

He said public anger could trigger "a political tsunami."

May has spent the days since her deal was thrown out meeting government and opposition lawmakers in an attempt to find a compromise. But the talks have produced few signs that May plans to make radical changes to her deal, or to lift her insistence that Brexit means leaving the EU's single market and customs union.

Fox said one possible solution could be to strike a deal with the Irish government guaranteeing there would be no border controls between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.

He said that could ease concerns about the deal's most contentious measure — an insurance policy known as the "backstop" that would keep Britain in an EU customs union to maintain an open Irish border after Brexit. Pro-Brexit lawmakers worry that Britain could be trapped indefinitely in the arrangement, bound to EU trade rules and unable to strike new deals around the world.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, however, tweeted that the Irish government was committed to the entire withdrawal deal, "including the backstop."

British lawmakers who want a softer Brexit are preparing to try to amend May's plans in a Jan. 29 debate, and to use parliamentary rules to try to prevent a no-deal Brexit and take control of the exit process.

Conservative lawmaker Nicky Morgan said she and several opposition colleagues planned to introduce a bill to ensure "that if the prime minister can't get an agreement approved by the House of Commons by the end of February," the U.K. will ask the EU to postpone its departure date "so that we can build a consensus and get ourselves more prepared for Brexit. "

Delaying Brexit would require approval from the 27 other EU nations.

Starmer said there was a roadblock in the way of a solution to the Brexit crisis, "and that roadblock is the prime minister."

"Her mind is closed," he said.


Indonesia leader to free radical cleric behind Bali bombings

In this March 1, 2018, file photo, ailing radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center, arrives for medical treatment at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — The ailing 80-year-old radical cleric who inspired the Bali bombers and other violent extremists in Indonesia will be released from prison, Indonesia's president said Friday, slashing a 15-year sentence.

The announcement of Abu Bakar Bashir's imminent release came during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of President Joko Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.

"I have considered this decision for a long time, involving the National Police chief and legal experts," Widodo told reporters. "This release was decided because of humanitarian considerations and also related to his health care."

The 2002 bombings on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali by al-Qaida-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah militants killed 202 people, many of them foreigners including dozens of Australians.

Australia urged Indonesia last March against any leniency toward Bashir when the government was considering house arrest and other forms of clemency.

"Stunned that he is about to be released," said Jan Laczynski, an Australian who lost five friends in the bombing of the Sari Club in Bali and narrowly avoided being at the venue himself.

"Truly devastating news as effectively he gets on with his life whilst everyone else suffers from seeing him walk out of jail," he said.

Bashir's lawyer, Muhammad Mahendradatta, said Bashir, who was sentenced and imprisoned in 2011, would be released within days.

"We haven't had the exact date of his release, but because Bashir badly needs serious health care the release will be carried out no later than next week," he told The Associated Press.

Also due to be released from prison next week is the former governor of Jakarta, a Widodo ally and minority Christian who was toppled by a conservative Islamic movement in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison on blasphemy charges.

Mahendradatta said he wanted Bahir's release to be without any conditions, enabling him to meet supporters and give sermons.

However, another Bashir lawyer who is also an adviser to Widodo, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, told Indonesian TV that the cleric accepted conditions and would do nothing except rest and be close to his family.

Widodo said Mahendra was among the legal experts he sought advice from.

The firebrand cleric was arrested almost immediately after the Bali bombings. But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations. He was instead sentenced to 18 months in prison for immigration violations.

In 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting a military-style training camp for Islamic militants.

The 2002 bombings were a turning point in Indonesia's battle against violent extremists, making heavy security a norm in big cities and forging closer counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. and Australia.
 


Myanmar army ordered to take offensive against Arakan Army

Maj. Gen. Soe Naing Oo, chairman of the Myanmar's military information committee, talks to journalists during a press conference at the Military Museum in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Naypyitaw, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's military announced Friday that the Arakan Army, a Buddhist rebel group in Rakhine state, has been classified a terrorist organization after mounting a flurry of recent attacks.

The state earlier was the site of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority, causing more than 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Military officers said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that leader Aung San Suu Kyi ordered security forces to launch the offensive against the Arakan Army.

The insurgent group, which seeks autonomy from the central government, killed 13 police officers and wounded nine in attacks on Jan. 4. The moves to counter the rebels were decided at a Jan. 7 meeting at Myanmar's presidential offices, the officers said.

Suu Kyi "said the Arakan Army is just a terrorist group and instructed us to defeat them effectively, quickly and clearly," Maj. Gen. Nyi Nyi Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Military Information Committee, told reporters. A terrorist designation criminalizes a group and bans all communication with them.

He said Suu Kyi suggested that if she did not order the military to attack the Arakan Army, the international community would accuse her of religious prejudice for attacking the Muslim guerrillas of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army but not Buddhist rebels who committed similar actions with similar goals.

The military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been accused of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, against the Muslim Rohingya. Its counterinsurgency campaign was triggered when a group of Rohingya guerrillas attacked security outposts in August 2017.

The officers said the military clashed with the Arakan Army 15 times in 2015, 26 times in 2016, 56 times in 2017 and 61 times in 2018, while the rebels also planted some mines. They said there have been at least eight armed encounters this year. The guerrillas are known to have trained in areas controlled by other ethnic rebel forces, especially in Kachin state.

The Arakan Army, founded in 2009, is estimated to have several thousand well-armed and organized uniformed members, in contrast to the ragtag and virtually dormant Rohingya guerrillas.

Myanmar's military in December announced cease-fires in five areas where ethnic rebellions are active, but did not include Rakhine state because it had information that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army planned attacks, the officers said.

Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said he believed that the fighting with the Arakan Army would not interfere with plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke about his "enormous frustration with the lack of progress" by Myanmar's government in creating conditions for the return of the more than 700,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh in 2017 and are living in "extremely difficult circumstances."

"It is absolutely essential to create the conditions of confidence and trust," he told a news conference. "It's not only physical reconstruction, it's a matter of reconciliation of communities and strong commitment by the government for that reconciliation of communities to be possible, and for the safety of the Rohingya population to be guaranteed."

"Unfortunately, the truth is the situation on the ground has not been conducive to it. Things have been too slow," he said. "One of the dramatic aspects when you fail in solving the root causes of the problem is that violence then tends to erupt again, and that's what we have seen recently in Myanmar."

"We insist in the need to create conditions for them to be willing to go back" to Myanmar, Guterres said.

One of first steps could be to solve the problem of the Rohingya who are internally displaced which would "give credibility" to future returns, he said.


Russia warns US missile defense plans will fuel arms race

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shake hands after their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russia said Friday the Pentagon's new missile defense strategy will trigger an arms race in space and further undermine global stability.

The tough Russian statement came in response to the U.S. administration's Missile Defense Review released Thursday during President Donald Trump's visit to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon's new strategy calls for a new array of space-based sensors and other high-tech systems to more quickly detect and shoot down incoming missiles. It makes clear that the new defense technologies are needed to counter advanced weapons being developed by Russia and China along with threats from North Korea and Iran.

The Russian Foreign Ministry described the new U.S. strategy as a proof of "Washington's desire to ensure uncontested military domination in the world."

It warned that the expansion of the U.S. missile defense system "will inevitably start an arms race in space with the most negative consequences for international security and stability."

"Contrary to what the Review's authors say, the implementation of its plans and approaches will not strengthen security of the U.S. and its allies," the ministry said in a statement. "Attempts to take that path will have the opposite effect and deal another heavy blow to international stability."

Trump, in a speech at the Pentagon, declared that space is the new war-fighting domain and vowed that the U.S. will develop an unrivaled missile defense system to protect against advanced hypersonic and other threats.

The Russian Foreign Ministry described the Pentagon's review as an attempt to reproduce President Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' missile defense plans on a new technological level and urged the Trump administration to "come to its senses" and engage in arms control talks with Russia.

Earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again rejected the U.S. claim of Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, charging that Washington hasn't offered any proof.

The U.S. has accused Russia of testing and deploying a missile that violated provisions of the INF Treaty that bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,400 miles). Washington said it will suspend its treaty obligations if Russian does not come into compliance by Feb. 2.

Lavrov insisted the Russian missile has only been launched at the range allowed by the treaty.

"If they think the range was excessive, they must have satellite images or something else, but they haven't shown anything to us," he said after the talks with visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Maas called on Russia to destroy the type of missile that the U.S. alleges is in violation of the treaty, saying he doesn't think "anyone in Europe would like to see the beginning of a new arms race."

Lavrov charged that the U.S. made it clear during diplomatic contacts back in October that Trump's decision to abandon the pact isn't subject to talks.

"Our American counterparts told us during official contacts ... that the decision is final and irreversible and statement on the U.S. intention to exit the INF Treaty isn't 'an invitation to dialogue,'" he said.


Kenya court orders 6 suspects held over Nairobi hotel attack

From left to right, suspects Osman Ibrahim, Guleid Abdihakim, Gladys Kaari Justus, Oliver Kanyango Muthee and Joel Nganga Wainaina appear at a hearing at Milimani law courts in Nairobi, Kenya Friday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo)

Christopher Torhcia

Nairobi, Kenya (AP) — A Canadian national and five other people suspected of helping extremist gunmen stage a deadly attack in the Kenyan capital this week appeared in court on Friday as prosecutors investigated them for suspected terror offenses.

A judge ordered five of the suspects held for 30 days while authorities look into the assault on the dusitD2 hotel complex that was carried out by al-Shabab, a group that is linked to al-Qaida and based in neighboring Somalia.

Kenyan authorities say 21 people, including one police officer, were killed by the attackers, one of whom blew himself up beside a restaurant. Another four gunmen died.

Prosecutors suspect the alleged accomplices, including two taxi drivers and an agent for a mobile phone-based money service, of "aiding and abetting" the attackers who stormed the Nairobi complex on Tuesday afternoon and were killed by Wednesday morning, according to a court document. Prosecutors said they were pursuing more suspects in and outside Kenya.

Suspects who appeared in court were identified as Joel Nganga Wainaina, Oliver Kanyango Muthee, Gladys Kaari Justus, Guleid Abdihakim and Osman Ibrahim. Abdihakim is a Canadian national, according to prosecutors.

Canadian officials are aware of reports that a citizen was arrested and are in contact with Kenyan authorities for more information, said Global Affairs spokesman Philip Hannan.

Hussein Mohammed, another suspect who was arrested in Mandera county along the border with Somalia, was brought to court separately, prosecutors said.

"The investigations into this matter are complex and transnational and would therefore require sufficient time and resources to uncover the entire criminal syndicate," said Noordin Haji, director of public prosecutions. He said he has appointed a team of prosecutors to help ensure that the investigations are "meticulous and fast-tracked."

Police earlier identified a Kenyan military officer as the father of a suspect in the assault. The son, Ali Salim Gichunge, as well as Violet Kemunto Omwoyo, were named as attackers in court documents.

"The attackers were in constant communications with several phone numbers which are located in Somalia," prosecutors said.

Gichunge's father, who is not believed to have been involved in the attack, was summoned for questioning about when he last saw his son and other details, a senior police official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said a total of 11 people were detained as part of the investigation.

The attack was denounced on Friday in Eastleigh, a Nairobi neighborhood that is home to many ethnic Somalis and has been targeted in massive police operations against suspected extremist cells. Shop owners temporarily closed businesses to protest against extremism, and crowds gathered.

Al-Shabab also carried out the 2013 attack at Nairobi's nearby Westgate Mall that killed 67 people, and an assault on Kenya's Garissa University in 2015 that claimed 147 lives, mostly students. While U.S. airstrikes and a multinational African Union force in Somalia have reduced the Islamic extremists' ability to operate, al-Shabab is still capable of carrying out spectacular acts of violence in retaliation for the Kenyan military's presence in Somalia.

The attackers who stormed the hotel complex opened fire and set off grenades, sending panicked people running for cover as security forces converged. Security camera footage released later showed a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a grassy area. Authorities identified him as 25-year-old Mahir Khalid Riziki, who was born in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and was sought several years ago by police for alleged extremist activities.

A hotel employee, seen in the video footage walking past Riziki just before the explosion, described in an interview with Kenya's K24 television how he heard the man talking on a mobile phone.

"Where are you guys?" the agitated bomber said at least a couple of times, according to Abdullahi Ogelo, the employee. Ogelo, who later concluded Riziki had been talking to his accomplices, said the man was also moving his hand over his chest.

Seconds later, the bomber detonated in a flash and billowing smoke.

In the television interview, Ogelo said God saved him and gave him a "second chance."


Drilling machines help frantic search of trapped Spanish boy

In this Monday, Jan. 14 file photo, emergency services look for a 2 year old boy who fell into a well in a mountainous area near the town of Totalan in Malaga, Spain. (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero)

Madrid (AP) — Heavy machinery has been brought in by rescuers in southern Spain who plan to drill vertical tunnels next to a deep borehole to reach a 2-year-old boy trapped there for five days.

"The terrain's geology is complicated, and that's slowing down the works," said Angel Garcia, the leading engineer coordinating the search-and-rescue operation, on Friday.

Spaniards are holding their breath with every setback in the against-the-clock race to reach Julen Rosello, who fell into the 110-meter (360-foot) deep waterhole on Sunday.

Unable to go down the narrow shaft, rescuers used machinery first but found a blockage some two thirds of the way down and are now trying to drill alternative tunnels to reach the boy.

Authorities say there are hopes Julen could still be alive if there is enough oxygen under the obstruction.


Death penalty for Canadian escalates China-Canada tensions

In this image taken from a video footage run by China's CCTV, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in Dalian, northeastern China's Liaoning province on Monday, Jan. 14. (CCTV via AP)

Rob Gillies and Christopher Bodeen

Toronto (AP) — A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death in a sudden retrial of a drug smuggling case and Beijing said that it has denied a Canadian diplomatic immunity, ratcheting up tensions since Canada's arrest of a top Chinese technology executive last month.

A Chinese court in northeastern Liaoning province announced Monday that it had sentenced Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death, reversing an earlier 2016 ruling that sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly condemned Monday's proceeding, suggesting that China was using its judicial system to pressure Canada over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

In his strongest comments yet, Trudeau said "all countries around the world" should be concerned that Beijing is acting arbitrarily with its justice system.

"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty," Trudeau said.

Canada later updated its travel advisory for China urging Canadians to "exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws."

Further escalating the diplomatic rift between the two countries, a Chinese spokeswoman said earlier Monday that Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat taken into custody in apparent retaliation for Meng's arrest, was not eligible for diplomatic immunity as Trudeau has maintained.

A senior Canadian government official said Chinese officials have been questioning Kovrig about his diplomatic work in China, which is a major reason why Trudeau is asserting diplomatic immunity. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the case, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kovrig, a Northeast Asia analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, was on a leave of absence from the Canadian government at the time of his arrest last month.

Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. But within weeks of Meng's Dec. 1 arrest, an appeals court suddenly reversed that decision, saying the sentence was too lenient, and scheduled Monday's retrial with just four days' notice.

The court gave no indication that the death penalty could be commuted, but observers said Schellenberg's fate is likely to be drawn into diplomatic negotiations over China's demand for the release of Meng.

"Playing hostage politics, China rushes the retrial of a Canadian suspect and sentences him to death in a fairly transparent attempt to pressure Canada to free the Huawei CFO," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said in a tweet.

The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg's case after Canada's detention of Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.

Days after Meng's arrest, Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor were detained on vague national security allegations. Meng is out on bail in Canada awaiting extradition proceedings that begin next month.

Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said prosecutors had not introduced new evidence to justify a heavier sentence during the one-day trial, during which Schellenberg again maintained his innocence. He said his client now has 10 days to appeal.

"This is a very unique case," Zhang told The Associated Press. He said the swiftness of the proceedings was unusual but declined to comment on whether it was related to Meng's arrest.

The court said it found that Schellenberg was involved in an international drug-smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 220 kilograms (485 pounds) of methamphetamine from a warehouse in the Chinese city of Dalian to Australia. A Chinese man convicted of involvement in the same operation was earlier given a suspended death sentence.

Fifty people, including Canadian diplomats and foreign and domestic media, attended Monday's trial, the court said in an online statement.

Earlier Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said authorities had determined Kovrig was not entitled to diplomatic immunity, rejecting a complaint from Trudeau that China was not respecting longstanding practices regarding immunity.

Hua told reporters that Kovrig is no longer a diplomat and entered China on an ordinary passport and business visa.

"According to the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations and international law, he is not entitled to diplomatic immunity," Hua said at a daily briefing. "I suggest that the relevant Canadian person carefully study the Vienna Convention ... before commenting on the cases, or they would only expose themselves to ridicule with such specious remarks."

A former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said interrogating Kovrig about his time as a diplomat in China would violate Vienna Convention protections of residual diplomatic immunity that mean a country is not allowed to question someone on the work they did when they were a diplomat.

"It's difficult not to see a link" between the case and Canada's arrest of Meng, Saint-Jacques said.

Hua said the allegation that China arbitrarily detained Canadian citizens is "totally groundless."

Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor. The United States, Britain, European Union and Australia have issued statements in support. Trudeau called U.S. President Donald Trump about their case last week and the White House called the arrests "unlawful."

Last week, Poland arrested a Huawei director and one of its own former cybersecurity experts and charged them with spying for China. The move came amid a U.S. campaign to exert pressure on its allies not to use Huawei, the world's biggest maker of telecommunications network equipment, over data security concerns.

The arrests raised concerns over the safety of Poland's nationals in China, although Hua brushed off such worries, emphasizing China's desire for the "sound and steady" development of relations with Poland.

"As long as the foreign citizens in China abide by Chinese laws and regulations, they are welcomed and their safety and freedom are guaranteed," Hua said.


Indonesia recovers Lion Air jet's cockpit voice recorder

Indonesian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Yudo Margin shows the recovered cockpit voice recorder of Lion Air flight 610 that crashed into the sea in October during a press conference on board of the navy ship KRI Spica in the waters off Tanjung Karawang, Indonesia, Monday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Navy divers have recovered the cockpit voice recorder of a Lion Air jet that crashed into the Java Sea in October, Indonesian officials said Monday, in a possible boost to the investigation into why the 2-month-old plane nosedived at high velocity, killing 189 people.

Ridwan Djamaluddin, a deputy maritime minister, told reporters that remains of some of the people who died in the crash were also discovered at the seabed location.

A spokesman for the Indonesian navy's western fleet, Lt. Col.  Agung Nugroho, said divers using high-tech "ping locator" equipment started a new search effort last week in a previously identified target area and found the voice recorder beneath 8 meters of seabed mud. The plane crashed in waters 30 meters deep.

The bright orange device was transported to a port in Jakarta, where it was handed over to the National Transportation Safety Committee, which is overseeing the accident investigation.

"This is good news, especially for us who lost our loved ones," said Irianto, the father of Rio Nanda Pratama, a doctor who died in the crash.

"Even though we don't yet know the contents of the CVR, this is some relief from our despair," he said.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, on Oct. 29, killing everyone on board.

The cockpit data recorder was recovered three days after the crash and showed that the jet's airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its last four flights. Lion Air initially claimed that problems with the aircraft were fixed before its final flight.

If the voice recorder is undamaged, it could provide valuable additional information to investigators.

The transport committee's chairman, Soerjanto Tjahjono, said the device will be taken to the investigators' "black box" facility. It will take three to five days to dry and clean the device and to download its data, he said.

"To analyze it, we need more time, depending on the complexity of the problem. Data obtained from CVR is expected to complete our investigation data," Tjahjono said.

Data from a preliminary investigation report, which didn't state any conclusions, showed that the plane's nose pointed down 26 times on its fatal 11-minute flight despite repeated efforts by the pilots to manually aim the nose higher.

Rear Adm. Harjo Susmoro, head of the navy's Center for Hydrography and Oceanography, said the voice recorder was found just 50 meters from where the data recorder was located.

A "heroic" team of 21 divers removed debris and carried out "desludging" operations to reach the voice recorder, he said.

Susmoro said the voice recorder's signal, designed to last 90 days following a crash, would have stopped after about 15 days.

The family of one of the pilots, 41-year-old Harvino, has sued Boeing Co. in Chicago, alleging that aircraft sensors provided inaccurate information, causing the plane to nosedive, and that Boeing failed to provide proper training to pilots on the 737 MAX 8's features.

Indonesian media reported in December that Lion Air's chief executive, Edward Sirait, said the airline was considering canceling its remaining orders for nearly 200 of the Boeing planes.

The Lion Air crash was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people died on a Garuda flight near Medan. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing all 162 people on board.

Lion Air is one of Indonesia's youngest airlines but has grown rapidly, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.


Search for 2-year-old Spanish toddler in narrow well

Emergency services look for a 2 year old boy who fell into a well, in a mountainous area near the town of Totalan in Malaga, Spain, Monday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero)

Aritz Parra

Madrid (AP) — More than 100 firefighters and emergency workers in southern Spain searched Monday for a 2-year-old toddler who fell into a narrow and deep borehole.

Rescuers have been unable to get into the borehole, which is no wider than 25 centimeters in diameter and is believed to go down more than 100 meters. On Monday afternoon they were deploying three different approaches to reach the bottom of the well but without damaging its structure or blocking it with soil and rocks, local authorities said.

According to rescuers, the boy fell into the hole early Sunday afternoon after walking away from his parents while playing in a mountainous area near the town of Totalan, northeast of the city of Malaga.

The hole, which is too narrow for an adult to enter, had been bored a month earlier during water prospection works and had not been covered or protected, local media reported.

The provincial representative of the Spanish government, Maria Gamez, said that firefighters using a robot camera in the early hours of Monday found a bag of candy that the boy was carrying when he went missing. It was some 75 meters down the shaft, where rescuers were unable to get their equipment further down.

Civil Guard spokesman Bernardo Molto told Spanish public broadcaster TVE that efforts would now focus on using more sophisticated equipment to widen the hole while also digging separate tunnels to access the shaft.

Asked whether the investigation is also considering any other reasons for the boy's disappearance, Molto told reporters that the authorities' priorities are "searching, locating and rescuing the boy."


Russia tells Japan retaking Pacific islands not on horizon

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono enter a hall for their talks in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russia's top diplomat threw cold water Monday on Tokyo's hopes for a quick return of four Pacific islands at the center of territorial dispute, warning Japan it must recognize the islands as part of Russia as a starting point for talks.

The stern statement from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which followed the talks with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, appeared to reflect Moscow's efforts to temper Japanese expectations of an imminent deal on the Kuril Islands dispute.

It sets a tough stage for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. Abe has recently voiced hope that this year will mark a breakthrough in solving the dispute and spoke about an imminent change in the islands' status — remarks that angered Moscow.

Speaking after the talks, Lavrov said Moscow saw recent statements from Abe as unacceptable.

"Russia's sovereignty over the islands isn't subject to discussion. They are part of the territory of the Russian Federation," Lavrov told reporters, noting the U.N. Charter supports Moscow's ownership of them.

The Soviet Union took the four southernmost Kuril Islands during the final days of World War II. Japan asserts territorial rights to the islands, which it calls the Northern Territories. The dispute has kept the countries from signing a peace treaty.

Speaking at the start of the talks, Japan's Kono said Russia and Japan needed to solve the territorial problem to set the stage for expanded economic and other ties.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Takeshi Osuga said during a separate briefing in Moscow the two ministers had a "serious and frank exchange." He wouldn't comment on specifics and said Russian and Japanese diplomats would continue discussions on the issue.

Putin and Abe agreed in November to accelerate negotiations based on a 1956 Soviet proposal to return two of the islands to Japan, but Lavrov's somber tone indicated that Japanese expectations of a quick breakthrough were premature.

Abe's optimism raised concerns in Russian nationalist circles and fueled criticism of the Kremlin. In an apparent attempt to contain the damage, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese ambassador to warn Tokyo not to "artificially incite the atmosphere regarding the peace treaty problem and try to enforce its own scenario of settling the issue."

Lavrov struck a similar chord as he sat down Monday with Kono.

"Once again, I would like to ask our Japanese colleagues to strictly follow agreements by our leaders," he said.

After their talks, the Russian diplomat said he also drew Kono's attention to a statement by Abe's political aide suggesting that solving the territorial dispute with Russia would help efforts by Japan and the U.S. to deter China.

Lavrov called the statement "outrageous," adding that it raised new questions about the independence of Japanese foreign policy.

"We wondered whether Japan could be independent given such reliance on the U.S. and we were told that Japan would act proceeding from its national interests," Lavrov said. "We would like to hope it will indeed be so."

He said the Soviet Union proposed returning the two islands to Japan before Tokyo struck a military alliance with the U.S. in 1960.

Lavrov noted that Russia remains concerned about the U.S. military buildup in the Pacific, including the deployment of U.S. missile defense components that he said create security risks for Russia and China.


Too much brine? Study highlights growing toxic brine problem

The Sept. 4, 2015 file photo shows the Carlsbad, Calif. desalination plant in Carlsbad, Calif. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Berlin (AP) — The world's thirst for fresh water is causing a salty problem.

Desalination plants around the world are producing enough brine waste to swamp an area the size of Florida with a foot of salty water every year, according to a U.N.-backed report released Monday.

The study by researchers from Canada, the Netherlands and South Korea warned that much of the brine is being dumped untreated into the sea, and some is laden with toxic chemicals, causing harm to sea life.

The authors called for better brine management, particularly in countries that rely heavily on desalination for their water needs, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.

"We know that water scarcity is increasing in many regions across the world due to increased water demands, which are associated with population increase and economic growth," said one of the authors, Manzoor Qadir, assistant director of the United Nations University's Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

At the same, climate change is making the availability of freshwater less predictable, such as by changing the amount of runoff snow in some regions, he said.

The authors examined 16,000 desalination plants worldwide and found they produce 142 million cubic meters (5,014 million cubic feet) of brine each day, or 51.8 billion cubic meters a year. That's about half more than previous studies had estimated, said Qadir.

The researchers called for better brine management, noting that studies have shown it can be used in aquacultures to boost yields of salt-tolerant species of fish, and the metals and salts contained in it — such as magnesium and lithium — could be mined.


Kim looking to 'achieve results' in 2nd summit with Trump

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they pose for a photo before talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Li Xueren/Xinhua via AP)

Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly told the leader of his only major ally, China, that he wants to "achieve results" on the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula during a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The comments, contained in Chinese state media reports Thursday, came a day after Kim left Beijing on his special armored train after a two-day visit to the Chinese capital.

Kim's trip to China — his fourth in the past 10 months — is believed to be an effort to coordinate with Beijing ahead of a possible second summit with Trump. It comes after U.S. and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.

North Korea will "make efforts for the second summit between (North Korean) and U.S. leaders to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community," Kim was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency.

All sides should "jointly push for a comprehensive resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue" and North Korea will "continue sticking to the stance of denuclearization and resolving the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and consultation," Xinhua quoted Kim as saying.

Kim also said North Korea hopes its "legitimate concerns" will be given due respect, a reference to its desire for security guarantees and a possible peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

He also credited Chinese President Xi Jinping with helping reduce regional tensions, saying "the Korean Peninsula situation has been easing since last year, and China's important role in this process is obvious to all."

The North's Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim told Xi that the North remains unchanged in its push to seek a negotiated resolution of the nuclear standoff. It said Kim also mentioned unspecified difficulties in improving ties with the United States and moving nuclear diplomacy forward.

Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying that China supports the U.S.-North Korea summits and hopes the two sides "will meet each other halfway." KCNA said Xi accepted an invitation to visit North Korea, although details of when he might go were not given.

It wasn't clear from the reports if Kim was in back in North Korea, but his train presumably would arrive sometime Thursday.

Xi has yet to visit North Korea since taking office in 2012.

Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June for the first-ever leaders' meeting between their nations, but there has been a standoff ever since, with dueling accusations of bad faith.

Kim's Beijing visit was seen as part of an effort to win Chinese support for a reduction of U.N. sanctions imposed over his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions have severely impacted his country's already ailing economy.

While North Korea hasn't conducted any test launches or detonations in more than a year, it has displayed no real intention of abandoning the programs that are seen as guaranteeing the government's survival.

The trip also came after he expressed frustration in his annual New Year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since the Singapore summit, saying that if things don't improve — meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren't in the offing — North Korea might have to find "a new way" forward.

While Trump says he considers Xi key to enticing Kim into taking concrete steps toward denuclearization, the president's own relationship with his Chinese counterpart has frayed over the U.S.-China trade war.

Officially, at least, China says it considers the tariff battle and North Korea's weapons programs to be entirely separate.

KCNA reported that Kim on Wednesday visited a pharmaceutical plant belonging to Beijing Tongrentang Co. Ltd., where he watched production processes.

It said he met with Xi at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday after a welcoming ceremony. Later Tuesday, Xi gave a grand banquet for Kim, his wife Ri Sol Ju and other visiting North Korean officials.

At Tuesday's daily Chinese foreign ministry briefing, spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over U.S. demands for a halt to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

"We always believe that, as key parties to the Korean Peninsula issue, it's important for the two sides to maintain contact and we always support their dialogue to achieve positive outcomes," Lu said.

Tuesday was Kim's birthday but there was no word of any official celebration.


Celebrations in Congo's capital as opposition candidate wins

Residents celebrate in Kinshasa Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, after learning that opposition presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi had been declared the winner of the elections. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Mathilde Boussion and Saleh Mwanamilongo

Kinshasa, Congo (AP) — Joyous dancing erupted in the streets of Congo's capital to celebrate the surprise victory of opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, who was early Thursday declared winner of the long-delayed, disorganized and controversial presidential election.

"Today I am happy," said Tshisekedi. "Happy for you, my base (his supporters). Happy for the people of Congo. Everyone is celebrating that there is peace. No one could imagine the scenario where an opposition candidate could be victorious!"

However, rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu charged the results had been rigged by outgoing President Joseph Kabila who made a backroom deal with Tshisekedi. Kabila may have negotiated with Tshisekedi to prevent anti-corruption crusader Fayulu from winning, according to Fayulu, diplomats and observers.

Tshisekedi, who received 38 percent of the vote according to the electoral commission's results, had not been widely considered the leading candidate and is relatively untested. Long in the shadow of his father, the now deceased opposition leader Etienne, Tshisekedi startled Congo shortly before the election by breaking away from the unified opposition candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

Fayulu quickly denounced Tshisekedi's victory as fraud. The results were an "electoral hold up" that were "rigged, fabricated and invented" and do "not reflect the truth of the ballots," said Fayulu. Speaking to the press shortly after the results, Fayulu called on the Congolese people to "rise as one man to protect victory."

Fayulu, a former Exxon manager and Kinshasa lawmaker, received 34 percent of the vote in the electoral commission's results. He claims that he won a majority of the votes and that he was deprived of victory because a deal was made with Tshisekedi.

"How long are we going to negotiate results?" said Fayulu. "In 2006, Jean-Pierre Bemba's victory was stolen, in 2011 Étienne Tshisekedi's victory was stolen. In 2018 victory won't be stolen from Martin Fayulu."

Fayulu urged the Catholic Church to release the results from its team of 40,000 observers who recorded voting tallies posted at each of the polling centers. Last week, the Catholic Church said their observations showed a clear winner, and many say that was Fayulu.

Several diplomats briefed on the matter told The Associated Press that the figures compiled by the Catholic Church showed that Fayulu won an absolute majority of the votes. Two diplomats also said that all major observation missions, including from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, showed similar results with Fayulu the winner. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Kabila's government made a deal with Tshisekedi to declare him the winner, as hopes faded for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who received just 23 percent of the official results. The constitutional court has 14 days to validate the results.

Happy demonstators in Kinshasa, however, showed no signs of wanting to challenge Tshisekedi's victory.  Many said they were delighted pleased with Tshisekedi's win and to see Kabila step down.

"This is the coronation of a lifetime," the deputy secretary-general of Tshisekedi's party, Rubens Mikindo, said shortly after the announcement that his candidate had won, above the cheers at party headquarters. "This is the beginning of national reconciliation."

The election may enable Congo to achieve its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960. Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the troubled nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world and has amassed vast wealth. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms, but during more than two years of election delays many Congolese feared he'd find a way to stay in office.

Attention now turns to Congo's powerful Catholic church and whether it will dispute the official results.

If the church finds that Fayulu won, "how will the population react?" Stephanie Wolters, analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, posted on Twitter. She added, will the African Union "consider a power transfer 'enough' or will they push for investigation and real result?"

The delayed results, nearly two weeks after the Dec. 30 vote, came after international pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people. The United States threatened sanctions against officials who rigged the vote.

The largely peaceful election was marred by the malfunctioning of many voting machines that Congo used for the first time. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing. And in a last-minute decision, some 1 million of the country's 40 million voters were barred from participating, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

Defiantly, tens of thousands of voters in one of the barred communities held their own ballot on election day. Fayulu won easily.

Congo's government cut internet service the day after the vote to prevent speculation on social media. As the electoral commission met this week, anti-riot police moved into place outside.

Some Congolese weary of Kabila's 18-year rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace. Some said they would be happy as long as Fayulu or Tshisekedi won, while recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.

Many Congolese objected to Shadary, suspecting that Kabila would continue to rule from behind the scenes.

Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and living in the shadow of his outspoken father.

The 56-year-old Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo's most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father's death.


Parts of Austria, southern Germany sink deeper into snow

A man makes his way at the early morning after heavy snow fall in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 10. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Berlin (AP) — Heavy snow is ongoing in parts of Austria and southern Germany, with several places cut off and the bad weather expected to last until Friday morning.

Austrian police said Thursday that a 16-year-old boy from Australia was killed in an avalanche in St. Anton am Arlberg as he was skiing with his family on Wednesday. That brought to at least 15 the number of weather-related deaths reported in Europe over the last week.

Several railway lines in the Alps were closed because of the snow, trucks and cars got stuck for hours on a highway in southwestern Germany and schools were closed in parts of Bavaria.

Roads into several places were closed, among them Galtuer in western Austria, where a massive avalanche in 1999 killed 31 people.


Macedonian PM struggles to secure majority for name change

Opponents to the change of the country's constitutional name protest outside the parliament building prior to a session of the Macedonian Parliament in the capital Skopje, Wednesday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Skopje, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's prime minister was struggling Thursday to get the required number of lawmakers to finalize constitutional changes that will rename the country North Macedonia and allow its NATO accession under a deal with neighboring Greece.

Zoran Zaev told reporters in Skopje that he has not yet secured support from the required two-thirds of the 120-seat parliament, or 80 lawmakers. A planned parliamentary session on the matter Friday was postponed.

Zaev's efforts were complicated when a small ethnic Albanian party demanded that the planned constitutional designation "Macedonian citizenship" be changed to "citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia."

The party says this will safeguard the identity of ethnic Albanians — about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1-million population.

Zaev said the reference to Macedonian citizenship is key for his country in the deal with Greece. He also said that a group of opposition conservative lawmakers who had initially supported the constitutional changes — and were subsequently ejected by their VMRO-DPMNE party — strongly opposed the ethnic Albanians' demand.

Hundreds of opposition supporters protested in front of parliament for a second day Thursday against the deal, demanding early elections and the dissolution of parliament.

VMRO leader Hristijan Mickoski addressed the rally, accusing Zaev of "bargaining" with lawmakers to secure the two-thirds majority.

He has claimed Zaev exerted pressure on members of the judiciary on cases involving conservative party lawmakers, or their family members, accused in connection with a violent parliament invasion last year.

"Look how publicly, how openly, this trade is going on with (Macedonia's) name and identity, like at a market stall," Mickoski said.
 


4 on trial over theft of huge gold coin from Berlin museum

This Dec. 12, 2010 file photo shows the gold coin 'Big Maple Leaf' in the Bode Museum in Berlin. (Marcel Mettelsiefen/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — Four young men went on trial in Germany Thursday over the brazen theft of a 100-kilogram (221-pound) Canadian gold coin that disappeared from a Berlin museum two years ago.

Two brothers and their cousin, identified in German media as 24-year-old Wayci Remmo, 20-year-old Ahmed Remmo and 22-year-old Wissam Remmo, are accused of stealing the "Big Maple Leaf" coin from the Bode Museum in March 2017.

The fourth suspect, identified only as 20-year-old Dennis W., worked as a security guard at the museum, which is located in the heart of the German capital. He is accused of scouting out the scene of the crime.

The opening of the trial at Berlin's district court drew intense media interest in Germany because of the Hollywood-style nature of the heist and their families' alleged ties to organized crime.

Prosecutors believe that the Remmos smashed a protective case and then managed to lift the coin out of a museum window before fleeing along a rail track with their haul in a wheelbarrow. They are suspected of later cutting up the coin, valued at about 3.75 million euros ($4.33 million), and selling the pieces.

The men's lawyers have denied the accusations leveled against their clients and accused prosecutors of presenting no evidence linking them to the theft.

If convicted, the men could face up to 10 years' imprisonment for serious theft, though the three youngest defendants may be sentenced as juveniles because they were under 21 at the time of the crime.


North Korea confirms Kim's departure to China for summit

In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with his wife Ri Sol Ju at Pyongyang Station in Pyongyang, North Korea, before leaving for China. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Foster Klug

Seoul (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making a four-day trip to China, the North's state media reported Tuesday, in what's likely an effort by Kim to coordinate with his only major ally ahead of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump that could happen early this year.

Kim departed for China on Monday afternoon with his wife Ri Sol Ju and other top officials, the North's Korean Central News Agency said. It said Kim is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

South Korean media reported that Kim's distinctive armored train was expected to reach Beijing on Tuesday morning, which happens to be Kim's birthday.

Kim's trip comes after U.S. and North Korean officials reportedly met in Vietnam to discuss the location of a second summit between Kim and Trump as the two nations look to settle the North's decades-long pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

Washington and Pyongyang seemed close to war at points during 2017 as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests that got it tantalizingly close to its nuclear goal of one day targeting with pinpoint accuracy anywhere on the U.S. mainland

Possibly fearing the effect on his country's terrible economy of crushing outside sanctions imposed because of his weapons' tests, Kim abruptly turned to diplomacy with Seoul and Washington last year. Three times he visited China, which is North Korea's most important trading partner and a key buffer against pressure from Washington.

But even after what was seen as a blockbuster summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore last June — the first-ever between the leaders of the war enemies — there's been little real progress in nuclear disarmament.

Washington is pressing the North to offer up a detailed accounting of its nuclear arsenal, while Pyongyang says it has already done enough and it's time for the U.S. to ease harsh international sanctions that hold back the North Korean economy.

Despite Trump's repeated assurances that another summit will allow he and Kim to make a grand deal to settle the nuclear standoff and change a relationship marked by decades of animosity and mistrust, outside analysts are highly skeptical that the North will easily abandon a nuclear arsenal constructed in the face of deep poverty and likely seen by Kim as his only guarantee of regime survival.


Gabon government thwarts coup attempt, 2 plotters dead

In this image from TV, a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, reads a statement on state television broadcast from Libreville, Gabon, saying the military has seized control of the government, Monday Jan. 7. (Gabon State TV via AP)

Yves Laurent Goma

 Libreville, Gabon (AP) — Gabon's government thwarted an attempted military coup on Monday, retaining control of the oil-rich West African nation after two plotters were killed and other army officers were arrested, the government said.

Authorities regained control of state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital, Libreville, which were the only areas taken over by the officers, government spokesman Guy-Betrand Mapangou told Radio France International.

He said five army officers who took over state radio were arrested. Two other coup plotters were killed when security forces took over and freed some hostages, according to a presidential statement reported by RFI.

A curfew was imposed over the capital, Libreville, and the internet was cut. The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast was being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles.

Earlier Monday a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military had seized control of Gabon's government in order to "restore democracy." He was flanked by two other soldiers holding weapons; all were dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets.

Those soldiers have been taken into custody and President Ali Bongo's government remains in control, government spokesman Mapangou said.

Bongo, who has been in power since 2009, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke. He recently addressed the country in a New Year's message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.

Gabon, sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, has been ruled for more than half a century by Bongo and his father, Omar, who died in 2009. Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country's natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than 2 million. About one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

As news of the coup reverberated through the international community, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attempted coup and called on all in the country to follow its constitutional laws, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The African Union also affirmed its support for the Bongo government.

"The African Union strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon," the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said on Twitter. "I reaffirm the AU's rejection of all anti-constitutional change."

In his brief New Year's address, the 59-year-old Bongo declared that the country was "indivisible" and acknowledged his health problems without giving details. "A difficult period," he called it, and a challenge that he surmounted "thanks to God." He promised to put all of his efforts into improving the daily quality of life for Gabon's people.

The French-educated Bongo, who was the country's defense minister before becoming president, narrowly won re-election in 2016 in a vote opposition rival Jean Ping claimed was plagued by irregularities, and he continues to call himself the country's real president.


Britain testing 'no-deal' scenario as Brexit vote nears

Some 150 trucks leave Manston Airfield during a 'no-deal' Brexit test for where 6,000 trucks could be parked at the airfield near Ramsgate in south east England, Monday, Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Britain is testing how its motorway and ferry system would handle a "no-deal" Brexit by sending a stream of trucks from a closed local airport to the port of Dover — even as some legislators try to pressure the government to rule out the scenario.

The tests began Monday morning and are intended to gauge how severe the disruption would be if Britain leaves the European Union on March 29 without an agreed-upon withdrawal deal.

It is widely expected that an abrupt departure would lead to the introduction of tariff and customs barriers that would slow fast-moving ferry and rail traffic that links Britain to continental Europe. There are concerns that major traffic jams leading in and out of ferry ports like Dover would greatly hamper trade and leave Britain without adequate food and medicine.

Parliament is expected to resume its debate over the government's planned withdrawal deal Wednesday, with a vote widely expected a week later.

There are no indications that lobbying over the Christmas and New Year holiday period has garnered Prime Minister Theresa May more support for her plan.

The withdrawal agreement, which is required before more wide-ranging discussions on future relations can commence, foresees relatively close economic ties with Europe, particularly in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, in order to avoid the imposition of a hard border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

As well as frustrating a number of lawmakers who want a complete break from the EU, the plan also raises the prospect that the U.K. could be "trapped" in a customs arrangement if no agreement on future trade ties is reached. There are also a number of lawmakers who have said they will vote against the deal because they want another referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

A vote that had been scheduled in December was delayed as May admitted it would face certain defeat.

May said Monday she is still trying to get more from EU leaders, who insist they are not willing to sweeten the deal. She told hospital workers in Liverpool there has been "some further movement" from the EU but did not provide specifics.

"We are continuing to work on further assurances on further undertakings from the European Union in relation to the concern that has been expressed by parliamentarians," she said.

She was castigated in Parliament by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the prime minister is wasting precious time by pushing a deal that has no support.

The prospect of the bill's possible defeat next week has renewed concern about a "no-deal" scenario. Fears about economic disruption Monday prompted roughly 200 legislators including some from the prime minister's Conservative Party to write to May asking her to rule out the no-deal scenario.

May has not spelled out how she will respond if the withdrawal bill is voted down next week.

Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said Monday that the government is still focused on winning the vote.

"A week is a very long time in politics. We don't know what the numbers are," he told BBC. "We have got a week. I think the situation — as it always does — has developed, it evolves. I am very hopeful that the deal will be voted through next week."


Cargo ship sinks off Turkey's Black Sea coast; 6 dead

A Turkish coast guard and a medic help a crew member after a Panama-flagged vessel, Volgo Balt 214, sank in rough waters off the Black Sea coastal province of Samsun, Turkey, Monday, Jan. 7. (DHA via AP)

Ankara, Turkey (AP) — A cargo ship sank in rough waters off Turkey's Black Sea coast on Monday, killing six crew members including its captain, officials and media reports said. Seven other crew members were rescued.

Turkish authorities launched a search and rescue mission off the Black Sea coastal province of Samsun after receiving a distress signal from the Panama-flagged vessel, Volgo Balt 214, the governor's office said.

Samsun Gov. Osman Kaymak told reporters after visiting the survivors in hospital that six crew members, including the captain, died before rescuers could reach the area. He quoted one of the survivors as saying that the hull split into two after being hit by a powerful wave.

The vessel, which was carrying coal, was heading to Samsun from the Russian port of Azov, the coast guard said. It was located about 80 nautical miles from Samsun when it sent a distress signal at 8:10 a.m. (0510 GMT; 12:10 a.m. EST).

The crew included 11 Ukrainians and two Azerbaijan nationals, Kaymak said.

The Turkish Coast Guard said a plane, three helicopters and two boats took part in the rescue operation.


Malaysia's king abdicates in unexpected and rare move

In this July 17, 2018, file photo, Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V salutes during the national anthem at the opening of the 14th parliament session at the Parliament house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Kuala Lumpur (AP) — Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V abdicated on Sunday in an unexpected move, after just two years on the throne.

The palace said in a statement that the 49-year-old ruler had resigned as Malaysia's 15th king with immediate effect, cutting short his five-year term. No reason was given in the statement.

It marked the first abdication in the nation's history.

Sultan Muhammad V, ruler of northeast Kelantan state, took his oath of office in December 2016, becoming one of Malaysia's youngest constitutional monarchs.

He is said to have married a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen in November while on a two-month medical leave. Reports in Russian and British media and on social media featured pictures of the wedding, which reportedly took place in Moscow. Neither the sultan, the palace nor the government had officially confirmed the wedding.

Speculation that Sultan Muhammad V would step down emerged this past week, shortly after he returned from his leave, but Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday that he was unaware of any abdication plans.

Under a unique system maintained since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957, nine hereditary state rulers take turns as the country's king for five-year terms.

The Council of Rulers is expected to meet soon to pick the next king.

The monarch's role is largely ceremonial, since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and parliament. But the monarch is highly regarded, particularly among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, as the supreme upholder of Malay tradition.


High avalanche risk in Alps amid heavy snow; 1 dead

An aircraft is de-iced at the airport of Munich, Germany, Sunday, Jan.6. (Stefan Puchner/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — Authorities warned Sunday of a high risk of avalanches on the northern side of the Alps, after heavy snowfall in recent days created dangerous conditions in parts of southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

A 20-year-old skier died in an avalanche Saturday on Mount Teisen, near the Austrian border, German police said. The woman's five companions were unharmed.

Authorities have closed some roads and train lines due to avalanche risks, while airports in the region have seen delays as they struggled to clear the large amount of fresh snow and de-ice planes.

Hundreds of passengers were stuck for hours on a train early Sunday after a snow-laden tree crashed onto the tracks near Kitzbuehel, Austria. Some 14,000 households were temporarily left without electricity in northern Austria because of damages to power lines.

Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported that some 600 residents and tourists were still stuck in the Austrian village of Soelktal following a road closure. It said an Austrian army helicopter managed to drop some supplies there on Sunday.

Officials in the nearby Salzburg region described the situation as "very precarious," noting that large avalanches could be triggered spontaneously.

The German weather service DWD forecast a further 40 centimeters of snowfall in some areas by Monday.


Poland shuts down 13 escape game sites due to safety flaws

 

Forensic and other police experts examine the site of a fire in an Escape Room, in Koszalin, northern Poland, on Saturday, Jan. 5. (AP Photo)

Monika Scislowska

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Polish officials have shut down 13 escape room entertainment sites for safety flaws and the prime minister asked people Sunday to report such lapses to firefighters and police after five teenage girls were killed in a fire.

Players in escape room games are locked inside a room or building and must solve puzzles and find clues that lead them to the key that will unlock the door. Regarded as an intellectual challenge, the games are highly popular among teenagers in Poland.

Fire chief Leszek Suski said the escape room at a private house in the city of Koszalin, where the 15-year-old girls died Friday locked inside a room celebrating a birthday, had no emergency evacuation route. They were the first known deaths in an escape room, a form of entertainment that has been growing in Poland over the past five years.

Firefighters found the victims' bodies after they extinguished a fire next to the locked room. Autopsies showed that the girls, who were friends from school, died of carbon monoxide inhalation. A young man employed there was hospitalized with burns.

Prosecutors say a leaky gas container inside a heater is the most likely cause of the blaze.

Police chief Jaroslaw Szymczyk said other people had previously posted critical remarks online about the safety of that escape room site, but local officials weren't notified.

The 28-year-old who designed and runs the site has been detained and will be questioned, Szymczyk said. His injured employee is also going to be questioned.

During a memorial Catholic Mass at Koszalin Cathedral, Bishop Edward Dajczak identified the girls by their first names as Julia, Amelia, Gosia, Karolina and Wiktoria.

Public prayers were planned later Sunday in front of the house where they died.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, along with Suski and Szymczyk, spoke after holding a meeting in which they discussed with other officials ways of improving safety at entertainment venues. Morawiecki called the girls' deaths an "immense tragedy."

Since Friday, more than 200 of Poland's 1,100 escape rooms have been checked, revealing a number of safety flaws that needed to be immediately fixed. Authorities ordered the closure of 13 of them.


UK leader May: Brexit critics risk damaging UK democracy

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves BBC Broadcasting House in London after appearing on the Andrew Marr show, Sunday, Jan. 6. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

 London (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that a delayed vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal will "definitely" go ahead later this month, as she promised to set out measures to win over skeptical lawmakers.

May told the BBC that in the coming days she will give more details about measures addressing Northern Ireland and concern over the Irish border. She also promised a greater role for Parliament in negotiations over future trade relations with the European Union as a sweetener, and added that "we are still working on" getting extra assurances from Brussels to secure domestic support for her deal.

May struck a withdrawal agreement with the EU in November, but that deal needs Parliament's approval. In December, May decided to postpone a parliamentary vote intended to ratify the agreement at the last minute after it became clear that it would be overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons.

Lawmakers are resuming debate on the deal Wednesday, before a vote expected to be held around Jan. 15.

If the deal is voted down, Britain risks crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place, a messy outcome that could plunge the country into its worst recession for decades.

May's Brexit deal is unpopular with British lawmakers across the spectrum, and the main sticking point is the insurance policy known as the "backstop" — a measure that would keep the U.K. tied to EU customs rules in order to guarantee there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland, which won't belong to the bloc after Brexit.

EU officials have insisted that the withdrawal agreement can't be renegotiated, although they also stressed that the backstop was meant only as a temporary measure of last resort.

As part of her efforts to win support for her deal, May on Sunday reiterated that the agreement she negotiated was the only one that respects the 2016 referendum result, protects jobs and provides certainty to people and businesses.

She warned in the Mail on Sunday newspaper that critics of her Brexit deal risk damaging Britain's democracy and its economy by opposing her plan.


Congo delays announcing results of presidential election

An exhausted electoral commission official rests as results are tallied for the presidential election, at a local results compilation center in Kinshasa, Congo, Sunday, Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Mathilde Boussion and Saleh Mwanamilongo

Kinshasa, Congo (AP) — Congo's government Sunday postponed the release of the results of last weekend's presidential election, fueling suspicions President Joseph Kabila's ruling party is maneuvering to cling to power.

No new date for announcing the winner of the Dec. 30 election was given. Electoral officials have compiled 53 percent of the votes and will not release any information until all the ballots have been tallied, said Corneille Nangaa, head of the electoral commission.

"We handle sensitive data and have to handle it responsibly," he said. He asked Congo's people to "remain patient."

"We are aware this process has always been surrounded by distrust," he said, referring to calls from the Catholic Church, the African Union, the U.S. and other diplomats for the government to announce accurate results.

Kabila, who is stepping down after 18 years in power, had delayed the election for two years. The postponement in announcing the winner was seen by some Congolese as part of an effort by Kabila's party to manipulate the results in order to claim victory.

The Catholic Church, an influential voice in this heavily Catholic nation, turned up the pressure by saying it already knows there is a clear victor, based on data compiled by the church's 40,000 election observers. Because Congo's regulations say only the electoral commission can announce election results, the church did not name the winner.

Congo's ruling party, which backs Kabila's preferred candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, called the church's statement "irresponsible and anarchist."

The leading opposition candidate is Martin Fayulu, a businessman and lawmaker.

This could be Congo's first democratic, peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

For the past week, the government cut off internet access across the vast Central African country to prevent any speculation on social media about who won. The government has also blocked transmissions from Radio France International, which was alleged to have speculated on the winner, and revoked the press credentials of RFI's correspondent.

Election observers and the opposition have raised concerns about voting irregularities, including the government's decision to bar 1 million voters in eastern Congo from casting ballots because of what it said was the Ebola outbreak in the region. Eastern Congo is known as a center of the opposition.

Western observers were not invited to watch the balloting, and the U.S. has threatened sanctions against those who undermine the democratic process.

While Congo was largely calm during and after the voting, President Donald Trump said about 80 military personnel and combat equipment had been deployed to neighboring Gabon to protect American citizens and diplomatic facilities in Congo. Ahead of the vote, the U.S. ordered non-emergency government employees and family members to leave the country.

At stake is a vast country rich in the minerals that power the world's mobile phones and laptops, yet desperately underdeveloped. Some 40 million people were registered to vote.

Kabila, who took office in 2001 after his father was assassinated, is constitutionally barred from serving three consecutive terms but has hinted he may run again in 2023. That has led many Congolese to suspect he will rule from the shadows if Shadary takes office..
 


DAILY UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

3 Iraqi refugees arrested in Germany over attack plot

Venezuelans take to streets in walkout to push Maduro out

52 bodies of migrants found after boats capsize off Djibouti

Pakistani Islamists to rally against freed Christian woman


20 dead as bombs target Sunday Mass in Philippine cathedral

Auschwitz survivors pay homage as world remembers Holocaust

France: 'Yellow vest' violence prompts 'red scarves' rally

Russia and Putin mark 75 years since WWII siege of Leningrad


Landslides, flooding from dam kill 8 in central Indonesia

Maduro foe claims Venezuela presidency amid protests

Telescopes capture moment of impact during eclipse of moon

Hong Kong's legislature takes up China national anthem bill

Sonia Gandhi's daughter enters India politics ahead of vote


With Trump out, Davos chief eyes fixing world architecture

IRA dissidents suspected in Northern Ireland car bomb blast

World's oldest man, 113, dies at his home in northern Japan

Pakistan arrests officers after shooting that left 4 dead

May plans next move in Brexit fight as chances rise of delay


Indonesia leader to free radical cleric behind Bali bombings

Myanmar army ordered to take offensive against Arakan Army

Russia warns US missile defense plans will fuel arms race

Kenya court orders 6 suspects held over Nairobi hotel attack

Drilling machines help frantic search of trapped Spanish boy


Death penalty for Canadian escalates China-Canada tensions

Indonesia recovers Lion Air jet's cockpit voice recorder

Search for 2-year-old Spanish toddler in narrow well

Russia tells Japan retaking Pacific islands not on horizon

Too much brine? Study highlights growing toxic brine problem


Kim looking to 'achieve results' in 2nd summit with Trump

Celebrations in Congo's capital as opposition candidate wins

Parts of Austria, southern Germany sink deeper into snow

Macedonian PM struggles to secure majority for name change

4 on trial over theft of huge gold coin from Berlin museum


North Korea confirms Kim's departure to China for summit

Gabon government thwarts coup attempt, 2 plotters dead

Britain testing 'no-deal' scenario as Brexit vote nears

Cargo ship sinks off Turkey's Black Sea coast; 6 dead


Malaysia's king abdicates in unexpected and rare move

High avalanche risk in Alps amid heavy snow; 1 dead

Poland shuts down 13 escape game sites due to safety flaws

UK leader May: Brexit critics risk damaging UK democracy

Congo delays announcing results of presidential election