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Update June, 2019


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Europe sets heat records as much of continent sizzles

Youngsters cool off at the Trocadero public fountain in Paris, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Associated Press

Berlin (AP) — Torrid weather gripped large parts of western and central Europe on Wednesday, setting new June temperature records in Germany and the Czech Republic and forcing drivers to slow down on some sections of the famously speedy German autobahns.

Authorities imposed speed limits on some autobahns due to concerns the high heat would cause expressway surfaces to buckle. Some French schools stayed closed as a precaution due to worrying hot weather.

German weather agency Deutscher Wetterdienst said a preliminary reading showed the mercury reached 38.6 degrees Celsius (101.5 F) in Coschen, near the Polish border. That's a tenth of a degree higher than the previous national record for June, set in 1947 in southwestern Germany.

The Czech Hydro-Meteorological Institute said the temperature reached 38.5 Celsius (101.3 F) in Doksany — a Czech Republic high for the month. New daily records were set at some 80% of local measuring stations.

And it's about to get even hotter.

Authorities have warned that temperatures could top 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) in parts of continental Europe in the coming days as a plume of dry, hot air moves north from Africa.

The transport ministry in Germany's eastern Saxony-Anhalt state said it has imposed speed limits of 100 kph or 120 kph (62 mph or 75 mph) on several short stretches of highway until further notice. (same as autobahn above?)

Those stretches usually don't have speed limits, but officials worry they could  crack in the heat and endanger drivers.

Professor Hannah Cloke, a natural hazards researcher at Britain's University of Reading, said the heat along with a build-up of humidity was a "potentially lethal combination."

"Children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk," she said.

Precautionary measures also were taken in France, where temperatures up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) are forecast for the Paris area later in the week.

Similarly baking conditions are expected in much of the country, from the Pyrenees in the southwest to the German border in the northeast.

Because such high temperatures are rare in France, most homes and many buildings do not have air conditioning.

In Paris on Wednesday authorities banned older cars from the city for the day as the heat aggravates pollution problems.

Regional authorities estimated the measure, targeting vehicles including gasoline cars from 2005 or older and diesel cars from 2010 or older, affects nearly 60% of vehicles circulating in the Paris region. Violators face fines.

French charities and local officials were providing extra help for the elderly, the homeless and the sick this week, remembering that some 15,000 people, many of them elderly, died in France during a 2003 heat wave.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cited the heat wave as evidence of climate destabilization and vowed to step up the government's fight against climate change.

The scorching heat was felt on the streets of Vienna, too.

"We're slightly below 35 degrees (Celsius) right now," said Wolfgang Fasching, driver of one of the city's traditional horse-drawn carriages. "At 35 degrees we go home because then the horses in Vienna get time off due to excessive heat."

With temperatures in Milan forecast to hit 40 C, an aid group said it was preparing to distribute 10,000 bottles of free water to the homeless and other needy people. The Civil Protection service in Rome also planned to distribute water to people at risk during the hottest hours of the day.

About half of Spain's provinces are on alert for high temperatures, which are expected to rise as the weekend approaches.

The northeastern city of Zaragoza was forecast to be the hottest on Wednesday at 39 C, building to 44 C on Saturday, according to the government weather agency AEMET.

Some tourists sought relief in Madrid's green spaces. "It is pretty hot right now, we are dealing with it by trying to stay in the shade here in the park," said Victoria Poliak from San Diego, California.
 


Venezuela gov't says it thwarted plot seeking to kill Maduro

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to the press after a meeting with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at Miraflores Presidential Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Scott Smith

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan officials said Wednesday they foiled a plot to overthrow the government that included assassinating President Nicolás Maduro and his closest political allies.

Maduro spokesman Jorge Rodríguez said on state television that a network of mostly retired police officers and soldiers planned to bomb a key government building, seize a Caracas air base and loot Venezuela's central bank.

He also said the plotters wanted to edge opposition leader Juan Guaidó from Venezuela's political landscape. Guaidó, leader of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, is seeking to oust Maduro from power with backing from more than 50 nations.

Rodríguez said the purported network wanted to steal a helicopter to liberate Raúl Baduel, a former defense minister now in jail and install him as president.

The government has claimed various plots over the years, generally offering little or no evidence to back its charges. The opposition contends Maduro uses such claims to justify his crackdown on dissent.

Guaidó, who said members of his own political team were confronted by armed men from Maduro's security forces early Wednesday, dismissed the latest claim as yet another attempt by the government to distract from Venezuela's real problems.

Maduro came under attack last August by two drones loaded with explosives, which detonated near the president while he spoke at an outdoor military celebration. He was not harmed in the attack, which officials called an assassination attempt.

Rodríguez charged that Colombian President Iván Duque and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera backed the purportedly thwarted coup plot, but he didn't provide evidence.

Rodríguez showed what he said were scenes from 56 hours of intercepted video conference calls with the alleged plotters hashing out strategy for the attack planned for June 23.

The spokesman said first lady Cilia Flores and Diosdado Cabello, leader of Venezuela's governing socialist party, were among those also targeted for assassination.

Maduro in a nationally televised address said later that the plotters were cowards backed by the United States.

"That's not called politics," Maduro said. "That's called fascism."

Meanwhile, Guaidó said members of his team were detained early Wednesday on a Caracas highway by armed men on motorcycles. They wore civilian clothes and didn't identify themselves, but Guaidó later said they were Maduro loyalists.

The men told Guaidó's political staffers they would be taken to the headquarters of counterintelligence military police. Guaidó quickly arrived to defuse the situation by talking with the armed men, who left.

"Let it be clear to the regime that they will not intimidate us," Guaidó said at a news conference, urging members of the police and military to stop taking orders from Maduro's regime.


Rescue ship with 42 migrants defies Italy order to stay out

Italian Deputy Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, attends a RAI state TV program in Rome, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Riccardo Antimiani/ANSA via AP)

Colleen Barry

Milan (AP) — A private sea rescue ship carrying 42 migrants it took aboard off Libya two weeks ago entered Italian waters Wednesday despite an explicit ban from Italy's interior minister, who has threatened to seize the ship operated by a German aid organization and to arrest its captain.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the captain of the Sea-Watch 3 broke the law both by disobeying direct orders not to cross into Italy's territorial waters and by flouting measures that bar the migrant rescue ships of nonprofit groups from entering Italian jurisdiction.

"The right to defend our borders is sacred," Salvini said.

Italian media played a recording of the ship's captain informing port authorities Wednesday she was heading to Italy "because I cannot guarantee the safety of the people on board anymore." The response from the port was "You are not authorized to enter Italian waters."

Salvini has insisted the ship belonging to German group Sea-Watch and sailing under a Dutch flag should have continued on to Malta, Tunisia or northern European ports instead of remaining near Italy. The crew insisted that Italy's Lampedusa island had the safe port nearest to migrants' point of rescue north of Libyan waters.

Hours after Sea-Watch 3 arrived off the coast of Lampedusa on Wednesday, there was no sign the migrants would be allowed to get off the ship in Italy or any other move to end the standoff.

Given the boat's Dutch flag, Italy requested "formal steps" from the Netherlands through its embassy in The Hague, the Italian Foreign Ministry said. Meanwhile, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte met with Salvini and Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi in Rome to discuss the situation.

The captain of Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, said in a video posted on Twitter that Italian authorities had boarded the ship to check documentation and the crew's passports.

The authorities "are waiting for further instructions from their superiors," she said. "I really hope they will take the rescues off the ship soon."

In a separate post, she said she knew she risked arrest "but the 42 rescued are exhausted. I need to bring them to safety."

Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebereger said the crew had previously requested permission to port in Malta and was turned down. Sea-Watch also asked the European Union's executive commission to intervene and help find a port that will allow the ship, Neugebauer said.

The European Commission had been in touch with "several member states" by midday to identify a port where the migrants could disembark and countries willing to take the passengers in after that, spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said.  She said no decisions were made.

Sea-Watch said that the migrants had become desperate after the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected their appeal to be allowed to disembark in Italy.

Those on board are among 53 that the group said it rescued June 12 from a rubber boat off Libya in international waters. In the meantime, 11 have been evacuated to Italy for medical reasons. The remaining 42 include a 12 year old and two other children traveling alone.

The group's cultural mediator, Haidi Sadik, said many on board have been tortured in Libya. "But even if this was not the case, any person rescued at sea, by law has to be brought to a place of safety. These are people with basic needs and basic rights. A rescue operation is not finished until every single person rescued has both feet on the ground," Sadik said.

It is the latest standoff since Italy's populist government began refusing port last year to humanitarian rescue ships. Salvini claims the boat's aid migrant traffickers by waiting off the Libyan coast to pick up migrants from unseaworthy vessels that couldn't make it all the way to Europe.

He also is trying to push the European Union to find a way to take the pressure of dealing with migrants off Italy, a main entry point due to its southern Mediterranean location. EU rules require the country asylum-seekers reach first to consider applications for protection, a process that has kept new arrivals in Italy for extended periods.

But at the same time, the mayor of Lampedusa told broadcaster Sky TG24 that migrants continue to arrive on other boats, often from Tunisia, that aren't  operated by private groups. He said eight migrants arrived Tuesday evening on a boat that a police vessel towed to port.

In Turkey, where an EU agreement with the government has stem the number of Europe-bound migrants, officials said Wednesday that a van carrying dozens of migrants ignored orders to stop and sped past a police checkpoint before crashing into a wall.

Ten migrants were killed and about 30 others were injured in the crash. Many migrants try to enter European Union member Greece from Turkey by sea, making a relatively short crossing to nearby Greek islands. Others take a northern land route.


NATO weighs boost to air defenses over Russia missile system

Acting U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, left, speaks during a press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

Lorne Cook

Brussels (AP) — NATO is considering beefing up European air and missile defenses and ramping up its war games plans should Russia fail to respect a Cold War-era nuclear missile treaty by August, alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Wednesday.

The United States gave notice in February of its intention to withdraw from the landmark 1987 pact unless Russia destroyed its new SSC-8 missile. NATO allies believe the system contravenes the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which is considered to be a cornerstone of European nuclear security.

Speaking after a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Stoltenberg said Russia showed no sign of returning to compliance before the U.S. deadline and "NATO is preparing for a world without the INF treaty."

The ministers discussed "potential measures such as our exercises program, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We will also look further at our air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities," he said.

Stoltenberg declined to give details, but underlined that NATO had "no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe."

Asked earlier Wednesday if the military alliance might use its nascent missile defense shield to counter the new Russian missiles, Stoltenberg said he wouldn't divulge "exactly what we will do because we are still focused on how we can get Russia back into compliance."

NATO allies decided in 2010 to develop a ballistic missile defense system to protect Europeans from an attack launched from outside Europe and North America. At the time, it was meant to counter any threat from North Korea or Iran. Despite Moscow's vehement objections to the system, the alliance always insisted that it could never be turned against Russia.

The INF treaty bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers.

The Pentagon has shared information with NATO allies asserting that Russia's ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice. Moscow insists the missile has a range of less than 500 kilometers and counters that the U.S., itself, has been breaching the INF treaty.

"These missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. They can reach European cities within minutes. They are hard to detect," Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters.

"Russia still has an opportunity to save the INF treaty," he said, and warned that, if not, "we need to respond."

NATO is keen for Moscow's envoy to take part in talks on the standoff late next week but it was still awaiting confirmation that Russia would take part.


4 charged in downing of Malaysian airliner over Ukraine

In this Thursday, July 17, 2014 file photo, a man walks amongst the debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Mike Corder

Nieuwegein, Netherlands (AP) — International prosecutors announced murder charges Wednesday against four men — three of them Russians with military or intelligence backgrounds — in the missile attack that blew a Malaysia Airlines jet out of the sky over Ukraine five years ago, killing all 298 people aboard.

The case, built with the help of wiretaps, radar images and social media posts, marks the most significant step yet toward tying the tragedy to Moscow, which has backed the pro-Russian separatists fighting to seize control of eastern Ukraine.

In announcing the charges, prosecutors appealed for witnesses to help lead them even further up the chain of command in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Investigators "want to go as far as we can get" because "it's important to know who can be held responsible for this absolute tragedy," top Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.

The trial for the defendants, who also include a Ukrainian separatist fighter, was set for next March in the Netherlands, though it appeared unlikely any of them would be brought before the court, since Russia and Ukraine forbid the extradition of their citizens.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called the charges against the country's citizens "absolutely unfounded" and accused the investigators of using "dubious sources of information" and ignoring evidence provided by Moscow in order to discredit Russia.

It said, too, that the international team turned a blind eye to Ukraine's failure to close its airspace to commercial flights despite the fighting that endangered aircraft.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down on July 17, 2014, over eastern Ukraine by what investigators said was a Buk missile from a Russian anti-aircraft unit. Investigators believe the Ukrainian rebels probably mistook the Boeing 777 passenger jet for a Ukrainian military plane.

Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the attack, but eastern Ukraine's pro-Moscow rebels have relied heavily on Russian military assistance during the separatist conflict that erupted in April 2014 and has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Associated Press reporters spotted a Buk, an unusually big and sophisticated type of weapon, in the Ukrainian town of Snizhne just hours before the jetliner was shot down, raining debris and bodies down onto farms and sunflower fields.

The investigation team said that even if the four defendants may not have actually pushed the button to launch the missile, they had a role in the preparations.

One of those charged was Russian citizen Igor Girkin, a retired colonel in Russia's main intelligence agency, the FSB. He led Russian and separatist forces in Ukraine's Donetsk region in 2014.

Girkin dismissed the accusations in a telephone interview Wednesday, saying the "insurgents did not shoot down the Boeing." Girkin lives in Moscow.

The three others charged are Russian citizens Sergey Dubinskiy, identified as a former employee of Russia's military intelligence service, and Oleg Pulatov, described as a former soldier in military intelligence; and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian citizen who led a combat unit in the Donetsk.

Girkin led a group of Russian men who crossed into Ukraine and occupied the town of Slovyansk, which became the site of major fighting. He wrote on his social media account around the time of the jetliner attack that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military plane in the area where the Malaysian aircraft went down. He later deleted that post.

The Joint Investigation Team, made up of detectives from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, said the trial will begin with or without the defendants in a top-security courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport under Dutch law, which allows trials in absentia. The men could get life in prison if convicted.

The Netherlands has taken the lead in efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice because nearly 200 of those killed were Dutch citizens.

Investigators have been gathering and analyzing evidence largely without help from Moscow, which dismissed the team as biased because it has no Russian members.

Last year, the team said it was convinced that the Buk missile system used to shoot down the plane came from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

Prosecutors appealed for witnesses to come forward to help identify the crew that manned the missile launcher and to take them further up the chain of command to identify those who authorized its deployment.

The team did not reveal much evidence Wednesday, saying the courtroom is the place to lay out the case, but played a wiretap of an alleged conversation between Alexander Borodai, who was rebel leader in the Donetsk in 2014, and senior Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov in which they appear to discuss military aid for the separatists.

Borodai on Wednesday denied discussing military support with Surkov, calling the recording a fake.

Asked to characterize Moscow's cooperation with the probe, Westerbeke said it "wasn't too good," saying investigators had asked plenty of questions, "and a lot of those questions weren't answered."

The families of those killed were informed of the trial date at a closed-door meeting.

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, of the Dutch city of Rotterdam, whose son Bryce was among the dead, expressed relief.

"This is what we hoped for," she said. "This is a start of it. It is a good start."

She said she holds Putin responsible for the attack, saying: "He made this possible. He created the situation." As for Russia's lack of cooperation, she said, "I think it's disgusting. They deny everything, they don't cooperate. Nothing."


Voluntary euthanasia becomes legal in Australian state

In this Tuesday, June 18, 2019, photo, pro life demonstrators gather outside the Victorian State Parliament, opposing the voluntary assisted dying laws, in Melbourne. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Voluntary euthanasia became legal in an Australian state on Wednesday more than 20 years after the country repealed the world's first mercy-killing law for the terminally ill.

The process of dying in an assisted suicide after an initial approach to a doctor in Victoria state takes at least 10 days, so the first patient could die from swallowing a lethal cocktail of chemicals on June 29. Strict rules are designed to prevent terminally ill patients from traveling from overseas or interstate to access the laws.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said she expected as few as one patient a month would be helped to die in the first year.

"We anticipate that once the scheme has been in place for some time, we'll see between 100 and 150 patients access this scheme every year," Mikakos told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"In the first year, we do expect the number to be quite modest — maybe only as low as a dozen people," she added.

Four Victorian Roman Catholic bishops have signed an open letter describing Wednesday as a "new and troubling chapter of health care in Victoria."

"We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness," the letter said.

Any health practitioner can conscientiously object to taking part in the euthanasia process.

The euthanasia system has been implemented over 18 months since the state parliament passed the laws in 2017.

Australia's sparsely populated Northern Territory in 1995 became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. But the Australian Parliament overturned that law in 1997 after four people had been helped to die.

The Australian Parliament does not have the same power to repeal the laws of states such as Victoria, which is home to one in four Australians.

The parliament of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, rejected a doctor-assisted suicide bill by a single vote two weeks before the Victorian law was passed.

Queensland and Western Australia state are considering their own euthanasia legislation.

Christine Thornton, the widow of a 54-year-old Victorian man who died in a Swiss euthanasian clinic four months ago, said the Victorian legislation must be the start, and not the end, of a public conversation about a lack of end-of-life choices in Australia.

She said the Victorian laws would have been too restrictive for her husband, Troy Thornton, because he could not find two doctors who could say with certainty that his degenerative disease, multiple system atrophy, would have killed him within a year.

"Troy never thought the first laws would help everyone, but it's a start," she said.

"People who don't believe in euthanasia will never have to choose it. But shouldn't that option be there for people who do want a choice, who do want a good death," she added.

Eligible patients must be diagnosed with an incurable disease or a condition that causes intolerable, unrelieved suffering.

Patients must also be expected to live for fewer than six months in most cases, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions.

They must have also lived in Victoria for at least a year before requesting help to die and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident.


Alaska teens charged in 'murder for millions' slaying

In this Sunday, June 9, 2019 photo, Denali Brehmer, 18, stands at her arraignment in the Anchorage Correctional Center in Anchorage, Alaska. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Mark Thiessen

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) — Alaska teens hoping to cash in on a $9 million offer from a Midwest millionaire brutally killed a developmentally disabled woman on a popular trail outside Anchorage, shooting her in the back of the head and dumping her body in a river, authorities allege.

The millionaire's only demand for the payout was either photos or video of the slaying, according to court documents laying out first-degree murder and other charges against six people in the June 2 death of 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman.

"This is a truly horrific case that is not the norm for our community," Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said at a news conference, the Anchorage Daily News reported .

Among those charged is Darin Schilmiller, whom authorities say presented himself as the millionaire Tyler from Kansas, using a fake photograph. "He does not look like the young man he portrayed himself to look like, he is not a millionaire and he lives in Indiana," court documents say.

Authorities say Schilmiller, who has been arrested in New Salisbury, Indiana, and will be transferred to Alaska next month, began an online relationship with 18-year-old Denali Brehmer of Anchorage, posing as Tyler. About three weeks before Hoffman was killed, Brehmer and Schilmiller began discussing a plan to rape and murder someone in Alaska, according to court documents.

"Schilmiller offered Brehmer nine or more million dollars to carry out the murder and to have photographs and/or videos of the murder sent to him," the documents say. "Brehmer agreed to commit the murder for him."

Brehmer then enlisted the help of four friends, including 19-year-old Caleb Leyland, 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh and two other unnamed juveniles, to plan and carry out the murder at Schilmiller's direction, according to the documents. The group met to decide how they would divvy up the money.

McIntosh, who is being tried as an adult in the case, was the gunman, prosecutors say.

Hoffman was allegedly best friends with Brehmer, and she was chosen by the group as the victim, the documents say.

Brehmer and McIntosh used Leyland's pickup on June 2 to take Hoffman on a hike at Thunderbird Falls, a popular location about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Anchorage. According to court papers, the group went off trail and followed a path to the bank of the Eklutna River, where Hoffman was bound, shot and thrown into the river. Officials said there was no indication Hoffman was sexually assaulted.

"Digital evidence and statements show Brehmer was communicating with and sending videos and/or photographs of the events surrounding the incident to Schilmiller at his directive through the duration of the event," documents say.

Officials allege they destroyed some of Hoffman's clothing, purse and cellphone, and Brehmer texted Hoffman's family to let them know they dropped her off at Polar Bear Park in Anchorage.

Two days later, both Brehmer and McIntosh were interviewed. McIntosh was arrested, but Brehmer denied any involvement in the death. Police continued to investigate and interviewed her two days later after Snapchat video appeared, in which she appeared to confess, the documents say.

"Brehmer ultimately admitted to being solicited by Schilmiller to commit the murder and that the murder was planned once she realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller," the documents say. Catfishing is when a person creates a fake identity on a social network account to deceive a specific victim.

Schilmiller admitted to federal agents and Indiana State Police his role in the plot, saying he chose Hoffman as the victim and he told Brehmer to kill her, according to the court documents.

He also told officials Brehmer communicated with him throughout the murder, and sent Snapchat photographs and videos of Hoffman while bound and then after the murder. He also allegedly told authorities that he and Brehmer discussed killing another person, but the plan was abandoned, and he admitted to blackmailing Brehmer into raping people.

In a separate federal investigation rising from the investigation, Schilmiller and Brehmer were indicted Tuesday on federal child pornography charges, including production and coercion and enticement of a minor. Federal authorities allege Brehmer produced sexually explicit videos involving a minor and sent them to Schilmiller.

"For all the good the internet can do, it can be a very dark place," Bryan Schroder, the U.S. attorney in Alaska, said at a news conference Tuesday. "Parents would be wise to monitor the activity of their children online."

The Alaska teens are being represented by the public defender's office, which has a policy of not commenting on cases. Online court records did not list an attorney for Schilmiller.


Hong Kong students issue government deadline over demands

Pro-democracy lawmakers pay a silent tribute to the man who fell to his death on Saturday evening after hanging a protest banner on scaffolding on a shopping mall, at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Elaine Kurtenbach and Borg Wong

Hong Kong (AP) — A Hong Kong student group demanded Wednesday that the city completely scrap a politically charged extradition bill and agree to investigate police tactics against protesters before a Thursday deadline or face further street demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized massive marches on the past two Sundays, called for another protest on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Since last Sunday's march on the government headquarters by an estimated 2 million people, the number of protesters in the area has dropped to just a few dozen. But Wednesday's developments are the latest indication that the largest and angriest protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory in years aren't over yet.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apologized for her handling of the extradition bill, which could be used to send suspects to mainland China for trial. She agreed to suspend debate, but has stopped short of scrapping the legislation, which critics say threatens the territory's judicial independence.

"We are not asking (Lam) to come out and apologize. We are asking for real action," Joey Siu from the City University Students Union said at a Wednesday news conference.

The group is part of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which represents student unions at several universities. It has demanded that the government scrap the extradition legislation, investigate police tactics at a protest last Wednesday, cease calling the incident a riot, and release those arrested and drop charges against them.

Those terms have emerged as a bottom line for the suspension of protests. Other groups are also calling for Lam to resign for pressing ahead with the extradition legislation and mishandling the response to the protests. Lam has refused to step down.

The student group gave the government until 5 p.m. Thursday to meet the demands, saying otherwise protests would begin again in earnest.

Opponents of the extradition bill, who also include legal and business groups, say it puts critics of China's ruling Communist Party at risk of torture and unfair trials in the mainland and further chips away at the "one country, two systems" framework under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997.

That guaranteed the territory the right to retain its own legal, economic and political system for 50 years, but the Communist Party under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushing ever-more aggressively to quiet independent voices in Hong Kong. Beijing has squelched all reporting on the protests in mainland media and accused foreign forces of stirring up disturbances in Hong Kong.

At a daily briefing Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China was willing to communicate over the issues with foreign politicians.

However, he added, "if anyone tries to interfere in China's internal affairs with preconceived bias and even malicious political motive, our attitude is very determined, that is we firmly oppose it."

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers on Wednesday grilled the city's security secretary over allegations of police brutality. A motion of no-confidence over Lam's handling of the legislation was expected but was likely to be rejected or boycotted by pro-government legislators, most of whom did not attend the questioning session.

The opposition lawmakers wore black with white ribbons pinned to their lapels. They put white chrysanthemums, another symbol of mourning, on their desks, and observed a few moments of silence for a protester who died in a fall last weekend.

The debate, aired online in both Chinese and English, was a reminder of the divide between Hong Kong, where officials are held publicly accountable and dissent is expected, and the Communist-ruled mainland, where such open criticism is not tolerated.

Security Secretary John Lee rejected suggestions that he should resign to take responsibility for police use of aggressive tactics, including beatings with steel batons and heavy use of tear gas. He also defended the decisions made on the scene.

Some lawmakers questioned the criticism, saying the police were concerned about their own safety when faced with hostile protesters, some of whom hurled bricks and other debris.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan said police encircled some protesters without warning and fired four rounds of tear gas. The demonstrators "ran for their lives" into a building, Fan said.

"The people didn't have anywhere to escape from the scene," he said. "How can this be a minimal use of force?"

Lee reiterated Lam's insistence that complaints against police would be handled through agencies established to deal with such issues.

Lam formally apologized Tuesday and said she was responsible for the extradition bill mess. The fact that she did not bow in apology was front-page news, with many in Hong Kong criticizing what they said was an apparent lack of contrition.

Lam has insisted the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives. It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include mainland China, Taiwan and Macau.

Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said the extradition bill is like a "knife at the throat" for many in Hong Kong.

"There's a lot of energy, emotion and passion and also anger," he said in an interview. "It's a total mobilization of society."


Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

Technicians of Edenor Electricity Company stand under the rain as they work to fix a generator during a blackout in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tomas F. Cuesta)

Paul Byrne and Luis Andres Henao

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday in what the Argentine president called an "unprecedented" failure in the countries' power grid.

Authorities were working frantically to restore power, and by the evening electricity had returned to 98 percent of Argentina, according to state news agency Telam. Power also had been restored to most of Uruguay's 3 million people as well as to people in neighboring Paraguay.

On Sunday morning, Argentine voters were forced to cast ballots by the light of cellphones in gubernatorial elections. Public transportation was halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.

"This is an unprecedented case that will be investigated thoroughly," Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter.

Argentina's power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.

The country's energy secretary said the blackout occurred at about 7 a.m. local time when a key Argentine interconnection system collapsed. By mid-afternoon nearly half of Argentina's 44 million people were still in the dark.

The Argentine energy company Edesur said on Twitter that the failure originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at the country's Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country's northeast.

But why it occurred was still unknown.

An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the power grid's collapse.

"A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system," said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. "The problem is known and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it."

Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said workers were working to restore electricity nationwide by the end of the day.

"This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened," he told a news conference. "It's very serious."

Uruguay's energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system cut power to all of Uruguay for hours and blamed the collapse on a "flaw in the Argentine network."

In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. The country's National Energy Administration said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.

In Argentina, only the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected by the outage because it is not connected to the main power grid.

Brazilian and Chilean officials said their countries had not been affected.

Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay said the size of the outage was unprecedented.

"I was just on my way to eat with a friend, but we had to cancel everything. There's no subway, nothing is working," said Lucas Acosta, a 24-year-old Buenos Aires resident. "What's worse, today is Father's Day. I've just talked to a neighbor and he told me his sons won't be able to meet him."

"I've never seen something like this," said Silvio Ubermann, a taxi driver in the Argentine capital. "Never such a large blackout in the whole country."

Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.

"This is the biggest blackout in history, I don't remember anything like this in Uruguay," said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. She said her biggest concern was that electricity be restored in time to watch the national team play in the Copa America football tournament Sunday evening.

Since taking office, Argentine President Macri has said that gradual austerity measures were needed to revive the country's struggling economy. He has cut red tape and tried to reduce the government's budget deficit by ordering job cuts and reducing utility subsidies, which he maintained was necessary to recuperate lost revenue due to years-long mismanagement of the electricity sector.

According to the Argentine Institute for Social Development, an average family in Argentina still pays 20 times less for electricity than similar households in neighboring countries.

The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner's 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner's wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015. Fernandez is now running for vice president in October elections.


Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

Protesters who camped out overnight take a rest along a main road near the Legislative Council after continuing protest against the unpopular extradition bill in Hong Kong, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Raf Wober and Borg Wong

Hong Kong (AP) — Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.

The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city's top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

Groups of police, most in normal uniforms not riot gear, sought to clear the roads of metal and plastic barricades to enable traffic to pass through. In some places, the protesters quickly moved to put them back to block traffic.

Hundreds of protesters were sitting or lying along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.

Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.

Nearly 2 million of the city's 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the "peak period" of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.

The scenes were similar to those seen nearly five years earlier, when protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the city's chief executive, the top local official.

One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was due to be released from prison Monday. He served half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt.

After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.

The night before, as protesters reached the march's end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.

Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.

Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government's headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam's decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.

In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government "understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong."

"The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public," it said.

Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.

"This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!" the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.

Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.

"It doesn't really matter because the next one would be just as evil," said Kayley Fung, 27.

Many here believe Hong Kong's legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed "one country, two systems," that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.

After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.

She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week's clashes with demonstrators.

Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong's extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.


Saudi crown prince accuses rival Iran of tanker attacks

A fishing boat speeds past an oil tanker in the distance in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, June 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Aya Batrawy

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday that the kingdom will not hesitate to confront Iranian threats to its security. He joined the U.S. in accusing its bitter rival Iran of being behind the attacks on two oil tankers traveling near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital trade route for Arabian energy exports.

Tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated since the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region in what it says is defensive posturing against alleged Iranian threats. The crisis takes root in the Trump Administration's decision to re-impose punishing economic sanctions on Tehran and its oil exports, after unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers on Thursday, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous.

The Japanese tanker's crewmembers appeared to contradict the assertion that mines were used. They described "flying objects" as having targeted the vessel.

In his first public comments regarding the attacks, the powerful Saudi prince, who is also defense minister and oversees all major levers of power in the country, said the incident "confirms the importance of our demands of the international community to take a decisive stance" against Iran's behavior.

"The kingdom does not seek war in the region," the prince said, speaking with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. "But we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, sovereignty and vital interests."

The prince claimed Iran had planned the attack's timing to undercut the Japanese prime minister's diplomatic efforts, during his visit to Tehran last week, to reduce regional tensions.

He did not offer any evidence to back up the allegation.

"The problem is in Tehran and not anywhere else," he added. "Iran is always the party that's escalating in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks and criminal attacks either directly or through its militias."

Prince Mohammed touted U.S.-Saudi relations as "essential to achieving regional security and stability."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the U.S. official position. He claimed that intelligence officials have "lots of data, lots of evidence" tying Iran to the attacks, though he did not provide any specifics. He called the alleged shipping attacks "an international challenge, important to the entire globe."

He said Trump was following an "economic pressure campaign" against Iran but "we do not want war." He added that the "unambiguous" object of U.S. actions was that Iran would not get nuclear weapons.

Iran rejects accusations it was responsible for Thursday's attacks, saying it stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of maritime passages. It said the massive U.S. military presence in the region and U.S. sanctions are the main sources of insecurity and instability in the Persian Gulf.

Thursday's incidents forced the evacuation of all 44 sailors aboard the two vessels. On Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw the crew members of the Norwegian-owned oil tanker MT Front Altair arrive at Dubai International Airport, after spending two days in Iran.

The Front Altair, which caught fire after the apparent attack, limped into anchorage Sunday off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates, near the port city of Khorfakkan.

Similar to the recent attacks, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were apparently targeted in acts of sabotage last month, which U.S. officials have also blamed on Iran. Two of those vessels belonged to Saudi Arabia.

Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, have also claimed they were behind a missile strike on a Saudi airport in the city of Abha that the kingdom said wounded 26 passengers. The Houthis also carried out a drone strike last month on a key Saudi oil pipeline.


Dozens of new Indian parliamentarians face criminal charges

In this Feb. 23, 2016 file photo, the Indian parliament building is seen from behind a Mahatma Gandhi statue, right, in New Delhi, India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Ashok Sharma

New Delhi (AP) — India's recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world's largest democracy.

Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.

The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.

Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.

Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.

Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi's campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only worsening.

In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.

The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.

Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.

Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party's 52 lawmakers face serious charges.

"This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people," said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR's founder.

"What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power," said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

Starting in the 1960s and '70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.

"In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn't they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them," Quraishi said.

In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.

Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.

During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.

The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.

Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.

"They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power," Qureshi said.

In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.

One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That's double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.

The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.

Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.

Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.

Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.

"The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?" he said.


Cyclone Vayu poised to hit India as year's 2nd major storm

A waves crashes as people stand on boats on the Arabian Sea coast in Veraval, Gujarat, India, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Emily Schmall

New Delhi (AP) — Indian authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people on Wednesday as a severe cyclone in the Arabian Sea approached the western state of Gujarat, lashing the coast with high winds and heavy rainfall.

Cyclone Vayu, named after the Hindi word for wind, was poised to glance the Gujarat coast Thursday afternoon as India's second major storm of the season. Winds gusting up to 180 kilometers (112 miles) per hour were forecast and a storm surge up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) above astronomical tides, which would inundate low-lying areas, according to the India Meteorological Department.

K. Sathi Devi, the New Delhi-based government scientist in charge of monitoring the cyclone, said a low pressure system over the ocean was causing water to "get piled up." When the storm makes landfall, so will the accumulated sea water, she said, threatening to flood roads and uproot trees, contaminate drinking water supplies, and disrupt communications and power supplies.

Vayu was forecast to skirt the coast as it traveled west toward Pakistan, retaining its intensity for as long as 12 hours as it straddled land and sea.

"Very strong wind will likely remain for a longer period," said R.K. Jenamani, another government scientist. "It's a very unique kind of system."

In the ancient city of Dwarka, where many Hindu pilgrims travel every year to pray at a temple considered the center of Lord Krishna's kingdom, a rescue worker from India's National Disaster Response Force warned children to leave the beach.

After India's home minister, Amit Shah, held a meeting Tuesday with government and military officials, the air force airlifted 40 National Disaster Response Force rescue and relief teams to the western coast.

Both Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hail from Gujarat.

Modi said on Twitter that he had "been constantly in touch with state governments" and that he was "praying for the safety and wellbeing" of all those affected.

By midday, rescue teams had begun evacuating more than a quarter of a million people in towns and villages likely to bear the brunt of the storm.

The scale of the possible damage when Vayu makes landfall wasn't immediately clear, but meteorologists predicted the destruction of thatched homes, flooding of escape routes and widespread damage to crops. They recommended that authorities focus evacuation efforts on residents of makeshift housing, from beachside huts to urban slums.

Authorities appeared to have taken some cues from Cyclone Fani, which hit India's eastern coast on the Bay of Bengal in May, killing 34 people in India and 15 in neighboring Bangladesh.

Authorities in the eastern state of Odisha, where Fani made landfall, were praised for precautionary measures — including evacuating more than a million people — that likely prevented a much higher death toll.

In India's financial capital of Mumbai, police tweeted that because of the high winds, heavy rainfall and lightning expected from Vayu, people "should not venture into sea and should keep safe distance from shoreline."

Gujarat's chief minister, Vijay Rupani, requested on social media that tourists leave coastal areas by Wednesday afternoon.


Philippines slams sinking of boat by suspected China vessel

A protester burn a Chinese national flag during a rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine defense secretary said Wednesday that an anchored Filipino fishing boat sank in the disputed South China Sea after being hit by a suspected Chinese vessel which then abandoned the 22 Filipino crewmen.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called for an investigation of the June 9 sinking at Reed Bank off the western Philippine province of Palawan and asked that diplomatic steps be taken to prevent a repeat of the incident.

It's a delicate development in the long-contested waters, which are regarded as a potential flashpoint in Asia. Tensions have escalated in recent years after China transformed seven disputed reefs into islands which can serve as forward military bases and can intimidate rival claimant states.

The Philippine coast guard said it was checking whether Chinese fishermen were involved or those from other neighboring countries like Vietnam and if the collision was intentional.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials.

The 22 Filipino crewmen of the sunken F/B Gimver 1 were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. A Philippine navy frigate which was patrolling the area later helped secure them, Lorenzana said in a statement.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew," Lorenzana said. "This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people." He said the F/B Gimver 1 had been anchored "when it was hit by the Chinese fishing vessel."

Lorenzana thanked the Vietnamese crew for saving the Filipinos.

He revealed the incident after about 300 protesters burned a mock Chinese flag and yelled anti-China slogans in a rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila's Makati financial district. The mostly left-wing activists timed their protest for Philippine Independence Day.

A regional military spokesman, Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, said the incident at Reed Bank, which happened at night, appeared "like a hit and run," with the vessel immediately moving away after hitting the Filipino boat.

There has been a recent history of Chinese ships blocking Philippine military and civilian vessels at Reed Bank and nearby Second Thomas Shoal, where Philippine marines keep watch on board a long-marooned Philippine navy ship while being constantly watched by Chinese coast guard ships in a years-long standoff.

A Filipino official said a Philippine vessel on its way to provide the marines at Second Thomas Shoal with food and other supplies was approached by a Chinese ship "in a close encounter" in February. The Philippine vessel maneuvered to avoid the Chinese ship and managed to reach the marines, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. The Philippines has raised its concern over the incident, the official added.

China's coast guard and military tried to block such resupply missions in the past but later allowed them through after talks with Philippine officials amid better relations between Beijing and Manila under current President Rodrigo Duterte.

Chinese authorities, however, still occasionally approach Philippine resupply vessels to make sure they're not carrying construction materials to the disputed shoal, the Philippine official said.

China has long demanded that the Philippines remove the rusting navy ship which Filipino marines use as an outpost, but the Philippines has refused.

In 2011, the Philippine military deployed a bomber plane and another light plane to Reed Bank after a Philippine ship searching for oil complained it was approached and harassed by two Chinese patrol boats.

The patrol boats had left the area by the time the Philippine aircraft arrived, military officials said at the time.

Aside from its potential oil and gas deposits, the disputed region has rich fishing grounds and straddles busy sea lanes that are a crucial conduit for oil and other resources fueling Asia's bustling economies.


5-year-old dies of Ebola as outbreak crosses Congo border

People crossing the border have their temperature taken to check for symptoms of Ebola, at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Rodney Muhumuza and Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro

Kasindi, Congo (AP) — A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood became the first cross-border victim in the current Ebola outbreak on Wednesday, while his 3-year-old brother and grandmother tested positive for the disease that has killed nearly 1,400 people in Congo.

The outbreak's spread into Uganda prompted the World Health Organization to revisit whether the second-largest Ebola epidemic in history should be declared a global health emergency. A WHO expert committee meets on Friday. Such declarations almost always boost attention and donor funding.

The boy's mother had taken him and his brother from Uganda into Congo, where her father was ill. WHO said he died of Ebola, and officials believe those who mourned him became infected, too.

The family then crossed back into Uganda via an unguarded foot path, bypassing official border crossings where health workers have been screening millions of travelers since the outbreak was declared in August.

Authorities in both countries now vow to step up border security.

Experts have long feared Ebola could spread to neighboring countries because of rebel attacks and community resistance hampering containment work in eastern Congo, one of the world's most turbulent regions. The virus can spread quickly via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected and can be fatal in up to 90% of cases.

The 5-year-old boy's mother and grandmother, along with several other children, were stopped at a border post before crossing into Uganda. A dozen of them already showed symptoms of Ebola.

Congo's health ministry said those 12 were put in an isolation center, but in fact they were told to remain where they were staying until transport was found to an Ebola treatment unit, Dr. Dominique Kabongo, a local coordinator of response teams, told The Associated Press.

Instead, six family members quietly crossed into Uganda.

"Many people are evading (border) customs and using small footpaths and it is difficult for us to follow the contacts," Kabongo said.

On arrival in Uganda, where authorities had been alerted by Congolese colleagues, the boy received treatment while relatives were isolated and tested. The boy's uncle is among seven suspected cases now identified in Uganda.

On the Congo side, five family members who did not cross into Uganda have tested positive for Ebola, the health ministry said.

Health teams in Uganda "are not panicking," Henry Mwebesa, the national director of health services, told the AP. He cited the East African nation's experience battling previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers.

This outbreak "is not going to go beyond" the boy's family in Uganda, he added.

While officials vowed to close unauthorized crossings, an AP reporter in the border area where the family crossed saw surveillance teams patrolling the Ugandan side. Some footpaths, however, remained unguarded. Some people wade across the shallow Lubiriha River.

The "stubbornness of Congolese" is a challenge in screening, a Ugandan Red Cross official, Francis Tumwine, told the AP at one border crossing last week. "They have failed to understand that Ebola is there, they think that it is witchcraft which is killing them."

A Congolese trader, Muhindo Kaongezekela, added: "We are not sure if there's Ebola in Congo. In Congo, if they find you with a headache, they take you to the hospital and later say they died of Ebola."

This is the first time this restive part of vast Congo, veteran of several Ebola outbreaks, has experienced the virus.

Resistance by residents wary of authorities has hurt containment efforts in an outbreak where an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used for the first time. More than 130,000 people have received the vaccine.

Uganda is more stable than eastern Congo, and it has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers. WHO is shipping another 3,500 doses this week for health workers and contacts of those infected.

The WHO expert committee has twice decided that this outbreak, while of "deep concern," is not yet a global health emergency . But international spread is one of the major criteria the United Nations agency considers before making a declaration. WHO has advised against travel restrictions.

The first cross-border case is "tragic but unfortunately not surprising," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar with the Wellcome Trust, which funds Ebola vaccine research.

While Uganda is well-prepared, he added, "we can expect and should plan for more cases in (Congo) and neighboring countries. This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon."


UN marks what would have been Anne Frank's 90th birthday

 

A photo of Anne Frank stands on a replica of the writing desk she once used in her family's former apartment in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael C. Corder)

Edith M. Lederer

United Nations (AP) — A sapling from the horse chestnut tree that Anne Frank watched from her World War II hiding place in an attic in Amsterdam was planted and dedicated at U.N. headquarters Wednesday to mark what would have been the 90th birthday of the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement read at the ceremony that the sapling "is a living symbol of both the legacy of Anne Frank" and the values of the United Nations, which was established in the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust.

"The tree into which the sapling will grow will stand as a beacon of hope, a living reminder of the importance of continuing the work for a just and peaceful world in which we celebrate diversity and where men and men, young and old can thrive without fear," Guterres said.

Sharon Douglas, CEO of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect which donated the sapling, said, "The tree lived in the free air and represented to Anne a living symbol of hope and freedom."

The Frank family's hiding place for two years in the secret annex behind a canal-side house was discovered, and Anne was taken to the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp where she died in February 1945 at age 15.

Her father, Otto, the only member of the family to survive the war, later published her diaries, which have been read around the world and are considered one of the most important books of the 20th century.

One special guest at the ceremony, Gaby Rodgers Leiber, who was a childhood friend of Anne's, said, "It's very moving to celebrate her life."

"We played marbles together and we both cheated! That was the fun of it," said Leiber, who is 92 and lives in Los Angeles.


D-Day at 75: Nations honor aging veterans, fallen comrades

A World War II veteran salutes as he poses for a photograph at the end of a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, Normandy, France, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People on a tank watch fireworks in Arromanches in Normandy region of France, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

Raf Casert, John Leicester and Elaine Ganley

Omaha Beach, France (AP) — Standing on the windswept beaches and bluffs of Normandy, a dwindling number of aging veterans of history's greatest air and sea invasion received the thanks and praise of a world transformed by their sacrifice.

The mission now, they said, was to honor the dead and keep their memory alive, 75 years after the D-Day operation that portended the end of World War II.

"We know we don't have much time left, so I tell my story so people know it was because of that generation, because of those guys in this cemetery," said 99-year-old Steve Melnikoff of Maryland, standing at Colleville-Sur-Mer, where thousands of Americans are buried.

"All these generals with all this brass that don't mean nothing," he said. "These guys in the cemetery, they are the heroes."

Thursday's anniversary was marked with eloquent speeches, profound silences and passionate pleas for an end to bloodshed.

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump praised the soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord, saying it was the turning point that ended Nazi tyranny and ensured peace for Europe.

"You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic, and we thank you from the bottom of our heart," Trump said of the warriors who took part in what he called the ultimate fight of good against evil in World War II.

"They battled not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy and self-rule," Trump said in a speech at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of five landing beaches.

Macron saluted the courage, generosity and strength of spirit that made them press on "to help men and women they didn't know, to liberate a land most hadn't seen before, for no other cause but freedom, democracy."

He expressed France's debt to the United States for freeing his country from the Nazis. Macron awarded five American veterans with the Chevalier of Legion of Honor, France's highest award.

"We know what we owe to you, veterans, our freedom," he said, switching from French to English. "On behalf of my nation I just want to say 'thank you.'"

About 160,000 troops were took part in D-Day, and many more fought in the ensuing Battle of Normandy. Of those 73,000 were from the United States, while 83,000 were from Britain and Canada. Troops started landing overnight from the air, then were joined by a massive force by sea on the beaches of Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats.

"The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you," Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had said in his order of the day. "The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory."

On Wednesday, a commemoration was held in Portsmouth, England, the main embarkation point for the transport boats. Then the dignitaries came to the bluffs and beaches of Normandy, where veterans recalled what they saw 75 years ago.

"The water was full of dead men, the beach had burning landing craft," said Jim Radford, 90, a British D-Day veteran from Hull, describing the scene near Gold Beach, where British landed.

He was there again to watch the unveiling of a statue at Gold Beach, where a memorial to British fighters is to be erected.

At dawn Thursday, hundreds of civilians and military alike from around the world gathered on Omaha Beach.

Dick Jansen, 60, from the Netherlands, drank Canadian whisky from an enamel cup on the water's edge. Others scattered carnations into the waves. Randall Atanay, the son of a medic who tended to the dying and wounded, waded barefoot into the water, bonding with his dad, who has since died.

Up to 12,000 people attended the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, with U.S. veterans, their numbers fast diminishing as years pass, the guests of honor.

A 21-gun salute thundered into the waters below the cemetery, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, and across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David. The final resting places of more than 9,380 of the fallen stretched out before the guests.

Britain's Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, and Prime Minister Theresa May attended a remembrance service at the medieval cathedral in Bayeux, the first Normandy town liberated by Allied troops after D-Day.

Hundreds of people packed the seaside square in the town of Arromanches to applaud veterans of the Battle of Normandy that ensued. A wreath was placed outside the town's D-Day Museum.

Gratitude was a powerful common theme.

Macron thanked soldiers "so that France could become free again" at the Gold Beach ceremony with May and uniformed veterans laid the cornerstone of the memorial that will record the names of thousands of troops under British command who died in Normandy.

"If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come, in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world, that day was the 6th of June, 1944," May said.

As the sun rose that morning, not one of the thousands of men arriving in Normandy "knew whether they would still be alive when the sun set once again," she said.

Passing on memories is especially urgent, with hundreds of World War II veterans now dying every day.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed those who "took a gamble the world had never seen before."

Speaking at Juno Beach where 14,000 Canadians came ashore, Trudeau lauded the resulting world order including the United Nations and NATO that have helped preserve peace.

But postwar tensions were evident. Not invited to the remembrance was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been present for the 70th commemoration of D-Day.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a "gift of history" that she was able to participate in the ceremony on Britain's southern coast. Some 22,000 German soldiers are among those buried around Normandy.

The D-Day invasion was a defining moment of military strategy complicated by unpredictable weather and human chaos in which soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other Allied nations applied relentless bravery to carve out a beachhead on ground that Nazi Germany had occupied for four years.

The Battle of Normandy hastened Germany's defeat less than a year later.

Still, that single day cost the lives of 4,414 Allied troops, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were injured. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

From there, Allied troops would advance, take Paris in late summer and race with the Soviet Red Army to control as much German territory as possible by the time Adolf Hitler died in his Berlin bunker and Germany surrendered in May 1945.

The Soviet Union also fought valiantly against the Nazis — and lost more people than any other nation in World War II — but those final battles would divide Europe for decades between the West and the Soviet-controlled East, the face-off line of the Cold War.

"War is the most idiotic thing that man ever created," said Charles Levesque, 93, who served in the Pacific theater. "Our enemies now are our friends, and our friends are our enemies. It doesn't make any sense."


Huawei warns US would hurt itself by cutting off tech ties

Mika Lauhde, Huawei's vice-president for cybersecurity and privacy attends a panel discussion at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (TASS News Agency Pool Photo via AP)

Harriet Morris

St. Petersburg, Russia (AP) — A senior executive for Chinese technology giant Huawei said Thursday that he hopes the company's animosity with the United States will be resolved and warned that the U.S. would be shooting itself in the foot if it were to shun Chinese technology.

Mika Lauhde, Huawei's vice-president for cybersecurity and privacy, told The Associated Press that he hopes for a "positive resolution" of the standoff with the U.S. government and added that his company is not the "nucleus of the issue," pointing to the wider trade war between the U.S. and China.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions against the world's No. 1 network equipment provider and second-largest smartphone maker, arguing that it is legally beholden to the Chinese government, which could use the company's products for cyberespionage. Huawei denies these accusations.

Lauhde said he doesn't think that the U.S. will be severing all ties with Huawei and other Chinese technology companies, as that would be "driving itself into a corner."

"If they are disconnecting themselves from everybody, that's (going to) happen vice versa as well," he said, alluding to possible Chinese reaction.

Some cybersecurity experts say that Washington, by going as far as warning other countries against working with Huawei actions, will only further encourage China to become more technically self-reliant and will be dividing the world into two tech camps.

Lauhde rejected suggestion of a full split in the tech industry.

"I don't believe that we would be establishing two different camps," he told the AP. "I still believe that we are working together."

Technical ties between China and Russia, for one, are expanding. Russia's major mobile operator MTS and Huawei on Wednesday announced a deal to jointly develop 5G networks in Russia. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the ceremony at the Kremlin.


Sudanese vow to keep up protests after crackdown

Worshippers gather at a mosque behind a roadblock set by protesters on a main street in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to stop military vehicles from driving through the area on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (AP Photo)

Bassam Hatoum and Noha Elhennawy

Khartoum, Sudan (AP) — Sudan's pro-democracy movement vowed Thursday to press its campaign of civil disobedience until the ruling military council is ousted and killers of protesters are brought to justice, as security forces fanned out across the capital and appeared to thwart any new demonstrations.

The African Union, meanwhile, suspended Sudan from all activities "with immediate effect" over the deadly military crackdown on protesters that left 108 dead this week. It threatened "punitive sanctions" if the military does not quickly hand over power to civilians.

The crackdown marked the start of a violent new chapter in the uprising that began in December and led to the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April. The protesters had remained in the streets while holding talks with the military to demand a handover of power to civilians. Those negotiations were suspended after the violent dispersal of the main sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, on Monday.

The Sudan Doctors' Central Committee, one of the protest groups, said Wednesday that troops were seen pulling 40 bodies of people slain by the security forces from the Nile River in Khartoum and taking them away.

It said Thursday that more bodies had been pulled from the river, without giving an exact number. The committee said it was not known where the bodies were taken. It also said more than 500 protesters have been wounded in the crackdown, and that three children were among those killed.

Sudan's military-controlled Health Ministry disputed the death toll, with the ministry's undersecretary, Soliman Abdel Gabbar, saying only 61 people died in this week's violence. He said those include 52 killed in Khartoum, and that only two corpses were pulled from the Nile.

Clashes have erupted in other parts of the country as well. The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been spearheading the protests since December, said security forces have attacked demonstrators in more than a dozen cities and towns, in some cases beating, killing and raping civilians. The SPA did not provide further information about the attacks.

The group urged people to block main roads and bridges to "paralyze public life" across the country.

"Our success depends on our full adherence to peaceful protests, no matter how hard the criminal militias seek to drag us into violence," the association said Thursday.

Hundreds of armored vehicles of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces could be seen across the capital. The paramilitary force grew out of the Janjaweed militias used by al-Bashir's government to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the early 2000s, a scorched-earth campaign that led to his indictment by the International Criminal Court on charges including genocide.

Barricades erected earlier this week by protesters near the site of the dispersed sit-in were removed and roads were opened. Most stores were closed and few people were seen on the streets.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling military council, has called for a resumption of negotiations with the protest leaders, which they have rejected.

"All members of the military council belong to the old regime, and that is why we are betting now on lower-rank officers," said Amal al-Zein, an activist and a leader of Sudan's Communist Party, part of the protest movement.

"We are hoping patriotic policemen and military officers will act to protect the Sudanese people," she said, implying they might overthrow their superiors.

The military and protest leaders had spent weeks negotiating the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country until elections. The protesters demanded civilians dominate the council, which the generals resisted.

After the crackdown, the military suspended the talks and canceled all agreed-on points. It said it would form a government and hold elections within seven to nine months.

From Ethiopia, the African Union's Peace and Security Council said Sudan's suspension will remain in effect until "the effective establishment" of a civilian-led transitional authority, calling it the only way of exiting the crisis.

The council said it would impose "punitive sanctions" if Sudan's ruling military council does not hand over power to civilians, and called for "the immediate resumption of negotiations, without pre-conditions, between all Sudanese stakeholders."

The council is in charge of enforcing union decisions, somewhat similar to the U.N. Security Council.

The suspension deprives Sudan's ruling military council of international legitimacy, according to Amani Africa, an independent think tank based in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The United Nations, European Union and other bodies are expected to take their cues from the AU's action.

In practical terms, Sudan now cannot participate in any AU meeting and any AU financial or other support will cease, the think tank said, though Sudan's peacekeeping obligations are expected to continue.

The AU has suspended countries in the past over what were considered unconstitutional changes of government, including Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritania and Niger. In certain cases, a suspension can last for years. No other country of the 55-member continental body is currently suspended.

The AU could take further steps, imposing sanctions and calling on the U.N. to do the same, the think tank said.

The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, earlier this week strongly condemned the violence in Sudan and urged the military "to protect the civilians from further harm."

In Moscow, a top diplomat said Russia, which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the crisis in Sudan, opposes "any foreign intervention" and believes a compromise is needed.

Mikhail Bogdanov, chief of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East desk, told local news agencies that Russian diplomats are in touch with all political players in Sudan, including the opposition. Bogdanov visited Khartoum earlier this year.


NZ judge allows images of man charged in mosque shootings

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the Christchurch District Court, in Christchurch, New Zealand in this Saturday, March 16, 2019 photo. (AP Photo/Mark Mitchell, Pool)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — A New Zealand judge ruled Thursday that media outlets can now show the face of the man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques.

Two New Zealand courts had previously ruled that television stations, websites, newspapers and other media could only publish images which pixelated the face of Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian white supremacist accused of the March 15 mass shooting.

But High Court Judge Cameron Mander wrote in a court note that prosecutors had advised him there was no longer any need to suppress images of Tarrant's face and he was lifting the order.

The previous rulings hadn't stopped images of Tarrant from circulating on the internet, and questions remained about whether the court's rulings could be applied to media operating outside of New Zealand's borders.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers, who have not commented on the case publicly, did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment on Thursday.

Retired law professor Bill Hodge said the initial argument for suppressing images of Tarrant was likely made to ensure witnesses weren't tainted — that they could identify the gunman from their own recollection and not from seeing a picture in a newspaper.

"I can only assume that neither side is concerned about poisoning the well of identification witnesses," Hodge said.

The gunman livestreamed much of his attack on Facebook. The chilling 17-minute video, in which he shows his face, was copied and widely viewed on the internet even as tech companies scrambled to remove it.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to say the accused man's name, and last month helped lead a global pledge named the "Christchurch Call," aimed at boosting efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks.

The White House did not endorse the pledge, citing respect for "freedom of expression and freedom of the press."

Hodge said Ardern and other politicians might be making a nice gesture by trying to avoid giving Tarrant the publicity he's likely seeking. But Hodge said that's been somewhat undermined after police decided last month to add a terrorism charge against Tarrant to the charges of murder and attempted murder he already faced.

Hodge said the terrorism charge had never been previously tested in New Zealand's court system and it could backfire by giving Tarrant a platform to broadcast his white supremacist views, since defending himself against that charge could give him more scope to express his alleged motives.

A spokesperson for Ardern said the prime minister had no comment to make on a matter for the court.

Tarrant is next scheduled to appear in court via videolink on June 14, when he is expected to enter pleas to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.
 


Queen Elizabeth honors D-Day veterans at moving ceremony

Britain's Queen Elizabeth meets veterans during commemorations for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings at Southsea Common in Portsmouth, England, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Jeff J Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)

An honor guard marches on stage during a ceremony to mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Portsmouth, England. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Canadian World War II veteran Dick Brown, second right, and Rod Deon, right, salute as they attend a ceremony at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, Normandy, France, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. A ceremony was held on Wednesday for Canadians who fought and died on the beaches and in the bitter bridgehead battles of Normandy during World War II. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

 U.S. World War II D-Day veteran Tom Rice, from Coronado, CA, parachutes in a tandem jump into a field in Carentan, Normandy, France, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (AP Photo)
Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless

Portsmouth, England (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II and world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump gathered Wednesday on the south coast of England to honor the troops who risked and sacrificed their lives 75 years ago on D-Day, a bloody but ultimately triumphant turning point in World War II.

Across the Channel, American and British paratroopers dropped into northwestern France and scaled cliffs beside Normandy beaches, recreating the daring, costly invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

With the number of veterans of World War II dwindling, the guests of honor at an international ceremony in Portsmouth were several hundred men, now in their 90s, who served in the conflict — and the 93-year-old British monarch, also a member of what has been called the "greatest generation."

The queen, who served as an army mechanic during the war, said that when she attended a 60th-anniversary commemoration of D-Day 15 years ago, many thought it might be the last such event.

"But the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient," she said, striking an unusually personal note.

"The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten," the monarch said. "It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country — indeed the whole free world — that I say to you all, thank you."

Several hundred World War II veterans, aged 91 to 101, attended the ceremony in Portsmouth, the English port city from where many of the troops embarked for Normandy on June 5, 1944.

Many will recreate their journey, with less danger and more comfort, by crossing the Channel by ship to Normandy overnight. They are due to attend commemorations Thursday in Bayeux, the first major town liberated by Allied troops after D-Day.

Mixing history lesson, entertainment and solemn remembrance, the ceremony in Portsmouth was a large-scale spectacle involving troops, dancers and martial bands, culminating in a military fly-past. But the stars of the show were the elderly veterans of that campaign who said they were surprised by all the attention: They were just doing their jobs.

"I was just a small part in a very big machine," said 99-year-old John Jenkins, a veteran from Portsmouth, who received a standing ovation as he addressed the event.

"You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together," he said. "It is right that the courage and sacrifice of so many is being honored 75 years on. We must never forget."

The event, which kicked off two days of D-Day anniversary observances, paid tribute to the troops who shaped history during the dangerous mission to reach beachheads and fight in German-occupied France.

D-Day saw more than 150,000 Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy in northwest France on June 6, 1944, carried by 7,000 boats. The Battle of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord, was a turning point in the war, and helped bring about Nazi Germany's defeat in May 1945.

Wednesday's ceremony brought together presidents, prime ministers and other representatives of more than a dozen countries that fought alongside Britain in Normandy.

The leader of the country that was the enemy in 1944 , German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also attended— a symbol of Europe's postwar reconciliation and transformation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended 70th anniversary commemorations in France five years ago, has not been invited. Russia was not involved in D-Day but was instrumental in defeating the Nazis on the Eastern Front.

The ceremony sought to take people back in time, with world leaders, reading the words of participants in the conflict.

Trump read a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered in a radio address on June 6, 1944, extolling the "mighty endeavor" Allied troops were engaged in.

British Prime Minister Theresa May read a letter written by Capt. Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife, Gladys, on June 3, 1944, a few days before the invasion. He was killed the day after D-Day.

"Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do," he wrote.

French President Emmanuel Macron read from a letter sent by a young resistance fighter, Henri Fertet, before he was executed at the age of 16 years old.

"I am going to die for my country. I want France to be free and the French to be happy," it said.

The ceremony ended with singer Sheridan Smith performing the wartime hit "We'll Meet Again," as many of the elderly assembled veterans sang along.

Then WWII Spitfire and Hurricane fighter jets, modern-day Typhoons and the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows aerobatic unit swooped over the dignitaries, veterans and large crowd of spectators.

The crowd beyond the security barriers loved the planes but loved the veterans even more. Whenever their images came up on the big screen, people cheered. The former servicemen have reacted to such shows of attention with humility and surprise, as many believed they had been forgotten.

"What happened to me is not important. I'm not a hero. I served with men who were," said Les Hammond, 94, who landed at Juno Beach with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers. "I'm very lucky I'm a survivor."

On Thursday the focus shifts to France, where commemorations will be held at simple military cemeteries near the Normandy beaches.

Events in France began early Wednesday morning with U.S. Army Rangers climbing the jagged limestone cliffs of Normandy's Pointe du Hoc to honor the men who scaled them under fire 75 years ago.

They were recreating a journey taken in 1944 by the U.S. Army's 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions to destroy Nazi guns atop the cliffs, helping prepare the way for Allied troops to land on the coast.

Elsewhere in Normandy parachutists jumped from C-47 transporters in WWII colors and other aircraft, aiming for fields of wild flowers on the outskirts of Carentan, one of the early objectives for Allied troops.

Among the jumpers was American D-Day veteran Tom Rice, 97. He jumped into Normandy with thousands of other parachutists in 1944 and recalled it as "the worst jump I ever had."

Like many other veterans , Rice said he remains troubled by the war.

"We did a lot of destruction, damage. And we chased the Germans out and coming back here is a matter of closure," he said. "You can close the issue now."


Rescue chopper unable to reach bodies on Himalayan mountain

 

A senior Indo Tibetan Border Police force officer wishes best luck to a team of soldiers before they set off to try and retrieve the bodies of international climbers, in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand state, India, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Indo Tibetan Border Police force via AP)

Emily Schmall

New Delhi (AP) — Indian officials on Wednesday were reconsidering a plan to retrieve five bodies believed to be members of a team of international climbers that went missing on a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain that a rescue helicopter was unable to reach.

All eight of the climbers who disappeared May 26 on Nanda Devi East are presumed dead, and the five bodies photographed by air Monday are thought to be from the missing expedition, said Vijay Kumar Jogdande, an official in Uttarakhand state, where the mountain is located.

The mountaineers, led by veteran British climber Martin Moran, had set out to reach the top of an unclimbed, unnamed 6,477-meter (21,250-foot) ridge, but lost contact with their base camp after an avalanche swept through a section of the mountain.

Nanda Devi East is a twin peak of Nanda Devi, India's second-highest mountain, and the two are connected by a razor-sharp 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) ridge at an elevation of 6,666 meters (22,000 feet).

Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who are responsible for rescues in the range where the peaks are located, called off the operation because of the high elevation, which a helicopter was unable to reach after three attempts, spokesman Vivek Pandey said.

Officials had devised a plan to use helicopters and a ground team to retrieve the bodies, spotted at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,404 feet), and to search for the three other mountaineers. Pandey said the rescue team returned to the town of Pithoragarh on Wednesday afternoon to reconsider its strategy.

"It is not feasible to hover in the air and land near the site of the avalanche where bodies can be seen," according to a status report seen by The Associated Press.

The report said the challenges include the "bowl-like" geography of the terrain, wind turbulence and the risk of further avalanches. It recommended an expedition on foot, though it would take the rescuers a week to acclimate first.

The mountaineers began their ascent on May 13, according to Moran Mountain, Moran's Scotland-based company. The team includes four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian liaison officer. Before attempting to reach the peak of Nanda Devi East, the team had set out to climb the slightly smaller ridge.

Maninder Kohli, a mountaineer who runs a trekking company from New Delhi that has taken groups to Nanda Devi East base camp, said the snow level in the Indian Himalayas this year has been abnormally high.

"Apparently the walk-up to the base camp alone was a tedious task because of the snow accumulation," he said.

Kohli said the typical route to the peak is along the southeast ridge, which Polish mountaineers used on the first documented ascent in 1939.

Moran and another mountaineer made an unsuccessful attempt over an unproven northeastern route in 2015.


German nurse accused of 100 deaths says sorry to families

 

Former nurse Niels Hoegel, accused of multiple murder and attempted murder of patients, attends a session of the district court in Oldenburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa via AP, Pool)

David Rising

Berlin (AP) — A former nurse on trial on allegations he killed 100 patients at two hospitals in northern Germany apologized to his victims' relatives in a final statement to the court Wednesday, saying he realized how much pain and suffering he had caused with his "terrible deeds."

"To each and every one of you I sincerely apologize for all that I have done," Niels Hoegel, 42, told the Oldenburg regional court after his defense attorneys had made their closing arguments, according to the dpa news agency.

His defense attorneys argued for acquittals in 31 of the 100 counts of murder against him, suggesting there was not enough evidence in those cases.

In total, the deaths — which took place at a hospital in Oldenburg between 1999 and 2002 and another hospital in nearby Delmenhorst from 2003 to 2005 — are thought to be the largest string of serial killings in post-war Germany. Hoegel's alleged victims ranged in age between 34 and 96.

"Neither we nor Mr. Hoegel deny that he is the perpetrator in many cases," one of his defenders, Ulrike Baumann told the court. "But he can only be convicted for crimes he committed and not for crimes he could have committed."

Hoegel was convicted in 2015 of two murders and two attempted murders. He said at his first trial that he intentionally brought about cardiac crises in some 90 patients in Delmenhorst because he enjoyed the feeling of being able to resuscitate them. He later told investigators that he also killed patients in Oldenburg.

Authorities subsequently investigated hundreds of deaths, exhuming bodies of former patients.

Pleas are not entered in the German legal system but during the seven-month trial, Hoegel admitted to 43 of the killings, disputed five and said he couldn't remember the other 52.

Both the defense team and prosecutors have asked for a sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors have also asked the court to recognize the "particular seriousness of the crime," making it likely he'd have to serve more than the standard 15-year sentence.

Prosecutors are asking for a conviction on 97 counts of murder, saying that in three cases insufficient evidence was presented.

During the trial, Hoegel testified that he had a "protected" childhood, free of violence. He said his grandmother and his father, who were both nurses, had been his role models for going into the profession.

"Now I sit here fully convinced that I want to give every relative an answer," Hoegel said during the trial. "I am really sorry."

But Christian Marbach, a spokesman for the affected families whose grandfather was among the victims, doubted Hoegel's sincerity.

"Hoegel is and remains a liar," Marbach said. "He tactically only admitted what could already 100 percent be proven against him."

A verdict is expected on Thursday.


Japanese police arrest 7 Chinese in record drug smuggling

The boat in which police confiscated drug is seen at a wharf in Minami Izu town, Shizuoka prefecture, south of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Japanese authorities have arrested seven Chinese men on suspicion of smuggling what is believed to be a record amount of stimulants, police and media reports said Wednesday, amid concern about growing drug use among ordinary people following a series of recent arrests of government officials and celebrities.

Tokyo police said seven Chinese were arrested this week on suspicion of possessing "large amounts" of stimulants on the Izu coast, west of Tokyo. Police on a stakeout arrested the men while they were unloading bags from their boat onto the beach, Kyodo News reported.

They allegedly possessed nearly 1 ton (2,450 pounds) of amphetamines, a record one-time seizure in Japan estimated to be worth 60 billion yen ($550 million), according to public broadcaster NHK. The drugs are believed to have been smuggled from Hong Kong, NHK said.

The amount is about the same as the annual total seized over the past three years. Last year, authorities seized 1.1 tons (2,508 pounds) of stimulants, including 784 kilograms (1,728 pounds) smuggled into the country from overseas, according to the National Police Agency.

Drug smuggling has been on the rise, the agency said, with more than 150 people arrested in 2018 for alleged stimulant smuggling from overseas, or 1.6% of the total number of people arrested for violations of stimulant control laws. While most stimulant law violators are linked to gangster groups, the police agency expressed concern about growing drug use among ordinary people and younger age groups.

In late May, police arrested a 44-year-old education ministry bureaucrat for alleged possession of stimulants and marijuana. Days earlier, prosecutors charged a 28-year-old trade ministry official with stimulant use and possession. Popular musician and actor Pierre Taki, whose real name is Masanori Taki, is on trial after being arrested in March for alleged cocaine use.

Illegal drugs are sold at higher prices in Japan than elsewhere, making it a lucrative market, and its coastline provides convenient access for smugglers, experts say.

The arrests of the Chinese suspects were part of an ongoing investigation into international drug rings and gangster groups following reports of suspicious ships in the Izu area.

The previous record one-time seizure was about 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds) of stimulants on a boat docked at a port on Okinawa in southern Japan..
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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D-Day at 75: Nations honor aging veterans, fallen comrades

Huawei warns US would hurt itself by cutting off tech ties

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Queen Elizabeth honors D-Day veterans at moving ceremony

Rescue chopper unable to reach bodies on Himalayan mountain

German nurse accused of 100 deaths says sorry to families

Japanese police arrest 7 Chinese in record drug smuggling