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Update December, 2019


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Suu Kyi denies Myanmar genocide allegations at top UN court

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses judges of the International Court of Justice for the second day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By ALEKS FURTULA and LORNE COOK

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Myanmar's former pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday denied that her country's armed forces committed genocide against the Rohingya minority, telling the U.N.'s top court that the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Muslims was the unfortunate result of a battle with insurgents.

In a measured tone, Suu Kyi calmly refuted allegations that the army had killed civilians, raped women and torched houses in 2017 in what Myanmar's accusers describe as a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide that saw more than 700,00 Rohingya flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

She said the allegations stem from "an internal armed conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks ... to which Myanmar's defense services responded. Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims."

Her appearance at the International Court of Justice was striking in that Suu Kyi was defending the very armed forces that had kept her under house arrest for about 15 years. She was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar's then-ruling junta. A small group of her supporters gathered Wednesday outside The Hague-based court.

Suu Kyi told the court that the African nation of Gambia, which brought the legal action against Myanmar on behalf of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation, had provided "an incomplete and misleading factual picture" of what happened in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state in August 2017.

Gambia alleges that genocide was committed and is still ongoing. It has asked the world court to take action to stop the violence, including "all measures within its power to prevent all acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide" in Myanmar.

But Suu Kyi said developments in one of Myanmar's poorest regions are "complex and not easy to fathom." She detailed how the army responded on Aug. 25, 2017, to attacks by insurgents trained by Afghan and Pakistan extremists.

Addressing the court in her capacity as Myanmar's foreign minister, Suu Kyi insisted that the country's armed forces had tried "to reduce collateral damage" during fighting in 12 locations. While conceding that excessive force might have been used and that one helicopter may have killed "non-combatants," Suu Kyi said a Myanmar investigation is looking into what happened and should be allowed to finish its work.

"Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers who are accused of wrongdoing?" she asked the court.

Suu Kyi and Myanmar's legal team argued that the genocide convention does not apply to Myanmar. They invoked Croatia during the Balkans wars in the 1990s, saying that no genocide was deemed there when thousands of people were forced from their homes by fighting.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou urged the International Court of Justice to "tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people."

Also Tuesday, the U.S. slapped economic sanctions on four Myanmar military officers suspected of human rights violations. It sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing, commander of Myanmar's armed forces, over allegations of serious rights abuses. Deputy commander Soe Win and two other military leaders, Than Oo and Aung Aung, were also targeted.

"There are credible claims of mass-scale rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by soldiers under Min Aung Hlaing's command," a U.S.  statement said.

The court's hearings on Myanmar are scheduled to end Thursday.


Climate activist Greta Thunberg is Time 'person of the year'

This photo provided by Time magazine shows Greta Thunberg, who has been named Time’s youngest “person of the year” on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. The media franchise said Wednesday on its website that Thunberg is being honored for work that transcends backgrounds and borders. (Time via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time's "person of the year" Wednesday, becoming at age 16 the youngest person to whom the U.S. magazine has given the title.

Thunberg emerged as the face of the youth climate movement after she started skipping school once a week to protest outside her country's parliament. In the past year and a half, she has drawn large crowds at international conferences and demonstrations outside Sweden.

Some have welcomed Thunberg's environmental activism, including her speeches challenging world leaders to do more to stop global warming. But others have criticized the teenager's sometimes combative tone.

"For sounding the alarm about humanity's predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME's 2019 Person of the Year," the media franchise said Wednesday on its website.

Leaving a United Nations climate conference in Madrid where she addressed negotiators on Wednesday, Thunberg told The Associated Press she was "a bit surprised" by Time's recognition, which she dedicated to all young activists.

Thunberg said she was hopeful the message of urgency she and other activists are communicating — that governments need to drastically increase their efforts to combat climate change — is finally getting through.

She said the experience of the past 15 months, going from solo-protester outside the Swedish parliament to addressing world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, had changed her.

"I think life is much more meaningful now that I have something to do that has an impact," Thunberg said in a phone interview.

She plans to head home to Sweden for some rest during the holidays. "If you don't take breaks, you won't be able to continue," she said.

Last year's Time winners included slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.


Nearly a half-billion in Asia-Pacific still going hungry

In this Feb. 11, 2019, file photo, woman cuts rice in the village of Samroang Kandal on the north side of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

In this Nov. 17, 2019, file photo, boys help their family for collect rice during harvest season in Samroang Tiev village, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

By ELAINE KURTENBACH

BANGKOK (AP) — Nearly a half-billion people in the Asia-Pacific are still malnourished and eliminating hunger by 2030 requires that millions escape food insecurity each month, according to a report released Wednesday by UN agencies.

Data compiled by the United Nations show slow progress and even backsliding in the areas of child wasting and stunting and other problems related to malnutrition. Worsening inequality means that despite relatively fast economic growth, incomes in the region are not increasing fast enough to help ensure adequate, nutritional diets for hundreds of millions still living in poverty, it says.

The report urges that governments combine efforts to end poverty and with nutrition, health and education-oriented policies.

The UN's sustainable development goals for 2030 call for ending hunger and ensuring all people have adequate access to food all around the year.

"We are not on track," said Kundhavi Kadiresan, the FAO's regional representative. "Progress in reducing undernourishment has slowed a lot in the past few years."

More than a fifth of all people in the Asia-Pacific region are facing moderate to severe food insecurity, meaning they must scrimp on food or go hungry part of the year, and in the worst cases go days without eating.

More than half of the 479 million in the region who are undernourished live in South Asia, where more than a third of all children suffer from chronic malnutrition, said the report written by the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.

In India, nearly 21% of children suffer from wasting, a more acute form of malnutrition.

Failing to ensure children are well nourished jeopardizes their future development, especially their cognitive abilities — a crucial handicap in the 21st century age of advanced technologies, said Michael Samson, research director of the Economic Policy Research Institute, who spoke at the report's release in Bangkok.

Cognitive abilities cannot be traded or manufactured, so "Investing in the first 1,000 days (of a child's life) is the most important investment you can make in future productivity," he said.

Governments have begun to implement some policies aimed at addressing the severe shortfalls in child and maternal nutrition . Thailand has provided subsidies that have helped improve the health and diets of families with young children. In neighboring Myanmar, trial programs in the Chin state are being expanded to cover more of the country.

The focus is not just on providing cash, but improving awareness about nutrition, family planning and water and sanitation," said Shein Myint, an assistant director in the Social Protection section of Myanmar's Ministry of Social Welfare.

"From monitoring we see that beneficiaries mainly use the cash to have nutritious food and use it for healthcare costs," Shein Myint said.

Cambodia is expanding a program called NOURISH that originally was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides help for impoverished pregnant women and families during the first 1,000 days of a baby's life. In areas where the program was implemented there was a nearly 20% decrease in stunting and marked improvement in toddlers' diets, said Laura Cardinal, who directed the program.

While many in Asia still do not get enough calories to thrive, in the Pacific the problem is too many empty calories: obesity rates in the Pacific islands are among the world's highest and rising fast, partly because healthy foods are costly and less available and partly because local cultures focus much on feasting, said Lu'isa Manuofetoa, the acting chief executive for Tonga's Ministry of Internal Affairs.

"People like to have feasts all the time, that's something we need to change," she said.


India's Parliament passes contentious citizenship bill

Protesters shout slogans against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

By ASHOK SHARMA

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian lawmakers approved legislation on Wednesday granting citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan despite ongoing protests against the measure in the country's remote northeast.

The upper house of Parliament passed the bill 125-105 on Wednesday night. The lower house had approved it on Monday. It now needs to be signed by the country's ceremonial president, a formality before becoming law.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced by the Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi following his resounding election victory in May.

Protesters say they oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants who came to the country illegally will move to the border region in the northeast and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people.

Protesters burned tires and blocked highways and rail lines for a second day Wednesday. Police fired rubber bullets and used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Dibrugarh district in Assam state, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

State police official Mukesh Aggarwal said a curfew was imposed in Gauhati, the state capital, and army soldiers were standing by in case the violence escalated.

Street protests continued in Guahati, with young demonstrators making bonfires across the city. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to march to the office of the state's top elected official.

The Press Trust of India said the federal government was airlifting nearly 5,000 paramilitary soldiers to the region.

Introducing the bill in the upper house, Home Minister Amit Shah said it was not anti-Muslim because it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities. It seeks to address the difficulties of Hindus and other minorities who suffered persecution in Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, he said.

Anand Sharma, a leader of the main opposition Congress party, said the bill was discriminatory because India's Constitution provides equal opportunities to all communities. Some opposition members complained the the bill excludes Tamil Hindus who fled Sri Lanka during its civil war.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized the bill as going against "India's rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution," and sought American sanctions against Home Minister Shah if the bill is approved.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said the U.S. commission's statement "is neither accurate nor warranted.''

"The bill provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries. It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights," Kumar said in a statement. "Such an initiative should be welcomed, not criticized by those who are genuinely committed to religious freedom.''


Aung San Suu Kyi watches UN court hear Rohingya genocide case

 

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi sits in the court room of the International Court of Justice for the first day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

People stand in the court room of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 as the U.N.'s highest court begins a hearing into allegations of genocide in Myanmar over the military campaign against the Rohingya minority. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By ALEKS FURTULA and LORNE COOK

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The justice minister of Gambia appealed to the U.N.'s top court Tuesday to recognize that genocide against Myanmar's Rohingya minority took place and to ensure it does not continue, while Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi prepared to defend the actions of her country's military.

Former pro-democracy icon Suu Kyi watched from the front row as lawyers gave the International Court of Justice detailed accounts of Rohingya men, women and children killed and the destruction of tens of thousands of Muslim minority homes in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.

"It is indeed sad for our generation that 75 years after humankind committed itself to the words 'never again,' another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes," Gambian Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou told the court in The Hague . "Yet we do nothing to stop it."

"This is a stain on our collective conscience, and it will be irresponsible for any of us to simply look the other way and pretend that it is not our business," he said.

Gambia, a nation in West Africa, filed the case in the world court on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Myanmar's military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.

The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned in October that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring." The mission also found that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.

Myanmar has strongly denied the charges but says it stands ready to take action against wrongdoers if there is sufficient evidence.

A recent statement on the website of the nation's Ministry of the Interior said the renewed international pressure was due to a lack of understanding of "the complexities of the issue and the narratives of the people of Myanmar."

Beyond detailing graphic accounts of rape, mutilation and the killing of children by soldiers, Gambia's legal team underscored what it alleged was Myanmar's "ongoing genocidal intent" and the government's continued incitement of racial hatred.

Gambia asked for provisional measures to prevent "extrajudicial killings or physical abuse; rape or other forms of sexual violence; burning of homes or villages; destruction of lands and livestock, deprivation of food" and other actions "calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part."

Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar's then-ruling junta, sat attentively in the front row as Gambia's representatives made their case. She is leading the Myanmar delegation to The Hague in her capacity as foreign minister.

Scores of Rohingya supporters gathered outside the court behind a banner reading "Stop Genocide." Some carried photos of Suu Kyi with "Shame" and "agent of the military" written under them.

The International Court of Justice hearing is set for an extraordinary scene on Wednesday, when Suu Kyi - once a global beacon of hope for human rights — is expected to defend the actions of an army that held her under house arrest for years.

A group of seven fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners has called on Suu Kyi "to publicly acknowledge the crimes, including genocide, committed against the Rohingya. We are deeply concerned that instead of condemning these crimes, Aung San Suu Kyi is actively denying that these atrocities even occurred. "

They wrote in a signed statement ahead of the court hearing, which runs until Thursday, that "Aung San Suu Kyi must be held criminally accountable, along with her army commanders, for crimes committed."

In Myanmar, hundreds of people have rallied to show their support for her in recent days.

At one rally, around 700 people, including many members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, gathered outside the colonial-era City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

As the crowd waved national flags and listened to music and poetry, a popular local singer told them "Mother Suu is the bravest human being in the world — her weapon is love."


6 dead from New Zealand volcano as helpers describe horror

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, talks with first responders in Whakatane, New Zealand, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Dom Thomas/Pool Photo via AP)

This Dec. 9, 2019, photo provided by Michael Schade shows a damaged helicopter following the eruption of the volcano on White Island, New Zealand. (Michael Schade via AP)

By NICK PERRY

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — Survivors of a powerful volcanic eruption in New Zealand ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, say those who first helped them.

The accounts Tuesday came as some relatives were forced to continue waiting for news of their loved ones, with authorities deciding it remained too dangerous for crews to land on the island and remove bodies.

Six deaths were confirmed after Monday's eruption of the White Island volcano. Five people died at the time of the blast or soon after, while a sixth person died Tuesday night at an Auckland hospital.

Another eight people are believed to have died, with their bodies remaining on the ash-covered island for now.

Experts said there was a 50 percent chance of another small eruption within a day and rescue teams didn't want to take any chances. Police said they planned to send up drones to measure whether gas levels were safe.

The tragedy will have an ongoing effect on the town of Whakatane, which road signs tout as the gateway to White Island. As well as being an important tourist draw for the 20,000 people who live here, the volcano has an almost mystical significance, its regular puffing a feature of the landscape.

Whether the island will ever host tourists again remains uncertain after the horrific tragedy that unfolded when the volcano exploded a little after 2 p.m. Monday.

Geoff Hopkins was in a boat offshore after visiting the island with his daughter, the tour a 50th birthday present for him. He told the New Zealand Herald the eruption at first looked beautiful but quickly turned menacing.

As injured people were transported onto their boat screaming in pain, Hopkins and his daughter Lillani poured fresh water onto them, cut them out of their clothes and tried to keep them calm.

He told the Herald they were "horrifically" burned on their exposed skin and faces, even under their clothes.

In all, police believe there were 47 visitors on the island at the time. They say 24 were Australian, nine were American and five were New Zealanders. Others were from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

About 30 of the survivors remained hospitalized on Tuesday, many flown to burn units around the country. The first confirmed death was of a local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide who had shown tourists around the island.

Former Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said Marshall-Inman was a keen fisherman and well-liked. He was so kind, Bonne said, that he would often leave extra money at the grocery store for those he knew were struggling to pay.

Many people were left questioning why tourists were still allowed to visit the island after seismic monitoring experts raised the volcano's alert level last month.

"These questions must be asked and they must be answered," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament.

New Zealand's Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said Tuesday that police were opening a criminal investigation into the deaths that would accompany an investigation by health and safety regulators.

But hours later, police put out a statement saying that while they were investigating the deaths on behalf of the coroner, "To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 11 Australians are unaccounted for and 13 were hospitalized. Three Australians were suspected to be among the initial five confirmed dead, he told reporters in Sydney. "I fear there is worse news to come," Morrison said.

Relatives of a newlywed American couple say the husband and wife were severely burned. Barbara Barham told The Washington Post that her daughter Lauren Urey, 32, and son-in-law Matthew Urey, 36, from Richmond, Virginia, were on a honeymoon trip.

A few locals laid flowers Tuesday at a fence on the waterfront near where the rescue boats had returned with the injured.

White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50 kilometers (30 kilometers) off New Zealand's main North Island.

New Zealand's GeoNet seismic monitoring agency had raised the volcano's alert level on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma. It also said volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength. It raised the alert level to 4 for a time after Monday's eruption but lowered it to 3 as the activity subsided.

Richard Arculus, an Australian National University volcanologist who has made numerous visits to White Island, said the eruption likely sent a ground-hugging lateral blast from the crater to the jetty, as well as blasting rock and ash vertically skyward.

"In that crater, it would have been a terrible place to be," Arculus said. "There would have been nowhere safe for you to be hiding, thinking that, 'Oh well, if it explodes, it just goes straight up in the air.'"

At least 10 people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.

"Tourism has been a growing market, and White Island has been an anchor for that," Bonne said. "It's something unique that pulls people from all around the world."

He said it was sad to think that might all now come to a stop.
 


Cambodia dismayed over US sanctions for corruption, logging

In this Nov. 3, 2019, file photo, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen participates in ASEAN-U.N. summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn, File)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The Cambodian government expressed "strong dismay" Tuesday over a U.S. Treasury decision to sanction two businessmen suspected of corruption and illegal logging.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the sanctions were based on groundless accusations.

"The Executive Order is an ambush against the ongoing efforts to restore trust and confidence between Cambodia and the United States," the statement said.

It defended both of the influential businessmen and former officials targeted by the sanctions, which freeze their U.S.-based assets and ban doing business with them.

The ministry "expressed strong dismay over the arbitrary designation" of the Cambodian citizens. It said Kim had made a "great contribution" to the country's peace, stability and social order. Pheap has "played an active role in supporting Cambodia's socio-economic development," it said.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it had designated Try Pheap and 11 companies owned or by controlled by him for sanctions for alleged graft and illegal logging. The companies engage in various businesses including tourism, real estate development and energy.

It said Pheap, who has been an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, has built up a vast illegal logging network that purchases protection from government officials and the military and export lumber to Vietnam, China, Russia and European countries.

Pheap has responded to past corruption allegations in Facebook postings saying his businesses are all legal and abide by the law.

The Treasury Department also designated former Gen. Kun Kim, three of his relatives and their family businesses for sanctions for allegedly engaging in corruption and illegal extraction of natural resources.

Kim is a longtime associate and supporter of Hun Sen and now is the senior minister for veterans' affairs. The businesses and people cited in the announcement also are involved in rubber plantations and financial and security services.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said the sanctions, announced Monday on International Corruption Day, targeted people and entities based in Latvia, Serbia, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Cambodia suspected of illicit activities that "undermine the foundations of stable, secure and functioning societies."

The human rights group Global Witness welcomed the Treasury Department's announcement, saying both Pheap and Kim are suspected of serious human rights and environmental abuses.

"As Hun Sen's supporters have accumulated more and more wealth and impunity, their incentive to help him cling to power has increased," Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, said in a statement.

"Accountability for those sustaining the corrupt dictatorship that is oppressing Cambodians on a daily basis is long overdue," he said.

Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985. Critics say he has kept his hold on power by rewarding cronies and family members and allowing them to plunder the country's forests and farmlands.

The Treasury statement cites a Chinese resort development project in Koh Kong, on the scenic southern coast, that involved land seizures carried out by armed soldiers.

In late 2017, Cambodia's Supreme Court ordered the main opposition party dissolved on the unsupported pretext that it conspired with the United States to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen's government. That move was seen as a government effort to ensure his ruling Cambodian People's Party won a July 2018 general election. It ended up sweeping all 125 National Assembly seats.

Because they considered the elections neither free nor fair, some Western nations applied diplomatic sanctions against Hun Sen's government.

The European Union is considering withdrawing preferential tariff privileges from Cambodia. That would be a blow to its economy, which is powered by garment exports.


Suspect shoots 6 dead in Czech hospital, then kills self

Police personnel outside the Ostrava Teaching Hospital after a shooting incident in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Vladimir Prycek/CTK via AP)

 By KAREL JANICEK

PRAGUE (AP) — A man with an illegal gun shot six people dead and wounded three more in a hospital in the eastern Czech Republic Tuesday, the prime minister and officials said. The apparent suspect later shot himself dead as police approached his car.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis told Czech public television the shooting took place around 7 a.m. in a waiting room. The attacker opened fire at people's heads from close range, Babis said.

The prime minister canceled an official visit to Estonia and was heading for the site, at the University hospital in the eastern city of Ostrava, 350 kilometers (220 miles) east of Prague.

"It's a huge tragedy," Babis later said. "It's an unfortunate, individual act."

He said the suspect had been treated in the hospital, but didn't offer details.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said police found the suspect's car and he shot himself in the head as they approached and died from his injuries about half an hour later. Hamacek said police will be investigating his motive.

"I'd like to assure the public that there's no danger anymore," Hamacek said.

Police identified the suspect as a 42-year-old man. Several hundred police officers had launched an extensive manhunt, using two helicopters, for the suspect and his silver-gray Renault Laguna car.

Regional police chief officer Tomas Kuzel said the suspect used an illegally held Czech-made 9 mm gun. He said police believe the suspect who had a criminal record acted alone.

Police published a photo of the suspect, having withdrawn an earlier photo of a different man. They said that man was now considered to be a witness.

Clinic director Jiri Havrlant told media the dead were four men and two women. Another man and a woman had to be operated on, while one person was more lightly wounded.

All the victims were adult patients waiting for treatment.


5 dead, many more missing in eruption of New Zealand volcano

This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (George Novak/New Zealand Herald via AP)

In this image released by GeoNet, tourists can be seen on a trail near the volcano's crater Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, on White Island, New Zealand. (GNS Science via AP)

By MARK BAKER and NICK PERRY

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — A volcanic island in New Zealand erupted Monday in a tower of ash and steam while dozens of tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving many more missing.

Police said the site was still too dangerous hours later for rescuers to search for the missing.

Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said the number of missing was in the double digits but he couldn't confirm an exact number. He said there were fewer than 50 people on the island when it erupted and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead.

Tims said experts had told them the island remained unstable but search and rescue teams wanted to get back as quickly as they could. He said there had been no contact with any of those who were missing.

He said both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those who were dead, missing or injured. He said most of the 18 who survived were injured and some had suffered severe burns.

Some of those involved were tourists from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

"A number of our guests were touring the island today," the company said. "We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers."

The cruise ship, which had left from Sydney last week, was scheduled to sail to the capital Wellington on Monday night but the company said it would instead remain in the Tauranga port overnight until it learned more on the situation.

"My god," wrote Michael Schade on Twitter as he posted video of the eruption. "My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable."

His video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash. He said one woman was badly injured but seemed "strong" by the end.

White Island is northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand's two main islands, and sits about 50 kilometers (30 miles) offshore. The island itself is the top of an undersea volcano.

Experts say it's New Zealand's most active cone volcano. Already people are questioning why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern traveled to the region late Monday. She said the incident was "very significant."

"All our thoughts are with those affected," she said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he'd offered Ardern his support.

"Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing," Morrison wrote on Twitter.

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) into the air. He said it had also affected the whole of the White Island crater floor.

The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, raised the alert level on White Island from one to two on Nov. 18, noting an increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, the volcanic tremor had increased from weak to moderate strength.

Scott said the alert level was often raised and then later dropped again without any eruption. He said there hadn't been any major incidents with tourists visiting the island in the past, although there had been some close calls.

Scott said it was not for him to say whether the island was safe enough to host tourists immediately before Monday's eruption.

Ardern said the focus remained on the search and rescue mission for now and questions about whether tourists should be visiting would be addressed later.

GeoNet at first raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption. It later dropped the alert level back down to three. Scott said that was because the eruption wasn't sustained beyond the initial blast.

"In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large," said Ken Gledhill from GeoNet. "But if you were close to that, it is not good."

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself.

The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction, according to GeoNet. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.


Traffic jams cripple Paris as pension strikes halt trains

An empty platform is pictured during a railway strike at the Saint Germain au Mont d'Or train station, around Lyon, central France, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

By NADINE ACHOUI-LESAGE and ANGELA CHARLTON

PARIS (AP) — Paris commuters inched to work Monday through massive traffic jams as strikes against retirement plan changes halted trains and subways for a fifth straight day.

French President Emmanuel Macron girded for one of the toughest weeks of his presidency as his government prepares to present a redesign of the convoluted French pension system. He sees melding 42 different retirement plans into one as delivering a more equitable, financially sustainable system. Unions see the move as an attack on the French way of life even though Macron's government is not expected to change the current retirement age of 62.

Citing safety risks, the SNCF national rail network warned travelers to stay home or use "alternative means of locomotion" to get around Monday instead of thronging platforms in hopes of getting the few available trains running.

As a result, the national road authority reported more than 600 kilometers (360 miles) of traffic problems at morning rush hour around the Paris region — up from 150 kilometers (90 miles) on an average day.

The road traffic was worse Monday than when the strike started last week, because many French employees managed to work from home or take a day off then. But that's increasingly difficult as the strike wears on.

Gabriella Micuci from the Paris suburb of Le Bourget walked several kilometers (miles) in cold rain and then squeezed into a packed subway on one of the two automated Metro lines that don't need drivers. Other commuters used shared bikes or electric scooters.

"I left home earlier than usual, I thought I was going to be able to catch an early train but not at all," Micuci told The Associated Press. "It's a real catastrophe, people are becoming even more violent, they are pushing you."

Fortified by the biggest nationwide demonstrations in years when the strike launched last Thursday, unions plan new protests on Tuesday and hope to keep up the pressure on Macron's government to back down on the retirement reform.

Only about a sixth of French trains were running Monday and international train lines also saw disruptions. Union activists also blocked bus depots around Paris, limiting bus routes.

Macron summoned Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and other top officials Sunday night to strategize for a crucial week.

The prime minister will present details of the government's plan on Wednesday, which is expected to encourage people to work longer. Currently some French workers can retire in their 50s.

The reform is central to Macron's vision of transforming the French economy. Government ministers insist the current system is unfair and financially unsustainable, while unions say the reform undercuts worker rights and will force people to work longer for less.

Seeking to head off public anger, Macron asked veteran politician Jean-Paul Delevoye to hold months of meetings with workers, employers and others to come up with recommendations for France's new retirement plan. Delevoye is presenting his conclusions to unions on Monday.


Historical documents show Japan's role in WWII sex slaves

In this Dec. 28, 2017, file photo, a statue representing sex slaves is seen near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

YURI KAGEYAMA

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's army during World War II asked the government to provide one sex slave for every 70 soldiers, according to historical documents reviewed by Kyodo News service that highlight the state role in the so-called "comfort women" system.

The 23 documents were gathered by Japan's Cabinet Secretariat between April 2017 and March 2019, including 13 classified dispatches from the Japanese consulates in China to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo dating back to 1938, according to Kyodo.

The sex slaves issue has been a source of a painful dispute between South Korea and Japan. The women were from Korea, Taiwan and Australia, the Philippines as well as Japan.

In 1993, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, the government spokesman, apologized for the "comfort women" system and acknowledged the Japanese military's involvement in taking women against their will.

The Kyodo reports shows one dispatch from the consul general of Jinan to the foreign minister that said the Japanese invasion had caused a surge in prostitution in the area, with 101 geisha from Japan, 110 comfort women from Japan, and 228 comfort women from Korea.

It says "at least 500 comfort women must be concentrated here by the end of April" for Japanese soldiers.

Presumably, the records imply that the women referred to as "geisha" might have come on their own, as opposed to sex slaves, who were coerced.

Another dispatch from the consul general of Qingdao in Shandong province in China says the Imperial Army asked for one woman to accommodate every 70 soldiers, while the navy had requested 150 more comfort women and geisha, Kyodo said.

The number of sex slaves is not certain, but historians say they numbered in the tens of thousands or more, and their purpose was to prevent the spread of disease and curtail rapes among soldiers.

Japan's colonization and wartime record continue to strain relations with Asian neighbors. The Japanese government says reparations are settled but it has set up funds to support the victims. That has had mixed results with continued demands for a more thorough apology. Lawsuits are ongoing in South Korea.

Some have denied official Japanese involvement, and think the women were prostitutes who came of their own accord.

More recently, the sour relations between Japan and South Korea have affected trade and tourism and set off other controversies, including one earlier this year over the display of a statue depicting a young "comfort woman."


Palestinians in Bethlehem look beyond religious tourism

In this Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, photo, a Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costumes welcomes Christian visitors outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

In this Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, photo, a wooden figure is displayed in the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

In this Friday, March 3, 2017 file photo, People pass by the "The Walled Off Hotel" and the Israeli security barrier the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)

By JOSEPH KRAUSS and MOHAMMAD DARAGHMEH

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — For decades, the people of Bethlehem have watched tour buses drive up to the Church of the Nativity, disgorge their passengers for a few hours at the traditional birthplace of Jesus, and then return to Israel.

But in recent years a new form of tourism has taken root, focused on the West Bank town's Palestinian residents, their culture and history and their struggles under Israeli occupation.

As pilgrims descend on Bethlehem this Christmas, they have the option of staying in restored centuries-old guesthouses, taking food tours of local markets, and perusing the dystopian art in and around a hotel designed by the British graffiti artist Banksy.

The centerpiece of tourism, and the focus of Christmas celebrations in the coming weeks, is the 6th-century Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been born in a manger. Extensive renovations in recent years have saved the roof from collapse and revealed colorful wall mosaics depicting angels and saints.

Earlier this month, the Vatican returned a small part of what Christians believe to be the original manger, which was sent to Rome as a gift to the pope in the 7th century. The thumb-sized relic, displayed in an ornate silver case, can be seen in a chapel adjoining the church.

In Manger Square, just outside the church, a massive Christmas tree has been set up and festivities are planned in the coming weeks as various denominations hold staggered Christmas celebrations. On Jan. 7, Bethlehem will host an international Santa convention.

Tourism has suffered in the past during outbreaks of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. But the Palestinian Tourism Ministry expects 3.5 million visitors to Bethlehem in 2019, up from 3 million the previous year, and many think there is still room for growth.

"The general situation in Palestine and the Holy Land is that there is very good security, better than most countries in the world, and so the people are visiting," said Elias al-Arja, chairman of the local hotel association.

He noted that while the Holy Land includes the most important sites in Christianity, including the places where tradition says Christ was born, where he grew up, was crucified and resurrected, it attracts far fewer visitors than the Vatican. "We have the opportunity to draw more people," he said.

Religious tourism is a boon for the local economy, but many Palestinians feel the city's modern residents are largely ignored.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians view the territories as part of their national homeland and hope to one day establish an independent state.

Visitors travelling to Bethlehem pass through a sprawling Israeli checkpoint and then drive along the separation wall, which Israel began building during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s. Israel says the barrier is needed to prevent attacks, but the Palestinians view it as a land grab because its route places almost 10% of the West Bank on the Israeli side. Bethlehem itself is almost completely surrounded by the barrier and a string of Jewish settlements.

The town's predicament is on vivid display in and around the Walled-Off Hotel, which was designed by Banksy and opened in 2017. The hotel looks out on the separation wall, which itself is covered with artwork, graffiti and museum panels explaining life under occupation. Inside, a number of Banksy pieces are depicted in a haunting lobby, which this time of year is dimly lit with Christmas lights.

The hotel offers weekly performances by local musicians and daily tours of a nearby Palestinian refugee camp. Tours of Banksy's public artwork elsewhere in the town can be organized on request.

A different form of alternative tourism, conceived by Palestinians themselves, can be found in the city center, just a few hundred meters (yards) from the church. There the municipality, with Italian aid, has restored an 18th-century guesthouse and rented it out to Fadi Kattan, a French Palestinian chef.

The Hosh Al-Syrian Guesthouse includes 12 tastefully furnished rooms ranging from $80-150 a night. At its Fawda Restaurant — Arabic for chaos — Kattan uses local ingredients to cook up traditional Palestinian cuisine with a modern twist.

"My vision was to say religious tourism will promote itself by itself, it doesn't need the private sector to promote it," he said. "Let's promote everything else. Let's promote our food, let's promote our culture, let's promote our history."

Kattan is especially keen to promote Palestinian cuisine, which he says has been appropriated by Israeli chefs and food writers. As with nearly everything else having to do with the Middle East conflict, there are two sides: Israeli cuisine owes much to Jewish immigrants from ancient communities across the Middle East and North Africa.

The guesthouse partners with a local group known as Farayek to offer food tours in which visitors wander through the local market, meeting farmers, butchers and bakers before having lunch at the guesthouse. Another program includes cooking classes taught by a Palestinian grandmother.

"What I was hoping to achieve is to have people stay three nights in Bethlehem, to have people go to the fruit and vegetable market, to have people meet the people of Bethlehem, not just the very short tour into the city," he said.

When the guesthouse opened in 2014, the average stay was one night, but now it has risen to three and a half, with steady occupancy throughout the low season, Kattan said.

A handful of other restored guesthouses have also opened in recent years, including Dar al-Majus, Arabic for House of the Maji, named for the three kings said to have visited the manger after Christ was born.

The guesthouse is part of a wider initiative by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and a local association to support the Christian community. Bethlehem's Christian community, like others across the Middle East, has dramatically dwindled in recent decades as Christians have fled war and conflict or sought better economic opportunities abroad.

A local family living next to the guesthouse cooks breakfast and traditional meals for guests, and the guesthouse employs members of another two families. The guesthouse mostly supplies itself from the local market, and there are plans to expand to another restored house in the old quarter next year.

Bethlehem's mayor, Anton Salman, expects the recent growth in tourism to continue.

"Each season is more active and more organized and more attractive for the local community in Palestine and for the tourists," he said.


Devastating factory fire kills at least 43 in New Delhi

A fire engine stands by the site of a fire in an alleyway, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

By SHEIKH SAALIQ and ASHOK SHARMA

NEW DELHI (AP) — A fire believed to be caused by an electrical short circuit engulfed a building in India's capital on Sunday where handbags and other items were made by workers earning as little as 2 dollars per day, killing at least 43 people.

The blaze in New Delhi's Karol Bagh neighborhood, a warren of narrow alleyways with electrical wiring strung helter-skelter, was the second major fire there this year. In February, 17 people were killed in a blaze that started in a six-story building's illegal rooftop kitchen.

Karol Bagh contains the city's largest wholesale market for household goods, known as  Sadar Bazaar. The area's aging buildings are stacked with apartments, shops, storage facilities and manufacturing units.

Assistant New Delhi police commissioner Anil Kumar Mittal said that "the fire appears to have been caused by an electric short circuit," adding that authorities were investigating whether the factory was operating legally. Building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi, making fires common.

The building's owner, Rihan, who goes by one name, was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Mittal said.

Firefighters had to fight the blaze from 100 meters (yards) away because it broke out in one of the area's many alleyways, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access, authorities said.

A resident of the area, Mohammed Naushad, said he was woken by people wailing at around 4:30 a.m. He went outside to find smoke and flames shooting out of a building near Sadar Bazaar. Inside, he found the fourth floor engulfed in flames. One floor below, he saw "20 to 25 people lying on the floor."

"I don't know if they were dead or unconscious, but they were not moving," Naushad said.

He said he carried at least 10 people out of the flames on his shoulders and into the arms of emergency responders.

Maisuma Bibi, a day laborer making plastic handbags, survived the blaze. She said she was sleeping in a room with about 18 other women and children on the building's first floor when she woke to find a bag full of plastic parts on fire. Her brother-in-law carried her to safety, she said.

Outside a mortuary that was guarded by dozens of police officers, some of the workers' relatives said they had received phone calls from the men trapped inside, who begged them to call the fire brigade. Family members identified the dead from photos on police officers' phones.

Many of the men were migrant workers from the impoverished border state of Bihar in eastern India, relatives said. They earned as little as 150 rupees ($2.10) per day making handbags, caps and other garments, sleeping at the factory between long shifts.

Many of the victims were asleep when the blaze began, according to Yogesh, a police spokesman who uses one name.

Dr. Kishore Singh said rescuers brought victims to his government-run hospital and two others in the city. Another 16 people were being treated for burns or smoke inhalation and were in stable condition, Singh said.

Police barred relatives from entering Lok Nayak hospital, where some of the victims were taken. Relatives of the workers cried, consoled one another and jostled for information.

"I was told by someone my nephew is inside, but I haven't seen him," said Mohammad Moti, who was searching for his 22-year-old nephew, Mohammad Chedi.

Fire Services chief Atul Garg said it took 25 fire trucks to put out the blaze. About 60 people, including some of the dead, were taken out of the building, said Mittal, the assistant police commissioner.

New Delhi's chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, appeared at the scene of the fire, promising victims' families compensation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the fire as "extremely horrific."

"My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery," Modi tweeted.


Hong Kong protests mark 6-month mark with massive rally

Pro-democracy protesters carry countries' flags as they march on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

By JOHN LEICESTERER

HONG KONG (AP) — Almost hidden among the throngs of demonstrators who marched in Hong Kong on Sunday was one woman who crawled, literally on hands and knees on the rough road surface — an apt metaphor for the arduous path traveled by Hong Kong's protest movement in the past six months.

Dragging bricks and empty soda cans on pieces of string behind her, the young woman elicited shouts of encouragement from fellow protesters. "Go for it!" they yelled.

"Her performance art is about the difficulty, or the repetitiveness, of demonstrations," said one of her friends, who walked alongside and identified herself by her surname, Chan. "This is really a long-term struggle."

And one that shows few, if any, signs of flagging.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators crammed into Hong Kong's streets, their chants echoing off high-rises, in a mass show of support for the protest movement entering its seventh month.

Chanting "Fight for freedom" and "Stand with Hong Kong," the sea of protesters formed a huge human snake winding for blocks on Hong Kong Island, from the Causeway Bay shopping district to the Central business zone, a distance of more than 2 kilometers (1 1/4 miles). It was one of the biggest rallies in months, and remarkably peaceful.

Crowds were so large and dense that the march ground to a standstill at times. Protesters spilled into narrow side streets, crying "Revolution in our times." Organizers said 800,000 people participated, while police had no immediate estimate.

The demonstrator who crawled part of the route wouldn't give her name. But her protest turned heads, gave pause for thought and raised the question: How much longer can Hong Kong keep up its push to preserve its freedoms that make it unique among China's cities?

She offered this cryptic response.

"We have too much burden, but perhaps we have enough hope to make us go further," she said.

Many marchers held up five fingers to press the movement's five demands. They include democratic elections for Hong Kong's leader and legislature and a demand for a probe of police behavior during the months of sustained protests.

Marchers said they hoped the huge turnout might help win concessions from the government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Protesters spanned generations. One man's young son marched in his Spiderman suit.

"So many people are still supporting this movement. You can see how determined Hong Kong people are," said demonstrator Justin Ng, a 20-year-old student.

"I heard a small kid yelling slogans — 4, 5 years old," Ng said. "That really encouraged me because it's not just this generation but future generations, too."

Marchers said protesting has become part of the fabric of their lives since mass demonstrations erupted in June against a now-withdrawn government measure that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China.

The protests have since snowballed into a broad anti-government campaign, presenting the communist leadership in Beijing with a major headache and battering Hong Kong's economy.

Police in riot gear deployed in numbers on the edges of the march. Earlier in the day, they arrested 11 people and seized a cache of weapons, including a firearm with more than 100 bullets. Police said the suspects apparently planned to use the weapons during the protest to frame police, who have been accused of using excessive force against the protesters.

Violence was limited, with a bank vandalized and police reporting that gasoline bombs were thrown outside Hong Kong's High Court.

Rally organizer Eric Lai had called for police restraint and for no use of tear gas.

"We hope this will be a signature for our movement after six months to show to Carrie Lam as well as to the world that people are not giving up. People will still fight for our freedom and democracy," Lai said.

Authorities, who have liberally used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at previous demonstrations, say force has been necessary to disperse hard-core protesters who have battled riot officers, vandalized shops and thrown gasoline bombs. Police banned mass marches as protests turned increasingly violent, but relented and allowed Sunday's march after a few weeks of relative peace.

The rally was called by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has organized some of the biggest demonstrations since hundreds of thousands of protesters first marched on June 9 against the extradition bill.

Chief among the protesters' complaints Sunday was that police have been overly heavy-handed, making thousands of arrests since June.

"They are out of control," said Ernest Yau, a 28-year-old consultant. He said the movement has brought Hong Kong together.

"We understand our common enemy," he said. "We understand that we have to be united to fight against China, to fight against a government that doesn't listen to its people."


St. Nicholas and devils parade in Czech villages

Revelers depicting devil and a grim reaper brave a snow storm during a traditional St Nicholas procession in the village of Valasska Polanka, Czech Republic, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Revelers depicting grim reapers and devils pose for a photo during a traditional St Nicholas procession in the village of Valasska Polanka, Czech Republic, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

VALASSKA POLANKA, Czech Republic (AP) — Dozens of people in grim reaper and devil costumes accompany St. Nicholas on his journey through the village of Valasska Polanka in this eastern corner of the Czech Republic.

It's an old pre-Christmas tradition that has been surviving for centuries in a few villages in the Wallachia region.

The whole group parades together from door to door for the weekend. St. Nicholas presents the children with sweets to soothe them after they see the scary costumes. The devils wear homemade masks of sheepskin and travel with white creatures representing death who carry scythes.

The custom reportedly dates from the pagan era before Christianity, when the masks helped the people of mountainous region defend themselves against the demons of winter.

St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop in the ancient town of Myra who lived in the third and fourth centuries and was known for his goodness and generosity. He is said to have inspired the creation of Santa Claus.


Protests subside, but economic aftershocks rattle Haitians

In this Dec. 4, 2019 photo, street vendors sell their produce in Petion-Ville, Haiti. A growing number of families across Haiti can't afford to buy food since protests began in Sept., with barricades preventing the flow of goods between the capital and the rest of the country. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

By EVENS SANON and DANICA COTO Associated Press

Port-au-Prince (AP) — The flaming barricades are mostly gone, protesters have largely dissipated and traffic is once again clogging the streets of Haiti's capital, but hundreds of thousands of people are now suffering deep economic aftershocks after more than two months of demonstrations.

The protests that drew tens of thousands of people at a time to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Mo´se also squeezed incomes, shuttered businesses and disrupted the transportation of basic goods.

"We are nearing a total crash," Haitian economist Camille Chalmers said. "The situation is unsustainable."

Haiti's economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Mo´se insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti's currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day. y.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The 39-year-old father of three children said he now struggles to buy milk and vegetables.

"I feed the kids, but they're not eating the way they're supposed to," he said, adding that he has drained the funds set aside for his children's schooling to buy food.

A growing number of families across Haiti can't even afford to do that since the protests began, with barricades preventing the flow of goods between the capital and the rest of the country.

Many of those live in Haiti's rural areas, which also have been hardest hit by demonstrations that continue in some cities and towns.

Wadlande Pierre, 23, said she temporarily moved in with her aunt in the southwest town of Les Cayes to escape the violent protests in Port-au-Prince. However, she had to move back to the capital because there was not gas, power or water in Les Cayes, and food was becoming scarce.

"There is no access to basic items that you need," she said. d.

Pierre is now helping her mother, Vanlancia Julien, sell fruits and vegetables on a sidewalk in the neighborhood of Delmas in the capital.

Julien said she recently lost a couple hundred dollars' worth of produce because she could not go out on the street to sell due to the protests.

"All the melon, avocado, mango, pineapple, bananas, all of them spoiled," she said. d.

Last year, sales were good, but she is now making a third of what she used to earn before the protests began, even though streets have reopened.

"That doesn't amount to anything," she said. "The fact that people don't go out to work, it's less people moving around and makes it harder for me."

That also means businesses like the small restaurant that 43-year-old Widler Saint-Jean Santil owns often remain empty when they used to be full on a regular afternoon.

He said the protests have forced many business owners to lay off people, which in turn affects him because clients can no longer afford to eat out. t.

"If people are not working, there is no business," he said.

Among the businesses that permanently closed was the Best Western Premier hotel, which laid off dozens of employees.

Chalmers warned that economic recovery will be slow if the political instability continues, adding that the situation is the worst Haiti has faced in recent history.

"A lot of crises came together," he said. "Not only the economic one, but the political and fiscal ones."


US House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: 'Don't mess with me'

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds forcefully to a question from a reporter who asked if she hated President Trump, after announcing earlier that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By LAURIE KELLMAN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Finger pointing and voice hoarse, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday delivered a broadside to a reporter that might well apply to all of impeachment-era Washington: "Don't mess with me."

It was a warning scarcely needed among the official set, least of all by President Donald Trump as he fights Pelosi and the Democrats in their drive to impeach him. Only a few hours earlier, Pelosi had instructed the Judiciary Committee to write articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and resisting Congress' probe.

The House speaker insisted she brought impeachment proceedings  because Trump's conduct and the Constitution left the House no choice.ce.

"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," Pelosi said from the speaker's office at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."

But as the California Democrat began exiting a news conference two hours later, James Rosen, a reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group, asked, "Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?"

What followed was a remarkable display from the famously poised Pelosi.

She stopped near the edge of the podium, jabbed a finger and said tersely: "I don't hate anybody."

Pelosi went on to call Trump a "coward" on gun policy, "cruel" on immigration and "in denial" on climate change.

"This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president's violation of the oath of office. And as a Catholic I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me.''

Trump tweeted that Pelosi "just had a nervous fit."

"She says she 'prays for the President.' I don't believe her, not even close," he added.

Pelosi, a native of Baltimore, often speaks of her faith as a guide to matters ranging from legislation to life in general. Catholic catechism states that "deliberate hatred is contrary to charity" and urges believers to pray for those who hold animosity toward them, a teaching that Pelosi has invoked by saying that she prays for Trump.

It's not the first time she's confronted the challenging interplay between politics and her faith. In 2009, during her previous stint as House speaker, Pelosi, who supports abortion rights, met with Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, for a conversation that the Vatican later said touched on "protecting human life at all stages of its development."

On Thursday, she returned to the podium after the reporter's question about "hate," and finished by pointing a thumb toward herself.

"Don't mess with me when it comes to words like that."

Moments later, Trump and House Republicans lashed out in heated personal tones.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, "Pelosi and the Democrats are clearly are blinded by their hate for the President."

Pelosi has generally dominated confrontations with Trump all year in her second turn as House speaker, second in line to the presidency.

In January, she forced Trump to re-open the government without the border wall he was demanding. She allowed him into the House chamber to deliver the traditional State of the Union speech, but stole that show by clapping sideways and smirking at Trump from her seat above and behind him.

Trump knows her finger-pointing well. Most recently, during a White House meeting, she stood, pointed at him and said, "all roads lead to Putin," Russia's president — and walked out.


OPEC talks end without announcement of expected cuts

General view of a meeting of oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

By KIYOKO METZLER and DAVID McHUGH

VIENNA (AP) — The countries that make up the OPEC oil-producing cartel ended talks late Thursday without an announcement on possible deep cuts to production that would support the price of fuel around the world.

An OPEC spokesman told waiting journalists at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) that an expected news conference would not take place and that a written statement might come later. Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, and other officials then left the meeting without announcing any deal.

OPEC's members have been expected to prolong production cuts that they agreed on for the past three years, while Russia's energy minister said that even deeper cuts were under discussion. The price of crude has been held down in recent years by a resurgence in supplies from countries outside OPEC, particularly the United States.es.

As it stands, OPEC nations have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day through March. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, whose country is not part of OPEC but joins part of the meeting to coordinate production, said Thursday that the group was discussing a further cut of 500,000 barrels a day "in order to safely go through the seasonal demand trough in the first quarter 2020."

OPEC officials were to broaden discussions to include non-OPEC members on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is bearing the burden of the largest share of OPEC's production cuts. But some member countries such as Iraq have been breaching the agreement and producing more than their allotted amount.

Analysts note that if countries are already not complying with the current agreement, voting for more cuts could be pointless.

"I think the Saudi position is they're willing to cut more if needed, but they want better compliance," said Bhushan Bahree, executive director of global oil at research group IHS Markit.

Brent crude oil hovered near $63 per barrel Thursday. Prices have fluctuated throughout the year, reaching nearly $75 in April after U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela limited world supply, but lingering trade tensions between the U.S. and China dampened economic expectations pushed prices back down.wn.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark crude, was trading above $58.

Russia has indicated it wants its oil production re-calculated to exclude gas condensate, a liquid byproduct of natural gas production. Condensate is counted against production totals for non-OPEC members but not for members.

Even if members of the cartel cut production, there is more oil coming to market from non-OPEC nations, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, which will more than make up for any drop in production, according to IHS Markit.


Putin offers US an immediate extension to key nuclear pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the International Volunteer Forum at the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, Dec. 5, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Thursday to immediately extend the only remaining nuclear arms reduction pact with the United States, but a senior U.S. official said Washington wants a broader deal involving China.

Speaking at a meeting with military officials, Putin said that Russia has repeatedly offered the U.S. to extend the New START treaty that expires in 2021 but that it hasn't heard back.

"Russia is ready to extend the New START treaty immediately, before the year's end and without any preconditions," he said.

The pact, which was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. The treaty, which can be extended by another five years, envisages a comprehensive verification mechanism to check compliance, including on-site inspections of each side's nuclear bases.

Its expiration would remove any limits on Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals for the first time in decades.es.

Arms control advocates have argued that the failure to extend the pact would be highly destabilizing at a time when Russia-U.S. relations have sunk to the lowest levels since the Cold War.

Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly voiced concern about Washington's reluctance to discuss the treaty's extension.

"Our proposals have been on the table, but we have got no response from our partners," Putin said.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official suggested the Trump administration is not interested in an immediate extension and sees no rush anyway as New Start doesn't expire until Feb. 2021.

John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told a Senate committee that the administration's main priority is getting Russia and China to agree to begin negotiations on a broader arms treaty to supplant New START.

"If the United States were to agree to extend the treaty now, I think it would make it less likely that we would have the ability to persuade Russia and China to enter negotiations on a broader agreement," Rood said.

In an apparent bid to encourage the U.S. to extend the treaty, the Russian military last month showed its latest hypersonic weapon to U.S. inspectors. The Defense Ministry underlined that it demonstrated the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle as part of transparency measures under the New START.

Putin unveiled the Avangard in 2018 along with other prospective weapons, noting that its ability to make sharp maneuvers on its way to a target will render missile defense useless.

New START is the only remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty after both Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty earlier this year.

The U.S. said it pulled out because of Russian violations, a claim the Kremlin has denied.

Putin reaffirmed Russia's pledge not to deploy missiles banned by the INF treaty until the U.S. and its allies do so.

"Russia isn't interested in unleashing a new arms race," he said.


Democrats say Trump impeachment charges must come swiftly

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes a statement at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Pelosi announced that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON (AP) P) — House Democrats moved aggressively to draw up formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he "leaves us no choice" but to act swiftly because he's likely to corrupt the system again unless removed before next year's election.

A strictly partisan effort at this point, derided immediately by Trump and other leading Republicans as a sham and a hoax, it is a politically risky undertaking. Democrats say it is their duty, in the aftermath of the Ukraine probe,  while Republicans say it will drive Pelosi's majority from office.

Congress must act, Pelosi said. "The democracy is what is at stake."

"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," she said in a somber address at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. He tweeted that the Democrats "have gone crazy."

At the core of the impeachment probe is a July phone call with the president of Ukraine, in which Trump pressed the leader to announce investigations of Democrats, including political rival Joe Biden, at the same time the White House was withholding military aid from an ally bordering an aggressive Russia.

Drafting articles of impeachment is a milestone moment, only the fourth time in U.S. history Congress has tried to remove a president, and it intensifies the rigid and polarizing partisanship of the Trump era that is consuming Washington and dividing the nation.on.

The speaker delivered her historic announcement in solemn tones at the Capitol, drawing on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in forcefully claiming Congress' oversight of the president in the nation's system of checks and balances. Democrats are already beginning to prepare the formal charges, pushing toward House votes, possibly before Christmas.

"Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said.

Seemingly eager to fight, Trump tweeted that if Democrats "are going to impeach me, do it now, fast." Though he has fought the House investigation, trying to bar current and former officials from testifying, he said he now wants to move on to a "fair trial" in the Senate.

Approval of articles of impeachment is considered likely in the Democratic-majority House. Conviction in a following trial in the Republican-dominated Senate seems very unlikely.

Once reluctant to pursue impeachment, warning it was too divisive for the country and needed to be bipartisan, Pelosi is now leading Congress into politically uncertain terrain for all sides just ahead of the election year.

Republican are standing lockstep with Trump, unswayed by arguments that his actions amount to wrongdoing, let alone impeachable offenses. That is leaving Democrats to go it alone in a campaign to consider removing the 45th president from office.

Pelosi emphasized the Russia connection, from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into 2016 election interference to the president's phone call this summer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that set off alarms in Washington.

Russia and President Vladimir Putin benefited most from Trump's actions toward Ukraine, she said.

"All roads lead to Putin. Understand that," she declared at a news conference. "That was the a-ha moment."

She spoke solemnly and calmly, but that changed when she was asked as she was leaving if she hates Trump.mp.

Pelosi stiffened, returned to the podium and responded sharply that the president's views and politics are for the voters to judge at elections but impeachment "is about the Constitution." She said that as a Catholic, she does not hate the president but rather is praying for him daily.

Trump quickly tweeted back that he didn't believe her.

Trump's allies argue that voters, not lawmakers, should decide the president's future. But Democrats say the nation cannot wait for the 2020 election, alleging Trump's past efforts to have foreign countries intervene in the presidential campaign are forcing them to act to prevent him from doing it again. Pelosi said the still-anonymous whistleblower's complaint about Trump's Ukraine call changed the dynamic, creating the urgency to act.

The number of articles and the allegations they will include will be both a legal and political exercise for the House committee chairmen, who will be meeting privately. They must balance electoral dynamics while striving to hit the Constitution's bar of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Pulling from the House's 300-page investigation of the Ukraine matter, Democrats are focusing on at least three areas — abuse of power, bribery and obstruction — that could result in two to five articles, they say.

They argue that Trump abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests; engaging in bribery by holding out $400 million in military aid that  Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

Some liberal Democrats want to reach further into Trump's actions, particularly regarding the findings from special counsel Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. That could produce an additional article of obstruction not only of Congress, but also of justice.

But more centrist and moderate Democrats, those lawmakers who are most at risk of political fallout from the impeachment proceedings, prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans can more easily understand.

The GOP Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, said Pelosi is more concerned about tearing the president down than building the country up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for focusing on impeachment over other issues, though many House-passed bills are waiting for action in his chamber. "It's all impeachment, all the time," he said.

At the White House, press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that Pelosi and the Democrats "should be ashamed."

House members are preparing to vote on the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, possibly as soon as next week. The committee set a Monday hearing to receive the Intelligence Committee's report outlining the findings against the president.

The House is expecting a full vote by Christmas. The would send the issue to the Senate for a trial in the new year.


Trump calls Trudeau '2-faced' after palace gossip goes viral

In this grab taken from video on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, France's President Emmanuel Macro, centre right, gestures as he speaks during a NATO reception. (Host Broadcaster via AP)

By JILL LAWLESS

WATFORD, England (AP) — NATO leaders professed unity on Wednesday at a summit near London — but a spat over off-the-cuff chit chat at a royal reception rattled their show of solidarity.

U.S. President Donald Trump branded the leader of America's northern neighbor "two-faced" after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to gossip about Trump in comments caught on camera and microphone.

Trudeau was seen standing in a huddle with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain's Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II at Tuesday evening's Buckingham Palace reception for NATO leaders.

After Johnson asked Macron, "is that why you were late?" Trudeau could be heard saying "he was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top." Trudeau confirmed that was a reference to Trump's long and unscheduled question-and-answer session with journalists earlier Tuesday.

Trudeau also said: "You just watched his team's jaws drop to the floor." He explained Wednesday that was in reference to Trump's decision to hold the next Group of Seven meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Footage of the palace reception was recorded by a pool camera. The clip was posted online by Canadian broadcaster CBC and has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Speaking Wednesday at the summit venue in Watford, outside London, Trump said Trudeau was likely upset that the U.S. president had broached the fact that Canada falls short of the NATO target of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.

"Well he's two-faced," Trump told reporters. "And honestly, with Trudeau he's a nice guy, I find him to be a very nice guy but you know the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he's not paying 2% and I guess he's not very happy about it."

Trudeau had a quiet word and a handshake with Trump as he arrived at the summit Wednesday, and later tried to shrug off the episode.

"As you all know, we have a very good and constructive relationship between me and the president," Trudeau told reporters at a news conference.

Asked if the incident had given him pause for thought, Trudeau said that ensuring the focus of attention remained on matters of substance "is something that we're all going to try to do a little harder."

Johnson, meanwhile, professed ignorance when asked by reporters about the conversation.

"That's complete nonsense," he said, adding: "I really don't know what is being referred to there."

Leaders of the 29 NATO states met to mark the 70th anniversary of the military alliance — and trying to patch up differences over defense spending, the alliance's strategic direction and member nation Turkey's military action in northern Syria.

The two-day gathering ended with a show of unity, as the leaders declared their commitment to the alliance's principle of collective defense, saying in their final declaration that "an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all."


French trains stop as mass strike begins over pensions

In this May 14, 2018 file photo, a striking rail worker walks on the tracks of the Saint-Charles train station, in Marseille, southern France. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

By ANGELA CHARLTON and ALEX TURNBULL

PARIS (AP) — French trains rolled to a halt Wednesday evening, kicking off massive nationwide strikes and protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the retirement system, seen as an untouchable symbol of the French way of life.

Tourists canceled travel plans and Paris deployed thousands of police to cope with what was expected to be a challenging day Thursday.

The walkout was expected to hit transportation the hardest, as flights, trains and buses canceled service and most of the Paris subway system came to a halt. Workers at the national railway SNCF stopped work Wednesday evening, while other services planned to shut down Thursday morning for an indefinite period.

In Paris, where workers' unions were planning a big march Thursday, police warned of possible violence and damages and ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants along the protest route to close. Authorities also issued a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees avenue, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement said that 6,000 police officers would fan out around the city, notably amid fears that protest groups and extremist troublemakers could join the action.

The Eiffel Tower warned tourists to delay a visit to the iconic monument because the strike would disrupt access on Thursday.

The Louvre Museum said its opening Thursday could be delayed, and some viewing rooms may be closed.

Hotels across Paris reported receiving numerous cancellations ahead of the strike, as wary tourists eyed closing transportation routes and decided to skip their Paris vacations.

The SNCF railway expected nine out of 10 high-speed trains to be canceled. International train lines were expected to be affected, too. No tickets were available on Eurostar trains across the English Channel until Tuesday.

Air France said about 30% of its domestic flights would be canceled.

The government said 55% of teachers would be on strike Thursday, and hospitals also would be affected.

Workers are angry at Macron's plan to streamline the country's 42 state pension systems, fearing they will have to work longer and earn less upon retirement.

For Amina Hamade, 17, who lives in the Paris suburb of Poissy and takes the train to her high school in the nearby town of Les Mureaux, the strike provides a good excuse to skip school Thursday and Friday.

Tarik Slimani, a butcher in Les Mureaux, sees the strike as a political stunt that will hurt the economy. Everyone who relies on public transportation to get to work will pay the price, he said.

At Montparnasse train station, Samira Quasan, a 28-year-old tourist from Chicago, described moving around her travel plans to and from Bordeaux because of the strike. Parisian Marie Boudal had to do the same for her grandchild's baptism in Lyon.

Some travelers complained about the disruptions, while some showed support for the striking workers.

"They really are attacking something that was one of the few remaining things that we had" — the pension system, said Sylviane Charles, a 57-year-old school principal whose school was slated to close Thursday. "And so you end up with widespread despair."


Kim again rides horse up sacred peak as N. Korea raps Trump

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

By HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rode a white horse up a sacred mountain in his second symbolic visit in less than two months, state media reported Wednesday, as his military chief lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump for talking about a possible military option against the North.

Mount Paektu and white horses are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule. Kim has made previous visits there before making major decisions.

The comments by his military chief are the latest sign that prospects for a resumption of nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. are unclear. North Korea has threatened more provocation if the United States fails to meet a year-end deadline set by Kim for it to make a proposal to salvage the negotiations.

On Wednesday night, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the (North) Korean People's Army, issued a statement berating Trump for suggesting that the U.S. could use military force against North Korea if diplomacy fails and warned that any attack would cause a "horrible" consequence for the Americans.

"One thing I would like to make clear is that the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only," Park said.

He said Kim was also "displeased to hear" about Trump's comments.

Speaking in London where he was attending a NATO summit, Trump on Tuesday said his relationship with Kim was "really good" but also called for him to follow up on a commitment to denuclearize. Trump added, "We have the most powerful military we ever had, and we are by far the most powerful country in the world and hopefully we don't have to use it. But if we do, we will use it."

Trump has previously threatened to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea and derided Kim as "little rocket man" when he carried out a series of weapons tests in 2017 aimed at building nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. But his comment Tuesday on the possible use of military force enraged North Korea because he hasn't recently used such threats and instead has bestowed Kim with praise. In September last year, Trump called Kim "very open" and "terrific" and said he and Kim "fell in love."

In London, Trump also said Kim "likes sending rockets up, doesn't he?" He added that "That's why I call him rocket man."

North Korea didn't immediately respond to Trump's "rocket man" comment. Kim previously called Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

Earlier Wednesday, the North's state media released many photos showing Kim riding a horse to snow-covered Mount Paektu along with his wife and other top lieutenants, all on white horses. Kim last climbed the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, on horseback in mid-October.

"The imperialists and class enemies make a more frantic attempt to undermine the ideological, revolutionary and class positions of our party," Kim said in an apparent reference to the U.S. and South Korea. "We should always live and work in the offensive spirit of Paektu."

The nuclear negotiations have remained stalled for months, with North Korea trying to win major sanctions relief and outside security assurances in return for partial denuclearization. Kim and Trump have met three times.

The North's Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday it's entirely up to the United States to choose what "Christmas gift" it gets from the North. North Korean officials have previously said whether North Korea lifts its moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests depends on what actions the U.S. takes.

Last week, North Korea test-fired projectiles from what it called a "super-large" multiple rocket launcher that South Korea's military said landed in the waters off the Norths' east coast.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday the ruling Workers' Party will hold a central committee meeting in late December to discuss unspecified "crucial issues" in line with "the changed situation at home and abroad." The specific agenda was unclear.

On Monday, Kim visited Samjiyon county at the foot of Mount Paektu to attend a ceremony marking the completion of work that has transformed the town to "an epitome of modern civilization," KCNA said. It said the town has a museum on the Kim family, a ski slope, cultural centers, a school, a hospital and factories.

Samjiyon was one of the main construction projects that Kim launched in an effort to improve his people's livelihoods and strengthen his rule at home. The construction spree has also been seen as a demonstration of his power in the face of international sanctions designed to squeeze his economy and get him to give up his nuclear program.


Albania PM optimistic of world support on quake recovery

In this Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019 photo, a wall clock that was stoped working during the time of the deadly earthquake that struck in Albania early Tuesday, is seen inside a damaged building in the city of Durres.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister said Wednesday he was pleased with the international support he secured at a NATO summit on dealing with the aftermath of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed 51 people and injured more than 3,000 others.

Edi Rama said before leaving the NATO summit in London that he had positive meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders from Europe and Canada and that he received a positive reaction to his aspiration to hold an international donors' conference.

The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating international efforts, including those from the United States, to assist Albania after the earthquake that affected more than half of the country's 2.8 million population.

Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, said in a tweet that the EU's executive branch has pledged 15 million euros to Albania and that it will help organize a donors' conference.

The Nov. 26 quake damaged more than 11,000 buildings and left an estimated 12,000 people homeless who are now sheltering in hotels, public buildings, tents, with relatives and in neighboring Kosovo.

The worst-hit areas were Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians, 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana, and the nearby northern town of Thumane. Many schools still remain closed.


Tesla CEO Musk facing defamation trial for 'pedo guy' tweet

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

British cave expert Vernon Unsworth talks with guests at an event titled the "United as One" in Bangkok, Thailand Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

By BRIAN MELLEY

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Elon Musk is going on trial Tuesday for his troublesome tweets in a defamation case pitting the billionaire against a British diver he allegedly branded a pedophile.

The Tesla CEO will be called to testify early in the case in Los Angeles federal court to explain what he meant when he called Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped underwater in a Thailand cave, "pedo guy" in a Twitter spat more than year ago.

Musk later apologized for lashing out at Unsworth on Twitter after the diver belittled Musk's efforts to build a tiny submarine to save the trapped boys as a "PR stunt." The tweet, widely interpreted as a reference to a pedophile, was removed by Musk, who disputed that's what he meant.

"'Pedo guy' was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up," Musk said in a court declaration. "It is synonymous with 'creepy old man' and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanor."

Unsworth's lawyers have laughed off that explanation and said his claim was undercut by a subsequent tweet when he said, "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true" in response to a question about whether he had accused Unsworth of being a pedophile.

The lawyers also said he hired private investigators to dig up evidence Unsworth was a child molester, which they never found, according to Unsworth's lawyers.

The lawsuit is not the first time Musk's tweets have landed him in hot water.

Musk and Tesla reached a $40 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year on allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric car maker. He agreed in the settlement to have future tweets about the company screened.

He was forced back into court on accusations he violated that agreement by tweeting a misleading figure about how many cars Tesla would manufacture this year. The SEC sought to hold him in contempt of court, which led to a new agreement imposing tighter controls on Musk's tweets about the company.

The cave drama played out for more than two weeks in the summer of 2018 when the 12 boys — ages 11-16 — and their soccer coach were trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand.

Musk and engineers from his SpaceX rocket company custom built a mini-submarine to help with the rescue. The device was heavily publicized but never used.

Unsworth, a diver and caving expert whose advice was considered crucial in the rescue operation, said the sub would never have fit in the cave's tight spaces. He told CNN that Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts."

Musk responded two days later with his series of tweets.

Musk claims he wasn't making a factual statement and no one reading his tweet would take it seriously and interpret it as defamatory.

Despite removing the tweets, he later suggested in emails to the news website BuzzFeed that Unsworth was a "child rapist" and had moved to northern Thailand to take "a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time." He provided no evidence.

Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress. The defense has resisted efforts to turn over financial records to show Musk's wealth but has stipulated his net worth exceeds $20 billion.


Powerful typhoon leaves at least 4 dead in Philippines

Vehicles pass by toppled electrical poles as Typhoon Kammuri slammed Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

Police inspect a truck that was damaged as Typhoon Kammuri slammed Legazpi city, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

By JIM GOMEZ

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Typhoon Kammuri barreled across the Philippines with fierce winds and rain Tuesday, leaving at least four people dead, forcing hundreds of thousands of villagers to abandon high-risk communities and prompting officials to shut Manila's international airport.

Kammuri toppled trees and electrical posts, ripped off tin roofs and battered a provincial airport as it blew across island provinces in the southern fringes of the main northern Luzon island before blowing into the South China Sea. It weakened but remained dangerous with maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 200 kph (124 mph) as it exited, forecasters said.

At least four people died and several others were reported injured, with officials attributing the low casualty figure to the early evacuation of hundreds of thousands of villagers from villages prone to high waves, flash floods and landslides.

A villager was electrocuted while fixing the battered roof of his house in Libmanan town in Camarines Sur province in the hard-hit Bicol region, regional disaster response officer Claudio Yucot said. In Oriental Mindoro, one of the last provinces to be lashed by the typhoon, a man died after being pinned by a fallen tree and another perished after being hit by a tin roof, Gov. Humerlito Dolor said.

A construction worker on his way home on a motorcycle was hit by a falling tree and died in the port city of Ormoc in Leyte province, police said.

"There could have been more if we did not do pre-emptive evacuations," Dolor told reporters.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year and has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making the archipelago of more than 100 million people one of the world's most disaster-prone nations.

Evacuating entire villages and communities and providing supplies to huge numbers of residents camped in schools and government buildings used as emergency shelters is common during typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, largely because many mostly poor communities are in disaster-prone areas.

Kammuri's pounding rain and wind damaged the airport in Legazpi city in Albay province, collapsing a portion of its ceiling, scattering chairs in the arrival and departure areas and shattering glass panes. A truck turned on its side after being buffeted by strong winds in the city, near Mount Mayon, one of the country's most active volcanos.

Albay is one of several provinces in the Bicol region which lost post power due to toppled posts and downed transmission lines. Nearly 2 million people were affected by the power outages, officials said.

In Manila, officials shut the international airport for seven hours starting before noon Tuesday as the typhoon roared through provinces south of the capital. More than 400 domestic and international flights were canceled due to the airport closure, airport manager Ed Monreal said.

Authorities moved thousands of Boy Scouts attending a jamboree in the mountainous town of Botolan in the northwestern province of Zambales.

The Philippines postponed several competitions in the Southeast Asian Games, which it is hosting, because of the stormy weather, including wind surfing, polo and tennis matches in Manila and outlying provinces. Organizers said other events would be delayed if needed for safety but there was no plan to extend the 11-day games which opened Saturday.

The coast guard suspended sea travel in the northeast, stranding more than 7,000 travelers along with thousands of cargo ships and smaller watercraft in the archipelago nation.


UK politicians hold breath as Trump arrives mid-campaign

Home Secretary Priti Patel, center left, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and MP Will Quince pose holding a sign before a rally event as part of the General Election campaign, in Colchester, England, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (Hannah McKay/Pool Photo via AP)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks outside Birkbeck/SOAS University of London, as he announces his party's plan for the extension of workers' rights, whilst on the General Election campaign trail, in London, Tuesday, Dec.3, 2019. Britain goes to the polls on Dec. 12. (David Mirzoeff/PA via AP)

By JILL LAWLESS

LONDON (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump says he doesn't want to interfere in Britain's election campaign. But his presence in London nine days before the Dec. 12 vote is a complication for Prime Minister Boris Johnson — and ammunition for Johnson's opponents.

Trump, who is attending a meeting of NATO leaders, said Tuesday he'd "stay out of the election."

"I don't want to complicate it," he said.

Too late. Britain's opposition parties are relishing the visit by Trump, who is widely unpopular in the U.K., and whose statements of support for Johnson and Britain's departure from the European Union are seen as more harmful than helpful.

Trump repeated his support for Brexit and for Johnson on Tuesday.

"I think Boris is very capable and I think he'll do a good job," he said.

The main opposition Labour Party seized on Trump's two-day visit to renew allegations that a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal could damage the U.K.'s state-funded National Health Service.

Labour is campaigning heavily on the claim that the overstretched but treasured NHS is not safe in Conservative hands.

Johnson has called that allegation "nonsense."

"This is pure Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle stuff," he said Tuesday.

But Labour says the U.S. could try to demand during trade talks that Britain pay American pharma firms more for drugs. It could also push for extended patents that would prevent Britons buying cheaper generic versions of U.S.-patented drugs — something that happened in talks on a U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.

Documents from preliminary talks between U.S. and U.K. negotiators over two years from July 2017 — obtained and released by Labour last week — mention that "patent issues" around "NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration" in talks.

Trump said Tuesday that the United States had no interest in the NHS.

"We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn't want to. If you handed it to us on a silver platter, we want nothing to do with it," he told reporters as he met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Trump has sent mixed messages on the issue, however. In June, he said "everything" — including the NHS — would be "on the table" in future trade negotiations.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in next week's election. Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated with the EU.

Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remain part of the EU's single market, and bound by the bloc's rules, until the end of 2020.

Polls suggest Johnson's Tories have a lead over the Labour opposition, and Corbyn is trying to close the gap by focusing on domestic issues such as education and health care, which have been stretched by years of public spending cuts by the Conservative government.

Johnson says Corbyn, a socialist who has often criticized NATO and Western military intervention, would endanger Britain's national security if he became prime minister. He told The Sun newspaper that Britain's allies "are very anxious" about the prospect of a Corbyn government.

Asked Tuesday about Corbyn, Trump said: "I know nothing about the gentleman."

"I can work with anybody, I'm a very easy person to work with," he added.

The Conservatives have sought to avoid any slip-ups that could cost the party its poll lead. Opponents have accused Johnson of running scared of scrutiny after he declined to take part in a televised debate on climate change with other party leaders last week and refused to commit to a one-on-one TV interview.

The Conservatives complained to Britain's broadcasting regulator after Channel 4 put an Earth-shaped ice sculpture on a podium in Johnson's place during the climate debate.

Regulator Ofcom rejected the complaint Tuesday, saying Conservative views had been adequately represented.

"This program, including the use of the ice sculpture, did not raise issues warranting further investigation under our due impartiality and elections rules," it said.


Greta Thunberg says voyage 'energized' her climate fight

 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg waves as she arrives in Lisbon aboard the sailboat La Vagabonde Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

By BARRY HATTON and FRANK JORDANS

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Portugal on Tuesday after a three-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, telling cheering supporters that the journey had "energized" her for the fight against climate change.

The Swedish teen, whose one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament helped inspired a global youth movement, sailed into the port of Lisbon after making a last-minute dash back from the United States to attend this year's U.N. climate conference.

Thunberg has been steadfast in her refusal to fly because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by planes, a stance that put her planned appearance at the meeting in doubt when the venue was moved from Chile to Spain a month ago.

"We've all been on quite an adventure," Thunberg told reporters shortly after stepping off the catamaran La Vagabonde, on which she'd hitched a ride back home to Europe. "It feels good to be back."

Thunberg's appearances at past climate meetings have won her plaudits from some leaders — and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.

"I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids," Thunberg said. "If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry."

The 16-year-old said she planned to spend several days in the Portuguese capital before heading to Madrid, where delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing how to tackle global warming.

"We will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard," she said.

The white 48-foot (15-meter) yacht carrying Thunberg, her father Svante, an Australian family and professional sailor Nikki Henderson sailed into Lisbon amid blue skies, with a small flotilla of boats escorting it to harbor.

Her trip contrasted with the many air miles flown by most of the U.N. meeting's 25,000 attendees.

Thunberg wanted a low-carbon form of transport to get to the climate meeting, which was switched at short notice to Spain from Chile due to unrest there.

The yacht leaves little or no carbon footprint when its sails are up, using solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity.

"I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so," said Thunberg. "I'm doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier."

Chile's Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, saluted Thunberg's role speaking out about the threat of climate change.

"She has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world," Schmidt told The Associated Press at the summit in Madrid.

"We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action," she said.

Near to the conference, some 20 activists cut off traffic in central Madrid and staged a brief theatrical performance to protest climate change.

Members of the international group called Extinction Rebellion held up a banner in Russian that read: "Climate Crisis. To speak the truth. To take action immediately."

Some activists jumped into a nearby fountain while others threw them life jackets. They chanted: "What Do We Want? Climate Justice."

Others dressed in red robes with their faces whitened to symbolize the human species' peril danced briefly before police moved in to end the protest.

Meanwhile, the U.N. weather agency released a new report showing that the current decade is likely to set a new 10-year temperature record, providing mounting evidence that the world is getting ever hotter.

Preliminary temperature measurements show the years from 2015 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019 "are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record," the World Meteorological Organization said.

"Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last," the agency said.

While full-year figures aren't released until next March, 2019 is also expected to be the second or third warmest year since measurements began, with 2016 still holding the all-time temperature record, it said.

This year was hotter than average in most parts of the world, including the Arctic. "In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average," the U.N. said.

The World Meteorological Organization's annual report, which brings together data from numerous national weather agencies and research organizations, also highlighted the impacts of climate change including declining sea ice and rising sea levels, which reached their highest level this year since high-precision measurements began in 1993.


Russian scientists present ancient puppy found in permafrost

This is a handout photo taken on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, showing a 18,000 years old Puppy found in permafrost in the Russia's Far East, on display at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum, Russia. (Sergei Fyodorov, Yakutsk Mammoth Museum via AP)

This is a handout photo taken on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, showing a 18,000 years old Puppy found in permafrost in the Russia's Far East, on display at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum, Russia. (Sergei Fyodorov, Yakutsk Mammoth Museum via AP)

By DARIA LITVINOVA and ROMAN KUTUKOV

YAKUTSK, Russia (AP) — Russian scientists on Monday showed off a prehistoric puppy, believed to be 18,000 years old, found in permafrost in the country's Far East.

Discovered last year in a lump of frozen mud near the city of Yakutsk, the puppy is unusually well-preserved, with its hair, teeth, whiskers and eyelashes still intact.

"This puppy has all its limbs, pelage – fur, even whiskers. The nose is visible. There are teeth. We can determine due to some data that it is a male," Nikolai Androsov, director of the Northern World private museum where the remains are stored, said at the presentation at the Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum which specializes in ancient specimens.

In recent years, Russia's Far East has provided many riches for scientists studying the remains of ancient animals. As the permafrost melts, affected by climate change, more and more parts of woolly mammoths, canines and other prehistoric animals are being discovered. Often it is mammoth tusk hunters who discover them.

"Why has Yakutia come through a real spate of such unique findings over the last decade? First, it's global warming. It really exists, we feel it, and local people feel it strongly. Winter comes later, spring comes earlier," Sergei Fyodorov, scientist with the North Eastern Federal University, told The Associated Press.

"And the second very serious, deep reason, of why there a lot of finds is the very high price of mammoth tusk in the Chinese market."

When the puppy was discovered, scientists from the Stockholm-based Center for Palaeogenetics took a piece of bone to study its DNA.

"The first step was of course to send the sample to radio carbon dating to see how old it was and when we got the results back it turned out that it was roughly 18,000 years old," Love DalÚn, professor of evolutionary genetics at the center, said in an online interview.

Further tests, however, left the scientists with more questions than answers — they couldn't definitively tell whether it was a dog or a wolf.

"We have now generated a nearly complete genome sequence from it and normally when you have a two-fold coverage genome, which is what we have, you should be able to relatively easily say whether it's a dog or a wolf, but we still can't say and that makes it even more interesting," DalÚn said.

He added that the scientists are about to do a third round of genome sequencing, which might solve the mystery.


Prosecutors say Russia let MH17 suspect leave the country

In this July 17, 2014. file photo, people walk amongst the debris at the crash site of MH17 passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, that left 298 people killed. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

By MIKE CORDER

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Russia deliberately allowed a suspect in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to leave the country, Dutch prosecutors said Monday, calling it a breach of a European extradition treaty.

Prosecutors announced that Volodymyr Tsemakh is considered a suspect in the shooting down of the passenger plane and deaths of all 298 passengers and crew. He has not been charged with any offenses.

The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Buk missile on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine that was controlled at the time by pro-Moscow rebels.

An international team of investigators has concluded that the missile and its launcher came from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

The international investigation is being led by prosecutors in the Netherlands because nearly 200 of the passengers killed were Dutch citizens.

Russia has always denied responsibility for shooting down the flight and claimed that the Buk missile came from Ukrainian army arsenals.

Tsemakh, a Ukrainian who was questioned by investigators probing the downing of the flight known as MH17 while in custody in Ukraine in connection with other allegations, was handed to Russia as part of a prisoner swap in September.

Dutch prosecutors said in a statement that they asked Russia to arrest Tsemakh after the swap so he could be extradited.

While Russia does not extradite its own citizens, it could have handed over Tsemakh since he is Ukrainian, the Dutch prosecutors said, adding that they had contacted Moscow several times to warn authorities there that Tsemakh might attempt to flee.

Prosecutors said that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Stef Blok also both urged Moscow to comply.

Despite those efforts, Russia now says that Tsemakh's whereabouts are no longer known and media reports suggest he has returned to eastern Ukraine, prosecutors said.

"The Public Prosecution Service has concluded that Russia willingly allowed Mr. Tsemakh to leave the Russian Federation and refused to execute the Dutch request. While under the European Convention on Extradition, it was obliged to do so," the prosecution statement said.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three Russians and a Ukrainian have been charged with murder over their alleged roles in bringing down flight MH17. None of them have been extradited. Their trial is scheduled to start March 9 at a courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

The trial will go ahead without the suspects if they are not turned over to Dutch authorities.


Philippine capital warned as strong typhoon approaches

Residents ride a pedicab as they evacuate to higher grounds in preparation for the coming of Typhoon Kammuri in Legazpi, Albay province, southeast of Manila, Philippines on Monday Dec. 2, 2109. (AP Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' main island, including the national capital, Manila, is under a tropical cyclone warning for a typhoon forecast to hit Monday night into Tuesday.

Local governments told thousands of people to evacuate vulnerable areas such as coastal communities. The worst conditions are forecast for southeastern provinces on Luzon, the most populous island in the archipelago.

Officials said Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport would close from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

Philippine forecasters say Typhoon Kammuri (also called Tisoy) had3 maximum sustained winds of 150 kph (93 mph) near the center and gusts up to 185 kph (115 mph) at midafternoon Monday.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration warned of potentially severe flooding for Albay province, Samar and Leyte islands. For the metropolitan Manila region in western Luzon, intense rainfall was possible into Wednesday.

Some events during the Southeast Asian Games being hosted in the Philippines have been rescheduled and postponed for safety reasons.


EU leads international help to Albania quake recovery

In this Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 photo, a plastic flower among rubbles of a collapsed building damage building in Thumane, western Albania following a deadly earthquake.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

By LLAZAR SEMINI

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Dozens of structural engineers from Europe and elsewhere are heading to Albania to help rebuild the country after a devastating earthquake last month killed 51 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, officials said Monday.

The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating international efforts to assist Albania after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Nov. 26, affecting more than half of the country's population.

An EU team is leading the damage assessment and distribution of aid. Six EU member states have sent 50 structural engineers, with more to come, to assess the damage together with the local counterparts.

"In the midst of sorrow, grief and fear, this week has shown the unfailing links between Albanians and their friends in the EU," said Luigi Soreca, the EU ambassador to Albania.

The U.S. Agency for International Development also has deployed structural engineers from the Fairfax County and Los Angeles County fire departments to assist with damage assessments.

Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhacka praised the international response so far, saying the 780 rescuers who rushed to the country right after the quake helped to prevent more deaths.

The quake that hit Albania's Adriatic coast also injured more than 3,000 people. Authorities give preliminary figures of 7,900 damaged buildings countrywide and more than 6,000 homeless sheltered in hotels, public buildings, tents and with relatives, while neighboring Kosovo has provided shelter to others.

The quake has affected about 1.9 million people out of the country's 2.8 million population, according to the EU office in the capital of Tirana.

The worst-hit areas were the port town of Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana and the nearby northern town of Thumane.

U.S. singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha visited Bubq village, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the capital Tirana, to hand over aid.

Rexha, who is of ethnic Albanian origin, said she raised money through her fans to build two homes and is hoping to raise more.

"It's really sad what's happening here. That's why I came here," she said.

Prosecutors have started an investigation into possible illegal construction and violations of construction regulations.

Poor construction, building code violations and corruption are considered among the main reasons for the quake damage.

Albania's government has called on the international community for financial aid and expert assistance, saying it is incapable of doing it alone.

"The hardest part of this situation starts now because the material damage is really great," said Xhacka before leaving for the NATO summit in London where Albania will also look for help.

Soreca said Monday that Brussels will look into how it will help Albania rebuild itself with a mid- to long-term perspective.

On Thursday, the new European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic, who started his post Monday, visits Tirana to talk about the reconstruction planning.
 


July 25 forecast: Sunny, with cloud of impeachment for Trump

The U.S. Capitol at sunset in Washington Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, a White House-released memorandum of President Donald Trump's July 25, 2019, telephone conversation with Ukraine's newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is photographed in Washington. If there was one day that crystallized all the forces that led to the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, it was July 25. That was the day of his phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, pressing him for a political favor. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow, File)

By NANCY BENAC

WASHINGTON (AP) — The forecast for July 25 was typical for Washington: sunny, mid-80s. President Donald Trump had good reason to be feeling bright and sunny himself.

It was the morning after Robert Mueller's congressional testimony at the conclusion of the Russia investigation, and Trump and his allies were expressing relief, thinking the rumblings about impeachment would at last fade, even if the special counsel hadn't offered the president the total exoneration Trump claimed.

By 7:06 a.m., Trump was tweeting positive reviews from his favorite TV show, "Fox & Friends," where co-host Ainsley Earhardt declared, ``Yesterday changed everything, it really did clear the president."

An hour later, Trump moved on to a tweet talking up his approval ratings, the stock market, unemployment and more. ``Country doing great!" he wrote.

But a reconstruction of what started as an unremarkable summer Thursday reveals that even before daybreak, anxiety was coursing through the White House about a coming phone call that didn't appear on the president's public schedule.

By nightfall, Trump had set in motion events that would trigger only the fourth impeachment inquiry in history, imperiling his presidency and further calcifying divisions in a polarized nation.

At the time, it seemed no one had a complete picture of what was afoot. But through weeks of congressional investigation and hearings, a timeline of the day's events has emerged, offering a portrait of one of the most consequential days of Trump's presidency.

"STRAY VOLTAGE"

Trump was scheduled to talk with Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy at 9 a.m. Zelenskiy, a former comedian fond of showing off his bulging biceps, was angling to lock in a visit to the White House, a valuable currency that he hoped would demonstrate to Russia that he had Trump's backing.

Trump and Zelenskiy had gotten along just fine during their first chat in April, basically an exchange of pleasantries. National security officials were worried that this time would be different.

There were "some concerns that, you know, there could be some stray voltage," Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, testified later.

He was referring to growing indications that Trump was fixated on baseless conspiracy theories that Ukraine had tried to take down candidate Trump in the 2016 elections. There was talk that Zelenskiy would only get a White House visit if he agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's top Democratic rivals, and the 2016 U.S. elections.

None of that was in the National Security Council's "call package," with its suggested talking points for Trump's conversation. Nor was any of that in the prewritten "readout" of the call, laying out what was expected to happen.

Both of those turned out to be merely aspirational.

Shortly before the call, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, got on the phone with Trump to offer his own advice.

Sondland, working with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had put together a plan under which Ukraine would get its White House meeting only in exchange for agreeing to investigations of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine, and the 2016 election, when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

At 8:36 a.m., Kurt Volker, then Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, texted a Zelenskiy aide after talking to Sondland: "Heard from White House — Assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / "get to the bottom of what happened" in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!"

DOUR v. OBSEQUIOUS

The half-hour call started with pleasantries but quickly took a sharp detour.

Trump, his voice lower than normal, was "dour," according to Vindman, who was among a dozen or more people listening in from the U.S. side.

Zelenskiy, overly eager to please, was "obsequious," according to Tim Morrison, Vindman's boss and one of the other sets of ears on the call.

Zelenskiy's attempts at humor fell flat. They "just didn't seem to carry with the president," Vindman recalled.

Soon, Trump was stressing how much the U.S. had done for Ukraine and grousing about Europe's failure to do more.

And then came 10 words from Trump that triggered the impeachment investigation: "I would like you to do us a favor though."

Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into Crowdstrike, part of a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Clinton. From there, Trump segued to pressing for investigation of another discredited notion — that Biden had ousted a Ukrainian prosecutor who was looking into Hunter Biden's dealings with Burisma, the energy company where he was on the board.

Zelenskiy, speaking a mix of Ukrainian and choppy English, had one mission: find as many ways as possible to say yes, yes and yes again. Four times he said "yes." Twice, he assured Trump he was "absolutely right," and "not just 100% but actually 1,000%."

"I agree with you 100%," he added later.

More important to Trump, though, Zelenskiy promised that "all the investigations will be done openly and candidly."

Yet Zelenskiy wasn't committing precisely to the investigations of Democrats that Trump wanted. He was speaking generally of his commitment to clean up corruption in his country.

He was short one very important "yes."

"IT WAS WRONG"

Trump would later insist the call was "perfect," but some of those who listened were gravely alarmed. Even while Trump was still speaking, there were some worried glances among those taking notes in the Situation Room.

The call ended at 9:33 a.m., and within an hour, Vindman was in the office of NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

The idea of an American president pressuring a foreign leader to investigate his political foes was "troubling and disturbing," Vindman told congressional investigators. "I thought it was wrong."

Acting separately, Morrison, a Trump political appointee, also made his way to Eisenberg's office that day. Morrison was worried that details of the call would leak and damage Ukraine's bipartisan support in Congress.

Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who was also on the call, told legislators she found the call's detour into domestic politics "unusual and inappropriate."

By that night, NSC staff had finished editing a rough transcript of the conversation. and Eisenberg made sure that access to it was more closely restricted than usual to keep details from leaking.

STRIKE THAT

A readout is a description of a private conversation or meeting, prepared for public consumption. It's often written before the event because such phone calls, and scripts, are typically choreographed in advance.

The NSC's prewritten readout of the phone call, though, was worthless. It turned out there had been little discussion of the anticipated topics, and Trump had said a lot of things that weren't expected.

"Basically we struck almost all the materials from that statement because we hadn't covered any of the terrain that we thought we were going to," Vindman told legislators.

The bland three-sentence statement issued by the White House at 12:51 p.m. gave no hint of what had really happened.

A six-sentence statement issued by the Ukrainians at almost the same time wasn't much more illuminating — and seemed to be yet another highly aspirational take on the matter.

"Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA," it read.

'WHAT WAS GOING ON?'

The inbox for Laura Cooper's staff at the Defense Department filled in more pieces of the puzzle that afternoon.

A pair of emails from the State Department — one at 2:31 p.m., the second at 4:25 p.m. — made it clear that the Ukrainians were already worried about whether they would get hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military assistance that had been approved by Congress. It wasn't just about a White House visit.

The Trump White House wanted to hold up the aid until Zelenskiy made a public pledge to conduct investigations. Republicans have argued there was no "quid pro quo" — a pledge of investigations in exchange for military aid — because the Ukrainians weren't aware the aid was on hold when Zelenskiy spoke to Trump. But these emails indicate the Ukrainians knew or suspected the aid was frozen when the call took place.

Cooper, a deputy assistant defense secretary, also testified that her staff got a question that day from a contact at the Ukrainian Embassy asking "what was going on" with the assistance.

Talk about delaying the military aid had been percolating for weeks by then.

But that night, at 6:44 p.m., a staffer in the White House's Office of Management and Budget signed a document that officially put the money on hold. All it took was a footnote stating that the money was "not available for obligation" while its use was under review.

The document was signed by Mark Sandy, OMB's deputy associate director for national security, who told lawmakers that he had been handling aid apportionments for years and had never before been told to put one on hold. He had asked his bosses repeatedly why it was being done. He didn't get an answer.

SUNGLASSES AND UMBRELLAS

While fallout from the call ricocheted within the White House, much of Washington went about its business unaware of the looming threat to Trump. So did Zelenskiy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who months later would give a green light to an impeachment investigation, was meeting with House Democrats when the call took place. Then she strode down the steps at the Capitol for an outdoor news conference. Whipping off her sunglasses, she pledged to make August "too hot to handle" for Republican senators who were blocking Democratic legislation.

On a rainy day in Ukraine, Zelenskiy's social media team posted a photo of the president holding his own umbrella — and contrasted it with a photo of his predecessor relying on someone else to hold one.

Trump had plenty more to say that day. He spoke at a sunlit Pentagon ceremony for new Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He also made a State Dining Room appearance to help his daughter Ivanka promote the administration's job training initiatives.

DOWN THE DRAIN

Trump ended his day as he began it, in his comfort zone with Fox News.

On Sean Hannity's show, the president said he'd been "through hell" during the Mueller investigation. Hannity declared that with that investigation over, impeachment fantasies had been "totally completely flushed down the drain."

Eighteen days later, a whistleblower sent a nine-page complaint to Congress about the president's July 25 call.

On Sept. 27, Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation.


The EU ushers in its new heads of commission and council

 

From left, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, European Parliament President Sassoli, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council President Charles Michel pose for photographers as they mark the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty at the House of European History in Brussels, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS (AP) — New leaders took over Sunday at the top of the European Union's executive and council, taking their positions at a turbulent time for the bloc with the looming British departure and other pressing issues.

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen officially replaced Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, two days after a handover ceremony, becoming the first woman in the job. Belgium's Charles Michel succeeded Donald Tusk as EU Council president and chair the summits of EU leaders.

Von der Leyen and Michel marked the day in Brussels with events for the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty in the House of European History.

European Parliament President David Sassoli hosted the ceremony, welcoming the new leaders — all the while calling on them to deliver on promises made to its 508 million citizens, saying "it is now time to act."

"We need to turn the promises of the past few months into results that improve people's lives," Sassoli said. "From the fight against climate change to tackling the rise in the cost of living, Europeans want to see real action."

Momentum is building to face the challenge of climate change and von der Leyen has said it will be a top priority for her.

The future of how the British Brexit decision will play out should become more clear after a new election on Dec. 12.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated in October with the EU. Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remains part of the EU's single market, and bound by the bloc's rules, until the end of 2020.


After wind scare, balloons fly in Macy's Thanksgiving parade

 

Participates make their way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Astronaut Snoopy balloon makes its way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The Grinch balloon floats down Sixth Avenue during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

A woman in a flower costume marches in front of the Wiggle Worm balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A clown with balloons fights with winds as it make its way down Columbus Circle during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

By SABRINA CASERTA

NEW YORK (AP) — The beloved balloons flew, but lower than usual, in a windy Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade after an anxious weather watch.

Wind had threatened to ground the giant inflated characters. But officials announced less than an hour before Thursday's start time that the balloons could fly, if in a down-to-Earth way.

As the parade continued — even while city emergency officials sent out a public alert about wind gusts — handlers struggled with some giant balloons and pulled them close to the ground. Meanwhile, winds did keep giant balloons out of Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The Macy's parade balloons might have been lowered, but Susan Koteen's spirits weren't. She has traveled from Florida, three years in a row, to see the parade.

"We love it. Because it's exciting, it's patriotic, and it just — it warms your heart," she said.

Spectators lined up a half-dozen deep along the route on a gusty fall day, with leaves and confetti swirling in the wind.

A "Green Eggs and Ham" balloon joined the lineup, Smokey Bear returned for the first time since 1993, and spectators got to see new versions of favorites Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants.

A smaller new balloon, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's "Love Flies Up to the Sky," and two star-shaped balloons ultimately didn't make the lineup because of tears and stress from inflation before the parade, Macy's said. A giant Ronald McDonald balloon also tore before the parade and was pulled out midway through, the company said. The McDonald's character had a visibly deflated leg.

Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras called the parade "a fantastic event despite these minor challenges."

During the middle of the parade, the wind was 13 mph (21 kph) with gusts up to 32 mph (51 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph (37 kph) and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph). The balloons have been grounded only once for weather-related reasons, in 1971.

On Thursday, in a windy spot near the start of the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route, a Nutcracker balloon knocked into a handler, who fell down but then continued along. A Grinch balloon touched some trees as it passed a corner, drawing an "ooh!" from the crowd.

To parade-goer Kate O'Connor, the wind was "scary, especially around the corners — they're like wind tunnels."

It was still cool to see the balloons up close, "but they're really meant to be seen from underneath," said the resident of Newtown, Connecticut, who comes to the parade every other year with her daughter, Megan, 8.

Joanna Mammen and her family came from Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania to revisit the parade she attended every year while growing up in the Bronx.

"My favorite float, as a kid, was Santa Claus," said Mammen, 69. "Most of the other floats from that time, the kids these days wouldn't even recognize. But it's a beautiful tradition, to come out and experience the crowd."

It was a first-time experience for her husband, Bill. And for him, it was all about sharing the fun with the couple's son, Jason, and 2-year-old grandson, Lincoln.

"Thanksgiving is not just about the people I love. It is the people I love," he said.

Willie Brown traveled from Dallas to see the parade, particularly entertainers Ciara and Kelly Rowland.

"This was really a bucket list item for me, Macy's Day Parade in New York City," the 23-year-old said. "You grow up seeing glimpses on TV, but it's something I knew I needed to experience."

The parade, one of the city's most popular events, features about 8,000 marchers, two dozen floats, entertainers and marching bands, ending with an appearance from Santa Claus.

The character balloons can go as high as 55 feet (16 meters) off the ground and as low as 10 feet (3 meters).

The rules requiring them to be grounded in high winds came after a "Cat in the Hat" balloon blew into a lamppost near Central Park in 1997, critically injuring a woman.

In 2005, an M&M's balloon smacked into a lamppost in Times Square, causing cuts and bruises to a woman in a wheelchair and her 11-year-old sister.

In 2017, a gust on an otherwise calm day sent a smaller balloon into a tree branch. That one popped and fell harmlessly onto the crowd.


Hundreds rally in Myanmar to show support for Suu Kyi

People attend a rally Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar. About 700 people rallied Sunday to show support for Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she prepares to defend the country against charges of genocide at the U.N.’s highest court. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — About 700 people rallied Sunday to show support for Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she prepares to defend the country against charges of genocide at the U.N.'s highest court.

Members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party swelled the ranks in front of the colonial-era City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, as the crowd waved national flags and listened to music and poetry. A popular local singer told them that "Mother Suu is the bravest human being in the world – her weapon is love."

Many carried banners saying, "We stand with you, Mother Suu."

The case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague relates to a harsh counterinsurgency campaign waged by Myanmar's military against members of the country's Muslim Rohingya community in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.

The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned recently that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring."

Gambia filed the case at the ICJ, also known as the world court, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The case alleges that Myanmar's actions against the Rohingya are "genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part."

Myanmar has strongly denied the charges but says it stands ready to take action against wrong-doers if there is sufficient evidence.

A statement on the website of the Ministry of the Interior said recently that the renewed international pressure on the country was due to a lack of understanding of "the complexities of the issue and the narratives of the people of Myanmar."

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will lead the delegation to The Hague in her capacity as foreign minister.

Hearings are due to start on Dec. 10. The case is expected to last several years..
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story] : 

Suu Kyi denies Myanmar genocide allegations at top UN court

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is Time 'person of the year'

Nearly a half-billion in Asia-Pacific still going hungry

India's Parliament passes contentious citizenship bill


Aung San Suu Kyi watches UN court hear Rohingya genocide case

6 dead from New Zealand volcano as helpers describe horror

Cambodia dismayed over US sanctions for corruption, logging

Suspect shoots 6 dead in Czech hospital, then kills self


5 dead, many more missing in eruption of New Zealand volcano

Traffic jams cripple Paris as pension strikes halt trains

Historical documents show Japan's role in WWII sex slaves

Palestinians in Bethlehem look beyond religious tourism


Devastating factory fire kills at least 43 in New Delhi

Hong Kong protests mark 6-month mark with massive rally

St. Nicholas and devils parade in Czech villages

Protests subside, but economic aftershocks rattle Haitians


US House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: 'Don't mess with me'

OPEC talks end without announcement of expected cuts

Putin offers US an immediate extension to key nuclear pact

Democrats say Trump impeachment charges must come swiftly


Trump calls Trudeau '2-faced' after palace gossip goes viral

French trains stop as mass strike begins over pensions

Kim again rides horse up sacred peak as N. Korea raps Trump

Albania PM optimistic of world support on quake recovery


Tesla CEO Musk facing defamation trial for 'pedo guy' tweet

Powerful typhoon leaves at least 4 dead in Philippines

UK politicians hold breath as Trump arrives mid-campaign

Greta Thunberg says voyage 'energized' her climate fight


Russian scientists present ancient puppy found in permafrost

Prosecutors say Russia let MH17 suspect leave the country

Philippine capital warned as strong typhoon approaches

EU leads international help to Albania quake recovery


July 25 forecast: Sunny, with cloud of impeachment for Trump

The EU ushers in its new heads of commission and council

After wind scare, balloons fly in Macy's Thanksgiving parade

Hundreds rally in Myanmar to show support for Suu Kyi