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Update May 2018


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Update May 31, 2018

'Slain' Russian journalist turns up alive at news conference

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, right, and Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service speak to the media during a news conference at the Ukrainian Security Service in Kiev on Wednesday, May 30. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Dmytro Vlasov and Nataliya Vasilyeva

Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — To the gasps, whoops and applause of stunned colleagues, Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko walked into a news conference Wednesday, less than a day after police in the Ukrainian capital said he had been assassinated.

Authorities said his death had been staged to foil a plot on his life by Moscow's security services and one arrest was made. Russia denounced the faked killing as an outlandish attempt at defamation by its neighbor and foe.

Even Babchenko's wife was unaware of the deception, and the 41-year-old Kremlin critic who fled to Ukraine 15 months ago apologized to her "for the hell she had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either."

Neither Babchenko nor Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Gritsak gave details of the sting operation or how they made his wife believe he was dead.

Kiev Police Chief Andriy Krishchenko had announced Babchenko's death Tuesday, saying the journalist's wife found him bleeding at their apartment building in Kiev but that he died en route to the hospital. Lawmaker Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, said the assailant had waited on a staircase in the building and shot Babchenko in the back as he was going to buy bread.

Just hours before the shooting was reported, Babchenko wrote on Facebook that he considered the day a "second birthday" because it was the fourth anniversary of his missing a flight on a Ukrainian military helicopter that later was shot down in the conflict between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

At the start of Wednesday's news conference, Gritsak announced the journalist's murder had been solved and called the day Babchenko's "third birthday."

Babchenko, clad in a black sweatshirt, walked into the room as other reporters gasped and exclaimed their surprise, then broke into applause.

"I'm still alive," an uneasy-looking Babchenko said with a straight face. Then he apologized for the deception.

"I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague," he added.

The news conference produced mixed emotions.

"I was shocked. But then a feeling of happiness rose up," said Serhii Nuzhnenko, a freelance journalist.

Babchenko said he was not allowed to go into the details of his false death. He said Ukraine's law enforcement had been aware of a contract on his head for two months. He said he was approached by the Ukrainian Security Service, or SBU, a month ago.

"The important thing is my life has been saved and other, bigger terrorist attacks have been thwarted," he said.

It also was unclear why authorities decided to go to such lengths to make it look as if Babchenko was dead.

Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who allegedly was paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organize and carry out the hit. The unidentified Ukrainian man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman, he added.

The suspected organizer of the alleged hit plot was detained Wednesday, Gritsak said, suggesting the bogus killing was aimed at flushing him out, and he showed a video of the arrest.

Killing Babchenko was part of a larger alleged plot by Russian security services, Gritsak said. The Ukrainian man also was supposed to procure large quantities of weapons and explosives, including 300 AK-47 rifles and "hundreds of kilos of explosives," to perpetrate acts of terror in Ukraine, he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Ukrainian government was "fanning anti-Russian hysteria. We're confident our foreign partners and the relevant international agencies will draw correct conclusions from the whole situation."

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international affairs committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, compared Ukraine's actions to Britain accusing Moscow of being behind the nerve gas poisonings of a Russian former spy and his daughter in England. Russia vehemently denies poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal.

"The logic is the same — to defame Russia," Kosachev told the state news agency Tass.

Ukraine also faced a backlash from international journalism figures.

"I deplore the decision to spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the duty of the state to provide correct information to the public," said Deniz Yazici of the media freedom office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Reporters Without Borders director Christophe Deloire tweeted his "deepest indignation at the discovery of the manipulation of the Ukrainian secret services. It is always deeply dangerous for states to play with the facts."

Some wondered if the ruse would ultimately backfire, harming Ukraine's credibility or undermining concern about violence against journalists.

"There's one nuance — if somebody's shot now, nobody will believe it," noted journalist Mustafa Nayyem, who became a parliament member, told The Associated Press.

Babchenko, one of Russia's best-known war reporters, fled the country in February 2017. He spoke and wrote about needed to leave Russia because of threats against him and his family. He said his home address was published online and the threats he received were made by phone, email and social media.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine were topics on which the journalist was scathingly critical of the Kremlin. His flight from Russia came several months after he wrote in a Facebook post that he wasn't sorry that members of a military band and state TV journalists died in a plane crash on their way to Russia's military base in Syria.

Several Russian lawmakers said at the time that Babchenko should be stripped of his citizenship over the comment, and Russian state media called him a traitor.

Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian lawmaker who also moved to Ukraine, said Babchenko continued being threatened after he settled last fall in Kiev, where he worked as a host for the Crimean Tatar TV station.


Belgium shooting rampage was terrorist act, prosecutors say

A police officer looks at a flower memorial at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Lorne Cook and Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — The man who killed three people during a knife and shooting rampage through the Belgian city of Liege carried out an act of "terrorist murder," prosecutors said Wednesday, and authorities were trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Benjamin Herman, an inmate on a two-day release, attacked two female police officers with a knife from behind, stabbing them repeatedly, before stealing their weapons and shooting them as they lay on the ground, officials said. Crossing the road, he fired several shots at a 22-year old man who was a passenger in a car, killing him. Herman then took at least one woman hostage at a nearby school. When police closed in, he ran out onto the sidewalk firing and police fatally shot him.

He yelled "Allahu akbar," the Arabic phrase for God is great, several times during the rampage, authorities said.

Belgian federal magistrate Wenke Roggen said Wednesday that the attack was considered "terrorist murder." She said it's being treated as terrorism given the way Herman acted, which she says resembled Islamic State calls via video to attack police with knives and steal their weapons, the fact that he yelled "Allahu Akbar" and was in contact with radicalized people.

Earlier, Interior Minister Jan Jambon confirmed that Herman had already killed another person the day before the attack.

Jambon also said that the woman he took hostage may have talked the shooter down and helped to avoid more deaths inside the school.

"He also committed a murder the night before," Jambon told broadcaster RTL. Jambon confirmed that the fourth victim was a former inmate who did prison time with Herman. Herman is alleged to have killed the man on Monday evening by hitting him over the head with a blunt object.

Jambon, Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe visited the woman in hospital, where she was being treated for shock.

"She was very courageous and perhaps, but this we will have to verify, she helped avoid more victims in the school," Jambon said.

The minister said an investigation has been launched into the incident, including the circumstances surrounding his release from prison.

"It's really an isolated case. He wasn't part of a network, he didn't receive instructions from anyone else, so there is no need to raise the terror threat alert level," Jambon said, adding that investigators have no precise information that any other attacks might be likely.

Amid questions about how two officers could have been disarmed, Jambon praised the work of all involved, saying "the police did an extraordinary job."

"They reacted well. All the systems, all the procedures worked. But if you are attacked from behind, as was the case with the two officers, you can't do anything," he said.


Pakistan, India agree to stop trading fire in Kashmir

In this Friday May 18, 2018 file photo, People attend the funeral of Pakistani villagers allegedly killed by Indian shelling in Khanoor Mian, along the Line of Control in Pakistan. (AP Photo/Shahif Ikram)

Munir Ahmed and Aijaz Hussain

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistan and India have agreed to stop trading artillery fire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and on Wednesday the situation was calm after months of routine skirmishes that killed dozens of soldiers and civilians.

Pakistan's military said late Tuesday that local generals reached the understanding using a special hotline set up to defuse tensions in Kashmir, which is split between Indian and Pakistani zones of control. Both nuclear-armed powers claim Kashmir in its entirety, and the territorial dispute has ignited two wars between Pakistan and India since they gained independence in 1947.

Both sides "agreed to undertake sincere measures to improve the existing situation, ensuring peace and avoidance of hardships to the civilians along the borders," the Pakistani military said in a statement. It said that if future violence occurs in the disputed region, "restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilization of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings at local commander's level."

The Indian army confirmed the agreement, saying both sides had pledged to "undertake sincere measures to improve the existing situation to ensure peace and avoidance of hardships to the civilians along the borders."

The two sides also agreed to fully implement a 2003 cease-fire that has been repeatedly violated.

Tensions have soared in recent weeks, as both sides have launched artillery assaults across the Line of Control dividing the region. Each side has accused the other of starting the hostilities in violation of the 2003 accord.

On the Indian side, the fighting has driven people from villages along the border, and government buildings have been converted into temporary shelters. Houses have been damaged, and dozens of schools in villages along the frontier have been closed, with authorities advising residents to stay indoors.

The shelling has cast a pall over the holy month of Ramadan in the mostly Muslim region. The shelling typically flares up in the pre-dawn hours, when families are having a meal known as "suhoor" ahead of the daytime fast.

India says 25 civilians and 18 soldiers have been killed this year in over 800 cease-fire violations initiated by Pakistan.

Pakistan accuses Indian forces of more than 1,050 cease-fire violations this year, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.

On Wednesday, Pakistani officials said villagers who fled to safer locations following recent skirmishes have been urged to return to their homes.


Paris police clear out migrant camp housing up to 1,500

A migrant stands in his tent during the evacuation of a makeshift camp, in Paris, Wednesday, May 30. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Jeffrey Schaeffer

Paris (AP) — Police moved in on Wednesday to clear out some 1,500 people from the largest makeshift migrant camp in the French capital, which has become a focal point in France's immigration debate.

The mainly African migrants were being moved out of their tent camp along a canal used by joggers and cyclists on the city's northeast edge, put in buses and taken to gymnasiums in the Paris region. Bulldozers then tore down the tent city along quay.

Two migrants drowned this month in canals along encampments and others have been injured amid rising tensions in the filthy, crowded camps, adding pressure for authorities to act. But the evacuation was delayed amid bickering over what to do with the migrants.

"To stay one month here is very, very, very bad for me. All the people have sicknesses and not have food," said Sudanese Farouk Ahmed.

President Emmanuel Macron wants a tough response to migrants arriving in France. Two days ago, he nevertheless opened the way to citizenship and a job for a Malian migrant who scaled a building and saved a young child dangling from a balcony in what Macron called "an exceptional act." A video of Mamoudou Gassama's feat went viral, gaining him the nickname "Spiderman."

"This is very good for refugees ... refugees are helping people," Ahmed said of Gassama's heroism, claiming that the French regard refugees as "bad."

The camps are at the heart of a political debate between French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo over how to handle migrants. The mayor and dozens of associations pressed for the migrants to be sheltered once dislodged from their encampments, as in the past. The minister dragged his feet.

"This is an issue of dignity," said Pierre Henry, head of an aid group, France Terre D'Asile."Street camps should not exist in our country."

Police have cleared out some 28,000 migrants from Paris camps in the past three years, but the arrivals continue.


Update May 30, 2018

Man kills 3 in Belgium with guns of stabbed police officers

Belgian Special Police are shown at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, Tuesday, May 29. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Raf Casert and Sylvain Plazy

Liege, Belgium (AP) — A knife-wielding man stabbed two female police officers in the Belgian city of Liege, stole their service weapons and shot them and a bystander dead in an attack Tuesday that prosecutors fear could be terror-related.

Justice Minister Koen Geens said the assailant, who was later killed by police, was released from prison on a two-day leave Monday. Geens described him as a multiple repeat offender who had been incarcerated since 2003.

Liege Police Chief Christian Beaupere said at a news conference that the slain officers were 45-years-old and 53-years-old, the latter the mother of twins. Four other officers were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously with a severed femoral artery.

State broadcaster RTBF identified the suspect as Benjamin Herman. Herman, a Belgian national born in 1982, had a criminal record that included theft, assault and drug offenses, RTBF reported.

The federal prosecutor's office declined to comment.

Earlier, Liege prosecutors' spokesman Philippe Dulieu said the man crept up on the two officers from behind carrying a knife and stabbed them several times.

"He then took their weapons. He used the weapons on the officers, who died," Dulieu told reporters. The two police handguns had a total of 17 bullets.

Dulieu said the attacker then shot dead a 22-year-old man in a vehicle that was just leaving a parking place outside a nearby high school. The attacker then took a woman hostage inside the school.

"Liege police intervened. He came out firing at police, wounding a number of them, notably in the legs. He was shot dead," the spokesman said.

A senior official at the federal prosecutor's office told The Associated Press that "there are indications it could be a terror attack."

Despite this, Belgium's crisis center said it saw no reason to raise the country's terror threat alert for now.

When asked about the report that the attack was terror-related, Liege city hall Michel Firket spokesman told the AP: "I know nothing formal about that. The police is doing its investigation. There are no formal conclusions."

A spokeswoman for the city mayor's office, Laurence Comminette, told the AP that the children at the school were all safe.

Belgium's King Philippe, Prime Minister Charles Michel and the country's justice and interior ministers traveled to Liege to confer with local officials.

"I want to offer my government's support for the victims, for the victims' families," Michel said.

Yves Stevens of Belgium's federal crisis center said that security in Liege is under control, and that there was no reason yet to raise the national terror threat level.

"There is absolutely no confirmation yet that the incident is terror-related," Stevens told the AP.

Video posted on Twitter by a person claiming to be a witness showed people running in the area. About six gunshots could be heard.

Belgian police and military have been on alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and subway system in 2016.

It's not the first time Liege has been hit by a similarly violent attack. In December 2011, a man with a history of weapons and drug offenses left home with hand grenades and guns before he lobbed the grenades into a square filled with Christmas shoppers and fired on those who escaped. Five were killed, including the assailant.


Gaza militants strike Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation

An Israeli tank drives along the border with the Gaza strip, on Israel-Gaza Border, Tuesday, May 29. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Josef Federman

Jerusalem (AP) — Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel with dozens of rockets and mortar shells Tuesday, while Israeli warplanes struck targets throughout the Gaza Strip in the largest flare-up of violence between the sides since a 2014 war.

The Israeli military said most of the projectiles were intercepted, but three soldiers were wounded, raising the chances of further Israeli retaliation. One mortar shell landed near a kindergarten shortly before it opened.

The sudden burst of violence, which stretched past midnight with no signs of slowing, follows weeks of mass Palestinian protests along the Gaza border with Israel. Over 110 Palestinians, many of them unarmed protesters, have been killed by Israeli fire in that time. Israel says it holds Gaza's Hamas rulers responsible for the bloodshed.

"Israel will exact a heavy price from those who seek to harm it, and we see Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

The last war in 2014 was especially devastating, with over 2,000 Palestinians killed, including hundreds of civilians, and widespread damage inflicted on Gaza's infrastructure in 50 days of fighting. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side.

Tuesday's violence bore a striking resemblance to the run-up to past wars. In the early morning, Palestinian militants fired over two dozen mortar rounds into southern Israel, including the shell that landed near the kindergarten.

The Israeli military confirmed over 60 airstrikes throughout Gaza, including an unfinished tunnel near the southern city of Rafah that crossed under the border into Egypt and from there into Israeli territory. It said other targets included "sheds of drones," a rocket manufacturing workshop, naval weaponry, military and training facilities and a munitions manufacturing site. No Palestinian casualties were reported.

Palestinian militants continued to fire additional barrages toward southern Israel, setting off air raid sirens in the area throughout the night.

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief military spokesman, threatened tougher action and said it was up to Hamas to stop the situation from escalating.

"These strikes will continue to intensify as long as necessary if this fire continues," he told reporters outside Israeli military headquarters.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant issued a joint statement Tuesday, claiming shared responsibility for firing rockets and projectiles against Israeli communities near Gaza.

They said Israel "began this round of escalation" by targeting their installations in the past two days, killing four militants. It was the first time the armed wing of Hamas has claimed responsibility for rocket attacks out of Gaza since the 2014 war.

An Islamic Jihad spokesman, Daoud Shehab, claimed that Egypt had brokered a cease-fire deal to go into effect at midnight. But more than an hour after the deadline, rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes were continuing. Shehab said some militants rejected the cease-fire and were continuing to fire rockets. There was no Israeli comment on the purported cease-fire plan.

Hamas has been severely weakened by the three wars with Israel, as well as a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has brought the local economy to a standstill.

Hamas initially billed the weekly border protests as a call to break through the fence and return to homes that were lost 70 years ago during the war surrounding Israel's establishment.

But the protests appear to be fueled primarily by a desire to ease the blockade. Gaza's unemployment rate is edging toward 50 percent, and the territory suffers from chronic power outages.

With limited options at its disposal, and a failure so far of the protests to significantly ease the blockade, Hamas appears to be gambling that limited rocket fire might somehow shake up the situation.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, said the "resistance is capable of hurting the occupation and it proved this today by responding to its crimes."

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.

Also Tuesday, two fishing boats carrying students and medical patients set sail from Gaza City's port, aiming to reach Cyprus and break the Israeli blockade, which has restricted most activity along the coast. Hamas acknowledged it was mostly a symbolic act.

One of the boats quickly turned around, while the Israeli navy intercepted the second vessel after it ventured beyond a six-mile (10-kilometer) limit imposed by Israel.

The Israeli military said the boat was intercepted without incident, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the 17 people aboard would be sent back to Gaza.

In southern Israel, angry residents complained about the renewed rocket fire.

Adva Klein of Kibbutz Kfar Aza said she only got about two hours of sleep because of the frequent incoming fire and the warning sirens. Other residents reported machine- gun fire from Gaza.

"It's been a really scary morning," said Adele Raemer of Kibbutz Nirim.

Regional councils near the Gaza border instructed residents to stay close to bomb shelters.

The high Palestinian death toll in the border protests has drawn strong international criticism of Israel, with rights groups saying Israel's use of live fire is illegal because in many cases it has struck unarmed protesters who did not pose an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers.

But on Tuesday, the Palestinians came under criticism.

The United States condemned the attacks out of Gaza and called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Security Council "should be outraged and respond."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called for an immediate halt to the rocket and mortar fire.

"Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable under any circumstances," she said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had instructed embassies around the world to seek similar condemnations of the Palestinian fire.

Israel has rejected the criticism of its response to the protests, saying it is defending its border and nearby communities. It accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of protests and using civilian demonstrators as human shields.

Hamas has vowed to continue the border rallies.


Leader of failed MH370 wreckage hunt hopes to search again

 

In this May 24, 2018, photo, Jiang Hui, whose mother was on board the missing Malaysia airplane MH370, speaks to journalist in Beijing, China about Texas-based company Ocean Infinity's search for the aircraft. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Eileen Ng

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — The head of a U.S. technology company that scoured the Indian Ocean seabed for more than three months looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said on Tuesday he was disappointed the hunt failed to find any wreckage and hoped to take part in a future search.

Malaysia said last week the search by Texas-based Ocean Infinity would end on Tuesday after two extensions of the original 90-day time limit.

Ocean Infinity chef executive Oliver Plunkett said the search would soon end after covering more than 112,000 square kilometers (43,000 square miles) of remote ocean floor — an area more than four times larger than the zone targeted by experts as the most likely crash site.

"I would firstly like to extend the thoughts of everyone at Ocean Infinity to the families of those who have lost loved ones on MH370. Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected," Plunkett said in a statement.

"It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim," he added.

Plunkett said he was pleased to hear the new Malaysian government had made finding the Boeing 777 that vanished with 239 people aboard a priority.

"Whilst clearly the outcome so far is extremely disappointing, as a company, we are truly proud of what we have achieved both in terms of the quality of data we've produced and the speed with which we covered such a vast area," Plunkett said.

"We sincerely hope that we will be able to again offer our services in the search for MH370 in the future," he added.

Malaysia signed a "no cure, no fee" deal with Ocean Infinity in January to resume the hunt for the plane, a year after the official search in the southern Indian Ocean by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off. Ocean Infinity stood to be paid $70 million if it had found the wreckage or black boxes.  No other search is scheduled.

Grace Nathan, spokeswoman for the victims' next of kin support group Voice370, said Malaysia's new government had given the families no information about what would happen next.

"I don't think Voice370 is ready to give up. We strongly believe this is not the time to give up," Nathan said in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"The fact that this current search didn't find anything has only raised more questions than provided answers. I believe this means that there is more reason to reinvestigate, reevaluate, and restart if necessary," said Nathan, who lost her mother on Flight 370.

Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in 2016 that an official search would only resume if the three countries had credible evidence that identified a specific location for the wreckage.

Flight 370 vanished on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The original search focused on the South China Sea before an analysis revealed that the plane had made an unexpected turn west and then south.

Australia coordinated an official search on Malaysia's behalf that scoured 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) and cost 200 million Australian dollars ($150 million) before it ended last year.

Experts used drift analysis of wreckage found washed ashore on the west coasts of the Indian Ocean to define the new search area where Ocean Infinity focused. The area considered the most likely crash site was only 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles), roughly the size of Vermont.

Ocean Infinity ship Seabed Contractor made quick progress operating up to eight remotely controlled underwater sonar drones.

Danica Weeks, an Australian resident who lost her husband on Flight 370, urged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to call on Malaysia's new government to be more transparent about what they know about the mysterious disappearance.

Jiang Hui of China, whose mother was on board the plane, said he appreciated Ocean Infinity's efforts but still hoped for more information on the reason for the disappearance.

The recent seating of a new Malaysian government under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad could offer the prospects of new data becoming available, Jiang told said last week.

"I don't believe a corrupted government can be efficient or fair," he said, referring to the administration of Najib Razak, who was Malaysia's prime minister when the flight disappeared and who has been questioned by police in a money-laundering scandal that tainted his government.


Financial turmoil engulfs Italy amid political uncertainty

Five-Stars Movement leader Luigi Di Maio is silhouetted against a giant screen showing premier-designate Carlo Cottarelli during the Rai Uno TV program 'Porta a Porta' hosted by journalist Bruno Vespa, in Rome, Italy, Monday, May 28. (Alessandro di Meo/ANSA via AP)

Colleen Barry

Milan (AP) — The specter of a financial crisis came back to haunt Italy on Tuesday, as its markets plunged on fears that it is heading toward another election that could shape up to be a referendum on whether to stay in the common currency.

Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF official, was tapped as premier of a non-political government of technocrats after an attempt by two populist parties to form a government foundered. The president, who in Italy appoints the premier and ministers, had opposed the populists' choice of a euroskeptic economics minister.

Cottarelli was expected to submit his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday, but left the president's office without comment after about an hour, unexpectedly delaying the formation of a government. A spokesman for Mattarella said the two would meet again Wednesday morning.

The Cottarelli government, which would see Italy through a period of uncertainty, seems doomed even before it's created. The populist parties, which got the most votes in the inconclusive March election, have promised to vote against it in a confidence vote. That would force Italy to new elections in the late summer or early fall.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the anti-euro League have been emboldened by the president's dismissal of their government in favor of an unelected group of technocrats. They say it shows the establishment ignores the popular vote.

That could raise the stakes for the next election by making it more clearly about whether Italy should reconsider its membership in the euro.

"Italy will be wrapped in a long drawn-out period of wrangling that will feature intense anti-establishment and euroskeptic tones," said political analyst Wolfango Piccoli. He said that while he doubted either populist party would embrace a clear euro-exit platform, they would be more combative toward Brussels.

The Milan stock index was down more than 2 percent, weighing particularly hard on banks, and Italian bonds suffered a plunge reminiscent of the worst days of the financial crisis of 2011. The government's borrowing rate for two-year money more than doubled, to 2 percent, indicating a surge in investor concern. The 10-year yield rose to near 3 percent, according to FactSet.

"We should now call this a crisis," said Kit Juckes, an analyst at Societe Generale.

Ratings agency Moody's warned that it would cut Italy's rating — now just two notches above junk level — if the next government doesn't present a budget that puts Italy on a trajectory to reduce its debt, now at 132 percent of GDP, the second highest rate in the eurozone after Greece.

If Cottarelli does not pass a vote of confidence, as is nearly certain, his government would not get a chance to set out such a budget.

In an annual speech on the state of the Italian economy, Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco tried to sound a warning against the tide of populism, saying that "Italy's destiny is that of Europe."

"We are part of a very large and deeply integrated economic area, whose development determines that of Italy and at the same time depends on it," he said. "It is important Italy has an authoritative voice in forums where the future of the European Union is decided," Visco said, referring to upcoming EU decisions regarding the governance of the bloc, multi-year budgets and the revision of financial rules.

Visco warned that investors would flee the system if they see their wealth eroded because of an economic crisis, noting that "foreign investors will follow suit even more quickly. The financial crisis that would ensue would put us back significantly. It would taint Italy's reputation forever."

Addressing populists who have raised fears that outside forces are calling the shots in Italy, he said, "we are not constrained by European rules, but by economic logic."


Update May 29, 2018

Looming Italian election seen as plebiscite on EU and euro

New premier-designate Carlo Cottarelli arrives to address the media after meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, at the Quirinale Presidential Palace, in Rome, Monday, May 28. (Alessandro Di Meo/ANSA via AP)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — Italian populists vowed Monday to convert voter anger over their thwarted bid to govern for the first time into a kind of plebiscite on the European Union, financial markets and eurozone membership as the country found itself propelled to fresh elections as soon as late summer.

Amid the political turmoil, Carlo Cottarelli, an economist with International Monetary Fund experience, was asked by the Italian president to assemble a technocrat government to take the country to elections.

With weeks of political uncertainty taking a toll on Italy's bond and stock markets, Premier-designate Cottarelli said the return to the polls could come as early as after the August vacation break or, at the latest, at the start of 2019.

Only five days ago, another premier-designate, political novice Giuseppe Conte, stood in the same spot in the Quirinal presidential palace and declared he would he would work to create a "government of change" in what would have been Italy's — and western Europe's — first populist government.

That dream deflated dramatically Sunday night when President Sergio Mattarella refused to submit to populist demands that he approve their proposed economy minister, who in the past has recommended having a "Plan B" to exit the eurozone if EU strictures become too tight for Italy.

"This isn't democracy, this isn't respect for the popular vote," railed Matteo Salvini, a firebrand populist whose right-wing League was one of the anti-EU parties foiled by Mattarella. "It's just the last gasp of the strong powers who want Italy as a frightened, precarious slave."

"The next elections will be a plebiscite: the people and real life versus the old castes and the 'Lords of the Spread,'" Salvini said, referring to financial speculators.

Milan-based economist Nicola Nobile said it appeared that the upcoming election could shape up as a "de facto referendum on Italian membership in the eurozone."

Sharing Salvini's anger was 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, the populist who had hoped to govern with Salvini.

Di Maio repeatedly called for Mattarella's impeachment for vetoing their pick for economy minister.

He also urged those angry like him to rally in Rome on Saturday. The gathering, likely to double as a campaign rally, coincides with a national holiday celebrating the Republic and features a military parade and VIP reviewing stands in the heart of the capital.

Opposition Democrats contended that the populists, by calling the rally, wanted to stage the equivalent of the 1922 March on Rome that paved the way for Benito Mussolini's ascension to power and his Fascist regime.

"The campaign that's being prepared will be frightening," wrote La Stampa political commentator Marcello Sorgi.

The commentator predicted the impeachment threat against the president "who only was defending his institutional role and the Constitution is only a taste of what will come."

When Italians voted March 4, the result was a Parliament with no clear-cut majority. As weeks passed without a government, Mattarella warned he would reluctantly appoint a nonpolitical Cabinet to take the country to fresh elections if a viable coalition could not be forged.

Cottarelli pledged that his government would uphold Italy's "essential" role in both the EU and in the eurozone. And he promised "prudent management of our public accounts."

But markets have remained on edge, with the prospect of anti-euro political sentiment suddenly gaining traction in Italy and Cottarelli's own tenure seen as limited, with another election approaching.

The government's benchmark borrowing rate increased further, the Milan stock market slipped and the euro weakened against the dollar.

Cottarelli, who earned the nickname "Mr. Scissors" with his reputation for finding fat to trim in public spending, said elections could come as soon as "after August" if his Cabinet fails to get the required confidence votes in both chambers of Parliament.

The numbers aren't on his side. Immediately giving him a thumbs-down were the 5-Stars and the League, whose lawmakers together have the votes to sink his government.

Also vowing to vote against Cottarelli were two of Salvini's campaign alliance partners: Forza Italia, the center-right party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and a smaller far-right party.

Instead, the populists were already looking to a new attempt to gain power.

Political analyst Massimo Franco said Salvini's attempt to force Mattarella's hand over the ministry appointment appeared to be a "provocation" aimed not at forming a populist government but to "possibly make it fail before it started."

That way, Salvini, whose League has made stunning gains in recent regional elections, could try for a stronger mandate to govern after new elections.

For his northern base, which traditionally is suspicious of the centralized powers in Rome, Salvini, whom Corriere della Sera described as the "undisputed master of public indignation," is likely seen as a hero for refusing to back down from Mattarella.

Di Maio has decreed that 5-Star lawmakers can't serve more than two terms to avoid becoming part of the political "caste." If he applies that to himself, he would be ineligible to run.

But he already broke a big promise to his web-based constituency when he agreed to forge a coalition with Salvini's League. He ran for premier in March with the pledge the Movement would never enter a coalition government.

Waiting in the wings is a more hard-line Movement leader, Alessandro Di Battista, who sat out the March election. That means he's ripe for a run for office and is considered less likely to compromise with those outside the populist fold.


2 women taking selfies struck by lightning in Germany

In this May 27 photo thunderbolts are reflected near Premnitz, eastern Germany. (Julian Staehle/dpa via AP)

Frank Jordans

Berlin (AP) — Two young women suffered serious injuries after lightning struck them while they were taking selfies in western Germany, officials said Monday.

A spokesman for Bochum police said first responders found the 23 and 21-year-old women lying on the ground with their clothing torn in the city's Wattenscheid district on Sunday evening.

Paramedics had to resuscitate the 23-year-old and she remains in intensive care with life-threatening injuries, Bochum police spokesman Volker Schuette said.

The younger woman told police the last thing she remembered was walking with her friend on a footpath and recording each other with their smartphones, Schuette told The Associated Press.

"Clearly they were surprised by the storm," he said.

The 21-year-old was also hospitalized, but her life is not thought to be endangered.

Western Europe has experienced heavy storms in recent days, following an unusually long stretch of very warm weather this month.

Flash floods as high as 1.6 meters (5.3 feet) submerged roads and basements Sunday in parts of central Germany. Firefighters in the state of Hesse rescued two women who were trapped in their car by a mudslide. Dozens of flights were canceled at Frankfurt Airport, Germany's busiest, because of storms.

Meteorologists predict temperatures in Germany will hit 33 C (91.4 F) this week, with high humidity raising the prospect of further summer storms.

In Britain, an elderly man died after his car was submerged in water during heavy flooding in Rushall, about 135 miles (215 kilometers) north of London.

The man was taken to a hospital Monday but pronounced dead shortly after arrival. He was believed to have been in his 80s, West Midlands police said.

Britain's Met Office weather service said some areas of the country received the equivalent of one month's average rainfall in just one hour.

Multiple flood warnings were put in place in various parts of the country Monday. The rains followed severe lightning strikes that hit southern England on Saturday night, causing flight delays at Stansted Airport north of London.


Malaysia says it will axe high-speed railway to Singapore

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Monday, May 28. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Kuala Lumpur (AP) — New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Monday that a planned high-speed railway that would cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to just 90 minutes will be axed because it isn't beneficial.

Mahathir said the 350-kilometer rail project slated to be completed by 2026 is too costly.

"It is a final decision, but it will take time because we have an agreement with Singapore," Mahathir said. "It is not beneficial. It is going to cost a huge sum of money. We will make no money at all from this operation."

The two countries signed an agreement in December 2016 to build the rapid rail line with speeds of over 300 kilometers an hour and dubbed a "game-changer" that will boost connectivity and strengthen economic ties between the neighbors. Currently, it takes at least four hours to travel by car.

Mahathir said Malaysia may have to pay a penalty and will discuss the matter with Singapore, adding that "we will try to manage it at the least cost possible."

Mahathir's alliance won a stunning victory in May 9 elections to oust scandal-tainted former Prime Minister Najib Razak and end his coalition's 60-year grip on power.

The new government has said it will review large-scale infrastructure projects, including Chinese investment, to cut costs after revealing that national debt and liabilities was over a trillion ringgit ($251 billion), or 80 percent of gross domestic product, taking into account government guarantees and other payments.

The huge debt is partly due to a massive corruption scandal at the 1MDB state investment fund set up by Najib that led voters to abandon him, and sparked investigations in the U.S. and several other countries. U.S. investigators say Najib's associates stole and laundered at least $4.5 billion from the fund.

Mahathir has reopened an investigation into 1MDB that was suppressed during Najib's rule. Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, and his wife have been barred from leaving the country.


New Zealand to kill 150,000 cows to end bacterial disease

In this May 21, 2017 photo, cows rest in a paddock on a farm near Invercargill, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand plans to slaughter about 150,000 cows as it tries to eradicate a strain of disease-causing bacteria from the national herd.

Politicians and industry leaders announced the ambitious plan on Monday. They say it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and, if successful, would be the first time an infected country has eliminated Mycoplasma bovis.

Farming is vital to the economy in New Zealand, whose isolation has helped protect it from some diseases which affect herds elsewhere.

Last July, Mycoplasma bovis was found in the country for the first time. Found in Europe and the U.S., the bacteria can cause cows to develop mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and other diseases. They are not considered a threat to food safety, but do cause production losses.

Officials say they plan to kill all cows on any farms where the bacteria are found, even if some of the animals are healthy. They say many of the cows will be slaughtered at processing plants and used for beef, but some cows will have to be killed and buried on the farms or dumped in approved landfills.

Officials have the legal authority to forcibly enter farms and kill animals even in cases where a farmer might resist, but they said they hope they don't have to use those powers.

Katie Milne, the national president of the advocacy group Federated Farmers, said it was important to try to get rid of Mycoplasma bovis while there was still a chance. She said they would try to make sure affected farmers had all the support they needed, including adequate compensation.

"This is a tough time, and the pain and anguish they're going to go through is really hideous," she said of the affected farmers. "And we have to support them as neighbors, community members, farmers, friends."

New Zealand is home to some 10 million cows, about double its human population. About two-thirds are dairy cows and the rest beef cattle. Milk products represent the country's largest single export, and much of it is sold to China and used in infant formula.

Mycoplasma bovis has so far been found on 38 farms throughout New Zealand, officials say, a number they expect to rise to at least 142 farms based on computer modeling. They say all the infections found so far can be traced back to a single farm, and that the bacteria likely arrived in New Zealand 18 months before they were first identified. Officials are still trying to figure out how the bacteria got into the country despite strict biosecurity controls.

About 24,000 cows have already been killed in recent months and at least 128,000 more will have to be culled, most over the next year or two. The cost of the eradication program is estimated at 886 million New Zealand dollars ($616 million) over ten years. The government plans to pick up about two-thirds of the tab while farmers and the cattle industry will pay the rest.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she believes it's still possible to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis.

"We don't know, in the long-term, what impact it could collectively have on an industry that is incredibly important to New Zealand's economy," she said. "So if we have an opportunity to be the country that eradicates this disease, then we'll take it."

Officials say they expect to know by the end of the year whether the eradication plan is working.


Poland says Russian gas pipeline is a 'new hybrid weapon'

This photo shows the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Spring Session in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, May 26. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Poland's prime minister on Monday called a planned Russian gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, a "new hybrid weapon" and says Moscow wants to use it to undermine NATO and the European Union.

Mateusz Morawiecki called Nord Stream 2 "a poisoned pill of European security" as he addressed a NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Warsaw.

The Nord Stream 2 project would double the amount of natural gas Russia can funnel directly to energy-hungry Germany from newly tapped reserves in Siberia, intentionally skirting Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine.

The United States and some other EU members share Poland's opposition to the project, warning that it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that the U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 stems from President Donald Trump's desire to encourage exports of the U.S. liquefied natural gas, which is supplied by ship and is considerably more expensive than Russian supplies.

Polish President Andrzej Duda also gave his own warning of Russian intentions in Eastern Europe.

"With regret it must be said that Moscow has never come to terms with the collapse of the imperial Soviet Union. The invasion of Georgia and the unlawful annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine illustrate the real intentions of Russia," Duda said.

He was referring to the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, and of Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and support for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's east, where a war is still ongoing.
 


Update May 28, 2018

Power eludes Italy's populists, angry over president's veto

Italian Premier-Designate Giuseppe Conte addresses the media after meeting Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Sunday, May 27. (Fabio Frustaci/ANSA via AP)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — Italy's president on Sunday vetoed a euro-skeptic choice for economy minister, foiling a bid by populists to form Italy's next government and increasing the prospects of a quick return to the polls, 12 weeks after national elections produced a political impasse.

The pair of rival populists who had agreed to forge a governing coalition together exploded in anger after President Sergio Mattarella announced at the Quirinal presidential palace that he was refusing to appoint a minister whose views could rattle already nervous markets and drive up Italy's already staggeringly high debt.

Luigi Di Maio, who was  determined to see his anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Parliament's largest party, achieve government power for the first time, raised the specter of a move to impeach Mattarella, who, as head of state, must give his approval to any new government.

"If we go to vote (again) and we win, and then we go back to the Quirinale and they tell us we can't go into a government, for this I say, we must put the president under accusation" in Parliament, Di Maio said in a phone call to a late-night talk show.

Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, who overcame rivalry with Di Maio to try to forge a coalition with him, told a rally of his League party supporters after learning his pick for economy minister was rejected: "If we're not free to decide, better to go back to vote." He added: "we're not a free country" but have "limited sovereignty."

The political novice and 5-Star supporter selected by Di Maio and Salvini to be premier told reporters at the palace he had tried his best but didn't succeed, four days after Mattarella formally gave him a mandate to try to form the government on behalf of the populists.

"Good luck to anyone" who next gets tapped by Mattarella to be premier-designate, Giuseppe Conte, a law professor at the University of Florence, told reporter. He said he did best to try to give the country "a government of change."

An irritated-looking Mattarella said he would reveal his next move "in a few hours."

Italian media said the president would convene Carlo Cottarelli, an economist who assisted a former center-left government, to the palace late Monday morning. Mattarella was expected to ask the former International Monetary Fund official to assemble and lead a government of "technocrats" until early elections.

But as analyst Wolfango Piccoli noted early Monday that such a government risks losing mandatory confidence votes in each chamber of Parliament. The 5-Stars and the League together command just over half the lawmakers' seats. "This means that Italy will be left with no effective government backed by a clear political majority in Parliament until the end of the year," said Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence.

"The main risk is that the stand-off will further embolden the 5-Star Movement, and, especially, the League. The two populist parties will blame the 'establishment' for denying them the right to govern," Piccoli said.

Mattarella had previously warned that if a political government failed to take shape, he would be forced to appoint a non-political premier to guide the country to fresh elections before year's end.

On Sunday night, he said he would "dutifully" consider requests by political parties for early elections.

Salvini had virtually given an ultimatum to Mattarella over his pick for economy minister, Paolo Savona. Mattarella told reporters he had approved all of the coalition's Cabinet candidates except that of Savona.

"The designation of the economy minister always constitutes an immediate message of trust or alarm" for financial markets, Mattarella said, adding that he insisted on someone who was not "supporting a position expressed more than once that could probably, or in fact inevitably, provoke Italy's exit from the euro."

Last week, the spread of points between Italy's bonds and benchmark German bonds grew alarmingly, and Milan's stock market suffered losses as investors were spooked about the intentions of the populists.

"The losses in the stock market, day after day, burn resources and the savings of our companies and of those who invest in them," Mattarella said. "And they portend concrete risks for the savings of our fellow citizens and for Italian families."

Savona, who served as industry minister in a government in the 1990s, has questioned whether Italy at some point should ditch the euro as its official currency.

Outgoing Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan contended that the real problem wasn't Savona, but the "clearly unsustainable" platform of a populist government "that doesn't rule out a Plan B: that is, in the face of European pressures, one must leave Europe."

With the prospect of elections possibly looming in a few weeks or months, Salvini might see a boost in what already has been steadily growing popularity, said political analyst Maurizio Molinari, who is La Stampa newspaper's editor-in-chief.

Salvini was "much stronger" in opposing Mattarella, posturing that could expand his sovereignty-leaning base, Molinari said. The League has triumphed in several recent regional elections since March 4.


Ebola vaccinations begin in rural Congo on Monday: Ministry

UNICEF staffer Jean Claude Nzengu, center, talks with members of an Ebola vaccination team as they prepare to administer the vaccine in an Ebola-affected community in the north-western city of Mbandaka, in Congo, Friday, May 25. (Mark Naftalin/UNICEF via AP)

Kinshasa, Congo (AP) — Ebola vaccinations will begin Monday in the two rural areas of Congo where the latest deadly outbreak was declared this month, the health ministry said Saturday, as the number of confirmed Ebola cases rose to 35, including 10 deaths.

A vaccination campaign is already under way in Mbandaka, the city of 1.2 million on the Congo River where four Ebola cases have been confirmed. About 100 health workers have been vaccinated there as front-line workers face high risk from the virus, which is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.

The vaccination campaign will begin Monday in the rural areas of Bikoro and Iboko in the country's northwest, health ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga told The Associated Press.

"The health minister can be found at this moment in Bikoro for assessing the preparations for the vaccination campaign," Ilunga said.

Of the 10 confirmed Ebola deaths, five have occurred in Bikoro, two in Iboko and three in the Wangata area of Mbandaka.

In addition to the confirmed Ebola cases there are also 13 probable cases and six suspected ones, the health ministry said.

The World Health Organization emergencies chief has said the next few weeks are crucial in determining whether the outbreak can be brought under control. Complicating factors include its spread to a major city, the fact that health workers have been infected and the existence of three or four "separate epicenters" that make finding and monitoring contacts of infected people more difficult.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting in Geneva on Saturday that "I am personally committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to stop this outbreak as soon as possible."

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the hemorrhagic fever was first identified.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

WHO is using a "ring vaccination" approach, targeting the contacts of people infected or suspected of infection and then the contacts of those people. More than 600 contacts have been identified.

WHO also is accelerating efforts with nine neighboring countries to try to prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading there, saying the regional risk is high. It has warned against international travel and trade restrictions.


Pakistan approves bill to merge tribal regions with country

Supporters of the hard-line religious party, Jamiat Ulema Islam, protest at the main entrance of the provincial assembly in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sunday, May 27. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Riaz Khan

Peshawar, Pakistan (AP) — The assembly of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province approved a bill Sunday to merge the tribal regions along the Afghan border with its territory, paving the way to granting equal rights to about 5 million people in the restive area.

The milestone step comes after both houses of parliament had earlier approved granting equal rights to the tribes that have been governed by discriminatory laws since British colonial rule. The bill now goes to President Mamnoon Hussain to be signed into law.

Haji Abdul Rehman, a tribal elder from the Mohmand tribal area and member of the Grand Tribal Jirga (Council), welcomed the step saying it will give the tribes rights other Pakistanis enjoy, in addition to bringing development and facilities to the region.

Likely fearing loss of political influence in the region, hardliner religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, however, opposed the process saying the region's population should have been consulted before any decision was taken. Outside the assembly hundreds of the party's charged supporters tried to block entry to the assembly; police used batons and tear gas to disperse them. Protesters threw stones injuring six policemen, damaging vehicles belonging to media outlets in the process, said police officer Kamal Hussein.

Maulana Lutfur Rehman of JUI said in the assembly that the tribes have a right to determine their fate.

The regions remain effectively lawless and in recent years have become a haven for militants.

Neighboring Afghanistan also expressed reservations over the process saying it should have involved a consensus among the region's residents.

The Afghan presidential palace said in a statement Saturday that the Afghan government has repeatedly shared its concerns through diplomatic channels with Pakistan and the international community regarding any unilateral moves along the Durand Line that separates the two countries.

"There is a military situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Any decision should have been made while the situation was clam where the real desire of its people could be reflected," said the statement, adding that "any military and political approach without bilateral consultation regarding the tribal regions will be seen as unilateral and against the 1921 pact between British India and Afghanistan."

Islamabad rejected Kabul's stance saying Parliament's decision reflects the will of the people.

Afghanistan's national security adviser Hanif Atmar is in Islamabad leading a delegation. It is not clear whether his presence was related to this development but he will meet with his Pakistani counterpart and other political and military officials during his stay.


German nationalists march in Berlin, face counter-protests

Supporters of German AfD wave flags in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 27. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Geir Moulson

Berlin (AP) — Supporters of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party marched through central Berlin to protest against Chancellor Angela Merkel's government Sunday, and were kept away from a raft of counter-demonstrations by a heavy police presence.

Police said over 5,000 people turned out for the demonstration organized by the anti-migration Alternative for Germany, known by its German acronym AfD. A variety of counter-protests against the far right attracted well over 25,000 people in total, they said.

The AfD event opened with German flags, placards such as "No Islam in Germany" and chants of "Merkel must go" outside Berlin's central train station. The party's supporters then marched to the landmark Brandenburg Gate. Opponents chanted "Nazis out" from the other side of the monument.

Some of the counter-protesters took to rafts on the Spree river, within sight of the train station. Groups organizing protests against AfD included artists and a coalition of Berlin music clubs hoping to "blow away" the party with loud techno beats.

About 2,000 police officers were in place to prevent trouble, including reinforcements from other parts of Germany. The march concluded without significant trouble.

AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote to enter Germany's national parliament last year on anti-migrant and anti-establishment sentiment. It is now the largest of four opposition parties after the country's two biggest parties finally agreed to continue a centrist "grand coalition" under Merkel earlier this year.

Its march Sunday, an unusual move for a German political party, was headlined "Germany's Future." An AfD regional leader, Andreas Kalbitz, proclaimed that "this is a signal" and argued that it shows "AfD is the center of society."

In parliament, AfD's novice lawmakers have sometimes struggled to grasp basic procedures and stood out with blunt attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims, who made up the majority of the more than 1 million asylum-seekers to enter Germany in 2015 and 2016. Recent polls have put the party's support around the same level as in last year's election.

Prominent AfD lawmaker Beatrix von Storch told Sunday's demonstrators that "the vital question for us is: freedom or Islamization?"

Among the protesters was Silke Langmacker, an accountant, who carried a sign reading "Taxpayers First."

"We are here to stop the uncontrolled influx into the German welfare system," she said. "The refugees must return to Syria and rebuild their country there."


Update May 26-27, 2018

S. Korea relieved about Trump-Kim summit revival efforts

In this undated photo provided on Saturday, May 26 by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the construction site of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in Gangwon-do, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Saturday expressed cautious relief about the revived talks for a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un following a whirlwind 24 hours that saw Trump canceling the highly-anticipated meeting before saying it's potentially back on.

The statement by Seoul's presidential office came hours after Trump welcomed North Korea's conciliatory response to his Thursday letter withdrawing from the summit with Kim and said that the meeting might be getting back on track. Trump later on Saturday tweeted that the summit, if it does happen, will likely take place on June 12 in Singapore as originally planned.

"We see it as fortunate that the embers of dialogue between North Korea and the United States weren't fully extinguished and are coming alive again," Seoul's presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said in a statement. "We are carefully watching the developments."

South Korea, which brokered the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, was caught off guard by Trump's abrupt cancellation of the summit over hostility in recent North Korean comments. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump's decision left him "very perplexed."

North Korea issued an unusually restrained and diplomatic response to Trump's cancellation of the meeting, saying it's still willing to sit for talks with the United States "at any time, (in) any format."

"The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse," North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, which mainly targets external audience.

Notably, the statement did not appear in Saturday's edition of Rodong Sinmun, the official mouthpiece of the North's ruling party that's widely read by North Koreans.

The newspaper instead focused on Kim Jong Un's visit to the coastal town of Wonsan to inspect the construction of a beachfront tourist complex. Kim ordered the complex to be finished by April 15 next year to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Un's comments published by the newspaper did not include any mention of his potential meeting with Trump.

Analysts say Kim's diplomatic outreach in recent months after a flurry of nuclear and missile tests in 2017 indicates he is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there's also skepticism whether Kim will ever agree to fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he likely sees as his only guarantee of survival.

Comments in North Korea's state media indicate Kim sees any meeting with Trump as an arms control negotiation between nuclear states, rather than a process to surrender his nukes.


Officials: Deadly Nipah virus has not spread in south India

In this Thursday, May 24, photo, paramedics wear protective suits as a precautionary measure against the Nipah virus as they bury a body in Kozhikode, Kerala, southern India. (AP Photo/K.Shijith)

New Delhi (AP) — An outbreak of a deadly virus has not spread beyond two areas in south India, officials said, but they have issued a series of warnings to people living in the stricken towns.

A total of 12 people have died of Nipah virus since the outbreak began a few weeks ago in the state of Kerala, an unidentified senior Health Ministry official told the Press Trust of India news agency. Another 40 people with Nipah symptoms, which can include high fever, vomiting and convulsions, are being treated in area hospitals.

There is no vaccine for Nipah, and no treatment beyond supportive care to make patients comfortable. The virus kills up to 75 percent of those infected.

While officials believe this outbreak began with someone infected somehow by a fruit bat, the ministry official said every subsequent infection came from human-to-human contact, sometimes passing to relatives or medical workers caring for the sick. About 100 families where someone has had contact with infected people are being carefully monitored.

On Thursday, medical workers in white plastic suits and breathing masks buried the latest victim in the town of Kozhikode, placing his plastic-wrapped corpse in the red earth. Many of the handful of mourners who turned out for the burial were also wearing breathing masks.

Meanwhile, officials have issued a set of warnings to two parts of Kerala, including telling the public to avoid consuming partially eaten fruit from date palms and raw liquor made from dates. People have also been told to avoid abandoned wells.

Fruit bats eat dates from palm trees, and sometimes nest in wells.

The central government has dispatched teams from the National Centre for Disease Control to the area to monitor the outbreak.


Explosion in Canadian restaurant wounds 15 people

Police stand outside the Bombay Bhel restaurant in Mississauga, Canada Friday May 25. (Doug Ives/The Canadian Press via AP)

Rob Gillies

Toronto (AP) — An explosion caused by an "improvised explosive device" ripped through an Indian restaurant in a mall in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, wounding 15 people, Canadian police said.

Peel Region Sergeant Matt Bertram said two suspects with their faces covered to conceal their identity entered the Bombay Bhel restaurant late Thursday, dropped some sort of IED device and fled.

"We have no indication to call it a hate crime or any kind of terrorism act," Bertram said.

Peel Region paramedic Joe Korstanje said three people suffered critical injuries and were taken to the hospital while the remaining 12 victims suffered what he described as minor and superficial injuries.  Police later updated the condition of the three critically injured patients to stable.

The explosion happened just after 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the plaza where the restaurant is located was still sealed off on Friday.

"Nothing was said by these individuals," Bertram said. "It appears they just went in, dropped off this device, and took off right away."

Bertram said they couldn't say what the device was yet.

"Different callers called in and said it was firecrackers or some said gunshot sort of noises. I don't think it was an explosion that was rocking anything," he said. "Until we can get in there and analyze the material after the search warrant we won't be able to say what it was."

Andre Larrivee, who lives in a nearby condo, said he was watching television and heard a loud explosion

"It was really loud," he said, comparing the noise to an electric generator that had exploded at a nearby construction site recently.

Police asked for the public's help and released a photo of the suspects, with dark hoodies pulled over their heads and their faces covered.

Peel region police, in a tweet, described the first suspect as in his mid-20s, 5-foot-10 to 6-feet with a stocky build, wearing dark blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie and a baseball cap with a light gray peak.

The second suspect is described as a little shorter with a thin build, wearing faded blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie pulled over his head, gray T-shirt and dark colored skate shoes.

Hours after the incident, the Indian consulate in Toronto tweeted it had opened a helpline for those seeking assistance following the explosion. Vikas Swarup, India's High Commissioner to Canada, tweeted that India's Consul General in Toronto visited the injured in the hospital. He also said that the three Indian-Canadians who were reported to be critically injured are stable.


Netherlands, Australia hold Russia liable for downing MH17

In this July 17, 2014 file photo, people walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Mike Corder

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands and Australia said Friday that they are holding Russia legally responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over war-ravaged eastern Ukraine nearly four years ago, killing all 298 people on board.

The announcement by the foreign ministers of both countries came a day after international investigators announced that the missile system that brought down the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight came from a Russia-based military unit. They displayed photos and videos from social media tracking a large convoy of rocket launchers through Russia.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said that following that conclusion, "the government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable."

"The Netherlands and Australia today asked Russia to enter into talks aimed at finding a solution that would do justice to the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the downing of MH17," Blok said in a statement. "A possible next step is to present the case to an international court or organization for their judgment."

Russia denies involvement in the July 17, 2014, missile strike that blew the Boeing 777 out of the sky at 33,000 feet (about 10,000 meters) over war-ravaged eastern Ukraine.

Bodies, debris and burning wreckage were strewn over a field of sunflowers near the rebel-held village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, where fighting had been raging for months.

The father of one of the passengers welcomed the move.

"This is great news," said Hans de Borst, who lost his daughter, Elsemiek. "I understand why the government waited, but now the evidence is clear."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called for support from the international community for the move.

"This represents a threat to international security," she said. "If military weapons can be deployed and then used to bring down civilian aircraft in what was essentially a war zone, then international security is at risk and we call on all countries to inform the Russian Federation that its conduct is unacceptable."


Update May 25, 2018

N. Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

In this Thursday, May 24, photo, smoke rises from a nuclear test site after a demolition explosion in Punggye-ri, North Korea. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)

Punggye-RI, North Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country's nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a small group of foreign journalists watched.

The explosions at the test site deep in the mountains of the North's sparsely populated northeast were supposed to build confidence ahead of a planned summit next month between Kim and President Donald Trump. But Trump canceled the meeting on Thursday, citing "tremendous anger and open hostility" in a North Korean statement released earlier in the day.

The blasts were centered on three tunnels at the underground site and a number of buildings in the surrounding area. North Korea held a closing ceremony afterward with officials from its nuclear arms program in attendance.

The group of journalists that witnessed the demolition, which touched off landslides near the tunnel entrances and sent up clouds of smoke and dust, included an Associated Press Television crew.

North Korea's state media called the closure of the site part of a process to build "a nuclear-free, peaceful world" and "global nuclear disarmament."

"The dismantling of the nuclear test ground conducted with high-level transparency has clearly attested once again to the proactive and peace-loving efforts of the DPRK government being made for assuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and over the world," the North's official news agency reported late Thursday.

North Korea's formal name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Kim announced his plan to close the site, where North Korea has conducted all six of its underground nuclear tests, ahead of a summit with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in in April and the planned summit with Trump next month.

But even as North Korea made good on its gesture of detente, it lobbed a verbal salvo at Washington, calling Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" and saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.

Trump responded by canceling the summit, saying in a letter to Kim, "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."

North Korea's decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site had generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of the summit. In a statement earlier Thursday, South Korea's National Security Council called the closing the North's "first measure toward complete denuclearization."

Not everyone was as optimistic, however.

The closing of the site is not an irreversible move and would need to be followed by many more significant measures to meet Trump's demand for real denuclearization.

North Korea also did not invite international nuclear weapons inspectors, opting instead for the impact of the television footage to impress the world.

The event was, indeed, impressive.

The first blast the visiting journalists witnessed came at around 11 a.m. after they made a 12-hour plus trip by train and convoy through the night and over bumpy dirt roads. That explosion collapsed the complex's north tunnel, which was used for five nuclear tests between 2009 and last year.

Two other explosions, at around 2:20 p.m. and 4 p.m., collapsed the west and south tunnels, according to officials. North Korea's state media stressed that those two tunnels could have been used to conduct future tests, countering reports the Punggye-ri site had been rendered largely unusable by its earlier tests.

Also blown up were observation posts and barracks used by guards and other workers at the facility. A tunnel on the eastern side had already been shut down after an initial nuclear test in 2006.

North Korea said the demolition did not cause any leakage of radioactive materials or have any "adverse impact on the surrounding ecological environment."

The journalists were allowed to stay at the site for about nine hours.

Getting to the remote site required an overnight train ride from Wonsan, a port city east of the capital, Pyongyang. In typically secretive fashion, officials instructed the media not to open the blinds that covered the windows of their train cars. They also were not allowed to shoot photos from the vehicles they took to the site from the nearest train station, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

Back in Pyongyang, the outburst directed at Pence, issued in the name of a top Foreign Ministry official, came on the heels of another sharp rebuke of Trump's newly appointed national security adviser, John Bolton, and raised concerns that a major gap had opened between the two sides.

Choe Son Hui, a vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted by the state-run news agency as slamming "ignorant" and "stupid" comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared nuclear-capable North Korea to Libya. Libya gave up its nuclear program at an early stage only to see its longtime dictator overthrown and brutally killed years later.

The summit plan had hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides began trading barbs and taking tougher positions.

Trump met with South Korean President Moon at the White House on Tuesday for consultations, and suggested then the summit could be delayed or called off entirely.


Cyclone Mekunu pounds Yemen island on its path to Oman

Men walk on a road flooded after heavy rain and strong winds caused damage in Hadibu as Cyclone Mekunu pounded the Yemeni island of Socotra, Thursday, May 24. (AP Photo/Abdullah Morgan)

Jon Gambrell

Salalah, Oman (AP) — Cyclone Mekunu pounded the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea on Thursday morning, lashing it with heavy rain and strong winds as the powerful storm remained on a path to strike Oman this weekend. At least 17 people were reported missing.

With winds now gusting up to 160 kph (100 mph), meteorologists expected the "very severe" cyclone to strike Oman on Saturday near Salalah, the sultanate's third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people near the country's border with Yemen.

"It is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours," India's Meteorological Department warned in a bulletin Thursday. It said gusts from the storm will likely reach 190 kph (118 mph) by Saturday.

Yemen's pro-government SABA news agency reported that 17 people were missing after two ships capsized in the storm and three vehicles washed away. It said Yemen's government, exiled in Saudi Arabia, had declared Socotra a "disaster" zone after the storm.

Images circulated online from Socotra show soaking wet residents attempting to find shelter from the storm. The photos and video footage, which went viral Thursday, show strong winds with rain, flash flooding and mudslides.

Mohammed al-Arqabi, a resident of the island who works as a local journalist, described the situation as "very bad," saying "the water level has greatly increased, and floods are everywhere ... washing away cars."

"More than 200 families have been displaced from their homes in the suburbs of Hadibu and areas close to the northern coast," he said. "Two Indian cargo ships have gone missing, losing five of their crew members."

Rajeh Bady, a spokesman for the exiled government, said the island was in need of "urgent" aid, according to SABA.

The island, listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site, has been the focus of a dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Yemen's internationally recognized government amid that country's war after Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

Saudi troops recently deployed on Socotra as a confidence-building measure over complaints by Yemen's government that the UAE deployed troops there without its permission.

Socotra has a unique ecosystem and is home to rare species of plants, land snail and reptile species that can be found nowhere else around the planet. It is known for its flower-and-fruit-bearing dragon blood tree, which resembles an umbrella and gets its name from the dark red sap it secretes. Socotra hosts endangered species of land and sea birds and its waters hold hundreds of distinctive species of reef-building corals and fish.

A cyclone is the same as a hurricane or a typhoon; their names only change because of their location. Hurricanes are spawned east of the international date line. Typhoons develop west of the line. They are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Australia.

Seasonal rains are nothing unusual for southern Oman this time of year. While the rest of the Arabian Peninsula bakes in areas where temperatures near 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), those in the sleepy port city of Salalah enjoy rainy weather that sees fog and cool air at wrap around its lush mountainsides. Temperatures drop down around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) during its annual monsoon festival.

Powerful cyclones, however, are rare. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck Oman. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through the sultanate and later even reached Iran, causing $4 billion in damage in Oman alone and killing over 70 people across the Mideast.

The last hurricane-strength storm to strike within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Salalah came in May 1959, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's archives. However, that cyclone was categorized as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning it only had winds of up to 95 mph (152 kph). Mekunu, which means "mullet" in Dhivehi, the language spoken in the Maldives, is on track to potentially be as powerful as a Category 3 hurricane.

Ahead of the storm, Omani media reported lines at gas stations in Salalah, the hometown of Oman's longtime ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The Royal Oman Police urged citizens to seek safety and warned that floods were likely in valleys. It also said it planned to deploy more ambulances and police officers to areas likely to be affected by the cyclone.

Also, the Health Ministry said it evacuated critically ill patients at locations of the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Salalah, flying them by air north to Muscat, the country's capital. State television aired images of others being evacuated from remote villages in the path of the cyclone.

The port of Salalah, crucial to Qatar amid a boycott by four Arab nations over a diplomatic spat with Doha, said it also had taken precautions and secured cranes ahead of the cyclone.


Australian sentenced to death in Malaysia drugs case

In this Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, file photo, Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, center, is escorted by police during a court hearing at Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — An Australian woman accused of drug trafficking in Malaysia was sentenced to death after an appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court's acquittal, her lawyer said.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was exonerated by the High Court last December on grounds that she didn't know there were 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine in her bag when she was arrested in December 2014 at Kuala Lumpur's international airport. The prosecution appealed.

Exposto had claimed that she went to Shanghai to meet a U.S. serviceman with whom she had an online romance, and had been asked to carry a bag full of clothes. She said she was unaware that the bag also contained drugs.

Exposto's lawyer Tania Scivetti said a three-member appeals court "found there was merit" in the prosecution's appeal, though it didn't say on what grounds. She said Exposto was shocked but calm.

"It's disappointing as there was clear evidence that she was the victim of an Internet romance scam. She was a drug mule," Scivetti told The Associated Press, adding that they have appealed to Malaysia's top court.

Malaysia has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50 grams of a prohibited drug.

Exposto, a 54-year-old mother of four from Sydney and also a grandmother, had arrived from Shanghai and was to catch a connecting flight to Melbourne when she was detained in Malaysia. The drugs were discovered when she put two bags through the security scanner when exiting the airport.

After her acquittal in December, Scivetti said Exposto was immediately arrested by immigration officials as her visa has expired. Following the prosecution's appeal, she remained in custody as she couldn't afford to pay bail.

Three Australians have been hanged for drug offenses in Malaysia since 1986.


Landmark abortion vote in Ireland may change constitution

A woman protests against a demonstration by volunteers from Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity (ROSA) in Dublin, Wednesday May 23, as they call for a 'Yes' vote in Ireland's upcoming abortion referendum on Friday. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

Leo Enright

Dublin (AP) — An abortion debate that has inflamed passions in Ireland for decades will come down to a single question on Friday: yes or no?

The referendum on whether to repeal the country's strict anti-abortion law is being seen by anti-abortion activists as a last-ditch stand against what they view as a European norm of abortion-on-demand, while for pro-abortion rights advocates, it is a fundamental moment for declaring an Irish woman's right to choose.

Opinion surveys suggest a continuing change of attitudes in Ireland, a traditionally Roman Catholic country that surprised many by voting in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015. Both sides generally agree that the frenzied campaign ahead of Friday's vote has not produced the dramatic shift in public opinion that anti-abortion campaigners were hoping for.

Still, David Quinn of the socially conservative Iona Institute says the "no" forces opposed to abortion rights still have "a fighting chance," and recalled other recent political upsets.

"Remember: Brexit wasn't supposed to pass, and Donald Trump wasn't supposed to get elected," he said.

Activists from both sides have put up thousands of emotional signs pleading their case and there were small demonstrations in Dublin on Wednesday as the vote neared.

Friday's poll will be the fourth time in as many decades that Irish voters have been asked to decide on the issue of abortion.

But this time the debate has been roiled by two factors that voters have not faced before: The extraordinary power of social media and the increased availability through on-line telemedicine websites of new drugs that allow women to make profound decisions over whether to end a pregnancy in the privacy of their homes.

Facebook and Google have both taken steps to restrict or remove ads relating to the referendum in a move designed to address global concerns about social media's role in influencing political campaigns, from the U.S. presidential race to Brexit.

At the heart of this vote is whether or not to reverse a far-reaching 1983 referendum that inserted an amendment into Ireland's constitution that committed authorities to equally defend the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus from the moment of conception.

The issue has been revisited repeatedly after heartrending "hard cases" that, abortion rights activists say, exposed vulnerable women to miserable choices — and even, at times, death.

Abortion is legal in Ireland only in rare cases when the woman's life is in danger, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to terminate pregnancies in neighboring Britain.  That number has fallen dramatically in recent years as women turned to online websites to illegally import drugs that end pregnancies.

Pro-abortion rights activists have sought to focus public attention on the difficult cases, including the fate of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who had sought and been denied an abortion before she died after a miscarriage in a Galway hospital on Ireland's west coast in 2012. The man who led the Irish health service's inquiry into her death has called for the constitutional ban on abortion to be repealed.

In an effort to neutralize the "hard cases" argument, some prominent anti-abortion campaigners have lately shifted their stance, even suggesting that new laws could be enacted to permit abortions in certain limited cases.

But that compromise was dismissed by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a medical doctor who favors repealing the constitutional ban. He said it is the country's "hard laws that create hard cases."

Friday's referendum has placed the abortion debate on center stage, with many on Dublin's crowded city streets wearing buttons or T-shirts that align them with the "yes" or "no" side.

Jessie Carton was walking down O'Connell Street last week in a "Repeal the Eighth" T-shirt, a reference to the amendment behind the constitutional ban. The 17-year-old is too young to vote — but she would vote "yes" if she could.

"My auntie was forced to maintain her pregnancy, even though they told her the baby would die," Carton said, adding that she would vote to repeal "so other women don't have to go through what she did."

An elderly Dublin man, John Byrne, wore a "no" button on his lapel.

"I believe in life. I believe God is the giver of life," the 78-year-old said, adding that he credits God with helping him overcome alcohol addiction.

"I drank, and I remember sleeping in the bushes in Merrion Square. God bailed me out. ... It's high time I did something for him," he said.  "We've gone too liberal in Ireland altogether, and we would be better off if we respected our Christian values."

The "no" forces are fearful that the urban vote in cosmopolitan Dublin could overwhelm their bid to keep the constitutional ban in force.

Quinn, the "no" backer from Iona Institute, says that if turnout is high in Dublin, the "yes" side is likely to triumph. A high rural turnout would keep the ban in place, he predicted.

Even if "yes" prevails, there will not be an immediate change in abortion rules. It will be up to parliament to enact a new law — a debate widely expected to be fractious.


Scars, unexploded bombs have lingered since Philippine siege

Protesters light placards on fire to mark the anniversary of the siege by Islamic State group-aligned militants of Marawi city in southern Philippines exactly a year ago Wednesday, May 23. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Marawi, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of displaced remain in emergency shelters and the threat of Islamic extremists and unexploded bombs lingers in the rubble of a southern Philippine city, where survivors on Wednesday remembered a disastrous five-month siege by Islamic State group-aligned fighters that began a year ago.

The Rev. Teresito Soganub, who survived 117 days of captivity by the extremists in Marawi city, said that aside from the devastation, it would take years for him and other civilians to overcome the horror of having lived through airstrikes and gunbattles that threatened them day and night.

"I'm still very, very far from a full recovery," Soganub said by telephone. "If it takes long to rebuild and reconstruct, it's more difficult to deal with this psychological and psychiatric trauma."

The government is finalizing a plan to rebuild the most devastated commercial and residential districts, where the carcasses of pockmarked homes, buildings and mosques stand eerily and gathering weeds in an urban wasteland guarded by troops.

The city's journey back to normalcy may take years at a huge cost, said officials, some of whom have warned that if the rehabilitation falters, the restiveness it would generate could be exploited by Muslim militants.

"There were lots of bullets, a lot of cannon fire and airstrikes that targeted us because we were with the IS group that was being pounded by troops," Soganub said from his southern home province, where he held Mass with family and friends. "Each day of the 117 days, 24 hours, we were facing death every time and our lives depended on the temperament of our hostage takers."

Residents, officials and military officers released dozens of white balloons and doves into the blue sky from a government complex in lakeside Marawi and prayed for peace and recovery.

The May 23 siege that was crushed in October killed more than 1,100 mostly militants, left the mosque-studded city's heartland in rubbles, prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the southern third of the country under martial law and reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was gaining a foothold in the Asian region. The months of intense fighting forced hundreds of thousands of residents of Marawi and outlying towns to flee for their lives.

While many have returned home after the attack was quelled, thousands more whose houses were destroyed in the main battle area that remains off-limits to civilians are still living in evacuation centers and temporary shelters, officials said. At least 50 people are still listed as missing and many human remains have not yet been identified and have been buried in numbered graves.

A regional official, Zia Alonto Adiong, said it was crucial to keep the public informed.

"One day in an evacuation center is already too long for someone who has lost everything," Adiong said. "I think the frustration comes from the fear of expulsion, fear of not knowing what's going to happen."

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza called for patience after some disgruntled Marawi residents held a noisy protest.

"We are working, government is doing its best to restore as much as possible what was destroyed and I think we are on the road," Dureza said. "But we'd like to call on all those who have gone through suffering to please be patient. There is no magic formula here. There is no reconstruction that will happen overnight. There will be a lot of challenges. Not everybody will agree, there will be contrary voices and feelings."


Update May 24, 2018

Malaysia says search for MH370 to end next week

Director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, right, shows the search area map during a press conference as Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook looks on in Putrajaya, Malaysia on Wednesday, May 23. (AP Photo)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — The search by a private U.S. company for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will end next week, Malaysia's transport minister said Wednesday, while families of those who died onboard urged the government to review all matters related to the jet's disappearance four years ago.

Malaysia signed a "no cure, no fee" deal with Texas-based Ocean Infinity in January to resume the hunt for the plane, a year after the official search in the southern Indian Ocean by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off.

So far, the search has not turned up anything that could shed light on one of the world's biggest aviation mystery.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Wednesday that the 90-day search deal with Ocean Infinity was due to end in April but was extended twice until May 29 following the firm's request.

"There will be no more extensions. It cannot continue forever. Let's wait until May 29 and we will then decide how to proceed," he told The Associated Press.

The plane vanished March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Under the deal, the government will pay Ocean Infinity up to $70 million based on the size of the area searched if the mission is successful within three months. Officials have said there was an 85 percent chance of finding the debris in a new 25,000-square-kilometer (9,650-suqare-mile) search area identified by experts.

The official search was extremely difficult because no transmissions were received from the aircraft after its first 38 minutes of flight. Systems designed to automatically transmit the flight's position failed to work, according to a final report issued in January 2017 by the Australian Transport Safety Board.

Voice 370, which represents families of those aboard the flight, in a statement Wednesday urged the new government to review all matters related to the jet's disappearance including "any possible falsification" or elimination of maintenance records and any omission that may have impaired tracking, search, rescue and recovery of the plane.

Loke said the new government, which took power after the May 9 elections, is committed to transparency and will release details for public scrutiny in due time.


Tensions soar between India, Pakistan along Kashmir frontier

An Indian man walks as smoke rises from a residential area that was gutted from firing allegedly from the Pakistan side of the border in Ranbir Singh Pura district of Jammu and Kashmir, India, Tuesday, May 22. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Munir Ahmed and Aijaz Hussain

Srinagar, India (AP) — Tensions soared Wednesday along the volatile frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, as rival soldiers shelled dozens of villages and border posts for a sixth straight day.

A total of six civilians and a soldier were killed on both sides, officials from the two countries said, in escalating violence in the disputed region that both countries blame the other for initiating.

Indian police said Pakistani soldiers continued targeting dozens of Indian border posts and villages with mortars and automatic gunfire in the Jammu region. At least five civilians were killed and 30 others injured on the Indian side, said a top police officer, S.D. Singh.

In Pakistan, two security officials said Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire near Sialkot city in eastern Punjab province. They said the two sides had traded fire over the past 48 hours, killing a civilian and a soldier.

The officials said several people were also wounded, including three border guards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

As in the past, each country accused the other of initiating the latest border skirmishes and violating a 2003 cease-fire agreement.

Wednesday's fighting follows days of confrontations that left four civilians on each side and two Indian soldiers dead.

The fighting has sent tens of thousands of villagers fleeing from their homes in dozens of affected villages along the border to government buildings converted into temporary shelters or to the houses of friends and relatives living in safer places.

Dozens of schools in villages along the frontier have been closed and authorities advised residents to stay indoors as shells and bullets rained down. Some damage to houses was also reported on the Indian side.

Pakistan says Indian forces have carried out more than 1,050 cease-fire violations this year, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.

India says 25 civilians and 18 government troops have been killed this year in over 800 cease-fire violations initiated by Pakistan. They say dozens have been injured and scores of cattle have perished.

This year, soldiers from the two nations have engaged in fierce border skirmishes along the rugged and mountainous Line of Control, as well as a lower-altitude 200-kilometer (125-mile) boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab, where the latest fighting occurred.

India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, which both claim. They have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the region.

The fighting has become a predictable cycle of violence as the region convulses with decades-old animosities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side.

Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.


Legend of Loch Ness Monster will be tested with DNA samples

This undated file photo shows a shadowy shape that some people say is a photo of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. (AP Photo)v

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — The stories seem as tall as the lake is deep. For hundreds of years, visitors to Scotland's Loch Ness have described seeing a monster that some believe lurks in the depths.

But now the legend of "Nessie" may have no place left to hide. A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team to the lake next month, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there.

University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he's no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way. Besides, he says, his kids think it's one of the coolest things he's ever done.

One of the more far-fetched theories is that Nessie is a long-necked plesiosaur that somehow survived the period when dinosaurs became extinct. Another theory is that the monster is actually a sturgeon or giant catfish. Many believe the sightings are hoaxes or can be explained by floating logs or strong winds.

Gemmell said that when creatures move about in water, they leave behind tiny fragments of DNA. It comes from their skin, feathers, scales and urine.

He said his team will take 300 samples of water from different points around the lake and at different depths. They will filter the organic material and extract the DNA, he said, sequencing it by using technology originally created for the human genome project.

He said the DNA results will then be compared against a database of known species. He said they should have answers by the end of the year.

"I'm going into this thinking it's unlikely there is a monster, but I want to test that hypothesis," Gemmell said. "What we'll get is a really nice survey of the biodiversity of the Loch Ness."

He said the real discoveries may come in determining things like the prevalence of invasive species.

Gemmell, 51, said he first visited Loch Ness in his late 20s while on vacation. Like thousands of tourists before him, he gazed out over the lake trying to catch sight of a monster. He said he first came up with the idea of testing DNA from the lake a couple of years ago and it resonated with many, including his children, aged 7 and 10.

Graeme Matheson, chief of the Scottish Society of New Zealand, said he, too, has visited Loch Ness and gazed out over the water, and that he wishes Gemmell all the best.

"I hope he and his cohorts find something, although I think they'll be battling," Matheson said. "Still, it's a good way to get a trip to Scotland."

Gemmell said that even if they don't find any monster DNA, it won't deter some Nessie believers. He said they've already been offering him theories, like that Nessie might be on vacation after swimming to the sea via hidden underwater caves, or that the creature might be extraterrestrial and not leave behind any DNA.

"In our lives we want there still to be mysteries, some of which we will ultimately solve," Gemmell said. "That's part of the spirit of discovery. And sometimes, what you find may not be what you were expecting."


French government orders evacuation of Paris migrant camp

 

In this photo taken on Friday May 18, 2018, migrants camp under a bridge in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Elaine Ganley)

Elaine Ganley

Paris (AP) — A burgeoning migrant camp in Paris, on a canal used by joggers and cyclists, is at the center of a tug-of-war over how best to respond to the unrelenting arrivals of migrants in the French capital — with humanity or with muscle.

Two migrants drowned this month in canals and others have been injured in fights, increasing the pressure to act.

France's interior minister on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of some 2,300 migrants at the camp and others around Paris. But he and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo remain at odds over where to take them, and how to find a lasting solution.

The debate raises a question shared across European nations seeking to manage the migrant flux, which has ebbed since the mass Syrian refugee crisis a few years ago but remains a steady challenge.

Collomb expressed "regret" at Hidalgo's refusal to clear out the migrants, and said he had no choice but to order an evacuation, expected in the coming days.

The mayor and aid groups want the migrants put in shelters, not just evacuated in a police operation and dispersed or summarily deported. Paris police have already cleared out some 28,000 migrants from Paris camps in the past three years, but the arrivals haven't slowed.

Collomb is behind the government's tough immigration bill that has rained criticism on President Emmanuel Macron, who is working to stop migration at its source and use a police approach at home. Refusing to shelter the Paris migrants exemplifies the approach.

Side-to-side and back-to-back, hundreds of small tents are packed under bridges on the side of a canal in far northeastern Paris, beside a shopping center, banks and other businesses.

The tents, filled mainly with African migrants, hold stories of horrific stays in Libya, desperate boat trips across the Mediterranean, frozen journeys on foot through the Alps — and visions of the good life that fuels the dreams of all migrants.

Joggers, cyclists and those working in the area pass in the narrow space available, as river shuttles and barges ply the canal's waters.

The surrealistic scene is repeated along the Canal Saint-Martin, a scenic stretch popular with tourists in the heart of Paris where an estimated 450 migrants, many Afghan, are camped.

"It's not the best vision from the office window," said Kevin Sadoun, who works at a major bank with offices around the largest encampment, known as the "Millenaire" after the shopping center overlooking the tents. "We see people pee, defecate ... But they have no choice," he said.

There are few portable toilets and urinals, and just one set of spigots where migrants wash clothes.

Naby Sylla, a 20-year-old Guinean, is among migrants who crossed into France via the Alps, after traveling by raft from Sabratha, Libya, to Italy. He left Italy, he said, after being twice attacked, once with a bottle and needing hospital treatment.

"In Africa, we thought that Europe was a place of welcome. Unfortunately, we don't find that," he told The Associated Press.


Update May 23, 2018

Stars urge Indonesia to ban 'brutal' trade in dog meat

In this undated photo, dogs for sale are seen in cages put on cart at a market in Langowan, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Dog Meat Free Indonesia via AP)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — International stars of acting, music and sports have urged Indonesia's president to ban what they say is a brutal trade in dog and cat meat for human consumption.

The appeal comes after Indonesian campaigners against animal cruelty and Humane Society International in January exposed markets on the island of Sulawesi where dogs were bludgeoned by the thousands and blow-torched alive to remove their hair before onlookers including children.

The letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo released Monday said if Indonesia joined other Asian nations that have already banned the cruel trade, it would be "celebrated globally" and end a stain on the country's reputation.

The coalition of campaigners, calling itself Dog Meat-Free Indonesia, also warned of health risks posed by the trade due to its potential to spread rabies.

"These animals, many of them stolen pets, are subjected to crude and brutal methods of capture, transport and slaughter, and the immense suffering and fear they must endure is heartbreaking and absolutely shocking," the letter said.

Actress Cameron Diaz, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, talent spotter Simon Cowell, comedian Ricky Gervais, Indonesian pop singer Anggun and musician Moby are among the more than 90 celebrities listed in the letter.

Dog meat is eaten by only a small percentage of Indonesians but in a country of more than 250 million people it still represents a significant trade.

Thousands of dogs and cats are slaughtered weekly in North Sulawesi, most of which are imported from other provinces in Indonesia, according to the anti-animal cruelty groups.

After the blaze of bad publicity in January, the infamous Tomohon Extreme Market in North Sulawesi stopped the public slaughter of dogs but video shot by campaigners showed dog carcasses were still being delivered from other locations.

"We are so grateful to these global and Indonesian superstars who have come together to support Dog Meat-Free Indonesia's efforts to end this cruel and dangerous industry," Humane Society International President Kitty Block said in a statement.

"We respectfully urge President Widodo to work with us on a solution that protects not only Indonesia's dogs and cats but also the health of its people," she said.


Congo announces 6 new confirmed cases of Ebola virus

A health worker prepares an Ebola vaccine to administer to health workers during a vaccination campaign in Mbandaka, Congo Monday, May 21. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

Saleh Mwanamilongo and Carley Petesch

Kinshasa, Congo (AP) — Congo's health ministry announced six new confirmed Ebola cases and two new suspected cases Tuesday as vaccinations entered a second day in an effort to contain the deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million.

Dozens of health workers in the northwestern provincial capital, Mbandaka, have received vaccinations amid expectations that some will be deployed to the rural epicenter of the epidemic. Front-line workers are especially at risk of contracting the virus, which spreads in contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, including the dead.

"In the next five days 100 people must be vaccinated, including 70 health professionals," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. "The priority of the government is to ensure that all these brave health professionals can do their job safely."

Congo's health ministry said there are now 28 confirmed Ebola cases, 21 probable ones and two suspected. The six new confirmed cases were in the rural Iboko health zone, it said. Of the confirmed Ebola cases, 14 are in Iboko, 10 are in Bikoro where the outbreak began and four are in the Wangata area of Mbandaka.

The death toll from hemorrhagic fever stands at 27, with three of them confirmed as Ebola. Two of the Ebola victims were nurses, one in Iboko and the other in Bikoro.

"Concerned about Iboko as access remains difficult," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's emergency response chief, said Tuesday on Twitter. Roads in the region are unpaved and infrastructure is poor.

The WHO said 33 people received the first vaccinations Monday, including a few people in two communities of Mbandaka. More than 7,500 doses are available in Congo, WHO said Monday, and another 8,000 doses will be available in the coming days.

Allowing Congolese to watch health officials receive vaccinations is crucial, health worker Ezela Elange told The Associated Press.

"Our hope is that ... the sick will heal, the whole province will be healed," Elange said.

The vaccination campaign eventually will move to cover the two other health zones where confirmed cases have been reported. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where electricity is patchy.

The vaccine, provided by U.S. company Merck, is still in the test stages but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016.

Those who are vaccinated in outbreak areas still will have to strictly follow infection-control measures, especially since the vaccine doesn't protect immediately. It takes a week to 10 days, said Dr. Pierre Rollin, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a veteran of more than a dozen Ebola outbreaks.

Rollin warned that the large geographic area between Mbandaka and the remote towns where the outbreak's first cases were reported must be scoured for the infected and the people who have come into contact with them.

"Travel from Mbandaka to Bikoro can take four hours to four days" depending on transportation and if it's raining, he said. "Before making any assumption we're going to have to look along this road and all the villages."

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Tuesday said it was contributing another up to $7 million to combat the outbreak on top of the $1 million it committed last week.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Congo warned that the outbreak is far from over. It said it will expand operations for community-based surveillance and safe burials.

"The risk of spreading within the country and to neighboring nations remains real," said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, IFRC's regional director for Africa.

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. While all of the outbreaks were based in remote rural areas the virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, the capital of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

Mbandaka is an hour's flight from Kinshasa and several days' travel by barge.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.


Airlines caving to Beijing despite White House protest

In this May 21, 2018, photo, a computer screen displays the booking website of British Airways showing "Taiwan-China" in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Erika Kinetz

Shanghai (AP) — Global airlines are obeying Beijing's demands to refer to Taiwan explicitly as a part of China, despite the White House's call this month to stand firm against such "Orwellian nonsense." The Associated Press found 20 carriers, including Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa, that now refer to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers Chinese territory, as a part of China on their global websites.

There are just three days left for dozens of foreign airlines to decide whether to comply with Beijing's orders, or face consequences that could cripple their China business, including legal sanctions. Many have already sided with Beijing.

The spread of "Taiwan, China" on the drop-down menus and maps of airline websites represents another victory for China's President Xi Jinping and his ruling Communist Party's nationalistic effort to force foreign companies to conform to their geopolitical vision, even in operations outside of China. Critics say China's incremental push to leverage its economic power to forge new international norms — in this case regarding Taiwan's status — create worrying precedents and that beyond fiery missives there is little Washington can do to unify a fractured global response and effectively push back against Beijing's demands.

"What's at stake is that we're allowing a revisionist regime with a terrible track record on freedom of speech to dictate what we say and write in our own countries," said J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the China Policy Institute and the University of Nottingham's Taiwan studies program. "If Beijing does not encounter red lines, it can only keep asking for more."

For Beijing, there is only one China and Taiwan, which has been a democracy since the 1990s, is part of it. The People's Republic of China and Taiwan separated during a civil war in 1949. Washington officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, but despite the lack of formal ties, the U.S. is legally bound to respond to threats to Taiwan and is the island's main supplier of foreign military hardware.

"We strongly object to China's efforts to bully, coerce, and threaten their way to achieving their political objectives," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to the AP. "We call on all countries around the world to stand together to uphold the freedom of speech and freedom to do business. We also call on private firms to collectively reject China's unreasonable demands to change their designation of "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China."

Xi has warned a Taiwanese envoy that the issue of unification cannot be put off indefinitely, and the People's Liberation Army has sent fighter planes near Taiwan's coast. As China steps up efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, the list of multinationals that have bent to Beijing's will is long — and growing.

U.S. clothing retailer The Gap apologized this month for selling T-shirts with a map of China that omitted Taiwan and pulled the offending merchandise from stores around the world. In January, Delta Airlines, Marriott, Zara and medical equipment maker Medtronic all publicly apologized for referring to Taiwan as a country.

"You can't just say 'no,'" said Carly Ramsey, a regulatory risk specialist at Control Risks, a consultancy in Shanghai. "Increasingly, for situations like this, non-compliance is not an option if you want to do business in and with China."

The day after Delta apologized for "emotional damage caused to the Chinese people," the Civil Aviation Administration of China published a notice on its website saying it requires foreign airlines operating in China to avoid referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as countries.

Some foreign carriers began changing drop-down menus on their websites from "country" to "country/region."

But Beijing wanted more.

On April 25, the Civil Aviation Administration of China sent a letter to 36 foreign airlines ordering them to explicitly refer to Taiwan as a part of China. The regulator did not respond to requests for comment.

In a strongly-worded statement 10 days later, the White House called that demand "Orwellian nonsense."

"China's efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted," it said.

China's foreign ministry hit back the next day, saying Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are "inalienable" parts of China's territory and foreign companies operating in China "should respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China's laws and respect the national sentiment of the Chinese people."

A growing number of airlines have heeded Beijing's call.

The AP found that Air Canada, Lufthansa, British Airways, Finnair, Garuda Indonesia, Asiana Airlines, and Philippine Airlines all have changed the way they refer to Taiwan to bring their global websites in line with the Chinese Communist Party's vision. SAS airlines, Swissair, Malaysia Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Aeroflot, Italy's Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Air Mauritius, Etihad Airways, Spain's Iberia, Israel's EL AL, MIAT Mongolian Airlines and Russia's S7 Airlines all also refer to Taiwan as part of China, but it was not immediately clear how long they had been using that formulation.

Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada and Finnair said they abide by laws and regulations internationally and in the jurisdictions in which they work.

"This includes taking customs of the international clientele into consideration," Lufthansa said in a statement, adding that we "seek your understanding for the situation."

Finnair said a decision was taken to amend the website earlier this year and "in line with the general view taken in Europe, Taiwan is not shown as an independent country in our list of destinations."

Major U.S. carriers have not yet caved. United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines, as well as Australia's Qantas Airways — all of which received April letters from the regulator — did not refer to Taiwan as part of China on their websites as of Tuesday.

The airlines told AP they were reviewing the request.

But the sweep of concessions will likely make it harder to resist Beijing's call.

"If they make individual corporate decisions, they will likely accede, individually but entirely, to Chinese demands," said Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. What Washington could do, he added, is "launch and sustain a global discussion of the implications of Beijing's insistence on the worldwide jurisdiction of Chinese law. That kind of effort would require a commitment to global leadership and strong alliances that this administration has not yet demonstrated."

In one apparent exception to Beijing's rules the national flag carrier Air China seems not to have gotten the regulator's memo. On its US site, Taipei is a part of "Taiwan, China." But its Taiwan website lists it as "Taipei, Taiwan."

Air China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Populists' pick to be Italian premier scorns bureaucracy

Giuseppe Conte smiles during a meeting in Rome, Italy in this photo taken on March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — Giuseppe Conte, a bureaucracy-allergic law professor, is hardly a household name in Italy. Yet the 53-year-old academic is the candidate two rival political leaders have chosen to head what they hope will be the country's first populist government.

Say the name "Conte" and the one who comes to the mind of many ordinary Italians is Antonio Conte, the former coach of the Azzurri, Italy's national soccer team. The front page of Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an editorial cartoon Monday playing on the possible premier's lack of a comparable profile.

"For sure, if he were the ex-trainer of the Azzurri, he'd also have some international experience," the cartoon read along with a caricature of a puzzled-looking Italian President Sergio Mattarella,

Conte also has international experience, but it's academic, not political. His resume lists brief periods of study or research at Yale, Cambridge and the Sorbonne, as well as teaching positions at public, private and Catholic universities in Italy.

Until 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini announced him as their pick to take the helm of Italy's next government, the accomplishment of Conte's most Italians might remember hearing about was a kind of "MeToo" achievement.

An expert in civil and commercial law, Conte has served on a government administrative justice council. In that role, he presided over a commission that ousted a public administration official who had demanded that female students in his law course for aspiring magistrates wear mini-skirts to class.

The professor's background features aspects that could please both Di Maio's 5-Star Movement's base, which includes many disgruntled former supporters of the center-left Democrats, as well as Salvini's right-wing constituency.

Dear to the hearts of both Salvini and Di Maio, who rail against the strangling effect of the often byzantine bureaucratic rules Italian businesses and citizens must follow, Conte has declared that given the opportunity, he would slash hundreds of such "useless laws."

When, a few days before the election, the 5-Star Movement presented Conte as the ideal person to be minister for public administration, the professor said the laws needing elimination number "many more than the 400 ones indicated by Luigi Di Maio."

Conte is "an expert of simplification, de-bureaucratization and streamlining the administrative machine, that's what so many businesses want," Salvini said Monday night.

Conte also has pushed for stronger safeguards against corruption, which often finds fertile ground among those trying to circumvent government bureaucracy.

What Salvini might have had to swallow for the price of putting his League in power is Conte's past political affinity for the left.

"In the past, I voted for the left. Today, I think that the ideological schemes of the 20th century are no longer adequate," Conte said earlier this year, when Di Maio was touting him for a Cabinet post. "I believe it's more important to evaluate how a political force works, in terms of its positions on its respect for rights and fundamental liberties. And on its ability to elaborate programs useful for citizens."

In a recent TV program, he put it more succinctly: "My heart has traditionally beat toward the left."

Conte isn't a member of Parliament, but that's not a requirement to be premier. Matteo Renzi, a former Florence mayor, served nearly three years as premier as leader of the Democratic Party and without holding elected office.

Earlier in the haggling between Di Maio and Salvini to cobble together a governing coalition, each man boasted the right to be premier.

Di Maio heads Parliament's largest party after the Movement captured some 32 percent of the votes cast in the March 4 parliamentary election.  Salvini's League was the biggest vote-getter in a center-right coalition that together clinched 37 percent.

But after shedding his campaign coalition partners, which included former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right party, Salvini alone commands far fewer seats in Parliament than rival Di Maio.

Each eventually agreed to "take a step aside" and quit demanding the premiership for himself. But with Di Maio aware he would lose his party's base if he agreed to a deal that would put the 5-Stars in government for the first time but without a loyal cheerleader as premier, the choice of Conte made sense.

Born in Volturara Appula, a town of 467 residents near Foggia, in the region of Puglia, Conte is the son of a retired city hall office worker and an elementary school teacher.

His southern roots might please the electorate that helped propel the 5-Stars into power. The Movement's popularity has soared in the south, where its campaign pledge for a guaranteed basic monthly income of 780 euros (then some $950) resonated in a region where youth unemployment tops 50 percent.

Despite his lack of name recognition, Conte has a reputation for being a dapper dresser. When he appeared with Di Maio before the election, Conte was turned out in a three-piece suit with his tie tucked under a button-down gilet and a handkerchief neatly poking out of a breast pocket.


Update May 22, 2018

Indonesia raises alert for Merapi volcano, sets no-go zone

A man watches as Mount Merapi spews volcanic smoke in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 22. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities raised the alert for the country's most volatile volcano, located on the densely populated island of Java, and ordered people within 3 kilometers (2 miles) to evacuate.

Mount Merapi has erupted four times since Monday, sending out a 3,500 meter (11,483 feet) column of volcanic material and dusting the surrounding region in ash.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the national disaster mitigation agency's spokesman, said some 660 people living within the exclusion zone have evacuated since early Tuesday.

Indonesia's geological agency raised Merapi's alert from normal to "beware," because of its increased activity.

There have been no reports of casualties and operations at Adi Sucipto airport in Yogyakarta have not been affected.

The 2,968-meter (9,737-foot) mountain is about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Yogyakarta city center is the most active of more than 120 active Indonesian volcanoes.

Its last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the evacuation of 20,000 villagers.

Nugroho said climbing on Merapi is prohibited and only disaster agency personnel or related researchers should enter the restricted area.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.


Maduro declared winner in disputed Venezuela election

 

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, holding a copy of the country's constitution, addresses supporters at the presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, after electoral officials declared he was re-elected on Sunday, May 20. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Joshua Goodman and Scott Smith

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Embattled socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro won Venezuela's presidential election by a landslide in a disputed vote marred by irregularities and mass absenteeism that led his main rivals to call for a re-run to prevent a national social crisis from exploding.

The National Election Council announced that with more than 92 percent of polling stations reporting, Maduro won nearly 68 percent of the votes Sunday, beating his nearest challenger Henri Falcon by more than 40 points.

As the results were being announced, residents of downtown Caracas just a few blocks from where Maduro supporters were celebrating banged on pots and pans in protest. Falcon accused the government of buying votes and dirty tricks to boost turnout among poor voters most hurt by widespread food shortages and hyperinflation in what was once Latin America's wealthiest nation.

The election "without any doubt lacks legitimacy and we categorically refuse to recognize this process," Falcon told supporters minutes before the results were announced, vowing to fight on instead of joining a growing list of beleaguered anti-government politicians who've fled into exile of late.

The disputed victory is likely to heighten international pressure on Maduro. Even as voting was taking place Sunday, a senior U.S. official said the Trump administration might press ahead on threats of imposing crippling oil sanctions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned "sham elections change nothing."

Falcon was joined in his demand for a new election by third-place finisher Javier Bertucci, who won around 11 percent of the vote. Bertucci, a TV evangelist who handed out soup at his campaign rallies, stopped short of challenging the results, partly blaming what he called a mistaken opposition boycott that led to a turnout of around 46 percent — the lowest in a presidential race in two decades of revolution.

But he said he nonetheless favors a new election soon and urged Maduro to do the courageous thing and desist from running. If Maduro presses forward, he warned, Venezuela will explode before his new six-year term is scheduled to begin in January.

A social crisis years in the making has worsened as Venezuela's oil production — the source of almost all of its foreign income — has collapsed to the lowest level in decades and financial sanctions by the Trump administration has made it impossible for the government to renegotiate its debts. More than 1 million people have fled the country in the past two years and 14,000 percent inflation has crushed the minimum wage to less than $2 a month.

Maduro, 55, immediately called for dialogue with his opponents and put the best face forward on what analysts said were nonetheless disappointing results underscoring how vulnerable his hold on power remains. Despite energetic campaigning his overall vote haul slipped by 1.6 million from 2013, when he was first elected after Hugo Chavez's death from cancer.

But he showed no sign of replaying Sunday's vote.

"We will be the most powerful and largest political force in Venezuela for a long time," he told a festive crowd of die-hard supporters who poured into the grounds of the presidential palace to celebrate. "It doesn't faze me when they say I'm a dictator."

He promised to spend the next two years before scheduled congressional elections repairing an economy he says has been badly damaged by mafias backed by Colombia and the U.S. He also slammed Falcon, who like him was an acolyte of Chavez, saying he had never seen a candidate dispute results before they were even announced.

"Sooner or later, they all break in the face of threats from the imperialists," he said, pleading with the U.S. to reconsider its belligerence.

Both of Maduro's opponents accused electoral authorities of being blind to blatant violations before the vote and on election day. Falcon said that at 86 percent of voting centers ruling party activists set up so-called "Red Points" where they scanned on cellphones QR codes on government-issued "Fatherland Cards."

Some poor cardholders in Caracas — there are 16.5 million nationwide — said they hoped Maduro would deliver on his campaign promise of a "prize" to those who demonstrated their loyalty. Maduro accused his opponents of trying to "demonize" a program intended to address the social crisis and not assert political control.

Under Venezuela's electoral law, any political activity must take place at least 650 feet (200 meters) from voting centers. But most "Red Points" were just a few steps away. As in past elections, government supporters driving around in vans with Maduro posters could also be seen transporting voters to polling sites.

Luis Emilio Rondon, the sole opposition voice on the electoral council, backed Falcon and Bertucci's claims of irregularities and said he too refused to recognize the results.

National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena acknowledged a handful of complaints, but insisted they were minor compared to past elections.

"The people of Venezuela have made their pronouncement and we ask everyone, nationally and international, to respect the results," she said.

Voting centers appeared largely empty in opposition areas across Venezuela and were even lackluster in government strongholds. Turnout in the previous three presidential elections averaged 79 percent.

Opposition leaders said the lifeless voting centers were evidence that Venezuelans heeded their call to abstain from voting in an election they contended was certain to be rigged in Maduro's favor.

"This was a farce by a dictator that wants to stay in power without popular support," said lawmaker Juan Pablo Guanipa, speaking on behalf of the newly created Broad Front coalition that had been behind the stay-at-home strategy.

Opinion polls say the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans distrust the electoral council. Turnout figures in last year's elections for a constitutional assembly, which the opposition also boycotted, were inflated by at least 1 million votes, according to the company that provided technology for Venezuela's electronic voting machines for more than a decade.

But despite the unleveled playing field and concerns of fraud, some government critics nonetheless questioned the wisdom of not participating in an election that looked to be its best chance in years to defeat Chavismo.

"If you're sick and the doctor gives you few days to live, you don't lie in bed waiting to die. You seek treatment," said Nayra Martinez, a city employee in the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao who decided to buck her party's call to abstain. "That's what we need to do with our country. Venezuela is very sick and we the people are the medicine."


Japanese and Macedonian climbers die on Mount Everest

 

The body of 63-year-old Macedonian Gjeorgi Petkov is unloaded from a helicopter at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, May 21. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) — Two foreign climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest have died on the world's highest peak, a Nepal mountaineering official said Monday.

Members of their expedition teams reported a Japanese climber died Monday and a Macedonian died on Sunday, said Gyanendra Shrestha, who is stationed at Everest's base camp during the climbing season and received the reports of the deaths.

The Japanese climber was identified as 35-year-old Nobukazu Kuriki and the Macedonian as 63-year-old Gjeorgi Petkov.

Kuriki was a known mountaineer who climbed many mountains and made several attempts on Everest. He lost most of his fingers due to frostbite during an unsuccessful attempt in 2012.

The bodies were retrieved from the mountain on Monday and were flown by helicopters to Kathmandu, where they were expected to have autopsies.

It was still unclear how they died but the Macedonian is believed to have suffered from cardiac arrest, Shrestha said.

Some 340 foreign climbers and their Sherpa guides are attempting to scale Everest this month and many succeeded in the past week during good weather. Teams have to end their attempts by the end of this month as weather conditions deteriorate.


China launches relay satellite for far side moon landing

A Long March-4C rocket carrying a relay satellite launches from southwest China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Monday, May 21. (Cai Yang/Xinhua via AP).

Beijing (AP) — China launched a relay satellite on Monday as part of a groundbreaking program to be the first to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon later this year.

The satellite, lofted into space aboard a Long March-4C rocket, will facilitate communication between controllers on Earth and the Chang'e 4 mission, the China National Space Administration said on its website.

China hopes to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the moon's far side, also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and is comparatively unknown.

The satellite, named Queqiao, or "Magpie Bridge," after an ancient Chinese folk tale, was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the Space Administration said.

The launch is a "key step," but the satellite's mission must still overcome challenges including making multiple adjustments to its orbit, "braking" near the moon and using lunar gravity to its advantage, project manager Zhang Lihua was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

According to the administration and website space.com, Queqiao was expected to arrive shortly at the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2, a gravitationally stable spot located 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) beyond the far side of the moon.

Without such a communications relay link, spacecraft on the far side would have to "send their signals through the moon's rocky bulk," space.com said.

China previously landed its Jade Rabbit rover on the moon and plans to land its Chang'e 5 probe there next year and have it return to Earth with samples — the first time that has been done since 1976.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so and has put a pair of space stations into orbit.

Upcoming missions include the launch of the 20-ton core module for the still orbiting Tiangong 2 station, along with specialized components for a 60-ton station that is due to come online in 2022 and a Mars rover planned for the mid 2020s.

However, the failure of China's Long March 5 rocket last year was seen as dealing a rare setback to the highly successful space program, delaying some missions and offering rival India a chance to move ahead in the space rankings.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

'Slain' Russian journalist turns up alive at news conference

Belgium shooting rampage was terrorist act, prosecutors say

Pakistan, India agree to stop trading fire in Kashmir

Paris police clear out migrant camp housing up to 1,500


Man kills 3 in Belgium with guns of stabbed police officers

Gaza militants strike Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation

Leader of failed MH370 wreckage hunt hopes to search again

Financial turmoil engulfs Italy amid political uncertainty


Looming Italian election seen as plebiscite on EU and euro

2 women taking selfies struck by lightning in Germany

Malaysia says it will axe high-speed railway to Singapore

New Zealand to kill 150,000 cows to end bacterial disease

Poland says Russian gas pipeline is a 'new hybrid weapon'


Power eludes Italy's populists, angry over president's veto

Ebola vaccinations begin in rural Congo on Monday: Ministry

Pakistan approves bill to merge tribal regions with country

German nationalists march in Berlin, face counter-protests


S. Korea relieved about Trump-Kim summit revival efforts

Officials: Deadly Nipah virus has not spread in south India

Explosion in Canadian restaurant wounds 15 people

Netherlands, Australia hold Russia liable for downing MH17


N. Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

Cyclone Mekunu pounds Yemen island on its path to Oman

Australian sentenced to death in Malaysia drugs case

Landmark abortion vote in Ireland may change constitution

Scars, unexploded bombs have lingered since Philippine siege


Malaysia says search for MH370 to end next week

Tensions soar between India, Pakistan along Kashmir frontier

Legend of Loch Ness Monster will be tested with DNA samples

French government orders evacuation of Paris migrant camp


Stars urge Indonesia to ban 'brutal' trade in dog meat

Congo announces 6 new confirmed cases of Ebola virus

Airlines caving to Beijing despite White House protest

Populists' pick to be Italian premier scorns bureaucracy


Indonesia raises alert for Merapi volcano, sets no-go zone

Maduro declared winner in disputed Venezuela election

Japanese and Macedonian climbers die on Mount Everest

China launches relay satellite for far side moon landing

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