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Update May, 2019


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Saudis say they will defend themselves, as Trump warns Iran

In this Friday, May 17, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Navy, the USS Abraham Lincoln sails in the Arabian Sea near the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur, U.S. Navy via AP)

Aya Batrawy and Fay Abuelgasim

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia does not want war but will not hesitate to defend itself against Iran, a top Saudi diplomat said Sunday after the kingdom's energy sector was targeted this past week amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, warned Iran that it will face destruction if it seeks a fight, while Iranian officials said their country isn't looking for war. Trump spoke after a rocket hit near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke a week after four oil tankers— two of them Saudi — were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not strive for that... but at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this with all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests," al-Jubeir told reporters.

On Sunday night, the U.S. military command that oversees the Mideast confirmed an explosion outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and said there were no U.S. or coalition casualties.

A State Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that "a low-grade rocket did land within the International Zone near the U.S. Embassy." The spokesman said that "attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner" and added that the U.S. will hold "Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces."

Earlier, after initial reports of the attack, Trump tweeted a warning to Iranian leaders: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!" Trump tweeted.

A senior Iranian military commander was quoted as saying his country is not looking for war, in comments published in Iranian media on Sunday.

Fears of armed conflict were already running high after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.

Trump had appeared to soften his tone in recent days, saying he expected Iran to seek negotiations with his administration. Asked on Thursday if the U.S. might be on a path to war with Iran, the president answered, "I hope not."

Sunday night's apparent rocket attack was the first such incident since September, when three mortar shells landed in an abandoned lot inside the Green Zone.

Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that a Katyusha rocket fell near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy. He said that the military was investigating the cause but that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.

As tensions escalate between the U.S. and Iran, there have been concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle , just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.

The U.S. Navy said Sunday it had conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with the aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the region to counter the unspecified threat from Iran. The Navy said the exercises and training were conducted Friday and Saturday with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the U.S. Marine Corps, highlighting U.S. "lethality and agility to respond to threat," as well as to deter conflict and preserve U.S. strategic interests.

The current tensions are rooted in Trump's decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports that are crucial to its economy.

Iran has said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially  bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.

Energy ministers from OPEC and its allies, including major producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, are meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss energy prices and production cuts. Iran's oil exports are expected to shrink further in the coming months after the U.S. stopped renewing waivers that allowed it to continue selling to some countries.

OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers have production cuts in place, but the group of exporters is not expected to make its decision on output until late June, when they meet again in Vienna.

The United Arab Emirates' energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei told reporters at the meeting he does not think relaxing the oil production cuts in place is the right measure.  His comments suggest there's support within OPEC and other oil-producing nations, like Russia, to continue propping up oil prices after a sharp fall last year. Oil is now trading above $70 a barrel and closer to what's needed to balance state budgets among Persian Gulf producers.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman, meanwhile, has called for a meeting of Arab heads of state on May 30 in Mecca to discuss the latest developments, including the oil pipeline attack.

The kingdom has blamed the pipeline attack on Iran, accusing Tehran of arming the rebel Houthis, which a Saudi-led coalition has been at war with in Yemen since 2015. Iran denies arming or training the rebels, who control much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.

"We want peace and stability in the region, but we won't stand with our hands bound as the Iranians continuously attack. Iran has to understand that," al-Jubeir said. "The ball is in Iran's court."

Al-Jubeir also noted that an investigation, led by the UAE, into the tanker incident is underway.

The state-run Saudi news agency reported Sunday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss regional developments. There was no immediate statement by the State Department about the call.

An English-language Saudi newspaper close to the palace recently published an editorial calling for surgical U.S. airstrikes in retaliation for Iran's alleged involvement in targeting Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure.

The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, was quoted Sunday as saying Iran is not looking for war. But he said the U.S. is going to fail in the near future "because they are frustrated and hopeless" and are looking for a way out of the current escalation. His comments, given to other Guard commanders, were carried by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency.

The USS Abraham Lincoln has yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.


India's marathon national election reaches the finish line

Indian women stand in queues to cast their votes in the seventh and final phase of national elections, on the outskirts of Varanasi, India, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Julhas Alam and Ashok Sharma

Kolkata, India (AP) — Voting in India's mammoth national election ended Sunday with the seventh and final phase of a grueling poll that lasted more than five weeks, as exit polls predicted a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party and its allies.

Vote counting begins on Thursday, and the election result will likely be known the same day.

The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP's main opposition is the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers.

Exit polls by four leading television news channels - Republic, TimesNow, New Delhi Television and India today- projected a victory for the BJP and its allies with 287 to 339 seats out of 543 - far ahead of the 272 seats needed to form the next government.

The Congress party and its allies are likely to win 122 to 128 seats, the TV channels said. Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results.

Total voter turnout in the national election was 64.9%, the national election commission said, up from 58% in the last national vote in 2014.

Gandhi questioned the way the election was conducted by the autonomous Election Commission, saying the election schedule was manipulated to help Modi's party.

"The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore," Gandhi tweeted Sunday evening, without giving any details.

Sunday's voting covered Modi's constituency of Varanasi, a holy Hindu city where he was elected in 2014 with an impressive margin of over 200,000 votes. Modi spent Saturday night at Kedarnath, a temple of the Hindu god Shiva nestled in the Himalayas in northern India.

The final election round included 59 constituencies in eight states. Up for grabs were 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, four in Himachal Pradesh and three in Jharkhand and Chandigarh.

In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, voters lined up outside polling stations early Sunday morning to avoid the scorching heat, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Armed security officials stood guard in and outside the centers amid fear of violence.

While the election, which began April 11, was largely peaceful, West Bengal, located in eastern India, was an exception. Modi is challenged there by the state's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who heads the more inclusive Trinamool Congress party and is eyeing a chance to go to New Delhi as the opposition's candidate for prime minister.

Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there.

On Sunday, Nirmala Sitharaman, a BJP leader and the country's defense minister, accused Banerjee's supporters of attacking her party members and preventing them from voting at several places in six of the nine constituencies in West Bengal. She did not provide details.

Banerjee denied the accusation and said Modi's government used security forces to intimidate her party's supporters.

Prodeep Chakrabarty, a retired teacher in Kolkata, said Modi's BJP was desperate to win some seats against Banerjee's influential regional party.

"People are divided for many reasons. We have to wait for a final outcome to see who people are voting for. Things are not predictable like before," he said.

Minorities in India, especially Muslims, who comprise about 14 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people, criticize Modi for his Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi's party backed a bill that would make it easier to deport millions of Bangladeshis who have migrated to India since Bangladesh's independence in 1971. The bill, however, eases a path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees and Jains - non-Muslims - who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan over decades.

Voters were also up early Sunday in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, where election workers arranged for drinking water, shade and fans to cool them down.

"I straightaway came from my morning walk to cast my vote and was surprised to see enthusiasm among the voters," said Ramesh Kumar Singh, who was among the first to vote. "There were long queues of people waiting patiently to cast their votes, which is a good sign for democracy."

During the election campaign, Modi played up the threat of Pakistan, India's Muslim-majority neighbor and archrival, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir on Feb. 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.

Congress and other opposition parties have challenged Modi over a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers' distress aggravated by low crop prices.

Some of Modi's boldest policy steps, such as the demonetization of high currency notes to curb black-market money, proved to be economically damaging. A haphazard implementation of "one nation, one tax" - a goods and services tax - also hit small and medium businesses.

Voter turnout in the first six rounds was approximately 66%, the Election Commission said, up from 58% in the last national election in 2014.

Pre-election media polls indicate that no party is likely to win anything close to a majority in Parliament, which has 543 seats. The BJP, which won a majority of 282 seats in 2014, may need some regional parties as allies to stay in power.

A Congress-led government would require a major electoral upset.


Bomb hits tourist bus near Egypt's Giza Pyramids, wounds 17

Police inspect a car and a bus that were damaged by a bomb, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, March 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Mohammed Salah)

Samy Magdy

Cairo (AP) — A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus on Sunday near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17 people including tourists, Egyptian officials said.

The officials said the bus was travelling on a road close to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, which is located adjacent to the Giza Pyramids but is not yet open to tourists.

The bus was carrying at least 25 people mostly from South Africa, officials added.

The attack comes as Egypt's vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The officials said security forces cordoned off the site of the explosion and the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital.

The explosion damaged a windshield of another car, they said. Footage circulated online shows shattered windows of the bus.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

Atif Moftah, general supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum, said the explosion did not cause any damage to the museum, in a statement issued by the antiquities ministry.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months. In December, a bus carrying 15 Vietnamese tourists was hit by a roadside bomb, killing at least three of them.

Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. The insurgency gained strength after the 2013 military overthrow of the country's first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.


UN tells Italy proposed decree violates migrants' rights

In this Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 file photo, a baby is loaded into the rescue vessel of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after being rescued in the Central Mediterranean Sea at 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Al Khums, Libya. (AP Photo/Olmo Calvo)

Nicole Winfield

Rome (AP) — The Italian interior ministry vowed Sunday to press ahead with a new decree formalizing the closure of Italian ports to aid groups that rescue migrants, even after U.N. human rights investigators said it violated international law.

Ministry officials said the security decree was "necessary and urgent" and was expected to be approved at a Cabinet meeting Monday.

In a May 15 letter to Italy's government released Saturday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Italy to withdraw the decree, calling it "yet another political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations."

The decree "further intensifies the climate of hostility and xenophobia against migrants," said the letter, which was signed by several U.N. human rights rapporteurs.

It was issued as a ship carrying more than 40 migrants from the German aid group Sea-Watch remained off the island of Lampedusa waiting for a port to disembark its passengers. Sea-Watch said it had flouted Italy's ban and entered Italian territorial waters on Saturday for humanitarian reasons.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a hard-line populist, proposed the decree before the European Parliament elections this week, where nationalist, anti-migrant parties are hoping to make strong gains. Salvini's League has soared in popularity in part because of his hard-line migration policy, which has involved boosting the Libyan coast guard's ability to rescue migrants and bring them back.

Among other provisions, the decree leaves it to the interior minister to limit or prohibit entry into Italian territorial waters any ships for public security reasons. It foresees fines of up to 5,500 euros ($6,145) for each migrant transported.

The U.N. letter says the measures would violate migrants' human rights, which are enshrined in U.N. conventions that Italy has signed. It said Italy is obliged to rescue migrants in distress and can't impede others from doing so. And it says that Libya can't be considered a safe port for migrants rescued at sea, particularly after the recent spike in fighting.

In a statement late Sunday, the Italian foreign ministry said the letter carried no juridical weight and suggested it was based on imprecise information. It noted that since Jan. 1, 2018, Italy has received eight such letters, whereas the U.S. has received 30, Britain 16 and France 12.

Interior ministry officials told journalists in a statement Sunday that Turkey and North Korea similarly punish border violations and that Italy has long had fines in its legal code, which have merely been updated.

"The hope is that the authoritative U.N. dedicates its energies to the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela rather than engage in electoral campaigning in Italy," they said.

Meanwhile, British and French authorities have stopped 61 migrants who tried to cross the English Channel in five small boats over the weekend.

The British Home Office said 52 migrants on four boats were intercepted Saturday and Sunday off the Kent Coast and handed to immigration officials. The migrants said they were from Iraq and Iran.

The French maritime authority for the Channel and North Sea said a patrol ship spotted a boat carrying nine migrants Sunday off the coast of Cape of Gris-Nez. The nine were suffering light hypothermia and were handed over to border police in Calais.

Several of the migrants were children.

Illegal migrant crossings across the English Channel are on the rise in recent weeks despite joint British-French efforts to crack down on them.


1 dead, mosques attacked as Sri Lanka communal tensions rise

Sri Lankan security officers inspect vandalized shops owned by Muslims in Minuwangoda, a suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)

Krishan Francis

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Mob attacks on Muslim communities in Sri Lanka's northwest have left one person dead and dozens of shops and mosques destroyed, a government minister said Tuesday, as communal violence worsened in the wake of Easter bombings that killed more than 250 people.

A Muslim man was hacked to death in Monday's violence in which members of the country's largely Buddhist majority ethnic Sinhalese attacked Muslim-owned shops and homes in several towns, said Rauff Hakeem, a Cabinet minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

With communal violence also reported in Sri Lanka's west, the government imposed a nationwide curfew Monday and temporarily blocked social media and messaging apps.

Tensions have been running high in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island nation since the April 21 attacks by seven suicide bombers who struck two Catholic and one Protestant church and three luxury hotels. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group.

Sri Lanka has a dark history of communal tensions. For more than a quarter century it was embroiled in civil war as Tamil Tiger rebels fought to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. When the conflict ended 10 years ago, the U.N.'s conservative estimates said about 100,000 people had been killed.

Two United Nations advisers warned that the latest attacks against Muslims could escalate further if not stopped immediately.

"The country is trying to move forward from a traumatic period of inter-ethnic armed conflict, but these attacks are pushing Sri Lanka backwards. If not adequately dealt with, the recent violence has the potential to escalate even further," the advisers said in a statement.

The joint statement was released by Adama Dieng, the U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, and Karen Smith, the U.N. special adviser on the responsibility to protect.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, appealed to the public to maintain the peace and patience they showed in the first days after the attacks. He said that he found no religious nuances in the violence but that local level politicians have been found in the mobs.

"I ask the political leaders to keep their followers under control. It is no heroism in attacking Muslims and damaging their property — true heroism is to control and overcome oneself," Ranjith said.


Happy 130th birthday, Eiffel Tower: Laser show for Iron Lady

A light show illuminates the Eiffel Tower for its 130 year anniversary, in Paris, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Associated Press

Paris (AP) — Paris wished the Eiffel Tower a happy birthday Wednesday with an elaborate nighttime laser show retracing the monument's 130-year history.

Earlier in the day, the monument invited 1,300 children to a giant "snack time" beneath the tower known as the Iron Lady.

After nightfall, a 12-minute laser display began flashing across the facade in shows that will run through Friday night. Professional climbers scaled the monument to mount the lights for the unprecedented show.

Around 6 million people go up the tower every year, in addition to the crowds who just come to look at Gustave Eiffel's creation, designed for the 1889 World's Fair. It was the world's tallest monument at the time, and thanks to strict urban planning rules, it still looms large above the Paris skyline.

The Eiffel Tower opened to the public for the first time on May 15, 1889, several days after its inauguration at the World's Fair.


Citing unrest, US suspends air traffic with Venezuela

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a press conference at his campaign office in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Christopher Torchia

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — The United States on Wednesday suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the U.S. and Venezuela, saying the political unrest and tensions there pose a risk to flights.

The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security affected a dwindling number of flights between the two countries, since U.S. airlines no longer fly to Venezuela. The measure reflected the increasingly sour relationship between the Venezuelan government and the U.S., which is leading a campaign to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

Conditions in Venezuela "threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew," the department said. It said the flight suspension will continue indefinitely, though the decision will be reviewed if the situation in Venezuela changes.

American Airlines stopped its flights in mid-March after union leaders told pilots not to go there due to safety concerns. Some other international airlines quit flying to Venezuela years ago because of the country's deteriorating economy.

Some Venezuelan airlines had been operating commercial flights to and from Miami, though those were already affected by the upheaval in the South American country, including after a failed call for a military uprising by the opposition on April 30.

Tuesday's flights between Miami and Caracas on Venezuela's Laser Airlines included a stop in the Dominican Republic, according to the airline.

Also Wednesday, Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress returned to its chamber a day after security forces prevented legislators from entering the National Assembly building for a debate.

Assembly leader Juan Guaidó and other legislators gave speeches denouncing Maduro's government, which has accused them of conspiring with the United States to stage a coup.

The National Assembly has come under increasing pressure from Maduro since the opposition appealed in vain for a military uprising April 30. The assembly's vice president, Edgar Zambrano, was arrested May 8. He is among 14 lawmakers placed under investigation for allegations of treason and other crimes since the failed rebellion.

On Tuesday, police sealed off the National Assembly, purportedly to search for any hidden explosives.

In Washington, the Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered food to American activists who have been occupying the Venezuelan Embassy the past five weeks. Police officers who keep watch around the diplomatic building allowed Jackson to go to the front gate.

The activists, who have ignored trespassing warnings, consider Maduro to be Venezuela's rightful leader. The U.S. and more than 50 other countries contend his presidency is illegitimate and recognize Guaidó as the interim president.


Japanese space startup aims to compete with US rivals

Japanese entrepreneurs and Founder of Interstellar Technologies Inc. Takafumi Horie speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — A Japanese startup that launched a rocket into space earlier this month plans to provide low-cost rocket services and compete with American rivals such as SpaceX, its founder said Wednesday.

Interstellar Technology Inc. founder Takafumi Horie said a low-cost rocket business in Japan is well-positioned to accommodate scientific and commercial needs in Asia. While Japan's government-led space programs have demonstrated top-level technology, he said the country has fallen behind commercially due to high costs.

"In Japan, space programs have been largely government-funded and they solely focused on developing rockets using the best and newest technologies, which means they are expensive," Horie told reporters in Tokyo. "As a private company, we can focus on the minimum level of technology needed to go to space, which is our advantage. We can transport more goods and people to space by slashing costs."

Horie said his company's low-cost MOMO-3 rocket is the way to create a competitive space business in Japan.

During its May 4 flight, the unmanned MOMO-3 rocket reached 113.4 kilometers (70 miles) in altitude before falling into the Pacific Ocean. The cost to launch the MOMO-3 was about one-tenth of the launch cost of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the country's space agency, according to Interstellar CEO Takahiro Inagawa.

Horie said his company plans to launch its first orbital rocket — the ZERO — within the next few years and then it would technologically be on par with competitors such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and New Zealand engineer Peter Beck's Rocket Lab.

The two-stage ZERO would be twice as long and much heavier than the compact MOMO-3, which is about 10 meters (32 feet) long and 50 centimeters (1.5 feet) in diameter and weighs about 1 ton. It would be able to send satellites into orbit or carry payloads for scientific purposes.

Development of a low-cost commercial rocket is part of a growing international trend in the space business led by the U.S. and aggressively followed by China and others.

At home, Horie could face competition from space subsidiaries of major companies such as Canon and IHI, which have expertise from working with the government's space agency.


Sri Lanka imposes curfew, blocks social media amid violence

A blocked Facebook window is seen on a smart phone screen in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Bharatha Mallawarachi

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's government imposed a nationwide curfew Monday and temporarily blocked social media following a flare-up of communal violence in apparent response to last month's Easter attacks that killed more than 250 people, officials said.

Acting police chief C.D. Wickramaratne said the violence started with a few shops being stoned in the North Western town of Kuliyapitiya on Sunday. It was soon brought under control, but on Monday mobs carried out violence on a bigger scale, he said.

"This small group must stop the dangerous game they play against the lives and property of innocent people," Wickramaratne said in a televised statement. "We won't allow the country being led to anarchy by those who impose their strength on unarmed, innocent civilians."

He warned that those arrested for breaching the law could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a speech to the nation that security forces had brought the violence under control but the government decided to impose the curfew to stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the country.

Police said the curfew would be enforced until further notice in the country's North Western region, and until Tuesday morning in the rest of the nation.

Tensions have been running high in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island nation since the attacks by seven suicide bombers who struck two Catholic and one Protestant church and three luxury hotels. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group.

Muslims have been subjected to hate comments since the Easter Sunday bombings.

The government imposed the social media ban after an exchange of accusations between two people on Facebook led to a mob to attack a Muslim-owned shop Sunday in the Catholic-majority town of Chilaw, said Nalaka Kaluwewa, the chief of the Information Department.

Kaluwewa said the government took the step "to prevent misinformation from being circulated and also to prevent spreading of information that would harm communal harmony."

Previous blocks on social media and messaging apps imposed following the April 21 suicide attacks on churches and hotels were lifted after several days.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said police have arrested a 38-year-old Muslim businessman, Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, for allegedly writing the Facebook comments that sparked the violence.

Local media reported that residents in the area angered by the comments stoned Hasmar's shop.

The government has intensified security across the country, with police and troops deployed to protect schools, churches and key government offices.

On Sunday, the Catholic Church held the first regular Sunday Mass since the attacks amid tight security. Sunday services had been canceled the two previous weekends for fear of more attacks, leaving the faithful to hear Mass via live TV transmission from the residence of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo.


Sweden to reopen rape case against WikiLeaks' Assange

Vice chief prosecutor Eva-Britt speaks at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday May 13, 2019. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via AP)

David Keyton and Jan M. Olsen

Stockholm (AP) — Swedish prosecutors said Monday they are reopening a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and will seek his extradition from Britain.

The move sets up a legal battle with the United States, where the Australian computer hacker is separately wanted for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer. British authorities will have to decide which extradition request takes precedence.

Assange, who sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning, was evicted last month after Ecuador revoked his political asylum. He was arrested by British police on April 11 and is currently in London's Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, told a news conference in Stockholm Monday that "there is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape." She added: "It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required."

Swedish prosecutors filed preliminary charges — a step short of formal charges — against Assange after he visited the country in 2010, following complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.

While a case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains. Swedish authorities have had to shelf it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.

The statute of limitations in that case expires in August next year. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegations were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.

The Australian secret-spiller now faces questioning in Sweden, on top of being held on a U.S. extradition warrant for allegedly conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer.

Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson told The Associated Press on Monday that the decision to reopen the rape case is "outrageous."

"He is in prison in the U.K., he faces the risk of being extradited to the United States and on top of that, to demand that he's going to put all his energy into looking into a 10-year-old story from Sweden is just too much," he said.

But Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange, said her client "feels great gratitude" over the decision to reopening the case.

She said it "signals that no one stands above the law," and that "the legal system in Sweden doesn't give a special treatment to anyone."

Persson said a European arrest warrant will be issued for Assange. A Swedish court would formally issue the extradition request, which Assange could appeal.

She added that while there is a risk the case may cut close to the statute of limitations deadline, "there is also a chance that we will be able to get him extradited before August 17 next year."

Persson said it was "impossible to predict" how the extradition process would unfold.

The 47-year-old Australian met the women in connection with a lecture in August 2010 in Stockholm. One was involved in organizing an event for Sweden's center-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other was in the audience.

A police officer who heard the women's accounts decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed the case to a prosecutor.

Neither of the alleged victims has been named publicly.

Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden.

The British extradition process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him. It's expected it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the United States or possibly to Sweden even if he ultimately loses in court.

WikiLeaks' Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the decision to reopen the case against Assange "will give Julian a chance to clear his name."

He said in a statement that Persson had been under "intense political pressure" to reopen the case, and criticized authorities for "mishandling" it from the start.


China retaliates on tariffs, stock markets go into a slide

In this May 9, 2019, file photo a container ship is unloaded at the Virginia International Gateway terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Joe McDonald and Paul Wiseman

Beijing (AP) — Sending Wall Street into a slide, China announced higher tariffs Monday on $60 billion worth of American goods in retaliation for President Donald Trump's latest penalties on Chinese products.

Duties of 5% to 25% will take effect on June 1 on about 5,200 American products, including batteries, spinach and coffee, China's Finance Ministry said.

With investors worried about the potential economic damage on all sides from the escalating trade war, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 617 points, or 2.4%, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq plunged 270 points, or 3.4%, its biggest drop of the year. Earlier, stocks fell in Europe and Asia.

"We appear to be in a slow-motion train wreck, with both sides sticking to their positions," said William Reinsch, a trade analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former U.S. trade official. "As is often the case, however, the losers will not be the negotiators or presidents, but the people."

Beijing's move came after the U.S. raised duties Friday on $200 billion of Chinese imports to 25%, up from 10%. In doing so, American officials accused China of backtracking on commitments it made in earlier negotiations. The same day, trade talks between the two countries broke up without an agreement.

On Twitter, Trump warned Xi that China "will be hurt very badly" if it doesn't agree to a trade deal. Trump tweeted that Beijing "had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!"

The rising trade hostilities could damage the economies of both countries. The tariff increases already in place have disrupted trade in such American products as soybeans and medical equipment and sent shockwaves through other Asian economies that supply Chinese factories.

Still, the two countries have given themselves something of an escape hatch: The higher Chinese tariffs don't kick in for 2½ weeks. The U.S. increases apply to Chinese goods shipped since Friday, and those shipments will take about three weeks to arrive at U.S. seaports and become subject to the higher charges.

Also, both countries have indicated more talks are likely. Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday that China has invited U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to Beijing. But nothing has been scheduled. And Trump said Monday that he expects to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in late June at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

The president has repeatedly insisted that increased tariffs on Chinese goods don't hurt American consumers. But Kudlow, head of the president's National Economic Council, acknowledged over the weekend that U.S. consumers and businesses will bear some of the costs.

"Both sides will pay," he told Fox News.

In the U.S., prices of soybeans, targeted by Chinese tariffs last year, fell Monday to a 10-year low on fears of a protracted trade war.

In a statement, American Soybean Association President Davie Stevens, a soybean farmer from Clinton, Kentucky, expressed frustration that "the U.S. has been at the table with China 11 times now and still has not closed the deal. What that means for soybean growers is that we're losing. Losing a valuable market, losing stable pricing, losing an opportunity to support our families and our communities."

Trump told reporters Monday that a new program to relieve U.S. farmers' pain is "being devised right now" and predicted that they will be "very happy." The administration last year handed farmers aid worth $11 billion to offset losses from trade conflicts.

Trump seemed to suggest that the aid will make up for or partially cover the $15 billion that he said represented "the biggest purchase that China has ever made with our farmers." In fact, U.S. farm exports to China approached $26 billion in both 2012 and 2013 and came in at $19.5 billion in 2017 before his trade war began taking a toll on agricultural sales to China.

The president's allies in Congress scrambled to limit the damage to farm country.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said it is time for U.S. allies to "get in the game" to push China to the negotiating table. "China needs to get with it," he said. "You can't move these goalposts like they're moving them and expect to be respected."

The highest tariffs announced by China will apply to industrial chemicals, electronic equipment, precision machinery and hundreds of food products.

Beijing is running out of U.S. imports to penalize because of the lopsided trade balance between the world's two largest economies. Chinese regulators have instead targeted American companies in China by slowing down the clearing of shipments through customs and the processing of business licenses.

Oxford Economics calculated that the higher tariffs will reduce the U.S. economy by 0.3% in 2020, a loss of $490 per American household.

Similarly, forecasters have warned that the U.S. tariff increases could set back a Chinese recovery that had appeared to be gaining traction. Growth in the world's second-largest economy during the January-through-March period held steady at 6.4% compared with a year earlier, supported by higher government spending and bank lending.

The tensions "raise fresh doubts about this recovery path," Morgan Stanley economists said.

The latest U.S. duties could knock 0.5 percentage points off annual Chinese economic growth, and that could widen to 1 percentage point if both sides extend penalties to all of each other's exports, economists say. That would pull annual growth below 6%, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.

China's state media tried to reassure businesses and consumers that the ruling Communist Party has the means to respond.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," said the party newspaper People's Daily. "The U.S.-instigated trade war against China is just a hurdle in China's development process. It is no big deal."

Trump has threatened to extend tariffs to the remaining $300 billion or so in Chinese tariffs that haven't been targeted yet, but told reporters Monday: "I have not made that decision yet."

The president started raising tariffs last July over complaints China steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology and unfairly subsidizes Chinese businesses that are striving to become global leaders in robotics and other technology.

A stumbling block has been U.S. insistence on an enforcement mechanism with penalties to ensure Beijing carries out its commitments.


Indian prime minister mocked for Pakistan airstrike gaffe

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is shown in this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Ashok Sharma

New Delhi (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been skewered by the opposition for going ahead with an airstrike in Pakistan on the mistaken belief that cloudy skies would help India's air force avoid radar detection.

In a television interview broadcast Saturday, Modi said he used his "raw wisdom" in the operation, believing Indian aircraft would benefit from the cloud cover.

The opposition mocked Modi's apparent lack of understanding of surveillance radar signals, which can easily pass through clouds, and for ignoring experts' advice to delay the operation until the weather cleared.

Ajai Shukla, a military expert, tweeted that India should hang its head in shame for Modi perceiving that "cloud cover would help the aircraft" leave Pakistan's air space without detection.

India's staggered national elections are underway with the last day of voting set for May 19. Results are expected four days later.

Modi has used the airstrike as a major election issue to project strength in dealing with longtime nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

Omar Abdullah, the opposition National Conference leader, tweeted sarcastically that "Pakistani radar doesn't penetrate clouds. This is an important piece of tactical information that will be critical when planning future strikes."

The strike came days after a suicide attack on Indian paramilitary forces in the Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir that killed 40 soldiers. Modi said the Indian air force hit a training camp run by Pakistan-based Jaishe-e-Mohammed, the militant group that claimed responsibility for the assault. Pakistan rejected India's claim that the air strike caused heavy casualties at the site.

"National security is not something to be trifled with. Such an irresponsible statement from Modi is highly damaging. Somebody like him can't remain India's prime minister," said Sitaram Yechury, a top Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader.

A senior leader in Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and Cabinet minister, Prakash Javadekar, while not addressing the gaffe itself, offered a defense of the prime minister's comments on Monday.

"Modi did not reveal anything he was not supposed to reveal," the Press Trust of India news agency quoted him as saying.


Berlin Airlift remembered, key moment in Cold War

Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen attends a ceremony to dedicate the baseball and softball field of the Berlin Braves baseball team in 'Gail Halvorsen Park' in Berlin , Saturday, May 11, 2019. Halvorsen is known as the "Candy Bomber," "Chocolate Pilot," and "Uncle Wiggly Wings," for the small candy-laden parachutes he dropped from his aircraft to children during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. (Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP)

Kirsten Grieshaber

Berlin (AP) — Berliners on Sunday celebrated the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets lifted their blockade strangling West Berlin in the post-World War II years with a big party at the former Tempelhof airport in the German capital.

Among the invited guests of honor was 98-year-old U.S. pilot Gail Halvorsen, who dropped hundreds of boxes of candy on tiny parachutes into West Berlin during the blockade.

Halvorsen came to Berlin from Utah with his two daughters on Friday, the German news agency dpa reported.

On Saturday, a baseball field at Tempelhof airport was named after him — the "Gail S. Halvorsen Park - Home of the Berlin Braves" in honor of his help for Berliners during the Cold War.

Dressed in a military uniform, Halvorsen told Berlin's mayor Michael Mueller that "it's good to be home."

The airlift began on June 26, 1948, in an ambitious plan to feed and supply West Berlin after the Soviets — one of the four occupying powers of a divided Berlin after World War II — blockaded the city in an attempt to squeeze the U.S., Britain and France out of the enclave within Soviet-occupied eastern Germany.

Allied pilots flew a total of 278,000 flights to Berlin, carrying about 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicine and other supplies.

On the operation's busiest day, April 16, 1949, about 1,400 planes carried in nearly 13,000 tons over 24 hours — an average of one plane touching down almost every minute.

On the ground in Berlin, ex-Luftwaffe mechanics were enlisted to help maintain aircraft, and some 19,000 Berliners, almost half of them women, worked around the clock for three months to build Tegel Airport, providing a crucial relief for the British Gatow and American Tempelhof airfields.

Finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets realized the blockade was futile and lifted their barricades. The airlift continued for several more months, however, as a precaution in case the Soviets changed their minds.

Halvorsen is probably the best known of the airlift pilots, thanks to an inadvertent propaganda coup born out of good will. Early in the airlift, he shared two sticks of gum with starving Berlin children and saw others sniffing the wrappers just for a hint of the flavor.

Touched, he told the children to come back the next day, when he would drop them candy, using handkerchiefs as parachutes.

He started doing it regularly, using his own candy ration. Soon other pilots and crews joined in what would be dubbed "Operation Little Vittles."

After an Associated Press story appeared under the headline "Lollipop Bomber Flies Over Berlin," a wave of candy and handkerchief donations followed.

To this day, the airlift still shapes many Germans' views of the Western allies, especially in Berlin. After the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001, some 200,000 Berliners took to the streets of the German capital to show their support for the country that had helped prevent their city falling completely to the Soviets.

On Sunday, up to 50,000 people were expected to participate in the festivities, which include musical performances, talks with witnesses, exhibitions of historical vehicles and lots of activities for children, dpa reported.


Millions vote in Philippine elections crucial to Duterte

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019, photo, a man walks past election banners in the slum district of Tondo, Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Associated Press

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Filipinos have begun voting in midterm elections highlighted by a showdown between President Rodrigo Duterte's allies who aim to dominate the Senate and an opposition fighting for check and balance under a leader they regard as a looming dictator.

Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts in Monday's elections in one of Asia's most rambunctious democracies.

The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda that includes the return of the death penalty.

Military and police forces are on full alert to respond to any violence, especially in security hotspots, and help prevent cheating amid intense local political rivalries.


Myanmar passenger jet lands safely after landing gear fails

Firefighters work with a hose on a plane of Myanmar National Airline (MNA) after an accident at Mandalay International airport Sunday, May 12, 2019. (Aung Thura via AP)

Aung Naing Soe

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar National Airlines plane made an emergency landing at Mandalay International Airport on Sunday, using only its rear wheels after the front landing gear failed to deploy.

All 82 passengers and seven crew members aboard Flight UB103 from Yangon were declared safe after the Brazilian-made Embraer 190-LR touched down on its rear sets of wheels before the plane's nose tilted down to scrape the runway, sending off a shower of sparks as it slowed to a stop.

Kyaw San, a spokesman for the airport, said the pilot informed the control tower before landing that he was unable to pull down the nose wheels.

A statement on the airline's Facebook page explained that the plane's EICAS — Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System — indicated a failure of the front landing gear to deploy. The pilot tried a backup emergency procedure to pull down the wheels but that was unsuccessful. The aircraft did two fly-bys past the tower for air controllers to check visually whether the wheels had deployed.

The captain followed emergency procedures to dump fuel to reduce the landing weight, and made a safe landing at 9:09 a.m., said the statement.

Video apparently shot by one of the passengers and posted online showed an urgent but orderly evacuation of the passengers and crew. Passengers were seen walking away from the plane across the airfield, several of them smiling.

Flight operations at the airport were temporarily suspended, and allowed to resume after about 2 ½ hours for smaller aircraft. The runways were expected to be reopened for use by larger Boeing and Airbus aircraft by late afternoon.

On Wednesday, a Biman Bangladesh Airlines aircraft skidded off the runway after landing in bad weather at Yangon's airport, injuring at least 15 passengers and crew but none critically. The fuselage of the plane, a Bombardier Dash 8, was broken in at least two spots, along with the wings.


UAE says 4 ships targeted by 'sabotage' off its east coast

In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo, an oil tanker approaches a Jetty during the launch of the new $650 million oil facility in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, UAE (AP) — The United Arab Emirates said Sunday that four commercial ships off its eastern coast "were subjected to sabotage operations," just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.

Emirati officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage or say who might have been responsible. However, the reported incident comes as the U.S. has warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and as America is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged threats from Tehran.

Tensions have risen in the year since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring American sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.

The statement from the UAE's Foreign Ministry put the ships near the country's territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah. It said it was investigating the incident "in cooperation with local and international bodies." It said there were "no injuries or fatalities on board the vessels" and "no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel."

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which oversees the region, did not immediately offer comment on the incident. Emirati officials declined to elaborate while their investigation is ongoing.

Earlier Sunday, Lebanon's pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, quoting "Gulf sources," falsely reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah's port. State and semi-official media in Iran picked up the report from Al-Mayadeen, which later published the names of vessels it claimed were involved in the incident.

The Associated Press, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses, found the report about explosions at the port to be unsubstantiated.

Fujairah's port is located about 140 kilometers (85 miles) from the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil at sea is traded. The facility handles oil for bunkering and shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo. It is seen as strategically located, serving shipping routes in the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

The reported sabotage incident comes after the U.S. Maritime Administration warned Thursday that Iran could target commercial sea traffic.

"Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against U.S. and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz," the warning read. "Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf."

It's unclear if that is the same perceived threat that prompted the White House to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region on May 4.
 


1 dead, 8 hurt in Colorado school shooting, 2 in custody

Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center where they were reunited with their parents after a shooting at a suburban Denver middle school Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Kathleen Foody

Highlands Ranch, Colo. (AP) — Two students opened fire Tuesday inside a charter school in an affluent suburb of Denver not far from Columbine High School , killing a teenager, wounding eight and spreading minutes of terror before they were taken into custody with no injuries, authorities said.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the pair walked into the STEM School Highlands Ranch and began shooting students in two classrooms. Within minutes, deputies at a nearby sheriff's department substation entered the school and arrested the two suspects after a struggle.

"As officers were arriving at the school, they could still hear gunshots," Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said.

Authorities did not release the name of the student who died, but said it was an 18-year-old man.

"I have to believe that the quick response of the officers that got inside that school helped save lives," Spurlock said. He did not identify the suspects, but said they were not previously known to authorities. Authorities planned to search their homes and a vehicle at the school, he said.

The shooting took place exactly a week after a gunman killed two students and wounded four at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. It also comes nearly three weeks after neighboring Littleton marked the grim 20th anniversary of the Columbine school massacre that killed 13 people. The two schools are separated by about 7 miles (11 kilometers) in adjacent communities south of Denver.

"Tragically, this community and those surrounding it know all too well these hateful and horrible acts of violence," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting and was in touch with state and local officials, Deere said.

STEM is a public charter school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. It has more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Student Christian Paulson told television station KMGH that he was in study hall when he saw kids running and shouting, "School shooter!"

"And I'm like, what? Is this real or fake? And then I just went after them," Christian Paulson said. "And apparently, this is all real. And I tried to run with my life, but I'm out of breath."

Rocco DeChalk, who lives near the school, told television station KUSA that he saw so many students running past his house that at first he thought it was a gym class. He went outside and saw a teenage boy who had been shot in the back being helped by a teacher and another student.

They brought the boy into his kitchen and alerted a police officer, who sent for an ambulance.

"He made a comment, 'Oh, I'm starting to feel it now,'" DeChalk said. "I told him that was probably the adrenaline kicking in and he was going into shock."

Three area hospitals reported treating eight people in connection with the attack. Two were listed in serious condition, two were listed as stable, one was in good condition and three were released.

Lines of firetrucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles from multiple agencies were at the school, and medical helicopters landed on a grassy field.

The sheriff's office directed parents to a nearby recreational center to pick up their children. A fleet of school buses arrived and dropped off students, some of whom were crying and holding hands with their classmates as they were helped off. An ambulance also pulled up and let out a half-dozen children, none of whom appeared to be physically injured.

"We know this is a very worrisome situation for parents," Nicholson-Kluth said. "Relatives are worried, and we are trying to get them back together as soon as possible."

Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement that he was making state public-safety resources available to help secure the site and evacuate students.

"The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families," he said.

Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a gun-control supporter whose congressional district includes STEM, said the gun violence cannot continue.

"It is not enough to send thoughts and prayers. It is empty. It is weak, and it does an injustice to our children who are on the front lines of this violence," he said.


New Zealand introduces climate bill to become carbon neutral

 

New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw, left, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talk to reporters on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Wellington, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand's government on Wednesday introduced an ambitious climate change bill that aims to make the nation mostly carbon neutral by 2050 while giving some leeway to farmers.

However, some farming industry groups say the measures remain too onerous and threaten the future of regional communities, while some environmentalists say the bill doesn't go far enough because there are no penalties for noncompliance.

The bill represents a campaign promise from the liberal government that was elected 18 months ago. The government has also promised to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years and ensure that the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy by 2035.

The bill would require all greenhouse gases except methane from animals to be reduced to net zero by 2050. Methane emissions would be reduced by 10 percent by 2030 and by between about one-quarter and one-half by 2050.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said climate change was the biggest single challenge facing the world.

"We know the climate is changing. People can see that," Ardern said. "This legislation makes a start on tackling climate change because the alternative is the catastrophic cost of doing nothing."

Agriculture is a key source of overseas revenue for New Zealand, which is home to just under 5 million people but more than 10 million cows and some 28 million sheep.

Those animals burp and fart methane, resulting in an unusual greenhouse gas emission profile for the country. Almost half of total emissions come from agriculture. The bill says the lower targets for methane reduction reflect that it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide.

Tim Ritchie, the chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said meat processors and exporters are alarmed at the targets, which could only be achieved by reducing herds.

"This will impose enormous economic costs on the country and threaten many regional communities who depend on pastoral agriculture," he said in a release.

Meanwhile, Russel Norman, the executive director of Greenpeace in New Zealand, said the bill would have little clout because there was no mechanism to hold anybody to account.

To come into effect, the bill would need to be passed by a majority in the Parliament. A final vote is expected later this year.


Myanmar extends detention of American accused of growing pot

 

U.S. national John Fredric Todoroki is escorted by police for a court hearing on his arrest for operating a marijuana plantation, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Ngazun Township, Mandalay region, central Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Associated Press

Mandalay, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar court on Tuesday allowed police to detain an American entrepreneur accused of operating a marijuana plantation for two more weeks while he is investigated.

John Frederic Todoroki and two Myanmar co-workers appeared in court in Mandalay region's Myingyan district for the first time since their April 23 arrests. They could face charges carrying penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Myanmar's anti-drug agency said 349,300 marijuana plants, 5,200 seedlings, 380 kilograms (838 pounds) of marijuana seeds, 1,804 grams (64 ounces) of marijuana oil, and chemicals and equipment were found when the 20-acre (8-hectare) plantation on an industrial estate in central Myanmar was raided.

Plantation operator III M Nutraceutical Co. said in an April 26 statement that the plants are actually hemp, and its project was approved by the Mandalay region government last August for research and development purposes. It said its farm has been growing industrial hemp, kenaf, peppermint, coffee and eucalyptus, and is strictly doing research, with no sales or distribution.

The company said its work was focused on hemp, which can be processed into CBD — cannabidiol — a non-intoxicating compound that many believe has health benefits, but also has many other uses.

Hemp can be grown legally in many countries, and is often used for making CBD products. Marijuana is another form of cannabis and another source of CBD. But it has psychoactive effects, causing a high. Myanmar law does not seem to clearly distinguish between the two plants.

Khin Maung Than, a lawyer representing Todoroki and his two colleagues, insisted that they had been growing hemp, which was why the project had been approved.

The company said it employs more than 170 people and seeks "to implement the first employee-owned agriculture company in the region with the goal of creating long-term, sustainable employment with benefits for the local community." It said it teaches high-tech agricultural techniques to local villagers and donates equipment to them.

Several local farmers turned up at court Tuesday to offer moral support.

"This is a great loss for us because when we met Mr. John, we understood that all of his kindness was for our farmers in rural areas," said Ohn Myint, a farmer from Kwae Gyi village of Ngunzun township. "He is here to help the development of our farmers."

The parents of Shunlei Myat Noe, one of the arrested Myanmar employees, also were at court.

"She is not in charge of the laboratory, she has no connection with the laboratory," said her father, Myo Min Aung. "She studied English, that's why she is working there. ... She doesn't know anything. She is just a daily worker."

"I want to bring my daughter back today if possible," said her mother, Yi Yi Win. "My heart is broken. My daughter is innocent. She is working just to take care of her parents."

Police have said they are also seeking to arrest Alexander Skemp Todoroki. It's unclear where the Todorokis, believed to be father and son, last lived in the U.S.


UK concedes it must hold EU election amid Brexit delay

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the Welsh Conservative party conference at Llangollen Pavilion, Llangollen, Wales, Friday May 3, 2019. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — The British government on Tuesday acknowledged for the first time that the country will definitely take part in the European Parliament elections this month because there's no chance that a Brexit deal can be approved in time to avoid them.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government had been desperate to avoid U.K. participation in polls for U.K. seats in the 751-seat European Union legislature. The vote in Britain on May 23 is being held almost three years after U.K. voters chose to leave the EU.

But lawmakers have repeatedly rejected May's divorce deal with the bloc, and Britain's departure date has been postponed from March 29 until Oct. 31 while politicians scramble for a solution.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, the No. 2 in May's government, said "regrettably" it was no longer possible to get Brexit finished before the elections, which are being held across the EU from May 23-26.

"We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place," he said. "But legally they do have to take place unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect, so those will now go ahead."

Lidington said the government still hoped Britain would leave the bloc before the new European Parliament takes up its seats in early July.

The Conservative Party fears it will be trounced in the European election as pro-Brexit and pro-EU voters both express anger at the country's political impasse.

Two new parties — the anti-EU Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage and the pro-European Change UK party — are campaigning hard, hoping to make gains among disgruntled Britons.

May has pinned hopes of securing Parliament's support for a Brexit deal on reaching a compromise with the opposition Labour Party. After several weeks of fruitless negotiations, senior Conservative and Labour lawmakers resumed Brexit discussions Tuesday in what appeared to be a final push to reach an agreement.

The talks were given new urgency by last week's local elections in Britain, which saw the Conservatives hammered and Labour also lose ground as voters expressed anger at the Brexit mess.

But the left-of-center Labour Party insists it will only agree to a Brexit deal that includes a permanent customs union with the EU to avoid barriers to the trade of goods. The government wants a looser relationship with the bloc that would let Britain strike new trade deals around the world.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said "compromises on all sides" were needed "because the message of last week was that voters for both main parties are very, very angry about the fact that Brexit hasn't been delivered."

But suggestions that May's government might soften the terms of Britain's departure from the EU has infuriated pro-Brexit Conservatives, who are demanding May's resignation.

"The time has come for her to resign," said lawmaker Bill Cash. "She needs to be given a date. The sooner the better. But it needs to be done in an orderly manner."

May has said she will step down once a Brexit deal has been ratified, but it's unclear when — or even if — that will happen.

The chairman of a powerful Conservative committee that oversees party leadership contests was due to meet May later Tuesday to deliver a demand for "clarity" about her departure date.

Leaders of local Conservative organizations are holding a non-binding no-confidence vote in May's leadership on June 15.


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Saudis say they will defend themselves, as Trump warns Iran

India's marathon national election reaches the finish line

Bomb hits tourist bus near Egypt's Giza Pyramids, wounds 17

UN tells Italy proposed decree violates migrants' rights


1 dead, mosques attacked as Sri Lanka communal tensions rise

Happy 130th birthday, Eiffel Tower: Laser show for Iron Lady

Citing unrest, US suspends air traffic with Venezuela

Japanese space startup aims to compete with US rivals


Sri Lanka imposes curfew, blocks social media amid violence

Sweden to reopen rape case against WikiLeaks' Assange

China retaliates on tariffs, stock markets go into a slide

Indian prime minister mocked for Pakistan airstrike gaffe


Berlin Airlift remembered, key moment in Cold War

Millions vote in Philippine elections crucial to Duterte

Myanmar passenger jet lands safely after landing gear fails

UAE says 4 ships targeted by 'sabotage' off its east coast


1 dead, 8 hurt in Colorado school shooting, 2 in custody

New Zealand introduces climate bill to become carbon neutral

Myanmar extends detention of American accused of growing pot

UK concedes it must hold EU election amid Brexit delay