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Update September 2016


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Bosnian Serbs vote in referendum banned by top court

Bosnian people wave flags during the speech of Milorad Dodik, President of the Bosnian Serb region of Republic of Srpska, during celebrations after the result of the referendum in the Bosnian town of Pale, Bosnia, on Sunday Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Radul Radovanovic

Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian Serbs on Sunday voted in a referendum banned by the country's constitutional court, risking Western sanctions against their autonomous region and criminal charges against their leaders.

The vote was whether to keep Jan. 9 as a holiday in Republika Srpska, commemorating the day in 1992 that Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state, igniting the ruinous 1992-95 war. It comes despite the top court's ruling that the date, which falls on a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday, discriminates against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats in Bosnia.

Authorities said turnout was between 56 and 60 percent. Preliminary results after 30.76 percent of the ballots were counted say 99.8 percent of the voters were in favor of the holiday.

The vote has raised tensions and fears of renewed fighting as Bosniaks and Croats see the referendum as an attempt to elevate the Serb region above the country's constitutional court. It is also a test for a more serious referendum that Bosnian Serb leaders have announced for 2018 — one on independence from Bosnia.

During the 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people and turned half of the country's population into refugees, Bosniaks and Croats were persecuted and almost completely expelled from Republika Srpska territory.

After the war, Republika Srpska ended up not independent but an autonomous region of Bosnia. Bosniaks and Croats who returned there view the holiday as a celebration of their expulsion. Republika Srpska, a region of 1.2 million, marks the day with religious ceremonies, hinting the region is still meant just for Serbs.

The constitutional court has banned both the holiday and the referendum, a ruling that Bosnian Serbs see as an attack on their autonomy.

The West has urged that the illegal referendum not be held, but Bosnian Serbs are backed by Russia. Western officials said they might consider halting projects in the mini-state or impose travel bans on its leaders and freeze their assets.

Tomislav Stajcic, a resident of Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, compared the holiday with a birthday.

"There is no force on this earth, political or divine or any other really, which can change the date of your birth," he said, calling the constitutional court's decision "senseless."

Opposition leaders have dismissed the idea of a new conflict, saying the Bosnian Serb ruling party scheduled the referendum a week before a local election to divert campaign topics from corruption to nationalism.

The Bosnian Serb member of the country's presidency and one of the opposition leaders in Republika Srpska, Mladen Ivanic, said he doesn't understand the "circus" about the referendum.

"Who wants to celebrate it should and who doesn't does not have to," he said.

But the Bosniak member called for prosecutors to act, saying Bosnian Serbs have been pushing the limits for decades.

"Now they reached a new level of spitefulness, exceeding all limits," Bakir Izetbegovic said.

"These people pull the rope until it snaps and then, of course, they land on their back."


Hungary manhunt in Budapest blast that wounded 2 officers

Police officers cordon off the area of the scene in central Budapest, Hungary, early Sunday, Sept. 25, after an explosion injured two patrolling policemen. (Zoltan Mihadak/MTI via AP)

Budapest (AP) — Hungarian authorities are hunting for a man who set off a homemade fragmentation bomb that seriously wounded two officers in central Budapest, the country's police chief said Sunday.

Police were the targets in the blast late Saturday near the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, national police chief Karoly Papp said.

"We have established without a doubt that our police officers were the targets of the attack," Papp said. "They wanted to execute my police officers."

Papp didn't say why the suspect wanted to harm police officers. But he didn't rule out terrorism, one of seven working theories established by investigators in the case categorized as attempted murder.

Papp offered a 10-million-forint ($36,700) reward for information leading to the capture of the suspect, believed to be 20-25 years old and 170 centimeters (around 5'6") tall.

"We will find the perpetrator and discover his motivation," Papp said, adding that several hundred officers and investigators were working on the case.

Several streets and an important avenue near the site of the explosion were still closed to traffic late Sunday as investigators searched for evidence. Papp couldn't say when they would be reopened.

A 23-year-old female officer suffered life-threatening injuries while her 26-year-old male partner was also seriously wounded while they were on foot patrol. Both were recuperating in intensive care after surgery.


At least 26 killed in Aleppo as UN meets over Syria

Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes hit the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 25. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

 Philip Issa, Edith M. Lederer

Beirut (AP) — At least 26 civilians were killed in fresh government airstrikes on the contested city of Aleppo, Syrian activists said Sunday, as the United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the spiraling violence in Syria.

At the start of that meeting the U.N.'s top envoy to Syria accused the government of unleashing "unprecedented military violence" against civilians in Aleppo.

Staffan de Mistura said Syria's declaration of a military offensive to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo has led to one of the worst weeks of the 5 1/2-year war with dozens of airstrikes against residential areas and buildings causing scores of civilian deaths.

He said the offensive targeting civilians with sophisticated weapons including incendiary devices may amount to war crimes.

Medical workers and local officials reported airstrikes on neighborhoods throughout Aleppo's rebel-held eastern districts as an announced government offensive entered its fourth day.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 civilians had been killed by 7:30 p.m. and said it expects the toll to rise.

Ibrahim Alhaj of the Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue outfit said hospitals and rescuers have documented the deaths of 43 people so far.

Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties and medical workers are expecting many of the wounded to die from a lack of treatment, according to Mohammad Zein Khandaqani, a member of the Medical Council, which oversees medical affairs in the city's opposition quarters.

"I've never seen so many people dying in once place," he said from a hospital in the city. "It's terrifying today. In less than one hour the Russian planes have killed more than 50 people and injured more than 200."

The Observatory, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, said earlier in the day that 213 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and shelling on opposition areas in and around Aleppo since a U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire collapsed Monday evening.

De Mistura, at the Security Council meeting, warned that if the Syrian government is intent on taking Aleppo, it is going to be "a grinding" a street-by-street fight where all the infrastructure in the city will be destroyed, but it won't lead to victory.

"A so-called military solution is impossible, including in Aleppo," he stressed.

He urged the United States and Russia to go "that extra mile" and save the Sept. 9 cessation of hostilities agreement "at the 11th hour."

On the sidelines of the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to force a halt to the hostilities in Aleppo, and he condemned Russia and the Syrian government's alleged use of bunker busting bombs, which are designed to penetrate underground facilities.

"Let us remember: The fighting has forced hospitals and schools to operate in basements. These bombs are not busting bunkers, they are demolishing ordinary people looking for any last refuge of safety," Ban said.

"International law is clear: The systematic use of indiscriminate weapons in densely populated areas is a war crime," he said.

Prior to the start of the U.N. meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia should be investigated for war crimes following a Monday attack on a Syrian aid convoy that claimed 20 lives.

Johnson said that Russia's air force may have deliberately targeted the civilian convoy on Sept. 19. Russia denies involvement and instead suggests Syrian rebels or a U.S. drone were responsible.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia and Iran will be guilty of war crimes if they don't pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop escalating violence.

Ayrault said the emergency Security Council meeting Sunday is a "moment of truth" for the U.N.

The meeting was requested by the United States, Britain, and France, as pro-government forces extend their bombardment of the contested city of Aleppo. They are widely believed to be accompanied by Russian air strikes.

Rebels meanwhile shelled Masyaf, a government stronghold near the central city of Hama, for the second day in a row, according to the Observatory.

Masyaf is home to a large number of Alawites, members of President Bashar Assad's sect. Assad has rallied Syria's minorities behind his government behind fears of the Sunni-dominated rebellion.

The U.S., Britain, and France are aligned on the Security Council against Russia and China, which back Assad in the country's protracted war, now in its sixth year.

But a broad coalition of Syrian rebels denounced international negotiations for peace as "meaningless," earlier Sunday.

The statement released jointly by 33 factions called on the government and Russian forces to halt airstrikes and lift sieges on opposition areas. The U.N. estimates 600,000 Syrians are trapped in various sieges enforced by the government, rebels, and the Islamic State group across the country.

"Negotiations under the present conditions are no longer useful and are meaningless," the statement said.

The factions said they would not accept to have Russia mediate any negotiations, calling it a "partner to the regime in the crimes against our people."

The statement was signed by some of the largest factions from across Syria but did not include the powerful, ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham nor the al-Qaida-linked Fatah Sham Front.

Efforts to revive the truce have floundered. An airstrike destroyed a U.N.-backed humanitarian convoy Monday inside opposition territory shortly after the Syrian military announced the agreement had expired. The U.N. says the attack could amount to a war crime if proven deliberate, though it has not assigned responsibility yet. The U.S. says it believes Russian jets were behind the strikes.

Meanwhile, a set of four towns, two besieged by government forces and two by rebels, were reached by aid convoys for the first time in nearly six months, the International Committee for the Red Cross announced.

The organization said Sunday it had reached 60,000 residents trapped in the towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foua, and Kafraya.

Government forces and rebels have so far blocked the U.N. from establishing regular aid access to besieged areas in Syria. The U.N. estimates 600,000 Syrians are trapped in different sieges.


Fuel tanker continues to burn off Mexico's Gulf coast

The fuel tanker Burgos continues to burn a day after it erupted in flames off the coast of the port city of Boca del Rio, Mexico, Sunday Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Felix

 Mexico City (AP) — A fuel tanker carrying gasoline and diesel continued to burn off the Gulf coast of Mexico on Sunday, a day after it erupted in flames.

Firefighting boats were battling the blaze aboard the Burgos, which is owned by state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. A large plume of smoke from the burning ship could be seen from the port of Veracruz.

A Pemex statement said a team of international experts in putting out fires and transferring fuel arrived to assist Sunday.

The company said the Burgos' double hull had prevented a fuel spill. It said that the volatility of the fuel on the ship would aid in its evaporation and that the Mexican navy evaluated the area Sunday morning and did not find traces of oil in the sea.

Firefighters have been using a chemical extinguisher against the fire, according to the Veracruz Port Authority. Officials declined to speculate on when the fire may be put out.

Mexico's environmental protection agency, Profepa, said Sunday in a statement that a mile (1 kilometers) of containment booms were deployed to prevent any fuel from reaching the coast.

Pemex said fuel seen on the water was what mixed with the water used to fight the fire and will dissipate. The Burgos was carrying about 168,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel.

The ship was anchored about 7 miles off the coast when it called for help at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. All crew members were rescued without injury. Pemex said the fire was in two of the ship's tanks.

At the time of the incident, the Burgos was sailing from Coatzacoalcos in eastern Veracruz state to the Pemex terminal, Port Authority Director Juan Ignacio Fernandez said late Saturday.


China begins operating world's largest radio telescope

An aerial view shows the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in the remote Pingtang county in southwest China's Guizhou province. (Liu Xu/Xinhua via AP)

 Gillian Wong

Beijing (AP) — The world's largest radio telescope began searching for signals from stars and galaxies and, perhaps, extraterrestrial life Sunday in a project demonstrating China's rising ambitions in space and its pursuit of international scientific prestige.

Beijing has poured billions into such ambitious scientific projects as well as its military-backed space program, which saw the launch of China's second space station earlier this month.

Measuring 500 meters in diameter, the radio telescope is nestled in a natural basin within a stunning landscape of lush green karst formations in southern Guizhou province. It took five years and $180 million to complete and surpasses that of the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a dish used in research on stars that led to a Nobel Prize.

The official Xinhua News Agency said hundreds of astronomers and enthusiasts watched the launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, in the county of Pingtang.

Researchers quoted by state media said FAST would search for gravitational waves, detect radio emissions from stars and galaxies and listen for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV.

"In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us," Qian said.

Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July.

The telescope requires a radio silence within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius, resulting in the relocation of more than 8,000 people from their homes in eight villages to make way for the facility, state media said. Reports in August said the villagers would be compensated with cash or new homes from a budget of about $269 million from a poverty relief fund and bank loans.

CCTV reported that during a recent test, the telescope received radio signals from a pulsar that was 1,351 light-years from Earth.

The radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory, and five to 10 times the surveying speed, Xinhua said.

China has also completed the construction of tourist facilities such as an observation deck on a nearby mountain, reports said. Such facilities can be a draw for visitors — the one in Puerto Rico draws about 90,000 visitors and some 200 scientists each year.

Earlier this month, China launched the Tiangong 2, its second space station and the latest step in its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. In August, the country launched the first quantum satellite experts said would advance efforts to develop the ability to send communications that can't be penetrated by hackers.


MH370 Investigators cast doubt on catastrophic fire evidence

American wreckage hunter Blaine Gibson talks to the media in Canberra, Australia, after handing over to Australian searchers five pieces of debris that he suspects could be from the missing Malaysian airliner. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

 Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Accident investigators on Thursday cast doubt on the possibility that blackened debris found on Madagascar is evidence of a catastrophic fire aboard the missing Malaysian airliner that went down more than two years ago.

Wreckage hunter Blaine Gibson hand-delivered five pieces of debris last week to officials at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau who are searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The bureau said in a statement that investigators had yet to determine whether the pieces were from the Boeing 777 that is thought to have plunged into the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board southwest of Australia on March 8, 2014.

But a preliminary examination found that two fiberglass-honeycomb pieces were not burnt, but had been discolored by a reaction in resin that had not been caused by exposure to fire or heat, the statement said.

There were three small areas of heat damage on one of the pieces which created a burnt odor. However, that odor suggested the heat damage was recent, it said.

"It was considered that burning odors would generally dissipate after an extended period of environmental exposure, including salt water immersion, as expected for items originating from" the missing plane, the statement said.

Gibson has collected 14 pieces of debris potentially from the missing plane, including a triangular panel stenciled "no step" that he found in Mozambique in February. Officials say that panel was almost certainly a horizontal stabilizer from a Flight 370 wing.

Gibson had said the darkened surfaces of the latest debris could be evidence that a fire ended the flight far from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. But he conceded he had no idea when the apparent heat damaged had occurred.

A sonar search of 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of seabed which is calculated to be the most likely crash site in the southern Indian Ocean is almost complete without any trace of the plane being found.


Video shows deadly encounter between police, black man

In this image taken from video recorded by Rakeyia Scott on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Charlotte police squat next to Keith Lamont Scott as Scott lies face-down on the ground after being shot by officers in Charlotte, N.C. (Rakeyia Scott/Curry Law Firm via AP)

 Meg Kinnard, Jonathan Drew

Charlotte, N.C. (AP) — Video of a deadly encounter between Charlotte police and a black man shows his wife repeatedly telling officers he is not armed and pleading with them not to shoot her husband as they shout at him to drop a gun.

The footage, recorded by Keith Lamont Scott's wife and released Friday by his family, offers a raw look at how the situation unfolded but does not show whether Scott had a gun as police have said. Uncertainty about the case prompted a fourth night of demonstrations through Charlotte's business district.

After darkness fell, dozens or people carried signs and chanted to urge police to release dashboard and body camera video that could show more clearly what happened. Police have said Scott was armed, but witnesses say he held only a book.

The 2-minute video released by the family does not show the shooting, though gunshots can be heard. In the video Scott's wife, Rakeyia Scott, tells officers that he has a TBI, or traumatic brain injury. At one point, she tells her husband to get out of the car so police don't break the windows. She also tells him, "don't do it," but it's not clear exactly what she means.

As the encounter escalates, she repeatedly urges police, "You better not shoot him."

After the gunshots, Scott can be seen lying face-down on the ground while his wife says "he better live." She continues recording and asks if an ambulance has been called. The officers stand over Scott. It's unclear if they are checking him for weapons or attempting to give first aid.

In the footage, Scott's wife states the address and says, "These are the police officers that shot my husband."

Representatives for the police department and the mayor's office didn't return emails from The Associated Press seeking comment on the family's video.

The video emerged hours before the protesters took to the streets Friday night, monitored by rifle-toting members of the National Guard. The group appeared smaller than previous nights.

Protesters called on police to release video that could resolve wildly different accounts of the shooting earlier this week. Marchers at the front of the group carried a banner that said "Just Release the Tapes."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Friday that there is footage from at least one police body camera and one dashboard camera.

The family of Scott, 43, was shown the footage Thursday and demanded that police release it to the public. The video recorded by Scott's wife had not been previously released.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper also called on Charlotte officials to release the video, saying doing so would help bring the community and law enforcement together. Cooper, a Democrat, is running for governor in November.

Charlotte is the latest U.S. city to be shaken by protests and recriminations over the death of a black man at the hands of police, a list that includes Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and Ferguson, Missouri. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday, prosecutors charged a white officer with manslaughter for killing an unarmed black man on a city street last week.

Thursday's protests in Charlotte lacked the violence and property damage of previous nights, and a curfew enacted by the city's mayor encouraged a stopping point.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts signed documents to keep the curfew in effect from midnight until 6 a.m. each day until the state of emergency declared by the governor ends.

After the curfew took effect, police allowed the crowd of demonstrators to thin without forcing them off the street. Police Capt. Mike Campagna told reporters that officers would not seek to arrest curfew violators as long as they were peaceful.

Putney said Friday that releasing the footage of Scott's death could inflame the situation. He has said previously that the video will be made public when he believes there is a "compelling reason" to do so.

"It's a personal struggle, but I have to do what I think is best for my community," Putney said.

During the same news conference, Roberts said she believes the video should be released, but "the question is on the timing."

Earlier in the week, the Charlotte protests turned violent, with demonstrators attacking reporters and others, setting fires and smashing windows of hotels, office buildings and restaurants.

Forty-four people were arrested after Wednesday's protests, and one protester who was shot died at the hospital Thursday. City officials said police did not shoot 26-year-old Justin Carr. A suspect was arrested, but police provided few details.

Putney said he has seen the video and it does not contain "absolute, definitive evidence that would confirm that a person was pointing a gun." But he added: "When taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we said."

Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott's family, said it's "impossible to discern" from the videos what, if anything, Scott is holding in his hands.

Scott never aggressively approached officers and was shot as he walked slowly backward with his hands by his side, Bamberg said.


Queen guitarist Brian May protests Japanese dolphin hunts

Brian May, guitarist of British rock group Queen, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Friday, Sept. 23. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

 Yuri Kageyama

Tokyo (AP) — Brian May, guitarist of British rock group Queen, is taking a stand against Japan's dolphin killing, saying the slaughter of animals should end in the same way society has turned against slavery or witch-burning.

"Every species, and every individual of every species, is worthy of respect," May told The Associated Press on Friday while in Tokyo for Queen's sell-out concerts at Budokan arena.

"This is not about countries. It's about a section of humanity that doesn't yet understand that animals have feelings, too."

Protesting the dolphin hunt in the small Japanese town of Taiji, documented in the Oscar-winning "The Cove," has become a cause for celebrities including Sting and Daryl Hannah. Taylor McKeown, a silver medalist swimmer in the Rio Olympics, who has long been fascinated with dolphins, is now in Taiji to monitor the hunts.

Ric O'Barry, the dolphin trainer for the "Flipper" TV series, started the protests against the Taiji dolphin kill, and stars in "The Cove," which depicts a pod of dolphins getting herded into an inlet and getting bludgeoned to death, as blood turns the water red.

The hunters in Taiji and their supporters defend the custom as tradition, although eating dolphins is extremely rare in Japan. The Japanese government also defends whaling as research.

May, who founded the "Save Me Trust" in 2009 to lobby governments on wildlife policy, said he opposes cruelty against all animals, including Britain's fox hunt and Spain's bullfights. Both were also defended as tradition, but that was a mere excuse, he said.

"I know Japanese people — so many. They're decent. They're kind. They're compassionate, but they don't know this is going on," May said of the dolphin killing. "These are mammals, highly intelligent sensitive creatures, bringing up their children like we do, and they are being slaughtered and tortured."


Obama vetoes 9/11 bill; possible override by Congress looms

US President Barack Obama has vetoed a bill that would have allowed the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

 Darlene Superville, Josh Lederman

Washington (AP) — President Barack Obama rejected a bill Friday that would have allowed the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, arguing it undermined national security and setting up the possibility Congress may override his veto for the first time in his presidency.

Obama's move escalates the fight over an emotional issue that has overlapped with the campaign debate over terrorism and the Middle East. The bill had sailed through both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support, clearing the final hurdle just days before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The president said the bill, which doesn't refer specifically to Saudi Arabia, could backfire by opening up the U.S. government and its officials to lawsuits by anyone accusing the U.S. of supporting terrorism, rightly or wrongly.

"I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001," Obama wrote to the Senate in a veto message about the bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. But, he said, "the JASTA would be detrimental to U.S. national interests more broadly."

Congress is determined to try to overturn the veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. Previous attempts to overturn Obama's vetoes have all been unsuccessful.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said an override would pass in the Republican-controlled House. Yet the Senate would be the greater challenge. After furious lobbying to try to peel off supporters, the White House said Friday it was unclear whether enough had defected to avert an override.

With lawmakers eager to return home to campaign, a vote could come early next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office said the Senate would vote "as soon as practicable in this work period."

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat and a traditional Obama ally, came out swinging against Obama while predicting lawmakers would reverse it "swiftly and soundly."

"The families of the victims of 9/11 deserve their day in court, and justice for those families shouldn't be thrown overboard because of diplomatic concerns," Schumer said.

A coalition of 9/11 victims' families, meanwhile, said they were "outraged and dismayed." In a response circulated by their lawyers, the families insisted the bill would deter terrorism, "no matter how much the Saudi lobbying and propaganda machine may argue otherwise."

Though the concept of sovereign immunity generally shields governments from lawsuits, the bill creates an exception that allows foreign governments to be held responsible if they support a terrorist attack that kills U.S. citizens on American soil. Opponents say that's a slippery slope considering that the U.S. is frequently accused wrongly by its foes of supporting terrorism.

"Americans are in countries all over the world," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Republican, wrote Friday in a letter urging colleagues to support a veto. "Many of those countries do not respect the rule of law, and we cannot expect their responses to be as measured and narrow as ours."

Fifteen of the 19 men who carried out 9/11 were Saudi nationals. Families of the victims spent years lobbying lawmakers for the right to sue the kingdom in U.S. court for any role elements of Saudi Arabia's government may have played. Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, strongly objected to the bill.

Obama long had objected, too, warning that foreign countries might reciprocate by dragging American government, diplomats and military members before courts. The administration was also apprehensive about undermining a difficult yet strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. The U.S. relies on the Saudis to counter Iran's influence in the Middle East and help combat the spread of terrorism.

Since the bill's passage, the White House has lobbied aggressively to persuade lawmakers to withdraw support, and found some sympathetic listeners. The bill had passed by voice vote - meaning lawmakers didn't have to go on the record with their positions — and the White House was hoping the prospect of a recorded vote would lead some Democrats to reconsider publicly rebuking their president.

Debate about the bill has spilled onto the presidential campaign trail, as candidates vie to appear tough on terrorism. The issue is one of a few where Democrat Hillary Clinton, who supports the bill, has publicly disagreed with Obama. Trump, too, backs it, and said Obama's veto was "shameful and will go down as one of the low points of his presidency."

The bill had triggered a perceived threat by Saudi Arabia to pull billions of dollars from the U.S. economy if it was enacted. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said in May the kingdom never issued threats, but had merely warned that investor confidence in the U.S. would shrink if the bill became law.

The House vote on Sept. 9 came two months after Congress released 28 declassified pages from a congressional report into 9/11. The pages reignited speculation over links that at least a few of the attackers had to Saudis, including government officials. The allegations were never substantiated by later U.S. investigations.


Indian airline says Samsung Note 2 emitted smoke in plane

A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is shown in this July 28, 2016, file photo. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

New Delhi (AP) — An Indian airline said Friday that a Samsung Note 2 phone emitted smoke and sparks on a flight from Singapore to the southern Indian city of Chennai.

IndiGo said the phone was found in the bag of a passenger in an overhead bin after other passengers reported smelling smoke in the plane.

The airline said there was no fire but sparks and smoke were coming from the phone.

It said in a statement that the crew used a fire extinguisher and then placed the Samsung Note 2 in a container filled with water in a lavatory.

The aircraft made a normal landing at Chennai airport and all passengers deplaned normally, it said.

The phone will be examined to determine the cause of the incident, the airline said.

A Samsung spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Samsung has recalled 2.5 million newer Note 7 phones after dozens of reports of battery fires attributed to a manufacturing flaw. Authorities in several countries have banned their use in aircraft.


Monty Python's Terry Jones diagnosed with dementia

Terry Jones is shown in this Aug. 21, 2010 file photo.
(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

 London (AP) — Terry Jones, one of the founding members of comedy troupe Monty Python, has been diagnosed with dementia.

In a statement released by Britain's film academy, a representative says the 74-year-old has primary progressive aphasia, which erodes the ability to use language. As a result, Jones can no longer give interviews.

News of Jones' illness came in a statement announcing he is to receive an award for outstanding contribution to film and television from the academy's Welsh branch.

In the late 1960s Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and the late Graham Chapman formed the surreal and anarchic Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Jones directed the Python films "Life Of Brian" and "Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life." With Gilliam, he co-directed "Monty Python and The Holy Grail."


Laos promises to phase out tiger farms: Conservation groups

In this Jan. 29, 2008 file photo, Thai Navy officers and forestry officials display dead tigers, leopards and pangolins seized after a raid on an illegal wildlife trade on the bank of Mekong river in That Phanom district of Nakhon Phanom province, northeastern Thailand. (AP Photo)

 Christopher Torchia

Johannesburg (AP) — Laos has promised to phase out farms that breed endangered tigers for their body parts, a positive step from a country believed to be a major hub of wildlife trafficking in Asia, conservation groups said Friday.

The announcement by Laotian officials in South Africa came one day before the start of a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

If implemented, the move could help to curb the illegal trade in tiger bones and other parts used in traditional medicine in areas of Asia, and protect the depleted population of tigers. Conservation groups say there are about 3,900 tigers in the wild.

Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese criminal networks are also involved in tiger farming and trading, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which works with Laos on tiger protection, urged other Asian countries with commercial tiger breeding centers to follow the example of Laos.

"This commitment is a great example of a nation showing leadership to end the practice of breeding tigers, and we hope as well bears, to supply the demand for their body parts," said Susan Lieberman, head of the society's delegation at the meeting in Johannesburg of the 183 member countries of CITES.

The countries in the U.N. group have pledged to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

A CITES delegation traveled to Laos in July and concluded that criminal groups use Laos as a transit point to smuggle wildlife parts to other Asian countries. It also said the import and export of such items allegedly occurs in violation of CITES rules.

"Law enforcement authorities (in Laos) stated that no arrests or prosecutions related to illegal trade in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife specimens have occurred in the country since 2012," a CITES document said. Laotian officials said other nations in the trafficking chain should use their more abundant resources to help Laos and stop illegal trade, according to the document.

TRAFFIC, a conservation group, said the illegal trade in two other species — the pangolin, a burrowing mammal, and the helmeted hornbill, a rainforest bird — is also rife in Laos.

Pangolins are targeted for their meat, as well as scales that are used in traditional medicine to promote blood circulation, reduce swelling and treat other illnesses.

In Beijing, a practitioner of traditional medicine said his practices developed over thousands of years, but he and his colleagues are thinking of replacements for parts of endangered animals.

"It's no problem to use some bugs in the medicine if it can treat diseases," said Hu Guang, who writes prescriptions for his patients with an ink brush. "Why would you use some endangered animals as medicine? It is just not necessary."


Today in History - Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016

The Associated Press 

Today is Saturday, Sept. 24, the 268th day of 2016. There are 98 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 24, 1996, the United States, represented by President Bill Clinton, and 70 other countries signed a treaty at the United Nations to end all testing and development of nuclear weapons. (To date, 183 countries have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but the agreement has yet to enter into force because of the refusal so far of eight nations — including the United States — to ratify it.)

On this date:

In 1789, President George Washington signed a Judiciary Act establishing America's federal court system and creating the post of attorney general.

In 1869, thousands of businessmen were ruined in a Wall Street panic known as "Black Friday" after financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk attempted to corner the gold market.

In 1890, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilford Woodruff, wrote a manifesto renouncing the practice of plural marriage, or polygamy.

In 1929, Lt. James H. Doolittle guided a Consolidated NY-2 Biplane over Mitchel Field in New York in the first all-instrument flight.

In 1934, Babe Ruth made his farewell appearance as a player with the New York Yankees in a game against the Boston Red Sox. (The Sox won, 5-0.)

In 1948, Mildred Gillars, accused of being Nazi wartime radio propagandist "Axis Sally," pleaded not guilty in Washington D.C. to charges of treason. (Gillars, later convicted, ended up serving 12 years in prison.)

In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack while on vacation in Denver.

In 1957, the Los Angeles-bound Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.

In 1960, the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was launched at Newport News, Virginia. "The Howdy Doody Show" ended a nearly 13-year run with its final telecast on NBC.

In 1976, former hostage Patricia Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison for her part in a 1974 bank robbery in San Francisco carried out by the Symbionese Liberation Army. (Hearst was released after 22 months after receiving clemency from President Jimmy Carter.)

In 1988, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the men's 100-meter dash at the Seoul (sohl) Summer Olympics — but he was disqualified three days later for using anabolic steroids. Members of the eastern Massachusetts Episcopal diocese elected Barbara C. Harris the first female bishop in the church's history.

In 1991, kidnappers in Lebanon freed British hostage Jack Mann after holding him captive for more than two years. Children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel (GY'-zul), better known as "Dr. Seuss," died in La Jolla, California, at age 87.

Ten years ago: In a combative taped interview on "Fox News Sunday," former President Bill Clinton defended his handling of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, and accused host Chris Wallace of a "conservative hit job." Democrats seized on an intelligence assessment that said the Iraq war had increased the terrorist threat, saying it was further evidence Americans should choose new leadership in upcoming elections. The Europeans turned the Ryder Cup into another rout, winning 18 1/2-9 1/2 to make history as the first European team to win three straight times.

Five years ago: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed Vladimir Putin as a presidential candidate for 2012, paving the way for Putin's return to office four years after he was legally forced to step aside. NASA's dead six-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell to Earth, 20 years after being deployed from the space shuttle Discovery.

One year ago: Pope Francis finished his whirlwind visit to the nation's capital, becoming the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress and calling on the lawmakers to help immigrants "and embrace the stranger in our midst." The pope then traveled to New York for an evening prayer service in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Chinese President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng) arrived in Washington, where he and President Barack Obama met for dinner at Blair House, the guest residence near the White House. A stampede and crush of Muslim pilgrims occurred at an intersection near a holy site in Saudi Arabia; The Associated Press estimates that at least 2,426 people were killed, while the official Saudi toll has stood at 769. A repurposed military "duck boat" carrying passengers swerved into an oncoming charter bus on Seattle's Aurora Bridge; five international college students were killed in the crash.

Today's Birthdays: Rhythm-and-blues singer Sonny Turner (The Platters) is 77. Singer Barbara Allbut Brown (The Angels) is 76. Singer Phyllis "Jiggs" Allbut Sirico (The Angels) is 74. Singer Gerry Marsden (Gerry and the Pacemakers) is 74. News anchor Lou Dobbs is 71. Pro and College Football Hall of Famer Joe Greene is 70. Actor Gordon Clapp is 68. Songwriter Holly Knight is 60. Former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, D-Mass., is 64. Actor Kevin Sorbo is 58. Christian/jazz singer Cedric Dent (Take 6) is 54. Actress-writer Nia Vardalos is 54. Rock musician Shawn Crahan (AKA Clown) (Slipknot) is 47. Country musician Marty Mitchell is 47. Actress Megan Ward is 47. Singer-musician Marty Cintron (No Mercy) is 45. Contemporary Christian musician Juan DeVevo (Casting Crowns) is 41. Actor Ian Bohen is 40. Actor Justin Bruening is 37. Olympic gold medal gymnast Paul Hamm (hahm) is 34. Actor Erik Stocklin is 34. Actor Kyle Sullivan is 28.

Thought for Today: "The easiest way to get a reputation is go outside the fold, shout around for a few years as a violent atheist or a dangerous radical, and then crawl back to the shelter." — F. Scott Fitzgerald (born this date in 1896, died 1940).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Tensions loom in the Balkans over Bosnian Serbs' referendum

Bosnian Serb Milorad Dodik, President of the Bosnian Serb region of Republic of Srpska, sings song during a protest of his political party in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka in this file photo taken May 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Radivoje Pavicic)

 Aida Cerkez

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia's Serb mini-state is holding a referendum this weekend that has turned into a proxy political battle between the West and Russia, stoking ethnic tensions and triggering fears of new clashes more than 20 years after the end of the Balkans War.

Sunday's vote asks residents of Republika Srpska whether to maintain a national holiday on Jan. 9, despite a ruling of Bosnia's constitutional court that the date discriminates against non-Serbs.

On January 9, 1992 — a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday — the Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state within Bosnia, fueling a war that resulted in at least 100,000 people dead and millions homeless. During the worst carnage in Europe since World War II, the Serbs — helped by neighboring Serbia — expelled Bosniak Muslims and Catholic Croats from the territory they occupied, with the aim of making it part of Serbia.

A U.S.-brokered peace deal signed in 1995 created Republika Srpska, an autonomous region within Bosnia. For Bosniaks and Croats — whose federation represents the other half of Bosnia — Jan. 9 still symbolizes their expulsion and a sign that the Bosnian Serb-controlled territory is still meant just for Serbs.

Bosnia's constitutional court has banned the referendum, but the Serbs said they will hold it anyway.

The vote sparked the most heated exchange between Bosniaks and Serbs since the war in the 1990s. Serbian officials said they were ready to defend Republika Srpska if it was attacked, and ordered the Serbian army to be more vigilant.

Apart from challenging the country's rule of law, Bosniaks also fear this referendum is a test for a more serious one in 2018 — on independence — which would not go down peacefully, officials in Sarajevo warned.

"Nobody is more ready to defend this country all the way to the end," said Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovic. "Nobody should ... force people who love this country to prove it again," he added.

The referendum also reflects the wider tensions between Western nations — which are supporting the Bosniaks and Croats — and Russia, which is backing the Serbs.

The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo threatened unspecified "consequences" if the referendum is not canceled, while the Russian ambassador openly supported the referendum, saying it is an act of democracy. Russia is a traditional backer of Orthodox Slavic Serbs.

"Russia's economy has been hurt badly by Western sanctions imposed because of Ukraine," said Balkans expert and author Tim Judah. "If Russia can cause the West problems in return, which it seems determined to do in Bosnia now, then so be it. Never mind if this tips Bosnia back into conflict, never mind that Russia has nothing to offer the Balkans, this is simply a good way to cause problems to the West."

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who initiated the referendum and went to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin this week, called Bosniak reactions "hysteria."

"This is not a referendum about secession as many want to portray it," he said. "It is not even a beginning of such a process."

International officials overseeing Bosnian peace accords were outraged by Dodik's defiance and threats of new clashes.

"In the past 20 years we have not heard such language," said the High Representative for Bosnia, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko.

The Peace Implementation Council, an international body overseeing Bosnia, said there will be no redrawing of borders and called on everybody "to refrain from reactive measures and divisive rhetoric." It also urged the Bosnian Serbs to cancel the vote, but Council member Russia distanced itself from the statement.

The referendum is "both a test for state institutions as well as an attack on them," Inzko told the AP in an interview, noting also that Bosnia's criminal law foresees jail terms from six months to five years for those who disobey the constitutional court.

The sanctions could also include travel bans, asset freezes and the halting of international projects in the country, Inzko said. "All options are open," he said.


Charlotte police refuse to release video of deadly shooting

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Police Chief Kerr Putney answers questions during a news conference Thursday, Sept. 22 after a second night of violence following Tuesday's fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

 Mitch Weiss, Meg Kinnard

 Charlotte, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte police refused under mounting pressure Thursday to release video that could resolve wildly different accounts of the shooting of a black man, as the National Guard arrived to try to head off a third night of violence in this city on edge.

The family of 43-year Keith Lamont Scott demanded police release the video after showing them the footage at their request. The family's lawyer said he couldn't tell whether Scott was holding a gun.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said that releasing police dashcam and body camera footage of Scott's killing could undermine the investigation. He told reporters the video will be made public when he believes there is a "compelling reason" to do so.

"You shouldn't expect it to be released," Putney said. "I'm not going to jeopardize the investigation."

Meanwhile, an undisclosed number of National Guardsmen assembled in Charlotte, sent in by Gov. Pat McCrory after a second straight night of racial unrest that seemed at odds with Charlotte's image as a diverse, forward-looking banking capital of the New South.

Charlotte is just the latest U.S. city to be shaken by protests and recriminations over the death of a black man at the hands of police, a list that includes Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday, prosecutors charged a white officer with manslaughter for killing an unarmed black man on a city street last week.

In Charlotte, scores of rioters Wednesday night attacked reporters and others, set fires and smashed windows of hotels, office buildings and restaurants in the city's bustling downtown section. The NASCAR Hall of Fame was among the places damaged.

Forty-four people were arrested, and one protester who was shot died at the hospital Thursday; city officials said police did not shoot the man and no arrests have been made in 26-year-old Justin Carr's death.

On Thursday, in a measure of how tense things had become, three of Charlotte's major employers — Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy — told thousands of employees not to venture into the city.

Hours before nightfall Thursday, the police chief said he saw no need for a curfew. In addition to the National Guardsmen, North Carolina state troopers and U.S. Justice Department conflict-resolution experts were sent to keep the peace.

Demonstrators have been demanding answers in Scott's killing, with some carrying signs that read "Release the tapes."

Police have said that Scott was shot to death Tuesday by a black officer after he disregarded loud, repeated warnings to drop his gun. Neighbors, though, have said he was holding only a book. The police chief said a gun was found next to the dead man, and there was no book.

Putney said that he has seen the video and it does not contain "absolute, definitive evidence that would confirm that a person was pointing a gun." But he added: "When taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we said."

Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott's family, watched the video with the slain man's relatives. He said Scott gets out of his vehicle calmly.

"While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time. It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands," Bamberg said in a statement.

Scott was shot as he walked slowly backward with his hands by his side, Bamberg said.

The lawyer said at a news conference earlier in the day that Scott's wife saw him get shot, "and that's something she will never, ever forget." That is the first time anyone connected with the case has said the wife witnessed the shooting. Bamberg gave no details on what the wife saw.

Experts who track shootings by police noted that the release of videos can often quell protest violence, and that the footage sometimes shows that events unfolded differently than the official account.

"What we've seen in too many situations now is that the videos tell the truth and the police who were involved in the shooting tell lies," said Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at Pace University School of Law. He said it is "irresponsible" of police not to release the video immediately.

Other cities have released footage of police shootings. Just this week, Tulsa police let the public see video of the disputed Sept. 16 shooting, though the footage left important questions unanswered.

Last year, a Chicago police officer was charged with murder the same day the city released dashcam video that showed him shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, footage that contradicted the accounts of officers who said the teen swung a knife at them.

"We all stand together declaring there must be transparency and the videos must be released," the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said at a news conference. "At this point, there is speculation because the videos have not been released. Be clear: There is unrest in Charlotte and across America because of what we do know."

The police chief acknowledged that he has promised transparency in the investigation, but said, "I'm telling you right now, if you think I say we should display a victim's worst day for consumption, that is not the transparency I'm speaking of."


Section of Great Wall of China marred in name of restoration

A villager walks across a restored section of the Great Wall in Suizhong County in northeastern China's Liaoning Province, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. (Chinatopix via AP)

 Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — Chinese officials are being pilloried over the smoothing-over of a crumbling but much-loved 700-year-old section of the Great Wall of China — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — in the name of restoration.

The widely mocked project involved an 8-kilometer (5-mile) unrestored Xiaohekou section of the wall that has become known as the "most beautiful wild Great Wall."

Defensive works and guard towers were knocked flat as part of the project, officially launched to prevent further deterioration caused by the elements. Reports said sand and other materials were poured on top, protecting it but giving it the appearance of an elevated bike path running through steep forested hills.

The head of the Liaoning Provincial Antiquities Bureau, Ding Hui, was quoted by the newspaper Beijing News on Wednesday as saying the work was completed two years ago over the course of three months as part of a government restoration plan.

"It really was an ugly repair job," Ding conceded.

The wall section built during the Ming Dynasty in 1381 lies in Liaoning's Suizhong county along the border with Hebei province.

An official reached by phone at the government's Culture Bureau in Huludao city, which oversees Suizhong, said he had been told the restoration plan had been approved at the central government level by the State Administration of Cultural Relics.

"The old wall was badly damaged over a long period of history and the restoration work was aimed at preventing it from falling apart and being washed away by the rain," said the official, who like many Chinese government bureaucrats declined to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Phones were not answered at county and provincial government cultural relics offices.

Many of the reports on the restoration lamented its inconsistency, with different materials, including lime, mortar and concrete, used in different places.

Dong Yaohui, vice chairman of the Great Wall Studies Society, called the restoration work "basic and crude."

"This sort of repair work harms the people's appreciation of the Great Wall's history and culture, severing a channel of dialogue between the people and cultural heritage," Dong was quoted as saying by the Beijing News.

"This sort of behavior is ridiculous," he added.

Online, commentators were scathing in their criticisms.

China has passed legislation in recent years to protect the Great Wall, large sections of which have been bulldozed, pillaged for building materials or heavily restored and commercialized.

The wall dates from 220 B.C., when China joined existing walls and fortifications to defend against invasions from northern tribes.

Construction continued up through the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) until the wall became the world's largest military structure, allowing troops and couriers to move long distances quickly.

Estimates of its overall length vary, but according to UNESCO, which named it a World Heritage Site in 1987, it once ran for more than 20,000 kilometers (12,500 miles).


Dozens drown after migrant boat capsizes off Egypt's coast

Egyptians wait on shore as a coast guard boat arrives carrying the bodies of migrants from a Europe-bound boat that capsized off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, in Rosetta, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 22. (AP Photo/Eman Helal)

 Mohammed Salah, Maggie Hyde

Rosetta, Egypt (AP) — Survivors, some handcuffed to hospital beds, described watching women and children drown after an overcrowded migrant boat capsized off Egypt's coast, as Egyptian authorities said Thursday 51 bodies had been recovered and an international NGO estimated that over a hundred people were still missing at sea.

Fishermen in boats were first at the scene early Wednesday, an Egyptian official said, and in the more than five hours it took the coast guard to arrive, they rescued dozens of survivors and retrieved bodies.

The capsizing could potentially rank among the deadliest incidents in the migrant route across the Mediterranean. However, the final death toll will require first obtaining a reliable figure for how many people were on board the boat, and more bodies could yet be recovered at sea or along the coast.

Estimates for the number of passengers aboard the boat ranged between 250, 350 and 600. Survivors said most of those who died were women and children.

The International Organization for Migration said the boat carried 350 migrants, but cautioned that the figure was an estimate, according to IOM spokesman Joel A. Millman in Rome. He did not say how the agency arrived at that figure. Quoting unidentified sources, he said the Egyptian coast guard had rescued 163 migrants and recovered 42 bodies, leaving 145 unaccounted for.

"We're still working to verify what has happened to survivors. I'm sure you can appreciate the difficulties in gathering accurate information in cases like this,' said Jenny Sparks of IOM in Geneva.

Mohammed Sultan, the governor of Beheira province, where Rosetta is located, told The Associated Press that authorities did not have a precise number for those who were on board the vessel, but that 250-400 seemed likely. He said 157 people were rescued.

Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency, MENA, on Wednesday put the number at 600, but did not say where the figure came from.

The U.N. refugee agency said it had received preliminary estimates of around 450 people aboard, with 150 survivors. Spokeswoman Barbara Molinario said the agency hadn't yet interviewed survivors, which is often a crucial piece of the puzzle in determining passenger numbers. The estimates came from UNHCR's contacts with Egyptian authorities.

The head of the local council in the area, Ali Abdel-Sattar, said the loss of life would have been much heavier had a fishing vessel not been close by when the boat capsized. He identified the skipper of the fishing boat as Mohammed Abu Hamid.

"If this man wasn't there, if this man wasn't sent by God, the entire group of migrants would have been dead by now," said Abdel-Sattar.

He said the coast guard did not start its rescue operations until 11 a.m. on Wednesday, more than five hours after the boat capsized.

Hassan Suleiman, a relative of one of those who were on board, said authorities were slow to rescue the migrants and that fishing boats were first at the scene, plucking bodies from the water and rescuing survivors. He also claimed that traffickers in the area were known to police by name and that some policemen were paid by them to look the other way.

"This is shameful. This is shameful for our children and our young people that go to them."

He said migrants go out to sea in small groups and gather at bigger boats, which begin the journey to Europe when traffickers believe they have gathered enough passengers. He said on bigger boats, the space below deck at the front of the vessel is often packed tight with people. "Those are dead, for sure."

He said smugglers were charging migrants around 35,000 Egyptian pounds (nearly US$4,000) each for the perilous journey to Europe. "They paid money to go and die," he said.

Egyptian authorities, meanwhile, arrested four people in connection with the incident and issued arrest warrants for five more. They said the four were members of the vessel's crew and were remanded in police custody for four days pending further investigation. They face charges of human trafficking and manslaughter.

An initial breakdown of the nationalities of the migrants showed that they included 111 Egyptians, mostly teenagers and men in their 20s, said Sultan, the Beheira governor. There were also 25 Sudanese, while the rest were sub-Saharan Africans and Syrians.

Thousands of illegal migrants have made the dangerous sea voyage across the Mediterranean in recent years, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Egypt to Europe has increased significantly in the past year, EU border agency Frontex recently said. More than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September, compared to 7,000 in the same period last year, it said.

Many of the survivors in the latest tragedy were detained briefly by police, before they were released. Some of those rescued after suffering injuries were taken to hospitals, where they lay handcuffed to beds under police guard.

One survivor, Ahmed Darwish, blamed traffickers for the tragedy, saying overcrowding caused the boat to capsize, and accused authorities of not reacting quickly enough.

"The boat is meant to hold 200, and they put 400 in it. And this is what caused the catastrophe," he said. Many of the dead, he explained, were women and children who could not swim. "Those ... that knew how to swim moved away (from the boat), leaving behind women and small children," he said.

Mina Fawzi, a 19-year-old survivor, told AP that there were already about 250 people on the boat when the smugglers brought along another 250. "With the large number of people, the boat sank," he said.


Kerry admits diplomacy at impasse as Syrian truce collapses

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and United States Secretary of State John Kerry talk during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group, Thursday, Sept. 22, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

 Bradley Klapper, Matthew Lee

 New York (AP) — The United States and Russia ended any pretenses Thursday of their cease-fire for Syria remaining in force after days of increased violence and the Syrian military's announcement of a new offensive in Aleppo.

"We can't go out to the world and say we have an agreement when we don't," Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting the top diplomats from Russia and more than a dozen European and Middle Eastern countries.

Kerry's statement, after three days of private and public diplomacy on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, provided an ominous endnote to a week diplomats had hoped would be a major capstone toward peace.

Instead, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who negotiated the truce two weeks ago, went their separate ways as violence in Syria flared up anew and the relationship between the two key foreign powers in the conflict appeared to reach a new low.

No one spoke of being able to quickly resuscitate the cease-fire. While Kerry and Lavrov were set to hold more talks Friday, even confidence-building measures seemed beyond their reach at this point.

As the diplomats huddled in a New York hotel, Syria's military command said it would restart operations in the northern city of Aleppo, scene of some of the bitterest fighting in recent months.

According to one official present in the gathering, Kerry was informed of the news when his chief of staff showed him a headline on his BlackBerry.

A furious Kerry then told the entire room, Lavrov included, that "even while we are meeting here, they are doing this," said the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Lavrov told Russian media that consultations would continue to "guarantee" the cease-fire.

But even as Kerry vowed to press on with all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the war between Syrian President Bashar Assad's Russian-backed government and U.S.-backed rebels, the American acknowledged the current strategy wasn't working.

"We can't be the only ones trying to hold this door open," Kerry told reporters. "Russia and the regime must do their part or this will have no chance."

He called for the immediate grounding of planes and helicopters that have launched airstrikes, including a Russian one earlier this week that the U.S. says hit an aid convoy, killing 20 civilians. Russia has denied responsibility, while raising a range of ulterior scenarios for how the caravan might have been struck.

"Absent a major gesture like this, we don't believe there is a point to making more promises or issuing more plans or announcing something that can't be reached," Kerry said, describing a "moment of truth" for Syria, Russia and all those trying to halt the bloodshed.

The meeting came after Assad told the AP in an interview in Damascus that the United States was to blame for the deal's failure. He cited U.S. inability to control "terrorist" groups and a weekend attack that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. The U.S. apologized for what it described as a mistake.

Lavrov had sought a three-day pause in fighting to revive the cease-fire.

But U.S. officials said there was no point returning to a situation in which rebels would be pressed to hold fire, while the Syrian and Russian military's could violate the agreement.

American officials described the two-and-a-half-hour meeting in the Palace Hotel as "contentious."

Kerry and others made the point repeatedly to Lavrov that Russia had to undertake new steps that went beyond previous agreements to salvage the process. Lavrov pushed only for all sides to recommit to the Sept. 9 truce, according to officials.

Russia provided "unsatisfactory" answers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Kerry said he would wait for Lavrov to tell him Friday if Russia would suspend airstrikes for a significant period of time.

At the U.N., Assad's other major supporter also rejected the U.S.-led call for aircraft to be grounded.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said doing so would aid "terrorists."

"This course has no foundation, no logic," said Rouhani, whose country has directed Iranian troops and Hezbollah forces in support of Assad.

The war has killed as many as a half-million people, contributed to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terror threat.


Yahoo hack steals personal info from at least 500M accounts

People walk in front of a Yahoo sign at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Michael Liedtke

 San Francisco (AP) — Computer hackers swiped personal information from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts in what is believed to be the biggest digital break-in at an email provider.

The massive security breakdown disclosed Thursday poses new headaches for beleaguered Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as she scrambles to close a $4.8 billion sale to Verizon .

The breach dates back to late 2014, raising questions about the checks and balances within Yahoo — a fallen internet star that has been laying off staff and trimming expenses to counter a steep drop in revenue during the past eight years.

At the time of the break-in, Yahoo's security team was led by Alex Stamos, a respected industry executive who left last year to take a similar job at Facebook.

ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH

Yahoo didn't explain what took so long to uncover a heist that it blamed on a "state-sponsored actor" — parlance for a hacker working on behalf of a foreign government.

The Sunnyvale, California, company declined to explain how it reached its conclusions about the attack for security reasons, but said it is working with the FBI and other law enforcement. Yahoo began investigating a possible breach in July, around the time the tech site Motherboard reported that a hacker who uses the name "Peace" was trying to sell account information belonging to 200 million Yahoo users.

Yahoo didn't find evidence of that reported hack, but additional digging later uncovered a far larger, allegedly state-sponsored attack.

"We take these types of breaches very seriously and will determine how this occurred and who is responsible," the FBI said in a Thursday statement.

MOST ACCOUNTS EVER STOLEN

The Yahoo theft represents the most accounts ever stolen from a single email provider, according to computer security analyst Avivah Litan with the technology research firm Gartner Inc.

"It's a shocking number," Litan said. "This is a pretty big deal that is probably going to cost them tens of millions of dollars. Regulators and lawyers are going to have a field day with this one."

Yahoo says it has more than 1 billion monthly users, although it hasn't disclosed how many of those people have email accounts. In July, 161 million people worldwide used Yahoo email on personal computers, a 30 percent decline from the same time in 2014, according to the latest data from the research firm comScore.

The data stolen from Yahoo includes users' names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, scrambled passwords, and the security questions — and answers — used to verify an accountholder's identity. The company said the attacker didn't get any information about its users' bank accounts or credit and debit cards.

Security experts say the Yahoo theft could hurt the affected users if their personal information is mined to break into other online services or used for identity theft. All affected users will be notified about the theft and advised how to protect themselves, according to the company.

Yahoo also is recommending that all users change their passwords if they haven't done so since 2014. If the same password is used to access other sites, it should be changed too, along with any security questions similar to those used on Yahoo.

THE VERIZON IMPACT

News of the security lapse could cause some people to have second thoughts about relying on Yahoo's services, raising a prickly issue for the company as it tries to sell its digital operations to Verizon.

That deal, announced two months ago, isn't supposed to close until early next year. That leaves Verizon with wiggle room to renegotiate the purchase price or even back out if it believes the security breach will harm Yahoo's business. That could happen if users shun Yahoo or file lawsuits because they're incensed by the theft of their personal information.

Verizon said it still doesn't know enough about the Yahoo break-in to assess the potential consequences. "We will evaluate as the investigation continues through the lens of overall Verizon interests, including consumers, customers, shareholders and related communities," the company said in a statement.

DELAY OF SALE?

At the very least, Verizon is going to need more time to assess what it will be getting into if it proceeds with its plans to take over Yahoo, said Scott Vernick, an attorney specializing in data security for the law firm Fox Rothschild.

"This is going to slow things down. There is going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears shed on this," Vernick said. "A buyer needs to understand the cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses of its target these days."

Investors evidently aren't nervous about the Verizon deal unraveling yet. Yahoo's stock added a penny Thursday to close at $44.15. But the Verizon sale represents a sliver of Yahoo's total market value, which primarily consists of a stake in Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group currently worth $42 billion.


Today in History - Friday, Sept. 23, 2016

The Associated Press 

Today is Friday, Sept. 23, the 267th day of 2016. There are 99 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 23, 1846, Neptune was identified as a planet by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle (GAH'-luh).

On this date:

In 1779, during the Revolutionary War, the American warship Bon Homme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, defeated the HMS Serapis in battle off Yorkshire, England; however, the seriously damaged Bon Homme Richard sank two days later.

In 1780, British spy John Andre was captured along with papers revealing Benedict Arnold's plot to surrender West Point to the British.

In 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition returned to St. Louis more than two years after setting out for the Pacific Northwest.

In 1926, Gene Tunney scored a ten-round decision over Jack Dempsey to win the world heavyweight boxing title in Philadelphia.

In 1939, Sigmund Freud (froyd), the founder of psychoanalysis, died in London at age 83.

In 1952, in what became known as the "Checkers" speech, Sen. Richard M. Nixon, R-Calif., salvaged his vice-presidential nomination by appearing on television to refute allegations of improper campaign fundraising.

In 1955, a jury in Sumner, Mississippi, acquitted two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, of murdering black teenager Emmett Till. (The two men later admitted to the crime in an interview with Look magazine.)

In 1957, nine black students who'd entered Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas were forced to withdraw because of a white mob outside.

In 1962, New York's Philharmonic Hall (later renamed Avery Fisher Hall) formally opened as the first unit of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. "The Jetsons," an animated cartoon series about a Space Age family, premiered as the ABC television network's first program in color.

In 1973, former Argentine president Juan Peron won a landslide election victory that returned him to power; his wife, Isabel, was elected vice president.

In 1987, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., withdrew from the Democratic presidential race following questions about his use of borrowed quotations and the portrayal of his academic record.

In 1996, space shuttle Atlantis left Russia's orbiting Mir station with astronaut Shannon Lucid, who ended her six-month visit with tender goodbyes to her Russian colleagues.

Ten years ago: Three young children were found dead in an East St. Louis, Illinois, apartment, hours after Tiffany Hall was charged with killing their pregnant mother and her fetus in a grisly attack. (Hall later pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and one count of intentional homicide in the death of the fetus and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.) Barry Bonds hit his 734th career home run in the Giants' 10-8 loss to the Brewers, breaking Hank Aaron's NL record.

Five years ago: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (mahk-MOOD' ah-BAHS') took his people's quest for independence to the United Nations, seeking the world body's recognition of Palestine and sidestepping negotiations that had foundered for nearly two decades. Pope Benedict XVI, visiting his native Germany, met with victims of sexual abuse by priests and expressed "deep compassion and regret," according to the Vatican. After 41 years, the soap opera "All My Children" broadcast its final episode on ABC-TV.

One year ago: In the first canonization on U.S. soil, Pope Francis elevated to sainthood Junipero Serra, an 18th-century missionary who's brought Catholicism to the American West Coast. Earlier in the day, the pontiff met with President Barack Obama at the White House and was greeted by adoring crowds during an outdoor procession. Chinese President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng), visiting Seattle, addressed Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, billionaire investor Warren Buffett and other top American and Chinese business leaders, vowing his country would work to remove barriers to foreign investment and improve intellectual property protections. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned, days after admitting that the world's top-selling carmaker had rigged diesel emissions to pass U.S. tests during his tenure; Winterkorn denied any personal wrongdoing.

Today's Birthdays: Singer Julio Iglesias is 73. Actor Paul Petersen (TV: "The Donna Reed Show") is 71. Actress-singer Mary Kay Place is 69. Rock star Bruce Springsteen is 67. Director/playwright George C. Wolfe (Film: "Nights in Rodanthe") is 62. Rock musician Leon Taylor (The Ventures) is 61. Actress Rosalind Chao is 59. Golfer Larry Mize is 58. Actor Jason Alexander is 57. Actor Chi McBride is 55. Country musician Don Herron (BR549) is 54. Actor Erik Todd Dellums is 52. Actress LisaRaye is 50. Singer Ani (AH'-nee) DiFranco is 46. Rock singer Sarah Bettens (K's Choice) is 44. Recording executive Jermaine Dupri is 44. Actor Kip Pardue is 40. Actor Anthony Mackie is 38. Pop singer Erik-Michael Estrada (TV: "Making the Band") is 37. Actress Aubrey Dollar is 36. Pop singer Diana Ortiz (Dream) is 31. Tennis player Melanie Oudin (oo-DAN') is 25.

Thought for Today: "Education is hanging around until you've caught on." — Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Cambodia deports 63 Chinese, Taiwanese over alleged web scam

Chinese police escort an internet fraud suspect at Lukou International Airport in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu Province after being deported from Cambodia, Sept. 20, 2016. (Han Yuqing/Xinhua via AP)

 Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh (AP) — Cambodia has deported 50 Chinese and 13 Taiwanese citizens to China over an alleged internet scam, complying with demands from Beijing, a senior police official said Wednesday.

The suspects were flown out of Cambodia on Tuesday, said Gen. Ouk Haiseila, chief of the Cambodian Interior Ministry's Immigration Investigation Bureau. He said the Chinese government sent a special plane from Beijing to take them back.

In June, Taiwan protested after Cambodia deported 25 Taiwanese internet scam suspects to rival China in the latest snub of the self-ruled island. Cambodia regards Taiwan to be part of China.

The latest group of 63 suspects was arrested late last month in a rented house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. They were accused of defrauding victims in China using phone calls made over the internet.

Since 2012, at least 982 Chinese and Taiwanese accused of taking part in internet scams have been arrested and deported back to China, according to Ouk Haiseila.

Although Taiwan's constitution formally decrees that it and the Chinese mainland are part of a single Chinese nation, Taiwan functions like an independent country and does not acknowledge Beijing's claim of authority over it.

Rights activists and Taiwanese authorities say such deportations reflect the great influence China exercises over Cambodia through aid and investment.

China is a key ally and economic partner of impoverished Cambodia. It has provided millions of dollars in aid and investment over the past decade, agreed to write off debts and granted it tariff-free status for hundreds of items.

Kenya and Malaysia have also deported Taiwanese internet scam suspects to China despite protests by Taiwanese officials.
 


Argentine leader mentions Falklands in chat with British PM

A Union Jack flag flies above Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. (AP Photo/file)

United Nations (AP) — Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he spoke informally with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday and brought up the dialogue the countries have re-established in hopes of resolving the dispute over the Falklands Islands.

Macri told reporters the encounter after a United Nations lunch was "a minute" and "very informal." The two leaders had a similar encounter 10 days ago at the G-20 summit in China.

He separately told the official Argentine news agency Telam that he greeted May and told her that "he is ready to start an open a dialogue that includes, of course, the issue of the sovereignty of the Malvinas." The islands are referred to as the Malvinas in Argentina.

Macri said the British leader responded with a "yes, that we should start to talk," according to Telam.

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra later cautioned that while the sovereignty of the disputed islands is something to be discussed with Britain, it would be "a big step to say that the issue is on the table."

There was no comment from the British government.

Tensions between Argentina and Britain have eased since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez left office and Macri assumed the post promising a less-confrontational stance.

Last week, the two governments announced that they had agreed to lift restrictions affecting the islands, in a thawing of relations. The sides agreed to increase the number of flights between the Falklands and Argentina, adding one new stop a month in each direction.

Argentina lost a 1982 war with Britain after Argentine troops seized the South Atlantic archipelago.

Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain disputes the claim and says Argentina is ignoring the wishes of the 3,000 residents, who wish to remain British.


Hungarian inmates working around the clock on border fence

Prison inmates manufacture razor wire to be used on the fences Hungary has built on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop the flow of migrants and refugees, in Marianosztra, Hungary, Wednesday,. Sept. 21. (AP Photo/Andras Nagy)

 Pablo Gorondi, Andras Nagy

Marianosztra, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian prison inmates are ramping up their production of razor wire, working around the clock as Hungary prepares to build a second fence on the border with Serbia to keep out refugees and other migrants.

The razor wire manufacturing at the prison in Marianosztra, northern Hungary, has increased from two shifts earlier this year, to three. Besides its domestic use, Hungary has also sold or donated fence elements, including wire and steel posts, to other countries in the region, including Slovenia and Macedonia.

"The inmates are manufacturing razor wire in three shifts a day, with 13 inmates in each shift producing the wire," Lt. Tamas Szep, the prison's press officer, said Wednesday. "The capacity of the plant is around 100 wire spools per day, which is heavily influenced by the fact that most of the work is done by hand."

Human rights organizations consider Hungary's fences erected last year as the first step in efforts by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to dismantle the country's asylum system.

Hungary's Helsinki Committee says the fence, the closure of asylum centers and other measures are destroying the asylum system.

"The asylum system, over the past year, has been basically emptied of its capacity to provide protection," said Helsinki Committee co-chair Marta Pardavi. "There is a clear policy of zero migration, of zero refugees coming to Hungary."

Other steps taken by Hungary in recent months to destroy its asylum system include the closure of refugee reception centers, the elimination or reduction of subsidies to assist the integration of people granted asylum, the deterioration of legal safeguards for refuges and new measures which allow the summary return across the fence of migrants caught near the border.

Orban's anti-migrant policies have been building toward a referendum to be held Oct. 2 in which the prime minister hopes to gather political support for his opposition to any future EU plan to resettle migrants among its member states.

Separately, Hungary is also challenging the EU in court, hoping to prevent having to temporarily take in 1,294 refugees until their asylum claims are decided.

The government's relentless referendum campaign includes a ubiquitous galaxy of anti-migrant posters, television ads, multiple daily statements and forums held by government officials and from Orban's Fidesz party, as well as a pamphlet distributed to voters warning about the alleged risks of migration.

One of the claims is that there are hundreds of "no-go" zones which "authorities are incapable of keeping under control" in cities of countries with large numbers of immigrants like Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. According to the pamphlet, "the written and unwritten norms of the host societies do not apply" in those areas.

In its own way, the Hungarian government has already achieved its goal, as many of the few hundred refugees a year granted asylum in the country prefer to leave.


Africa divided over ivory trade, as some states want to sell

In this Thursday, June, 2, 2016 file photo, a Zimbabwe National Parks official holds an elephant task during a tour of the country's ivory stockpile at the Zimbabwe National Parks Headquarters in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

 Christopher Torchia

Johannesburg, S. Africa (AP) — Villagers and elephants are competing for scarce water in a remote part of Namibia, one of a minority of African nations that will push for the right to sell millions of dollars' worth of ivory at an international wildlife meeting that starts Saturday.

"We at times have to go without water when the elephants are at the water points and wells the whole day," villager Iningirua Musaso told the Namibia Press Agency this month.

Conflict between wildlife and some rural communities, particularly during the worst drought in southern Africa in several decades, is often overshadowed by grim news about the continent-wide slaughter of elephants by poachers.

The number of Africa's savannah elephants dropped by about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, because of poaching, according to a recent study.

The southern African countries that want to sell their ivory stockpiles argue that it's OK to profit from elephants so that their people see wildlife as a natural resource worth protecting.

African countries, however, are divided over how to conserve elephants. While Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa favor selling ivory stockpiles, they are opposed by about 30 nations that want to tighten an international ban on the ivory trade.

The world's main ivory consumer, China, plans to close its domestic market. The United States has announced a near-total ban on the domestic sale of African elephant ivory.

Namibia has said it does not expect the discussions at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, to go in its favor.

South Africa supports Namibian and Zimbabwean proposals for international ivory sales, said Edna Molewa, the country's environment minister. Southern African countries with robust elephant populations should not be treated the same way as other nations hit hard by elephant poaching, she told reporters this week.

South Africa has about 27,000 elephants; Zimbabwe has 82,000; and Namibia has 20,000 or more. The countries say they can make millions of dollars by selling ivory stockpiles.

Some 3,500 delegates are expected to attend the meeting of the CITES group, which has 183 member countries and aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Proposals that are put to a vote require a two-thirds majority to be accepted.

CITES allowed a one-off sale of elephant ivory that was completed in 2009. In that sale, ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe went to China and Japan. The sale of 102 tons of ivory raised $15.4 million for elephant conservation, according to CITES.

Frank Pope, operations manager at Save the Elephants, a Kenya-based group, said elephant populations will suffer if African countries don't unite to oppose the ivory trade.

"If one of the nations that wants to sell ivory decides to sell ivory and manages to put that onto the market, that creates a smoke screen for an illegal trade to flourish across the whole of the rest of the continent," he said.


World leaders rage against neighbours on 2nd day of UN debate

Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 21. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

 Alexandra Olson

United Nations (AP) — World leaders from Pakistan to Ukraine unleashed their regional grievances Wednesday, taking the stage of the U.N. General Assembly to rage against their neighbours and presenting a picture of a chaotic world consumed by intractable conflicts.

A few paces from the General Assembly hall, the United States and Russia bitterly attacked each other during a Security Council meeting meant to salvage Syria's faltering cease-fire. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored Syria's warring parties to lay down their arms.

In the midst of the anger, a few bright spots emerged on the second day of the annual U.N. gathering of heads of states. Colombia basked in world praise when it presented its newly reached peace agreement with leftist rebels to the Security Council. Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi made her first General Assembly speech since she formed a democratically elected government in Myanmar.

But on the International Day of Peace, tensions from all parts of the planet filled the halls of the United Nations.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang voiced his country's mounting frustration with ally North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, highlighting the urgency of reaching "a comprehensive political solution on the Korean nuclear issue."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe devoted about half of his address to North Korea, which earlier this month conducted its fifth nuclear test in defiance of repeated Security Council resolutions intended to constrain its weapons development.

Abe said North Korea this year fired three missiles into Japan's exclusive economic zone and it was a matter of luck that no ships or aircraft were damaged. He urged unity in the Security Council to confront the North Korean threat.

"We must concentrate our strengths and thwart North Korea's plans," Abe said.

Some of the angriest words came from the rivalries between Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivered a blistering attack on neighboring India while, across the world, gunbattles raged for a second day between Indian soldiers and suspected rebels in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Sharif demanded a U.N. investigation against "brutalities perpetrated by the Indian occupying forces," saying "innocent Kashmiri children, women and men" have been killed, blinded and injured.

Moments earlier, Pakistan came under attack from Afghanistan.

Vice President Sarwar Danesh said "merciless attacks from terrorist groups" against its civilians are being planned and organized on Pakistani territory. He said Afghanistan has repeatedly asked Pakistan to destroy known terrorist safe havens but there has been no change in the situation.

Sharif shot back that Pakistan has suffered from spillover of Afghanistan's internal conflicts for more than three decades and "progress will be assured only when the Afghan parties themselves conclude that there is no military solution to the Afghan war."

There was positive news in Ukraine, where the government and separatist rebels agreed Wednesday to pull back troops and weapons from several areas in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to uphold a fragile peace agreement reached last year.

But at the United Nations, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lambasted Russia for being "the instigator and major participant" in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"The terrorist component of the undeclared hybrid war that Russia wages against Ukraine is evident," Poroshenko said.

Respite from the invective came from Colombia, which appeared at the annual U.N. gathering as a country in peace for the first time in five decades.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos devoted almost his entire speech to the peace deal reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which will be signed in Cartagena later this month and must be submitted to a national referendum on Oct. 2.

"A new Colombia greets the international community today," Santos said. "A Colombia full of hope. A Colombia that, without a war, is ready to reach its highest potential and to be a positive factor in the global context."

He later met with President Barack Obama, who praised the peace accord as an "achievement of historic proportions."

Ban commended Santos for his "vision and determination."

"In a time of armed conflicts in many other places, peace in Colombia sends a powerful message of hope in the world," Ban said.


Zuckerberg, Chan pledge $3B to end disease

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan smile as they prepare for a speech in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 20. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

 Barbara Ortutay

San Francisco (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a goal that's even more ambitious than connecting the entire world to the internet: He and his wife want to help eradicate all disease by the end of this century.

Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are committing $3 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate basic scientific research. That includes creating research tools — from software to hardware to yet-undiscovered techniques — they hope will ultimately lead to scientific breakthroughs, the way the microscope and DNA sequencing have in generations past.

The goal is to "cure, prevent or manage all disease" in the next 80 or so years, a timeframe the 30-something couple are unlikely to live to see. They acknowledge that this might sound crazy, but point to how far medicine and science have come in the last century — with vaccines, statins for heart disease, chemotherapy, and so on — following millennia with little progress.

At current rates of progress, Zuckerberg reckons, it will be possible to solve most of these problems "by the end of this century." Zuckerberg and Chan have spent the past two years speaking to scientists and other experts to plan the endeavor. In an interview, Zuckerberg emphasized "that this isn't something where we just read a book and decided we're going to do it."

Through their philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the commitment includes $600 million to fund a new research center in San Francisco where scientific and medical researchers will work alongside engineers on projects spanning years or even decades. The goal is not to focus narrowly on specific ailments, such as bone cancer or Parkinson's disease, but rather to do basic research. One example: a cell atlas that maps out all the different types of cells in the body, which could help researchers create various types of drugs.

Chan's work as a pediatrician seems to be a big driver in the couple's decision to take up this latest cause.

"I've been with families where we've hit the limit of what's possible through medicine and science," Chan said. "I've had to tell families devastating diagnoses of leukemia, or that we just weren't able to resuscitate their child."

The couple spoke with The Associated Press in their home in Palo Alto, California, where their infant daughter, Max, had just woken from a nap. Their dog, Beast, came by to sit briefly during the 25-minute interview.

Zuckerberg and Chan hope that their effort will inspire other far-reaching efforts and collaboration in science, medicine and engineering, so that basic research is no longer relegated to the margins.

"We spend 50 times more on health care treating people who are sick than we spend on science research (to cure) diseases so that people don't get sick in the first place," Zuckerberg said.

Eric Lander, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he's had some 20 conversations with Zuckerberg and Chan over the past year about the initiative and called it "the right kind of goal for thinking about that kind of timeframe." He is not involved with the project itself, but expressed confidence in it.

"Mark has brought new models to industry with Facebook," he said.

Zuckerberg said it has been difficult with today's scientific funding to build scientific teams of the scale "you would find at a world-class technology company."

Nobel laureate David Baltimore wrote in the journal Science that private efforts such as Zuckerberg and Chan's could help supplement government funding and "initiate research thrusts into unproven directions, which generally do not draw government funding."

Their new center, Biohub, will run as an independent research center at the University of California, San Francisco in collaboration with UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

The Chan Zuckerberg science initiative will be headed by Cori Bargmann, a neuroscientist who is best known in scientific circles for her research on the behavior of a tiny worm called C. elegans. Bargmann said the idea of bringing engineers and scientists together presents a "unique opportunity to take science in a new direction."

Zuckerberg and Chan, who have committed to donating 99 percent of their wealth , stressed that they believe that their goal can be accomplished, if not in their lifetime, then in their child's lifetime. It was Max's birth last November that inspired the billionaire couple to give away nearly all their money to help solve the world's problems.

At the time, this was valued at more than $45 billion worth of Facebook stock, which the couple transferred to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The couple's philanthropy plan won't affect Zuckerberg's status as controlling shareholder of Facebook.

Zuckerberg and Chan often draw comparisons to Bill and Melinda Gates, whose philanthropic work also focuses on health and education. In an emailed statement, the Gates said investing "in basic science research is at the root of the world's most important innovations and achievements." Zuckerberg and Chan, the Gates added, "are making an incredible commitment to research and development that will lead to the breakthroughs to cure disease and lift millions out of poverty."


Today in History - Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016

The Associated Press

Today is Thursday, Sept. 22, the 266th day of 2016. There are 100 days left in the year. Autumn arrives at 10:21 a.m. Eastern time.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 22, 1776, during the Revolutionary War, Capt. Nathan Hale, 21, was hanged as a spy by the British in New York.

On this date:

In 1792, the first French Republic was proclaimed.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in rebel states should be free as of Jan. 1, 1863.

In 1911, pitcher Cy Young, 44, gained his 511th and final career victory as he hurled a 1-0 shutout for the Boston Rustlers against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field.

In 1927, Gene Tunney successfully defended his heavyweight boxing title against Jack Dempsey in the famous "long-count" fight in Chicago.

In 1938, the musical comedy revue "Hellzapoppin'," starring Ole (OH'-lee) Olsen and Chic Johnson, began a three-year run on Broadway.

In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb.

In 1950, Omar N. Bradley was promoted to the rank of five-star general, joining an elite group that included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall and Henry H. "Hap" Arnold.

In 1964, the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," starring Zero Mostel, opened on Broadway, beginning a run of 3,242 performances. The secret agent series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, premiered on NBC-TV.

In 1975, Sara Jane Moore attempted to shoot President Gerald R. Ford outside a San Francisco hotel, but missed. (Moore served 32 years in prison before being paroled on Dec. 31, 2007.)

In 1985, rock and country music artists participated in "Farm Aid," a concert staged in Champaign, Illinois, to help the nation's farmers.

In 1991, the London newspaper The Mail published an interview with former intelligence agent John Cairncross, who admitted being the "fifth man" in the Soviet Union's notorious British spy ring.

In 1996, actress-singer Dorothy Lamour died at her North Hollywood home at age 81.

Ten years ago: A high-speed maglev train crashed in northwestern Germany, killing 23 people in the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system. Three Christian militants were executed in Indonesia for leading attacks on Muslims in May 2000 that left at least 70 people dead. Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairwoman Patricia Dunn resigned in the wake of the company's ill-fated investigation of boardroom media leaks. Actor Edward Albert died in Malibu, California, at age 55.

Five years ago: A group of European researchers at the world's biggest physics lab in Switzerland claimed to have measured a subatomic particle, a neutrino, traveling faster than the speed of light, a finding that challenged Einstein's theory of relativity (however, the results were refuted by other scientists). American diplomats led a walkout at the U.N. General Assembly as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE'-neh-zhahd) fiercely attacked the United States and major West European nations as "arrogant powers" ruled by greed and eager for military adventurism. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Germany on his first state visit to his homeland.

One year ago: Pope Francis arrived from Cuba on the first visit of his life to the United States; President Barack Obama, his wife and daughters personally welcomed the pontiff at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. Chinese President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng) arrived in Seattle for a three-day visit before heading to Washington. Volkswagen AG acknowledged putting emissions-cheating software in millions of vehicles worldwide. Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, 90, died in West Caldwell, New Jersey.

Today's Birthdays: Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda is 89. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern is 74. Actor Paul Le Mat is 71. Musician King Sunny Ade (ah-DAY') is 70. Capt. Mark Phillips is 68. Rock singer David Coverdale (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) is 65. Actress Shari Belafonte is 62. Singer Debby Boone is 60. Country singer June Forester (The Forester Sisters) is 60. Singer Nick Cave is 59. Rock singer Johnette Napolitano is 59. Actress Lynn Herring is 59. Classical crossover singer Andrea Bocelli (an-DRAY'-ah boh-CHEL'-ee) is 58. Singer-musician Joan Jett is 58. Actor Scott Baio is 56. Actress Catherine Oxenberg is 55. Actress Bonnie Hunt is 55. Actor Rob Stone is 54. Musician Matt Sharp is 47. Rock musician Dave Hernandez is 46. Rhythm-and-blues singer Big Rube (Society of Soul) is 45. Actress Mireille Enos is 41. Actress Daniella Alonso is 38. Actor Michael Graziadei (GRAHT'-zee-uh-day-ee) is 37. Actress Ashley Drane (Eckstein) is 35. Actress Katie Lowes is 34. Rock musician Will Farquarson (Bastille) is 33. Actress Tatiana Maslany (TV: "Orphan Black") is 31. Actor Tom Felton is 29. Actress Juliette Goglia is 21.

Thought for Today: "Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." — George Eliot, English author (1819-1880).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Ex-Serb commander pleads not guilty to war crimes charges

 

Dragan Vasiljkovic, center, a former Serb military commander sits between guards in a courtroom at the beginning of his trial in Split, Croatia, Tuesday, Sept. 20. (AP Photo)

 Zagreb, Croatia (AP) — A Serb paramilitary commander during the Balkan wars of the 1990s pleaded not guilty on Tuesday at the start of his war crimes trial in Croatia, saying the accusations against him are trumped-up.

Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as Captain Dragan and Daniel Snedden, is charged with the killings and torture of civilians and imprisoned Croatian police and army troops while he was a rebel Serb commander during the 1991-95 Croatian war.

The charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence in Croatia.

Vasiljkovic's trial is being held in the coastal town of Split under heavy security. The proceedings opened with the reading of the indictment before Vasiljkovic entered his plea.

"It's all a lie," Vasiljkovic told the court, according to Croatia's state HINA news agency. "The only crime here has been committed against me because I have been in jail for 11 years without a verdict,"

"This is a staged story. ... The indictment is comical, shameless and insolent" he added. "I defended my homeland Yugoslavia which I loved very much."

Vasiljkovic, 61, who was born in Serbia, went to Australia at the age of 15 but returned to the Balkans to train Croatian Serb rebels in 1991, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia.

The indictment alleges that Vasiljkovic was responsible for the torture and killings of prisoners in the rebel stronghold of Knin, and the attack in 1991 on a police station in the town of Glina in which civilians were expelled, robbed and killed, including a foreign journalist.

Vasiljkovic has remained in custody since he was extradited from Australia in July last year after fighting a 10-year legal battle against being handed over to the Croatian judiciary.

HINA said the prosecution will present 55 witnesses in the coming months of the trial. Defense lawyers said they will seek to prove that Vasiljkovic was not in command but was an adventurer and an instructor for the special troops.

Some 10,000 people died in the Croatian war.


Earth smashes yet another heat record; 16th month in a row

A youth takes a drink on a hill overlooking Madrid on a hot day in Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 6. Spain's weather agency says some places in the south of the country are smashing September heat records, with one site near Seville logging 45.4 degrees Celsius (113.72 Fahrenheit) while 10 weather stations across the south measured temperatures above 44 degrees Celsius (111.2 Fahrenheit). (AP Photo/Paul White)

 Seth Borenstein

 Washington (AP) — Another month, another global heat record smashed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday said August's temperature of 61.74 degrees (16.52 Celsius) was 0.09 degrees (0.05 Celsius) warmer than the old August record set last year, and was the 16th consecutive month of record-breaking heat. NOAA monitoring chief Deke Arndt said it was also the hottest summer, with 2016 on pace to smash last year's record for the hottest year.

August 2016 was also 1.66 degrees (0.92 Celsius) warmer than the 20th-century average. It was the fifth hottest month of any kind recorded, going back to 1880. Six of the 17 hottest months on record have been the summer months of 2015 and 2016.

The June-through-August summer was 2.18 degrees (1.21 Celsius) warmer than the 20th-century average and beat the old summer heat record, set last year, by one-fifth of a degree (0.11 Celsius), NOAA said.

"The needle has been shoved all the way over into the red by greenhouse gases," Arndt said.

NOAA's announcement came on a day when 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including Stephen Hawking and 30 Nobel laureates, released an open letter urging American leaders not to pull out of an international agreement to curb global warming.

Organizer and MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said the scientists wrote the letter in response to the Republican party platform that rejects the Paris climate agreement reached last December. The letter said presidential nominee Donald Trump's advocacy of withdrawing from that agreement would "send a clear signal to the rest of the world: The United States does not care about the global problem of human-caused climate change."

Pulling out of the Paris accord, Emanuel said, "will accelerate our head-long plunge into a riskier and riskier climate."

"Everywhere we look we see signs that the climate really is changing," Emanuel said. "We're getting wake-up calls more frequently and we really have to do something about this."


Indian soldiers battle suspected militants in Kashmir

Indian army soldiers give a gun salute to their colleague Gangadhar Dalai, who was killed in a militant attack in Uri, Kashmir, prior to his cremation in Jamuna Balia village, west of Kolkata, India, Tuesday, Sept. 20. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

 Aijaz Hussain

Srinagar, India (AP) — Indian soldiers on Tuesday battled two groups of suspected militants along the highly militarized de facto border dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, leaving one soldier dead, the Indian army said.

Army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia said the two groups infiltrated into the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir from the Pakistani-held portion.

Both gun battles were continuing and one soldier had been killed in the fighting, an army officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Earlier Tuesday, Kalia said Pakistani soldiers violated the 2003 cease-fire accord between India and Pakistan by firing bullets at an Indian military position from across the heavily fortified frontier in Uri region, where early Sunday four suspected rebels killed 18 Indian soldiers in an audacious attack on a crucial military base. The militants were also killed in the attack.

Kalia did not give more details about the reported cease-fire violation.

In Pakistan, two senior army officers dismissed the Indian allegation as baseless. The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record, said no Pakistani troops had fired at any Indian military position in Kashmir.

Kalia said soldiers were exchanging fierce gunfire with the two groups of militants in Uri region and Nowgam sector.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by a heavily militarized and mountainous frontier called the Line of Control.

The two nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars, including two over their competing claims to the Himalayan territory, though the 2003 cease-fire has largely held despite small but regular skirmishes.

They use separate paramilitary forces to guard their lower-altitude frontier, defined by coils of razor wire that snake across foothills marked by ancient villages, tangled bushes and fields of rice and corn.

Sunday's attack heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and provoked calls for revenge, with New Delhi blaming Islamabad-backed militants for the deadly strike, an allegation Pakistan strongly denied.

The latest hostility between the neighboring countries comes amid the largest protests against Indian rule in Kashmir in recent years, sparked by the July 8 killing of a popular rebel commander by Indian soldiers.

The protests, and a sweeping military crackdown, have all but paralyzed life in Indian-controlled Kashmir. More than 80 people have been killed in the protests.


Jolie files for divorce from Pitt 'for health of the family'

Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are shown together in this June 5, 2007 file photo. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

 Jake Coyle, Anthony McCartney

 New York (AP) — Angelina Jolie Pitt has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, bringing an end to what began as the world's most tabloid headline-generating romance before morphing into a glamorous engine of family and philanthropy.

Jolie Pitt, 41, cited "irreconcilable difference" in divorce papers filed Monday in Los Angeles. She is seeking physical custody of their six children, with visitation rights for Pitt.

An attorney for Jolie Pitt, Robert Offer, said Tuesday that her decision to divorce was made "for the health of the family." The filing dated the couple's separation to last Thursday.

"I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the wellbeing of our kids. I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time," Pitt said in a statement to People.

Mark Vincent Kaplan, a veteran divorce attorney who was Kevin Federline's attorney in his divorce from Britney Spears and has handled several high-profile cases, reviewed the filing at the AP's request.

"There is no indication on the face of the petition filed by Ms. Jolie that there is a prenuptial agreement, or that if there is a prenup, she is asking the court to consider whether or not to invalidate it," said Kaplan.

Though together for 12 years, Pitt and Jolie Pitt — known as "Brangelina" — only wed in August 2014. They married privately at their French chateau in the Provence hamlet of Correns with their children serving as ring bearers and throwing flower petals. They announced the ceremony days later.

Their children are: 15-year-old Maddox, 12-year-old Pax, 11-year-old Zahara, 10-year-old Shiloh, and 8-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

This is the second marriage for Pitt, 52, who previously wed Jennifer Aniston. It's the third for Jolie Pitt, who was previously married to Billy Bob Thornton and Jonny Lee Miller.

Their initial romance sparked a tabloid avalanche unlike any in recent memory. Pitt and Jolie became close while filming 2005's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," prompting widespread speculation — consistently denied by the couple — that Jolie prompted Pitt's divorce from Aniston. Pitt and Aniston announced their separation in January 2005.

But after the media upheaval, Jolie Pitt and Pitt eventually settled into their own unique kind of globe-trotting domesticity. They were seldom-seen Hollywood royalty, their image predicated more on parenting than partying.

The pair adopted children from Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia. In 2006, they formed the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, to which they funneled many of the millions they made selling personal pictures to celebrity magazines.

Jolie Pitt, who became special envoy for the United Nations in 2012, became an outspoken voice for refugees, as well as for breast cancer treatment after undergoing a double mastectomy herself. Pitt built homes in New Orleans for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Jolie Pitt also launched herself as a film director. Last year, the couple starred together in her "By the Sea," playing a glamorous couple vacationing together in France while their marriage was on the rocks. It made a mere $538,000 at the box office domestically.

In a 2014 interview with The Associated Press, Jolie Pitt said playing a couple with marital problems was cathartic.

"It almost makes you get past those issues because you can laugh at them," Jolie Pitt said. "You do a film about bad marriage and you witness that behavior. You study it, you let it out, you attack each other and then you just want to hold each other and make sure you never behave that way."

Jolie Pitt earlier this year finished shooting her fourth feature as director, "First They Killed My Father." The film, about the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, was shot in Cambodia.

The pair was seen publicly together as recently as July, when they were spotted taking their twins to breakfast in Los Angeles.

Pitt stars with Marion Cotillard in Robert Zemeckis' upcoming spy thriller "Allied" and narrates Terrence Malick's IMAX documentary "Voyage of Time."

In recent years, Pitt's production company, Plan B, has been behind a growing number of acclaimed releases, including the Academy Award best-picture winner "12 Years a Slave," last year's "The Big Short" and the recently debuted festival hit "Moonlight."


UN suspends Syria aid convoys after 'savage' attack

This image provided by the Syrian anti-government group Aleppo 24 news, shows damaged trucks carrying aid, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Aleppo 24 news via AP)

 Philip Issa, Jamey Keaten

Beirut (AP) — Volunteers were still dousing the fires from an overnight attack on an aid convoy that killed 20 civilians as the U.N. announced Tuesday it was suspending overland aid deliveries in Syria, jeopardizing food and medical security for millions of besieged and hard-to-reach civilians.

Confusion continued about who struck the convoy, but the White House insisted it was either Russia or Syria. White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said either way, the U.S. held Russia responsible, because it was Russia's job under the week-old cease-fire to prevent Syria's air force from striking in areas where humanitarian aid was being transported.

"All of our information indicates clearly that this was an airstrike," Rhodes said, rejecting the claim by Russia's Defense Ministry that a cargo fire caused the damage. Both Russia and Syria have denied carrying out the bombing.

Within one minute of the strike, the U.S. tracked a Russian-made Su-24 directly over the region of the attack, U.S. officials said. Even that revelation failed to definitively implicate Russia because both the Russian and Syrian air forces fly the Su-24, although the U.S. officials said there were strong indications that the jet was flown by the Russian military.

The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the incident.

Witnesses described the Monday attack on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse and convoy in the rebel-held town of Uram al-Kubra in Aleppo province as prolonged and intense, saying the aerial bombardment continued as rescue workers rushed to pull the wounded from the flaming wreckage and rubble.

The convoy was part of a routine interagency dispatch operated by the Syrian Red Crescent, which U.N. officials said was delivering assistance to 78,000 people in Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city. It was carrying food, medicines, emergency health kits, IV fluids, and other essentials supplied by the U.N. and the World Health Organization.

Local paramedic and media activist Mohammad Rasoul, who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said over 100 tons of food, medicine, and baby formula had gone up in flames. He said 18 of the convoy's 31 trucks were completely destroyed.

The attack "erased the convoy from the face of the earth," Rasoul said.

"I've never seen anything like this attack," he said. "If this had been a military position, it wouldn't have been targeted with such intensity."

He said the attack began around 20 minutes after sunset on Monday and continued for two hours.

Pointing to the fact that Syria's rebels don't possess an air force, the White House said process of elimination indicated that either Syria's military or Russia's launched the attack. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over the province, while the U.S.-led coalition targets the Islamic State group in other parts of the country.

At the same time the attack took place on Uram al-Kubra, presumed Syrian or Russian jets launched a wave of attacks in and around the nearby city of Aleppo, minutes after Syria's military announced a weeklong cease-fire had expired.

A cargo fire would not explain the footage filmed by rescuers of torn flesh being picked from the wreckage, or the witness accounts of a sustained, two-hour barrage of missiles, rockets, and barrel bombs — crude, unguided weapons that the Syrian government drops from helicopters.

Hussein Badawi, the head of the town's Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue group — also known as the White Helmets — said that on the night of the attack he heard the sounds of overhead ballistic missiles, helicopters and fighter jets. He and other witnesses reported seeing a reconnaissance aircraft observing the convoy before the attack.

"There were reconnaissance flights before the airstrikes," said Badawi. "They filmed and combed the area, and they knew there was a Red Crescent (facility). The target was the Red Crescent, central and direct."

Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed Tuesday that a drone had followed the convoy from a warehouse in the government-side of Aleppo to its destination in Uram al-Kubra.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that 20 civilians were killed in the attack, many of them killed as they were unloading the trucks. Syrian activists and paramedics had said earlier that the airstrikes killed 12.

Witnesses said some of the remains were charred beyond recognition.

Among those killed was Omar Barakat, 38, the local director for the Red Crescent and a father of nine. His brother, Ali Barakat, who was also present at the attack, said it took him three hours to reach Omar, who was trapped in his vehicle.

"I stayed with my face on the floor for about an hour because of the intensity of the strikes," said Barakat.

Omar Barakat died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

The U.N. stressed that they had "deconflicted" the delivery with all parties before the operation, by obtaining the necessary permits from the government and supplying combatants with the relevant coordinates for the move.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a "sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack," in his address to world leaders at the General Assembly Tuesday. "Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower," he said, describing the bombers as "cowards" and those delivering aid as "heroes."

The U.N.'s humanitarian agency, OCHA, announced earlier in the day it had suspended relief convoys in Syria, pending a review of the security situation. OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke called it "a very, very dark day... for humanitarians across the world."

But the U.N. appeared to carry on with air drops to government-held areas.

World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said in a statement that the U.N. food agency had airdropped aid to the besieged eastern city of Deir el-Zour earlier Tuesday "as part of the planned schedule of deliveries."

Reached for clarification, OCHA's Damascus office said only interagency convoys had been suspended, without elaborating further.

A member of the Syrian Civil Defense criticized the U.N. humanitarian aid agency for suspending the convoys.

Ibrahim Alhaj told The Associated Press that Syrian civilians will pay the price for the decision — and that the U.N. should have condemned the attacks on the convoy rather than suspending aid.

The U.N. says over 6 million Syrians are living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas and require humanitarian aid.

Media activist Wassim al-Ahmad sent a text message to The Associated Press from the besieged town of Madaya, outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, saying residents were asking whether the reports were true that the U.N. was suspending its aid convoys. The town, the scene of some of the most distressing images of starvation to emerge from Syria last winter, was expecting its first delivery since June.

"So, in the end, the burden falls on the besieged," lamented al-Ahmad.


Obama says nations vow to take in twice as many refugees

United States President Barack Obama speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 20, at U.N. headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

 Darlene Superville

New York (AP) — World leaders gathered at the United Nations pledged Tuesday to take in 360,000 refugees next year, President Barack Obama said, roughly doubling the previous year's allowance in a bid to mitigate the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The United States said 52 countries taking part in a U.S.-led summit were stepping up to accelerate resettlement and boost financial support for refugees. The White House did not release a full list of participating countries or a breakdown of their pledges, making Obama's boast of major headway impossible to confirm.

Obama, in an emotional event designed to invoke empathy for the plight of refugees, called it a "crisis of epic proportions" that tested both the international order and the world's humanity. He drew a parallel to the Holocaust, calling the U.S. move to turn away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany a stain on America's collective conscience.

"I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment," Obama said.

The commitments announced Tuesday fell far short of what aid groups say is needed to address the crisis. Some 65 million people around the world have fled their homes because of war or persecution or to seek a better life, including about 21.3 million considered refugees by the U.N. Refugee Agency. Millions of Palestinian refugees are registered with the U.N.

The key driver of the modern crisis has been Syria's long-running civil war, though large numbers have also fled instability in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an oblique reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has suggested temporarily banning Muslim immigrants, Obama said buying into the notion that Muslim immigrants pose an inherent risk would reinforce terrorists' propaganda. He said that would send the message that countries like the U.S. were "somehow opposed to Islam."

"It is an ugly lie that must be rejected in all our countries," Obama said.

Last week, the White House announced that the U.S. would resettle 110,000 refugees in the coming year, a 30 percent increase over the 85,000 allowed in this year. Obama called on wealthier nations to step up, adding that "we all have to do more."

The U.S. said countries taking part were also pledging to increase humanitarian aid by $3 billion. China said it was pledging $300 million, while the United Kingdom said it would resettle 20,000 and provide almost $2 billion in aid — a roughly 10 percent bump. Argentina vowed to resettlement of Syrian refugees but said the exact figures would depend on how much global assistance was provided.

"Your compassion will really help these helpless people," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders. "If not us, who can do it?"

Private companies were stepping up, too. The White House said more than four dozen U.S. businesses had pledged $650 million, including Facebook, Twitter, MasterCard, Johnson & Johnson and yogurt maker Chobani.

Meeting with CEOs of some of the companies and actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, before the summit, Obama welcomed the pledges as more than an "extraordinary gesture of compassion."

"I want to emphasize that from their perspective this isn't charity. This is part of their overall mission. It makes good business sense," he said.


Today in History - Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016

The Associated Press

Today is Wednesday, Sept. 21, the 265th day of 2016. There are 101 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages a day after saying the law should not be used as an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against gays and lesbians. (Although never formally repealed, DoMA was effectively overturned by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2015.)

On this date:

In 1792, the French National Convention voted to abolish the monarchy.

In 1866, English novelist H.G. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent.

In 1897, the New York Sun ran its famous editorial, written anonymously by Francis P. Church, which declared, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

In 1925, the Rudolf Friml operetta "The Vagabond King" opened on Broadway.

In 1938, a hurricane struck parts of New York and New England, causing widespread damage and claiming some 700 lives.

In 1948, Milton Berle made his debut as permanent host of "The Texaco Star Theater" on NBC-TV.

In 1957, Norway's King Haakon VII died in Oslo at age 85. The legal mystery-drama "Perry Mason," starring Raymond Burr, premiered on CBS-TV.

In 1964, Malta gained independence from Britain.

In 1970, "NFL Monday Night Football" made its debut on ABC-TV as the Cleveland Browns defeated the visiting New York Jets, 31-21.

In 1976, Orlando Letelier (leh-tel-YEHR'), onetime foreign minister to Chilean President Salvador Allende (ah-YEN'-day), was killed when a bomb exploded in his car in Washington D.C. (The bombing, which also killed Letelier's assistant, Ronni Moffitt, was blamed on Chile's secret police.)

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo crashed into Charleston, South Carolina (the storm was blamed for 56 deaths in the Caribbean and 29 in the United States). Twenty-one students in Alton, Texas, died when their school bus, hit by a soft-drink delivery truck, careened into a water-filled pit.

In 1996, John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in a secret ceremony on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The board of all-male Virginia Military Institute voted to admit women.

Ten years ago: The Bush White House and rebellious Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona, announced agreement on rules for the interrogation and trial of suspects in the war on terror. Space shuttle Atlantis and its six astronauts safely returned from a 12-day mission to install a big new piece of the orbiting outpost. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all Americans ages 13 to 64 be routinely tested for HIV.

Five years ago: Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, two Americans jailed in Iran as spies, left Tehran for the Gulf state of Oman, closing a high-profile drama that brought more than two years of hope and heartbreak for their families. The state of Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer for his role in the gruesome dragging death of James Byrd Jr. The state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, who used his last words to declare his innocence in the killing of police officer Mark MacPhail. Alternative rock group R.E.M. announced on its website that it had "decided to call it a day as a band."

One year ago: Pope Francis traveled to Cuba's fourth-largest city, Holguin, where he celebrated a Mass marking the anniversary of the day he decided as a teenager to become a priest by pressing a subtle message to Cubans: Overcome ideological preconceptions and be willing to change. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker abandoned his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. A federal judge in Albany, Georgia, sentenced former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell to 28 years in prison for his role in a deadly 2008-9 salmonella outbreak blamed for nine deaths.

Today's Birthdays: Poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen is 82. Author-comedian Fannie Flagg is 75. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is 73. Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is 72. Musician Don Felder is 69. Author Stephen King is 69. Basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore is 67. Actor-comedian Bill Murray is 66. Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye is 65. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is 59. Movie producer-writer Ethan Coen is 59. Actor-comedian Dave Coulier is 57. Actor David James Elliott is 56. Actress Serena Scott-Thomas is 55. Actress Nancy Travis is 55. Actor Rob Morrow is 54. Retired MLB All-Star Cecil Fielder is 53. Actress Cheryl Hines is 51. Country singer Faith Hill is 49. Rock musician Tyler Stewart (Barenaked Ladies) is 49. Country singer Ronna Reeves is 48. Actress-talk show host Ricki Lake is 48. Rapper Dave (De La Soul) is 48. Actor Rob Benedict is 46. Actor James Lesure is 45. Actor Alfonso Ribeiro is 45. Actor Luke Wilson is 45. Actor Paulo Costanzo is 38. Actor Bradford Anderson is 37. Actress Autumn Reeser is 36. TV personality Nicole Richie is 35. Actress Maggie Grace is 33. Actor Joseph Mazzello is 33. Actress Ahna O'Reilly is 32. Rapper Wale (WAH'-lay) is 32. Actor Ryan Guzman is 29. Actors Lorenzo and Nikolas Brino are 18.

Thought for Today: "The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow." — H.G. Wells, English author (1866-1946).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pressure builds on India gov't to retaliate against Pakistan

Activists of India's Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party burn a Pakistan flag and photographs of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi, Monday, Sept. 19 as they protest against Sunday's attack at an Indian army base in Kashmir. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Nirmala George

New Delhi (AP) — India's prime minister came under increasing pressure Monday from within his own party, as many in the country demanded a strong response to a deadly weekend attack that the government blames on Pakistan-based militants.

But amid the calls for revenge, many analysts warned that a military response would be extremely dangerous, and that diplomatic and trade restrictions were far more likely.

Early Sunday, fighters slipped into an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing at least 15 soldiers. Four militants were killed in the attack, which occurred near the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Indian investigators say maps, weapons and other evidence indicated the fighters were from Jaish-e-Mohammed, an outlawed militant group based in Pakistan.

India's many all-news TV channels have been filled with outrage since the attack, with commentators demanding that India respond forcefully against Pakistan. The calls for punitive action have spread across social media and into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and among his Hindu nationalist supporters.

Ram Madhav, the party's general secretary, said India needed to hit back hard. "For one tooth, the whole jaw," he wrote on Twitter.

Modi has tried to assuage the anger, tweeting that, "I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished."

The attack came amid the largest protests against Indian rule in Kashmir in years, sparked by the July 8 killing by Indian soldiers of a popular rebel commander.

The protests, and a sweeping military crackdown, have all but paralyzed life in Kashmir. More than 80 people, nearly all of them protesters, have been killed in the violence.

India has for decades accused Pakistan of funding, training and equipping Islamic militants and then helping them cross into the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. Pakistan says it only gives the militants diplomatic and moral support.

Pakistan denied any role in Sunday's attack, with the Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that it "has noted with serious concern the recent spate of vitriolic and unsubstantiated statements emanating from Indian civil and military leadership."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir. Both nations claim the Himalayan province in its entirety. The two countries have held numerous rounds of talks over the years, but never have reached agreement on Kashmir.

In the past, when it was in the opposition, Modi's party loudly criticized responses to terror attacks by the then-ruling Congress party, calling its leaders weak-kneed and timid.

During the bitter 2014 election campaign that brought him to office, Modi often taunted the Congress by saying that if he became prime minister Pakistan would not dare to provoke India.

A similar attack on an Indian military installation occurred in January, when six gunmen entered an air force base in the town of Pathankot close to the Pakistan border. The rebels paralyzed the massive base for nearly four days, and killed seven soldiers.

India responded by suspending talks with Pakistan, a reaction that also angered many in Modi's party.

"The government has been trapped by its own rhetoric," said K.C. Singh, a former diplomat and expert on India-Pakistan relations.

But analysts cautioned Monday that electoral bombast is not supposed to define state policy. If India retaliated militarily, especially with the annual United Nations General Assembly about to begin, global condemnation would be immediate, they said.

"The pressure on the Modi government to act decisively now is visible, but this should be tempered by objective cost-benefit operational analysis," C. Uday Bhaskar, a defense analyst, wrote in the Indian Express.

No matter how strongly many in India demand a forceful retaliation, analysts say New Delhi's options are probably limited to imposing diplomatic and trade restrictions on Islamabad.

Some experts have suggested that New Delhi recall its envoy from Islamabad and expel the Pakistani high commissioner. Others say India should close its skies to Pakistani flights or hold military exercises near the Pakistan border.

But whatever measures India decides on, New Delhi will have to consider their implications.

"India has to ensure that the options it exercises — particularly the military ones — do not leave it worse off than before in terms of casualties and costs," said Manoj Joshi with the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank.


Merkel takes some blame for poor Berlin election performance

German Chancellor and Chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU), Angela Merkel, attends a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Sept. 19. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

 Frank Jordans, Kirsten Grieshaber

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel took partial responsibility for her party's worst-ever performance in a Berlin state election, acknowledging Monday that her government's policies at the national level were a factor.

Merkel pledged to work harder to address people's concerns, particularly on migrants. Her Christian Democratic Union party, or CDU, received just 17.6 percent of the vote in the German capital.

"That's very bitter," Merkel told reporters in Berlin, referring to the drop of almost 6 percentage points her party suffered.

The result means that Berlin state's current coalition government, in which the CDU is the junior partner to the center-left Social Democrats, or SPD, has no majority going forward. A three-way coalition of Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party is now likely in the capital.

While the Berlin vote was partly seen as a referendum on Merkel's handling of the migrant crisis, the state government has no control over Germany's immigration policy. The left-leaning coalition that could now take over office would likely be more welcoming of refugees than the current state government.

Both CDU and SPD — which saw its share of the vote drop 6.7 points to 21.6 percent — lost voters to the nationalist Alternative for Germany, which has campaigned heavily against immigration. The party, known as AfD, entered its 10th state parliament Sunday with 14.2 percent of the vote. The nationalists' strong result is particularly remarkable because the city of 3.5 million is usually known for its liberal attitude.

"I take responsibility as party leader and chancellor," Merkel said at a news conference alongside her party's mayoral candidate, Frank Henkel.

Speaking in unusually self-critical terms, Merkel edged away from her oft-repeated mantra — first uttered during the height of the migrants crisis last year — that "we will manage."

Merkel said that while she stands by the sentiment, some voters had taken it as a provocation in view of the massive challenge that the country faces integrating hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Merkel added that she's prepared to address voters' concerns about the unprecedented influx of migrants over the past year, but that if people simply don't want Muslim asylum-seekers because of their religion, then that would be counter to her Christian Democratic Party's basic principles, as well as Germany's.

"The CDU and I can't go along with that," she said.

Henkel, who has been in charge of security matters in Berlin for the past five years, added it was wrong to think there had been no improvement over the past year. He noted that last fall up to 1,000 refugees were arriving in the capital each day, while that figure is down to between 25 and 30 now.

Berlin's notoriously inefficient bureaucracy, rising rents and ailing transport infrastructure — especially the much-delated new airport — dominated the election campaign in Germany's biggest city, driving voters away from the centrist coalition toward the left and right.

The anti-capitalist Left Party, a descendant of the former East German communists, gained 3.9 points to 15.6 percent. The Green Party received 15.2 percent, down by 2.4 percentage points.

Many disillusioned Berliners who didn't vote in the last election backed the nationalist Alternative for Germany, however, driving turnout up to 66.9 percent from 60.2 percent in 2011.

The three-year-old party came fresh from election success in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania two weeks ago, where it beat Merkel's CDU into third place.

Party leaders announced Monday that they are now setting their sights on next year's federal election and aiming for a double-digit result. AfD narrowly missed clearing the 5-percent threshold to enter the national Parliament in 2013. Since then, the party has shifted rightward and campaigned heavily against immigration.

Party co-chairwoman Frauke Petry cited recent opinion polls predicting the party could receive 14 to 15 percent at the national level and suggested that AfD would be prepared to take on government responsibility from 2021 if it gets sufficient backing from voters.

AfD has been dogged by revelations about members espousing extremist views and having ties to far-right groups — including two candidates who stood for the party in Berlin. Co-chairman Joerg Meuthen said AfD was trying to solve the problem and stressed that the party wouldn't tolerate anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Merkel said her party would reach out to disaffected voters, including those who had backed AfD in recent elections due to fears about the impact that migrants will have on the country.

"Germany will change, as we will all change, if we're not of stone," she said. "But its foundations won't be shaken."

She declined to declare whether she will seek a fourth term in next year's election, though she is widely expected to do so.

Merkel indicated that she was willing to offer an olive branch to the CDU's Bavaria-only sister-party, which is part of her government at the national level together with the Social Democrats.

Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, who has been sharply critical of the chancellor on the migrants' issue, told Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Monday that the situation for his and Merkel's Union bloc "has never been so difficult."

Merkel said she wouldn't accept a "static" cap on the number of migrants coming to Germany, leaving open the possibility that some sort of flexible maximum could be introduced — a position she has previously rejected.


Suspect is shot and captured in New York-area bombings

Ahmad Khan Rahami is taken into custody after a shootout with police Monday, Sept. 19, in Linden, N.J. Rahami was wanted for questioning in the bombings that rocked the Chelsea neighborhood of New York and the New Jersey shore town of Seaside Park. (Nicolaus Czarnecki/Boston Herald via AP)

 Deepti Hajela, Jake Pearson

 Linden, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey police officer responding to a call about a hoodied vagrant curled up asleep in a bar doorway roused him and quickly recognized the bearded face of perhaps the most wanted man in America.

Ahmad Khan Rahami — identified in an FBI bulletin just hours earlier as a man wanted in the weekend bombings in New York City and New Jersey — pulled a gun, shot the officer and triggered a running gun battle in the street that ended with Rahami wounded and in custody Monday, authorities said.

A bloodied Rahami was loaded into the back of an ambulance, just 50 hours after the first blast that started it all.

Rahami, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan who lived with his Muslim family in Elizabeth, New Jersey, underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the leg as authorities began drawing up charges in a case that spread fear across the New York area and revived anxiety about homegrown terrorism.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said officials have every reason to believe the series of bombings "was an act of terror," though investigators said Rahami's exact motive isn't yet clear.

With Rahami's arrest, officials said they have no indication there are more bombs or suspects to find, though they cautioned that they are still investigating.

Still, after a whirlwind investigation that put Rahami in custody in just two days' time, "I'm a lot happier today than I was yesterday," New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill said.

The probe started when a pipe bomb blew up Saturday morning in Seaside Park, New Jersey, before a charity race to benefit Marines. No one was injured.

Then a shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bomb similar to those used in the Boston Marathon attack exploded Saturday night in New York's Chelsea section, wounding 29 people, none seriously. An unexploded pressure-cooker bomb was found blocks away.

Late Sunday night, five explosive devices were discovered in a trash can at an Elizabeth train station. Investigators said they are still gathering evidence and have not publicly tied Rahami to those devices.

Late Monday, a hospitalized Rahami was charged in New Jersey with five counts of attempted murder of police officers in connection with the shootout and was held on $5.2 million bail. Federal prosecutors said they were still weighing charges over the bombings.

It wasn't known if Rahami had an attorney. Messages left for family members were not immediately returned.

Rahami lived with his family above their fried-chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, and his relatives have clashed with the city over closing times and noise complaints they said were tinged with anti-Muslim sentiment. A childhood friend, Flee Jones, said Rahami had become more religious after returning from a trip to Afghanistan several years ago. Still, some of the family restaurant's customers said that while Rahami was devout, he was more likely to talk about his interest in cars than to mention faith.

William Sweeney Jr., the FBI's assistant director in New York, said there were no indications Rahami was on law enforcement's radar at the time of the bombings.

Authorities zeroed in on him as the potential bomber after a fingerprint and DNA obtained from one of the New York sites and "clear as day" surveillance video from the bombing scene helped identify him, according to three law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Five people were pulled over Sunday night in a vehicle associated with Rahami but were questioned and released, Sweeney said, declining to say whether they might later face charges. The law enforcement officials said at least one of Rahami's relatives was in the car, which appeared headed toward Kennedy Airport in New York after coming from New Jersey.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead said the break in the case came late Monday morning, when a bar owner reported someone asleep in his doorway.

Jack Mazza, co-manager of nearby V.C.M.R. Truck Services, said the bar owner came over exclaiming about the sleeping man, and Mazza walked over to see a man curled up with a sweatshirt hood pulled over his head in the rain.

"He looked like a bum," Mazza said.

After an officer arrived and recognized Rahami, Rahami shot the officer, who was saved by his bulletproof vest, authorities said. More officers joined in a gun battle that spilled into the street.

Another police officer was grazed by a bullet. Authorities said neither officers' injuries were life-threatening.

Peter Bilinskas said he was standing by his desk at his Linden bowling-supply shop when he heard what sounded like gunfire and saw a man walking down the street with a gun in his hand.

As a police car pulled up at the traffic light in front of the shop, the man fired about six shots at the cruiser, then continued down the street with police following him, Bilinskas said.

As the East Coast was rattled by the bombings, a man who authorities say referred to Allah wounded nine people in a stabbing rampage at a Minnesota mall Saturday before being shot to death by an off-duty police officer. Authorities are investigating it as a possible terrorist attack but have not drawn any connection between the bloodshed there and the bombings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim advocacy group, welcomed Rahami's arrest. The organization and the Afghan Embassy in Washington condemned the bombings.

Around the time Rahami was captured, President Barack Obama was in New York on a previously scheduled visit for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. He called on Americans to show the world "we will never give in to fear."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for using "whatever lawful methods are available" to get information from Rahami, mocked the fact that he would receive quality medical care and legal representation, and called for profiling foreigners who look like they could have connections to terrorism or certain Mideastern countries.

Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton said her rival's anti-Muslim rhetoric gives "aid and comfort" to Islamic terrorists by helping them recruit fighters.

Rahami's father, Mohammad, and two of Rahami's brothers sued the city of Elizabeth in 2011 after it passed an ordinance requiring their restaurant, First American Fried Chicken, to close early because of complaints from neighbors that it was a late-night nuisance.

The Rahamis charged in the lawsuit that they were targeted by neighbors because they are Muslims. The lawsuit was terminated in 2012 after Mohammad Rahami pleaded guilty to blocking police from enforcing the restrictions on the restaurant.

Ryan McCann, of Elizabeth, said that he often ate at the restaurant and recently began seeing Ahmad Rahami working there more.

"He's always in there. He's a very friendly guy, that's what's so scary. It's hard when it's home," McCann said.


Philippine senators oust colleague who led killing inquiry

Philippine Senator Leila De Lima, Chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is shown in this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

 Jim Gomez

Manila (AP) - A Philippine senator who led an investigation into the president's bloody anti-drug campaign was ousted Monday from the justice committee in a vote that human rights advocates said could derail accountability in the crackdown.

President Rodrigo Duterte's allies led the vote that removed Sen. Leila de Lima from the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which has spearheaded an inquiry into the widespread killings of drug suspects that have alarmed President Barack Obama, U.N. officials and human rights watchdogs.

More than 3,000 drug suspects have died in the crackdown since Duterte assumed the presidency on June 30. More than 600,000 others have surrendered to authorities for fear they also would be killed.

De Lima's ouster "is a blatant and craven move to derail accountability for the appalling death toll from President Rodrigo Duterte's abusive 'war on drugs,'" U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said. "The Senate is showing greater interest in covering up allegations of state-sanctioned murder than in exposing them."

The group called on senators opposed to Duterte's tough tactics to seek de Lima's reinstatement.

Senators allied with Duterte, however, said the investigation into possible police abuses in the killings would continue under Sen. Richard Gordon, who was designated to replace de Lima.

De Lima has had a running feud with Duterte. As the former head of the government's human rights commission, she investigated Duterte's alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings of criminals when he was mayor of southern Davao city, where he built a name for his tough crime-busting style.

"I know that the president is behind this," de Lima told reporters.

Duterte has accused de Lima of involvement in illegal drugs, alleging that her former driver took money from detained drug lords. She has denied the allegations, but the president's allies in the House of Representatives are to launch an inquiry Tuesday.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, a key ally of Duterte, said in a speech that de Lima used her committee to tarnish the image of the president before the international community. Boxing star Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who backs Duterte's crackdown, then initiated a move to remove de Lima and her members from the committee.

In a committee hearing last week, de Lima presented a former Filipino militiaman who testified that Duterte, when he was mayor, ordered him and other members of a hit squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 dead.

Cayetano and other senators, however, questioned the credibility of the witness, Edgar Matobato, and de Lima's intentions. Duterte has not given any reaction to Matobato's allegations, although his spokesman, Martin Andanar, said past investigations have failed to produce any evidence against Duterte.

Duterte said in a speech late Monday that threats to investigate him locally or by international organizations like the United Nations over possible human rights violations would not stop him from proceeding with the drug crackdown.

"I don't care whether there are a thousand hearings everywhere," Duterte said. "I will not stop until the last pushers on the street are fully exterminated."


Aid convoy attacked as Syria calls cease-fire finished

Damaged buildings and rubble line a street in Homs, Syria, Sept. 19, 2016. Syria’s military command has declared the U.S-Russian brokered cease-fire over, blaming the rebel groups for undermining it. (AP Photo)

 Sarah el Deeb, Vladimir Isachenkov

Beirut (AP) — A U.N. humanitarian aid convoy inside Syria was hit by airstrikes Monday, U.N. officials said, as the Syrian military declared that the week-long U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed.

With the truce apparently teetering, the U.S. brushed off Damascus' assertions and said it's prepared to extend the agreement, while Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations — suggested it could still be salvaged.

U.N. officials said the U.N. and Red Crescent convoy was delivering assistance for 78,000 people in the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city. Initial estimates indicate that at least 18 of the 31 trucks in the convoy were hit, as well as the Red Crescent warehouse in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12 were killed in the attack, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The Syrian Civil Defense, the volunteer first responder group also known as the White Helmets, confirmed that casualty figure.

Jan Egeland, humanitarian aid coordinator in the office of the U.N. envoy for Syria, told The Associated Press in a text message that the convoy was "bombarded."

Egeland added, "It is outrageous that it was hit while offloading at warehouses."

U. N. Humanitarian Chief Stephen O'Brien called on "all parties to the conflict, once again, to take all necessary measures to protect humanitarian actors, civilians, and civilian infrastructure as required by international humanitarian law."

The convoy, part of a routine interagency dispatch operated by the Syrian Red Crescent, was hit in rural western Aleppo province. The White Helmets first responder group posted images of a number of vehicles on fire in the dead of the night. A video of the attack showed huge balls of fire in a pitch black area, as ambulances arrive on the scene.

A Red Crescent official in Syria confirmed the attack, but said no further information was available.

Elsewhere at least 20 civilians, including a 1-year-old girl, were killed in fresh airstrikes on rebel-held Aleppo city and the surrounding areas, according to the Observatory. And Russia said government positions in southwestern Aleppo came under attack from militant groups, including a massive barrage of rockets.

With the week old cease-fire in danger of unraveling, both Moscow and Washington have indicated a desire to try and salvage the agreement — which had brought a brief respite to at least some parts the war-torn country.

In the wake of the Syrian military declaration, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the first stage of the truce — which called for a week of calm and the delivery of humanitarian aid to several besieged communities — had never really come to fruition. Earlier in the day, Kerry told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that the truce was "holding but fragile."

The State Department said that it was ready to work with Russia to strengthen the terms of the agreement and expand deliveries of humanitarian aid. Spokesman John Kirby said Russia, which is responsible for ensuring Syria's compliance, should clarify the Syrian position.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement late Monday night appeared to signal that the deal could still be salvaged, saying that the failure by the rebels in Syria to respect the cease-fire threatens to thwart the agreement.

The cease-fire came into effect on Sept. 12. Under terms of the agreement, the successful completion of seven days of calm and humanitarian aid deliveries would be followed by an ambitious second-stage plan to set up a joint U.S.-Russian coordination center to plan military strikes against the Islamic State group and a powerful al-Qaida-linked militant faction.

But from the start, the truce has been beset by difficulties and mutual accusations of violations.

Aid deliveries to the besieged eastern districts of Aleppo have not reached their destination. The U.N. accused the government of obstructing the delivery while Russian officials said rebels opened fire at the delivery roads.

Rebel forces and activists say government planes have bombed areas that are under the truce agreement, including rebel-held parts of Aleppo. At least 22 civilians were killed in government bombings over the last week, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group. The group said four civilians were killed in government-held areas. There were no independent reports of deaths of civilians on the government-side since the cease-fire came into effect.

By Monday, both the Syrian government and prominent opposition activists were speaking of the truce as if it had already failed.

George Sabra, of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told The Associated Press on Monday that the truce has been repeatedly violated and did not succeed in its main objective or opening roads for aid.

"Hundreds of thousands of people in Aleppo are waiting for this truce to allow aid to enter the city," he said, adding that there are aid trucks still waiting on the Turkey-Syria border. "I believe that the truce is clinically dead."

The Syrian military statement placed the blame on the rebel groups. Damascus refers to all armed opposition groups as terrorists.

"This step (cease-fire) was to constitute a real chance to stop the bloodshed. But the armed terrorist groups didn't take it seriously and didn't commit to any of its articles," the military command statement said. "The armed terrorist groups took advantage of the declared truce system and mobilized terrorists and weapons and regrouped to continue its attacks on civilian and military areas."

One of the major rebel groups in Syria, Nour el-Din el-Zinki, said soon after the Syrian military declaration that the government, Russia and Iran, another major ally of President Bashar Assad, are responsible for the truce's failure.

"The regime of Bashar Assad had no real intention to commit to the truce. Instead it worked to undermine it with organized violations during the week as well as preventing aid from reaching Aleppo," the group said in a statement sent to reporters.

Earlier Monday, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff said in a briefing that Damascus had fulfilled its obligations.

"With the rebels failing to fulfill conditions the cease-fire agreement, we consider its unilateral observance by the Syrian government forces meaningless," Rudskoi said.

Rudskoi said the rebels violated the truce 302 times since it took effect a week ago, killing 63 civilians and 153 Syrian soldiers. The opposition reported on Monday 254 violations by government forces and their allies since the truce started.

The current tensions come on the heels of the weekend air strike by the U.S.-led coalition on Syrian army positions near Deir el-Zour. Syria and Russia blasted Washington over the attack.

The Saturday airstrikes involved Australian, British and Danish warplanes on Syrian army positions. The U.S. military said it would not intentionally hit Syrian troops, and that it came as it was conducting a raid on IS positions.

Russia's military has said that it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 Syrian soldiers were killed in the Deir el-Zour air raid and more than 100 wounded. The Observatory gave a different death toll, saying 90 troops were killed in the strikes.

Assad said Monday the airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition against his troops was meant to support the Islamic State group, calling the attack a "blatant American aggression."


Today in History - Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016

The Associated Press

Today is Tuesday, Sept. 20, the 264th day of 2016. There are 102 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 20, 1946, the first Cannes Film Festival, lasting 16 days, opened in France. Among the films honored with the Golden Palm were "The Lost Weekend," ''Brief Encounter," ''Rome, Open City" and "Pastoral Symphony"; "The Battle of the Rails" won the International Jury Prize.

On this date:

In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew set out from Spain on five ships to find a western passage to the Spice Islands. (Magellan was killed en route, but one of his ships eventually circled the world.)

In 1870, Italian troops took control of the Papal States, leading to the unification of Italy.

In 1884, the National Equal Rights Party was formed during a convention of suffragists in San Francisco; the convention nominated Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood for president.

In 1911, the British liner RMS Olympic collided with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight; although seriously damaged, the Olympic was able to return to Southampton under its own power.

In 1947, former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia died.

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was seriously wounded during a book signing at a New York City department store when he was stabbed in the chest by Izola Curry. (Curry was later found mentally incompetent; she died at a Queens, New York, nursing home in 2015 at age 98.)

In 1962, James Meredith, a black student, was blocked from enrolling at the University of Mississippi by Democratic Gov. Ross R. Barnett. (Meredith was later admitted.)

In 1973, in their so-called "battle of the sexes," tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, at the Houston Astrodome. Singer-songwriter Jim Croce, 30, died in a plane crash near Natchitoches, Louisiana.

In 1976, Playboy magazine released an interview in which Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter admitted he'd "looked on a lot of women with lust." The historical drama series "I, Claudius," starring Derek Jacobi as the fourth emperor of Ancient Rome, began airing on BBC Television.

In 1984, a suicide car bomber attacked the U.S. Embassy annex in north Beirut, killing at least 14 people - two Americans and 12 Lebanese. The family sitcoms "The Cosby Show" and "Who's the Boss?" premiered on NBC and ABC, respectively.

In 1999, Lawrence Russell Brewer became the second white supremacist to be convicted in the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. (Brewer was executed on Sept. 21, 2011.) Raisa Gorbachev, wife of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, died at a German hospital after a battle with leukemia; she was 67.

In 2000, Independent Counsel Robert Ray announced the end of the Whitewater investigation, saying there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges against President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton. Former Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov died at age 65.

Ten years ago: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (OO'-goh CHAH'-vez) repeatedly referred to President George W. Bush as "the devil" during a speech to the United Nations. The African Union announced it would extend the mandate of a peacekeeping force in Darfur through the end of the year. Nationalist Shinzo Abe (shin-zoh ah-bay) became head of Japan's ruling party by a landslide. Oscar-winning cinematographer Sven Nykvist died in Stockholm, Sweden, at age 83.

Five years ago: Repeal of the U.S. military's 18-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" compromise took effect, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. A suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy assassinated former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani (boor-HAHN'-uh-deen ruh-BAH'-nee).

One year ago: Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro after urging tens of thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology during a Mass in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. The CEO of Volkswagen apologized and VW customers said they felt duped after the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the German automaker had skirted clean air rules by rigging emissions tests for about 500,000 diesel cars. At the Emmys, the HBO series "Game of Thrones" won a record 12 awards; Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for best drama series actress for "How to Get Away with Murder." Poet C.K. Williams, 78, died in Hopewell, New Jersey. Actor Jack Larson, 87, TV's Jimmy Olsen in "Adventures of Superman," died in Los Angeles.

Today's Birthdays: Actress Sophia Loren is 82. Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Taylor is 81. Rock musician Chuck Panozzo is 68. Actor Tony Denison is 67. Hockey Hall of Famer Guy LaFleur is 65. Actress Debbi Morgan is 65. Jazz musician Peter White is 62. Actress Betsy Brantley is 61. Actor Gary Cole is 60. TV news correspondent Deborah Roberts is 56. Country-rock musician Joseph Shreve (Flynnville Train) is 55. Rock musician Randy Bradbury (Pennywise) is 52. Actress Kristen Johnston is 49. Rock singers Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson are 49. Rock musician Ben Shepherd is 48. Actress Enuka Okuma is 44. Actress-model Moon Bloodgood is 41. Actor Jon Bernthal is 40. Singer The Dream is 39. Actor Charlie Weber is 38. Rock musician Rick Woolstenhulme (WOOL'-sten-hyoolm) (Lifehouse) is 37. Actress Crystle Stewart is 35. Rapper Yung Joc is 34. Actor Aldis Hodge is 30. Actor Malachi (MAL'-ah-ky) Kirby (TV: "Roots") is 27.

Thought for Today: "A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it." — Alfred Hitchcock, British-born movie director (1899-1980).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


17 soldiers killed in attack at Indian army base in Kashmir

An Indian army helicopter flies above the army base which was attacked by suspected rebels in the town of Uri, west of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

 Aijaz Hussain

Srinagar, India (AP) — Suspected rebels using guns and grenades sneaked into a crucial army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir early Sunday and killed at least 17 soldiers in the deadliest attack on a military base in the disputed Himalayan region in recent years, the army said.

Four rebels were killed as the soldiers returned gunfire after the surprise assault before dawn on the base, located near the highly militarized Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Loud explosions were heard and several barracks caught fire in the initial hours of the attack. Afterward, military helicopters hovered over the base as the army conducted what it described as "mopping up" operations.

Officials said at least 30 soldiers were wounded in the attack, including about a dozen who were in critical condition.

The casualties were high because a large number of soldiers were turning over the base to new units and were stationed in tents and temporary shelters that caught fire in the attack, the army said in a statement. The base, located in the town of Uri, west of the region's main city of Srinagar, houses the Indian army's regional brigade headquarters along the de facto border separating Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Soldiers were conducting searches in the area, but army officials said it appeared that they had killed all four rebels involved in the attack.

Army officials said the rebels had infiltrated into the Indian side of Kashmir from the Pakistani-controlled part.

Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, the army's director general of military operations, said that all four gunmen killed were "foreign terrorists," and that initial investigations suggested that they belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group that has been active in Kashmir for more than 15 years.

India blames the outlawed group, which is based in Pakistan, for a series of attacks in the Himalayan region and Indian cities, including the attack on India's Parliament in 2001 that brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Singh said the gunmen were carrying "some items that had Pakistani markings." He said he had spoken to his Pakistani counterpart and conveyed India's "serious concerns."

The army officials said the rebels entered the sprawling camp after crossing a stream and breaching the fencing Saturday night.

What made Sunday's attack different from earlier attacks in the region was that instead of storming into the camp, the rebels quietly entered the base and later launched their attack, said a senior army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack and tweeted, "I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished."

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh called an emergency meeting of top defense officials and blamed Pakistan for the attack. "I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan's continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups," he tweeted.

Pakistan's army said in a statement that the allegations were "unfounded and premature," reiterating that no infiltration is allowed from Pakistani soil.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but is claimed by both in its entirety. Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. A militant uprising and subsequent army crackdown since 1989 have killed more than 68,000 people.

India accuses Pakistan of training the militants in its territory then helping them to infiltrate into the Indian side. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only gives political and diplomatic support to the rebels.

The attack came with Kashmir in the midst of its largest anti-India protests against Indian rule in recent years, sparked by the July 8 killing of a popular rebel commander by Indian troops. A sweeping military crackdown and near-constant curfew have been in effect since the protests began.

Rock-throwing protesters have clashed with troops firing live ammunition and shotgun pellets, and more than 80 people have been killed in the violence.

Amid the protests, India's military has had to halt its operations against militants because Kashmiri civilians have hurled rocks at the troops trying to go after the rebels in neighborhoods. However, several suspected militants have been killed along the de facto border.

The last major attack on an Indian military installation was in January, when six gunmen entered an air force base in the town of Pathankot in the state of Punjab. The rebels managed to paralyze the massive base for nearly four days, killing seven soldiers. That base also is close to India's border with Pakistan.
 


UN holds first-ever summit on refugees and migrants

In this Sept. 16, 2016 photo, hundreds of life jackets line the shore of the New York City waterfront, placed there by advocates with Oxfam America to draw attention to the refugee crisis ahead of the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants starting Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

 Michael Astor

United Nations (AP) — The issue of what to do about the world's 65.3 million displaced people takes center stage at the United Nations General Assembly Monday when leaders from around the globe converge on New York for the first-ever summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.

With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, leaders and diplomats are expected to approve a document aimed at unifying the U.N.'s 193 member states behind a more coordinated approach that protects the human rights of refugees and migrants.

"It's very interesting because if we are able to translate that paper into a response in which many actors are going to participate, we will solve a lot of problems in emergency responses and in long-term refugee situations like the Syrian situation," Fillipo Grandi, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees told The Associated Press.

That may prove an uphill struggle, however, as the document is not legally binding and comes at a time that refugees and migrants have become a divisive issue in Europe and the United States.

A number of countries rejected an earlier draft of the agreement that called on nations to resettle 10 percent of the refugee population each year, something that has led a number of human rights groups to criticize the document as a missed opportunity. The U.S. and a number of other countries also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained, so the agreement now says children should seldom, if ever, be detained.

"Instead of sharing responsibility, world leaders shirked it. The U.N. summit has been sabotaged by states acting in self-interest, leaving millions of refugees in dire situations around the world on the edge of a precipice," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement.

Shetty said the agreement merely kicks the can down the road by calling for separate global compacts for refugees and migrants to be adopted within two years.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose report on refugees and migrants laid the basis for the summit document, said he was aware of the criticism from non-governmental groups.

"While we all wish it could be a stronger outcome document ... all 193 member states had to agree on their commitment. As you will see, my report was a strong one," Ban said. "I hope that, as the two compacts are adopted over the coming year and a half, some stronger language and commitment and elements from the report will reappear in the course of this negotiation."

More concrete progress is expected at a follow-up summit on Tuesday called by President Barack Obama, where at least 45 countries are expected to make pledges that are in line with U.S. goals of increasing humanitarian aid by $3 billion, doubling resettlement and increasing access to education for one million youngsters and access to employment for another million of the displaced.

"You hear all around the world the U.N. hasn't handled the refugee crisis. The way the U.N. will handle the refugee crisis is if all of us countries within the U.N. step up and dig deep and face those political headwinds that we all face, to do more, to give more, to take on a greater share of the resettlement challenge," said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Power said prior to the pledging summit with world leaders, Obama will host a meeting with top executives from 50 companies to discuss what the private sector can do to help address the problem.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an "unprecedented" 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from a year earlier. They include 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million migrants.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, refugees are people forced to flee due to armed conflict or persecution, while migrants chose to move in search of a better life.


Norwegian says his Philippine kidnapping was 'devastating'

Released Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad carries a backpack as he boards a plane to take him to Davao city for an audience with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 on Jolo island, Sulu province in southern Philippines. (AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan)

 Indanan, Philippines (AP) — A Norwegian man freed by militants after a year of jungle captivity in the southern Philippines described the ordeal Sunday as "devastating," carrying a backpack with a bullet hole as a reminder of a near-death experience that included the beheadings of the two Canadians kidnapped with him.

Kjartan Sekkingstad was freed by his Abu Sayyaf captors on Saturday to rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the Philippine government and helped negotiate his release. On Sunday, he was handed over to Philippine authorities, along with three Indonesian fishermen freed separately by the Abu Sayyaf.

Aside from the horror of constantly being warned that he would be the next to be beheaded by the brutal extremists, Sekkingstad said he survived more than a dozen clashes between Philippine forces and his captors in the lush jungles of Sulu province.

In one intense battle, in which the forces fired from assault helicopters and from the ground, he said he felt a thud in his back and thought he was hit by gunfire. After the fighting eased, he discovered that he wasn't hit, and that his green, army-style backpack had been pierced by the gunfire instead.

Sekkingstad was carrying the damaged backpack when he walked to freedom Saturday somewhere in the thick jungle off Sulu's mountainous Patikul town.

On Sunday, the heavily bearded Sekkingstad, clad in a rebel camouflage uniform and muddy combat boots, was asked how he would describe his horrific experience.

"Devastating, devastating," he said, still clutching the backpack.

Philippine presidential adviser Jesus Dureza, who received Sekkingstad and the three freed Indonesians from Moro National Liberation Front rebel chief Nur Misuari in Misuari's rural stronghold near Sulu's Indanan town, accompanied the Norwegian on a flight to southern Davao city, where the ex-hostage met President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte told Sekkingstad that his travails were over. Sekkingstad, newly shaved but looking gaunt in a loose polo shirt, thanked all those who worked for his freedom.

"I am very happy to be alive and free," he said. "It's a beautiful feeling."

Sekkingstad was kidnapped from a yacht club he helped managed on southern Samal Island on Sept. 21, 2015, along with Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and Hall's Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor, sparking a massive land and sea search by Philippine forces.

The Abu Sayyaf demanded a huge ransom for the release of the foreigners, and released videos in which they threatened the captives in a jungle clearing where they displayed Islamic State group-style black flags.

Ridsdel was beheaded in April and Hall was decapitated in June after ransom deadlines lapsed. When Flor was freed in June, she recounted in horror how the militants rejoiced while watching the beheadings.

Sekkingstad said he and his fellow captives were forced to carry the militants' belongings and were kept in the dark on what was happening around them. At one point, he said, their heavily armed captors numbered more than 300.

"We were treated like slaves," he said.

After the militants decapitated Ridsdel, Sekkingstad was threatened by the militants, who repeatedly told him, "You're next."

When the negotiations for his release began in recent months, Sekkingstad said the rebels began treating him better.

It was not immediately clear whether Sekkingstad had been ransomed off. Duterte suggested at a news conference last month that 50 million pesos ($1 million) had been paid to the militants, but that they continued to hold on to him. The military said Saturday that relentless assaults forced the extremists to release the hostage.

In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg thanked Duterte and Dureza, and said his government supports the Philippines "in their fight against terrorism." Solberg told Norway's NTB national news agency that "Norwegian officials had not participated in any payment of ransom or made any concessions in the matter."

Philippine forces launched a major offensive against the Abu Sayyaf after the beheadings of the Canadians sparked condemnations from then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called on other nations not to pay ransoms if their citizens are abducted to discourage the militants from carrying out more kidnappings.

The three Indonesian fishermen freed by the Abu Sayyaf were kidnapped in July off Lahad Datu district in Malaysia's Sabah state, according to regional Philippine military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan. Their release came as Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was visiting the Philippines.

Five Indonesians, five Malaysians and a Dutch bird watcher, along with five Filipinos, remain in Abu Sayyaf custody, the Philippine military said.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the Philippines for deadly bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. Without any known foreign funding, the extremists have relied on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry, and some commanders have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group partly in the hope of obtaining funds.


Early results: Ruling party winning Russian parliament vote

People register to get ballot papers at a polling station during a parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 18.
(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

 Jim Heintz, Nataliya Vasilyeva

Moscow (AP) — Early results on Sunday showed Russia's ruling United Russia party winning in the parliamentary election amid reports of election violations and visible voter apathy in the country's two largest cities.

With more than 22 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia was recording 50.3 percent of the vote for party-list seats and was far ahead in single-district contests.

The Liberal Democrats and Communists were both recording about 15 percent and A Just Russia had 6 percent. Neither of the two parties which openly oppose President Vladimir Putin was seen making it into the parliament.

The results are likely to change as votes are counted from the western parts of Russia that are more urbanized and where opposition sentiment is stronger. But the election for the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is unlikely to substantially change the distribution of power, in which the United Russia party has held an absolute majority for more than a decade.

Perceived honesty of the election could be a critical factor in whether protests arise following the voting.

Massive demonstrations broke out in Moscow after the last Duma election in 2011, unsettling authorities with their size and persistence.

Russian Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova, who pledged to clean up the notoriously rigged system when she assumed the post earlier this year, said as the polls closed that she saw no reason to nullify the vote in any location, conceding, however, that the election "wasn't sterile."

Putin, who formally is not a United Russia member, turned up at its election headquarters shortly after the first results were announced and congratulated the would-be lawmakers.

"Things are tough but people still voted for United Russia," he said. "It means that people see that United Russia members are really working hard for people even though it doesn't always work."

Putin referred to the unusually low turnout as "not the highest," but said it was good enough for the Kremlin party to win an absolute majority.

Voter turnout in Russia's largest cities appeared to be much lower than five years ago, indicating that the widespread practice of coercing state employees to vote in previous elections wasn't as prevalent this time around.

The turnout by 6 p.m. (1500 GMT; 11 a.m. EDT) was at a record low of 29 percent in Moscow, compared to over 50 percent five years earlier, and under 20 percent in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city.

Previous elections have shown that the regions with the highest turnout were where voters, mostly state employees, were pressured to cast ballots.

Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, in remarks on the online television channel Dozhd, described the low turnout as the urbanite's "sofa sit-in."

"It's a form of protest, it's escapism," Oreshkin said. "People want to stay away from politics."

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the election monitoring group Golos, said the lower voter turnout reflected less anxiety among local authorities to produce a high turnout.

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister and leader of the Parnas party, said after the first votes were counted that he was concerned about the low turnout: "Citizens had no faith in elections as an institution. This is the result of government policies. It's their fault."

Golos had received more than 2,000 complaints of suspected vote rigging from all over the country by early afternoon. Among the reported violations were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they weren't registered, and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths

Videos posted on YouTube appeared to show poll workers in several regions in southern Russia dropping multiple sheets of paper into a ballot box.

In the Siberian region of Altai, a candidate from the liberal Yabloko party claimed that young people were voting in the name of elderly people unlikely to come to polling stations. Pamfilova said the results from Altai could be annulled if allegations of vote fraud there were confirmed.

In Moscow, independent election observers and opposition candidates on Sunday reported busloads of people arriving at their polling stations to vote, fueling speculations of multiple voting with the help of absentee ballots.

Melkonyants of Golos said most of the complaints the organization received from Moscow were about those groups of voters although he said he "couldn't categorically say that this is a violation."

"But observers perceive it as a trick which local officials could be using in order to boost the turnout in their districts," Melkonyants said, adding that the bus passengers also may have been coerced to vote in violation of Russian law.

Pamfilova conceded that boosting the turnout in the areas where it was expected to be low might explain the voters traveling by bus and denied suggestions of multiple voting.

"It makes no difference where a person votes for the party of their choice," she said.

This election is a departure from the two previous votes for the Duma, in which seats were distributed on a national party-list basis. This year, half the seats are being contested in single districts. Independent candidates were also allowed, although only 23 met the requirements to get on the ballot, according to the elections-monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Many voters at a polling station in southwest Moscow said the only reason to cast a ballot was to take votes away from United Russia, which has dominated the parliament for more than a decade.

Alexei Krugly, 63, said he voted for Yabloko because he "feels even more distaste for others."

"They're just as bad as everyone, but I stand for diversity," he said. "This time I came (to vote) because Yabloko got its act together and I think it has chances to make it to the Duma."

In the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, dozens of right-wing protesters gathered around the Russian Embassy, where a voting station was set up. At least one demonstrator was detained in a scuffle with police. Another demonstration took place outside the Russian consulate in Odessa, where four protesters were arrested.


FBI investigates Minnesota stabbings as possible terror act

People stand near the entrance of Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., as officials investigate a reported multiple stabbing incident, Saturday, Sept. 17. (Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)

 Jeff Baenen, Amy Forliti

St. Cloud, Minn. (AP) — A man in a private security uniform stabbed nine people at a Minnesota shopping mall, reportedly asking one victim if he or she was Muslim before an off-duty police officer shot and killed him in an attack the Islamic State group claimed as its own.

None of the nine people who were stabbed in Saturday night's attack received life-threatening wounds, St. Cloud police Chief Blair Anderson said. He said it doesn't appear that anyone else was involved in the attack at the Crossroads Center in St. Cloud, which began at around 8 p.m. and was over within minutes.

At a news conference Sunday, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton said the attack was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism and that agents were still digging into the attacker's background and possible motives. Authorities were looking at social media accounts and the attacker's electronic devices, and talking to his associates, Thornton said.

An Islamic State-run news agency, Rasd, claimed Sunday that the attacker was a "soldier of the Islamic State" who had heeded the group's calls for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.

It was not immediately clear if the extremist group had planned the attack or even knew about it beforehand. IS has encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks. It has also claimed past attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker, but the Star Tribune of Minneapolis said the man's father identified him as Dahir A. Adan, 22. Speaking to the newspaper through an interpreter, Ahmed Adan, whose family is Somali, said his son was born in Africa and had lived in the U.S. for 15 years.

A spokesman for St. Cloud State University confirmed that Adan was a student there, but has not been enrolled since the spring semester. Spokesman Adam Hammer said Adan's intended major was information systems, which is a computer-related field.

Ahmed Adan said police told him around 9 p.m. Saturday that his son had died at the mall, and that police had raided the family's apartment, seizing photos and other materials. He said police said nothing to him about the mall attack, and that he had "no suspicion" that his son had been involved in terrorist activity, the newspaper reported.

Anderson said police had had three previous encounters with the attacker, mostly for minor traffic violations.

According to Anderson, the attacker, dressed in a security uniform and wielding what appeared to be a kitchen knife, began attacking people right after entering the mall, stabbing people in several spots inside the building, including corridors, businesses and common areas.

Five minutes after authorities received the first 911 call, Jason Falconer, a part-time officer in the city of Avon, shot and killed the attacker. Anderson said Falconer fired as the attacker was lunging at him with the knife, and continued to engage him as the attacker got up three times.

"He clearly prevented additional injuries and potential loss of life," Anderson said. "Officer Falconer was there at the right time and the right place," he said.

Anderson earlier said the man reportedly made at least one reference to Allah and asked a victim if he or she was Muslim before attacking them.

Leaders of the Somali community in central Minnesota united to condemn the stabbings. They said the suspect does not represent the larger Somali community, and they expressed fear about backlash over the attack.

Minnesota has the nation's largest Somali community, with census numbers placing the population at about 40,000. But community activists say the population — most of it in the Minneapolis area — is much higher. The immigrant community has been a target for terror recruiters in recent years. More than 20 young men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join militants in Syria. In addition, nine Minnesota men face sentencing on terror charges for plotting to join the Islamic State group.

Though the motive in Saturday's stabbings isn't yet known, a major concern for law enforcement as they have battled terror recruiting in Minnesota has been the possibility that a young Somali who embraced radical messages might carry out violence in the U.S.

The attack in St. Cloud, a city of about 65,000 people 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, began shortly after an explosion in a crowded New York City neighborhood injured 29 people. A suspicious device was found a few blocks away and safely removed. Hours before that, a pipe bomb exploded in Seaside Park, New Jersey, shortly before thousands of runners were due to participate in a charity 5K race. There was no immediate indication that the incidents were linked.

The mall remained closed Sunday. Of the nine victims — seven men, a woman and a 15-year-old girl — three remained hospitalized, officials said.

Photos and video of the mall taken hours after the incident showed groups of shoppers waiting to be released, including some huddled together near a food court entrance.

Harley and Tama Exsted, of Isle, were in St. Cloud to watch their son play in a college golf tournament and were in the mall when the attack happened.

"All of a sudden I heard pop, pop, pop," Harley Exsted told the St. Cloud Times. "I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way."

The couple were unharmed and said they helped another woman who was running from the scene to her car.

Falconer, who was shopping when he confronted the attacker, is the former police chief in Albany, which is about 15 miles northwest of St. Cloud, and the president and owner of a firing range and firearms training facility, according to his LinkedIn profile. His profile says he focuses on firearms and permit-to-carry training, and also teaches "decision shooting" to law enforcement students at St. Cloud State University.

No one answered the door late Sunday at a home address listed for Falconer, and a voicemail box for a telephone listing was full and not accepting new messages. In a brief interview with the Star Tribune, Falconer said he had "been trying to stay away from it all, for the time being."

He told the newspaper he wasn't hurt and declined to talk further, citing the ongoing investigation for not saying more.


Today in History - Monday, Sept. 19, 2016

The Associated Press

Today is Monday, Sept. 19, the 263rd day of 2016. There are 103 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Sept. 19th, 1796, President George Washington's farewell address was published. In it, America's first chief executive advised, "Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all."

On this date:

In 1777, the first Battle of Saratoga was fought during the Revolutionary War; although British forces succeeded in driving out the American troops, the Americans prevailed in a second battle the following month.

In 1881, the 20th president of the United States, James A. Garfield, died 2 months after being shot by Charles Guiteau; Chester Alan Arthur became president.

In 1906, addressing the annual dinner of The Associated Press in New York, Mark Twain said, "There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe — only two — the sun in the heavens and The Associated Press down here."

In 1915, vaudeville performer W.C. Fields made his movie debut as "Pool Sharks," a one-reel silent comedy, was released.

In 1934, Bruno Hauptmann was arrested in New York and charged with the kidnap-murder of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr.

In 1945, Nazi radio propagandist William Joyce, known as "Lord Haw-Haw," was convicted of treason and sentenced to death by a British court.

In 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, in Los Angeles as part of his U.S. tour, reacted angrily upon being told that, for security reasons, he wouldn't get to visit Disneyland.

In 1960, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, in New York to visit the United Nations, angrily checked out of the Shelburne Hotel in a dispute with the management; Castro ended up staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem.

In 1970, the situation comedy "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" debuted on CBS-TV.

In 1982, the smiley emoticon was invented by Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman, who suggested punctuating humorously intended computer messages with a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis as a horizontal "smiley face." :-)

In 1985, the Mexico City area was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed at least 9,500 people.

In 1996, IBM announced it would extend health benefits to the partners of its gay employees.

Ten years ago: President George W. Bush, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, tried to quell anti-Americanism in the Middle East by assuring Muslims he was not waging war against Islam. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered an emotional farewell address, appealing to the world to unite against human rights abuses, religious divisions, brutal conflicts and an unjust world economy. Thailand's army commander staged a coup, ousting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (TAHK'-sin SHIN'-uh-wah) over accusations of corruption. Actress Elizabeth Allen, 77, died in Fishkill, New York.

Five years ago: In a White House address, a combative President Barack Obama demanded that the richest Americans pay higher taxes to help cut soaring U.S. deficits by more than $3 trillion. Mariano Rivera set a major league record with his 602nd save, closing out the New York Yankees' 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins. Dolores Hope, the sultry-voiced songstress who was married to Bob Hope for 69 years and sometimes sang on his shows for U.S. troops and on his television specials, died in Los Angeles at age 102.

One year ago: Pope Francis, arriving in Havana, hailed detente between Cuba and the United States as a model of reconciliation for the world as he launched a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes. President Barack Obama paid tribute to black women for their role in helping shape American democracy as he delivered the keynote address to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual awards dinner. Jackie Collins, 77, the bestselling author of dozens of novels including "Hollywood Wives," died in Los Angeles.

Today's Birthdays: Author Roger Angell is 96. Host James Lipton (TV: "Inside the Actors Studio") is 90. Actress Rosemary Harris is 89. Former Defense Secretary Harold Brown is 89. Actor Adam West is 88. Actor David McCallum is 83. Singer-songwriter Paul Williams is 76. Singer Bill Medley is 76. Singer Sylvia Tyson (Ian and Sylvia) is 76. R&B singer Freda Payne is 74. Golfer Jane Blalock is 71. Singer David Bromberg is 71. Actor Randolph Mantooth is 71. Rock singer-musician Lol Creme (10cc) is 69. Former NFL running back Larry Brown is 69. Actor Jeremy Irons is 68. Actress Twiggy Lawson is 67. TV personality Joan Lunden is 66. Singer-producer Daniel Lanois (lan-WAH') is 65. Actor Scott Colomby is 64. Musician-producer Nile Rodgers is 64. College Football Hall of Famer and former NFL player Reggie Williams is 62. Singer-actor Rex Smith is 61. Rock singer Lita Ford is 58. Actor Kevin Hooks is 58. Actress Carolyn McCormick is 57. Celebrity chef Mario Batali is 56. Actress-comedian Cheri Oteri is 54. Country singer Jeff Bates is 53. Country singer Trisha Yearwood is 52. News anchor Soledad O'Brien is 50. Rhythm-and-blues singer Espraronza Griffin (Society of Soul) is 47. Celebrity chef Michael Symon is 47. Actress Sanaa Lathan (suh-NAH' LAY'-thun) is 45. Actress Stephanie J. Block is 44. Rock singer A. Jay Popoff (Lit) is 43. "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon is 42. TV personality Carter Oosterhouse is 40. Actress-TV host Alison Sweeney is 40. Rock musician Ryan Dusick is 39. Folk-rock singers-musicians Tegan (TEE'-gan) and Sara Quin are 36. Actor Columbus Short is 34. Rapper Eamon is 33. Christian rock musician JD Frazier is 33. Actor Kevin Zegers is 32. Actress Danielle Panabaker is 29.

Thought for Today: "Start every day off with a smile and get it over with." — W.C. Fields, American comedian (1880-1946).   

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Bosnian Serbs vote in referendum banned by top court

Hungary manhunt in Budapest blast that wounded 2 officers

At least 26 killed in Aleppo as UN meets over Syria

Fuel tanker continues to burn off Mexico's Gulf coast

China begins operating world's largest radio telescope


MH370 Investigators cast doubt on catastrophic fire evidence

Video shows deadly encounter between police, black man

Queen guitarist Brian May protests Japanese dolphin hunts

Obama vetoes 9/11 bill; possible override by Congress looms

Indian airline says Samsung Note 2 emitted smoke in plane

Monty Python's Terry Jones diagnosed with dementia

Laos promises to phase out tiger farms: Conservation groups

Today in History - Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016


Tensions loom in the Balkans over Bosnian Serbs' referendum

Charlotte police refuse to release video of deadly shooting

Section of Great Wall of China marred in name of restoration

Dozens drown after migrant boat capsizes off Egypt's coast

Kerry admits diplomacy at impasse as Syrian truce collapses

Yahoo hack steals personal info from at least 500M accounts

Today in History - Friday, Sept. 23, 2016


Cambodia deports 63 Chinese, Taiwanese over alleged web scam

Argentine leader mentions Falklands in chat with British PM

Hungarian inmates working around the clock on border fence

Africa divided over ivory trade, as some states want to sell

World leaders rage against neighbours on 2nd day of UN debate

Zuckerberg, Chan pledge $3B to end disease

Today in History - Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016


Ex-Serb commander pleads not guilty to war crimes charges

Earth smashes yet another heat record; 16th month in a row

Indian soldiers battle suspected militants in Kashmir

Jolie files for divorce from Pitt 'for health of the family'

UN suspends Syria aid convoys after 'savage' attack

Obama says nations vow to take in twice as many refugees

Today in History - Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016


Pressure builds on India gov't to retaliate against Pakistan

Merkel takes some blame for poor Berlin election performance

Suspect is shot and captured in New York-area bombings

Philippine senators oust colleague who led killing inquiry

Aid convoy attacked as Syria calls cease-fire finished

Today in History - Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016


17 soldiers killed in attack at Indian army base in Kashmir

UN holds first-ever summit on refugees and migrants

Norwegian says his Philippine kidnapping was 'devastating'

Early results: Ruling party winning Russian parliament vote

FBI investigates Minnesota stabbings as possible terror act

Today in History - Monday, Sept. 19, 2016

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