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Update July, 2019


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Man shouting 'You die!' kills 33 in Japan anime studio fire

The Kyoto Animation Studio building destroyed in an attack is seen Friday, July 19, 2019, in Kyoto, Japan. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — A man screaming "You die!" burst into an animation studio in Kyoto, doused it with a flammable liquid and set it on fire Thursday, killing 33 people in an attack that shocked the country and brought an outpouring of grief from anime fans.

Thirty-six others were injured, some of them critically, in a blaze that sent people scrambling up the stairs toward the roof in a desperate — and futile — attempt to escape what proved to be Japan's deadliest fire in nearly two decades. Others emerged bleeding, blackened and barefoot.

The suspect, identified only a 41-year-old man who did not work for the studio, was injured and taken to a hospital. Police gave no details on the motive, but a witness told Japanese TV that the attacker angrily complained that something of his had been stolen, possibly by the company.

Most of the victims were employees of Kyoto Animation, which does work on movies and TV productions but is best known for its mega-hit stories featuring high school girls. The tales are so popular that fans make pilgrimages to some of the places depicted.

The blaze started in the three-story building in Japan's ancient capital after the attacker sprayed an unidentified liquid accelerant, police and fire officials said.

"There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help," a witness told TBS TV. "Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors. Ten there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window."

Japanese media reported the fire might have been set near the front door, forcing people to find other ways out.

The building has a spiral staircase that may have allowed flames and smoke to rise quickly to the top floor, NHK noted. Fire expert Yuji Hasemi at Waseda University told NHK that paper drawings and other documents in the studio also may have contributed to the fire's rapid spread.

Firefighters found 33 bodies, 20 of them on the third floor and some on the stairs to the roof, where they had apparently collapsed, Kyoto fire official Kazuhiro Hayashi said. Two were found dead on the first floor, 11 others on the second floor, he said.

A witness who saw the attacker being approached by police told Japanese media that the man admitted spreading gasoline and setting the fire with a lighter. She told NHK public television that the man had burns on his arms and legs and complained that something had been stolen from him.

She told Kyodo News that his hair got singed and his legs were exposed because his jeans were burned below the knees.

"He sounded he had a grudge against the society, and he was talking angrily to the policemen, too, though he was struggling with pain," she told Kyodo News. "He also sounded he had a grudge against Kyoto Animation."

NHK footage also showed sharp knives police had collected from the scene, though it was not clear if they belonged to the attacker.

Survivors said he was screaming "You die!" as he dumped the liquid, according to Japanese media. They said some of the survivors got splashed with the liquid.

Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio, and its hits include "Lucky Star" of 2008, "K-On!" in 2011 and "Haruhi Suzumiya" in 2009.

The company does not have a major presence outside Japan, though it was hired to do secondary animation work on a 1998 "Pokemon" feature that appeared in U.S. theaters and a "Winnie the Pooh" video.

"My heart is in extreme pain. Why on earth did such violence have to be used?" company president Hideaki Hatta said. Hatta said the company had received anonymous death threats by email in the past, but he did not link them to Thursday's attack.

Anime fans expressed anger, prayed and mourned the victims on social media. A crowd-funding site was set up to help the company rebuild.

Fire officials said more than 70 people were in the building at the time.

The death toll exceeded that of a 2016 attack by a man who stabbed and killed 19 people at a nursing home in Tokyo.

A fire in 2001 in Tokyo's congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country's worst known case of arson in modern times. Police never announced an arrest in the setting of the blaze, though five people were convicted of negligence.


Morocco: 3 sentenced to death in Scandinavian women slayings

Security forces stand guard outside a court room before the start of a final trial session for suspects charged in connection with killing of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains, in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco, Thursday, July 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Amira el-Masaiti

Sale, Morocco (AP) — Three men were convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death by a Moroccan court Thursday for the brutal slaying of two Scandinavian women hiking in the Atlas Mountains.

A fourth suspect who fled the scene was given life in prison.

After several hours of deliberation, the court handed 19 accomplices jail terms ranging from five to 30 years. All have 10 days to appeal.

Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, were fatally stabbed in December. The slayings were recorded on video and posted online.

None of the 23 reacted as the sentences were read out Thursday, but their families rushed out of the crowded courtroom crying.

The men claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.

All 23 addressed the court before the verdicts, most begging for leniency.

The main defendants, who asked Allah for forgiveness, were carpenters Jounes Ouzayed and Rashid Afatti, and street merchant Abdessamad Al Joud. They were sentenced to death.

The man who fled the scene is Khaiali Abderahman, who got life.

Morocco only rarely carries out death sentences. The last execution was in 1993 of Mustapha Tabet, a once-powerful Casablanca police commissioner, convicted of raping and abusing hundreds of victims.

In closing arguments in June, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the top suspects to death, and described the three main defendants as "human beasts."

A Swiss-Spanish convert to Islam, Kevin Zoller, who had pleaded innocent, received a 20-year sentence. Prosecutors said he had links to the men who orchestrated the women's killings and direct contact with IS members in Syria via the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

Another Swiss man was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison, convicted on charges including "deliberately helping perpetrators of terrorist acts" and training terrorists, the state-run news agency MAP said at the time.

The lawyer for Vesterager's family said he was "100% satisfied" with the verdicts. Khalid El Fataoui noted that Louisa Vesterager's mother had asked the court in a letter at an earlier hearing this month to sentence the killers to death.

"We obtained what she asked for."

The court also ordered the four main defendants to pay the equivalent of $209,000 in damages to the family of the Norwegian victim, but refused a demand from the Danish victim's family for the Moroccan state to pay damages.

El Fataoui said he would appeal.


India reschedules launch of its moon mission for Monday

This July 2019, photo released by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) shows its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII-M1 at its launch pad in Sriharikota, an island off India's south-eastern coast. (Indian Space Research Organization via AP)

Associated Press

Chennai, India (AP) — India's space agency said it will launch a spacecraft to the south pole of the moon on Monday after stopping an attempt this week.

The Indian Space Research Organization said the Chandrayaan-2 launch is now set at 2:43 p.m. on Monday. It said Thursday that the cause of the previous technical snag had been identified and corrected.

The earlier launch attempt on Monday was called off less than an hour before the 640-ton, 14-story rocket launcher lifted off.

Chandrayaan, the Sanskrit word for "moon craft," is designed to land on the lunar south pole and send a rover to explore water deposits that were confirmed by a previous mission that orbited the moon.

Dr. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said that the around $140 million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation's most prestigious to date, in part because of the technical complexities of landing on the lunar surface — an event he described as "15 terrifying minutes."

If India did manage the landing, it would be only the fourth country to do so after the U.S., Russia and China.


Navy brass, low budget blamed for Argentina sub tragedy

 

This undated file photo provided by the Argentine Navy shows an ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, near Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Argentina Navy via AP)

Débora Rey

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — An Argentine legislative commission has concluded that the sinking of a submarine with all 44 crewmembers was caused by the inefficiency of naval commanders and budget limitations, discarding theories the vessel was attacked or hit by a ship.

In a report released Thursday, the legislators also questioned the handling of the crisis by Defense Minister Oscar Aguad and President Mauricio Macri, who the commission said showed a "low level of involvement with everything related to the tragedy."

The ARA San Juan disappeared on Nov. 15, 2017, in the South Atlantic as it sailed back to its base at the port of Mar del Plata after participating in a training exercise. The wreckage wasn't found until almost a year later at a depth of 800 meters (2,625 feet) east of Patagonia's Valdes Peninsula. The discovery was made by a ship from the U.S. company Ocean Infinity, which had been hired to search.

"The hypotheses that the submarine was attacked by a foreign warship, hit by a fishing vessel or was performing secret tasks outside of jurisdictional waters have been discarded," said the commission, which was made up of lawmakers from different parties, including the governing party.

The report pointed to budget limitations in recent years as contributing to the disaster as well as "the failure to update technologies and maintain a minimal level of maintenance based on hours of use that produced a growing deterioration" of the submarine.

The navy "tried to continue to fulfill its ordered missions with increasingly reduced budgets. It accepted as normal operating under conditions that were far from optimal for the task," the report said.

The government did not immediately comment on the report.

The night before the submarine disappeared, the crew reported that the entry of water into the ventilation system had started a fire in one of the battery tanks. The vessel surfaced and continued sailing. Its captain reported the next day that the situation was controlled and that he was preparing to descend to 40 meters (131 feet) to assess the damage and reconnect the batteries.

Nothing more was heard from the submarine.

"Fires in the battery tanks of submarines are very serious accidents ... the issue was underestimated by the entire chain of command" of the navy, the commission said.

The report said the then-commander of the submarine force, Claudio Villamide, "did not seek advice from qualified technical personnel." It said the naval chain of command "did not transmit to political leaders information in a detailed and complete form."

The commission said the defense minister was aware of the state of the fleet and the risks facing the submarine when it participated in the exercise.

Regarding the search operation, it said, "there was evidence of a lack of leadership in the face of the crisis as well as concealment of the circumstances of the tragedy from family members and public opinion."

The report was presented in Argentina's Senate in the presence of family members of the crew, whose remains still lie at the bottom of the sea. Experts who participated in the search that located the wreck have said raising it to the surface would be too risky and expensive.

"This is historic, that a legislative commission is so expeditious and clear in investigating" the tragedy, said Luis Tagliapietra, father of one of the crewmembers. "I think that the responsibilities are clear."

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine that sank was commissioned in the mid-1980s and was most recently refitted between 2008 and 2014. During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts said refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers, and even the tiniest mistake during the cutting phase can put the safety of the vessel and crew at risk.


Building collapses in India; 10 dead, several feared trapped

Rescuers work at the site of a building that collapsed in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Rafiq Maqbool

Mumbai, India (AP) — A four-story dilapidated residential building collapsed Tuesday in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, killing at least 10 people, an official said. Rescuers were searching for several others feared trapped in the rubble.

"The building crashed with a heavy sound and we thought there was an earthquake," a local resident told the New Delhi Television news channel or NDTV.

Fire official Ashok Talpade said dozens of rescuers were at the site in Dongri, a crowded residential section of Mumbai, and had pulled out nine survivors who were taken to a hospital. The survivors included a child was allowed to go home after being treated.

A 16-year-old girl trapped under a heavy door was taken out by rescuers after cutting through iron beams and clearing the debris using hydraulic cutters, the NDTV reported.

Talpade said police were using sniffer dogs in the rescue operation.

Television images showed people forming a human chain to remove the rubble using their hands.

"The problem is that the building is in a very narrow lane," said S.N. Pradhan, head of the National Disaster Response Force. "It is only one to two feet wide. NDRF vehicles with rescue equipment can't get to the building. So the team has marched on foot to the site and has carried all the rescue equipment needed to the site on their own."

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet said:'Collapse of a building in Mumbai's Dongri is anguishing. My condolences to the family of those who list their lives."

Maharashtra state's top elected official, Devendra Fadanavis, said the building was nearly 100 years old and 15 families were living there.

Talpade said the families had been asked to vacate the dilapidated building some time ago but continued to live there.

Waris Pathan, an opposition lawmaker, said the building was a death trap, with authorities saying they had no money to rebuild the structure.

Building collapses are common in India during the June-September monsoon season, when heavy rains weaken the foundations of structures that are poorly constructed. Mumbai was lashed by heavy rains early this month.

On Sunday, a three-story building collapsed in a hilly area in the northern Indian town of Solan following heavy rains, killing 14 people.


Von der Leyen confirmed as new European Commission president

German Ursula von der Leyen talks to journalists during a news conference following her election as new European Commission President at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — Ursula von der Leyen was confirmed as the European Commission president Tuesday, becoming the first woman to hold one of the most prestigious positions in the European Union and who will be one of the most prominent faces from the bloc on the world stage.

The European Parliament voted 383-327 with 22 abstentions to approve von der Leyen's nomination.  The confirmation required an absolute majority of 374 votes and the outgoing German defense minister scraped through with barely nine votes to spare in a cliffhanger vote.

"A majority is a majority in politics," she said when questioned about her narrow escape.

Von der Leyen will replace Jean-Claude Juncker when his term expires at the end of October.

She was put forward as a last-minute candidate by EU leaders as part over an overall appointments package, sidestepping parliamentary wishes. Many legislators felt cold-shouldered and said they would oppose her out of principle, not over personal considerations.

"There was a great deal of resentment," she said.

Von der Leyen insisted the challenges facing the EU, from climate to migration and internal division, were such that there was no time to look back.

"My message to all of you is: let us work together constructively," she said.

Earlier in the day, Von der Leyen set out her political objectives on a greener, gender-equal Europe where the rule of law continues to hold sway.

Her approval was a key part in the package of top jobs that EU leaders agreed upon early this month. Under the deal, the free-market liberal Renew Europe group got Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as European Council president and the Socialists won the top parliament job. France's Christine Lagarde was put forward as head of the European Central Bank.

Von der Leyen told lawmakers in Strasbourg that the gender element as embodied by herself and Lagarde will be an essential part of her job.

"I will ensure full gender equality" in her team of 28 commissioners. "I want to see as many men as women around the college table," she said.

Pointing out that since its inception in 1958, less than 20% of commissioners had been women, she said: "We represent half of our population. We want our fair share."

The gender breakthrough was welcome across much of the plenary.

"It is a great day for Europe to have a woman elected to lead the European Commission," said Dacian Ciolos, leader of the liberal Renew Europe group.

The rest of the commission team, which prepares a wide range of legislation from climate change to farm subsidies and digital rules, will be proposed by the EU member states, which have the right to one each.

Von der Leyen insisted that, despite euroskeptic governments like Italy, Poland and Hungary, she would only work with pro-European politicians.

"I want a commission that is working to strengthen Europe to position Europe in this world in its appropriate role," she said.

"None of us on its own will be as successful in tackling the problems as we are together — 28 member states," she said.

Officials in the von der Leyen camp had long acknowledged that the vote would be a cliffhanger. She was set to get the majority of votes from her EPP Christian Democrats, the S&D socialists and the RE liberals. They were part of a grand coalition sharing out the top jobs.

Still, with dissent even within those groups, it long was too close to call.

During her address to the parliament, von der Leyen set out her political lines for the next few years and immediately addressed what she sees as the biggest challenge: climate change.

"I want Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050," she said, adding she would work out "a green deal for Europe in the first 100 days" of her office. It would include rules to improve on the current goal of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030.

"It will need investment on a major scale," and funds would be available for nations, mainly in eastern Europe, still depending on polluting fossil fuels, she said.

She said that she would set up a climate division within the European Investment Bank to "unlock 1 trillion euros of investment over the next decade."

Despite the need for votes to get the absolute majority, she did insist that her European Commission would continue to be at least as tough as now on countries like Poland and Hungary, which have been accused of disrespecting Western democratic values when it comes to the rule of law.

"There can be no compromise when it comes to respecting the rule of law. There never will be. I will ensure that we use our full and comprehensive toolbox at European level," she said.


Facebook's currency plan gets hostile reception in US Congress

This March 28, 2018, file photo shows a Facebook logo at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Marcy Gordon

Washington (AP) — Under sharp criticism from senators, a Facebook executive on Tuesday defended the social network's ambitious plan to create a digital currency and pledged to work with regulators to achieve a system that protects the privacy of users' data.

"We know we need to take the time to get this right," David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, told the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing.

But that message did little to assure senators. Members of both parties demanded to know why a company with massive market power and a track record of scandals should be trusted with such a far-reaching project, given the potential for fraud, abuse and criminal activity.

"Facebook is dangerous," asserted Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee's senior Democrat. Like a toddler playing with matches, "Facebook has burned down the house over and over," he told Marcus. "Do you really think people should trust you with their bank accounts and their money?"

Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said "the core issue here is trust." Users won't be able to opt out of providing their personal data when joining the new digital wallet for Libra, McSally said. "Arizonans will be more likely to be scammed" using the currency, she said.

The litany of criticism came as Congress began two days of hearings on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra. Meanwhile, a House Judiciary subcommittee extended its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

On the defensive from bursts of aggressive questioning, Facebook's Marcus indicated the currency plan is a work in progress. "We will take the time" to ensure the network won't be open to use by criminals and illicit activity like money laundering and financial fraud. "We hope that we'll avoid conflicts of interest. We have a lot of work to do," Marcus said.

He said the new venture would be headquartered in Switzerland, not to avoid oversight but because the country is a recognized international financial center.

The grilling followed a series of negative comments and warnings about the Libra plan in recent days from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.

But some senators emphasized the potential positive benefits of Facebook's plan, meant to bring money transacting at low cost to millions around the globe who don't have bank accounts. Facebook had its strong defenders of the project, too, on the panel.

"To strangle this baby in the crib is wildly premature," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

In that vein, Marcus said Libra "is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure."

The planned digital currency is to be a blend of multiple currencies, so that its value will fluctuate in any given local currency. Because Libra will be backed by a reserve, and because the group of companies managing it will encourage a competitive system of exchanges, the project leaders say, "anyone with Libra has a high degree of assurance they can sell it for local (sovereign) currency based on an exchange rate."

Promising low fees, the new currency system could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users' data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.

To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won't have any special rights or privileges. It also created a "digital wallet" subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won't see financial data from it, the company says.

Senators demanded to know exactly what that separation will entail.

"Facebook isn't a company; it's a country," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Kennedy and other conservative senators took the occasion to air long-standing grievances against Facebook, Twitter and Google for a perceived bias against conservative views.

Facebook's currency proposal has also faced heavy skepticism from the Trump administration.

Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, "will have little standing or dependability." Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.

The Treasury Department has "very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers," Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. "This is indeed a national security issue."

Also Tuesday, across the Capitol in the House, the chairman of a Judiciary Committee panel investigating the market power of big tech companies said Congress and antitrust regulators wrongly allowed them to regulate themselves. That enabled companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to operate out of control, dominating the internet and choking off online innovation, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said at the start of a hearing.

"The internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship," he said.

As concerns have mounted over data privacy and market dominance of Big Tech, an increasing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for tighter regulation of customarily free-wheeling companies or even breaking them up. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are pursuing antitrust investigations of the four major companies.

Executives of the companies, testifying at the Judiciary hearing, pushed back against lawmakers' accusations that they operate as monopolies, laying out ways in which they say they compete fairly yet vigorously against rivals in the marketplace.

And Google executive Karan Bhatia, at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on online bias, insisted that the company's search engine does not filter on the basis of political views. "We surface the results that are most responsive," he said. "We don't use political (markers) to blacklist or whitelist."
 


US fears Iran seized UAE-based tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with a group of clerics, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A small oil tanker from the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz entered Iranian waters and turned off its tracker three days ago, leading the U.S. to suspect Iran seized the vessel amid heightened tensions in the region.

Iranian state media quoted its Foreign Ministry spokesman early Wednesday as saying the Islamic Republic had aided a foreign oil tanker with a malfunction, but the report didn't explain further. Oil tankers previously have been targeted in the wider region amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

The Panamanian-flagged Riah turned off its transponder late Saturday night but an Emirati official said it sent no distress call. The concern over its status comes as Iran continues its own high-pressure campaign over its nuclear program after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.

Recently, Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

However, those tensions also have seen the U.S. send thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone has added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.

The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE's west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE's east coast. However, something happened to the vessel after 11 p.m. on Saturday, according to tracking data.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn't switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE. "That is a red flag," Raja said.

A U.S. defense official later told the AP that the Riah was in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

"We certainly have suspicions that it was taken," the official said. "Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the matter did not directly involve U.S. interests.

An Emirati official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing security matter, said the vessel "did not emit a distress call."

"We are monitoring the situation with our international partners," the official said.

Iran's IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Iran had helped an unnamed tanker by towing it to an Iranian port, without elaborating. The report did not identify the ship, nor explain the malfunction and the lack of a distress call or any crew contact with home.

The ship's registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told the AP it had sold the ship to another company called Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the firm told the AP it didn't own any ships. The Emirati official said the ship was "neither UAE owned nor operated" and carried no Emirati personnel, without elaborating.

Separately Tuesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil. The vessel was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar over suspicion it was heading to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, an operation Khamenei called "piracy" in a televised speech.

"God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response," he said. He did not elaborate.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release of the ship if Iran can guarantee the vessel will not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Iran previously has threatened to stop oil tankers passing through the strait, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all crude oil passes, if it cannot sell its own oil abroad.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to suggest in a television interview that the Islamic Republic's ballistic missile program could be up for negotiations with the U.S., a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington. Zarif suggested an initially high price for such negotiations — the halt of American arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

Iran's ballistic missile program remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Khamenei.

Zarif brought up the ballistic missile suggestion during an interview with NBC News that aired Monday night while he is in New York for meetings at the United Nations. He mentioned the UAE spending $22 billion and Saudi Arabia spending $67 billion on weapons last year, many of them American-made, while Iran spent only $16 billion in comparison.

"These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode," Zarif said. "So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."

Iran's mission to the United Nations later called Zarif's suggestion "hypothetical."

"Iran's missiles ... are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period," the mission said.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seized on Zarif's comments in comments at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday at the White House as a sign the U.S. maximalist campaign against Iran was working.

"For the first time, the Iranians have said that they're prepared to negotiate about their missile program," he said. "So we will have this opportunity, I hope."

Trump during his time in the White House has pointed to arms sales to the Mideast as important to the American economy, so it remains unclear how he'd react to cutting into those purchases. In pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump in part blamed the accord not addressing Iran's ballistic missile program. The U.S. fears Iran could use its missile technology and space program to build nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, something Tehran denies it wants to do.

Ayham Kamel, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, said Zarif's comments were aimed at show flexibility for possible.

"I think there's probably some space before we get to any serious negotiation but several regional powers are already paving the way for some form of talks between the two sides," he said.


Hong Kong police fight with protesters amid rising tensions

A protester is tackled by policemen after a scuffle inside a shopping mall in Sha Tin District in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Dake Kang and Katie Tam

Hong Kong (AP) — Police in Hong Kong fought with protesters on Sunday as they broke up a demonstration by thousands of people demanding the resignation of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory's chief executive and an investigation into complaints of police violence.

The protest in the northern district of Sha Tin was peaceful for most of the day, but scuffles broke out when police started clearing streets after nightfall. Some protesters retreated into a shopping complex where they and police hit each other with clubs and umbrellas.

Police appeared to arrest some people, but reporters couldn't see how many. The violence wound down toward midnight as the remaining protesters left the area.

The demonstration added to an outpouring of grievances this year against the former British colony's leaders. Critics complain they are eroding Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy and are more responsive to the Beijing government than to the territory's people. The mainland promised Hong Kong a "high degree of autonomy" for 50 years after its 1997 return to China.

Police on Saturday broke up a protest in a separate area of Hong Kong complaining about an influx of mainland traders.

On Sunday, some protesters called for genuinely democratic voting in Hong Kong elections. A few demanded independence.

Organizers said 110,000 protesters took part, while police put the number at 28,000, according to broadcaster RTHK.

A government statement said the afternoon march was "peaceful and orderly" but that afterward some protesters "violently assaulted police officers."

"Society will absolutely not tolerate such violent acts," the statement said.

The protests began last month in opposition to a proposed extradition law but have swelled to include complaints about an influx of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong and that Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government fails to address the needs of its people.

Communist authorities have tried to discredit the protesters by saying unidentified "Western forces" are inciting them to destabilize Hong Kong. Protesters deny foreigners have had any role in the demonstrations.

On Sunday, protesters demanded an investigation into complaints that police assaulted participants in earlier demonstrations against the extradition law.

Starting at about 3 p.m., they filled three streets radiating out from an intersection in Sha Tin, a crowded neighborhood of office and apartment buildings, shopping malls and hotels. Some carried signs reading "Police Are Liars." Other signs read "Defend Hong Kong."

At about 8:30 p.m., police in green fatigues with helmets and shields cleared the streets by walking shoulder-to-shoulder toward the intersection. Some protesters threw bricks but most withdrew peacefully and watched the police.

Many protesters appeared to leave the area, while others entered the shopping-and-apartment complex at the intersection. Reporters couldn't see how many protesters still were in the area.

Inside the complex, protesters threw umbrellas — a symbol of the protests — and water bottles.

The violence wound down as most of the remaining protesters fled to an adjacent subway station and left aboard crowded trains.

Some protesters on Sunday carried American, British or colonial-era Hong Kong flags.

"I think there is now a huge problem on how the police enforce the law," said Nelson Yip, a protester in his 40s.

Lam's government suspended action last month on the extradition bill. It would have allowed Hong Kong crime suspects to be transferred to the mainland, where the ruling Communist Party controls the court system.

Lam apologized for her handling of the legislation, but critics are demanding she resign.

"Carrie Lam has been hiding," said Yip. "She has made many promises but she has not been able to fulfill them. There is no sign she is going to fulfill them."

On Saturday, police used clubs and tear gas to break up a crowd of mostly young protesters who called for tighter control on mainland traders who visit Hong Kong. Critics say they are improperly undercutting Hong Kong businesses.

"The police seem to have become even more violent," said Peggie Cheung, 59, who joined Sunday's protest. "Coming out on the streets feels like a responsibility to me."

In a separate demonstration earlier Sunday, a group representing Hong Kong journalists marched to Lam's office on Hong Kong Island to highlight complaints that police beat and obstructed reporters at earlier demonstrations.

"It seems that they have deliberately targeted the journalists," said Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

Police issued a statement promising better training for officers and communication with reporters.

"There is room for improvement," the statement said. It promised "appropriate follow up actions" for complaints of mistreatment.
 


Magnitude 7.3 quake damages homes in eastern Indonesia

Residents leave their homes to find higher grounds following an earthquake in Ternate, North Maluku, Indonesia, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (AP Photo)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — A strong, shallow earthquake struck eastern Indonesia on Sunday, damaging some homes and causing panicked residents to flee to temporary shelters. There were no immediate reports of casualties, and authorities said there was no threat of a tsunami.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.3 quake was centered 166 kilometers southeast of Ternate, the capital of North Maluku province, at a depth of just 10 kilometers. Shallow quakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones.

Indonesia's national disaster agency said the land-based earthquake didn't have any potential to cause a tsunami.

Still, many people ran to higher ground, and TV footage showed people screaming while running out of a shopping mall in Ternate.

Rahmat Triyono, the head of Indonesia's earthquake and tsunami center, said the quake was followed by several smaller aftershocks. The initial quake and aftershocks were also felt in some parts of North Sulawesi province, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage there.

Ikhsan Subur, a local disaster agency official in Labuha, the town closest to the quake's epicenter, said several hundred people who were afraid of aftershocks fled to take shelter in government offices and mosques.

He said a police dormitory and several houses of villagers in South Halmahera district, near the epicenter, were damaged.

The disaster agency released photos of some moderately cracked ground and a damaged house of a village police chief in South Halmahera.

No injuries were immediately reported, and authorities were assessing the overall damage.

With a population of around 1 million, North Maluku is one of Indonesia's least populous provinces.

Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location along the Pacific "Ring of Fire." A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

Last week, a magnitude 6.9 undersea earthquake caused panic in parts of eastern Indonesia and triggered a tsunami warning.


India aborts moon mission launch, citing technical glitch

 

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)'s Geosynchronous Satellite launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII, carrying Chandrayaan-2, stands at Satish Dhawan Space Center in southern India after the mission was aborted Monday, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Emily Schmall

Sriharikota, India (AP) — India aborted the launch on Monday of a spacecraft intended to land on the far side of the moon less than an hour before liftoff.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission was called off when a "technical snag" was observed in the 640-ton, 14-story rocket launcher, Indian Space Research Organization spokesman B.R. Guruprasad said.

The countdown abruptly stopped at T-56 minutes, 24 seconds, and Guruprasad said that the agency would announce a revised launch date soon.

Chandrayaan, the word for "moon craft" in Sanskrit, is designed for a soft landing on the lunar south pole and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.

With nuclear-armed India poised to become the world's fifth-largest economy, the ardently nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to show off the country's prowess in security and technology. If India did manage the soft landing, it would be only the fourth to do so after the U.S., Russia and China.

Dr. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said at a news conference last week that the around $140-million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation's most prestigious to date, in part because of the technical complexities of soft landing on the lunar surface — an event he described as "15 terrifying minutes."

After countdown commenced on Sunday, Sivan visited two Hindu shrines to pray for the mission's success.

Practically since its inception in 1962, India's space program has been criticized as inappropriate for an overpopulated, developing nation.

But decades of space research have allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping solve everyday problems at home, from forecasting fish migration to predicting storms and floods.

With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this month, the world's biggest space agencies are returning their gaze to the moon, seen as ideal testing grounds for technologies required for deep space exploration, and, with the confirmed discovery of water, as a possible pit stop along the way.

"The moon is sort of our backyard for training to go to Mars," said Adam Steltzner, NASA's chief engineer responsible for its 2020 mission to Mars.

Because of repeated delays, India missed the chance to achieve the first soft landing near the lunar south pole. China's Chang'e 4 mission landed a lander and rover there last January.

India's Chandrayaan-1 mission orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. The Indian Space Research Organization wants its new mission's rover to further probe the far side of the moon, where scientists believe a basin contains water-ice that could help humans do more than plant flags on future manned missions.

The U.S. is working to send a manned spacecraft to the moon's south pole by 2024.

Modi has set a deadline of 2022 for India's first manned spaceflight.


France trumpets shared European defense on Bastille Day

Tanks roll along the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, France, Sunday July 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Associated Press

Paris (AP) — France's annual Bastille Day celebration became a showcase for European defense cooperation Sunday as other national leaders joined President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to inspect the troops marching in the country's annual military parade.

Flags of the 10 European countries that are in a joint military pact spearheaded by Macron last year led contingents of French and foreign armed forces from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees avenue.

France has had a Bastille Day parade since 1880, and it's customary for a foreign leader to be the guest of honor. The guest of honor in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump, came away so impressed by the spectacle he ordered a military parade in Washington for America's independence day celebration.

In Paris, the focus this year was the European Defense Initiative, a coalition formed last year to prepare for possible military action outside of NATO.

The heads of state of Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and Finland watched from the ceremonial viewing stand as 4,000 military personnel, 69 military airplanes and 39 helicopters passed by or overhead.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the invitation to celebrate France's national holiday "is a symbol for an intensified European cooperation" and "a big gesture toward European defense policy."

The biggest crowd-pleaser, though, was the man who rocketed through the air on a flying hoverboard. The inventor, former jet-skiing champion Franky Zapata, held a rifle as he zoomed over the parade route on a Flyboard.

Tensions were high on the streets of Paris following eight months of anti-Macron demonstrations by the so-called yellow vest movement seeking more financial help for French workers.

Several hundred yellow vest activists — without their trademark fluorescent emergency jackets — gathered on the margins of the parade.

Television images showed police grabbing one of the movement's leaders, Eric Drouet, as he stood peacefully on the sidelines and escorting him away.

Later in the day, riot police squads and groups of young people scuffled amid security barricades along the parade route. Officers fired tear gas to clear the streets after some people set trash cans on fire.


Greece: Emergency declared after deadly storm hits resorts

A man rides a bicycle among debris after a storm at Nea Plagia village in Halkidiki region, northern Greece, Thursday, July 11, 2019.(Giannis Moisiadis/InTime News via AP) (Giannis Moisiadis/InTime News via AP)

Costas Kantouris

Thessaloniki, Greece (AP) — A state of emergency has been declared in an area of northern Greece after a violent storm tore through seaside resorts, killing six tourists. A fisherman, who had been missing, was also found dead Thursday taking the death toll to seven.

The widespread damage wrought by the storm has renewed calls from civil protection experts, environmental groups, and the country's Orthodox Church for a shift in policies to address the impact of climate change on Greece's coastline terrain.

Powerful gales late Wednesday hammered the Halkidiki peninsula snapping trees and power pylons, tossing vehicles and flinging beach lounge chairs into trees, leaving swathes of debris across the coastline.

Authorities said 22 people remain hospitalized, including a woman in critical condition, and more than 100 others received medical attention. Six of the dead were tourists: two each from Russia, the Czech Republic and Romania.

Two of those who died were killed when high winds overturned their recreational vehicle, while an 8-year-old boy and his mother were killed when an outdoor restaurant's lean-to roof collapsed. Another two were killed by falling trees.

The storm occurred nearly a year after a wildfire near Athens killed at least 100 people during a heatwave, and prompted concern over more frequent damaging weather events.

"From now on, these phenomena will occur with increasing frequency, especially in the Mediterranean area which is sensitive to climate change," Efthymis Lekkas, a professor at Athens University's Department of Geology and Geo-environment, who heads a public agency for earthquake and disaster planning, told state-run TV.

"We must definitely adapt our civil protection plans and incorporate updated scientific knowledge and know-how to deal with these phenomena."

The environmental group Greenpeace called in the government to abandon plans to expand offshore natural gas exploitation and invest in renewable alternatives.

"We know that increased temperatures produce more catastrophic weather events," said Nikos Charalambides, head of Greenpeace in Greece. "We only have a few years left to address our lack of response to climate change."

Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Ieronymos, criticized the "indiscriminate use of natural resources that burden the atmosphere and ultimately causes climate change."

The storm in Halkidiki was the first major event to be addressed by the country's new conservative government following a general election Sunday. The army was ordered to help civilian agencies restore power and running water to damaged areas and end road closures and disruptions to rail services.

The Culture Ministry said monasteries at the nearby Orthodox Christian monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos — the easternmost section of the three-finger Halkidiki peninsula — did not suffer any serious damage.


Britain says Iranian vessels tried to block tanker in Gulf

The British Navy said it intercepted an attempt on Thursday, July 11, 2019, by three Iranian paramilitary vessels to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel just days after Iran’s president warned of repercussions for the seizure of its own supertanker. (UK Ministry of Defence via AP)

Aya Batrawy and Amir Vahdat

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The British navy said Thursday it stopped three Iranian paramilitary vessels from disrupting the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz in a brief but tense standoff stemming from the U.K.'s role in seizing an Iranian supertanker a week earlier.

The incident highlights how fragile maritime security has become through one of the world's most vital energy supply routes as the Trump administration carries out a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.

Iran recently began breaching uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the accord a year ago. He also has re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran's oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.

Russia and China, both signatories to the nuclear agreement along with Britain, France and Germany, have called for restraint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz."

Iran's Revolutionary Guard denied any incident had occurred in the strait, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have done so immediately. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, had warned on Wednesday of repercussions for the seizure of the Iranian vessel by Britain's Royal Marines in Gibraltar, off the southern coast of Spain a week ago.

The U.K. said in a statement that the British naval vessel HMS Montrose had been accompanying the commercial ship, British Heritage, through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for energy shipments . It said three Iranian vessels attempted "to impede" the ship's passage.

"HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away," the statement said.

The HMS Montrose is on a three-year mission at the British navy's support facility in Bahrain, the hub of its naval operations east of the Suez Canal.

U.K. Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the government is concerned by the incident and urged Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation. She thanked the Royal Navy for upholding international law and supporting freedom of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz.

A U.S. aircraft was in the area at the time of the incident and the military has video imagery, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters. The U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain declined to comment on the incident.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said CENTCOM was aware of reports of "harassment and attempts to interfere with" the passage of the British Heritage near the Strait of Hormuz by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard's naval forces.

In recent months, the U.S. has sent thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region as tensions with Iran rise.

Washington has blamed Iran for a series of mysterious attacks on oil tankers in the region in the past two months — charges that Tehran denies. Tensions spiked further last month when Iran shot down an American military surveillance drone, which the U.S. says was in international airspace but Tehran says had violated Iranian airspace.

The regional waters where tensions have played out are of global importance. About 20% of all oil traded worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle Eastern producers. Iran has also used the shipping lanes for its own oil exports, but U.S. sanctions have curtailed Tehran's ability to sell its crude internationally.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asked Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in past weeks to contribute financially and militarily to a Trump administration proposal called the Sentinel Program — a coalition of nations working with the U.S. to preserve maritime security in the Persian Gulf and keep eyes on Iran.

Despite the latest incident, the overall threat level for non-British ships using the Strait of Hormuz has not changed significantly, said Jakob P. Larsen, head of maritime security for BIMCO, the largest international association representing ship owners.

"With what we've seen now I'm certain trade will continue in the region," he said from Denmark. "Of course ship owners will take their precautions, and for British interests those would probably be a little more comprehensive."

Maritime security risk firm Dryad Global described the British commercial vessel that had been at the center of the incident as an oil tanker operated by BP and registered in the Isle of Man. Lloyd's List, a publication specializing in maritime affairs, said Shell had chartered the ship from BP.

Lloyd's List said the vessel, the British Heritage, had diverted from its route to load its 140,000-ton cargo of crude at Basra, Iraq, as planned on July 4, the same day Iran's tanker was intercepted off Gibraltar, a British overseas territory. It said the vessel instead headed to Saudi waters where it had remained for several days.

Since July 2, at least 20 British-flagged ships have sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to Lloyd's List Intelligence data.

BP said the company's "top priority is the safety and security of our crews and vessels" and thanked the Royal Navy for its support. The British multinational oil and gas firm declined to comment further.

Shell stopped short of confirming reports it had chartered the tanker, but told The Associated Press in a statement that "safety is our top priority." A spokesman said the company was monitoring the situation closely and expects all vessels it charters to consider relevant Department for Transport guidance on shipping in the area.

The department had already raised its risk assessment to the highest level for maritime security in Iranian waterways, according to Lloyd's List.

The semi-official Fars news agency carried a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's navy on Thursday saying "there were no clashes with alien floats, especially British boats."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the British allegations as "worthless," saying the claims "are being made to create tension," Fars reported.

In recent days, Iran had summoned the British ambassador over what it called the "illegal interception" of its tanker. Rouhani had also warned that Britain would face "repercussions" over the seizure.

The operation to seize the tanker took place at the request of the U.S. Authorities in Gibraltar, assisted in the seizure by Britain's Royal Marines, suspect the vessel was breaching European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Iran has, meanwhile, begun breaching the limits of the nuclear deal, both on the stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the level of uranium enrichment. It also set an early September deadline for world powers to save the agreement, saying it would otherwise take a third step in going beyond the deal's limits.

Iran maintains it is justified in breaching the limitations because the U.S. already broke the deal with its unilateral withdrawal.


Danish mother seeks death for daughter's killers in Morocco

Security forces stand guard as suspects charged in connection with the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains, arrive to a trial session in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco, Thursday, July 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Amira el-Masaiti

Sale, Morocco (AP) — Nearly two dozen suspects returned to court on terrorism charges Thursday for the brutal slayings of two Scandinavian women hiking in the Atlas Mountains.

The three main suspects in the December killings of Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group. They recorded the slayings and posted the video online.

The two women were knifed to death in their tent in a remote area of the scenic Atlas range not far from the village of Imlil, often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak.

Neither of their families was present in the courtroom in Sale. A lawyer seeking compensation from the Moroccan state for the Danish victim's family read a letter from the mother asking the court to issue death sentences, which the prosecutor is seeking.

Lawyer Khalid Fataoui, on the verge of tears, also read passages in which the young woman's mother described how her life has been ruined by her daughter's death.

"I cry all the time when I think of her. My daughter and her (friend) Maren had dreams and were taken in the most terrible way," the letter said.

The trial is expected to wrap up with final defense statements and produce a verdict on July 18. The men charged as the main suspects, ages 25 to 30, have pleaded guilty and said they regret their actions.

Their state-appointed defense attorney, Havida Maksaoui, said ahead of Thursday's proceedings that she would plead for mitigating circumstances and ask the court to order psychological tests.

"My clients are victims of poverty and ignorance. They fell prey to evil," Maksaoui said in an interview. "Something is wrong with them mentally."

The prosecutor said in his closing arguments in June that he would seek death sentences for the three, calling them "human beasts" while noting the numerous stab wounds to their bodies.

Among the suspected accomplices, most arrested in the Marrakech region, are several imams as well as ex-convicts.

Only one suspected accomplice has pleaded innocent, a Swiss-Spanish convert to Islam, Kevin Zoller. Investigators allege he has links to men who orchestrated the women's killings and had direct contact with members of the Islamic State group in Syria via the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

His lawyer, Saad Sahli, maintained Zoller "does not have any relations with IS, either abroad or in Morocco."

Another Swiss man who had been among suspected accomplices was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison, convicted on charges including "deliberately helping perpetrators of terrorist acts" and training terrorists, the state-run news agency MAP said at the time.

More than 1,000 Moroccans had joined IS before its "caliphate" crumbled in Syria and Iraq. Between 2017 and 2018, Moroccan authorities dismantled 20 cells with terrorist affiliations.


No bones found in Vatican tombs searched for missing girl

This picture taken on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 shows the view of the Teutonic Cemetery inside the Vatican. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Frances D'Emilio

Vatican City (AP) — The tombs of two 19th-century German princesses were pried open at a tiny Holy See cemetery Thursday and turned out to be completely empty, dashing any expectations they held the remains of a teenager who vanished in 1983 after leaving her family's Vatican City apartment.

Emanuela Orlandi's disappearance is one of Italy's most enduring mysteries, and the opening of the tombs at her family's request was the latest search for possible leads to fail. Instead, the gravesite inspections raised only new questions: what happened to the remains of the two princesses who were buried in the side-by-side tombs in 1836 and 1840, respectively, in peaceful Teutonic Holy Field near St. Peter's Basilica?

"The tombs are empty. We are all amazed," Orlandi family lawyer Laura Sgro told reporters. It was Sgro who had received an anonymous letter suggesting the family check out the tomb in the cemetery where a stone angel holds a scroll reading in Latin "Rest in peace."

Witnessing the tomb's opening along with Sgro, and a technical expert for the Orlandi family was also Pietro Orlandi, whose 15-year-old sister disappeared after she went to her music lesson in Rome on June 22, 1983. The siblings' father worked as a messenger for the Vatican, and the family lived in Vatican City State.

The Vatican said in a statement that the opening of the tombs "yielded a negative outcome. No human remains nor funereal urns were found."

It said the inspection of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe's tomb turned up an underground chamber measuring roughly 4 by 3.7 meters (13 by 12 feet) that was "completely empty." Then the stone lid of an adjacent sarcophagus of Princess Charlotte Federica di Mecklenburg was removed and inside "no human remains were found," the Vatican said.

It added that relatives of the two princesses were informed that the tombs of their loved ones were empty.

A Holy See spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said the Vatican is combing through documentation about two structural projects that involved the cemetery area, one in the late 1800s, and the other between the 1960s and 1970s, in case that work might explain why the princesses' remains weren't there.

The Vatican had announced it had engaged a forensic anthropology expert, who is a professor of forensic medicine at a Rome university, to examine the remains and prepare them for DNA testing. But that arrangement proved premature when no remains were found.

Pietro Orlandi said that in a certain sense that no bones were found was "personally a relief," since it would have been upsetting to view remains that might have been those of his sister.

Speculation has swirled around Orlandi's fate for years. Conspiracy theories have abounded, including perhaps she was kidnapped as a part of a failed bid for the release of the Turkish gunman who shot and severely wounded Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in 1981.

Last year, two set of remains were found during renovations in the basement of a building on the grounds of the Vatican's embassy in Rome. Scientific testing ruled out that the remains were Orlandi's.


France to slap new 'ecotax' on plane tickets from 2020

In this May 17, 2019 file photo, Air France planes are parked on the tarmac at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, in Roissy, near Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Thomas Adamson and Frank Jordans

Paris (AP) — France will introduce a new charge on plane tickets from next year, with revenue used to fund environment-friendly alternatives, the country's transport minister said Tuesday.

The "ecotax" costing between 1.50 euros ($1.7) and 18 euros ($20) will apply to most flights departing in France, Elisabeth Borne said.

The only exceptions will be for domestic flights to Corsica and France's overseas territories, and connecting flights that pass through France. It will not apply to flights arriving in France.

Shares in Air France/KLM and budget airlines EasyJet and Ryanair dropped following the announcement.

Industry group IATA, which favors a system that allows airlines to offset their emissions by paying for carbon reduction efforts elsewhere, called the French ticket charge "misguided."

"National taxes will do nothing to assist the aviation industry in its sustainability efforts," IATA spokesman Anthony Concil said, warning that instead of helping airlines invest in cleaner fuels and technology it could end up harming the French aviation industry and jeopardize jobs.

But the move received a cautious welcome from environmental campaigners, who argue that the airline industry needs to curb its greenhouse gas emissions as part of wider efforts to combat climate change.

"This alone won't do much, but it's at least a recognition by the French government that more is required," said Andrew Murphy, an air travel expert at Brussels-based group Transport and Environment.

According to Borne, domestic and European flights will be taxed at 1.50 euros for economy tickets and 9 euros ($10) for business class, rising to 18 euros for business flights outside the EU.

By comparison, Britain's air passenger duty for standard passenger planes starts at 13 pounds ($16.20), rising to a maximum of 172 pounds ($214.20), and generates more than 3 billion pounds in Treasury revenue every year.

The French tax is expected to raise over 180 million euros ($200 million) from 2020 to invest in eco-friendly transport infrastructure, including rail. It comes on top of a similar ticket charge introduced over a decade ago by former French President Jacques Chirac, the proceeds of which go toward medical aid for poor countries.

Murphy said the French move could boost efforts to introduce a Europe-wide tax on aviation to reflect plane travel's environmental impact.

Germany, Italy and some Nordics nations also have ticket taxes. Several European countries are meanwhile pushing for the VAT exemption that airline fuel enjoys in Europe to be dropped.

Germany's Environment Ministry said Tuesday it supports discussions on additional CO2-based pricing systems for air travel to reduce the industry's contribution to man-made greenhouse gas emissions, currently estimated at more than 2% but forecast to grow significantly in coming decades.

"What's more, the conditions for competition between air, road and rail travel need to be made fairer," the ministry said in a statement. "This is something we in Europe need to achieve together."


UK envoy's leaked views inspire more insults in Trump tweets

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at Britain's ambassador to the United States for a second day, describing him as "wacky" and a "pompous fool" after leaked documents revealed the envoy's dim view of Trump's administration.

Trump fired off a series of tweets about Ambassador Kim Darroch hours after British Prime Minister Theresa May gave the veteran diplomat her continued support.

"The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy," Trump wrote in one tweet.

Darroch's forthright, unfiltered views on the U.S. administration — meant for a limited audience and discreet review — appeared in leaked diplomatic documents that were published in Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper.

The disclosures have caused embarrassment and an awkward situation for two countries that often celebrate having a "special relationship."

In his Twitter comments Tuesday, Trump combined criticism of Darroch with a broadside at May, chiding the British leader for failing to get her Brexit deal with the European Union through Parliament.

"I told @theresa_may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!" Trump tweeted. "I don't know the Ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool."

Darroch has served as Britain's envoy in Washington since 2016. In one of his leaked memos, he said that to communicate effectively with Trump, "you need to make your points simple, even blunt."

The published documents also included the ambassador calling the Trump administration's policies on Iran "incoherent," saying the U.S. president might be indebted to "dodgy Russians," and raising doubts about whether the Trump White House "will ever look competent."

Darroch has had a close relationship with numerous Trump administration officials. The president's advisers have been frequent guests at British Embassy events.

An investigation is underway to find who was responsible for leaking the memos, a major breach of diplomatic security.

May's spokesman said Tuesday that the prime minister phoned Darroch to tell him he still had her full support.

But the tweets by Trump, which followed a similar social media barrage on Monday, ratcheted up pressure on Britain's government. Darroch also has been accused by some Brexit-backing U.K. politicians of lacking enthusiasm for Britain's departure from the European Union.

The journalist who reported the leak, Isabel Oakeshott, is a strong Brexit backer and an ally of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who also is Britain's leading champion of Trump.

Trump once said Farage would "do a great job" as ambassador to the United States. Farage sidestepped the idea Monday, saying "I'm not a diplomat."

The tiff with Trump also put pressure on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two men vying to succeed May as Conservative leader and prime minister. Both say they will lead the U.K. out of the European Union and secure new trade deals around the world — notably with the United States.

Hunt, who is Britain's current foreign secretary, reprimanded Trump on Tuesday, writing in his own tweets that the president's comments about Darroch were "disrespectful and wrong."

During a televised debate Tuesday night, Hunt said "if I am our next prime minister, the ambassador in Washington stays, because it is our decision."

Johnson declined during the debate to make a similar commitment to keep Darroch in his post, though he said whoever leaked the diplomatic cables should be "eviscerated."

"I think it's very important we should have a close partnership, a close friendship with the United States," he said.

While British officials hunted for the culprit behind the leak, senior Conservative Party figure and former Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government was right to back Darroch.

"You can't change an ambassador at the demand of a host country," Hague told the BBC. "It is their job to give an honest assessment of what is happening in that country."


Indonesia returning 57 containers of developed world's waste

An Indonesian custom officer show off the front of a foreign newspaper among waste found in a container at the Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo)

Associated Press

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia is sending dozens of containers of waste back to wealthy nations after finding it was contaminated with used diapers, plastic and other materials, adding to a growing backlash in Southeast Asia against being a dumping ground for the developed world's rubbish.

The Directorate General of Customs said Tuesday that 49 containers at Batam port near Singapore will be returned to Australia, the U.S., France, Germany and Hong Kong after inspections showed their contents violated Indonesian laws on the import of hazardous and toxic waste.

Separately, the head of customs at East Java's Tanjung Perak port, Basuki Suryanto, said eight other containers with 210 tons of waste that arrived from Australia on June 20 were supposed to contain only paper but included other matter.

"It turned out those containers also had household waste, used cans, plastic bottles, used oil packaging, used electronics, used baby diapers and used footwear. So we decided to return it to the country of origin," he said.

China banned the import of plastic waste at the end of 2017, resulting in more being sent to developing Southeast Asian nations.

A study published in June last year in the journal Science Advances that used United Nations data found other nations would need to find a home for more than 110 million tons of plastic waste by 2030 because of the Chinese ban. Indonesia and China are themselves among the world's biggest producers of plastic waste, which is increasingly fouling their own land, seas and beaches.

Suryanto said the Indonesian-owned company that imported the Australian waste to the East Java port is obliged to return it to Australia within 90 days. No other sanctions were planned, he said.

Directorate General of Customs spokesman Deni Surjantiro said the 49 containers to be repatriated from Batam were among 65 containers of waste inspected at the port. Eleven were filled with plastic trash and 38 contaminated by toxic or otherwise hazardous waste, he said.

Importing hazardous waste into Indonesia is a criminal offense, Surjantiro said, with a maximum 12-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of 12 billion rupiah ($850,000).

The Philippines was recently involved in a high-profile spat with Canada over what Philippine officials said was illegally transported garbage and in May sent 69 containers back to Canada. Malaysia in May said it would send back some 3,000 tons of non-recyclable plastic waste to countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia

Philippine officials said the Canadian garbage was transported to their country in 103 containers in 2013 and 2014 and falsely declared as recyclable plastic scraps. Some of the garbage was disposed of, leaving 69 containers of electrical and household waste, including used diapers, rotting in two Philippine ports.


Canadian gets 9 years in prison in Nepal for abusing boys

In this Monday, July 8, 2019 photo, Canadian aid worker Peter Dalglish, center wearing red cap, is brought to appear before the Kavre District Court in Nepal. (AP Photo/ Janak Raj Sapkota)

Associated Press

Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) — A Canadian aid worker has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Nepal for sexually abusing two boys who were found at his home.

A judge issued the sentence Monday against Peter Dalglish, who was arrested last year and convicted last month of sexually abusing children.

He was issued separate sentences of nine years and seven years but they will overlap, so he will be in jail for nine years in total, Kavre District Court official Thakur Chandra Trital said Tuesday.

The judge also ordered Dalglish to pay 500,000 rupees ($4,500) each as compensation to the boys, who were then 12 and 14 years old.

Dalglish was arrested at his mountain villa in April 2018. He had denied the charges.

Dalglish helped found the charity Street Kids International and has worked for decades for a number of humanitarian agencies, including U.N. Habitat in Afghanistan and the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response in Liberia. He has focused much of the time on working children and street children.

Investigating officials had said Dalglish lured children from poor families with promises of an education, jobs and trips, and then sexually abused them.

Investigators followed Dalglish for weeks after they received information about alleged abuses.


Hong Kong protesters aim to take message to mainland Chinese

Protesters march in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Ken Moritsugu

Hong Kong (AP) — Thousands of people, many wearing black shirts and some carrying British flags, were marching in Hong Kong on Sunday, targeting a mainland Chinese audience as a month-old protest movement showed no signs of abating.

Chanting "Free Hong Kong" and words of encouragement to their fellow citizens, the demonstrators streamed through a shopping district popular with mainland visitors to the high-speed railway station that connects the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to Guangdong and other mainland cities.

Hong Kong has been riven by protests for the past month, sparked by proposed changes to extradition laws that would have allowed suspects to be sent to the mainland to face trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill and apologized for how it was handled, but protesters want it to be formally withdrawn and for Lam to resign.

March organizer Ventus Lau said the purpose of Sunday's protest was two-fold: to reiterate the protesters' demands to the government and to give mainland visitors a firsthand look at their movement.

"The information is rather blocked in mainland, we want to show them the true image and the message of Hong Kongers," he said.

The march was the first major protest since last Monday, when protesters smashed thick glass walls to break into the city's legislature building and wreaked havoc inside, spray painting slogans on the walls, overturning furniture and damaging voting and fire prevention systems.

Most of the marchers were young, wearing black shirts that have become the uniform of the protesters. But the crowd also included older people carrying hand-held fans in the muggy heat, as well as parents with children, including some in baby strollers.

Many were carrying posters, including one that read "Extradite to China, disappear forever." Some in the crowd were waving British flags.

The proposed extradition legislation has raised concerns about an erosion of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong in recent years. The city was allowed to keep its own legal system for 50 years after Britain returned the then-colony to China in 1997, but many fear that freedom of expression and other rights are under threat.

Prior to the start of the march, police put up large barricades blocking a main entrance to the railway station to prevent any attempt to enter it. Only passengers with train reservations would be allowed into the station, the mass transit authority said, and Hong Kong media reported that ticket sales had been suspended for afternoon trains.

The high-speed railway station, which opened last September, was a source of contention, as passengers pass through Chinese immigration and customs inside. Some opposition lawmakers said the fact that Chinese law applies in the immigration area violates the agreement giving Hong Kong its own legal system.

The July 1 break-in at the legislature overshadowed a peaceful march the same day by hundreds of thousands of people also opposed to the extradition legislation.

Protesters also are demanding an independent investigation into a crackdown on demonstrations June 12 in which officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds blocking major city streets. The tactics used were harsher than usual for Hong Kong, which police have said were justified after some protesters turned violent. Dozens were injured in the clashes, both protesters and police.

The protesters are also calling for direct election of Hong Kong's leader. Lam was chosen by an elite committee of mainly pro-Beijing electors.


Iran steps further from nuke deal, adding pressure on Europe

From left to right, spokesman for Iran's atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, attend a press briefing in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Jon Gambrell and Nasser Karimi

Tehran, Iran (AP) — Iran increased its uranium enrichment Sunday beyond the limit allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, inching its program closer toward weapons-grade levels while calling for a diplomatic solution to a crisis heightening tensions with the U.S.

Iran's move, coupled with earlier abandoning the deal's limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile, intensifies pressure on Europe to find any effective way around U.S. sanctions that block Tehran's oil sales abroad.

But the future of the accord that President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. from a year ago remains in question. While Iran's recent measures could be easily reversed, Europe has struggled to respond, even after getting a 60-day warning that the increase was coming.

Meanwhile, experts fear a miscalculation in the crisis could explode into open conflict, as Trump already has nearly bombed Iran over Tehran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

Trump warned Tehran on Sunday that "Iran better be careful." He didn't elaborate on what actions the U.S. might consider, but Trump told reporters: "Iran's doing a lot of bad things."

International reaction to Iran's decision came swiftly, with Britain warning Iran to "immediately stop and reverse all activities" violating the deal, Germany saying it is "extremely concerned," and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime critic of the accord, urging world powers to impose so-called "snapback sanctions" on Tehran.

The European Union said parties to the deal are discussing a possible emergency meeting after Iran's announcement, with EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic saying the bloc is "extremely concerned" about the move.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: "Iran's latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions. Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran's nuclear program. Iran's regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world."

At a news conference, Iranian officials said the new level of uranium enrichment would be reached later in the day, but did not provide the percentage they planned to hit. Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment was set at 3.67%, a percentage closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

"Within hours, the technical tasks will be done and enrichment above 3.67% will begin," Iran nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. "We predict that the IAEA measurements early tomorrow morning will show that we have gone beyond 3.67%."

The IAEA said it was aware of Iran's comments and "inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development."

Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made remarks in a video Saturday about Iran's need for 5% enrichment. Bushehr, Iran's only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that's enriched to around 5%.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini outlining the steps it had taken, said Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister. Discussions with European powers are continuing and ministerial-level talks are planned later this month, he said.

"We will give another 60-day period, and then we will resume the reduction of our commitments," Araghchi said, without elaborating.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in a phone call that he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume the dialogue between Iran and Western partners. It wasn't clear if July 15 carried any importance. The U.S. has called for a special IAEA meeting for Wednesday to discuss Iran.

Kamalvandi stressed that Iran will continue to use only slower, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to increase enrichment, as well as keep the number of centrifuges in use under the 5,060-limit set by the nuclear deal. Iran has the technical ability to build and operate advanced centrifuges that work faster but is barred from doing so under the deal.

"For the enrichment we are using the same machines with some more pressure and some special technical work," he said. "So we don't have an increase in the number of centrifuges for this purpose."

But Kamalvandi stressed that Iran is able to continue enrichment "at any speed, any amount and any level."

Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal's 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.

The steps taken so far by Iran show it is more interested in applying political pressure than moving toward a nuclear weapon, said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association. He said Iran would need at least 1,050 kilograms (2,315 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to make the core of a single nuclear bomb, then would have to enrich it to 90%.

"Iran is not racing toward the bomb as some allege but these are calibrated moves," Kimball told The Associated Press. However, "if Iran and the United States remain on the current course, the agreement is indeed in jeopardy."

Netanyahu urged the international community to punish Iran for its decision.

"It is a very, very dangerous step," he said. "I'm asking you, not to provoke but out of joint knowledge of history and what happens when aggressive totalitarian regimes can cross the threshold toward things that are very dangerous to us all. Take the steps that you promised. Enact the sanctions."

However, Kimball cautioned against that.

"Iran is clearly not going to enter negotiations for a new deal if these sanctions are in place," he said. "This is a self-made, Trump administration crisis because it has been taking drastic measures to dismantle the (deal) without a viable Plan B."


3 runners gored racing with bulls at Pamplona's festival

Revellers run next to fighting bulls during the running of the bulls at the San Fermin Festival, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Álvaro Barrientos and Aritz Parra

Pamplona, Spain (AP) — Five people were hospitalized after the opening bull run of this year's San Fermin festival in Pamplona, including two Americans and a Spaniard who were gored by bulls, officials in the northern Spanish city said Sunday.

A 46-year old man from San Francisco, California, was gored in the neck in the city's bullring, at the end of the 850-meter (930-yard) course. He was undergoing surgery, the regional government reported.

A 23-year old man from Florence, Kentucky and a 40-year-old Spanish man were both gored in their thighs. Two young Spanish men sustained head injuries.

The nine-day San Fermin fiesta, where six bulls are run every morning in the city's narrow streets before being killed in afternoon bullfights, draws around one million visitors annually, including many citizens from the United States. Every year hundreds of "runners" race ahead of or next to the bulls, while the more risk-averse watch from balconies.

Some arrive following in the steps of American novelist and Nobel literature laureate Ernest Hemingway, who became fascinated by bullfighting and immortalized the festival in his 1926 book "The Sun Also Rises."

Sunday morning's inaugural run featured bulls from the Puerto de San Lorenzo cattle breeder, which also caused one goring last year.

The pack dashed together along the cobble-stoned, barricaded street course. Toward the end, one of the bulls stumbled briefly, causing panic and at least one goring when it resumed the race and charged at some of the racers.

The local Red Cross said its emergency personnel had attended to an additional 48 people for minor injuries, including two who had been trampled by the racing bulls.

The run, which lasted 2 minutes and 41 seconds, came after the festival's official opening — or "Chupinazo" — on Friday, when tens of thousands of party-goers shower each other with wine and champagne in a packed square.

The annual festival also includes music performances, traditional sports and dance displays, a religious procession on Sunday to honor the local patron, a firework competition and endless partying.


US bomb from WWII defused in Germany after mass evacuation

A woman stands with her suitcase near the European Central Bank as 16 000 people are evacuated prior to the defusing of a WWII bomb in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, July 7, 2019. The bomb was discovered during construction works right next to the ECB. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Associated Press

Frankfurt, Germany (AP) — A 500-kilo (1,100-pound) World War II bomb was defused near the Frankfurt headquarters of the European Central Bank hours after thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding district Sunday.

City officials called on about 16,500 people to leave their homes in the Ostend area east of downtown Frankfurt on Sunday morning before emergency workers tackled the American bomb, which was found during construction work last month.

Authorities had already moved some people out of a nursing home on Saturday.

More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are frequently found in Germany. Disposing of them sometimes entails large-scale precautionary evacuations such as the one on Sunday.

The defusing operation was completed by mid-afternoon, according to the city's fire service, about two hours after police verified that no one was left in the area.

Officials chose Sunday to defuse the bomb to allow preparation and to minimize disruption in Frankfurt, Germany's financial center.


California towns survey quake damage amid more aftershocks

Kern County firefighters work to knock down a fire that severely damaged a home on South Sunland Street in Ridgecrest, Calif., following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that shook the region about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles. (Jack Barnwell/The Daily Independent via AP)

John Antczak and Brady McCombs

Los Angeles (AP) — Communities in the Mojave Desert tallied damage and made emergency repairs to cracked roads and broken pipes Friday as aftershocks from Southern California's largest earthquake in 20 years kept rumbling.

The town of Ridgecrest, close to the epicenter, assessed damage after several fires and multiple injuries that were blamed on the magnitude 6.4 quake. A shelter drew 28 people overnight but not all of them slept inside amid the shaking.

"Some people slept outside in tents because they were so nervous," said Marium Mohiuddin of the American Red Cross.

Damage appeared limited to desert areas, although the quake was felt widely, including in the Los Angeles region 150 miles (240 kilometers) away. The largest aftershock thus far — magnitude 5.4 — was also felt in LA before dawn Friday.

The odds of a quake of similar size happening in the next few days continued to dwindle and was only 6 percent on Friday, seismologists said.

There had been about 1,700 aftershocks since the Thursday quake, which was a bit higher than average, said Zachary Ross of the California Institute of Technology.

"An event of this size is going to keep producing aftershocks for years but the rates are going to decay with time," Ross said.

The quake involved two perpendicular faults in the area but it was unlikely to affect any fault lines away from the immediate area, seismologists said.

Damage in the town of Ridgecrest was relatively light because the city is relatively young, with growth coming in the 1940s and later so many buildings met upgraded building codes, said Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital remained closed as state inspectors assessed it, spokeswoman Jayde Glenn said. The hospital's own review found no structural damage, but there were cracks in walls, broken water pipes and water damage.

The hospital was prepared to help women in labor and to give triage care to emergency patients. Fifteen patients were evacuated to other hospitals after the quake, Glenn said.

The quake did not appear to have caused major damage to roads and bridges in the area, but it did open three cracks across a short stretch of State Route 178 near the tiny town of Trona, said California Department of Transportation district spokeswoman Christine Knadler.

Those cracks were temporarily sealed, but engineers were investigating whether the two-lane highway was damaged beneath the cracks, Knadler said. Bridges in the area were also being checked.

The Ridgecrest library was closed as volunteers and staff picked up hundreds of books that fell off shelves. The building's cinderblock walls also had some cracks, said Charissa Wagner, library branch supervisor.

Wagner was at her home in the small city of 29,000 people when a small foreshock hit, followed by the large one, putting her and her 11-year-old daughter on edge.

"The little one was like, 'Oh what just happened.' The big one came later and that was scarier," she said.

The earthquake knocked over a boulder that sat atop one of the rock spires at Trona Pinnacles outside of Ridgecrest, a collection of towering rock formations that has been featured in commercials and films, said Martha Maciel, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman in California.

Meanwhile, the nation's second-largest city revealed plans to lower slightly the threshold for public alerts from its earthquake early warning app. But officials said the change was in the works before the quake, which gave scientists at the California Institute of Technology's seismology lab 48 seconds of warning but did not trigger a public notification.

"Our goal is to alert people who might experience potentially damaging shaking, not just feel the shaking," said Robert de Groot, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey's ShakeAlert system, which is being developed for California, Oregon and Washington.

The West Coast ShakeAlert system has provided non-public earthquake notifications on a daily basis to many test users, including emergency agencies, industries, transportation systems and schools.

Late last year, the city of Los Angeles released a mobile app intended to provide ShakeAlert warnings for users within Los Angeles County.

The trigger threshold for LA's app required a magnitude 5 or greater and an estimate of level 4 on the separate Modified Mercali Intensity scale, the level at which there is potentially damaging shaking.

Although Thursday's quake was well above magnitude 5, the expected shaking for the Los Angeles area was level 3, de Groot said.

A revision of the magnitude threshold down to 4.5 was already underway, but the shaking intensity level would remain at 4. The rationale is to avoid numerous ShakeAlerts for small earthquakes that do not affect people.

"If people get saturated with these messages, it's going to make people not care as much," he said.

Construction of a network of seismic-monitoring stations for the West Coast is just over half complete, with most coverage in Southern California, San Francisco Bay Area and the Seattle-Tacoma area. Eventually, the system will send out alerts over the same system used for Amber Alerts to defined areas that are expected to be affected by a quake, de Groot said.

California is partnering with the federal government to build the statewide earthquake warning system, with the goal of turning it on by June 2021. The state has already spent at least $25 million building it, including installing hundreds of seismic stations throughout the state.

This year, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state needed $16.3 million to finish the project, which included money for stations to monitor seismic activity, plus nearly $7 million for "outreach and education." The state Legislature approved the funding last month, and Newsom signed it into law.


Sri Lanka's top court stays executions until Oct. 30

 

In this Tuesday, May 7, 2019 file photo, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Bharatha Mallawarachi

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on Friday issued a temporary injunction against the execution of four people, a week after the country's president announced he would end the country's 43-year moratorium on the death penalty.

The court issued the injunction until Oct. 30 in response to a petition filed by a convict on death row against the move by President Maithripala Sirisena to execute the four people convicted of drug offenses. The Supreme Court will take up the case again on Oct. 29.

Sirisena announced last week that he has signed death warrants for the four amid alarm over drug-related crime in the country.

He said the dates of the executions have been decided, but they have not yet been announced.

Sirisena has said narcotic drugs have become a menace with 300,000 addicts across the island nation, which authorities say is being used by dealers as a transit hub. He said 60% of the country's 24,000 inmates were jailed for drug-related offenses. Sri Lanka's prisons were built to accommodate 11,000 people.

Drug trafficking is a capital offense, but no prisoners have been executed since 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses.

In April, police publicly destroyed 770 kilograms (1,695 pounds) of drugs seized in 2016 and 2017. Police have seized 731 kilograms (1,608 pounds) of heroin, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine and 1,607 kilograms (3,535 pounds) of marijuana so far this year.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Sri Lanka, followed by heroin and cocaine. Drug-related arrests rose 2% in 2017 from the previous year to 81,156.

Last week, prison authorities recruited two new hangmen to carry out the execution orders after the two previous hangmen quit — in 2014 and last year — without executing anyone.

Sirisena's move is facing mounting criticism from rights groups and foreign governments, including the European Union.

Sirisena, who visited the Philippines in January, praised President Rodrigo Duterte's harsh crackdown on illegal drugs as "an example to the world." Thousands of suspects, mostly urban poor, have been slain since Duterte took office in 2016. Rights groups have denounced what they say are extrajudicial killings. Police say most of the suspects were killed in encounters with officers.

Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, a religion that advocates non-violence. Sirisena has said the country has had positive influences from all religions, but tough law enforcement is necessary to curb crime and maintain order.


'Wolf of Wall Street' producer charged in Malaysian scandal

Riza Aziz, right, stepson of Malaysian former Prime Minister Najib Razak, walks into a court room at Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, July 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Associated Press

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — "The Wolf of Wall Street" producer and stepson of Malaysia's former prime minister pleaded not guilty on Friday to laundering $248 million from a state investment fund, becoming the third person in his family charged in the 1MDB scandal that helped end Najib Razak's government last year.

Riza Aziz was solemn as he appeared in court to be charged with receiving the illicit funds between 2011 and 2012 in the U.S. and Singapore.

The charge sheets said the money was misappropriated from 1MDB and channeled into bank accounts of Riza's company Red Granite Pictures Inc., which produced films including the Martin Scorsese-directed film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The 2013 film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.

The money was transferred from Swiss bank accounts of two companies U.S. investigators identified as being linked to 1MDB into Red Granite's accounts in the United States and Singapore, according to the charge sheets describing the evidence.

Riza, 42, was released on bail. He was charged with five counts of money laundering and could face up to five years in prison, a fine or both, on each count if he is convicted.

Najib set up the 1MDB fund to finance development in Malaysia when he took office in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and U.S. investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib's associates.

Public anger over the alleged corruption contributed to the shocking election defeat of Najib's long-ruling coalition in May 2018, and the new government reopened investigations that had been stifled while Najib was in office.

Najib is currently on trial for alleged criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering linked to 1MDB. He denies the charges. His wife and Riza's mother, Rosmah Mansor, also has pleaded not guilty to money laundering and tax evasion related to 1MDB but her trial date has not been set.

Riza's arraignment came a year after he was questioned by Malaysia's anti-graft agency. U.S. investigators say Red Granite used money stolen from 1MDB to finance Hollywood films. Red Granite has paid the U.S. government $60 million to settle claims it benefited from the 1MDB scandal, and the U.S. returned the money to Malaysia.

Riza's sister, Nooryana Najwa, has slammed the legal action against her brother.

"Despite the settlement in the U.S. and the fact that alleged wrongdoings occurred entirely outside of Malaysia, the MACC decides to press charges after a whole year of leaving this case in cold storage. He is not a criminal," she wrote on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of her with Riza taken before his arrest.


Japanese collector returns ancient artifacts to Cambodia

A sword, foreground, is on display together with other artifacts before the handover ceremony at the National Museum, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, July 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Millennium-old Cambodian artifacts displayed in a Japanese collector's home for two decades have been returned to the Southeast Asian country's National Museum.

The 85 artifacts are mostly small bronze items and include statues of Buddha and the Hindu god Shiva, plus jars, ceramics and jewelry. Cambodia's Culture Ministry says some items were older than the Angkor era, which began about 800 A.D. Others date from the Angkor era or just after it ended in the late 14th century.

Cambodia has made intense efforts to recover artifacts looted during its civil war in the 1970s.

At an official reception for the artifacts Friday, Prak Sonnara, secretary of state for the Culture and Fine Art Ministry, praised the Japanese collector for voluntarily returning the artifacts. He said her actions set a good sample for other countries and collectors to follow.

The collector, Fumiko Takakuwa, told reporters after the handover ceremony that she and her husband had bought the items in Japan and liked to collect and display them in their home. But she knew they were originally from Cambodia and that is why she returned them.

"My husband has said before he passed away that those artifacts have to be returned back to Cambodia, and today I am happy that I did," Takakuwa said.

Prak Sonnara said the 85 items were believed to have been stolen from Cambodia's temples during the war, when intense looting occurred and valuables were smuggled through neighboring Thailand.

A 1993 Cambodian law prohibited the removal of cultural artifacts without government permission. The law strongly compels owners of items taken abroad after that date to return them. But there is also general agreement in the art world that pieces were acquired illegitimately if they were exported without clear and valid documentation after 1970 — the year of a United Nations cultural agreement targeting trafficking in antiquities.

In 2014, three 1,000-year-old statues depicting Hindu mythology were welcomed home to Cambodia after being looted from a temple and put in Western art collections.

Also in 2013, two 10th century Cambodian stone statues displayed for nearly two decades at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art were returned to their homeland in a high-profile case of allegedly looted artifacts.


Riot police clear away protests from Hong Kong legislature

Police officers with protective gear retake the meeting hall of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, during the early hours of Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Ken Moritsugu

Hong Kong (AP) — Hundreds of protesters swarmed into Hong Kong's legislature Monday night, defacing portraits of lawmakers and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the chamber before vacating it as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas and then moved inside.

The three-hour occupation, which ended early Tuesday, came on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, a city holiday, and reflected mounting frustration with Hong Kong's leader for not responding to protesters' demands after several weeks of demonstrations. The protests were sparked by a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China for trial.

Protesters whacked away at thick glass windows until they shattered and then pried open steel security gates. Police initially retreated as the protesters entered, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.

Demonstrators stood on lawmakers' desks and painted over the territory's emblem on a wall. The crowd also wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city's leader and denouncing the extradition legislation. Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.

Police then announced that they would soon move in. A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that "appropriate force" would be used. Officers approached shortly after midnight and entered the legislative chambers after protesters had already left. There was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.

The actions prompted organizers of a separate peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the endpoint of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to call it off or change the route. Police wanted the march to end earlier in the Wan Chai district, but organizers said that would leave out many people who planned to join the march along the way.

Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organizers estimated the number at 550,000.

The extradition proposal has heightened fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1, 1997. Debate on the measure has been suspended indefinitely. Protesters want the bills formally withdrawn and Hong Kong's embattled leader, Carrie Lam, to resign.

Lam, who has come under withering criticism for trying to push the legislation through, called a rare pre-dawn news conference with security officials at police headquarters. She noted that two different protests happened Monday — one a generally orderly march that reflected Hong Kong's inclusiveness, the other using vandalism and violence.

"This is something we should seriously condemn," she said.

She disputed protesters' complaints that officials had not responded to them, saying the government explained that by suspending the bill with no timetable or plan to revisit it, the legislation would die at the end of the current legislative session in July 2020.

For the other demands, she said releasing arrested protesters without an investigation would not uphold the rule of law.

Lam's first public comments came Monday at the handover anniversary ceremony, where she said the protests had taught her that she needs to listen better to young people and others. She insisted her government has good intentions and pledged that future work would be "closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community."

Mainland China's entirely state-controlled media made no mention of Monday's protests. The main evening news broadcast carried video of the flag-raising ceremony, along with parts of Lam's address and shots of Hong Kong residents praising displays put on by the People's Liberation Army garrison in the territory.

Chinese media outlets have barely reported on the protests since they began last month, other than to blame foreign forces for stirring up unrest.

The extradition bill controversy has given fresh momentum to Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition movement, awakening broader concerns that China is chipping away at the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong for 50 years under a "one country, two systems" framework. The two marches in June drew more than a million people, according to organizer estimates.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the pro-democracy group that organized Monday's march, told the crowd that Lam had not responded to their demands because she is not democratically elected. The leader of Hong Kong is chosen by a committee dominated by pro-China elites.

"We know that Carrie Lam can be so arrogant," Sham said, rallying the crowd under a blazing sun before the start of the march at Victoria Park. "She is protected by our flawed system."

The protesters are also demanding an independent inquiry into police actions during a June 12 protest, when officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration that blocked the legislature on the day that debate on the bill had been scheduled to resume.

The police say the use of force was justified, but since then have largely adopted softer tactics, even as protesters besieged police headquarters in recent days, pelting it with eggs and spray-painting slogans on its outer walls.

The area around Golden Bauhinia Square, where the flag-raising ceremony took place, was blocked off from Saturday to prevent protesters from gathering to disrupt it. Before the morning ceremony, protesters trying to force their way to the square were driven back by officers with plastic shields and batons, the retreating protesters pointing open umbrellas to ward off pepper spray.

The extradition legislation has also drawn opposition from the legal profession, commercial groups and foreign nations, reflecting Hong Kong's status as an international business center with a strong independent judiciary and high degree of transparency.

During a brief visit to Mongolia on Monday, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Washington expects "China like every other country to adhere to its international obligations" regarding Hong Kong.

China rejects all such statements as foreign interference. In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing that "Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to intervene."


Iran breaches uranium stockpile limit set by nuclear deal

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark "National Nuclear Day," in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Jon Gambrell and Amir Vahdat

Tehran, Iran (AP) — Iran has broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, international inspectors and Tehran said Monday, marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

The announcement by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and later confirmation by the U.N. nuclear watchdog puts new pressure on European nations trying to save the deal amid President Donald Trump's maximalist campaign targeting Tehran. Iran separately threatened to raise its uranium enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels on July 7 if Europe fails to offer it a new deal.

It also further heightens tensions across the wider Middle East in the wake of Iran recently shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone, mysterious attacks on oil tankers that America and the Israelis blame on Tehran, and bomb-laden drone assaults by Yemen's Iranian-backed rebels targeting Saudi Arabia. Those rebels claimed a new attack late Monday on Saudi Arabia's Abha airport that the kingdom said wounded nine people, including one Indian.

The European Union urged Iran to reverse course and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the action "a significant step toward making a nuclear weapon." Iran long has insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, despite Western fears about it.

At the White House, Trump told reporters Iran was "playing with fire," and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the international community to require Iran to suspend all enrichment, even at levels allowed under the nuclear deal.

"The Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the region and to the world," Pompeo said in a statement.

Though Trump pulled back from airstrikes targeting Iran after the U.S. drone was shot down, Washington has rushed an aircraft carrier strike group, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and thousands of additional troops to the region. That's raised fears that a miscalculation or further incidents could push the two sides into an armed conflict, some 40 years after the Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Speaking to journalists in Tehran, Zarif acknowledged Iran that broken through the limit set by the accord.

"We had previously announced this and we have said it transparently what we are going to do," Zarif said. "We are going to act according to what we have announced and we consider it our right reserved in the nuclear deal."

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, later said its director general had informed officials that it verified Iran had broken through the limit.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Previously, Iran enriched as high as 20%, which is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels. It also held up to 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of the higher-enriched uranium.

Neither Zarif nor the U.N. agency said how much uranium Iran now had on hand. Last week, an Iranian official in Vienna said that Tehran was 2.8 kilograms away from the limit. Iran previously announced it had quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium, which at under 3.67% is enough to power a nuclear reactor to create electricity, but is far below weapons-grade levels.

However, Iran could have chosen to mix the low-enriched uranium with raw uranium, diluting it and bringing it down under the cap. Pushing past the limit served as a notice to Europe, Zarif said.

The "actions of the Europeans have not been enough so the Islamic Republic will move ahead with its plans as it has previously announced," Zarif said. "We are in the process of doing our first phase of actions both on increasing our stockpile of enriched uranium as well as our heavy water reserves."

Breaking the stockpile limit by itself doesn't radically change the one year that experts say Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, if it chooses to pursue one.

But by coupling an increasing stockpile with higher enrichment, it begins to close that one-year window and hamper any diplomatic efforts at saving the accord.

At the time of the 2015 deal, which was agreed to by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, experts believed Iran needed anywhere from several weeks to three months to have enough material for a bomb.

Zarif stressed the country remained on track to raise its enrichment if Europe did not take any additional steps toward saving the accord.

"The next step is about the 3.67% limitation, which we will implement too," he warned.

Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump withdrew America from the pact a year ago, the U.S. has re-imposed previous sanctions and added new ones, as well as warning other nations they would be subject to sanctions as well if they import Iranian oil.

Amid the tensions, Yemen's Houthi rebels have launched repeated drone attacks on Saudi Arabia as the kingdom's long war in the country continues. The Houthi's satellite news channel Al-Masirah claimed a new attack on Abha regional airport late Monday, which Saudi Arabia said wounded eight Saudis and one Indian. Earlier attacks on the airport have killed one person and wounded dozens more.

Trump discussed the situation by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron, the White House said.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc urged Iran "to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal," known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic underlined that Europe "remains fully committed to the agreement as long as Iran continues to fully implement its nuclear commitments."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "deeply worried" by Iran's announcement. In a tweet, he urged Tehran "to avoid any further steps away from JCPoA & come back into compliance."

As Netanyahu said Iran's move was a "significant step toward making a nuclear weapon," he urged European countries to "stand by your commitments" to impose sanctions against Tehran if it violated the agreement.

"The policy changed from 'wait out Trump' to 'hit back at Trump.' That's a big deal," said Cliff Kupchan, a chairman at the Eurasia Group and longtime Iran watcher. "I don't think either side wants war, but both sides do want leverage. We're in for a rough ride."

In Moscow, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov noted that Iran had warned it was going to exceed the limit set by the deal and emphasized that Tehran's move followed "unthinkable" U.S. pressure.

"It didn't come as a surprise, Iran long has warned about it," Ryabkov said.

"Exceeding the 300-kilogram limit causes regret, but shouldn't be overdramatized. It must be seen as a natural result of the preceding events," Ryabkov said. "Iran has faced an unprecedented and unthinkable U.S. sanction pressure, effectively meaning a total oil embargo, an attempt to strangle a sovereign state."


Italian judge to rule on defiant migrant rescue ship captain

 

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete is seen on board the vessel at sea in the Mediterranean, just off the coasts of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (ANSA/Matteo Guidelli via AP)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — The German captain who defied Italian authorities and rammed her migrant rescue ship into a border police motorboat while docking remained under house arrest after questioning Monday before a judge in Sicily who will decide if she can regain her liberty.

Sea-Watch, the German humanitarian group that operates the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, said in a tweet that the judge will announce her ruling on Tuesday.

Captain Carola Rackete's closed-door hearing before Judge Alessandra Vella in Agrigento, Sicily, lasted about three hours.

Rackete has become a kind of cause celebre for some in her homeland for defying Italy's anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has vowed not to let any charity rescue boat disembark migrants on Italian shores. Salvini contends such rescues essentially help human traffickers who launch unseaworthy boats, crowded with migrants, from Libyan shores.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation against Rackete for allegedly resisting a war ship and using violence against it, a reference to the damaged boat of the border police, which is considered as a military force under Italian law. If charged and convicted, Rackete risks up to 10 years in prison.

The five officers aboard the police motorboat blocking her path to port on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa off Sicily in the early hours of Saturday escaped injury but the side of their boat was damaged when the much larger rescue boat plowed into it.

Going into the hearing, one of her lawyers, Leonardo Marino, said the 31-year-old captain would answer all questions.

"Ms. Rackete acted out of a state of necessity and didn't have any intention of using violence," Marino said.

The lawyer was echoing a contention made by Rackete herself in the last hours at the helm of Sea-Watch-3 that the migrants were in a desperate condition after 17 days at sea since leaving Libya in an unseaworthy traffickers' vessel.

But Agrigento Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio told reporters after the hearing he disputed that contention in court.

"There was no such state of need," Patronaggio said he had argued before the judge.

The prosecutor said he also argued that the Sea-Watch 3's maneuver in docking was done deliberately.

On Saturday, shortly after Sea-Watch 3 docked at Lampedusa, Salvini said he ordered the captain's arrest as well as the sequestering of the vessel once the migrants had stepped ashore.

After Monday's hearing ended, Salvini said that however it goes, "we are always ready to expel the rich German outlaw," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying.

Between donations by supporters of Rackete's efforts, both in Italy and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) have rolled in for her legal defense and to help pay a fine of as much as 50,000 euros ($56,000), which would also apply to the ship's owner, according to Italian law.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters Monday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked him about Rackete at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels. He said he replied that her fate was in the hands of the Italian justice system. A day earlier, Germany's president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier had questioned Italy's handling of the situation.


Hindu pilgrimage begins amid high security in Indian Kashmir

Hindu pilgrims stand in queue and as they wait to enter a base camp for the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu, India, Monday, July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Associated Press

Srinagar, India (AP) — Thousands of Hindu pilgrims began the arduous trek to an icy Himalayan cave in disputed Kashmir on Monday, with tens of thousands of Indian government forces guarding roads and mountain passes.

The pilgrims, many of them barefooted ascetics, chanted hymns and rang bells as they traveled through forested areas in Kashmir's Himalayas. The worshippers approach the hallowed mountain cave, the Amarnath shrine, through two routes, a traditional one via the southern hill resort of Pahalgam and a shorter one through northeastern Baltal. Some also use helicopter services to pay quick obeisance.

The Amarnath cave is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period in summer when it is open for the pilgrims. Hindus worship a stalagmite inside the cave as an incarnation of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration. The cave lies 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) above sea level.

At least 40,000 Indian police and soldiers have been deployed to guard the pilgrimage. Carrying automatic rifles and wearing flak jackets, they have set up checkpoints, barricades and temporary camps along the routes leading to the cave.

"We've made adequate and comprehensive security arrangements," said S.P. Pani, a top police officer. "We're hoping it will be an incident-free pilgrimage."

With a view of snowy peaks on their way, more than 200,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the cave during the 45-day pilgrimage. Old people and children rode ponies on Monday.

In 2017, gunmen sprayed bullets at a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims in the region, killing at least seven people, including six women, and wounding 19 others while they were returning from the cave shrine. The Indian government blamed Muslim rebels for the attack. However, separatist leaders accused Indian intelligence agencies of carrying out such attacks to sabotage their struggle for the right to self-determination.

In 2000, gunmen struck in the Pahalgam area and killed 30 people, including some local porters who carry the pilgrims' baggage on the mountain path.

The pilgrimage concludes on Aug. 15, a full-moon night that Hindus say commemorates Shiva revealing the secret of the creation of the universe.

Muslim rebels fighting for decades against Indian rule in Kashmir accuse India's Hindu majority of using the pilgrimage as a political statement to bolster its claim to the Himalayan region.

India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over the competing claims over the Himalayan territory since the nuclear-armed rivals gained independence from British colonialism.

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, rebel groups have been fighting for either independence or a merger with Pakistan since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.


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