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Update October 2018


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Update October 24, 2018

China opens mega-bridge linking Hong Kong to mainland

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is seen in Hong Kong, Monday, Oct. 22. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Dake Kang

Zhuhai, China (AP) — China on Tuesday opened the world's longest sea-crossing bridge linking Hong Kong to the mainland, a feat of engineering carrying immense economic and political significance.

Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a ceremony in the city of Zhuhai to open the 55-kilometer (34-mile)-long bridge linking it to the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind him as leaders of the three cities watched.

The $20 billion bridge took almost a decade to build while incurring major delays and cost overruns. It includes an undersea tunnel allowing ships to pass through the Pearl River delta, the heart of China's crucial manufacturing sector.

Its opening will cut travel time across the delta from several hours to just 30 minutes, something China hopes will bind the region together as a major driver of future economic growth. Heavily regulated traffic using permits issued under a quota system will begin flowing on Wednesday.

The bridge forms a physical link between the mainland and Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub that was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997 with the assurance it would maintain its own legal and economic system for 50 years.

That carries major political significance for Xi's administration, which has rejected calls for political liberalization in Hong Kong, sparking fears Beijing will clamp down further on civil liberties before the end of the "one country, two systems" arrangement in 2047.

The bridge's opening also comes a month after the inauguration of a new high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to mainland China that runs along a different, shorter route. That line has vastly decreased travel times but also raised concerns about Beijing's growing influence because mainland Chinese law applies within part of the line's Hong Kong terminus.

To Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong democratic politician, the bridge's political significance outweighs its practical usefulness.

"It's not exactly necessary, because Hong Kong is connected to mainland China in every way already, by land, by air, by sea," Mo told The Associated Press.

"But they still need it as a political symbol or icon to remind Hong Kong people ... that you are connected to the motherland, with this very grand bridge. It's almost like an umbilical cord."

In Zhuhai, however, sentiments revolved around economic growth and national pride.

Airline pilot Liu Gang said he'd been eagerly anticipating the opening of the bridge, calling it a symbol of the mainland's increasingly close ties with Hong Kong and Macau.

"It'll bring us even closer together, make us more flexible, economically and in many other ways. We're now one family," Liu said Monday afternoon while strolling along a walkway and shooting photos of the structure.

Luo Fengzhi, who works in real estate, cited the bridge as evidence of China's growing economic and engineering prowess.

"For Chinese people, this makes them feel proud," she said. "I hope that every patriotic Chinese person can come and see this great feat of engineering, and I welcome foreigners to come and see for themselves as well."


Vietnam parliament elects Communist Party chief as president

Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is sworn in as the country's president in Hanoi, Vietnam, Tuesday, Oct. 23. (Nguyen Phuong Hoa/ Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Yves Dam Van

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's rubber stamp National Assembly elected Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong as the country's president on Tuesday, consolidating his influence as the most powerful man in the Southeast Asian nation.

The 74-year-old Trong is the first Vietnamese leader to hold the two positions since founding President Ho Chi Minh in the 1960s.

He succeeds President Tran Dai Quang, who died last month after battling a viral illness for more than a year.

Raising one hand and placing the other on the constitution, Trong vowed during the swearing-in ceremony to be "absolutely loyal to the nation, people and the constitution."

He acknowledged in his acceptance speech that despite impressive achievements in recent years, Vietnam faces many challenges. "Many heavy tasks and duties are waiting ahead of us," he said.

Earlier this month, the party's Central Committee endorsed Trong as the sole candidate for the presidency.

Nguyen Khac Giang, a researcher at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research in Hanoi, said Trong's serving as general secretary and president could weaken the collective leadership, which was seen as being more democratic than China's single-party rule.

"When power is concentrated in an individual, there's a tendency which could be negative in a way that could lessen the collective leadership inside the party," Giang said.

Vietnam does not have a single paramount leader, with the country run through the collective leadership of the general secretary, president, prime minister and National Assembly chair.

Giang said it's unclear whether the merger of general secretary and president will continue after Trong likely steps down at the next five-year party congress, scheduled for 2021.

Trong, the party's former chief ideologue, was elected to the all-powerful Politburo in 1997, serving as the Communist Party chief of Hanoi and chairman of the National Assembly before being promoted to general secretary in 2011. He was re-elected to another five-year term in January 2016.

Vietnam has seen an increased crackdown on dissidents and corruption, with scores of high-ranking officials and executives jailed since 2016 under Trong's watch.

The anti-corruption drive is likely to continue, according to Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

"With his consolidated power, it's likely that he will continue his signature anti-corruption campaign, a key factor that has helped him strengthen his power and won him the presidency," Hiep said.

Trong became the first general secretary to visit former foe the United States when he met with President Barack Obama at the White House in July 2015.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi congratulated Trong on his election.

"President Trong's selection comes at a time when our bilateral ties with Vietnam have never been stronger," Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said in a statement. "Over the past two decades, the United States and Vietnam have come together to find common purpose based on shared interests. We have expanded our security ties, forged new economic and commercial linkages, and deepened our people-to-people engagement. We share a common desire to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region."

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with President Trong on further strengthening and expanding the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership," Kritenbrink said.
 


EU rejects Italy's budget, raising stakes in dispute

Left to right: vice premier Luigi Di Maio, premier Giuseppe Conte and vice premier Matteo Salvini, pose as they arrive for a press conference at Chigi's Palace, in Rome, Saturday, Oct. 20. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP)

Raf Casert and Colleen Barry

Brussels (AP) — The European Union set up a high-stakes battle with Italy, one of the bloc's biggest economies, over who has final control over a member state's budget after the executive Commission took the unprecedented step of ordering the country to revise its public spending plans.

In a move that escalates a month-long standoff, the EU said the populist government's budget for next year is out of line and breaks earlier promises to lower public debt.

Italy's debt load is the second-highest in Europe, after Greece, and there are worries that losing control of spending could rekindle financial turmoil in Europe. The populist Italian government says the sharp increase in spending is needed to jumpstart growth after years of malaise.

"We see no alternative but to request the Italian government to revise its draft budgetary plan," EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was quick to warn the EU to keep its hands off. "No one will take one euro from this budget."

The confrontation laid bare the fundamental problem within the eurozone where 19 EU nations share the same currency, yet governments maintain autonomy over spending priorities and the EU has been reluctant to enforce spending limits.

Since the euro economy can be destabilized when one member state loses control of its finances, like Greece did a decade ago, the other nations want to have some say over excessive spending, especially when it concerns the region's third-biggest economy.

The EU Commission said it had no choice after Italy proposed a deficit of 2.4 percent of GDP for next year — three times more than what it had previously targeted. The higher deficit means Italy would not fulfill its promise to lower its debt, which is over 130 percent of GDP and more than twice the EU limit of 60 percent.

Without a tough stance on the issue, the EU could see its credibility erode and markets could lose confidence in its ability to keep public spending in check.

The Commission wrote in its official opinion that "given the size of the Italian economy within the euro area, the choice of the government to increase the budget deficit ... creates risks of negative spill-overs for the other euro area member states."

EU Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici highlighted how Italy's budget would hurt its own people by saddling the young with higher debt payments. The cost of servicing Italian public debt is already equal to the country's entire spending on education — 65 billion euros a year.

"Italy must continue its effort to lower its debt because it is the enemy of the economy," he said.

The EU said it had already been lenient enough with Italy in recent years, giving it 30 billion euros ($34 billion) worth of wiggle room in its spending plans, as well as investment funds.

The EU's executive wants the Italian government to produce a new budget proposal within three weeks.

Italy argues the spending increase is needed to get growth going and fulfil electoral promises. The extra money will be spent on restoring pensions to as many as 400,000 people whose retirement age had been pushed back and on a basic income for some job-seekers.

"We know that we are the last line of defense for social rights of Italians. And for this we won't let you down. We know that if we would give up, that the experts for the banks and austerity would return. So we will not give up," Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook.

The hard-line stance of the two populist leaders, Di Maio and Salvini, to some degree defies a more conciliatory position by the country's economy minister, who signaled in his response to Brussels that Italy would be willing to change plans if it didn't achieve the desired results.

But both populist leaders also have something to gain with their voter base by leveraging a confrontation with the EU, which has been seen as the bogeyman requiring austerity cuts in recent years. European parliament elections loom in the spring and Di Maio and Salvini are jostling to gain influence before then.

Markets were quick to punish Italy over the dispute, with the government's cost of borrowing on international bond markets rising and the Milan stock market falling 1 percent.

Italy's standoff with Brussels has had its first impact on corporate Italy, with credit rating's agency Moody's downgrading a slew of companies and banks just days after lowering Italy one notch to just one level above junk status.

Those hit include state-controlled Eni oil company, the Italian Post Office, defense contractor Leonardo and 12 banks.

Eni, which is 30-percent government-owned, said in a statement that the action was taken despite "favorable prospects for the company and the expectation of strong credit metrics."


BMW to recall 1.6 million vehicles worldwide over fire risk

 In this Aug. 1, 2017 file photo the brand logo of German car maker BMW is photographed on a car in Berlin. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Frankfurt, Germany (AP) — Automaker BMW says it is expanding a recall to cover 1.6 million vehicles worldwide due to possible fluid leaks that could result in a fire.

BMW said Tuesday that in some diesel vehicles coolant could leak from the exhaust gas recirculation module, part of the emissions reduction system. The leaks could combine with soot at high temperatures and lead to a fire.

The Munich-based company had already decided to recall 480,000 vehicles in Asia and Europe after fires were reported in South Korea. No injuries were reported. Further examination led to an expansion of the maintenance action.

The recall covers some vehicles made between 2010 and 2017; a company statement said that customers with affected cars would be contacted. Some 54,700 vehicles are affected in the U.S and Canada.


China emergency crews struggling to rescue 18 trapped miners

 

In this photo taken Oct. 21, 2018 and released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers walk out of the site of a coal mine where falling rocks killed miners and trapped some in Yuncheng County in eastern China's Shandong Province. (Guo Xulei/Xinhua via AP)

Beijing (AP) — Emergency crews were struggling Tuesday to rescue 18 coal miners trapped underground in eastern China following a collapse inside the shaft three days earlier.

Three miners were killed by falling rocks in Saturday's collapse in Shandong province that also destroyed part of a drainage tunnel.

State media showed ambulances standing by at the mine entrance and crews equipped with oxygen tanks heading underground.

More than 300 people were working inside the mine at the time of the collapse, and most were lifted to safety.

China long had the world's deadliest coal mines but safety has improved considerably with more modern equipment, better training and the closure of most of the smallest, most dangerous mines.

China is by far the world's largest coal consumer and the amount it mined last year increased about 3 percent in 2017. While some coal projects have been cancelled as China struggles to clear polluted skies, coal remains key to providing heat and powering the economy.


Saudi economic forum opens but many absent over Khashoggi

Saudi employees print badges of participants of the Future Investment Initiative conference, Tuesday, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Aya Batrawy

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A high-profile economic forum in Saudi Arabia began on Tuesday in Riyadh, the kingdom's first major event on the world stage since the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

The Future Investment Initiative forum is the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aimed at drawing more foreign investment into the kingdom and to help create desperately needed jobs for its youthful population.

Prince Mohammed was not immediately at the forum when it started.

The forum last year proved to be a glitzy affair that drew more international business attention to the kingdom. This year's event meanwhile has seen many top business leaders and officials drop out over Khashoggi's Oct. 2 slaying.

The killing of Khashoggi has marred the prince's standing, especially amid Turkish media reports a member of his entourage on trips abroad allegedly took part in the slaying and made phone calls to the prince's office.

Saudi Arabia, which for weeks maintained Khashoggi had left the consulate, on Saturday acknowledged he had been killed there in a "fistfight." Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2, knowing Khashoggi would enter the consulate to get a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside, the Saudis accosted Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer, according to Turkish media reports.

The killing has also thrown into question whether Western executives will continue business as usual with the crown prince, who as King Salman's favored son is the second most powerful man in the kingdom.

Last year, the investment forum grabbed headlines when Prince Mohammed wowed the crowd of global business titans with pledges to lead the ultraconservative kingdom toward "moderate Islam." He also announced plans to build a $500 billion futuristic city in the desert.

He spoke on stage alongside Stephen Schwarzman of U.S. private equity firm Blackstone and Masayoshi Son of Japan's technology conglomerate SoftBank.

Schwarzman is among those who've backed out of attending this year. Others include U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who met with Prince Mohammed separately before the forum, according to Saudi state television.

Among its many investments domestically and abroad, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, which the crown prince oversees, has invested $20 billion in a U.S.-focused infrastructure fund with Blackstone.

The Public Investment Fund has also invested $3.5 billion in ride-sharing firm Uber, whose CEO also backed out of attending this year's forum.

Just days after last year's forum, the emboldened prince launched a sweeping shakedown of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest businessmen and top princes for alleged corruption, transforming the same Ritz-Carlton hotel that had earlier hosted the investment forum into a prison for the country's elite.

The crackdown — a surprise move by the prince, who's upended the kingdom's reputation for slow, cautions reforms — rattled investors.

Alongside moves like allowing cinemas to open and lifting a ban on women driving, the crown prince has led a stifling crackdown on dissent. Dozens of critics and activists have been detained, including several women and their supporters who had long pushed for the right


Update October 23, 2018

'Extremely dangerous' Hurricane Willa aims for Mexico's west

This image provided by NOAA on Monday, Oct. 22, shows Hurricane Willa in the eastern Pacific, on a path to smash into Mexico's western coast. (NOAA via AP)

Mexico City (AP) — Hurricane Willa has grown rapidly into an "extremely dangerous" near-Category 5 storm in the eastern Pacific, on a path to smash into Mexico's western coast between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta by Wednesday.

The governments of Sinaloa and Nayarit states ordered coastal region schools to close on Monday and began preparing emergency shelters ahead of the onslaught.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that Willa could "produce life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall over portions of southwestern and west-central Mexico beginning on Tuesday."  It predicted that Willa could become a Category 5 hurricane later Monday, generating life-threatening surf and rip tide conditions.

A hurricane warning was posted for Mexico's western coast between San Blas and Mazatlan, including the Islas Marias, a nature reserve and federal prison directly in the forecast track of the storm.

Tropical storm warnings ranged from Playa Perula north to San Blas and from Mazatlan north to Bahia Tempehuaya. The center said Willa is expected make landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

By early Monday, Willa had maximum sustained winds of 255 kph — the same windspeed Hurricane Michael had at landfall in Florida — and was centered about 325 kilometers south-southwest of the Islas Marias and 250 kilometers south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes. It was moving north at 11 kph.

Hurricane force winds extended 45 kilometers from the storm's core and tropical storm force winds were up to 150 kilometers out.

The hurricane center said 15 to 30 centimeters of rain should fall — and some places could see up to 45 centimeters — on parts of western Jalisco, western Nayarit and southern Sinaloa states. It warned of the danger of flash flooding and landslides in mountainous areas.

Farther to the south, Tropical Storm Vicente weakened but was still expected to produce heavy rainfall and flooding over parts of southern and southwestern Mexico.

By early Monday, its core was about 310 kilometers southeast of Acapulco with top sustained winds of 75 kph. The hurricane center said it could produce 7.5 to 15 centimeters of rain in parts of Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima and Jalisco states.


Koreas finish removing land mines from border village

U.S.-led United Nations Command, left, South Korean, center, and North Korean, right, military officers attend a meeting at the southern side of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 22. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Hyung-Jin Kim

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — The two Koreas have completed removing land mines planted at their shared border village as part of efforts to disarm the area located inside the world's most heavily fortified border, South Korean officials said Monday.

The announcement came following a meeting among military officers from the Koreas and the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the border's Panmunjom village earlier Monday. It's the second such trilateral meeting to examine efforts to demilitarize Panmunjom, the most well-known place inside the 248-kilometer-long Demilitarized Zone that bisect the two Koreas.

Disarming the village was among a set of tension-reduction agreements signed by the Koreas' defense chiefs on the sidelines of their leaders' summit in Pyongyang last month.

As the next disarmament steps at Panmunjom, the two Koreas and the U.N. Command agreed on withdrawing weapons and guard posts there by Thursday. The three sides will then spend two days jointly verifying those measures, Seoul's Defense Ministry said in a statement. The Koreas eventually aim to have 35 unarmed personnel from each side guard the village.

Officially, the entire DMZ area, including Panmunjom, is jointly overseen by North Korea and the U.N. Command, a legacy of the Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea and China signed the armistice on one side, while the U.N. Command signed on the other side. South Korea wasn't a signatory to the agreement.

Panmunjom is where the armistice was signed. Numerous incidents of bloodshed and violence have taken place there since the war's end, and rival soldiers face each other only feet away from each other at Panmunjom.

As part of the September deals, the two Koreas are separately clearing mines from another front-line area, where they plan their first-ever joint searches for the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War. The Koreas also plan to establish buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries, and a no-fly zone above the border.

Also Monday, officials from the Koreas met at their recently launched liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong for talks on how to cooperate in forestry sectors. General-level officers from the Koreas are to meet for bilateral talks at Panmunjom on Friday to discuss more details about how to implement the tension-reduction deals, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

Seoul's liberal government is pushing for greater engagement with North Korea, but U.S. officials say such moves should be in tandem with global efforts to denuclearize North Korea.


Zika outbreak in northern India state exceeds 100 cases

In this Jan. 27, 2016 file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito known to carry the Zika virus, is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

New Delhi (AP) — The number of Zika virus cases has crossed 100 in Rajasthan, a state in northern India where palaces and forts draw large numbers of tourists each year.

The Press Trust of India news agency reports eight new cases were reported from the state capital of Jaipur on Saturday.

The agency says that the new cases come amid a state health department investigation to track the outbreak of Zika in pregnant women in their first trimester.

Zika symptoms include fever, rashes and joint pain, and the disease has been linked to birth deformities in some cases.

The World Health Organization says that the first case in India was reported from Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat in January 2017.

WHO says Zika has been reported in 86 countries.


Norwegian hero Roenneberg who blew up Nazi plant dies at 99

Norwegian war hero and resistance fighter Joachim Roenneberg is shown in this Thursday, April 25, 2013 file photo. P (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Jan M. Olsen

Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) — Norway on Monday mourned World War II saboteur Joachim Roenneberg, who headed a five-man team that daringly blew up a plant producing heavy water, depriving Nazi Germany of a key ingredient it could have used to make nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Roenneberg, who died Sunday at 99, was "one of our finest resistance fighters" whose "courage contributed to what has been referred to as the most successful sabotage campaign" in Norway.

Roenneberg, then 23, was tapped by the Special Operations Executive, or SOE — Britain's war-time intelligence gathering and sabotage unit — to destroy key parts of the heavily guarded plant in Telemark, in southern Norway, in a raid in February 1943.

In a 2014 Norwegian documentary in connection with his 95th birthday, Roenneberg said the daring operation went "like a dream"  — a reference to the fact that not a single shot was fired.

Parachuting onto snow-covered mountains, the group was joined by a handful of other commando soldiers before skiing to their destination. They then penetrated the fortress-like heavy-water plant to blow up its production line.

Roenneberg said he made a last-minute decision to cut the length of his fuse from several minutes to seconds, ensuring that the explosion would take place but making it more difficult to escape. The group skied hundreds of kilometers across the mountains to escape and Roenneberg, wearing a British uniform, ended up in neighboring neutral Sweden.

Operation Gunnerside has been recounted in books, documentaries, films and TV series, including "The Heroes of Telemark," starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

"We must not forget what he stood for and has passed on to us," said Eva Vinje Aurdal, mayor of his hometown of Aalesund, 380 kilometers northwest of the capital, Oslo.

The town ordered flags to fly at half-mast Monday and flowers were laid at the foot of a sculpture of Roenneberg, showing him in a uniform, walking up a rocky path. Inaugurated in 2014 by Roenneberg, the granite monument carries the names of all the men who took part in the World War II raid.


Health workers in Congo's Ebola outbreak attacked weekly

In this photo taken Friday, Oct 5, 2018, Congolese Soldiers patrol in an area civilians were killed by The Allied Democratic Forces rebels in Beni, Eastern Congo. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Cara Anna

Johannesburg (AP) — Health teams responding to Congo's latest Ebola outbreak are attacked three or four times a week on average, a level of violence unseen in the country's nine previous outbreaks of the deadly virus, the health ministry said Monday.

The coordinator of the outbreak response, Dr. Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, spoke to reporters after a weekend marked by deadly rebel attacks and violent protests that suspended Ebola containment efforts in the epicenter of the outbreak.

In one attack, two health agents with Congo's military were killed by rebels in the first such deaths since the outbreak was declared Aug. 1. The next day, residents of Beni protested another rebel attack that killed 15 civilians by pelting aid groups' vehicles with stones.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "outraged" by the violence against health workers and is calling on all armed groups to immediately stop attacks, his spokesman said Monday.

The number of confirmed Ebola cases in this outbreak is now 203, including 120 deaths. The virus is spread by contact with bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.

Each suspension of Ebola containment work affects both vaccinations and the tracking of contacts of infected people. A deadly rebel attack late last month in Beni, the outbreak's epicenter, forced work to stop for days while angry residents traumatized for years by conflict brought the community to a standstill.

Since then many of the new Ebola cases have been in Beni, while aid groups have expressed alarm that the number of new cases overall more than doubled since the start of this month. In the week ending Sunday, 19 of the outbreak's 22 new cases were in Beni.

This is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in Congo's far northeast, where multiple rebel groups are active. Resistance by wary communities has been a major concern, with infected people slipping away and safe burials a flashpoint as families bristle at outsiders telling them how to say goodbye to loved ones.

Bathe told reporters he regretted that some community members were putting themselves in danger.

One group of youths in Beni recently stole the body of an Ebola victim on the way to the cemetery with the family's consent, he said. After touching the corpse, one of the youths became infected and died.


Update October 16, 2018

Flash floods kill at least 13 people in southwest France

 

A man rides past a damaged car in the town of Villegailhenc, southern France, Monday, Oct. 15. (AP Photo/Fred Lancelot)

John Leicester

Paris (AP) — Flash floods tore through towns in southwest France, turning waterways into raging torrents that killed at least 13 people, nine of them in just one town, authorities said Monday. People had to be helicoptered to safety from the roofs of their homes as overnight storms dumped the equivalent of several months of rain in just a few hours.

Worst hit was the town of Trebes, east of the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. The rains that swept in from the Mediterranean killed nine people there, Interior Ministry spokesman Frederic de Lanouvelle said.

He told BFMTV that the floods in the Aude region also killed four other people in other locations, left one person missing and seriously injured five others.

In the town of Villegailhenc, witness Ines Siguet said the waters rose so quickly that people were stranded on the roofs of their homes and had to be helicoptered to safety. She posted video of a ripped-up road where a bridge used to be, torn away by a flood torrent that cut the town in half.

"There's nothing left. There's just a hole," the 17-year-old resident told The Associated Press. "It was very violent."

Other roads also were flooded, leaving the town cut off, she said. Siguet's school was shut down amid the destruction. Two people were killed in the town, according to the Aude regional government.

Alain Thirion, the prefect of Aude, said some of the dead appeared to have been swept away by floodwaters. In the town of Conques-sur-Orbiel, the river rose by more than six meters (20 feet), he said.

Floodwaters were in some cases too powerful for emergency services to get through, even on boats, he said.

Television images showed waters coursing through towns and villages, with cars stranded in the floods and piled up on top of each other like children's toys.

The French government rushed hundreds of rescue workers into the flood zone and helicopters buzzed overhead. Schools were closed and authorities were urging people to stay home.


Microsoft co-founder, philanthropist Paul Allen dies at 65

In this Sept. 17, 2017 photo, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen waves to fans before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates before becoming a billionaire philanthropist who invested in conservation, space travel, arts and culture and professional sports, died Monday. He was 65. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Phuong Le

Seattle (AP) — Paul G. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates before becoming a billionaire philanthropist who invested in conservation, space travel, arts and culture and professional sports, died Monday. He was 65.

He died in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, his company Vulcan Inc. announced.

Gates said he was heartbroken about the loss of one of his "oldest and dearest friends."

"Personal computing would not have existed without him," Gates said in a statement.

"But Paul wasn't content with starting one company. He channeled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people's lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world. He was fond of saying, 'If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it,'" Gates wrote.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called Allen's contributions to the company, community and industry "indispensable."

"As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world," Nadella wrote on Twitter.

Allen, an avid sports fan, owned the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks.

Over the course of several decades, Allen gave more than $2 billion to a wide range of interests, including ocean health, homelessness and advancing scientific research.

"Millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal," Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said in a statement.

Allen was on the list of America's wealthiest people who pledged to give away the bulk of their fortunes to charity. "Those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity," he said.

Allen and Gates met while attending a private school in north Seattle. The two friends would later drop out of college to pursue the future they envisioned: A world with a computer in every home.

Gates so strongly believed it that he left Harvard University in his junior year to devote himself full-time to his and Allen's startup, originally called Micro-Soft. Allen spent two years at Washington State University before dropping out as well.

They founded the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and their first product was a computer language for the Altair hobby-kit personal computer, giving hobbyists a basic way to program and operate the machine.

After Gates and Allen found some success selling their programming language, MS-Basic, the Seattle natives moved their business in 1979 to Bellevue, Washington, not far from its eventual home in Redmond.

Microsoft's big break came in 1980, when IBM Corp. decided to move into personal computers and asked Microsoft to provide the operating system.

Gates and Allen didn't invent the operating system. To meet IBM's needs, they spent $50,000 to buy one known as QDOS from another programmer, Tim Paterson. Eventually the product refined by Microsoft — and renamed DOS, for Disk Operating System — became the core of IBM PCs and their clones, catapulting Microsoft into its dominant position in the PC industry.

The first versions of two classic Microsoft products, Microsoft Word and the Windows operating system, were released in 1983. By 1991, Microsoft's operating systems were used by 93 percent of the world's personal computers.

The Windows operating system is now used on most of the world's desktop computers, and Word is the cornerstone of the company's prevalent Office products.

Gates and Allen became billionaires when Microsoft was thrust onto the throne of technology.

With his sister Jody Allen in 1986, Paul Allen founded Vulcan, the investment firm that oversees his business and philanthropic efforts. He founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the aerospace firm Stratolaunch, which has built a colossal airplane designed to launch satellites into orbit. He has also backed research into nuclear-fusion power.

Allen also funded maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately developed manned spacecraft to reach space.

The SpaceShipOne technology was licensed by Sir Richard Branson for Virgin Galactic, which is testing a successor design to carry tourists on brief hops into lower regions of space.

Branson tweeted Monday: "So sad to hear about the passing of Paul Allen. Among many other things he was a pioneer of commercial space travel. We shared a belief that by exploring space in new ways we can improve life on Earth."

When Allen released his 2011 memoir, "Idea Man," he allowed 60 Minutes inside his home on Lake Washington, across the water from Seattle, revealing collections that included the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock to vintage war planes and a 300-foot yacht with its own submarine.

Allen served as Microsoft's executive vice president of research and new product development until 1983, when he resigned after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"To be 30 years old and have that kind of shock — to face your mortality — really makes you feel like you should do some of the things that you haven't done yet," Allen said in a 2000 book, "Inside Out: Microsoft in Our Own Words."

Two weeks ago, Allen announced that the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that he was treated for in 2009 had returned and he planned to fight it aggressively.

"My brother was a remarkable individual on every level," his sister Jody Allen said in a statement. "Paul's family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern," she added.

Allen never married or had children.

His influence is firmly imprinted on the cultural landscape of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, from the bright metallic Museum of Pop Culture designed by architect Frank Gehry to the computer science center at the University of Washington that bears his name.

In 1988 at 35, he bought the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team. He told The Associated Press that "for a true fan of the game, this is a dream come true."

He also was a part owner of the Seattle Sounders FC, a major league soccer team, and bought the Seattle Seahawks. Allen could sometimes be seen at games or chatting in the locker room with players.


German police free hostage, injure suspect in train station

Special police operate outside the Cologne train station in Germany, Monday, Oct. 15. (Marius Becker/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — German police stormed a pharmacy in Cologne's main train station Monday, freeing a woman who had been held hostage by a man for two hours, officials said. The suspect sustained life-threatening injuries.

It wasn't immediately clear how the man was injured and police said on Twitter that emergency personnel were trying to revive him with CPR. The hostage was also slightly injured and treated on the scene.

Around the time of the incident, a teenage girl was taken from the train station to the hospital with injuries, police spokesman Christoph Schulte said. He wouldn't confirm local media reports that the hostage-taker had first attacked the girl before taking the other woman hostage.

Police didn't give details about the hostage-taker's identity or motive. They also didn't reveal the hostage's identity.

Before police stormed the pharmacy, the entire train station, one of the biggest in Germany, was evacuated and all train traffic was stopped, leading to delays and cancelations across western Germany.


Saudi-Turkish team to see consulate where writer vanished

 

Personnel wait to enter Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, Oct. 15. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Fay Abuelgasim, Suzan Fraser and Jon Gambrell

Istanbul (AP) — Turkish and Saudi investigators on Monday were to begin conducting what Turkish officials called a joint "inspection" of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing nearly two weeks ago.

A team arrived by unmarked police cars at the consulate and said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building.

International concern continues to grow over the writer's Oct. 2 disappearance. American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain have jointly called for a "credible investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance.

A Foreign Ministry official had earlier said the team would visit the diplomatic post Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on Oct. 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.

However, it remained unclear what evidence, if any, would remain nearly two weeks after Khashoggi's disappearance. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.

President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face "severe punishment" if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi's disappearance. Trump tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Saudi King Salman, "who denies any knowledge" of what happened to Khashoggi.

"He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer," Trump wrote. "I am immediately sending our Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) to meet with King!"

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it "receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy."

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations," said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.

Saudi media followed on from that statement in television broadcasts and newspaper front pages Monday.

The Arabic-language daily Okaz wrote a headline on Monday in English warning: "Don't Test Our Patience." It showed a clenched fist made of a crowd of people in the country's green color.

The Saudi Gazette trumpeted: "Enough Is Enough," while the Arab News said: "Saudi Arabia 'will not be bullied'."

The Arab News' headline was above a front-page editorial by Dubai-based real-estate tycoon Khalaf al-Habtoor, calling on Gulf Arab nations to boycott international firms now backing out of a planned economic summit in Riyadh later this month.

"Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the kingdom, we will be next in line," al-Habtoor said.

Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom's upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as "Davos in the Desert," though it has no association with the World Economic Forum. They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

News that the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, would pull out of the conference drew angry responses across the region. The foreign minister of the neighboring island kingdom of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted Sunday night that there should be a boycott of the ride-hailing app both there and in Saudi Arabia.

Late Sunday, Saudi King Salman spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi. Turkey said Erdogan "stressed the forming of a joint working group to probe the case." Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" for forming the working group.

The king said Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and "that no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship," according to a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency. While Turkey and the kingdom differ on political issues, Saudi investments are a crucial lifeline for Ankara amid trouble with its national currency, the Turkish lira.

Prince Mohammed, King Salman's son, has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

The Saudi stock exchange, only months earlier viewed as a darling of frontier investors, plunged as much as 7 percent at one point Sunday before closing down over 4 percent. On Monday, Riyadh's Tadawul exchange closed up 4 percent.

Concerns appeared to spread Monday to Japan's SoftBank, which has invested tens of billions of dollars of Saudi government funds. SoftBank was down over 7 percent in trading on Tokyo's stock exchange.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.


Koreas agree to break ground on inter-Korean railroad

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon during their meeting at the southern side of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 15. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)

Kim Tong-Hyung

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea continued their push for peace Monday with high-level talks that resulted in a host of agreements, including a plan by the rivals for a groundbreaking ceremony this year on an ambitious project to connect their railways and roads.

The agreements come amid unease in Washington over the speed of inter-Korean engagement. Many outsiders believe that U.S.-led efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear-tipped missiles are lagging significantly behind the Koreas' efforts to move past decades of bitter rivalry.

There was also controversy over a decision by South Korea's Unification Ministry to block a North Korean defector-turned-reporter from covering the talks at the border village of Panmunjom over concerns of angering North Korea. This drew a fierce reaction from other journalists, who accused the ministry of infringing media freedoms and discriminating against North Korea-born citizens.

A series of weapons tests by North Korea last year, and an exchange of insults and threats between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had many on the Korean Peninsula fearing war. But there has since been a surprising peace initiative, with three inter-Korean summits and a June meeting in Singapore between Trump and Kim. The U.S. and North Korea are working on plans for a second such summit.

Still, there is widespread skepticism that North Korea will disarm. And, despite the fanfare for the proposed railway and road projects, the Koreas cannot move much further along without the lifting of international sanctions against North Korea, which isn't likely to come before it takes firmer steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons and missiles.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with the North, said in a statement that the government will share details from Monday's meeting with the United States and other nations and will closely coordinate with them to avoid any friction over sanctions.

The ministry said the rivals agreed Monday to hold general-level military talks soon to discuss reducing border tensions and setting up a joint military committee that's meant to maintain communication and avoid crises and accidental clashes.

The Koreas also agreed to use their newly opened liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong to host talks between sports officials in late October to discuss plans to send combined teams to the 2020 Summer Olympics and to make a push to co-host the 2032 Summer Games.

And the two countries will hold Red Cross talks at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort in November to set up video-conference meetings between aging relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and potentially expand face-to-face reunions between them.

Monday's talks were aimed at finding ways to carry out peace agreements announced after a summit last month between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said it was meaningful that the Koreas are getting faster in reaching agreements as their diplomacy gains traction. His North Korean counterpart, Ri Son Gwon, who heads an agency dealing with inter-Korean affairs, said "no group and no force will be able to prevent the path toward peace, prosperity and our nation's unification."

At the most recent summit between Moon and Kim, the two leaders committed to reviving economic cooperation when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such activity.

They also announced measures to reduce conventional military threats, such as creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, removing 11 front-line guard posts by December, and demining sections of the Demilitarized Zone.

Moon has described inter-Korean engagement as crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff and is eager to restart joint economic projects held back by sanctions if the larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea begin yielding results.

However, South Korea's enthusiasm for engagement with its rival appears to have created discomfort with the United States, a key ally.

Moon's government last week walked back a proposal to lift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea following Trump's blunt retort that Seoul could "do nothing" without Washington's approval.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed displeasure about the Koreas' military agreements. Kang was not specific, but her comments fueled speculation that Washington wasn't fully on board before Seoul signed the agreements.

Trump has encouraged U.S. allies to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it denuclearizes to maintain a campaign of pressure against Kim's government.

There also was criticism in South Korea on Monday of efforts by Moon's government to keep North Korea happy.

Unification Minister Cho said his call to exclude North Korea-born Kim Myeong-sung from a pool of reporters covering the meeting was an "inevitable policy decision" to improve the chance for successful talks.

He said the ministry would work harder to assure that North Korea-born defectors can report on North Korea issues without restrictions. But he didn't offer a straightforward answer when asked whether he would make the same decision in the future.

Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun earlier said North Korea did not demand that Kim be excluded from covering the meeting.  Kim is a reporter for the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's biggest newspaper, which has been largely critical of Moon's policies. The South Korean press corps covering the ministry issued a statement denouncing it for a "grave infringement of media freedoms."


Update October 15, 2018

Myanmar demonstrators condemn foreign intervention

Supporters hold flags of Myanmar during a pro-military rally Sunday, Oct. 14, in front of city hall in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — Several thousand pro-military and nationalist demonstrators marched through Yangon on Sunday, voicing their support for Myanmar's armed forces and government while condemning foreign involvement in the country's affairs.

The march led to a stage lined with portraits of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, where speakers addressed a flag-waving crowd and condemned the international community's involvement in Myanmar, claiming groups would "fight back" against international bodies who have called for the investigation and prosecution of the country's top generals.

"We, the people of Myanmar, strongly denounce and condemn any intervention or intrusion by the foreign countries, international communities and various organizations which unrightfully manipulate our nation and our Myanmar armed forces," proclaimed one of the speakers of the event, reading from a prepared statement.

Nationalist monk Wirathu also gave a speech calling for the international community to stay out of Myanmar's national affairs.

"The day the International Criminal Court comes to our country, that's the day R2P (road to repatriation) comes to our country. That'll be the day that Wirathu picks up a gun," Wirathu said.

A United Nations fact-finding mission reported last month that Myanmar's military systematically killed thousands of Rohingya Muslim civilians, burned hundreds of their villages and engaged in ethnic cleansing and mass rape. It called for top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was unable to be reached for comment Sunday.


Saudis reject threats as stocks plunge after Trump comments

In this Oct. 7, 2008 file photo, the shadow of a Saudi trader is seen on a stock market monitor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Sunday threatened to retaliate for any sanctions imposed against it after President Donald Trump said the oil-rich kingdom deserves "severe punishment" if it is responsible for the disappearance and suspected murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

The warning from the world's top oil exporter came after a turbulent day on the Saudi stock exchange, which plunged as much as 7 percent at one point.

The statement was issued as international concern grew over the writer who vanished on a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul over a week ago. American lawmakers threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain jointly called for a "credible investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom's upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as "Davos in the Desert," and the sell-off on Riyadh's Tadawul stock exchange showed that investors are uneasy.

The exchange dropped by over 500 points, then clawed back some of the losses, ending the day down 264 points, or more than 4 percent. Of 188 stocks traded on the exchange, 179 ended the day with a loss.

"Something this big would definitely spook investors, and Saudi just opened up for foreign direct investment, so that was big," said Issam Kassabieh, a financial analyst at Dubai-based firm Menacorp Finance. "Investors do not feel solid in Saudi yet, so it's easy for them to take back their funds."

In an interview scheduled to air Sunday, Trump told CBS' "60 Minutes" that Saudi Arabia would face strong consequences if involved in Khashoggi's disappearance.

"There's something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that was the case, so we're going to have to see," Trump said. "We're going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment."

But the president has also said "we would be punishing ourselves" by canceling arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The sales are a "tremendous order for our companies," and if the Saudis don't buy their weaponry from the U.S., they will get it from others, he said.

In a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the kingdom warned that if it "receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy."

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations," the statement said.

The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.

"If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure," Turki Aldakhil wrote.

It's unclear, however, whether Saudi Arabia would be willing to unilaterally cut production.

Aldakhil added that Saudi arms purchases from the U.S. and other trade could be at risk as well. "The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh!" he wrote.

Prince Mohammed has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh called the Future Investment Initiative. That includes the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars, as well as billionaire Richard Branson.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Counselor Ahmed Hafez, said Egypt is following with concern the repercussions of the case of Khashoggi, and stressed the importance of revealing the truth of the matter through a transparent investigation, while emphasizing the gravity of preempting investigations and directing groundless accusations.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.


Bavarian voters punish Merkel allies in state election

Horst Seehofer, German Interior Minister and Chairman of the Christian Social Union, CSU, arrives for a statement in the state parliament in Munich, Germany, Sunday, Oct. 14, after his party lost in he Bavarian state election. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Geir Moulson

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative allies lost their absolute majority in Bavaria's state parliament by a wide margin in a regional election Sunday, a result that could cause more turbulence within the national government.

The Christian Social Union took 37.2 percent of the vote, down from 47.7 percent five years ago. It was the party's worst performance since 1950 in a state vote in Bavaria, which it has traditionally dominated.

Constant squabbling in Merkel's national government and a power struggle at home have weighed on the CSU. It is traditionally a touch more right-wing than the chancellor's party and has taken a hard-line on migration, clashing with Merkel on the issue.

There were gains for parties to its left and right. The Greens won 17.5 percent to secure second place, double their support in 2013. The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, entered the state legislature with 10.2 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the center-left Social Democrats, Merkel's other national coalition partner in Berlin, finished in fifth place with a disastrous 9.7 percent, less than half what they received in 2013 and their worst in the state since World War II.

The CSU has governed Bavaria, the prosperous southeastern state that is home to some 13 million of Germany's 82 million people, for more than six decades.

Needing coalition partners to govern is itself a major setback for the party, which exists only in Bavaria and held an absolute majority in the state parliament for all but five of the past 56 years.

"Of course this isn't an easy day for the CSU," the state's governor, Markus Soeder, told supporters in Munich, adding that the party accepted the "painful" result "with humility."

Pointing to goings-on in Berlin, Soeder said, "It's not so easy to uncouple yourself from the national trend completely."

Still, he stressed that the CSU emerged as the state's strongest party with a mandate to form the next Bavarian government.

He said his preference was for a center-right coalition. That would see the CSU partner with the Free Voters, a local conservative rival that made modest gains to win 11.6 percent.

The Greens, traditionally bitter opponents of the CSU with a more liberal approach to migration and an emphasis on environmental issues, are another possible partner. A pro-business party, the Free Democrats, scraped into the state legislature with 5.1 percent support but won't be needed to form a coalition.

The CSU has long leveraged its strength at the state level to punch above its weight in national politics. In Berlin, the party is one of three in Merkel's federal coalition government along with its conservative sister, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, and the Social Democrats.

That government has been notable largely for internal squabbling since it took office in March. The CSU leader, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, has often played a starring role.

Back in Bavaria, a long-running CSU power struggle saw the 69-year-old Seehofer give up his job as state governor earlier this year to Soeder, a younger and sometimes bitter rival.

Seehofer has sparred with Merkel about migration on and off since 2015, when he assailed her decision to leave Germany's borders open as refugees and others crossed the Balkans.

They argued in June over whether to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border, briefly threatening to bring down the national government.

The interior minister also featured prominently in a coalition crisis last month over Germany's domestic intelligence chief, who was accused of playing down recent far-right violence against migrants.

Seehofer has faced widespread speculation lately that a poor Bavarian result would cost him his job. He told ZDF television his party's election performance had causes in both Berlin and Munich.

"Of course, I as party leader bear a share of responsibility for this result," Seehofer said, adding that he was prepared to discuss consequences for Sunday's outcome, but not immediately.

It remains to be seen whether and how the Bavarian result will affect the national government's stability or Merkel's long-term future.

Any aftershocks may be delayed because another state election is coming Oct. 28 in neighboring Hesse, where conservative Volker Bouffier is defending the 19-year hold of Merkel's CDU on the governor's office. Bouffier has criticized the CSU for diminishing people's trust in Germany's conservatives.

The CDU's general secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said the party must show discipline and focus on Hesse. She acknowledged that the national government's woes have been unhelpful.

"It is totally undisputed that the way we have treated each other in the coalition, and also the way we argued with each other in the summer, was anything but inspiring for the state election in Bavaria," she said.


Round of talks don't resolve Brexit problems ahead of summit

In this photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, a sign in a parking lot of a cemetery reads: "No EU border in Ireland" near Carrickcarnan, Ireland, just next to the Jonesborough Parish church in Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Lorne Cook)

Raf Casert, Gregory Katz and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — A flurry of talks between Britain and the European Union ended Sunday without a Brexit agreement, leaving the two sides three days to close a gap in their positions before a make-or-break summit.

An unscheduled, face-to-face meeting between EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and a hastily scheduled meeting of 27 EU ambassadors in Brussels, had sparked speculation that the long-awaited deal was imminent.

Barnier dashed those hopes Sunday evening, writing on Twitter: "Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open" in the divorce talks. The key stumbling block remains the need "to avoid a hard border" between Ireland and the U.K's Northern Ireland after Brexit, he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is under intense pressure from her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies not to give any more ground in negotiations, especially on the border issue.

The British government said in a statement issued Sunday night there were still "unresolved issues" but insisted negotiators had made "real progress" toward a divorce agreement.

The lack of a breakthrough on the border increased the chances that the Brexit negotiations will fail to produce an agreement spelling out how the EU will interact with its former member and vice versa. EU officials have warned that real progress is needed at the summit starting Wednesday.

The British government said it remained committed to making progress at the summit. An EU official said no further negotiations were planned before the leaders of EU countries convene in Brussels. Both sides previously agreed that a special November meeting — to be called only if there is enough progress this week —would be the deadline for reaching an agreement since Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29.

The EU and the U.K. are seeking an elusive compromise position on the difficult Irish border question ahead of the summit.  The "Irish backstop" is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain's departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc.

After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.'s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished.

Raab, Britain's Brexit secretary, was not expected in Brussels on Sunday, but he made a last minute trip for an in-person meeting with Barnier.

"With several big issues still to resolve, including the Northern Ireland backstop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were necessary," Raab's office said.

The EU's "backstop" solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The alternative — to keep the entire U.K. in a customs union until a permanent solution can be found — has outraged pro-Brexit members of May's divided government, who claim that approach would limit the country's ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

The idea is also anathema to the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Ireland Protestant party that props up May's minority government.

So even if May strikes a deal with Brussels, she will struggle to get it past her government and Parliament at home.

Raab's predecessor, David Davis, wrote in the Sunday Times that May's plans for continued close economic ties with the EU even after Britain leaves the bloc is "completely unacceptable" and must be stopped by her ministers.

May is struggling to build a consensus behind her Brexit plans ahead of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday that will be followed by Wednesday's EU summit. If Davis' call for a rebellion is effective, the Cabinet meeting is likely to be fractious.

Davis and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned from May's Cabinet this summer to protest her Brexit blueprint. While all three are members of the ruling Conservative Party, the two men have become vocal opponents of May's plan, saying it would betray the Brexit vote and leave Britain tied to the EU without any say over its rules.

Johnson, who regularly uses his newspaper column in the Daily Telegraph to excoriate May's Brexit plan, said the EU's border backstop amounted to "a choice between the breakup of this country or the subjugation of this country, between separation or submission."

"It must be rejected, and it must be rejected now," he wrote in Monday's edition.

May's Brexit plan has also been rejected by leaders of the main opposition Labour Party, further dimming the prime minister's hopes of winning parliamentary backing for any Brexit deal she reaches with EU officials.
 


Update October 13-14, 2018

At least 34 die in Uganda mudslides triggered by heavy rains

Residents look at a river filled with mud in Bududa District, Uganda, Friday, Oct. 12. (AP Photo)

Rodney Muhumuza

Kampala, Uganda (AP) — At least 34 people died in mudslides triggered by torrential rains in a mountainous area of eastern Uganda that is prone to such disasters, a Red Cross official said Friday.

More victims were likely to be discovered when rescue reams access all the affected areas in the foothills of Mount Elgon, said Red Cross spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita.

People were killed by boulders and chunks of mud rolling down hills following a sustained period of heavy rains Thursday afternoon in the district of Bududa. Houses were destroyed in at least three villages, and in some cases only body parts of the victims have been recovered from the mud, she said.

"We expect the death toll to increase as some people are still missing," she said. "It's really bad."

A river that runs through the area burst its banks, destroying a bridge and threatening settlements nearby, according to Martin Owor, a government commissioner in charge of disaster management.

At least 31 bodies had been recovered and identified, Owor said.

It was difficult to establish the number of dead because it had been a busy market day, lawmaker Godfrey Watenga Nabutanyi of Luteshe County told broadcaster NTV. "Bridges are gone. Roads have been cut off."

Local official Wilson Watila estimated that about 100 houses had been swept away.

Residents wept over recovered bodies, while men dug into the mud with blunt pieces of wood in desperate efforts to find others.

One survivor described running to safety with a friend after spotting a house being wiped away by the mudslide.

"School children, those who were drinking, market vendors, they were all swept away," Paul Odoki said.

In March 2010 at least 100 people died in similar mudslides in Bududa, and injuries or deaths have been reported every year since then during the wet season.

Efforts by Uganda's government over the years to relocate all residents away from steep slopes have not succeeded. There also have been calls for people to plant more trees on steep hillsides. 


Pope accepts Washington cardinal's resignation amid scandal

This Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 file photo shows Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, left, talking with Pope Francis after a Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

David Crary and Nicole Winfield

Vatican City (AP) — Pope Francis accepted the resignation Friday of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, after he became entangled in two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals and lost the support of many in his flock.

But in a letter released by Wuerl's office, Francis asked Wuerl to stay on temporarily until a replacement is found and suggested he had unfairly become a scapegoat and victim of the mounting outrage among rank-and-file Catholics over the abuse scandal.

The pope's apparent reluctance to remove Wuerl was evidence of the fraught personnel decisions he has been forced to make as he grapples with the burgeoning global scandal that has implicated some of his closest advisers and allies, including top churchmen in the U.S., Belgium, Honduras, Chile and Australia.

With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent head to roll after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.

A grand jury report issued in August on rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Simultaneously, Wuerl faced widespread skepticism over his insistence that he knew nothing about years of alleged sexual misconduct by McCarrick.

A Vatican statement Friday said Francis had accepted Wuerl's resignation as Washington archbishop, but named no replacement; in his letter, the pope asked him to stay on in a temporary capacity until a new archbishop is found.

Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, initially played down the scandal and insisted on his own good record, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.

"The Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future," Wuerl said in a statement Friday. "Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon."

In a letter to the Washington faithful, which Wuerl asked to be read aloud at Mass this weekend, Wuerl directed himself in particular at survivors of abuse.

"I am sorry and ask for healing for all those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the church's ministers," he wrote. "I also beg forgiveness on behalf of church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted."

In his letter accepting the resignation, Francis said he recognized that, in asking to retire, Wuerl had put the interests and unity of his flock ahead of his own ambitions. He once again referred obliquely to the devil being at work in accusing bishops of wrongdoing, saying the "father of lies" was trying to hurt shepherds and divide their flock.

"You have sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes," Francis wrote. "However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this I am proud and thank you."

Francis' praise for Wuerl alarmed survivors' advocates, who said it was evidence of the clerical culture Francis himself denounces in which the church hierarchy consistently protects its own.

Terrence McKiernan, president of the online abuse database BishopAccountability, said it showed that for Francis, "Cardinal Wuerl is more important than the children he put in harm's way. Until Pope Francis reverses this emphasis on coddling the hierarchy at the expense of children, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this crisis."

Wuerl had submitted his resignation to Francis nearly three years ago, when he turned 75, the normal retirement age for bishops. But Francis kept him on, as popes tend to do with able-bodied bishops who share their pastoral priorities.

But Wuerl made a personal appeal to Francis last month to accept the resignation, following the fallout of the McCarrick scandal and outrage over the Pennsylvania grand jury report that has led to a crisis in confidence in the church hierarchy.

Wuerl was also named prominently in the 11-page denunciation of the McCarrick cover-up that was penned by the Vatican's former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who accused a long line of U.S. and Vatican churchmen of turning a blind eye to McCarrick's penchant for sleeping with seminarians.

Wuerl has not been charged with any wrongdoing but was named numerous times in the Pennsylvania report, which details instances in which he allowed priests accused of misconduct to be reassigned or reinstated.

In one case cited in the report, Wuerl — acting on a doctor's recommendation — enabled the Rev. William O'Malley to return to active ministry in 1998 despite allegations of abuse lodged against him in the past and his own admission that he was sexually interested in adolescents. Years later, according to the report, six more people alleged that they were sexually assaulted by O'Malley, in some cases after he had been reinstated.

In another case, Wuerl returned a priest to active ministry in 1995 despite having received multiple complaints that the priest, the Rev. George Zirwas, had molested boys in the late 1980s.

Wuerl apologized for the damage inflicted on the victims but also defended his efforts to combat clergy sex abuse.

His defenders have cited a case that surfaced in 1988, when a 19-year-old former seminarian, Tim Bendig, filed a lawsuit accusing a priest, Anthony Cipolla, of molesting him. Wuerl initially questioned Bendig's account but later accepted it and moved to oust Cipolla from the priesthood. The Vatican's highest court ordered Wuerl to restore Cipolla to priestly ministry, but Wuerl resisted and, after two years of legal procedures, prevailed in preventing Cipolla's return.

"No bishop or cardinal in the nation has had a more consistent and courageous record than Donald Wuerl in addressing priestly sexual abuse," contended Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

Wuerl's archdiocese issued a series of similar plaudits Friday, coinciding with the Vatican announcement. They included a letter from the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino, who lamented that Wuerl's "pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report's flaws and its interpretation by the media."

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who writes for Religion News Service, described Wuerl as an ideological moderate.

"He was totally enthusiastic about John Paul II, and then Pope Benedict, and now he's totally enthusiastic about Pope Francis," Reese said. "There are not many people in the church who are totally enthusiastic about all three of them."

Numerous conservative Catholic activists and commentators, though, considered him too tolerant of the LGBT community and too liberal on some other issues. They resented his pivotal role a decade ago in resisting a push by some of his fellow bishops to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion.

Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic University in Washington and received a doctorate in theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome. He joined the priesthood in 1966, was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1986, and served briefly as auxiliary bishop in Seattle before going to Pittsburgh. 


Optimism rises for Brexit breakthrough next week

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends a roundtable meeting with business leaders whose companies are inaugural signatories of the Race at Work Charter at the Southbank Centre in London, Thursday Oct. 11. (Henry Nicholls/Pool via AP)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — With just days to go before a key Brexit summit next week, optimism is growing that a deal can be reached to ensure a smooth transition for Britain's exit from the European Union.

European Union Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Friday that he sees room for a breakthrough in the talks next week, when leaders from the 27 EU nations meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Oettinger confirmed reports that progress was being made on the difficult issue of the border on the island of Ireland.

"It does appear possible there will be a breakthrough," he said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke to May by phone on Friday and added that "we hope that next week at the European summit, if at all possible, the first results emerge."

"I am cautiously optimistic that we can take steps next week but a lot depends on the talks happening in the coming days," Rutte said at his weekly press conference.

Even if the negotiators themselves agree on a deal, it is not the end of the matter. The EU leaders must also back the deal and then so must the British and EU parliaments.

May in particular is likely to have a tough time selling a deal to the House of Commons, which is divided on the issue of Brexit and on what terms to leave the EU.

The U.K. is slated to leave the EU on March 29. If there is no deal on future relations by then, widespread chaos on the borders is expected. Tariffs could go up on trade, customs checks could delay goods, and planes could not have permits to fly across the borders, among other things.

EU leaders have a two-day summit starting Wednesday to assess the progress in the talks and if there is no breakthrough there, another summit could be planned for November.

In London, British Brexit negotiator Dominic Raab cautioned not to be too optimistic and warned against a compromise that would give away too much.

"If the EU doesn't match the ambition and pragmatism we've showed, we have the plans in place to avoid, mitigate or manage the risk of no deal - and make a success of Brexit," he said, as the government released the last 29 of 104 technical papers on preparations for a no-deal.


Philippine, Vietnam leaders discuss disputed sea boundaries

Outgoing Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano talks to the media as he bids farewell to his staff during the lowering of the flag ceremony Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vietnam's prime minister have discussed efforts by their countries to delineate their maritime boundaries in the disputed South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China.

Duterte said Friday, without elaborating, that he told Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in a meeting in Indonesia that such boundary talks may take longer because the Philippines is still establishing its continental shelf limit, or the country's outermost boundary.

"I told him that in due time, but we will take a longer period for we have to establish even our continental shelf limits," Duterte said he told Phuc in a meeting on the sidelines of a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders on Indonesia's Bali island.

Vietnam initiated the on-and-off talks years ago.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, which belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with China and Taiwan have been locked for decades in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Tensions flared after China turned seven disputed reefs into islands which it later equipped with surface-to-air missile defense systems, in moves that triggered alarm and protests.

"Vietnam is our ASEAN brother and they have been supporting us in many ways and we have been supporting them," Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters.

"But they're also claimants like us. They also have features that are inside our EEZ," Cayetano said, referring to the stretch of waters in which a coastal state enjoys internationally recognized rights to exclusively fish and extract oil and gas in the seabed.

Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales, Canberra, said China would oppose the Philippine-Vietnam talks because Beijing claims most of the strategic waterway where the two Southeast Asian neighbors want to define their maritime boundaries.

Efforts by the two Southeast Asian nations to define their maritime boundaries are significant because ASEAN and China are negotiating a regional code to prevent clashes arising from overlapping claims. China, however, has not clearly defined its sweeping claims, Thayer said.

Some Southeast Asian countries have successfully forged agreements to delineate their overlapping exclusive economic zones and continental shelves in the past, he said.


Update October 9, 2018

Pakistan delays ruling on blasphemy death sentence case

Saiful Malook, left, defense lawyer for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, leaves the Supreme court with a bodyguard in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 8. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Kathy Gannon

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistan's Supreme Court postponed its ruling Monday on the final appeal of a Christian woman who has been on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

The judicial panel listened to Asia Bibi's defense lawyer challenge statements by those who accused her of insulting Islam's prophet, an allegation punishable by death that can incite riots in conservative Pakistan.

The three-judge panel, headed by Pakistan's Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, did not say why they reserved their judgment or when they would announce their decision. It ordered everyone present to refrain from commenting on the case, in an apparent attempt to avoid inflaming public opinion.

The charge against Bibi dates back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. Two Muslim women refused to take a drink from a container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, argued that the many contradictions in witnesses' statements tainted the evidence. The two Muslim women who leveled the charges against Bibi denied they were quarrelling with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked. Yet several independent witnesses who gave statements recounted a cantankerous exchange between the women.

The prosecution's case centered mostly on religious texts that vilify those who make blasphemous statements.

Ahead of the hearing, Malook expressed optimism that he would win the last legal appeal for Bibi.  But if not, he planned to seek a review, which could take years to complete.

"I am a 100 percent sure she will be acquitted," Malook told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on the eve of the hearing. "She has a very good case."

He refused to comment at the end of Monday's hearing, citing the judges' orders.

Bibi's case has generated international outrage, but within Pakistan it has fired up radical Islamists, who use the blasphemy law to rally supporters and intimidate mainstream political parties.

Even defending Bibi in court is dangerous.

"I have lost my health. I am a high blood pressure patient, my privacy is totally lost. You have to be in hiding," her lawyer said ahead of the hearing. Everyone on his tree-lined street knows his identity, he said. "They look at this house and they know this is the home of a person who can be killed at any time by angry mullahs."

Police provide round-the-clock security around Malook's home, in the city of Lahore.

Members of Pakistan's religious minorities have campaigned against the law, which they say is invoked to justify attacks on them. For them, Bibi's case is seen as a watershed. Her husband recently traveled to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis.

Joseph Francis, an activist for Pakistan's Christians, said he currently is aiding 120 Christians facing blasphemy charges. His organization, Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, provides legal aid as well as finding a safe haven for Christians who are targeted even after being cleared of blasphemy allegations.

"This law is misused and it is not only misused against Christians but also against Muslims," he said.

France, Spain and Germany have all offered to welcome Bibi should she be acquitted, said Francis, who said he will help secret her out of the country.

But Khadim Hussein Rizvi, the leader of a radical Islamist party, warned after the postponement that "no blasphemer will be able to escape punishment.

In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot and killed by one of his elite guards for defending Bibi and criticizing misuse of the blasphemy law. Malook prosecuted his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged for his crime.

Qadri has since become a martyr to millions, who make a pilgrimage to a shrine erected in his name by his family outside the capital, Islamabad. His supporters have called for the immediate killing of anyone accused of blasphemy.

Pakistan's newly elected government is led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star who has embraced religious conservatism and bowed to some of the demands of radical Islamists. Last month, a member of his government offered prayers at Qadri's shrine, drawing outrage from rights activists.

An unprecedented number of religious parties participated in the July elections that put Khan in power. As in previous elections, they garnered less than 10 percent of the popular vote, but they have allies among all the major parties.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 71 countries have blasphemy laws — around a quarter of them are in the Middle East and North Africa and around a fifth are European countries, though enforcement and punishment varies.

Pakistan is one of the most ferocious enforcers.

At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to statistics collected by the Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based group. Of those, 730 were Muslims, 501 were Ahmadis — a sect reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretical — while 205 were Christians and 26 were Hindus. The center said it didn't know the religion of the final 10 because they were killed by vigilantes before they could get their day in court.

While Pakistan's law carries the death penalty for blasphemy and offenders have been sentenced to death, so far no one has ever been executed.


20 dead in crash of limo headed to a birthday celebration

Debris scatters an area Sunday, Oct. 7, at the site of Saturday's fatal crash in Schoharie, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Michael Hill and Bob Salsberg

Schoharie, N.Y. (AP) — A limousine carrying four sisters, other relatives and friends to a birthday celebration blew through a stop sign and slammed into a parked SUV outside a store in upstate New York, killing all 18 people in the limo and two pedestrians, officials and victims' relatives said Sunday.

The weekend crash was characterized by authorities as the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in nearly a decade. The crash turned a relaxed Saturday afternoon to horror at a rural spot popular with tourists viewing the region's fall foliage. Relatives said the limousine was carrying the sisters and their friends to a 30th birthday celebration for the youngest.

"They were wonderful girls," said their aunt, Barbara Douglas, speaking with reporters Sunday. "They'd do anything for you and they were very close to each other and they loved their family."

Douglas said three of the sisters were with their husbands, and she identified them as Amy and Axel Steenburg, Abigail and Adam Jackson, Mary and Rob Dyson and Allison King.

"They did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn't have to drive anywhere," she said, adding the couples had several children between them who they left at home.

The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was traveling southwest on Route 30 in Schoharie, about 170 miles north of New York City, when it failed to stop at 2 p.m. Saturday at a T-junction with state Route 30A, State Police First Deputy Superintendent Christopher Fiore said at a news conference in Latham, New York.

It went across the road and hit an unoccupied SUV parked at the Apple Barrel Country Store, killing the limousine driver, the 17 passengers, and two people outside the vehicle.

The crash "sounded like an explosion," said Linda Riley, of nearby Schenectady, who was on a shopping trip with her sisters. She had been in another car parked at the store, saw a body on the ground and heard people start screaming.

The store manager, Jessica Kirby, told The New York Times the limo was coming down a hill at "probably over 60 mph." In an email to The Associated Press, she complained that the junction where the crashed occurred is accident-prone.

"We have had 3 tractor trailer type trucks run through the stop through our driveway and into a field behind the business," Kirby wrote. "All of these occurred during business hours and could've killed someone then."

She added that the state Department of Transportation has banned heavy trucks from the intersection but there are constant smaller crashes. "More accidents than I can count."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

"This is one of the biggest losses of life that we've seen in a long, long time," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

It's the deadliest transportation accident since February 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo, New York, killing 50 people, Sumwalt said.

And it appears to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.

At the news conference, Fiore didn't comment on the limo's speed, or whether the limo occupants were wearing seat belts. Authorities didn't release the names of the victims or speculate on what caused the limo to run the stop sign. Autopsies were being conducted.

Speaking through tears on the telephone, Valerie Abeling said her 34-year-old niece Erin Vertucci was among the victims, along with Vertucci's newlywed husband, 30-year-old Shane McGowan.

"She was a beautiful, sweet soul; he was too," Abeling said.

The couple was married in June at a "beautiful wedding" in upstate New York, Abeling said. "They had everything going for them."

Vertucci, who grew up in Amsterdam, New York, was an administrative assistant at St. Mary's Healthcare in Amsterdam, Abeling said.

The vehicle was an after-market stretch limousine, according to an official briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and thus declined further identification.

Safety issues on such vehicles have arisen before, most notably after a wreck on Long Island in July 2015 in which four women on a winery tour were killed. They were in a Lincoln Town Car that had been cut apart and rebuilt in a stretch configuration to accommodate more passengers. The limousine was trying to make a U-turn and was struck by a pickup.

A grand jury found that vehicles converted into stretch limousines often don't have safety measures including side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. That grand jury called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assemble a task force on limousine safety.

Limousines built in factories are already required to meet stringent safety regulations, but when cars are converted into limos, safety features are sometimes removed, leading to gaps in safety protocols, the grand jury wrote.

On Sunday, New York's senior U.S. Sen., Chuck Schumer, noted he asked NTSB to toughen standards after the 2015 crash. "I commend the NTSB's immediate aid on scene and am very hopeful that we will have concrete answers soon," Schumer said.

Limousine accidents remain rare, according to NHTSA data. They accounted for only one death crash out of 34,439 fatal accidents in 2016, the last year for which data is available.

Cuomo on Sunday released a statement saying, "My heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives in this horrific accident on Saturday in Schoharie. I commend the first responders who arrived on the scene and worked through the night to help ... I have directed state agencies to provide every resource necessary to aid in this investigation and determine what led to this tragedy."


France, Italy begin cleanup for Mediterranean fuel spill

In this photo provided Monday Oct.8 by the Marine Nationale, a Tunisian ship and a Cypriot ship are seen after a collision in the Mediterranean Sea north of Corsica island. (Benoit Emile/Marine Nationale via AP)

Paris (AP) — French and Italian maritime authorities have begun cleaning up a fuel spill that has spread 20 kilometers in the Mediterranean Sea after two cargo ships collided north of the island of Corsica.

Italy's coast guard said Monday it's recovering some of the polluted material and monitoring the spill amid changing weather conditions.

A Tunisian cargo ship pierced a hole in the hull of a Cypriot container ship in Sunday's collision, causing the fuel leak. No one was injured.

A spokesman for the regional French maritime authority said the cleanup began Monday morning and spots of fuel have spread for 20 kilometers.

The official said French and Italian ships and oil spill experts are dragging a floating barrier to contain the oil then will use a skimmer to suck up the fuel.


Munich: This year's Oktoberfest was a roaring success

In this Oct. 7, 2018 photo waitresses dance in the Hofbraeu tent after the closing of the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, southern Germany. (Felix Hoerhager/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — More than 6 million visitors, 7.5 million liters of beer, 124 rotisserie oxen and Bill Clinton in lederhosen; another Oktoberfest in Munich has come and gone.

Festival organizers say good fall weather helped attract 100,000 more people to the annual event than last year; in all, 6.3 million from about 70 countries. That's despite this year's Oktoberfest running only 16 days — two fewer than in 2017.

Former U.S. President Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed up Friday night — he dressed in traditional Bavarian garb and she in a trademark pantsuit.

Security guards confiscated 101,000 liter-size beer mugs from sticky-fingered guests seeking souvenirs. Munich authorities cleaned up 95 tons of garbage during the festival that ended Sunday.


Russia dismisses suspected spy actions as routine Dutch trip

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov enters a hall during his meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Oct. 8. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russia's foreign minister on Monday dismissed accusations made in the Netherlands against suspected Russian spies, saying they were intended to distract public attention from stark divisions between Western nations.

Sergey Lavrov's comments were a defiant statement that comes amid soaring Russia-West tensions.

Last week, Dutch officials alleged that four agents of Russian GRU military intelligence tried and failed to hack into the world's chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

British authorities also accused the GRU of a series of global cybercrimes, and the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday charged seven GRU officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations.

Commenting on the Dutch allegations, Lavrov insisted that the four Russians were on a "routine" trip to The Hague in April when they were arrested and deported by Dutch authorities.

"There was nothing secret in the Russian specialists' trip to the Hague in April," Lavrov said at a briefing after talks with Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi. "They weren't hiding from anyone when they arrived at the airport, settled in a hotel and visited our embassy. They were detained without any explanations, denied a chance to contact our embassy in the Netherlands and then asked to leave. It all looked like a misunderstanding."

Dutch defense officials on Thursday released photos and a timeline of the GRU agents' botched attempt to break into the chemical weapons watchdog using Wi-Fi hacking equipment hidden in a car parked outside a nearby Marriott Hotel.

The OPCW was investigating a nerve agent attack on a former GRU spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Salisbury, England; Britain has blamed on the Russian government. Moscow vehemently denies involvement.

Photographs released by the Dutch Ministry of Defense showed a trunk loaded with a computer, battery, a bulky white transformer and a hidden antenna. Officials said the equipment was operational when Dutch counterintelligence interrupted the operation.

Lavrov in his remarks didn't talk about the evidence provided by Dutch authorities, but President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, challenged the Netherlands to provide specific information via official channels.

Asked if the Kremlin was considering reshuffling the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the GRU following the Dutch accusations, Peskov said "that kind of information naturally can't be the basis for it."

Lavrov criticized Dutch officials for using what he called "loudspeaker diplomacy" instead of using legal mechanisms to look into the issue. He said Moscow summoned the Dutch ambassador Monday to deliver the message.

Speaking to the media outside the Russian Foreign Ministry building, Dutch Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos said, "We can't tolerate cyberattacks on international organizations," noting that Dutch officials made that clear last week.

"We made a very clear signal that this has to stop" Jones-Bos added.

The Foreign Ministry said the Dutch ambassador was told Russia views the assertions in the Netherlands a "provocation" and part of a "propaganda campaign" that has caused "irreparable damage" to bilateral ties.

Russia's Interfax news agency carried a separate statement from the ministry, which said the technical devices seized from the four men were to be used to test the resilience of the Russian Embassy's information systems to cyberattacks.

The statement also said Russian envoys regularly have stayed at the Marriott Hotel near OPCW headquarters.

Lavrov, meanwhile, argued that the April incident was "dug up and thrown into the public domain now to help distract attention from difficult issues on the agenda of the EU and NATO."

Lavrov also alleged that the accusations could also be timed to this week's meeting of the international chemical weapons watchdog, where Western nations would push for empowering it to name culprits in chemical attacks. Russia strongly opposes that, arguing that only the U.N. Security Council should have such authority.


Update October 8, 2018

Strong aftershock rattles north Haiti day after deadly quake

Residents stand looking at a collapsed school damaged by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake the night before, in Gros Morne, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Port-de-Paix, Haiti (AP) — A magnitude 5.2 aftershock struck Haiti on Sunday, even as survivors of the previous day's temblor were sifting through the rubble of their cinderblock homes. The death toll stood at 12, with fears it could rise.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the aftershock was located 9.8 miles (15.8 kilometers) north-northwest of Port-de-Paix, the city hard hit by Saturday night's 5.9 magnitude earthquake. Sunday's aftershock had a depth of 10 kilometers.

"I don't feel save even inside my house," said Gary Joseph as he put various mattresses for himself and his two sons to sleep on under a tree outside the house in Port-de-Paix.

He pointed to cracks left by the quake and aftershock in a wall and said: "I have to protect myself and my sons."

The aftershock caused panic on streets where emergency teams were providing relief to victims of Saturday's quake, which toppled cinderblock homes and rickety buildings in several cities.

Haiti's civil protection agency said at least eight people died in the coastal city of Port-de-Paix and three people died in the nearby community of Gros-Morne in Artibonite province. Another person died in Saint-Louis du Nord, Communication Minister Eddy Jackson Alexis tweeted.

Among the dead from Saturday night's quake were a 5-year-old boy crushed by his collapsing house and a man killed in a falling auditorium. Authorities said 188 people were injured.

Impoverished Haiti, where many live in tenuous circumstances, is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. A vastly larger magnitude 7.1 quake damaged much of the capital in 2010 and killed an estimated 300,000 people.

"I feel like my life is not safe here," said nun Maryse Alsaint, director of the San Gabriel National School in Gros-Morne, where several classrooms were severely damaged.

She said that about 500 students would not be able to return to school on Monday.

President Jovenel Moise urged people to donate blood and asked international aid agencies to coordinate with local agencies to avoid duplicated efforts. By Sunday evening the government didn't provide an estimate of the damages.

The USGS said Saturday's quake was centered 12 miles (19 kilometers) northwest of Port-de-Paix, which is about 136 miles (219 kilometers) from the capital of Port-au-Prince.

It was felt lightly in the capital, as well as in the neighboring Dominican Republic and in eastern Cuba, where no damage was reported.

In Haiti, officials have struggled to shore up buildings despite the two major fault lines along Hispaniola, which is the island shared with the Dominican Republic.

The damage from the temblors was visible. In Gros-Morne, one bed was covered in rubble, while the exterior walls of some homes were visibly cracked. Others tilted at precarious angles.

Pierre Jacques Baudre, a farmer and father of seven, said he was afraid to return to his home after one wall built with rocks and cement crumbled.

"The house can fall at any time," he said.

Meanwhile, dozens of people could be seen sifting through debris before hauling away rebar to recycle and sell.

The civil protection agency issued a statement saying that houses were destroyed in Port-de-Paix, Gros-Morne, Chansolme and Turtle Island.

Damage was also reported at the Saint-Michel church in Plaisance and the police station in Port-de-Paix. Parts of a hospital and an auditorium collapsed in Gros-Morne, where parliamentarian Alcide Audne told The Associated Press that two of the deaths occurred.

Haiti President Jovenel Moise said on his Twitter account Sunday that civil protection brigades were working to clear debris. He also said the government had sent water and food.


Congo ministry: At least 39 dead in Congo tanker truck fire

This photo shows the aftermath of a burned tanker truck in Mbuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saturday, Oct. 6. (Henri Alimasi/Congo’s health ministry via AP)

Kinshasa, Congo (AP) — Congo's Health Ministry says at least 39 people are dead and more than 80 people have been hospitalized after a tanker truck collided with another truck in western Congo.

The ministry reduced the death toll from 50 announced Saturday by the regional governor. The updated lower figure cites rescue officials and hospital records.

The accident happened in the village of Mbuba, not far from Kisantu city and about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of the capital, Kinshasa.

Witnesses say villagers rushed to collect leaking fuel from the vehicles when a fire broke out. The fire quickly spread to nearby homes.

The ministry said 20 people died immediately and of more than 100 transferred to a hospital, 19 later died. The toll is provisional.

President Joseph Kabila had Saturday ordered three days of national mourning.

An investigation was launched into the cause of the accident.


Indonesian officials fear 5,000 missing as Christians pray

Christians sing inside a church at the earthquake and tsunami-hit town of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia Sunday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Stephen Wright and Eileen Ng

Palu, Indonesia (AP) — Christians dressed in their tidiest clothes flocked to Sunday sermons in the earthquake and tsunami damaged Indonesian city of Palu, seeking answers as the death toll from the twin disasters breached 1,700 and officials said they feared more than 5,000 others could be missing.

Indonesia's disaster agency said the number of dead had climbed to 1,763, mostly in Palu. Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said many more people could be buried, especially in the Palu neighborhoods of Petobo and Balaroa, where more than 3,000 homes were damaged or sucked into deep mud when the Sept. 28 quake caused loose soil to liquefy.

"Based on reports from village chiefs in Balaroa and Petobo, some 5,000 people have not been found. Our workers on the ground are trying to confirm this," he said at a news briefing in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.

Nugroho said that efforts to retrieve decomposed bodies in deep, soft mud were getting tougher and that some people may have fled or been rescued and evacuated. More than 8,000 either injured or vulnerable residents have been flown or shipped out of Palu, while others could have left by land, he said.

Officially, Nugroho said only 265 people are confirmed missing and 152 others still buried under mud and rubble, nine days after the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and powerful tsunami hit Palu and surrounding areas.

The government targets to end search operations by Thursday, nearly two weeks after the disaster, at which time those unaccounted for will be declared missing and considered dead, Nugroho said.

In Palu on Sunday, at least 200 people, including soldiers, filled the gray pews of the Protestant Manunggal church for a service.

They sang as a young girl in a black and white dress with a red bow danced in the aisle, prayed and listened to a 30-minute sermon from the pastor, Lucky Malonda. A woman in the front pew wept.

Min Kapala, a 49-year-old teacher, said she came to the city of more than 25 churches from an outlying area because her usual house of worship was destroyed and liquefaction moved a different piece of ground to its location.

"I'm here at this particular church because my own church is no more; it's leveled, and on its location there's a corn plant," she said. "That was very strange to me."

Outside the church, Malonda said the intensity of the disaster had taken even scientists by surprise and called it the will of God. Two people from his congregation were missing, he said.

"This is for sure part of godly intervention, not outside the power of almighty God, that can't be predicted or planned for by anything," Malonda said.

He said religious leaders are discussing holding inter-faith prayers but nothing has been agreed yet.

Protestants, Catholics and Charismatics make up about 10 percent of the population of Palu, the provincial capital of Central Sulawesi. The province has a history of violent conflict between Muslims and Christians, though tensions have calmed in the past decade. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.

As searchers continued to dig through rubble Sunday, Central Sulawesi Gov. Loki Djanggola said local officials were meeting with religious groups and families of victims to seek their consent to turn neighborhoods wiped out by liquefaction into mass graves.

He said on local television that survivors in the Petobo, Balaroa and Jono Oge neighborhoods could be relocated and monuments be built in the areas, which now look like wastelands, to remember the victims interred there. Officials have said that it is not safe for heavy equipment to operate in those areas and that they fear the risk of the spread of disease from decomposed bodies.

While grappling with immediate relief needs, the government is also mapping out plans to help more than 70,000 people, including tens of thousands of children, who have been displaced by the disasters to rebuild their lives.

Social welfare officials have set up nurseries in makeshift tents as a stopgap to keep children safe and help them heal from the trauma.

Market vendors have resumed business and roadside restaurants were open in Palu, but long lines of cars and motorcycles still snarled out of gas stations.

In Jakarta, volunteers walked around thoroughfares empty of cars collecting donations for earthquake victims during the weekly car-free morning in the city center.


Fuel spill in Mediterranean after ships collide near Corsica

In this photo provided by the Marine Nationale, a Tunisian ship and a Cypriot ship are seen after a collision in the Mediterranean Sea north of Corsica, Sunday, Oct. 7. (Marine National via AP)

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — Two merchant ships collided north of the French island of Corsica on Sunday, causing a 4-kilometer (2.4 mile) fuel spill in the Mediterranean Sea that French and Italian authorities are working to contain.

No one was injured in Sunday's collision, but it smashed a hole of several meters (yards) long in the hull of one of the ships, causing the spill, according to a statement from the regional French maritime authority.

The spill created a trail of pollution 4 kilometers long and several hundred meters wide, heading away from Corsica to the northwest, toward the French and Italian mainland, the statement said.

A spokesman for the regional French maritime authority described the material as "propulsion fuel" without elaborating.

Two French ships were sent to the area and specialists were helicoptered in. The Italian coast guard also sent an aircraft to monitor the operation and three ships to help contain the spill.

Cleanup work will resume work Monday morning, when experts will decide how to safely separate the ships, the French statement said.

The maritime authority said that a Tunisia-registered ship carrying trucks with merchandise rammed into Cyprus-registered container ship CSL Virginia on Sunday morning. A photo released by the French navy showed the bow of the Tunisian ship smashed up against the side of the other ship.

A spokesman for the maritime authority said a lack of wind in the area, 28 kilometers (15 miles) from the Corsican coast, gives authorities hope the spill can be contained quickly. He was not authorized to be publicly named.

The collision occurred in French waters, but the cleanup operation is part of a joint pact among France, Italy and Monaco to combat pollution accidents in the Mediterranean.

The Corsican regional police administration said an investigation is under way into the cause of the collision.


Palestinian kills 2 Israelis in West Bank industrial zone

An Israeli policeman stand at the entrance of Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, Sunday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Aron Heller

Jerusalem (AP) — A Palestinian attacker opened fire inside a West Bank industrial zone Sunday morning where Israelis and Palestinians work together, killing two Israelis and seriously wounding a third, the military said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the preliminary finding is that a 23-year-old from a nearby village carried out a "terror attack" in the Barkan industrial zone near the settlement of Ariel before fleeing the scene. But other workers in the industrial zone suggested the attack was carried out by a disgruntled employee and was not politically motivated.

Conricus said the suspect was not known to authorities and was not believed to belong to a Palestinian militant group, saying it appeared to be a "lone wolf" attack. "We know he is still armed and considered dangerous," he added.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced the attack and said the perpetrator would be brought to justice.

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.

Gaza's Hamas rulers and other militant groups praised Sunday's attack, but none claimed responsibility for it.

One of the victims was identified as Kim Yehezkel, a 28-year-old mother of an infant son who worked in the office that was attacked. The other victim was said to be a Jewish man in his 30s. Another woman in her 50s was seriously wounded. Closed-circuit footage from the scene showed a man holding a handgun and wearing a backpack, fleeing down a flight of stairs and then dashing past stunned onlookers.

Israeli media reported that those killed were found shot to death on their office floor with their hands bound. At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said they had been killed "with great cruelty."

Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians work side by side at Barkan, an industrial zone in the West Bank that includes some 160 factories. The Palestinian economy is heavily restricted under Israeli military rule, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinians to seek work in Israel as well as Jewish settlements.

Conricus said the attacker was employed in one of the factories and had a valid working permit. While insisting the attack was an act of terrorism, he acknowledged there were "other factors involved as well," without elaborating.

Moshe Lev-Ran, an export manager at a company whose factory is located next to the scene of the attack, said he doubted the official account.

"One of the workers was fired and he didn't like the owner... Everybody knew him. He went upstairs to the second floor because he knew who he wanted to shoot, and he shot," he said. "That's what I think happened. I don't believe it was one of the Palestinians who just woke up in the morning and took a gun to shoot an Israeli."

"No way in our industrial zone," he said, describing an atmosphere of camaraderie in Barkan.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: "This was not only an attack on innocent people going about their daily lives, it was also an attack on the possibility of Israelis and Palestinians co-existing peacefully."


Desperation grows as death toll soars from Indonesia quake

 

Women survey the damage suffered by Balaroa neighborhood which was flattened by Friday's earthquake in Balaroa neighborhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia Tuesday, Oct. 2. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright

Palu, Indonesia (AP) — Trucks carrying food for desperate survivors of the earthquake on Indonesia's Sulawesi island rolled in with a police escort Tuesday to guard against looters, while the death toll from the disaster soared past 1,200.

Four days after the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami struck, supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine had yet to reach the hardest-hit areas outside Palu, the largest city that was heavily damaged. Many roads in the earthquake zone are blocked and communications lines are down.

"We feel like we are stepchildren here because all the help is going to Palu," said Mohamad Taufik, 38, from the town of Donggala, where five of his relatives are still missing. "There are many young children here who are hungry and sick, but there is no milk or medicine."

The death toll reached 1,234, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in Jakarta, the capital. Hundreds of other people were injured, and scores of uncounted bodies could still be buried in collapsed buildings in Sigi and Balaroa under quicksand-like mud caused by Friday's quake.

The U.N. humanitarian office reported that "needs are vast," with people urgently requiring shelter, clean water, food, fuel and emergency medical care.

Water is the main issue because most of the supply infrastructure has been damaged, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

More than 25 countries offered assistance after Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo appealed for international help. Little of that, however, has reached the disaster zone, and increasingly desperate residents grabbed food and fuel from damaged stores and begged for help.

Haq said the government is coordinating emergency efforts, and U.N. and relief agencies are on the ground or enroute. He said the agencies are working closely with the government to provide technical support.

An aircraft carrying 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of fuel had arrived. and trucks with food were on the way with police escorts to guard against looters. Many gas stations were inoperable either because of quake damage or from people stealing fuel, Nugroho said.

The frustration of waiting for days without help has angered some survivors.

"Pay attention to Donggala, Mr. Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala," yelled one resident in a video broadcast on local TV, referring to the president. "There are still a lot of unattended villages here."

The town's administrative head, Kasman Lassa, all but gave residents permission to take food — but nothing else — from stores.

"Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating," Lassa said on local TV. "We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer."

Nearly 62,000 people have been displaced from their homes, Nugroho said.

Most of the attention has been focused so far on Palu, which has 380,000 people and is easier to reach than other hard-hit areas.

More aid was being distributed, but "we still need more time to take care of all the problems," Nugroho said.

Teams continued searching for survivors under destroyed homes and buildings, including a collapsed eight-story hotel in Palu, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

Many people were believed trapped under shattered houses in the Palu neighborhood of Balaroa, where the earthquake caused the ground to heave up and down violently.

"I and about 50 other people in Balaroa were able to save ourselves by riding on a mound of soil which was getting higher and higher," resident Siti Hajat told MetroTV, adding that her house was destroyed.

A handful of disaster personnel arrived in the neighborhood Tuesday morning. A lone backhoe cleared a path into the jumble of twisted buildings.

Sa'Adon Lawira, who lost a grandchild, was angry that rescue efforts focused so quickly on places such as the Palu hotel where tourists were staying.

"Why did the search-and-rescue agency and others prioritize the search for victims in hotels?" he said, holding back tears as he spoke. "Neighborhoods like this should take precedence because the bodies of residents are buried, but there are no rescuers who have searched for them."

Near the coast, the tsunami shattered buildings, uprooted concrete and thrust boats inland. The deadly wave reportedly reached as high as 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) in places,.

In Palu's Petobo neighborhood, the quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy, creating a thick, heavy quicksand-type material that resulted in massive damage. Hundreds of victims are still believed to be buried in the mud there.

Liquefaction of soil can be compared to walking on a sandy beach.

"If you walk across some wet sand a little back from the water's edge, it is usually firm walking, even though you might leave footprints," said Adam Switzer, an expert at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "However, if you stand still and wiggle your toes and feet, you will probably sink a little as the sand around your feet becomes soft and unstable. This is similar to what happens during liquefaction."

Nugroho said 153 bodies were buried Monday in a mass grave in Palu and that the operation continued Tuesday.

He said generators, heavy equipment and tents are among the most-needed aid items. The countries that offered assistance include the United States and China, he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government has given $360,000 to help victims and is in talks with Indonesian authorities about a second round of aid. The initial funds are to go to the Indonesian Red Cross for the most obvious emergency aid needs, such as tarpaulins.

Nugroho said only two of the 122 foreigners in the area remained unaccounted for — one from South Korea and the other from Belgium.

The U.N.'s Haq said the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has asked the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, to send social workers to the affected area to support children who are alone or became separated from their families. And he said the World Health Organization is warning that a lack of shelter and damaged water sanitation facilities could lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. A powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August.


Canada revokes Myanmar leader's honorary citizenship

Aung San Suu Kyi is shown in this June 15, 2012, file photo. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Ottawa, Ontario (AP) — Canada's Parliament formally stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship on Tuesday for complicity in the atrocities committed against Myanmar's Rohingya people.

The Senate voted unanimously to strip Suu Kyi, Myanmar's civilian leader, of the symbolic honor bestowed on her in 2007.

The upper house's move follows a similar unanimous vote in the House of Commons last week.

Suu Kyi is the first person to have her honorary Canadian citizenship revoked.

A United Nations fact-finding mission reported last month that the Myanmar's military has systematically killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, burned hundreds of their villages and engaged in ethnic cleansing and mass gang rape. It called for top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide.

The Senate has also followed the lead of the Commons in recognizing that the crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya constitute a genocide.

"We must recognize this atrocity for what it is," said Sen. Ratna Omidvar, who introduced the motion to revoke Suu Kyi's citizenship Tuesday.

"It is genocide. We must call it as it is."

Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her fight for democracy in Myanmar.

"At that point she was a champion for change and human rights ... The world pinned its hope on her as the shining light and hope for a democratic and peaceful Myanmar," said Omidvar. "As we all now know, that was not to be."

Omidvar said Suu Kyi has denied the atrocities, restricted access to international investigators and journalists, defended the military and denied humanitarian aid for the Rohingya.

"We need to send a strong signal here in Canada and around the world that if you're an accomplice of genocide, you are not welcome here. Certainly not as an honorary Canadian citizen."


US NATO envoy warns Russia to halt new missile development

U.S. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison. (AP Photo/The Tyler Morning Telegraph, Jaime R. Carrero/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP, File)

Lorne Cook

Brussels (AP) — The U.S. envoy to NATO on Tuesday said that Russia must halt development of new missiles that could carry nuclear warheads and warned that the United States could "take out" the system if it becomes operational.

NATO fears the 9M729 system contravenes the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. The Cold War-era pact bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise missiles with a range between 500-5,500 kilometers, and the alliance says that the Russian system fits into that category.

"It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations," U.S. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters in Brussels, on the eve of a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his NATO counterparts.

She said that if the system "became capable of delivering," the U.S. "would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America."

Washington has shared intelligence evidence with its 28 NATO allies that Russia is developing the ground-fired cruise missile and that the system could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.

Russia has claimed that U.S. missile defenses violate the pact. In the past, the Obama administration worked to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty but seemed to make no progress.

Mattis said Tuesday that he intends to bring the issue up during the NATO meeting. After four years of diplomatic effort, he said, the U.S. is living by the treaty and Russia is not. He said there is a lot of concern about that at the U.S. State Department and on Capitol Hill.

"I'm going to lay out the situation," Mattis said during a news conference in Paris. "I want their advice as I return to Washington, D.C."

Hutchison said the U.S. doesn't want to violate the treaty but that Russia could force its hand.

"There will come a point in the future in which America will determine that it has to move forward with a development phase that is not allowed by the treaty right now," she said.

Washington wants its NATO allies to ramp up diplomatic pressure on Moscow, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that all allies are concerned by Russia's continued work on the system.

"Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile," said Stoltenberg, adding that the INF is a "crucial element" of trans-Atlantic security which is now "in danger because of Russia's actions."


Pressure on UK foreign minister to apologize for Soviet barb

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham, central England, Tuesday Oct. 2. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — Pressure mounted Tuesday on British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to apologize for recent remarks comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union.

While British Prime Minister Theresa May effectively rebuked her foreign secretary for making the comparison, leaders from the European Parliament urged Hunt to take back his remarks, which caused particular offense in those East European countries that were under the control of Moscow for 40-plus years after the end of World War II.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE liberals told European legislators at a plenary session in Strasbourg, France that "he is insulting not us, but millions of ordinary citizens who have lived under Soviet rule for such a long time."

Hunt's grating comparison — that any EU attempt to prevent a smooth Brexit was akin to the Soviet Union stopping people leaving — came at a very sensitive time for the British government as it seeks to finalize a deal with the EU.

With Britain due to leave the EU next March, the negotiations about the future relationship have reached a particularly acute time. Both sides have indicated they want to secure a deal by November so relevant parliaments can give their approvals in time for actual Brexit day.

The European Parliament has to give its approval to a withdrawal agreement and the response to Hunt's remark there has been one of anger.

"Mr. Hunt you should apologize for what you said," said Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP Christian Democrat group, the biggest in the legislature.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also sought to distance herself from Hunt's remarks.

"As I sit around that table in the European Union, there are countries there who used to be part of the Soviet Union. They are now democratic countries," May told the BBC. "I can tell you that the two organizations are not the same."

One of those countries is Latvia, and its ambassador in London, Baiba Braze, sent a stinging rebuke, saying that "Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned 100 thousands of Latvia's inhabitants after the illegal occupation in 1940, and ruined lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect."

Philippe Lamberts, the leader of the Greens in the parliament, also reminded Hunt that Britain had hardly been forced at gunpoint to join the EU back in 1973.

"Let he be reminded that the United Kingdom decided freely to join the EU," he said.

Hunt, he added, had succumbed to "the now commonplace rhetoric of the far right."


Update October 2, 2018

Charles Aznavour, known as France's Sinatra, dies at 94

In this June 6, 2015 file photo, French and Armenian singer, songwriter and actor, Charles Aznavour poses in Cannes, southeastern France. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Lori Hinnant

Paris (AP) — Charles Aznavour's performing career endured eight decades, with a prompter in his final years the sole concession to age — or to difficulty recalling a 1,000-song repertoire.

Known as France's Frank Sinatra, the dapper crooner and actor, who got his start as a songwriter and protege of Edith Piaf, died Monday at 94.

His versatile tenor, lush lyrics and kinetic stage presence endeared himself to fans the world over, but nowhere more so than in France. He sang to sold-out concert halls into his 90s and said he wrote every single day.

"I throw most of it away. You write first, judge later," he said in a 2015 interview before the release of the album "Encores."

Often compared to Sinatra, Aznavour started his career as a songwriter for Piaf, but it was she who took him under her wing, encouraging him to sing his own material. Like her, his fame ultimately reached well outside France, including being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.

"What were my faults? My voice, my size, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my honesty, or my lack of personality," the 5-foot-3-inch (1.6-meter) tall performer wrote in his autobiography. "My voice? I cannot change it. The teachers I consulted all agreed I shouldn't sing, but nevertheless I continued to sing until my throat was sore."

In his career, Aznavour wrote upward of 1,000 songs, for himself, Piaf and other popular French singers. The love ballad "She" topped British charts for four weeks in 1974 and was covered by Elvis Costello for the film "Notting Hill."

Aznavour sold more than 180 million records, according to his official biography. He broke an arm in May but was set to start a new tour in November in France, starting in Paris.

Liza Minnelli, who met Aznavour when she was a teenager and he was in his 40s, described following him to Paris.

"He really taught me everything I know about singing — how each song is a different movie," she said in a 2013 interview. The two remained close through the decades, often performing together.

He resisted description as a crooner, despite decades of torch songs that are now firmly fixed in the French lexicon.

"I'm a songwriter who sometimes performs his own songs," was his preferred self-description.

But it was as a performer that Aznavour came most to life, expression vibrating from his thick brows to his fingertips.

"On stage, I don't feel like I'm singing for the audience. I'm singing for myself, and I give it to the audience. We share. If it's not shared, it's not good," he said in 2015.

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Aznavour's "masterpieces, voice tone" and "unique radiance."

"Deeply French, viscerally attached to his Armenian roots, recognized throughout the world, Charles Aznavour will have accompanied the joys and sorrows of three generations," Macron said in a message posted on Twitter.

Shanoun Varenagh Aznavourian was born in Paris on May 22, 1924, to Armenian parents who fled to Paris in the 1920s and opened a restaurant. His singer father — whose own father was a chef to Russian Czar Nicholas II — and actress mother exposed him to the performing arts early on, and he acted in his first play when he was 9.

Aznavour, who cut the Armenian suffix from his stage name, decided to switch to music but still acted in films throughout his career. His movie credits include Francois Truffaut's 1960 "Tirez sur le Pianiste" (Shoot the Pianist), Volker Schloendorff's 1979 "Die Blechtrommel" (The Tin Drum), and Atom Egoyan's 2002 "Ararat."

That last film dealt with the 1915 massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, an event that has strained relations between Turkey and Armenia for a century.

Aznavour campaigned internationally to get the killings formally deemed genocide. Turkey vehemently denies that the massacre was genocide and insists it was part of the violence during World War I.

Aznavour became a piano player, and toured in New York after World War II with Piaf. There, he performed on stage with Minnelli. In 1963, he performed in a sold-out Carnegie Hall. In addition to the English-language "She," other best-selling songs included "La Boheme," ''For me, Formidable" and "La Mamma." Other songs gained fame by their notoriety, including the seductive "Apres l'Amour,"(After Love)  which was banned by French radio in 1965 as an affront to public morals, and the 1972 "Comme Ils Disent" (As They Say) — a first-person narrative of a gay man's heartache.

His style varied little over the decades, his lyrics sticking to traditional structures, his melodies catchy and smooth with a swelling orchestra in the background — and lacking in imagination, some critics said. But in live performances, his small, lithe frame exuded an energy and emotion that made his songs something more.

If sometimes critics hinted that his voice wasn't quite up to the task, they said people went to see one of the century's great singer-songwriters in action.

"We continue to go to find this intimate link that each one of us keeps with their songs and what they represent," critic Caroline Rodgers wrote after a 2014 concert. "If there are failures, these insignificant musical blemishes called false notes, advanced age has this privilege — that you are simply overcome before such a monument who is still singing after all these years."

With half a wink, Aznavour never quite forgot that critics were less kind when he was younger.

"No one dares say what they said before. So when were they lying — before or after?" he asked in the 2015 interview.

The singer also never forgot his Armenian roots.

He traveled regularly to Armenia after it earned independence from the Soviet Union. He was named itinerant ambassador for humanitarian action in 1993 by then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian, served as Armenia's ambassador to U.N. cultural agency UNESCO and was named Armenia's ambassador to Switzerland in 2009. He founded Aznavour and Armenia, a nonprofit organization created after the devastating earthquake that hit Soviet Armenia in 1988.

Aznavour was awarded France's prestigious National Order of Merit In 2001, and in 2009, he received the National Order of Quebec, a first for a singer.

"I am not trying to boast, but I have to admit that for an uneducated son of an immigrant I could have done far worse," Aznavour said.

Along with other French celebrities, in April 2002 he urged people to sing France's national anthem in a campaign to defeat far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his anti-immigrant stance.

"If Le Pen had existed (in my parents' time) I wouldn't have been born in France," Aznavour said at the time.

Aznavour owned La Boheme restaurant in Aix-en-Provence, southeastern France. He also published two volumes of memoirs — "Aznavour by Aznavour" in 1973 and "Le Temps des Avants" (The Times Before) in 2003.

For his 80th birthday, Aznavour sang at the renowned Palais des Congres in Paris and then went on a tour of France and Belgium. He celebrated his 90th birthday with a concert in Berlin.

Married three times, Aznavour had six children. He is survived by his wife of more than four decades, Ulla.


Iran fires ballistic missiles at Syria militants over attack

In this photo released on Monday, Oct. 1 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, missiles are fired from city of Kermanshah in western Iran targeting the Islamic State group in Syria. (Sepahnews via AP)

Nassser Karimi and Jon Gambrell

Tehran, Iran (AP) — Iran's Revolutionary Guard launched six ballistic missiles as well as drone bombers early Monday toward eastern Syria, targeting militants it blamed for an attack on a military parade last month while also threatening regional adversaries as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers unravels.

The missiles had enough range to strike regional U.S. military bases and targets inside both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran's supreme leader has called out the two Arab nations by name, accusing them of being behind the Sept. 22 attack on the parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, something denied by both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Monday's strike was the second missile attack by Iran in a month's time, and came as tensions rise ahead of renewed U.S. sanctions targeting Tehran's oil industry that will take effect in early November.

"This is the roaring of missiles belonging to the Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Revolution," a state TV reporter said as the missiles launched behind him. "In a few minutes, the world of arrogance — especially America, the (Israeli) Zionist regime and the Al Saud — will hear the sound of Iran's repeated blows." Al Saud is a reference to Saudi Arabia's royal family.

Iranian state TV and the state-run IRNA news agency said the missiles "killed and wounded" militants in Syria, without elaborating. The missiles, launched from western Iran, flew over Iraq and landed near the city of Boukamal in the far southeast of Syria, they reported.

"Terrorists used bullets in Ahvaz," Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard's aerospace division, told the semi-official Tasnim news agency. "We answered them with missiles."

The Guard, a paramilitary group that answers directly to the supreme leader, said it followed the missiles with bombing runs by seven remotely piloted drones, a first for Iran. State TV aired footage of a drone dropping what appeared to be an unguided munition.

Boukamal is held by Syrian government forces, but IS still maintains a presence in the area, despite being driven from virtually all the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that the Iranian missiles hit the IS-held town of Hajin, just north of Boukamal.

Strong explosions shook the area early Monday, reverberating east of the Euphrates River, he said. U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters have been battling IS in and around Hajin for weeks.

The U.S. military's Central Command acknowledged that Iranian forces conducted "no-notice strikes" in the area.

"The coalition is still assessing if any damage occurred, and no coalition forces were in danger," U.S. Army Col. Sean Ryan said.

IS militants did not immediately acknowledge the attack.

The missile launch further adds to confusion over who carried out the assault on a military parade, which killed at least 24 people and wounded over 60.

Iran initially blamed Arab separatists for the attack in which gunmen disguised as soldiers opened fire on the crowd and officials watching the parade from a viewing platform. The Arab separatists, who have long complained of discrimination in Persian-majority Iran, claimed the attack and provided accurate details about one of the attackers.

The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the Ahvaz assault, but initially made factually incorrect claims about it. Later, IS released footage of several men that Iran ultimately identified as attackers, though the men in the footage are not known to have pledged allegiance to the extremist group.

In announcing the launch, Iranian state media said the missiles targeted both "takfiri" militants — a term it often applies to the Islamic State group — and Ahvazi separatists. The separatists have not been known to work with IS in the past.

Mohsen Rezaei, who formerly led the Guard, praised the missile strike on Twitter, adding that the "main punishment is on the way," suggesting more attacks could be imminent.

One missile shown on Iranian state television bore the slogans "Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to Al Saud."

The semi-official Fars news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, identified the six missiles used as Zolfaghar and Qiam variants, which have ranges of 750 kilometers (465 miles) and 800 kilometers (500 miles) respectively. Those missiles can reach Emirati and Saudi targets, as well as U.S. bases.

Regional tensions have been mounting since President Donald Trump pulled America out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers in May. The United Nations says Iran still honors the terms of the accord, in which it limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran's already weak economy has suffered since the American withdrawal, with its currency now trading at 170,000 rials to one U.S. dollar. In May, rate stood at around 62,000. A year ago, it was 39,000.

This is the third time in about a year that Iran has fired ballistic missiles beyond its borders.

Last year, Iran fired ballistic missiles into Syria over a bloody IS attack on Tehran targeting parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In September, Iran fired missiles into Iraq targeting a base of an Iranian Kurdish separatist group. The separatists say that strike killed at least 15 people and wounded over 50.

"The Iranian missiles are a message to more than one side," said Talal Atrissi, a researcher in regional affairs at Beirut's Al Maaref University. "It is a message that when Iran threatens, it carries out its threats, and this is important for Iran. The second message is that the sanctions will not prevent Iran from defending itself."


2 Koreas begin removing DMZ mines to ease military tensions

 

In this on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 photo, military guard posts of North Korea, right top, and South Korea, left bottom, are seen in Paju, at the border with North Korea, South Korea. (Kim Do-hoon/Yonhap via AP)

Hyung-Jin Kim

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korean troops began removing some of the land mines planted at their heavily fortified border on Monday, Seoul officials said, in the first implementation of recent agreements aimed at easing their decades-long military standoff.

The demining comes amid resumed diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear weapons program after weeks of stalemated negotiations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to visit Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, this month to try to set up a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Monday, South Korean army engineers with demining equipment were deployed to the border village of Panmunjom and another frontline area called "Arrow Head Hill" where the Koreas plan their first joint searches for soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The troops began removing mines on the southern part of the two sites. Later Monday, the South Korean military detected North Korean soldiers engaged in what it believed was demining on the northern part of the sites, a South Korean defense official said on condition of animosity, citing department rules.

The official refused to provide more details. North Korea's state media didn't immediately confirm its reported demining.

At Arrow Head Hill, where some of the fiercest battles occurred during the Korean War, Seoul officials believe there are remains of about 300 South Korean and U.N. forces, along with an unspecified number of Chinese and North Korean remains.

The Korean War left millions dead or missing, and South Korea wants to expand joint excavations with North Korea for remains at Demilitarized Zone areas. The Koreas remain split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long DMZ that was originally created as a buffer zone at the end of the Korean War. About 2 million mines are believed to be scattered in and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by hundreds of thousands of combat troops, barbed wire fences and tank traps.

Mines dislodged by flooding and landslides have occasionally caused deaths in front-line areas in South Korea. In 2015, a land mine blast blamed on North Korea maimed two South Korean soldiers and pushed the Koreas to the brink of war.

The agreement to clear mines, the first such effort since the early 2000s, was among a package of tension-easing deals struck by the Koreas' defense chiefs on the sidelines of a leaders' summit last month in Pyongyang. Aiming to reduce conventional military threats, they also agreed to remove 11 front-line guard posts by December and set up buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border to prevent accidental clashes.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday the military deals will "end all hostile acts on land, sea and sky between South and North Korea." In a speech marking South Korea's 70th Armed Forces Day, Moon also called for a stronger national defense, saying "peace can continue only when we have power and are confidant of protecting ourselves."

Moon, a liberal who aspires to improve ties with North Korea, is a driving force behind U.S.-North Korean nuclear diplomacy. Critics of his engagement policy have lambasted the recent inter-Korean military deals, saying a mutual reduction of conventional military strength would weaken South Korea's war readiness because the North's nuclear program remains largely intact.

"I think it's the worst-ever South-North Korean agreement that made a concession in our defense posture before (North Korean) denuclearization is achieved," Shin Wonsik, a former vice chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

Many experts say the fate of inter-Korean deals can be affected by how nuclear negotiations go between the United States and North Korea. Past rapprochement efforts were often stalled after a standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions intensified.

After provocative tests of three intercontinental ballistic missiles and a powerful nuclear weapon last year, North Korea entered talks with the United States and South Korea earlier this year, saying it's willing to deal away its expanding nuclear arsenal. Kim Jong Un has subsequently held a series of summits with U.S., South Korean and Chinese leaders and taken some steps such as dismantling his nuclear test site.

The nuclear diplomacy later came to a standstill amid disputes over how sincere North Korea is about disarmament. But Trump, Pompeo and other U.S. officials have recently reported progress in denuclearization discussions with the North. Pompeo is to make his third trip to North Korea soon.

Meanwhile, on Monday, South Korea held a ceremony marking the recent return of the remains of 64 South Korean soldiers missing from the Korean War. They were earlier found in North Korea during a joint 1996-2005 excavation project between the United States and North Korea. Forensic identification tests in Hawaii confirmed they belong to South Korean war dead, according to Seoul's Defense Ministry.


UK Brexit chief criticizes EU as divided Conservatives meet

 

Britain's Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab addresses delegates during a speech at the Conservative Party Conference at the ICC in Birmingham central England, Monday, Oct. 1. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Jill Lawless

Birmingham, England (AP) — Britain's Brexit chief appealed for Conservative Party unity on Monday, as he warned the European Union that the U.K. will leave the bloc without a divorce deal rather than accept one that makes Britain follow too many EU rules.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab's call to "come together, because this is a moment for the optimists" fell largely on deaf ears at the Conservative conference in Birmingham. Instead, pro-Brexit politicians took pot-shots at the EU, pro-EU Conservatives battled to stop the U.K.'s exit from the bloc — and British Prime Minister Theresa May was caught in the middle, trying to cling to power.

The Conservatives are holding their annual meeting in the central English city 10 days after EU leaders told May that her proposed divorce terms were unacceptable. That rejection has sparking an impasse in Brexit negotiations and a crisis for Britain's leader, with less than six months to go until Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc on March 29.

Raab accused the EU of casting "jibes" at Britain and having a "theological approach (that) allows no room for serious compromise."

Raab said that if the EU tried to "lock us in via the back door" — by keeping Britain in the bloc's single market or customs union — "then we will be left with no choice but to leave without a deal."

Raab's combative comments followed Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's remark on Sunday that the EU should not try to prevent a smooth departure by Britain because "it was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving." His comparison of a bloc that includes several former Communist countries to the USSR drew a rebuke from former British diplomats and from the EU.

"We would all benefit, and in particular foreign affairs ministers, from opening a history book from time to time," said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

Pro-Brexit flag-waving got a warmer reception at the Conservative conference, where party members mixed with lobbyists, think-tank academics and a group of men dressed as soldiers from the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 — a time when Britain was engulfed in civil war and Europe seemed far away.

May, meanwhile, faces a growing threat to her leadership amid deepening opposition to her Brexit plan, which would keep Britain in the EU single market for goods — in return for following EU regulations — while leaving it free to make its own rules on services.

Advocates of "hard Brexit" argue that would make the U.K. a "vassal" of the EU, wheraeas a clean break with the bloc would let Britain strike new trade deals around the world.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a rival of May's who is a likely future contender for her job, has called the prime minister's plan "preposterous" and "deranged." Johnson will address hundreds of delegates on Tuesday, a day before May's keynote speech to the conference.

On May's other flank are pro-EU ministers such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond, who called Johnson's claims about Brexit "fantasy land." Hammond used his own conference speech to stress that the Conservative Party "is, and always will be, the party of business."

It's a sign of how Brexit has upended British politics that the party of free-market former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher needs to make such an assurance.

But many British businesses are anxious about Brexit, fearing barriers to trade and recruiting workers could hammer the U.K. economy.

Hammond echoed their concerns, saying "our businesses, and the workers whose jobs depend on them" need "friction-free access" to EU markets.

Hammond backed May's Brexit plan, but EU leaders say it amounts to "cherry picking" the benefits of membership in the bloc without assuming the costs and responsibilities.

May is sticking to her proposal. But with Brexit day looming on March 29, chances are rising that the U.K. could find itself crashing out of the bloc without a deal. The government has acknowledged that could leave planes grounded and trucks backed up at British ports.

Pro-EU Conservatives, who have been sidelined since the country voted in 2016 to leave the EU, think opinion is turning in their favor now that the downsides of Brexit are becoming clearer. Several hundred people packed a meeting in Birmingham on Monday to hear from Conservatives calling for a "people's vote" — a new referendum on any final Brexit deal, with the option to remain in the EU.

Speakers warned that the party would be punished by voters if it pushed through a "hard" Brexit.

"Every single socio-economic ill that takes place between now and the next general election is going to be blamed on 'Tory Brexit,'" said lawmaker Phillip Lee, who resigned as a junior minister over his opposition to Brexit.

Lee claimed to know three government ministers who privately supported a new referendum, and urged Conservative lawmakers with doubts about Brexit to speak up.

Conservative legislator Anna Soubry encouraged British businesses to go public with their concerns about Brexit.

"There are so many private conversations that should now be public conversations — and notably by British businesses," Soubry said. "We have only six months to save our country."


Roads blocked, students strike a year after Catalonia vote

Pro independence demonstrators march during a protest in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, Oct. 1. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Renata Brito and Aritz Parra

Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain (AP) — Pro-secession activists in Spain's Catalonia region blocked major transportation routes and thousands of students marched in Barcelona on the anniversary Monday of an independence referendum that was crushed by police and failed to produce a separate Catalan state.

College and high school boycotted classes and made emotional speeches at mass demonstrations to commemorate the Oct. 1, 2017, vote that Spanish courts had deemed illegal and ordered suspended.

The anniversary of the event that sparked Spain's gravest political crisis in decades was being marked by a fractured Catalan independence movement amid a timid dialogue with the central government, now in the hands of a minority Socialist administration.

In Girona, north of Barcelona, hundreds of activists halted high-speed railway traffic for most of the morning by occupying the train tracks. Some protesters then moved to the local headquarters of the Catalan government's provincial delegation, replacing the official Spanish flag from the public building with a separatist emblem.

Local activist groups that emerged after last year's independence declaration, known as Committees for the Defense of the Republic, shared photos and posts on social media showing blockages of regional roads and several points along the AP-7 highway, the main north-south artery running through eastern Catalonia and leading to the French border.

Traffic was affected in Lleida and Barcelona, the regional capital, where marches were held throughout the day. At midday, thousands of students walked behind a street-wide banner that read, "We won't forget, neither will we forgive."

They shouted "Freedom for political prisoners," a reference to the separatist leaders who have been in pre-trial custody on rebellion and other charges for nearly a year.

Maria Vila, a protester who was placing "Republic under construction" stickers in Barcelona's main thoroughfare, said she wanted to highlight last year's violence and demand more progress on secession.

"The Catalan government has not done much and we are determined to make the Catalan Republic happen, in any way we can, even if it is by holding another referendum, a legal one," she told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, members of the regional government and other top authorities returned to Sant Julia de Ramis, the northern town that has become a symbolic place for Catalan separatists because one year ago police stormed into the local school to prevent people from voting.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's president at the time, had been scheduled to vote there but had to find an alternative polling station when anti-riot police broke the gates of the school to confiscate ballot boxes and used batons to disperse and injure voters refusing to leave.

The incidents were broadcast live and brought pressure on the Spanish central government, at the time in the hands of conservatives. Separatists claimed a victory for independence in the vote despite its illegal nature, the police violence and a lack of oversight.

In a brief speech Monday, Catalonia's current president, Quim Torra, called on supporters gathered outside of the Sant Julia de Ramis school to remember the lessons of the referendum and to press ahead with efforts to secede from Spain.

He spoke while some people held a banner behind him reading, in Catalan, "People demand, the government obeys," a message that could be aimed at the Spanish government that says the country's constitution doesn't allow a referendum on a region's secession, but also at regional separatist politicians who have been criticized for not delivering on the promise of independence.

Torra was hand-picked by Puigdemont from Belgium, where the separatist leader successfully fought off extradition and has been advocating for an independent Catalonia. On Monday, he released a video on Twitter calling on Catalans to remain united in persevering with the goal of breaking away from Spain.

"Let us not stray from the only possible way to live in a full democracy: the (Catalan) Republic and its international recognition," Puigdemont said.

Torra has asked the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to authorize a binding vote on secession, and also to release the nine separatist leaders that are in pre-trial detention on rebellion and other charges.

Dialogue between the regional and national administrations has so far delivered some economic deals for funding the region but remains mired amid internal discord among separatists on the best strategy going forward and the weak parliamentary support for Sanchez's government.

The spokeswoman for his new center-left government on Monday called last year's police violence "a mistake" and blamed it for damaging the country's reputation internationally. But Isabel Celaa also said the vote didn't succeed: "There is nothing to celebrate" on Oct. 1, she told Cadena Ser radio.

Polls and recent elections show that the region's 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.
 


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