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Update December 2017


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Update December 9 - 10, 2017

Clashes erupt across West Bank, Gaza over US Jerusalem pivot

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Friday, Dec.8. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Ilan Ben Zion and Mohammed Daraghmeh

Jerusalem (AP) — Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank and Gaza, and Muslim worshippers from Jordan to Indonesia poured into the streets after Friday prayers to protest President Donald Trump's recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

At least one Palestinian was killed in skirmishes between protesters and Israeli troops along the Gaza border fence, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Dozens more were reported wounded in clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Protesters burned Israeli and U.S. flags or stomped on Trump posters in displays of anger.

In the West Bank, demonstrators torched heaps of tires, sending columns of thick black smoke rising over the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian stone-throwers traded volleys in the streets with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Israeli military reported protests at 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and said Israeli forces arrested six people.

Red Crescent paramedics and Palestinian health officials reported 13 people wounded by live fire and 47 by rubber bullets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Dozens more suffered from tear gas inhalation, medics said.

Trump's seismic policy shift on Jerusalem has angered Arabs and Muslims who view it as an expression of blatant pro-Israel bias on one of the region's most explosive religious and political disputes.

Jerusalem is home to major Muslim and Christian shrines, as well as Judaism's holiest site. The Israeli-annexed eastern sector is sought by the Palestinians as a future capital, while Israel says it won't relinquish any part of Jerusalem.

Palestinian political groups had called for massive demonstrations Friday in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — lands captured by Israel in 1967 and sought for a Palestinian state.

Separately, the Gaza-based leader of the Islamic militant Hamas agitated for a third uprising against Israel.

On Friday, the militant al-Qaida network urged followers around the world to target vital interests of the United States, its allies and Israel. A statement posted on al-Qaida's media arm as-Sahab called for holy war or jihad and described America as an oppressor of Muslims.

Street protests were held Friday across the region. Marches were staged in Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Jordan.

In the Jordanian capital of Amman, hundreds of protesters chanted "Jerusalem is Arab" and "America is the head of the snake."

Demonstrators stomped on a poster that showed Trump alongside a Nazi swastika.

Thousands of worshippers at a traditional flashpoint, Jerusalem's OId City, dispersed quietly after noon prayers.

The Old City is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is Islam's third holiest shrine and stands on the remnants of Judaism's holiest site. One of the compound's outer walls is the holiest site where Jews can pray.

In the past, Israeli authorities often imposed age restrictions, barring younger Muslims from entering the Al Aqsa compound during periods of tensions, but did not do so Friday.

The preacher at Al Aqsa told worshippers that the city will "remain Muslim and Arab."

"All we want from the Arab and Muslim leaders is action and not statements of denunciation," Sheikh Yousef Abu Sneineh said to the approximately 27,000 worshippers.

Around 2,000 people later gathered in the plaza around the mosque, chanting: "With our soul and blood, we will defend Al Aqsa and Jerusalem."

For decades, the United States had professed neutrality on the fate of Jerusalem, in line with an international consensus that the fate of the holy city should be determined in negotiations.

Trump's dramatic policy shift, announced Wednesday, has triggered widespread international condemnation, including from U.S. allies. Several European leaders have warned the U.S. shift could further destabilize the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron said after a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that he was "launching an appeal for calm and responsibility."

Hariri said the U.S. decision "will further complicate the peace process and pose an additional challenge to the stability of the whole region."


UK, EU claim Brexit breakthrough; eye talks on future ties

British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepare to address a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 8. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Lorne Cook and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — Britain and the European Union hammered out a deal early Friday that allows Brexit talks to finally move on to the all-important issues of trade and the future relationship between the two. But some of the details appeared contradictory and many of the toughest issues remained unresolved.

The last stumbling block had involved the border between Ireland — an EU member — and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. After Britain leaves the EU, that will be the only land border between the two.

The Northern Ireland party that has been holding up a deal now says it is satisfied. Negotiators also reached broad agreement on the rights of British citizens in EU countries and EU nationals in the U.K., as well as on Britain's future financial obligations to the European Union.

As a result, the European Commission recommended that the talks move onto the next phase. Leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states are expected to ratify that decision at a meeting on Thursday in Brussels.

"I believe that we have now made the breakthrough that we needed," EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The agreement is intentionally vague on key points, and some of the details appeared to be mutually contradictory.

On the one hand, Britain promises to withdraw from the EU single market and the broader customs union. On the other, the agreement says there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, although the former will remain within the EU single market and the latter in the UK.

Exactly what that means will be fought over by politicians and negotiators in the months to come, and the European Commission itself acknowledged in a message to EU leaders that the language "seems hard to reconcile with the United Kingdom's communicated decision to leave the internal market and the Customs Union."

The pound rose initially on the news of a breakthrough but later fell back as investors digested the details of the deal. It was trading at $1.3465, unchanged on the previous day.

The wording of the agreement left people close to the negotiations on both sides of the argument happy, and people further from the negotiations on both sides angry.

"I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to talk about trade and security and to discuss the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in all of our interests," May said.

Nigel Farage, who led the drive to leave the EU as chairman of the U.K. Independence Party, said May had caved on critical points. Farage tweeted that the deal was "good news for Mrs. May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation."

On the other side, anti-Brexit London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it is "extremely disappointing" that Britain is pledging to leave the single market and customs union.

"Despite the progress today, it looks increasingly unlikely that we will get a deal that works in London's best interests and protects jobs and growth across Britain," he said.

Britain committed once again in the agreement to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. Negotiations must be wrapped up within a year to leave time for parliaments to endorse any deal.

Already, precious time has been lost in matters many thought would be dealt with expeditiously. The real drama lies ahead, with trade talks that normally can take a decade or more compressed into a matter of months.

European Council President Donald Tusk grimly pointed out that 18 months had already passed since Britain's vote to leave the EU and that now the parties must negotiate a transition arrangement in less than a year.

"The most difficult challenge is still ahead," Tusk said. "We all know that breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building a new relation is much harder."


South Korea mulling ways to curb craze for bitcoins

A man walks by a screen showing the price of bitcoin in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 8. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Youkyung Lee

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — South Korean is studying ways to regulate speculative trading in crypto currencies as the latest surge in prices stokes a craze over bitcoins.

The country's financial regulator said Friday that it has ruled out using bitcoin for derivative products. The decision effectively bans investing in bitcoin futures that will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange this weekend.

It's part of a backlash against digital currencies in some Asian countries, even as Japan embraces their use.

Indonesia's Central Bank spokesman Agusman Zainal said Friday the Indonesian monetary authority will issue a rule prohibiting the use of bitcoin as a means of payment by 2018. At the moment, it is reviewing the situation, he said.

South Koreans tend to be tech savvy and used to trading cash in online games. Many are betting their incomes and even retirement packages on bitcoins and other virtual currencies. The country has just 50 million people but accounts for about one-fifth of global bitcoin trades.

The price of bitcoin surged more than 20 percent overnight to top $17,000 before falling back to $15418.19 by late Friday.

Meanwhile, South Korean internet users were rushing to seek online advice about which crypto currencies to pick or how to download apps.

The lure is apparent: One bitcoin was worth less than $1,000 at the start of the year.

"People are probably affected by those who say they made a lot of money from bitcoins," said Kim Do-hyung, a 21-year-old who invested in bitcoins and another crypto currency called stratis. "Young people don't make a lot of money. It looks like easy money for them," he said.

Kim, who just finished the country's mandatory military service last month, put all his monthly salary saved up from his two-years of duty into crypto currencies in November. His profit surged four-fold, reaping enough to pay his tuition when he returns to college next year and pay his rent in Seoul, he said by phone from a city of Masan, 298 kilometers south of Seoul.

Earlier this week, South Korea's justice ministry said it would consider ways to regulate crypto currency exchanges and plans to devise stiff penalties for crimes related to such transactions.

Local investors believe the crypto currency boom is still in its early stages.

"Virtual currency just made a start in South Korea so I think the price will go further up," Kim said.


Philippines wants money back from Sanofi for dengue vaccine

A young boy holds his vaccination record as he joins other protesters at a rally outside the Department of Health to demand accountability to government officials involved in the controversial immunization of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia to more than 700,000 Filipino children Friday, Dec. 8, in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government will demand a refund of 3.5 billion pesos ($69.5 million) from vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur and look at possible legal action after a study showed the vaccine used in a dengue immunization program could expose some people to severe illness, the health chief said Friday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government will also seek compensation for treatment of children who may develop severe dengue. No deaths have been confirmed, but at least one immunized child has developed dengue.

The Department of Health put on hold its dengue immunization drive, which was launched last year and is the world's first such public program, after France-based Sanofi Pasteur released the study last week.

A small group of protesters called on the government to take action against the health secretaries who supported the vaccination program under the previous and current administrations in a rally at the Department of Health in Manila. The protesters brought a 12-year-old boy who they said received the dengue vaccine.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin told ABS-CBN TV that there was no warning given by Sanofi in her time that the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia carried a risk for those who have not been infected. She said she was ready to face a Senate investigation next week.

More than 730,000 public school children aged 9 and above in three Philippine regions with high rates of dengue fever have received at least the first dose of Dengvaxia, the first licensed dengue vaccine.

Sanofi Pasteur said its long-term follow-up study of the vaccine showed sustained benefits for up to six years for those who had a previous dengue infection, but that people who never had dengue had an increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.

"We will demand the refund of the 3 billion paid for the Dengvaxia and that Sanofi set up an indemnification fund to cover the hospitalization and medical treatment for all children who might have severe dengue," Duque said at a news conference, adding that a government legal team will also look into Sanofi's accountability.

The pharmaceutical giant initially claimed that the vaccine was safe and effective for all people aged 9 to 45, but later acknowledged that it "is not recommended for people who have had no prior dengue infection" due to the risk of a severe case, Duque said.

At least one 12-year-old from northern Tarlac province developed dengue after being immunized but recovered, Duque said, although he did not say if Dengvaxia caused the infection.

Another possible dengue case was being investigated, he said.

Sanofi Pasteur said Friday it's working with Philippine authorities to address fears and share new information about the vaccine, and will cooperate in an ongoing review of the public vaccination program.

Duque said the Philippines will wait for a recommendation to be released next week by a group of immunization experts who provide advice to the World Health Organization.

WHO says about half the world's population is at risk of dengue, with a recent estimate indicating 390 million infections per year.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection found in tropical and subtropical climates worldwide. It is a flu-like disease that can cause joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash and can cause breathing problems, hemorrhaging and organ failure in severe cases.


Russia claims radioactivity spike not due to nuclear plant

 

In this file photo taken on Friday April 8, 2016, a sign warns people not to enter the town of Ozersk, Chelyabinsk region, Russia, which houses the Mayak nuclear facility. (AP Photo/Katherine Jacobsen)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russian authorities denied Friday that a radioactivity spike in the air over Europe this fall resulted from a nuclear fuel processing plant leak in the Ural mountains, saying their probe has found no release of radioactivity there.

Vladimir Boltunov of Russia's Rosatom state nuclear corporation said an inspection of the Mayak nuclear plant has proven that it wasn't the source of Ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope spotted in the air over Europe and Russia in late September and early October.

France's nuclear safety agency said last month that increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were recorded over most of Europe but posed no health or environmental risks.

The Russian panel that involved experts from Rosatom and other agencies failed to identify where the isotope came from, but alleged it could have come from a satellite that came down from its orbit and disintegrated in the atmosphere.

Nuclear safety expert Rafael Arutyunian said while isotopes of plutonium, cesium or strontium are normally used as power sources for satellites, it can't be excluded that Ruthenium-106 could have been used in some satellite equipment.

The assumption that the isotope came from a crashing satellite would explain its broad spread over Europe, he argued.

Arutyunian, deputy head of the Institute for Safe Nuclear Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that a broader panel will continue investigating the radioactivity.

Last month, the Russian state meteorological office reported high levels of Ruthenium-106 in late September in areas close to Mayak, but Arutyunian and other experts emphasized that they were still tens of thousand times less than the level that would pose health risks.

The environmental group Greenpeace alleged that Mayak could have been the source of a Ruthenium-106 leak, but the panel insisted the plant doesn't extract the isotope or conduct any other operations that may lead to its release.

The commission said a thorough inspection of the plant had found no safety breaches and checks of its personnel also hadn't detected any trace of the isotope.

Vyacheslav Usoltsev of Rosatom's safety inspectorate said a sophisticated monitoring system at the plant would have spotted any release of radiation.

The panel also noted that while increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were spotted in the Urals and over Europe, they weren't detected over a 2,000-kilometer (1,250-mile) swath of land between the Urals and Russia's western border. It argued that if the source of the leak were on the ground, it would have spread the trace of Ruthenium-106 midway.

Mayak, in the Chelyabinsk region, saw one of the world's worst nuclear accidents on Sept. 29, 1957, when a waste tank exploded. That contaminated 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) and prompted authorities to evacuate 10,000 residents from neighboring regions.


Chief priest, 2 others dead in Tokyo shrine stabbings

People visit Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo Friday, Dec. 8. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Kaori Hitomi

Tokyo (AP) — The head priest of a prominent shrine in Tokyo was ambushed and killed with a samurai sword, apparently by her brother, who then took his own life, police said Friday.

A female accomplice also died in the attack, and the priest's driver was injured, Tokyo Metropolitan Police said. The motive was unclear, though Japanese media reported there may have been a feud between the priest and her brother.

Police said that Nagako Tomioka, the 58-year-old head of Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, was attacked as she got out of her car Thursday night.

Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, and an accomplice were hiding behind her house, police said. Japanese media said he is the victim's brother, but police would not confirm that. Japanese priests generally live on the grounds of their shrines or temples.

The accomplice attacked the driver with a samurai sword and pursued him as he ran out of the temple grounds and about 100 meters (300 feet) down a road, police said. A trail of splattered blood was still visible on the pavement Friday morning. The driver's injuries were not life-threatening.

The brother is then believed to have killed the woman before committing suicide. At least one blood-stained sword and two survival knives were found near the scene, Japanese media said.

The nearly 400-year-old Tomioka Hachimangu shrine is known for its close ties to sumo and holding one of Tokyo's three big Shinto festivals.


Update December 8, 2017

Thousands of Catalans rally, feeling abandoned by the EU

VPro-independence Catalan supporters gather to begin a demonstration near the EU quarter in Brussels on Thursday , Dec. 7. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Brussels (AP) — Tens of thousands of people from Catalonia rallied Thursday in Brussels, decrying what they see as the European Union's failure to help them following a failed independence referendum in the Spanish region.

Police said around 45,000 people took to the streets of the Belgian capital for a rally that comes amid campaigning for a regional election in Catalonia on Dec. 21.

Singing and chanting slogans, protesters marched around the EU's main institutions, some draped in flags or carrying signs with "Shame on You" stamped over an EU flag. A few Belgian Flemish separatists and Scottish flags could be seen in the crowd.

Many Catalans are pro-European, yet they feel let down by the bloc's failure to mediate their conflict with the Spanish government in Madrid or to condemn Spanish police violence during the Oct. 1 poll on independence.

Spain says unilateral moves by Catalan officials to declare independence violate the Spanish constitution.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, among those up for re-election on Dec. 21, used the gathering Thursday as part of his political campaign. He and four former Catalan government cabinet members fled to Brussels after the referendum fearing arrest. Several of their colleagues were jailed in Spain.

"Have you ever seen somewhere in the world such a demonstration that would support criminals?" Puigdemont asked the crowd.

"What happens in Catalonia is an opportunity for Europe. Let's wait for Dec. 21 and then we will start talking on the 22nd," he said.
 


Australian prime minister rushes gay marriage into law

Members of the Australian parliament, from left, Cathy McGowan, Adam Brandt and Andrew Wilkie celebrate the passing of the Marriage Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Dec. 7. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister rushed gay marriage into law on Friday by gaining a final signature on a bill hours after it was overwhelming endorsed by Parliament and as the nation started planning weddings that can take place in a month.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull traveled to Government House where Governor-General Peter Cosgrove signed the bill into law on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's constitutional head of state.

Cosgrove's signature makes gay marriage legal in Australia from Saturday, when same-sex couples who wed overseas will be recognized as married under Australian law. Couples who intend to marry must give a calendar-month notice, making gay weddings legal on Jan. 9, Turnbull said.

Neville Wills, 98, plans to marry his partner of 39 years, Ian Fenwicke, 74, next month.

Some practical reasons to marry become pressing with age. Relatives have contested wills that left estates to same-sex partners, and gays and lesbians want rights to access and medical consultation when a partner is hospitalized.

"The reason is to have a legal relationship that's not in any way challenged — and, of course, we love each other," Wills said. "We'll get the legal relationship straightened out in January. Call it a wedding if you like, I'm not romantic," he added.

Turnbull described Parliament voting late Thursday for gay marriage, with only four lawmakers registering their opposition, as a historic moment.

"Containing my emotions to a suitable, prime ministerial level of calm is quite challenging. I am absolutely pumped. I think this is so wonderful," he said after Parliament passed the bill and the public gallery erupted with a standing ovation.

Celebrations continued late into the night in Oxford Street, the center of Sydney's gay nightlife which is in Turnbull's electorate.

Turnbull has been a long-term advocate for marriage equality and is the first prime minister to attend Sydney's renowned annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is also in his electorate.

Hours after Parliament's action, a Sydney municipal council offered free venues to host same-sex marriages.

The Inner West Council is accepting bookings for same-sex marriages in its halls, community centers and parks at no charge over a 100-day period from Jan. 7.

"This is an historic day in the struggle for civil rights in Australia," Mayor Darcy Byrne said.

It follows the downtown Sydney municipality's decision in October to offer free venues for same-sex weddings should they become lawful.

The Australian Capital Territory government, which administers Canberra, the national capital, introduced its own same-sex marriage law in 2013 that was overturned by the High Court within a week.

ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay said his government would waive the 55 Australian dollar ($41) cost of wedding certificate for any of the 31 same-sex couples whose short-lived marriages were ruled invalid and want to marry again.

"It's a way of being able to acknowledge the difficulties that some of those couples have been through," Ramsay told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Anne-Marie Delahunt, who married her partner Meg Clark in Canberra in 2013, said she would take up the government's offer when they marry again in February.

"I think it was a touching measure from the ACT Government to say that our second marriage certificate will be free," Delahunt told ABC.

Gay marriage was endorsed by 62 percent of voters who responded to a national postal ballot by November.

Most gay rights advocates believed the government should have allowed marriages years ago and saw various ideas for a public survey as a delaying tactic. The U.N. Human Rights Committee had called the ballot survey "an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll."


Bitcoin tops $17,000; hack raises concerns ahead of US trade

Elaine Kurtenbach

Tokyo (AP) — Tokyo (AP) — Bitcoin surged past $17,000 Thursday as the frenzy surrounding the virtual currency escalated just days before it starts trading on major U.S. exchanges. Bitcoin has gained more than $5,000 in just the past two days.

At the same time, there are fresh concerns about the security of bitcoin and other virtual currencies after NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a breach that may have resulted in the theft of about $70 million worth of bitcoin.

Research company Coindesk said that a wallet address referred to by NiceHash users indicates that about 4,700 bitcoins had been stolen. NiceHash said it will stop operating for 24 hours while it verifies how many bitcoins were taken. Wallet is a nickname for an online account.

As of 11:15 a.m. EST, bitcoin was valued at $17,482, according to Coinbase, the largest bitcoin exchange. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.

The surge in the price and the hack of NiceHash occurred just as the trading community prepares for bitcoin to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on crosstown rival CME Group's platforms later in the month.

That has increased the sense among some investors that bitcoin is gaining in mainstream legitimacy after several countries, like China, tried to stifle the virtual currency.

Bitcoin is the world's most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.

A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.

Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.

Online security is a vital concern for such dealings.

In Japan, following the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers.

NiceHash did not respond to an emailed request for more details about the breach.

"The incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency," it said in a statement, where it also urged users to change their online passwords.

Slovenian police are investigating the case together with authorities in other states, spokesman Bostjan Lindav said, without providing details.


Former Cambodia opposition leader sued over Facebook post

In this July 22, 2012, file photo, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, talks with the then main opposition leader Sam Rainsy, left, of Cambodia National Rescue Party, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — A lawyer for Cambodia's military filed a lawsuit against former opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Thursday, a day after the prime minister said he should be charged with treason over a social media post.

Lawyer Vong Pheakdey said the complaint filed at Phnom Penh Municipal Court accuses Sam Rainsy of inciting the military to not follow orders, insulting military leaders and causing depression of the armed forces. He urged the court to "strongly punish" Sam Rainsy.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy called on soldiers not to obey any "dictators" if they are ordered to shoot innocent people. He also mentioned that Egypt's former leader was thrown from power by the armed forces.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 30 years, took issue with the post and said his former political foe should be charged with treason.

The move comes amid an intense push by Hun Sen's government to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of an election next year, often through the country's pliant courts.

A court last month ordered Sam Rainsy's former party, the country's only legitimate opposition, to be dissolved on the grounds that it was plotting to overthrow the government.

Sam Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile since late 2015 to avoid a deferred two-year prison sentence for criminal defamation. He has been the target of several lawsuits by Hun Sen and his ruling party.

Kem Sokha who took over the opposition party earlier of this year is now detained on treason charges and awaiting trial.

The government has also intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets.

The campaign, which means Hun Sen will face no serious challengers in next year's vote, has prompted international condemnation.

The U.S. announced Wednesday it will restrict visas for Cambodians "undermining democracy." The State Department said it was a direct response to "anti-democratic actions" by the Cambodian government but did not disclose which individuals would be affected.


Experts scramble to monitor long-dormant Iceland volcano

The Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon at the foot of the Oraefajokull volcano is shown in this Thursday, Nov. 30, file photo. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

David Keyton

Oraefi, Iceland (AP) — At the summit of one of Iceland's most dangerous volcanoes, a 72-foot (22-meter) depression in the snow is the only visible sign of an alarming development.

The Oraefajokull volcano, dormant since its last eruption in 1727-1728, has seen a recent increase in seismic activity and geothermal water leakage that has worried scientists. With the snow hole on Iceland's highest peak deepening 18 inches (45 centimeters) each day, authorities have raised the volcano's alert safety code to yellow.

Experts at Iceland's Meteorological Office have detected 160 earthquakes in the region in the past week alone as they step up their monitoring of the volcano. The earthquakes are mostly small but their sheer number is exceptionally high.

"Oraefajokull is one of the most dangerous volcanos in Iceland. It's a volcano for which we need to be very careful," said Sara Barsotti, Coordinator for Volcanic Hazards at the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

What worries scientists the most is the devastating potential impact of an eruption at Oraefajokull.

Located in southeast Iceland about 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the capital, Reykjavik, the volcano lies under the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. Its 1362 eruption was the most explosive since the island was populated, even more explosive than the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that destroyed the city of Pompei.

Adding to the danger is the lack of historical data that could help scientists predict the volcano's behavior.

"It's not one of the best-known volcanos," Barsotti said. "One of the most dangerous things is to have volcanos for which we know that there is potential for big eruptions but with not that much historical data."

Iceland is home to 32 active volcanic sites, and its history is punctuated with eruptions, some of them catastrophic. The 1783 eruption of Laki spewed a toxic cloud over Europe, killing tens of thousands of people and sparking famine when crops failed. Some historians cite it as a contributing factor to the French Revolution.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in April 2010, prompting aviation authorities to close much of Europe's airspace for five days out of fear that its volcanic ash could damage jet engines. Millions of travelers were stranded by the move.

To remedy the lack of data for Oraefajokull, scientists are rushing to install new equipment on and around the volcano. Those include ultra-sensitive GPS sensors that can detect even the slightest tremors, webcams for real-time imagery of the volcano and sensors in the rivers that drain the volcano's glaciers to measure the chemical composition of the water.

Associated Press journalists last week visited scientists working near the mouth of the Kvia River, where the stench of sulfur was strong and the water was murky, clear signs that geothermal water was draining from the caldera.

"The most plausible explanation is that new magma is on the move deep below the surface," said Magnus Gudmundsson, professor of geophysics at the Institute of Earth Sciences in Reykjavik.

But what happens next is anyone's guess. In the most benign scenario, the phenomenon could simply cease. More concerning would be the development of a subglacial lake that could lead to massive flooding. At the far end of the spectrum of consequences would be a full eruption.

With such high-risk developments at stake, authorities are taking precautions. Police inspector Adolf Arnason is now patrolling the road around the volcano, which will be used for any evacuation, and residents have received evacuation briefings.

"Some farmers have only 20 minutes (to leave)," he said, pulling up to a small farm on the flank of the mountain.

If an evacuation is ordered, everyone in the area will receive a text message and the radio will broadcast updates. Police are confident that Oraefi's 200 residents will know how to react, but their biggest concern is contacting tourists.

Iceland has seen a huge boom in tourism since the 2010 eruption — a record 2.4 million people are expected to visit this year and about 2,000 tourists travel through Oraefi every day. While some stay in hotels that could alert their guests, others spend the night in camper vans spread across the remote area.

"The locals know what to do. They know every plan and how to react. But the tourists, they don't," said Police Chief superintendent Sveinn Runarsson. "That's our worst nightmare."


India's cleaning quandary: How to scale the Taj Mahal dome?

 

In this Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, photo, Indian workers clean the discoloration of the Taj Mahal caused by environmental pollution in Agra, India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Nick Perry

Agra, India (AP) — Authorities in India are trying to figure out how workers will scale the Taj Mahal's majestic but delicate dome as they complete the first thorough cleaning of the World Heritage site since it was built 369 years ago.

Work on the mausoleum's minarets and walls is almost finished, after workers began the makeover in mid-2015.

They've been using a natural mud paste to remove yellow discoloration and return the marble to its original brilliant white. Called fuller's earth, it's the same clay that some people smother on their skin as a beauty treatment.

But the metal scaffolding used so far is too heavy and rigid for the dome, said Bhuvan Vikrama, the superintending archaeologist from the Archaeological Survey of India. He said they're considering other options, including designing and constructing special bamboo scaffolding.

He said there's a precedent, after bamboo scaffolding was used on the dome in the early 1940s when some conservation work was carried out.

Vikrama said rain was enough to clean most of the Taj Mahal in the past but air pollution over the last 25 years had taken its toll.

"It became visibly clear it was all yellow," he said. "It even started becoming black in the shaded areas not washed by rains."

He said work on the dome would likely take 10 months, starting next year and finishing in 2019. The makeover was costing a total of about $500,000.

The work has prompted Fodor's Travel guide to include the Taj Mahal on its list of places not to visit next year.

"Unless your dream Taj Mahal visit involves being photographed standing in front of a mud-caked and be-scaffolded dome, maybe give it until 2019 at the earliest," the guide recommends.

Vikrama disagrees, saying photographs from the 1940s with scaffolding on the dome are interesting and historically important.

"If the tourism even fluctuates, we should not bother about that," he said. "Tourists should also appreciate they are witnessing the work going on, the right kind of efforts for the preservation of monuments."

The Taj Mahal typically attracts between 7 and 8 million visitors a year. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, people are attracted as much by the love story as the spectacular architecture.

"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," said Kent Scheibel, a tourist from Los Angeles who was visiting the site this week. "It's a living, breathing thing that emanates the absolute beauty of the human spirit."


Update December 7, 2017

Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital, smashing US policy

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper

Washington (AP) — President Donald Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem Wednesday, declaring the sorely divided holy city as Israel's capital and sparking frustrated Palestinians to cry out that he had destroyed already-fragile Mideast hopes for peace.

Defying dire, worldwide warnings, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision merely based on reality to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government. He also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable.

"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump said, brushing aside the appeals for caution from around the world.

Harsh objections came from a wide array of presidents and prime ministers. From the Middle East to Europe and beyond, leaders cautioned Trump that any sudden change on an issue as sensitive as Jerusalem not only risks blowing up the new Arab-Israeli peace initiative led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but could lead to new violence in the region.

No government beyond Israel spoke up in praise of Trump or suggested it would follow his lead.

Israelis and Palestinians reacted in starkly different terms. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump's announcement as an "important step toward peace," and Israeli opposition leaders echoed his praise. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump's shift serves extremist groups that want religious war and signals U.S. withdrawal from being a peace mediator. Protesters in Gaza burned American and Israeli flags.

Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a powerfully symbolic statement about a city that houses many of the world's holiest sites. Trump cited several: the Western Wall that surrounded the Jews' ancient Temple, the Stations of the Cross that depict Jesus along his crucifixion path, the al-Asqa Mosque where Muslims say their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

And there are major ramifications over who should control the territory. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has seen the city's future as indelibly linked to the "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians that Trump believes he can reach. Beyond Kushner, Trump has dispatched other top emissaries to the region in recent months in hopes of advancing new negotiations.

Trump said he wasn't delivering any verdict about where an Israeli-Palestinian border should lie. Instead, he described his Jerusalem declaration as recognizing the reality that most of Israel's government already operates from the city, and he suggested the U.S. ally should be rewarded for creating a successful democracy where "people of all faiths are free to live and worship."

"Today we finally acknowledge the obvious," he said, emphasizing that he wouldn't follow past presidents who tiptoed around Jerusalem out of diplomatic caution.

U.S. embassies and consulates around the world were put on high alert. Across the Middle East and Europe, they issued warnings to Americans to watch out for violent protests. In Jordan, home to a large Palestinian population, the U.S. said it would close its embassy to the public on Thursday and urged children of diplomats there to stay home from school.

There was little in Trump's statement to encourage the Palestinians. Although he recited the longstanding U.S. position that Jerusalem's borders must still be worked out through negotiation, he made no recognition of the Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem.

For the first time, Trump did appear to endorse the concept of an independent Palestine existing alongside Israel. Yet even that idea appeared conditional, as he said he'd promote the "two-state solution" if both sides agreed. Netanyahu's government is dominated by hardliners who oppose Palestinian independence.

Trump made no reference to signing a waiver that officially delays any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the White House confirmed he signed the waiver Wednesday. It means there will be no embassy move for at least another six months. Establishing a Jerusalem embassy was a major campaign promise of Trump's and one that officials said he focused on in discussions with top advisers in recent weeks.

On Wednesday he focused on his directive to the State Department to begin a process of moving the embassy as required by U.S. law, however many years that might take. After his speech, he signed a proclamation to that effect.

In Germany, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said work will begin immediately to identify a site.

A non-governmental expert on the Middle East who consults regularly with the White House said the Trump administration had opted against an earlier plan of converting the existing U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to an embassy. Instead, it's looking to construct an entirely new facility, said the individual, who wasn't authorized to disclose private conversations with U.S. officials and requested anonymity.

In making his decision, Trump overruled more cautious counsel from Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who voiced concern about endangering U.S. diplomats and troops in Muslim countries, according to officials briefed on internal administration deliberations. Those officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement — but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation," Trump said. He said he intends "to do everything in my power to help forge" a peace agreement.


N. Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games

A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean fighter jets and U.S. fighter jets during a combined aerial exercise in South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 6. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Kim Tong-Hyung

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea says a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula has become a matter of when, not if, as it continued to lash out at a massive joint military exercise between the United States and South Korean involving hundreds of advanced warplanes.

In comments attributed to an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman, North Korea also claimed high-ranked U.S. officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have further confirmed American intent for war with a series of "bellicose remarks."

Pompeo said Saturday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doesn't have a good idea about how tenuous his situation is domestically and internationally. The North's spokesman said Pompeo provoked the country by "impudently criticizing our supreme leadership which is the heart of our people."

"The large-scale nuclear war exercises conducted by the U.S. in succession are creating touch-and-go situation on the Korean peninsula and series of violent war remarks coming from the U.S. high-level politicians amid such circumstances have made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact. The remaining question now is: when will the war break out," the spokesman said.

"We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it, and should the U.S. miscalculate our patience and light the fuse for a nuclear war, we will surely make the U.S. dearly pay the consequences with our mighty nuclear force which we have consistently strengthened."

The comments were carried by the official Korean Central News Agency late Wednesday, hours after the United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea as part of a massive combined aerial exercise involving hundreds of warplanes.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Guam-based bomber simulated land strikes at a military field near South Korea's eastern coast during a drill with U.S. and South Korean fighter jets.

"Through the drill, the South Korean and U.S. air forces displayed the allies' strong intent and ability to punish North Korea when threatened by nuclear weapons and missiles," the South Korean military said in a statement.

B-1Bs flyovers have become an increasingly familiar show of force to North Korea, which after three intercontinental ballistic missile tests has clearly moved closer toward building a nuclear arsenal that could viably target the U.S. mainland.

The five-day drills that began Monday involve more than 200 aircraft, including six U.S. F-22 and 18 F-35 stealth fighters.

North Korea hates such displays of American military might at close range and typically uses strong language to condemn them as invasion rehearsals. It has been particularly sensitive about B-1B bombers, describing them as "nuclear strategic" although the planes were switched to conventional weaponry in the mid-1990s.


Rock icon Johnny Hallyday, known as French Elvis, dies at 74

 

French singer Johnny Hallyday is shown in this Feb. 12, 2016 file photo. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Elaine Ganley and Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — Johnny Hallyday, France's biggest rock star for more than half a century and an icon who packed sports stadiums and all but lit up the Eiffel Tower with his high-energy concerts at the foot of the Paris landmark, died early Wednesday. He was 74.

President Emmanuel Macron, who knew the star offstage, announced his death in a statement, saying "he brought a part of America into our national pantheon." In a second comment during a visit to Algeria, Macron said that "we were convinced he was invincible ... He is a French hero."

Macron's office said the president spoke with Hallyday's family, but didn't provide details about where the rocker died.

The French media reported widely that he died at his home west of Paris, which was quickly surrounded by mourning fans and police providing security.

"Hearing about Johnny's death has hurt us because Johnny is our God and nobody can replace him," said one fan, Yves Buisson, outside the Hallyday family's gated home in Marnes-La-Coquette. His arms were covered with tattoos of the star.

Hallyday had lung cancer and repeated health scares in recent years that dominated national news, and recently returned from a hospital stay. But he continued performing as recently as this summer.

Celine Dion was among stars sharing condolences for a rocker with a famously gravelly voice who sold more than 100 million records, filled concert halls and split his time between Los Angeles and Paris. Brigitte Bardot tweeted: "Johnny is a monument. It is France!"

Some of France's leading political figures on the left and right joined Macron in mourning the loss of "Johnny," as he was known. Former President Francois Hollande, the Socialist leader replaced by Macron, said Hallyday "is part of our national patrimony."

Hallyday fashioned his glitzy stage aura, with an open shirt, jewelry and a pumping pelvis, from Elvis Presley, drew musical inspiration from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, performed with Jimi Hendrix, and made an album in country music's capital, Nashville, Tennessee.

His stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world, yet in France itself, he was an institution, with a postage stamp in his honor. He was the country's top rock 'n' roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents, and it was no exaggeration when Macron wrote "the whole country is in mourning."

"We all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us," Macron said, praising "a sincerity and authenticity that kept alive the flame that he ignited in the public's heart."

Hallyday, whose father was Belgian, also was a musical hero across the French border. The Brussels subway system played his hits over intercoms, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said "a great artist has left us, transcending generations. "

The antithesis of a French hero right down to his Elvis-style glitter and un-French name, Hallyday was among the most familiar faces and voices in France, which knew him simply as Johnny, pronounced with a slight French accent and beloved across generations.

He released his last album "Rester Vivant" — or "Staying Alive" — last year, and performed this summer as part of the "Old Crooks" tour with long-time friends and veteran French musicians Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, as mayor of the rich enclave of Neuilly-sur-Seine on the western edge of Paris, presided in 1996 over the entertainer's marriage to his fourth wife, Laeticia.

"For each of us, he means something personal. Memories, happy moments, songs and music," Sarkozy said in 2009, days after Hallyday, then 66, was hospitalized in Los Angeles. Sarkozy called the Hallyday family during an EU summit and gave updates on the singer's condition during news conferences.

The star all but lit up the Eiffel Tower during several free concerts, one on Bastille Day in 2009, attended by more than 500,000 people.

Hallyday sang some songs in English, including "Hot Legs" and "House of the Rising Sun," — the melody of which was also used for one of his most famous songs, the 1964 "Le Penitencier."

And there was a real American connection: American singer Lee Ketchman gave him his first electric guitar. Hallyday's stardom, however, was not inevitable.

He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, of a Belgian father and French mother during the dark days of World War II with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet. His parents had separated by the end of the year. The young Smet followed his father's sisters to London, where he met Ketchman.

Hallyday gave his first professional concert in 1960, under the name Johnny, and put out his first album a year later. By 1962, he had met the woman who would be his wife for years, and remained his friend to the end, singing star Sylvie Vartan. That year, he also made an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and rubbed shoulders with American singing greats.

He quickly became a favorite of young people during the "Ye-ye" period, the golden years of French pop music. A respected musician, Hallyday played with Jimmy Hendrix during the 1960s and once recorded a song with Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page.

With his square-jawed good looks and piercing blue eyes, Hallyday was often sought-out for the cinema, playing in French director Jean-Luc Godard's "Detective" (1984) and with other illustrious directors including Costa-Gavras.

Hallyday appeared in Johnnie To's "Vengeance" (2009) and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.

However, it was the rocker's personal life, and his marriage to Laeticia, that gave him a mellow edge. He spoke lovingly of daughters Jade and Joy, who were adopted from Vietnam.

"I'm not a star. I'm just a simple man," he said in a 2006 interview on France 3.

His widow's statement announcing the death was a testimonial to Hallyday's battle with cancer, "giving everyone extraordinary life lessons."

"The heart beat so strongly in this body of a rocker who lived a life without concession for the stage, for his public, for those who adored and loved him," said her statement, transmitted overnight to the French national news agency AFP.  "My man is no more."

Hallyday is also survived by two other children, Dave, a singer fathered with Vartan, and Laura Smet, whom he had with noted French actress Nathalie Baye.

Memorial plans weren't immediately announced.


Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone

In this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo, cranes stand at the construction site of the ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in Cadarache, southern France. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Frank Jordans

Berlin (AP) — A vast international experiment designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of energy is halfway toward completion, the organization behind the project said Wednesday.

Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, in southern France has been dogged by delays and a surge in costs to about 20 billion euros ($23.7 billion).

ITER's director-general, Bernard Bigot, said the project is on track to begin superheating hydrogen atoms in 2025, a milestone known as "first plasma."

"We have no contingency plan," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Paris.

Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of nuclear fusion that occurs inside the sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity. Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there's no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fusion and it doesn't produce long-lived radioactive waste.

A joint project to explore the technology was first proposed at a summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with the aim of "utilizing controlled thermonuclear fusion for peaceful purposes ... for the benefit for all mankind."

It took more than two decades for work to begin at the site in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Marseille. The project's members — China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States — settled on a design that uses a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak to trap hydrogen that's been heated to 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million Fahrenheit) for long enough to allow atoms to fuse together.

The process results in the release of large amounts of heat. While ITER won't generate electricity, scientists hope it will demonstrate that such a fusion reactor can produce more energy than it consumes.

There are other fusion experiments, but ITER's design is widely considered the most advanced and practical. Scientists won't know until 2035, following a decade of testing and upgrades, whether the device actually works as intended.

Still, fusion experts said Wednesday's milestone was noteworthy.

"The glass is half full, rather than half empty," said Tony Donne of EUROfusion, a consortium of European research organizations and universities that provide scientific advice for ITER.

Donne said the appointment of Bigot had helped the project overcome what he called a "very difficult period" during which political considerations had hampered construction of what some consider the most complicated machine ever built.

Cost remains an issue, though, and Bigot was visiting Washington on Wednesday to drum up support from the United States, which contributes about 9 percent of the budget. Much of the funding goes to suppliers in the member states — in the case of the U.S. that includes General Atomics, which is building the central solenoid, an 18-meter (59-foot) electromagnet that's powerful enough to lift an aircraft carrier.

Bigot said most other members, including the European Union which pays 45 percent of the budget, had pledged their financial support for years to come and he was hopeful the Trump administration would see the benefits of staying on board.

"All countries including the United States know that their energy supply is not sustainable beyond this century," said Bigot, who was previously France's nuclear energy chief.

Should Washington cut its funding, the project won't collapse, he said. "It's too important for the other members. But there would be some delay."

Gerald Navratil, a professor of applied physics at Columbia University, said fusion could help solve the problem of how to reliably produce large amounts of electricity without emitting greenhouse gases, noting ITER's current cost is comparable to that of developing a large passenger aircraft.

"Energy is such an important part of our technological society that expenditure of 20 billion to develop a new energy source is really not out of line," he said.


Russian President Putin announces re-election bid

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the annual Volunteer of Russia 2017 award ceremony at the Megasport Sport Palace in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 6. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday declared his intention to seek re-election next March, a vote he appears certain to win.

The Russian leader chose an enthusiastic audience of the GAZ automobile factory workers in Nizhny Novgorod to make the announcement.

"I couldn't find a better place and moment for that," he said, to massive applause. "Thank you for your support, I will run for president."

Putin has been in power in Russia since 2000. He served two presidential terms in 2000-2008, then shifted into the prime minister's seat because of term limits, but continued calling the shots while his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, served as placeholder president. Medvedev had the presidential term extended to six years and then stepped down to let Putin reclaim the presidency in 2012.

While few doubted that Putin would run in the March 18 vote, a delay in announcing his bid was seen as part of the Kremlin's political maneuvering.

Putin's approval ratings top 80 percent, making him certain to win an easy first-round victory. Blue-collar workers and state employees form the core of his support base.

"Thank you for your work, for your attitude to your jobs, your factory, your city and your country!" Putin told workers. "I'm sure that together we will succeed."

Just hours earlier, Putin was asked about his intentions at a meeting with young volunteers in Moscow. He said he would decide shortly if he would seek another six-year term.

The upper house of parliament is expected to give the formal start to the election campaign later this month.

The veterans of past campaigns — Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky — all have declared their intention to run. They will likely be joined by Ksenia Sobchak, a star TV host who is the daughter of late former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who was Putin's boss in the 1990s.

The most visible Putin foe, Alexei Navalny, also wants to run, even though a conviction he calls politically motivated bars him from joining the campaign. He has organized a grassroots campaign and staged rallies across Russia to raise pressure on the Kremlin to let him register for the race.


Update December 6, 2017

Arab, Muslim opposition building to any US nod on Jerusalem

In this July 25, 2017 file photo, Jerusalem's Old City is seen through a door with the shape of the star of David. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Karin Laub and Josef Federman

Jerusalem (AP) — Vociferous Arab and Muslim opposition was building Tuesday to any possible U.S. recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, as European leaders expressed concern about harm to fragile Mideast peace efforts.

Turkey threatened to cut ties with Israel, the Palestinians warned they would halt contacts with their U.S. counterparts — and key Washington ally Saudi Arabia spoke out strongly against such a possible step.

Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse, is crucial to any White House plans to promote a possible Mideast peace deal. President Donald Trump says he hopes to broker the "ultimate deal," but has not divulged details.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday night that the fate of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Macron said in a statement Tuesday that he expressed concern about any possible unilateral U.S. moves and that he agreed with Trump "to speak again shortly on this subject."

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, said any actions that undermine Mideast peace efforts "must be absolutely avoided."

Jerusalem is home to the third holiest shrine of Islam, along with the holiest site in Judaism and major Christian holy sites. It forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered large-scale protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the region.

Trump's next move concerning Jerusalem remained shrouded in mystery.

U.S. officials have said he may recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital this week as a way to offset his likely decision to delay his campaign promise of moving the U.S. Embassy there. Trump's point-man on the Middle East, son-in-law Jared Kushner, later said the president hasn't decided yet what steps to take.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration appeared to have missed a statutory deadline to sign a new waiver keeping the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv.

The deadline came and went without any White House announcement about whether Trump had signed a waiver. Without the waiver, by the law the embassy is supposed to move to Jerusalem. The White House said Monday that Trump was still deciding.

The implications of missing the deadline are unclear. Lawyers have said there's some flexibility in the exact timing. Congress could withhold State Department funding for overseas facilities but is unlikely to do so. The Trump administration has blown through many other congressional deadlines without consequence in the past.

At the same time, the prospect of Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital has triggered mounting opposition in the Arab and Muslim world.

East Jerusalem, now home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed to its capital, a move most of the international community has not recognized.

Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a future capital. Israel's current government, unlike its predecessors, rejects the idea of partition of the city. Under international consensus and long-standing U.S. policy, the fate of the city is to be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would upend Washington's traditional approach to the conflict. It was not immediately clear what Trump could hope to gain from such a step, while downsides include alienating crucial Arab allies, from Saudi Arabia to Jordan.

On Tuesday, warnings against such a possible U.S. move were pouring in from across the region.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the United States to reconsider. A possible recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would be a "dangerous measure that would have repercussions" across the region, he said during a Cairo meeting of Arab League representatives gathered to discuss the issue.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was a "red line" and that his country's response "could go as far as us cutting diplomatic ties with Israel."

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett played down the threat, saying that "at the end of the day it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan's sympathy."

In the West Bank, the diplomatic adviser of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could end Washington's role as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

"If the Americans recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then this would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace and that they will have no credibility or role in this issue," Majdi Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded comments yet by a Palestinian official.

"We will stop our contacts with them (in the event of recognition) because such a step goes against our existence and against the fate of our cause," Khaldi said. "It targets Muslims and Christians alike."

Palestinian political factions led by Abbas' Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia expressed its "grave and deep concern" about possible recognition.

In a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the kingdom affirms the rights of Palestinian people regarding Jerusalem, which it said "cannot be changed." The statement warned that this step would "provoke sentiments of Muslims throughout world."

On Monday, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states, said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would constitute "naked aggression" against the Muslim and Arab world.


UK scrambles to salvage Brexit deal after Irish border hitch

British Prime Minister Theresa May turns to listen to a translator during her meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy inside 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday, Dec. 5. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May's government held talks Tuesday with the Northern Irish party that props it up, in a bid to salvage a crumbling Brexit deal ahead of a deadline next week.

Britain and the European Union came close Monday to agreeing on key divorce terms, including how to maintain an open Irish border after the U.K. — including Northern Ireland — leaves the EU. But a deal was scuttled at the last minute when the Democratic Unionist Party, which keeps May's government in power, warned it would not give its backing.

May characterized the issue as a minor hiccup.

"Our talks with the European Union have made a lot of progress," she said as she met Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at 10 Downing St. "There are still a couple of issues we need to work on."

Britain and the EU have only days to make a deal before a Dec. 14-15 EU summit that will decide whether Brexit talks can move on to future relations and trade. The lack of progress so far has raised concerns that Britain may not have a deal by the time it officially leaves on March 29, 2019.

EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU was poised to restart talks as soon as Britain was ready,

"The show is now in London," he said.

Schinas said EU officials expect a meeting later this week, "but we don't have any specifics at this stage."

The crisis is a sharp reminder of the fraught and delicate politics of Northern Ireland, which has left behind decades of Catholic-Protestant violence but not the conflicting allegiances and identities that drove the "Troubles."

After Britain leaves the bloc, the currently invisible 310-mile (500-kilometer) frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.'s only land border with the EU. A generation ago, the border was marked by military watchtowers and checkpoints, and many crossings were blocked to stop the movement of militants and smuggled goods.

Customs controls were abolished when the EU single market was established in 1993, and security checks began to disappear after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace accord. Today the border has no customs posts or other infrastructure, and thousands of people live on one side and work, shop or go to school on the other.

"The last 20 years have nearly erased it out of our mentality," said John Sheridan, whose Northern Ireland farm abuts the border with the south.

Like many, Sheridan worries that any hardening of the border could undermine that progress and renew old tensions between pro-British Unionists and Irish nationalists. Sheridan also sends his cattle and sheep cross the border, and says tariffs would devastate his business.

Britain says it wants to maintain a "frictionless" flow of people and goods with no border posts after Brexit. But Ireland and the other EU nations are demanding to know how that will work if Britain is outside the EU's borderless single market and its tariff-free customs union, a looser trading bloc that includes non-EU states like Turkey.

Negotiators were discussing an agreement that would commit Britain to maintaining "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit in order to keep the border transparent for trade, without customs posts or other obstacles.

That language alarmed the DUP, a Protestant Unionist party that opposes any special deal to keep Northern Ireland's economy closely aligned with the Republic of Ireland.  The party has only 10 seats in Britain's Parliament but May relies on its support to stay in power. If she ignores the party's wishes her government could fall, triggering a new election with the opposition Labour Party ahead in the polls.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party would not accept "any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the U.K."

That position was echoed by British supporters of "soft Brexit," who want to maintain a close relationship with the EU. Some suggested that if Northern Ireland was given special status, Scotland, Wales or even London could seek the same. They suggested that the solution was to keep all of the U.K. inside the single market and customs union.

The government has ruled that out, but Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said it should reconsider.

"If the price of the prime minister's approach is the break-up of the Union and reopening of bitter divides in Northern Ireland, then the price is too high," Starmer said.

Starmer said the Conservative government's fantasies about Brexit had collided with "brutal reality."

"Yesterday the rubber hit the road," he said, adding: "The DUP tail is wagging the Tory dog."


Saudi strikes rock Yemeni capital after ex-president slain

Supporters of Shiite Houthi rebels attend a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Dec. 5. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Ahmed Al-Haj and Maggie Michael

Sanaa, Yemen (AP) — Heavy airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition rocked Yemen's capital Tuesday, striking Sanaa's densely populated neighborhoods in apparent retaliation for the killing of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Shiite rebels who control the city.

Residents reported heavy bombing, and a U.N. official said at least 25 airstrikes hit the city over the past 24 hours. The Saudi-led coalition battling the rebels had thrown its support behind Saleh just hours before his death, as the longtime strongman's alliance with the rebels unraveled.

The U.N. Security Council called on all sides to de-escalate the upsurge in violence and re-engage with U.N. political efforts to achieve a cease-fire without preconditions. The council called the deteriorating humanitarian situation "dire," saying Yemen "stands at the brink of catastrophic famine."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that despite the intensified fighting, humanitarian flights, including by the U.N. and the Red Cross, resumed to Sanaa on Tuesday morning.

Saleh's body, which had appeared in a video by the militias with a gaping head wound, was taken to a rebel-controlled military hospital. A rebel leader, speaking at a rally in Sanaa, said Saleh's wounded sons had been hospitalized, without providing further details.

The gruesome images from the previous day sent shockwaves among Saleh's followers — a grisly end recalling that of his contemporary, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.

Saleh's son Salah said on Facebook Tuesday that he won't receive condolences for his father's death until "after avenging the blood" of the former leader. Salah also urged his father's followers to fight their former allies, the Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit meanwhile denounced Saleh's "assassination" at the hands of "criminal militias," and warned of a further escalation of the war and Yemen's humanitarian crisis. A spokesman quoted Aboul-Gheit as saying the international community should label the Houthis a "terrorist" organization.

"All means should be tackled for the Yemeni people to get rid of this black nightmare," he said.

Iran, which supports the Houthis but denies arming them, welcomed Saleh's killing, saying it had put an end to a Saudi conspiracy. "He got what he deserved," Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Iran's supreme leader, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Saleh's slaying likely gives the rebels the upper hand in the clashes in Sanaa, which ended after his death, while also dashing the hopes of Yemen's Saudi-backed government that the former president's recent split with the Iranian-allied Houthis would have weakened them.

Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, a rebel leader, said Tuesday that "some sons" of Saleh have been hospitalized, without providing further details. Speaking before the large rally, al-Houthi said that Saleh was "deceived... we hadn't hoped for what happened."

The end of the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh might have tilted the three-year civil war in favor of Yemen's internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition.

But with Saleh's forces seemingly in disarray, it was not immediately clear if the Saudi-led coalition would be able to turn the split to its advantage. Many Sanaa residents remained hunkered down in their homes, fearing the rebels and the Saudi airstrikes, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety.

Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, told reporters that U.N. special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the killing of Saleh and others was "an adverse development" that will "constitute a considerable change to the political dynamics in Yemen."

Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades until an Arab Spring uprising forced him to step down in 2012. He later allied with the Houthi rebels hoping to exploit their strength to return to power. That helped propel Yemen into the ruinous civil war that has spread hunger and disease among its 28 million people.

Houthi officials said their fighters killed Saleh as he tried to flee the capital for his nearby hometown of Sanhan. The Houthis' top leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, said Saleh paid the price for his "treason," accusing him of betraying their alliance to side with the Saudi-led coalition.

The Houthis and Saleh's forces began fighting each other in Sanaa last week. The coalition has been striking Houthi positions, hoping that Saleh's loyalists might allow forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to return to the capital.

From the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he has been in self-imposed exile for most of the war, Hadi tried on Monday to rally Saleh's allies to keep up the fight against the Houthis.

When Saleh left power, he stayed in the country and kept the loyalty of many military commanders, splitting the armed forces between himself and Hadi. Saleh's forces were key to helping the Houthis overrun Sanaa in 2014, and then much of the north and center of the country.

But over the past year, the Houthis appear to have undermined Saleh, wooing away some of his commanders. That seems to have pushed Saleh into flirting with the coalition, ultimately leading to the breakdown of the rebel alliance.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that at least 125 people had been killed and some 240 wounded in Sanaa since the fighting began last week. Witnesses said the bodies of slain civilians and fighters littered the streets as ambulances were unable to reach them.

Jamie McGoldrick, of U.N. aid agency OCHA, said civilians in Sanaa are "emerging from their houses after five days being locked down, basically prisoners," to seek safety, medical care, fresh water and other survival needs. Speaking to reporters by phone from Sanaa, he said that "at the same time, people are bracing themselves for more."


2 kiwi birds are rare bright spot in grim extinction report

This undated photo released by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows a Northern brown kiwi in New Zealand. (Neil Robert Hutton via AP)

Elaine Kurtenbach

Tokyo (AP) — Two types of New Zealand kiwi birds are a rare bright spot in a mostly grim assessment of global species at risk of extinction.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the Okarito kiwi and the Northern Brown kiwi from endangered to vulnerable thanks to New Zealand's progress in controlling predators like stoats and cats.

But the conservation group's latest update of its Red List of endangered species, issued Tuesday, mostly reported grave threats to animals and plants due to loss of habitat and unsustainable farming and fisheries practices.

The group said the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise that roam coastlines of Southeast Asia are now designated as endangered, imperiled by entanglement in fishing nets and other human activities.

Gillnets used on the Mekong and in other major waterways "hang like curtains of death across the river and entrap everything in the stream," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the Red List's global species program.

Some 91,523 out of nearly 1.9 million described species have been assessed for the Red List, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. The IUCN describes 11,783 species as vulnerable, 8,455 as endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.

The IUCN is made up of government and non-government experts whose scientific assessments of the risks to species are subject to independent reviews and are provided to help guide decisions on conservation efforts. The Red List, which it calls a "Barometer of Life," identifies which local species are at risk of extinction.

The organization aims to increase the number of assessed species to 160,000, said Jane Smart, global director of its biodiversity conservation program.

The total number of species is unknown but is thought to be as many as 20 million, many of them microorganisms.

Behind the numbers are life-and-death struggles for survival as human populations grow and industrialize and habitats are transformed by global warming.

Australia's Western Ringtail possum has slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered, the IUCN said, as its population plunged by 80 percent over the past decade.

Once widespread in peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, it now has only a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35 C (95 F) that are becoming increasingly common where it lives.

The group said three reptile species on Christmas Island, also in Australia, had gone extinct in the wild: the Whiptail skink, the Blue-tailed skink and Lister's gecko. The group said the as yet unexplained losses of reptiles could result from disease or infestations of the yellow crazy ant, which is listed by the IUCN and Global Invasive Species Database as one of the 100 worst invasive species. The creature has wreaked havoc on Christmas Island, devouring the famous endemic red crabs that were a key part of its ecosystem.

Apart from many animal species, the IUCN said many wild crops, such as wild wheat, rice and yam, face threats from overgrazing, use of herbicides and urbanization. Such wild plants are crucial food sources and also play a critical role in the genetic diversity of domesticated food crops.

Many conservationists view the current era as the "sixth extinction," after previous ones that wiped out the dinosaurs and other creatures. Much of today's losses of species stem from human factors, which also means that human efforts can help improve the situation.

The baiji, a kind of dolphin native to the Yangtze river in China, is thought to be extinct, but some findings have raised hopes it might not be. Experts are now surveying the river in hopes of a sighting.

The kiwi has gained ground thanks to a New Zealand campaign to rid its islands of predators such as rats, possums and stoats that have helped kill off more than 40 unique species of New Zealand birds.

The number of Okarito kiwi has risen from 160 in 1995 to 400-450 now, and Northern Brown kiwi numbers are also climbing, the IUCN said.

The IUCN reported its findings in Tokyo to reflect support from Toyota Motor Corp., which helps fund species assessments. It said a third of 46 newly assessed endemic species of lizards and snakes in Japan were threatened by factors such as habitat loss, collection for pet stores and invasive species such as Indian peacocks.


Model in Britain's sex-and-spy Profumo scandal dies at 75

Christine Keeler is shown in this photo dated July 22, 1963.
(AP Photo)

Gregory Katz and Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Christine Keeler, the central figure in the sex-and-espionage Profumo scandal that rocked Cold War Britain and brought down a Conservative government, has died at 75.

In a Facebook post, son Seymour Platt said Keeler died Monday at a hospital near Farnborough in southern England after suffering for many years from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"My mother, Christine Keeler, fought many fights in her eventful life. Some fights she lost, but some she won," he said. "She earned her place in British history but at a huge personal price. We are all very proud of who she was."

Keeler was a model and nightclub dancer in 1963 when she had an affair with British War Secretary John Profumo. When it emerged that Keeler had also slept with a Soviet naval attache with ties to Russian intelligence, the combination of sex, wealth and national security issues caused a sensation and helped topple Britain's Conservative government.

The married Profumo eventually resigned in disgrace after lying to the House of Commons about his relationship with Keeler. He threatened at the time to sue anyone who suggested there had been any inappropriate behavior with her.

The stunning sex scandal shed light on a previously well-hidden world of sex- and alcohol-fueled orgies among Britain's political elite.

A naked photo of Keeler straddling the back of a chair is among the most famous U.K. images of the 1960s. She spent the rest of her life trying to escape her unwanted notoriety.

Born in 1942, Keeler left school at 15 and shortly afterward started working as a showgirl on Greek Street in the heart of London's Soho district, known at the time for its strip clubs and sleazy entertainment.

Keeler met men like Profumo after befriending a high-society osteopath, Dr. Stephen Ward, who introduced her to a number of powerful figures.

Ward eventually killed himself, taking an overdose of sleeping pills the night before he was convicted of some but not all charges related to immoral earnings. He died after the conviction without regaining consciousness.

Keeler was imprisoned for nine months after admitting perjury and conspiring to obstruct justice.

More than two decades later, she expressed regret in a 1986 interview.

"I was just a 19-year-old girl having a good time. I loved every minute of it. But if I had known then what was going to happen, I'd have run off and not stopped until I had reached my mum," she said.

Keeler moved on after the scandal. She was married twice and had two sons.

"My life has been cursed by sex I didn't particularly want," Keeler said in a memoir written with journalist Douglas Thompson.


Update December 5, 2017

Stealth jets, other aircraft fly in US, South Korean drills

A U.S. Air Force U-2s spy plane prepares to land at the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Youkyung Lee

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — Hundreds of aircraft including two dozen stealth jets began training Monday as the United States and South Korea launched a massive combined air force exercise. The war games come a week after North Korea test-fired its most powerful missile ever, an ICBM that may be able to target the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The five-day drill, which is called Vigilant Ace, is meant to improve the allies' wartime capabilities and preparedness, South Korea's defense ministry said.

The U.S. Seventh Air Force sent major strategic military assets, including an unusually large number of the latest generations of stealth fighter jets, for the annual training in the Korean Peninsula. They include six F-22 and 18 F-35 stealth fighter jets. About 12,000 U.S. military personnel are participating. In total, 230 aircraft will be flying at eight U.S. and South Korean military installations in the South.

An official at the South Korean Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules, corrected his earlier statement that the exercise was the biggest ever.

Some local media report that B-1B bombers will also join aerial drills, but officials did not confirm their participation.

The training, held each year in late fall, is not in response to any incident or provocation, the Seventh Air Force said in a statement.

North Korea's state media said the drill pushes the Korean Peninsula "to the brink of nuclear war." Such language is typical in North Korean propaganda because the country claims U.S.-South Korean drills are preparation for invasion.

Still, always bad tensions are at a particularly dangerous point as North Korea edges toward its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, and as President Donald Trump ramps up his rhetoric toward the North, threatening, for instance, to unleash "fire and fury" against the country.

Pyongyang will "seriously consider" countermeasures against the drill, and the U.S. and South Korea will "pay dearly for their provocations," the Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday before the start of the exercises.

While many South Koreans typically ignore North Korea's rhetoric, some senior American officials have expressed worry following the ICBM test, North Korea's third.

On Sunday, Lindsey Graham, a Republican U.S. senator from the state of South Carolina, said he believes that it's time for U.S. military families in South Korea to leave the country because conflict with North Korea is getting close. The U.S. government has not announced a formal decision to evacuate U.S. citizens from South Korea, and there were no such signs in the diplomatic community in Seoul. An evacuation of dependents by Seoul's closest ally and major military defender could prompt a panicked reaction by other countries, and among South Koreans.

In addition to American diplomats and other embassy workers, about 28,500 U.S. troops operate in South Korea, and many come to their posts with their families, who often live on huge, well-guarded military bases.

Also on Sunday, the White House national security adviser said that Trump will take care of North Korean threats by "doing more ourselves."

"The priorities that the president's given us to move as quickly as we can to resolve this crisis with North Korea," General H.R. McMaster told Fox News in an interview.

"If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he's not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Monday that war on the Korean Peninsula "would be catastrophic and it would have global consequences."

He said the 29-country military alliance "is strong, and united, and NATO is able to respond to any attack, including ballistic and nuclear attacks."

Stoltenberg added that NATO "will continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea. We will continue to deliver credible deterrence and ... work with our partners in the region."


Sanofi says it is cooperating with gov't on dengue vaccine

Dr. Ng Su-Peing, global medical head at Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, gestures at a news conference in suburban Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines Monday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The manufacturer of a dengue fever vaccine that was suspended in the Philippines after a new study showed a greater risk of severe cases in people without previous infection said Monday it is working with authorities to address fears and share the new information.

The Philippine Department of Health put on hold its 3.5 billion peso ($69.5 million) public dengue immunization drive launched last year— the world's first such public program — after the study was released last week.

French-based Sanofi Pasteur said its long-term follow-up study of its Dengvaxia vaccine showed sustained benefits for up to six years for those who had previous dengue infection, but that people who never had dengue had an increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.

More than 730,000 public school children aged 9 and above in three Philippine regions with high rates of dengue fever have received at least the first dose of Dengvaxia, the first licensed dengue vaccine.

"Today if you know somebody without previous infection, we would not recommend vaccination," said Dr. Ng Su-Peing, global medical head at Sanofi  Pasteur.

Still, she said in places with a high incidence of dengue fever, such as the Philippines, where nine out of 10 children aged 9 to 14 are infected by the virus before adolescence, "the potential benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks in individuals with unknown serostatus."

Out of 100 people infected by dengue, only 25 typically show symptoms, she told reporters.

Ng said most participants in the study without previous dengue infection who fell ill had cases that ranked in the milder two of four levels of severity. No cases in the most severe level were recorded, and all those stricken with dengue in the study have fully recovered, she said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Philippines will wait for a recommendation to be released on Dec. 12 or 13 by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, an advisory body of the World Health Organization.

Ching Santos, general manager of Sanofi Pasteur in the Philippines, said the company has begun sharing the new data with all stakeholders, including private health care professionals, and will cooperate with Philippine health authorities in an ongoing review of the public vaccination program.

Sanofi is also working with the Philippine Food and Drugs Administration to update product labels to reflect the new information, she added.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection found in tropical and subtropical climates worldwide. It causes a flu-like disease that can cause joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash. In severe cases, dengue can cause breathing problems, hemorrhaging and organ failure.

The World Health Organization says about half the world's population is at risk of dengue, with a recent estimate indicating 390 million infections per year, of which about 96 million people show symptoms.


Future of Irish border remains an obstacle in Brexit talks

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, greets British Prime Minister Theresa May prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Raf Casert and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — The European Union and Britain ended a flurry of top-level diplomacy on Monday without a deal on the terms of their divorce, as agreement on how to maintain an open Irish border after Brexit slipped out of the negotiators' grasp.

But the two sides said they were within striking distance of consensus, setting up a hectic negotiating rush ahead of an EU summit next week. Member countries must decide whether to broaden the talks to the topic of future relations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May went to Brussels for a long negotiating lunch with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. After a day that see-sawed between hope and disappointment, the leaders failed to make what the EU considers "sufficient progress" on three issues: Britain's exit bill, the rights of citizens affected by Brexit and the status of the currently invisible Irish border.

The border issue remained the main sticking point.

"We had an agreement this morning," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, expressing disappointment at the last-minute glitch.

EU leaders want a deal on the breakup terms in time for them to agree at the Dec. 14-15 summit whether to move the negotiations on to the next stage of talks, including trade. The lack of progress so far has raised concerns that Britain may not have a deal by the time it officially leaves on March 29, 2019.

"Despite our best efforts and the significant progress we and our teams have made over the past days on the remaining withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach an agreement," EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

"This is not a failure," Juncker added after a long negotiating lunch with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

May said that "on a couple of issues some differences do remain which require further negotiation and consultation." But she said talks would reconvene later this week "and I am also confident we will conclude this positively."

The EU and the U.K. are nearing agreement on some divorce terms, including the size of the bill that Britain must pay as it leaves and the rights of citizens affected by Brexit. But the border issue has proved more intractable.

After Britain leaves the bloc, the currently invisible 310-mile (500-kilometer) frontier will be the U.K.'s only land border with an EU country.

Britain says it wants to maintain a "frictionless" flow of people and goods with no border posts. But Ireland and the other EU nations are demanding to know how that will work if Britain is outside the EU's borderless single market and its tariff-free customs union, a looser trading bloc that includes non-EU states like Turkey.

Negotiators were discussing an agreement that would commit Britain to maintaining "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit. Both sides would promise to maintain compatible trading rules, keeping the border transparent for trade.

Irish and EU officials indicated that agreement was close. But then Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, announced it wouldn't support any deal that made special rules for Northern Ireland. The pro-British Unionist party opposes any special status that could take Northern Ireland further from Britain and closer to the Republic of Ireland.

The DUP has only 10 seats out of 650 in Britain's House of Commons, but without their support May's government would fall.

"We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the U.K.," DUP leader Arlene Foster said. "The economic and constitutional integrity of the U.K. must not be compromised in any way."

Varadkar said he was "surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today."

"I still hope this matter can be concluded in the coming days," he said.

Chief European Parliament Brexit official Guy Verhofstadt, who had put the odds of agreement Monday at "50/50," warned that unless all issues are solved "there will be no green light in October 2018."

A decision on any new deals with Britain would have to be reached by the fall of next year to give individual member states enough time to approve all the measures in their parliaments before the final date on March 2019.

European Council President Donald Tusk cautioned that time was running short.

"It is now getting very tight but agreement at December (summit) is still possible," he tweeted.


Bali volcano emits wispy plume of steam, flights resume

A woman collects flowers during harvesting with a backdrop of the Mount Agung volcano covered by clouds in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — Gushing ash from Bali's Mount Agung volcano has dissipated into a wispy plume of steam, and Australian airlines that canceled some flights to the Indonesian resort island on the weekend have returned to near-normal schedules.

Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said Monday the volcano remains at its highest alert level but most of Bali is safe for tourists.

The exclusion zone around the volcano still extends 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crater in some directions. More than 55,000 people are living in shelters.

Airlines Jetstar and Virgin Australia, which canceled flights over the weekend even as the ash cloud shrank dramatically, said they were resuming services Monday.

The region's volcanic ash monitoring center in Darwin, Australia, has stopped issuing advisories for Agung, reflecting that it's currently posing no threat to aircraft. It would resume advisories if there's another eruption.

Tens of thousands of tourists were stranded when ash closed Bali's international airport for nearly three days last week.

Indonesian government volcanologists say Agung's crater is about one-third filled by lava and there is still a high risk of more eruptions.

The volcano's last major eruptions in 1963 killed more than 1,100 people and it was active for more than a year.

David Boutelier, a geologist at the University of Newcastle in Australia, said the chance of a violent explosion is still "very high" but possibly not as high as several weeks ago because pressure is being released.


Malta announces 10 arrests in journalist's bombing murder

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gives a statement announcing the arrest of eight suspects in the Oct. 16 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta, Monday Dec.4. (AP Photo)

Stephen Calleja

Valletta, Malta (AP) — Ten Maltese suspects were arrested Monday over the Oct. 16 car bomb murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta's prime minister and other authorities announced.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told reporters at a news conference that eight Maltese citizens were arrested on Monday morning due to a "reasonable suspicion" of their involvement in Caruana Galizia's slaying. Shortly afterward, he tweeted that two others had been arrested.

Home Minister Michael Farrugia said the two additional suspects are also Maltese.

Caruana Galizia, whose reporting focused heavily on corruption on the EU island nation, was killed when a bomb destroyed her car as she was driving near her home.

Declining to give details on the arrests, Muscat cited concerns any information could compromise prospects to successfully prosecute the case. Farrugia said he wouldn't go into details because "I have been already threatened by legal action by the Caruana Galizia family."

Her family last month had alleged that Farrugia had divulged confidential information that could hamper the investigation. The minister brushed off the allegation, but the family said it was prepared to take legal action to prevent the government from sabotaging the investigation.

The investigation appeared to be continuing throughout Monday, as police and armed forces had cordoned off an area in Marsa, a small port town close to Valletta, the capital.

The arrests, made in an operation coordinated among the Police Corps, the Armed Forces of Malta and the Security Services, were the first known break in the murder that has drawn widespread outrage and condemnation.

Investigators have 48 hours to question the suspects to decide whether to seek charges, in accordance with Maltese law.

A court hearing was set for Tuesday, when the police can officially file charges. The suspects then can either plead innocent or guilty. The magistrate will decide whether to set bail or remand them in custody.

Europol, the European Union's police agency, has sent a team of organized crime experts to help Maltese police investigate the assassination, joining the FBI and Dutch forensic experts.

Muscat told reporters Monday that when the evidence is compiled, during court proceedings "all the relevant information will be made public," including input from the FBI and European investigators, including from Finland's National Bureau of Investigation, as well as Maltese investigators.

Just before her death, Caruana Galizia, 53, had posted on her closely followed blog, Running Commentary, that there were "crooks everywhere" in Malta.

The island nation has a reputation as a tax haven in the European Union and has attracted companies and money from outside Europe as well.

Just last week, a visiting delegation of European Parliament lawmakers left the island expressing concerns over the rule of law in the tiny EU member country and issued a warning that the "perception of impunity in Malta cannot continue."

Low tax rates and a popular government program that allows wealthy foreigners to buy Maltese citizenship have made the country an attractive place for investment, financial and other companies. Authorities, including anti-Mafia investigators in nearby Italy, worry that Malta is in the eye of criminals on the lookout for money-laundering schemes.

The journalist focused her reporting for years on investigating political corruption and scandals, and reported on Maltese mobsters and drug trafficking. She also wrote about Maltese links to the so-called Panama Papers leaks about offshore financial havens.

Many top officials had sued her over her reporting. Caruana Galizia made plain she didn't trust the island's police or judiciary to adequately investigate many of the wrongdoings she alleged.

Muscat said Monday of the slaying: "As I stated as soon as I learned about this barbaric act, we will leave no stone unturned to get this case solved."


Update December 4, 2017

13 dead, 2 missing after boat capsizes in South Korea

South Korean police officers and rescue workers carry a victim of a boat capsizing at a port in Incheon, South Korea, Sunday, Dec. 3. (Yun Tae-hyun/Yonhap via AP)

Kim Tong-Hyung

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — At least 13 people were dead and two missing on Sunday after a South Korean fishing boat collided with a refueling vessel and capsized, the coast guard said.

An official from the Korea Coast Guard said seven people were rescued and the two missing included the boat's captain. He said 22 people were aboard the 9.8-ton fishing boat that capsized after colliding with the 336-ton refueling vessel in waters off the port city of Incheon.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. The refueling vessel did not suffer damage.

President Moon Jae-in ordered authorities to deploy as many helicopters and other aircraft as possible to search for the missing, according to his office.

The coast guard official said 19 coast guard and naval vessels and five aircraft including helicopters were dispatched to the site. Authorities were questioning the crew of the refueling vessel to determine the cause of the collision.

South Korea has seen its share of significant maritime accidents in recent years, including the 2014 sinking of a ferry that killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren. More than 50 fishermen died or went missing months later after their vessel sank in the Bering Sea.


UAE denies claim of Yemen missile attack against its plant

This undated photograph shows the under-construction Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi's Western desert. (Arun Girija/Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation/WAM via AP)

Aya Batrawy and Jon Gambrell

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Sunday denied a claim by Yemen's Shiite rebels that they fired a missile toward an under-construction Emirati nuclear plant. The denial came as heavy fighting in Yemen's capital unraveled a rebel alliance that has been at war with a Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE.

The Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, have been clashing in the capital, Sanaa, for five consecutive days with supporters of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, an ally turned adversary.

The alliance between the Houthis and Saleh had helped the rebels retain control of Sanaa, despite nearly three years of coalition airstrikes.

The Houthis accuse Saleh of striking deals with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Since the recent clashes erupted in Sanaa, the Saudi coalition has been targeting the Houthis and backing Saleh's camp.

The Houthi claim Sunday came as the UAE celebrated its 46th National Day with public sector holiday that began on Thursday with a commemoration of the country's fallen soldiers.

In a statement posted on the UAE's state-run WAM news agency, authorities said: "The National Emergency and Crisis and Disasters Management Authority denies the claim that the Houthis fired a missile toward the country."

"The UAE possesses an air defense system capable of dealing with any threat of any type or kind," the statement added, saying that the nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi was well-protected.

The National, a state-aligned newspaper in Abu Dhabi, also reported that Barakah's operations were "unaffected on Sunday, while sources on the ground confirmed there were no signs of an attack to the structure." The newspaper did not elaborate.

The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant, being built with help from South Korea, is near Abu Dhabi's border with Saudi Arabia. The plant lies some 225 kilometers (140 miles) west of the UAE capital.

The first of its four reactors is scheduled to come online in 2018. When fully built, officials hope the nuclear plant will provide up to 25 percent of all energy needs in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula.

The UAE is a major U.S. ally that hosts some 5,000 American troops and is the U.S. Navy's busiest foreign port of call. The U.S. military declined to comment on the Houthi missile claims, other than to acknowledge being aware of them.

Like other U.S. Gulf allies in the region, the UAE has the Patriot Missile defense system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles and is the only international client to have on delivery the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

The Houthis last month had targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a ballistic missile that was intercepted by Saudi air defenses. It was the deepest strike inside the kingdom since the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis and their allies began in March 2015.

For the Houthis to launch a missile from Yemen at the UAE, it would likely have to fly over Saudi Arabia's vast southeastern desert in order to reach Abu Dhabi.

Senior Houthi official Deif-Allah al-Shami told The Associated Press that the missile fired toward Abu Dhabi was a "message to the United Arab Emirates for its political and financial support to Saleh."

He said that the UAE has hosted members of Saleh's family, including his son who was an ambassador to the UAE and believed to be residing here during the conflict. Al-Shami also said the rocket attack was a message that "we will continue to target every nation that participated in the aggression against Yemen."

The UAE's forces have mostly focused on securing the southern region of Yemen, while Houthis control much of the north.

At least 100 Emirati soldiers have been killed in the war, which was launched to dislodge the Houthis from Sanaa after they overran the capital and kicked out the internationally-backed Yemeni government from power. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 Yemeni civilians and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have accused its rival Iran of supplying Houthis with missiles, including the one used to target Riyadh on Nov. 4. Both the Houthis and Iran deny the claim.

Iran, meanwhile, has close trade ties with the UAE. In November, Iranian authorities ordered a two-day ban on a hard-line Iranian newspaper after it ran a headline saying the UAE's tourism hub of Dubai was the "next target" for Yemen's Houthi rebels.


UK extradition hearing to start for tycoon sought by India

Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Nick Perry and Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya is set to face an extradition hearing in London that should determine whether he is sent back to India to face money laundering allegations related to the collapse of several of his businesses.

The Westminster Magistrates Court hearing, which begins Monday and is due to last about eight days, will be widely followed in India, where Mallya is known for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models and Bollywood stars.

Mallya, who denies the allegations, was once hailed as India's version of British entrepreneur Richard Branson for his investments in a liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.

In November, he called the allegations "baseless and fabricated." Asked by reporters outside the courthouse why he didn't return to India to answer the charges, he snapped back: "That's none of your business."

The 61-year-old was also a politician for six years before resigning from the upper house of India's parliament last year, a day before an ethics committee was set to recommend his expulsion.

Mallya launched Kingfisher Airlines in 2005 and the carrier set new standards for quality and service, forcing competing airlines to improve. But it ran into trouble as it expanded. The Indian government suspended the airline's license in 2012 after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.

That triggered the collapse of several more of Mallya's businesses. He left India last year after a group of banks demanded he pay back more than $1 billion in loans extended to his airline.

He has been living in Britain since March 2016 and has refused to return to India to face trial in the Kingfisher Airlines case. India canceled his passport and began an extradition process.

In May, India's Supreme Court ruled Mallya had disobeyed its order barring him from transferring $40 million to his children.

Gurcharan Das, a New Delhi author and former chief executive of Procter & Gamble India, said Mallya was an excellent salesman who built a great brand that included one of the nation's favorite beers and a high-performing airline.

He said that Mallya, like many others, tried to expand too quickly, buying a no-frills airline that wasn't a good fit with his company. He said Mallya's political connections have made him a national symbol of the perils of crony capitalism.

"I see it as a bit of a tragedy. He is somebody who had quite outstanding talents," Das said. "What hurt him was his flamboyant lifestyle. He didn't bother to hide it. He flaunted it. That, too, in the public imagination has made him a villain."

He said Mallya kept up to a dozen homes with full staff as well as buying private jets and yachts, all in a poor country where most rich people tend to hide their wealth.

But Das said Mallya's biggest mistake was to leave India.

"He should have just toughed it out here," Das said. "There are a number of other businessmen who owe far more money to the banks than he does. He just got scared and skipped out."

Mallya has argued that Britain has long been a second home for him.

India's government this month rejected Mallya's argument that he wouldn't be safe in an Indian jail if he was sent back, and was planning to tell that to the London court, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.


Ireland seeks momentum on border ahead of key Brexit meeting

In this Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 file photo, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, right, arrives for an Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

JILL Lawless

London (AP) — Ireland's foreign minister said Sunday that he's hopeful Britain's proposals for managing the Irish border after the U.K. leaves the European Union will generate the momentum to push stalled Brexit negotiations to their next phase.

As British and EU negotiators held weekend talks, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told Ireland's RTE radio he hoped a crunch meeting Monday would yield enough progress to "allow this Brexit negotiation process to open up to phase two of discussions," focusing on future relations and trade.

The EU has given Britain a Monday deadline to produce concrete proposals on the key issues in their divorce talks, including maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet top EU officials Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk in Brussels to lay out the proposals that will be considered by EU leaders before a Dec. 14-15 summit.

May's office said the meeting was "an important staging post" on the road to the summit, but there were "plenty of discussions still to go."

May's government has said there will be no "hard border" between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., once Britain leaves the EU's single market and customs union in March 2019. Ireland and other EU countries still want to know how customs checkpoints and other typical border activities can be avoided.

The two sides are reportedly close to a deal on other big issues, including the size of the bill that Britain must pay for departing the bloc and the rights of citizens affected by Brexit.

But as the divorce talks hit a crucial stage, divisions within Britain's governing Conservative Party over the EU are limiting the room May has to maneuver.

Lobbying group Leave Means Leave told May in a letter that she must refuse to compromise on several points, such as ensuring that European Court of Justice jurisdiction over Britain ends on the day the country officially out of the EU in 2019.

Several high-profile Conservative lawmakers signed the letter, including former Cabinet ministers Nigel Lawson and Owen Paterson.

Britain hopes the EU will agree to a two-year transition period after Brexit, but the bloc has insisted the Court of Justice would have to retain its authority in Britain during that time.

A senior German member of the European Parliament, David McAllister, said Sunday that he thought there was a "50-50" chance of a breakthrough in the negotiations this month.

"I think both sides are working very hard to get a deal, but we're not quite there yet," he told British broadcaster ITV.


'Super beans' raise hopes in hunger-prone parts of Africa

Ugandan farmer Richard Opio holds a sample of the "super beans" that are being promoted to feed the hunger-prone African continent. (AP Photo/Rodney Muhumuza)

Rodney Muhumuza

Nwoya, Uganda (AP) — Richard Opio dipped a dirt-stained hand into the pinkish beans, marveling at the dramatic changes they've made for his family. They used to harvest two sacks of normal beans; now they take in six.

The so-called "super bean," a fast-maturing, high-yield variety, is being promoted by Uganda's government and agriculture experts amid efforts to feed hunger-prone parts of Africa. It's also a step toward the next goal: the "super, super bean" that researchers hope can be created. The beans are produced by conventional genetic selection, not the contentious genetic modification technologies.

The beans that Opio now tends are thrilling farmers in this impoverished part of northern Uganda that also strains under the recent arrival of more than 1 million refugees from its war-torn neighbor, South Sudan.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture says the beans have been bred by conventional means to resist the drought conditions that can lead to starvation as arable land disappears.

The group operates one of just two bean "gene banks" in Africa, which is expected to be hit hardest by climate change even though the continent produces less than 4 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, according to the U.N. Development Program.

One "gene bank" is on the outskirts of Uganda's capital, Kampala, where the beans that Opio now farms were bred. The other is in Malawi in southern Africa. Beans kept at the two banks are sent to partners in 30 countries across the continent to be developed further so they can cope with local conditions.

The Uganda bank stores around 4,000 types of beans, including some sourced from neighboring Rwanda before its 1994 genocide killed around 800,000 people and wiped out many of the country's bean varieties.

"The beans have to go through certain rigorous tests before they can be released to the general public, to make sure they do actually address all the issues well and perform well in different climatic conditions," said Stanley Nkalubo, a legumes research scientist with Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization.

The red-striped bean that 35-year-old Opio now harvests is called NABE15, and it has proved so popular that the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization recently contracted a large commercial producer to supply 21 tons for distribution to South Sudanese refugees as planting materials.

Aid workers hope the beans will encourage the refugees to grow their own food rather than rely on handouts, which in some cases have been cut because of funding shortages.

"It is important that other sources of food be found to complement the food assistance," said Beatrice Okello, senior program manager with FAO in Uganda, saying that just 50 kilograms of planting seeds are expected to yield of up to 2,000 kilograms of beans.

Experts say the "super" beans are valuable because they cook quickly and tolerate most diseases and pests. "It is also a shiny red color, which local consumers like, and it's sweeter," said Dr. Robin Buruchara, director of the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance.

On a recent morning, contractor Felix Otim watched as colleagues packed planting materials into FAO-branded bags destined for a nearby refugee camp. The beans will save many lives, he said. Instead of using 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beans for lunch, planting it will multiply the benefit several times over.

Even the "super" beans aren't perfect, but agricultural workers are looking to genetic tools for future solutions.

"It's very hard to breed any single bean variety with the very best of traits — early maturing, drought-tolerant, pest-tolerant, high micronutrients. That would be the super, super bean," said Debisi Araba, the African head of the Center for Tropical Agriculture. "But that's what we are working toward. There are genetic editing tools available now that give scientists the ability to map out these genetic varieties and potentially we start looking at the possibility of breeding these super, super crops."

For now, the "super" beans are finding a following in northern Uganda. After a neighbor noticed that Opio's plants were performing well, he bought a sample. Now the beans are being traded across the border in turbulent South Sudan, where famine is once again a threat.

"So even though the target is farmer groups and organizations in Uganda, the beneficiaries are beyond the borders of Uganda," Araba said.


Update December 2 - 3, 2017

Myanmar's Suu Kyi meets China's Xi as Rohingya censure grows

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives to give a speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 1. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)

Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, facing growing international criticism over her country's persecution of Rohingya Muslims, said Friday her government has made progress in creating a peaceful society but acknowledged that "much still remains to be done."

In remarks on a visit to Beijing, Suu Kyi did not directly address the crisis that has seen more than 620,000 Rohingya flee the country over the last few months in what the U.N. and the U.S. say is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest during the nation's military rule, has come under widespread criticism for not speaking out against the violence. But she was warmly welcomed in China, Myanmar's friendly northern neighbor, including when she met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

Suu Kyi spoke at a gathering of political parties hosted by China's ruling Communist Party and said her National League for Democracy-led government "has made progress in its endeavors to create a peaceful, stable and harmonious society."

"But much still remains to be done," she added.

China has avoided criticizing the crisis and state media did not say whether the issue was discussed during her meeting with Xi. The two leaders hailed the potential for future cooperation through a "China-Myanmar economic corridor," state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Suu Kyi's visit comes just a week after Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of Myanmar's military, held his own talks with Xi in Beijing. Myanmar's army remains politically powerful and the civilian government has no control over certain areas such as defense and national security.

Analysts said Beijing has likely won greater leverage over Myanmar by helping shield it from criticism over the Rohingya crisis.

"Myanmar has leaned toward China because of international criticism and condemnation on Myanmar over the crisis," said prominent Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein.

Beijing immediately saw that the crisis provided an opportunity for China to restructure a relationship that stalled after Myanmar began opening to the West earlier this decade, said David Mathieson, a former human rights researcher who is now an independent analyst based in Myanmar.

The international outrage and a U.N. human rights investigation into Myanmar's armed conflicts has "given Beijing the opportunity to redefine and rejuvenate its support for the Myanmar state — but at a hefty price," Mathieson said.

China was a longstanding friend of Myanmar during the Southeast Asian country's isolation from the West, and its present interests in the country include security along China's southern border, access to Myanmar's natural resources and the construction of dams, pipelines and other projects.

Among the biggest, a recently opened pipeline running through Myanmar carries oil from the Middle East and the Caucuses to China's landlocked Yunnan province, allowing it to bypass the Malacca Strait. The pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, the epicenter of the anti-Rohingya violence.

Chinese projects have been blamed for uprooting villagers and harming the environment, factors that led Myanmar in 2011 to suspend the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam primarily funded by Chinese energy interests. The suspension remains a sore point and China is eager to see resumption of work on the project, which had hardly broken ground when it was stopped.

Although Suu Kyi's delegation includes the country's minister of electricity and energy, real progress on the dam issue is unlikely, said Yan Myo Thein, the analyst.

"There is only a small possibility that this particular dam project will be implemented under a Suu Kyi-led government because it's a controversial national project," he said.

Instead, the two sides may discuss alternative projects such as a road serving the Kuming-Mandalay-Yangon-Kyaukphyu economic platform, he said.

Xi and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen were also among those who addressed the gathering at the Great Hall of the People, the hulking seat of China's legislature in the heart of Beijing. Other participants included U.S. Republican National Committee Treasurer Tony Parker.

The gathering of delegates representing more than 200 political parties from around the world was hosted by China's ruling Communist Party, which last month reappointed Xi to a second five-year term as its leader.
 


Gunmen attack agriculture institute in Pakistan, killing 12

Pakistani troops take position, outside the agriculture institute stormed by militants in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Dec. 1. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Riaz Khan

Peshawar, Pakistan (AP) — Islamist militants stormed a provincial government complex for agricultural research in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 12 people including students and wounding 35 others, police and rescue officials said.

Police and military troops killed three attackers during a firefight and while clearing the complex in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, they said.

The main Taliban militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility saying the place they attacked was housing a secret intelligence office.

Police chief Salahuddin Mahsud of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said attackers opened fire on the main gate of a provincial agricultural department complex, initially wounding two guards and two students.

Mahsud said three attackers clad in women's burqas then reached the gate in a rickshaw and opened fire to clear their way to the building. The ensuing firefight left 12 dead and dozens more injured.

Mahsud told reporters after the complex was cleared that among the dead, six were students and one was a guard. Six others were being identified.

Mahsud said before the attackers could reach other hostels, security forces were able to evacuate residents in armored vehicles.

"Police and military troops engaged in a quick and well-coordinated firefight and evacuation efforts saved scores of lives, otherwise the death toll could have been much higher," he said.

TV footage showed bullets holes in building walls, blood stains and broken glass scattered on the floor.

A comparatively small number of students and others were present in the typically crowded complex at the time of the attack because Friday is a holiday — the day when Muslims celebrate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. Government and private buildings in the town were decorated and religious rallies were being carried out across the country, with sweets and milk distributed at street stalls, to celebrate the holiday.

Officials refuted the militants' claim that the agriculture directorate was housing any intelligence office. They said militants have attacked education institutions in the past.

The attack was third major one on educational institutions in the country's northwest in recent years. In 2014, militants attacked an army-run school in Peshawar killing more than 150 people, mostly school children. In the adjacent town of Charsadda, militants attacked Bacha Khan University, named after a secular leader, in 2016, killing more than 20 students.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen Asif Ghafoor said Tehrik-e-Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack proved it was planned in Afghanistan where the group is based. He said the attackers were in constant contact with their handlers in the neighboring country.

Ghafoor added that Afghanistan's director general of military operations was currently in Pakistan and that the issue would be taken up with him.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the assault, offered condolences to the victims' families and said the U.S. government will continue to work with Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.

The attack came over a week after a suicide bomber killed top police official Mohammad Ashraf Noor and his guard in the provincial capital.

Pervez Khattak, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, expressed grief over the nine lives lost.

"These terrorists have no religion as they attacked on a day which is very sacred and the nation was celebrating it," he said.

The police chief said police and military troops quickly cordoned the building, closed in and killed the gunmen who had holed up in a building in the complex. The complex includes offices, a teaching institute and a hostel.

Among the wounded were two soldiers, seven policemen, a reporter and a private guard in addition to the students. Some were in critical condition, authorities said.

Mahsud said dozens of students and others were rescued during the operation. He said after eliminating the attackers, security troops were searching and clearing the buildings.

Security forces in the clearance operation seized an explosives-laden vest, hand grenades and several assault rifles that the attackers had been carrying.

Elsewhere Friday a young boy was killed and another wounded when a bomb exploded near the Christian Eisa colony in the border town of Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province.

Police officer Naimatullah Tareen said the bomb was a timed device and planted at the entrance of the colony where boys were playing. The Chaman town on the border with Afghanistan.


Philippines puts dengue immunization program on hold

 

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III gestures as he answers questions from reporters in Manila, Philippines, Friday, Dec. 1. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines on Friday put on hold its dengue immunization program, the world's first, after new findings by the vaccine manufacturer that severe cases of dengue can occur in the longer term among those vaccinated without prior infection.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said further recommendation will be released on Dec. 12 or 13 by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, an advisory body of the World Health Organization.

More than 730,000 public school children aged 9 and above in three highly endemic Philippine regions have received at least the first dose of Dengvaxia, the first licensed dengue vaccine manufactured by France-based Sanofi Pasteur. The Department of Health launched last year its 3.5 billion peso ($69.5 million) public dengue immunization drive — the world's first such program.

Sanofi said Wednesday that an analysis based on up to six years of clinical data showed that in the longer term, more cases of severe dengue can occur following vaccination among people who have not had previous dengue infection.  It said it will ask health authorities to update information provided to physicians and patients.

The analysis confirmed Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit in those who had prior infection, Sanofi said.

For those who were not previously infected by the dengue virus, the analysis found that vaccination prevented severe illness for at least 30 months, Duque told reporters.

People who catch dengue more than once can be at risk of a hemorrhagic version of the disease. The mosquito-spread disease is found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide. It causes a flu-like disease that can cause joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash. In severe cases, dengue can cause breathing problems, hemorrhaging and organ failure.

The World Health Organization says that about half the world's population is at risk of dengue and estimates that about 96 million people are sickened by the viral infection every year.

Duque said there are currently no reports of severe dengue infection among those vaccinated. He did not say whether legal action will be taken pending conclusion of a review he has ordered of the contract and other documents on the Dengvaxia immunization.

Duque said the government will profile all those who received the vaccination and heighten its surveillance mechanisms. That will include mandatory history taking of those vaccinated, mandatory reporting of all hospitalized vaccine recipients regardless of symptoms and 5 years of post-vaccination surveillance.

Khristine Estrada-Cabanayan, a Sanofi spokeswoman in the Philippines, said the company is working closely with the Department of Health and will release a statement to address concerns regarding the vaccine.


EU tells UK: No trade talks without progress on Irish border

President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, right, shakes hands with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at a press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin to discuss preparations for the December European Council, Friday Dec. 1. (Laura Hutton/PA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — The European Union warned Britain on Friday that it must outline by next week how it plans to keep an open Irish border after Brexit or the bloc will refuse to start negotiating a new trade deal with the U.K.

Standing alongside European Council President Donald Tusk in Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the U.K. must offer "credible, concrete and workable solutions that guarantee there will no hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic after Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

Tusk said British Prime Minister Theresa May had until Monday to present her "final offer" on divorce terms so that the 27 other EU leaders can assess it before a crucial Dec. 14-15 summit in Brussels. That meeting will decide whether there has been enough progress to move on to discussing future relations and trade.

Tusk said the whole EU was behind Ireland on the need for a border plan — dashing British hopes that some member states might be prepared to compromise.

"Let me say very clearly: if the U.K.'s offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU," Tusk said.

"The key to the U.K.'s future lies — in some ways — in Dublin," he added.

The EU and the U.K. are nearing agreement on some divorce terms, including the size of the bill that Britain must pay as it leaves and the rights of citizens affected by Brexit. But the border issue has proved more intractable.

After Britain leaves the bloc, the currently invisible 310-mile (500-kilometer) frontier will be the U.K.'s only land border with an EU country.

Britain says it wants to maintain a "frictionless" flow of people and goods with no border posts. But Ireland is demanding to know how that will work if Britain is outside the EU's borderless single market and tariff-free customs union.

Varadkar said he was "an optimist by nature" and believed a breakthrough was possible.

"We don't have long, but I believe with the right engagement and the right political will we can reach an agreement on the way ahead," he said.

However, he added he was "prepared to stand firm ... if the U.K. offer falls short."

Any hurdles to the movement of people or goods could have serious implications for the economies on both sides, and for Northern Ireland's peace process. The military checkpoints and customs posts imposed during Northern Ireland's "Troubles" have vanished since a peace accord was signed in 1998, and trade across the border has thrived. Thousands of people live on one side and work on the other, or cross daily to shop or socialize.

"We have grown used to a border that is largely invisible," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters Friday. "We have an all-island economy."

"We cannot allow an unintended consequence of Brexit to be an undermining of that relationship in future," he added.

One suggested solution is to allow Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union when the rest of the U.K. leaves. But that idea is an anathema to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party — and May's minority government relies on DUP support to stay in power.

The U.K. Parliament's Brexit committee warned Friday that despite government promises, it may be impossible to avoid border checks after Brexit.

Committee chairman Hilary Benn said "we cannot at present see how leaving the customs union and the single market can be reconciled with there being no border or infrastructure."


Stranded in Bali tourists lampooned online for complaints

In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, clouds of ash from Mount Agung volcano are lit with warm sunset light in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Stephen Wright

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — Australian tourists who complained about being stranded on tropical Bali when volcanic ash closed its airport have been roasted online as out of touch with the hardships faced by Indonesians forced to flee their homes.

Bali's airport reopened Wednesday after being closed for 2 days and thousands of tourists are now leaving the island famous for its lush green interior, surf beaches and relaxed vibe.

About 40,000 residents from Mount Agung's danger zone are staying in shelters such as sport halls, temples and tent camps. Ash could drift back and force the airport to close again.

A producer for an Australian television network temporarily locked her Twitter after being assailed for an article in which she complained of having to pay for a taxi to the airport after not getting through to airlines on the phone.

"People are being forced to measure risk, cost and desperation to make it home to their families on Christmas," said the producer, Mary Jordan.

The article on the TV network's website was later updated to show Jordan had managed to get a flight out for Thursday evening. But not before it was sarcastically dissected by an online travel guide.

One man was lampooned for telling Australian TV that the government should've sent boats to rescue Australians and complaining that he spent three "cold wet" nights at Bali's airport.

"It's been hell," the man, identified as Phil Wickham by Australian media, said on arrival at Perth in Western Australia.

Others were more stoic, commenting that it wasn't too bad and the beer hadn't run out.

Australian television also showed emotional scenes at airports as relieved parents were reunited with teenagers that had been holidaying on Bali.

Bali attracts about 5 million visitors a year, making tourism vital to the livelihoods of many on the island. It is a top destination for Australians.

Arie Ahsanurrohim, a spokesman for Bali's airport, said about 17,000 people flew out of Bali on Thursday on both domestic and international flights.

The small international airport on neighboring Lombok island reopened Friday after it too was closed for a day because of drifting ash.

Mount Agung, which has been gushing huge columns of black ash since last Saturday and glowing red at night, remains at its highest alert level. Explosions within the crater can be heard kilometers away and tremors occasionally shake the surrounding region.


Update December 1, 2017

New dengue vaccine could worsen disease in some people

In this Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, a patient, enclosed in a mosquito net, recovers from a bout of dengue fever at a hospital in Luque, Paraguay. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

London (AP) — Drugmaker Sanofi says that its dengue vaccine, the world's first, should only be given to people who have previously been sickened by the virus, according to new long-term data.

In a statement, Sanofi said it had recently examined six years of patient data. Scientists concluded that while the vaccine protects people against further infection if they've already been infected with dengue, that's not the case for people who haven't previously been sickened by the disease.

"For those not previously infected by dengue virus...the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination," Sanofi said. "These findings highlight the complex nature of dengue infection."

People who catch dengue more than once can be at risk of a hemorrhagic version of the disease. The mosquito-spread disease is found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide. It causes a flu-like disease that can cause joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash. In severe cases, dengue can cause breathing problems, hemorrhaging and organ failure.

The World Health Organization says that about half the world's population is at risk of dengue and estimates that about 96 million people are sickened by the viral infection every year.

Sanofi is proposing that national authorities update their prescribing information. It also said doctors should assess the likelihood of prior dengue infection in people before choosing whether they should get the vaccine.

"For individuals who have not been previously infected by dengue virus, vaccination should not be recommended," Sanofi said. The vaccine is currently recommended in most dengue-endemic countries for people over age nine.

The company expects to take a 100 million euro ($118 million) loss based on the news.

There is no specific treatment for dengue and there are no other licensed vaccines on the market.


What North Korean photos say about new ballistic missile

This image from Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third from left, and what the North Korean government calls the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Eric Talmadge

Tokyo (AP) — North Korea released dozens of photos Thursday of the Hwasong-15, a new intercontinental ballistic missile it claims can reach any target in the continental United States. The photo dump, published in the paper and online editions of the ruling party's official daily, is a gold mine for rocket experts trying to parse reality from bluster.

Their general conclusion is that it's bigger, more advanced and comes with a domestically made mobile launcher that will make it harder than ever to pre-emptively destroy. But there's a potentially major catch: it might not have the power to go much farther than the West Coast if it is loaded down with a real nuclear warhead, not a dummy like the one it carried in its test launch on Wednesday.

Here's a closer look:

 

THE MISSILE

The North's new missile appears to be significantly bigger than the Hwasong-14 ICBM it tested twice in July. Note how it dwarfs North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who stands about 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches) tall. In a tweet just after the photos were published, Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, said: "This is very big missile ... And I don't mean 'Big for North Korea.' Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club." Size is important because a missile targeting the United States would have to carry a lot of fuel. Duitsman also suggested the new ICBM appears to have a different engine arrangement and improved steering.

___

THE LAUNCHER

North Korea boasted repeatedly in its announcement of the launch Wednesday that the Hwasong-15 was fired from a domestically made erector-launcher vehicle. Its photos back that up. Being able to make its own mobile launch vehicles, called TELs, frees the North from the need to get them from other countries, like China, which is crucial considering the tightening of international sanctions that North Korea faces. TELs make it easier to move missiles around and launch them from remote, hard-to-predict locations. That makes finding and destroying the Hwasong-15 before a launch more difficult.

___

THE PAYLOAD

North Korea claims the Hwasong-15 can carry a "super-heavy" nuclear payload to any target in the mainland United States. The re-entry vehicle, that nose cone in the photo, does indeed look quite large. But the heavier the load the shorter the range. Michael Elleman, a leading missile expert, has suggested in the respected 38 North blog that Hwasong-15's estimated 13,000-kilometer (8,100-mile) range assumes a payload of around 150 kilograms (330 pounds), which is probably much lighter than any real nuclear payload the North can produce. To get to the West Coast, the North needs to keep that weight down to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds). Whether it can do that remains questionable. "Kim Jong Un's nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350 kilograms (800 pounds) if he expects to strike the western edges of the U.S. mainland," Elleman estimated. "A 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) payload barely reaches Seattle."
 


Storms leave 4 dead in Sri Lanka, fishermen among 23 missing

Sri Lankan municipal workers try to clear a fallen tree across a road in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 30. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Heavy rain and winds across Sri Lanka have left at least four people dead and 23 others missing, including more than a dozen fishermen, the government said Thursday.

The Disaster Management Center said up to 150 millimeters (6 inches) more rain could fall as a result of a deep depression centered 200 kilometers (125 miles) off the coast of the capital, Colombo.

It said the missing included 13 people aboard four fishing boats. The navy deployed rescuers to search for the fishermen.

Sri Lanka has suffered frequent natural calamities in recent years. More than 200 people were killed in mudslides and floods during monsoon rains in May.


Calls to cancel Trump visit to UK put queen in tough spot

 

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks to British Prime Minister Theresa May in this May 25, 2017, file photo, during in a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Growing calls to cancel President Donald Trump's state visit to Britain have put Queen Elizabeth II — who would host the U.S. president — in a difficult position.

In Britain's constitutional monarchy, the queen invites foreign leaders to state visits — regarded as a great honor — on the advice of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In this case, it was the prime minister, Theresa May, who extended the invitation to Trump on the queen's behalf just days after Trump assumed office. While no date has yet been set for the visit, both governments say the state visit is still on.

It would be extremely awkward for the queen to rescind the invitation, and there is no indication the Foreign Office wishes her to do so.

Instead, a convenient delay is more likely — as suggested in Parliament Thursday.

Labour Party lawmaker Kevin Brennan said the 91-year-old queen has a busy year coming up with the anticipated birth of a new great-grandchild and the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May.

"Don't those facts alone justify the government announcing a postponement of the state visit by the president of the United States for at least, say, three years?" he asked.

In the meantime, Trump could come to Britain for high level meetings on a trip that is not treated as a state visit, which is an event that follows well-scripted protocol.

It begins with the queen and other senior royals greeting the visitors for a ceremonial welcome, typically on Horse Guards Parade near Buckingham Palace.

In Trump's case, he and his wife Melania would typically inspect an honor guard before being taken to the palace in a carriage procession escorted by soldiers on horseback. Gun salutes would be fired by The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery at Green Park and the Tower of London.

The highlight of a state visit is usually the banquet held the very first night in the Buckingham Palace Ballroom. The queen usually invites about 150 guests including business leaders, diplomats and cultural figures.

She begins with a toast to the visiting head of state, who replies with a toast to the queen before the formal meal is served. The menu often includes some of the queen's finest wines.

Former President Barack Obama made a state visit in 2011 with his wife Michelle. His other visits to Britain were not classified that way.


Argentina no longer looking for survivors from missing sub

 

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi walks away from the podium after taking part in a press conference at Navy headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Luis Andres Henao

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's navy said Thursday that it is no longer looking for survivors among the 44 sailors aboard a submarine missing for 15 days, though a multinational operation will continue looking for the vessel.

Hopes of finding survivors had already dimmed because experts said the crew had only enough oxygen to last 7 to 10 days if the sub remained intact under the sea. The navy also had said an explosion was detected near the time and place where the ARA San Juan made its last contact with shore Nov. 15.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said the rescue mission had "extended for more than twice what is estimated for a rescue."

"We've had 28 ships, nine aircraft, 4,000 people involved, 18 countries supporting," Balbi told reporters. "Despite the magnitude of these efforts, we've been unable to find the submarine."

Balbi said the search was no longer considered a rescue mission, but the hunt would go on for the missing sub.

Some relatives of the crew broke into tears after they received the news.

"I don't understand this arbitrary and unjustified decision," Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew member Alejandro Tagliapietra, told local TV. "It's unusually cruel. Every day, it's a new blow. I'm destroyed."

The navy has said the vessel's captain reported that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the submarine's batteries to short circuit. The captain later communicated by satellite phone that the problem had been contained.

Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. A navy spokesman said this week that the blast could have been triggered by a "concentration of hydrogen" caused by the battery problem reported by the captain.

The San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine, was commissioned in the 1980s and was most recently refitted in 2014.

Some family members have denounced the navy's response to the sub's disappearance as well as the age and condition of the vessel. President Mauricio Macri has promised a full investigation.


Israel responds to mortar fire from Gaza with airstrikes

A Palestinian protester hurls back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes in the village of Qusra, near the West Bank City of Nablus, Thursday, Nov. 30. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Fares Akram

Gaza City, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli aircraft and tanks struck a number of militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Thursday in response to a volley of mortar fire emanating from the Palestinian territory, in a spike of violence a month after Israel demolished a militant tunnel dug from Gaza.

Later Thursday, in a separate bout of violence, a 20-year-old Israeli was stabbed to death in what police said they suspected was a "terror attack." In an unrelated incident earlier, a Jewish West Bank settler fatally shot a 47-year-old Palestinian villager in a clash that occurred under disputed circumstances.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said three civilians were lightly wounded in one of the Israeli strikes.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the 12 mortar shells launched, which the Israeli military said targeted a military post near where a construction crew was working on "important security infrastructure" along the border. No one was injured on the Israeli side.

The border violence comes a month after Israel detonated a tunnel leading from Gaza into its territory, killing 12 people, among them militants from the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. The tense border has remained mostly quiet since a 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The military said the mortar fire appeared to have come as retaliation for the tunnel incident.

"The (Israeli military) sees this as a severe event and we know exactly who conducted this attack," said Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. He said Islamic Jihad was behind the mortars but that Israel held Hamas responsible for any attacks emanating from Gaza.

The military said it attacked six militant sites in response to the mortar fire, belonging to both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It said train service in southern Israel was briefly halted after the mortar attack.

In the West Bank incident, the military said a group of some 20 settlers were hiking through the Palestinian village of Qusra, southeast of the city of Nablus, when they were attacked by stone throwers and two were lightly wounded.

One of the settlers then opened fire, striking a stone thrower. The settlers then entrenched themselves in a cave near the village until Israeli forces evacuated them, it said.

The military said medical teams rushed to the scene to try to save the Palestinian.

The Palestinians, however, said that 47-year-old Mahmoud Odeh was shot while working on his land in the northern West Bank village.

Palestinian Authority official Ghassan Daghlas said settlers confronted Odeh and ordered him to move. When he refused, one of them shot him in the chest, Daghlas said.

The military would not say where the shooter was, saying only that the incident was being investigated.

The northern West Bank is an occasional flashpoint between settlers and Palestinians. Several isolated hard-line settlements are in the area, situated near Palestinian villages and Nablus.

On Thursday evening, police said a 20-year-old Israeli man was stabbed to death in the southern city of Arad. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said forces were searching for the suspect who fled the scene.

Thursday's casualties became the latest in an intermittent two-year wave of violence.

Since September 2015, Palestinians have killed more than 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces have killed more than 260 Palestinians in that time. Israel says most of them were attackers and that others died in clashes with Israeli forces.

The frequency and intensity of attacks has lessened in the past year..
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Clashes erupt across West Bank, Gaza over US Jerusalem pivot

UK, EU claim Brexit breakthrough; eye talks on future ties

South Korea mulling ways to curb craze for bitcoins

Philippines wants money back from Sanofi for dengue vaccine

Russia claims radioactivity spike not due to nuclear plant

Chief priest, 2 others dead in Tokyo shrine stabbings


Thousands of Catalans rally, feeling abandoned by the EU

Australian prime minister rushes gay marriage into law

Bitcoin tops $17,000; hack raises concerns ahead of US trade

Former Cambodia opposition leader sued over Facebook post

Experts scramble to monitor long-dormant Iceland volcano

India's cleaning quandary: How to scale the Taj Mahal dome?


Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital, smashing US policy

N. Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games

Rock icon Johnny Hallyday, known as French Elvis, dies at 74

Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone

Russian President Putin announces re-election bid


Arab, Muslim opposition building to any US nod on Jerusalem

UK scrambles to salvage Brexit deal after Irish border hitch

Saudi strikes rock Yemeni capital after ex-president slain

2 kiwi birds are rare bright spot in grim extinction report

Model in Britain's sex-and-spy Profumo scandal dies at 75


Stealth jets, other aircraft fly in US, South Korean drills

Sanofi says it is cooperating with gov't on dengue vaccine

Future of Irish border remains an obstacle in Brexit talks

Bali volcano emits wispy plume of steam, flights resume

Malta announces 10 arrests in journalist's bombing murder


13 dead, 2 missing after boat capsizes in South Korea

UAE denies claim of Yemen missile attack against its plant

UK extradition hearing to start for tycoon sought by India

Ireland seeks momentum on border ahead of key Brexit meeting

'Super beans' raise hopes in hunger-prone parts of Africa


Myanmar's Suu Kyi meets China's Xi as Rohingya censure grows

Gunmen attack agriculture institute in Pakistan, killing 12

Philippines puts dengue immunization program on hold

EU tells UK: No trade talks without progress on Irish border

Stranded in Bali tourists lampooned online for complaints


New dengue vaccine could worsen disease in some people

What North Korean photos say about new ballistic missile

Storms leave 4 dead in Sri Lanka, fishermen among 23 missing

Calls to cancel Trump visit to UK put queen in tough spot

Argentina no longer looking for survivors from missing sub

Israel responds to mortar fire from Gaza with airstrikes

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