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Update April - May, 2019


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Naruhito inherits regalia in first duty as Japanese emperor

Japan's new Emperor Naruhito receives the Imperial regalia of sword and jewel as proof of succession at the ceremony at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Japan Pool via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Japan's new Emperor Naruhito inherited the Imperial regalia of sword and jewel and seals as proof of his succession in his first official duty as emperor Wednesday a day after his father abdicated.

Naruhito succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne at midnight after Emperor Emeritus Akihito retired the previous day. At another ceremony later in the morning, Naruhito will make his first address to the people.

His wife, Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, and their daughter Princess Aiko, were barred from the first ceremony, where only adult male royals participated. Only his brother, now Crown Prince Fumihito, and his uncle Prince Hitachi were allowed to witness. Their guests included a female Cabinet minister, however, as the Imperial House Law has no provision on the gender of the commoners in attendance.

The regalia, which include sword and jewel, in a box each and wrapped in cloth, were presented to Naruhito, who wore a tuxedo with decorations.

Japan was in a festive mood celebrating an imperial succession that occurred by retirement rather than by death. Many people stood outside the palace Tuesday to reminisce about Akihito's era, others joined midnight events when the transition occurred, and more came to celebrate the beginning of Naruhito's reign.

From a car window on his way to palace, Naruhito smiled and waved at the people on the sidewalk who cheered him. He and his family still live at the crown prince's Togu palace until they switch places with his parents.

He is the nation's 126th emperor, according to a palace count historians say could include mythical figures until around the 5th century.

The emperor under Japan's constitution is a symbol without political power. Naruhito is free of influence from Japan's imperial worship that was fanned by the wartime militarist government that had deified the emperor as a living god until his grandfather renounced that status after Japan's 1945 war defeat.

Naruhito has promised to emulate his father in seeking peace and staying close to people. Palace watchers say he might focus on global issues, including disaster prevention, water conservation and climate change, which could appeal to younger Japanese.

He will also face uncertainties in the Imperial household. Only his younger brother, Prince Akishino, 53, and Akishino's 12-year-old son, Prince Hisahito, can currently succeed him. The Imperial House Law confines the succession to male heirs, leaving Naruhito's daughter, Aiko, now 17, out of the running.

Naruhito's wife Masako is a Harvard-educated former diplomat who may prove an adept partner in his overseas travels and activities. But much will depend on her health, since she has been recovering from what the palace describes as stress-induced depression for about 15 years.

Naruhito, the first Japanese emperor to have studied abroad, is considered a new breed of royal, his outlook forged by the tradition-defying choices of his parents. Akihito devoted his three-decade career to making amends for a war fought in his father's name while bringing the aloof monarchy closer to the people. Empress Emeritus Michiko was born a commoner and was Catholic educated. Together, they reached out to the people, especially those who faced handicaps and discrimination, and natural disasters.

Naruhito is also the first monarch raised by his own parents, as Akihito and Michiko, who was born a commoner, chose to take care of their children instead of leaving them in the hands of palace staff. They also supported his choice to attend Oxford University, where he researched the history of the Thames River transportation systems.

In an annual news conference marking his Feb. 23 birthday, Naruhito said he was open to taking up a new role that "suits the times." But he said his father's work will be his guidepost.


Clashes rock Venezuela as Guaido, Maduro vie for power

 

An anti-government protester walks near a bus that was set on fire by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during clashes between rebel and loyalist soldiers in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Scott Smith and Christopher Torchia

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition leader Juan Guaidó took a bold step to revive his movement to seize power in Venezuela, taking to the streets Tuesday to call for a military uprising that drew quick support from the Trump administration and fierce resistance from forces loyal to socialist Nicolas Maduro.

The violent street battles that erupted in parts of Caracas were the most serious challenge yet to Maduro's rule. And while the rebellion seemed to have garnered only limited military support, at least one high-ranking official announced he was breaking with Maduro, in a setback for the embattled president.

In a Tuesday night appearance on national television, Maduro declared that the opposition had attempted to impose an "illegitimate government" with the support of the United States and neighboring Colombia. He said Venezuela had been a victim of "aggression of all kinds."

Meanwhile, Guaidó sought to keep the momentum going at the end of the day by releasing his own video message in which he pressed Venezuelans to take to the streets again on Wednesday.

The competing quests to solidify a hold on power capped a dramatic day that included a tense moment when several armored vehicles plowed into a group of anti-government demonstrators trying to storm the capital's air base, hitting at least two protesters.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said the Trump administration was waiting for three key officials, including Maduro's defense minister and head of the supreme court, to act on what he said were private pledges to remove Maduro. He did not provide details.

The stunning events began early Tuesday when Guaidó, flanked by a few dozen national guardsmen and some armored crowd-control vehicles, released the three-minute video shot near the Carlota air base.

In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, Guaido's political mentor and the nation's most-prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him. Detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces adhering to an order from Guaidó.

"I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers," Lopez declared.

As the two opposition leaders coordinated actions from a highway overpass, troops loyal to Maduro fired tear gas from inside the adjacent air base.

A crowd that quickly swelled to a few thousand scurried for cover, reappearing later with Guaidó at a plaza a few blocks from the disturbances. A smaller group of masked youths stayed behind on the highway, lobbing rocks and Molotov cocktails toward the air base and setting a government bus on fire.

Amid the mayhem, several armored utility vehicles careened over a berm and drove at full speed into the crowd. Two demonstrators, lying on the ground with their heads and legs bloodied, were rushed away on a motorcycle as the vehicles sped away dodging fireballs thrown by the demonstrators.

"It's now or never," said one of the young rebellious soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna worn by the few dozen insurgent soldiers.

The head of a medical center near the site of the street battles said doctors were treating 50 people, about half of them with injuries suffered from rubber bullets. At least one person had been shot with live ammunition. Venezuelan human rights group Provea said a 24-year-old man was shot and killed during an anti-government protest in the city of La Victoria.

Later Tuesday, Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence in Caracas, where another political ally has been holed up for over a year. They later moved to the Spanish embassy. There were also reports that 25 troops who had been with Guaidó fled to Brazil's diplomatic mission.

Amid the confusion, Maduro tried to project an image of strength, saying he had spoken to several regional military commanders who reaffirmed their loyalty.

"Nerves of steel!" he said in a message posted on Twitter.

Flanked by top military commanders, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López condemned Guaido's move as a "terrorist" act and "coup attempt" that was bound to fail like past uprisings.

"Those who try to take Miraflores with violence will be met with violence," he said on national television, referring to the presidential palace where hundreds of government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered in response to a call to defend Maduro.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the "right-wing extremists" would not succeed in fracturing the armed forces, which have largely stood with the socialist leader throughout the months of turmoil.

"Since 2002, we've seen the same pattern," Arreaza told The Associated Press. "They call for violence, a coup, and send people into the streets so that there are confrontations and deaths. And then from the blood they try to construct a narrative."

But in a possible sign that Maduro's inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela's secret police penned a letter breaking ranks with the embattled leader.

Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the head of Venezuela's feared SEBIN intelligence agency, wrote a letter to the Venezuelan people saying that while he has always been loyal to Maduro it is now time to "rebuild the country."

He lamented that corruption has become so rampant that "many high-ranking public servants practice it like a sport."

"The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics," he wrote. "To build the homeland our children and grandchildren deserve."

The letter circulating on social media was confirmed by a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge details of the case. He said the general's wife is currently outside the country.

Guaidó said he called for the uprising to restore Venezuela's constitutional order, broken when Maduro was sworn in earlier this year for a second term following elections boycotted by the opposition and considered illegitimate by dozens of countries.

He said that in the coming hours he would release a list of top commanders supporting the uprising.

"The armed forces have taken the right decision," said Guaidó. "With the support of the Venezuelan people and the backing of our constitution they are on the right side of history."

Anti-government demonstrators gathered in several other cities, although there were no reports that Guaidó's supporters had taken control of any military installations.

As events unfolded, governments from around the world expressed support for Guaidó while reiterating calls to avoid violent confrontation.

Bolton declined to discuss possible actions - military or otherwise - but reiterated that "all options" are on the table as President Donald J. Trump monitors developments "minute by minute."

He said he was waiting for key power brokers including Padrino, Supreme Court chief justice Maikel Moreno and head of the presidential guard to make good on their commitments to achieve the peaceful transfer of power to Guaidó.

"All agreed that Maduro had to go. They need to be able to act this afternoon, or this evening, to help bring other military forces to the side of the interim president," Bolton said.  "If this effort fails, (Venezuela) will sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives."

Elsewhere, Spain's socialist caretaker government urged restraint, while the governments of Cuba and Bolivia reiterated their support for Maduro.


As police wait to arrest him, ex-Peru president kills self

In this July 28, 2006 file photo, Peruvian President Alan García waves to a crowd after his swearing-in ceremony while he walks through the streets of Lima, Peru. (AP Photo/Ernesto Benavides)

Franklin Briceño and Christine Armario

Lima, Peru (AP) — Former President Alan Garcia mortally wounded himself with a gunshot to his head Wednesday as officers waited to arrest him in a big graft probe that has put Peru's most prominent politicians behind bars and provoked a reckoning over corruption.

Authorities broke through a door at Garcia's mansion in a leafy, upscale neighborhood of the Peruvian capital after hearing gunfire. The 69-year-old former head of state was rushed to a hospital, where a team of doctors performed emergency surgery but could not save him.

"The president, upset over this situation, knowing his absolute innocence ... had this terrible accident," said his lawyer, Erasmo Reyna.

It was a shocking end for a man who twice governed Peru — once in the 1980s and then again more than two decades later. In more recent years, he became ensnared in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal, a sweeping investigation of politicians' dealings with the giant Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

No country outside Brazil has gone as far as Peru in prosecuting politicians tied to Odebrecht, which admitted in a 2016 plea agreement in the U.S. that it paid nearly $800 million throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

Peruvian politicians have described the investigation as a political witch hunt. Prosecutors and anti-corruption advocates insist the arrests show the South American nation is finally holding leaders accountable.

Several leaders called on Peruvians to set aside politics as the nation mourns Garcia, a populist firebrand whose second presidency helped usher in a commodities-led investment boom.

"It doesn't matter your political hue, Peru is in mourning," politician Gilbert Violeta wrote on Twitter. "This is a tragedy for our country."

Condolences poured in from throughout Latin America as leaders recalled a man who at his peak was called the John F. Kennedy of Latin America.

"With virtues and imperfections, he realized great changes that allowed Peru's economy to become one of the fastest-growing in Latin America and in the world," former Mexican President Felipe Calderon said.

Garcia was born into a middle-class family in the capital, the child of a politician father whose party became Garcia's own. He went on to a career marked by epic triumphs and devastating setbacks, a rollercoaster of a political life fueled by his charisma and capacity for reinvention.

Ultimately, though, the former president was an increasingly isolated figure. As investigators closed in, he argued that he was the victim of false testimony about taking bribes from Odebrecht during the construction of Lima's metro. He had not been formally charged.

In December, Garcia sought asylum in Uruguay's embassy, staying there for a little more than two weeks before his request was denied. Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez said there was no evidence to support Garcia's contention he was being political targeted.

He vowed to cooperate with any investigation and defended himself up to the day before his death.

"I am not mentioned in any document and in any evidence," he wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "They're left to SPECULATE or invent intermediaries. I never sold out and it's proven."

When authorities arrived Wednesday at Garcia's home, they met him on the staircase to the second floor. He asked for a moment to call his attorney, entered another room and closed the door behind him. Moments later, gunfire rang out. Police found him seated, bleeding profusely, Interior Minister Carlos Moran said.

Supporters who had gathered outside the hospital wept as word of his death spread. Some held each other in embrace. Others cried out. A line of officers in helmets and riot shields stood guard, keeping them at a distance.

His sudden death was sure to provoke reflection both over one of the most storied careers in Peruvian politics and the nation's battle against corruption.

Tall and handsome, Garcia was first swept into office on a wave of optimism in 1985 as Latin America's youngest president at age 36. He was hailed as "the president of hope."

Fed by state spending, wage increases and price controls, Garcia's policies initially created an artificial economic boom. But the state coffers were soon drained, credit dried up and investors fled. Labor strikes demanding wage increases in line with soaring inflation crippled production.

As Peru's economy collapsed, Maoist Shining Path guerrillas surged.

At one point, Garcia was so depressed by his plunging popularity that he did not appear in public for more than a month and reportedly offered the presidency to his blind 88-year-old vice president, Luis Alberto Sanchez.

Garcia backed the candidacy of an independent political unknown, Alberto Fujimori, in the second-round runoff of the 1990 presidential elections to prevent a win by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a conservative rival.

Two years after leaving office, Garcia fled the country as Fujimori's new government pursued corruption charges against him.

He was accused, among other things, of taking kickbacks for a Lima electric railway contract and of depositing Peru's reserves in the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI, which was later shut down worldwide amid fraud allegations.

On the night of April 5, 1992, Fujimori dissolved Congress, suspended the Peruvian Constitution and sent troops to the home of Garcia, who had been warned of a plot to kill him.

"That was perhaps the first time I felt physical fear in my life, because I understood it was true there would be an attack and that we would die," Garcia later recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I had two pistols with nine rounds each," he said, "and I shot all 18 bullets into the air as they were preparing to knock down the garage wall with a small tank and were coming over the walls."

The soldiers briefly retreated, Garcia said, and he fled by climbing over a neighbor's wall using a ladder. He was later smuggled out of the neighborhood in the trunk of a car and eventually made it to the Colombian Embassy, which granted him safe passage from Peru.

During his exile, he split time between Colombia, which gave him asylum, and Paris, where his wife and four children lived.

Garcia was reviled by most Peruvians, who initially tolerated, even lauded, Fujimori's iron-fisted rule, grateful to him for taming the rebel insurgencies and cleaning up an economic disaster.

But in 2000, Fujimori's autocratic government crumbled amid mushrooming corruption scandals, creating an opening for Garcia's political comeback. The charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence.

Garcia returned to his homeland in 2001 to seek re-election, casting himself as an elder statesman who had outgrown leftist ideas. He lost narrowly in a second round of voting to U.S.-trained economist Alejandro Toledo. Then he set his sights on the 2006 election.

He was widely viewed as the lesser of two evils when he defeated radical nationalist Ollanta Humala in a runoff. But he was determined to regain the trust of Peruvians, telling them, "I am more mature, and I would be an idiot if I were to commit the same mistakes."

His popularity rose as he implemented austerity measures in a nation beset by poverty. He slashed his own salary by more than half and issued decrees forcing lawmakers to reduce their pay by nearly 40 percent.

He also gained praise by launching programs to bring potable water to poor shantytowns and pledged to build roads, schools and health clinics in rural areas.

On Wednesday night, his body was taken to a memorial service at his party's headquarters, known as the "House of the People," a blue colonial-style building where Garcia once celebrated his presidential victories.

Several men carried his wooden casket through a thick crowd of supporters chanting, "Alan! Alan!"

"He's still with the people!" they cried out.


Bus carrying Germans crashes, kills 29 on Portugal's Madeira

Rescue officials attend the scene after a tour bus crashed in Canico on Portugal's Madeira Island, Wednesday, April 17. (Rui Silva/Aspress/Global Imagens via AP)

Barry Hatton

Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — A tour bus carrying German tourists crashed on Portugal's Madeira Island on Wednesday, killing 29 people and injuring 28 others, local authorities said.

The bus, which was carrying 55 people, rolled down a steep hillside after veering off the road on a bend east of the capital, Funchal, and struck at least one house, local mayor Filipe Sousa told cable news channel SIC.

Local television showed bodies scattered over a rural hillside next to the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira, off northwestern Africa, is a popular vacation destination for Europeans due to its mild climate and lush, hilly landscape.

The dead included 18 women and 11 men, one of whom died later at a hospital, Sousa told public broadcaster RTP.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said preliminary reports he had received indicated all the dead were German. But Tomasia Alves, head of the Funchal hospital, said not all the victims had been identified and refused to confirm the nationality of the dead.

Pedro Calado, vice president of Madeira's regional government, said at a news conference that the injured, including the Portuguese driver and a local tour guide, were taken to a hospital. He did not say whether anyone who was not on the bus, including people on the roadside at the time of the accident, were among the victims.

No children were among the dead and injured, Alves said. She said at a news conference that two of the injured were Portuguese and the rest were foreign, but she declined to give further details.

The mayor said the bus was carrying a group of German tourists.

The German foreign ministry, in a tweet, expressed "great shock" at the accident. "We must unfortunately assume that victims are from Germany," it said.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a tweet that he had sent condolences to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I learned of this tragic accident in Madeira with deep sorrow," he said.

Merkel's spokesman said "terrible news is reaching us from Madeira." Steffen Seibert said on Twitter that "we are in deepest sorrow over all those who lost their lives in the bus crash." He added: "Our thoughts are with the injured."

Portugal's air force said it had three aircraft on standby in case any injured needed to be taken to hospitals on the Portuguese mainland, almost 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away. But Funchal hospital's clinical director, Dr. Pedro Freitas, said transfers were not necessary.

Madeira's regional government announced three days of mourning, when flags on public buildings are flown at half-staff.

Residents said the weather was fine at the time of the accident, which happened in daylight in the early evening.

Calado, the regional government's vice president, said the bus was five years old and had passed its mandatory inspections for roadworthiness.

Authorities said they were investigating the cause of the crash.


Bells of French cathedrals ring in tribute to Notre Dame

This image taken on Tuesday April 16, 2019 shows an aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

Sylvie Corbet and Nicolas Vaux-Montagny

Paris (AP) — Bells of cathedrals across France rang in a moving tribute Wednesday to Notre Dame as firefighters and experts continued to keep the beloved but weakened landmark under close surveillance.

From Sacre Coeur in Paris to the cities of Strasbourg in the east and Rouen in the west, the architectural treasures of France solemnly marked the inferno, two days after it ravaged the gothic cathedral, widely regarded as the soul of France.

"I just arrived for the first ring of the bells and immediately there was an emotion. Incredible, indescribable, I just can't explain it," said Nadia Pascassio-Comte, in Strasbourg. "It was beautiful and sad at the same time. I had tears in my eyes at one point, and I think that this solidarity is magical, it really unites a lot of people."

At Saint Sulpice church, the second-largest house of worship in Paris, French first lady Brigitte Macron attended a special service for the annual blessing of the oils during Holy Week, ahead of Easter Sunday.

Meanwhile, restoration specialists questioned President Emmanuel Macron's ambitious five-year reconstruction timeline for Notre Dame, with some suggesting it could take more than three times that amount of time to rebuild the 850-year-old architectural treasure.

Even Prime Minister Edouard Philippe acknowledged Wednesday that it would be difficult.

"This is obviously an immense challenge, a historic responsibility," Philippe said after a Cabinet meeting focused on the restoration.

Prominent French conservation architect Pierluigi Pericolo told Inrocks magazine the restoration work could take "no less than 15 years. ... It's a colossal task."

Pericolo, who worked on the restoration of the 19th-century St.-Donatien Basilica, which was badly damaged in a 2015 blaze in the French city of Nantes, said it could take two to five years just to check the stability of Notre Dame, which dominates the Paris skyline.

"It's a fundamental step, and very complex, because it's difficult to send workers into a monument whose vaulted ceilings are swollen with water," Pericolo told France-Info. "The end of the fire doesn't mean the edifice is totally saved. The stone can deteriorate when it is exposed to high temperatures and change its mineral composition and fracture inside."

Macron received some support for his lofty five-year restoration goal from his presidential cultural heritage envoy, Stephane Bern, who said it was realistic to reopen Notre Dame to the public in time for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. However, he did not indicate whether the reconstruction work would be completed by then.

Speaking after a meeting at the presidential palace about the monument's reconstruction, Bern said Macron didn't express his views regarding the rebuilding of the cathedral's lead roof, or whether the frame should be restored in wood like the destroyed one, or in metal or concrete. He also said France would hold an international architecture competition to determine whether the collapsed 19th-century spire would be rebuilt to the same design or a new one.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame's rector said he would close the cathedral for up to "five to six years," acknowledging that a segment of the structure may be gravely weakened.

According to a French government official, the building would have burned to the ground in a "chain-reaction collapse" had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building.

The firefighters acted aggressively to protect wooden supports in the twin medieval bell towers from the flames, averting a bigger catastrophe, said José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France's Culture Ministry.

"If the fire reached this wooden structure, the bell tower would have been lost," de Matos said at a news conference. "From the moment we lose the war of the bell towers, we lose the cathedral, because it's a chain-reaction collapse."

An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered on the roof. No one was killed in the fire, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.

Firefighters acted as fast as they could to save the cathedral, said senior fire official Philippe Demay, denying that there was any delay in their response.

Despite extensive damage, many of the cathedral's treasures were saved, including Notre Dame's famous rose windows, although they are not out of danger.

Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris fire brigade, told Catholic broadcaster KTO that the trickiest part was reaching the person who held the security codes to open the safe containing the Crown of Thorns, regarded as Notre Dame's most sacred relic.

Paris Firefighters' spokesman Lt.-Col. Gabriel Plus said that even though they are in good condition, a "threat" continues to the gables, or support walls, because of the heavy stone statues perched on top of them.

"The roof no longer holds (the gables) up. They are holding up all by themselves," he said, adding that some statues must be removed to lessen the weight on the gables.

Scaffolding that had been erected for a renovation of the spire and roof must also be properly removed because of its weight and because it is now "crucially deformed," he added.

The Paris prosecutor's office said investigators have been able to access some parts of the building, although others remain too dangerous. No indication of a criminal act had been found so far, it said.

More than 40 people have already been questioned in the investigation, including workers at the five construction companies who were involved in renovating the church spire and roof. Police also took images of the destruction using drones, in case it is altered by wind or rain.

Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral's restoration, coming from ordinary worshippers and wealthy magnates, including those who own L'Oreal, Chanel and Dior. Bern told broadcaster France-Info that 880 million euros ($995 million) has been raised since the fire.

Criticism already has surfaced in France from those who say the money could be better spent elsewhere, on smaller, struggling churches or on workers. Others have criticized the billionaires' donations because their pledges make them eligible for huge deductions in taxes.


North Korea says it test-fired new tactical guided weapon

In this April 10, 2019 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Foster Klug and Kim Tong-Hyung

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Thursday that it had test-fired a new type of "tactical guided weapon," its first such test in nearly half a year, and a possible sign of its displeasure with deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.

The test, which didn't appear to be of a banned mid- or long-range ballistic missile that could scuttle negotiations, allows Pyongyang to show its people it is pushing ahead with weapons development while also reassuring domestic military officials worried that diplomacy with Washington signals weakness.

The North's leader, Kim Jong Un, observed the unspecified weapon being fired Wednesday by the Academy of Defense Science, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said "the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army."

The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea's claim, and it wasn't immediately clear what had been tested. A ballistic missile test would jeopardize the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament. A South Korean analyst said that details in the North's media report indicate it could have been a new type of cruise missile. Another possible clue: one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North's report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.

The test comes during an apparent deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks after the failed summit in Hanoi between Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Some in Seoul worry that the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hardline negotiating stance and grant the North's demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump's response of "fire and fury" had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.

Trump said last month that he "would be very disappointed if I saw testing."

As the diplomacy stalls, there have been fresh reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site where Pyongyang is believed to build missiles targeting the U.S. mainland. North Korean media said Wednesday that Kim guided a flight drill of combat pilots from an air force and anti-aircraft unit tasked with defending the capital Pyongyang from an attack.

During a speech at his rubber-stamp parliament last week, Kim set the year's end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage diplomacy.

Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea's descriptions of the test show the weapon is possibly a newly developed cruise missile. The North's report said the "tactical guided weapon" successfully tested in a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and demonstrated the ability to deliver a "powerful warhead."

The analyst said the test could also be intended as a message to the North Korean people and military of a commitment to maintaining a strong level of defense even as it continues talks with Washington over nukes.

The North said Thursday that Kim Jong Un mounted an observation post to learn about and guide the test-fire of the weapon.

This is the first known time Kim has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he watched the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon." Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate "low-level provocations," like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.

The analyst in Seoul, Kim Dong-yub, who is a former South Korean military official, said it wasn't yet clear whether the North conducted an advanced test of the same weapon Kim Jong Un observed in November or tested something different.

The White House said it was aware of the report and had no comment. The Pentagon also said it was aware but had no information to provide at this point. South Korea's presidential office said it has no immediate comment. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it is analyzing the test but did not specifically say what the weapon appeared to be.

A U.S. official familiar with monitoring operations said that neither U.S. Strategic Command nor NORAD observed any weapons test. That rules out tests that go high into the atmosphere, such as a ballistic missile, but does not rule out tests at lower altitudes.

After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore, and then the Hanoi talks this year. North Korea has suspended nuclear and long-range rocket tests, and the North and South Korean leaders have met three times. But there are growing worries that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.

Washington says it won't allow the North's desired sanctions relief until the nation commits to verifiably relinquishing his nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles. Kim has shown no signs that he's willing to give away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
 


WikiLeaks' Assange hauled from embassy, faces US charge

Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — British police on Thursday hauled a bearded and shouting Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he was holed up for nearly seven years, and the U.S. charged the WikiLeaks founder with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to get their hands on government secrets.

Police arrested Assange after the South American nation revoked the political asylum that had protected him in the embassy, and he was brought before a British court — the first step in an extradition battle that he has vowed to fight.

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno said he decided to evict the 47-year-old Assange from the embassy after "repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols," and he later lashed out at him during a speech in Quito, calling the Australian native a "spoiled brat" who treated his hosts with disrespect.

In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department accused Assange of conspiring with Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody.

Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. He refused to leave the embassy, fearing arrest and extradition to the U.S. for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

Manning, who served several years in prison for leaking troves of classified documents before her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama, is again in custody in Alexandria, Virginia, for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning's legal team said the indictment against Assange showed prosecutors didn't need her testimony and called for her to be released, saying her continued detention would be "purely punitive."

Over the years, Assange used Ecuador's embassy as a platform to keep his name before the public, frequently making appearances on its tiny balcony, posing for pictures and reading statements. Even his cat became famous.

But his presence was an embarrassment to U.K. authorities, who for years kept a police presence around the clock outside the embassy, costing taxpayers millions in police overtime. Such surveillance was removed in 2015, but the embassy remained a focal point for his activities.

Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits pulling a handcuffed Assange out of the embassy and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police formed a passageway. Assange, who shouted and gestured as he was removed, sported a full beard and slicked-back gray hair.

He later appeared in Westminster Magistrates' Court, where District Judge Michael Snow wasted no time in finding him guilty of breaching his bail conditions, flatly rejecting his assertion that he had not had a fair hearing and a reasonable excuse for not appearing.

"Mr. Assange's behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests," Snow said. "He hasn't come close to establishing 'reasonable excuse.'"

Assange waved to the packed public gallery as he was taken to the cells. His next appearance was set for May 2 via prison video-link in relation to the extradition case.

Assange's attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said he will fight any extradition to the U.S.

"This sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organizations in Europe and around the world," she said. "This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States."

Asked at the White House about the arrest, President Donald Trump declared , "It's not my thing," and "I know nothing about WikiLeaks," despite praising the anti-secrecy organization dozens of times during his 2016 campaign.

Assange has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for years for WikiLeaks' role in publishing government secrets. He was an important figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails that were stolen from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and Democratic groups.

"The bottom line is that he has to answer for what he has done," Clinton said later Thursday, at a speaking event with husband Bill Clinton.

WikiLeaks quickly drew attention to U.S. interest in Assange and said that Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange's political asylum "in violation of international law."

"Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to de-humanise, de-legitimize and imprison him," the group said in a tweet over a photo of Assange's smiling face.

But in Assange's native Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp. he had no plans to intervene in the case as the charge was a "matter for the United States" and had nothing to do with Australia.

Ecuadorian officials suggested Assange's own behavior was to blame.

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said Assange's mental and physical health worsened while he was holed up, and he began to act aggressively toward his hosts, including smearing feces on the walls of the embassy.

In a fiery speech in Ecuador, Moreno called him an ungrateful and "miserable hacker" who treated embassy officials poorly.

"When you're given shelter, cared for and provided food, you don't denounce the owner of the house," Moreno said to applause at an event outside Quito.

"From now on we'll be more careful in giving asylum to people who are really worth it and not miserable hackers whose only goal is to destabilize governments," he added.  "We are tolerant, calm people, but we're not stupid."

Other Ecuadorian officials in Quito accused supporters of WikiLeaks and two Russian hackers of trying to destabilize the country as the standoff with Assange intensified recently.

Romo said a close collaborator of WikiLeaks had traveled with former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino this year to several countries — including Peru, Spain and Venezuela — to try to undermine the Ecuadorian government. She also said a person close to Assange had been detained at Quito's airport trying to fly to Japan. The person, who she did not identify, is accused of conspiring against the Ecuadorian government.

Later Thursday, a senior Ecuadorian official said a Swedish software developer living in Quito had been arrested at the airport as authorities attempt to dismantle a blackmail ring that in recent days had threatened to retaliate against Moreno.

The official identified the person as Ola Bini. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity and didn't provide any additional details about Bini.

On a blog, a Swedish man of the same name describes himself as a software developer working in Quito for the Center for Digital Autonomy, a group based in Ecuador and Spain focused on privacy, security and cryptography issues. It makes no mention of any affiliation with Wikileaks.

On Twitter earlier Thursday, Bini called claims by the Interior Minister that Russian hackers and someone close to Wikileaks were working inside Ecuador "very worrisome" news and said events looked like a "witch hunt."

But former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called Moreno's decision "cowardly," accusing him of retaliating against Assange for WikiLeaks spreading allegations about an offshore bank account purportedly linked to Moreno's family and friends.

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks accused Ecuador's government of an "extensive spying operation" against him. It alleges that meetings with lawyers and a doctor in the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed.

Speaking in the U.K. Parliament after the arrest, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it showed that "no one is above the law."

Moreno appeared to suggest a swift extradition to the U.S. was unlikely.

"In line with our strong commitment to human rights and international law, I requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty," Moreno said. "The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules."

Edward Snowden, the former security contractor who leaked classified information about U.S. surveillance programs, called Assange's arrest a blow to media freedom.

"Images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the U.K.'s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of — like it or not — award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books," Snowden tweeted from Russia, which has granted him permission to stay there while he is wanted by the U.S. "Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom."


Sudan's military overthrows president amid bloody protests

Sudanese celebrate after officials said the military had forced longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years in power in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo)

Maggie Michael and Samy Magdy

Cairo (AP) — Sudan's military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday after months of bloody protests against his repressive 30-year rule. But pro-democracy demonstrators vowed to keep up their campaign in the streets after the military said it would govern the country for the next two years.

Al-Bashir's fall came a week after Algeria's long-ruling, military-backed president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was driven from power. Together, the developments echoed the Arab Spring uprisings eight years ago that brought down autocrats across the Mideast.

The announcement of the arrest and removal of the 75-year-old al-Bashir was made by a veteran insider in his government, Defense Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf, who is under U.S. sanctions for links to atrocities in Sudan's Darfur conflict.

Ibn Ouf said a military council that will be formed by the army, intelligence and security apparatus will rule for two years, after which "free and fair elections" will take place. Sudan's state-run media later said Ibn Ouf was being sworn in as head of the new council.

The defense chief also announced that the military had suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, closed the country's borders and airspace and imposed a curfew.

Protesters who were initially jubilant over word of the coup reacted by saying they will not end their nearly week-long sit-in outside the military's headquarters in central Khartoum until a civilian transition government is formed.

Well after nightfall, tens of thousands beat drums, sang and chanted slogans against the armed forces and Ibn Ouf. One of the organizations leading the protest said people were staying in streets of defiance of the 10 p.m. curfew.

"The first one fell, the second will, too!" protesters shouted. And: "They removed a thief and brought in a thief!"

"What is happening in Sudan is that the old system is being rebuilt in new clothes," said activist Mohammed Hisham. "I'm 30 years old, and my whole life we have suffered from lack of freedom and continuous threats."

Al-Bashir's whereabouts were not immediately known. Ibn Ouf said only that he was being held in "a safe place."

Human rights groups urged Sudanese military authorities to hand al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his deadly campaign against insurgents in Darfur.

Amnesty International's secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, said al-Bashir is wanted for "some of the most odious human rights violations of our generation."

In Washington, the U.S. State Department called on the Sudanese military to "follow the will of the people" and "commit to the speedy handover to civilian rule."

Al-Bashir came to power in a coup of his own in 1989, backed by the military and Islamist hard-liners. He kept an iron grip on power and brutally suppressed any opposition, while monopolizing the economy through allied businessmen.

Over his three decades in control, he was forced to allow the secession of South Sudan after years of war, a huge blow to the north's economy. He became an international pariah over the bloodletting in Darfur. And the U.S. targeted his government repeatedly with sanctions and airstrikes for his support of Islamic militants.

Throughout, he was a swaggering figure known to break into dance and wave his cane in front of cheering crowds.

The protests — involving a mix of young activists, students, professional-employee unions and opposition parties — erupted in December and were initially fueled by anger over the deteriorating economy but quickly turned to demands for the president's ouster.

Security forces came down hard on the protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons, and the clashes left dozens of people dead. Al-Bashir banned unauthorized public gatherings, imposed a state of emergency and granted sweeping powers to the police.

After Bouteflika's resignation in Algeria, the protests escalated and the clampdown grew bloodier, with at least 22 people killed since Saturday.

Word of al-Bashir's overthrow initially set off cheering, dancing and singing in the streets by thousands of protesters, until they heard the official announcement from Ibn Ouf that the military would remain in charge.

The defense chief denounced al-Bashir's government for "bad administration, systemic corruption, absence of justice," adding: "The poor became poorer and the rich became richer. Hope in equality has been lost." He also said al-Bashir's crackdown against protesters risked splitting the security establishment and "could cause grave casualties."

Mariam al-Mahdi, a leading member of the opposition Umma, called the military's takeover "a dangerous move."

"Our demands are clear: We don't want to replace a coup with a coup," al-Mahdi said.


Filipinos plan more diggings where new human species found

Filipino archeologist Armand Salvador Mijares shows a femur bone belonging to a new specie called Homo luzonensis, during a press conference in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Jim Gome

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Archaeologists who discovered fossil bones and teeth of a previously unknown human species that thrived more than 50,000 years ago in the northern Philippines said Thursday they plan more diggings and called for better protection of the popular limestone cave complex where the remains were unearthed.

Filipino archaeologist Armand Salvador Mijares said the discovery of the remains in Callao Cave in Cagayan province made the Philippines an important research ground on human evolution. The new species is called Homo luzonensis after the main northern island of Luzon, where the remains were dug up starting in 2007.

Beaming with pride, Mijares displayed the six fragments of bones from the feet, hands and thigh and seven teeth of three individuals from that bygone era in a news conference at the state-run University of the Philippines. Tests showed two of the fossil fragments had minimum ages of 50,000 years and 67,000 years, according to a study published by the scientific journal Nature.

"This puts the Philippines, our scientific community in the spotlight," Mijares said. "Before, we're just peripheral in this debate of human evolution."

Mijares, who led a small team of foreign and local archaeologists behind the rare discovery, said he plans to resume the diggings next year and hopes to find larger fossil bones, artifacts and possibly stone tools used by people in those times. Aside from Callao Cave, human fossils have recently been found in another site in Bulacan province just north of the capital, Manila, Mijares said without elaborating.

Another veteran Filipino archaeologist, Eusebio Dizon, said the human remains from Callao were the oldest to be found in the Philippines, predating those discovered in Tabon Cave on the western island of Palawan by thousands of years.

While the archaeological find could attract more scientists, Dizon worried that it could also draw vandals and treasure hunters who could threaten the seven-chamber cave complex, which is a popular tourism destination. An open-air chapel with pews and an altar in the cave complex has become a popular venue for weddings and filmmakers.

"Penablanca has been a treasure hunting haven of many people," Dizon said, referring to the Cagayan provincial town where the Callao caves are located. "Maybe it will reignite their kind of activity so that's why it needs protection now more than ever."

The main exodus of modern man's own species from Africa that all of today's non-African people are descended from took place around 60,000 years ago.

Analysis of the bones from the Callao caves led the study authors to conclude they belonged to a previously unknown member of our "Homo" branch of the human family tree. One of the toe bones and the overall pattern of tooth shapes and sizes differ from what's been seen before in the Homo family, the researchers said.

The fossil bones and teeth found about 3 meters (9.8 feet) below the ground in the cave show they belonged to small-bodied people. Bones of deer and related animals were found in the area, some with cut marks, suggesting they were butchered although there were no stone tools or sharp implements found in the immediate area where the human fossils were dug up, Mijares said.

Although the find contributes a new insight into modern man's ancient beginnings, Dizon said it also raised new questions and deepened the mystery behind the evolution of man.


4 killed in Indian election violence as voting kicks off

Indian voters stand in queues at a polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Emily Schmall

New Delhi (AP) — At least four people were killed in clashes Thursday on the first day of polling in India's general elections, a six-week process that's seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, officials said Thursday.

Police said two workers of Andhra Pradesh state's ruling Telugu Desam party were killed in a confrontation with supporters of a regional opposition party, YSR Congress. One election official was killed in an alleged attack by suspected insurgents in India's remote northeast, the Election Commission said.

Violent clashes were also reported elsewhere in Andhra Pradesh  state, where voters are casting ballots for 25 members of India's lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, and 175 state assembly seats. Another person was killed by government forces during a protest in disputed Kashmir.

Outside of Andhra Pradesh, voting was taking place Thursday in 17 other Indian states and two Union Territories in the first of a seven-phase election staged over six weeks. Turnout was estimated at more than 60% of voters.

At least 15 electronic voting machines were damaged by some angry voters during the voting in several states, Chandra Bhushan, an election commission official, told reporters.

With 900 million of India's 1.3 billion people registered to vote, it is the world's largest democratic exercise. Over the course of the election, 543 Lok Sahba seats will be decided from about a million polling stations across India.

With Modi as their frontman, the BJP won a clear majority in 2014 elections. Under the leadership of political dynasty scion Rahul Gandhi, India's National Congress party, which ruled the country for more than half a century since the 1947 independence, has struggled to coalesce India's many opposition parties into a coherent effort that could go head-to-head with the BJP.

Surveys show the ruling party projected to come out first again in this year's polls, though with a smaller mandate.

Supporters of Modi say the tea seller's son from Gujarat state has improved the nation's standing in the world. India's economy has continued to grow under Modi, jostling with the United Kingdom for the fifth-largest in the world.

"I vote for the progress of my country," said businessman Manish Kumar after casting his ballot for the BJP in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh state.

Tapan Shome, an accountant, said he and his wife voted "to make India a good, prosperous country."

But India's growth hasn't meant a better employment outlook in the country, where an estimated 1 million people join the labor pool each month. According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, employment contracted by 3.5 million jobs in the year following a 2016 demonetization program to remove most of India's banknotes from circulation.

And Modi's critics say his party's Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions and violence against Muslims and other minorities in constitutionally secular India.

Since a suicide bombing in disputed Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary forces in February, the BJP campaign has played up the threat of Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Voting also began Thursday for two parliamentary seats in Kashmir, a Himalayan region split between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. The vote came amid tight security and calls for a boycott by Muslim separatists who say the polls are an illegitimate exercise. Armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear guarded polling stations and nearby roads.

After the polls closed, violence broke out. Government forces fired at anti-India protesters killing a teenage boy and wounding at least five others in northwestern Handwara area, police and medics said.

The protesters were chanting slogans demanding an end to Indian rule over the region and throwing stones at troops, who fired bullets.

Anti-India protests and clashes were also reported from northern Palhalan area as well.

In Kashmir's northern Baramulla area voter turnout was estimated around 35%, compared to 38% in 2014. Many people said they came out to vote only to express their disapproval of the BJP, calling it an "anti-Muslim" and "anti-Kashmiri" organization.

The BJP's election manifesto promised to scrap decades-old special rights for Kashmiris under India's constitution that prevent outsiders from buying property in the territory.

"I didn't want to vote but then there's an imminent threat by politicians like Modi who are up in arms against Kashmiris," said Abdul Qayoom, a voter in Baramulla town. "They've taken our rights; now they want to dispossess us from our land. We want to stop people like Modi."

The voting follows a sweeping crackdown with police arresting hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists. Authorities also banned the movement of civilian vehicles on a key highway to keep it open exclusively for military and paramilitary convoys two days a week during the general election.

The first round Thursday could prove important for the BJP, which won only 32 of 91 seats in the first phase of the 2014 elections. It is seeking to improve its tally this time.

Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.
 


DAILY UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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North Korea says it test-fired new tactical guided weapon


WikiLeaks' Assange hauled from embassy, faces US charge

Sudan's military overthrows president amid bloody protests

Filipinos plan more diggings where new human species found

4 killed in Indian election violence as voting kicks off