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Update September 18, 2018

Kim, Moon start possibly most challenging Korean summit yet

In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, poses with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a photo on the podium upon arrival in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 18. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)

Eric Talmadge and Hyung-Jin Kim

Pyongyang, North Korea (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for his third and possibly most challenging summit yet with leader Kim Jong Un in which he hopes to break an impasse in talks with the United States over the North's denuclearization and breathe energy into his own efforts to expand and improve relations between the Koreas.

In what are by now familiar images of the two Korean leaders hugging and exchanging warm smiles, Kim greeted Moon at Pyongyang's airport. They walked together past cheering crowds and a military honor guard then took a drive into the city, where security was higher than usual.

Traveling with Moon are business tycoons including Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, underscoring Moon's hopes to expand cross-border business projects. Currently, all major joint projects between the Koreas are stalled because of U.S.-led sanctions.

Moon was expected to have talks with Kim on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Moon's chief of staff. Moon and Kim were also expected to hold a joint news conference on Wednesday if their two sets of summit meetings go smoothly. Moon is to return to Seoul on Thursday.

North Korea's state-run media reported early Tuesday that Moon was to begin a visit, but said little else. It said the two will reaffirm their previous commitments to "peace, prosperity and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula."

Security was tight. Requests by The Associated Press to go to the airport or to drive around the city were denied.

This is Moon's first trip to the North Korean capital, though he has met Kim twice at the border village of Panmunjom.

He is under intense pressure from Washington to advance the denuclearization process. Before his departure he said he intends to push for "irreversible, permanent peace" and for better dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.

"This summit would be very meaningful if it yielded a resumption of North Korea-U.S. talks," Moon said Tuesday morning just before his departure. "It's very important for South and North Korea to meet frequently, and we are turning to a phase where we can meet anytime we want."

But his chief of staff tried to lower expectations of major progress on the future of Kim's nuclear arsenal.

Kim, meanwhile, is seemingly riding a wave of success.

The North just completed an elaborate celebration replete with a military parade and huge rallies across the country to mark North Korea's 70th anniversary. China, signaling its support for Kim's recent diplomatic moves, sent its third-highest party official to those festivities. That's important because China is the North's biggest economic partner and is an important political counterbalance to the United States.

North Korea maintains that it has developed its nuclear weapons to the point that it can now defend itself against a potential U.S. attack, and can now shift its focus to economic development and improved ties with the South. While signaling his willingness to talk with Washington, Kim's strategy has been to try to elbow the U.S. away from Seoul so that the two Koreas can take the lead in deciding how to bring peace and stability to their peninsula.

Talks between the United States and North Korea, which Moon brokered through his April and May summits with Kim, have stalled since Kim's meeting with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

North Korea has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites, but U.S. officials have said it must take more serious disarmament steps before receiving outside concessions. Trump has indicated he may be open to holding another summit to resuscitate the talks, however.

To keep expectations from getting too high, Moon's chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said it's "difficult to have any optimistic outlook" for progress on denuclearization during the summit.

But he said he still expects the summit to produce meaningful agreements that "fundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war" between the two Koreas.

South Korea last week opened a liaison office in the North's city of Kaesong, near the Demilitarized Zone. Another possible area of progress could be on a formal agreement ending the Korean War, which was halted in 1953 by what was intended to be a temporary armistice. Military officials have discussed possibly disarming a jointly controlled area at the Koreas' shared border village, removing front-line guard posts and halting hostile acts along their sea boundary.

Moon is the third South Korean leader to visit North Korea's capital for summits. Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun went to Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007 respectively to meet Kim's father, Kim Jong Il. Those trips produced a slew of inter-Korean rapprochement projects, which were suspended after conservatives took power in Seoul.


Hope fades in Philippines for dozens buried in landslides

Rescuers carry a body recovered from a landslide caused by Typhoon Mangkhut in Itogon, Benguet province, northern Philippines on Monday, Sept. 17. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila

Itogon, Philippines (AP) — Dozens of people believed buried in a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines probably did not survive, a mayor said Monday, although rescuers kept digging through mud and debris covering a chapel where they had taken shelter.

Of the 40 to 50 miners and their families believed inside the chapel, there is a "99 percent" chance that they all were killed, said Mayor Victorio Palangdan of Itogon, the Benguet province town that was among the hardest hit by the typhoon that struck Saturday.

Mangkhut already is confirmed to have killed 66 people in the Philippines and four in China, where it weakened to a tropical storm as it churned inland Monday.

Palangdan said rescuers have recovered 11 bodies from the muddy avalanche, which covered a former bunkhouse for the miners that had been turned into a chapel. Dozens of people sought shelter there during the storm despite warnings it was dangerous.

"They laughed at our policemen," he said. "They were resisting when our police tried to pull them away. What can we do?"

Police and soldiers were among the hundreds of rescuers with shovels and picks searching for the missing along a mountainside as grief-stricken relatives waited nearby, many of them praying quietly. Bodies in black bags were laid side by side. Those identified were carried away by relatives, some using crude bamboo slings.

Jonalyn Felipe said she had called her husband, Dennis, a small-scale gold miner in Itogon, and told him to return to their home in northern Quirino province as the powerful typhoon approached Friday.

"I was insisting because the storm was strong but he told me not to worry because he said they're safe there," said a weeping Felipe, adding that her husband was last seen chatting with fellow miners in the chapel before it was hit by the collapsing mountainside.

She said she screamed after hearing the news about her husband, and their 4-year-old son sensed what had happened and cried too.

Palangdan said authorities "will not stop until we recover all the bodies."

Itogon resident Roel Ullani helped search for the missing, including several of his cousins and other relatives. "For me, it will just be retrievals," he said.

Many of those who sought cover in the two-story building thought it was sturdy but the storm was just too severe, with the avalanche covering it "in just a few seconds," Ullani said.

Environmental Secretary Roy Cimatu said the government will deploy soldiers and police to stop illegal mining in six mountainous northern provinces, including Benguet, to prevent such tragedies.

Philippine officials say that gold mines tunneled by big mining companies and by unauthorized small miners have made the hillsides unstable and more prone to landslides. Tens of thousands of small-time miners have come in recent years to the mountain provinces from the lowlands and established communities in high-risk areas such as the mountain foothills of Itogon.

On Monday, Mangkhut was still affecting southern China's coast and the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan, and rain and strong winds were expected to continue through Tuesday.

The storm was about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of the city of Nanning in Guangxi region on Monday afternoon, moving in a northwesterly direction and weakening as it progressed. There were no new reports of deaths or serious damage.

Life was gradually returning to normal along the hard-hit southern China coast, where high-rise buildings swayed, coastal hotels flooded and windows were blown out. Rail, airline and ferry services were restored and casinos in the gambling enclave of Macau reopened.

In Hong Kong, crews cleared fallen trees and other wreckage left from when the financial hub felt the full brunt of the storm Sunday.

"This typhoon really was super strong ... but overall, I feel we can say we got through it safely," Carrie Lam, the territory's chief executive, told reporters.

The Hong Kong Observatory said Mangkhut was the most powerful storm to hit the city since 1979, packing winds of 195 kph (121 mph).

The typhoon struck Asian population centers as Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic flooding in parts of North Carolina in the United States.


Russia: Missile that shot down flight MH17 was Ukrainian

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov speaks to the media during a press conference, in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Sept. 17. (Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency via AP)

Nataliya Vasilyeva

Moscow (AP) — The Russian military said on Monday that the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board, came from the arsenals of the Ukrainian army, not from Russia.

The jet was shot down by a Soviet-made missile over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in July 2014, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, where fighting had been raging for months between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.

The Netherlands and Australia announced in May that they believe the missile was transported to Ukraine from a military unit in the Russian city of Kursk.

Russia has vehemently denied involvement and has over the years come up with various theories as to the cause of the crash, generally laying the blame on the Ukrainian side.

Lt. Gen. Nikolai Parshin, chief of the Missile and Artillery Directorate at the Russian Defense Ministry, told reporters on Monday that the military had studied and declassified archives at the research center outside Moscow that produced the Buk missiles after the Dutch investigators displayed parts of the missile and their serial numbers. Parshin said the Russian archives show that the missile that was made of these parts was transported to a military unit in western Ukraine in 1986, and to Russia's knowledge never left Ukraine.

Asked about the possibility that the separatists may have seized the missile system during fighting in 2014, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov conceded that Russia does not have any documents proving otherwise but pointed to the statements of Ukrainian officials who have denied that separatists seized any of their Buks.

The Joint Investigation Team, set up by nations that lost citizens in the MH17 crash, said in a statement that it has "taken note" of the information that the Russian military made public on Monday. The investigators said they had asked Russia for information regarding the serial numbers before but had not received a reply.

The separatists in the weeks prior to the plane crash bragged on social media about shooting down Ukrainian military aircraft. On the day that MH17 crashed, a rebel commander posted that his troops had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. He later said his account has been hacked and that the rebels did not shoot down any aircraft that day.

A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP shortly after the crash, admitted that rebels were responsible. The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, the person said. He did not speculate, however, on a possible role of the Russian military in the attack.

The Russian military did provide material assistance to the rebels, and journalists sighted sophisticated weapons in the separatist-controlled areas that were never in Ukraine's arsenals.

Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, said on Monday that Russia's claim is "yet another failed fake report that the Kremlin made up in order to cover up their crime that has been proven by the official investigation as well as independent experts."


Argentina's Fernandez charged, arrest sought

 In this Aug. 13, 2018 file photo, Argentina's former President Cristina Fernandez gets into a car to go to a court hearing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Debora Rey and Almudena Calatrava

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — A federal judge indicted former President Cristina Fernandez on Monday and asked for her arrest for allegedly heading a corruption scheme that collected bribes from business leaders in exchange for public work contracts.

The decision by Judge Claudio Bonadio published by Argentina's official judicial news agency asked that Fernandez be taken into custody and for authorities to seize about $100 million from the former leader.

Bonadio said Fernandez committed crimes that included "being the boss of an illegal association" and taking bribes between 2003 and 2015. The period includes her two terms as president as well as the presidency of her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

Fernandez's office said she had no immediate comment, but she has previously denied any wrongdoing. She calls Bonadio "an enemy judge" who she says is working with the administration of conservative President Mauricio Macri to persecute opponents and distract from Argentina's economic crisis.

Fernandez, 65, is currently a senator, a post that grants her immunity from arrest but not from prosecution. That immunity could be lifted only by a vote of two-thirds of the country's senators.

The judge also indicted more than 40 former business leaders and former government officials, including ex-Planning Minister Julio de Vido.

"There was a collusion of officials and businessmen who made this scheme work, which took out with rigged proceedings money from the national state to the detriment of education, health, pensioners, which left the people poorer without sewage, services, safe transportation," Bonadio wrote. "And all of this was done to distribute bribes to corrupt officials."

More than a dozen people have been arrested in the case. They include business leaders and former officials who served in Fernandez's 2007-2015 administration.

Known as the "notebooks case," the investigation is based on a probe by the newspaper La Nacion into alleged corruption over more than a decade during the governments of Fernandez and Kirchner. The notebooks kept detailed records of bags of cash that were allegedly delivered to several addresses, including Fernandez's apartment in Buenos Aires.

It began after authorities received copies of notebooks with detailed information, photographs and video taken by a chauffeur of the planning ministry who is thought to have testified as part of a plea bargain.

Several former business leaders and ex-government officials have also spoken under plea bargains, but the details have not been made public.

Since leaving office in 2015, Fernandez has also been accused of money laundering, possible illegal enrichment and fraud.

Last December, Bonadio asked lawmakers to remove her immunity to allow her arrest on a charge of treason for allegedly covering up the role of Iranians in a 1994 bomb attack on a Jewish center — Argentina's worst terrorist attack.

Still, polls say Fernandez remains the most popular opposition leader and is its best chance for winning if she runs in next year's presidential election.


Update September 17, 2018

Typhoon pounds China after mud buries dozens in Philippines

Rescuers work on the site where victims were believed to have been buried by a landslide after Typhoon Mangkhut barreled across Itogon, Benguet province, northern Philippines, Monday, Sept. 17. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Vincent Yu and Jim Gomez

Hong Kong (AP) — Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into southern China after lashing the Philippines with strong winds and heavy rain that caused landslides feared to have buried dozens.

More than 2.4 million people had been evacuated in southern China's Guangdong province by Sunday evening to flee the typhoon, state media said. "Prepare for the worst," Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents.

That warning followed Mangkhut's devastating march through the northern Philippines on Saturday with sustained winds of 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour. National police said 64 people had died there as of Sunday, mostly due to landslides and collapsed houses, with two additional deaths reported in China.

Landslides caused by the pounding storm hit two villages in Itogon town in the Philippine mountain province of Benguet. Police Superintendent Pelita Tacio said 34 villagers had died and 36 were missing.

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan told The Associated Press by phone that at the height of the typhoon's onslaught Saturday afternoon, dozens of people, mostly miners and their families, rushed into an old three-story building in the village of Ucab.

The building — a former mining bunkhouse that had been transformed into a chapel — was obliterated when part of a mountain slope collapsed. Three villagers who managed to escape told authorities what happened.

"They thought they were really safe there," the mayor said Sunday. He expressed sadness that the villagers, many of them poor, had few options to survive in a region where big corporations have profited immensely from gold mines.

The rescue work halted for the night before resuming Monday morning. Men used pikes and shovels to dig into the mud since the soaked ground was unstable and limited the use of heavy equipment on site.

The typhoon was occurring as tropical weather also was devastating the southern U.S. Florence has dumped historical levels of rain on North Carolina.

Mangkhut made landfall in the Guangdong city of Taishan at 5 p.m. Sunday, packing wind speeds of 162 kilometers (100 miles) per hour. State television broadcaster CGTN reported that surging waves flooded a seaside hotel in the city of Shenzhen.

The storm shattered glass windows on commercial skyscrapers in Hong Kong, sending sheets of paper pouring out of the buildings, fluttering and spiraling as they headed for the debris-strewn ground, according to videos on social media.

Mangkhut also felled trees, tore scaffolding off buildings under construction and flooded some areas of Hong Kong with waist-high waters, according to the South China Morning Post.

Casinos on Macau were ordered closed for the first time due to the typhoon. A red alert, the most severe warning, was issued for densely populated southern China, which the national meteorological center said would face a "severe test caused by wind and rain."

Flights over the weekend and into Monday were canceled in Hong Kong and the mainland cities of Shenzhen, Haikou, Sanya, Guangzhou and Zhuhai. All high-speed and some normal rail services in Guangdong and Hainan provinces were also halted, the China Railway Guangzhou Group Co. said.
 


Roads shut after 2 fall ill in UK city where ex-spy poisoned

Emergency services personnel stage outside Prezzo restaurant, Sunday, Sept. 16, in Salisbury, United Kingdom, where police have closed streets as a "precautionary measure" after two people were taken ill from the restaurant, amid heightened tensions after the Novichok poisonings earlier in the year. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

London (AP) — Police closed roads and called a hazardous response team Sunday night after two people became ill at a restaurant in the English city where a Russian ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with a chemical nerve agent.

Wiltshire Police described the emergency steps taken in response to "a medical incident" in Salisbury as a precaution. Authorities later lifted the alert and said no evidence of the nerve agent Novichok involved in the earlier case was found when the two ill people were examined at a hospital.

Salisbury spent months with quarantine tents and investigators in full-body protective gear combing for evidence after Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter were found unconscious on a bench in March.

Its residents were put back on edge in June when a man and a woman living in a nearby town were hospitalized with signs of exposure to the same Soviet-made Novichok. The woman, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, died.

Britain's counter-terrorism police said this month they think Sturgess' boyfriend found a counterfeit perfume bottle containing remnants of the substance originally applied on the front door of Skripals home in Salisbury.

The man and woman who got sick at the Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury remained in the hospital under observation but "we can now confirm that there is nothing to suggest that Novicho" was involved, Wiltshire Police said in a statement.

"A cordon will remain in place around Prezzo at this time as part of ongoing routine enquiries. All other areas that were cordoned off will now be reopened," the statement added.

British prosecutors have charged two Russian men in absentia with poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. They have alleged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were Russian intelligence agents, which they and Moscow have denied.


Thousands march to promote vote for Macedonia name deal

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, center, takes a part in a march named "For European Macedonia", through a street in Skopje, Macedonia, Sunday, Sept. 16. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Konstantin Testorides

Skopje, Macedonia (AP) — Thousands of people marched in Macedonia's capital Sunday to promote support for changing the country's name in an upcoming referendum that also could clear the way for NATO membership.

The referendum scheduled for Sept 30 will seek voter approval of an agreement with Greece to rename the small Balkan nation "North Macedonia."

The deal is designed to end a bitter 27-year dispute over rights to the Macedonia title and to remove Greek objections to its northern neighbor becoming a member of NATO and the European Union.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who reached the agreement with Greece's prime minister in June, addressed the marchers in front of the EU's office in Skopje. He urged citizens to grasp a historic opportunity and back the name deal, which he described as "fair."

"The message is: We want the future, we want a European Macedonia! It is our responsibility to secure a future for our children and their children," Zaev said.

Opposition party VMRO-DPMNE staged its own rally Sunday in the eastern town of Stip to encourage voters to reject the name change.

Opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski, who has criticized the government for accepting a deal that in his view prioritizes Greek interests, said, "Citizens have the right to fight until the last breath".

Despite the forceful words, VMRO-DPMNE and the rest of Macedonia's political opposition have advised supporters to vote according to their consciences.

Voter turnout will be a crucial factor in the referendum: 50 percent plus one of Macedonia's 1.8 million registered voters must cast ballots for the referendum vote to be valid.

Opinion polls indicate the name change would be approved, but turnout could fall just short of the required threshold.


Palestinian stabs American-Israeli man to death in West Bank

Israeli police investigate at the scene of a stabbing attack in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion Sunday, Sept. 16. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Jerusalem (AP) — A Palestinian assailant on Sunday fatally stabbed an Israeli settler outside a busy mall in the West Bank.

The victim was identified as Ari Fuld, a U.S.-born activist who was well-known in the local settler community and an outspoken Israel advocate on social media platforms.

The military said the attacker arrived at the mall near a major junction in the southern West Bank, close to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, and stabbed the Fuld before fleeing.

Video footage showed Fuld giving chase and firing at his assailant before collapsing. Other civilians shot the attacker, whom Israeli media identified as a 17-year-old from a nearby Palestinian village. He was reportedly in moderate condition.

Fuld, a 45-year-old father of four who lived in the nearby settlement of Efrat, was evacuated to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Fuld was a well-known English-language internet commenter on current affairs and the weekly Torah lesson. He was known for his hard-line nationalist ideology and strong support for the Israeli military.

Settler spokesman Josh Hasten, who said he had known Fuld for about a decade, said his friend traveled widely to showcase "the beauty and reality of life" in the country.

He delivered care packages to Israeli soldiers and would go on solidarity trips to communities near the Gaza Strip during times of fighting with the Hamas militant group, Hasten said.

"When the rockets were falling, that's when he would get in his car and go down to Sderot," Hasten said.

Fuld also was known for an outspoken manner that included verbal clashes with Palestinians and critics of Israel that could land him in trouble. At times, his Facebook account was suspended.

"He did not hold back on his opinions," Hasten said. "If that meant 30 days of Facebook jail, so be it."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Fuld on Facebook for fighting his attacker "heroically" and remembered him as "an advocate for Israel who fought to spread the truth."

On Twitter, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and a strong supporter of the settlements, called him "a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot."

Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces killed over 260 Palestinians in that period, of which Israel says most were attackers.


Update September 15-16, 2018

Florence rolls ashore in Carolinas, tears buildings apart

This photo provided by Angie Propst, shows a boat wedged in trees during Hurricane Florence in Oriental, N.C, one of nine incorporated municipalities in Pamlico County, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (Angie Propst via AP)

A work truck drives on Hwy 24 as the wind from Hurricane Florence blows palm trees in Swansboro N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)

By Jonathan Drew, Associated Press

Wilmington, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling 90 mph winds and terrifying storm surge early Friday, ripping apart buildings and knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching.

More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm. Hundreds more had to be rescued elsewhere from rising waters, and others could only hold out hope someone would come for them.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the city of New Bern tweeted around 2 a.m. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."

More ominously, forecasters said the onslaught on the coast would last for hours and hours because Florence had come almost to a dead halt at just 3 mph (6 kph) as of midday.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, not far from the South Carolina line, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

Its storm surge and the prospect of 1 to 3 feet of rain were considered a bigger threat than its winds, which dropped off from an alarming 140 mph — Category 4 — earlier in the week. Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls westward across the Carolinas all weekend.

The area is expected to get about as much rain in three days as Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd dropped in two weeks in 1999.

Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters.

Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the storm was blamed for nearly 3,000 deaths in the desperate aftermath.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence will eventually make a right hook to the northeast over the southern Appalachians, moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England as a tropical depression by the middle of next week.

For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest. Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air, and at least 525,000 homes and businesses were without power, nearly all of them in North Carolina.

The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines. Traffic lights out of order because of power failures swayed in the gusty wind. Roof shingles were peeled off a hotel.

At 11 a.m., the center of Florence was about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Wilmington, its winds down to 80 mph (130 kmh), according to the hurricane center. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out 195 miles (315 kilometers).

The Wilmington airport had a wind gust clocked at 105 mph (169 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958, the weather service said.

Sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before daybreak in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the electricity went out.

"Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying," said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house.

Forecasters said Florence's surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of sea water.

The rising sea crept toward the two-story home of Tom Copeland, who lives on a spit of land surrounded by water in Swansboro.

The water "is as high as it's ever been, and waves are breaking on my point, which is normally grass," said Copeland, a freelance photographer for The Associated Press. "Trees are blowing down in the wind. Nothing's hit the house yet, but it's still blowing."

In Jacksonville, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the cinderblock structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.

Farther up the coast, in New Bern, about 150 people waited to be rescued from flooding on the Neuse River, WXII-TV reported. New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw told The Charlotte Observer about 200 people already had been rescued by 5 a.m.

The worst of the storm's fury had yet to reach coastal South Carolina, where emergency managers said it was not too late for people to get out.

"There is still time, but not a lot of time," said Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Department of Emergency Management.

More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did. More than 3,000 inmates at North Carolina prisons and juvenile detention centers were moved out of the storm's path.

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jeffrey Collins in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koenig in Dallas; Gerry Broome at Nags Head, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.


SpaceX changes plans to send tourists around the moon

In this Feb. 6, 2018 file photo, Elon Musk, founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX, speaks at a news conference after the Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket launched successfully from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. SpaceX says it’s signed the first private moon traveler. The big reveal on who it is _ and when the flight to the moon will be _ is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX said it has signed the first private moon traveler, with some changes to its original game plan.

The big reveal on who it is — and when the flight to the moon will be — will be announced Monday at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

It's not the same mission SpaceX founder Elon Musk outlined last year. The original plan called for two paying passengers to fly around the moon this year, using a Falcon Heavy rocket and a Dragon crew capsule.

At the time, Musk said the pair approached SpaceX about sending them on a weeklong flight and paid a "significant" deposit for the trip.

The new strategy is to still fly around the moon, but using an even bigger SpaceX rocket still in development that has its own dedicated passenger ship.  And now, it appears there will be only one person aboard.

Given that this new BFR rocket, as it's dubbed, has yet to be built, the flight presumably is at least a few years off.

SpaceX put out the teaser via Twitter late Thursday, and Musk also tweeted out the news. Company representatives declined to offer additional details Friday.

Musk's ultimate goal is to colonize Mars. This lunar mission — a flyby, not a landing — represents "an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space," SpaceX said in a tweet.

On its website, SpaceX is touting the "first passenger on lunar BFR mission," implying there will be more.

It would be humanity's first lunar visit since 1972. Twenty-four NASA astronauts flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972, and only 12 of them strolled its dusty surface. Next July will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
 


As Trump threatens election meddlers, Russia says 'so what?'

In this file photo taken on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, People walk past a caricature picture of U.S. President Donald Trump on sale in a shopping mall in Moscow, Russia. US President Trump's new executive sanctions order signed Wednesday Sept. 12, 2018, authorizing sanctions on foreigners who mess with American elections could herald new headaches for Moscow. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

By Angela Charlton, Associated Press

Paris (AP) — President Donald Trump is finally making moves against foreign election meddling — and Russia says it couldn't care less.

Trump's executive order this week authorizing sanctions on foreigners who mess with American elections could herald new headaches for Moscow.

But Russian officialdom shrugged it off as internal U.S. politicking and analysts say it would barely bruise Russia's economy and do little to deter interference in November's midterms, since Russia denies meddling anyway.

A Russian PR agent who runs a provocative U.S. website says the executive order isn't denting his resolve to expand in the next few months.

"There's such a huge quantity of sanctions, everyone's getting them confused," said Alexander Malkevich, editor of news site USAReally, which is funded by the sponsors of the Russian "troll factory" accused of interference in the 2016 U.S. vote.

"We are not planning to do agitation or propaganda for one candidate (in the midterms) or another," Malkevich told The Associated Press.

However he said the site will focus on coverage of immigration, and policies that he say coddle immigrants. He displays Trump paraphernalia in his Moscow office, and harbors deep disdain for Democrats.

A series of sanctions on Russian officials, oligarchs and companies by the U.S. have progressively deepened Russian resentment, and Russians see Trump's new order as further reducing any remaining chances for detente.

"It's about how we can build any kind of partnership, including on those issues where it is still potentially possible," said Russian senator Oleg Morozov, who sits on the foreign affairs committee, told news agency RIA Novosti after Trump signed the sanctions order Wednesday

"This window of opportunity is turning into a little slit."

Trump's executive order came amid bipartisan criticism of his refusal to confront Putin at a joint news conference in Helsinki in July about accusations of Russian hacking, trolling and manipulation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

With a sweeping investigation underway into what Russia did and whether it colluded with the Trump campaign, the White House has imposed some sanctions against Russia and expelled Russian spies. But domestic critics say Trump isn't going far enough.

His new order authorizes sanctions against any individual, company or country that interferes with things like voter databases or tabulation equipment; it also targets activities such as distributing disinformation or propaganda to influence or damage confidence in U.S. elections.

In theory, it could be used to punish those meddling in the midterms. U.S. intelligence officials say they're not seeing the intensity of Russian intervention registered in 2016 but are particularly concerned about potential midterm-related activity by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

Microsoft said it uncovered new Russian hacking efforts targeting U.S. political groups ahead of the November vote. Google told a senatorial candidate that he might have been the target of hackers tied to a "nation-state." And Facebook recently banned hundreds of pages, groups or accounts linked to Russia and Iran for misleading political behavior.

Trump's executive order is vague and doesn't name any particular target, however.

"It's rather lightweight," said independent Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin. "It doesn't bring a serious blow to Putin's position."

If Russia has a structure in place to interfere in the midterms, Oreshkin said the executive order could prompt this structure to "create an extra layer of isolation to ensure that it will be very hard to follow the path (of hacking or disinformation) to its source."

Russia's leaders are also worried about heavier sanctions already in place over Moscow's interference abroad that are squeezing whole economic sectors — and the potential for more. Some speculate that Trump's order was aimed not at scaring Russia but at deflating support for broader sanctions under discussion in Congress.

A bill by Republican and Democratic senators would target entire economic sectors of a country that interferes, and prohibit foreign governments from purchasing election ads or using social media to spread false information.

Separately, the U.S. energy secretary, visiting Moscow this week, threatened energy-related sanctions on Russia that could do deep damage to the oil- and gas-rich country.

Analyst Chris Weafer of consultancy Macro-Advisory said Trump's election meddling sanctions would be too narrow to have much economic impact and would not "themselves cause a crisis in Russia."

However, he said, the "salami-slice approach "reinforces the perception of risk, particularly for foreign companies.

"As the sanctions get tougher, what we see is companies are delaying investment decisions."

Meanwhile, Russian-run website USAReally — which purports to cover news "hushed up" by the mainstream media, but in fact carries a mix of repackaged articles from freak accidents to recent teachers' strikes in Washington state — is gradually building its following.

Malkevich said it currently has 11,000 unique readers a day, even though it's banned from leading American social networks and is still in a "test version."

Asked when the full-scale site will launch, he said, "by Christmas," at the latest.

James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed.


AP Interview: Poland seeks EU 'empathy' for US sanctions

Poland's Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz says that President Andrzej Duda will discuss boosting the U.S. military presence in Poland and greater U.S. economic involvement when he is hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House next week, during an interview for the Associated Press in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Poland sees itself as a bridge in trans-Atlantic rifts between the European Union and the Trump administration and wants the EU to show "greater empathy" for U.S. sanctions on Iran, the country's foreign minister said Friday.

Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told The Associated Press in an interview that Washington was "right" to announce renewed sanctions while withdrawing from the international Iran nuclear deal. Poland is making that argument with the EU, Czaputowicz said.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is scheduled to visit the White House for talks with President Donald Trump on Tuesday. Defense, Central Europe's energy security and economic cooperation are among the topics on the leaders' agenda.

Trump withdrew from 2015 nuclear accord in May and re-imposed some sanctions on Iran. More sanctions are to be imposed in November. Britain, France and Germany were parties to the nuclear accord, and the EU created a financial support package to bolster the Iranian economy.

"We do not want to have the EU acting against American policy, meaning against these sanctions," Czaputowicz said, adding that Poland is seeking "greater empathy and understanding toward the American policy" and wants to "reconcile, unite" the positions of Washington and Brussels.

During Duda's trip next week, an announcement is expected on improving Poland's defense capability in the face of Russia's increased military activity, Czaputowicz told the AP.

Poland also is lobbying for the 3,000 U.S. troops now deployed in Poland on a rotating basis to be upgraded to a larger, permanent presence, a decision from the U.S. could come early next year, he said.

"It is our goal to raise the security of the people in Poland," Czaputowicz said. "Only the U.S. has a sufficient military force today that Russia" would recognize as a constraint.

Separately, Czaputowicz said Poland would defend its ally Hungary with the European Union. The EU's lawmaking body decided Thursday to pursue action against the Hungarian government for allegedly undermining the bloc's democratic values.

Czaputowicz said Poland would "veto for sure" any proposed punishments for Hungary. The EU is also pursuing a sanctioning procedure against Poland over the right-wing government's alleged rule of law violations.

Clashes with Brussels have raised questions about Poland's attachment to the 28-member EU.

"We are for a strong European Union in the area of its economy, its institutions and democracy that takes into account various points of view," Czaputowicz said in the interview.
 


Update September 14, 2018

Philippines starts massive evacuations as huge typhoon nears

Filipino forecaster Meno Mendoza illustrates the path of Typhoon Mangkhut, locally named "Typhoon Ompong" as it approaches the Philippines with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph), at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Philippine officials have begun evacuating thousands of people in the path of the most powerful typhoon this year, closing schools and readying bulldozers for landslides.

Typhoon Mangkhut, considered as the strongest and most massive so far this season, could hit northeastern Cagayan province on Saturday. It was tracked on Thursday about 725 kilometers (450 miles) away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph).

Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba tells The Associated Press by telephone that evacuations of residents from risky coastal villages and island municipalities north of the province have started and classes in all levels have been canceled.

Government forces have been placed on full alert.

Filipino forecaster Meno Mendoza illustrates the path of Typhoon Mangkhut, locally named "Typhoon Ompong" as it approaches the Philippines with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph), at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Philippine officials say they plan to evacuate thousands of villagers, shut down schools and offices and scramble to harvest rice and corn as the most powerful typhoon so far this year menacingly roars toward the country's north. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)


UK says Brexit could mean less warning of falling space junk

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab, right, and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier walk in the hallway prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

By Jill Lawless, Associated Press

London (AP) — It turns out the consequences of Brexit may not be confined to Earth.

The British government said Thursday that the U.K. may get less warning of falling space debris if the country leaves the bloc without a divorce agreement.

The news was one of the more eye-catching items in a government assessment of the disruption to Britain's economy and daily life that would be caused by a "no deal" Brexit.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation EU on March 29, but divorce negotiations have become bogged down amid divisions within Britain's Conservative government over how close an economic relationship to seek with the bloc.

The British government says it is confident the two sides will reach a deal, but has recently stepped up preparations for leaving without an agreement.

On Thursday it published the second batch in a trove of more than 70 papers looking at the potential impact on various sectors of the economy.

The documents disclosed that, without a deal, Britain will no longer receive data from the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking Program, set up to protect satellites and people on Earth from space debris.

The U.K. would no longer be part of the organization or receive its warnings about space objects or debris falling to earth, the government said — though "the U.K. will continue to receive space, surveillance and tracking data from the United States of America."

Labour Party lawmaker Jo Stevens, a supporter of the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said "it is deeply worrying that the U.K. will be shut out of some of the most cutting-edge research in the world."

Prime Minister Theresa May "used to say Brexit wouldn't be the end of the world — but actually it could be!" she said.

The papers also said British drivers traveling to the continent might need to get International Driving Permits if the EU did not agree to recognize U.K. licenses. British cell phone users might have to pay roaming charges, abolished in the EU.

The assessments also warned of major disruption for tech firms. The government said British firms won't be able to bid for work on the EU's Galileo satellite navigation program if there is no deal, and "may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts."

A no-deal Brexit would also disrupt the transfer of personal data between Britain and the EU. The government said Britain would "continue to allow the free flow of personal data from the U.K. to the EU," but there is no guarantee the EU would allow data to be transferred in the other direction.

Business groups said the papers showed that no-deal Brexit would mean a mountain of red tape.

Carolyn Fairbairn of the Confederation of British Industry said that "extra costs, duplication of certification and interruptions to data flows would damage the economy, with a knock-on impact for living standards."

The first batch of papers, released last month, said businesses could face red tape at the border, while customers could see higher credit card fees and patients could endure delays to medical treatment. There was even a warning that there could be a shortage of donor sperm if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the government was being honest with the public.

"In the event of a no-deal scenario, which is not what we want, we would face short-term risks and short-term disruption," he said.

But he added that the government had plans in place "to manage those risks, avoid them where possible, or mitigate them."

Raab also warned the EU that Britain would withhold billions of euros (dollars) of a promised divorce payment if there is no Brexit deal. Raab said in that event the U.K. would pay "significantly, substantially" less than the agreed-upon 39 billion pounds ($51 billion).

"It's not a threat and it's not an ultimatum, it's a statement of fact," he said.


David Hockney painting expected to break auction records

A Christie's employee approaches David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)," Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in New York. One of the British artist's famous "pool paintings" will be auctioned at Christie's in November, and is considered one of his premier works. Christie's has estimated the work at about $80 million, but says it expects it to sell for more. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

By Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

New York (AP) — One of David Hockney's famous "pool paintings" is coming to auction and is expected to sell in the $80 million range, easily breaking the record for a work by a living artist sold at auction.

The British artist's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)," to be auctioned at Christie's in November, is considered one of his premier works. Christie's has estimated the work at about $80 million, but says it expects it to sell for more.

The previous record for a work by a living artist was set by Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog," which sold for $58.4 million in 2013.

The 1972 painting by Hockney, now 81, is "the holy grail of his paintings, from both the historical and the market perspectives," said Alex Rotter, co-chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's. He noted that it reflects both the European and the American perspectives of an artist who came to live in California in the '60s, and saw himself as living on both continents.

"It has all the elements that you would want in a Hockney painting," Rotter said in an interview. "The California landscape, the beautiful trees and flowers and the sky, and then what we know him most for, which is the pool." He noted that writers have referred to the swimming pool itself as being sort of a self-portrait of Hockney, though he never confirmed that, just saying he was fascinated to paint moving water.

The painting has been held by a private collector, and "we have been trying to get it for a very long time," Rotter said.

A depiction of two men — one swimming the breaststroke underwater, the other standing by the pool looking down — the painting was originally inspired, according to background provided by Christie's, by two photographs Hockney found juxtaposed on his studio floor, one of a swimmer in Hollywood in 1966, and another of a boy staring at something on the ground.

The standing figure is said to represent Peter Schlesinger, whom the artist met in 1966, when the younger man was a student in one of Hockney's art classes at UCLA. For the next five years, according to Christie's, he was both "the great love of Hockney's life" and one of his favorite models.

The relationship ended in 1971. Hockney had already begun the painting and he abandoned it, starting again the following year.

The upcoming sale, Rotter said, "will definitely be a record for David Hockney at auction. And with Mr. Hockney one of the last of his generation still standing, and also painting, this painting will likely be the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction."

But who will buy an $80 million painting?

"It will be someone who wants the best painting of an artist," Rotter said, "and the best painting of an artist with historical relevance."

He added: "Wherever it ends up, I can tell you it will be surrounded by other top works of the 20th century."


Poland's Tomasz Ritter wins Chopin contest on period pianos

Aleksandra Swigut, right, applauds Tomasz Ritter, left, of Poland who is declared the winner of the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The announcement took place after each of the six finalists played a Chopin concerto accompanied by the Amsterdam-based Orchestra of the 18th century. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Tomasz Ritter of Poland was announced the winner Thursday of the world's first Frederic Chopin piano competition performed on instruments from the composer's era.

Japan's Naruhiko Kawaguci and Poland's Aleksandar Swigut both won second place. Third place went to Krzysztof Ksiazek of Poland. Dmitry Ablogin of Russia and France's Antoine de Grolee won honorable mentions.

The announcement by the 11-member international jury came after each of the six finalists played a Chopin concerto accompanied by the Amsterdam-based Orchestra of the 18th Century with conductor Grzegorz Nowak.

The competition's sponsors, the National Frederic Chopin Institute and Poland's state Radio and Television, want to encourage young pianists to explore the original sound of music written by Poland's best-loved composer and by his contemporaries.

Ritter played on an 1842 Pleyel piano, Swigut on an 1837 Erard, Kawaguci on an 1842 Pleyel and Ksiazek on an 1849 Erard. One of their characteristics is a softer sound than that of modern-era pianos.

One of the jury members, Janusz Olejniczak, told The Associated Press that historical instruments require a different playing technique but also broaden the pianist's skills and approach to music.

The winner of the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments collects a 15,000-euro ($17,400) prize as well as concert and recording offers. Second prize is 10,000 euros and third is 5,000 euros.

Special prizes from the orchestra went to Ksiazek and Swigut. The orchestra's musicians specialize in 18th and early 19th century music and play on period instruments.

Chopin was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw, to a Polish mother and a French father. He received his music education in Warsaw and started composing and giving concerts there. He left Poland at age 20 and settled in Paris, Europe's center of art and music at the time. He composed mostly for the piano and much of his work was inspired by Poland's music, such as the polonaise and the mazurka dances.

The competition was part of Poland's celebrations of 100 years of regained independence. The next one is to be held in 2023.


German spy chief's future creates new strains in government

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, arrives for a public hearing at the parliamentary control committee of the German federal parliament in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — The future of Germany's domestic intelligence chief is creating new strains in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government following his much-criticized comments about recent far-right protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told parliament Thursday that Hans-Georg Maassen retains his confidence as head of the BfV intelligence agency. Seehofer said Maassen explained his remarks "convincingly."

Members of the center-left Social Democrats, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, made clear they don't agree.

The killing of a German man, for which an Iraqi and a Syrian have been arrested, prompted days of anti-migrant protests in Chemnitz that at times turned violent.

In comments to the mass-circulation Bild daily last week, Maassen questioned the authenticity of a video showing protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner.


Update September 13, 2018

Cambodian prime minister says 'let us fix our own problems'

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, gestures as he talks his vision on the Mekong region as Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, center, and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi listen in the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Center Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

By Elaine Kurtenbach and Minh Van Tran, Associated Press

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen slammed criticism by outsiders of political issues in the Mekong region, saying Wednesday that the countries should be allowed to solve their own problems.

Speaking at a World Economic Forum gathering in Hanoi, Hun Sen heatedly defended Myanmar against accusations its security forces have engaged in genocide against its Rohingya minority.

Hun Sen said other countries do not understand the problems that Myanmar and its neighbors face.

"The situation in Myanmar is more serious because it has been accused of genocide, but do those who might accuse them know about Myanmar and do they know how to solve the situation up there?" he said, as he sat on the stage with Myanmar's leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and leaders from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Cambodia's one-party legislature confirmed Hun Sen for another five-year term last week, cementing his status as one of the world's longest-serving leaders.

The 66-year-old Hun Sen has been in power for 33 years and declared before the election that he intended to serve two more terms.

Speaking vehemently at the end of a day of seminars and speeches focused on economic and development issues, he said Vietnam and Laos, with their communist, one-party governments, and Thailand's military-led government should be allowed to be "peaceful politically." Governments in Europe and elsewhere should not try to impose conditions on them, he said.

"The countries that do not know our countries, please leave us to solve our problems for ourselves," he said.


Moon rock hunter closes in on tracking down missing stones

In this Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, photo, shows moon rocks encased in acrylic at the Clark Planetarium, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

By Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press

Salt Lake City (AP) — A strange thing happened after Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew returned from the moon with lunar rocks: Many of the mementos given to every U.S. state vanished. Now, after years of sleuthing, a former NASA investigator is closing in on his goal of locating the whereabouts of all 50.

In recent weeks, two of the rocks that disappeared after the 1969 mission were located in Louisiana and Utah, leaving only New York and Delaware with unaccounted-for souvenirs.

Attorney and moon rock hunter Joseph Gutheinz says it "blows his mind," that the rocks were not carefully chronicled and saved by some of the states that received them. But he is hopeful the last two can be located before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission next summer.

"It's a tangible piece of history," he said. "Neil Armstrong's first mission ... was to reach down and grab some rocks and dust in case they needed to make an emergency takeoff."

President Richard Nixon's administration presented the tiny lunar samples to all 50 states and 135 countries, but few were officially recorded and most disappeared, Gutheinz said.

Each state got a tiny sample encased in acrylic and mounted on a wooden plaque, along with the state flag. Some were placed in museums, while others went on display in state capitols. But almost no state entered them into archival records, and Gutheinz said many lost track of them.

When Gutheinz started leading the effort to find them in 2002, he estimates 40 states had lost track of the rocks.

"I think part of it was, we honestly believed that going back to the moon was going to be a regular occurrence," Gutheinz said.

But there were only five more journeys before the last manned moon landing, Apollo 17, in 1972.

Of the Apollo 11 rocks given to other countries, about 70 percent remain unaccounted for, he said.

The U.S. government also sent out a second set of goodwill moon rocks to the states and other nations after the Apollo 17 mission, and many of those are missing as well, he said.

NASA did not track their whereabouts after giving them to the Nixon administration for distribution, said chief historian Bill Barry, but added the space agency would be happy to see them located.

Gutheinz began his career as an investigator for NASA, where he found illicit sellers asking millions for rocks on the black market. Authentic moon rocks are considered national treasures and cannot legally be sold in the U.S., he said.

He became aware while at NASA that the gifts to the states were missing, but only began his hunt after leaving the agency.

Now a lawyer in the Houston area, he's also a college instructor who's enlisted the help of his students. The record their findings of the whereabouts of the discovered moon gems in a database.

Many of the Apollo 11 rocks have turned up in some unexpected places: with ex-governors in West Virginia and Colorado, in a military-artifact storage building in Minnesota and with a former crab boat captain from TV's "Deadliest Catch" in Alaska.

In New York, officials that oversee the state museum have no record of that state's Apollo 11 rock. In Delaware, the sample was stolen from its state museum on Sept. 22, 1977. Police were contacted, but it was never found.

The U.S. Virgin Islands territory, meanwhile, cannot confirm that they ever received a goodwill rock, though the University of the Virgin Islands later received Apollo 11 rocks for scientific research, said chief conservator Julio Encarnacion III.

In other states, though Gutheinz has recently hit paydirt. The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge located Louisiana's Apollo 11 moon rock in early August after a call from Gutheinz.

In Utah, the division of state history had no record of the sample, but The Associated Press confirmed it was in storage at Salt Lake City's Clark Planetarium.

Officials there may bring it out as part of celebrations recognizing the Apollo 11 anniversary next year, something Gutheinz hopes to see everywhere.

"The people of the world deserve this," he said. "They deserve to see something that our astronauts accomplished and be a part it."


Leading Brexit supporters deny plot to topple Theresa May

Theresa May, Britain's Prime Minister (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

By Jill Lawless, Associated Press

London (AP) — Leading Brexit-supporting lawmakers insisted Wednesday that they aren't about to topple Prime Minister Theresa May, despite strong opposition to her plan for taking Britain out of the European Union.

A faction of May's Conservative Party opposes her proposal to keep the U.K. aligned to EU rules after Brexit in return for free trade in goods. They say that would keep Britain tethered to the bloc and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

Several dozen rebel lawmakers have discussed attempting to trigger a no-confidence vote in May in hope of replacing her with a strongly pro-Brexit politician such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a fierce critic of May's Brexit blueprint.

But pro-Brexit Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Wednesday that speculation about a leadership challenge is just "loose talk."

He said May is doing a "great job at the moment."

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who quit the government in July over differences with May, said she is a "very good" prime minister who "should stay in place because we need stability."

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but divorce talks have foundered amid Conservative divisions over how close a relationship to seek with the bloc.

Hopes are fading that Britain and the EU can strike a deal at an EU summit in October as originally planned, but there are growing expectations that the EU is planning another meeting for November.

EU leaders have issued encouraging statements recently, saying a deal is possible in the next two months if both sides are realistic.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that EU negotiators "stand ready to work day and night to reach a deal."

"I welcome Prime Minister May's proposal to develop an ambitious new partnership for the future after Brexit," Juncker said during a speech in Strasbourg.

But a deal is far from done, and the U.K. has stepped up planning for a "no-deal" Brexit, which could disrupt trade, transport and other sectors of the economy. The chief executive of automaker Jaguar Land Rover on Tuesday called a no-deal Brexit a "horrifying" scenario that could cost tens of thousands of jobs.

Conservative opponents of May's "Chequers" plan — named for the country-house retreat where it was drawn up — are trying to show they have an alternative proposal for breaking free of the EU.

The "hard Brexit"-supporting European Research Group on Wednesday published its plan for solving one of the thorniest outstanding issues — the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Britain and the EU both say there must be no customs posts or other infrastructure along the currently invisible frontier, but they have not agreed on how that can happen once the U.K. leaves the bloc's tariff-free customs union.

The Brexit-backing group said technology and "trusted trader" programs could remove the need for border posts, and a U.K-EU agreement on common biosecurity standards would allow the smooth movement of agricultural products.

"It can all be done electronically," said lawmaker Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary. "There is absolutely no need for new physical infrastructure at the border."

Critics said the EU has already rejected similar measures as inadequate to protect the open border, a cornerstone of Northern Ireland's peace process.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of business group the Confederation of British Industry, said the proposals were "too superficial to be of use in practice."

Robert Hannigan, former director of Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency, said Wednesday that a hard border would lead to a rise in smuggling, increase tensions between Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists and "fray around the edges of the peace process."

"So it's a very unhealthy development," Hannigan told the BBC.

Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.


Myanmar's Suu Kyi to skip UN General Assembly session

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses participants during the opening session of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — A senior Myanmar official has confirmed that the country's leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, will not attend the U.N. General Assembly session this month in New York.

Minister for International Cooperation Kyaw Tin, who is accompanying Suu Kyi at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Vietnam, said "She has no plan to go there."

He was responding to a report in the Myanmar newspaper 7 Days citing a Myanmar foreign ministry official as saying that Suu Kyi would not attend the U.N. meetings. No reason was given.

Suu Kyi, who took office in 2016, also did not attend last year's General Assembly meeting.

Myanmar is facing international pressure over human rights abuses allegedly committed by its military against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

About 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine last year after the army launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in response to August 2017 attacks by Rohingya militants on security forces.

The army is accused of committing mass rape, murder and setting fire to thousands of homes. A report issued two weeks ago by a specially appointed U.N. human rights team recommended prosecuting senior Myanmar commanders for genocide and other crimes.

The latest speakers' list for the General Assembly meeting shows Myanmar represented by a minister and speaking on Sept. 28. The annual meeting of world leaders, called the General Debate, starts Sept. 25 and ends Monday Oct. 1. Normally, a country's foreign minister would speak in the absence of its top leader, but because Suu Kyi also holds the foreign ministry portfolio, Myanmar's speaker is likely to one of the two Cabinet ministers who 7 Days said would attend the meeting, Kyaw Tin and  Kyaw Tint Swe.

Last year, Suu Kyi's office said her reason for not attending the 2017 General Assembly session was because she had to handle domestic security issues after the attacks that triggered the army crackdown.

Although the violence in Rakhine state has eased, Myanmar has to deal with its aftermath, especially the repatriation of the Muslim Rohingya who fled and the underlying causes of tension that makes them targets of discrimination and repression in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar.

The 7 Days newspaper article said the Myanmar delegation to the General Assembly meeting would "explain about current developments on repatriation and cooperation with international organizations." U.N. agencies have an agreement with Myanmar's government to help resettle the Rohingya when they are repatriated.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.


Extradition case of Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya in UK court

F1 Force India team boss Vijay Mallya smiles as he arrives to attend a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Investigators have accused the 62-year-old of paying $200,000 to a British firm for displaying his company Kingfisher's logo during the Formula One World Championships in London and some European countries in the 1990s.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

By Gregory Katz, Associated Press

London (AP) — Indian entrepreneur Vijay Mallya, once a leading figure among India's business elite, has resumed his long-running fight against extradition to India on money laundering allegations.

Mallya's lawyer, Clare Montgomery, said in Westminster Magistrates Court Wednesday that the charges presented by the Indian government against Mallya are not justified.

The 62-year-old entrepreneur, who wants to remain in Britain, is accused by India of money laundering and conspiracy involving hundreds of millions of dollars. He has denied wrongdoing.

After hearing lengthy submissions from both sides, Judge Emma Arbuthnot said she expects to announce her judgment on the case on Dec. 10. The losing side will still be able to launch a fresh appeal, a process that could take months or longer.

Defending the Indian tycoon, Montgomery provided a detailed rebuttal of the government's case that Mallya had submitted false information on loan applications involving huge sums.

She denied he had inflated the value of his holdings and overstated the profitability of his businesses to obtain loans needed to keep his enterprises afloat.

"The evidence to support the allegations is nil," she said, adding that Mallya had understated, not overstated, his net worth on the loan applications.

She called the Indian government case against Mallya "bizarre" and said the Indian government's own evidence undercuts the allegations against Mallya, who sat impassively in the dock during the proceedings.

"It's not just not being honest, they've made a series of palpably false allegations," she said.

For his part, Mallya told reporters outside the courtroom that the charges against him were politically motivated. He also said he had met with India's finance minister, Arun Jaitley, before leaving the country two years ago, an assertion that made front page news in India.

Mallya said after the court session he did not mean to start a new controversy by discussing his dealings with Jaitley.

"I told him I was going to London and that's it," Mallya said outside the courtroom.

Mallya was once one of the wealthiest people in India with control of Kingfisher Airlines and other major businesses. He was also a prominent member of parliament before he resigned when he was about to be expelled. He now calls Britain his "second home."

Prosecutor Mark Summers challenged the view that Mallya had been honest and straightforward in his dealings with Indian banks. He said Mallya had concealed and distorted financial information and acted in bad faith.

He said there is ample evidence that Mallya never intended to re-pay the loans and that he had diverted money that had been earmarked for his creditors.

Mallya remains free on bail until the judgment is announced.

He said during a lunch-break that the allegations against him are false.

"I have said before, I am a political football, and there's nothing I can do about it," he said. "My conscience is clear."


Update September 12, 2018

US marks 9/11 with somber tributes, new monument to victims

By Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press

New York (AP) — Americans were commemorating 9/11 with somber tributes, volunteer projects and a new monument to victims Tuesday, after a year when two attacks demonstrated the enduring threat of terrorism in the nation's biggest city.

Margie Miller was among the thousands of 9/11 victims' relatives, survivors, rescuers and others who gathered on a misty Tuesday morning at the memorial plaza where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood. She came to the site from her home in suburban Baldwin, as she does 10 or so times a year, to remember her husband, Joel Miller. Only a few fragments of his remains were recovered.

"To me, he is here. This is my holy place," his widow said before the ceremony began a moment of silence and tolling bells at 8:46 a.m., the time when the trade center was hit by the first of two terrorist-piloted planes. Victims' relatives who had brought signs bearing photos of their loved ones wordlessly held them high.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence headed to the two other places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to Pennsylvania to join an observance at the Sept. 11 memorial in a field near Shanksville, where a new "Tower of Voices" was dedicated Saturday. Pence is attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. Trump, a Republican and native New Yorker, took the occasion of last year's anniversary to issue a stern warning to extremists that "America cannot be intimidated."

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on 9/11, when international terrorism hit home in a way it previously hadn't for many Americans. Sept. 11 still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it's less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.

A stark reminder came not long after last year's anniversary: A truck mowed down people, killing eight, on a bike path within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on Halloween.

In December, a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square, authorities said. They said suspects in both attacks were inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.

The recent attacks in New York, as well as terror attacks elsewhere, were on Miller's mind as she arrived Tuesday.

"You don't want to live in fear, but it's very real," she said.

Debra Sinodinos, who lost her firefighter cousin Peter Carroll and works near the trade center, said she tries not to let the recent attacks unnerve her.

"You have to move on," she said as she headed into the anniversary ceremony with her extended family. "Otherwise, you'd live in fear."

The 9/11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals, centered on reading the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims' relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, inspiration and concern.

For Nicholas Haros Jr., that concern is officials who make comparisons to 9/11 or invoke it for political purposes.

"Stop. Stop," pleaded Haros, who lost his 76-year-old mother, Frances. "Please stop using the bones and ashes of our loved ones as props in your political theater. Their lives, sacrifices and deaths are worth so much more. Let's not trivialize them."

This year's anniversary comes as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been some efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics.

The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on an anniversary that was declared a national day of service in 2009, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day. Organizers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they've been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.

The names are read by victims' loved ones, some of them not yet born when the attacks happened.

"Even though I never met you, I'll never forget you," Isabella Del Corral said of her grandfather, Joseph Piskadlo.

Hours after the ceremony, two powerful light beams will soar into the night sky from lower Manhattan in the annual "Tribute in Light."

Memorials to 9/11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honoring rescue and recovery workers.

It will serve as a way to honor those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Center's twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble.

About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and over $3.9 billion in claims have been approved.

Meanwhile, rebuilding continues. A subway station destroyed on 9/11 finally reopened Saturday. In June, doors opened at the 80-story 3 World Trade Center, one of several rebuilt office towers that have been constructed or planned at the site. A performing arts center is rising.

However, work was suspended in December on replacing a Greek Orthodox church crushed in the attacks; the project hit financial problems.

Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Karen Matthews contributed to this report.


Report: Chinese building projects narrowing economic gaps

In this May 30, 2017, file photo, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, 3rd left, watches during the opening of the SGR cargo train runs on a China-backed railway from the port containers depot in Mombasa Kenya, to Nairobi. A wave of Chinese-financed railways and other trade links in Africa and Asia that have prompted worries about debt and Beijing's ambitions is reducing politically dangerous inequality between regions within countries, a multinational group of researchers said Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi, File)

By Joe Mcdonald, AP Business Writer

Beijing (AP) — Chinese-financed railways and other projects in Africa and Asia are helping to reduce economic inequality between regions in the countries where they are built, a group of multinational researchers said Tuesday.

China's "Belt and Road" initiative has prompted complaints about debt and unease about Beijing's ambitions among governments from the United States to Russia to India. But a study led by AidData at the College of William & Mary in Virginia strikes a positive note.

The study of 3,485 projects in 138 nations across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East in 2000-14 found they led to a more equal distribution of economic activity by improving access to jobs and markets.

"Western pundits and politicians often claim that Beijing is a reckless, self-serving or sinister actor," said AidData's executive director, Bradley C. Parks, in an email. But by helping to spread economic activity more evenly, "Beijing's investments address one of the root causes of instability around the globe and thus make it easier for Western powers to tackle other global threats and crises."

The report stressed it focused on only one aspect of Chinese financing. The overall impact is "a more complex question," it said, noting other research has found corruption and environmental damage linked to Chinese projects.

Leaders in Africa, South Asia and other regions welcome Chinese projects including "Belt and Road," President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy initiative, but face complaints about costs. The initiative calls for expanding trade by building railways, ports and other infrastructure across a vast arc of 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe.

Governments including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have scrapped or scaled back projects due to high costs or complaints that too little work goes to local companies. Most projects are built by Chinese contractors and financed by Chinese bank loans at market interest rates.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta's government faces protests and a strike by filling station operators after imposing a 16 percent tax on fuel this month to repay construction costs. Kenya's payments to Chinese banks are due to triple in 2019 from this year's level.

Kenya is "gradually sinking deeper" into "Chinese debt-trap diplomacy," wrote commentator Jaindi Kisero in the Daily Nation newspaper.

Beijing suffered a public blow last month when Malaysia canceled Chinese-built projects, including a $20 billion railway. Its prime minister said the Southeast Asian country couldn't afford them.

Chinese officials have released few financial details but deny "Belt and Road" and other projects lead to debt problems.

"People's livelihoods and economic development have been boosted," said a Cabinet official, Ning Jizhe, at an Aug. 28 news conference. "No 'debt trap' has been created."

Other governments worry Beijing is trying to gain strategic influence by creating a trading and financial network centered on China, the world's second-largest economy.

AidData's first report in 2013 focused on Chinese financing to Africa. The group includes researchers from Harvard University, Germany's Heidelberg University and other schools and research institutes.

They reported last year China was close to matching the scale of U.S. grants and loans to developing countries. But they said Beijing's financing served its own economic interests and provided little benefit to recipients.

"Belt and Road" was formally launched in 2012 but also includes Chinese-financed projects begun before that.

For their latest report, researchers made a list of projects from news reports, government statements and research by academics and non-government organizations.

Some 43 percent were infrastructure such as roads, railway, bridges, ports, airports, power grids, cellphone towers and fiber optic cable lines. Another 42 percent were services including hospitals, schools and sewers.

To measure economic impact, the researchers looked at changes in nighttime use of lights across cities and rural areas. That was based on satellite images from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those changes "correlate strongly with traditional measures of welfare down to the village level," the report said.

Projects financed by Beijing might produce a bigger payoff because Chinese companies work faster and often complete projects within months, while traditional Western-backed projects can require years, Parks said.

Also, they often focus on linking inland areas with ports, which increases export revenue, in contrast to traditional projects that connect areas within the same country, he said.

The ruling Communist Party has financed building projects abroad since the 1960s, when it paid for a railway to carry copper from Zambia in southern Africa across Tanzania to the port of Dar-es-Salaam.

Lending boomed following rapid Chinese economic growth in the 1990s.

In the 15 years through 2014, Beijing lent or gave $354.4 billion in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, equal to nearly 90 percent of the $394.6 billion from the United States, according to AidData. But it said only 23 percent of Chinese spending counted as aid by international standards, compared with 93 percent of U.S. spending.

Associated Press writer Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.


UN chief: World must prevent runaway climate change by 2020

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press

United Nations (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world is facing "a direct existential threat" and must rapidly shift from dependence on fossil fuels by 2020 to prevent "runaway climate change."

The U.N. chief called the crisis urgent and decried the lack of global leadership to address global warming.

"Climate change is moving faster than we are," Guterres said. "We need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action."

He said people everywhere are experiencing record-breaking temperatures — and extreme heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods "are leaving a trail of death and devastation."

As examples, Guterres pointed to Kerala, India's worst monsoon flooding in recent history, almost 3,000 deaths from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, disappearing Arctic sea ice, some wildfires so big that they send ash around the world, oceans becoming more acidic threatening food chains, and high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere threatening food security for billions of people.

Guterres said scientists have been warning about global warming for decades, but "far too many leaders have refused to listen — far too few have acted with the vision the science demands."

When some 190 nations signed the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change they agreed to limit the global temperature increase by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.

"These targets were the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," Guterres said. "But scientists tell us that we are far off track."

"According to a U.N. study, the commitments made so far by parties to the Paris agreement represent just one-third of what is needed," the secretary-general said.

Guterres said the mountain that needs to be climbed is very high — but not insurmountable.

"We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels," he said. "We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm."

He appealed for leadership — "from politicians and leaders, from business and scientists, and from the public everywhere" — to break what he called the current "paralysis" and act now.

"If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us," Guterres warned.

The alternative to moving to green energy, he said, "is a dark and dangerous future."

Guterres said that when he addresses world leaders at their annual General Assembly gathering in two weeks, he will tell them "that climate change is the great challenge of our time" and what is missing is leadership and a sense of urgency to respond.

He said an international meeting in Bangkok that ended Sunday made some progress on negotiations to help reach an agreement in December in Poland on guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris accord — "but far from enough."

"Nothing less than our future and the fate of humankind depends on how we rise to the climate challenge," Guterres said. "Keeping our planet's warming to well below 2 degrees (Celsius) is essential for global prosperity, people's well-being and the security of nations."

He said that is why he will convoke a climate summit for world leaders in September 2019 "to bring climate action to the top of the international agenda."

Guterres said technology is on the side of those seeking to tackle climate change.

He cited the rising use of renewable energy, saying "today, it is competitive with — and even cheaper — than coal and oil, especially if one factors in the cost of pollution." And he singled out innovative programs in China, Sweden, Morocco, Scotland and Thailand.

Guterres also pointed to other signs of hope including oil-rich Saudi Arabia investing heavily in renewable energy and oil-rich Norway's sovereign wealth fund — the largest in the world — moving away from investments in coal as well as in palm and pulp paper companies because of the forests they destroy.


Los Angeles, Paris mayors talk climate, homeless, Olympics

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti help pack lunches for the needy following a ceremony marking the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, at the Los Angeles Fire Department's training center Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

By Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press

Los Angeles (AP) — The mayors of Paris and Los Angeles met Tuesday ahead of a global climate summit to memorialize the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. and to talk about the commonalities between the two cities in an increasingly divided world.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a 9/11 memorial ceremony in Los Angeles and then helped pack lunches for the hungry.

Afterward, they spoke of how much Paris and Los Angeles have in common: an affordable housing crisis, increasing homelessness, a commitment to combat climate change, experience with terror attacks and preparations to host the Olympics next decade — Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.

"We always learn from each other," Garcetti said.

Garcetti also announced Los Angeles will send a group of community college students from poor backgrounds to Paris next summer.

"At a moment when we're so divided in the world we hope that this will breathe some strength and some friendship back into the world," Garcetti said.

Hidalgo said Paris and Los Angeles also share the same core values and similar visions for the future, and both are planning for their Olympic games to help improve homelessness and increase opportunities for young people.

"In Paris, the Olympic games, I saw that fight as very important because I am convinced that we need to help the poor neighborhoods in northern Paris a little more," she said in Spanish at a trilingual question-and-answer session with reporters. "We have to help accelerate the transformation in these neighborhoods."

Garcetti said homelessness "is the great moral crisis of this city and many cities."

While "some people run away from these problems," Garcetti said he and Hidalgo run toward them, "even in the face of people saying, 'I don't want this in my neighborhood.'"

"We already have homelessness in our neighborhoods," he said. "The decision is, 'Will we solve it or will we avert our eyes and walk away?' To me that is an easy decision."

Both mayors will join scientists, activists, celebrities and other politicians Wednesday at a global summit on climate change in San Francisco, where they plan to announce pledges from cities for more spending on cleaner energy.

Hidalgo said climate change and homelessness "are not two different issues," and both boil down to the greater good for humanity.


Update September 11, 2018

'Wake-up call': 9/11 prompted some to move away to new lives

 

Stephen Feuerman poses for a photo in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sign in Parkland, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018. On 9/11, Stephen Feuerman saw the World Trade Center aflame through the window of his Empire State Building office and watched, transfixed, as a second fireball burst from the twin towers. Feuerman had always seen himself as a New Yorker, but “everything changed that day,” he says. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Michael and Margery Koveleski, with their daughter Lillian, sit for a photograph at their store Design Sleep in Yellow Springs, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. New York and church had brought the couple together in the 1980s: she a Haitian-American from Brooklyn, he a white art student from Massachusetts. By 2001, he was a furniture designer for a platform-bed shop, she a mom and frequent school volunteer. They had a small house and a full life. After 9/11, though, Michael sensed emotional burnout surrounding him at his lower Manhattan workplace. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Heather and Tom LaGarde are seen at their home near Saxapahaw, N.C., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. The LaGardes left New York following the events of 9/11. “We try to echo some of what we loved” in New York, Heather says, “but living in an easier, simpler, more natural place.” (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Tom and Heather LaGarde are seen on Tom's tractor at their home near Saxapahaw, N.C., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. The LaGardes left New York following the events of 9/11. "I can't believe how lucky we are to have landed where we did," Heather says. "I think we were really unmoored by 9/11 ... It changes your perspective on everything. Your priorities change." (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press

New York (AP) — On 9/11, Stephen Feuerman saw the World Trade Center aflame through the window of his Empire State Building office and watched, transfixed, as a second fireball burst from the twin towers.

He ran through the 78th floor urging everyone to get out, thinking their skyscraper could be next. With transit hubs shut down, he couldn't get home to his family in suburban Westchester for hours. Among the dead were someone he knew from college and people he recognized from his commuter train.

Feuerman had always seen himself as a New Yorker, but "everything changed that day," he says.

Shaken by the experience, the apparel broker and his wife put their home on the market weeks later. Within four months, they and their two small children moved to a gracious South Florida suburb they figured would be safer than New York.

So it was until this past Valentine's Day, when mass violence tore into Parkland, Florida, too.

"There really is no safe place," says Feuerman, whose children survived but lost friends in the massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks prompted the Feuermans and an uncounted number of others to quietly move away from their lives near the hijacked-plane strikes that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Some sought a place where they could feel safe. Some placed a new importance on living near family. Others simply re-evaluated what they wanted from life.

As the attacks' 17th anniversary approaches, The Associated Press caught up with several people who left and asked: Have they found what they were looking for?

"IT REALLY MADE US HAVE A WAKE-UP CALL"

About 30 weeks a year, Scott Dacey drives from his home near New Bern, North Carolina, to Washington for a few days. The 350-mile (563-kilometer) trips are a price the federal lobbyist pays for peace of mind after Sept. 11.

He and his wife, Jennifer, were rooted in Washington before the attacks. He was a former federal official lobbying on Native American and gaming issues. She'd grown up nearby, though her parents had moved to North Carolina.

Then came the strike on the Pentagon, the paralyzing feeling of not knowing what might happen next, the weeks of watching military aircraft patrol around their suburban Virginia home.

"It really made us have a wake-up call: 'How do we want to live our lives?'" Scott says. "Do we want to be up here in this rat race of Washington, D.C.?" Or raising kids somewhere that didn't feel so on-guard, somewhere closer to family in times of crisis?

The choice wasn't simple, particularly for a lobbyist. The couple's 2002 move to the New Bern suburb of Trent Woods meant extra costs, including a Washington apartment and a then-advanced phone system to make sure Scott wouldn't miss clients' calls to his office there. Jennifer, already a lawyer, had to take a second bar exam in North Carolina.

Friends suggested the Daceys were overreacting. And it was an adjustment, going from career-focused, on-the-go Washington to the gentler pace of eastern North Carolina.

But it also opened unexpected opportunities. Scott is a county commissioner and ran for Congress; a Republican, he never considered seeking office in Democratic-leaning northern Virginia. Jennifer is a community college trustee and serves on other local boards.

And their children, 17 and 15, grew up in a town repeatedly ranked among the state's safest.

"It would not be for everybody, but for us, it's been the right fit," Jennifer says. "We're outside the bubble, and this is how America really lives."

"YOU'RE ONLY GOING TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE WHEN THINGS ARE BAD"

Michael Koveleski isn't afraid of taking risks. His Christian faith gives him confidence he'll be OK if he does what's right, and he's a motivational-book reader who thrives on "tenacious optimism."

He needed plenty of it after he and his wife, Margery, left New York in the wake of 9/11 with four children and no work lined up.

New York and church had brought the couple together in the 1980s: she a Haitian-American from Brooklyn, he a white art student from Massachusetts. By 2001, he was a furniture designer for a platform-bed shop, she a mom and frequent school volunteer. They had a small house and a full life.

After 9/11, though, Michael sensed emotional burnout surrounding him at his lower Manhattan workplace, while security measures lengthened his commute from Queens and devoured his time with the children. Two months later, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed near the Koveleskis' home, killing 265 people. There had to be a better way to live, the couple thought.

The next spring they moved to Springfield, Ohio, where they had church friends.

If a better way, it wasn't always smooth. It was initially a challenge for the Koveleskis' children to be the new, mixed-race kids in an area less diverse than Queens.  And Michael struggled to find work in the shaky post-9/11 economy. A man who'd adhered to healthy eating, he found himself grateful for $5 pizzas that could feed the family, which now includes five children. It took eight years or so before he made what he had in New York.

But when he did, he made it at his own business, Design Sleep, a shop selling natural latex mattresses and platform beds. His wife and older children sometimes help out at the shop, which has quadrupled in size during its 14 years.

"You're only going to change your life when things are bad — or terrible," Michael says. "Our thing was 9/11, starting over with nothing. ... I am thrilled at the way it came out to be."

"THIS IS THE PLACE I HAD THE DREAM TO COME TO"

Georgios Takos rides through northern Wyoming in his Greek-food truck with a souvenir New York license plate on the wall, a reminder of the place he once thought would bring his American dream to life.

Growing up in Greece, Takos longed to live in the America he saw in movies, the America where everyone wanted to go. He was elated when he arrived in New York City in 1986.

There were tears in his eyes as he left 15 years later, days after 9/11 shattered his sense of safety and his impression of his adopted hometown.

"This wasn't the America I remember when watching those John Wayne movies back home ... the place it was when I first arrived," he thought.

He headed for restaurant work in Arizona, then California, where he met his wife, Karine, a teacher. She persuaded him one summer to visit her home state of Montana.

There, and now in the couple's new hometown of Powell, Wyoming, he found the America he'd imagined — the wide-open West, the feeling of freedom.

As Takos launched his food truck, the Greek Station, Westerners largely embraced "the New York Greek guy." And Takos embraced Wyoming — "the real America," he says, where he finds life less rushed and people more caring.

"This is the place I had the dream to come to 40 years ago," he says.

"WE TRY TO ECHO SOME OF WHAT WE LOVED"

Heather and Tom LaGarde loved New York and didn't want to leave, even after she watched the twin towers burn from their rooftop.

They felt at home living on Manhattan's then gritty-artsy Lower East Side. She worked at a human rights organization and he, a former player with the Denver Nuggets and other NBA teams, ditched a Wall Street job to found a roller basketball program for neighborhood kids.

So at first, the ramshackle North Carolina farm they spotted online in 2002 was only an occasional getaway. They'd started to want one after worrying about their 1-year-old daughter's health in the 9/11 smoke. They had no intention of moving back to North Carolina, where Heather had grown up and her 6-foot-10-inch (2.1-meter) husband had been a UNC basketball star.

But over time, "we were very unmoored by 9/11," Heather says. "Even though I wasn't physically harmed, just to see it that close changes your perspective. ... Your priorities change."

So in 2004 the LaGardes moved into their farm near small-town Saxapahaw with two children, a few months' consulting work for Heather and no more of a plan than to keep their eyes open.

One day they saw someone tearing down a nearby barn. That led to starting an architectural salvage company, which led to starting a popular free music series and farmers' market at an old mill that was being renovated. Which led to starting the Haw River Ballroom, a music venue in a mill building, and founding a humanitarian innovation conference held in the ballroom.

"We try to echo some of what we loved" in New York, Heather says, "but living in an easier, simpler, more natural place."

"THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWHERE"

Fresh from dropping off his 16-year-old daughter last month for the first day of her junior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Stephen Feuerman still thinks his family made a good move after 9/11.

He's sensitive to what his daughter and 18-year-old son, now a college freshman, have been through. But he also appreciates the community where they got to grow up.

"We've had a good life here," he says. "And again, this could have happened anywhere."

In fact, he appreciates Parkland all the more since the tragedy. It introduced him to neighbors he'd never met and plunged him into a whirlwind of events and advocacy on gun laws and other issues. He marvels at the support that has poured into his hometown, and he's proud of its residents' activism.

The Feuermans have no plans to move again.


Mass rally wraps up North Korea's 70th anniversary events

North Korean students take part in a torch light march held in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding day celebrations in Pyongyang, North Korea, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

By Eric Talmadge, Associated Press

Pyongyang, North Korea (AP) — Tens of thousands of North Korean students rallied in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square in the final major event of the country's 70th anniversary, an elaborate celebration that has showcased the nation's aspirations for economic growth and Korean unity.

The rally Monday night featured a sea of university and high school students carrying torches that spelled out giant slogans and words when seen from above the square. Leader Kim Jong Un did not attend.

This year's anniversary downplayed the missiles and nuclear weapons that brought the country to the brink of conflict with the United States just one year ago.

It highlighted what has been a series of stunning recent changes for North Korea, beginning with Kim's announcement on New Year's Day that he would seek better relations with the South and that the North was willing to participate in the Winter Olympics held in South Korea.

He followed that up with an announcement in April that he would stop nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and claimed that, having perfected his nuclear arsenal, he was ready to pursue talks with Washington on easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. That in turn led to a flurry of summits with Beijing and Seoul and an unprecedented summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore three months ago.

Kim's effort to present a more diplomatic and less-belligerent image was reflected throughout this weekend's 70th anniversary events.

In a sharp contrast to its previous two parades — in April last year and just before the Olympics began in February this year — North Korea refrained from displaying its long-range missiles at the military parade it held on Sunday.

It also revived its iconic mass games after a five-year hiatus with a spectacular and decidedly peaceful and forward-looking performance. At one point, the show featured giant images of Kim shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their first summit, in April, in the Demilitarized Zone that divides their two countries.

The image of the two Korean leaders was met by loud applause and cheers from the audience at the 150,000-seat May Day Stadium.

Kim himself has kept publicly quiet during the anniversary. He made no speech at the parade or at the mass games' opening performance.

Senior North Korean officials, meanwhile, have stressed the country's confidence in its ability to both maintain a strong military and build up its domestic economy. They have studiously avoided bragging about their nuclear weapons, but at the same time haven't referred to any plans for denuclearization.

Kim's moves seem to be paying off.

Trump quickly tweeted his satisfaction that no ICBMs were rolled out for the parade, which he called a "big and very positive statement from North Korea."

"Thank you To Chairman Kim," he added. "We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other!"

Last year, Trump and Kim were trading insults and threats and Kim was launching his missiles at a record pace. There hasn't been a North Korean launch this year, and Kim unilaterally ordered the destruction of his country's underground nuclear test site in May.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who sent the ruling Communist Party's third-highest official to attend as his special envoy, issued a statement saying he is willing to work with Kim to develop healthy relations and promote regional peace and stability. "I sincerely hope that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will prosper and the people enjoy a happy and healthy life," Xi said.

With the anniversary now behind him, Kim is to host Moon later this month in Pyongyang to further discuss ways to improve North-South relations, including the establishment of a liaison office in the North's city of Kaesong, and how to move the peace process with Washington forward.

That process has stalled since the Trump summit, with Kim insisting on security guarantees and a formal end to the Korean War as the first steps, while the U.S. wants irreversible moves toward denuclearization before it will agree to ease up its policy of sanctions and "maximum pressure."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to visit Pyongyang just ahead of the anniversary, but Trump nixed that at the last minute because he said the prospect of making any significant agreements was too low.


Japan proposes end to commercial whaling ban, faces pushback

In this Oct. 11, 2017 file photo, a Southern right whale glides in the waters off El Doradillo Beach, Patagonia, Argentina, during the annual whale migration from Antarctica to Argentina's Patagonia to give birth and feed their offspring. (AP Photo/Maxi Jonas, File)

By SARAH Dilorenzo, Associated Press

Florianopolis, Brazil (AP) — Japan proposed an end to a decades-old ban on commercial whaling at an international conference Monday, arguing there is no longer a scientific reason for what was supposed to be a temporary measure.

But the proposal faces stiff opposition from countries that argue that many whale populations are still vulnerable or, even more broadly, that the killing of whales is increasingly seen as unacceptable. Japan currently kills whales under a provision that allows hunting for research purposes.

"Science is clear: there are certain species of whales whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably," reads the Japanese proposal, presented Monday at the biannual International Whaling Commission meetings taking place this week in Florianopolis, Brazil. "Japan proposes to establish a Committee dedicated to sustainable whaling (including commercial whaling and aboriginal subsistence whaling)."

Japan's proposal would also change how the international body operates, reflecting its frustration with an organization that it says has become "intolerant" and a "mere forum for confrontation."

It says it hopes that new rules — including allowing measures to be adopted by simple, rather than super, majority — would break longstanding deadlocks and allow the countries who prize conservation and those who push for sustainable use of whales to "coexist."

While Japan argues that whale stocks have recovered sufficiently to allow for commercial hunting, conservationists contend whaling on the high seas has proven difficult to manage.

"Time and again, species after species has been driven to near extinction," said Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

If the ban on commercial whaling were to be lifted, it would then be up to the commission to set catch limits.

It's not clear when the vote will happen; the meeting lasts until Friday. It's also possible that the Japanese could pull back the proposal — or attempt to negotiate the inclusion of parts of it in other proposals.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries as a traditionally cheaper alternative source of protein. Its catch has fallen in recent years in part due to declining domestic demand for whale meat and challenges to its hunt.

Its quota is now 333, about a third the number it used to kill before the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that its program wasn't scientific in nature. It revised the program and resumed the hunt in 2016.

Some, however, contend the research program remains a cover for commercial whaling because the whale meat is sold for food.

The attempt to reintroduce commercial whaling could be even more contentious. Brazil has submitted a proposal that says such whaling "is no longer a necessary economic activity, has systematically reduced whale populations to dangerously low levels." The United States agrees that the ban is necessary for conservation.

"The Australian people have clearly made a decision that they don't believe that whaling is something that we should be undertaking in the 21st century," said Anne Ruston, Australia's assistant minister for international development and the Pacific, on the sidelines of Monday's meetings. "The argument that we put forward from Australia is that we don't want to see any whales killed, whether they're killed because (of) commercial whaling or whether it's so-called scientific whaling."

The commission declared a "pause" to commercial whaling beginning in the 1985-1986 season, but it remains in place today. The killing of whales is allowed for research purposes, as in Japan's program, and for indigenous communities who practice subsistence hunting.

Australia says that non-lethal research techniques actually reveal more information about whales than can be learned through killing them. The United States also opposes lethal research hunts, but both countries support the exception for subsistence whalers.

Japan says that it uses both lethal and non-lethal methods, but that some information can only be gleaned after killing.

Associated Press video journalist Mario Lobao in Florianopolis, Brazil, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.


Colombian rebels reject conditions for resuming peace talks

In this Aug. 14, 2018 file photo, Colombia's President Ivan Duque reviews the troops, accompanied by his military staff during a ceremony in Bogota, Colombia. The rebel National Liberation Army said Monday, Sept. 10, that it was willing to "liberate" a group of policemen and civilians it captured in August. But the rebels also accused President Ivan Duque of breaking promises made by his predecessor and said they will not accept his "unilateral" conditions. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

By Manuel Rueda, Associated Press

Bogota, Colombia (AP) — Prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Colombia's government and the country's last remaining rebel group were dimming Monday even as the group reaffirmed its willingness to release six captives.

The National Liberation Army said it was willing to free a group of policemen and civilians it captured in August. But the rebels also accused President Ivan Duque of breaking promises made by his predecessor and said they will not accept his "unilateral" conditions for negotiations.

Duque suspended peace talks with the rebel group, known as the ELN after its Spanish initials, after he was sworn into office a month ago, saying he would not resume negotiations until the rebels ceased all criminal activities, including kidnappings and attacks on oil pipelines.

The ELN has said it will only cease attacks if the government stops pursuing its fighters in remote pockets of Colombia's countryside and agrees to a bilateral ceasefire.

"We are ready to continue working toward a political solution," Israel Ramirez, the rebels' lead negotiator told Colombian newspaper El Pais Sunday. "But both sides have to make efforts to turn the page of war, not just one."

The ELN was created in 1964 by a group of Catholic priests and activists inspired by the Cuban revolution. It has approximately 1,500 fighters and it became the country's last remaining guerrilla group after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, signed a peace deal in 2016.

In February 2017, Colombia's government began peace talks with the ELN that have yielded few commitments so far. The talks were suspended at the beginning of this year after the rebel group broke a bilateral ceasefire that had lasted for three months, but they resumed in May even while fighting between the government and the ELN continued.

During his inauguration speech in August, Duque said he would take 30 days to review the negotiations and would not restart until the rebels ceased "all criminal activities."

According to Colombia's government, ELN rebels have kidnapped 16 people and conducted more than 140 attacks against the country's oil infrastructure since peace talks started in 2017.

Colombian Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos said Monday that the ELN's plans to release six captives was "important" but the rebel group still did not meet "the basic conditions" required to restart peace talks. Ceballos said the rebels still have 10 more captives.

"They are accusing us of making unacceptable demands," Ceballos told Colombia's Blu Radio. "But we are only asking them to abide by the law."

As peace talks with the ELN fail to resume, the implementation of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC is also facing difficulties.

Last week the United Nations said six FARC leaders had abandoned their transition camps in Colombia and left up to 1,500 former guerrilla fighters without a leader, breaking with commitments made under the peace accords.

On Monday, Fabian Ramirez, one of the FARC leaders who was reported as missing, sent a letter to Colombia's senate in which he acknowledged that he had left his transition camp, but said he was still committed to the peace process and was doing political work with remote communities.

The whereabouts of Luciano Marin, the FARC's lead negotiator during peace talks, are still unknown. Marin gave up a senate seat granted to him by the peace deal and fled to a remote area of Southern Colombia after one of his close allies was arrested on drug trafficking charges on a U.S. warrant.


Update September 10, 2018

Obama to campaign for congressional candidates in California

Former President Barack Obama talks with Caffe Paradiso owner Young Jeon during a surprise campaign stop with Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and his running mate, state Rep. Juliana Stratton Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, after speaking on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Ill. (Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette via AP)

By Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

Anaheim, Calif. (AP) — Former President Barack Obama is in California to campaign for Democratic congressional candidates one day after issuing a stinging rebuke of his successor in the White House.

Obama is set to appear later Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center in the heart of Orange County, a once-solid Republican stronghold that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election that Donald Trump won.

Obama will share the billing with seven Democratic candidates in competitive U.S. House districts across California. Those races are considered crucial to the party's efforts to retake control of the House from Republican. Four of those districts are at least partly in Orange County.

Obama issued a scorching critique of President Donald Trump on Friday in a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Alibaba's Jack Ma to step down as chairman in September 2019

In this June 25, 2018, photo, Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group attends the ceremony to launch a blockchain-base remittance solution in Hong Kong. (Chinatopix via AP)

By JOE Mcdonald, AP Business Writer

Beijing (AP) — Jack Ma, who founded e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and helped launch China's e-commerce boom, announced Monday he will step down as the company's chairman next September.

In a letter released by Alibaba, Ma said he will be succeeded by CEO Daniel Zhang, an 11-year veteran of the company. Ma handed over the CEO post to Zhang in 2013 as part of what he said was a long-planned succession process.

Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba in 1999 in an apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou to connect Chinese exporters with foreign retailers. It expanded into consumer retailing, online finance, cloud computing and other services, becoming the world's biggest e-commerce company by total value of goods sold across all its platforms.

Ma, who turned 54 on Monday, became one of the world's richest entrepreneurs and one of China's best-known business figures. The Hurun Run report, which follows China's wealthy, estimates his net worth at $37 billion.

Alibaba said Ma will remain a member of the Alibaba Partnership, a group of 36 people that has the right to nominate a majority of the company's board of directors.

"This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organizational excellence and a culture of talent development," Ma said in his letter.

Ma said he wants to "return to education" but gave no details of his plans.

Alibaba is one of a group of companies including Tencent Holding Ltd., a games and social media giant, search engine Baidu.com Inc. and e-commerce rival JD.com that have revolutionized shopping, entertainment and consumer services in China.

Alibaba was founded at a time when few Chinese used the internet. As internet use spread, the company expanded into consumer-focused retailing and services. Few Chinese used credit cards, so Alibaba created its own online payments system, Alipay.

Ma, known in Chinese as Ma Yun, has become one of China's best-known public figures. He appears regularly on television. At an annual Alibaba employee festival in Hanzhou, he has sung pop songs in costumes that have included blonde wigs and leather jackets. He pokes fun at his own appearance, saying his oversize head and angular features make him look like the alien in director Steven Spielberg's movie "E.T. The Extraterrestrial."

Ma also became one of the best-known Chinese businesspeople abroad.

The company's $25 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014 was the biggest to date by a Chinese company.

Zhang, Ma's planned successor, is a former accountant who joined Alibaba in 2007 after working at Shanda Entertainment, an online games company. Zhang served as president of Alibaba's consumer-focused Tmall.com business unit.

Alibaba's e-commerce business spans multiple platforms including business-to-business Alibaba.com, which links foreign buyers with Chinese suppliers of goods from furniture to medical technology, and Tmall, with online shops for popular brands.

Alipay became a freestanding financial company, Ant Financial, in 2014. Alibaba also has expanded into entertainment, set up its own film studio and invested in logistics and delivery services.

Alibaba reported profit last year of $9.8 billion.

The total value of goods sold on all of its platforms rose 28 percent over 2016 to 4.8 trillion yuan ($768 billion), according to the company.

Ma has faced controversy, including when it was disclosed in 2011 that Alibaba had transferred control over Alipay to a company controlled by Ma without immediately informing shareholders including Yahoo Inc. and Japan's Softback.

Alibaba said the move was required to comply with Chinese regulations, but some financial analysts said the company was paid too little for a valuable asset. The dispute was later resolved by Alibaba, Yahoo and Softbank.

Corporate governance specialists also questioned the unusual structure of the Alibaba Partnership, which gives Ma and a group of executives more control over the company than shareholders.

Ma defended the arrangement as necessary to ensure Alibaba focuses on long-term development instead of responding to pressure from financial markets.


Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin wins Miss America pageant

 

Miss New York Nia Franklin reacts after being named Miss America 2019, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press

Atlantic City, N.J. (AP) — Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin was named Miss America 2019 in Atlantic City.

Her victory Sunday night resurrected a string of successes the Empire State has had in the pageant in recent years. Mallory Hagan, Nina Davuluri and Kira Kazantsev won the title from 2013 to 2015 competing as Miss New York.

A classical vocalist whose pageant platform is "advocating for the arts," Franklin sang an operatic selection from the opera La Boheme on Sunday night.

She wrote her first song at age 6. It went "Love, love, love, love, is the only thing that matters to me, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey."

She won a $50,000 scholarship along with the crown in the first Miss America pageant to be held without a swimsuit competition.

Franklin said during her onstage interview that she was one of only a small number of minority students in school growing up, but used her love for music and the arts to grow and fit in.

The fourth runner up was Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras; third runner up was Miss Florida Taylor Tyson; second runner up was Miss Louisiana Holli' Conway, and the first runner up was Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei.

The judges narrowed the field of 51 candidates during the pageant Sunday night from Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

The decision to drop the swimsuit competition created a good deal of controversy and criticism of current Miss America leadership. Minutes before the nationally televised broadcast began, a comedian warming up the crowd mentioned that there would be no swimsuit competition this year, and was met with loud boos in the hall.

The swimsuits have been replaced by onstage interviews, which have generated attention-grabbing remarks from contestants regarding President Trump, and NFL player protests, among other topics.

In her onstage interview Sunday, Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras said people should put their social media devices down for a while.

"We're starting to look at people as Democrat or Republican, black or white. We're not just one kind of people. We are a multi-faceted people."

Behind the scenes, a revolt is underway among most of the Miss America state organizations who demand that national chairwoman Gretchen Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper resign.

The outgoing Miss America, Cara Mund, says the two have bullied and silenced her, claims that the women deny.

Upon taking over at the helm of the Miss America Organization last winter following an email scandal in which former top leaders denigrated the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas, Carlson and Hopper set out to transform the organization, dubbing it "Miss America 2.0."

The most consequential decision was to drop the swimsuit competition and give the candidates more time to talk onstage about themselves, their platforms and how they would do the job of Miss America. Supporters welcomed it as a long-overdue attempt to make Miss America more relevant to contemporary society, while others mourn the loss of what they consider an integral part of what made Miss America an enduring part of Americana.

Unhappy with how the decision was reached, as well as with other aspects of Carlson and Hopper's performance, 46 of the 51 state pageant organizations (the District of Columbia is included) have called on the two to resign.

Adding to the intrigue was a remarkable letter released by Mund, the outgoing Miss America, who said Carlson and Hopper had bullied, silenced and marginalized her. They deny doing any of that, saying they have been working tirelessly to move the organization into the future.

Mund only appeared at the very end of the pageant before the next winner was crowned. She was not allowed to speak live; instead a 30-second taped segment of her speaking was broadcast.


Sweden's ruling party hits election low as far right grows

 

An Electoral counselor posts an election envelope in a polling station in Malmo, Sweden, Sunday Sept. 9, 2018. Polls have opened in Sweden's general election in what is expected to be one of the most unpredictable and thrilling political races in Scandinavian country for decades amid heated discussion around top issue immigration. (Johan Nilsson/TT via AP)

By Pietro Decristofaro and Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press

Stockholm (AP) — Voters handed Sweden's ruling party its worst-ever election result Sunday and delivered a parallel lift to a far-right party with white supremacist roots, leaving the ideological outline of the Scandinavian country's next government uncertain.

After a campaign dominated by debates over immigration, the center-left Social Democratic Party emerged with the greatest share of the vote — 28.4 percent as the count neared completion — yet looking at holding fewer parliament seats and having its mandate to govern questioned.

The potential for an immigration backlash to result in a big boost for the far-right Sweden Democrats inspired fear among many Swedes before the election. It received a little more than one in six votes, or 17.6 percent. Its showing was not as strong as the one-in-five polls had predicted, but good for a third-place finish that had the party's leader telling supporters, "We won."

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job. The leader of the Moderates party that came in second, Ulf Kristersson, already had called on Lofven to resign and claimed the right to form Sweden's next government.

Sounding somber and firm, Lofven told his supporters the election presented "a situation that all responsible parties must deal with," adding that "a party with roots in Nazism" would "never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred."

"We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all good forces. We won't mourn, we will organize ourselves," he said.

Final election returns were expected later in the week. The preliminary results made it unlikely any party would secure a majority of 175 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. It could take weeks or months of coalition talks before the next government is formed.

Both the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats and the center-right bloc in which the Moderates is largest of four parties have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.

Sweden — home to the Nobel prizes and militarily neutral for the better part of two centuries — has been known for its comparatively open doors to migrants and refugees. Sunday's general election was the first since the country of 10 million took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 as mass migration to Europe rose dramatically.

Lofven eventually said Sweden no longer could cope with the influx and immigration laws were tightened.

Like other far-right parties in Europe, the Sweden Democrats worked to soften its neo-Nazi image in the lead-up to the election. The party symbol was switched from a flame thrower to a flower. Members known for making pro-Third Reich statements were pushed out.

It made its first mark in politics with municipal council seats in 2006, and since then slowly helped revise long-accepted social norms for what Swedes could say openly about foreigners and integration without being considered racist.

At the Swedish Democrat's election eve rally Saturday, party leader Jimmie Akesson criticized Lofven's government for "prioritizing" the needs of new immigrants the ones of Swedish citizens.

Akesson was jubilant as he addressed supporters a day later, declaring the estimated 14 parliament seats the Social Democrats picked up a victory other parties could not ignore in coalition negotiations.

"This party has increased and made the biggest gains. Everything is about us," Akesson said. "I am ready to talk with others"

Turnout in the election was reported at 84.4 percent, up from 83 percent in 2014.

Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark. Jeff Schaeffer and Philipp Jenne in Stockholm, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed.


Pence: I'm confident no one on my staff wrote the NYT column

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pence says he's "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump's leadership. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

By Darlene Superville, Associated Press

Washington (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence says he's "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump's leadership.

"I know them. I know their character," Pence said in a taped interview aired Sunday by CBS' "Face the Nation."

Some pundits had speculated that Pence could be the "senior administration official" who wrote the opinion piece because it included language Pence has been known to use, like the unusual word "lodestar." The op-ed writer claimed to be part of a "resistance" movement within the Trump administration that was working quietly behind the scenes to thwart the president's most dangerous impulses.

More than two dozen high-ranking administration officials have denied writing the column. And Pence said his staff has nothing to do with it.

"Let me be very clear. I'm 100 percent confident that no one on the vice president's staff was involved in this anonymous editorial. I know my people," Pence said on "Face the Nation." ''They get up every day and are dedicated, just as much as I am, to advancing the president's agenda and supporting everything ... President Trump is doing for the people of this country."

Asked whether he had asked his staff about the op-ed, Pence said, "I don't have to ask them because I know them. I know their character. I know their dedication and I am absolutely confident that no one on the vice president's staff had anything to do with this."

He restated that he thinks the essay writer should do the "honorable thing and resign."

Publication of the op-ed followed the release of stunning details from an upcoming book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in which current and former aides referred to Trump as an "idiot" and "liar" and depicted him as prone to rash policy decisions that some aides either work to stall or derail entirely.

Both releases are said to have infuriated Trump, who unleashed a string of attacks on Woodward's credibility and dismissed the celebrated author's book as a "work of fiction." Some of the officials featured in the book's anecdotes about the president, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, issued statements denying the comments attributed to them by Woodward.

Woodward has said he stands by his reporting. The book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," is scheduled to be formally released Tuesday, all but ensuring that the debate over Trump's leadership ability and style will extend into a second straight week.

Trump, meanwhile, has denounced the Times opinion piece as "gutless" and its publication as a "disgrace" bordering on treason.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Trump ally, has said the president would be justified in using lie detectors to ferret out the anonymous writer. The president has yet to say whether he'd go that far, but Pence says he'd be willing to submit to such an examination.

"I would agree to take it in a heartbeat and would submit to any review the administration wanted to do," he said in a taped "Fox News Sunday" interview.

Both Pence and Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, pushed back during separate television appearances Sunday on the portrayals of Trump as anything but a thoughtful leader. Both also said they had no idea who wrote the piece; Trump has said he can name up to five people who could have written it.

"What I see is a tough leader, a demanding leader, someone who gets all the options on the table," Pence said on Fox News. "But he makes the decisions, and that's why we've made the progress we've made."

Trump has said the Justice Department should investigate and unmask the anonymous author. He cited national security concerns as grounds for what would amount to an extraordinary criminal probe should Attorney General Jeff Sessions decide to pursue one.

Neither Pence nor Conway answered directly when asked if Sessions should treat Trump's comments as an order. The Justice Department is supposed to make investigative decisions free of political pressure from the White House and the president.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, disagreed that the opinion piece amounted to a national security threat and attributed Trump's musing about a Justice Department investigation "to a president who's lashing out."

On an unrelated matter, Pence said on CBS that he has not been called for an interview by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between Russia and Trump's Republican presidential campaign as well as Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Pence said he's willing to sit down with Mueller if he is asked and added that he so far has cooperated with all requests for information from the special counsel and will continue to do so.
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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Cambodian prime minister says 'let us fix our own problems'

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Leading Brexit supporters deny plot to topple Theresa May

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Report: Chinese building projects narrowing economic gaps

UN chief: World must prevent runaway climate change by 2020

Los Angeles, Paris mayors talk climate, homeless, Olympics


'Wake-up call': 9/11 prompted some to move away to new lives

Mass rally wraps up North Korea's 70th anniversary events

Japan proposes end to commercial whaling ban, faces pushback

Colombian rebels reject conditions for resuming peace talks


Obama to campaign for congressional candidates in California

Alibaba's Jack Ma to step down as chairman in September 2019

Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin wins Miss America pageant

Sweden's ruling party hits election low as far right grows

Pence: I'm confident no one on my staff wrote the NYT column