Billy Graham went from tent revivals to the White House
In this Dec. 20, 2010 file photo,
evangelist Billy Graham, 92, speaks during an interview at the Billy
Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte. (AP
Photo/Nell Redmond, File)
In this June 27, 1954 file photo,
Evangelist Billy Graham speaks to over 100,000 Berliners at the Olympic
Stadium in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo, File)
In this Dec. 12, 1961 file photo,
Evangelist Billy Graham, left, talks with President John F. Kennedy
during a call at the the White House in Washington. (AP Photo, File)
By Rachel Zoll and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press
Montreat, N.C. (AP) — As a young
man, he practiced his sermons by preaching to the alligators and birds
in the swamp. At his height years later, he was bringing the word of God
into living rooms around the globe via TV and dispensing spiritual
counsel — and political advice — to U.S. presidents.
The Rev. Billy Graham, dubbed
"America's Pastor" and the "Protestant Pope," died Wednesday at his
North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and
reach no other evangelist is likely ever to match.
More than anyone else, the
magnetic, Hollywood-handsome Graham built evangelicalism into a force
that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United
The North Carolina-born Graham
transformed the tent revival into an event that filled football arenas,
and reached the masses by making pioneering use of television in
prosperous postwar America. By his final crusade in 2005, he had
preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide.
All told, he was the most widely
heard Christian evangelist in modern history.
"Graham is a major historical
figure, not merely to American evangelicals, but to American
Christianity in general," said Bill Leonard, a professor at Wake Forest
University Divinity School in North Carolina. Graham was "the closest
thing to a national Protestant chaplain that the U.S. has ever had."
A tall figure with swept-back hair,
blue eyes and a strong jaw, Graham was a commanding presence in the
pulpit with a powerful baritone voice. His catchphrase: "The Bible says
Despite his international renown,
he would be the first to say his message was not complex or unique. But
he won over audiences with his friendliness, humility and unyielding
He had an especially strong
influence on the religion and spirituality of American presidents,
starting with Dwight Eisenhower. George W. Bush credited Graham with
helping him transform himself from carousing, hard-drinking oilman to
born-again Christian family man.
His influence reached beyond the
White House. He delivered poignant remarks about the nation's wounds in
the aftermath of Sept. 11 during a message from Washington National
Cathedral three days after the attacks. He met with boxer Muhammad Ali
in 1979 to talk about religion. He showed up in hurricane-ravaged South
Carolina in the 1980s and delivered impromptu sermons from the back of a
pickup truck to weary storm victims.
In the political arena, his
organization took out full-page ads in support of a ballot measure that
would ban gay marriage. Critics blasted Graham on social media on
Wednesday for his stance on gay rights.
Graham wasn't always a polished
presence in the pulpit. After World War II, as an evangelist in the U.S.
and Europe with Youth for Christ, he was dubbed "the Preaching Windmill"
for his arm-swinging and rapid-fire speech.
His first meeting with a U.S.
president, Harry Truman, was a disaster. Wearing a pastel suit and loud
tie that he would later say made him look like a vaudeville performer,
the preacher, unfamiliar with protocol, told reporters what he had
discussed with Truman, then posed for photos.
But those were early stumbles on
his path to fame and influence.
His first White House visit with
Lyndon Johnson, scheduled to last only minutes, stretched to several
hours. He urged Gerald Ford to pardon Richard Nixon and supported Jimmy
Carter on the SALT disarmament treaty. He stayed at the White House with
George H.W. Bush on the eve of the first Persian Gulf War.
His presidential ties proved
problematic when his close friend Nixon resigned in the Watergate
scandal in 1974, leaving Graham devastated, embarrassed and baffled.
Later, tapes released in 2002
caught the preacher telling Nixon that Jews "don't know how I really
feel about what they're doing to this country."
Graham apologized, saying he didn't
recall ever having such feelings. He asked the Jewish community to
consider his actions instead of his words.
At the height of his career, he
would be on the road for months at a time. The strain of so much
preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose as much as 30 pounds by
the time one of his crusades ended.
His wife, Ruth, mostly stayed
behind at their mountainside home in Montreat to raise their five
children: Franklin, Virginia ("Gigi"), Anne, Ruth and Nelson ("Ned").
Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept
with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, "I'd rather have a
little of Bill than a lot of any other man."
Beyond Graham's TV appearances and
speaking engagements, he reached multitudes through network radio,
including "The Hour of Decision," film and newspapers.
One of Graham's breakthrough films
was "The Restless Ones," made in the 1960s, about morally adrift teens
in Southern California who found the strength to withstand temptation
after attending a Billy Graham crusade.
In the 1950s he created a
syndicated newspaper column, "My Answer," which at its height reached
tens of millions of readers.
Early on, he took up the cause of
fighting communism, preaching against its atheistic evils. But he was
much less robust in his support for civil rights and did not join his
fellow clergymen in the movement's marches, a position he later said he
"I think I made a mistake when I
didn't go to Selma" to join the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he said in
a 2005 interview. "I would like to have done more."
Still, Graham ended racially
segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the
Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit
South Africa while its white regime insisted on separating the races at
Graham's integrity lifted him
through the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV
preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.
Graham had resolved early on never
to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share
of the offerings at his crusades, he drew a modest salary from his
ministry, which was governed by an independent board, instead of by
friends and relatives.
"Why, I could make a quarter of a
million dollars a year in this field or in Hollywood if I wanted to,"
Graham once said. "The offers I've had from Hollywood studios are
amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God."
Later in his career, Graham visited
communist Eastern Europe. Increasingly, he appealed for world peace.
William Franklin Graham Jr. was
born on Nov. 7, 1918, on a rural dairy farm near Charlotte. His path
began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared teenager
committed himself to Christ at a tent revival.
After high school, he enrolled at
the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, then transferred to Florida Bible
Institute in Tampa. There, he practiced his sermonizing in a swamp.
He still wasn't convinced he should
be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf
"I finally gave in while pacing at
midnight on the 18th hole," he said. "'All right, Lord,' I said, 'If you
want me, you've got me.'"
A 1949 Los Angeles revival in a
tent dubbed the "Canvas Cathedral" turned Graham into evangelism's
rising star. Legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst had ordered his
papers to hype Graham, though the evangelist said he never learned why.
He later embarked on
expectation-defying crusades in London and New York, soon becoming a
global voice for Christianity.
Health problems gradually slowed
Graham. In 1995 his son William Franklin Graham III, then 43, was
designated the ministry's leader.
Billy Graham's wife died in 2007 at
age 87. Graham will be buried next to her at the Billy Graham Museum and
Library in Charlotte. There was no immediate word on other funeral
In this March 12, 2006 file photo,
the Rev. Billy Graham, right, and his son Franklin Graham wait for the
start of a service in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)
Migrant recounts his deportation from Israel
Eritrean migrant Yohannes Tesfagabr, recounts
his journey to The Associated Press in Kampala, Uganda. His case highlights
the predicament of tens of thousands of Africans in Israel who face jail if
they do not accept an offer, allegedly without further assurances of safety,
to relocate to an unnamed African country. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)
By Rodney Muhumuza, AP
Kampala, Uganda (AP) — Inside
the immigration office in Tel Aviv, Yohannes Tesfagabr considered his
options. He could not dare return to his native Eritrea, a country he risked
his life to flee in 2010. He also hoped to avoid the fate of compatriots who
languished in a notorious desert jail for illegally staying in Israel.
So in an emotional confrontation with
immigration officials one day last November, the 29-year-old sous chef
accepted what Israeli authorities were offering: $3,500 in cash and a
one-way ticket to Uganda or Rwanda.
Two weeks later he was on a flight to
Uganda, together with five other Eritrean migrants he did not know.
"They told me, 'If you don't leave you
are going to jail,'" Tesfagabr recalled. "It's forced. They tell you to say
you are going voluntarily, but it is not voluntary. They force you to deport
His case highlights the predicament of
tens of thousands of Africans in Israel who face jail if they do not accept
an offer, allegedly without further assurances of safety, to relocate to an
unnamed African country. Both Uganda and Rwanda, widely presumed to be the
likely destinations, have denied the existence of any agreement with
Israel's government even though scores of migrants are believed to have
already settled in the East African countries.
Tesfagabr said his group of Eritreans
was not taken through the official immigration desk when they arrived in
Uganda. Instead, they were ushered in via the cargo area, herded by a
Ugandan official who stayed quiet most of the time. They were bundled into
two taxis and driven to a hotel in the capital, Kampala. Their passports
were confiscated by a man who spoke Tigrinya, a language widely spoken in
Eritrea, and who Tesfagabr believes had been hired as a translator. Hours
later, they were turned out of the hotel — without their passports.
The five other men who traveled with
Tesfagabr on a Nov. 16 EgyptAir flight to Uganda declined to talk to The
Associated Press because of safety concerns. But Tesfagabr, although
similarly worried, said he wanted to speak out because he felt he had been
harshly treated during Israel's efforts to remove him from a country he had
grown to love.
"My Hebrew is four times better than my
English," he said one recent evening at a Kampala restaurant patronized by
Tesfagabr, a village boy from Eritrea's
highland area of Debarwa who felt hopeless after being forcefully
conscripted into the army, arrived in Israel in 2012, the victim of alleged
traffickers in Sudan who took him to Egypt and helped him cross a border
point in the Sinai after his family was made to pay a $3,900 ransom. He
remembered his days in captivity as some of the worst of his life. To force
his parents to pay for his freedom, his captors beat him and staged mock
executions. At least two of his compatriots were killed in a shootout with
Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, he said.
But after crossing into Israel,
Tesfagabr benefited from random acts of kindness, including from an Israeli
man who bought him food and new clothes. In Rehovot, the city south of Tel
Aviv where he settled, he found a satisfying job as a sous chef in a bistro.
He had an apartment and a bank account, but he had to get his visa renewed
every two months and sometimes he was required to report back after five
When two compatriots with whom he
shared an apartment were jailed for overstaying their visas, Tesfagabr knew
his days were numbered and seriously began thinking about leaving Israel.
"They take you like a dog, like a
donkey," he said, talking about migrants taken to the Holot detention center
in the Negev desert. "They do what they want. They don't have any law for us
... Because I know if I go over there, I can't be a human being after."
This month Israeli authorities began
distributing deportation notices to some 40,000 African migrants, who have
until April 1 to comply. Nearly all are from Eritrea and Sudan, countries
with questionable human rights records. Thousands had entered the country
until 2014, when Israel completed a massive border fence.
The deportation plan has sparked
outrage in Israel, where groups of pilots, doctors, writers, rabbis and
Holocaust survivors have appealed to have it halted. They say the
deportations are unethical and would damage Israel's image as a refuge for
Israel contends that most of the
migrants are job seekers and cites complaints that they have transformed
working-class neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv into unrecognizable slums.
Israeli authorities say women, children and families are exempt from the
This month thousands of African asylum
seekers protested outside the Rwandan Embassy in Israel, calling the
deportations racist and urging Rwanda's government not to cooperate. They
claim they have no rights in Uganda and Rwanda and quickly are forced to
flee toward Europe through war-torn countries like Libya.
Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy minister
of international affairs, described reports of a deal to take in migrants
from Israel as "fake news," and in a statement Rwanda's government insisted
it "has never signed any secret deal with Israel regarding the relocation of
Mossi Raz, an Israeli lawmaker who
recently traveled to Rwanda and Uganda in a delegation of opposition
politicians to investigate the allegations of an official deal with those
countries, said his group concluded that the arrangement "does not ensure
the safety and well-being of the refugees."
Raz said the delegation met with two
migrants who are believed to be among the few remaining in Rwanda. He said
others who were sent from Israel to Rwanda, believed to be in the hundreds
or even thousands, were taken to a hotel in the capital, Kigali, for two
days and then transferred to Uganda, forced to pay for their travel. He was
unsure whether the transfer to Uganda was carried out via official channels.
The two migrants he met, who had been
in Rwanda for two and three years respectively, were unable to work and
scraped by on the remainder of the money they had received from Israel, he
"The refugees will arrive in these
countries and will not receive refugee status, their documents will be taken
from them and they will be left with nothing," Raz said. "Rwanda is only
participating in this agreement because of the money it will receive from
Israel. Senior government officials in Rwanda claimed that such an agreement
does not exist and so there is nothing to discuss. We believe such an
agreement does exist."
This month the speaker of Uganda's
national assembly urged the government to explain the alleged deportations.
It remains unclear when that will happen. Musa Ecweru, Uganda's top refugee
official, did not respond to a request for comment. The U.N. migration
agency's office in Uganda told the AP it had not been contacted by the
government and knew only "bits and pieces" about the alleged deportations
from media reports.
Tesfagabr, the Eritrean migrant, is now
jobless, without a passport and dependent on his savings to pay the rent.
The soft-spoken man said he feels like a prisoner and dreams of relocating
to Europe. To relax, he sometimes plays soccer with his friends, fellow
Eritreans with a similarly uncertain future.
"I want to start a new life," he said,
fiddling with his phone.
'Fix it!' Gun violence plea to Trump from students, parents
President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with
high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White
House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Julia Cordover, the student body president at Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., cries during listening session with
high school students and teachers and President Donald Trump in the State
Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP
Demonstrators participate in a "lie-in" during a protest in favor of
gun control reform in front of the White House, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in
Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Andrew Pollack, father of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
student Meadow Jade Pollack, joined by his sons, speaks during a listening
session with President Donald Trump, high school students, teachers and
others in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday,
Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
By Catherine Lucey and Matthew Daly, AP
Washington (AP) — Spilling out wrenching tales
of lost lives and stolen security, students and parents appealed to
President Donald Trump on Wednesday to set politics aside and protect
America's school children from the scourge of gun violence. Trump listened
intently to the raw emotion and pledged action, including the possibility of
"I turned 18 the day after" the shooting, said a
tearful Samuel Zeif, a student at the Florida high school where a former
student's assault left 17 dead last week. "Woke up to the news that my best
friend was gone. And I don't understand why I can still go in a store and
buy a weapon of war. An AR. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?
How do we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?"
Trump promised to be "very strong on background
checks." And he suggested he supported allowing some teachers and other
school employees to carry concealed weapons to be ready for intruders. But
largely he listened, holding handwritten notes bearing his message to the
families. "I hear you" was written in black marker.
The president had invited the teen survivors of school
violence and parents of murdered children in a show of his resolve against
gun violence in the wake of last week's shootings at Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and in past years at schools in
Connecticut and Colorado. The latest episode has prompted a renewed and
growing call for stronger gun control.
Trump invited his guests to suggest solutions and
solicited feedback. He did not fully endorse any specific policy solution,
but pledged to take action and expressed interest in widely differing
Besides considering concealed carrying of weapons by
trained school employees, a concept he has endorsed in the past, he said he
planned to go "very strongly into age, age of purchase." And he said he was
committed to improving background checks and working on mental health.
Most in the group were emotional but quiet and polite.
But Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed
last week, noted the previous school massacres and raged over his loss,
saying this moment isn't about gun laws but about fixing the schools.
"It should have been one school shooting and we should
have fixed it and I'm pissed. Because my daughter, I'm not going to see
again," said Pollack. "King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid
A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless
indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping
with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for
buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of
The NRA quickly rejected any talk of raising the age
for buying long guns to 21.
"Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults
aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively
prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their
constitutional right to self-protection," the group said in a statement.
Several dozen people assembled in the White House State
Dining Room. Among them were students from Parkland along with their
parents. Also present were parents of students killed in massacres at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary in
Newtown, Connecticut. Students and parents from the Washington area also
The student body president at the Parkland school,
Julia Cordover, tearfully told Trump that she "was lucky enough to come home
She added, "I am confident you will do the right
Trump later tweeted that he would "always remember" the
meeting. "So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them
down. We must keep our children safe!!"
Not all the students impacted by the shooting came to
the White House.
David Hogg, who has been one of the students actively
calling for gun control was invited but declined, said his mother Rebecca
"His point was (Trump needs) to come to Parkland, we're
not going there," she said.
Throughout the day Wednesday, television news showed
footage of student survivors of the violence marching on the Florida state
Capitol, calling for tougher laws. The protests came closer to Trump, too,
with hundreds of students from suburban Maryland attending a rally at the
Capitol and then marching to the White House.
Inside the executive mansion, Trump said at the end of
an hour listening to tales of pain and anguish, "Thank you for pouring out
your hearts because the world is watching and we're going to come up with a
Television personality Geraldo Rivera had dinner with
Trump at his private Palm Beach club over the weekend and described Trump as
"deeply affected" by his visit Friday with Parkland survivors. In an email,
Rivera said he and Trump discussed the idea of raising the minimum age to
purchase assault-type weapons.
Trump "suggested strongly that he was going to act to
strengthen background checks," Rivera said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.,
said Wednesday they would introduce a bill to raise the minimum age required
to purchase rifles from gun dealers, including assault weapons such as the
"A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to
buy an #AR15," Flake said on Twitter. A buyer must be 21 to purchase a
handgun from a licensed gun dealer.
Trump embraced gun rights during his presidential
campaign, though he supported some gun control before he became a candidate,
backing an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period to purchase a gun
in a 2000 book.
On Tuesday, Trump directed the Justice Department to
move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year's Las
Vegas massacre. The White House has also said Trump was looking at a bill
that would strengthen federal gun background checks.
But those moves have drawn criticism as being
inadequate, with Democrats questioning whether the Justice Department even
has authority to regulate bump stocks and arguing that the background check
legislation would not go far enough.
The department said its review of whether bump stocks
are federally prohibited is ongoing but did not say how Trump's order would
An effort to pass bump stock legislation last year
On background checks, Trump has suggested he is open to
a bipartisan bill developed in response to a mass shooting at a Texas
church. It would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report
required records and reward states that comply by providing them with
federal grant preferences.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York
Democrat, said the bill is "a small step," but said Democrats want to see
universal background check legislation.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said
Wednesday that he'll probably reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would
require background checks for all gun purchases online and at gun shows. He
said he planned to discuss the idea with Trump.
That bill first emerged with backing from Toomey and
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia following the 2012 slaying of
26 children and adults in Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School. It
failed then and at least one more time since.
But Darrell Scott, the father of Columbine High School
victim Rachel Scott, said he felt the president had been moved by the
"I feel like there's a different tone in the air," he
said, "than there has been before."
Crews used boats to help residents amid Midwest flooding
crews help evacuate residents Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in Elkhart, Ind.
Crews are using boats to help northern Indiana residents amid flooding from
melting snow and heavy rain moving across the Midwest. (Becky Malewitz
/South Bend Tribune via AP)
Elkhart, Ind. (AP) — Crews used
boats to help residents evacuate their homes in northern Indiana after
rainstorms sweeping across the Midwest on Wednesday combined with melting
snow to flood rivers, roads and other low-lying areas in several states.
The storm system started pushing heavy
rain, snow and ice into the region this week. The weather has already been
blamed for hundreds of car crashes and several fatalities, including a crash
that killed four people along a slippery interstate in Nebraska.
About 19 people had been evacuated from
homes in Elkhart, where emergency crews used boats and an armored vehicle to
respond, Mayor Tim Neese said early Wednesday. Schools were closed in the
northern Indiana city because of the flooding, and an emergency shelter was
set up, The Elkhart Truth newspaper reported.
"This city has not seen flooding like
this in the last 45 years," Neese said. "We also had record snowfall in
addition to consistent rain."
In Elkhart and nearby Goshen, local
officials declared a state of emergency and asked that traffic be limited to
first responders and emergency personnel. Homes and streets also were
flooded in the South Bend area, and forecasters predicted that the swollen
St. Joseph River wouldn't crest until Thursday.
Evacuations grew elsewhere across the
Midwest after heavy rains and snowmelt sent rivers and streams out of their
Authorities in Lansing, Michigan,
recommended the evacuations of at least six neighborhoods. Late Wednesday,
Mayor Andy Schor declared a state of emergency for the city in anticipation
that flooding will hit residential areas.
The National Weather Service predicts
the Grand River in Lansing will crest at 14.6 feet, nearly three feet above
flood stage by late Thursday. The Red Cedar River is forecast to crest at
City officials recommended anyone
living in the possible flood areas to temporarily leave their home by noon
Firefighters in Lake Station, Indiana,
about 30 miles southeast of Chicago, evacuated some residents Wednesday
after about 2 to 3 feet of water surrounded 15 to 20 homes.
In Illinois, authorities issued an
evacuation order Wednesday for residents in the city of Marseilles who live
near the Illinois River. The fear of rising water along the river forced
the evacuation late Tuesday of the LaSalle County Nursing Home in Ottawa.
Two days of rain in southern Wisconsin swelled waterways, leading to a
handful of high-water rescues for people stranded in their vehicles.
The National Weather Service said up to
8 inches of rain have fallen in parts of northern Indiana since Monday.
The weather service has issued flood
warnings for parts of several other states in the central and southern U.S.,
spanning from Texas to Illinois and Ohio to Arkansas. Winter weather
advisories also were issued, including in Oklahoma and Kansas.
More than a dozen students were rescued
after their school bus drove off the road and got stuck in floodwaters in
Arkansas, where strong winds toppled power lines and damaged buildings. A
school bus was pushed off a county road near Lafayette, Indiana, by the wake
of a passing vehicle. No students were injured in either accident.
In Michigan, flooded streets stranded
motorists and a school bus in Flint, and a washout from heavy rains may have
caused two freight train engines to derail near Grand Rapids. Police said
two railroad workers suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening.
Residents in Mattawan, in southwestern Michigan, used sandbags to protect
homes and businesses as a river rose above its banks.
"We just got to wait for it to go
down," Terry Teeter, who installed pumps to keep water away from his house,
told WOOD-TV. "It's going to be a couple of days like this."
State police said a 1-year-old girl was
found dead Wednesday in standing water from rains and snowmelt in her
backyard in central Michigan's Fairplain Township.
A 52-year-old woman from Bourbonnais,
Illinois, was found dead Tuesday in a submerged car in Peotone, south of
Chicago. The woman apparently lost control of her vehicle and ended up in a
rain-filled ditch, said Peotone Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Bruce
In eastern Nebraska, speed and slippery
pavement caused a crash between a pickup truck and a semitrailer along
Interstate 80 on Tuesday that killed four people from Colorado, police said.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said a 38-year-old woman died and two other people
were injured in a collision on an icy highway late Monday.
In Minnesota, state police said winter
weather contributed to 400 crashes and 250 spinouts, including two fatal
The storm system stretched to Texas,
where weather service officials said three tornadoes hit. One struck early
Tuesday in a rural area near Joshua, destroying at least two mobile homes
and severely damaging several others. A mother and her disabled daughter
were injured when one twister demolished their mobile home.
Luxury property ad blitz heralds Trump son's visit to India
son of U.S. President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., second from right,
poses with promoters of Trump Towers Pankaj Bansal, left, Basant Bansal of
M3M developers and Kalpesh Mehta, right, of Tribeca developers at a
photocall in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Trump Jr. is in India
to help sell luxury apartments and lavish attention on wealthy Indians who
have already bought units in a string of Trump-branded developments. (AP
In this Aug. 8, 2017 photo,
a man looks at under construction building named Trump Tower in Mumbai,
India. The eldest son of President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr.is expected
to be in India's business capital, on Thursday to quaff champagne with the
city's elite at a reception hosted by the Lodha Group, the real estate
company that is building the golden-hued Trump Tower. (AP Photo/Rafiq
The eldest son of US
President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr's Trump Towers ads are seen in major
newspapers in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. "Trump has arrived.
Have you?" shout the barrage of glossy front-page advertisements in almost
every major Indian newspaper. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
By Muneeza Naqvi, Associated
New Delhi (AP) "Trump has
arrived. Have you?" shout the barrage of glossy front-page advertisements in
almost every major Indian newspaper.
The ads, which have run repeatedly in
the past few days, herald the arrival not of the American president but of
his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is in New Delhi to sell luxury
apartments and lavish attention on wealthy Indians who have already bought
units in a Trump-branded development outside the Indian capital.
The newspaper ads promise that buyers
who order apartments in the development by Thursday will get "a conversation
and dinner" with Trump Jr. a day later.
President Trump has pledged to avoid
any new foreign business deals during his term in office to avoid potential
ethical conflicts. While the projects that Trump Jr. is promoting in India
were inked before his father was elected, ethics experts have long seen the
use of the Trump name to promote even existing business ventures as tricky
The distinction between old and new
projects can be hazy, they note, and new deals can be shoehorned into old.
Several foreign deals touted over the
past year by the Trump sons have "stretched the definition of what ventures
were previously in the works," said Scott H. Amey, general counsel for the
non-partisan Project on Government Oversight in Washington.
"The president should be putting the
public's interest before his business interests. That can't happen if his
son is flying around the world trying to trade on the fact that his father
is sitting in the Oval Office."
This isn't the first time that
President Trump's sons have raised ethical concerns as they promote their
eponymous brand across the world.
Early last year Trump Jr. and his
brother Eric opened a Trump-branded golf club in Dubai.
The brothers, who now lead the Trump
Organization, watched as fireworks lit the sky over the Trump International
Golf Club to mark the event.
On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump Jr.
posed for photos in New Delhi with Indian developers building complexes in
four cities. Among the business partners accompanying him was Kalpesh Mehta
who heads Tribeca, the firm described as the main Indian partner for
Trump-brand real estate projects.
Mehta came to notice soon after
President Trump's November election victory, when pictures of him and two
other Trump Indian real estate partners with the president-elect in New York
made a big splash in Indian and American media.
Later in the week, Trump Jr. is
scheduled to give a speech about Indo-Pacific relations at a New Delhi
business summit, sharing the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trump Jr. may be raising another set of
ethics concerns by offering his thoughts on international relations, said
Lawrence Noble, senior director of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center in
"The assumption is he has his father's
ear," Noble said. "By talking about international relations and sharing the
stage with government officials, he's acting as an informal ambassador for
the U.S. at the same time he's selling properties in India. It just blurs
the lines even more."
Trump Jr. is on a private visit and the
State Department has not interacted with him regarding his meetings or his
speech, spokesman Heather Nauert said from Washington. "Mr. Trump's comments
during the trip reflect his personal views and not necessarily those of the
In Gurgaon, the sprawling and
ever-growing New Delhi satellite city where a new Trump Towers will
eventually rise, the construction site is just mountains of dirt and unruly
shrubbery, one of many residential projects yet to be built. Buyers can hope
to move into their swanky homes sometime in 2023.
For miles upon miles, the landscape is
little more than tin-roofed huts for construction laborers and tiny
makeshift food shacks to keep them fed.
And while there's almost nothing at the
Trump construction site, a handful of burly guards enthusiastically insisted
on keeping journalists out of the area.
The Trump Organization has licensing
agreements with all its Indian business partners, who build the properties
and acquire the Trump name in exchange for a fee. The organization has five
projects in India, making it the brand's largest market outside the United
States. A luxury complex is already open in the central city of Pune, with
other developments in varying stages of construction in the coastal cities
of Mumbai and Kolkata, and two in Gurgaon.
The apartments are expensive, though
not outrageously so in the overheated real estate world of the Indian rich.
Still, in a country of 1.3 billion, where many people can barely afford $100
a month to rent a shack in a crowded shantytown, apartments in the Trump
Towers complex in Gurgaon run between $775,000 and $1.5 million.
The rest of the details of Donald Trump
Jr.'s itinerary are hazy despite repeated emails to the Trump Organization
and its Indian partner Tribeca. However, local media have reported that he
is slated to visit other Trump projects across India.
On Wednesday he is expected to be in
the eastern city of Kolkata to promote luxury housing bearing his family
name there. On Thursday he is reported to be in India's business capital,
Mumbai, where he is to quaff champagne with the city's elite at a reception
hosted by the Lodha Group, the real estate company that is building the
golden-hued Trump Tower there.
Trump Jr.'s visit so far has been very
different from his sister Ivanka Trump's high-visibility visit to India in
November, when she led the U.S. contingent at a global business conference.
The city of Hyderabad filled up potholes and cleared away beggars ahead of
her visit. Modi flew to Hyderabad for the conference and hosted her for
dinner at a historic palace turned hotel. Television stations broadcast her
In contrast, Trump Jr.'s visit seems
all about keeping the spotlight on business.
AP Writers Stephen Braun and Matthew
Lee contributed to this report from Washington.
Maduro: Digital currency puts Venezuela on tech vanguard
In this Oct. 17, 2017 file
photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gives a press conference at
Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana
By Scott Smith and Christine
Armario, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Cash-strapped
Venezuela on Tuesday became the first country to launch its own version of
bitcoin, a move President Nicolas Maduro celebrated as putting his country
on the world's technological forefront.
In its first hours on the market, the
so-called petro racked in $735 million worth in purchases, Maduro said
without providing details.
The petro is backed by Venezuela's
crude oil reserves, the largest in the world, yet it hit the market as the
socialist country sinks deeper into an economic crisis marked by soaring
inflation and food shortages that put residents in lines for hours to buy
"We have taken a giant step into the
21st Century," Maduro said in a nationally broadcast show. "We are on the
world's technological vanguard."
The petro's unveiling played out before
a live studio audience inside the presidential palace Miraflores, complete
with red carpets and a splashy set prominently displaying a crafted
marketing symbol "P," for petro.
Maduro received a brief demonstration
on the sophisticated computer technology needed to support the digital
currency, and he heard from a Russian executive of a company that will run
The president also authorized payments
in cryptocurrency for Venezuela's consulate services and fuel on the border,
saying it is just the "kryptonite" Venezuela needs to take on Superman —
code for the imperialist United States.
Venezuelan officials, however, have
released few of the nitty-gritty details of how it will work, ensuring
investors that it is safe. Venezuela watchers offered potential investors
"My advice would be to tread very
carefully with this — especially considering the track record of the
Venezuelan government," said Federico Bond, co-founder of Signatura, a
digital startup based in Argentina.
Maduro late last year announced he was
creating the digital currency to outmaneuver U.S. sanctions preventing
cash-strapped Venezuela from issuing new debt. The government said it will
release 100 million digital petro coins during the first year, with the
initial 38.4 million expected to go on sale Tuesday at a value of $60 per
If all the initial coins offered for
sale are grabbed by investors, it could potentially bring several billion
dollars into a government mired by cash shortfalls and skyrocketing
inflation. The government has promised that Venezuelans will be able to use
the coins to pay taxes and public services. But with the Venezuelan minimum
wage hovering around $3 a month, it's unlikely citizens will buy in large
The U.S. Treasury Department has warned
U.S. citizens and companies that buying the petro would mean violating
sanctions, putting another damper on the release.
Cryptocurrency experts are looking at
Venezuela's foray into digital currencies with a mix of intrigue and
suspicion, excited by the prospect of a government willing to accept
cryptocurrency for payments like taxes but also concerned about the
potential lack of oversight.
Maduro has touted the petro as
fulfilling the late Hugo Chavez's dream of upending global capitalism away
from the dominance of the U.S. dollar and Wall Street.
Raising further doubts, Maduro has said
that the undeveloped Orinoco oilfield will back the digital currency,
creating no tangible barrels of oil that investors can cash in, said Jean
Paul Leidenz, a senior economist at Caracas-based EcoAnalitica.
Bitcoin and other digital tokens are
already widely used in Venezuela as a hedge against hyperinflation and an
easy-to-use mechanism for paying for everything from doctor visits to
honeymoons in a country where obtaining hard currency requires transactions
in the illegal black market.
The use of computers for bitcoin mining
has also taken off, spurred by some of the world's cheapest electricity
rates and widespread desperation prompted by a recession deeper than the
U.S. Great Depression.
Cryptocurrencies by design are
decentralized financial systems, so one created by a government runs
contrary to that spirit and creates an opportunity for manipulation, said
And Venezuela's inflation rises faster
in a day than it does in stable countries in a year, he said, adding that
dreaming up a new currency alone isn't the answer.
"You cannot stop hyperinflation by
creating a new currency and doing nothing else," Leidenz said. "The
government has no plans of undertaking structural reform."
Armario contributed to this report from Bogota,
Colombia. AP writer Jorge Rueda also contributed to this report.
US: North Korea canceled meeting with Pence at last minute
In this Feb.
9, 2018, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, sits
alongside Vice President Mike Pence, center, and second lady Karen Pence at
the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South
Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
By Josh Lederman, Associated
Washington (AP) — Vice President Mike
Pence was all set to hold a history-making meeting with North Korean
officials during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong Un's
government canceled at the last minute, the Trump administration said
A potential meeting between Pence and
the North Koreans had been the most highly anticipated moment of the vice
president's visit to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he led the U.S
delegation to the opening ceremonies. Ahead of Pence's visit, Trump
officials had insisted they'd requested no meeting with North Korea, but
notably left open the possibility one could occur.
There was no indication that a meeting
had indeed been planned — and then canceled on short notice — until Tuesday,
more than a week after Pence returned to the United States. The State
Department said that Pence had been "ready to take this opportunity" but
would have used it to insist Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons and
ballistic missile programs.
"At the last minute, DPRK officials
decided not to go forward with the meeting," said State Department
spokeswoman Heather Nauert, using an acronym for the North's formal name,
the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "We regret their failure to seize
That seemed to contradict North Korea's
own claim that it had no interest in meeting with Pence while he was in
"We have no intention to meet with the
U.S. side during the stay in South Korea," a Foreign Ministry official was
quoted as saying by the North's official news agency on Feb. 8, the day
Pence arrived in South Korea. "We are not going to use such a sports
festival as the Winter Olympics as a political lever. There is no need to do
A Trump administration official said
the U.S. had expected the meeting to occur Feb. 10, the last day of Pence's
three-day visit to the Olympic Games. The administration did not say exactly
how much notice it received from North Korea that the meeting had been
called off, nor where the meeting would have taken place or under what
Nor was it immediately clear whether
North Korea scheduled the meeting before the vice president arrived in South
Korea or after he had already arrived. The day before landing in Pyeonchang,
Pence told reporters that "we haven't requested a meeting with North Korea."
"But if I have any contact with them —
in any context — over the next two days, my message will be the same as it
was here today: North Korea needs to once and for all abandon its nuclear
and ballistic missile ambitions," Pence said.
A potential high-level interaction
between the U.S. and North Korea, which would have broken years of
estrangement between the two countries, loomed prominently over the Winter
Games, where North Korea made a last-minute move to send its athletes to
compete on a combined team with South Korea, the host of the games.
Since taking office, the Trump
administration has been working to increase economic pressure on the North
to abandon its nuclear programs while also threatening military action,
insisting at the same time that a diplomatic solution would be preferable
for all sides. Yet for months the Trump administration had offered
inconsistent messages about what conditions would be needed for a
tete-a-tete — such as whether North Korea would have to agree that its
nuclear program was on the table before the United States would be willing
to sit down.
Pence's office, acknowledging the
scrapped meeting on Tuesday, said North Korea had "dangled a meeting" in
hopes that doing so would entice the vice president to ease up on the North.
Pence's office suggested that North Korea later bailed because it became
clear he would hold firm on the U.S. stance if a meeting did occur.
Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers,
said that the planned meeting — first reported by The Washington Post —
would have included an "uncompromising message" delivered by Pence about the
"maximum pressure campaign" the Trump administration is waging to try to
deter North Korea from proceeding with its nuclear program.
"Perhaps that's why they walked away
from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,"
Pyongyang sent its nominal head of
state, Kim Yong Nam, the highest-level visitor to the South from the North
in recent memory. It also sent Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong.
Ostensibly, Pence would have met with one or both of those significant North
Pence's guest for the Olympic Opening
Ceremonies was Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student
who died in 2017 shortly after he was released from North Korean detention.
Pence also announced in the run-up to his visit that the Trump
administration was preparing to unveil a particularly tough round of
sanctions punishing the North for its nuclear weapons program.
Pence's trip came after President
Donald Trump days earlier hosted a group of North Korean defectors in the
Oval Office, including Ji Seong-ho, whom the president had referenced in his
State of the Union address. The White House cast that meeting as part of the
Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign to counter the North
Korean nuclear program. The plan centers around rallying the international
community to further isolate North Korea both diplomatically and
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller
and AP Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge, on assignment in Pyeongchang,
contributed to this report.
Trump urges ban on gun devices like bump stocks
Demonstrators participate in a "lie-in" during a protest in favor of gun
control reform in front of the White House, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in
Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Hurley, 15, of Washington, top, and other demonstrators participate in a
"lie-in" during a protest in favor of gun control reform in front of the
White House, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Donald Trump speaks during the Public Safety Medal of Valor awards ceremony
in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
By Catherine Lucey and Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Washington (AP) — As a grieving Florida
community demanded action on guns, President Donald Trump on Tuesday
directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire
bump stocks used in last year's Las Vegas massacre. It was a small sign of
movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.
"We must do more to protect our
children," Trump said, adding that his administration was working hard to
respond to the shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.
After past mass killings yielded little
action on tighter gun controls, the White House is trying to demonstrate
that it is taking the issue seriously. The president, a strong and vocal
supporter of gun rights, has not endorsed more robust changes sought by gun
control activists. But the White House cast the president in recent days as
having been swayed by the school shooting in Florida and willing to listen
In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump
indicated he wants to strengthen the background check system, but offered no
Trump said: "Whether we are Republican
or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!"
Asked at a press briefing Tuesday if
Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House officials "haven't closed the door
on any front." She also said that the idea of raising the age limit to buy
an AR-15 was "on the table for us to discuss."
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut
Democrat and leading advocate for tighter gun controls, said Trump's
directive suggested the president was aware of fresh energy on the issue and
called it a sign that "for the first time" politicians are "scared of the
political consequences of inaction on guns."
A bipartisan legislative effort to ban
bump stocks last year fizzled out. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives announced in December that it was reviewing whether weapons
using bump stocks should be considered illegal machine guns under federal
Under the Obama administration, the ATF
had concluded that bump stocks did not violate federal law. But the acting
director of the ATF told lawmakers in December that the ATF and Justice
Department would not have initiated the review if a ban "wasn't a
possibility at the end."
The Justice Department had not made any
announcement regarding its review when Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum
directing the agency to complete the review as soon as possible and propose
a rule "banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns."
Reacting to Trump's memo, the
department said in a statement that it "understands this is a priority for
the president and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process.
We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly
A day earlier, Trump sent another
signal he had been swayed by the Parkland shooting and the dramatic calls
for action in its aftermath. A White House statement said Trump was looking
at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks. On Wednesday,
he will host parents, teachers and students at the White House for a
"listening session" that will include people impacted by mass shootings in
Parkland, Columbine, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
The president was moved by a visit
Friday with Florida victims in the hospital and is trying to work on
solutions, said a person familiar with his thinking who sought anonymity to
discuss internal conversations.
Among the steps sought by gun control
advocates: closing loopholes that permit loose private sales on the internet
and at gun shows, banning assault-type weapons and to passing laws to enable
family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights
temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.
The Parkland shooting also has prompted
the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to take a fresh look at gun
control legislation, although so far GOP leaders are refusing to endorse
calls to ban assault rifles. Still, the discussion of some types of gun
control legislation is a dramatic turnaround for Florida, which has earned
the nickname the "Gunshine State" for its gun policies.
The federal background check bill was
developed in response to a mass shooting last November in which a gunman
slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church. It would penalize
federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward
states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The
measure, which is pending in the Senate, was drafted after the Air Force
acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman's domestic violence
conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database.
The GOP-controlled House paired the
background checks bill with a measure making it easier for gun owners to
legally carry concealed weapons across state lines. The concealed carry
measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun
owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any
state that allows concealed weapons.
Murphy said any attempt to combine
background checks with concealed-carry provisions would significantly
jeopardize the chances of passing bipartisan reform of the background checks
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout
contributed from Tallahassee, Florida.
Indonesia's Sinabung volcano unleashes towering ash column
children walk as Mount Sinabung erupts in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia,
Monday, Feb. 19. (AP Photo/Sarianto)
Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) —
Rumbling Mount Sinabung on the Indonesian island of Sumatra shot billowing
columns of ash more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) into the atmosphere and
hot clouds down its slopes on Monday.
There were no fatalities or injuries
from the morning eruption, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said.
The volcano, one of three currently
erupting in Indonesia, was dormant for four centuries before exploding in
2010, killing two people. Another eruption in 2014 killed 16 people, while
seven died in a 2016 eruption.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo
Nugroho said hot ash clouds traveled as far as 4,900 meters southward.
The regional volcanic ash advisory
center in Darwin, Australia, issued a "red notice" to airlines.
Some 30,000 people have been forced to
leave homes around the mountain in the past few years.
Mount Sinabung is among more than 120
active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its
location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines
encircling the Pacific Basin.
Philippines: Risks rising with China challenging US at sea
Ambassador to Beijing, Chito Sta. Romana, talks at a forum on the South
China Sea Monday, Feb. 19, in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Manila, Philippines (AP) — The
risks of a "miscalculation" and armed conflict have risen in the disputed
South China Sea with a militarily stronger China now able to challenge the
United States, which used to be the dominant power in the strategic
waterway, the Philippine envoy to Beijing said Monday.
Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana said the
balance of power was shifting with the two global powers vying for control
of the waters, adding the Philippines should not get entangled in the
increasingly tense maritime rivalry.
China claims virtually the entire South
China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also
have overlapping claims, and it has built seven mostly submerged reefs into
islands that reportedly could be used as forward air naval bases and have
been installed with a missile defense system.
The U.S. Navy has sailed warships on
"freedom of navigation" operations near the artificial islands, actions
China has protested as U.S. intervention in an Asian conflict.
"Whereas before the South China Sea was
dominated by the U.S. 7th Fleet, now the Chinese navy is starting to
challenge the dominance," Sta. Romana told a news forum in Manila. "I think
we will see a shift in the balance of power."
"It is not the case, that the South
China Sea is now a Chinese lake, not at all," Sto. Romana said. "Look at the
U.S. aircraft carrier, it's still going through the South China Sea," he
added, referring to the USS Carl Vinson that recently patrolled the disputed
waters and is currently on a visit to the Philippines.
He compared the two powers to elephants
fighting and trampling on the grass and said: "What we don't want is for us
to be the grass."
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's
policy of befriending China has worked, Sto. Romana said, citing Beijing's
decision to lift its blockade around the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas
Shoal, where the Philippine military could now freely send new supplies to
Filipino marines guarding the disputed area.
China has also allowed Filipino
fishermen into another disputed area, the Scarborough Shoal, after Duterte
visited Beijing and raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi
reportedly told Duterte: "Give me a few days, I'll take care of this," Sto.
Romana quoted Duterte as saying about the meeting with his Chinese
counterpart a few months after he won the Philippine presidency in 2016.
China took control of the uninhabited
atoll off the northwestern Philipppines after a tense standoff in 2012.
In January, China accused the U.S. of
trespassing when the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near
President Donald Trump's administration
has outlined a security strategy that emphasized countering China's rise and
reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and
Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup
and fought for wider influence.
Washington has no claim in the South
China Sea but has declared a peaceful resolution and freedom of navigation
are in its national interest.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told
The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson on Saturday that the Navy
has carried out routine patrols at sea and in the air in the region for 70
years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade and
would continue to do so.
"International law allows us to operate
here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail
here, and that's what we're doing and we're going to continue to do that,"
Hawkins said on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton warship brimming with F18
fighter jets and other combat aircraft.
Facebook to verify ads with postcards after Russian meddling
In this June
4, 2012 file photo, a girl looks at Facebook on her computer in Palo Alto,
Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Menlo Park, Calif. (AP) —
Facebook will soon rely on centuries-old technology to try to prevent
foreign meddling in U.S. elections: the post office.
Baffled in 2016 by Russian agents who
bought ads to sway the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook's global
politics and government outreach director, Katie Harbath, told a meeting of
the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington on Saturday
that the company would send postcards to potential buyers of political ads
to confirm they reside in the U.S.
The recipient would then have to enter
a code in Facebook to continue buying the ad. The method will first apply to
ads that name candidates ahead of the midterm elections in November, said
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.
The plan was unveiled a day after
special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with interfering in the
presidential election. Mueller's indictment described how Russian agents
stole social security numbers and other information from real Americans and
used them to create bank and PayPal accounts in order to buy online ads.
Agents also recruited Americans to do things such as hold up signs at
rallies organized to create content for Russian-created social media posts.
Facebook uncovered some 3,000
Russian-linked ads on Facebook and Instagram bought before and after the
November 2016 election that it says may have been seen by as many as 150
million users. But ads were only part of the problem, as the Mueller
indictments say that Russian agents also set up fake pages with names such
as "Secured Borders," ''Blacktivist" and "United Muslims of America" that
had hundreds of thousands of followers.
Facebook did not say how the new
postcard method of verification would prevent foreign agents from setting up
local mailing addresses and hiring people in the U.S. to check them. But
Stone said the method was "one piece of a much larger effort to address
foreign electoral influence on our platform."
Facebook's efforts largely center
around verifying people on the platform are who they say they are. To catch
duplicitous ad-buyers, for instance, it is now testing out in Canada a
system that allows people to see which ads are being bought by a Facebook
page — say, a candidate's — even if the person checking the ad is not in the
group to whom the ad was intended to be shown.
Stone said Facebook was also able to
detect and remove "tens of thousands" of fake Facebook pages in advance of
French, German and British elections last year using improved machine
The company has said it would double
the number of people working on its safety and security team to 20,000 this
year and add 1,000 people to review advertising content.
Hungarian leader calls Christianity 'Europe's last hope'
Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual "State of Hungary" speech in
Budapest, Hungary, in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Feb. 18. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI
Budapest, Hungary (AP) —
Hungary's prime minister says that "Christianity is Europe's last hope" and
that politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris favoring migration have
"opened the way to the decline of Christian culture and the advance of
Viktor Orban said Sunday during his
20th annual state of the nation speech that his government will oppose
efforts by the United Nations or the European Union to make migration
acceptable to the world.
He conjured the image of a Western
Europe overtaken by Muslims, saying that "born Germans are being forced back
from most large German cities, as migrants always occupy big cities first."
Orban claimed that Islam would soon
"knock on Central Europe's door" from the west as well as the south.
Orban will seek a third consecutive
term in an April election.
All 65 aboard plane feared dead in crash in southern Iran
members of victims of a plane crash weep in the village of Bideh, at the
area that the plane came down, southern Iran, Sunday, Feb. 18. (Ali
Khodaei/Tasnim News Agency via AP)
Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell
Tehran, Iran (AP) — An Iranian
airplane brought back into service only months ago after being grounded for
seven years crashed Sunday in a foggy, mountainous region of southern Iran,
and officials feared all 65 people on board were killed.
The crash of the Aseman Airlines ATR-72
was yet another fatal aviation disaster for Iran, which for years was barred
from buying necessary airplane parts due to Western sanctions over its
contested nuclear program.
Its nuclear accord with world powers
allows it to get those parts and the country has made deals worth tens of
billions of dollars for new aircraft. However, President Donald Trump's
refusal to recertify the deal has injected uncertainty into those sales
while Iranians still fly in aging aircraft.
The ATR-72, a twin-engine turboprop
used for short-distance regional flying, went down near its destination of
the southern city of Yasuj, some 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of the
capital, Tehran, where it took off.
It wasn't immediately clear what caused
the crash, although weather was severe. Dense fog, high winds and heavy snow
in the Zagros Mountains made it impossible for rescue crews in helicopters
to reach the site, state television reported.
Aseman Airlines spokesman Mohammad
Taghi Tabatabai told state TV that all on board Flight EP3704 were killed.
It had 59 passengers and six crew members, the state-run IRNA news agency
reported Sunday night, lowering the toll to 65 from an initially reported
"After searching the area, we learned
that unfortunately ... our dear passengers had lost their lives," Tabatabai
Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani offered their condolences.
Tabatabai said the plane crashed into
Mount Dena, which is about 4,400 meters (14,435 feet) tall. The plane's last
signal, at 0555 GMT (12:35 a.m. EST), showed it at 16,975 feet and
descending, according to airplane-tracking website FlightRadar24. The pilot
was in contact with the tower 14 miles from the airport, state TV said.
One previous passenger on the route
posted a video Sunday showing that the flight typically comes in just over
the mountain peaks. Aeronautical charts for the airport warn pilots to keep
an altitude of 15,000 feet in the area. The airport itself is at nearly
The Iranian Red Crescent said it has
deployed to the area. Locals described hearing the crash, but no one has
reached the crash site due to weather.
Aseman Airlines, owned by Iran's civil
service pension foundation, is a semi-private air carrier headquartered in
Tehran and is Iran's third-largest airline by fleet size, behind state
carrier Iran Air and Mahan Air. It specializes in flights to remote
airfields across the country but also flies internationally, although it is
banned in the European Union over safety concerns.
The carrier has a fleet of 29 aircraft,
including six ATR aircraft, according to FlightRadar24. The ATR-72 that
crashed Sunday, with the tail number EP-ATS, had been built in 1993, Aseman
Airlines CEO Ali Abedzadeh told state TV.
On Instagram, Aseman Airlines
highlighted the doomed aircraft in October, saying it had been "grounded"
for seven years but would be "repaired and will be operational after
checking and testing." It wasn't clear what led to the grounding, though
Iran only recently regained access to the airplane parts market after the
European airplane manufacturer ATR, a
Toulouse, France-based partnership of Airbus and Italy's Leonardo SpA., said
it had no immediate information about the crash.
Aseman Airlines has had other major
crashes. In October 1994, a twin-propeller Fokker F-28 1000 commuter plane
operated by the airline crashed near Natanz, 290 kilometers (180 miles)
south of Tehran, killing 66 people. An Aseman Airlines-chartered flight in
August 2008, flown by an Itek Air Boeing 737, crashed in Kyrgyzstan, killing
Under decades of international
sanctions, Iran's commercial passenger aircraft fleet has aged, with air
accidents occurring regularly in recent years.
Following the 2015 landmark nuclear
deal with world powers, Iran signed deals with both Airbus and Boeing to buy
scores of passenger planes worth tens of billions of dollars.
In April 2017, ATR sealed a $536
million sale with Iran Air for at least 20 aircraft. Chicago-based Boeing
also signed a $3 billion deal that month to sell 30 737 MAX aircraft to
Home to 80 million people, Iran is one
of the world's last untapped aviation markets. However, Western analysts are
skeptical there is demand for so many jets or available financing for deals
worth billions of dollars.
Iran has suffered a series of major
aviation disasters in recent decades. Its last major crash happened in
January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 broke to pieces on impact while
trying an emergency landing in a snowstorm in northwestern Iran, killing at
least 77 people.
In July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner
crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 168 on board. A
Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard crashed
in southeastern Iran in February 2003, killing 302 people.
In February 1993, an Iranian airliner
with 132 people aboard collided with an air force jet after takeoff from
Tehran's main airport, killing everyone on the two aircraft. And in July
1988, the USS Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz mistook an Iran Air flight
heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and
killing all 290 people aboard.
Bolivia blames both Carnival blasts on dynamite
Police stand guard at the site of an explosion
in Oruro, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. 15. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
La Paz, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian authorities said Sunday that both of
the explosions that killed 12 people during recent Carnival celebrations
were caused by dynamite, not exploding gas canisters as initially thought.
Interior Minister Carlos Romero said
officials are still trying to determine who planted the explosives in the
southern city of Oruro, and why.
He said both the Feb. 10 and Feb. 13
explosions were caused by 3 kilograms (6.5 pounds) of dynamite.
The first, he said, was planted near
the gas canister on the cart of a street food vendor, who was killed along
with four members of her family and three other people.
The second explosion occurred only a
few yards (meters) away three days later, killing four people.
Together, the explosions injured about
Romero said that police also have found
a small piece of dynamite in a hotel bathroom in the city, which is about
120 miles (190 kilometers) south of the capital, La Paz. It's a mining area
where dynamite is widely available.
Israeli PM Netanyahu to Iran: Don't test Israel's resolve
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the International
Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 18. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via
David Rising and Geir Moulson
Munich (AP) — The international
nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened Tehran to become increasingly
aggressive in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
Sunday, warning that Iran should "not test Israel's resolve."
Netanyahu said if the U.S. decides to
scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, which he has long opposed, "I think they'll do
But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif, appearing two hours later at the same Munich Security
Conference, fired back that Netanyahu's comment was "delusional thinking."
"I can assure that if Iran's interests
are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously. And I believe it
would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the
erroneous action they did," he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has
expressed deep skepticism about the Iran nuclear deal that lifted sanctions
against the country. He extended sanctions waivers in January but said he
would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his
concerns are addressed.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry, a main architect of the nuclear deal, said it was "absolutely
critical" to ensure it survives.
"We know what the world looks like
without the Iran nuclear agreement," he said Sunday, speaking at the same
conference. "It's not a better place."
If the U.S. abandons the current
nuclear deal it's unlikely Iran would consider a new one, Kerry said.
"The problem is the waters have been
muddied because of this credibility issue about America's willingness to
live up to any deal," he said.
Kerry dismissed Netanyahu's contention
that Iran would be on its way to having a nuclear arsenal in 10 years,
saying "that's fundamentally not accurate."
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir
weighed in, saying the Iran nuclear deal "has flaws that need to be fixed."
He said that, among other things, the inspection system needs to be more
"The world has to extract a price from
Iran for its aggressive behavior," he added.
Netanyahu told world leaders, diplomats
and defense officials at the conference that the deal was similar to the
infamous 1938 "Munich Agreement" that Western powers signed with Adolf
Hitler in an attempt to stave off war in Europe, which became synonymous
"The concessions to Hitler only
emboldened the Nazi regime," he said. "Rather than choosing a path that
might have prevented war... those well-intentioned leaders made a wider war
inevitable and far more costly."
Similarly, he said, the Iranian nuclear
agreement has "unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and
Declaring that Iran's "brazenness hit
new highs," he theatrically held up a fragment of what he said was an
Iranian drone shot down last week by Israel in Israeli airspace and
"Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You
should, it's yours," Netanyahu said. "You can take back with you a message
to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel's resolve!"
Tehran has denied that the drone
belonged to Iran. Zarif on Sunday dismissed Netanyahu's stunt as "a
cartoonish circus... which does not even deserve the dignity of a response."
Netanyahu has been projecting a
business-as-usual approach on his visit to Germany amid uproar at home after
police on Tuesday said was sufficient evidence to indict him for bribery,
fraud and breach of trust in two cases. The Israeli leader has angrily
rejected the accusations and denounced what he describes as an overzealous
police investigation. He has also dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt
orchestrated by a hostile media.
Zarif suggested the Israeli leader
might be escalating tensions with Iran simply to distract from his domestic
Denouncing what he said were Israel's
"almost daily illegal incursions into Syrian airspace," Zarif said Israel
was trying "to create these cartoonish images to blame others for its own
strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they're facing."
Netanyahu told the audience that
destroying the drone was a demonstration of Israel's resolve.
"Israel will not allow Iran's regime to
put a noose of terror around our neck," he said. "We will act if necessary,
not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us but against Iran
Lebanese Defense Minister Yaacoub
Sarraf accused Israel of being hypocritical, saying that he'd had "an
Israeli drone above my head for the past 15 years" and warning about any
aggression from its neighbor.
"Lebanon has no belligerent intent on
anybody, but watch out, we will defend ourselves," he said. "We also have
partners, we also have friends, we also have people willing to die for their
country. We are for peace, yet we will not stand for any threat and we will
not accept any aggression. "
Calls for gun control grow louder after Florida shooting
hug on a street corner as they hold up anti gun signs in Parkland, Fla., on
Saturday, Feb. 17. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Jason Dearen, Allen G. Breed and
Parkland, Fla. (AP) — Pressure
is growing for tougher gun-control laws in America after a mass shooting at
a Florida high school, with thousands of angry protesters at state rallies
demanding immediate action from lawmakers, and more demonstrations planned
across the country in the weeks ahead.
Organizers behind the Women's March, an
anti-Trump and female empowerment protest, called for a 17-minute,
nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14. The Network for
Public Education, an advocacy organization for public schools, announced a
day of walkouts, sit-ins and other events on school campuses on April 20,
the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado
that left 12 students and one teacher dead.
Plans for the protests circulated
widely on social media on Saturday, as students, parents, teachers and
neighbors gathered to express their grief over the fatal shooting of 14
students and three staff members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland. Hundreds showed up at rallies in Fort Lauderdale, about 25
miles (40 kilometers) away, and in St. Petersburg, 250 miles (400
kilometers) northwest, to demand action on gun-control legislation.
"The fact that we can't go to school
and feel safe every day, when we're supposed to feel safe, is a problem,"
said Fabiana Corsa, a Florida high school student who attended the Fort
Corsa said legislators were
"sacrificing students" in order to get money from the National Rifle
The crowd at the rally chanted: "Vote
them out!" and held signs calling for action. Some read: "#Never Again,"
''#Do something now" and "Don't Let My Friends Die."
The rallies were held as new details
emerged about the suspect, Nikolas Cruz. Authorities say Cruz, 19, was a
former student at Stoneman Douglas who had been expelled, had mental health
issues and had been reported to law enforcement before he used a legally
purchased semiautomatic rifle to take the lives of 17 people on Wednesday.
From a mosaic of public records,
interviews with friends and family and online interactions, it appears Cruz
was unstable and violent to himself and those around him — and that when
notified about his threatening behavior, law enforcement did little to stop
Cruz's mother died in November and his
father died years ago. He reportedly left a suburban Palm Beach County
mobile home where he had been staying after his mother's death because his
benefactor gave him an ultimatum: you or the gun.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that
Florida's Department of Children and Families investigated when Cruz posted
a video on the social media network Snapchat showing him cutting his arms in
2016. "Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms," the Florida DCF abuse
hotline was told in August 2016, the paper reported. "Mr. Cruz stated he
plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for."
According to the paper, DCF's
investigation was completed that Nov. 12. The agency concluded Cruz had not
been mistreated by his mother, was receiving adequate care from a mental
health counselor and was attending school.
At school, Cruz routinely fought with
teachers, was accused of swearing at staff and was referred for a "threat
assessment" in January 2017, two months after the DCF investigation
concluded, The New York Times reported Saturday, citing school disciplinary
records it obtained.
The records show he was suspended
several times in the 2016-17 school year and was frequently absent. They
also show Cruz attended at least six schools, including a school for
students with emotional problems, the newspaper said.
Cruz had been diagnosed with autism, a
neurological disorder that often leads to social awkwardness and isolation,
and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
The FBI said a person close to Cruz
called the FBI's tip line and provided information about Cruz's weapons and
his erratic behavior. The caller was concerned Cruz could attack a school.
The agency acknowledged the tip should have been shared with the FBI's Miami
office and investigated, but it was not.
Avalanches kill 2 skiers in France, injure 2 in Switzerland
leaves from the location where an avalanche left two people injured, at the
Fenestral Pass, in Finhaut, Switzerland, Sunday, Feb. 18. (Valentin
Flauraud/Keystone via AP)
Paris (AP) — Authorities say two
skiers were killed by an avalanche in the French Alps, and two more people
were injured by an avalanche in Switzerland near the border with France.
The prefecture in France's Savoie
region said the fatal avalanche occurred Sunday at the Val-d'Isere ski
resort, close to the Italian border.
Local newspaper Le Dauphine said on its
website that the two victims were a 44-year-old man and his 11-year-old
daughter from the Paris region.
Le Dauphine reported the two were
skiing on a run that was closed due to the avalanche risk.
Swiss media initially reported that 10
people were buried by the other avalanche, in the southern canton (state) of
But Valais police spokesman Stefan
Leger says only two people pulled from the snow Sunday were hospitalized.
Update February 17-18, 2018
Magnitude-7.2 earthquake slams south, central Mexico
down the center of a street in the Roma neighborhood after an earthquake
shook Mexico City, Friday, Feb. 16. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Peter Orsi and Christopher
Mexico City (AP) — A powerful
magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook south and central Mexico Friday, causing
people to flee swaying buildings and office towers in the country's capital,
where residents were still jittery after a deadly quake five months ago.
Crowds of people gathered on Mexico
City's central Reforma Avenue as well as on streets in Oaxaca state's
capital, nearer the quake's epicenter.
"It was awful," said Mercedes Rojas
Huerta, 57, who was sitting on a bench outside her home in Mexico City's
trendy Condesa district, too frightened to go back inside. "It started to
shake; the cars were going here and there. What do I do?"
She said she was still scared thinking
of the Sept. 19 earthquake that left 228 people dead in the capital and 369
across the region. Many buildings in Mexico City are still damaged from that
Mexican Civil Protection chief Luis
Felipe Fuente tweeted that there were no immediate reports of major damages
from Friday's quake.
The Red Cross reported the facade from
a building in the Condesa neighborhood, which was hit hard on Sept. 19,
collapsed. And at least one strong aftershock shook building again in Mexico
In Oaxaca, Gov. Alejandro Murat said
via Twitter that damage was being evaluated, but there were so far no
reports of deaths.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the
quake's preliminary magnitude at 7.2 and said its epicenter was 33 miles (53
kilometers) northeast of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state. It had a depth of 15
miles (24 kilometers).
The epicenter is a rural area of
western Oaxaca state near the Pacific coast and the border with Guerrero
In the Condesa, frightened residents
flooded into the streets, including one woman wrapped in just a towel, but
there were no immediate signs of damage.
"I'm scared," Rojas Huerta said. "The
house is old."
Bangladesh gives names to begin Rohingya repatriation
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, second right, receives Myanmar's Home
Minister Kyaw Swe, second left, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Feb.16. (AP
Dhaka, Bangladesh (AP) — A
Bangladesh Cabinet minister gave a list of 8,032 Rohingya refugees to his
Myanmar counterpart to begin repatriations of the Muslim minority under a
November agreement between the two countries.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman
Khan said Friday the list contained the members of 1,673 Rohingya families.
He did not explain how the names had been chosen.
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have
fled army-led violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since last August and
are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The two countries originally
agreed to begin the repatriations last month, but they were delayed by
concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return
and face unsafe conditions in Myanmar.
Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly
killed in the violence, and many houses and villages burned to the ground.
U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi told
the Security Council on Tuesday that conditions aren't right for Rohingya to
voluntarily return because Myanmar hasn't addressed their exclusion and
denial of rights. Grandi also said Rohingya are still fleeing Myanmar and
thousands more are expected to leave.
Khan said he presented the list to
Myanmar Home Minister Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe, who is visiting Bangladesh's
capital, Dhaka, to discuss the repatriations and other border issues.
"The Myanmar side cordially accepted
the list, and they sought our help to make it happen," Khan told reporters.
Kyaw Swe did not speak to the reporters.
Khan said officials in Myanmar would
choose 6,500 people next Tuesday to be sent back in an initial phase. He
would not say exactly when the repatriation would start.
"They said they will take them all in
three phases," he said. "No specific timeframe has been decided yet when
they will start returning."
Khan said Bangladesh expressed its
desire for safe and secure conditions and a proper infrastructure for the
refugees' return. Impoverished Bangladesh has been overwhelmed by the
refugee onslaught and is eager for them to return to Myanmar.
On Thursday, Kyaw Swe told Bangladesh
President Abdul Hamid that Myanmar is ready to take back displaced people,
presidential spokesman Joynal Abedin said Friday.
Abedin also quoted Kyaw Swe as saying
that Myanmar will implement the recommendations of a commission led by
former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to improve conditions in Rakhine
state, where the refugees previously lived.
The recent violence erupted after an
underground insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked
security outposts in Rakhine in late August. The military and Buddhist mobs
launched retaliatory attacks on Rohingya that were termed "clearance
Myanmar's security forces have been
accused of atrocities against the Rohingya, including killing, rape and
arson. The United Nations and the U.S. have described the army crackdown as
The Rohingya have long been treated as
outsiders in Myanmar, even though their families have lived in the country
for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982,
effectively rendering them stateless. They are denied freedom of movement
and other basic rights.
Family grieves Philippine maid found dead in Kuwait freezer
Demafelis, the sister of Joanna Demafelis who was found dead in a freezer in
Kuwait, cries as the wooden casket of her remains arrives at the Ninoy
Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, Friday, Feb. 16. (AP
Manila, Philippines (AP) — The
body of a Filipino housemaid found stuffed in a freezer in an abandoned
apartment in Kuwait was flown home to her grieving family Friday, as
attention focused on the plight of millions of mostly poor Filipinos toiling
As Joanna Daniela Demafelis' remains
were wheeled to the Manila airport's cargo bay, her sister broke into tears
and embraced the casket before being pulled back and consoled. A brother
wept quietly, speechless and overwhelmed by emotion.
"I hope my sister will be given
justice," Demafelis' brother, Jojit Demafelis, later told reporters.
Demafelis' body was found recently in a
Kuwait City apartment that had reportedly been abandoned for more than a
year. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said her body bore torture marks
and there were indications she was strangled.
Her death is the latest overseas
tragedy to befall a worker from the Philippines, a major labor exporter with
about a tenth of its 100 million people working abroad. The workers have
been called the country's heroes because the income they send home has
propped up the Southeast Asian nation's economy for decades, accounting for
about 10 percent of annual gross domestic product.
Philippine officials are under
increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of its worldwide
diaspora of mostly house maids, construction workers and laborers. There are
also calls for the government to boost employment and living standards at
home, where nearly one in four people live in poverty, so that fewer people
need to find work abroad.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano
stood with the Demafelis family at the airport Friday and said a prayer.
"Her death is very tragic but will also
be a rallying point for all of the government agencies to be more aggressive
abroad in helping our OFWs be protected," Cayetano told reporters, using the
acronym for overseas foreign workers.
Duterte has ordered a ban on the
deployment of new Filipino workers to Kuwait, where he said some Filipina
workers have committed suicide due to abuses.
Cayetano said Kuwait had expressed
outrage over Demafelis' death and promised do everything it could to render
justice. He said the Philippines lodged a protest over the case and at least
six other recent deaths mostly of Filipino housemaids in Kuwait and asked
that the Philippine Embassy be given access to investigations by Kuwaiti
Demafelis' family told The Associated
Press on Friday that Joanna was 29-years-old and the sixth of nine children
born into a poor farming family in the central province of Iloilo. She left
for Kuwait in 2014 to be employed by a Syrian and Lebanese husband and wife
and had never told anyone back home that she was being mistreated.
Philippine officials say they are
re-examining how to better detect and stop abuse of its workers abroad. A
Filipino labor officer in Kuwait has been recalled after reportedly failing
to adequately help Demafelis' family when they reported that she was
"If there is a complaint already, even
if we can help them, it's still too late like when they're already dead,"
Cayetano said at a news conference. "They should have been helped when we
found out that there was abuse or as soon as they lost contact with their
Still the sheer number of Filipino
workers abroad makes monitoring their wellbeing an overwhelming task. That
is often complicated by the workers not having proper travel and work
documents, such as in Kuwait where nearly 11,000 of the more than 252,000
Filipino workers are in the country illegally or not properly authorized.
The Philippines has banned the
deployment of its workers some countries, but many desperate Filipinos chose
to stay, even in war-torn Iraq and Syria.
"Despite the offer to repatriate, to
pay for their tickets, many chose to stay because there is no employment or
less employment possibilities or they'll earn much less money in the
Philippines," Cayetano said.
He said the long-term solution was for
the Philippines to strengthen its economy so Filipinos won't be forced to
look for greener meadows.
Borneo's orangutan population plunged by 100,000 since 1999
In this Friday, Jan. 7, 2016 file photo,
conservationists of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation hold a baby
orangutan rescued along with its mother in Sungai Mangkutub, Central
Kalimantan, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — The most comprehensive study of Borneo's
orangutans estimates their numbers have plummeted by more than 100,000 since
1999, as the palm oil and paper industries shrink their jungle habitat and
fatal conflicts with people increase.
The finding, which is to be published
in the journal Current Biology, is in line with the International Union for
Conservation of Nature's 2016 designation of Borneo's orangutans as
Researchers from the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and other institutions said the
original population of the gentle ginger-haired great apes is larger than
previously estimated but so is the rate of decline.
The most dramatic declines were found
in areas where tropical forests were cut down and converted to plantations
for palm oil, which is used in a vast array of consumer products, and for
But significant population declines
occurred in selectively logged forests.
"In these forest areas human pressures,
such as conflict killing, poaching, and the collection of baby orangutans
for the pet trade have probably been the major drivers of decline," the
authors of the study said.
Earlier this month, an orangutan on the
Indonesian part of Borneo island died after being shot at least 130 times
with an air gun, stabbed and clubbed, the second known killing of an
orangutan in the Indonesian part of Borneo this year.
Erik Meijaard, a conservationist
involved in the study, said current estimates of the orangutan population on
Borneo range from 75,000 to 100,000.
He said the estimates vary because of
uncertainty about how many animals are living in alien habitats such as
plantations and burnt forests.
According to the IUCN, their numbers
could drop to 47,000 by 2025 from their 2016 population estimate of about
Sumatra's orangutan, a separate
species, is even more endangered, with a population estimated at about
In a positive twist, the new study
found Bornean orangutans are more resilient and adaptable than thought. They
walk on the ground more often than previously known and can feed on plants
that have not been part of their natural diet.
The authors said this may allow them to
survive in smaller forests and in landscapes where the forest is fragmented.
"The one thing they cannot cope with,
however, is the high killing rates seen currently," said Serge Wich of
Liverpool John Moores University, one of the researchers.
"Orangutans are a very slow breeding
species," he said in a statement. "If only one in 100 adult orangutans is
removed from a population per year, this population has a high likeliness to
Cyril Ramaphosa sworn in as South Africa's new president
Ramaphosa is sworn in as South African President by Chief Justice Mogoeng
Mogoeng, left, in Cape Town, South Africa Thursday Feb. 15. (Mike Hutchings
/ Pool via AP)
Johannesburg (AP) — Cyril
Ramaphosa on Thursday was sworn in as South Africa's new president after the
resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose scandals brought the storied African
National Congress to its weakest point since taking power at the end of
"I will try very hard not to disappoint
the people of South Africa," Ramaphosa said in ending his speech to
parliament shortly after ruling party lawmakers elected him. He said the
issue of corruption is on "our radar screen."
Ramaphosa was the only candidate
nominated for election after two opposition parties said they would not
participate. The two parties instead unsuccessfully called for the
dissolution of the National Assembly and early elections.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng presided
over the parliamentary election and congratulated Ramaphosa, who had been
Zuma's deputy and in December was narrowly elected leader of the ruling
party over Zuma's ex-wife.
Zuma resigned after years of scandals
that damaged the reputation of the ruling ANC, which had instructed him this
week to step down or face a parliamentary motion of no confidence that he
would almost certainly lose. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.
Ramaphosa is South Africa's fifth
president since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in
1994. On Friday evening, he is expected to deliver the state of the nation
address that had been postponed during the ruling party's days of
closed-door negotiations to persuade Zuma to resign.
As some South Africans cheered the end
to Zuma's era, the rand currency strengthened against the dollar in early
The country's main opposition party,
the Democratic Alliance, will cooperate with Ramaphosa if he acts in the
interests of the South African people, said party leader Mmusi Maimane.
"We will hold you accountable and I
will see you in 2019 on the ballot box," Maimane said.
Members of a smaller opposition party
walked out of parliament before the election, saying the ANC plan to choose
a new president was "illegitimate."
Julius Malema, leader of the Economic
Freedom Fighters party, said ANC lawmakers had failed to hold former Zuma to
account for alleged corruption and had therefore violated the constitution.
Ramaphosa now is challenged with
reviving the reputation of the ANC, Africa's most prominent liberation
movement, which fought apartheid and has been in power since the first
all-race elections in 1994. The party's popularity fell as anger over
corruption allegations grew and it suffered its worst showing at the polls
in municipal elections in 2016.
The prospect of facing a possible
coalition government for the first time helped push some ANC leaders to
decide that Zuma had to go.
On Thursday the foundation of Nelson
Mandela, South Africa's first black president, welcomed Zuma's departure but
said the state must act against "networks of criminality" that have hurt the
As the country marks the centenary of
Mandela's 1918 birth, "there is a need to reckon with the failures of the
democratic era," the foundation said. "We believe that we are at a critical
moment in our history, one which offers us the unique opportunity to
reflect, to rebuild, and to transform."
Sheriff's report: Suspect confessed to Florida school attack
monitor shows school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, left, making an
appearance before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica in Broward County Court,
Thursday, Feb. 15, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Susan Stocker/South Florida
Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Terry Spencer, Kelli Kennedy and
Parkland, Fla. (AP) — The
teenager accused of using a semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 people at a
Florida high school confessed to carrying out one of the nation's deadliest
school shootings and concealing extra ammunition in his backpack, according
to a sheriff's department report released Thursday.
Nikolas Cruz told investigators that he
shot students in the hallways and on the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas
High School in Parkland, north of Miami, the report from the Broward County
Sheriff's Office said.
Cruz told officers he brought more
loaded magazines to the school and kept them hidden in the backpack until he
got on campus.
The gunman fired into five classrooms —
four on the first floor of the school and one on the second floor, Broward
County Sheriff Scott Israel said.
When he was done shooting, the
assailant dropped his AR-15 rifle and the backpack containing the ammunition
and ran out of the building, attempting to blend in with fleeing students,
After the rampage, the suspect headed
to a Wal-Mart and bought a drink at a Subway restaurant before walking to a
McDonald's. He was taken into custody about 40 minutes after leaving the
McDonald's, the sheriff said.
A day after the attack, a fuller
portrait emerged of the shooter, a loner who had worked at a dollar store,
joined the school's ROTC program and posted photos of weapons on Instagram.
At least one student said classmates joked that Cruz would "be the one to
shoot up the school."
Cruz, a 19-year-old orphan whose mother
died last year, was charged with murder Thursday in the assault that
devastated this sleepy community on the edge of the Everglades. It was the
nation's deadliest school attack since a gunman assaulted an elementary
school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.
Meanwhile, students struggled to
describe the violence that ripped through their classrooms just before the
school day ended.
Catarina Linden, a 16-year-old
sophomore, said she was in an advanced math class Wednesday when the gunfire
"He shot the girl next to me," she
said, adding that when she finally was able to leave the classroom, the air
was foggy with gun smoke. "I stepped on so many shell casings. There were
bodies on the ground, and there was blood everywhere."
Among the dead were a football coach
who also worked as a security guard, a senior who planned to attend Lynn
University and an athletic director who was active in his Roman Catholic
Some bodies remained inside the high
school Thursday as authorities analyzed the crime scene. Thirteen wounded
survivors were still hospitalized, including two in critical condition.
Authorities have not described any
specific motive, except to say that Cruz had been kicked out of the high
school, which has about 3,000 students and serves an affluent suburb where
the median home price is nearly $600,000. Students who knew him described a
volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end
friendships with him.
Cruz was ordered held without bond at a
brief court hearing. He wore an orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed at his
waist. His attorney did not contest the order and had her arm around Cruz
during the short appearance. Afterward, she called him a "broken human
He was being held under a suicide
watch, Executive Chief Public Defender Gordon Weekes told reporters.
Wednesday's shooting was the 17th
incident of gunfire at an American school this year. Of the 17 incidents,
one involved a suicide, two involved active shooters who killed students,
two involved people killed in arguments and three involved people who were
shot but survived. Nine involved no injuries at all.
As the criminal case began to take
shape, President Donald Trump, in an address to the nation, promised to
"tackle the difficult issue of mental health," but avoided any mention of
guns. Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, about 40 miles from
Parkland, said he planned to visit the grieving community.
He did not answer shouted questions
about guns as he left the room.
Trump, who did not speak publicly
immediately after the shooting, weighed in on Twitter early Thursday,
calling the suspect "mentally disturbed" and stressing that it was important
to "report such instances to authorities, again and again!"
In the case of Cruz, at least one
person did report him.
FBI agent Rob Lasky said the FBI
investigated a 2017 YouTube comment that said "I'm going to be a
professional school shooter." But the agency could not identify the person
who made the comment, which was from an account using the name Nikolas Cruz.
It was left on a YouTube video of a vlogger and bail bondsman from Louisiana
named Ben Bennight.
In a Buzzfeed article , Bennight said
he called the FBI, and agents came out to talk with him. They called him
Officials were also investigating
whether authorities missed other warning signs about Cruz' potentially
He had been expelled from the school
for "disciplinary reasons," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who
said he did not know the specifics.
One student said Cruz had been abusive
to his ex-girlfriend and that his expulsion was over a fight with her new
Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami
Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat before
Wednesday's attack. Gard believes the school had sent out an email warning
teachers that Cruz should not be allowed on campus with a backpack.
The leader of a white nationalist
militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group
and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee. Jordan Jereb said he had
only a brief interaction a few years ago with Cruz. The group wants Florida
to become its own white ethno-state.
Neither the Leon County Sheriff's
Office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any
link between Cruz and the militia.
Cruz's mother, Lynda Cruz, died of
pneumonia Nov. 1, and his father died previously, according to the arrest
Two federal law enforcement officials
said the Smith & Wesson M&P15 .223 was purchased legally last year at
Sunrise Tactical Gear in Florida.
Cleric behind bombing in Indonesian capital goes on trial
militant Oman Rohman, center, popularly known as Aman Abdurrahman, is
escorted by police officers prior to the beginning of his trial at a
district court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Feb. 15. (AP Photo/Tatan
Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — A key
ideologue for Islamic State militants in Indonesia went on trial Thursday
for ordering acts of terror including a 2016 suicide bombing and gun attack
in Jakarta that killed eight people including four attackers.
The radical cleric, Oman Rohman,
popularly known as Aman Abdurrahman, was guarded by counterterrorism police
as he waited in a holding cell for the trial to begin. He faces the death
penalty if convicted.
Police have described Adburrahman as
the main Indonesian translator for IS propaganda and the spiritual leader of
Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, a network of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist
groups that formed in 2015.
In the indictment, prosecutors told the
court that from prison in late 2015, Abdurrahman urged all members of Jemaah
Anshorut Daulah to immediately carry out jihad and fulfil an order from IS
leadership in Syria to attack foreigners and emulate deadly IS attacks in
European cities. His cellmate, Iwan Dharmawan alias Rois, facilitated
funding, prosecutors said.
Reflecting a dire lack of supervision
of militants in Indonesia's overcrowded prisons, Abdurrahman was able to
spread radicalism and communicate with his supporters on the outside through
visitors and video calls.
Prosecutors said Abdurrahman's
instructions resulted in several attacks in Indonesia, including the January
2016 attack on a Starbucks in Jakarta, an attack on a bus terminal in the
capital that killed three police officers and an attack on a church in
Kalimantan that killed a 2-year-old girl.
The five-judge panel appointed a lawyer
for Adburrahman after he refused to do so himself.
After the indictment was read,
Adburrahman, 46, did not use his right to respond, apparently showing his
rejection of the secular legal system.
In a bizarre twist, Abdurrahman was
among more than 90,000 inmates granted an early release for Indonesia's Aug.
17 Independence Day holiday last year. He was arrested for ordering the
Jakarta and other attacks before he could be released.
Indonesia still faces a significant
risk of attacks despite a sustained crackdown on militants following the
2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people. The crackdown reduced
the Jemaah Islamiyah network behind the Bali bombings to remnants but a new
generation of would-be jihadis has coalesced behind the IS banner. Though
their capacity to launch large-scale attacks is limited, experts say it
could be enhanced if Indonesians who fought with IS in Syria and Iraq return
Earlier this week, a Jakarta court
sentenced Zainal Anshori, the operational leader of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah,
to seven years in prison for involvement in smuggling guns from the southern
Adburrahman's trial resumes on Feb. 23
with witness testimony.
Huge sinkhole on Rome street swallows half-dozen cars
Wednesday Feb. 14 photo shows a large sinkhole that opened in a street of a
residential area in Rome and engulfed parked vehicles. (Massimo
Percossi/ANSA via AP)
Rome (AP) — Prosecutors have
opened an investigation into a 10-meter (30-foot) -wide sinkhole that
swallowed up a half-dozen cars on a residential street in Rome.
No one was injured in Wednesday
evening's collapse in the Balduina neighborhood, but families in nearby
buildings were evacuated as a precaution.
The ANSA news agency said prosecutors
had placed a property owner and the company handling construction along the
road under investigation Thursday.
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi visited the
site and stressed that the sinkhole, which appeared to shave off the entire
side of the road, occurred at an active construction site, and that the
situation is under control.
Amnesty International slams anti-migration bill in Hungary
In this photo taken Feb. 1, 2018 a poster is
photographed in Budapest reading: Soros would settle millions from Africa
and the Middle East. Stop Soros! (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)
Brussels (AP) — A bill that
would impose new regulations on organizations that work with migrants would
allow the Hungarian government to target any immigrant rights groups it
doesn't like, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
Amnesty International said the bill
could empower the government to suspend, disband and fine NGOs working on
migration. The human rights group called the legislation a "deeply
disturbing and unjustified assault on civil society."
The draft legislation, which was
submitted to parliament late Tuesday, would impose new operating
requirements on civic groups that organize, support or finance migration.
Such groups would need permission from
the interior minister for their activities and would have to pay a 25
percent levy on funding received from abroad, among other provisions.
"These proposals have nothing to do
with protecting national security or borders, and everything (to do) with
muzzling those who work to assist people in need and dare to raise their
voices," Amnesty International Europe director Gauri van Gulik said.
The draft legislation is part of Prime
Minister Viktor Orban's anti-migration campaign. Orban has blamed
Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros for wanting to bring millions
of migrants into Europe — though Soros has substantially revised his
position since saying that a few years ago — and for funding organizations
that work with immigrants.
The government has dubbed the bill
Leaders of the body that represents
international civic groups in the Council of Europe and its advisory group
joined in the criticism, saying the effects of the legislation could spread
beyond the migration issue.
"Those NGOs targeted do not focus only
on migration and refugees. They also provide services to the public affected
by other vulnerabilities," said a statement from the Conference of INGOs and
its Expert Council on NGO Law. "The draft laws could have the consequence of
decreasing the services available for all vulnerable people in Hungary."
Some of the targeted NGOs, such as the
Hungarian Helsinki Committee, provide legal aid to needy Hungarians as well
as asylum-seekers, and advocate for democracy and the rule of law.
The Helsinki Committee described the
government's proposed legislation as "not a bill, but a bulldozer."
"The government wants to arbitrarily
label, malign and separate from society certain NGOs it dislikes and,
eventually, force them to cease their operations."
Former student opens fire at Florida high school, killing 17
Medical personnel tend to a victim following a
shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, USA,
on Wednesday, Feb. 14. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Parkland, Fla. (AP) — A former student opened fire with a
semi-automatic rifle at a Florida high school Wednesday, killing at least 17
people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets in the
nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary
school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The shooter, who was equipped with a
gas mask and smoke grenades, set off a fire alarm to draw students out of
classrooms shortly before the day ended at one of the state’s largest
schools, officials said.
Authorities offered no immediate
details on the 19-year-old suspect or any possible motive, except to say
that he had been kicked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which
has about 3,000 students.
Students who knew the shooter,
identified as Nikolas Cruz, described a volatile teenager whose strange
behavior had caused others to end friendships with him, particularly after
the fight that led to his expulsion.
Frantic parents rushed to the school to
find SWAT team members and ambulances surrounding the huge campus. Live
television footage showed emergency workers who appeared to be treating the
wounded on sidewalks.
“It is a horrific situation,” said
Robert Runcie, superintendent of the school district in Parkland, about an
hour’s drive north of Miami. “It is a horrible day for us.”
The suspect was taken into custody
without a fight about an hour later in a residential neighborhood about a
mile away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no
words,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.
The attacker used the fire alarm “so
the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall,” Sen. Bill
Nelson told CNN.
“And there the carnage began,” said
Nelson, who said he was briefed by the FBI.
The Florida Democrat said he did not
know if the gunman used the smoke grenades, but he assumed that’s why he had
a gas mask on.
Most of the fatalities were inside the
building, though some victims were found fatally shot outside, the sheriff
Victoria Olvera, a junior at the
school, said Cruz was expelled last school year because he got into a fight
with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said he had been abusive to his
“I think everyone had in their minds if
anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” she said.
Dakota Mentcher, another junior, said
he used to be friends with Cruz. But he cut off the friendship as Cruz’s
behavior “started progressively getting a little more weird.” Cruz posted on
Instagram about killing animals and threatened one of Mentcher’s friends, he
He remembered that Cruz had a pellet
gun and did target practice in his backyard.
Student Daniel Huerfano said he
recognized Cruz from an Instagram photo in which Cruz had posed with a gun
in front of his face.
Cruz “was that weird kid that you see
... like a loner,” he said.
Freshman Max Charles was in class when
he heard five gunshots.
“We were in the corner, away from the
windows,” he said. “The teacher locked the door and turned off the light. I
thought maybe I could die or something.”
As he was leaving the building, he saw
four dead students and one dead teacher. He said he was relieved when he
finally found his mother.
“I was happy that I was alive,” Max
said. “She was crying when she saw me.”
Not long after the attack, Michael
Nembhard was sitting in his garage on a cul-de-sac when he saw a young man
in a burgundy shirt walking down the street. In an instant, a police cruiser
pulled up, and officers jumped out with guns drawn.
“All I heard was ’Get on the ground!
Get on the ground!’” Nembhard said. He said he could not see the suspect’s
face, but the man did as he was told.
The day started normally at the school,
which had a morning fire drill. Students were in class around 2:30 p.m. when
another alarm sounded.
Noah Parness, a 17-year-old junior,
said he and the other students calmly went outside to their fire-drill areas
when he suddenly heard popping sounds.
“We saw a bunch of teachers running
down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,”
Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”
Beth Feingold said her daughter,
Brittani, sent a text that said, “We’re on code red. I’m fine,” but sent
another text shortly afterward saying, “Mom, I’m so scared.” She was later
able to escape.
Students heard loud bangs as the
shooter fired. Many of them hid under desks or in closets and barricaded
Television footage showed students
leaving in a single-file line with their hands over their heads as officers
urged them to evacuate quickly.
The scene was reminiscent of the
Newtown attack, which shocked even a country numbed by the regularity of
school shootings. The Dec. 14, 2012, assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School
killed 26 people — 20 first-graders and six staff members.
The 20-year-old gunman, who also
fatally shot his mother in her bed, then killed himself.
When Caesar Figueroa got to the Florida
school to check on his 16-year-old daughter, he saw helicopters and police
officers wielding guns.
“It was crazy and my daughter wasn’t
answering her phone.” She finally texted him that she was inside a closet
Len Murray’s 17-year-old son, a junior
at the school, sent his parents a chilling text: “Mom and Dad, there have
been shots fired on campus at school. There are police sirens outside. I’m
in the auditorium and the doors are locked.”
A few minutes later, he texted again,
Murray said he raced to the school only
to be stopped by authorities under a highway overpass within view of the
school buildings. He said he told his son to save his battery and stop
texting. The boy’s mother told him to turn off his ringer.
Murray said he’s had just one thought
running through his mind since his son’s text: “All I keep thinking about is
when I dropped him off this morning. I usually say, ‘I love you,’ and I
didn’t this morning. He’s 17, he’s at that age, and I didn’t say it this
morning, and I’m just kicking myself right now over and over and over.”
The school was to be closed for the
rest of the week.
South African President Zuma succumbs to pressure, resigns
African President Jacob Zuma addresses the nation and press at the
government's Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Feb. 14.
(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Johannesburg (AP) — South
African President Jacob Zuma resigned on Wednesday in a televised address to
the nation, ending a turbulent tenure marred by corruption scandals that
sapped the popularity of the ruling African National Congress and hurt one
of Africa's biggest economies.
The resignation signaled an imminent
end to a leadership crisis in South Africa and set the stage for Zuma to be
replaced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised a robust
campaign against corruption but will quickly face pressure to produce
results in a country struggling with unemployment, economic inequity and
other problems. Ahead of 2019 elections, Ramaphosa also has the tough task
of rebuilding a ruling party whose moral stature has diminished since it
took power at the end of white minority rule in 1994.
"I have therefore come to the decision
to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect," said Zuma,
who added that he took the decision even though he disagreed with the ruling
party's demand that he quit immediately or face a motion of no confidence in
the parliament on Thursday. Zuma, 75, had said he was willing to resign
early from his second five-year term but wanted to stay in office for
several more months.
"Of course, I must accept that if my
party and my compatriots wish that I be removed from office, they must
exercise that right and do so in the manner prescribed by the constitution,"
The African National Congress welcomed
the resignation, expressing gratitude for Zuma's "loyal service" during his
nearly 10 years as president and encouraging party members to support
Ramaphosa, now the country's acting president. By the end of the week,
Ramaphosa is likely to be elected president by the ANC-dominated parliament
and to give a state of the nation address that had been postponed during the
South Africa's biggest opposition
party, the Democratic Alliance, said the ruling party must act against
associates of Zuma who are also suspected of wrongdoing and mismanagement.
"Zuma built a deep system of corruption
that has penetrated every part of the government and the criminal
prosecution system," Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said.
"Now the country looks to Cyril
Ramaphosa to save us from a man that he and the ANC protected and supported.
We must never allow this to happen again," said Maimane, who wants
parliament to be dissolved so that early elections can be held.
Ramaphosa, a union leader during
apartheid, was a key negotiator of the transition from white minority rule
to democracy in the 1990s and later became a wealthy businessman. He
replaced Zuma as leader of the ANC in December and has been consolidating
his control, while also raising his international profile with a visit last
month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
On Wednesday morning, South African
police raided the home of prominent business associates of Zuma who are
accused of being at the center of corruption scandals that have infuriated
the country. An elite police unit entered the compound of the Gupta family,
which has been accused of using its connections to the president to
influence Cabinet appointments and win state contracts.
Several people were arrested during
police operations, South African media reported.
Both Zuma and the Guptas deny any
wrongdoing, though legal challenges are looming. As the Gupta-linked
investigation proceeds, Zuma also could face corruption charges tied to an
arms deal two decades ago. South Africa's chief prosecutor is expected to
make a decision on whether to prosecute Zuma on the old charges, which were
reinstated last year after being thrown out in 2009.
In another scandal, South Africa's top
court ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution following an
investigation of multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home using
state funds. He paid back some of the money.
Still, Zuma, a former anti-apartheid
activist who spent a decade at the Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela
was held, was popular among some South Africans for his personal warmth and
In 2006, while being tried on charges
of raping an HIV-positive family friend, Zuma was widely criticized after
testifying he took a shower after extramarital sex to lower the risk of
AIDS. He was acquitted of rape. But during his tenure, he called for earlier
and expanded treatment for HIV-positive South Africans that helped to curb
the death rate and urged his countrymen to get tested for HIV.
He presided over a South African
triumph, the staging of the World Cup soccer tournament in 2010. He was also
leader during the fatal shooting by police of several dozen protesters
during labor unrest at a platinum mine in Marikana in 2012.
The former president was defiant in a
television interview earlier Wednesday, saying he had done nothing wrong
despite the ANC's demand for his resignation.
"I'm being victimized here," Zuma told
state broadcaster SABC. He complained that Ramaphosa and other ANC leaders
had not given him clear reasons about why he should go.
However, Zuma was affable when he
arrived hours later at government offices to give his resignation speech.
"Why do you look serious? You can't
even say, 'Good evening,'" a beaming Zuma said to weary journalists. "What's
happening ... you are tired. We are working, aren't we?"
Millions in China journey home for Lunar New Year
their luggage outside the main railway station in Beijing, China, Wednesday,
Feb. 14. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Beijing (AP) - Millions in China
were boarding trains, planes and automobiles Wednesday as the Lunar New Year
travel rush, the world's largest seasonal human migration, reached its
China's most important festival falls
on Friday and people were traveling to either return to their hometowns or
flock to vacation destinations. For many migrant workers in the country's
industrialized east, the holiday may be the only time of year they return
home to see family and friends.
Weeks before the rush, many travelers
had used smartphone apps to snatch up tickets that later sold out. Some
train journeys between cities and rural areas last more than 20 hours, with
passengers crowded into cabins that are standing room only.
The state railway operator reported
Monday that 98.8 million people rode trains countrywide during the first 12
days of February. China's official Xinhua news agency said more than 1.1
million were expected to pass through railway stations in Beijing on Tuesday
and Wednesday alone.
Increasing numbers of Chinese have also
been traveling abroad in recent years, reflecting rising prosperity among
the urban middle class.
More than 6.5 million are expected to
head overseas this year, according to a joint report from travel agency
Ctrip and the China Tourism Academy.
Travelers have booked voyages to more
than 68 nations and regions, the report said, with Thailand, Japan, the
United Arab Emirates and Nordic countries among the top destinations. The
average Chinese tourist spends about 9,500 yuan ($1,500) on a Lunar New Year
trip, the report said.
Domestic travel is also popular: the
National Tourism Administration predicted earlier this month that this
year's holiday period will bring in 476 billion yuan ($75 billion) in
European officials: Virtual currencies are no way to pay
In this Feb.
13, 2018 photo the lights of the skyline of the Frankfurt, Germany, banking
district are reflected in the river main after the sun set. (Boris
Roessle/dpa via AP)
Frankfurt, Germany (AP) —
Several of Europe's top finance officials are skeptical about virtual
currencies like bitcoin, saying they are risky for investors and inefficient
as a way to pay for things.
Germany's top monetary official, Jens
Weidmann, said in a speech Wednesday that virtual currencies such as bitcoin
are not good means of payment because their values fluctuate so rapidly. The
value of bitcoin jumped last year from below $1,000 to almost $20,000 in
December before falling back to around $9,000 currently.
Weidmann, who heads Germany's national
central bank and sits on the governing council of the European Central Bank,
the issuer of the euro, added that virtual currencies are no substitute for
"For a stable monetary and financial
system we need no crypto-tokens, but rather central banks obligated to price
stability and effective banking regulation, and we have both in the
eurozone," he said.
He said that central banks did not need
to issue such currencies themselves, which he said could heighten the risk
of bank runs. If people were able to transfer bank deposits with the click
of a computer mouse to an account at the central bank, the threshold for
fleeing the private banking system would be lowered, he said.
Weidmann's remarks follow a series of
statements from top European officials warning banks and consumers about
virtual currencies. The three European supervisory authorities for banking,
securities, and insurance and pensions have warned consumers of the risks of
buying such currencies, saying they are "highly risky and unregulated
products and unsuitable as investment, savings or retirement products."
Last week, top European Central Bank
official Yves Mersch said that central banks were concerned about the social
and psychological effects the currencies seem to have. "There's so much
money flowing in that it's like a gold rush — but there's no gold," he said
in an interview with the Bloomberg news service.
Mersch is a member of the bank's
six-person executive board that runs the institution day to day at its
headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. He said that if banks started loaning
money to finance such activities, "it would obviously be of concern for us."
The ECB is the top banking supervisor in the eurozone.
The skeptical stance by eurozone
officials contrasts with the effort by Sweden's central bank to study the
possible introduction of an e-krona, an electronic currency linked to the
country's central bank. Sweden is not a member of the eurozone and controls
its own currency, the krona. The central bank says no decision has been made
and laws would have to be changed to implement such a proposal. The use of
cash has dwindled in Sweden to about 15 percent of retail transactions in
2016, according to the bank.
On Wednesday Mersch defended the
continuing use of physical notes and coins, in the face of occasional
proposals to limit or do away with cash entirely in favor of electronic
payments. Mersch said that cash enabled people to exercise their rights to
privacy and independent action without monitoring or interference by others.
Mersch and Weidmann said that the Group
of 20 is looking into how to ensure that virtual currencies do not disrupt
financial stability. They said a global forum such as the G-20 is a good
place for the discussion since some of the virtual currencies have no
national base. The G-20 is made up of 19 countries with 85 percent of annual
global economic output plus the European Union. The group presidency is held
this year by Argentina, which will host a meeting of finance ministers and
central bank governors March 19-20 in Buenos Aires.
Tongans face long wait for services to return after cyclone
made from a video, shows inside of a house damaged by Cyclone Gita in
Nuku’alofa, Tonga Wednesday, Feb. 14. (TVNZ via AP)
Wellington, New Zealand (AP) —
Thousands of Tonga residents face a long wait for power and other services
to be restored after a cyclone tore through the Pacific nation this week.
More details emerged Wednesday about
the damage caused by Cyclone Gita after it hit the main island Monday night
just south of the capital, Nuku'alofa. The cyclone destroyed homes, churches
and even the nation's historic Parliament House.
There have been no confirmed deaths
from the storm. Tongan police said three people suffered major injuries and
30 had minor injuries. Police said an officer was injured while trying to
help a family evacuate and was in stable condition in a local hospital.
Most of the main island remains without
power and many phone lines aren't working.
Publisher Pesi Fonua said he's using a
small generator, but that many people with refrigerators will have to toss
out food. He said he'd heard it would likely be next week at the earliest
before his power is restored.
"Yesterday, nothing happening. Everyone
was in shock," he said. "But slowly, slowly things are happening. The
telephones are slowly working. They're restoring the power lines."
Kuenili Ka'afi told Newshub that she
took shelter in a van when the cyclone hit, having time to grab only a
family photo as the winds tore her home apart. She said the cyclone started
shaking and lifting the van, and that she felt lucky to be alive.
Some 5,000 people stayed in evacuation
centers during Cyclone Gita, according to officials. Tonga, which is home to
about 106,000 people, has declared an emergency.
New Zealand has pledged 2.25 million
New Zealand dollars (US$1.65 million) in aid to help with the cleanup from
the cyclone in several island nations, while Australia is deploying
equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The cyclone caused some damage in Fiji
on Tuesday night, although its path was south of the major population
Anare Leweniqila, the director of
Fiji's National Disaster Management Office, said six homes were destroyed
and another 27 damaged on two of the nation's southern islands. He said
there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries in Fiji.
"It came down to good preparedness," he
said. "People heeded the advice from officials and took shelter early in the
day before the cyclone hit."
He said about 150 people had moved into
The storm hit Samoa and American Samoa
last week, where it caused damage to buildings, widespread power outages and
President Donald Trump on Sunday
declared an emergency in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. The declaration
allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and
resources to help the 50,000 residents recover.
Kuwait calms Philippines after dead worker found in freezer
Foreign Minister Sabah Khalid Al Sabah walks toward a news conference in
Kuwait City, Kuwait, Tuesday, Feb. 13. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Kuwait City (AP) — Kuwait's
foreign minister tried to calm anger in the Philippines on Tuesday after a
Filipina worker was found dead in a freezer, hoping to defuse an ordered
"total ban" on workers coming to the small, oil-rich nation.
It's the latest case to draw the anger
of populist Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who in January complained
that cases of abuse reported by Filipina domestic workers "always" seem to
be coming from Kuwait.
There have been prominent cases of
abuse in the past, including an incident in December 2014 where a Kuwaiti's
pet lions fatally mauled a Filipina maid.
But what pushed the Philippines over
the edge appears to the killing of a domestic worker whose body was left in
a freezer in a Kuwait City apartment reportedly abandoned since November
On Monday, the Philippines' Department
of Labor and Employment issued an order calling for "a total ban on
deployment of all overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait." It's unclear how
widely the order is being enforced as many Filipinos are still working
across industries in Kuwait.
Speaking to journalists Tuesday,
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Khalid Al Sabah said "this escalation will
not benefit the relationship between Kuwait and the Philippines." He also
said Kuwait warmly welcomed Filipino workers.
"We have 170,000 Filipino nationals
living a decent life here," the minister said. "They have one of the least
number of problems out of all expatriate communities. Isolated incidents
unfortunately happen. We share all of our findings and investigations with
the Philippine authorities."
His comments also came as the U.S.-led
coalition fighting the Islamic State group announced the Philippines had
The Philippines' ambassador to Kuwait,
Renato Villa, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he welcomed the Kuwaiti
foreign minister's comments.
Kuwait has declared an amnesty for
Filipino workers who overstayed their visas and are working to help some 500
workers stuck in the country after a company refused to pay their salaries,
Villa said. Kuwaiti police also are offering details on Filipino killings to
Villa offered a much higher number of
Filipino workers in Kuwait — 250,000 — and said 65 percent were domestic
"They are the most vulnerable, the
domestic workers," he said.
South Africa's ruling party finally turns against Zuma
General of the African National Congress, (ANC) Ace Magashule, makes a
statement at a briefing at the ANC headquarters in downtoan Johannesburg,
Tuesday, Feb. 13. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Johannesburg (AP) — South
Africa's ruling party on Tuesday disowned President Jacob Zuma after
sticking with him through years of scandals, ordering him to resign in an
attempt to resolve a leadership crisis that has disrupted government
business in one of Africa's biggest economies.
The announcement by the African
National Congress did not immediately end the protracted turmoil in a party
that was the main movement against white minority rule and has led South
Africa since apartheid ended in 1994. If the politically isolated president
defies the party's order, the matter could go to parliament for a motion of
no confidence that would further embarrass the party once led by Nelson
Ace Magashule, the ANC's
secretary-general, said he expected Zuma to reply to the directive on
Wednesday. Another senior party official suggested that Zuma would be unwise
to flout the edict of the party, which is eager to recover from internal
disarray ahead of 2019 elections.
"A disciplined cadre of the ANC, you
are given a chance to resign on your own, but if you lack discipline you
will resist," party chairman Gwede Mantashe said at a provincial rally,
according to South African media.
"Once you resist, we are going to let
you be thrown out through the vote of no confidence because you disrespect
the organization and you disobey it, therefore we are going to let you be
devoured by the vultures," Mantashe said.
Business leaders welcomed the ANC's
decision to recall Zuma, saying the country needs to focus on economic
growth and address social problems such as unemployment.
ANC leaders must act "swiftly, but
constitutionally" to remove Zuma so the "work of recovering our future,
which was imperiled by his ruinous regime — characterized by incompetence,
corruption, state capture and low economic growth — can begin in earnest,"
said Bonang Mohale, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, a group that
"State capture" is a term used in South
Africa to describe the alleged looting of state enterprises by associates of
Zuma, who denies any wrongdoing.
A judicial commission is about to start
a probe of those allegations. Separately, Zuma could face corruption charges
tied to an arms deal two decades ago.
The main opposition party, the
Democratic Alliance, said Tuesday that it had been informed by the chief
prosecutor that his team will provide its recommendation on Feb. 23 about
whether to prosecute Zuma on the old charges. The charges had been thrown
out but the opposition fought successfully to get them reinstated.
In another scandal, South Africa's top
court ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution following an
investigation of multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home using
"We are determined to restore the
integrity of the public institutions, create political stability and urgent
economic recovery," said Magashule, once a staunch supporter of Zuma.
The ANC secretary-general spoke
respectfully of Zuma, saying he had "not been found guilty by any court of
law" and that the decision to recall him was not taken because he had done
Zuma had agreed to resign and wanted to
stay in office for several more months, but the national executive committee
decided at a 13-hour meeting that he had to leave at once, Magashule said.
The ANC said it wants Zuma to be
replaced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected party leader
in December and has vowed to fight corruption.
Zuma, who took office in 2009 and is in
his second five-year term, has not made any public appearances in recent
Government leaders hope the standoff
can be resolved ahead of the unveiling of the national budget in parliament
on Feb. 21, which would go some way toward reassuring investors that the
country is getting back on track. Zuma did not give the state of the nation
address last week because of the political crisis, and a regular Cabinet
meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed.
A motion of no confidence sponsored by
an opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has been scheduled for
Feb. 22 in parliament. Opposition parties want the vote moved up to this
week and then want parliament to be dissolved so that early elections can be
Zuma has survived similar motions in
the past, but ruling party members now see him as a political liability
ahead of next year's elections and likely would vote against him on the
orders of the party leadership.
UK judge upholds arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder
Police motorcyclists briefly stop outside the
Ecuadorian embassy in London, Tuesday, Feb. 13. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
London (AP) — A judge upheld a
British arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying the WikiLeaks
founder should have the courage to come to court and face justice after more
than five years inside Ecuador's London embassy.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected arguments
by Assange's lawyers that it is no longer in the public interest to arrest
him for jumping bail in 2012 and seeking shelter in the embassy to avoid
extradition to Sweden. Prosecutors there were investigating allegations of
sexual assault and rape made by two women, which Assange has denied.
Arbuthnot did not mince words in her
ruling at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court, saying that by jumping
bail Assange had made "a determined attempt to avoid the order of the
She said Assange appeared to be "a man
who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice."
"He appears to consider himself above
the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor," the
judge said, drawing exclamations of dismay from Assange supporters in the
Assange can seek to appeal, though his
lawyers did not immediately say whether he would.
Swedish prosecutors dropped their
investigation last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to
Sweden in the foreseeable future. But the British warrant for violating bail
conditions still stands, and Assange faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.
Assange's lawyers had asked for the U.K
warrant to be withdrawn since Sweden no longer wants him extradited, but the
judge rejected their request last week.
Assange's attorney had gone on to argue
that arresting him is no longer proportionate or in the public interest.
Lawyer Mark Summers argued the Australian was justified in seeking refuge in
the embassy because he has a legitimate fear that U.S. authorities want to
arrest him for WikiLeaks' publication of secret documents.
"I do not find that Mr. Assange's fears
were reasonable," the judge said.
"If the United States initiates
extradition proceedings, Mr. Assange would have the ability to raise any
bars to the extradition and challenge the proceedings" in a British court,
Arbuthnot dismissed another plank of
Assange's case — a report from a U.N. working group which said the
46-year-old was being arbitrarily detained.
"I give little weight to the views of
the working group," the judge said, noting that Assange had "restricted his
own freedom for a number of years."
Assange's lawyer had argued that the 5½
years Assange has spent inside the embassy were "adequate, if not severe"
punishment for his actions, noting that he had health problems including a
frozen shoulder and depression.
The judge accepted that Assange had
depression and other conditions, but said he was overall in "fairly good
Arbuthnot also rejected an argument
that Assange's actions had not stalled Sweden's legal case, because he had
offered to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors at the embassy.
Assange's legal team said emails
recently released after a freedom of information request showed that a
British state prosecutor had advised Sweden "that it would not be prudent
for Sweden to try to interview Mr. Assange in the U.K."
The judge said she could not tell from
the emails she had seen whether the lawyer who sent them had behaved
inappropriately. But she said Assange's "failure to surrender has impeded
the course of justice."
"Defendants on bail up and down the
country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the
consequences of their own choices," she said. "He should have the courage to
do so too."
The ruling leaves the long legal
impasse intact. Apart from the bail-jumping charge — for which the maximum
sentence is one year in prison — Assange suspects there is a secret U.S.
grand jury indictment against him for WikiLeaks' publication of classified
documents, and that American authorities will seek his extradition.
Assange's lawyers say he is willing to
face legal proceedings in Britain, but only if he receives a guarantee that
he will not be sent to the U.S. to face prosecution. That is not an
assurance Britain is likely to give.
Outside the courtroom, Assange lawyer
Gareth Peirce gave little indication of what might come next in the twisting
"The history of the case from start to
finish is extraordinary," she said. "Each aspect of it becomes puzzling and
troubling as it is scrutinized."
Police recommend corruption charges for Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is
shown in this Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 file photo. (Ronen Zvulun, Pool via AP)
Jerusalem (AP) — Israeli police
on Tuesday recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and
breach of trust charges in a pair of corruption cases, dealing an
embarrassing blow to the embattled prime minister that is likely to fuel
calls for him to step down.
Netanyahu angrily rejected the
accusations, which included accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from a pair
of billionaires. He accused police of being on a witch hunt and vowed to
remain in office and even seek re-election.
"I will continue to lead the state of
Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel,
choose me to lead you," an ashen-faced Netanyahu said in a televised
address. "I am sure that the truth will come to light. And I am sure that
also in the next election that will take place on time I will win your trust
again, with God's help."
The recommendations marked a dramatic
ending to a more than yearlong investigation into allegations that Netanyahu
accepted gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire
James Packer, and suspicions that he offered to give preferential treatment
to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favorable coverage.
The recommendations now go to Attorney
General Avihai Mendelblit, who will review the material before deciding
whether to file charges. Netanyahu can remain in office during that process,
which is expected to drag on for months.
But with a cloud hanging over his head,
he could soon find himself facing calls to step aside. During similar
circumstances a decade ago, Netanyahu, as opposition leader, urged
then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign during a police investigation,
saying a leader "sunk up to his neck in interrogations" could not govern
In the immediate aftermath of the
police announcement, reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a
bitter rival of Netanyahu, called on him to suspend himself and for the
coalition to appoint a replacement on Wednesday morning.
"The depth of corruption is
horrifying," Barak said. "This does not look like nothing. This looks like
But key members of Netanyahu's Likud
Party rallied behind him. Cabinet Minister Miri Regev said she was "not
excited" by the police recommendations and urged patience while the attorney
general reviews the case.
She said the biggest surprise was that
Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, had been a witness.
David Amsalem, another Netanyahu confidant, called Lapid a "snitch."
Lapid later issued a statement calling
on Netanyahu to resign.
"Someone with such serious accusations
against them, many of which he does not even deny, cannot continue to serve
as prime minister with responsibility for the security and well-being of
Israel's citizens," Lapid said.
In a statement, police said their
investigation found sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu in the first
case, known as File 1000, for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
It said Netanyahu had accepted gifts
valued at 750,000 shekels ($214,000) from Milchan, and 250,000 shekels
($71,000) from Packer. The gifts from Milchan reportedly included expensive
cigars and champagne.
Police said that in return, Netanyahu
had operated on Milchan's behalf on U.S. visa matters, legislated a tax
break and connected him with an Indian businessman. It said he also helped
Milchan, an Israeli producer whose credits include "Pretty Woman," ''12
Years a Slave" and "JFK," in the Israeli media market.
In the second case, known as "File
2000," Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher
of the Yediot Ahronot daily, for positive coverage in exchange for promoting
legislation that would weaken a free newspaper that had cut into Yediot's
Police said there was sufficient
evidence to charge both Milchan and Mozes with bribery.
Channel 10 TV read a statement that it
said came from Milchan's "defense team" saying the bribery charge would not
stand. It said his relationship with Netanyahu went back to the early 2000s,
before he became prime minister, and that the men and their families were
There was no immediate comment from
Packer or Mozes.
Netanyahu is one of President Donald
Trump's biggest supporters on the global stage, and the police
recommendations threaten to weaken Netanyahu as the White House works to
prepare a Mideast peace proposal.
In his TV address, Netanyahu said that
his entire three-decade political career, which included serving as Israel's
ambassador to the U.N., a previous stint as prime minister in the 1990s and
a series of Cabinet posts, was meant only to serve the Israeli public.
He acknowledged aiding Milchan with his
visa issues, but said Milchan had done much for Israel and noted that the
late Shimon Peres had also been close with Milchan.
He also said that over the years he had
taken decisions that hurt Milchan's business interests in Israel.
"How can allegations be taken seriously
that in exchange for cigars I acted for Arnon Milchen's benefit?" he said.
He said all the allegations over the
years against him had one goal: "to topple me from government."
He said past scandals had all "ended
with nothing" and "this time as well they will end with nothing."
As the police investigation gained
steam in recent months, Netanyahu has claimed to be a victim of an
overaggressive police force and a media witch hunt.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister
for nine straight years, and his family have become embroiled in a series of
scandals in recent months.
Recordings recently emerged of his
wife, Sara, screaming at an aide, while separate recordings caught his
eldest son, Yair, on a drunken night out at a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs
while traveling around in a taxpayer-funded government car with a
government-funded bodyguard. The younger Netanyahu ended up spending the
night in a luxury Tel Aviv apartment owned by Packer.
Netanyahu has said the scandals are all
the work of media out to get him.
Indonesian court begins trial of Australian man in drug case
national Isaac Roberts, left, listens to an Indonesian interpreter during
his first appearance in Denpasar district court in Bali, Indonesia, Monday,
Feb. 12. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati
Bali, Indonesia (AP) — An
Indonesian court on Monday began the trial of an Australian man who faces
possible life imprisonment if convicted of possessing methamphetamine and
Isaac Emmanuel Roberts was arrested at
Bali's Ngurah Rai airport on Dec. 4 after arriving from Bangkok. Customs
officers seized 14.3 grams (0.5 ounce) of crystal methamphetamine and 14
ecstasy tablets from his luggage.
His trial began at the District Court
in Denpasar, Bali's capital, where prosecutors said Roberts violated
anti-narcotics laws. If found guilty, he could face from four years to life
in prison and a fine of at least $4,400.
The 35-year-old accountant earlier
confessed to being a drug user but denied being a dealer.
Media reports said Roberts ran as a
Liberal Democrat candidate for the Higgins seat in Melbourne in 2009 but was
His social media accounts show he is a
gym fan who regularly visits Bali and Thailand.
Indonesia has very strict drug laws and
convicted traffickers can be executed by a firing squad. More than 150
people are on death row, mostly for drug crimes, and about a third of them
Eighteen people convicted of
drug-related offenses have been executed under current President Joko
"Jokowi" Widodo, who took office in October 2014..
Tonga begins cleanup while Fiji prepares for Cyclone Gita
This Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, photo shows
electric and telephone wires downed by trees from Friday's Tropical Storm
Gita in American Samoa. (AP Photo/Fili Sagapolutele)
Wellington, New Zealand (AP) —
Tonga began cleaning up Tuesday after a cyclone hit overnight, while some
people in the nearby Pacific nation of Fiji began preparing for the storm to
Cyclone Gita destroyed homes and
churches in Tonga and caused widespread power outages after it tore through
the island nation just south of the capital, Nuku'alofa. There were no
immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.
The cyclone was packing winds of over
200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) when it made landfall. The
nation has declared a state of emergency.
The cyclone was continuing to intensify
and was predicted to hit some southern Fiji islands Tuesday night. Experts
predict the cyclone will miss Fiji's major population centers, including the
About 2,500 people living on two of
Fiji's islands were at risk, the nation's National Disaster Management
Office told Radio New Zealand. Director Anare Leweniqila said emergency
supplies of food and water were being gathered and urged elderly and
disabled people to begin moving into evacuation centers.
The storm has strengthened since
hitting Samoa and American Samoa last week, where it caused damage to
buildings, widespread power outages and flooding.
President Donald Trump on Sunday
declared an emergency in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. The declaration
allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and
resources to help the 50,000 residents recover.
Chris Brandolino, a scientist at New
Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said
flooding and coastal inundation would likely cause as many problems in Tonga
as the damage from the winds.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda
Ardern said her government was on standby and ready to help Tonga, which is
home to about 105,000 people.
On Monday before the storm hit,
publisher Pesi Fonua said people were busy nailing boards and roofing iron
to their homes to try to limit the damage from coconuts, trees and other
London City Airport shuts down due to unexploded WWII bomb
Planes sit on the apron at London City Airport which
was closed Monday, Feb. 12, after the discovery of an unexploded Second
World War bomb in the nearby River Thames. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)
London (AP) — All flights in and out of London City Airport were
canceled Monday after a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) unexploded World War
II-era bomb was found nearby in the River Thames.
The Metropolitan Police service cleared
an area within 214 meters (700 feet) of the bomb, including several
residential streets, as officers worked with specialists from the Royal Navy
to remove the device.
Police said the bomb was discovered
Sunday at the George V Dock during pre-planned work at City Airport. They
described it as a 1.5-meter (5-foot) shell that was lying in a bed of dense
"The first stage of the removal
operation is to free the shell from the silt so that it can be floated for
removal," police said in a statement.
Local officials offered emergency
accommodations to residents and said work to remove the bomb would continue
Airport CEO Robert Sinclair said he
recognizes that passengers will be inconvenienced but said the airport is
cooperating fully with authorities "to resolve the situation as quickly as
London City, the smallest of London's
international airports, handled 4.5 million passengers last year. Popular
with business travelers, it's located in east London's docklands, an area
that was heavily bombed during World War II.
Workers find both data recorders at Russian plane crash site
Personnel work at the scene of a AN-148 plane
crash in Stepanovskoye village, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the
Domodedovo airport, Russia, Monday, Feb. 12. (AP Photo/Alexander
Moscow (AP) — Tramping through
snowy fields outside Moscow, emergency workers found both flight data
recorders from a crashed Russian airliner on Monday as they searched for
debris and the remains of the 71 passengers and crew who died.
The An-148 twin-engine regional jet
bound for Orsk in the southern Urals went down minutes after taking off from
Moscow's Domodedovo airport Sunday afternoon. All 65 passengers and 6 crew
on board were killed.
Russian investigators quickly ruled out
a terror attack but will not speculate on possible reasons for the crash.
Still the crash has re-ignited
questions about the An-148, since the model's safety record is spotty, with
one previous crash and a series of major incidents in which pilots struggled
to land safely. Saratov Airlines, which operated the plane, has grounded
several other An-148s in its fleet pending the crash probe.
The Investigative Committee, Russia's
premier state investigative agency, said the plane was intact and there had
been no fire on board before it hit the ground. The plane's fuel tanks
exploded on impact, scattering debris across 30 hectares (74 acres) in deep
snow, according to the Emergency Ministry, which used drones to direct the
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich
told a Cabinet meeting that emergency teams have found both flight data and
cockpit conversation recorders, which are crucial for determining the
Officials said the search for victims'
remains at the crash site will take a week. The 65 passengers ranged in age
from 5 to 79, according to a list posted by the Russian Emergencies
Ministry. Most victims were from Orsk, where the authorities declared an
official day of mourning on Monday.
President Vladimir Putin put off a
planned trip to Sochi and stayed in Moscow to monitor the search operation
and the crash probe.
Saratov Airlines said the plane had
received proper maintenance and passed all the necessary checks before the
flight. The plane was built in 2010 for a different airline that operated it
for several years before putting it in storage. Saratov Airlines
commissioned it last year.
The airline said the plane's captain
had more than 5,000 hours of flying time, 2,800 of them in an An-148. The
other pilot had 812 hours of experience, largely in that model.
Despite Saratov Airlines' move to
ground its An-148s, another Russian operator of the plane, Angara, based in
Irkutsk in eastern Siberia, said it will keep flying them. Russian
government agencies that also operate the aircraft haven't grounded them
The An-148 once was touted as an
example of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation, but it fell into trouble as
relations between the two neighbors unraveled following Russia's 2014
annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
It was developed by Ukraine's Antonov
company in the early 2000s. About 40 were built, most of them in Russia that
manufactured the plane under license.
Along with several commercial carriers,
the An-148 is operated by the Russian Defense Ministry and several other
government agencies. Ukraine's president has used the plane for some of his
But the plane's production in Russia
was halted last year because of low demand and media reports indicated that
some carriers, including the Saratov Airlines, were experiencing a shortage
of spares. Some airlines reportedly had to cannibalize some of their planes
to keep others airworthy.
Among the major problems, in March 2011
an An-148 crashed during a training flight in Russia, killing all six crew
on board. Investigators blamed pilot error.
In 2010, another An-148 operated by a
Russian carrier suffered a major failure of its control system but its crew
managed to land safely.
Last September, a Saratov Airlines
An-148 had one of its engines shut down minutes after takeoff, but landed
safely. And in October, another An-148 that belonged to a different Russian
carrier suffered an engine fire on takeoff but managed to land.
The last large airline crash in Russia
occurred on Dec. 25, 2016, when a Tu-154 operated by the Russian Defense
Ministry on its way to Syria crashed into the Black Sea minutes after
takeoff from Sochi. All 92 people on board were killed.
The probe into that crash is still
ongoing, but Russian officials have indicated that pilot error appeared to
be the reason for it.
Russian airliner crashes moments after takeoff, killing 71
In this screen grab provided by the Life.ru, the
wreckage of a AN-148 plane is seen in Stepanovskoye village, about 40
kilometers from the Domodedovo airport, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 11. (Life.ru
Moscow (AP) — A Russian airliner
that had just taken off from the country's second-busiest airport crashed
Sunday, killing all 71 people aboard and scattering jagged chunks of
wreckage across a snowy field outside Moscow.
The pilots of the An-148 regional jet
did not report any problems before the twin-engine aircraft plunged into the
field about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Domodedovo Airport, authorities
The Saratov Airlines flight disappeared
from radar just minutes after departure for the city of Orsk, some 1,500
kilometers (1,000 miles) to the southeast.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov
confirmed that there were no survivors.
The 65 passengers ranged in age from 5
to 79, according to a list posted by the Russian Emergencies Ministry, which
did not give their nationalities. Six crew members were also aboard.
Emergency workers combed through the
field while investigators descended on the airport to search for clues to
what brought the jet down. One of the flight recorders was recovered,
Russian news reports said, but it was not immediately clear if it was the
data or voice recorder.
The airport has been the focus of
security concerns in the past. Security lapses came under sharp criticism in
2004, after Chechen suicide bombers destroyed two airliners that took off
from the airport on the same evening, killing a total of 90 people. A 2011
bombing in the arrivals area killed 37 people.
Investigators also conducted a search
at the airline's main office in Saratov, reports said.
Russia's Investigative Committee said
all possible causes were being considered. Some reports suggested there were
questions about whether the plane had been properly de-iced. Moderate snow
was falling in much of Moscow at the time of the crash.
Airline spokeswoman Elena Voronova told
the state news agency RIA Novosti that one of the pilots had more than 5,000
hours of flying time, 2,800 of them in an An-148. The other pilot had 812
hours of experience, largely in that model plane.
Tass said the plane entered service in
2010 for a different airline, but was held out of service for two years
because of a parts shortage. It resumed flying in 2015 and joined Saratov's
fleet a year ago.
TV footage from the crash site showed
airplane fragments lying in the snow. Reports said the pieces were strewn
over an area about a kilometer (0.6 miles) wide.
A plane can disappear from radar when
it gets too close to the ground to reflect radar signals.
John Cox, a former airline pilot and
now a US-based safety consultant, said the disappearance could also indicate
that the jet's transponder lost power.
"That says potential of engine failure
or a technical problem," Cox told The Associated Press.
President Vladimir Putin put off a
planned trip to Sochi to monitor the investigation. Putin was to meet Monday
with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the Black Sea resort, where the
president has an official residence.
Instead, Abbas will meet with Putin in
Moscow in the latter part of Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told
Russian news agencies.
The An-148 was developed by Ukraine's
Antonov company in the early 2000s and manufactured in both Ukraine and
Shabby equipment and poor supervision
plagued Russian civil aviation for years after the 1991 collapse of the
Soviet Union, but its safety record has improved in recent years.
The last large-scale crash in Russia
occurred on Dec. 25, 2016, when a Tu-154 operated by the Russian Defense
Ministry on its way to Syria crashed into the Black Sea minutes after
takeoff from Sochi. All 92 people on board were killed.
In March 2016, a Boeing 737-800 flown
by FlyDubai crashed while landing at Rostov-on-Don, killing all 62 people
An onboard bomb destroyed a Russian
Metrojet airliner in October 2015 soon after it took off from Egypt's Sharm
al-Sheikh resort. The bombing killed 224 people.
Man with knife kills 1, injures 12 at Beijing mall
In this April 13, 2009, file photo, shoppers
walk on a pedestrian bridge in the Xidan shopping district in Beijing. (AP
Beijing (AP) — A 35-year-old man with a personal grievance attacked
13 people with a knife in a busy shopping mall in Beijing on Sunday, killing
one, police said.
A woman died from her injuries after
being sent to a hospital, the city's Public Security Bureau said in a brief
statement on its official microblog page. The 12 other victims in the attack
suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, it said.
Police provided only the alleged
assailant's surname, Zhu, and said he confessed to the authorities that he
carried out the attack at Joy City, a mall in Beijing's Xidan district, to
"vent his personal discontent."
Video clips posted on Chinese social
media sites showed mall patrons fleeing from what was described as a
restaurant on the sixth story. One clip showed a man staggering out,
apparently hurt from the attack, dripping blood on the floor as a security
guard rushed to help him. Other clips showed people being rushed away on
gurneys and a large number of uniformed police in the mall.
In one piece of footage that appeared
to be surveillance video of a restaurant, a man could be seen lunging at
someone seated at a table with what seemed to be a knife. People scrambled
to get away, flipping tables and pushing chairs at the man. The video could
not be independently verified.
Because Chinese law tightly restricts
the sale and possession of firearms, mass attacks are generally carried out
with knives or homemade explosives.
Perpetrators of similar attacks in the
past have been described as mentally ill or bearing grudges against society.
Many of those incidents have occurred
at schools, dating back to a series of attacks in 2010 in which nearly 20
children were killed, prompting a response from top government officials and
leading many schools to beef up security.
Bishop declares nun's recovery as 70th Lourdes miracle
In this Sept. 12, 2008, file photo, pilgrims
queue to visit the grotto at Lourdes, southwestern France. (AP Photo/Bob
Paris (AP) — A French bishop
declared Sunday that the recovery a long-debilitated nun made after she
visited the shrine in Lourdes was a miracle, the 70th event to be recognized
as an act of divine intervention at the world-famous Catholic pilgrimage
Beauvais Bishop Jacques Benoit-Gonin
proclaimed the miracle nearly a decade after Bernadette Moriau attended a
blessing of the sick ceremony at the Lourdes sanctuary in southern France.
The bishop of Lourdes, Nicolas Brouwet announced the declaration during Mass
at the shrine's basilica.
The shrine in southern France where
apparitions of Mary, Jesus' mother, reportedly appeared 160 years ago to a
14-year-old girl is considered a site of miraculous cures. Water running
from a spring in the sanctuary's Grotto of the Apparitions is purported to
have curative powers and millions of pilgrims visit the sanctuary every
Moriau's experience underwent extensive
studies and tests by the International Medical Committee of Lourdes. The
bishop has the last word on whether to approve a reported cure as a miracle.
Moriau had four operations on her
spinal column between 1968 and 1975 and was declared fully disabled in 1980.
One foot was permanently twisted, requiring her to wear a brace and use a
wheelchair. She took what she said were significant doses of morphine for
"I never asked for a miracle," the nun,
now 79, recounted of her July 2008 pilgrimage to Lourdes.
After returning to her home convent
near Beauvais and praying in the chapel, "I felt a (surge of) well-being
throughout my body, a relaxation, warmth....I returned to my room and,
there, a voice told me to 'take off your braces,'" she said in a video
posted on the Beauvais diocese web site. "Surprise. I could move."
Moriau said she immediately did away
with all her aids, from braces to morphine — and took a 5 kilometer hike a
few days later.
The bishop said the nun's "sudden,
instantaneous, complete and durable change" alerted him to a possible
miracle. The Lourdes medical committee said the changes were unexplainable
"in the current state of our scientific knowledge," he added.
A miracle at Lourdes last was declared
in 2013. It involved an Italian woman who visited Lourdes in 1989, suffering
severe high blood pressure and other problems.
Not all declared miracles pass through
Lourdes. A French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre, was declared cured of her
Parkinson's disease after praying to the late Pope John Paul II, who
suffered from the same neuro-degenerative disorder. That helped fast-track
the pope's canonization as one of the two miracles needed for him to become
St. John Paul II in 2014.
South African ruling party leaders to meet amid Zuma limbo
South African Deputy President and African
National Congress party President Cyril Ramaphosa, arrives at the St.
Georges Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, Sunday, Feb. 11. (AP Photo)
Johannesburg (AP) — A key
committee of South Africa's ruling ANC party will hold an emergency meeting
Monday as an anxious nation awaits word on whether President Jacob Zuma will
resign soon because of corruption allegations, South African media reported.
The announcement of a meeting of the
national executive committee of the African National Congress came ahead of
an expected speech on Sunday by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who says
he has been negotiating a power transition with Zuma.
Many former supporters of the president
want him to resign because a series of scandals have sapped support for the
ruling party and hurt one of Africa's biggest economies, but there is a
growing sense of unease over the lack of information about the confidential
talks between Zuma and Ramaphosa, his expected successor.
Last week, Ramaphosa canceled a meeting
of the ANC's national executive committee, which had been expected to push
for the early removal of the president so that the party can try to win back
disaffected voters ahead of elections in 2019. Such a meeting could have
exacerbated divisions with the party that has led South Africa since the end
of apartheid in 1994, and Ramaphosa said his private discussions with Zuma
were aimed at minimizing discord.
ANC spokesman Pule Mabe confirmed that
a committee meeting was scheduled for Monday, but he did not comment on the
agenda, the eNCA media organization reported.
Ramaphosa was expected to speak in Cape
Town on Sunday, the 28th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from
prison. Jailed for 27 years, the anti-apartheid leader addressed an ecstatic
crowd from the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall on Feb. 11, 1990 and was
elected as South Africa's first black president four years later. He died in
2013 at the age of 95.
Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid activist
who held the microphone for Mandela during the City Hall speech, was a key
negotiator during the transition to democracy in the early 1990s.
Turkey slams Cyprus for gas search, blocks rig with warships
In this photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017,
children play on a beach with a drilling platform seen in the background, on
the outskirts of Larnaca port, in the eastern Mediterranean island of
Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Menelaos Hadjicostis and Zeynep Bilginsoy
Nicosia, Cyprus (AP) —
Turkey's foreign ministry criticized Cyprus again Sunday for a
"unilateral" offshore hydrocarbons search after Turkish warships
prevented an Italian rig from reaching an area off the east
Mediterranean island nation where it was to start exploratory drilling
Turkish warships on Friday stopped
a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm ENI as it headed toward an
area southeast of Cyprus.
Turkey, in a statement Sunday, said
Greek Cypriots were disregarding the "inalienable rights on natural
resources" of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardizing the region's stability.
Turkey's foreign ministry said the
Cyprus government was acting like "the sole owner of the island" and
warned it would be responsible for any consequences. It also urged
foreign companies not to support the Cyprus' government's activities.
Cyprus was split into an
internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish
Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters
of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot
declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the
An ENI spokesman told The
Associated Press that the Turkish warships told the rig not to continue
because there would be military activities at its destination. The
spokesman said the rig would remain where it stopped until the situation
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades
said Sunday that Cypriot authorities are taking actions that will
neither lead to an escalation of tensions nor overlook the fact that
Turkey was violating international law.
The Cyprus government says a gas
search is its sovereign right and that any potential hydrocarbon wealth
generated will be equitably shared among all Cypriots after the island
Italy's ENI, France's TOTAL and
ExxonMobil of the U.S. are among the companies licensed to search for
hydrocarbons off Cyprus' southern coast.
Last week, Cyprus announced that
ENI and partner TOTAL had discovered a potentially sizeable gas field
off its southwestern coast that's close to Egypt's Zohr deposit, which
is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean.
In earlier drilling, Texas-based
Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to hold more than 4
trillion cubic feet of gas.