North Korea says it has suspended nuclear, missile testing
29, 2017, file photo by the North Korean government shows what was said to
be the test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile in Pyongyang,
North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North
Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests
and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of
negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear
indication in the North's announcement if it would be willing to deal away
The North rather expressed confidence
about its nuclear force, which leader Kim Jong Un declared as complete in
November after a slew of weapons tests that included the underground
detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of three
intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Some analysts believe Kim is entering
the negotiations from a position of strength and is unlikely to accept a
significant cut of his arsenal or go significantly beyond freezing a nuclear
program. South Korean and U.S. officials have said Kim is likely trying to
save his broken economy from heavy sanctions.
After the announcement Saturday about
testing, President Donald Trump tweeted, "This is very good news for North
Korea and the World" and "big progress!"
He also said he's looking forward to
his upcoming summit with Kim.
South Korea's presidential office
welcomed North Korea's announcement as "meaningful progress" toward the
denuclearization of the peninsula. Presidential official Yoon Young-chan
said in a statement that the North's decision brightens the prospects for
successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.
The North's official Korean Central
News Agency said the country is making the move to shift its national focus
and improve its economy.
The North also vowed to actively engage
with regional neighbors and the international community to secure peace on
the peninsula and create an "optimal international environment" to build
The announcement came days before Kim
is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village
for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.
A separate meeting between Kim and
Trump is anticipated in May or June.
The North's decisions were made in a
meeting of the ruling party's full Central Committee, which had convened to
discuss a "new stage" of policies. The Korean Workers' Party Central
Committee declared a "great victory" in the country's official "byungjin"
policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear development.
The committee unanimously adopted a
resolution that called for concentrating national efforts to achieve a
strong socialist economy and "groundbreaking improvements in people's
"To secure transparency on the
suspension of nuclear tests, we will close the republic's northern nuclear
test site," the party's resolution said.
The official news agency quoted Kim as
saying during the meeting: "Nuclear development has proceeded scientifically
and in due order and the development of the delivery strike means also
proceeded scientifically and verified the completion of nuclear weapons.
"We no longer need any nuclear test or
test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles
and because of this, the northern nuclear test site has finished its
Seoul says Kim has expressed genuine
interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But North Korea for decades
has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance
to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless
Washington removes its troops from the peninsula.
South Korean scientists have questioned
whether the North could continue conducting underground nuclear detonations
at its mountainous test site in Kilju in the northeast due to a series of
earthquakes that were likely triggered by the activity, suggesting it's too
unstable for further bomb tests.
At the height of Pyongyang's standoff
with Washington and Seoul last year, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong
Ho told reporters the country could conduct an atmospheric hydrogen bomb
test over the Pacific Ocean.
Myanmar policeman testifies arrested reporters were set up
Reuters journalists Wa Lone, center front, and
Kyaw Soe Oo, center back, are escorted by police for a lunch break during
their trial at the court in Yangon, Myanmar Friday, April 20. (AP
Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar police officer testified Friday that
he and several colleagues were ordered to entrap two reporters working for
the Reuters news agency, dealing a major blow to the government's case
against the journalists under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been
detained since Dec. 12 on charges that could get them up to 14 years in
prison. The two helped cover the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where a
brutal counterinsurgency operation last year drove about 700,000 Rohingya
Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.
Police Capt. Moe Yan Naing told the
court that his superior had arranged for two policemen to meet the reporters
at a restaurant and hand over documents described as "important secret
papers" in order to entrap them.
He said he and other colleagues who had
been interviewed earlier by Wa Lone about their activities in Rakhine had
been interrogated under the direction of Brig. Gen. Tin Ko Ko of the 8th
Security Police Battalion.
Security forces in Rakhine have been
accused of serious human rights violations, including rape and extrajudicial
killings, against the persecuted ethnic Rohingya Muslims. Last week,
Myanmar's military announced it had sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in
prison for their part in the killings, a case covered by the two reporters.
According to the captain, Tin Ko Ko
ordered an officer who had previously spoken to Wa Lone to arrange the Dec.
12 meeting, and threatened other police officers he sent to the meeting that
if they did not carry out the arrests, they would be sent to jail
"The reason why I testified the truth
was because police should have their own standard and dignity," Moe Yan
Naing told reporters outside the courtroom after testifying as a prosecution
witness. "Whatever I testified was the truth."
He was able to speak to the media only
briefly before being led away by a plainclothes security official. He has
been under arrest since Dec. 12, apparently for having spoken to Wa Lone the
Reuters issued a statement after the
hearing saying that the court had "finally heard the truth."
"One of the prosecution's own witnesses
admitted that the police received orders to plant evidence and arrest Wa
Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on false charges," it said. "This case cannot be
squared with fairness or justice, and it's time to bring it to an end. We
call for our journalists' immediate release."
The case has drawn international
attention, with high-profile rights lawyer Amal Clooney recently joining the
legal team representing the jailed journalists. The United States, Britain
and Canada, as well as the United Nations, have called for freedom for the
"We cannot say exactly if the two
journalists will be released or not, but police officer Moe Yan Naing has
revealed the real case," said defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
"This is such a big risk for him for
telling the truth," Khin Maung Zaw said, expressing concern for his safety.
"This is why you all journalists should watch closely over him because we
don't know what's going to happen. We don't even know if he is coming in to
the next hearing with an injured face. We don't know."
Other prosecution witnesses have
earlier offered confusing and conflicting testimony, lending weight to the
belief that the arrests were a clumsy setup by the government, which is
sensitive to any reporting critical of its activities in Rakhine.
However, the judge has denied defense
motions to drop the case.
"We are very surprised that the truth
has been revealed, and we thought since the beginning that this case was set
up," said Than Zaw Aung, another lawyer for the reporters. "We did not
expect that the police would testify like that. But this testimony will be a
very strong support for the defendants."
Wa Lone reaffirmed his innocence to
journalists as he was boarding a police truck to be taken back to jail.
"The truth is coming out. I believe
that truth and justice is coming," he shouted.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said he
would not comment on the proceedings because the judiciary is independent
and the trial is ongoing.
"They will decide what is right," he
WWII bomb defused in Berlin after large central evacuation
the bomb squad of the Berlin state police pose behind a WWII bomb in central
Berlin, Friday, April 20. (Polizei Berlin via AP)
Berlin (AP) — Berlin police
evacuated thousands of people from a central area of the German capital
Friday and shut down the main train station as a precaution while they
defused and removed an unexploded World War II bomb found during recent
Some 10,000 residents and workers were
forced to leave a two-square-kilometer area, including the train station,
while bomb experts defused the 500-kilogram British bomb dropped during the
Trains were prevented from stopping at
the busy station from 10 a.m., and through traffic was shut down at 11:30
a.m. before experts began their work, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn
said. Some 300,000 travelers use the station daily.
Bomb disposal experts were able to
successfully remove the detonator just after 1 p.m. and destroy it in a
small controlled explosion.
The evacuation area, a circle around
the construction site north of the train station where the bomb was
discovered during digging, also included a hospital, the new offices of
Germany's foreign intelligence service, and parts of both the economy and
Chancellor Angela Merkel's office and
Germany's parliament building are close by, but outside the zone.
Even 73 years after the end of the war,
such discoveries remain common in major German cities.
Downtown Berlin was largely reduced to
rubble in hundreds of Allied bombing raids during the war and
street-to-street fighting between the Nazi and Soviet armies in the final
days of the conflict.
Experts estimate that more than 5
percent of the bombs dropped on Berlin failed to explode due to a variety of
reasons, including faulty fuses, poor assembly and bad angle of impact. The
city estimates at least 3,000 bombs, grenades and other munitions are still
They're found frequently enough that
they're treated more as a nuisance than a major public safety issue, and
authorities are well trained and experienced with their removal and
In one of the more sensational finds, a
250-kilogram British bomb was found in 2002 beneath the lower ring of seats
during renovation work at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, where tens of thousands
of fans regularly watch the city's Hertha BSC soccer club play its home
Such finds are also common elsewhere in
Europe, and Slovak authorities on Friday had to evacuate people in a town
near the southern border with Hungary after four unexploded World War II
bombs were found by a man walking his dog.
Police said the 100-kilogram Soviet
bombs were found in a field in the town of Sturovo.
Zimbabwe's Mugabe summoned over alleged diamond looting
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is shown in this Oct. 3, 2017 file photo.
(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — A
Zimbabwean parliamentary committee is summoning former leader Robert Mugabe
to explain past comments on alleged diamond looting — the first time a
public institution has called him to account for such claims made during his
Mugabe, who resigned in November
following a military intervention and extraordinary public demonstrations,
has said $15 billion worth of diamonds were looted from fields in the
country's east. He later said he had no basis for that figure and spoke off
the top of his head.
But parliamentary committee chairman
Temba Mliswa told The Associated Press the 94-year-old still should appear
on May 9 to explain his comments. Parliament "very soon" will dispatch an
official letter for Mugabe to appear, Mliswa said.
It was not clear whether Mugabe, who
has lived quietly in the capital since his resignation, will agree to show
The allegations of diamond looting have
been a source of anger in the once-prosperous southern African country whose
economy collapsed under Mugabe's long rule. Non-governmental organizations
such as Global Witness have accused government and security agencies of both
looting and human rights abuses.
Zimbabwe security agencies, including
the military and police, were involved in the mining in partnership with
Chinese firms until the government cancelled all diamond mining licenses in
the region in 2016, making way for a monopoly by a government-owned firm.
The parliamentary committee also has
asked former Vice President Joice Mujuru to provide evidence. Former and
serving top police officers, government officials and mining executives
already have appeared before the committee.
Raul Castro retires as Cuban president, outlines future
former president Raul Castro delivers a speech after Miguel Diaz-Canel was
elected as the island nation's new president, at the National Assembly in
Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 19. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Michael Weissenstein and Andrea
Havana (AP) — Raul Castro turned
over Cuba's presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would
hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers
founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official
little known to most on the island.
Castro's 90-minute valedictory speech
offered his first clear vision for the nation's future power structure under
new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the
white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of
the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the
country's ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in
"From that point on, I will be just
another soldier defending this revolution," Castro said. The 86-year-old
general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with
officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to
having more time to travel the country.
In his own half-hour speech to the
nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba's communist system while
gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to
"There's no space here for a transition
that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,"
Diaz-Canel said. "For us, it's totally clear that only the Communist Party
of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of
the nation of Cuba."
Diaz-Canel said he would work to
implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist
party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises
like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy's most important
sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and
rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.
"The people have given this assembly
the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial,
historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance
of the modernization of our social and economic model," Diaz-Canel said.
Cubans said they expected their new
president to deliver improvements to the island's economy, which remains
stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises
that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The
average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many
to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives
"I hope that Diaz-Canel brings
prosperity," said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. "I want
to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own
businesses, without the state in charge of so many things."
But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they
didn't expect much from Diaz-Canel.
"It's a cosmetic change," said Wilfredo
Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros' 1959
revolution. "The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the
Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba."
After formally taking over from his
older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that
led to a rapid expansion of Cuba's private sector and burgeoning use of
cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and
one of the world's fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than
doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic
relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a
year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.
Castro's moves to open the economy even
further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to
generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in
a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign
investment remains anemic and the island's infrastructure is falling deeper
into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of
detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies
totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba's patron has collapsed
economically, with no replacement in the wings.
Castro's inability or unwillingness to
fix Cuba's structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many
wondering how a successor without Castro's founding-father credentials will
manage the country over the next five or 10 years.
"I want the country to advance," said
Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. "We already have a plan
Most Cubans have known their new
president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public
profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro's declaration Thursday
that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve
much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside
the Cuban system.
"The same thing we're doing with him,
he'll have to do with his successor," Castro said. "When his 10 years of
service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are
over, he'll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the
transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until
(Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if
he doesn't have them already, or his great-grandchildren."
Cuban state media said Russian
President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the
many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President
Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country's friendship with Cuba and expressed
interest in deeper ties.
At the U.S. State Department,
spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying
Cuban citizens "had no real power to affect the outcome" of what she called
the "undemocratic transition" that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at
Castro that the U.S. won't rest until Cuba "has free & fair elections,
political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!"
Diaz-Canel said his government would be
willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes
in the Cuban system.
With Castro watching from the audience,
Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who
founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he
would retain Castro's cabinet through at least July, when the National
Assembly meets again.
"I confirm to this assembly that Raul
Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions
about the future of the country," Diaz-Canel said. "Cuba needs him,
providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and
alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to
Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in
central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post
equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working,
modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became
higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.
In a video of a Communist Party meeting
that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a
series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some
independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of
But he has also defended academics and
bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a
potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually
any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be
scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.
As in Cuba's legislative elections, all
of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed
commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and
candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their
favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It
was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.
The assembly also approved another six
vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba's highest government body.
Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who
fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra
FAA orders fan blade inspections after jet engine explosion
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 frame from video, a National Transportation Safety
Board investigator examines damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines
plane that made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport
in Philadelphia. (NTSB via AP)
David Koenig and Claudia Lauer
Philadelphia (AP) — U.S. airline
regulators have ordered inspections on engine fan blades like the one that
snapped off a Southwest Airlines plane, leading to the death of a woman who
was partially blown out a window.
The Federal Aviation Administration's
announcement late Wednesday comes nearly a year after the engine's
manufacturer recommended the additional inspections, and a month after
European regulators ordered their airlines to do the work.
Pressure for the FAA to act grew after
an engine on a Southwest plane blew apart on Tuesday, showering the aircraft
with debris and shattering a window. A woman sitting next to the window was
partially blown out and died of her injuries. The plane, which was headed
from New York to Dallas, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.
Investigators said a blade that broke
off mid-flight and triggered the fatal accident was showing signs of metal
fatigue — microscopic cracks that can splinter open under the kind of stress
placed on jetliners and their engines.
The National Transportation Safety
Board also blamed metal fatigue for an engine failure on a Southwest plane
in Florida in 2016.
That led manufacturer CFM
International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France's Safran
SA, to recommend last June that airlines conduct the inspections of fan
blades on many Boeing 737s.
The FAA proposed making the
recommendation mandatory in August but never issued a final decision.
On Wednesday, the FAA said it would
issue a directive in the next two weeks to require ultrasonic inspections of
fan blades on some CFM56-7B engines after they reach a certain number of
takeoffs and landings. Blades that fail inspection would need to be
It was not immediately clear how many
planes would be affected. Last year, the FAA estimated that an order would
cover 220 engines on U.S. airlines. That number could be higher now because
more engines have hit the number of flights triggering an inspection.
Southwest announced its own program for
similar inspections of its 700-plane fleet over the next month. United
Airlines executives said Wednesday that they had begun inspecting some of
American Airlines has about 300 planes
with that type of engine, and Delta Air Lines has about 185. It will not be
clear until the FAA issues its rule how many will need inspections.
Tuesday's emergency broke a string of
eight straight years without a fatal accident involving a U.S. airliner.
"Engine failures like this should not
occur," Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB, said Wednesday.
Sumwalt expressed concern about such a
destructive engine failure but said he would not yet draw broad conclusions
about the safety of CFM56 engines or the entire fleet of Boeing 737s, the
most popular airliner ever built.
Federal investigators were still trying
to determine how a window came out of the plane. The woman sitting next to
it, identified by family members as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan, was
wearing a seat belt. Philadelphia's medical examiner said the banking
executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico, died from blunt
impact trauma to her head, neck and torso.
It is unknown whether the FAA's
original directive would have forced Southwest to quickly inspect the engine
that blew up. CEO Gary Kelly said it had logged only 10,000 cycles since
Before Wednesday's announcement,
critics accused the FAA of inaction in the face of a threat to safety.
Robert Clifford, a lawyer who is suing
American Airlines over another engine explosion that caused a fire that
destroyed the plane, said the FAA should have required the inspections —
even if it meant grounding Boeing 737s.
"There is something going on with these
engines," he said, "and the statistical likelihood of additional failures
William Waldock, a safety expert at
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, predicted the FAA's decision. He said
the scope of FAA action will depend on whether investigators find fatigue in
other fan blades on the broken engine.
"The first thing they probably are
going to do is pull every single one of those other blades off and X-ray
them to see if they've got a similar type of failure waiting to happen," he
The Southwest CEO protested that it is
too soon to say whether Tuesday's accident is related to any other engine
Kelly said the plane was inspected on
Sunday and nothing appeared out of order. A spokeswoman said it was a visual
inspection and oil service of the engines. The NTSB's Sumwalt said, however,
that the kind of wear seen where the missing fan blade broke off would not
have been visible just by looking at the engine.
Queen tips Prince Charles to follow her as Commonwealth head
Britain's Queen Elizabeth
II speaks during the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace in London, Thursday April 19.
(Yui Mok/Pool via AP)
London (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II
opened a summit of the 53-nation Commonwealth on Thursday, and backed her
son Prince Charles to be the next leader of the association of Britain and
its former colonies.
In a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, the
queen said she hoped Charles would "carry on the important work" of leading
the Commonwealth, a loose alliance that has struggled to carve out a firm
place on the world stage.
The queen has no designated successor
as Commonwealth chief, and some have suggested Charles should not take over
the helm of the group, which takes in 2.4 billion people on five continents.
"It is my sincere wish that the
Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future
generations and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales should carry on
the important work started by my father in 1949," the queen said.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat,
who hosted the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015,
signaled that leaders were likely to confirm Charles as successor to his
mother, who turns 92 on Saturday.
Muscat said he was sure that Charles
"will provide solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth" when
called upon to do so.
The survival of the Commonwealth owes
much to the commitment of the queen, who has visited almost every member
country — often multiple times — over her 66-year-reign.
British Prime Minister Theresa May
praised the monarch for being "the Commonwealth's most steadfast and fervent
Leaders from countries from vast India
to tiny Tuvalu will spend two days meeting in London and at Windsor Castle
west of the city. The agenda includes protecting the world's oceans and
helping small states boost cybersecurity.
Britain also hopes to use the meeting
as a launch pad for stronger trade ties with Commonwealth countries after
the U.K. leaves the European Union next year.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox
said this week that Brexit could revitalize the Commonwealth and "usher in a
new era, harnessing the movement of expertise, talent, goods and capital
between our nations in a way that we have not done for a generation or
Others are skeptical that increased
Commonwealth trade can make up for reduced access to Britain's biggest
market, the EU. In 2017, 44 percent of British exports went to the EU and
just 9 percent to Commonwealth countries.
Still, some say the Commonwealth could
provide a platform for British diplomatic and cultural clout after it leaves
Michael Lake, director of the Royal
Commonwealth Society charity, said the Commonwealth could be a "useful and
productive stepping stone for the development of a new soft-power agenda."
But Britain's relationship with the
Commonwealth has been clouded by diplomatic missteps and the legacy of
empire. May had to apologize this week after it emerged that some people who
came to the U.K. from the Caribbean decades ago had been refused medical
care in Britain or threatened with deportation because they could not
produce paperwork to show their right to residence.
Gay-rights activists are also
protesting the summit, urging the repeal of laws against homosexuality that
are in force in more than 30 Commonwealth countries — in many cases,
introduced under British rule.
May said Tuesday that Britain deeply
regretted its role in passing anti-gay laws.
"I am all too aware that these laws
were often put in place by my own country," she said. "They were wrong then,
and they are wrong now."
The Commonwealth is officially
committed to democracy and human rights, but its rights record is mixed.
Many look with pride on the organization's role in the 1970s and '80s in
trying to end apartheid in South Africa.
But many Commonwealth nations have been
plagued by corruption or destabilized by coups. Zimbabwe's former president,
Robert Mugabe, pulled his country out of the group in 2003 after it was
suspended for widespread human rights abuses. Gambia quit in 2013, calling
the Commonwealth a "neocolonial institution." It rejoined earlier this year.
Still, the Commonwealth provides
support for democracy and corruption-fighting, and gives its smaller members
the chance to be part of an international network. Attempts to expand the
club beyond former British colonies have had modest success, with Mozambique
and Rwanda joining in recent years.
Philip Murphy, who heads the Institute
of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said the Commonwealth
was held together by "a kind of inertia, the fact that it's probably more
trouble to wind it up than to keep going."
But he said he wouldn't write it off
"It's sort of like the Holy Roman
Empire — international organizations can survive long beyond their natural
expiry date," Murphy said.
2,000 Kachin trapped by Myanmar fighting lack food, medicine
Kachin civilians displaced by fighting between
the Myanmar military and Kachin guerrillas take shelter in a jungle close to
Tanai, northern Kachin state, Myanmar Thursday, April 19. (Labram Hkun Awng
via AP Photo)
Bangkok (AP) — Community leaders from the Christian ethnic Kachin
community have called for urgent medical attention for about 2,000
civilians, including pregnant women and the elderly, trapped in the jungle
where they fled to escape clashes between the Myanmar's army and the Kachin
guerrillas in the country's north.
The latest fighting in Kachin state's
Tanai region — an area known for amber and gold mining — began in early
April with government shelling and airstrikes in response to threats by the
rebel Kachin Independence Army to retake lost territory.
The Rev. Mung Dan, a Baptist community
leader, said Wednesday the civilians trapped without medicine or sufficient
food include five pregnant women, two women who just gave birth, 93 old
people, and other villagers wounded by mortar shelling. They are "in dire
need of medical treatment as well as rations," he said by phone.
"Even today, it's been raining the
whole day in our region and these civilians do not have any shelter yet and
they are suffering from sickness as well," he added.
A non-governmental organization based
in Kachin state has sent an open letter to the Kachin State Minister on
Wednesday, asking for the permission to rescue civilians but the permission
has not been granted yet.
"We have been asking permission to
rescue people who are trapped in the jungle and they are in a very critical
condition," said Awng Ja, a member of Kachin State Women Network, which
helps displaced women. "But the state minister said only if the military
granted us access, we can rescue these civilians."
Rights and aids groups said the Myanmar
government and the military have dramatically increased restrictions on
humanitarian assistance to some 100,000 displaced people. The government has
denied virtually denied all access for the United Nations and other
international humanitarian groups.
Some civilian have already been killed
by the government's offensive, the Kachin say.
"At least three civilians were killed
by the army's mortar shells and airstrikes in three different places since
April 11," said Naw Bu, the head of the information department of the Kachin
Independence Organization, the political organization to which the Kachin
Independence Army is affiliated.
The Kachin Independence Army, like
other ethnic minority armed groups, has been fighting on and off for decades
against the central government for greater autonomy. Combat between the
Kachin rebels and the government military resumed in 2011, ending a 17-year
ceasefire agreement. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than
100,000 civilians displaced.
Myanmar's military has long been
accused of grave human rights violations against ethnic minority groups in
different parts of the country.
Most recently, it has been accused of
abuses against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority in the western state of
Rakhine that critics say amounts to "ethnic cleansing," as violent
counter-insurgency sweeps by the army helped drive about 700,000 Rohingya
across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, where they stay in refugee
Update April 17 - 19, 2018
Chemical weapons team in Syria kept from alleged attack site
A man rides
past destroyed buildings in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected
chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 16. (AP
Douma, Syria (AP) — Syrian and
Russian authorities prevented independent investigators from going to the
scene of a suspected chemical attack, the head of the chemical watchdog
group said Monday, blocking international efforts to establish what happened
and who was to blame.
The U.S. and France say they have
evidence that poison gas was used in the April 7 attack in the
opposition-held town of Douma, killing dozens of people, and that Syrian
President Bashar Assad's military was behind it.
But they have made none of that
evidence public, even after they, along with Britain, bombarded sites they
said were linked to Syria's chemical weapons program.
Syria and its ally Russia deny any
chemical attack took place, and Russian officials went even further,
accusing Britain of staging a "fake" chemical attack. British Prime Minister
Theresa May accused the two countries — whose forces now control the town
east of Damascus — of trying to cover up evidence.
The lack of access to Douma by
inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons, has left unanswered questions about the attack.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said
Syrian and Russian officials cited "pending security issues" in keeping its
inspectors from reaching Douma.
"The team has not yet deployed to
Douma," Uzumcu told an executive council meeting of the OPCW in The Hague.
Instead, Syrian authorities offered
them 22 people to interview as witnesses, he said, adding that he hoped "all
necessary arrangements will be made ... to allow the team to deploy to Douma
as soon as possible."
Russian military police were ready to
help protect the OPCW experts on their visit to Douma, said Maj. Gen. Yuri
Yevtushenko of the Russian military's Reconciliation Center in Syria. Igor
Kirillov, a Russian chemical weapons protection expert in The Hague, said
the team is set to visit the site Wednesday.
Earlier Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign
Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the inspectors could not go to the site because
they needed approval from the U.N. Department for Safety and Security. He
denied that Russia was hampering the mission and suggested the approval was
held up because of the Western airstrikes.
"As far as I understand, what is
hampering a speedy resolution of this problem is the consequences of the
illegal, unlawful military action that Great Britain and other countries
conducted on Saturday," he said.
However, U.N. spokesman Stephane
Dujarric said the United Nations has "provided the necessary clearances for
the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any
request for it to go to Douma."
Early Tuesday, the government-run
Central Military media reported a missile attack on the Shayrat air base in
Homs province. It said Syrian air defenses shot down most of the six
missiles fired at the base. It also reported a separate airstrike on the
Dumayr air base near Damascus.
It did not elaborate or say who carried
out the airstrikes. A Pentagon spokeswoman said there was no U.S. military
activity in the area.
Earlier this month, four Iranian
military personnel were killed in an airstrike on Syria's T4 air base in
Homs. Syria and its allies blamed Israel for that attack. Israel did not
confirm or deny mounting the raid.
In Douma, at least 40 people are
believed to have died in the suspected chemical attack on April 7. Until
Saturday, the city was the last rebel-held town near the capital and the
target of a government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds
and displaced tens of thousands. Hours after the alleged chemical attack,
the rebel faction that controlled the town, the Army of Islam, relented and
was evacuated along with thousands of residents.
The Associated Press, during a
government-organized visit Monday to Douma, spoke to survivors and witnesses
who described being hit by gas. Several said a strange smell started
spreading and people screamed, "It's chlorine! It's chlorine!"
The AP visited a two-room underground
shelter where Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir said 47 people were killed, including
his pregnant wife and two daughters, 18-month-old Qamar and 2 1/2-year-old
Nour. A strange smell lingered, nine days after the attack.
Nuseir, 25, said he ran from the
shelter to a nearby clinic and fainted. After he was revived, he returned to
the shelter and found his wife and daughters dead, with foam coming from
He and two other residents accused the
rebel Army of Islam of carrying out the attack. As they spoke, government
troops were not far away but out of earshot. Nuseir said a gas cylinder was
found leaking the poison gas, adding that he didn't think it was dropped
from the air because it still looked intact.
Separately, the AP spoke to a medic who
was among those who later were evacuated to northern Syria. Ahmed Abed
al-Nafaa said helicopters were flying before the attack and when he reached
the site, people were screaming "chlorine." He said he tried to enter the
shelter but was overcome by a strong smell of chlorine and his comrades
pulled him out.
The accounts contradict what the Syrian
government and Russia have reported: that there was no gas attack in Douma.
On Sunday, Syria's state-run
Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast interviews with nearly a dozen doctors and medics
who said they found no trace of poison gas in Douma. One medic said he heard
someone scream "Chemical!" but saw no patients with symptoms. Others said
that dust can seep into underground shelters, causing choking and other
symptoms associated with chemical attacks.
The Russian military said last week its
officers in Douma found no evidence to support reports of a gas attack. The
Russian military taskforce in Syria said it visited the hospital in Douma
and talked to staff who said they did not confirm reports of such an
Both Russia and the Syrian government
have welcomed the OPCW mission. The team arrived in Syria on Saturday. The
OPCW team does not have a mandate to assign blame for the attack.
Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal
Mekdad has said his country is "fully ready" to cooperate with the OPCW
mission. He said government officials met with the delegation several times
to discuss cooperation.
Government forces and Russian troops
have been deployed in Douma, which is now controlled by the Syrian
government. Opposition activists have said the troops might have removed any
evidence of chemical weapons' use.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
denied that Russia interfered with any evidence.
"I can guarantee that Russia has not
tampered with the site," Lavrov told the BBC on Monday.
Alexander Shulgin, the Russian envoy at
the OPCW in The Hague, said allegations that Russia might destroy evidence
reflected Washington's effort to justify Saturday's strikes.
"It's a clumsy effort to find an
explanation if the claim of the chemical weapons use in Syria fails to get
confirmation," Shulgin said at a briefing. "Our American partners are
clearly getting nervous. They are frantically looking for some justification
if their claims that served as the reason for the strike don't receive
In London, British Prime Minister
Theresa May accused Syria and Russia of trying to cover up evidence. She
said Syrian officials have been searching evacuees from Douma to ensure
samples are not smuggled out.
"A wider operation to conceal the facts
of the attack is underway, supported by the Russians," she told lawmakers.
The weekend's airstrikes have increased
international tension, as the U.S. and Russia exchanged threats of
Russian President Vladimir Putin on
Sunday warned that if the strikes continue, "it will inevitably entail chaos
in international relations."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
said the strikes were a "clear message" to Assad, Russia and Iran that
chemical weapons use is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand
idle. He spoke in an interview with Turkey's NTV television.
Canadian alleged serial killer facing 8th murder charge
April 11, 2018 file photo, Toronto police Detective Sgt. Hank Idsinga speaks
to the media regarding the Bruce McArthur case during a press conference at
the Toronto Police Headquarters in Toronto. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press
Toronto (AP) — Canadian alleged
serial killer Bruce McArthur is now facing an eighth murder charge — the
death of a Sri Lankan man who had not been reported missing.
Toronto police Detective Sgt. Hank
Idsinga said Monday the 66-year-old landscaper has been charged with
first-degree murder in the death of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam.
Idsinga said Kanagaratnam's remains
were found at a home McArthur used as storage for his landscaping business.
The remains of seven others have also been found in large planters at the
Idsinga said Kanagaratnam, 37, arrived
from Sri Lanka in 2010 and was not on file as missing. He lived in the
Toronto suburb of Scarborough and had no direct family in Canada.
Investigators said he was identified
after they took the rare step of releasing photographs of his corpse and
appealed to the public for help. Police received more than 500 tips. Idsinga
said identification was confirmed with assistance of an international
Police said there are currently no
known links between Kanagaratnam and the "Gay Village" of Toronto which
other victims are known to have visited.
The alleged victims fit a pattern: Most
were of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and lived on the margins of
Canadian society, their disappearances attracting little attention.
One alleged victim hid the fact that he
was gay from his Muslim family. Another was a recent immigrant with a drug
problem. Another alleged victim was homeless, smoked crack cocaine and
worked as a prostitute.
"There's enough information on the
backgrounds of these people that people can draw their own conclusions on
that," Idsinga said.
Police say McArthur targeted men he
encountered through dating apps that cater to gay men, meeting them at bars
in the "Gay Village" area of Toronto.
Police believe Kanagaratnam was killed
between Sept. 3 and Dec. 14, 2015. Idsinga said he had some cousins that
lived in the greater Toronto area.
Idsinga more remains might be found in
the planters at the home McArthur used as storage and that 75 properties
linked to the landscaper are under investigation. Police plan to search them
once the weather warms in early May.
"We have a lot of searches still to
do," he said.
Idsinga said investigators are looking
into 15 other cold cases dating back to the 1975, but have not found a
McArthur made a brief video court
appearance on Monday to hear the new murder charge. He has not entered a
plea. His lawyer has previously declined to comment on the case and didn't
immediately respond to messages for comment on Monday.
Surfer mauled by shark swims to shore despite leg injuries
helicopter and other emergency vehicles are seen at the scene of the shark
attack in Gracetown, Australia, Monday, April 16. (Anthony Pancia/Australian
Broadcasting Corp via AP)
Perth, Australia (AP) — A surfer
mauled by a shark Monday off southwestern Australia managed to swim to shore
despite serious injuries to both of his legs, an official and a witness
Alejandro Travaglini was surfing at
Gracetown around 8 a.m. when he was attacked, St. John Ambulance spokesman
Dennis Bertoldo said. The Argentinian-born 37-year-old was treated on the
beach by paramedics before he was flown by helicopter 250 kilometers to a
hospital in the city of Perth, Bertoldo said.
The hospital described the victim's
condition as stable.
The attack prompted the World Surf
League to postpone the nearby Margaret River Pro international surfing
contest for about an hour.
Organizers had deployed additional
shark-spotting drones and jet skis when the competition resumed to ensure
competitors' safety, league deputy commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer said.
"We wanted to reconvene and make sure
we had everything possible in the water to look after those surfers,"
Miley-Dyer said in a statement on the league's website.
Surf photographer Peter Jovic watched
the attack from the beach and likened it to the live broadcast of a shark
attack in South Africa in 2015. Former champion surfer Mick Fanning escaped
unscathed when a great white attacked his board as he waited to catch a
"If anyone is familiar with the Mick
Fanning moment ... it was very similar to that, where a shark pretty much
popped up and ended up knocking a surfer off his board," Jovic told
Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"The surfer who was being attacked
ended up miraculously body surfing into a little wave and getting pushed in
by a local at the same time, who was out there with him, and making it to
shore before everyone came to his aid," Jovic said.
Lifeguards said a 4-meter (13-foot)
shark was spotted off a nearby beach two hours after the attack.
Nine Network television news reported a
41-year-old surfer sustained a large gash to his right thigh from a shark
later Monday at a beach near where the attack occurred.
"Happy to be alive," the unnamed man
told bystanders who asked if he was OK. The man insisted he could drive
himself to a hospital.
A surfer was killed by a shark at
Gracetown in 2013.
UK court rules against parents who want treatment for son
gather outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital where a terminally-ill
23-month-old toddler Alfie Evans is hospitalized, in Liverpool, England,
Monday, April 16. (John Stillwell/PA via AP)
London (AP) — Britain's Court of
Appeal ruled Monday against the parents of a terminally ill toddler who
sought permission to take him to Italy for medical treatment that lower U.K.
courts blocked in favor of suspending life support.
The parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans
have been engaged in a protracted legal fight with Alder Hey Children's
Hospital over his care. They asked the Court of Appeal to overturn earlier
rulings that blocked further medical treatment for their son.
Instead, justices upheld a lower
court's conclusion that flying Alfie to a hospital in Rome would be wrong
Some protesters gathered outside the
hospital in Liverpool wept at the news of the appeals court's decision. Some
chanted "Save Alfie Evans!"
Alfie is in a "semi-vegetative state"
as the result of a degenerative neurological condition that doctors have
been unable to definitively identify. Lower courts have ordered the boy's
life support to be withdrawn.
Pope Francis prayed Sunday for Alfie
and others who are suffering from serious infirmities. The pope's comments
marked the second case in less than a year in which he expressed his views
on the treatment of a terminally ill British child.
Last July, Francis spoke out on behalf
of Charlie Gard, who died from a rare genetic disease after his parents
waged a protracted court fight to obtain treatment for him outside of
In appealing the lower court rulings,
Alfie's parents, Tom Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, argued their son had
shown improvement in recent weeks. But doctors said his brain was eroded and
his condition was irreversible.
Indian protesters seek end to sexual violence against women
Lawyers participate in a protest against the rape and
murder of an 8-year-old girl, in Jammu, India, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The
girl was grazing her family's ponies in the forests of the Himalayan
foothills when she was kidnapped and her mutilated body found in the woods a
week later. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
NEW DELHI (AP)
— Thousands of people protested across India on Sunday to seek an end to
sexual violence against women, which has been on the rise in the country.
Carrying banners and
placards, protesters marched in New Delhi, Mumbai and other cities,
demanding that India's government quickly prosecute rape suspects.
Candlelight vigils were also held in some places.
The outrage was
triggered by the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in the
Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir and the abduction and rape of a teenage
girl in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state.
expressed particular anger at India's ruling Hindu nationalist party for
initially siding with the accused in the Kashmir case. The young victim was
a Muslim and the accused are Hindus.
A total of at least
nine suspects, including a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party
and four police officials, have been arrested in the two cases.
against women has been on the rise in India despite tough laws enacted in
2013. In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi triggered
massive protests by hundreds of thousands to demand stricter rape laws in
The outrage over the
New Delhi attack spurred quick action on legislation doubling prison terms
for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the
trafficking of women. Indian lawmakers also voted to lower to 16 from 18 the
age at which a person can be tried as an adult for heinous crimes.
UN rejects Russian attempt to condemn US aggression in Syria
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily
Nebenzia, left, Swedish Ambassador to the United Nations Olof Skoog, second
from left, British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce, second
from right, and American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vote
on a resolution during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria,
Saturday, April 14, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary
By Edith M.
United Nations (AP)
- The U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly rejected a Russian resolution
calling for condemnation of "aggression" by the United States, United
Kingdom and France against Syria on Saturday, a vote reflecting support for
the allied airstrikes on Syrian chemical sites.
But the vote at the
end of an emergency meeting called by Russia also demonstrated again the
paralysis of the U.N.'s most powerful body in dealing with Syria's
Russia's demand for
condemnation and an immediate halt to "aggression" and "any further use of
force" by the three Western allies got support from only two other countries
on the 15-member Security Council — China and Bolivia.
By contrast, eight
countries voted against the Russian draft — the U.S., U.K., France,
Netherlands, Sweden, Kuwait, Poland and Ivory Coast. Four countries
abstained — Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea and Peru.
At the meeting, the
fifth in a week on chemical weapons in Syria, Russia and its supporters
again clashed with the U.S. and its allies over a suspected poison gas
attack on April 7 in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
The U.S., U.K. and
France said they launched airstrikes against Syrian chemical sites after
obtaining evidence that a chemical weapon was used by President Bashar
Assad's government. Russia and its ally Syria called the attack fabricated
and said no evidence of chemical weapons use exists in Douma.
Nikki Haley told the council "there is clear information demonstrating
And she said
President Donald Trump told her Saturday morning that if the Syrian regime
uses poisonous gas again "the United States is locked and loaded" to strike
"When our president
draws a red line, our president enforces the red line," Haley stressed. "The
United States of America will not allow the Assad regime to continue using
Ambassador Francois Delattre said the result of the vote sends "a clear
message" that Security Council members recognized the need for the
airstrikes, and "their proportional and targeted nature."
"And what's most
important is no one contests that the use of chemical weapons cannot be
tolerated and must be deterred," he said. "That is essential."
Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the meeting confirmed that the U.S. and its
allies "continue to put international politics and diplomacy in the realm of
myth-making — myths invented in London, Paris and Washington."
"We put facts
contrary to your myths," he said. "If we continue on this path, we will soon
reach the diplomacy of the absurd."
Russia and Syria
also clashed with the three Western allies over the legality of the
airstrikes and responsibility for the Security Council's paralysis.
Ambassador Karen Pierce blamed Russia for repeatedly vetoing resolutions on
the use of chemical weapons in Syria and said the U.K. took military action
"to save lives," on the legal basis of "humanitarian intervention."
"that is wholly within the principles and practices of the United Nations,"
called it "a very sad day for the world, for the U.N., for its Charter which
was blatantly, blatantly violated, and for the Security Council which has
shirked its responsibilities."
"I would like to
believe that we will not see a day that is worse than today," he said.
Delattre said France, Britain and the United States will soon be presenting
the Security Council with a new draft resolution aimed at achieving a
lasting solution to the Syrian conflict that addresses political, chemical
and humanitarian issues.
A draft resolution
circulated by the three countries and obtained late Saturday by The
Associated Press would condemn all use of chemical weapons, especially the
April 7 attack in Douma.
It seeks answers
from Syria on gaps in its chemical weapons declaration to the Organization
for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And it would establish a new body
to determine responsibility for chemical attacks, call for a cease-fire in
Syria, unimpeded access for all humanitarian aid, and an urgent resumption
of negotiations on a political settlement.
saying the environment is "not very conducive for any rapprochement" and
"the political and dangerous military situation we are in now" must be
sorted out first.
"Once again, we
demand an immediate stop to aggression and refrain from the illegal use of
force in the future," he said.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who briefed the council before the vote,
stressed again "the need to avoid the situation from spiraling out of
control" and for a political solution.
Guterres said he has
asked Syrian special envoy Staffan de Mistura to come to New York as soon as
possible to consult "on the most effective way to accelerate the political
Iran deal's fate may rest on late European interventions
In this March 23, 2018, file
photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel speak at a news conference in Brussels. The future of the landmark
Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance and its survival may depend on the
unlikely success of last-minute European interventions with President Donald
Trump. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)
By Matthew Lee
Washington (AP) -
The future of the landmark Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance and its
survival may depend on the unlikely success of last-minute European
interventions with President Donald Trump.
Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are to visit Washington
separately later this month and, barring a sudden trip by British Prime
Minister Theresa May, will likely be the last foreign leaders invested in
the deal to see Trump ahead of his mid-May deadline for the accord to be
strengthened. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the 2015 agreement by May 12
unless U.S., British, French and German negotiators can agree to fix what he
sees as its serious flaws.
Iran has said U.S.
withdrawal from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions would destroy the
agreement and has threatened a range of responses, including immediately
restarting nuclear activities currently barred under the deal.
Negotiators met for
a fourth time last week and made some progress but were unable to reach
agreement on all points, according to U.S. officials and outside advisers to
the Trump administration familiar with the status of the talks. That
potentially leaves the Iran deal's fate to Macron, who will make a state
visit to Washington on April 24, and Merkel, who pays a working visit to the
U.S. capital on April 27, these people said.
"It's important to
them and I know they'll raise their hopes and concerns when they travel here
to the United States in the coming days," Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief and
secretary of state-designate, told lawmakers on Thursday.
at his Senate confirmation hearing came a day after the negotiators met at
the State Department to go over the four issues that Trump says must be
addressed if he is to once again renew sanctions relief for Iran, officials
Those are: Iran's
ballistic missile testing and destabilizing behavior in the region, which
are not covered by the deal, along with inspections of suspected nuclear
sites and so-called "sunset provisions" that gradually allow Iran to resume
advanced nuclear work after several years, which are part of the agreement.
Two senior U.S.
officials said the sides are "close to agreement" on missiles and
inspections but "not there yet" on the sunset provisions.
activities, including its support for Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, Syrian
President Bashar Assad and Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, were dealt with in
a separate session that ended inconclusively, according to the officials,
who like the outside advisers were not authorized to discuss the matter
publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two officials
and two outside advisers said the missile and inspections issues are
essentially settled, but would not detail exactly what had been agreed or
predict whether it would pass muster with Trump, let alone his new national
security adviser John Bolton and Pompeo. Both men are Iran hawks and share
the president's disdain for the deal, which was a signature foreign policy
achievement of former President Barack Obama.
Bolton and Pompeo's
voices on Iran could be heard as senior U.S. officials discussed Trump's
decision to launch airstrikes against Syria on Friday. In addition to
punishing Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons, the strikes were
meant to send a message to Iran about its role in the country, the officials
told reporters on Saturday.
The officials and
advisers said the main sticking point on the Iran deal remains the sunset
provisions, with the Europeans balking at U.S. demands for the automatic
re-imposition of sanctions should Iran engage in advanced nuclear activity
that would be permitted by the agreement once the restrictions expire.
To clear the
impasse, one official and one outside adviser said a compromise is being
considered under which sanctions would be re-imposed if Iran did enough work
to reduce the time it would need to develop a nuclear weapon to less than a
year. The current deal aims to keep Iran's so-called "breakout time" to a
year. But the expiration of the sunset provisions, the first of which is in
2024, means that the breakout time could eventually drop.
The Europeans, who
along with the Iranians, have said they will not re-open the deal for
negotiation, are reluctant to automatically re-impose sanctions for
permitted activity, but have agreed in principle that Iran dropping below a
one-year breakout time should be cause to at least consider new sanctions,
according to the official and the adviser. How that breakout time is
determined is still being discussed, they said.
Given the remaining
differences, U.S. national security officials are stepping up planning for
various "day after" scenarios, including how to sell a pullout as the
correct step for national security, how aggressively to reimpose U.S.
sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the agreement and how to deal
with Iranian and European fallout from such a step.
Martin Sorrell steps down as CEO of advertising giant WPP
In this Wednesday, Dec. 13,
2017 file photo, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, visits the New York Stock
Exchange in New York. Martin Sorrell is stepping down as chief executive of
WPP, the world's largest advertising agency, following allegations of
personal misconduct. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)
By Danica Kirka
London (AP) — Martin
Sorrell is stepping down as chief executive of WPP, the world's largest
advertising agency, following allegations of personal misconduct.
Sorrell, who built
WPP into a global brand during his 33 years at the helm, had been accused of
misusing company assets. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Saturday night as WPP announced that an investigation into the matter had
concluded, with the firm saying only that "the allegation did not involve
amounts that are material."
"As I look ahead, I
see that the current disruption is simply putting too much unnecessary
pressure on the business," Sorrell said in a statement to WPP staff. "That
is why I have decided that, in your interest, in the interest of our
clients, in the interest of all shareowners both big and small, and in the
interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside."
Quarta will lead the company until a new chief executive has been chosen.
Sorrell is a titan
of British business who was named the world's second-best performing CEO in
2017 by the Harvard Business Review. He took a U.K. manufacturer of wire
baskets and built it into a worldwide provider of advertising, public
relations and marketing services through a series of takeovers.
included the J. Walter Thompson Group, the Young & Rubicam Group and the
He was richly
compensated for his efforts.
Sorrell was the
highest-paid CEO among FTSE 100 companies in both 2015 and 2016, according
to a study released last year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development and the High Pay Centre. He received 70.4 million pounds ($100.3
million) in salary, bonuses, incentive rewards, pension payments and other
benefits in 2015, and 48.1 million pounds in 2016, the study found.
"If WPP does well, I
do well," he told the Press Association in April 2016. "Most of my wealth,
if not all of it, is and has been for the last 31 years tied up in the
success of WPP. So if WPP does well, I do well, and others in the company do
well. If we do badly, we suffer."
Defiant Syrians say West hasn't shaken their resolve
A Syrian girl holds up a Syrian national flag with a
picture of President Bashar Assad as government supporters chant slogans
against U.S. President Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S.,
British and French military strikes to punish Assad for suspected chemical
attack against civilians, in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP
Mroue, Bassam Hatoum and Albert Aji
Damascus, Syria (AP)
- Hundreds of Syrians poured into the streets of Damascus on Saturday,
dancing and chanting in defiance of what they called the West's "failure" to
shake their nation's resolve with airstrikes that jolted the capital only
in support of President Bashar Assad were carried live on state TV, which
also reported that Syrian air defenses had intercepted most of the missiles
fired by the United States, Britain and France to punish Syria's purported
use of chemical weapons. The broadcaster also urged people not to believe
media reports that exaggerated the results of the airstrikes.
"We are not scared
of America's missiles. We humiliated their missiles," said Mahmoud Ibrahim,
who waved a Syrian flag as he hung out of his car window.
As car horns blared,
the crowd moved toward nearby Damascus University where pro-government
fighters danced and waved their automatic rifles over their heads. Many
denounced U.S. President Donald Trump and also waved flags of Syria's
allies, Iran and Russia, as they cheered Assad.
The display of
national fervor later mixed with celebrations over the news that the Syrian
army declared the eastern suburbs of Damascus "fully liberated" after the
last group of rebels left the town of Douma. Its recapture marks the biggest
victory for Assad's forces since the capture of the eastern half of the city
of Aleppo in 2016.
The fall of Douma
came after a punishing government offensive and a surrender deal struck with
rebel groups. It also followed the purported use of chemical weapons there
on April 7, which activists say killed over 40 people in the town and led to
Saturday's airstrikes by the West.
"Trump failed in his
aggression," said 51-year-old civil servant Mohammed Hammad. "Trump's
failure came with the victory of our army in Douma, which marks the biggest
victory for the Syrian Arab Army."
began at 4 a.m., with loud explosions thundering in Damascus and the sky
turning orange as fires raged in the distance.
reporters saw smoke rising above eastern Damascus and spotted fiery streaks
of surface-to-air missiles. The call to morning prayers at dawn mixed with
the whoosh of missiles.
Shortly after the
one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers blared nationalist songs.
"Good souls will not
be humiliated," Syria's presidential account tweeted after the airstrikes
Later, a video
showing Assad walking into his office carrying a briefcase was posted on the
same account. "Good morning, steadfastness," the caption read.
As the sun rose,
hundreds had gathered in Damascus' landmark Omayyad Square, celebrating what
they said was the army's success in foiling the U.S-led military action.
The widely broadcast
celebrations and the hastily organized police deployment in Douma appeared
to be the government's response to the airstrikes.
airstrikes came at a time when the Assad government is feeling empowered
after having secured the region near the capital following other military
victories backed by Russia and Iran in seven years of civil war.
Trump announced the
airstrikes Friday night to attack Syria's chemical weapons program. He said
Washington is prepared to keep pressure on Assad until he ends a "criminal
pattern of killing his own people" with the internationally banned weapons.
On Saturday, Trump
tweeted "Mission Accomplished," and the Pentagon said the strikes hit the
"heart" of Syria's chemical program.
The U.S. had fired
Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation
for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.
Syria has repeatedly
denied using banned weapons. Inspectors from the international chemical
weapons watchdog group were in Damascus and had been expected to head to
Douma on Saturday.
The limited strikes
were deplored by the Syrian opposition, which saw the West as lacking an
international strategy for dealing with the civil war.
Nasr al-Hariri, a
senior opposition leader, said the international community must take
responsibility for any retaliation by the Syrian government against
civilians in opposition areas. He called for a strategy that leads to a
political solution to "save it from the brutality of the Syrian regime."
spokesman for the Army of Islam rebel group that was expelled from Douma,
tweeted that the airstrikes were a "farce."
A Syrian military
statement said 110 missiles were fired Saturday by the U.S., Britain and
France and that it shot down most of them. Russia's military said Syrian air
defense units downed 71 of the missiles.
Marine Lt. Gen.
Kenneth F. McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said no
missiles were stopped. He added that Syria's air defenses were ineffective
and that many of the more than 40 surface-to-air missiles fired by the
Syrians were launched after the allied attack was over. He said the U.S.
knew of no civilians killed by allied missiles.
The Syrian military
said three civilians were wounded in one of the strikes in Homs.
A "number of
missiles" targeted a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus,
and destroyed a building housing an education center and labs and caused
other damage, the military said.
An AP reporter who
went to the Center for Scientific Research on the northeastern edge of
Damascus found the three-story building almost completely destroyed and
still smoking hours after it was hit. An official there said the facility
was used by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and helped develop
Gen. Joseph Dunford,
chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a chemical weapons storage
facility west of Homs also was targeted and was believed to be the main site
of Syrian sarin production equipment. A chemical weapons equipment storage
facility and an important command post, west of Homs, also were targeted, he
Russia and Iran
called the use of force a "military crime" and "act of aggression." The U.N.
Security Council met to debate the strikes, but rejected a Russian
resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" by the three Western
US, allies attack Syria to stop chemical weapons
Explosions and anti-aircraft fire light up the
skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as the U.S. launches an attack on
Syria, early Saturday, April 14. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Robert Burns, Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin
Washington (AP) — The United
States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish
President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians and
to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday.
Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump
spoke from the White House.
Syrian television reported that Syria's
air defenses, which are substantial, have responded to the attack.
Trump said the U.S. is prepared to
sustain pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal
pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical
weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied
military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile
British Prime Minister Theresa May said
in London that the West had tried "every possible" diplomatic means to stop
Assad from using chemical weapons. "But our efforts have been repeatedly
thwarted" by Syria and Russia, she said.
"So there is no practicable alternative
to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the
Syrian regime," May said. "This is not about intervening in a civil war. It
is not about regime change."
Trump did not provide details on the
joint U.S.-British-French attack, but it was expected to include barrages of
cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main
aim as establishing "a strong deterrent" against chemical weapons use. The
Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
The decision to strike, after days of
deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria; he authorized a
barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April
2017 in retaliation for Assad's alleged use of sarin gas against civilians.
The air campaign could frustrate those
in Trump's base who oppose military intervention and are wary of open-ended
Trump chastised Syria's two main
allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting "murderous
dictators," and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a
2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical
weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a
more responsible regime in Damascus.
"Russia must decide if it will continue
down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force
for stability and peace," Trump said. "Hopefully, someday we'll get along
with Russia, and maybe even Iran — but maybe not."
The allied operation comes a year after
the U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from
further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense
attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks,
and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and
chemical facilities, among other things.
The one-off missile strike in April
2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their
A broader question is whether the
allied attacks are part of a revamped, coherent political strategy to end
the war on terms that do not leave Assad in power.
Friday's strikes appear to signal
Trump's willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian
conflict. Just weeks ago, Trump said he wanted to end U.S. involvement in
Syria and bring American troops home to focus on the homeland. The
participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider
international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the
multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.
In his nationwide address, Trump
stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
"America does not seek an indefinite
presence in Syria under no circumstances," he said. "As other nations step
up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops on the
ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State
fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria,
far from Damascus. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in
Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break
the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.
1 Palestinian killed, 223 wounded by Israeli fire
Palestinian protesters run for cover from
teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border
with Israel, Friday, April 13. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
Fares Akram and Mohammed Daraghmeh
Gaza City, Gaza Strip (AP) —
Thousands of Palestinians, some burning Israeli flags and torching tires,
staged a mass protest on Gaza's sealed border with Israel for a third
consecutive Friday, as part of a pressure campaign to break a decade-old
blockade of their territory.
Israeli live fire from across the
border fence killed a 28-year-old Palestinian man and wounded at least 223,
Gaza health officials said.
The death brought to 28 the number of
protesters killed in two weeks, with more than 1,500 wounded by Israeli fire
since March 30, they said.
The marches have been organized by
Gaza's Hamas rulers, but large turnouts on two preceding Fridays were also
driven by desperation among the territory's 2 million residents who have
been enduring a crippling border closure by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
"We want to live like everyone else in
the world," said 37-year-old construction worker Omar Hamada, an unemployed
father of eight. "We came here so the world can see us and know that life
here is miserable, and that there should be a solution."
On Friday, the turnout seemed to be
significantly lower than on previous Fridays — some 10,000 protesters
according to the Israeli military — raising questions about the organizers'
goal of keeping the mass marches going until mid-May.
Gaza's Health Ministry said that 969
people were hurt Friday, including 223 by live fire and the rest by tear
gas, rubber-coated steel pellets or shrapnel. Fifteen of the wounded were in
serious conditions, including a Gaza journalist. The count also included 67
minors and 20 women, health officials said.
Rights groups have described the
Israeli military's open-fire regulations as unlawful, saying they permit
soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.
Israel has accused Gaza's Islamic
militant Hamas rulers of using the protests as a cover for attacks and says
snipers only target the main "instigators."
On Friday, most of the demonstrators
assembled at five tent camps located several hundred meters (yards) from the
Smaller groups moved closer to the
fence, throwing stones, torching tires and burning large Israeli flags, U.S.
flags, as well as posters of Israel's prime minister and defense minister.
Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky.
Israeli forces fired tear gas,
rubber-coated steel pellets and live rounds. Military spokesman Lt. Col.
Jonathan Conricus said that Palestinians repeatedly tried to damage the
border fence, throwing several explosives and fire bombs at it.
Footage distributed by the military
showed an area of the fence made up of several layers of barbed wire coils.
Protesters stuck a Palestinian flag into the fence and affixed a rope, using
it to tug at the coils. One man threw a burning tire into the fence, while
another was seen walking nearby with the help of a crutch.
Gaza has endured a border blockade by
Israel and Egypt since Hamas overran the territory in 2007, a year after
winning Palestinian parliament elections.
The blockade has driven Gaza deeper
into poverty, with unemployment approaching 50 percent and electricity
available for less than five hours a day.
The marchers are protesting against the
blockade, but are also asserting what they say is a "right of return" of
Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
Hamas leaders have sent mixed signals
about whether they plan an eventual mass breach of the border fence. The
protests are to culminate in a large rally on May 15, the 70th anniversary
of Israel's creation. Palestinians mourn the event as their "nakba," or
catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted in the 1948 war over
Several thousand people gathered Friday
at one of the tent camps, east of Gaza City. The camp was decked out in
Palestinian flags. At the entrance, organizers had laid a large Israeli flag
on the ground for protesters to step on.
Hamada, the construction worker, was
critical of Hamas, saying the group has set back Gaza by decades, but added
that "this is the reality and we have to deal with it."
Critics argue that Hamas' refusal to
disarm is a key reason for the continued blockade. One path toward lifting
the blockade would be to have Hamas' political rival, West Bank-based
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, take over the Gaza government, but
recent Egypt-led talks on such a deal appear to have run aground.
The debate over Israel's open-fire
regulations has intensified with a rising number of dead and wounded since
the first protests on March 30.
In all, 35 Palestinians were killed in
the past two weeks, 28 during protests. Seven were killed in other
circumstances, including six militants engaged in apparent attempts to carry
out attacks or infiltrate Israel.
The Israeli military has argued that
Gaza militant groups are trying to turn the border area into a combat zone,
and said it has a right to defend its sovereign border.
Conricus said Friday that the military
is trying to minimize Palestinian casualties, but hadn't changed open-fire
Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel's
centrist Yesh Atid party, called Hamas a "despicable terror organization"
and accused it of exploiting civilians. He said the Israeli military is
"operating against it (Hamas) with determination and according to
Human rights groups have reiterated
that soldiers can only use lethal force if they face an apparent imminent
threat to their lives.
The Israeli rights group B'Tselem said
Friday that open-fire policy must not be dictated by worst case scenarios,
such as a feared mass breach of the border. "An order to open live fire at
unarmed protesters is manifestly unlawful," it said.
Another Israeli group, Breaking The
Silence, published a statement by five former snipers in the Israeli
military who said they were "filled with shame and sorrow" over the recent
incidents in Gaza.
"Instructing snipers to shoot to kill
unarmed demonstrators who pose no danger to human life, is another product
of the occupation and military rule over millions of Palestinian people, as
well as of our country's callous leadership, and derailed moral path," said
The group has been criticized in Israel
for publishing often anonymous testimony by current or former Israeli
soldiers who have misgivings about their military service and treatment of
The five ex-snipers in Friday's
statement were identified by name.
Taiwan leader inspects navy as China prepares drills
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen boards a KIDD
class destroyer during a navy exercise in Suao naval station, Yilan County,
northeast of Taiwan, Friday, April 13. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Taipei, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen reviewed
military drills Friday ahead of planned war games by China amid rising
tensions between the rivals.
Tsai went aboard a U.S.-made destroyer
in the port of Su'ao as the island's armed forces simulated breaking a
blockade of the self-ruled island.
China, which claims Taiwan as its
territory, has scheduled live-fire war games in the Taiwan Strait for next
Wednesday. That follows Beijing's heated objections to U.S. moves to
strengthen relations with Taiwan's democratic, independence-leaning
Despite a lack of formal ties,
Washington is legally bound to respond to threats to Taiwan and is the
island's main supplier of foreign military hardware.
Chinese officials have denounced the
recent passage of a U.S. law encouraging more high-level government contacts
with Taiwan, saying that violates U.S. commitments not to restore formal
exchanges severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from
Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
An agreement to provide Taiwan with
submarine manufacturing technology and the appointment of hawkish National
Security Adviser John Bolton have also hardened views among anti-America
nationalists in China.
In a reiteration of China's military
resolve, President Xi Jinping spoke about the importance of naval power
while attending a massive fleet review on Thursday in the South China Sea.
"The mission of building a mighty
people's navy has never been more urgent than it is today," Xi, dressed in
army fatigues, said in remarks delivered on the helicopter deck of one of
China's most advanced destroyers. "Strive to make the people's navy a
first-rate world navy."
Indonesia's Aceh to take caning indoors after backlash
In this Tuesday, May 23, 2017 file photo, a
Shariah law official whips a man convicted of gay sex during a public caning
outside a mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province Indonesia. (AP Photo/Heri
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's conservative Aceh province
will no longer allow canings for violations of Shariah law to be carried out
in public, its governor said Thursday, apparently in response to
international condemnation of the caning last year of two men for gay sex
that damaged Indonesia's moderate image.
A memorandum of understanding signed by
Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf and Yuspahruddin, head of the provincial Law and
Human Rights office, stipulates that caning can only take place inside
prisons or other places of detention.
It says adults can still witness the
punishment but recording won't be allowed. The numbers of people will be
much smaller than the hundreds who regularly cheered the outdoor
"The aim of holding the caning inside
prison is to prevent it from being watched by children, without cameras and
hand phones," Yusuf said after signing the memorandum, witnessed by
Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly.
Aceh is the only province in
Muslim-majority Indonesia that practices Shariah law, a concession made by
the central government in 2001 as part of efforts to end a decades-long war
Human Rights Watch dismissed the change
to indoor whipping as cosmetic and called for Aceh to abolish caning and the
laws that allow it. It said caning remains a form of torture whether it is
carried out in public or not.
"Torture is torture whether you do it
in public, outside a mosque after Friday prayers, or inside a room, banning
anyone from taking a picture," said the group's Indonesia researcher,
Andreas Harsono. "It's still torture, it's still traumatizing."
Human Rights Watch also appealed for
Aceh to release four people arrested in March for same-sex conduct, who each
face up to 100 lashes under the province's Islamic criminal code.
Hundreds of people have been publicly
caned since the punishment was introduced in Aceh in 2005.
The province's implementation of
Shariah law has become increasingly harsh and now also applies to
non-Muslims. Last May, the province for the first time caned two men for gay
sex after vigilantes broke into their home and handed them over to religious
Footage of the men, both in their 20s,
being caned dozens of times in front of a baying crowd galvanized
international criticism of Shariah law in the province and was another blow
to Indonesia's reputation for moderation following the imprisonment of the
capital Jakarta's minority Christian governor for blaspheming Islam.
Making the canings private was proposed
in July last year after Yusuf met with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo amid
concerns that tourism and investment could be affected.
The last canings were on Feb. 27, when
five people including two Christians convicted of gambling were punished in
the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
China plans Taiwan Strait live-fire exercises amid tensions
In this April 12, 2018, Chinese President Xi
Jinping, center in green military uniform, poses with soldiers on a navy
ship after he reviewed the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy fleet
in the South China Sea. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)
Beijing (AP) — China announced
it will hold live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait amid
heightened tensions over increased American support for Taiwan's government.
The announcement coincided with
President Xi Jinping speaking on the importance of Chinese naval power while
attending a massive fleet review Thursday in the South China Sea off the
coast of Hainan province.
"The mission of building a mighty
people's navy has never been more urgent than it is today," Xi, dressed in
army fatigues, said in remarks on the helicopter deck of one of China's most
advanced destroyers. "Strive to make the people's navy a first-rate world
State media said the fleet review
included 48 ships, among them China's sole operating aircraft carrier, the
Liaoning, along with 76 helicopters, fighter jets and bombers, and more than
10,000 personnel, making it the largest since the founding of the People's
Republic of China in 1949.
The navy began three days of exercises
off Hainan on Wednesday, but ended them a day early on Thursday, the
provincial maritime safety administration said.
No explanation was given for the
curtailment of the drills or the Taiwan Strait exercise, and the Defense
Ministry did not immediately respond to questions. The maritime safety
authority in the coastal province of Fujian said the one-day Taiwan Strait
drill will be held next Wednesday.
Taiwan's defense ministry responded
with a statement saying the exercises appeared to be part of scheduled
annual drills, and that they were closely monitoring the situation and fully
capable of responding. "Citizens please feel at ease," the statement said.
While Beijing responded mildly to
President Donald Trump's early outreach to Taiwan's independence-leaning
government, recent developments have prompted a tougher response. China
claims Taiwan as its own territory and says the sides, which separated
during the Chinese civil war in 1949, must eventually be united, by force if
Despite a lack of formal ties,
Washington is legally bound to respond to threats to Taiwan and is the
island's main supplier of foreign military hardware.
Chinese officials have denounced the
recent passage of a U.S. law encouraging more high-level contacts with
Taiwan. China says the Taiwan Travel Act violates U.S. commitments not to
restore formal exchanges severed when Washington switched diplomatic
recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
An agreement to provide Taiwan with
submarine manufacturing technology and the appointment of hawkish National
Security Adviser John Bolton have also hardened views among anti-American
nationalists in China.
Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office on
Wednesday warned against additional moves to strengthen relations with
"Any attempt to play the 'Taiwan card'
would only be futile," spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said. China, Ma said, would
"not hesitate to protect our core interests."
Last month, President Xi delivered a
strongly nationalistic speech in which he vowed to protect "every inch" of
China's territory. "All acts and tricks to split the motherland are doomed
to failure and will be condemned by the people and punished by history!" Xi
China has also stepped up air force
missions around Taiwan and has repeatedly sailed the Liaoning through the
160-kilometer (100-mile) -wide Taiwan Strait.
The just-completed naval drills off
Hainan underscored China's growing capabilities in defending its maritime
interests and territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea, which
it claims virtually in its entirety. An estimated $5 trillion in global
trade passes through the waterway annually, and China has constructed
airstrips and other installations on artificial islands to enlarge its
The drills near Hainan follow recent
ones in the sea that featured the Liaoning, amid deployments and drills by
the rival U.S. Navy.
China is building new vessels at a
rapid pace to equip its navy, coast guard and maritime law enforcement
agencies, including its first entirely domestically built aircraft carrier.
Hainan is home to a major military
presence, including naval air stations and the country's largest submarine
This week it also hosted a global
business forum that included a smattering of world leaders, among them
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose country is a U.S. treaty ally
and has overlapping claims with Beijing in the South China Sea.
Inspectors head to site of suspected gas attack in Syria
A man rides his bicycle past a banner showing
Syrian President Bashar Assad in front the Ottoman-era Hijaz train station
in the Syrian capital, Damascus, Syria, Thursday, April 12. (AP Photo/Hassan
Bassem Mroue and Sarah el Deeb
Damascus, Syria (AP) — A team of
inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog was on its way
to Syria on Thursday to begin an investigation into a suspected chemical
weapons attack near the capital that has brought the war-torn country to the
brink of a wider conflict, amid Western threats of retaliation and Russian
warnings of the potential for "a dangerous escalation."
The fact-finding mission from the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was expected to head to
Douma, where the suspected attack took place and where Russia said rebels
had now capitulated to government control. The Syrian government said it
would facilitate the mission's investigation, which was to begin Saturday.
Syria and its ally, Russia, deny any
such attack, which activists say killed more than 43 people last weekend.
Speaking at the United Nations on
Thursday, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the top priority
had to be to avert a wider war, and he didn't rule out the possibility of a
U.S.-Russia conflict. Speaking to reporters after a closed emergency meeting
of the U.N. Security Council, Nebenzia said Russia was very concerned with
"the dangerous escalation" of the situation and "aggressive policies" and
preparations that some governments were making — a clear reference to the
Trump administration and its allies.
"We hope that there will be no point of
no return — that the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action
against a sovereign state," Nebenzia said, adding that "the danger of
escalation is higher than simply Syria."
The imminent arrival of the chemical
weapons inspectors came as rebels in Douma surrendered their weapons and
left the town for opposition-held areas in the north. Russia's military said
Thursday that Douma was now under full control of the Syrian government
after a Russian-mediated deal secured the evacuation of the rebels and
thousands of civilians after it was recaptured by Syrian forces.
Douma and the sprawling eastern Ghouta
region near the capital, Damascus, had been under rebel control since 2012
and was a thorn in the side of President Bashar Assad's government,
threatening his seat of power with missiles and potential advances for
years. The government's capture of Douma, the last town held by the rebels
in eastern Ghouta, marked a major victory for Assad.
Residents in Damascus, who had lived on
edge for years because of mortar shells lobbed from eastern Ghouta,
celebrated the news. Vehicles carrying Syrian flags were seen driving from
Damascus into Douma, chanting in support of the government.
"This is a victory for Syria and the
allies of Syria," declared Abboud Mardini, a 38-year old merchant in
Damascus. "Eastern Ghouta was the main source of ... terrorists who from
there spread throughout Syria."
There was no official government
announcement that Douma had been recaptured and no indication that Syrian
forces had yet entered the town, where Russian military police were deployed
to preserve the peace after an evacuation fraught with difficulties. A
single government flag was raised, a war monitoring group said.
Hamza Bayraqdar, spokesman for Jaysh
al-Islam, the main rebel group that once controlled Douma, said his fighters
had all evacuated. They handed over their heavy and medium weapons, as well
as maps of land mines and the tunnels they dug, according to Syrian state
Douma and the rest of eastern Ghouta
had been a significant rebel stronghold throughout Syria's civil war and its
surrender came after years of siege by Assad's troops and a months-long
military offensive. It followed weeks of negotiations mediated by Russia
that repeatedly were derailed. A truce collapsed last week and the Syrian
government pressed ahead with its military offensive.
Then came the suspected chemical attack
in Douma, followed by international condemnation and threats of military
Amid conflicting tweets about the
timing of any retaliation, President Donald Trump said Thursday that an
attack on Syria could take place "very soon or not so soon at all." On
Capitol Hill, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the National Security
Council would be meeting later Thursday to present Trump with various
options, adding that he could not talk about any military plans because an
attack "is not yet in the offing."
Meanwhile, the British Cabinet on
Thursday gave Prime Minister Theresa May the green light to work with the
U.S. and France "to coordinate an international response," though it gave no
indication of the timing or scale of any action.
President Emmanuel Macron said France
had proof that the Syrian government had launched chlorine gas attacks in
recent days, adding that his government would not tolerate "regimes that
think everything is permitted," though he stopped short of saying whether
France was planning military action.
In response to the threats, Assad said
Thursday that a potential retaliation would be based on "lies" and would
seek to undermine his forces' recent advances near Damascus. Western threats
endanger international peace and security, Assad said, and military action
would only contribute to the "further destabilization" of the region.
After the back-and-forth coming from
Washington, Moscow and European Union capitals, residents in Damascus
appeared to have brushed off the threat of an imminent attack.
The streets of Damascus were packed
Thursday with people headed to the city's main market, cafes and
restaurants. At Nabil Nafiseh, one of Damascus's most famous sweets shops,
men, women and children sat outdoors enjoying the evening breeze and
nibbling on Arab sweets.
Some residents were defiant. Real
estate agent Ahmad Abdul-Rahman said he had brought his wife and three sons
from his hometown of Aleppo, where there are no significant military
targets, to Damascus to be together in case of an attack.
"I came here to defy the dogs who are
threatening Syria," the 43-year-old said. "We don't care about America nor
America's strike and we don't care about America's allies. We were not
scared in Aleppo and we are not scared in Damascus."
Rafah al-Okda, a 21-year-old nursing
student at Damascus University, said she had not changed her routine
following the threats.
"Syria is a strong country, but our
allies Russia and Iran make us stronger," she said.
Ahmad al-Issa, 46, ruled out a U.S.
airstrike, saying Trump has in the past threatened to wipe North Korea off
the map, then ended up calling for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim
"Even if he (Trump) fires what he calls
smart bombs, at us they will be stupid bombs because they will backfire on
him and Syrians will be stronger," al-Issa said.
Vietnam jails 2 more activists in stepped up crackdown
Activist Tran Thi Xuan stands trial in Ha Tinh
province, Vietnam, Thursday, April 12. (Cong Tuong/Vietnam News Agency via
Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — Courts in central Vietnam on Thursday handed
down lengthy prison terms against two activists as communist authorities
stepped up their crackdown on dissent.
The two were given nine and seven years
respectively for attempting to overthrow the government and spreading
anti-state propaganda in two separate trials.
Nguyen Viet Dung, 32, was convicted of
spreading anti-state propaganda by writing and posting on his Facebook page
and blogs articles that the judges say distorted government policies and
defamed the country's leaders. His lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan said he was also
found guilty of flying the flag of former U.S.-backed South Vietnam and
shooting video and photographs and posting them on Facebook.
The court also ordered Dung to serve
five years of house arrest after completing his prison sentence.
Dung confessed his crimes during the
proceedings, the lawyer said, adding that the court rejected his argument
for lesser sentences.
Meanwhile, the People's Court in
neighboring Ha Tinh province convicted Tran Thi Xuan of attempting to
overthrow the government and sentenced her to nine years in prison and five
years of house arrest, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
Xuan, 42, was accused of affiliating
with an outlawed group named Brotherhood for Democracy and instigating
protests following pollution by Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastic Group's
steel complex that devastated the fishing industry and tourism in four
central provinces two years ago, VNA reported.
Their sentences came just days after
seven activists belonging to the same group, including prominent human
rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, were convicted and imprisoned to between seven
to 15 years for subversion.
Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch have called for Dung's release.
"Vietnamese authorities regularly claim
to respect human rights but their actions suggest precisely the opposite,"
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director said in a
statement. "Vietnam's government wrongly believe that freedom of expression
and association only translate into only saying and doing things approved by
the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam."
Despite sweeping economic reforms
launched in the mid-1980s that made the country one of fastest growing in
the region, the communist government tolerates no challenge to its one-party
International human rights groups and
some Western governments often criticize Vietnam for jailing those who
peacefully express their views, but Hanoi says only law breakers are
New Zealand puts brakes on search for oil in bid to go green
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is
shown in this March 2, 2018 file photo. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Wellington, New Zealand (AP) —
Signaling its commitment to a clean energy future, New Zealand's
government announced Thursday it won't issue any more permits for
offshore oil and gas exploration.
The move won't affect existing
permits for exploration or extraction, meaning the industry is likely to
continue in the South Pacific nation for several more decades.
Still, the move is a change in
direction after voters last year elected the liberal government led by
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. That followed nine years of conservative
leadership under a government that favored expanding the industry.
Ardern has pledged to go green by
reducing the country's net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Her
government also plans to plant 100 million trees each year and ensure
the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy.
The oil and gas industry is
relatively small in New Zealand, employing about 11,000 people and
accounting for about 1 percent of the overall economy. It is dwarfed in
importance by farming and tourism.
But the industry is important to
the Taranaki region, where most of the activity is centered.
New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom told
Radio New Zealand the move was a "kick in the guts for the future of the
But Ardern said nobody would be
losing their jobs as a result of the move.
"We're striking the right balance
for New Zealand," Ardern said. "We're protecting existing industry, and
protecting future generations from climate change."
Opposition lawmaker Jonathan Young
described the move as "economic vandalism."
"This decision is devoid of any
rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change," Young
said. "These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the
world, not reduce emissions."
The idea of an expansion in
offshore drilling has proved contentious in New Zealand, particularly
after problems elsewhere like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in
the Gulf of Mexico.
Environmental group Greenpeace
hailed Ardern's move. Russel Norman, the group's executive director in
New Zealand, said the country "has stood up to one of the most powerful
industries in the world."
The announcement does not apply to
onshore exploration permits. The government said those would continue
for the next three years and be reviewed after that..