Facebook's Zuckerberg apologizes for 'major breach of trust'
The offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA) are
shown in central London, Tuesday March 20. (Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP)
Barbara Ortutay, Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz
New York (AP) — Breaking five
days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for a "major breach
of trust," admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data in
light of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm.
"I am really sorry that happened,"
Zuckerberg said of the scandal involving data mining firm Cambridge
Analytica. Facebook has a "responsibility" to protect its users' data, he
said in a Wednesday interview on CNN. If it fails, he said, "we don't
deserve to have the opportunity serve people."
His mea culpa on cable television came
a few hours after he acknowledged his company's mistakes in a Facebook post
, but without saying he was sorry.
Zuckerberg and Facebook's No. 2
executive, Sheryl Sandberg, had been quiet since news broke Friday that
Cambridge may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million
Facebook users to try to sway elections. Cambridge's clients included Donald
Trump's general-election campaign.
Facebook shares have dropped some 8
percent, lopping about $46 billion off the company's market value, since the
revelations were first published.
Even before the scandal broke, Facebook
has already taken the most important steps to prevent a recurrence,
Zuckerberg said. For example, in 2014, it reduced access outside apps had to
user data. However, some of the measures didn't take effect until a year
later, allowing Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is
more to do.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday,
Zuckerberg said it will ban developers who don't agree to an audit. An app's
developer will no longer have access to data from people who haven't used
that app in three months. Data will also be generally limited to user names,
profile photos and email, unless the developer signs a contract with
Facebook and gets user approval.
In a separate post, Facebook said it
will inform people whose data was misused by apps. Facebook first learned of
this breach of privacy more than two years ago, but hadn't mentioned it
publicly until Friday.
The company said it was "building a
way" for people to know if their data was accessed by "This Is Your Digital
Life," the psychological-profiling quiz app that researcher Aleksandr Kogan
created and paid about 270,000 people to take part in. Cambridge Analytica
later obtained information from the app for about 50 million Facebook users,
as the app also vacuumed up data on people's friends — including those who
never downloaded the app or gave explicit consent.
Chris Wylie, a Cambridge co-founder who
left in 2014, has said one of the firm's goals was to influence people's
perceptions by injecting content, some misleading or false, all around them.
It's not clear whether Facebook would be able to tell users whether they had
seen such content.
Cambridge has shifted the blame to
Kogan, which the firm described as a contractor. Kogan described himself as
Kogan, a psychology researcher at
Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge
Analytica have tried to place the blame on him, even though the firm ensured
him that everything he did was legal.
"One of the great mistakes I did here
was I just didn't ask enough questions," he said. "I had never done a
commercial project. I didn't really have any reason to doubt their
sincerity. That's certainly something I strongly regret now."
He said the firm paid some $800,000 for
the work, but it went to participants in the survey.
"My motivation was to get a dataset I
could do research on," he said. "I have never profited from this in any way
Authorities in Britain and the United
States are investigating.
David Carroll, a professor at Parsons
School of Design in New York who sued Cambridge Analytica in the U.K., said
he was not satisfied with Zuckerberg's response, but acknowledged that "this
is just the beginning."
He said it was "insane" that Facebook
had yet to take legal action against Cambridge parent SCL Group over the
inappropriate data use. Carroll himself sued Cambridge Friday to recover
data on him that the firm had obtained.
Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data
protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary
committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security
but lax when it came to protecting users' data.
He said personal data including email
addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook
servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.
"The real challenge here is that
Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn't
explicitly authorized that," he said, adding that the company had "lost
sight" of what developers did with the data.
Suspect in Austin bombing attacks blows himself up
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, right,
stands with other members of law enforcement as he briefs the media,
Wednesday, March 21, in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, Texas. (AP
Round Rock, Texas (AP) — The
suspect in a spate of bombing attacks that have terrorized Austin over the
past month blew himself up with an explosive device as authorities closed
in, the police said early Wednesday.
Authorities had zeroed in on the
suspect in the last 24 to 36 hours and located his vehicle at a hotel on
Interstate 35 in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, Austin Police Chief Brian
Manley said at a news conference. They were waiting for ballistic vehicles
to arrive to move in for an arrest when his vehicle began to drive away,
Manley said. Authorities followed the vehicle, which ran into a ditch on the
side of the road, the police chief said.
When members of the SWAT team
approached, the suspect detonated an explosive device inside the vehicle,
the police chief said. The blast knocked back one officer, while a second
officer fired his weapon, Manley said.
The suspect, who suffered significant
injuries from the blast, was killed. Authorities identified him only as a
24-year-old white man and wouldn't say if he was from Austin.
Austin has been targeted by four
package bombings since March 2 that killed two people and wounded four
others. A fifth parcel bomb detonated at a FedEx distribution center near
San Antonio early Tuesday.
Manley said the suspect is believed to
be responsible for all the major Austin bombings, but authorities
acknowledged it was too soon to say if the suspect had worked alone.
Authorities also said they didn't know his motive.
FBI agent Chris Combs, head of the
agency's San Antonio office, said, "We are concerned that there may be other
packages that are still out there."
Isaac Figueroa, 26, said he and his
brother heard sirens and helicopters early Wednesday and drove toward them,
then cut through nearby woods on foot after they hit a police roadblock.
Figueroa said they saw a silver or gray
Jeep Cherokee that was pinned between black and white vehicles and "looked
like it had been rammed off the road." He said he saw police deploy a robot
to go examine the Jeep.
The suspect's death followed a day of
rapid-fire developments in the case.
On Tuesday, a bomb inside a package
exploded around 1 a.m. as it passed along a conveyer belt at a FedEx
shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95
kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker reported ringing in her ears and
was treated at the scene.
Later in the morning, police sent a
bomb squad to a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport to check on a
suspicious package. Federal agencies and police later said that package had
indeed contained an explosive that was successfully intercepted and that it,
too, was tied to the other bombings.
Authorities also closed off an
Austin-area FedEx store where they believe the bomb that exploded in Schertz
was shipped. They roped off a large area around the shopping center in the
enclave of Sunset Valley and were collecting evidence.
The Schertz blast came two days after a
bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood about 3
miles (5 kilometers) from the FedEx store. It was triggered by a nearly
invisible tripwire, suggesting a "higher level of sophistication" than
agents saw in three package bombs previously left on doorsteps, according to
Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the U.S.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Authorities have not identified the two
men who were hurt Sunday, saying only that they are in their 20s. But
William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of them
and that he had what appeared to be nails embedded in his knees.
During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday,
President Donald Trump said whoever is responsible for the bombings "is
obviously a very sick individual or individuals" and that authorities are
"working to get to the bottom of it."
Philippine bus careens into ravine, killing 19, injuring 21
Tuesday, March 20, photo rescuers and volunteers try to help trapped
passengers escape from the wreckage of the passenger bus after it careened
off a road and fell into a ravine at Sablayan township, Mindoro Occidental
province in central Philippines. (PDRRMO, Mindoro Occidental via AP)
Manila, Philippines (AP) — A
passenger bus careened off a winding dirt road and hurtled down a ravine
south of the Philippine capital, killing 19 people, police said Wednesday.
The crash Tuesday night in a
mountainous area of Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro province injured 21
other passengers, including an infant, police investigator Alexis Go said.
He said the bus apparently went out of
control and swerved wildly on a downhill stretch of the road, which was
under repair. As it approached a bridge in the dark, "a surviving passenger
recalled the driver yelling at them to hold on because the bus had lost its
brakes," Go said by telephone.
"Then the passenger remembered
everything tumbling around inside the bus, he heard a loud crash and he
passed out," Go said.
The bus slammed into some stone
barricades on the roadside ahead of the bridge and then flew off the road
down a ravine, which was 15 to 20 meters (50 to 65 feet) deep. The impact
killed the driver and most passengers in the front rows of seats, he said.
An infant near the front survived after
a relative embraced the baby and the seat cushion prevented him from being
pinned to death, said Go, who inspected the accident site.
Photographs showed the green and white
Dimple Star Transport bus lying precariously on the edge of a dry canal at
the bottom of the ravine. Rescuers peered into the bus cabin with
flashlights attached to their foreheads.
Investigators will try to determine if
a brake failure or other mechanical problem caused the accident, Go said,
adding there were no skid marks on the road where the bus plunged off the
Highway fatalities are alarmingly high
in the Philippines due to poor law enforcement, dilapidated vehicles and a
lack of safety features such as signs and railings, especially in far-flung
Sen. Grace Poe called for support for a
Senate bill that would create a National Transportation Safety Board and
other steps such as inspections of public transport vehicles and strict
licensing of drivers.
She said the crash was a reminder of
how dangerous public transportation is in the Philippines.
"Sadly, the list of tragic road
accidents and their casualties continue to increase because vehicles that
are not roadworthy or even those we label as rolling coffins are still
allowed to ply the roads with near impunity," she said in a statement.
Israeli military confirms it hit Syrian nuclear site in 2007
released by the Israel Defense Forces shows what was believed to be a
nuclear reactor site that was destroyed by Israel, in the Deir el-Zour
region, 450 kilometers (about 300 miles) northwest of Damascus, Syria. (IDF
Tel Aviv, Israel (AP) — The
Israeli military confirmed Wednesday it carried out the 2007 airstrike in
Syria that destroyed what was believed to be a nuclear reactor, lifting the
veil of secrecy over one of its most daring and mysterious operations in
Although Israel was widely believed to
have been behind the Sept. 6, 2007, airstrike, it has never before commented
publicly on it.
In a lengthy release, the military
revealed that eight F-15 fighter jets carried out the top-secret airstrikes
against the facility in the Deir el-Zour region, 450 kilometers (about 300
miles) northeast of Damascus, destroying a site that had been in development
for years and was scheduled to go into operation at the end of that year.
Israel's involvement has been one of
its most closely held secrets, and it was not immediately clear why Israel
decided to go public now. The military would not comment on its reasoning,
but the move could be related to the upcoming memoir of former Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, who ordered the strike and has hinted about it for
years, or it could be meant as a warning to archenemy Iran, which is active
"The motivation of our enemies has
grown in recent years, but so too the might of the IDF (Israel Defense
Forces)," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday. "Everyone in
the Middle East would do well to internalize this equation."
Israel and Syria have always been
bitter enemies. Throughout Syria's seven-year civil war, Israel has carried
out well over 100 airstrikes, most believed to have been aimed at suspected
weapons shipments destined for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group.
Both Iran and Hezbollah are allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
At the time of the 2007 strike, Syria
accused Israel of invading its airspace, but gave no further details about
The pre-mission briefing, made public
Wednesday, stated that the operation should not be attributed to Israel so
as to minimize the potential for an all-out war.
The strike was reminiscent of an
Israeli attack in 1981 against a reactor being built in Iraq. The strike was
later credited with preventing Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass
destruction that could have been used in the Gulf War a decade later.
"The message from the 2007 attack on
the reactor is that Israel will not tolerate construction that can pose an
existential threat," military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in
Wednesday's statement. "This was the message in 1981, this is the message in
2007 and this is the future message to our enemies."
Eisenkot, who at the time commanded
Israel's northern front along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, said it
marked Israel's most comprehensive attack in Syria since the 1973 Mideast
war, and that everyone involved knew it could spark a new one. He said only
a handful of top commanders were aware of the plans for Operation "Outside
The military said the F-15s took off
from two bases in southern Israel at 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 and returned four
hours later. Wednesday's announcement also indicated the Syrian reactor was
much closer to completion than previously reported.
From Israel's perspective, the strike
was an astounding success since it not only destroyed the site, but
prevented further escalation and strengthened its deterrence in the region.
Air force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam
Norkin said the current turmoil in Syria has further vindicated the strike,
particularly since the reactor was in an area later captured by Islamic
"Imagine what situation we would be in
today if there was a nuclear reactor in Syria," Norkin said. "Israel's
decision to destroy the reactor is one of the most important decisions taken
here in the last 70 years."
Uzi Rabi, an expert on Iran at Tel Aviv
University, said Israel's surprising confirmation might be meant as a
"warning sign" to Iran as it expands its military footprint in Syria. Israel
has warned against the establishment of a permanent Iranian military
presence in Syria, particularly in areas close to Israel.
Last month, Israel shot down an Iranian
drone that entered its airspace, triggering a clash in which an Israeli
warplane crashed after being struck by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Israel
responded by bombing Syrian anti-aircraft batteries.
The military said it began obtaining
information regarding foreign experts helping Syria develop the Deir el-Zour
site in late 2004. Later it discovered that North Korea was helping Syria
build a reactor to manufacture plutonium.
In his memoir, "Decision Points,"
former President George W. Bush said Israel first asked the U.S. to bomb the
site and then carried out an attack itself when Washington declined.
The strike came about a year after
Israel's inconclusive war against Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese
guerrillas battled Israel's army to a stalemate. The poor performance raised
questions about Israel's deterrent capabilities.
"Prime Minister Olmert's execution of
the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the
Lebanon war," Bush wrote, adding that the Israeli leader rejected a
suggestion to go public with the operation.
"Olmert told me he wanted total
secrecy. He wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and
force Assad to retaliate. This was his operation, and I felt an obligation
to respect his wishes," Bush wrote.
Olmert has skirted around the issue,
and military censors, for years, repeatedly saying that according to foreign
sources Israel had been involved. After Bush's account was published in
2010, Olmert said: "I don't want (to), and I can't deny it."
Olmert, who was prime minister from
2006 until 2009 and was recently released from prison after serving time for
corruption, is expected to delve more deeply into the issue in his upcoming
book. The disclosure looks to help rehabilitate at least part of Olmert's
tarnished image while damaging the legacy of his longtime rival,
then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was reportedly hesitant to strike in
Myanmar's president, a close friend of Suu Kyi, retires
In this Dec.
14, 2017, file photo, Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw looks down as he leaves
a joint press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Prime
Minister's official residence in Tokyo. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's
president, a close friend of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said Wednesday that he
was retiring, a move that puts a representative of the country's already
powerful military at least temporarily in a position of executive power.
An announcement posted on the Facebook
page of the Myanmar President Office said 71-year-old Htin Kyaw would step
down because he wished to take a rest. It follows reports that he suffered
ill health that forced him to travel abroad for medical care at least twice
in the past year.
The statement said his post would be
filled within seven working days, in line with the constitution.
Htin Kyaw, who became president in
2016, was Myanmar's first elected civilian president and head of its first
government to be elected in free and fair polls since a 1962 military coup.
After he became president, Suu Kyi
became Myanmar's de facto leader when she was named state counsellor, a
position created for the country's once-leading voice for democracy because
she's constitutionally banned from the presidency. A clause in the charter
bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the job. Suu Kyi's
two sons are British, as was her late husband.
By mutual agreement, Htin Kyaw acted as
a proxy for Suu Kyi, who is also foreign minister. Suu Kyi had explained
publicly — and to public approval — that she would be "above the president."
Htin Kyaw was "a constitutional
president whose role and powers were reduced to that of a figurehead," said
analyst Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a policy advocacy
"The new president, whoever he is,
needs to take a firmer stand and not let the (state counsellor) do
everything," he said in an email.
He added that Htin Kyaw's stepping down
was widely expected because of his health, but that "there won't be much of
an impact unless his successor provides some unexpected surprises, good or
Myanmar has two vice presidents, and
according to its constitution, 66-year-old First Vice President Myint Swe
will serve as acting president. He was nominated for vice president by the
military, which retains great influence even in the elected civilian
government because it is guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in parliament as
well as the three key security portfolios in the Cabinet.
Myint Swe, a former lieutenant general,
was chief of military affairs security under the former military government,
a position important enough to put him on a U.S. Treasury Department
blacklist in 2007 with restrictions on travel and financial transactions,
imposed because of the junta's anti-democratic activities.
He and others were taken off the list
in late 2016 as a gesture of support from Washington to Suu Kyi's
government, installed earlier that year. Myint Swe was also regarded as
being close to Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who headed the last military
When a vote is taken for a new
president by both houses of parliament, the choice will be among Myint Swe,
Second Vice President Henry Van Thio, who was nominated by the upper house
of parliament, and a third candidate to be put forward by the lower house,
which had nominated Htin Kyaw. Van Thio is a member of Myanmar's Chin ethnic
The strong majority held by Suu Kyi's
party allowed it to name Htin Kyaw president in 2016 and should put its new
choice, whoever it may be, back in the job again
However, there is the possibility of
disruption, said Khin Zaw Win.
"The military was opposed to the
creation of the (state counsellor) post right from the beginning. It has
been a festering resentment all along," he said. "And also keep in mind that
the new president might have to take over totally from Aung San Suu Kyi. Her
future is neither rosy nor assured."
Htin Kyaw was known more as a personal
loyalist to Suu Kyi rather than an active political member of her National
League for Democracy party, though his wife is a daughter of one of the
party's founding members. He spent time in jail for helping Suu Kyi try to
make an unsanctioned trip out of Yangon under the previous military
government, and served as a director of a charitable foundation named after
Suu Kyi's mother.
Ex-French president Sarkozy held on Gadhafi claims
In this Dec.
10 2007 file photo, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, greets Libyan
leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris.
(AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Paris (AP) — Former French
President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed in custody on Tuesday as part of an
investigation that he received millions of euros in illegal financing from
the regime of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
A judicial source with direct knowledge
of the case told The Associated Press that Sarkozy was being held at the
Nanterre police station, west of Paris. The person spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Sarkozy and his former chief of staff
have denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves funding for his winning
2007 presidential campaign.
Though an investigation has been
underway since 2013, the case gained traction some three years later when
French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the online investigative
site, Mediapart, that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million
euros ($6.2 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude
A lawyer for Sarkozy did not
immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comments.
Investigators are examining claims that
Gadhafi's regime secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros overall for the 2007
campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding
limit at the time of 21 million euros. In addition, the alleged payments
would violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the
source of campaign funds.
In the Mediapart interview published in
November 2016, Takieddine said he was given 5 million euros in Tripoli by
Gadhafi's intelligence chief on trips in late 2006 and 2007 and that he gave
the money in suitcases full of cash to Sarkozy and Gueant on three
occasions. He said the handovers took place in the Interior Ministry, while
Sarkozy was interior minister.
Takieddine has for years been embroiled
in his own problems with French justice, centering mainly on allegations he
provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard
Balladur for his 1995 presidential election campaign — via commissions from
the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.
According to Le Monde newspaper,
investigators have recently handed to magistrates a report in which they
detailed how cash circulated within Sarkozy's campaign team.
In January, a French businessman
suspected of playing a role in the financing scheme, Alexandre Djouhri, was
arrested in London on a warrant issued by France "for offenses of fraud and
money laundering." Le Monde said French investigators are also in possession
of several documents seized at his home in Switzerland.
Sarkozy had a complex relationship with
Gadhafi. Soon after becoming the French president, Sarkozy invited the
Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors.
But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against
Gadhafi's troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.
It is not the first time that Sarkozy
faces legal troubles. In February 2016, he was handed preliminary charges by
French magistrates for suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012
re-election campaign and ordered to stand trial.
Briton in Cambodian wild party case given suspended sentence
British citizen Daniel Jones, center, is
escorted by prison guards to the Siem Reap court room in Siem Reap,
Cambodia, Tuesday, March 20. (AP Photo)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — A British man received a suspended
one-year sentence Tuesday from a Cambodian court that found him guilty of
producing pornography by posting photos on social media of sexually
suggestive dancing at a party with other foreigners.
Daniel Jones, 31, could be freed
Wednesday after serving one month and 22 days in prison, with the rest of
his sentence term suspended, said Yin Srang, the Siem Reap provincial court
spokesman. He said Jones may stay in custody if the prosecutor files an
appeal within one day.
Ten foreigners — five from the United
Kingdom, two from Canada, and one each from Norway, the Netherlands and New
Zealand — were detained in late January when police raided the commercially
organized party at a rented villa in Siem Reap and found people dancing by a
swimming pool. The town in northwestern Cambodia is near the Angkor Wat
temple complex that draws millions of tourists.
Police said those detained in the raid
had been "dancing pornographically" and offended Cambodian standards of
morality. The nine other foreigners were released on bail and deported last
month, after which the charges against them were dropped.
In the trial's one day of testimony
last Thursday, Jones told the court he did not know the pictures he posted
on Facebook would offend Cambodian culture.
"I don't understand about Cambodian law
and I am very sorry," he said. He denied that anyone had sex or used drugs
at the Jan. 25 party.
Aum cult members face execution for Tokyo subway gas attack
Takahashi, the wife of a subway worker killed in the March 20, 1995 sarin
gas attack, prays after laying flowers on the stand set up at Kasumigaseki
subway station in Tokyo Tuesday, March 20. (Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News
Tokyo (AP) — Thirteen Japanese
cult members may be sent to the gallows any day now for a deadly 1995 gas
attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes. But when is uncertain.
Such is the secrecy that surrounds Japan's death penalty system.
Tuesday marked 23 years since members
of the Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured plastic bags to release sarin nerve gas
inside subway cars, sickening thousands and killing 13. Cult leader Shoko
Asahara and a dozen followers have been sentenced to death for that and
other crimes that killed 27 in all.
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, around the time of
the attack, uniformed subway employees lowered their heads in silence at
Kasumigaseki station, a main target of the cult. Shizue Takahashi, the
71-year-old widow of an assistant stationmaster who died in the attack, and
the current station master, placed flowers on a temporary altar set up for
"It seems the (legal) process has
entered a next stage," Takahashi told reporters. "I hope (executions) are
carried out in accordance with the law."
The relocation of seven of them to five
detention centers outside of Tokyo last week has sparked speculation that
executions could be imminent. In Japan, accomplices in a crime are
customarily hanged on the same day. Ten of those on death row were convicted
for the subway attack, a number beyond the Tokyo detention center's daily
As with all executions in Japan, when
and where they will be killed isn't being released, even to family members
and lawyers. The executions won't be announced until they have already
Takahashi recently asked the Justice
Ministry for a chance to meet the convicts and witness their executions. "I
want to follow through to the very end," Takahashi said at a recent news
Her wish is unlikely to be granted.
Even prisoners sent to the gallows are
not notified until guards come to their cells in the morning. After a chat
with a chaplain, a last bite or smoke, the prisoner is taken to the gallows.
If all 10 subway attack convicts are
hanged, it would be the second-largest number executed on a single day in
Japan's modern history. Japan on Jan. 24, 1911, hanged 11 political
prisoners who allegedly plotted to assassinate the emperor.
Some survivors of the cult's crimes
oppose the executions because that would eliminate hopes for a fuller
explanation of the crimes.
Asahara talked incoherently,
occasionally babbling in broken English, during his eight-year trial and
never acknowledged his responsibility or offered meaningful explanations.
Born Chizuo Matsumoto, he has been on
death row for nearly 14 years. His family says he is a broken man,
constantly wetting and soiling the floor in his cell and not communicating
with his family or lawyers.
His 34-year-old daughter, Rika
Matsumoto, said he doesn't understand his punishment and needs treatment so
he can recover and talk. "I just want to hear my father explain in his own
words," she tweeted recently.
Some of the condemned have expressed
regret and contributed to anti-terrorism measures. Shoko Egawa, a journalist
who has covered the cult's crimes from early on, has proposed keeping them
alive so they can provide lessons to a world facing the growing threat of
Experts on the cult also warn that if
they are executed, the members would be glorified as martyrs by cult
remnants, likely bolstering their worship of Asahara.
Founded in 1984, the group attracted
many young people, even graduates of top universities, whom Asahara
hand-picked as close aides.
The cult amassed an arsenal of
chemical, biological and conventional weapons to carry out Asahara's
escalating criminal orders in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with
The cult claimed 10,000 members in
Japan and 30,000 in Russia. It has disbanded, though nearly 2,000 people
follow its rituals in three splinter groups, monitored by authorities.
World's last male northern white rhino, Sudan, dies
photo taken Wednesday, May 3, 2017, Sudan, the world's last male northern
white rhino grazes at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya.
Nairobi, Kenya (AP) — The
world's last male northern white rhino, Sudan, has died after "age-related
complications," researchers announced Tuesday, saying he "stole the heart of
many with his dignity and strength."
A statement from the Ol Pejeta
Conservancy in Kenya said the 45-year-old rhino was euthanized on Monday
after his condition "worsened significantly" and he was no longer able to
stand. His muscles and bones had degenerated and his skin had extensive
wounds, with a deep infection on his back right leg.
The rhino had been part of an ambitious
effort to save the subspecies from extinction after decades of decimation by
poachers, with the help of the two surviving females. One is his daughter,
Najin, and the other is her daughter, Fatu.
His death won't have an impact on the
efforts to save the subspecies, as the focus turns to in vitro fertilization
techniques using stored semen from other dead rhinos and eggs extracted from
the two remaining females.
"He was a great ambassador for his
species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness
globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands
of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human
activity," said the conservancy's CEO, Richard Vigne.
Sudan was something of a celebrity,
attracting thousands of visitors. Last year he was listed as "The Most
Eligible Bachelor in the World" on the Tinder dating app in a fundraising
The last male northern white rhino had
been born in Sudan, the last of his kind to be born in the wild.
He was taken to a Czech zoo and then
transferred to Kenya in 2009 with the three other remaining fertile northern
white rhinos at the time. They were placed under 24-hour armed guard and fed
a special diet. "However, despite the fact that they were seen mating, there
were no successful pregnancies," the conservancy said.
Rangers caring for Sudan described him
as gentle and, as his condition worsened in recent weeks, expressed sadness
over his imminent death.
The rhino "significantly contributed to
survival of his species as he sired two females," the conservancy said.
"Additionally, his genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a
hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through
advanced cellular technologies."
The only hope for preserving the
subspecies "now lies in developing in vitro fertilization techniques using
eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from
males and surrogate southern white rhino females," the statement said.
Sudan's death "is a cruel symbol of
human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him. But we
should not give up," said Jan Stejskal, director of international projects
at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. "It may sound unbelievable, but
thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an
Northern white rhinos once roamed parts
of Chad, Sudan, Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic, and were
particularly vulnerable because of the armed conflicts that have swept the
region over decades.
Other rhinos, the southern white rhino
and another species, the black rhino, are under heavy pressure from poachers
who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.
Roughly 20,000 southern white rhinos
remain in Africa. Their numbers dipped below 100 around a century ago, but
an intense effort initiated by South African conservationist Ian Player in
the mid-20th century turned things around.
Fear mounts in Austin as serial bomber uses tripwire
Investigators on Monday March 19, work at the scene of a bomb explosion on
Dawn Song Drive in Austin, Texas, that seriously injured two men Sunday. (
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Paul J. Weber and Will Weissert
Austin, Texas (AP) — The hunt
for the serial bomber who has been leaving deadly explosives in packages on
Austin doorsteps took a new, more sinister turn Monday when investigators
said the fourth and latest blast was triggered along a street by a nearly
Police and federal agents said that
suggests a "higher level of sophistication" than they have seen before, and
means the carnage is now random, rather than targeted at someone in
particular. Underscoring that point, a relative says the most-recent
explosion left what appeared to be nails stuck in his grandson's knees.
"The game went up a little bit — well,
it went up a lot yesterday with the tripwire," Christopher Combs, FBI agent
in charge of the bureau's San Antonio division, said in an interview.
Two people have now been killed and
four wounded in bombings over a span of less than three weeks.
The latest happened Sunday night in
southwest Austin's quiet Travis Country neighborhood, wounding two men in
their 20s who were walking in the dark. They suffered what police said were
significant injuries and remained hospitalized in stable condition.
Police haven't identified the victims,
but William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of
them, saying he is cognizant but still in a lot of pain. Grote said one of
them was riding a bike in the street and the other was on a sidewalk when
they crossed a tripwire that he said knocked "them both off their feet."
"It was so dark they couldn't tell and
they tripped," Grote said. "They didn't see it. It was a wire. And it blew
Grote said his son, who lives about 100
yards (91 meters) away from the blast, heard the explosion and raced
"Both of them were kind of bleeding
profusely," Grote said.
That was a departure from the three
earlier bombings, which involved parcels left on doorsteps that detonated
when moved or opened.
The tripwire twist heightened the fear
around Austin, a town famous for its cool, hipster attitude.
"It's creepy," said Erin Mays, 33. "I'm
not a scared person, but this feels very next-door-neighbor kind of stuff."
Authorities repeated prior warnings
about not touching unexpected packages and also issued new ones to be wary
of any stray object left in public, especially one with wires protruding.
"We're very concerned that with
tripwires, a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something,"
Investigators are looking at a variety
of possible motives, including domestic terrorism or a hate crime. Local and
state police and hundreds of federal agents are investigating, and the
reward for information leading to an arrest has climbed to $115,000.
"We are clearly dealing with what we
believe to be a serial bomber at this point," Austin police Chief Brian
Manley said, citing similarities among the four bombs. He would not
elaborate, though, saying he didn't want to undermine the investigation.
While the first three bombings all
occurred east of Interstate 35, a section of town that tends to be more
heavily minority and less affluent, Sunday's was west of the highway. Also,
both victims this time are white, while those killed or wounded in the
earlier attacks were black or Hispanic.
Those differences made it harder to
draw conclusions about a possible pattern, further unnerving a city on edge.
Thad Holt, 76, said he is now watching
his steps as he makes his way through a section of town near the latest
attack. "I think everybody can now say, 'Oh, that's like my neighborhood,'"
Fred Milanowski, agent in charge of the
Houston division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives, said the latest bomb was anchored to a metal yard sign near the
head of a hiking trail.
"It was a thin wire or filament, kind
of like fishing line," he said. "It would have been very difficult for
someone to see."
Milanowski said authorities have
checked over 500 leads. Police asked anyone with surveillance cameras at
their homes to come forward with the footage on the chance it captured
suspicious vehicles or people.
Noel Holmes, whose house is about a
mile away, was stunned by how loud Sunday's explosion was.
"It sounded like a very nearby cannon,"
Holmes said. "We went out and heard all the sirens, but it was eerie. You
didn't feel like you should be outside at all."
Spring break ended Monday for the
University of Texas and many area school districts. University police warned
returning students to be alert and to tell their classmates about the
danger, saying, "We must look out for one another." None of the four attacks
happened close to the campus near the heart of Austin.
The PGA's Dell Technologies Match Play
tournament is scheduled to begin in Austin on Wednesday, and dozens of the
world's top golfers were to begin arriving.
"I'm pretty sure the tour has enough
security to keep things safe in here. But this is scary what's happening,"
said golfer Jhonattan Vegas, already in town.
Andrew Zimmerman, a 44-year-old coffee
shop worker, said the use of a tripwire adds a new level of suspected
professionalism and makes it harder to guard against such attacks.
"This makes me sick," he said.
Snow, high winds hit Europe; Croatia faces swollen river
white frost form an ice sculpture on Brocken mountain in the Harz region,
Germany, Sunday, March 18. (Matthias Bein/dpa via AP)
Bucharest, Romania (AP) —
Emergency crews in Croatia struggled to contain a swollen river that reached
record levels southeast of Zagreb Monday, while soldiers distributed food
and drinking water to a section of Albania that has been flooded for two
Croatian authorities said the Sava
River by the town of Jasenovac exceeded the highest level previously
recorded by some 10 centimeters (4 inches.) About a dozen houses in a nearby
village were cut off.
Residents have refused to evacuate so
emergency crews are delivering food and water by boat, Croatian state TV
channel HRT said. The Sava is expected to rise more in the coming days,
To the east, snow and freezing rain
delayed dozens of flights and some trains in Romania amid a late cold snap.
Snow also hit Germany, Hungary and Britain, among other European nations.
Valentin Iordache, the spokesman for
airports in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, reported 30 flight delays
Monday morning due to the wintry weather.
Temperatures were around minus 5
Celsius (23 Fahrenheit.) Trains running from Bucharest to the Black Sea port
of Constanta and the southern city of Craiova were also delayed.
In Albania, the defense ministry and
local authorities reported that about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land
in the country's northwest were flooded and 225 houses in the countryside
were surrounded by water.
Continuous rain and the release of
excess water from hydropower stations have inundated the area for two weeks.
The defense ministry said soldiers were
evacuating cattle in endangered areas. They also delivered food and drinking
water for residents and livestock.
Firefighters rescued students at an
elementary school where the water inside had reached one meter high.
Myanmar's Suu Kyi welcomed to Australia amid protests
leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, is welcomed to Parliament House by Australian
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during her state visit in Canberra Monday,
March 19. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
Canberra, Australia (AP) —
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was feted in Australia with a military honor
guard and 19-gun salute Monday as part of a state visit that has provoked
protests over her response to her country's violent campaign against
Suu Kyi arrived in Sydney over the
weekend for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders and her state visit
officially began Monday, when she was welcomed to Parliament House in
Canberra. Her visit comes as she faces international criticism over what has
become Asia's worst refugee crisis in decades.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled
from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August, when
the military responded to insurgent attacks on police with a clearance
operation that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing. The
campaign has included the burning of Rohingya villages, systematic rape,
shootings and other rights violations.
There was no press conference with
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull or any public comment from Suu
Kyi during her brief visit to the capital on Monday. She had meetings with
the prime minister and opposition leader.
Turnbull said Sunday that Suu Kyi had
used the weekend summit to seek humanitarian help from her fellow members of
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia to deal with the
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
told the summit that the refugee crisis was no longer solely a domestic
issue for Myanmar, as fleeing Rohingya could be prime targets for terrorist
Myanmar staunchly denies that its
security forces have targeted Rohingya civilians and Suu Kyi has bristled at
the international criticism.
But Myanmar's denials have appeared
increasingly tenuous as horrific accounts from refugees have accumulated and
satellite imagery and other evidence of destroyed Rohingya villages have
The Associated Press last month
documented through video and witness accounts at least five mass graves of
Rohingya civilians. Witnesses said the military used acid to erase the
identity of victims. The government denied it, maintaining that only
"terrorists" were killed and then "carefully buried."
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, was a
longtime political prisoner of Myanmar's former junta and frequently called
for international intervention in her country during her almost 15 years
under house arrest. She was released in 2010 and last visited Canberra in
2013 on an Australian tour, before she was allowed to stand for an election
that her party eventually won in a landslide.
Then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott
described her as an "icon of democracy" as he stood by her side at a joint
press conference. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Suu Kyi had inspired
her to enter politics.
Suu Kyi's global image has since taken
a battering. She has seen several international honors she was given in the
past revoked. Several fellow Peace Prize winners have publicly condemned
Though Suu Kyi has been the de facto
head of Myanmar's civilian government since her party took power, she is
limited in her control of the country by a constitution written by the
outgoing junta. The military has effective veto power over all legislation
and controls key ministries including those overseeing security and defense.
The military is in charge of operations
involving the Rohingya and ending them is not up to Suu Kyi.
Yet even when Suu Kyi has spoken on the
issue, she has drawn criticism. In a September speech, her first public
comments on the crisis, she asked for patience from the international
community and suggested the refugees were partly responsible.
Suu Kyi faces a potential domestic
backlash if she speaks on behalf of the Rohingya, who have been the target
of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Many people agree with the official government
stance that there is no such ethnicity as Rohingya and that those in the
country have illegally migrated from Bangladesh.
Myanmar's backers globally have also
had to tread carefully, not wanting to undermine Suu Kyi's weak civilian
government at a time when the country is just emerging from decades of
Unlike the United Nations, United
States and Britain, Australia has not accused Myanmar of "ethnic cleansing"
or "crimes against humanity."
But Australia did support a U.N.
resolution in December condemning the "very likely commission of crimes
against humanity" by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya.
Human rights groups have criticized
Australia for maintaining its limited military engagement with Myanmar.
Australia provides English-language lessons and training courses to Myanmar
officers to "promote professionalism and adherence to international laws,"
according to the defense department.
But Australia maintains a long-standing
arms embargo with Myanmar.
Pope Francis condemns prostitution as torture
Pope Francis delivers his speech during the
opening session of the pre-synod of the youths meeting, at the the Mater
Ecclesiae college in Rome, Monday, March 19. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Rome (AP) — Pope Francis asked
forgiveness Monday for all Christians who buy sex from women, saying men who
frequent prostitutes are criminals with a "sick mentality" who think that
women exist to be exploited.
"This isn't making love. This is
torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms," Francis insisted.
The pope made the comments during an
intimate, four-hour-long listening session with 300 young people who were
invited by the Vatican to Rome this week to help church leaders learn what
kids these days think about the Catholic Church.
It's a preparatory meeting for a big
synod of bishops in October on helping young people find their vocations in
life. Francis has insisted that young adults — Catholic and not — be
integral in the process informing the otherwise all-male, celibate and
rather old church hierarchy about the future of the church.
"Young people must be taken seriously,"
He got an earful when he opened the
meeting by urging the young people to speak with courage, without shame or
"anesthesia" to dull the truth.
Nicholas Lopez, a college campus
minister from Texas, told Francis that young people today face racism,
poverty and gang violence, as well as "unjust immigration laws that threaten
to split children from families."
Angela Markas from Australia told
Francis young people want debate in the church about sexuality, same-sex
attraction and the role of women.
And Blessing Okoedion, from Nigeria,
asked Francis how the church could allow Catholics to be clients for the
many Nigerian women in Italy like her, who are forced to be sex slaves by
the traffickers who got them here.
"I ask myself, and I ask you: Is the
male chauvinistic church able to truthfully ask itself about this high
demand by clients?" she asked.
Francis, who has made the fight against
human trafficking and modern-day sex slaves a priority of his pontificate,
urged young people to take up the fight against trafficking and forced
"This is one of the battles that I ask
you young people to do, for the dignity of women," he said. He said forced
prostitution was born of a "sick mentality" that no form of feminism has
managed to rid from society, one that thinks that "women are to be
Speaking to Okoedion, who was forced
into prostitution but escaped, Francis concluded: "I want to take advantage
of this moment, because you talked about baptized and Christians, to ask
your forgiveness, from society and all the Catholics who do this criminal
Putin overwhelmingly wins another 6 years as Russian leader
President Vladimir Putin gestures during a news conference after meeting
with his staff at the campaign headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March
18. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool photo via AP)
Jim Heintz and Vladimir
Moscow (AP) — Vladimir Putin
rolled to a crushing re-election victory Sunday for six more years as
Russia's president, and he told cheering supporters in a triumphant but
brief speech that "we are bound for success."
There had been no doubt that Putin
would win in his fourth electoral contest; he faced seven minor candidates
and his most prominent foe was blocked from the ballot.
His only real challenge was to run up
the tally so high that he could claim an indisputable mandate.
With ballots from 80 percent of
Russia's precincts counted by early Monday, Putin had amassed 76 percent of
the vote. Observers and individual voters reported widespread violations
including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the claims are unlikely
to dilute the power of Russia's longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.
As the embodiment of Russia's resurgent
power on the world stage, Putin commands immense loyalty among Russians.
More than 30,000 crowded into Manezh Square adjacent to the Kremlin in
temperatures of minus-10 degrees (15-degrees F) for a victory concert and to
await his words.
Putin extolled them for their support —
"I am a member of your team" — and he promised them that "we are bound for
Then he left the stage after speaking
for less than two minutes, a seemingly perfunctory appearance that
encapsulated the election's predictability.
Since he took the helm in Russia on New
Year's Eve 1999 after Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation, Putin's
electoral power has centered on stability, a quality cherished by Russians
after the chaotic breakup of the Soviet Union and the "wild capitalism" of
the Yeltsin years.
But that stability has been bolstered
by a suppression of dissent, the withering of independent media and the
top-down control of politics called "managed democracy."
There were widespread reports of forced
voting Sunday, efforts to make Russia appear to be a robust democracy.
Among them were two election observers
in Gorny Shchit, a rural district of Yekaterinburg, who told The Associated
Press they saw an unusually high influx of people going to the polls between
noon and 2 p.m. A doctor at a hospital in the Ural mountains city told the
AP that 2 p.m. was the deadline for health officials to report to their
superiors that they had voted.
"People were coming in all at once,
(they) were entering in groups as if a tram has arrived at a stop," said one
of the observers, Sergei Krivonogov . The voters were taking pictures of the
pocket calendars or leaflets that poll workers distributed, seemingly as
proof of voting, he said.
Other examples from observers and
social media included ballot boxes being stuffed with extra ballots in
multiple regions; an election official assaulting an observer; CCTV cameras
obscured by flags or nets from watching ballot boxes; discrepancies in
ballot numbers; last-minute voter registration changes likely designed to
boost turnout; and a huge pro-Putin sign in one polling station.
Election officials moved quickly to
respond to some of the violations. They suspended the chief of a polling
station near Moscow where a ballot-stuffing incident was reported and sealed
the ballot box. A man accused of tossing multiple ballots into a box in the
far eastern town of Artyom was arrested.
Overall national turnout was expected
to be a little more than 60 percent, which would be several points below
turnout in Putin's electoral wins in 2000, 2004 and 2012. He did not run in
2008 because of term limits, but was appointed prime minister, a role in
which he was widely seen as leader.
Putin's most vehement foe,
anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was barred from running Sunday
because he was convicted of fraud in a case widely regarded as politically
motivated. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but
the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.
The election came amid escalating
tensions with the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent
poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent in Britain and that
its internet trolls had waged an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016
U.S. presidential election. Britain and Russia last week announced
expulsions of diplomats over the spy case and the U.S. issued new sanctions.
In his first public comments on the
poisoning, Putin on Sunday referred to the allegations against Russia as
Moscow has denounced both cases as
efforts to interfere in the Russian election. But the disputes likely worked
in Putin's favor, reinforcing the official stance that the West is infected
with "Russophobia" and determined to undermine both Putin and traditional
The election took place on the fourth
anniversary of the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, one of the most
dramatic manifestations of Putin's drive to reassert Russia's power.
Crimea and Russia's subsequent support
of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of U.S. and European
sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy
and slashed the ruble's value by half. But Putin's popularity remained
strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.
In his next six years, Putin is likely
to assert Russia's power abroad even more strongly. Just weeks ago, he
announced that Russia has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of
evading missile defenses. The Russian military campaign that bolsters the
Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Moscow's foothold in the
Middle East, and Russia eagerly eyes any reconciliation on the Korean
Peninsula as an economic opportunity.
At home, Putin must face how to groom a
successor or devise a strategy to circumvent term limits, how to diversify
an economy still dependent on oil and gas, and how to improve medical care
and social services in regions far removed from the cosmopolitan glitter of
Authorities struggled against voter
apathy, putting many of Russia's nearly 111 million voters under intense
pressure to cast ballots.
Yevgeny, a 43-year-old mechanic voting
in central Moscow, said he briefly wondered whether it was worth voting.
"But the answer was easy ... if I want
to keep working, I vote," he said, speaking on condition that his last name
not be used out of fear his employer — the Moscow city government — would
First-time voters in Moscow were given
free tickets for pop concerts and health authorities were offering free
Voters appeared to be turning in out in
larger numbers Sunday than in the last presidential election in 2012, when
Putin faced a serious opposition movement and there were instances of
multiple voting, ballot stuffing and coercion.
Navalny, whose group also monitored the
vote, dismissed Putin's challengers on Sunday's ballot as "puppets." He
urged a boycott of the vote and vowed to continue defying the Kremlin with
Ukraine, insulted by the decision to
hold the election on the anniversary of Crimea's annexation, refused to let
ordinary Russians vote. Ukraine security forces blocked the Russian Embassy
in Kiev and consulates elsewhere as the government protested the voting in
Crimea, whose annexation is still not internationally recognized.
Ukrainian leaders are also angry over
Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has
killed at least 10,000 people since 2014.
Polls show that most Russians view the
takeover of the Black Sea peninsula as a major achievement despite
subsequent Western sanctions.
"Who am I voting for? Who else?" said
Putin supporter Andrei Borisov, 70, a retired engineer in Moscow. "The
others, it's a circus."
The Central Election Commission also
claimed it had been the target of a hacking attempt from 15 unidentified
nations that was deterred by authorities.
Fire at Manila hotel and casino kills at least 3 workers
engulfs the Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino Sunday, March 18, in Manila,
Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Manila, Philippines (AP) — A
fire engulfed a hotel and casino in the Philippine capital on Sunday,
killing at least three employees, trapping two others and forcing the
evacuation of more than 300 guests, some by helicopter, officials said.
Police said it was unclear if the fire
at the Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino, which raged for hours, started in
the casino on the lower floors or in an area of the hotel that was under
TV footage showed dark gray smoke
billowing from the first and second floors of the hotel as rescuers brought
people out of the building.
Johnny Yu, who heads Manila's
disaster-response agency, told reporters that at least six other people were
overwhelmed by heavy smoke and brought to a hospital. Among the dead were
two hotel security guards and a treasury officer, he said.
Yu initially said at least four people
died in the fire, but other officials later said that one of those who was
feared to have died was revived by doctors at a hospital and was in critical
"The smoke is very heavy and, second,
there's the wind that we're trying to overcome," Yu said. "Our firefighters
are having a lot of difficulty."
At least 19 people were unaccounted
for, but Yu said that only two, both of them security camera operators, were
confirmed to have been trapped in the hotel and rescuers were trying to
Police and firefighters blocked off the
areas around the hotel, which lies in the heart of Manila's tourist
district, to allow dozens of firetrucks to approach and help fight the
Syrian President Assad visits troops on Ghouta's front line
President Bashar Assad, center, speaks with Syrian troops during his visit
to the front line in the newly captured areas of eastern Ghouta, near the
capital Damascus, Syria, Sunday, March 18. (Syrian Presidency Facebook Page
Damascus, Syria (AP) — Syrian
President Bashar Assad visited troops Sunday on the front line in the newly
captured areas of eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, hailing their
recent advances as a part of a larger battle against global terrorism.
Standing in a neighborhood street,
Assad congratulated his troops during the visit broadcast on state-run
Al-Ikhbariya TV. "We are proud of you," he said.
He told the soldiers that they are not
only fighting for the region but also to rid the world of terrorism.
"With every bullet you fire at a
terrorist, you change the balance in the world," Assad said.
Syria's government views all its
opposition as terrorists. Assad's visit comes on the week the war enters its
eighth year, a war that has devastated large parts of Syria, and displaced
nearly half of the population. What started as peaceful protests against his
family's long rule turned into a civil war after a heavy crackdown. The
government fought the opposition for years, using its air force and
artillery and solicited help from its Russian and Iranian allies, who threw
their weight behind Assad.
Recapturing eastern Ghouta, a short
drive away from the Syrian capital, would mark the biggest victory yet for
President Bashar Assad in the country's civil war. The area has been under
rebel control since 2012. It would also be the worst setback for rebels
since the opposition was ousted from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a
similar siege and bombing campaign.
Assad stood near a tank and was
surrounded by soldiers on a street in eastern Ghouta, the region near
Damascus where a government offensive has been underway over the past month.
The soldiers cheered and pumped fists in the air. Assad, who wore a suit
with no tie, flashed smiles and stopped for chats with soldiers. Some
Soldiers posed with him, taking selfies. It was not clear where in eastern
Ghouta Assad was.
Assad then climbed on top of a tank and
looked around, before stepping down, also surrounded by soldiers. He told
them the residents of the capital, who have come under repeated fire and
shelling from the rebel-held areas, appreciate the soldiers' advances.
He later went on to meet with a group
of newly evacuated residents from eastern Ghouta
The images were also posted on the
official Presidency social media sites. "On the front lines in eastern
Ghouta, President Assad with the heroes of the Arab Syrian Army," the
Presidency page said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said the Syrian government is now in control of over 80
percent of the area.
Earlier Sunday, state media said Syrian
troops had entered Saqba, a town in a southern pocket of eastern Ghouta.
It was the latest town to be captured
by the Syrian troops and allied militia in a swift advance over the last few
days. Al-Ikhbariya TV hailed it as a "major victory."
Over the past week, Syrian troops and
allied fighters divided the sprawling eastern Ghouta region into three
parts, isolating residential areas and facilitating the military advance.
Tens of thousands of residents have fled the southern pocket of eastern
On Sunday, and after days of relative
calm in the northern pocket, the Observatory reported new intense shelling
on Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta.
Southeast Asia leaders urge tough stance on North Korea
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm
Turnbull hold a joint press conference at the end of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special summit, in Sydney, Sunday, March 18.
(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Sydney (AP) — Southeast Asian
leaders and Australia's prime minister on Sunday called on North Korea to
end its nuclear program and urged U.N. countries to fully implement
sanctions against the country.
Leaders at the first summit of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be held in Australia issued a
joint statement with the host country that also called for
non-militarization and a code of conduct in the contested waters of the
South China Sea, where China has become increasingly assertive.
ASEAN leaders also said they were
working to provide humanitarian assistance for the continuing crisis
involving Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. Australian Prime
Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed
the matter "comprehensively" in meetings Sunday.
On North Korea, the ASEAN-Australia
joint statement urged North Korea to "immediately and fully comply with its
obligations under all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions,"
and called on all countries to implement sanctions.
Turnbull went further at a closing news
conference, saying ASEAN and Australia had affirmed their commitment to
respond strongly over the "grave concerns we share about North Korea's
reckless and illegal nuclear missile programs."
President Donald Trump and South Korean
President Moon Jae-in, who are both planning to meet North Korean leader Kim
Jong Un this spring, pledged last week to maintain "maximum pressure" on
Kim's authoritarian regime and seek action to force him to give up his
Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien
Loong, the current chair of ASEAN, said the bloc had been encouraged by
negotiations for the summits and had "noted reports of North Korea's
commitment to denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further
nuclear missile tests during this period."
On territorial conflicts with China,
which like Australia is not a member of ASEAN, the statement said, "We
emphasize the importance of non-militarization and the need to enhance
mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of
activities and avoid actions that may complicate the situation."
China and the five countries that have
conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea — which include four
ASEAN members — plan to negotiate a code of conduct for the busy waterway
aimed at reducing the risks of armed confrontations in the contested areas.
Lee said this was an issue for all
ASEAN countries as it was "a security and stability question" that would
"affect all ASEAN countries if it goes wrong."
He also said ASEAN policy meant it was
"not able to intervene and to force an outcome" over the Rohingya crisis, in
which more than 700,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh amid a
Myanmar military campaign that the U.N. has called "ethnic cleansing."
But Lee said the matter was a cause of
concern for all of ASEAN, whose members would be anxious "if there is any
instability or any trouble" in fellow member countries.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
said Saturday that the crisis was no longer solely a domestic issue for
Myanmar, with fleeing Rohingya potential targets for terrorist
Turnbull said the Rohingya issue was
discussed by the leaders "very constructively" Sunday. "Aung San Suu Kyi
addressed the matter comprehensively at some considerable length herself,"
The ASEAN nations are Brunei, Cambodia,
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and
At least 6 crushed to death in Florida bridge collapse
Highway Patrol vehicle is parked next to a crushed car under a section of a
new pedestrian bridge, Friday, March 16, after it collapsed Thursday onto a
highway at a Miami-area college. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Adriana Gomez Licon
Miami (AP) — Authorities said
Friday that the cables suspending a pedestrian bridge were being tightened
after a "stress test" when the 950-ton concrete span collapsed over traffic,
killing at least six people only days after its installation was celebrated
as a technological innovation.
As state and federal investigators
worked to determine why the five-day-old span failed, Florida politicians
pointed to the stress test and loosened cables as possible factors, and a
police chief asked everyone not to jump to conclusions.
"This is a tragedy that we don't want
to re-occur anywhere in the United States," said Juan Perez, director of the
Miami-Dade police. "We just want to find out what caused this collapse to
occur and people to die."
A Florida International University
student was among the fatalities, and several construction workers were
among the 10 people injured. One person died at a hospital, and Perez said
five bodies were located with the help of cameras but not yet retrieved from
vehicles crushed under the immense slab. No identities have been released.
"We're not even going to talk numbers
anymore because we expect to find other individuals down there," Perez said.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said
crews had conducted a "stress test" on the span earlier in the day, and Sen.
Marco Rubio tweeted that the engineering firm involved had ordered the
tightening of cables that had become loosened. "They were being tightened
when it collapsed," Rubio said on Twitter Thursday night.
Experts from the National
Transportation Safety Board and the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration joined police in taking over command of the scene Friday from
first responders, who had spent hours racing to find survivors in the rubble
of the 175-foot span using high-tech listening devices, trained sniffing
dogs and search cameras.
The $14.2 million pedestrian bridge was
supposed to open in 2019 as a safe way to cross six lanes of traffic between
the FIU campus and the community of Sweetwater, where many students live.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday
that investigators will get to the bottom of "why this happened and what
happened," and if anyone did anything wrong, "we will hold them
Rubio, who is an adjunct professor at
the school, noted the pedestrian bridge was intended to be an innovative and
"one-of-a-kind engineering design."
When finished, the bridge would have
been supported from above, with a tall, off-center tower and cables attached
to the walkway. That tower had not yet been installed, and it was unclear
what builders were using as temporary supports.
An accelerated construction method was
supposed to reduce risks to workers and pedestrians and minimize traffic
disruption, the university said. The school has long been interested in this
kind of bridge design; in 2010, it opened an Accelerated Bridge Construction
Center to "provide the transportation industry with the tools needed to
effectively and economically utilize the principles of ABC to enhance
mobility and safety, and produce safe, environmentally friendly,
Robert Bea, a professor of engineering
and construction management at the University of California, Berkeley, said
it was too early to know exactly what happened, but he called it a risky
move to use what the bridge builders called an "innovative installation"
over a heavily traveled thoroughfare.
"Innovations take a design firm into an
area where they don't have applicable experience, and then we have another
unexpected failure on our hands," Bea said after reviewing the bridge's
design and photos of the collapse.
The project was a collaboration between
MCM Construction, a Miami-based contractor, and Figg Bridge Design, based in
Tallahassee. Figg is responsible for the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge
across Tampa Bay.
Both companies have been involved in
bridge collapses before.
FIGG was fined in 2012 after a section
of a bridge it was building in Virginia crashed onto railroad tracks and
injured several workers, according to a story in The Virginian-Pilot.
MCM, meanwhile, was accused of
substandard work in a lawsuit filed this month by a worker injured when a
makeshift bridge MCM built at Fort Lauderdale International Airport
collapsed under his weight. Another dispute resulted in a $143,000 judgment
against MCM over an "arguable collapse" at a Miami-Dade bridge project.
A review of OSHA records, meanwhile,
shows MCM has been fined for 11 safety violations in the past five years
totaling more than $50,000 after complaints involving its Florida work
Both companies expressed condolences
for the victims and promised cooperation with investigators.
Local The FIU community, along with
Sweetwater and county officials, held a "bridge watch party" on March 10
when the span was lifted from its temporary supports, rotated 90 degrees and
lowered into what was supposed to be its permanent position.
FIU President Mark Rosenberg in a video
shared on Twitter Friday that the "tragic accident of the bridge collapse
stuns us, saddens us."
"The bridge was about collaboration,
about neighborliness, about doing the right thing," he said. "But today we
are sad and all we can do is promise a very thorough investigation in
getting to the bottom of this and mourn those who we have lost."
2 killed during land mine clearance training in Cambodia
March 15, 2018 photo, men help carry an unidentified individual on a gurney
at the local provincial hospital of Kampong Speu province, about 50
kilometers west of the capital Phnom Penh. (Cambodia National Police via AP)
Siem Reap, Cambodia (AP) — A
land mine exploded accidently during clearance training at a military base
in western Cambodia, killing two people, including an Australian, and
injuring three others, police said.
National police said the explosion
occurred Thursday in Kampong Speu province when a soldier who was being
trained mishandled a decades-old land mine that had been removed from the
ground. They said a 45-year-old Australian was killed and another
41-year-old Australian was wounded.
Police said one Cambodian soldier was
killed and two others were injured.
Police initially said the Australians
were training the soldiers, but the Defense Ministry said that was not the
Ministry spokesman General Chhum
Socheat said Friday that the Australians went to the military base after
being invited by Cambodian soldiers who were their friends. He said the mine
exploded after one of the Australians "played with it."
"We did not invite them to train our
soldiers but they just visited their friends. But once they saw the mine,
they picked it up and played with it before it exploded," he said.
Some 60,000 Cambodians have been killed
or wounded by mines since they were first deployed in large numbers in 1979,
when the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime was ousted from power and began 18
years of guerrilla warfare.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said last year
that land mines continue to kill or maim nearly 100 people per year, and the
country needs more than $400 million in aid to remove all of them by 2025.
Cambodia has cleared about 1,500 square
kilometers (580 square miles) of mines, but nearly 2,000 square kilometers
(770 square miles) of land remains littered with the munitions, Hun Sen
Jury finds Iraqi teen guilty of planting London subway bomb
In this Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 file photo, a
train pulls in to the platform at Parsons Green tube station in London. (AP
London (AP) — A teenage Iraqi
asylum-seeker who told police he had been trained by the Islamic State group
was convicted of attempted murder on Friday for planting a home-made bomb on
a London subway train.
Ahmed Hassan, 18, showed no emotion as
he was found guilty at London's Central Criminal Court.
The bomb partially exploded on a London
Underground train at Parsons Green station on Sept. 15, sending a fireball
down the packed carriage that left 23 people with burn injuries. Police say
28 more were hurt in a panicked rush to leave the train.
Prosecutors said there would have been
many more injuries and probably deaths if the device had operated properly.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan told jurors it was just "a matter of luck" that the
bomb didn't fully detonate.
Hassan admitted building the bomb but
denied attempted murder, saying he had not meant for it to explode. On the
witness stand he said he only wanted to cause a fire because he was "bored
and stressed" and had developed a fantasy about becoming a fugitive.
Prosecutors said Hassan built the
device from everyday ingredients, following instructions he found online. He
ordered hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals to make the explosive TATP,
and bought nuts, bolts and knives for shrapnel at supermarkets.
He set a timer and left the bomb,
inside a white bucket wrapped in a plastic supermarket bag, aboard a London
Underground train during the morning rush hour. Hassan got off the train one
stop before it exploded.
The teenager left northern Iraq and
arrived in Britain in 2015 after traveling across Turkey and Europe and
stowing away on a truck through the Channel Tunnel. He claimed asylum and
was living with a foster family near London and attending a college before
British authorities have been
criticized for failing to foresee that Hassan, who had shown signs of
depression and trauma, might act violently. During a January 2016
immigration interview, he told officials that he was recruited by IS in Iraq
and forced to train with them.
"They trained us how to kill. It was
all religious based," he said.
In court, Hassan claimed he had made up
the claim about IS to increase his chances of getting asylum in Britain.
He told a teacher at his college that
he had a "duty to hate Britain," because he blamed it for a bomb that killed
his father in Iraq more than a decade before. The teacher referred him to
Prevent, a government-run de-radicalization program.
Commander Dean Haydon, head of the
Metropolitan Police Counterterrorism Command, said Hassan was "devious and
Haydon said Hassan appeared to engage
with the de-radicalization program, "but he kept secret what he was planning
Hassan will be sentenced next week. He
faces a maximum of life in prison.
Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted
African President Jacob Zuma is shown in this Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, file
photo. (AP Photo/Themba Hadeb)
Johannesburg (AP) — Former South
African president Jacob Zuma will face old charges of fraud, racketeering
and money laundering, prosecutors announced Friday, deepening the legal woes
of a leader whose tenure was marked by scandals.
Shaun Abrahams, head of the National
Prosecuting Authority, noted the "long history" of the reinstated charges
against Zuma, which were thrown out by prosecutors nearly a decade ago in a
contentious decision that opened the way for him to become president. The
charges relate to an arms deal in the 1990s, when Zuma was deputy president.
"After consideration of the matter, I
am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of a successful
prosecution of Mr. Zuma on the charges listed in the indictment," Abrahams
The chief prosecutor said there were 16
counts against Zuma, and that the former president had said he was a victim
of misconduct by prosecutors as well as leaks to the media.
"Mr. Zuma in addition disputes all the
allegations against him and records that he lacked the requisite intention
to commit any of the crimes listed in the indictment," said Abrahams, who
himself faced calls to resign for allegedly declining to move against Zuma
when he was in office.
Zuma, 75, resigned as president last
month after he was ordered to do so by his party, the African National
Congress. He was replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised a
robust campaign against corruption and also faces the tough task of
rebuilding the popularity of a ruling party whose moral stature has
diminished since it took power at the end of white minority rule in 1994.
The ANC responded to the reinstated
charges against Zuma, saying it has confidence in the South African criminal
justice system and is committed to the idea of "equality of all before the
The ruling party urged South Africans
to allow prosecutors to do their work and cautioned that Zuma has the right
to be "presumed innocent until and if proven guilty."
In a separate case, South African
authorities are seeking to arrest members of the Gupta business family,
which allegedly used its connections to Zuma to influence Cabinet
appointments and win state contracts. Additionally, a judicial panel is
preparing to view allegations of corruption at high levels of the South
African government during Zuma's years in office.
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.
South Africa's main opposition party,
which fought for years in court to get charges reinstated against Zuma,
welcomed Abrahams' decision.
"Now there must be no further delay in
starting the trial," said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic
Alliance. "The witnesses are ready, the evidence is strong, and Jacob Zuma
must finally have his day in court."
50 years ago, the My Lai massacre shamed the US military
Wednesday, March 14, 2018, photo, massacre survivor Pham Thanh Cong points
at a scar caused by grenade fragments during the My Lai massacre in Son My,
Vietnam. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
of villagers and U.S soldiers' combat boots are reconstructed in My Lai
memorial site in Son My, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this April 2, 1971, file
photo, Lt. William L. Calley Jr. stands beside an anti-war poster in his
quarters at Fort Benning, Ga. (AP Photo)
Tran Van Minh and Grant Peck
My Lai, Vietnam (AP) — The
shudder of artillery fire woke the boy at 5:30 a.m. Three American soldiers
appeared at his family's home a couple of hours later and forced the mother
and five children into their bomb shelter, a structure almost every rural
Vietnamese home had during the war, to keep residents safe.
One soldier set fire to the family's
thatched house while the others tossed grenades into the shelter. Protected
under the torn bodies of his mother and his four siblings, 10-year-old Pham
Thanh Cong was the only survivor.
It was March 16, 1968. The American
soldiers of Charlie Company, sent on what they were told was a mission to
confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies, met no resistance, but
over three to four hours killed 504 unarmed civilians, mostly women,
children and elderly men, in My Lai and a neighboring community. Vietnamese
refer to the greater village where the killings occurred as Son My.
"We started hearing the screaming and
moaning from our neighbors, which were followed by gunfire and grenade
explosions, then the screaming and moaning stopped, and my mother knew that
the American soldiers had killed people," Cong recalled this week. "I was
covered with the flesh and hair of my mother and sisters and brother."
Knocked unconscious with injuries to
his head and wounds on his torso from grenade fragments, Cong was saved that
afternoon when his father came to retrieve the bodies.
The My Lai massacre was the most
notorious episode in modern U.S. military history, but not an aberration in
America's war in Vietnam.
The U.S. military's own records, filed
discreetly away for three decades, described 300 other cases of what could
fairly be described as war crimes. My Lai was distinguished by the shocking
one-day death toll, the stomach-churning photographs and the gruesome
details exposed by a high-level U.S. Army inquiry.
An official policy of free-fire zones —
from which civilians were supposed to leave upon being warned — and an
unofficial code of "kill anything that moves" meant Vietnamese were
constantly at risk.
Estimates of civilians killed during
the U.S. ground war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973 are generally 1 million to
The average U.S. soldier could not be
sure who the enemy was, rarely encountering one directly. They were targeted
by land mines, booby traps, snipers. They were told to help, but the
Vietnamese were rarely welcoming. Quang Ngai province, where My Lai is
located, was a hive of communist military activity.
Two days before the massacre, a booby
trap killed a sergeant, blinded a GI and wounded several others on a Charlie
Soldiers later testified to the U.S.
Army investigating commission that the bloodletting began quickly when Lt.
William L. Calley Jr. led Charlie Company's first platoon into My Lai that
morning. One elderly man was bayoneted to death; another man was thrown
alive into a well and killed with a hand grenade. Women and children were
herded into a drainage ditch and slaughtered. Women and girls were
"They went in with blood in their eyes
and shot everything that moved," recalled Hugh Thompson Jr., an army
helicopter pilot who flew support for the mission in My Lai and — along with
his two-man flight crew — are the only servicemen known to have actively
intervened to try to stop the killing. They evacuated a handful of
Vietnamese civilians on the point of being killed by his countrymen.
Thompson also was one of several soldiers who became whistleblowers and
eventually brought the outrage to public attention.
Calley was convicted in 1971 for the
murders of 22 people during the rampage. He was sentenced to life in prison
but served only three days because President Nixon ordered his sentence
reduced. He served three years of house arrest.
Calley has avoided speaking about the
matter with apparently just one exception. In 2009, at the urging of a
friend, he spoke to the Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Georgia, near Fort
Benning, where he had been court-martialed.
"There is not a day that goes by that I
do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," Calley said,
according to an account of the meeting reported by the Columbus
Ledger-Enquirer. "I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for
their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am
very sorry." He said his mistake was following orders, which had been his
defense when he was tried.
Fifty years after the massacre, and
almost 43 years after the communist victory reunified Vietnam, most of the
rancor is gone, at least publicly, between the nations. They normalized
diplomatic relations in 1995, and the United States is now one of Vietnam's
top trading partners and investors. Cooperation on security and military
matters has grown to the point where this month a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier
made the first visit to a Vietnamese port since the war.
Cong, the young massacre survivor, went
on to study and work in local government, and from 1992 until his retirement
last year, he headed the My Lai museum, which sits in part of the area where
the massacre occurred.
He said he cannot forget the atrocities
but he's willing to forgive the soldiers to build better relations between
the two countries.
"We have had enough losses and
suffering of war, and we just wish our children and grandchildren would not
have to go through those experiences. We desire for peace, we want eternal
peace," he said.
Indonesia's Aceh considers beheading as penalty for murder
Tuesday, May 23, 2017 file photo, a Shariah law official whips a man during
a public caning outside a mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province Indonesia. (AP
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AP) — The
conservative Indonesian province of Aceh known for publicly caning gays,
adulterers and gamblers is considering the introduction of beheading as a
punishment for murder, a top Islamic law official said Wednesday.
Syukri M. Yusuf, the head of Aceh's
Shariah Law and Human Rights Office, said the provincial government has
asked his office to research beheading as a method of execution under
Islamic law and to consult public opinion.
"Beheading is more in line with Islamic
law and will cause a deterrent effect. A strict punishment is made to save
human beings," Yusuf told reporters. "We will begin to draft the law when
our academic research is completed."
Aceh is the only province in
Muslim-majority Indonesia to practice Shariah law, a concession made by the
central government in 2001 as part of efforts to end a decades-long war for
Its implementation has become
increasingly harsh and now also applies to non-Muslims. Last year, the
province for the first time caned two men for gay sex after vigilantes broke
into their home and handed them over to religious police.
Yusuf said if Shariah law is
consistently applied, then crime, particularly murder, will decrease
significantly or disappear.
He said punishment for murderers has in
practice been "relatively mild" and they could reoffend after release from
prison. He pointed to Saudi Arabia as an example to follow in practicing
severe punishment for murder.
Indonesia has the death penalty for
crimes such as murder and drug trafficking, which it carries out by firing
squad. Its last executions were in July 2016 when three Nigerians and one
Indonesian convicted of drug offenses were shot on the Nusa Kambangan prison
Nepal authorities struggle to identify plane crash survivors
victims of a passenger plane crash lie at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal,
Monday, March 12. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shreshta)
Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) —
Officials in Nepal say they are struggling to identify many of the 22
survivors of a deadly plane crash, with many badly burned, in critical
condition and unable to speak.
Police spokesman Manoj Neupane says
extensive burns, in both the living and the dead, have made identifications
far more difficult. The flight from Bangladesh, carrying 67 passengers and
four crew members, slammed into a field beside the Kathmandu airport runway
on Monday, bursting into flames. He says at least 11 of the survivors have
been identified, but did not have an exact total. The crash left 49 people
Neupane says 19 survivors are still
being treated in Kathmandu hospitals, and another has been flown to
Singapore for more medical care. Two surviving passengers, both Nepalese,
have been discharged.
Hungary's Orban: Western Europe is under migrant invasion
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks
outside the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, March 15,
(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Budapest, Hungary (AP) —
Hungary's prime minister painted an apocalyptic view of Western Europe on
Thursday, saying it was under a migrant invasion that will soon make a
minority of native-born Europeans.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, speaking
at a massive rally three weeks ahead of Hungary's parliamentary election,
said Western Europe has surrendered with "its hands up" to a mass migration
of people from Africa and the Middle East.
"The situation is that those who don't
block migration at their borders will be lost. They will be digested slowly
but surely," said Orban, one of the nationalist politicians who has risen to
power in Europe and been openly hostile to refugees and asylum-seekers.
"The youth of Western Europe will still
live to see when they become a minority in their own country and lose the
only place in the world to call home," he added.
Orban has often said that mass
migration of Muslims into Europe will lead to the loss of the continent's
Christian culture and lifestyle. His comments last month that Hungarians
don't want their "own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed by
others" led Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human
Rights, to brand Orban a racist, xenophobe and bully whose "racial rhetoric
is increasingly delusional."
Orban has made his policies to block
immigration the near-exclusive focus of his campaign for a third consecutive
term. His relatively short speech to the crowd in front of the Hungarian
Parliament building seemed crafted mostly to further increase fear of
migration among his supporters.
"They want us to voluntarily give (our
country) to others, to foreigners from other continents who don't speak our
language, don't respect our culture, laws or lifestyle," Orban said. "They
want to exchange ours for their own. There is no exaggeration in this."
Orban also claimed that foreign powers
were working with his domestic opposition to remove the fences he had built
on Hungary's southern borders in 2015 to keep out migrants.
Orban also made another of his attacks
on George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist. He
alleged Soros was seeking to impose his "open society" ideals on Europe and
supports critics of the ruling party's government, and listed Soros among
Hungary's historical foes — the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburgs and the Soviet
The rally marked the 170th anniversary
of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg rule. Orban's speech was preceded by
what organizers called a "Peace March."
Many tens of thousands of Orban
supporters took part in the anniversary event nominally organized by a
pro-Orban civic group and held with the full support of Orban's Fidesz
Several opposition groups — including a
coalition of left-wing parties, the far-right Jobbik party, the satirical
Two-Tailed Dog Party and a student movement — held smaller rallies and
remembrances in Budapest, the Hungarian capital.
"Fidesz is a minority and the people
wanting change are the majority — and the majority cannot be in opposition,"
said Gergely Karacsony, prime ministerial candidate of the Socialist Party
and the Dialogue party.
Stephen Hawking, tourist of the universe, dead at 76
In this Feb. 25, 2012 photo, Professor Stephen
Hawking poses beside a lamp titled 'black hole light' by inventor Mark
Champkins, presented to him during his visit to the Science Museum in
London. (Anthony Devlin/PA via AP)
Paris (AP) — In his final years,
the only thing connecting the brilliant physicist to the outside world was a
couple of inches of frayed nerve in his cheek.
As slowly as a word per minute, Stephen
Hawking used the twitching of the muscle under his right eye to grind out
his thoughts on a custom-built computer, painstakingly outlining his vision
of time, the universe, and humanity's place within it.
What he produced was a masterwork of
popular science, one that guided a generation of enthusiasts through the
esoteric world of anti-particles, quarks, and quantum theory. His success in
turn transformed him into a massively popular scientist, one as familiar to
the wider world through his appearances on "The Simpsons" and "Star Trek" as
his work on cosmology and black holes.
Hawking owed one part of his fame to
his triumph over amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative
disease that eats away at the nervous system. When he was diagnosed aged
only 21, he was given only a few years to live.
But Hawking defied the normally fatal
illness for more than 50 years, pursuing a brilliant career that stunned
doctors and thrilled his fans. Even though a severe attack of pneumonia left
him breathing through a tube, an electronic voice synthesizer allowed him to
continue speaking, albeit in a robotic monotone that became one of his
He carried on working into his 70s,
spinning theories, teaching students, and writing "A Brief History of Time,"
an accessible exploration of the mechanics of the universe that sold
millions of copies.
By the time he died Wednesday at 76,
Hawking was among the most recognizable faces in science, on par with Albert
As one of Isaac Newton's successors as
Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was
involved in the search for the great goal of physics — a "unified theory."
Such a theory would resolve the
contradictions between Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which
describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like
planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of
For Hawking, the search was almost a
religious quest — he said finding a "theory of everything" would allow
mankind to "know the mind of God."
"A complete, consistent unified theory
is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events
around us, and of our own existence," he wrote in "A Brief History of Time."
In later years, though, he suggested a
unified theory might not exist.
He followed up "A Brief History of
Time" in 2001 with the sequel, "The Universe in a Nutshell," which updated
readers on concepts like supergravity, naked singularities and the
possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.
Hawking said belief in a God who
intervenes in the universe "to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded
in the next life" was wishful thinking.
"But one can't help asking the
question: Why does the universe exist?" he said in 1991. "I don't know an
operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a
meaning. But it bothers me."
Hawking often credited humor with
helping him deal with his disability, and it was his sense of mischief that
made him game for a series of stunts.
He made cameo television appearances in
"The Simpsons," ''Star Trek," and the "Big Bang Theory" and counted among
his fans U2 guitarist The Edge, who attended a January 2002 celebration of
Hawking's 60th birthday.
His early life was chronicled in the
2014 film "The Theory of Everything," with Eddie Redmayne winning the best
actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking. The film focused still
more attention on Hawking's remarkable life.
Some colleagues credited that celebrity
with generating new enthusiasm for science.
His achievements, and his longevity,
also helped prove to many that even the most severe disabilities need not
stop patients from achieving.
Richard Green, of the Motor Neurone
Disease Association — the British name for ALS — said Hawking met the
classic definition of the disease, as "the perfect mind trapped in an
imperfect body." He said Hawking had been an inspiration to people with the
disease for many years.
Hawking's disability did slow the pace
of conversation, especially in later years as even the muscles in his face
started to weaken. Minutes could pass as he composed answers to even simple
questions. Hawking said that didn't impair his work, even telling one
interviewer it gave his mind time to drift as the conversation ebbed and
flowed around him.
His near-total paralysis certainly did
little to dampen his ambition to physically experience space: Hawking
savored small bursts of weightlessness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a
jet that made repeated dives to simulate zero-gravity.
Hawking had hoped to leave Earth's
atmosphere altogether someday, a trip he often recommended to the rest of
the planet's inhabitants.
"In the long run the human race should
not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet," Hawking said in
2008. "I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then."
Hawking first earned prominence for his
theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are
so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that
black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known
as "Hawking radiation."
"It came as a complete surprise," said
Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. "It really was quite revolutionary."
Horowitz said the find helped move
scientists one step closer to cracking the unified theory.
Hawking's other major scientific
contribution was to cosmology, the study of the universe's origin and
evolution. Working with Jim Hartle of the University of California, Santa
Barbara, Hawking proposed in 1983 that space and time might have no
beginning and no end. "Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like
asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole," he said.
In 2004, he announced that he had
revised his previous view that objects sucked into black holes simply
disappeared, perhaps to enter an alternate universe. Instead, he said he
believed objects could be spit out of black holes in a mangled form.
That new theory capped his three-decade
struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really
"disappear" inside a black hole and leave no trace when subatomic theory
says matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?
Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, in
Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In
1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at
Signs of illness appeared in his first
year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou
Gehrig's disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease
usually kills within three to five years.
According to John Boslough, author of
"Stephen Hawking's Universe," Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it
became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and
he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor
Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS
survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, "really is at the extreme
end of the scale when it comes to survival."
Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and
they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.
Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years,
until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.
He was inducted into the Royal Society
in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen
Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions
she can bestow.
He whizzed about Cambridge at
surprising speed — usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake —
traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired
from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position
with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.
Hawking divorced Jane in 1991, an
acrimonious split that strained his relationship with their children.
Writing in her autobiographical "Music to Move the Stars," she said the
strain of caring for Hawking for nearly three decades had left her feeling
like "a brittle, empty shell." Hawking married his one-time nurse Elaine
Mason four years later, but the relationship was dogged by rumors of abuse.
Police investigated in 2004 after
newspapers reported that he'd been beaten, suffering injuries including a
broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, and was left stranded in his
garden on the hottest day of the year.
Hawking called the charges "completely
false." Police found no evidence of any abuse. Hawking and Mason separated
Lucy Hawking said her father had an
exasperating "inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do."
"I accept that there are some things I
can't do," he told The Associated Press in 1997. "But they are mostly things
I don't particularly want to do anyway."
Then, grinning widely, he added, "I
seem to manage to do anything that I really want."
Britain boots 23 Russian diplomats over spy poisoning
A man works
to untangle the national flag flown from the Russian Embassy, after it
became entangled on its staff at the embassy in London, Wednesday, March 14.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka
London (AP) — Relations between
Britain and Russia plunged Wednesday to a chilly level not seen since the
Cold War as Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 diplomats, severed
high-level contacts and vowed both open and covert action against Kremlin
meddling after the poisoning of a former spy.
Russia said it would respond soon to
what it called Britain's "crude" and "hostile" actions.
While May pledged to disrupt Russian
espionage and "hostile state activity," she gave few details about how hard
Britain would hit Russian politicians and oligarchs where it really hurts —
in their wallets.
"Expelling diplomats is a kind of a
standard response," said Natasha Kuhrt, a Russia expert at King's College
London. "I'm not sure it's going to make Moscow stand up and think."
May told the House of Commons that 23
Russians diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence
officers have a week to leave Britain.
"This will be the single biggest
expulsion for over 30 years," May said, adding that it would "fundamentally
degrade Russian intelligence capability in the U.K. for years to come."
May spoke after Moscow ignored a
midnight deadline to explain how the nerve agent Novichok, developed by the
Soviet Union, was used against Sergei Skripal, an ex-Russian agent convicted
of spying for Britain, and his daughter Yulia. They remain in critical
condition in a hospital in Salisbury, southwestern England, after being
found unconscious March 4.
May said "there is no alternative
conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted
murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter."
She announced a range of economic and
diplomatic measures, including the suspension of high-level contacts with
Russia. An invitation for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit
Britain has been canceled, and British ministers and royals won't attend the
soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.
May also said Britain would clamp down
on murky Russian money and strengthen its powers to impose sanctions on
abusers of human rights, though she gave few details.
"We will freeze Russian state assets
wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or
property of U.K. nationals or residents," May said, promising to use all
legal powers against criminals and corrupt elites, and to "increase checks
on private flights, customs and freight."
"There is no place for these people —
or their money — in our country," she said.
May said some of the measures "cannot
be shared publicly for reasons of national security."
The Russian Embassy in London said the
expulsion of diplomats was "totally unacceptable, unjustified and
shortsighted." Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko called Britain's actions were
Russia did not immediately announce
retaliatory measures, but its Foreign Ministry said "our response will not
be long in coming."
It said Britain's "hostile measures"
were "an unprecedentedly crude provocation."
Britain called an emergency meeting of
the U.N. Security Council in New York at which U.K. and Russian diplomats
traded accusations, with Britain blaming the Russian state for the attack
and Russia vehemently denying responsibility.
Some Russia experts said the measures
announced by May were unlikely to make Russian President Vladimir Putin's
government change its behavior. She didn't expel Russia's ambassador or
announce sanctions against any individuals or companies.
Critics of the British government have
long claimed that the U.K. is reluctant to act against Russia because
London's property market and financial sector are magnets for billions in
"There does not seem to be any real
appetite so far to investigate the ill-gotten gains of the Russian elite
that have been laundered through London," said John Lough, an associate
fellow in the Eurasia program at the Chatham House think-tank. "It is not
clear to me that London's response will hit the Kremlin where it hurts."
Moscow has denied responsibility for
Skripal's poisoning. It refused to comply with Britain's demand for an
explanation, saying the U.K. must first provide samples of the poison
collected by investigators.
Some in Russia have suggested that the
nerve agent could have come from another former Soviet country.
Lawmaker Vladimir Gutenev, a member of
Russia's state commission for chemical disarmament, said Russia had scrapped
its stockpile of Novichok.
"It is hard to say what may be
happening in neighboring countries," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax
Britain is seeking support from allies
in the European Union and NATO in response to the use of an illegal chemical
weapon on British soil. May's office said President Donald Trump told the
prime minister the U.S. was "with the U.K. all the way."
But Britain faces an uphill battle in
rallying international backing for any new measures against Moscow.
European Council President Donald Tusk
said he would put the attack on the agenda at an EU summit meeting next
The U.N. Security Council — of which
Russia is a veto-wielding member — was due to meet later Wednesday at
Britain's request to discuss the investigation.
At U.N. headquarters, deputy spokesman
Farhan Haq said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was not in a position to
attribute responsibility for the attack, but "he strongly condemns the use
of any nerve agent or chemical weapons and hopes that the incident will be
NATO promised to help investigate what
it called "the first offensive use of a nerve agent" in Europe or North
America since the military alliance was founded in 1949.
But it's unclear what, if anything,
NATO can do to put more pressure on Russia. Relations between the old Cold
War foes are already poor and short of military action the alliance has
May said Russia's use of a chemical
weapon was "an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
And it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our
international partners depend."
"We will work with our allies and
partners to confront such actions wherever they threaten our security, at
home and abroad," she said.
Myanmar says it's ready for UN help with Rohingya return
Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry Myint Thu speaks to
journalists during a press conference about the situation of Rakhine State
at Information Ministry in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 14. (AP
Photo/Aung Shine Oo)
Naypyitaw, Myanmar (AP) — Senior
officials in Myanmar announced Wednesday that they have begun talks with
U.N. agencies to see how they could assist with the repatriation of Rohingya
refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence against them.
Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary
Myint Thu said the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and
the U.N. Development Program responded last week with a proposal and concept
paper to the government's invitation for U.N. involvement, which the
government is now studying.
"We considered that the time is now
appropriate to invite UNHCR and UNDP to be involved in the repatriation and
resettlement process, as well as in carrying out activities supporting the
livelihoods and development for all communities in Rakhine state," Myint Thu
Human rights experts believe safety
cannot yet be guaranteed for about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled the
western state of Rakhine to Bangladesh after security forces carried out
brutal crackdowns in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents last August.
Antagonism between Rakhine's Buddhist
community and Rohingya Muslims led to communal violence in 2012, forcing at
least 140,000 Rohingya from their homes into squalid camps for internally
displaced people. Most Rohingya are treated as stateless persons with
limited rights, and the insurgents drew support from the discontented as
prejudice against their community grew in overwhelming Buddhist Myanmar.
Stanislav Saling, a U.N. spokesman in
Myanmar, confirmed that in response to Myanmar's initiative, the U.N.
agencies submitted a note proposing how they could help create conditions
"for the safe, dignified and voluntary return for refugees, in line with
Neither the U.N. nor the government
made public details of the proposal.
The international community has accused
Myanmar's military of atrocities against the Rohingya that could amount to
ethnic cleansing, but the government and military deny any organized human
Myanmar's civilian government led by
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to start the gradual
repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.
Myanmar's government says 374 refugees
out of more than 8,000 whom Bangladesh has verified as qualified to return
are free to return at their convenience.
"We have handed the list of 374 people
to the Bangladesh Embassy so that they can immediately start their
repatriation," Myint Thu said. "These 374 people can be the first
Finland tops 2018 global happiness index
Saturday, July 29, 2017 file photo, Finland's flag flies aboard the Finnish
icebreaker MSV Nordica as it arrives into Nuuk, Greenland. (AP Photo/David
Helsinki (AP) — Fans of skiing,
saunas and Santa Claus won't be surprised to hear Finland is the happiest
place to live.
The World Happiness Report published
Wednesday ranked 156 countries by happiness levels, based on factors such as
life expectancy, social support and corruption.
Unlike past years, the annual report
published by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network also
evaluated 117 countries by the happiness and well-being of their immigrants.
Europe's Nordic nations, none
particularly diverse, have dominated the index since it first was produced
in 2012. In reaching No. 1, Finland nudged neighboring Norway into second
Rounding out the Top 10 are Denmark,
Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and
Australia. The United States fell to 18th place from 14th last year.
Relatively homogenous Finland has about
300,000 foreigners and residents with foreign roots, out of its 5.5 million
Its largest immigrant groups come from
other European nations, but there also are communities from Afghanistan,
China, Iraq and Somalia.
John Helliwell, a co-editor of the
World Happiness Report and professor emeritus of economics at the University
of British Columbia, noted all the top-10 nations scored highest in overall
happiness and the happiness of immigrants. He said a society's happiness
"The most striking finding of the
report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and
the locally born," Helliwell said. "Those who move to happier countries
gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose."
Meik Wiking, CEO of the
Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute, said the five Nordic
countries that reliably rank high in the index "are doing something right in
terms of creating good conditions for good lives," something newcomers have
He said the happiness revealed in the
survey derives from healthy amounts of both personal freedom and social
security that outweigh residents having to pay "some of the highest taxes in
"Briefly put, (Nordic countries) are
good at converting wealth into well-being," Wiking said. The finding on the
happiness of immigrants "shows the conditions that we live under matter
greatly to our quality of life, that happiness is not only a matter of
The United States was 11th in the first
index and has never been in the Top 10. To explain its fall to 18th, the
report's authors cited several factors.
"The U.S. is in the midst of a complex
and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid
addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global
standards," the report said.
It added that the "sociopolitical
system" in the United States produces more income inequality — a major
contributing factor to unhappiness — than other countries with comparatively
The United States also has seen
declining "trust, generosity and social support, and those are some of the
factors that explain why some countries are happier than others," Wiking
Bali to shush social media for Day of Silence
March 16, 2010 file photo, a Balinese traditional security guard called
"pecalang" patrols the empty Kuta beach, a famous tourist spot on the
island, during "Nyepi" or the Day of Silence in Bali, Indonesia. (AP
Bali, Indonesia (AP) — Bali's
annual Day of Silence is so sacred that even reaching for a smartphone to
send a tweet or upload a selfie to social media could cause offense. This
year it will be nearly impossible to do that anyway.
The head of the Bali office of
Indonesia's Ministry of Communications, Nyoman Sujaya, said Tuesday that all
phone companies have agreed to shut down the mobile internet for 24 hours
during "Nyepi," a day marking New Year on the predominantly Hindu island.
That means smartphones won't connect to
the internet, shutting off access to social media sites such as Facebook and
Instagram and instant messaging apps.
"Let's rest a day, free from the
internet to feel the calm of the mind," said Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, head of
the Indonesian Hinduism Society. "Many Hindu people are addicted to
gadgets," he said. "I hope during Nyepi they can be introspective."
On the day meant for reflection,
Balinese stay home and stop using electricity. The airport and shops close
and guests at resorts are asked to keep noise to a minimum. Beaches and
streets on the usually bustling island are deserted except for patrols to
make sure silence is observed.
Bali's religious and civilian leaders
including police and military chiefs made the request to the central
government earlier this month.
It will be the first time the Internet
is shut down for Nyepi, which this year begins early Saturday. The same
request was made to the government last year but was not implemented.
Sujaya said shushing social media will
become the norm for the Day of Silence in the future. Television and radio
broadcasts will also be silenced as usual.
"Wi-Fi at hotels, public services and
vital objects such as airports, hospitals, security forces and banking still
can run normally but with minimal use such as emails," he said.
Nepal plane crash came after confused pilot-airport chatter
rescuers work after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport
in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, March 12. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shreshta)
Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) — "I say
again, turn!" the air traffic controller called over the radio, his voice
rising, as the flight from Bangladesh swerved low over the runway at
Kathmandu's small airport.
Seconds later, the plane crashed into a
field beside the runway, erupting in flames and leaving 49 of the 71 people
on board dead.
That moment Monday appeared to result
from minutes of confused chatter between the control tower and the pilot of
the US-Bangla passenger plane, as they discussed which direction the pilot
should use to land on the airport's single runway.
A separate radio conversation between
the tower and at least one Nepali pilot reflected the sense of
"They appear to be extremely
disoriented," a man said in Nepali, watching as Flight BS211 made its
approach, though it was not clear if the voice belonged to a pilot or the
tower. "Looks like they are really confused," said another man.
In the recording, posted by air traffic
monitoring website liveatc.net, the pilot and the tower shifted back and
forth about whether the pilot should approach the runway from the north or
Just before landing, the pilot asked,
"Are we cleared to land?"
Moments later, the controller came back
on the air, his voice clearly anxious, and told the pilot, "I say again,
turn!" Seconds after that, the controller ordered firetrucks onto the
The plane, which was heading from
Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, to Kathmandu, was carrying 67 passengers and
four crew members.
Kathmandu officials and the airline
laid the blame for the accident on each other.
The airport's general manager told
reporters Monday that the pilot did not follow the control tower's
instructions and approached the runway from the wrong direction.
"The airplane was not properly aligned
with the runway. The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the
reply was 'Yes,'" said the general manager, Raj Kumar Chetri.
But Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla
Airlines, told reporters in Dhaka that "we cannot claim this definitely at
the moment, but we are suspecting that the Kathmandu air traffic control
tower might have misled our pilots to land on the wrong runway."
After hearing the recording between the
tower and the pilots, "we assumed that there was no negligence by our
pilots," he said.
He said the pilot, Capt. Abid Sultan,
was a former air force officer and had flown the Bombardier Q400 series
aircraft for more than 1,700 hours and was also a flying instructor with the
airline. While officials in Bangladesh said the pilot had died from his
injuries Tuesday, raising the death toll to 50 people, Nepal police
spokesman Manoj Neupane later said that was wrong, and the death toll
remained at 49.
The injured were being treated in
various hospitals in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
Autopsies on the dead were being
performed at the Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital morgue,
where some 200 relatives waited to hear about their loved ones.
Dr. M.A. Ansari of the hospital's
forensic department said identifying all the dead could take as long as a
week because many of the bodies were badly burned. By late Tuesday morning,
four bodies had been identified.
Anita Bajacharya waited at the hospital
with her parents and other relatives for details on her 23-year-old sister,
a medical student who had just finished school in Bangladesh and was
returning home on the flight. The sister, Asma Shakya, had called her mother
from the airport, excited about returning home. Now her family sat outside a
hospital waiting for her body to be identified.
Relatives of the passengers from
Bangladesh arrived in Kathmandu late Tuesday afternoon and were escorted to
the hospital by airline officials.
Nepal's government has ordered an
investigation into the crash. However, Mohammed Kamrul Islam, a spokesman
for US-Bangla Airlines, said the governments of both Nepal and Bangladesh
need to "launch a fair investigation and find the reason behind the
According to the airline, the plane was
carrying 32 passengers from Bangladesh, 33 from Nepal and one each from
China and the Maldives. It did not provide the nationalities of the four
US-Bangla operates Boeing 737-800 and
smaller Bombardier Dash 8 planes, including the Q400, the model that
The airline is based in Bangladesh's
capital, Dhaka, and flies domestically and internationally. The parent
company, part of US-Bangla Group, is also involved in real estate, education
Kathmandu's airport has been the site
of several deadly crashes. In September 2012, a Sita Air turboprop plane
carrying trekkers to Mount Everest hit a bird and crashed shortly after
takeoff, killing all 19 people on board.
Russia calls poisoning accusations by Britain 'nonsense'
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gestures during a meeting at the Russian
foreign ministry in Moscow, Tuesday March 13. (AP Photo/Alexander
Gregory Katz and Nataliya
London (AP) — Russia on Tuesday
dismissed accusations of any involvement in the poisoning of an ex-spy and
his daughter as "nonsense," saying it will only cooperate with a British
investigation if it receives samples of the nerve agent believed to have
Police, meanwhile, said the
investigation of who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, will
last many weeks and that they are not ready to identify any persons of
interest in the inquiry. The father and daughter remain in critical
condition in a Salisbury hospital.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said
Russia's involvement is "highly likely," and she gave the country a deadline
of midnight Tuesday to explain its actions in the case. She is reviewing a
range of economic and diplomatic measures in retaliation for the assault
with what she identified as the military-grade nerve agent Novichok.
U.S. and European officials were quick
to offer words of support for Britain, which will need the backing of its
allies if any new sanctions are to have any impact.
Her Downing Street office said she
discussed the Salisbury incident with U.S. President Donald Trump, and that
the U.S. was "with the U.K. all the way" in agreeing that Russia "must
provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used."
They also agreed on the need for
"consequences" for those who use "heinous weapons in flagrant violation of
international norms," the White House said.
Earlier, Trump had said: "It sounds to
me that they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
told reporters in Moscow that his country's requests to see samples of the
nerve agent have been turned down. He insisted that Russia is "not to blame"
for the poisoning.
"We have already made a statement to
say this is nonsense," he said. "We have nothing to do with this."
The Russian Embassy in London tweeted
that it will not respond to the ultimatum without the samples.
Russian officials and media have
responded with a variety of accusations against Britain in recent days,
including suggestions that it was seeking to influence Sunday's election,
which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win easily.
James Nixey, head of the Russia program
at the Chatham House think-tank, said May's response must be more than
"Will actions meet with responses which
have real-world effects?" he said. "Or are we going to have more fudge?"
Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat,
who chairs the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said financial
sanctions would be keys to a strong response.
"Given that the regime is built on
money — it's effectively a flow of money from the Russian people to Putin
and from Putin to his acolytes — money matters," he said.
"We have enormous amounts of control of
a lot of people's assets through various means, and I think it's important
we exercise that," Tugendhat said. "If you get the right people and you
freeze their assets, it can make a lot of difference."
The cases of other Russians who have
died under mysterious circumstances also are being raised. British Home
Secretary Amber Rudd said police and the domestic security service will look
into 14 deaths in Britain that might be linked to Russia.
"In the weeks to come, I will want to
satisfy myself that the allegations are nothing more than that," Rudd said.
"The police and MI5 agree and will assist in that endeavor."
BuzzFeed News reported in 2017 that 14
deaths in Britain and the U.S. dating to 2006 may have been linked to
Russia. Among them are prominent Putin critics, including oligarch Boris
Berezovsky and whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny.
The chief of the world's chemical
weapons watchdog also said that those responsible "must be held
In a speech Tuesday to the Executive
Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,
Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
called him Monday evening to inform him of the results of investigations.
"It is extremely worrying that chemical
agents are still being used to harm people. Those found responsible for this
use must be held accountable for their actions," he said.
Johnson also spoke with his French and
German counterparts and to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as
Britain sought Tuesday to rally international support. A statement from his
office said British officials would brief NATO's political decision-making
arm, the North Atlantic Council, on Wednesday.
Stoltenberg and Johnson "agreed that
Russian actions repeatedly threaten the security of NATO partners — from the
Baltics, Balkans, Ukraine and Georgia — and NATO must stand as an alliance
to call out Putin's behavior," the statement said.
Skripal, a former Russian military
intelligence officer, was convicted of spying for Britain and then released
in a spy swap. He had been living under his own name in Salisbury for eight
years before the attack without attracting any public attention.
Police are appealing to the public to
come forward if they saw Skripal and his daughter driving in his red BMW in
the early afternoon of March 4 in the city located 90 miles (145 kilometers)
southwest of London.
New counterterrorism chief Neil Basu,
who referred to Skripal as a British subject and his daughter as a Russian
national, also said Salisbury residents would see much police activity in
the coming days and that they should not be alarmed.
Some 38 people have been seen by medics
in connection with the case.
Britain could be paying into EU coffers until 2064
Britain's Chancellor Philip Hammond leaves 11
Downing Street to deliver his Spring Statement in Parliament, in London,
Tuesday, March 13. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
London (AP) — Britain could be
paying into the European Union's coffers for nearly another half century
even though Brexit day is little more than a year away, according to
independent forecasts compiled for the government.
In documents released Tuesday, the
Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that Britain's Brexit divorce
bill would amount to 37.1 billion pounds ($52 billion), in the middle of
Most of that sum is due in the next
couple of years as Britain honors short-term budget commitments it had
already made to the EU. But payments will continue until 2064 to meet
liabilities such as pensions that Britain has incurred through its 45-year
membership of the bloc.
"These liabilities will fall due over a
very long period, so there is clearly uncertainty over how and when this or
future governments would decide to meet the estimated cost," the OBR said.
In December, the British government and
the EU made some progress on Brexit issues, including citizens' rights, the
border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland and the
divorce bill. The talks have now been broadened to include future relations,
In a budget update Tuesday, Treasury
chief Philip Hammond said very little about the Brexit impact on the economy
but said he hoped for a "step forward" at next week's meeting of EU leaders
Britain wants the remaining 27 EU
nations to grant a transition period after Brexit, which the EU says should
last until the end of 2020. During the transition, Britain would remain in
the tariff-free single market and customs union even though it will be
outside the EU and have little, or no, say over policy changes.
The main point of the budget update was
to provide the OBR's new forecasts, which Hammond sought to paint in as rosy
a light as possible.
He said the British economy is set to
grow 1.5 percent this year, up modestly on the previous 1.4 percent forecast
but markedly below the country's long-run average. Growth is predicted to
remain paltry, 1.5 percent or lower in every year through to 2022.
"Forecasts are there to be beaten,"
Hammond said. "As a nation, we did it in 2017 and we should make it our
business to do so again."
In spite of the modest upgrade, the
economy is set to be one of the slowest-growing in the Group of Seven
industrialized nations, as it was last year.
"Against a long term trend of at least
2 percent a year growth, after poor growth since 2008, and compared with
growth across rest of the OECD, these are not encouraging forecasts," said
Paul Johnson, director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The British economy has slowed sharply
since the country voted to leave the EU in June 2016 as businesses reined in
investment and consumer spending eased after inflation spiked following the
pound's fall, a development that raised the cost of imported goods such as
energy and food.
Brexit is the biggest cloud hanging
over the outlook. Britain is due to leave the EU, its biggest export market,
on March 29, 2019, but there is uncertainty as to what the future trading
relationship will be.
In making its forecasts, the OBR sought
more clarity on what the government anticipates from Brexit. The agency
factored in a "smooth" Brexit process but said it will update its analysis
as it is furnished details of the withdrawal agreement, which is due to be
hammered out by autumn.
Hammond made a point of lauding an
improvement in public finances. He said there is "light at the end of the
tunnel," with public debt due to peak this financial year at 85.6 percent of
John McDonnell, the Treasury spokesman
for the opposition Labour Party, said Hammond's statement showed "just how
cut off from the real world that he is."
Southeast Asian ride-hailing app Grab expands into lending
An Indonesian woman pays a GrabBike taxi driver
in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, March 13. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian ride hailing app Grab is
expanding into financial services in partnership with a Japanese credit card
company, hoping to offer credit to millions of people without bank accounts.
Grab, founded by Malaysian businessman
Anthony Tan, said Tuesday it will use its "huge cache" of customer data from
the app to provide ways to measure creditworthiness of people outside the
formal banking system.
The ride-hailing app says it has over a
billion transactions a year including food deliveries and other services.
It said the joint venture with Japan's
Credit Saison will begin by focusing on providing loans to Grab drivers and
merchants for purchasing smartphones or working capital.
The World Bank estimates that more than
260 million people in Southeast Asia lack bank accounts, which restricts
their access to credit.
"Many in our region have no access to
loans that they can use to purchase a new home or grow their small
business," Grab said in a statement. It said its lending business would
"accelerate financial inclusion."
Grab dominates car and
motorbike-hailing in much of Southeast Asia. The Wall Street Journal, citing
people familiar with the matter, reported last week that Uber has agreed in
principle to sell its Southeast Asian operations to Grab, which would end
the U.S. company's costly fight for market share in the region.
In Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest
economy and most populous nation, Grab is in a fierce battle for customers
with local operator Go-Jek.
Plane carrying 71 people crashes, catches fire in Kathmandu
rescuers stand near a passenger plane from Bangladesh that crashed at the
airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, March 12. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shreshta)
Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) — A plane
carrying 71 people from Bangladesh swerved erratically and flew dangerously
low before crashing and erupting in flames as it landed Monday in Kathmandu,
Nepal's capital, killing at least 50 people, officials and witnesses said.
The exact number of dead and injured
remained unclear amid the chaos of the crash and the rush of badly injured
people to nearby hospitals, but Brig. Gen. Gokul Bhandari, the Nepal army
spokesman, said it was clear that at least 50 people had died. Officials at
Kathmandu Medical College, the closest hospital to the airport, said they
were treating 16 survivors.
US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211 from
Dhaka to Kathmandu was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members,
according to an airline spokesman.
An AP journalist who arrived at the
scene soon after the crash saw the twin-propeller plane broken into several
large pieces, with dozens of firefighters and rescue workers clustered
around the wreckage in a grassy field near the runway. Hundreds of people
stood on a nearby hill, staring down at what remained of the Bombardier Dash
The plane swerved repeatedly as it
prepared to land in Kathmandu, said Amanda Summers, an American working in
Nepal. The crowded city sits in a valley in the Himalayan foothills.
"It was flying so low I thought it was
going to run into the mountains," said Summers, who watched the crash from
the terrace of her home office, not far from the airport. "All of a sudden
there was a blast and then another blast."
Fire crews put out the flames quickly,
perhaps within a minute, she said, though for a time clouds of thick, dark
smoke rose into the sky above the city.
The plane had circled Tribhuvan
International Airport twice as it waited for clearance to land, Mohammed
Selim, the airline's manager in Kathmandu, told Dhaka-based Somoy TV by
telephone. The plane was 17 years old, company officials said.
Airport officials said the pilot had
been told to approach the airport's one runway from the south, but he
instead landed from the north.
"The airplane was not properly aligned
with the runway. The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the
reply was 'yes,'" said Raj Kumar Chetri, the airport's general manager.
The runway, however, can be approached
from both directions.
Nitin Keyal was about to board a
domestic flight when he saw the plane coming in.
"It was flying very low," said Keyal, a
medical student. "Everyone just froze looking at it. You could tell it
wasn't a normal landing."
He said it landed just off the runway,
broke apart and burst into flames. "For a few minutes no one could believe
what was happening. It was just terrible," he said.
Most of the injured were brought to
Kathmandu Medical College, where relatives wept as they awaited news.
Haran Saran was at the hospital hoping
for news about his nephew, a medical student.
"He's not on the list of injured
people," said Saran, who did not want to give his nephew's name. "We still
have hope that there has been some mistake on the list, or he is in some
US-Bangla spokesman Kamrul Islam said
the plane was carrying 32 passengers from Bangladesh, 33 from Nepal and one
each from China and the Maldives. He did not provide the nationalities of
the four crewmembers.
US-Bangla operates Boeing 737-800 and
smaller Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400 planes.
The full-service airline is based in
the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and flies to several domestic and
international destinations. The parent company, part of US-Bangla Group, is
involved in a number of industries, including real estate, education and
Kathmandu's airport has been the site
of several deadly crashes. In September 2012, a Sita Air turboprop plane
carrying trekkers to Mount Everest hit a bird and crashed shortly after
takeoff, killing all 19 on board.
Central banks warned to weigh risks of virtual currencies
This April 3, 2013 file photo shows bitcoin
tokens at a shop in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Frankfurt, Germany (AP) — A
global financial body warns central banks should carefully weigh the risks
before introducing their own virtual currencies, saying such innovations
could risk destabilizing banking systems and unleash disruption across
But it said some forms of digital
innovation could help by making trading in stocks and currencies more
Monday's report from the Bank for
International Settlements, an international organization for central banks
in Basel, Switzerland, says virtual currencies issued broadly by central
banks could worsen bank runs. A virtual currency could do that by making it
easy to move money entirely out of the commercial banking system with a
mouse click during a panic.
The report said virtual money issued by
a country's central bank could, if widely used in cross-border transactions,
lead to disruptive international capital flows and exchange rate
The report noted that any virtual
currency would have to comply with requirements aimed at stopping money
laundering and financing of terrorism. That could limit how anonymous
holding it could be.
The report doesn't dismiss the idea. It
said virtual currencies issued for wholesale use only — that is, by banks
and financial institutions to settle payments rather than by consumers for
purchases — could help make trading securities and foreign currencies more
That would not be so far from how
central banks operate today. They already use money in an electronic form in
the reserve accounts at the central bank that can be held only by banks and
other designated financial institutions. Everyone else can access money
issued by the central bank in the form of cold hard cash.
Benoit Coeure, chair of the BIS'
committee on payments and market infrastructures, said that that virtual
currencies issued by central banks showed promise in wholesale payments.
"Central bank digital currencies could
help make settling trades of securities and foreign exchange more efficient
in the future. But more work and experimentation would be needed to explore
these benefits," he said. Coeure is also a member of the executive board at
the European Central Bank, the central bank for the 19-country eurozone and
the issuer of the euro currency.
Coeure said that no central bank has so
far decided to issue a virtual currency.
But the question has arisen in places
such as Sweden, where the use of cash for everyday transactions is
dwindling. Sweden's central bank, the Rijksbank, is studying the possibility
of issuing an e-krona. A decision is expected later this year or early next
year. Sweden isn't a member of the euro.
Central bankers in Europe have recently
cast doubt on the usefulness of private virtual currencies such as bitcoin
due to their volatility and lack of security. "At this time, the general
judgment is that their volatile valuations, and inadequate investor and
consumer protection, make them unsafe to rely on as a common means of
payment, a stable store of value or a unit of account," the report said.
Fearing trade war, EU warns of protectionism 'dead end'
Spanish Economy, Industry and Competitiveness
Minister Roman Escolano, center, speaks with European Commissioner for
Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici, center, and Italian Finance
Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, right, during a meeting of the eurogroup at the
EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, March 12. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden
Brussels (AP) — The European
Union on Monday urged U.S. President Donald Trump not to head down "a dead
end" road of protectionism and warned of a damaging trade war over his new
steel and aluminum tariffs.
At talks in Brussels, economy ministers
underlined that the EU — the world's biggest trading bloc — supports free
and open trade but that its 28 countries will respond if they are targeted
by the U.S. tariffs, which are set to enter force next week.
"We are worried (about) the possibility
of having a trade war between the United States and the EU because we
believe that there will be only losers. We believe that protectionism is a
dead end," French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters.
Spanish Economy Minister Roman Escolano
Olivares said, "protectionism is always a political, a historical error."
Trump said last Thursday that he was
slapping tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
He temporarily exempted big steel producers Canada and Mexico — provided
they agree to renegotiate a North American trade deal to his satisfaction.
He said other countries could be spared
the tariffs if they can convince the U.S. government that their steel and
aluminum exports don't threaten American industry.
The EU rejects Trump's argument that
the tariffs are required for national security reasons. It has threatened to
slap retaliatory duties on around 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion) worth of
U.S. steel, agricultural and other products like peanut butter and orange
juice if it is not excluded from the tariff regime.
Amid uncertainty over who might be
exempted, German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier appealed to reason, saying
it is the "responsibility of everybody to keep international trade as fair
and open as possible."
Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra
said the tariffs are "a bad idea. It is bad for European citizens, for Dutch
citizens and it will turn out bad for U.S. citizens as well."
The EU's executive body, the European
Commission, handles trade talks on behalf of member countries. Trade
Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem held talks on Saturday with U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Lighthizer in an effort to understand Trump's
exemptions, but she said she got "no immediate clarity on the exact U.S.
Malmstroem said she told Lighthizer
that "the European Union must be excluded" from tariffs because it is a
close U.S. ally. Indeed, most EU countries are in NATO, the world's biggest
security alliance, together with the U.S.
Phone conversations are continuing, but
no new meeting was planned as of Monday.
Trump tweeted Monday that U.S.
"Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of
the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use
against the U.S.A." It was not clear when or where the meeting would take
The Commission refuses to negotiate
over the issue, believing that Trump's tariffs are an attack on global trade
rules and principles. Brussels insists that the real problem is a glut of
steel on international markets. Experts largely blame overproduction by
China for that.
Russian military tests nuclear-capable hypersonic missile
In this photo made from the footage taken from
Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Sunday, March 11, a Russia's
Kinzhal hypersonic missile flies during a test in southern Russia. ((AP
Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
Moscow (AP) — The Russian military said it has conducted a successful
test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile capable of sneaking through
A video posted by the Defense Ministry
Sunday showed a MiG-31 fighter jet launching a Kinzhal (Dagger) missile
during a training flight. The ministry said the missile, which carried a
conventional warhead, hit a practice target at a firing range in southern
President Vladimir Putin named Kinzhal
this month among the new nuclear weapons he said would bolster Russia's
military capability and render the U.S. missile defense useless.
Putin said Kinzhal flies 10 times
faster than the speed of sound, has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers
(1,250 miles) and can carry a nuclear or a conventional warhead. The
military said it's capable of hitting both land targets and navy ships.
Putin said the missile already had been
put on combat duty with a unit of Russia's Southern Military District.
The Defense Ministry said in Sunday's
statement that the test launch proved the missile's capability. It added
that the new weapon has no equal thanks to its superior maneuverability and
ability to dodge enemy radars.
Japan govt altered documents in scandal linked to Abe's wife
In this Jan. 14, 2018, file photo, Japanese
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and his wife Akie Abe take part in a wreath
laying ceremony at the Antakalnis Memorial Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.
(AP Photo/Liusjenas Kulbis)
Tokyo (AP) — Japan's Finance
Ministry acknowledged Monday that it doctored documents in a widening
scandal linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife that has rattled his
government and caused its support ratings to slide.
Abe quickly apologized Monday on behalf
of ministry officials but did not mention his wife or her suspected role in
"People are looking critically at the
developments, and I take it seriously," he said, promising to pursue a
thorough investigation into what caused the problem.
The altered documents relate to the
2016 sale of state land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka at
one-seventh of the appraised value with the alleged involvement of first
lady Akie Abe, who supported the school's ultra-nationalistic education
An investigation by the ministry showed
that the school operator told officials that Akie Abe encouraged him to
proceed with the land deal, and several conservative lawmakers had contacted
the ministry about the school plan, but it was not clear whether they
violated any law. It said one document originally noted that the school
operator was involved with a powerful pro-Abe political lobby, Nippon Kaigi,
of which Abe was vice chairman, but that comment had later been deleted.
The scandal, which surfaced a year ago,
has smoldered despite a major election victory by Abe in July as opposition
lawmakers continued to scrutinize the case. It erupted again in recent weeks
after a major newspaper reported that it found evidence the ministry had
altered records after the scandal broke.
Finance Minister Taro Aso said the
investigation found 14 altered documents. The changes were made from
February to April last year at the instruction of the Financial Bureau, the
ministry department in charge of state property transactions, mostly at its
regional unit in Osaka, Aso said.
He said the documents were falsified to
match explanations that an official in charge of the land deal, Nobuhisa
Sagawa, provided to parliament in response to opposition lawmakers'
Sagawa later was promoted to National
Tax Agency chief in what critics alleged was a reward for stonewalling the
questioning. He resigned last Friday to take responsibility for his replies,
and another official linked to the scandal reportedly killed himself. Sagawa
also acknowledged destroying documents.
Aso denied there had been any political
pressure, but declined to disclose where the instructions came from and who
Abe said Aso will not step down.
In a parliamentary hearing Monday,
Finance Ministry officials confirmed that a reference to Akie Abe having
recommended the land deal was deleted from a document after the scandal
surfaced. Yasunori Kagoike, then head of Moritomo Gakuen, purchased the land
to build an elementary school where Abe's wife briefly served as honorary
principal. The Abes are known to have supported the school's nationalistic
philosophy of education.
A phrase calling the land deal
"exceptional," as well as the names of several other influential lawmakers
who were implicated but have denied involvement, were also deleted, the
Opposition lawmakers allege political
pressure was involved in the land sale, but Abe has repeatedly denied any
Opposition leaders demanded that Abe's
wife and Sagawa testify and threatened to boycott parliamentary sessions if
they did not. Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of
Japan, said the document doctoring by the ministry "shakes the foundation of
The conservative Yomiuri newspaper and
public broadcaster NHK both reported declines in support ratings for Abe's
Cabinet in polls released Monday. Outside parliament Monday, dozens of
protesters demanded the Cabinet's resignation.
Japan marks 7th anniversary of tsunami that killed 18,000
A man lights a candle to mourn for victims of
the 2011 earthquake and tsunami prior to a special memorial event in Tokyo
Sunday, March 11. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Tokyo (AP) — They bowed their heads, hands clasped or palms firmly
pressed together. They stood in grassy areas or roadsides overlooking the
choppy sea. In Japan's capital, they lit candles and offered flowers. Some
dabbed at tears.
Japanese marked the seventh anniversary
Sunday of a tsunami that took more than 18,000 lives on the northeast coast
and triggered a nuclear disaster that turned nearby communities into ghost
Residents along the coast gathered
outdoors to remember the tragedy as sirens wailed at 2:46 p.m., the moment
the magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, setting off
a massive tsunami.
The tsunami overwhelmed sea walls and
washed away buildings, cars and entire neighborhoods as it swept inland. It
knocked out power at the seaside Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant,
causing partial meltdowns in three reactors.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday
at an official ceremony in Tokyo that reconstruction is making steady
progress, but more than 70,000 people are still displaced and many have no
prospect of returning to their homes.
Prince Akishino, the second son of
Japanese Emperor Akihito, expressed hope that the tsunami would raise
awareness and help prevent or mitigate damage from future natural disasters.
"It is my earnest hope ... that we hand
down the knowledge to future generations in order to protect many people
from the dangers of disasters," he said.
Separately, several hundred people
observed a moment of silence and made offerings at an altar set up in Hibiya
Park in central Tokyo.
Cleaning up the still-radioactive
Fukushima nuclear plant site remains a daunting challenge that is expected
to take 30 to 40 years.
China makes historic move to allow Xi to rule indefinitely
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes
hands with National People's Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang during a
plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the
People in Beijing, Sunday, March 11. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Beijing (AP) — China's
rubber-stamp lawmakers on Sunday passed a historic constitutional amendment
abolishing a presidential two-term limit that will enable Xi Jinping to rule
The amendment upends a system enacted
by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the
bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong's chaotic
1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
"This marks the biggest regression in
China's legal system since the reform and opening-up era of the 1980s," said
Zhang Lifan, an independent Beijing-based political commentator.
"I'm afraid that this will all be
written into our history in the future," Zhang said.
Voting among the National People's
Congress' nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates began in the mid-afternoon,
with Xi leading members of the Communist Party's seven-member all-powerful
Politburo Standing Committee in casting their votes. He placed his orange
ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state placed front
and center on the stage inside the cavernous hall.
Rank-and-file deputies then rose to
vote on the floor of the hall as jaunty instrumental music played. Ten
minutes later, the process had ended and delegates were asked to return to
their seats while the votes were counted.
Shortly after 3:50 p.m., the results
were read out over the public address system and flashed briefly on a screen
in the hall. The delegates voted 2,958 in favor, with two opposed, three
abstaining and one vote invalidated.
"The constitutional amendment item has
passed," the announcer declared to polite applause.
The 64-year-old Xi appeared to show
little emotion, remaining in his seat with other deputies to listen to a
report on the work of the congress delivered by its outgoing chairman.
The slide toward one-man rule under Xi
has fueled concern that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the
excesses of autocratic leadership and make economic regulation more stable
The head of the legislature's legal
affairs committee, Shen Chunyao, dismissed such concerns as "speculation
that is ungrounded and without basis."
Shen told reporters the party has
accumulated extensive experience over its 90-year history that has led to a
system of orderly succession to "maintain the vitality and long-term
stability of the party and the people."
"We believe in the future that we will
continue with this path and discover an even brighter future," Shen said.
The amendment also inserted Xi's
personal political philosophy into the preamble of the constitution and
phrasing that emphasizes the leadership of the ruling Communist Party.
"It is rare nowadays to see a country
with a constitution that emphasizes the constitutional position of any one
political party," said Zhang, the political commentator.
In a sign of the issue's sensitivity,
government censors have aggressively scrubbed social media of expressions
ranging from "I disagree" to "Xi Zedong." A number of prominent Chinese
figures have publicly protested the move, despite the risk of official
Officials have said the abolishing of
the presidential term limits is aimed only at bringing the office of the
president in line with Xi's other positions atop the Communist Party and the
Central Military Commission, which do not impose term limits.
While some scholars questioned the
wisdom of the move, others said they saw value in sending the message that
Xi would be setting policy for many years to come.
"In fact, the more Xi Jinping's
position is consolidated and the longer his governing time is to last, the
more secure it is for the continuity of the policies," said Liu Jiangyong, a
professor at Renmin University's School of International Relations.
The move is widely seen as the
culmination of Xi's efforts since being appointed leader of the party in
2012 to concentrate power in his own hands and defy norms of collective
leadership established over the past two decades. Xi has appointed himself
to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and
other major initiatives, effectively sidelining the party's No. 2 figure,
Premier Li Keqiang.
It has crushed faint hopes for
political reforms among China's embattled liberal scholars and activists,
who now fear even greater repression. China allows no political opposition
in any form and has relentlessly persecuted independent groups seeking
greater civic participation. Leading Chinese officials have meanwhile
repeatedly rejected any chance of adopting Western-style separation of
powers or multiparty democracy.
To be sure, Xi's confident, populist
leadership style and tough attitude toward official corruption have won him
a significant degree of popular support.
Zhao Minglin, 32, a vice president of
an investment firm in Beijing, said it was easier for Xi to carry out his
ambitious vision of raising living standards in China if more power were
concentrated in his hands.
"I will definitely support this
constitutional amendment and this government. This is a powerful and strong
government," Zhao said. He added, however, that he was concerned that the
public discourse lacked a space for dissenting voices.
UK official: Small traces of contamination found in spy case
Investigators in protective clothing are shown
in Harnham, near Salisbury, England, Saturday March 10. (Andrew Matthews/PA
Gregory Katz and Frank Griffiths
London (AP) — British health
authorities said Sunday that small traces of contamination have been found
in a restaurant and a pub in the English city of Salisbury, after a Russian
ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.
The risk to public health remains low
but there are concerns that the risk could build if people are repeatedly
exposed to tiny trace quantities of the nerve agent, Dr. Jenny Harries of
Public Health England told a news conference.
She said that people who were in the
restaurant and pub on March 4 and March 5 should take "simple" precautions
by washing their clothes and taking other measures to protect their skin
from repeated exposure.
"This is just very practical advice"
that should affect only a few hundred people, she said, adding that there is
no proof people actually have trace elements of the nerve agent on their
Harries said the announcement of these
precautions doesn't mean the risk level to the public has been raised.
She was speaking shortly after Public
Health England issued a statement with advice and precautions that should be
taken. It was the first time British officials have urged the public to
take specific actions as a result of the attack.
She deflected questions about why it
took a week for health authorities to come out with the precautionary
"It's really important to understand
the general public should not be concerned," she said. "There is, on the
evidence currently, a very low risk."
Hospital officials in Salisbury also
said there is no evidence of a wider risk beyond the three people
hospitalized since the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter
Yulia. Ex-spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia reportedly ate at a Zizzi
restaurant before falling critically ill. A British police detective is also
hospitalized in serious condition.
Health authorities also said
contamination traces were found at The Mill pub.
"While there is no immediate health
risk to anyone who may have been in either of these locations, it is
possible, but unlikely, that any of the substance which has come into
contact with clothing or belongings could still be present in minute amounts
and therefore contaminate your skin," the statement from Public Health
England said. "Over time, repeated skin contact with contaminated items may
pose a small risk to health."
The health agency added that any
clothing should be washed in "an ordinary washing machine using your regular
detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing."
It also said to "wipe personal items
such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby
wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin."
The government, meanwhile, hasn't
revealed what nerve agent was used in the attack.
A large-scale police investigation is
underway in Salisbury as forensics experts wearing protective gear search
for clues. Among the sites they are searching are the Zizzi restaurant,
which is closed to the public, and the gravesites where Skripal's wife and
son are buried. Skripal's house has also been extensively searched for clues
and traces of the nerve agent.
Authorities haven't revealed how or
where the Skripals were exposed to the nerve agent. It's not known if it
happened in a restaurant, a pub, Skripal's house or elsewhere.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Saturday
evening it is still "too early" to determine who is to blame for the attack.
Senior government officials have vowed to respond robustly if the Russian
government is found to be responsible.
Rudd said more than 250
counterterrorism officers are on the scene evaluating more than 240 pieces
of evidence and interviewing about 200 witnesses.
They are backed by roughly 180 military
personnel providing logistical support, including the removal of ambulances
feared to possibly be contaminated by the nerve agent.
Police are looking for precise clues to
what sickened Skripal, 66, a Russian ex-military intelligence specialist who
in 2006 was convicted in Russia of spying for Britain, and his 33-year-old
Investigators hope they can pinpoint
where the nerve agent was made, which could help determine who was behind
Skripal was imprisoned inside Russia
until he was freed in a 2010 spy swap and settled in England. He had stayed
out of the public eye since then.
The father and daughter were found
unconscious March 4 on a bench in Salisbury. Skripal lived in the town,
located 90 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of London.
Authorities haven't said whether they
expect the pair to recover.
Some British lawmakers have asked for a
high-level investigation of a string of serious mishaps involving former
Russia spies and foes of Russian President Vladimir Putin who have taken up
residence in Britain.
French far-right party severs all ties with elder Le Pen
French far-right presidential candidate, Marine
Le Pen casts her vote, in Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 10. (AP
Paris (AP) — France's far-right National Front definitively severed
its ties to firebrand founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Sunday, part of a
makeover designed to revive the nationalist party's fortunes after the
ousted founder's daughter failed to win the presidency last year.
Despite her troubles, Marine Le Pen
was re-elected to a new term as party president at a congress where she
was the only candidate for the post. National Front members also
approved a new leadership structure and a 100-member governing council
A new to be announced during a
speech by Marine Le Pen will cap what the party calls its
"re-foundation" and close the two-day congress. She has already said
that she dislikes the word "front" because it evokes the past she is
trying to move away from.
The new moniker must be approved by
members during a mail-in vote. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who co-founded the
National Front in 1972, has called a name change a betrayal.
Marine Le Pen made it to last
year's French presidential runoff, riding a global populist wave — but
suffered a crushing defeat to independent, pro-globalization candidate
The anti-immigrant party won a
boost from a guest star appearance at the congress Saturday by former
White House strategist Steve Bannon. He told National Front members that
"history is on our side." He also said: "Let them call you racist. Let
them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a
badge of honor."
Party members approved new bylaws
aimed at restructuring after internal divisions — and that include
abolishing Jean-Marie Le Pen's position of party president for life. The
party tweeted Sunday that more than 79 percent of participants approved
the new statutes.
The political mainstream was
skeptical about any real change coming out of the congress.
"You can change the name, the logo,
the wallpaper, but in the end it is a little family enterprise which
serves the interests of the family Le Pen for 50 years now," government
spokesman Benjamin Grivaux on CNews said. "Basically, nothing changes."
Removing the final ties of
Jean-Marie Le Pen was a major move. He didn't attend the congress.
The party expelled him in 2015 over
anti-Semitic remarks, but he kept the honorary position. Sunday's vote
is a crushing blow for the 89-year-old Le Pen, who founded the party in
1972 and was the surprise runner-up in the 2002 French presidential
Father and daughter Le Pen have
waged a bitter power struggle since he named her to succeed him in 2011.
The elder Le Pen has been convicted multiple times for racism and
anti-Semitism, and his positions complicated his daughter's efforts to
clean up the party's image and expand its base into disillusioned
mainstream French voters.
Abolishing the honorary position is
an effort to bypass court rulings that he should be able to maintain his
status as honorary party president for life..