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Update June 2018


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Update June 29, 2018

Bali airport closed as Agung volcano gushes column of ash

Passengers looks at an information board at Bali's international airport, Indonesia on Thursday, June 28. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Bali, Indonesia (AP) — The Indonesian tourist island of Bali closed its international airport Friday, stranding thousands of travelers, as the Mount Agung volcano gushed a 2,500-meter (8,200-feet) column of ash and smoke.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said the airport closure began early Friday. It said nearly 450 flights were canceled, affecting 75,000 people.

The regional volcanic ash advisory center in Darwin, Australia, said winds could carry the ash southwest toward Java, Indonesia's most densely populated island. Volcanic ash is a potentially deadly threat to aircraft that can cause engines to "flame out."

The volcano began gushing smoke Thursday. Its alert level has not been raised and an exclusion zone around the crater remains at 4 kilometers.

Agung, about 70 kilometers northeast of Bali's tourist hotspot of Kuta, last had a major eruption in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.

It had a dramatic increase in activity last year, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, but had quietened by early this year. Authorities lowered its alert status from the highest level in February.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.


Private plane crashes in crowded Mumbai area; 5 people dead

 

Rescuers search among the wreckage of a private charter plane that crashed in Ghatkopar area in Mumbai, India, Thursday, June 28. The plane hit an open area at a construction site for a multistory building in a crowded area with many residential apartments. (AP Photo)

Rajanish Kakade

Mumbai, India (AP) — A small private plane crashed Thursday in a busy area of Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, killing five people including one person on the ground, police said. A former aviation minister said the pilot avoided a much higher toll by hitting an open area at a construction site.

The fatalities included the two pilots and two technicians on the aircraft, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Police officer Vishnu Kolekar said one person on the ground was killed and two others were injured. Police earlier said two were killed on the ground.

Police said the 12-seat Beechcraft King Air C90 crashed on a test flight after being repaired and had taken off from Mumbai's Juhu airstrip, which is used by small planes and is some distance from the city's main airport.

They said it plowed into an open area at a construction site for a multistory building in the Ghatkopar district, a crowded area with many residential apartments. Workers at the construction site had left for lunch.

Former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, a Mumbai resident, said the pilot prevented many more casualties by avoiding residential buildings.

"Salute to the pilot who showed presence of mind to avoid a big mishap, saving many lives at the cost of her own," he tweeted.

Current Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident.

New Delhi Television reported that the plane had engine trouble and the pilot had requested an emergency landing at the main Mumbai airport.

The plane was more than 20 years old and had been acquired by the Uttar Pradesh state government in 1995, which sold it in 2014 to a private Mumbai company, UY Aviation, following a crash in 2012, said Surya Pal Gangwar, a state civil aviation official in Lucknow, the state capital. He did not describe details of the crash or the extent of the damage the aircraft suffered.

Television images of Thursday's crash showed pieces of the plane burning on the ground. Eight fire trucks rushed to the crash site. Fire official R. Pawar said the bodies recovered from the wreckage were badly burned. A strong smell of aviation fuel hung over the area.

Surveillance camera video from a nearby building broadcast on NDTV showed the plane hitting a red vehicle in the open area and bursting into a ball of fire.

The wreckage was spread over a 50-meter (50-yard) radius.

"We are used to planes flying overhead," a resident of a nearby apartment complex told NDTV. "We thought there was an explosion at the construction site. Only later we realized that a plane had crashed."

The deadliest civil aviation accident in Indian history was a mid-air collision near New Delhi in 1996 which killed all 349 people on board the two planes, a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100B and a Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76.

An Air India passenger plane crashed in 1978 about 3 kilometers (2 miles) off the coast of Bandra, Mumbai. All 213 passengers and crew were killed.

Another Air India flight from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway on landing and fell over a cliff and caught fire in May 2010. Only eight of the 166 passengers and crew survived.


Merkel defends migrant record, calls for European solution

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers her speech during a debate at the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Thursday, June 28. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

David Rising and Frank Jordans

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need Thursday for a European approach to dealing with the influx of asylum seekers, as she sought to fend off critics from within her own conservative bloc while defending her 2015 decision to keep Germany's borders open during the refugee crisis.

Speaking to Parliament before heading to a European Union summit in Brussels, she described the move to lawmakers as an exceptional gesture to help relieve pressure on nearby Austria and Hungary, whose leaders had personally appealed for assistance as migrants streamed into their countries.

"We said in an exceptional situation we will help and now, as then, I think it was the right decision," Merkel said.

The German chancellor is fighting a battle at home and abroad against critics who accuse her of endangering European security with her welcoming approach to migrants. Merkel's conservative bloc is under pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany party that has received a surge in support since 2015, and populist leaders in southern and eastern Europe have rejected her calls a wholesale reform of Europe's migration system.

Internal strife within her coalition has become so acrimonious that could bring down her government, but Merkel told parliament the implications were even broader.

"Europe has many challenges, but that of migration could determine the fate of the European Union," she said.

Faced with the likelihood that the EU's 28 members won't be able to agree unanimously on an approach, Merkel said she would seek a "coalition of the willing" to agree on pressing measures to tackle illegal migration until a pan-European solution could be found.

"My maxim is: not unilateral, not uncoordinated and not at the expense of third parties," she said.

Merkel said the EU's members disagree on two key points — a common asylum policy and a fair distribution of refugees —and she doesn't expect a deal this week. Still, she insisted that measures taken since 2015, both at the national and European level, were heading in the right direction.

Citing the killing of a girl by a young Iraqi asylum-seeker, and the inability of German authorities to deport a suspected former aide to Osama bin Laden , Merkel said there "is a need to act."

In a nod to one of her fiercest critics at home, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Merkel also said she agreed on the need to prevent asylum-seekers from moving across the continent's open borders at will. Refugees who enter the EU have to stay in the first country they registered in, but the so-called Dublin regulations haven't been properly enforced, resulting in people making multiple asylum requests in different countries.

"A person who seeks protection in Europe can't choose the country within the European Union where he or she wants to submit an asylum request," she said. But she added that "we can't leave those countries where all arrivals take place to fend for themselves."

Seehofer, whose Bavaria-only party faces state elections this fall, has taken a tough line on migration, threatening to turn asylum-seekers who have registered in another country back at the border, putting him at odds with Merkel who rejects the unilateral approach and questions its legality.

Illustrating the complexities of the issue, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said in an interview with Austria's Puls 4 television that if Seehofer thought he could simply send migrants back to Austria, he should think again.

"If Germany believes that one can simply send people back to Austria in violation of international law, then we will explain to the Germans that we will not take these people," Kickl said.

He said that Germany if believes another country like Slovenia or Croatia should be responsible for the asylum application in accordance with the Dublin rules, expelling them into Austria is not an option.

Kickl said he would tell Seehofer: "If they are already in Germany, then they stay in Germany. For us there is no reason to take these people back."

He added that if the EU summit provided no solution, Austria takes over the rotating EU presidency on the weekend and could use the opportunity to try and develop a new model for a European asylum system.

"We need to address the problem to where it, in reality, arises," he said. "And that is the exterior border of the European Union."

The leader of Alternative for Germany, Alexander Gauland, called on Merkel to close the country's borders and pursue "national interests."
 


Fire sweeps through market in Kenya's capital, killing 15

Fire fighters damp down charred debris after a fire swept through a marketplace in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday June 28. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

Tom Odula

Nairobi, Kenya (AP) — A fire swept one of Nairobi's largest open-air markets early Thursday, killing 15 people and sending 70 injured to hospitals, an official said.

Nairobi County Commissioner Kangethe Thuku said six bodies had been recovered and nine were in a building and had yet to be retrieved.

Rescue teams searched for more bodies and survivors in Gikomba market in the Pumwani low-income neighborhood in Kenya's capital. Many Kenyans shop for secondhand clothes from the market, which also supplies other vendors with used clothes from Europe and the United States.

The cause of the fire was not immediately announced but "for now we have declared this site a crime scene," Thuku said. Security forces guarded the smoking scene as workers picked through the blackened rubble.

One market trader, Ruth Kaveke, grasped a wad of burnt currency and said it was the only thing she managed to salvage from her cloth-making store. It was the second time fire has destroyed her only source of livelihood in as many years.

"I live in the market because it is convenient and I wanted to be close by; just in case of fire I could salvage my property," she said.

Her two children would not easily wake up when the latest fire broke out, however, and by the time she got them to safety it was too late to save anything else, she said.

The fire started around 2:30 a.m. and was contained about an hour and a half later, according to the St. John Ambulance charity.

Residents said the crowded market has had fires multiple times in recent years, and traders have suffered huge losses. Officials have said access roads are clogged with traders who block emergency response services, while critics say those services are poor.


Prosecutor: Suspects in N. Korean death are trained killers

 

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, center, is escorted by police as she leaves court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Thursday, June 28. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Eileen Ng

Shah Alam, Malaysia (AP) — Two Southeast Asian women on trial for killing the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader are trained assassins who used "criminal force" to rub the toxic VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's eyes and face, prosecutors said in their closing arguments Thursday.

The women's claim that they were duped by North Korean agents into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden camera show was an "ingenious attempt ... to cover up their sinister plot in order to obscure the eyes of the public and the court," prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin told the court.

Indonesia's Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, who face the death penalty if convicted, have pleaded not guilty to murdering Kim in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. Kim died within two hours. The women are the only suspects in custody, although prosecutors say they colluded with four North Korean suspects who fled the country on the day of the assassination.

Doan called herself an actress, while Aisyah was a masseur. Wan Shaharuddin said it was "not impossible for someone to lead a double life."

"This type of assassination can only be seen in James Bond movies and the two girls were not randomly picked as a scapegoat. They knew what they had to do and they achieved in doing it," Wan Shaharuddin said. "There is no room for failure. Only selected and trained individuals can ensure success."

Defense lawyers said the women had no motive to kill Kim nor were they aware they were handling poison. They said their clients were innocent pawns in a high-profile political assassination by North Korea.

The judge set a ruling for Aug. 16 to decide whether the women should enter their defense or be acquitted.

Wan Shaharuddin said that the women were in the know because they deliberately targeted Kim's eyes and hastily washed their hands after the attack. An expert has testified that the eyes are the best route of entry for the poison to spread, and that VX can be washed off within 15 minutes of exposure without causing any symptoms.

With Kim weighing nearly 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and standing at 5 feet 10 inches (1.7 meters) tall, the prosecutor said the women had "used their bodily power" to forcefully smear the poison on his eyes and face.

"Criminal force was used," he said. "The conduct of the two accused was to get the attack done quickly without timely reaction from Kim ... therefore they must be aggressive otherwise (Kim) might block the act of applying the dangerous substance and their mission would eventually fail."

He said it could be inferred from security video footage that the two attacked at the same time to ensure "their plan succeed with flying colors."

He said the women were not coerced nor under duress when they attacked Kim. Despite their claims of pranks, he said their facial expression and conduct during the attack didn't reflect any humor.

Although the operation may have been planned by the North Korean suspects, Wan Shaharuddin said the women were the actual killers as they had executed the plan and directly caused Kim's death. He acknowledged police investigations were not perfect but urged the court to ask the women to answer why VX was found on their clothing and on Huong's fingernails, and why they had attacked Kim if they were really carrying out a prank.

"If they remain silent, all the questions that are lingering in the court's mind will remain unanswered and they should be convicted," he said.

Aisyah's lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said in his rebuttal to the prosecution that the case was based on "flimsy evidence" with many "doubts and gaps".  Huong's lawyer Naran Singh said the women would not have just walked fast but would have "run for their life" to wash their hands after the attack if they knew they had poison on their hands.

The lawyers said the women should also be acquitted because they had been deprived of a fair trial due to shoddy investigations and a flawed charge that didn't name the four men at large. A police investigator revealed the names of the four people during his testimony.

Aisyah and Huong were calm and shook hands with their lawyers and embassy officials at the close of the trial.

Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favor. It is thought he could have been seen as a threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's rule.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Kim's death and have made it clear they don't want the trial politicized.


Update June 28, 2018

UN's highest court begins hearing Qatar lawsuit against UAE

In this May 5, 2018 photo, a giant image of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, adorns a tower in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, UAE (AP) — The United Nations' highest court on Wednesday began hearing a lawsuit by Qatar accusing the United Arab Emirates of "discrimination against Qatar and Qatari citizens" amid a yearlong boycott by four Arab nations. The UAE denies the allegations.

The case before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, is the latest salvo in a bitter, year-old diplomatic dispute among Gulf Arab nations allied to the U.S. The four nations boycotting Qatar issued an early-morning statement saying they planned their own lawsuit at the ICJ over a dispute around their decision to shut their airspace to Doha.

"There are no opportunities for Qataris to seek justice for these human rights abuses," said Mohammed Abdulaziz al-Khulaifi, one of Qatar's representatives at the hearing. "The UAE has fostered such an environment of hate against Qataris. ... Individuals in the UAE are afraid of even speaking to family members living in Qatar."

Qatar filed the lawsuit earlier this month, accusing the UAE of violating its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the other countries boycotting Qatar in the dispute, have not consented to the court's jurisdiction, though the UAE has, Doha said.

The UAE's alleged violations include that "thousands of Qataris are unable to return to the UAE, separated from their families there," al-Khulaifi said, adding that Qataris have lost jobs and property, and have been unable to continue their studies at UAE schools. He also said the UAE has threatened prosecution for those who offer "sympathy" for Qatar amid the dispute.

Representatives for the UAE will respond to Qatar during a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

The four Arab nations cut ties to Qatar on June 5, 2017, just after a summit in Saudi Arabia in which Gulf leaders met with President Donald Trump. They also launched an economic boycott, stopping Qatar Airways flights from using their airspace, closing off the small country's sole land border with Saudi Arabia and blocking its ships from using their ports.

They say the crisis stems from Qatar's support for extremist groups in the region, charges denied by Doha. Boycotting countries' demands include limiting diplomatic ties to Iran, shutting down the state-funded Al-Jazeera satellite news network and other media outlets, and severing ties to all "terrorist organizations," including the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

"The real purpose of the demands is to undermine Qatar's sovereignty," al-Khulaifi said.

The dispute has hurt Doha-based Qatar Airways. Qatar has sent complaints to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body, about the boycotting countries closing off their airspace, as well as violating the country's airspace. The UAE has sent its own complaints as well, accusing Qatari military aircraft of flying dangerously close to Emirati planes.

Early Wednesday, the four Arab nations said they'd take their own case to the ICJ over their opinion that the ICAO "was not competent to consider that dispute."

"The appeals and hearings of the International Court of Justice are expected to take a long time ... and accordingly the four states will continue to close their regional airspace to Qatari aircraft in order to preserve their national security and sovereign rights," the nations said in a statement.


Malaysia values items seized in ex-PM probe at $273 million

Malaysia's commercial crime investigations chief Amar Singh shows a picture of jewelry seized during the investigation of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 27. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Eileen Ng

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — The total value of cash, jewelry and hundreds of watches and handbags seized from properties linked to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a money-laundering investigation amounted to at least $273 million, police said Wednesday, calling the haul "the biggest in Malaysian history."

The items comprised 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 567 handbags, 423 watches and 234 sunglasses, said commercial crime investigations chief Amar Singh. The jewelry includes 2,200 rings, 1,400 necklaces, 2,100 bracelets, 2,800 pair of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras, he said.

"Definitely we are shocked. This is the biggest seizure in Malaysia's history," he told a news conference.

Allegations of corruption at the defunct 1MDB state investment fund that Najib set up led to his shocking defeat and the end of the 60-year unbroken rule of his coalition in May 9 elections. Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving the country and have both been grilled by anti-graft officials. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Police have raided 12 locations, including Najib's family home and apartments at a high-end Kuala Lumpur condominium, as part of the probe into a criminal breach of trust involving the 1MDB fund.

Singh said among the most expensive valuables were a 6.4 million ringgit ($1.6 million) diamond necklace and a 3.5 million ringgit ($869,000) Rolex Daytona watch. Out of the 567 handbags, he said 272 were the exclusive Hermes Birkins bags with a market value of at least 51.3 million ringgit ($12.7 million).

Police will soon call Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor as well as people who allegedly gave them some of the items as gifts for questioning, he added.

Rosmah was reviled by many Malaysians as an avaricious first lady who loves Birkin bags and leads an opulent lifestyle, but television footage of the huge police haul has Malaysia gasping with shock. It is possibly the most sensational image of elite corruption in Asia in the three decades since former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos and her infamous collection of designer shoes and jewelry.

Najib set up the 1MDB fund when he took power in 2009 but it accumulated billions in debts. U.S. investigators say Najib's associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014, some of which landed in Najib's bank account. They say $27.3 million was used to buy a rare diamond necklace for Rosmah.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into 1MDB that were suppressed under Najib's rule. Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, was spurred out of retirement by the 1MDB scandal. He has vowed there will be no deal for Najib, saying he will face the consequences if found guilty of wrongdoing.

The government has said Najib's administration had conducted an "exercise of deception" over 1MDB and misrepresented the country's financial situation to Parliament. The country's new anti-graft chief warned of criminal charges against Najib soon.


Rescuers face scrutiny as 234 migrants reach safe haven

The ship operated by German aid group Mission Lifeline, carrying 234 migrants, arrives at the Valletta port in Malta, Wednesday, June 27. (AP Photo/Chris Mangion)

Colleen Barry and Stephen Calleja

Valletta, Malta (AP) — The captain of a German humanitarian ship that spent nearly a week searching for safe harbor before being allowed to bring 234 migrants rescued at sea to Malta on Wednesday declared during the odyssey: "Saving people is not a crime." Still, once he was on land he was placed under investigation for allegedly breaching maritime regulations.

It is part of a growing trend in Europe and the United States: Private groups responding to images of human suffering and deaths targeted by authorities who are often under political and popular pressure to stem the migration tides.

In announcing that Captain Claus-Peter Reisch would face investigation, Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat placed the blame for the impasse that kept the migrants at sea while European nations haggled over their fate squarely on the captain, who he said went "against international rules and ignored directions." French President Emmanuel Macron also criticized the captain, saying he "acted against all the rules," by not turning the migrants over to Libyan authorities after they were found floating in rubber dinghies in Libyan waters.

Humanitarian groups have pushed back. Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International and two other NGOs asked to meet with Macron over his assertion. "Engineered panic and fear-mongering by European politicians over migrations is steering the EU toward very dangerous waters," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Italy's new, hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has been instrumental in raising the level of confrontation, closing Italian ports to humanitarian groups that he accuses of acting like taxi services for migrant smugglers operating out of lawless Libya. His refusal to grant safe harbor, coupled by that of Malta, forced the French aid ship Aquarius to sail an additional 1,500 kilometers to Spain, which agreed to take in the migrants at its port in Valencia.

While Muscat emphasized that the latest case involving the ship Lifeline was unique because of the alleged violations of its captain, the refusal until Wednesday to let the ship dock — and the haggling among EU states over how to distribute the migrants — showed a hardening of positions as EU leaders head into a summit Thursday where migration policies are expected to be the focus.

Reisch is accused of disobeying orders to turn over the migrants, who were rescued in Libyan waters, to the Libyan Coast Guard. Muscat also said the Lifeline turned off its transponder to hide the ship's location. He cited Dutch authorities as saying the ship's registration document is merely a proof of purchase and that it is listed as a pleasure craft, which precludes it from participating in rescues.

Lifeline said it obeyed all maritime instructions as long as they were "in compliance with international law."

"It is important to underline that the only order the ship denied was to hand over people to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, as this would have been not in line with the Geneva Refugee Convention and therefore criminal," said Alex Steier, the co-founder of the German aid group Mission Lifeline that operates the ship.

On the Lifeline's approach to Malta on Wednesday, migrants crowded the deck wearing orange life vests, many waving, as it entered the main port in Valletta under escort by a Maltese patrol boat. The ship's captain sounded the boat's horn with two long blasts to salute the migrants after their shared journey, and raised a yellow flag to signal permission to authorities to board and a Maltese flag as a courtesy for allowing the ship to dock.

One by one, the migrants were escorted off by officials and medical personnel in white coveralls and gloves. A girl in pink shorts — one of five children on the ship — was cradled by an official. One man walked unsteadily, leaning on a helper, while another wearing shorts and a white polo shirt was barefoot and wrapped in a red blanket.

Ship's captain Reisch was the last to get off the ship, and he hugged the crew before getting into a waiting police car for questioning.

Once settled, the migrants will be vetted to determine if they are eligible for political asylum or if they are economic migrants that will be sent back to their countries of origin, Muscat said.

Malta opened its port only after seven other countries also agreed to take in those deemed eligible for refugee status. Besides Malta, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium agreed to take in refugees. It was unclear how many each would take.

Muscat said Malta had no legal obligation to act since the rescue happened in Libyan waters, but it was willing to offer its port "before the situation escalates to a humanitarian crisis."

The standoff comes ahead of a two-day EU summit that begins Thursday, where Italy will propose a new system for distributing migrants more evenly among EU countries, along with ways to discourage economic migrants from leaving Africa. Italy and Greece have borne the brunt of the arrivals in recent years as people make the dangerous sea journey to seek a better life in Europe, often fleeing war and oppression.

Salvini, who visited Libya earlier this week, warned Wednesday that there are 662,000 migrants from 40 countries in the northern African nation waiting to make their way to safer countries, mostly in Europe. He cited data from the International Organization for Migration.

The U.N. refugee agency said that this year alone, 1,000 people are missing and presumed dead crossing the Mediterranean Sea, usually in inadequate rubber dinghies organized by smugglers. Despite the travails of Lifeline and Aquarius, humanitarian groups operating ships off Libya, determined to help diminish the number of dead, are not deterred.

As the Lifeline entered Valletta's harbor it passed the crew of another humanitarian ship, the Astral, which was in Malta preparing to enter search and rescue waters to observe rescues by the aid group Proactiva Open Arms in order to avoid just such controversies.


Huawei executive warns Australia risks economy with 5G ban

Huawei Technologies Australia Chairman John Lord speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Wednesday, June 27. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Australia could damage its economic future if it bans Huawei from the nation's next-generation mobile network technology, the Chinese telecommunication giant's Australian boss said on Wednesday.

Australia barred Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications equipment supplier, on national security grounds from bidding for contracts in 2011 for the national broadband network which is being rolled out countrywide.

According to media reports, the government is now poised to ban Huawei from supplying 5G networks, the next evolution in phone technology that will start commercial services in Australia next year.

Huawei Australia Chairman John Lord told the National Press Club his Shenzhen-based company was having discussions with government "at all levels" on its involvement in 5G. He dismissed media reports of an imminent ban as "supposition," adding that Huawei had not contemplated that outcome.

"In saying 'no' to one of the leading 5G suppliers in the world, what are we really doing?" Lord said.

"This is not just a tough political decision, this is a long-term technology decision that could impact our growth and our productivity for generations to come," he added.

Huawei has been under intense scrutiny in several countries over its links to the Chinese government. The private Chinese company started by a former People's Liberation Army major in 1987 suffered a setback in the U.S. market in 2012 when a congressional report said it was a security risk and warned phone companies not to buy its equipment.

The House Intelligence Committee found that Hauwei and Chinese rival ZTE Corp., which is partly state-owned, were tied to the Chinese government.

"China is known to be the major perpetrator of cyber-espionage, and Huawei and ZTE failed to alleviate serious concerns throughout this important investigation. American businesses should use other vendors," the committee's chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich, told a news conference.

The report said the companies failed to provide responsive answers about their relationships and support by the Chinese government, and detailed information about their operations in the United States. It said Huawei, in particular, failed to provide thorough information, including on its corporate structure, history, financial arrangements and management.

Huawei denied being financed to undertake research and development for the Chinese military, but the committee said it had received internal Huawei documentation from former employees showing the company provided special network services to an entity alleged to be an elite cyber-warfare unit within the People's Liberation Army.

Lord at the time urged Australia not to be swayed by the U.S. report, which he said was about protectionism rather than security.

Huawei was revealed this week as the biggest corporate sponsor of overseas travel for Australian federal lawmakers, flying 12 to the company's headquarters in southern China.

Lord, a retired Australian navy rear admiral, said he had been debriefed by government officials about the 2011 decision to ban the company from the national broadband network, but had not been told of any assessment of the telecom made by security agencies.

"I will be open and honest and say we were told that we were no longer ... allowed to bid for NBN contracts, and it ... was just based on that we were a Chinese company and they could not guarantee our equipment at that time," Lord said.

Huawei has since grown into the largest provider of 4G mobile broadband in Australia and had expanded into cybersecurity, he said.

"We realize that as a Chinese company — we knew then, but we now realize more — we have to be squeaky clean. It's a matter of building trust and that takes time," Lord said.

Treasurer Scott Morrison, asked on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio why the government seemed to distrust Huawei, replied: "We always act in accordance with the advice of our national security agencies when it comes to matters of national security."


Update June 27, 2018

US aircraft carrier patrols disputed sea amid China buildup

A sailor takes photos of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as it anchors off Manila Bay for a goodwill visit Tuesday, June 26. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The U.S. military has deployed the third aircraft carrier this year to patrol the disputed South China Sea, where Washington has criticized China's military buildup on new man-made islands.

The 97,000-ton USS Ronald Reagan, carrying more than 70 aircraft, anchored in Manila Bay on Tuesday after plying the strategic waters for meetings between navy officials of the two countries and liberty for its thousands of sailors after weeks at sea.

The U.S. military presence in the region "has supported our ability to defend our nation and our allies" and "promotes our ability to safeguard freedom of the seas, unimpeded commerce, to deter conflict and coercion and to promote adherence to rules-based international order," Rear Admiral Marc Dalton told reporters on board the ship.

Two other American carriers earlier patrolled the waterway, where China and five other governments have been locked in decades of disputes over territories that straddle some of the world's busiest sea lanes. Some areas are believed to have undersea deposits of natural gas and oil.

China has reportedly deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and other equipment on islands it built on disputed reefs in the Spratly Islands, and landed a bomber aircraft on Woody Island in the Paracels, sparking alarm among rival claimants and the United States. Washington has no territorial claims in the region but has declared that freedom of navigation and overflight in the waters is in U.S. national interest.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier this month that the Trump administration's recent decision to disinvite China from a multinational naval exercise this summer was an "initial response" to Beijing's island activity. Mattis called the U.S. action a "relatively small consequence. I believe there are much larger consequences in the future."

China argues that it is within its rights to build up defenses on islands in the South China Sea that it claims are its sovereign territory. There is fear that Beijing will use its new islands, including some with runways, to project its military might and potentially to restrict navigation in the busy waters.
 


Japan space explorer arrives at asteroid to collect samples

This computer graphics image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows an asteroid and asteroid explorer Hayabusa2. (JAXA via AP)

Ken Moritsugu

Tokyo (AP) — A Japanese space explorer arrived at an asteroid Wednesday after a 3-year journey and now begins its real work of trying to blow a crater to collect samples to eventually bring back to Earth.

The unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft reached its base of operations about 20 kilometers from the asteroid and some 280 million kilometers from Earth, the Japan Space Exploration Agency said.

Over the next year and a half, the spacecraft will attempt three brief touch-and-go landings to collect samples. If the retrieval and the return journey are successful, the asteroid material could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

The mission is challenging. The robotic explorer will spend about two months looking for suitable landing places on the uneven surface. Because of the high surface temperature, it will stay for only a few seconds each time it lands.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 meters in diameter. In photos released by JAXA, the Japanese space agency, it appears more cube-shaped than round. A number of large craters can be seen, which Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda said in an online post makes the selection of landing points "both interesting and difficult."

The first touchdown is planned for September or October. Before the final touchdown scheduled for April-May, Hayabusa2 will send out a squat cylinder that will detonate above the asteroid, shooting a 2-kilogram copper projectile into it at high speed to make a crater.

Hayabusa2 will hide on the other side of the asteroid to protect itself during the operation and wait another two to three weeks to make sure any debris that could damage the explorer has cleared. It will then attempt to land at or near the crater to collect underground material that was blown out of the crater, in addition to the surface material from the earlier touchdowns.

The spacecraft will also deploy three rovers that don't have wheels but can hop around on the surface of the asteroid to conduct probes. Hayabusa2 will also send a French-German-made lander to study the surface with four observation devices.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system. As such, they may help explain how Earth evolved, including the formation of oceans and the start of life.

Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and is due to return to Earth at the end of 2020. An earlier Hayabusa mission from 2003 to 2010 collected samples from a different type of asteroid and took three years longer than planned after a series of technical glitches, including a fuel leak and a loss of contact for seven weeks.

NASA also has an ongoing asteroid mission. Its Osiris-Rex spacecraft is expected to reach the asteroid Bennu later this year and return with samples in 2023.


Dutch PM calls van attack on newspaper attack on free press

This image taken from a security camera video made available by De Telegraaf on Tuesday June 26, shows a van on fire outside the De Telegraaf building in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (De Telegraaf via AP)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — A man rammed a van into the Amsterdam headquarters of one of the Netherlands' major national newspapers before setting the vehicle alight Tuesday, an attack that the Dutch prime minister called "a slap in the face of a free press and Dutch democracy."

No one was injured in the pre-dawn attack on the De Telegraaf building. The newspaper released video of the attack on its website, showing a man ramming a white van into the building twice, before walking out and setting the vehicle on fire. He then moved away and drove off in a waiting car.

Authorities announced late Tuesday that they offered to beef up security for De Telegraaf and four other Amsterdam-based media companies that "regularly report on organized crime" — suggesting the most likely source of the attack.

It was the second attack on a media outlet in as many weeks after weekly Panorama's office building was hit last week with an anti-tank weapon. No one was injured and one suspect was detained. Both companies are known for their robust coverage of organized crime.

The European Union condemned the two attacks Tuesday. "We would like to express our full support and sympathy with the Dutch media and journalists and defend the right to report freely," said EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that a lot remained unclear about those behind the attack, but "we are alert and police are doing everything they can to catch the perpetrator(s)."

The paper is known for its crime reporting, and chief editor Paul Jansen said early Tuesday that "it is clear that we don't have friends everywhere."

"De Telegraaf is a paper with a very clear view and very good investigative reporters, centering on crime among other things. It is no secret that unfortunately there have been more threats towards us and individual reporters," Jansen said.

"Those who did this want to shock us and we should not let this happen," he added. The paper is known for its coverage of organized crime in Amsterdam, including drug trafficking.


Macedonian president refuses to sign off on change of name

A protester walks next to burning garbage bins during clashes in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Monday, June 25. Greek riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing rioters during a protest against Greece's name deal with neighboring Macedonia. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Konstantin Testorides

Skopje, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's conservative president on Tuesday refused to sign off a deal with neighboring Greece for his country to change its name to "North Macedonia," a move that will delay — but probably not derail — the deal, ratified by Macedonia's parliament last week.

Under the constitution, President Gjorge Ivanov can no longer block the legislation if lawmakers meet again and approve it for a second time.

Parliament speaker Talat Xhafer told The Associated Press that lawmakers will probably repeat the vote next week.

The deal with Greece, agreed earlier this month, was meant to resolve a decades-old dispute dating back to shortly after Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argued the name "Macedonia" implied territorial aspirations on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and on ancient Greek heritage.

The agreed solution will require several more steps, including a referendum this autumn in Macedonia, before it can be fully implemented. Hardliners on both sides of the border oppose the agreement, saying it confers too many advantages on the other side.

The conservative main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, boycotted the parliament session ratifying the agreement.

In a statement Tuesday, Ivanov argued that the agreement is unconstitutional.

"I do not accept ideas or suggestions that would jeopardize the Macedonian national identity, the particularity of the Macedonian nation, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian model of coexistence," Ivanov explained.

He added that the deal "brings the Republic of Macedonia into a position of subordination and dependence on another country, that is, Greece."

In Greece, a lawmaker from the small right-wing Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government, resigned Tuesday to protest the deal. That cuts Tsipras' majority to 152 of 300 seats in parliament. The Independent Greeks has said they won't back the deal when the Greek parliament meets to ratify it.

In Macedonia, the agreed settlement has caused a major rift between Ivanov and left-wing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who has staked his political future on the deal going through — a first step that would allow his country to start accession talks with the European Union and NATO.

Zaev has indicated that he will try to use parliament's power to remove the president from office, forcing presidential elections within months. According to Macedonia's constitution, a two-thirds majority of 81 votes in parliament is needed for that. Zaev would have trouble raising that majority.

Normally, Ivanov's second and last term in office would expire in April 2019.

Macedonians will be called on in the autumn to vote on the name-change deal in a referendum. If that backs the agreement, lawmakers will have to amend the constitution to formalize the name change. Once that is done, the deal must be ratified by Greece's parliament to come into effect.

Zaev said in an interview with local television late Monday that he will resign if the referendum rejects the deal.

"Yes, I will leave if the referendum fails, but I am sure it will succeed," he said. "The people have ... no other alternative."


Update June 26, 2018

Indonesia identifies likely location of sunken ferry

In this June, 20, 2018, file photo, Indonesian rescuers scan the horizon from the deck of a rescue ship as they search for a ferry which sank in Lake Toba, North Sumatra. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia has identified the suspected location of an overcrowded ferry that sank last week in a deep volcanic crater lake but will need international help to recover the wreck, the chief of the national search and rescue agency said Monday.

The ferry had some 200 people on board — about five times its capacity — but only 18, including the boat's captain, survived the sinking in rough weather June 17 on Lake Toba. Few bodies have been recovered and officials have said many of the dead are likely trapped inside the vessel.

The search agency chief, Muhammad Syaugi, said in a television interview that an object that was located at a depth of 490 meters was about 20 meters long and 5 meters wide, consistent with the boat's dimensions.

Sonar equipment from Indonesia's navy was deployed on Friday. Divers could reach depths of only 50 meters in the lake's cold and dark waters.

Anguished relatives have criticized the search effort, but Syaugi defended it, saying there had been an "all out" effort.

"We will do our best to salvage this wreck," he said. "Because we do not have robots, we are trying to find from other countries, but most of them have tools to lift a vessel from just 100 meters depth and the wreck must be cut first."

"For us, the most important thing is to get as many victims as possible," Syaugi said.

North Sumatra police chief Paulus Waterpau told Indonesian TV that the boat's captain and three regional transport officials were arrested on suspicion of negligence that led to the sinking.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame.

Lake Toba, formed out of an ancient super volcano, is a popular sightseeing destination on the island of Sumatra and among the destinations that Indonesia's government is promoting as a magnet for domestic and foreign tourists.


Koreas discuss removing North's artillery from tense border

North Korean army Col. Om Chang Nam, right, shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Col. Cho Yong-geun during a meeting at the Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine office in Paju, South Korea, Monday, June 25. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Hyung-Jin Kim

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas are discussing the possible relocation of North Korea's long-range artillery guns away from the tense Korean border, South Korea's prime minister said Monday, as the countries forge ahead with steps to lower tensions and extend a recent detente.

If realized, it would be yet another conciliatory step by North Korea since it entered talks on giving up its nuclear weapons earlier this year. But some experts say it might be a tactic to push Seoul and Washington to withdraw their more sophisticated artillery systems from front-line areas in return for pulling back its outdated conventional weapons.

In a speech marking the 68th anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that "moving (North Korea's) long-range artillery to the rear is under discussion," as he explained what types of goodwill steps between the Koreas have been taken in recent months.

Lee's comments appeared to be Seoul's first official confirmation of media reports that South Korea demanded that North Korea reposition its forward-deployed artillery pieces during inter-Korean military talks on June 14. Seoul's Defense Ministry, which has denied those reports, said it had no immediate comment on Lee's speech.

North Korea has deployed an estimated 1,000 artillery pieces and rockets along the 248-kilomter border, putting the Seoul metropolitan area within its striking distance. Seoul, a capital city with 10 million people, is about 40-50 kilometers from the border.

Many experts have called the North Korean artillery threats "significant" because it can inflict massive casualties and devastate much of Seoul in the initial hours of a war before the much-better-equipped U.S. and South Korean militaries could fully respond.

But there are also views that such an assessment may be an exaggeration as the North's artillery guns in general have poor accuracy and cannot destroy hard concrete structures. During a North Korean artillery strike on a South Korean border island in 2010 that killed four people, 90 of the 170 shells fired by the North fell into the sea while 30 of the 80 shells that reached the island didn't explode, according to military commentator Lee Illwoo.

North Korea's pullout of its artillery would be "meaningless" or a symbolic "gesture for peace," Lee said.

South Korean media speculated that during the June 14 military talks, North Korea likely demanded that South Korea and the United States withdraw their own artillery systems from the border as a reciprocal measure. Local media reports said North Korea also proposed the two Koreas and the United States stop flying surveillance and other aircraft near the border.

Shin Won-sik, a retired three-star South Korean general, said in a newspaper column last week that the South may not able to find any place to reposition its artillery assets in densely populated rear areas if it pulls them from the border.

North Korea has said it's willing to give up its nuclear program if it's provided a reliable security assurance from the United States. But it hasn't taken any serious steps toward disarmament while repeating a vague pledge to achieve "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a phrase it has used in the past when it requested the United States to withdraw its 28,500 troops from South Korea and stop military exercises with the South.

North Korea's outreach to Seoul and Washington has still produced a temporary detente on the Korean Peninsula, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holding a landmark summit on June 12.

South Korea and the United States recently announced the suspension of their annual military exercises called Ulchi Freedom Guardian and two other small-scale drills in part of efforts to increase the chances of successful nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Some experts say the drills' suspension could weaken the allies' combined defense posture against North Korea.

On Monday, military officers of the two Koreas met and agreed to fully restore their military hotline communication channels, the South's Defense Ministry said.

The U.S. military said Saturday it moved 100 wooden coffins to the inter-Korean border to prepare for North Korea's return of the remains of American soldiers who have been missing since the 1950-53 Korean War. The two Koreas last week also agreed to restart temporary reunions of families separated by the war in August.


Floods and landslides kill 7, leave 12 missing in Vietnam

In this Sunday, June 24, photo, a man swims with his dog in the floodwaters in the northern province of Ha Giang, Vietnam. (Minh Tam/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains have killed at least 7 people and left 12 others missing in northern Vietnam.

In the worst hit province of Lai Chau, 5 people were killed and authorities have been mobilizing forces to search for the 12 missing, the provincial government said in a statement Monday.

The Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said in a statement that two people were killed in neighboring Ha Giang province when their house collapsed. Landslides have interrupted traffic in some areas, it added.

Heavy rains are forecast to continue in the region for the next two days.

Floods and storms kill hundreds each year in the Southeast Asian country and cause millions of dollars in damages.


Philippine president slammed for calling God 'stupid'

In this Tuesday, June 11, 2018, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while addressing the crowd at the 120th Philippine Independence Day celebrations south of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president, notorious for having cursed the pope and world leaders like former U.S. President Barack Obama, has sparked new outrage by calling God "stupid" in Asia's largest Catholic country.

Opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV shot back Monday by describing President Rodrigo Duterte as "one evil man" and his remarks as "very much consistent with the deceitfulness, heartlessness and ruthlessness of his policies." Even some of Duterte's political allies were critical.

A Catholic Bishop, Arturo Bastes, called the president a "madman" and urged Filipinos to pray for an end to Duterte's "blasphemous utterances and dictatorial tendencies."

"Duterte's tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation," Bastes said.

Another bishop, Ruperto Santos, said the president had crossed a line.

Duterte questioned in a televised speech Friday the Biblical story of man's creation and asked why God created Adam and Eve only to allow them to succumb to temptation that destroyed their purity.

"Who is this stupid God? This son of a b**ch is then really stupid," said the 73-year-old leader, known for his rambling public statements. "How can you rationalize a God? Do you believe?"

Duterte lamented that Adam and Eve's sin in Christian theology resulted in all the faithful falling from divine grace. "You were not involved but now you're stained with an original sins ... What kind of a religion is that? That's what I can't accept, very stupid proposition," he said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said he has often backed Duterte's policies, but after the president's utterances against God "to whom I pray every single day and with whom I've found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don't even have to think of my choice."

"May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins," Lacson said.

Duterte's spokesman defended his remarks, saying the president has the right to express his opinion on religion and cited his previous disclosure that he was once sexually abused as a student by a priest.

Duterte stressed that right in another speech Monday. "Why do you bind me with something very stupid? I was given my own mind by God."

Duterte shocked Filipino Catholics in 2015 when he cursed visiting Pope Francis for having triggered a monstrous traffic in Manila. He later apologized, but has repeatedly lashed out at bishops and the dominant Catholic church, which has criticized his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.

Obama, who also raised alarm over the drug killings under Duterte, was also a target of the Philippine leader's tongue-lashing. He once said the American leader should "to go to hell."

The former longtime city mayor has repeatedly declared he does not care about human rights and has threatened drug dealers and other criminals with death. He warned he would withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations after its human rights experts called for an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings under his rule. He described the world body as hypocritical for failing to prevent genocides worldwide.


Update June 25, 2018

Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey's presidential election

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a statement on national television from his official residence in Istanbul, Sunday, June 24. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Zeynep Bilginsoy, Elena Becatoros and Suzan Fraser

Istanbul (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was proclaimed the winner early Monday of a landmark election that ushers in a government system granting the president sweeping new powers and which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule.

The presidential vote and a parliamentary election, both held more than a year early, completed NATO-member Turkey's transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, a process started with a voter referendum last year.

"The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty," Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

The head of Turkey's Supreme Election Council, Sadi Guven, declared Erdogan the winner early Monday after 97.7 of votes had been counted. The electoral board plans to announce final official results on June 29.

Based on unofficial results, five parties passed the 10 percent support threshold required for parties to enter parliament, Guven said.

"This election's victor is democracy, this election's victory is national will," Erdogan told a cheering crowd outside his party headquarters in Ankara early Monday, adding that Turkey "will look at its future with so much more trust than it did this morning."

Earlier, cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside his official residence in Istanbul, chanting "Here's the president, here's the commander."

"Justice has been served!" said Cihan Yigici, one of those in the crowd.

Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party surpassing the 10 percent threshold and coming in third with 11.5 percent of the parliamentary vote.

The HDP's performance was a success, particularly considering it campaigned with nine of its lawmakers, including its presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, and thousands of party members in jail. It says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.

Revelers waved HDP flags and blared car horns. One party supporter, Nejdet Erke, said he had been "waiting for this emotion" since the morning.

Erdogan, 64, insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.

Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.

The new system of government abolished the office of prime minister and empowers the president to take over an executive branch and form the government. He will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.

The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.

Erdogan's apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defense system in the NATO-member country.

The president's critics have warned that Erdogan's re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.

According to Anadolu, the near-complete results showed Erdogan winning an outright majority of 52.5 percent, far ahead of the 30.7 percent received by his main challenger, the secular Muharrem Ince.

The HDP's imprisoned Demirtas was in third place with 8.3 percent according to Anadolu. Demirtas has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated.

But Ince said the results carried on Anadolu were not a true reflection of the official vote count by the country's electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for the commission's official announcement.

Erdogan also declared victory for the People's Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had a "parliamentary majority" in the 600-member assembly.

The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP was allied with garnered 49 seats.

"Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People's Alliance," Erdogan said.

The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan's "one-man rule."

Erdogan enjoys considerable support in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups. From a modest background himself, he presided over an infrastructure boom that modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam's profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.

But critics say he became increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.

Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the center-left opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey's three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.


Italy declines aid ship help, hands migrant rescue to Libya

The Alexander Maersk merchant vessel, believed to be carrying over 100 migrants rescued at sea, is seen on the horizon as it waits to be allowed to dock at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, southern Italy, Sunday, June 24. (Santino Galazzo/ANSA via AP)

Nicole Winfield

Rome (AP) — The Italian government stepped up its efforts to discourage migration Sunday by telling a Spanish aid group it didn't need help rescuing 1,000 migrants from six dinghies because it had passed responsibility for the Mediterranean Sea mission to Libya's coast guard.

The hard-line interior minister in Italy's new populist government, Matteo Salvini, said it was appropriate for the Libyans to take charge of the rescue "without the NGO vessels interrupting and disturbing them."

Since taking office at the beginning of the month, Salvini has launched a crackdown on private European-flagged rescue ships. He ignited a continent-wide debate by refusing them ports to disembark their migrant passengers, accusing aid groups of effectively working as taxis for Libya-based people smugglers.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte brought a proposal for revamping how the European Union manages migration to an emergency leaders' meeting Sunday in Brussels. Salvini plans to go to Libya on Monday.

Amid the flurry of diplomacy, the rescue ship of German aid group Mission Lifeline remained stranded Sunday off Malta with 234 migrants aboard and no port at which to dock after both Italy and Malta refused to give authorization. And Danish-flagged commercial liner Alexander Maersk remained off Sicily's coast waiting for a port to disembark the more than 100 people it had rescued.

"Dear Matteo Salvini, we have no meat on board, but humans," said a tweet on Mission Lifeline's account. "We cordially invite you to convince yourself that it is people we have saved from drowning."

A new emergency was unfolding Sunday. Spain's Proactiva Open Arms, an aid group whose ship has rescued thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, raised the alarm that Italy's coast guard had received distress calls from a half-dozen migrant boats carrying a total of around 1,000 people.

In a tweet, Proactiva said the Italian coast guard sent out a general advisory to all ships in the area but told the group's crew: "We don't need your help."

The Italian coast guard acknowledged it had received the distress call and sent out an advisory, but said it handed off the rescue operation to Libyan coast guard authorities, who assumed responsibility.

Salvini said the private aid groups, whom he accuses of being financed by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, "should know that Italian ports are and will be closed."

Before Italy's new coalition government was installed, Italy already worked to bolster the Libyan coast guard's ability to patrol its coasts and to bring back migrants who launched from its shores.

Human rights organizations have criticized the practice, alleging that migrants are abused in Libya and the North African country hardly constitutes a "safe" port of call, as called for by international law.


Police: 25 injured in building explosion in Germany

A car and a house are destroyed after an explosion in Wuppertal, Germany, June 24. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — Twenty-five people were injured, four of them severely, during an explosion that destroyed an apartment building in the western German city of Wuppertal, police said Sunday.

Police said the explosion produced a large bang and rocked the multi-story building shortly before midnight Saturday, frightening people nearby so badly they ran out into the streets.

The cause and nature of the explosion was under investigation, German news agency dpa reported. The blast had so much force it destroyed the attic and top three floors of the building, dpa said.

Fires broke out in several areas of the structure, while firefighters had trouble dousing the flames ceilings, walls and floors kept collapsing. They located four severely injured people in the wreckage who were hospitalized, according to dpa. Another 21 were treated at the scene for less serious injuries.

Emergency personnel on Sunday picked up bricks and furniture on the street. A car was destroyed, buried under window frames that were blown onto it by the explosions' impact.

Some of the building's roof beams stood black and eerie in the smoke as police scoured accessible parts of the building for anyone who might trapped inside before giving the all-clear.

Where the building stood is now a huge gap in a row of apartment buildings in the city's Langerfeld neighborhood.

Later Sunday, authorities brought in heavy equipment to tear down the remains of the ruin. They said it was too dangerous for investigators to search for evidence that might reveal the explosion's cause because the destroyed building could collapse at any time.


France, Belgium seek UNESCO recognition for WWI memorials

In this April 3, 2017, file photo, the statue of a French Poilu is shown near the Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — France and Belgium are urging UNESCO to designate scores of their World War I memorials and cemeteries as World Heritage sites as the centennial remembrance of the 1914-1918 war nears its end.

Both sides of the Franco-Belgian border, where much of the fiercest fighting of World War I took place, are dotted with monuments to the dead who fought on the decisive Western Front battlefields like Verdun in France and Passchendaele in Belgium.

The war between a group led by Germany against France, the British Commonwealth and the United States saw some 3 million people die around the front line, which stretched from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. More than 2 million men are buried in the region, hailing from almost 80 present-day nations.

"These sites force us to draw lessons from the past in order to construct a more peaceful future," said Minister-President Geert Bourgeois from Belgium's Flemish region, which was particularly hard hit during the war.

France and Belgium are seeking recognition for 139 sites. UNESCO's World Heritage committee will assess their request and 29 other nominations for inclusion on the list during a meeting in Bahrain that starts Sunday and runs until July 4.

Even though the scenes of dank trenches and pockmarked battlefields where nerve gas could kill thousands a day are iconic, France and Belgium are centering on the dead and the cemeteries and memorials instead. They stress they do not want to glorify war.

"Immediately after the war, these were mainly places for mourning, for pilgrimages of the ones who had lost their loved ones. But quite quickly they became much more than that," said Luc Vandael, project manager for the Flemish region.

"They became an appeal for peace and reconciliation. The slogan 'no more wars' is quickly associated with those sites. So yes, there is something larger than just being a cemetery," Vandael said.

Now people make pilgrimages from across the world to remember those who gave their lives in western Europe. The appeal of the sites has spiked during the four years of centennial remembrances that will end with the marking of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice.

The Menin Gate in western Belgium is one of the most iconic memorials. It is etched with the names of almost 54,000 soldiers killed in the months-long battles around Ypres, many of whose remains were never recovered or did not receive proper burials.

"Through these sites, the nations and people involved can accommodate a shared part of their history. And this is truly a heritage of the world," said Bourgeois.


Update June 23-24, 2018

Russia says evidence of Syria chemical attacks was faked

Rocket launchers captured from the rebels in Syria are displayed during a briefing by Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries in Kubinka Patriot park outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 22. (AP Photo)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russia said Friday that the U.S. and its allies have relied on fabricated evidence to accuse the Syrian government of launching chemical attacks against civilians.

Russia's foreign and defense ministries also charged the international chemical weapons watchdog with failing to objectively investigate the alleged chemical attacks and with being subject to political control.

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the chief of the Russian military's radiation, chemical and biological protection unit, said investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had failed to visit the sites of alleged use of sarin and chlorine, and trusted evidence produced by activists, which he described as rigged. Syria has rejected the accusations of chemical attacks.

"The U.S., Britain, France and their allies have misled international community ... relying on fabrications to accuse Syria of violating the chemical weapons ban with Russian assistance," Kirillov said at a briefing.

Kirillov alleged that the White Helmets first responders working in rebel-controlled areas had doctored samples and used explosive devices to make craters that looked like those left by bombs. In the images presented by activists, they worked at the site of the alleged use of sarin without protective gear, which would have been impossible if the nerve agent had indeed been used there, he added.

Kirillov scoffed at the images of massive gas canisters activists said were dropped by government helicopters in the purported chemical attack on the town of Douma just outside Damascus on April 7. "Surprisingly, the 100-kilogram canisters left tableware and furniture undamaged, and even a bed on which the canister fell was intact, signaling that the canister was dragged into the room, as indicated by signs left on the floor," he said.

The alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma triggered a punitive missile strike by the U.S., Britain and France that Russia has condemned as a violation of international law.

The OPCW's fact-finding team is not mandated to apportion blame. A joint UN-OPCW team that was tasked with determining blame for such attacks no longer exists after Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, last year vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to extend its mandate.

Kirillov criticized the OPCW for turning a blind eye to the discovery of rebel stockpiles that contained over 40 metric tons of chlorine and other toxic chemicals.

He noted that a rebel chemical lab found in Douma after the town was taken over by Syrian government forces contained components used in the production of mustard gas. A canister with chlorine — similar to those used in the purported attack in April — was also found at the same lab, he added.

The Russian foreign ministry's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, who spoke at the same briefing, said that the chemical lab featured components made in Western Europe.

Kirillov charged that last week's report by the OPCW's fact-finding mission in Syria — concluding that sarin and chlorine were likely used in attacks near Latamneh, in the province of Hama, in March 2017 — also relied on fabricated evidence. He said images intended to prove that a bomb containing sarin was used in the attack showed fragments of a conventional munition, and samples appeared to have been doctored.


Indonesia court sentences cleric behind attacks to death

Radical Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman, center, is escorted by police officers after his sentence hearing at South Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, June 22. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court Friday for ordering Islamic State group-affiliated militants to carry out attacks including the January 2016 suicide bombing at a Starbucks in Jakarta.

Abdurrahman, who police and prosecutors say is a key ideologue for IS militants in the world's largest Muslim nation, kneeled and kissed the floor as the panel of five judges announced the sentence while counterterrorism officers guarding him uttered "praise be to God."

Several hundred paramilitary and counterterrorism police secured the Jakarta court where the trial took place. Fears of attacks have been elevated in Indonesia after suicide bombings in the country's second-largest city, Surabaya, last month that were carried out by families including their young children. Police say the leader of those bombers was part of the network of militants inspired by Abdurrahman.

During the trial, prosecutors said Abdurrahman's instructions from prison, where he was serving a terrorism-related sentence, resulted in several attacks in Indonesia in 2016 and 2017.

They included the Starbucks attack in the capital that killed four civilians and four militants, an attack on a bus terminal in Jakarta that killed three police officers and an attack on a church in Kalimantan that killed a 2-year-old girl. Several other children suffered serious burns from the Kalimantan attack.

The defendant's "speeches, teachings and instructions have inspired his group and followers to commit criminal acts of terrorism in Indonesia," said presiding Judge Ahmad Zaini.

The court said there was no reason for leniency. It gave defense lawyers seven days to consider lodging an appeal.

Abdurrahman has refused to recognize the authority of the court, part of his rejection of secular government in Indonesia and desire to replace it with Shariah law.

Adhe Bhakti, an analyst at the Center for Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies in Jakarta, said it's possible militants could respond to Abdurrahman's death sentence with reprisal plots.

"His words alone have been able to incite followers to carry out terrorism," he said. "The security forces must raise awareness and all intelligence services in Indonesia must coordinate well."

Indonesia's deadliest attack was in 2002 on the tourist island of Bali when nightclub bombings carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah militants killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.

In the following decade, Indonesian security forces crushed the Al-Qaeda linked JI network, killing leaders and bomb makers and arresting hundreds of militants. But a new threat has emerged in the past several years from IS sympathizers including Indonesians who traveled to the Middle East to fight with IS. According to Bhatki, there were seven IS attacks and three foiled plots in Indonesia in 2017 compared with no attacks in 2015.

According to prosecutors, Abdurrahman founded Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, a network of extremists that pledged allegiance to IS and was opposed to Indonesia's secular government.

Reflecting a dire lack of supervision of militants in Indonesia's overcrowded prisons, Abdurrahman was able to spread radicalism and communicate with his supporters on the outside through visitors and video calls, they say.

The suicide bombings in Surabaya last month killed 26 people, including 13 attackers. Two families carried out the attacks, using children as young as 7.

Abdurrahman was sentenced to prison in 2004 after a bomb he made prematurely exploded at a house in West Java, and again in 2011 for his role in helping set up a jihadi training camp in a mountainous area of Aceh province.
 


OPEC agrees to pump more oil but crude prices jump anyway

Minister of Energy of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, attends a news conference after a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Friday, June 22. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Kiyoko Metzler

Vienna (AP) — The countries of the OPEC cartel agreed on Friday to pump 1 million barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices.

Questions remain, however, over the ability of some OPEC nations — Iran and Venezuela in particular — to increase production as they struggle with domestic turmoil and sanctions.

Oil prices rose after OPEC's announcement, which analysts cited as evidence that investors believe the actual increase in production will be smaller, about 600,000 to 700,000 barrels a day.

After an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Emirati Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said the cartel decided to fully comply with its existing production ceiling.

Because the group had been producing below that level, that means an increase in production of "a little bit less than 1 million barrels," the Emirati minister said.

How that translates into effective production increases is uncertain, as some OPEC countries cannot easily ramp up production. Iran, for example, has been hit by U.S. sanctions that hinder its energy exports. Venezuela's production has dropped amid domestic political instability.

The price of oil jumped after the announcement, with the international benchmark, Brent, gaining 2.5 percent to $74.84 a barrel in London, and U.S. crude climbing 4.9 percent to $68.72 a barrel in afternoon trading in New York — on track for its biggest one-day rise since OPEC agreed in November 2016 to cut production.

Al-Mazrouei noted that the decision "is challenging for those countries that are struggling with keeping their level of production." However, he indicated that some countries could pick up production if others lag.

"We will deal with it collectively," he said.

U.S. shale oil production has helped offset some of OPEC's cutbacks since 2016. However, operators in the Permian Basin of Texas face a shortage of pipeline capacity, "trapping a fair amount of oil and limiting the availability of that shale increase," said Jim Rittersbusch, a consultant to oil traders.

Still, some analysts believe that a combination of the OPEC deal, U.S. oil, and an easing of American demand for energy should eventually contribute to lower oil prices, which in May hit their highest levels in more than three years.

"Longer term, this is a bit of a win for consumers," said Jamie Webster, director of Boston Consulting Group's Center for Energy Impact. "More oil on the market means relatively lower prices for consumers."

Friday's decision means the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will observe the production level it agreed on in late 2016, when it cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day. In practice, the reduction was even deeper due to production problems. That has since then helped push up the price of oil by almost 50 percent.

Non-OPEC countries like Russia had agreed in 2016 to participate in OPEC's effort to raise prices, cutting another 600,000 barrels a day of their own production. They will discuss with OPEC on Saturday on whether to increase their production.

While OPEC's largest producer, Saudi Arabia, was open to higher production, Iran has been hesitant because sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump are making it difficult for the country to export its oil.

Trump has been calling publicly for the cartel to help lower prices by producing more. And after OPEC's deal on Friday, Trump tweeted: "Hope OPEC will increase output substantially. Need to keep prices down!"

Some analysts note that while Trump has blamed OPEC, his policies have also helped increase the cost of oil by, for example, limiting exports from Iran.

Some analysts believe that Saudi Arabia needs a Brent price closer to $90 a barrel to cover its domestic spending but is feeling pressure from the United States to head off rising prices by boosting output. Russia may be happy to pump more oil and settle for prices in the $60s, according to Tamar Essner, chief energy analyst for Nasdaq.

There are other considerations than dollars and rubles.

Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of research firm IHS Markit and author of several books on the energy industry, says geopolitical factors are a big element in the oil production talks.

Yergin said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates support the current, tougher U.S. policy toward Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival for influence in the region. So they will want to support Trump's call for higher production and lower prices. Iran will struggle to increase production, meaning it could lose market share and revenue to its rivals.


Italy's interior minister says Malta should take rescue boat

 

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 21, 2018, migrants wave from aboard ship operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline. (Hermine Poschmann/Mission Lifeline via AP)

Colleen Barry

Milan (AP) — Italy's populist, anti-migrant interior minister said Friday that Malta should allow a Dutch-flagged rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants rescued from rubber dinghies off the Libyan coast to make port there because the ship is now in Maltese waters.

"We ask humanly and politically that Malta finally opens one of its ports and lets these desperate people disembark," and then seize the ship, Salvini said.

Malta responded that it would "act according to the laws and applicable conventions," without further explanation. International law states that Malta must respond if they are the nearest safe port at rescue or if requested by the ship's captain.

The dynamic is similar to the standoff over the Aquarius, operated by French aid groups, which eventually sailed an additional 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) last week to deliver 630 migrants to Spain after both Malta and Italy refused to let the rescue ship access their ports. Salvini is making good on an election promise to go after rescue ships run by aid groups, which he has likened to taxi services that help the migrant smugglers.

Salvini on Thursday said he would not allow the ship operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline to enter Italian ports, saying that it had acted improperly by taking on board the 224 migrants that the Italian coast guard had assigned to the Libyan coast guard to rescue. Salvini said the rescue was in Libyan waters, which Lifeline denies.

Mission Lifeline said Friday that it still has not been assigned a port, despite its requests. It said it picked up additional migrant passengers during another rescue overnight, and currently was heading north with 234 on board. It said it had responded to a request for help by a merchant vessel to help rescue 113 people.

Lifeline referred to reports that as many as 220 people were missing at sea and presumed drowned, according to survivor statements to the U.N. Refugee agency.

"The latest drownings show how important our sea rescue efforts are, and that not a single rescue ship can be missed," said Mission Lifeline founder Axel Steier. "The rescue of human lives must be prioritized before border control."

More than 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, many of whom made their way northward to join family or to countries perceived as providing more assistance until Italy's neighbors enacted stricter border controls. Arrivals are down some 80 percent this year to around 14,500, as migrants have turned to other routes.


Update June 22, 2018

Confusion and uncertainty at the border after Trump acts

Immigrants from Guatemala seeking asylum look over travel packets as they wait at the bus station after they were processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Nomaan Merchant and Susan Montoya Bryan

McAllen, Texas (AP) — The U.S. government wrestled with the ramifications Thursday of President Donald Trump's move to stop separating families at the border, with no clear plan to reunite the more than 2,300 children already taken from their parents and Congress again failing to take action on immigration reform.

In a day of confusion and conflicting reports, the Trump administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases. But officials gave differing accounts as to whether those beds would be for children or for entire families. The Justice Department also went to court in an attempt to overturn a decades-old settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time migrant children can be locked up with their families.

Meanwhile, the federal public defender's office for the region that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday the U.S. Attorney's Office would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.

"Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them," wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email shown to The Associated Press.

And in the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did not pursue charges against 17 immigrants. A federal prosecutor said "there was no prosecution sought" in light of Trump's executive order ending the practice of separating families.

It was unclear whether that and the email meant the Trump administration was dropping its months-old "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting all adults caught trying to enter the country illegally.

The president did not answer the question directly but showed no sign of softening.

"We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don't do it, you will be inundated with people and you really won't have a country," Trump said.

The uncertainty resulted from the abrupt ending Wednesday of a White House policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents over the past several weeks. The practice set off an outcry from all corners of the world, with the images and sounds of crying children dominating the news.

After Trump's executive order, a host of unanswered questions remained, including what will happen to the children already separated from their parents and where the government will house all the newly detained migrants, with the system already bursting at the seams.

Officials from the Defense Department and Health and Human Services said the Pentagon has agreed to provide space on military bases to hold up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border.

It was unclear which bases would be used. But HHS has assessed four as prospective housing for children: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to change the rules regarding the detention of immigrant children, seeking permission to detain them for longer than the permitted 20 days in an effort to keep them together with their parents.

Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered at a holding facility for immigrant children in the border city of El Paso. They accused Trump of failing to address a crisis of his own making.

They called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.

"This is a humanitarian crisis," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

In Washington, the House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday and Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package, with party members fiercely divided on the issue. Democrats oppose both measures.

The rejected bill would have curbed legal immigration and bolstered border security but would not have granted a pathway to citizenship to "Dreamers" who arrived in the country illegally as children. 

The delayed vote was on a compromise bill between GOP moderates and conservatives that would offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and provide $25 billion for Trump's border wall, among other things.

Elsewhere, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia ordered an investigation into claims by children at an immigration detention facility that they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.

First lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to a McAllen detention center that is housing some of the children. She told the children to "be kind and nice to each other."

She made waves while boarding the flight to McAllen in a green military-style jacket with the message "I really don't care, do u?" on the back.

Asked about it, her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said: "It's a jacket. There was no hidden message."

Mrs. Trump was wearing a different jacket when the plane landed.


Hundreds pray at Indonesia lake as search for bodies resumes

Relatives of victims of a sunken ferry pray at the Tigaras port in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Intonesia Thursday, June 21. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

Binsar Bakkara and Niniek Karmini

Tigaras, Indonesia (AP) — Family members waiting in desperation at a small port on Indonesia's Lake Toba for news of missing relatives performed mass prayers Thursday as the search for more than 190 people unaccounted for after a ferry sinking continued for a fourth day.

Only 18 people have been rescued and four confirmed dead since the overcrowded ferry sank early Monday evening in waters that officials say are up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) deep.

Budiawan, the head of the search and rescue agency in nearby Medan, told Indonesian TV that the captain was among those rescued. He gave no other details but local media reports said the captain was being questioned by police.

The disaster, likely Indonesia's worst sinking in more than a decade, has prompted President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to call for an overhaul of safety standards for passenger boats. Ferries are an important means of transportation in the nation of more than 17,000 islands, which cover an area that would stretch from New York to London.

About a thousand people crowded Tigaras pier on Thursday, including several hundred relatives of victims, some weeping uncontrollably, others silent and pensive.

Each time a search and rescue vessel docked, relatives ran toward it, only to turn away with faces contorted in disappointment or crying out the names of loved ones when it became clear no family member had been found.

Members of a religious organization tried to comfort people, organizing mass prayers for Christians and Muslims that continued for an hour. Chanting of Quranic and Christian verses was interrupted by the sobs of relatives and onlookers also moved to tears.

Cellphone video taken from another ferry that attempted to rescue people after the sinking has spread widely online and on television. The video shows dozens of people struggling in rough waters and crying for help while several of them try to swim for an orange lifesaver apparently thrown from the ferry.

Maruddin Siagian, waiting with other family members for news of his younger brother, said they're haunted by those images.

"We hope the government will never stop the search, never stop, until all the victims are found," Siagian said.

"We're tormented waiting for news about him, without any certainty like this. Especially our mother," he said. "But we're determined to keep waiting until the body of our brother is found. For us, his body is precious, we want to bury him properly for his soul to be peaceful, and so we are too."

The 1,145-square kilometer (440-square mile) Lake Toba, formed from the caldera of an ancient super volcano, is a popular destination on the island of Sumatra and one of 10 stunning natural attractions in Indonesia that the government aims to develop as magnets for international and local tourists.

At a news conference on Wednesday evening, Jokowi said he'd instructed the search and rescue team involving divers and an underwater drone to find victims quickly and ordered the Ministry of Transport to review safety standards.

"This tragedy is a lesson for all of us to always be cautious and vigilant," Jokowi said. "The government will provide compensation to the families of the victims who died and guarantee the cost of care for those who need treatment."

The doomed ferry didn't have a passenger manifest, causing confusion about how many people were on board. On Wednesday, after the full scale of the tragedy emerged, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said the boat had a passenger capacity of 43 — making it five times over capacity — and equipped with only 45 life jackets.

Dudon Satiaputra, a former head of the national's police's forensic center, said lake beds are typically covered with thick mud or sediment and this could hamper the search for bodies.

"What I know is there is lot of mud in lakes so drowned corpses usually sink into the mud, making them difficult to float," he said. "It is different with the sea, where the bloated body will float quickly to the surface."

Sarmini Nasution said she will not leave Tigaras until her 32-year-old son is found.

She said he drowned while trying to swim for a life jacket thrown from another ferry. The two friends he was traveling with reached it and survived.

"We've been waiting for three days without certainty," she said, weeping. "I'll wait until my son is found. I will not go home before carrying his body."


Study says plastic will pile up in wake of China recycling ban

Skagit County Solid Waste Division manager Margo Gillaspy displays some of the recyclable plastic items that had been deposited at the Skagit County Transfer Station in Mt. Vernon, Washington State. (Scott Terrell/Skagit Valley Herald via AP, File)

Patrick Whittle

Portland, Maine (AP) — China's decision to stop accepting plastic waste from other countries is causing plastic to pile up around the globe, and wealthy countries must find a way to slow the accumulation of one of the most ubiquitous materials on the planet, a group of scientists said.

The scientists sought to quantify the impact of the Chinese import ban on the worldwide trade in plastic waste, and found that other nations might need to find a home for more than 122 million tons (110 million metric tons) of plastic by 2030. The ban went into effect Dec. 31, 2017, and the stockpiling trend figures to worsen, the scientists said.

Wealthy countries such as the United States, Japan and Germany have long sent their plastic recyclables to China, and the country doesn't want to be the world's dumping ground for plastic anymore. The study found China has taken more than 116 million tons (105 million metric tons) of the material since 1992, the equivalent of the weight of more than 300 Empire State Buildings.

The change is forcing countries to rethink how they deal with plastic waste. They need to be more selective about what they choose to recycle, and more fastidious about reusing plastics, said Amy Brooks, first author on the study and a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Georgia. In the meantime, Brooks said, more plastic waste is likely to get incinerated or sent to landfills.

"This is a wake-up call. Historically, we've been depending on China to take in this recycled waste and now they are saying no," she said. "That waste has to be managed, and we have to manage it properly."

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. Using United Nations data, it found that China has dwarfed all other plastics importers, accounting for about 45 percent of the world's plastic waste since 1992. The ban is part of a larger crackdown on foreign garbage, which is viewed as a threat to health and environment.

Some countries that have seen an increase in plastic waste imports since China's ban — such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia — are already looking to enforce bans of their own because they are quickly becoming overburdened, Brooks said.

The study illustrates that plastic, which has a wide array of uses and formulations, is more difficult to recycle than other materials, such as glass and aluminum, said Sherri Mason, who was not involved in the study and is the chair of the geology and environmental sciences department at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Many consumers attempt to recycle plastic products that can't ultimately be recycled, Mason said. One solution could be to simplify the variety of plastics used to make products, she said.

"We have to confront this material and our use of it, because so much of it is single use disposable plastic and this is a material that doesn't go away," Mason said. "It doesn't return to the planet the way other materials do."

The plastics import ban has attracted the attention of the U.S. recycling industry. The National Recycling Coalition said in a statement in mid-May that it must "fundamentally shift how we speak to the public" and "how we collect and process" recyclables.

"We need to look at new uses for these materials," said Marjorie Griek, the coalition's executive director. "And how do you get manufacturers to design a product that is more easily recyclable."


European human rights court rejects Breivik appeal

Anders Behring Breivik is shown in this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017 file photo. (Lise Aaserud/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday rejected an appeal by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. who claimed his incarceration in Norway violates his rights.

The Strasbourg, France-based court said the case "doesn't reveal any violations" of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, and "rejected the application as inadmissible for being manifestly ill-founded."

The court said Breivik had challenged the conditions of his detention, particularly the fact that he was kept isolated from other prisoners.

The three judges said the decision was final.

Last year, Norway's top court ruled that Norwegian authorities had not violated the human rights of Breivik, who has legally changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen, by isolating him in jail.

Breivik, who is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a bomb-and-shooting rampage in 2011, also had claimed that frequent strip searches and often being handcuffed during the early part of his incarceration violated his rights.

He is held in a three-cell complex in Norway where he can play video games, watch TV and exercise. He has complained about the quality of the prison food, having to eat with plastic utensils and not being able to communicate with sympathizers.

Breivik had meticulously planned the deadly July 22, 2011, attacks, setting off a car bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people and wounding dozens. He then drove to the island of Utoya, 40 kilometers away, where he opened fire on the annual summer camp of the left-wing Labor Party's youth wing. Sixty-nine people there were killed, most of them teenagers, before Breivik surrendered to police.


Update June 21, 2018

Giant crackdown against wildlife crime in 92 countries

In this photo taken in May 2018 in Canada and provided by Interpol on Wednesday, June 20, a Canadian wildlife officer inspects a Polar Bear pelt for trade compliance. (Interpol via AP)

Sylvie Corbet

Paris (AP) — Nearly 100 countries took part in a globe-spanning crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade, seizing tons of meat, ivory, pangolin scales and timber in a monthlong bust that exposed the international reach of traffickers, Interpol said Wednesday.

Officials also confiscated thousands of live animals, including turtles in Malaysia and parrots in Mexico. Canada intercepted 18 tons of eel meat arriving from Asia. Those arrested included two flight attendants in Los Angeles and a man in Israel whose house was raided after he posted a hunting photograph on social media.

Operation Thunderstorm, which followed similar stings in past years, yielded seizures worth millions of dollars during May, according to Interpol.

"The results are spectacular," said Sheldon Jordan, Canada's director general of wildlife enforcement.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, Jordan said global wildlife crime is worth about $150 billion annually and is fourth in value after the illegal drug trade, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Criminal syndicates that smuggle flora and fauna often take advantage of porous borders and corrupt officials, transporting illicit cargo at an industrial scale.

The Thunderstorm swoop included the confiscation of 8 tons of pangolin scales, half of which was found by Vietnamese authorities on a ship from Africa.

Africa's four species of pangolins are under increasing pressure from poachers because of the decimation of the four species in Asia, where pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine.

A total of 43 tons of contraband meat — including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra — 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, about 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, 14 big cats and two polar bear carcasses were also seized. Several tons of wood and timber were also seized.

China, the world's largest ivory consumer, banned its domestic trade starting this year in what conservationists hope will relieve pressure on Africa's besieged elephant populations. While some herds are recovering, a high rate of killing continues in many areas, such as Mozambique's Niassa reserve.

Some 1,400 suspects were identified worldwide in the Thunderstorm sting, which included police, customs and other agencies from 92 countries, Interpol said. Two flight attendants were arrested in Los Angeles carrying live spotted turtles to Asia in personal baggage, said Interpol. Both suspects have been charged with smuggling protected species.

Participating nations were from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America. The Pacific nation of Vanuatu, which is not an Interpol member, took part.

Officers searched cars, trucks, boats and containers, sometimes using sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners.

The operation, Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said, showed that wildlife traffickers use the same routes as other criminals, "often hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and violent crime."


Israel strikes Hamas after heavy rocket attacks from Gaza

 Israeli soldiers inspect a missile launched from Gaza Strip inside a kibbutz in Israel near the border with Gaza, Wednesday, June 20. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Ian Deitch

Jerusalem (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck Hamas positions in Gaza after Palestinian militants there fired dozens of rockets and mortars at southern communities early Wednesday, the military said.

The Palestinian fire came hours after the Israeli military said it struck Hamas infrastructure in response to "arson balloons" launched from Gaza into Israel.

Israel has been battling large fires caused by kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices or burning rags, launched by Palestinians in Gaza that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife and livestock.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, praised the rocket attacks calling them "a legitimate right that bombing is met with bombing," but did not take responsibility for them.

The Israeli military said Palestinians fired about 45 rockets and mortars at Israel. Seven projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system and at least three fell prematurely, landing inside Gaza, it said. Fighter jets targeted about 25 Hamas targets overnight in response to the heavy Palestinian fire, it said.

The exchange early Wednesday was the biggest flare-up between the sides in weeks. However, no casualties were reported in Israel or Gaza.

Some rockets exploded inside Israel damaging property. Channel 10 TV showed footage of Israeli houses and cars peppered with shrapnel and said one mortar exploded next to a kindergarten.

Israeli police said its bomb disposal unit dealt with a rocket that landed in a populated area.

"The Hamas terror organization targeted Israeli civilians throughout the night with a severe rocket attack and is dragging the Gaza Strip and its civilians down a continually deteriorating path," the military said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said many Israelis spent the night in bomb shelters in communities near Gaza.

Conricus wouldn't elaborate on open-fire regulations regarding the kite and balloon threats but said those who launch such devices "are engaged in hostile activity." He said so far the army has fired near those launching the devices and at infrastructure but added Israel has warned it "will not tolerate" the current situation of daily airborne attacks on its territory.

Tensions are high along the Gaza border after months of weekly mass rallies led by the Islamic militant group that rules the territory turned violent. Over 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since they began.

Israel says it is defending a sovereign border and nearby communities and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

The protests are aimed in part at drawing attention to the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory imposed after Hamas, a group sworn to Israel's destruction, seized control of Gaza.


UK's May defeats Brexit rebels, but divisions still reign

 

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May I shown in this Wednesday, June 13, 2018 file photo. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — The British government saw its flagship Brexit legislation pass through Parliament on Wednesday, but remains locked in a tussle with lawmakers over the direction of the country's departure from the European Union.

The EU Withdrawal Bill was approved after Prime Minister Theresa May's government narrowly won a key vote. The House of Commons rejected by 319-303 a proposal to require Parliament's approval before the government agrees to a final divorce deal with the EU — or before walking away from the bloc without an agreement.

Later in the day, the withdrawal bill — intended to replace thousands of EU rules and regulations with U.K. statute on the day Britain leaves the bloc — also passed in the unelected House of Lords, its last parliamentary hurdle. It will become law once it receives royal assent, a formality.

A majority of lawmakers favor retaining close ties with the bloc, so if the amendment requiring parliamentary approval had been adopted, it would have reduced the chances of a "no deal" Brexit. That's a scenario feared by U.K. businesses but favored by some euroskeptic members of May's Conservative minority government, who want a clean break from the EU.

May faced rebellion last week from pro-EU Conservative legislators, but avoided defeat by promising that Parliament would get a "meaningful vote" on the U.K.-EU divorce agreement before Brexit occurs in March.

Pro-EU lawmakers later accused the government of going back on its word by offering only a symbolic "take it or leave it" vote on the final deal and not the ability to take control of the negotiations.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer accused May of telling Parliament: "Tough luck. If you don't like my proposed deal, you can have something much worse."

The rebels sought to amend the flagship bill so they could send the government back to the negotiating table if they don't like the deal, or if talks with the EU break down.

The government claimed that would undermine its negotiating hand with the EU.

"You cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away," Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers. "If you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation."

But Davis also told lawmakers it would be for the Commons speaker to decide whether lawmakers could amend any motion on a Brexit deal that was put to the House of Commons.

The concession was enough to get Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, a leader of the pro-EU rebel faction, to back down and say he would support the government.

Grieve said the government had acknowledged "the sovereignty of this place (Parliament) over the executive."

While the withdrawal bill cleared a major hurdle, the government faces more tumult in Parliament in the months to come over other pieces of Brexit legislation.

It has been two years since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to exit the 28-nation EU after four decades of membership, and there are eight months until the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.

But Britain — and its government — remains divided over Brexit, and EU leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

May's government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the EU, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.

A paper setting out the U.K. government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.

The European Parliament's leader on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, said Wednesday that he remains hopeful a U.K.-EU withdrawal agreement could be finalized by the fall so national parliaments have time to approve it before March.

"The worst scenario for both parties is no deal," he told a committee of British lawmakers. "The disruption that would create to the economy, not only on the continent but certainly in Britain, would be huge and that we have to avoid."


South Korea leader urges denuclearization steps from North

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, toasts with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, June 19. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — South Korea's president urged North Korea on Wednesday to present a plan with concrete steps toward denuclearization, raising the pressure on its leader, Kim Jong Un, during his visit to Beijing to discuss the outcome of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim is in Beijing on his third visit to China this year, underscoring the major improvement in relations between the communist neighbors.

Kim's motorcade was seen leaving the North Korean Embassy on Wednesday afternoon as police closed off major roads and intersections in central Beijing. Gawking pedestrians watched the passing motorcade that included Kim's limousine — a black Mercedes with gold emblems on the rear doors — as well as several minibuses and 15 motorcycle police clad in white suits.

The motorcade traveled to Beijing's airport, where the limousine was spotted entering the charter flight terminal.

In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to present "far more concrete" plans on how it will scrap its nuclear program, and the United States to take unspecified corresponding measures swiftly.

"It's necessary for North Korea to present far more concrete denuclearization plans, and I think it's necessary for the United States to swiftly reciprocate by coming up with comprehensive measures," Moon said. Moon's office said he made the remarks to Russian media ahead of his trip to Moscow later this week.

Moon, who has met with Kim twice in recent months, said the North Korean leader is willing to give up his nuclear program and focus on economic development if he's provided with a reliable security guarantee. Moon described Kim as "forthright," ''careful" and "polite."

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul was monitoring Kim's "newfound diplomatic activism" and the outcome of his meetings in China.

"China has an important role to play on issues of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula," Kang said, adding that South Korea expects the discussions in Beijing will help move forward the process of denuclearization.

China backs the North's call for a "phased and synchronous" approach to denuclearization, as opposed to Washington's demand for an instant, total and irreversible end to the North's nuclear programs.

A report by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim expressed his gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met on Tuesday. KCNA said that during a banquet hosted by Xi, Kim also said North Korea and China are seeing their ties develop into "unprecedentedly special relations."

At his summit with Trump last week in Singapore, Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization in exchange for U.S. security guarantees. The U.S. and South Korea suspended a major joint military exercise that was planned in August in what was seen as a major victory for North Korea and its chief allies, China and Russia.

There was no official word on Kim's activities on Wednesday, although South Korea's Yonhap news agency said his motorcade was seen at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

China has encouraged Kim's shift toward economic development and has touted the prospects of more trade and investment if North Korea makes progress in talks on abandoning its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs.

That could allow the lifting of U.N. Security Council economic sanctions that have caused a plunge in North Korea's foreign trade, although the U.S. insists that easing of sanctions can only come after the North shows it has ended its nuclear programs. The U.S. says China is in agreement on that point, although Chinese officials have repeatedly stated that sanctions should not be considered an end in themselves..
 


DAILY UPDATE

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