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Update September 2017


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Update September 30, 2017

Stampede on crowded Indian pedestrian bridge leaves 22 dead

A slipper of an injured commuter is seen stuck on the railing of a pedestrian bridge where a stampede took place at the Elphinstone station, in Mumbai, India, Friday, Sept. 29. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Rafiq Maqbool & Manish Mehta

Mumbai, India (AP) — A stampede broke out on a crowded pedestrian bridge connecting two railway stations in Mumbai during the Friday morning rush, killing at least 22 people and injuring 32 others, Indian officials said.

Police were investigating what caused the stampede on the bridge, which led some commuters to leap over the railing. Others were crushed or fell underfoot and were trampled.

"There were too many people on the bridge, and the people were in hurry and wanted to move out," said Brijesh Upadhyay, one of the many caught in the crowd. "There was nobody helping, it was very suffocating, and we just wanted to get out of there — and fell on each other."

One rescuer told Indian broadcaster NDTV that the stampede trapped dozens in the narrow passage, forcing rescuers to break the railing to pull people out.

Mumbai police official Gansham Patel said some falling concrete had hit part of the bridge railing, leading people to surge forward out of panic at the thought that the bridge was collapsing.

Commuters also often complain about hawkers selling their wares on the narrow overpass, which connects two commuter railway stations, Elphinstone and Parel.

Heavy rains meant the bridge was even more crowded than usual, as some sought shelter from the downpour under the canopy covering the bridge, said lawmaker Shaina Nana Chudasama of the governing Bhartiya Janata Party.

Hospitals were treating 32 injured people, including 19 women and 13 men.

As Mumbai police appealed to citizens to donate blood to help the injured, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the families of those killed.

"Prayers with those who are injured," Modi tweeted.

Kishore Thakkar, another witness, said the bridge became overcrowded as people stopped, waiting for the rain to ease. "But then came a heavy push by people, causing some people to fall down and get crushed by the surge of passengers."

He complained that government rescuers did not respond quickly to alerts sent by phone. "Local people had pulled out most of the victims by the time the police and government rescuers arrived," Thakkar told TV news channel ABP.

Tabrez Mukadam, a relative of a day worker who died in the stampede, said such accidents happen too often in India.

"These were all common people, laborers , day workers . There has been talk about this bridge for a long time now as it is crowded during non-peak times also. All this time the government ignored it, and today we see this accident."

Separately in the southern city of Banglaore, two people were killed in another stampede by hundreds of people jostling to obtain coupons for free food offered by a local philanthropist, police said. The philanthropist has been detained for questioning.

Deadly stampedes are fairly common in densely populated India, where many cities are unequipped to deal with large crowds gathering in small areas, with few safety or crowd control measures.

In October 2013, a stampede in Madhya Pradesh state in central India killed more than 110 people, mostly women and children.


EU moves ahead faster on new future than on Brexit talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron during a working session at an EU Digital Summit in Tallinn, Estonia on Friday, Sept. 29. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Raf Casert

Tallinn, Estonia (AP) — Twenty-seven European Union nations, excluding Britain, will be coming up with clear options on a more tightly knit future for themselves even before they will allow divorce negotiations with the U.K. to move toward brokering a new relationship.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday he would be presenting "a political agenda in two weeks' time," after EU vision statements in recent weeks from French President Emmanuel Macron, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and others on how to the reform the bloc.

That will be just days before the next EU summit, which is expected to reject for now British demands to start negotiating on the country's future links with the bloc alongside the current talks on how to make the cleanest Brexit possible.

Officials said Tusk will be given the job of reconciling Macron's vision of how the EU should embrace a joint budget, a shared military and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant with those ideas of EU nations that might not want to grow too closer too quickly.

Tusk said he would seek "real solutions to real problems" and stressed the need to make progress "step-by-step, issue-by-issue."

Macron said the EU had to seize the moment of having an improved economy and increased confidence in the bloc to push through reforms before European elections in 2019.

"2018 is a year of opportunity for Europeans," he said. "In 5 or 10 years, it will be too late."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned, however, not to set the bar too high, since changes in the bloc of half a billion people have always been tough to achieve.

"Under-promise and over-deliver," Rutte said. "Don't promise an elephant and see a mouse show up."

The collegial atmosphere was bolstered by a non-confrontational dinner Thursday night for EU leaders, where few of the usual east-west or north-south fissures spoiled the mood, officials said.

The goodwill has not extended to the issue of Brexit over the past months.

EU leaders at their Oct. 19-20 summit have to say whether "sufficient progress" has been achieved on divorce issues with Britain — citizens' rights, the Irish border and a financial settlement — to grant the U.K. its wish to start talking about a new trade deal with the EU.

Juncker said it will take "a miracle" for there to be sufficient progress by then, despite a round of negotiations in Brussels this week that ended with some progress.

Other EU leaders sounded a similar tone. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said despite "a better vibe and a better mood coming out of the negotiations" he questioned whether the time was right to move on to trade issues with Britain.

"It's still very evident that there's more work to be done," he said.

For the past week, though, British Prime Minister Theresa May has sounded more conciliatory. In Estonia, she guaranteed her country's commitment to security even though the nation is leaving the bloc.

May visited troops in Estonia close to the Russian border on Friday and said "the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe's security."

"We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters," she vowed.

She also proposed a "new security partnership" to weather the divorce when her country leaves the bloc in March 2019.
 


Villagers race to save Bali cows from volcanic oblivion

Cows are shown grazing at a shelter in Karangasem, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 29. (AP Photo)

Stephen Wright

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — Bali's gently lowing cows, prized for their hardiness and doe-like temperament, won't become victims of the tropical island's menacing Mount Agung volcano if villager Wayan Sudarma has any say in it.

A proud owner of 21 cows, Sudarma has been venturing daily into the no-go zone around the Indonesian volcano on a mission to rescue at least some of the estimated 20,000 cattle still grazing on its potentially lethal slopes.

Experts say that is highly risky. Fast moving hot clouds of ash, gas and rock fragments that explosive volcanoes such as Agung can expel would kill in seconds.

But Sudarma, who drives a past-its-prime truck into the so-called red zone to pick up cows when contacted by other villagers, said he isn't afraid.

"These are the only valuable belongings that are left in this situation," he said as some of the rescued light-brown beasts lounged behind him, chewing their cud and mooing contentedly.

"That's why we have to save them, so they can sustain our lives as farmers and remain our pride."

Authorities set the volcano's alert status to the highest danger level on Sept. 22, and warnings it could erupt anytime have sparked an exodus of more than 140,000 people.

Left behind, disaster officials estimate, were about 20,000 cattle. Another 10,000 were sold or taken with communities as they left during the panicked evacuations that followed the order to evacuate a radius around the volcano that extends to 12 kilometers (7 miles) in places.

Local government officials say they hope the shelter Sudarma is bringing cattle to will save villagers from big economic losses. Those that sold their cattle in a rush had to let them go for too little, they say.

Predominantly Hindu Bali is known for beaches, surf, artistic culture and a lush green interior that lures millions of visitors a year. And while tourism is an economic mainstay, farming is still crucial for many.

Bali cows are particularly valued by villagers because they have high disease resistance, grow well on low-quality fodder and are temperamentally suited to close-quarters living with people and plowing.

Veterinarian Wayan Gunawan, who has also been going into the danger zone to help with cow evacuations, said the shelter will stop his district's cattle population from collapsing.

The slender vet admits to some trepidation about getting close to the cone-shaped volcano.

"Deep inside, as a human being, of course we are afraid," said Gunawan. "But this is our duty. Our duty is to help the farmers with their cattle so they won't lose too much."

Scientists say Bali cows, found on several islands in Indonesia, are valuable genetically because they're a unique combination of bovine species that could be transplanted to other tropical regions.

The shelter, one of several set up, can hold up to 700 cows and currently has a little over 200 bovine residents.

"I'm really glad there's such a place," said Sudarma, before he climbed into the cab of the truck.

"This place is the safest place for the cattle because their health and food is being taken care of by the local government," he said. "The point of putting them here is to save the Balinese cow."


Trump's health secretary resigns in travel flap

 

Ousted U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is shown in this June 15, 2017, file photo. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar & Jonathan Lemire

Washington (AP) — President Donald Trump's health secretary resigned Friday, after his costly travel triggered investigations that overshadowed the administration's agenda and angered his boss. Tom Price's regrets and partial repayment couldn't save his job.

The Health and Human Services secretary became the first member of the president's Cabinet to be pushed out in a turbulent young administration that has seen several high-ranking White House aides ousted. A former GOP congressman from the Atlanta suburbs, Price served less than eight months.

Publicly, Trump had said he was "not happy" with Price for repeatedly using private charter aircraft for official trips on the taxpayer's dime, when cheaper commercial flights would have done in many cases.

Privately, Trump has been telling associates in recent days that his health chief had become a distraction. Trump felt that Price was overshadowing his tax overhaul agenda and undermining his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of corruption, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Friday the president called Price a "very fine person," but added, "I certainly don't like the optics." Price said in his resignation letter that he regretted that "recent events have created a distraction."

The flap prompted scrutiny of other Cabinet members' travel, as the House Oversight and Government Reform committee launched a governmentwide investigation of top political appointees. Other department heads have been scrambling to explain their own travel.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke faced scrutiny over three charter flights while in office, including a $12,375 late-night trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana in June. On Friday, he dismissed the controversy over charter flights as "a little BS over travel," but he said taxpayers do have the right to know official travel costs.

Price's repayment of $51,887.31 for his own travel costs did not placate the White House. The total travel cost, including the secretary's entourage, was unclear. It could amount to several hundred thousand dollars.

Following Price's resignation, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney informed Cabinet secretaries and agency heads in a memo that approval from chief of staff John Kelly will be required for any travel on government-owned, rented, leased or chartered aircraft.

An orthopedic surgeon turned politician, Price rose to Budget Committee chairman in the House, where he was known as a fiscal conservative. When Price joined the administration, Trump touted him as a conservative policy expert who could write a new health care bill to replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

But Price became more of a supporting player in the GOP's futile health care campaign, while Vice President Mike Pence took the lead, particularly with the Senate. The perception of Price jetting around while GOP lawmakers labored to repeal "Obamacare" —including a three-nation trip in May to Africa and Europe— raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill. Price flew on military aircraft overseas.

Although much of Trump's ire over the health care failure has been aimed at the Republican-controlled Congress, associates of the president said he also assigns some blame to Price, who he believes did not do a good job of selling the GOP plan.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Friday that Price had worked hard to help that chamber pass its plan before the GOP effort reached an impasse in the Senate.  "I will always be grateful for Tom's service to this country," he said.

Democrats were glad to see Price go. Some urged Trump to appoint an HHS secretary who would reach out to them.

"I hope President Trump learns from this mistake, and looks to appoint someone who can work in a bipartisan way to strengthen health care for all Americans," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

A Pence protege, Seema Verma, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Price. Verma already leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs health insurance programs that cover more than 130 million Americans.

Another possible HHS candidate: FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who won some bipartisan support in his confirmation and is well known in policy, government and industry circles.

Trump named Don J. Wright, a deputy assistant secretary of health, to serve as acting secretary.

Price, 62, was seen in Congress as a foe of wasteful spending. As HHS secretary, he led a $1 trillion department whose future is the key to managing mounting federal budgetary deficits. As secretary, Price criticized the Medicaid health program for low-income people, saying it doesn't deliver results commensurate with the hundreds of billions of dollars taxpayers spend on it. As a congressman, he favored Medicare privatization.

But Price's image as a budget hawk took a hit when reports of his official travel started bubbling up. Price used private charter flights on 10 trips with multiple segments, when in many cases cheaper commercial flights were available. His charter travel was first reported by the news site Politico.

On a trip in June to Nashville, Tennessee, Price also had lunch with his son, who lives in that city, according to Politico. Another trip was from Dulles International Airport in the Washington suburbs to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles.

The reports triggered a review by the HHS inspector general's office, which is looking into whether Price's travel violated federal travel regulations. Those rules generally require officials to minimize costs.

The controversy over Price was a catalyst for Congress launching a bipartisan probe of travel by political appointees across the administration. The House oversight committee has requested travel records from the White House and 24 federal departments and agencies.

Initially, Price's office said the secretary's busy scheduled forced him to use charters from time to time.

But later Price's response changed, and he said he'd heard the criticism and concern, and taken it to heart.


Aid flows to Puerto Rico but many still lack water and food

 

People affected by Hurricane Maria bathe in water piped from a creek in the mountains, in Naranjito, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Ben Fox & Danica Coto

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of Puerto Ricans were finally getting water and food rations Friday as an aid bottleneck began to ease, but many remained cut off from the basic necessities of life and were desperate for power, communications and other trappings of normality in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

There were many people across the island, especially outside the capital, unable to get water, gas or generator fuel. That was despite the fact that military trucks laden with water bottles and other supplies began to reach even some remote parts of Puerto Rico and U.S. federal officials pointed to progress in the recovery effort, insisting that more gains would come soon.

In some cases, aid that was being distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was simply not enough to meet demand on an island of 3.4 million people where nearly everyone was still without power, half were without running water in their homes and the economy was still crippled from the effects of the storm that swept across the U.S. territory as a fierce Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20.

"I haven't seen any help and we're running out of water," said Pedro Gonzalez, who was clearing debris to earn some money in the northern coastal town of Rio Grande. Increasingly desperate and with a daughter with Down syndrome to support, he had already decided to move to Louisiana to stay with relatives. "We're getting out of here."

FEMA sent Rio Grande officials shipments of food and water for the past three days and arrived Thursday to help distribute meal packets, water and snacks in one community. But people in nearby neighborhoods complained that they weren't told about the aid.

"This has been a complete disaster," said 64-year-old retiree Jenny Cordero as she filled plastic trash cans with water at the home of a neighbor who was among the lucky ones to have service restored.

Those who made it, however, were grateful. "This will help somewhat, so we don't starve," said Anthony Jerena, a 33-year-old father of two teenagers who managed to get two boxes of water, each containing 24 bottles and, three packages of meals-ready-to-eat.

Yolanda Lebron, a spokeswoman for the Rio Grande mayor, said they used a car with a loudspeaker to announce that FEMA would be registering people for aid, but did not mention there would be food and water given out. "We didn't dare," she said. "We didn't know if we were going to have enough."

Gov. Ricard Rossello and other officials said they were aware of people's deepening frustration and of the difficulty, and danger, of living on a sweltering tropical island with no air conditioning and little to no water.  He blamed some of the delay on the logistical challenge of getting aid shipments out of the seaports and airports, which were knocked out of commission in the storm, and then distributing the supplies on debris-strewn streets.

Rossello said Friday that the government would seize all food still sitting in containers at the port that private business owners had not yet claimed and would distribute it to people for free. He said the government would use FEMA funds to repay the owners.

He said operations were also ramping up at the airport and that the government had requested drivers and other workers from various federal agencies to help distribute aid, which he expected to begin flowing within the next several days. "We know we have to do more," he said. "We're still not getting at the optimal point. But it has been a limitation on logistics and as soon as we get those assets we are going to put them on the ground."

The governor also said he would shorten the nightly curfew by three hours, requiring people to be off the streets by 9 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., and would end a ban on alcohol sales that was in place since before the storm.

He spoke after touring the island with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, who drew criticism from the San Juan mayor and others for describing the recovery effort as a "good-news story." She sought to clarify the statement, saying she intended to praise the cooperation among the federal and local authorities in responding to a crisis.

"Clearly the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory, but together we are getting there and the progress today is very, very strong," she said.

There were signs that the island was slowly emerging from the disaster.

Telecommunications were back for about 30 percent of the island, giving some people the critical ability to call relatives and others for help. Nearly half of the supermarkets had opened, at least on reduced hours, and about 60 percent of the gas stations, though it could take hours to buy a rationed amount. In San Juan, the news that a laundromat had reopened cheered some, as did the news that some buses and the rideshare service Uber would be back online in San Juan.

Meanwhile, FEMA officials said the agency had distributed 2.5 million liters of water and 2 million meals at 11 distribution centers including the nearby islands of Culebra and Vieques. Nearly 1,700 Department of Defense personnel were on the island and 3,000 more were expected in upcoming days.

Despite the easing of the aid distribution bottleneck, water was the greatest need cited by nearly everyone. Those lucky enough to have had service restored to their homes said it was sporadic so that authorities could ration it around the country.

In the southern coastal town of Santa Isabel, 60-year-old Lebron Eduardo said he came each day to a pumping station at the water agency for supplies. "It's not reaching the neighborhood," he said.

Nearby, 25-year-old Jorge Ortiz was taking a shower on the side of the road using well water. "People come to get water for their families. The children are bathing and neighbors are cooking," he said. "Apart from the bad experience of the hurricane, is something that is uniting us."


Mona Lisa unveiled? Nude sketch may have link to masterpiece

Chief curator of heritage, Bruno Mottin, left, examines a charcoal sketch through a microscope, depicting a nude woman while Mathieu Deldicque, curator at the Conde museum, looks on, at the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France in Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 27. (Domaine de Chantilly via AP)

Nicholas Garriga

Paris (AP) — There's something vaguely familiar about this charcoal sketch of a woman's face and nude torso — could it be an unclothed precursor to the Mona Lisa by the master himself?

French government art experts are trying to find out, analyzing the sketch in a laboratory beneath the Louvre, the museum where the Mona Lisa hangs, to see if Leonardo da Vinci drew it before painting his 16th century masterpiece.

The sketch, previously attributed to Leonardo's students, is part of a collection at the Musee Conde du Domaine de Chantilly, north of Paris.

"This drawing is quite mysterious because we know it was made in Italy, maybe in the studio of Leonardo da Vinci or by the master himself," said museum curator Mathieu Deldicque.

There are tempting clues that Leonardo's hand could have been behind the sketch.

"For the moment we know that the paper on which this (sketch) is drawn was dated from the time of Leonardo da Vinci ...  that is to say the beginning of the 16th century," Deldicque said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "We know that this paper comes from Italy, between Venice and Florence, so it is similar."

Imagery picked up other signs that may point to a sketch by Leonardo despite its "very worn elements," he said, noting the "quality" of the face and arms, which recalls the master.

"The position of the arms is very important because it is literally (like) the position of the arms of the Louvre painting," Deldicque said.

However, Deldicque has said there were differences, including the way the subject holds her chest and the hairstyle.

Art historians believe Leonardo drew or painted a nude version of the Mona Lisa. Deldicque acknowledged that the belief is feeding hopes that the Chantilly museum's sketch was indeed made by Leonardo's hand.

Among the array of clues under study is whether the artist of the sketch was left-handed.

"We know that Leonardo da Vinci was left-handed and now we are just looking for the left-handed features," the curator said. But the task is difficult. "The drawing is very old, very fragile," he said, making it uncertain firm evidence will be uncovered showing that the charcoal nude was sketched with a left hand.

The government-run Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France says the sketch will stay out of the public eye until the examination by experts is complete.


Update September 29, 2017

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner dies at 91

In this May 14, 1999 file photo, Playboy founder and editor in chief Hugh Hefner receives kisses from Playboy playmates during the 52nd Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Andrew Dalton

Los Angeles (AP) — Playboy founder Hugh M. Hefner, the pipe-smoking hedonist who revved up the sexual revolution in the 1950s, has died at 91.

Hefner died of natural causes at his home surrounded by family on Wednesday night, Playboy said in a statement.

As much as anyone, Hefner helped slip sex out of the confines of plain brown wrappers and into mainstream conversation. In 1953, a time when states in the U.S. could legally ban contraceptives, when the word "pregnant" was not allowed on "I Love Lucy," Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, featuring naked photos of Marilyn Monroe (taken years earlier) and an editorial promise of "humor, sophistication and spice."

Playboy soon became forbidden fruit for teenagers and a bible for men with time and money. Within a year, circulation neared 200,000. Within 5 years, it had topped 1 million.

By the 1970s, the magazine had more than 7 million readers and had inspired raunchier imitations such as Penthouse and Hustler. Competition and the internet reduced circulation to less than 3 million by the 21st century.

But Hefner and Playboy remained brand names worldwide.

Asked by The New York Times in 1992 of what he was proudest, Hefner responded: "That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now."

Hefner was born in Chicago on April 9, 1926, to devout Methodist parents who he said never showed "love in a physical or emotional way."

"Part of the reason that I am who I am is my Puritan roots run deep," he told the AP in 2011. "My folks are Puritan. My folks are prohibitionists. There was no drinking in my home. No discussion of sex. And I think I saw the hurtful and hypocritical side of that from very early on. "

Hefner ran Playboy from his elaborate mansions, first in Chicago and then in Los Angeles, and became the flamboyant symbol of the lifestyle he espoused. For decades he was the pipe-smoking, silk-pajama-wearing center of a constant party with celebrities and Playboy models.

Hefner was host of a television show, "Playboy After Dark," and in 1960 opened a string of clubs around the world where waitresses wore revealing costumes with bunny ears and fluffy white bunny tails. Playboy's clubs also influenced the culture, giving early breaks to such entertainers as George Carlin, Rich Little, Mark Russell, Dick Gregory and Redd Foxx. The last of the clubs closed in 1988, when Hefner deemed them "passe" and "too tame for the times."

In the 21st century, he was back on television in a cable reality show — "The Girls Next Door" — with three live-in girlfriends in the Los Angeles Playboy mansion.

Playboy proved a scourge, and a temptation. Drew Barrymore, Farrah Fawcett and Linda Evans are among those who have posed for the magazine. Several bunnies became celebrities, too, including singer Deborah Harry and model Lauren Hutton, both of whom had fond memories of their time with Playboy.

Other bunnies had traumatic experiences, with several alleging they had been raped by Hefner's close friend Bill Cosby, who faced dozens of such allegations. Hefner issued a statement in late 2014 he "would never tolerate this behavior." But two years later, former bunny Chloe Goins sued Cosby and Hefner for sexual battery, gender violence and other charges over an alleged 2008 rape at the Playboy Mansion.

After a stroke, Hefner handed control of his empire to his feminist daughter, Christie, although he owned 70 percent of Playboy stock and continued to choose every month's Playmate and cover shot. Christie Hefner continued as CEO until 2009.

Hefner is survived by his wife Crystal as well as his daughter, Christie; and his sons, David, Marston and Cooper.


Mexican rescue dog Frida became symbol of earthquake hope

Frida, an eight-year-old Labrador retriever, has been active in the search for survivors and bodies in Mexico's two recent major earthquakes. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Maria Teresa Hernandez

Mexico City (AP) — Even without rescuing anyone from the rubble after Mexico's big earthquake, a photogenic yellow Labrador retriever named Frida has gained an international social media following.

At least 344 people died in the Sept. 19 earthquake, including 205 in Mexico City. For days, rescuers who tunneled into huge mounds of debris and selfless volunteers who threw themselves into work around the city were lauded for their efforts. But no individual captured the hearts of Mexicans and those watching the efforts from afar like Frida.

Clad in goggles and neoprene booties, Frida with nose to the ground and clambering over crumbled buildings became a symbol of hope.

"In social terms, this dog functioned like a transitional object because maybe she didn't help us in anything real or concrete — meaning she didn't rescue anyone — but she let us feel like there was hope and that there were things that could help us," said Fatima Laborda, a psychoanalyst and director of Casa Grana, a psychological assistance and research organization.

Laborda said Thursday that in traumatic situations, whether war or natural disaster, people tend to seek refuge in something real or symbolic as they try to regain confidence and a feeling of safety. A rescuer literally removing rocks to free you is one way to feel helped, but someone can also "feel supported by merely seeing people in the street, because that way I feel the solidarity of everyone else and that is symbolic and also can give me psychological relief."

The Sept. 19 earthquake that shook Mexico City and nearby states was not even Frida's first in September. She was dispatched to Juchitan, a town in Oaxaca state that sustained much damage in the magnitude 8.1 quake that struck southern Mexico on Sept. 7.

Over the course of a six-year career, Frida — 8 years old, 65 pounds and trending internet topic — has found 41 bodies and 12 people alive. She has worked quake disasters abroad as well, including in 2010 in Haiti and 2016 in Ecuador.

But she didn't reach celebrity status until Mexico's most recent disaster when the Mexican navy — Frida's employer — released a video of her at work on its Twitter account.

Frida's star rose just as another symbol of hope dissipated. For two days eyes were glued to search efforts at a collapsed school where including 19 children and seven adults died. Word spread that a girl named Frida Sofia was trapped in the rubble. But ultimately, the navy announced that she had never existed.

That left Frida the rescue dog.

Actor Chris Evans, of "Captain America" fame, retweeted a video of Frida at work, adding: "What did we do to deserve dogs?"

Groups of women who knit offered designs inspired by Frida on Facebook, with the earnings going to earthquake relief efforts.

No one resists Frida's charms, including her two handlers. One of them, Emmanuel Hernandez, a marine corporal, said Frida was identified early on for having qualities of a good search dog: docility, a good instinct for hunting and strong sense of smell.

Hernandez tamped down rumors that Frida's retirement might come soon. She remains capable and ready to work, he said.

In the future, she could transition into more of a mentoring role rather than search leader, he added. Two young Belgian malinois worked with her in Juchitan.

Whenever her retirement does come, she will be put up for adoption to navy personnel.

"If someone asks me if I would want to take Frida, I would say yes," Hernandez said. "But we will have Frida for a long time yet."


UN chief urges Myanmar to halt anti-Rohingya operations

Bangladesh army soldiers stand guard as Rohingya Muslim men, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait to receive aid during a distribution near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Thursday, Sept. 28. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Edith M. Lederer

United Nations (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar's authorities on Thursday to immediately end military operations that have sent over 500,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, calling the crisis "the world's fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare."

The U.N. chief warned that the humanitarian crisis is a breeding ground for radicalization, criminals and traffickers. And he said the broader crisis "has generated multiple implications for neighboring states and the larger region, including the risk of inter-communal strife."

Guterres told the U.N. Security Council at its first open meeting on Myanmar since 2009 that government authorities must also allow "unfettered access" for humanitarian aid and ensure "the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return" of all those who sought refuge across the border.

The current crisis erupted Aug. 25 when an insurgent Rohingya group attacked police posts in Myanmar's Rakhine state, killing a dozen security personnel — an act that Guterres again condemned.

The attacks prompted Myanmar's military to launch "clearance operations" against the rebels, setting off a wave of violence that has left hundreds dead, thousands of homes burned and the mass flight of Rohingya to Bangladesh.

Guterres previously called the Rohingya crisis "ethnic cleansing." He didn't use those words Thursday but he referred to "a deeply disturbing pattern to the violence and ensuing large movements of an ethnic group from their homes."

Myanmar authorities insist security operations ended Sept. 5, but Guterres said that "displacement appeared to have continued, with reports of the burning of Muslim villages, as well as looting and acts of intimidation."

The U.N. chief cited Rathedaung Township where three-quarters of the Rohingya population has fled and most villages and all three camps for displaced people have been burned to the ground.

The United Nations' humanitarian office said Thursday that the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 has topped 500,000. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq called it "the largest mass refugee movement in the region in decades."

Bangladesh was already hosting thousands of Rohingya, and Haq said there are now believed to be "well over 700,000" Rohingya in the country.

"The failure to address this systematic violence could result in a spillover into central Rakhine, where an additional 250,000 Muslims could potentially face displacement," Guterres warned.

Rohingya "are outnumbered by Rakhine communities, some of whom have engaged in violent acts of vigilantism against their Muslim neighbors," he said.

Guterres also expressed deep concern at "the current climate of antagonism" by Myanmar authorities toward the United Nations and humanitarian groups that provide desperately needed aid. In the past few days, he said, the government has said repeatedly that "it was not the time" for unhindered humanitarian access to resume.

"It is imperative that U.N. agencies and our non-governmental partners be granted immediate and safe access to all affected communities," he said.

As of Thursday, Haq said, the U.N. and its humanitarian partners have received $36.4 million — just under half of the $77 million that the U.N. called for in early September to address the Rohingya crisis. But he said that "the scale of the emergency has far surpassed initial projections and the needs are being revised" upward.

On the key issue of returning Rohingya to their homes, the secretary-general said, "The core of the problem is protracted statelessness and its associated discrimination."

Guterres said Myanmar has committed to using a 1993 framework agreed to by the foreign ministers of Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate returns, but he told the council this isn't sufficient.

"Notably, the framework does not refer to resolving the root cause of displacement," he said. "And moreover, it requires documents that the fleeing Rohingya may not be able to provide."

Guterres said all refugees in Bangladesh should be registered as "a critical first step." He said the Muslims of Rakhine state "should be granted nationality" and urged Myanmar's government to revise its citizenship legislation to ensure this.

In the interim, the secretary-general said those who are not entitled to citizenship according to the present laws must be able to obtain "a legal status that allows them to lead a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labor markets, education and health services."


Vanuatu orders evacuation of island with rumbling volcano

This Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 photo shows huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks billowing from the crater of an erupting volcano on Vanuatu's Ambae Island. (New Zealand Defense Force via AP)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — Vanuatu officials on Thursday ordered the complete evacuation of an island in the Pacific archipelago where a rumbling, belching volcano is threatening to blow.

Boats were soon to begin ferrying residents off Ambae island, which is home to about 11,000 people, in a process expected to take about a week. The Manaro volcano has been increasingly active for a week or more, raising fears of a major eruption.

Government spokesman Hilaire Bule said ministers decided they couldn't risk people's lives and so ordered the compulsory evacuation. Previously, people had been evacuated to other areas on the island itself.

Ambae resident Lilian Garae said she could see "smoke coming out from the hills" and hear regular booming noises from the volcano. She said she was waiting to hear when she might have to leave her home and where she might be sent.

Ambae is about 400 square kilometers (154 square miles), making it a little larger than the city of Detroit. It is one of about 65 inhabited islands in the Pacific nation about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.

The activity measure of the volcano was raised last weekend to Level 4, on a scale in which Level 5 represents a major eruption, and an emergency was declared Monday.

New Zealand's military flew a plane over the volcano on Tuesday, and said huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks were billowing from the crater.

Some residents have left the island voluntarily. For them, it's a waiting game to see whether the volcano erupts or returns to normal activity that's not a threat. Officials say they have no real way of predicting what the volcano will do next and that evacuees will just have to wait it out.

Bule said the evacuation will be carried out by boat and continue through Oct. 6. He said residents will be moved onto nearby islands. Officials are setting up two sites on Pentecost Island, he said, where evacuees will be housed in government buildings or in temporary camp sites.

Ambae island has long been volcanically active. A previous eruption in 2005 forced about 3,300 people to temporarily leave their homes and relocate elsewhere on the island, but didn't lead to an evacuation of the island itself.

Dickinson Tevi, a spokesman for the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, said the relief agency has been shipping water and shelter equipment to Ambae island.

"People are quite afraid with the sound of rumbling going on," he said. "They are very uncertain and afraid."

Bule said the government had allocated 200 million vatu ($1.9 million) toward the evacuation effort and was deploying 60 police officers to help people leave and to ensure there was no looting.

"We've prepared for cyclones by putting evacuation centers on the island but we are not ready for a volcanic eruption," Bule said. "The government has to put a policy in place to cater for this in the future."

Vanuatu's Meteorology and Geohazards Department has previously warned that people nearest to the volcano face the biggest risk from airborne rocks and volcanic gas and that acid rain could damage crops across a broader area.

Vanuatu is home to about 280,000 people and is prone to natural disasters, with a half-dozen active volcanoes as well as regular cyclones and earthquakes. It sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.


Update September 28, 2017

UN body alarmed by attack on Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka

A group of Sri Lankan Buddhists protest outside the U.N. office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Sept. 27. The protestors expressed their solidarity with Buddhists in Myanmar and opposed any move to bring Rohingya refugees to Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Bharatha Mallawarachi

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday it was alarmed by a mob attack on Rohingya Muslim refugees in Sri Lanka, where government leaders called for stern legal action against perpetrators that included Buddhist monks.

On Tuesday, a group led by Buddhist monks stormed a United Nations-run safe house for Rohingya Muslims, claiming the residents were terrorists and demanding they be sent back to Myanmar, prompting police to relocate them. Dozens of protesters from Sri Lanka's majority Buddhist community led a mob that entered a multi-storied house at Mount Lavinia on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital.

In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it is "alarmed and concerned" by Tuesday's incident and urged the "public and all those concerned with refugees to continue extending protection and to show empathy for civilians fleeing persecution and violence."

Police took 31 Rohingya refugees, including 17 children, into custody Tuesday and moved them to a safe location.

A video clip posted by a nationalist group, Sinhala National Movement, on its Facebook page shows protesters calling Rohingyas "terrorists who killed Buddhists in Myanmar" and saying that they can't live in Sri Lanka.

On Wednesday, finance and media minister Mangala Samaraweera condemned the attack, describing it as a "shameful act," and called for strong action against the perpetrators.

Health minister Rajitha Seneratne said he was depressed by the attack and urged law enforcement authorities to arrest the attackers.

Sri Lanka Buddhists make up 70 percent of the island's 20 million people, while Muslims account for 10 percent.

A half-million Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the past year, most of them since Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces prompted a military crackdown.


Russia reports destruction of all remaining chemical weapons

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept. 27. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Pool Photo via AP)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Russia on Wednesday completed the task of destroying its huge, Cold War-era chemical weapons stockpiles, winning praise from an international chemical weapons watchdog.

Russian officials reported the destruction of the country's last remaining artillery projectile filled with VX toxic agent to President Vladimir Putin. The work took place at the Kizner facility in the Urals, one of seven facilities built in Russia to destroy chemical weapons in an effort that has spanned two decades and cost billions of dollars.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, commended Russia for achieving a "major milestone" with the destruction of its chemical arsenals.

"I congratulate Russia and I commend all of their experts who were involved for their professionalism and dedication," he said in a statement.

The OPCW oversees global efforts to eliminate stockpiles under the Chemical Weapons Convention that took effect in 1997. It says over 96 percent of the weapons declared by the convention's 192 participants have been destroyed.

Putin noted that Russia wrapped up the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles ahead of schedule, adding that the effort underlined the nation's commitment to nonproliferation efforts.

"It's truly a historic event, given the huge size of the chemical arsenals inherited from Soviet times, big enough to entirely destroy life on Earth several times," Putin said in a video call with officials in Kizner. "This is a huge step toward making the world of today more secure and balanced."

In a shot at the United States, Putin criticized it for lagging behind in dismantling its chemical arsenals. "We expect the U.S., as well as other nations, to fulfill all their obligations," he said.

Russia launched the program of dismantling its chemical weapons stockpiles when it was still reeling from post-Soviet economic meltdown in the 1990s. It relied on the U.S. and other Western aid in the early phases of the program, but later came to fund the effort from its own coffers as the Russian economy rebounded.

Russia has spent more than 290 billion rubles (more than $5 billion) to destroy the nearly 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons it possessed, Economics Minister Denis Manturov said, according to the state RIA Novosti news agency.


Interpol approves Palestinian membership, angering Israel

This file photo shows the entrance hall of Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, central France. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — International police agency Interpol voted Wednesday to include Palestine as a member state, in a new boost to Palestinian efforts for international recognition and influence amid long-stalled negotiations with Israel for full statehood.

The decision drew an angry Israeli reaction and threat of retaliation. It also raised concerns that the Palestinians might use their elevated status to seek the arrests of Israelis, though Palestinian officials said there were no immediate plans to do so.

Interpol announced the inclusion of the "State of Palestine" as well as the Solomon Islands on Twitter and its website Wednesday after a vote by its general assembly in Beijing.

With the new votes, Interpol will have 192 member countries. Interpol didn't immediately announce how many members supported Palestinian membership.

Over Israeli objections, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012. Since then, the Palestinians have sought to join various U.N. and international bodies to buttress their dream of gaining independence. Israel has condemned the campaign as an attempt to bypass negotiations.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki hailed Wednesday's vote as a "victory for law enforcement" and a "voice of confidence in the capacity of law enforcement in Palestine." He promised to uphold Palestinian commitments to combating crime and strengthening the rule of law.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the decision "seriously harms the chances to achieve peace."

In a meeting with U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, Netanyahu also said the "diplomatic warfare" carried out by the Palestinians will not go unanswered.

He did not elaborate. But earlier, Cabinet Minister Zeev Elkin, a close Netanyahu ally, said Israel should cancel gestures granted to the Palestinians, such as permits to work and enter Israel, and special travel permits for Palestinian leaders.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called it "another failure" for Netanyahu.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that the Palestinian membership could harm peace efforts.

He said he was concerned that the Palestinians would now issue Interpol "red notices," which the U.S. Justice Department describes as the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today.

"The international community has a great deal at stake in pursuing the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Cardin said. "There's only one way forward: two states living side by side in peace; a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. To try to use international organizations to advance the cause only sets back that opportunity."

Cardin said any "red notices" issued by the Palestinians "will not be recognized in many countries, including the United States."

In a statement, Interpol said red notices are not international arrest warrants, but rather act as an alert to member countries, and are issued based on a valid national arrest warrant. Each member country decides how to respond to such a notice and Interpol can't compel its members to arrest a wanted person who is the subject of a red notice.

Omar Awadallah, the head of the U.N. organizations department in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, said the Palestinians "now have the right to sue anyone" and could theoretically use their Interpol status to pursue legal steps against Israelis suspected of crimes in Palestinian territory.

"But this is a political issue and needs a political decision," he said.

The Palestinians already have been providing evidence in a preliminary war crimes investigation against Israel at the International Criminal Court, another international body they have joined.

A senior Palestinian official said there were no plans to sue any Israelis through Interpol. He said the purpose is "to pursue criminals who commit crimes here and escape."

He said one target would be Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of President Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan, convicted in absentia on corruption charges, now lives in exile after a falling out with the Palestinian leader. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.

The Palestinian prime minister applied for Interpol membership in 2015, and submitted a formal letter this July promising not to use the organization "for any political, military, racial or religious interventions or activities," and to cooperate with Interpol, according to minutes of the Interpol meeting.

The approval vote requires the Palestinians to pay membership dues worth 0.03 percent of the Interpol budget.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, is an international clearing house for arrest warrants and police cooperation against cross-border terrorism, trafficking and other crime.


Catalan leader says Europe can't ignore independence vote

Catalonia's regional president, Carles Puigdemont speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Palace of Generalitat or Catalan government headquarters, in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Aritz Parra

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — The leader of Catalonia accused the European Union on Wednesday of "turning its back" on the Spanish region in its conflict with the central government over a disputed independence vote planned for Sunday that Spanish authorities have vowed to prevent.

"They are very brave when they talk about other countries where they have no competencies, but where are they when we citizens need them?" Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said of EU officials four days before the secession referendum. "Is Europe's solution to Catalans to turn its back?"

Puigdemont also told The Associated Press he intends to make the divisive matter of Catalonia's independence into a European affair rather than just a domestic issue.

"If the yes wins, I will make an appeal for the European community to become involved, because we will have won our right to be heard, something that hasn't happened until now because the European Commission has always turned a deaf ear (to Catalonia)," the 54-year-old separatist leader said.

Sunday's vote, Puigdemont said, will allow Europe to "hear the voice of Catalonia in a very loud and strong way."

No country, within or outside the European Union, has openly expressed support for the Oct. 1 referendum that Spain's conservative government sees as illegal. U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he thought it would be "foolish" for Catalans to break away from Spain.

"Whoever doesn't want to hear our voice needs to see a political otolaryngologist," Puigdemont said, using the formal term for an ear, nose and throat specialist.

He added that if European Commission president Jean Claude-Juncker cannot grasp the determination in Catalonia, "then it*s because this (European) project is in bad hands."

Spain's Constitutional Court, which has previously ruled that only central authorities can call such a vote and that all Spanish nationals should vote on sovereignty matters, has suspended the referendum.

The pro-independence regional government has so far ignored court rulings and vowed to go ahead with the vote. Officials of the executive and legislative branches are under investigation and a heavy police presence has been assembled in the northeastern region as the day for Catalans to cast ballots nears.

Madrid has launched an unprecedented crackdown to stop the referendum, including seizing paper ballots, removing referendum propaganda and ordering schools to be sealed off so they can't be used as voting stations.

Puigdemont told AP he thinks the effort to suppress the vote is boosting support for it in a way that European institutions won't be able to ignore.

"Today we are closer to a massive (turnout for the) referendum than we were one month ago," he said, describing the crackdown measures as "apocalyptic."

On Wednesday, Spain's National Court said it planned to investigate possible sedition charges for demonstrators who took part in a massive protest last week against a police crackdown on preparations for the vote.

"Looking at this landscape, somebody could think that we are hoarding weapons of mass destruction in Catalonia, a nuclear arsenal or a world-class drug stash," Puigdemont said. "But in fact, we are just trying to hold a referendum."

He said that people in Catalonia that saw the referendum with indifference or hostility have now "seen the curtailing of freedoms as an offense to their democratic convictions."

Regional leaders have said that if the "yes" side wins, they would be ready to declare Catalonia's independence two days later regardless of voter turnout. But Puigdemont on Wednesday acknowledged that significant participation is needed to portray the vote as representative.

He refused to disclose what percentage of the 5.5 million Catalan voters his government needs to declare the vote valid, but cited previous referendums in Spain, including the 2005 vote to pass the European Constitution that had a turnout of 42 percent.

"Nobody raised concerns about the participation level in order to legitimate the results, so I hope there are also no concerns in this case," Puigdemont said.

Catalonia is one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. Its capital is the dynamic Mediterranean port city of Barcelona, a perennial favorite for tourists.

With a population of 7.5 million inhabitants, its own cultural traditions and language, Catalonia contributes a fifth of the Spain's 1.1 trillion-euro economy ($1.32 trillion).

The vast majority of Catalans favor holding a referendum, but they have long been almost evenly split over independence itself.

Separatist sentiment peaked at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, with many Catalans feeling they could do better on their own, but with the national and regional economies thriving again, polls indicate support for secession is on the wane.

The region's first attempts to hold a non-binding referendum in 2014 were blocked by Spain's Constitutional Court. The Catalan government went ahead and staged the unofficial poll. About 2.3 million Catalans — less than half of those eligible — voted, with 80 percent favoring independence.


Trump calls Facebook 'anti-Trump' after it aids Russia probe

 

Social media giant Facebook has agreed to provide material to congressional investigators probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Washington (AP) — Days after Facebook agreed to cooperate with Congress on its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump criticized the social network for being "anti-Trump."

Trump tweeted: "Facebook was always anti-Trump.The Networks were always anti-Trump hence, Fake News, @nytimes(apologized) & @wapo were anti-Trump. Collusion?"

Facebook said last week it would provide the contents of 3,000 ads bought by a Russian agency to congressional investigators and make political advertising on its platform more transparent. Several committees are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded on his Facebook page saying the social media platform tried to be neutral in the election.

"Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump," he wrote Wednesday. "Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like."

Zuckerberg also defended the company's decision to cooperate with investigators. "We will do our part to defend against nation states attempting to spread misinformation and subvert elections."


Update September 27, 2017

Japan's Fukushima cleanup plan delays removal of fuel rods

Three melted reactors, from left, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3, are seen at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan in this March 11, 2012, file photo. (Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Japan's government on Tuesday approved a revision of its 30-to-40-year plan to decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant, delaying by three more years the removal of radioactive fuel rods stored at two of the three reactors damaged in the 2011 disaster.

Six and a half years since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the plant on Japan's northeastern coast, the amount of contaminated water that must be pumped out and treated every day has decreased significantly, and remote-controlled robots have provided a limited view of melted fuel debris inside the reactors. Still, the exact location of the melted fuel is largely unknown and robots that can withstand the high radiation for prolonged work there are still being developed.

Among the highest risks at the plant are 1,573 fuel rod units, each consisting of dozens of fuel rods, which are cooled with water in storage pools that are not enclosed within the reactor buildings. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., had planned to start moving them to safer storage by the end of fiscal 2020, but the latest plan says three more years are needed for reactor Units 1 and 2. Including delays made in earlier revisions, the fuel rod removal plan is now up to six years behind schedule. Removal at the Unit 3 reactor is set to start next year and is expected to take about two years to finish.

Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant decommissioning chief, said the delay results from previously unknown damage in the storage pool areas and the need for more radioactive decontamination.

He acknowledged that the 30-40-year cleanup plan "may not sound convincing because of all the unknowns and we haven't found most of the melted fuel" inside the reactor cores. But he said it's important to set a target for developing the technology and work toward that goal.

The decommissioning plan, the second revision approved since the disaster, still calls for the removal of the melted nuclear fuel inside the reactors to start in 2021, based on recent findings on more efficient methods.

But the plan still lacks details regarding the duration of the melted fuel removal, how the radioactive waste will ultimately be stored and the final status of the plant itself, raising doubts about whether the cleanup can really be completed in 40 years.

Removing the reactors' melted fuel is by far the hardest part of the decommissioning. An underwater robot in July saw large amounts of rock-like objects and solid lumps, apparently melted nuclear fuel mixed with melted and mangled equipment and internal structures, on the floor of the Unit 3 primary containment chamber. The search for melted fuel in Units 1 and 2 has been unsuccessful due to structural damage and extremely high radiation. Despite the unknowns, debris removal methods will be finalized in 2019 and the actual removal is set to start at one of the reactors in 2021 as planned.

Japan still has no plan for the waste that comes out of the plant during decommissioning. The government and TEPCO are to compile a basic plan during fiscal 2018 when the melted debris removal begins.


Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive for 1st time next year

In this Saturday, March 29, 2014 file photo, Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Abdullah Al-Shihri & Aya Batrawy

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Women will be allowed to drive for the first time next summer in Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative kingdom announced Tuesday, marking a significant expansion of women's rights in the only the country that barred them from getting behind the wheel.

While women in other Muslim countries drove freely, the kingdom's blanket ban attracted negative publicity for years. Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and the king's son, said letting women drive is a "huge step forward" and that "society is ready."

"This is the right time to do the right thing," he told reporters in the U.S. Women will be allowed to obtain licenses without the permission of a male relative.

The announcement came in the form of a royal decree that was reported late Tuesday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV.

"I am really excited. This is a good step forward for women's rights," said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University and one of Saudi Arabia's most vocal women's rights activists. Speaking to The Associated Press from Riyadh, she said women were "happy" but also that the change was "the first step in a lot of rights we are waiting for."

Saudi history offers many examples of women being punished simply for operating a vehicle.

In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the late King Abdullah overturned the sentence.

As recently as late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months for defying the ban on driving when one of them attempted to cross the Saudi border with a license from neighboring United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

Youssef took part in numerous driving campaigns, including a widely publicized effort in 2013 when dozens of women across the kingdom uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia. Some videos showed families and male drivers giving women a "thumbs-ups," suggesting many were ready for the change.

The decree indicated that women will not be allowed to drive immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to take effect in June 2018.

For years, the kingdom has incrementally granted women more rights and visibility, including participation in the Olympic Games in London and Rio, positions on the country's top consultative council and the right to run and vote in local elections in 2015.

Despite these openings, Saudi women remain largely subject to the whims of men due to guardianship laws , which bar them from obtaining a passport, traveling abroad or marrying without the consent of a male relative. Women who attempt to flee abusive families have also faced imprisonment or been forced into shelters.

King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tested the waters over the weekend by allowing women into the country's main stadium in Riyadh for annual celebrations of the nation's founding. The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events.

Women and men also flooded a main street in the capital, bopping their heads to pop music as green lights flickered overhead in the color of the flag. The scene was shocking for a city in which gender segregation is strictly enforced and where women are seldom seen walking the streets, much less mixing in close quarters with males.

The 32-year-old crown prince has also opened the country to more entertainment , allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event as part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society. This year, the government announced that for the first time girls in public schools would be allowed to play sports and have access to physical education.

The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country's highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive.

However, many of those same ultraconservative clerics, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, have also spoken out in the past against women driving, playing sports or entering the workforce. They argue such acts corrupt society and lead to sin.

One Saudi cleric even stated in 2013 that driving could affect a woman's ovaries and hurt her fertility. That same year, around 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare protest outside the Saudi king's palace against efforts by women seeking the right to drive.

Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work or run errands, complicating government efforts to boost household incomes as lower oil prices force austerity measures. The more affluent have male drivers. In major cities, women can access ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem.

To celebrate Tuesday's decree, several Saudi women posted images on social media deleting their ride sharing apps.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the move "a great step in the right direction." She did not comment on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.

Lori Boghardt, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the change is yet another sign that the crown prince is intent on adopting social reforms that will transform the kingdom.

"Today it's especially clear that this includes moves that've long been thought of by Saudis as politically risky," she said.


Macron: Europe is too slow, blind to dangers of nationalism

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech on the European Union at the amphitheater of the Sorbonne university in Paris, France, Tuesday, Sept. 26. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

Sylvie Corbet

Paris (AP) — Calling Europe slow, weak and ineffective, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said the EU should embrace a joint budget, shared military force and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation, saying it goes against the principles of a shared Europe born from the tragedy of world wars.

"We thought the past would not come back ... we thought we had learned the lessons," Macron told a crowd of European students at the Sorbonne university Tuesday.

After a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 60 years, Macron said this isolationist attitude has resurfaced "because of blindness ... because we forgot to defend Europe."

"The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective," he said.

To change that, he proposed a joint budget for European countries sharing the euro currency that would allow investment in European projects and help stabilize the eurozone in case of economic crisis. This budget would at some point need to come from national budgets of countries sharing the euro currency, for instance using domestic taxes on businesses.

Macron said the only way to make Europe strong in a globalized world is to reshape "a sovereign, united and democratic Europe."

While re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled openness to some of Macron's ideas, one potential ally in her new government is deeply skeptical about a eurozone budget. Macron's office says he wants his Europe strategy to play a role in Germany's coalition-building talks.

To reduce inequalities across the EU, Macron also suggested greater harmonization of EU tax policies — notably on corporate taxes, and taxing internet giants where they make money and not where they are registered.

Macron is also proposing that every EU country guarantee a minimum wage and payroll charges.

Macron said, "I believe deeply in this innovation economy," but insisted that "we must have this debate" about making taxation more fair.

Macron also proposed a shared European military intervention force and defense budget. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight terrorism, and a joint civil protection force.

He wants to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis.

To deal with Europe's migration flux, Macron wants a European asylum agency and standard EU identity documents.

Macron's policies have met resistance at home, and riot police held back a few dozen protesters outside the Sorbonne.

Macron doesn't want to wait for Britain to leave the EU in 2019 to tie European economies closer together.

He's well-placed to kickstart those efforts: at just 39, he came of age under the EU, and won a strong electoral mandate this year. And he's already held one-on-one meetings with 22 of the union's 27 other leaders to market his EU strategy.

Macron recalled he won the presidential election on a pro-European platform, against anti-European, anti-immigration far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

His biggest challenge may be the German political calendar. The outgoing government there goes into caretaker status in a few weeks and is not going to be taking any major decisions on the future of Europe, and it may take months for Merkel to form a viable coalition.

The pro-business Free Democrats, a key potential partner for Merkel, is against a joint budget because the party says that would result in automatic, uncontrolled money transfers from Germany to struggling eurozone partners.

Answering a question about Germany's potential reluctance to a joint budget, Macron said he is open to discussion and insisted this budget would not be based on an automatic, uncontrolled transfer of money, but rather on common projects that would be democratically approved and financed.

Merkel herself said Monday she wouldn't rule anything out and that she is in touch with Macron about his plans. "What is important to me above all is that we could use more Europe, but that must lead to more competitiveness, more jobs, simply more clout for the European Union," she told reporters in Berlin.

Macron plans to discuss his proposals with all leaders of EU member states that are interested in the integration process by the end of the year.

He then wants "transparent, free" debates involving all citizens to be organized in all EU countries early next year, with the aim of combating euroskepticism by giving a voice to Europeans, instead of imposing decisions.

He said EU leaders should be ready to propose a detailed, agreed roadmap to reform Europe by 2019, when elections for the European parliament are to be held.


Iraq warns Kurds as they claim victory in independence vote

Iraqi Kurdish men celebrate as they wave Kurdish flags in the streets after the polls closed in the controversial referendum on independence from Iraq, in Irbil, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Susannah George &Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Irbil, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's prime minister on Tuesday ordered the Kurdish region to hand over control of its airports to federal authorities or face a flight ban, as the Kurds claimed victory for the "yes" vote in an independence referendum rejected by Baghdad and Iraq's neighbors.

The Iraqi Kurdish leadership billed Monday's vote as an exercise in self-determination, but the Iraqi government is strongly opposed to any redrawing of its borders, and Turkey and Iran fear the move will embolden their own Kurdish populations.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued his ultimatum a day after the landmark vote, which he said was a "historic and strategic mistake by the Kurdish leadership."

"I will not give up on the unity of Iraq, that is my national and constitutional duty," he said, adding that any ban would still allow for humanitarian and other "urgent" flights.

Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president who spearheaded the referendum, called for "dialogue" with Baghdad. "Negotiations are the right path to solve the problems, not threats or the language of force," he said in a televised address.

Regional authorities in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north put the turnout at over 70 percent, but many voters reported irregularities, including cases of individuals voting multiple times and without proper registration. Official results are expected Wednesday.

For decades, Kurdish politics have hinged on dreams of an independent Kurdish state. When colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds, who now number around 30 million, were divided among Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

After polls closed in Iraq's Kurdish region Monday night, the skies above Irbil filled with fireworks and families flocked to the center of town to celebrate. Across the border thousands of Iranian Kurds held rallies in support.

The non-binding vote is unlikely to lead to formal independence, to which virtually the entire international community is opposed, but could spark unrest at a time when Iraqi and Kurdish forces — both U.S. allies — are still battling the Islamic State group.

Iraqi troops are carrying out joint military exercises with Turkey along the border. Fearing the vote could be used to redraw Iraq's borders, taking a sizeable part of the country's oil wealth with it, al-Abadi has called the referendum an act of "sedition" that "escalated the ethnic and sectarian tension" across the country.

In Iran, thousands of Kurds poured into the streets in the cities of Baneh, Saghez and Sanandaj on Monday night. Footage shared online by Iranian Kurds showed demonstrators waving lit mobile phones in the air and chanting their support into the night. Some footage also showed Iranian police officers assembling nearby or watching the demonstrators.

Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged the rallies, a rarity in the Islamic Republic. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its regular army have been running military exercises near the border with Iraq's Kurdish region in a sign of Tehran's displeasure at the Kurdish referendum.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Tuesday that his country is considering all options, ranging from military intervention to economic sanctions against Iraq's Kurdish region.

Erdogan said, however, that he hopes the Iraqi Kurdish leadership will abandon aims of creating a separate state and not force Turkey into enforcing sanctions.

"I hope the northern Iraqi administration gathers itself together and abandons this adventure with a dark ending," Erdogan said, adding that the landlocked Iraqi Kurdish region would not be able to survive without Turkey's support in helping export its oil.

"The moment we shut the valve it's finished for them," Erdogan said, referring to a pipeline through Turkey. The Turkish leader said no country other than Israel supports the Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence, which he described as "invalid" and "fraudulent." He said attempts by Kurds to form an independent state are doomed to fail.

The United States and United Nations both opposed the referendum, describing it as a unilateral and potentially destabilizing move that could detract from the war Iraqi and Kurdish forces are waging against the Islamic State group.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. wouldn't alter its "historic relationship" with Iraq's Kurds, but the referendum would increase hardships for them. She said IS and other extremists are hoping to "exploit instability and discord."

Statements from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed regret that the vote was held and said issues between Iraq's federal government and Kurdish region should be resolved through dialogue.

Kurdish electoral commission spokesman Sherwan Zerar put the turnout at about 3.3 million of the eligible 4.5 million residents.


Parents of Ohio student speak out against North Korea

In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

Dan Sewell

Cincinnati (AP) — The parents of a young Ohioan who was detained in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after being released said Tuesday he was "jerking violently," howling, and "staring blankly" when he returned home on a medical flight.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier appeared on Fox News'  "Fox & Friends" morning TV show amid an escalating war of words between the Trump administration and North Korea. A North Korean official has claimed President Donald Trump has, in effect, declared war, which the White House denied.

Otto Warmbier's father said they wanted to speak out about his condition after hearing North Korea claiming to be a victim that's being picked on.

"North Korea is not a victim. They're terrorists," he said. "They kidnapped Otto. They tortured him. They intentionally injured him. They are not victims."

The parents described the condition his family found him in when they went aboard an air ambulance that arrived June 13 in Cincinnati. They said Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was howling, making an "involuntary, inhuman sound," ''staring blankly into space jerking violently," and was blind and deaf with his head shaved. Fred Warmbier said his mouth "looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth."

Fred Warmbier said Otto's mother and sister ran off the plane at the initial sight of him.

"We weren't prepared ... no mother, no parent should ever have gone through what we went through," Cindy Warmbier said. She said it was "inexcusable" that her son had been alone in captivity for so long with no one to comfort him. She said she "got it together" and stayed with him after his arrival.

President Trump tweeted about the family's appearance, calling it "a great interview" and that: "Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea."

Fred Warmbier also said Otto had a large scar on his right foot and a high fever.

He died less than a week after returning at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Doctors there said he arrived in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness" and had suffered a "severe neurological injury" of uncertain cause.

North Korea has denied mistreating the youth, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. He was arrested that January as he prepared to leave the country after visiting as a tourist.
 


Update September 26, 2017

Evacuations from Bali volcano swell to about 50,000

A villager on a motorcycle rides by with Mount Agung seen in the background in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Sunday, Sept. 24. (AP Photo/J.P. Christo)

Firdia Lisnawati

Bali, Indonesia (AP) — Nearly 50,000 people have fled the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, fearing an imminent eruption as dozens of tremors rattle the surrounding region, officials said Monday.

Waskita Sutadewa, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency in Bali, said people have scattered to all corners of the island and some have crossed to the neighboring island of Lombok.

Indonesian authorities raised the volcano's alert status to the highest level on Friday following a dramatic increase in seismic activity. It last erupted in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.

Thousands of evacuees are living in temporary shelters, sports centers, village halls and with relatives or friends. Some return to the danger zone, which extends up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the crater, during the day to tend to livestock.

Officials have said there's no immediate threat to tourists, but some are already cutting short their stays in Bali. A significant eruption would force the closure of Bali's international airport, stranding thousands.

"It's obviously an awful thing. We want to get out of here just to be safe," said an Australian woman at Bali's airport who identified herself as Miriam.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said hundreds of thousands of face masks will be distributed in Bali as part of government humanitarian assistance that includes thousands of mattresses and blankets.

"The chances of an eruption are very high, but we cannot be sure when it will erupt," he said at a news conference in the capital, Jakarta.

He said not everyone had left the danger zone because they didn't want to leave livestock, were underestimating the risk or because of religious reasons.

"Officers continue to sweep the area and are appealing for people to evacuate," he said.

In 1963, the 3,031-meter (9,944-foot) Agung hurled ash as high as 20 kilometers (12 miles), according to volcanologists, and remained active for about a year. Lava traveled 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) and ash reached Jakarta, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.

The mountain, 72 kilometers (45 miles) to the northeast of the tourist hotspot of Kuta, is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia.


Myanmar officials: Insurgents killed 45 Hindu villagers

A Hindu man, center, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, and was allegedly beaten by Muslims in Myanmar, stands outside a refugee camp near Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Monday, Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Yangon (AP) — Myanmar officials said Monday they have discovered at least 45 slain Hindus in three mass graves in the Southeast Asian country's conflict-torn northern Rakhine state. The government blames Muslim insurgents for the killings.

Two of the graves were found Sunday and contained the bodies of 20 females and eight males, Border Guard Police Maj. Zayar Nyein said. The government's Information Committee said on its Facebook page that all eight males were boys, including six who were under 10 years old.

It said another mass grave was discovered 200 meters away on Monday that contained the bodies of 17 more Hindu villagers.

Police blame the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgent group, or ARSA. Security forces say the bodies are among about 100 Hindus missing since ARSA attacked at least 30 police outposts Aug. 25.

There was no immediate way to independently verify the government's assertions.

A government crackdown that followed the attacks left more than 200 Rohingya Muslim villages burned and sent at least 420,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh. The government has said most of the hundreds of people who were killed were insurgents.

The Information Committee said the bodies were found in Yebawkya village of Maungdaw township, which was hardest hit by the violence.

It said a Hindu man who lived in the village and has since fled to Bangladesh told a local leader that ARSA insurgents took about 100 Hindus from the village and killed all of them except for eight women who were forced to convert to Islam and brought to Bangladesh.

The committee said nearby residents searched and found the pits holding the bodies in the northwest part of the village.


North Korean diplomat says tweet by Trump 'declared war'

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, prepares to take off from Andersen AFB, Guam, on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Staff Sgt. Joshua Smoot/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Edith M. Lederer

United Nations (AP) — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that a weekend tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

It was the latest escalation in a week of undiplomatic exchanges between North Korea and the U.S. during the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting.

Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that the United Nations and the international community have said in recent days that they didn't want "the war of words" to turn into "real action."

But he said that by tweeting that North Korea's leadership led by Kim Jong Un "won't be around much longer," Trump "declared the war on our country."

Under the U.N. Charter, Ri said, North Korea has the right to self-defence and "every right" to take countermeasures, "including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even when they're not yet inside the airspace border of our country."

Hours later, the White House pushed back on Ri's claim, saying: "We have not declared war on North Korea." The Trump administration, referring to the tweet, stressed that the U.S. is not seeking to overthrow North Korea's government.

U.S. Cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have insisted that the U.S.-led campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is focused on eliminating the pariah state's nuclear weapons program, not its totalitarian government.

But the more Trump muddies the picture, the tougher it may become to maintain cooperation with China and Russia, which seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and not a new U.S. ally suddenly popping up on their borders. It also risks snuffing out hopes of persuading Kim's government to enter negotiations when its survival isn't assured.

Trump tweeted Saturday: "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!" Trump also used the derisive "Rocket Man" reference to Kim in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, but this time he added the word "little."

This was not the first time North Korea has spoken about a declaration of war between the two countries. In July 2016, Pyongyang said U.S. sanctions imposed on Kim were "a declaration of war" against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — the country's official name — and it made a similar statement after a new round of U.N. sanctions in December. The North Korean leader used the words again Friday.

The foreign minister's brief statement to a throng of reporters outside his hotel before heading off in a motorcade, reportedly to return home, built on the escalating rhetoric between Kim and Trump.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump told world leaders Sept. 19. "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

Kim responded with the first-ever direct statement from a North Korean leader against a U.S. president, lobbing a string of insults at Trump.

"I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire," he said, choosing the rarely used word "dotard," which means an old person who is weak-minded.

"Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hardline countermeasure in history," Kim said.

On Monday, Ri escalated the threat by saying Trump's weekend claim that North Korea's leaders would soon be gone "is clearly a declaration of war."

All U.N. members and the world "should clearly remember that it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country," the foreign minister said, adding that North Korea now has the right to take counter-measures and retaliate against U.S. bombers.

Ri ended his brief remarks by saying: "The question of who won't be around much longer will be answered then."

Military maneuvers by the U.S. and its allies are adding to tensions along the two Koreas' heavily militarized border. In a show of might, U.S. bombers and fighter escorts flew Saturday to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea by any such American aircraft this century.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Rob Manning, said Monday that the operation was conducted in international airspace and legally permissible.

The U.S. has a "deep arsenal of military options to provide the president so that he can then decide how he wants to deal with North Korea," Manning told reporters. "We are prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from an attack and are prepared to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the threat from North Korea,"

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called for careful management of the tensions to prevent a conflict that would devastate the region.

"It's very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations," Kang said. "Under these circumstances it is imperative that we — Korea and the United States — manage the situation with astuteness and steadfastness in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control."

"There cannot be another war in the region," Kang said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The consequences would be devastating not just for the Korean Peninsula but for Northeast Asia and indeed the whole international community."

Kang said North Korea's nuclear program seems to be at a "tipping point," approaching the goal of having a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the continental United States.

She voiced South Korean support for the U.S.-led strategy of "maximum pressure" on North Korea as a tool to get Pyongyang to negotiate on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — not at toppling the North Korean government.

"There is still room for diplomacy," Kang said, but "time is running out."

North Korea has repeatedly said it needs a nuclear deterrent because the U.S. intends to invade it.

Ri told the General Assembly on Saturday that North Korea's recent "ICBM-mountable H-bomb test" was a key step to completing its nuclear force. He called it "a war deterrent for putting an end to nuclear threat of the U.S. and for preventing its military invasion."

"Our ultimate goal is to establish the balance of power with the U.S.," he minister said.


Japan's Abe says he will call snap election for parliament

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Monday, Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday he will call an early election for parliament's more powerful lower house for next month.

Abe said at a news conference that he will dissolve the 475-seat chamber on Thursday when it convenes after a three-month summer recess. The election is to be held Oct. 22.

Support ratings for Abe's government have started to rebound after attacks on him over cronyism scandals faded during the recess. Also, opposition parties are regrouping and unprepared for an election. Opposition lawmakers have said there is no need to hold an election now.

Abe said he was seeking a mandate for his plans to use new tax revenues for education and elderly care, and for his defense policy toward North Korea's escalating missile and nuclear threat, saying the situation is tantamount to a national crisis.

"I will tackle the national crisis with my strong leadership," Abe said.

"I expect opposition criticism is going to focus on (the scandals), and it's going to be a very difficult election," Abe said. He said he will step down as prime minister if his Liberal Democratic Party fails to win a majority, or at least 233 seats, to stay in power.

Analysts believe his ruling Liberal Democratic Party will retain a majority, but could lose the two-thirds majority it currently holds with its coalition partner, the Komei party. Still, a big enough victory could help Abe extend his hold on power. His three-year term as party leader ends next September, and he will have to fend off any challengers from within the LDP to remain prime minister.

"For Mr. Abe, now is the time. He is taking advantage of unprepared opposition parties as he seeks to prolong his leadership," said Yu Uchiyama, a University of Tokyo politics professor.

Support ratings for his government plunged to below 30 percent in July following repeated parliamentary questions about allegations that Abe helped his friend obtain approval for a veterinary college.

Recent media polls show the support ratings recovering to around 50 percent, helped by parliament's recess and a Cabinet reshuffle in August that removed the defense minister and several other unpopular ministers. A Nikkei newspaper survey published Monday showed that 44 percent of respondents said they would vote for Abe's party in the election, followed by just 8 percent for two opposition parties.

It's a significant turnaround from June, when the Liberal Democratic Party suffered a devastating loss in a Tokyo city assembly election to maverick Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new regional party.

Opposition lawmakers are scrambling to regroup.

Earlier Monday, Koike announced the launch of a new national party that she will head, though she will remain as governor to focus on hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and other issues.

She said her Hope Party will be conservative and push for transparency in government, women's advancement, elimination of nuclear energy and other reforms. Several parliamentarians, including defectors from the main opposition Democratic Party, have announced their intention to join her party.

"This is going to be a new force formed by members aiming to achieve reforms and conservativism," Koike said. "We are going to create a Japan where there is hope for everyone that tomorrow will certainly be better than today."

The Democrats, which held power in 2009-2012, have lost ground largely due to internal disagreements.


Uber CEO apologizes to London users for company's mistakes

The Uber website is displayed on a phone in London, Friday, Sept. 22. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — The new CEO of Uber offered contrition for past mistakes on Monday, just days after London's transport authority said it would scrap the company's operating license.

Dara Khosrowshahi issued a letter to London's Evening Standard newspaper acknowledging that the company "has got things wrong along the way" as it expanded. He confirmed the company will appeal the London decision but will do so "with the knowledge that we must also change."

"We won't be perfect, but we will listen to you; we will look to be long-term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity and passion," he wrote.

London mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the apology and said he was pleased to see the company acknowledge the issues it faced in London.

"Even though there is a legal process in place, I have asked (Transport for London) to make themselves available to meet with him," Khan said.

The city's transportation agency said last week it would not renew Uber's license when it expires Sept. 30, citing a lack of corporate responsibility and concern for public security.

The company has been subject to scandals over its management style from accusations of sexism to the illegal use of software to trick regulators. The regulator said it was not fit to keep operating in London, where it has 3.5 million passengers and 40,000 drivers.

Uber has long been a target of complaints from taxi drivers and companies. Cab drivers say Uber drivers don't have to comply with the same licensing standards, giving the ride-hailing service an unfair advantage.

The apologetic letter comes after days of tense exchanges between Uber representatives and Khan, who said any operator of taxi services in the city "needs to play by the rules" and that people angry about the decision should blame the ride-hailing company.


Today in History - Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Tuesday, Sept. 26, the 269th day of 2017. There are 96 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On September 26, 1892, John Philip Sousa and his newly formed band performed publicly for the first time at the Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, New Jersey.

On this date:

In 1777, British troops occupied Philadelphia during the American Revolution.

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson was confirmed by the Senate to be the first United States secretary of state; John Jay, the first chief justice; Edmund Randolph, the first attorney general.

In 1835, the opera "Lucia di Lammermoor" by Gaetano Donizetti was first performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy.

In 1907, New Zealand went from being a colony to a dominion within the British Empire.

In 1914, the Federal Trade Commission was established.

In 1937, the radio drama "The Shadow," starring Orson Welles, premiered on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

In 1957, the musical play "West Side Story" opened on Broadway.

In 1960, the first-ever debate between presidential nominees took place as Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon faced off before a national TV audience from Chicago.

In 1977, Sir Freddie Laker began his cut-rate "Skytrain" service from London to New York. (However, the carrier went out of business in 1982.)

In 1986, William H. Rehnquist was sworn in as the 16th chief justice of the United States, while Antonin Scalia joined the Supreme Court as its 103rd member.

In 1991, four men and four women began a two-year stay inside a sealed-off structure in Oracle, Arizona, called Biosphere 2. (They emerged from Biosphere on this date in 1993.)

In 1997, a Garuda Indonesia Airbus A-300 crashed while approaching Medan Airport in north Sumatra, killing all 234 people aboard. 

Ten years ago: A judge in Los Angeles declared a mistrial in Phil Spector's murder trial after the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting the music producer of killing actress Lana Clarkson. (Spector was convicted in a 2009 retrial.) Myanmar began a violent crackdown on protests, beating and dragging away dozens of monks.

Five years ago: President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney both campaigned in the battleground state of Ohio. Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi, making his debut on the global stage at the United Nations, said he would not rest until the civil war in Syria was brought to an end.

One year ago: Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton participated in their first debate of the presidential campaign at Hofstra University in New York; Clinton emphatically denounced Trump for keeping his personal tax returns and business dealings secret from voters while Trump repeatedly cast Clinton as a "typical politician." Colombia's government and its largest rebel movement signed a historic peace accord in an emotional ceremony aimed at ending a half-century of combat.

Today's Birthdays: Retired baseball All-Star Bobby Shantz is 92. Actor Philip Bosco is 87. Actor Richard Herd is 85. South African nationalist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is 81. Country singer David Frizzell is 76. Actor Kent McCord is 75. Television host Anne Robinson is 73. Singer Bryan Ferry is 72. Actress Mary Beth Hurt is 71. Singer Olivia Newton-John is 69. Actor James Keane is 65. Rock singer-musician Cesar Rosas (Los Lobos) is 63. Country singer Carlene Carter is 62. Actress Linda Hamilton is 61. Country singer Doug Supernaw is 57. Rhythm-and-blues singer Cindy Herron (En Vogue) is 56. Actress Melissa Sue Anderson is 55. Actor Patrick Bristow is 55. Rock musician Al Pitrelli is 55. Singer Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl) is 55. TV personality Jillian Barberie is 51. Contemporary Christian guitarist Jody Davis (Newsboys) is 50. Actor Jim Caviezel (kuh-VEE'-zuhl) is 49. Actress Tricia O'Kelley is 49. Actor Ben Shenkman is 49. Actress Melanie Paxon is 45. Singer Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) is 45. Music producer Dr. Luke is 44. Jazz musician Nicholas Payton is 44. Actor Mark Famiglietti (fah-mihl-YEH'-tee) is 38. Singer-actress Christina Milian (MIHL'-ee-ahn) is 36. Tennis player Serena Williams is 36.

Thought for Today: "Whatever you think, be sure it is what you think; whatever you want, be sure that is what you want; whatever you feel, be sure that is what you feel." — T.S. Eliot, American-Anglo poet (born on this date in 1888, died 1965).


Update September 25, 2017

Today in History - Monday, Sept. 25, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Monday, Sept. 25, the 268th day of 2017. There are 97 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On September 25, 1957, nine black students who'd been forced to withdraw from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, because of unruly white crowds were escorted to class by members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.

On this date:

In 1690, one of the earliest American newspapers, Publick Occurrences, published its first — and last — edition in Boston.

In 1775, American Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen was captured by the British as he led an attack on Montreal. (Allen was released by the British in 1778.)

In 1789, the first United States Congress adopted 12 amendments to the Constitution and sent them to the states for ratification. (Ten of the amendments became the Bill of Rights.)

In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed a measure establishing Sequoia National Park.

In 1917, baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1932, the Spanish region of Catalonia received a Charter of Autonomy (however, the Charter was revoked by Francisco Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War).

In 1956, the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable officially went into service with a three-way ceremonial call between New York, Ottawa and London.

In 1962, Sonny Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in round one to win the world heavyweight title at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

In 1978, 144 people were killed when a Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 and a private plane collided over San Diego.

In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as the first female justice on the Supreme Court.

In 1992, NASA's Mars Observer blasted off on a $980 million mission to the red planet (the probe disappeared just before entering Martian orbit in August 1993).

In 1997, President Bill Clinton pulled open the door of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, as he welcomed nine blacks who had faced hate-filled mobs 40 years earlier.

 

Ten years ago: Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous Mormon splinter group, was convicted in St. George, Utah, of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl. (The conviction was later overturned by the Utah Supreme Court; prosecutors ended up dropping the charges, since Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas in a separate case.) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE'-neh-zhahd), addressing the United Nations, announced "the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed," and indicated Tehran would disregard Security Council resolutions imposed by what he called "arrogant powers." Japan's lower house of parliament elected Yasuo Fukuda (yah-soo-oh foo-koo-dah) prime minister.

Five years ago: President Barack Obama, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, pledged U.S. support for Syrians trying to oust President Bashar Assad, calling him "a dictator who massacres his own people." A survey of consumer confidence reached its highest level since February on expectations that hiring would soon pick up. Singer and TV host Andy Williams died at his Branson, Missouri, home at the age of 84.

One year ago: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met separately in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, giving each candidate fresh foreign policy talking points on the eve of their first presidential debate. Golf legend Arnold Palmer, 87, died in Pittsburgh. Jose Fernandez, 24, ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins, was killed in a boating accident with two friends off Miami Beach. Country singer Jean Shepard, a Grand Old Opry staple, died in Nashville at 82.

 

Today's Birthdays: Broadcast journalist Barbara Walters is 88. Folk singer Ian Tyson is 84. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is 74. Actor Josh Taylor is 74. Actor Robert Walden is 74. Actor-producer Michael Douglas is 73. Model Cheryl Tiegs is 70. Actress Mimi Kennedy is 69. Movie director Pedro Almodovar is 68. Actor-director Anson Williams is 68. Actor Mark Hamill is 66. Basketball Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo is 66. Polka bandleader Jimmy Sturr is 66. Actor Colin Friels is 65. Actor Michael Madsen is 59. Actress Heather Locklear is 56. Actress Aida Turturro is 55. Actor Tate Donovan is 54. TV personality Keely Shaye Smith is 54. Actress Maria Doyle Kennedy is 53. Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is 52. Actor Jason Flemyng is 51. Actor Will Smith is 49. Actor Hal Sparks is 48. Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is 48. Rock musician Mike Luce (Drowning Pool) is 46. Actress Bridgette Wilson-Sampras is 44. Actress Clea DuVall is 40. Actor Robbie Jones is 40. Actor Joel David Moore is 40. Actor Chris Owen is 37. Rapper T. I. is 37. Actor Van Hansis is 36. Actor Lee Norris is 36. Actor/rapper Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) is 34. Actor Zach Woods is 33. Actor Jordan Gavaris is 28. Olympic silver medal figure skater Mao Asada is 27. Actress Emmy Clarke is 26. 

Thought for Today: "The richer your friends, the more they will cost you." — Elisabeth Marbury, American writer (1856-1933).


Merkel wins 4th term but nationalists surge in German vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement on the parliament election at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union CDU in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 24. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Geir Moulson & David Rising

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term Sunday, but now faces the tricky prospect of forming a coalition with two disparate new partners after voters weakened her conservatives and a nationalist, anti-migrant party surged into parliament.

Merkel's center-left challenger, Martin Schulz, conceded that his Social Democrats had suffered a "crushing election defeat," with projections showing the party's worst performance in post-World War II Germany.

He vowed to take his party, the junior partner in Merkel's outgoing "grand coalition" of Germany's traditionally dominant parties, into opposition.

"We have a mandate to form a new government, and no government can be formed against us," Merkel told cheering supporters. She added that it wasn't a "matter of course" to finish first after 12 years in power, and that the past four years were "extremely challenging."

Stressing that "we live in stormy times" internationally, she declared: "I have the intention of achieving a stable government in Germany."

The biggest winner was the four-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD. It finished third after a campaign that centered on shrill criticism of Merkel and her decision in 2015 to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany, but also harnessed wider discontent with established politicians.

One of AfD's leaders, Alice Weidel, said it will provide "constructive opposition." But co-leader Alexander Gauland struck a harsher tone, vowing that "we will take our country back" and promising to "chase" Merkel.

Projections for ARD and ZDF public television, based on exit polls and partial counting, showed Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and their Bavaria-only allies, the Christian Social Union, winning around 33 percent of the vote — down from 41.5 percent four years ago. It was one of their weakest post-war showings.

Schulz's Social Democrats were trailing far behind, with just under 21 percent support, down from 25.7 percent in 2013 and undercutting their previous post-war low of 23 percent eight years ago.

AfD won just over 13 percent of the vote, according to the projections. It was followed by the election's other big winner — the pro-business Free Democratic Party, which returned to parliament after a four-year break with about 10.5 percent.

The Free Democrats were Merkel's coalition partners in her second-term government from 2009-2013, but lost all their seats four years ago.

"In a country that is big on schadenfreude, our comeback is an encouraging message — after failure, a new beginning is possible," party leader Christian Lindner told supporters.

The Left Party and the traditionally left-leaning Greens won about 9 percent support each, completing a parliament that now has six caucuses rather than the previous four.

All mainstream parties have ruled out working with AfD and Merkel's conservatives won't form a coalition with the Left Party.

That means two politically plausible governments are mathematically feasible: continuing the "grand coalition" or a combination of Merkel's Union bloc, the Free Democrats and Greens.

That alliance is known as a "Jamaica" coalition because the parties' colors match those of the Caribbean nation's flag. It has been tried, with mixed results, in state governments but never in a national government.

The Social Democrats were adamant Sunday night that they wouldn't continue to serve under Merkel.

"It is completely clear that the role the voters have given us is as the opposition," Schulz said.

Referring to AfD's third-place finish, he said "there cannot be a far-right party leading the opposition in Germany."

Cobbling together a "Jamaica" coalition is likely to be time-consuming. The Free Democrats and Greens are traditional rivals. Four years ago, Merkel's conservatives and the Greens held exploratory talks on a two-party coalition but they came to nothing.

The underwhelming result also looks set to re-ignite pressure within Merkel's bloc for a tougher conservative image. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, who feuded with Merkel over the migrant influx before putting aside their differences this year, said the outcome showed that the conservatives need to close "an open flank to the right."

"We can't just ignore these 13 percent or more for AfD in a national parliament with international significance," said Reiner Haseloff, the conservative governor of eastern Saxony-Anhalt state, where AfD is strong.

"We need an answer — there must be no democratic alternative to our right," he added. "As long as it is there, we haven't completely done our homework."

AfD is the first party to the right of the conservatives to enter parliament in 60 years.

Merkel pledged a "thorough analysis, because we want to win back AfD voters by solving problems, by taking account of their concerns and fears, and above all with good policies."

Outside AfD's election party in Berlin after the results were announced, at least 500 protesters shouted "all Berlin hates the AfD," ''Nazi pigs," and other slogans, while several protesters threw bottles as police kept them away from the building.

Similar protests broke out in Cologne, Hamburg and Frankfurt but police said they were mostly peaceful.

Major Jewish groups expressed dismay at the AfD's showing, with the World Jewish Congress calling the party "a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany's past."

Mainstream parties' leaders vowed a robust response to AfD's entry into parliament. Greens co-leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt told supporters: "there will again be Nazis sitting in parliament."

"We will not let one single attack on German democracy stand," she said, to applause.

AfD leaders dismissed such talk. Asked by The Associated Press what signal the vote sends internationally, chairman Joerg Meuthen said: "That there is conservative politics in Germany again. And that there are patriots in the German parliament again."

"I want to emphasize that there is absolutely no risk of extreme right politics in the German parliament," he said.

Fellow European right-wing populists hailed AfD's performance. The Netherlands' Geert Wilders wrote on Twitter: "The message is clear. We are no Islamic nations."

"Bravo to our allies from AfD for this historic score!" tweeted Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in France's presidential election. "It's a new symbol of the awakening of the peoples of Europe."


Philippines assures Vietnam of fair probe on dead fishermen

A crewmember loads bullets for a machine gun on a Philippine Navy patrol boat in the South China Sea in this 2014 file photo. (AP Photo/Noel Celis)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Monday a Vietnamese fishing vessel initiated "very dangerous maneuvers" and slammed into a Filipino navy boat during a chase, prompting its sailors to fire warning shots then later found two Vietnamese dead on the vessel.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano informed his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, of the deadly encounter that occurred early Saturday off the northwestern Philippines and assured him of a fair investigation.

Cayetano talked to Minh, who also serves as Vietnam' deputy prime minister, during a meeting at the United Nations in New York.

"We would like to offer our sympathies over the unfortunate loss of life and give you our assurance that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this matter," a Department of Foreign Affairs statement issued in Manila quoted Cayetano as telling Minh.

Cayetano assured Minh that the five other Vietnamese fishermen who were taken into custody by Philippine authorities will be treated well and could be accessed anytime by Vietnamese officials, who are being updated on developments.

A Philippine security official told The Associated Press on Sunday that the incident unfolded closer to the Philippine coast and was not related to the main territorial disputes farther out in the South China Sea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila was the one authorized to speak on the issue.

Still, the deadly incident underscores the danger that lurks due to overlapping territorial claims in a region where competition is heavy for fish, oil, gas and other maritime resources. In 2013, Philippine coast guard personnel opened fire and killed a Taiwanese fisherman on board a boat that sailed in waters between the northern Philippines and Taiwan, sparking protests in Taiwan. Taiwan imposed sanctions before the row was diplomatically resolved.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said a Philippine navy patrol vessel encountered six Vietnamese boats fishing within the country's exclusive economic zone about 34 nautical miles (63 kilometers) off Cape Bolina in the Philippine province of Pangasinan.

Such zones extend 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) where a coastal state has internationally recognized exclusive rights to fish and exploit other sea resources although foreign ships could pass through.

The Filipino sailors chased the Vietnamese fishing vessels, one of which "initiated very dangerous maneuvers that resulted in it slamming into the left front and left center of the Philippine patrol vessel," the department said.

That "prompted personnel on board the navy vessel to fire warning shots and when the navy personnel boarded the fishing vessel, they found two dead Vietnamese fishermen," the department said, adding five other Vietnamese fishermen surrendered and were taken into custody.

The security official told AP the Vietnamese vessels were using powerful lights to attract fish off Bolinao town. The use of lights for that purpose is prohibited under Philippine law.

The Filipino navy personnel "followed the rules of engagement, including identification protocol and use of radio and public address system," the official said, adding that the Vietnamese fishing boat was towed to Pangasinan afterward.

Vietnamese Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

Vietnam and the Philippines have both voiced opposition to China's assertions of its territorial claims in the South China Sea, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has toned down his country's criticism in an effort to thaw once-frosty relations and revive trade with Beijing.


Catalonia's separatists defy Spain with ballots for vote

Protesters pack the University square in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 24. Thousands of Catalan separatists are rallying in public squares in Barcelona and other towns in support of a disputed referendum on independence of the northeastern region from Spain. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Joseph Wilson

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — The grassroots groups driving Catalonia's separatist movement defied Spanish authorities on Sunday by distributing one million ballots for an Oct. 1 independence vote that the central government in Madrid has called illegal and vowed to halt.

Jordi Cuixart, president of the separatist group Omnium Cultural, announced the ballots were being distributed during a rally in Barcelona.

"Here are the packs of ballots that we ask you to hand out across Catalonia," Cuixart said.

Spanish police have confiscated millions of ballots in recent days as part of a crackdown to stop the Oct. 1 vote, which has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court. Around a dozen regional Catalan officials were arrested Wednesday, provoking a wave of protests across the prosperous northeastern region.

Catalonia's separatists have pledged to hold the vote regardless of the central government's wishes and rallied Sunday in public squares in Barcelona and other towns in the region. Many carried pro-independence flags and signs calling for the independence vote and urging the "Yes" side to victory.

The crowds were asked by secessionist politicians and grassroots groups to also print and distribute posters supporting the vote.

"I ask you to go out and vote! Vote for the future of Catalonia!" Carme Forcadell, the speaker of Catalonia's regional parliament, told a Barcelona crowd.

Polls show the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia are roughly split on breaking with the rest of Spain.


Vatican denounces ousted auditor who says he was forced out

Tourists and pilgrims crowd St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in Rome during the Angelus noon prayer led by Pope Francis, Sunday, Sept. 24. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Nicole Winfield

Vatican City (AP) — The Vatican on Sunday revealed the reason behind the hasty departure of its auditor general, accusing him of having illegally hired a firm to spy on the private lives of Vatican personnel.

The Vatican made the revelation after Libero Milone broke three months of silence to declare that he resigned under threat of arrest for what he said were trumped-up charges.

Milone told reporters Saturday that he was told on June 19 that Pope Francis had lost confidence in him. He said he was subsequently subject to an "aggressive" interrogation by Vatican police who seized material from his office and told him to resign or face arrest.

"They wanted me to confess to something. I don't know what, because I acted within the confines of the statute," he told Sky TG24 and other media.

In a statement, the Vatican admitted that Libero Milone resigned in June after Vatican investigators determined his office had "illegally hired an outside company to conduct investigations into the private lives of Holy See personnel."

The Vatican said Milone had exceeded his mandate, freely tendered his resignation and was treated with full respect by investigators.  It said it was "surprised and saddened" that Milone had violated the terms of his departure, which had called for confidentiality.

Milone's resignation had raised eyebrows because he was only two years into a five-year term, and had been seen as a key part of Francis' efforts to reform the Vatican's finances. Along with Cardinal George Pell, he was tasked with overseeing the Holy See's budgets and making sense of the finances of the Vatican's various departments.

Pell recently returned to his native Australia to face trial on historic sex abuse allegations, which he denies. His secretariat for the economy, which includes Milone's office, is being run by underlings for now. Milone said he didn't exclude a connection between his removal and Pell's departure, suggesting that the Vatican's "old guard" was trying to stymie their reforms.


Baghdad orders Kurdistan region to hand over borders, ports

The President of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Salah al-Din resort, in Irbil, Iraq, Sunday, Sept. 24. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Baghdad (AP) — Iraq's central government in Baghdad ordered the country's Kurdish region to hand over all border crossings and airports to federal government control late Sunday night, hours before the region is set to carry out a controversial referendum on support for independence.

The referendum is set to be held Monday in the three provinces that make up the Kurdistan region as well as dozens of towns and villages that are disputed, claimed by both Baghdad and the country's Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The Iraqi government "requests neighboring counties and the countries of the world to deal with the Iraqi federal government exclusively (with regards to) ports and oil," read a statement from the prime minister's national security council released Sunday night.

Earlier Sunday, the Kurdish region's president Masoud Barzani pledged the vote would be held despite pressure from Baghdad and the international community. He said that while the referendum will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region's "partnership" with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.

Barzani detailed the abuses Iraq's Kurds have faced by Iraqi forces, including killings at the hands of former leader Saddam Hussein's army that left more than 50,000 Kurds dead.

"Only through independence can we secure a future where we will not have the past atrocities," he said.

Pressure from Baghdad and the international community to call off the referendum has mounted over the past week.

In an address on state television Sunday evening, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi repeated his call for the vote to be canceled.

"The map of Iraq is suffering attempts at division and tearing up of a united Iraq. Discrimination between Iraqi citizens on the nationalist and ethnic foundation exposes Iraq to dangers known only by God," al-Abadi said from Baghdad.  Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote, warning it could further destabilize the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.

Turkey renewed a bill on Saturday allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats, a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds.

Also Sunday, Iran closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq's Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard also launched a military exercise in its northwestern Kurdish region, in a sign of Tehran's concerns over the vote.

Iranian Kurdish lawmakers condemned the independence referendum in a statement Sunday and insisted that Iraq maintain its territorial integrity, reported Iran's semi-official Fars news agency.

At the Irbil press conference, Barzani said he was unaware that Iran had closed its airspace, but that it was Iran's "own decision." The leader also confirmed that there had been shelling along Iran's border with the Kurdish region.

Barzani addressed concerns that Turkey would shut its border with the Kurdish region following the vote, saying he hoped Turkey would leave the crossing open.

"There will be no benefit for either side," he said of potential border closures.

Despite fears in disputed territories — Iraqi territory claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad — Barzani said he didn't expect violence to follow the vote, explaining that Iraq's military and the Kurdish fighters known as the peshmerga have "good coordination in the war against terror."

The peshmerga forces have been instructed not to respond to "provocations," in Kirkuk, Barzani added.


Update September 23-24, 2017

Dam failing as scope of Puerto Rico's disaster becomes clear

Residents evacuate Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam following the passing of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Danica Coto

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rican officials rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam and said they could not reach more than half the towns in the U.S. territory as the massive scale of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria started to become clear on Friday.

Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials had no communication with 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the Category 4 storm crossed the island, toppling power lines and cellphone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.

Officials said 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cellphone towers had been downed, and 85 percent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.

"We haven't seen the extent of the damage," Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters in the capital.

More than 15 inches (nearly 40 centimeters) of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

Authorities launched an evacuation of the 70,000 people living downstream, sending buses to move people away and sending frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area.

"This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the National Weather Service wrote. "All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER."

The 316-meter dam, which was built around 1928, holds back a manmade lake covering about 5 square kilometers.

An engineer inspecting the dam reported a "contained breach" that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

"There's no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation," Reynes said. "They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can but it's not easy. We really don't know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam."

Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve, said at the Pentagon that it was impossible to say when communication and power will be restored. He said mobile communications systems are being flown in. But he acknowledged "it's going to take a while" before people in Puerto Rico will be able to communicate with their families outside the island.

Until Friday, he said, "there was no real understanding at all of the gravity of the situation."

Across the island more than 15,000 people are in shelters, including some 2,000 rescued from the north coastal town of Toa Baja, including several who were stranded on roofs.

Rossello couldn't say when power might be restored.

The island's electric grid was in sorry shape long before Maria struck. The territory's $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

"Some transmission structures collapsed," Rossello said, adding that there was no severe damage to electric plants.

He said he was distributing 250 satellite phones from FEMA to mayors across the island to re-establish contact.

Secretary of State Luis Marin said he expects gasoline supplies to be at 80 percent of capacity because the port in the southeastern town of Yabucoa that receives fuel shipments received minor damage.

Hourslong lines formed at the few gas stations that reopened on Friday and anxious residents feared power could be out for weeks — or even months — and wondered how they would cope.

Some of the island's 3.4 million people planned to head to the U.S. to temporarily escape the devastation. At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: Additional rain — up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) — is expected through Saturday.

In San Juan, Neida Febus wandered around her neighborhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to the hungry. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn't think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.

"This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other," she said.

The death toll in Puerto Rico stood at six but was likely to rise.

At least 27 lives in all have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica. Haiti reported three deaths; Guadeloupe, two; and the Dominican Republic, one.

By Friday night, Maria was passing about 295 miles (480 kilometers) east of the central Bahamas with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The storm is not expected to pose a threat to the U.S. mainland.

Israel Molina, 68, found that Maria had ripped away roofing from his Israel Mini Market in San Juan.

"I'm from here. I believe we have to step up to the task. If everyone leaves, what are we going to do? With all the pros and the cons, I will stay here," he said, and then paused. "I might have a different response tomorrow."

Diana Jaquez, one of the owners of the Coquette hair salon in San Juan's Santurce area, assessed storm damage with her husband Friday as their children played nearby. She said she hadn't decided whether to leave the island.

"Business has dropped a lot," she said. "People have other priorities than looking good."

Outside her store, more than 100 people stood in line waiting to get money out of an ATM machine and hoping there would still be some cash left when their turn came.

New York plans to send about 240 National Guardsmen and state troopers to assist Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The state is also sending drinking water, ready-to-eat meals, electrical generators and other supplies.


Pakistan: Death toll from India attack in Kashmir rises to 6

Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addresses the United Nations General Assembly Thursday, Sept. 21, at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

K.M. Chaudhry & Munir Ahmed

Suleria, Pakistan (AP) — At least six Pakistani villagers were killed and 26 were wounded in an overnight attack by India in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, Pakistan's military said Friday, adding that hundreds of villagers were forced to move to safer places.

The Indian army said in a statement that all violations of a 2003 cease-fire agreement in Kashmir have been initiated by Pakistani forces. The disputed Kashmir region is divided between Pakistan and India but both claim it in its entirety.

The attack, first reported Thursday night, came as Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi accused New Delhi of committing 600 such cease-fire violations since January.

In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Abbasi urged the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir and reiterated his accusations against India, saying New Delhi is "brutally suppressing" the struggle of the people in Kashmir.

In Friday's statement, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said women and children were among the villagers killed or wounded in what he called "unprovoked" Indian shelling across the boundary in the Charwah and Harpal villages on the Pakistani side.

In a statement, Pakistan's foreign ministry said the death toll was expected to rise as several wounded were in critical condition. Initially, the army said four Pakistani civilians had died in the attack.

An Associated Press photographer saw terrified residents living near the Kashmir frontier being evacuated to Suleria village and elsewhere in Sialkot district amid intermittent exchanges of fire between the two sides.

Zubaida Begum, 72, told The Associated Press from a hospital in the city of Sialkot that the Indian attack damaged homes in her village of Charwa. She said two of her relatives were killed in Thursday's fire.

"Only we know with how much difficulty we fled our village and even we did not have time to lock our homes when we ran for shelter due to intense Indian shelling," she said.

Mohammad Asim, 21, said many people left their villages in panic after Thursday's firing.

"We could hear fire coming from India and we could also feel that the Pakistan army was retaliating. Both sides used heavy weapons," he said from beside of his cousin, who was being treated at hospital after being hit with a bullet in the shoulder.

In New Delhi, the Indian army said in a statement that all cease-fire violations in Kashmir have been initiated by Pakistani forces and that India only responds to infractions. It said in this case Indian troops targeted "armed intruders" who were "attempting to infiltrate" into India from the Pakistan side of the border.

Pakistan's army in a statement dismissed the claim as baseless, saying Pakistan only returns fire after coming under attack. The army also said it contacted its Indian counterpart over a crisis hotline to discuss the Indian army's "deliberate targeting of Pakistani civilians."

On Friday, Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned India's top diplomat in the capital Islamabad and "strongly condemned the unprovoked ceasefire violations by the Indian occupation forces," it said in a statement. It said Pakistan asked India to respect a 2003 cease-fire arrangement as well as investigate cross-border firing incidents.

In a statement, police in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, said at least four villagers were wounded and several homes were damaged in the Indian-held sector after Pakistan violated the cease-fire accord by firing guns and mortar shells at Indian forward posts in Kashmir.

The police said the firing began on Thursday night and continued till Friday morning and that over 700 civilians living near the frontier were evacuated to safer places.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over control of the disputed region since their independence from Britain in 1947.


British police charge 18-year-old over London subway bombing

 

This is a Friday, Sept. 15, file photo shows a police forensic officer standing beside the train where a terrorist incident happened at Parsons Green subway station in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

London (AP) — British police on Friday charged an 18-year-old man with attempted murder and causing an explosion over last week's bomb attack on the London subway.

Ahmed Hassan was accused of planting the bomb at Parsons Green station on Sept. 15. The Metropolitan Police force said Hassan is charged with attempting to "murder persons traveling on a District Line train" and of using a chemical compound known as TATP to cause an explosion likely to endanger life.

Hassan, who is originally from Iraq, spoke only to confirm his name and address during a brief court appearance on Friday. Prosecutors allege that he made the bomb from materials he ordered online and left it on the crowded subway train, getting off one stop before it exploded.

He was ordered detained until his next hearing on Oct. 13.

Hassan was arrested Saturday at the port of Dover, departure point for ferries to France. After his arrest, police searched the suburban home of a couple who had fostered more than 200 children, including refugees from the Middle East. Hassan confirmed in court that he lived at the address.

Thirty people were injured when the homemade bomb — hidden in a plastic bucket inside a plastic supermarket bag — partly detonated at the height of the morning rush hour.

The attack sparked a huge hunt for the perpetrators and prompted officials to briefly raise the national terrorism threat to the highest level, "critical."

London police chief Cressida Dick said Friday that the "very dangerous" bomb was packed with shrapnel and the carnage could have been much worse.

Police have arrested six people in all over the attack. Three — including a 17-year-old — have been released without charge, while two men remain in custody.


NASA's asteroid chaser swings by Earth on way to space rock

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. (Conceptual Image Lab/Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — NASA's asteroid-chasing spacecraft swung by Earth on Friday on its way to a space rock.

Launched a year ago, Osiris-Rex passed within 10,711 miles (17,237 kilometers) of the home planet early Friday afternoon — above Antarctica. It used Earth's gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

Osiris-Rex should reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, in 2020, collect some of its gravel for return to Earth. If all goes well, scientists should get the samples in 2023.

Friday's flyby was a quick hello: The spacecraft zoomed by at about 19,000 mph (31,000 kph). NASA took precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex — about the size of an SUV — did not slam into any satellites.

"Congratulations @OSIRISREx team on a successful Earth Gravity Assist - trajectory is absolutely perfect - right up the middle!" the University of Arizona's Dante Lauretta, chief scientist for Osiris-Rex, said via Twitter.

Ground telescopes tried to observe the spacecraft while it's in the neighborhood. NASA posted a picture gallery online.

NASA said the spacecraft's science instruments would be turned on four hours after the closest approach and tested over the next two weeks, scanning the Earth and moon. Lauretta said it would be good practice for operations at Bennu.

Bennu is just 1,640 feet (500 meters) or so across and circles the sun in an orbit slightly wider than ours. Osiris-Rex will go into orbit around the asteroid and seek the best spot for grabbing a few handfuls of the bite-size bits of rock. It will hover like a hummingbird as a mechanical arm briefly rests on the surface and sucks in samples stirred up by nitrogen gas thrusters.

Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life. It's believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago, a remnant of the solar system's building blocks.

This is the first U.S. attempt to bring back samples from an asteroid. Japan already has visited an asteroid and returned some specks.


Spain to send extra police to try to halt Catalan referendum

Students protest outside the public Barcelona University in Spain Friday, Sept. 22. Around two thousand students have gathered around and inside one of Barcelona's main universities calling to end the crackdown on a referendum on Catalonia's secession that has met a fierce opposition by Spanish central authorities. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Ciaran Giles

Madrid (AP) — Spain will deploy police reinforcements to Catalonia to help maintain order if an independence referendum pledged by Catalan officials but opposed by the national government goes ahead, officials said Friday.

The measure came amid rising tension between Spanish and Catalan authorities over the planned Oct. 1 ballot.

Civil Guard police this week arrested around a dozen regional government officials and seized about 10 million ballot papers. Street protests against those measures grew ugly, with demonstrators vandalizing two police cars, and a prosecutor asked Friday for Spain's National Court to consider investigating demonstrators for sedition.

Authorities in the wealthy northeastern region insist the vote will take place, even though Spain's Constitutional Court has ordered it to be suspended and the Madrid-based national government insists it is illegal.

An Interior Ministry statement said the extra agents would provide backing for the Catalan regional police, who are also under orders to prevent the staging of the referendum.

The statement said the Catalan Interior Ministry had been informed. It did not say how many extra police would be sent. Three ferries docked at Barcelona's port will provide accommodation for the extra officers.

Also Friday, a Catalan regional judge ordered the release with restrictions of six people arrested Wednesday in the crackdown on referendum preparations. A statement said the six declined to testify.

They remain under investigation for disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement in relation to the planned ballot and must appear before the court each week.

A large and noisy demonstration lasting more than 24 hours in Barcelona against the raids and arrests dispersed Friday afternoon after the officials were released.

Some 2,000 students were still staging a separate pro-referendum demonstration at one of Barcelona's main universities, however. They occupied a central cloister near the offices of the dean and other university officials. Student union representatives urged the protesters to remain over the weekend.

Catalonia represents a fifth of Spain's 1.1-trillion-euro ($1.32 trillion) economy and enjoys wide self-government. The region has about 5.5 million eligible voters. Polls consistently show the region's inhabitants favor holding a referendum but are roughly evenly divided over independence from Spain.


Today in History - Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Saturday, Sept. 23, the 266th day of 2017. There are 99 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On September 23, 1952, Sen. Richard M. Nixon, R-Calif., salvaged his vice-presidential nomination by appearing on television from Los Angeles to refute allegations of improper campaign fundraising in what became known as the "Checkers" speech.

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

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 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 1977, the Randy Newman album "Little Criminals" (featuring the song "Short People") was released by Warner Bros. records.

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: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE'-neh-zhahd) left Tehran for New York to address the United Nations; state media quoted him as saying the American people were eager for different opinions about the world, and that he was looking forward to providing them with "correct and clear information." Cuba published a photo of a standing, smiling Fidel Castro looking heavier but still gaunt as the 81-year-old communist leader met with Angola's president.

Five years ago: The Libyan militia suspected in the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans said it had disbanded on orders of the country's president. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told reporters while traveling from Los Angeles to Denver that he would spend less time raising money and more time with voters. "Homeland" won the Emmy Award for best drama series, and its stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis each won leading actor awards; "Modern Family" received four awards, including a three-peat as best comedy series.

One year ago: Sen. Ted Cruz announced on Facebook he would vote for Donald Trump, a dramatic about-face months after the fiery Texas conservative called the Republican nominee a "pathological liar" and "utterly amoral." President Barack Obama vetoed a bill to allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, arguing it undermined national security (both the House and Senate voted to override the veto).

Today's Birthdays: Singer Julio Iglesias is 74. Actor Paul Petersen (TV: "The Donna Reed Show") is 72. Actress-singer Mary Kay Place is 70. Rock star Bruce Springsteen is 68. Director/playwright George C. Wolfe is 63. Rock musician Leon Taylor (The Ventures) is 62. Actress Rosalind Chao is 60. Golfer Larry Mize is 59. Actor Jason Alexander is 58. Actor Chi McBride is 56. Country musician Don Herron (BR549) is 55. Actor Erik Todd Dellums is 53. Actress LisaRaye is 51. Singer Ani (AH'-nee) DiFranco is 47. Rock singer Sarah Bettens (K's Choice) is 45. Recording executive Jermaine Dupri is 45. Actor Kip Pardue is 41. Actor Anthony Mackie is 39. Pop singer Erik-Michael Estrada (TV: "Making the Band") is 38. Actress Aubrey Dollar is 37. Pop singer Diana Ortiz (Dream) is 32. Tennis player Melanie Oudin (oo-DAN') is 26.

Thought for Today: "The only interesting answers are those which destroy the questions." — Susan Sontag, American author and critic (1933-2004).


Update September 22, 2017

Kim Jong Un: 'Deranged' Trump will 'pay dearly' for threat

In this Sept. 3, 2017, image distributed on Sept. 4, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un holds a meeting of the ruling party's presidium.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

By Foster Klug, Matthew Pennington, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in an extraordinary and direct rebuke, called President Donald Trump "deranged" and said he will "pay dearly" for his threats, a possible indication of more powerful weapons tests on the horizon.

Kim said Trump is "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country." He also described the U.S. president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."

The dispatch was unusual in that it was written in the first person, albeit filtered through the North's state media, which is part of propaganda efforts meant to glorify Kim. South Korean media called it the first such direct address to the world by Kim.

Some analysts saw a clear announcement that North Korea would ramp up its already brisk pace of weapons testing, which has included missiles meant to target U.S. forces throughout Asia and the U.S. mainland.

"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," said the statement carried by North's official Korean Central News Agency on Friday morning.

DPRK is the abbreviation of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The statement responded to Trump's combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday where he mocked Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission," and said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Kim characterized Trump's speech to the world body as "mentally deranged behavior."

He said Trump's remarks "have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last."

Kim said he is "thinking hard" about his response and that Trump "will face results beyond his expectation."

Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said Kim Jong Un's statement indicated that North Korea will respond to Trump with its most aggressive missile test yet. That might include firing a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan to a range of around 7,000 kilometers (4,349 miles) to display a capability to reach Hawaii or Alaska.

The statement will further escalate the war of words between the adversaries as the North moves closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America.

In recent months, the North has launched a pair of still-developmental ICBMs it said were capable of striking the continental United States and a pair of intermediate-range missiles that soared over Japanese territory. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date drawing stiffer U.N. sanctions.

Pennington reported from the United Nations. AP writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed from Seoul.


Mexico shocked by news: Girl trapped in rubble didn't exist

Search and rescue efforts continue at the Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City, Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

By Giseal Salomon, Maria Verza, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP)
— Hour after excruciating hour, Mexicans were transfixed by dramatic efforts to reach a young girl thought buried in the rubble of a school destroyed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. She reportedly wiggled her fingers, told rescuers her name and said there were others trapped near her. Rescue workers called for tubes, pipes and other tools to reach her.

News media, officials and volunteer rescuers all repeated the story of "Frida Sofia" with a sense of urgency that made it a national drama, drawing attention away from other rescue efforts across the quake-stricken city and leaving people in Mexico and abroad glued to their television sets.

But she never existed, Mexican navy officials now say.

"We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl," navy Assistant Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said Thursday. "We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe — we are sure — it was not a reality."

Sarmiento said a camera lowered into the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen school showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself, and the only person it could be — the only one still listed as missing — was a school employee. But it was just blood tracks — no fingers wiggling, no voice, no name. Several dead people have been removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.

Twitter users quickly brought out the "Fake News" tag and complained that the widespread coverage had distracted attention from real rescue efforts where victims have been pulled victims from the rubble — something that hasn't happened at the school in at least a day.

Viewers across the country hung on the round-the-clock coverage of the drama Wednesday from the only network that was permitted to enter. The military, which ran the rescue operation, spoke directly only to the network's reporters inside the site.

The Associated Press and others reported about the search for the girl, based on interviews with rescue workers leaving the scene who believed it was true. The workers had been toiling through the night, and the change of rescuing the girl appeared to give them hope and purpose despite their exhaustion.

Reports about the trapped girl led to the donations of cranes, support beams and power tools at the school site — pleas for help quickly met based on the urgency of rescuing children. It was unclear if that affected other rescue operations going on simultaneously at a half dozen other sites across the city.

Despite all the technology brought to bear at the school, including thermal imaging devices, sensors, scanners and remote cameras, the mistake may have come down to a few over-enthusiastic rescuers who, one-by one, crawled into the bottom of shafts tunneled into the rubble looking for any signs of life.

"I don't think there was bad faith involved," security analyst Alejandro Hope said. "You want to believe there are children still alive down there."

Rescuers interviewed by the AP late Wednesday at a barricade that blocked most journalists from reaching the site believed the story of the girl implicitly. Operating on little sleep and relying on donated food and tools, rescuers were emotionally wedded to the story, and the adrenaline it provided may have been the only thing keeping them going.

Rescue worker Raul Rodrigo Hernandez Ayala came out from the site Wednesday night and said that "the girl is alive, she has vital signs," and that five more children had been located alive. "There is a basement where they found children."

Despite the setback — and the diminishing hopes that anyone was left under the rubble — rescuers appeared unwilling to question the effort.

"It was a confusion," said Alfredo Padilla, a volunteer rescuer at the school. "The important thing is there are signs of life and we are working on that."

In retrospect, the story of "Frida Sofia," had some suspicious points from the start.

Officials couldn't locate any relatives of the missing girl, and no girl with that name attended the school. Rescuers said they were still separated from her by yards of rubble, but could somehow still hear her.

It could have political repercussions: Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno, often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, had repeated the story about the girl.

Hope noted "something similar happened in 1985," referring to the magnitude 8.0 quake that killed 9,500 people.

Media quickly reported that a 9-year-old boy had been located in the rubble days after the Sept. 19 quake 32 years ago. Rescuers mobilized in a huge effort to find the boy, but he apparently never existed.

"That generated anger against those who had spread the story," Hope said.


Pope admits church realized sex abuse problem 'a bit late'

 

Pope Francis meets members of a children's choir from Mexico during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (L'osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Thursday acknowledged the Catholic Church was "a bit late" in realizing the damage done by priests who rape and molest children, and said that the decades-long practice of moving pedophiles around rather than sanctioning them was to blame.

Francis met Thursday for the first time with his sex abuse advisory commission, a group of outside experts named in 2014 to advise him and the Catholic Church on best practices to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and to protect children.

Commission members briefed him on their work and made a series of proposals that, if accepted, would mark a major turnabout in the way the church handles abuse cases.

One recommendation is for sex abuse cases to be exempted from church's norms requiring "pontifical secret." Commissioners proposed that victims be guaranteed a "minimum right to information" as their claims are processed in the normally secrecy-filled church process. They also proposed that the 20-year statute of limitations on abuse accusations be lifted.

In addition, the commission said it was discussing the problem of when church law "impedes the reporting of suspected child abuse to civil authorities."

The Vatican has long insisted that the inviolability of the seal of confession prevents clergy who might learn about abuse through the sacramental practice as an impediment to reporting crimes to law enforcement. Recently, however, Australia's royal commission has called for clergy to face criminal charges if they learn of abuse in confession and fail to report it.

In his remarks, Francis thanked the members for their work and acknowledged they had had a difficult job going "against the current" in making the church and Vatican aware of the problem and respond to it.

In off-the-cuff remarks, he admitted that the church's response to the scandal was slow. Indeed, the Vatican for decades turned a blind eye to the problem and local bishops, rather than defrocking abusers, instead moved them from parish to parish, allowing them to abuse anew.

Part of the problem was that under the papacy of St. John Paul II, the Vatican was reluctant to defrock young priests, even if they were abusers, and sought to avoid scandal at all costs.

"The consciousness of the church arrived a bit late, and when the consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late," Francis said. "Perhaps the old practice of moving people around, and not confronting the problem, kept consciences asleep."

Francis also addressed the way the Vatican was handling appeals of canonical sentences, saying he wanted to add more diocesan bishops to the appeals commission that is currently dominated by canon lawyers. He said lawyers "tend to want to lower sentences" and that he wanted diocesan bishops with experience of the problem in the field to have a say.

"I decided to balance out this commission and also say that if abuse of a minor is proven, it's sufficient and there's no need for recourse. If there is proof, period. It's definitive. Why? Not because of revulsion, but simply because the person who did this, man or woman, is sick. It's a sickness."

Francis acknowledged he had a learning curve about the clergy abuse issue, admitting that he once opted to impose a more lenient sentence on a priest who subsequently reoffended a reference to the case of the Italian priest, the Rev. Mauro Inzoli.

"I was new and I didn't understand these things well, and before two choices I chose the more benevolent one," he said. "It was the only time I did it, and never again."

In its three years, the sex abuse commission has held educational workshops in dioceses around the world, but has faced such stiff resistance to some of its proposals at the Vatican that its most prominent member, Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, resigned in frustration in March.

The commission's statutes and membership are up for review, and it remains to be seen if survivors of abuse will be included in the new membership roster.

Commission member Bill Kilgallon told the pope that the group was proposing an "international survivor advisory panel" and an international group of speakers, to help inform it and the church about the experiences of abuse victims.
___
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield


2 of 6 arrested over London subway bomb freed without charge

 

Police stand outside a property in Thornton Heath, south London, after a teenager was arrested by detectives investigating the bomb that partially exploded on a London subway last week, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Two of the six men arrested over last week's London subway bombing were released without charge Thursday, British police said. Four others remained in custody.

One of those released is a 21-year-old, originally from Syria, detained outside a fast-food restaurant in west London on Saturday, a day after the rush hour attack on a subway train. The other is a 48-year-old man arrested Wednesday in Newport, Wales.

Thirty people were injured when a homemade bomb — placed inside a bucket wrapped in a supermarket bag — partly detonated on a train stopped at London's Parsons Green station.

The attack sparked a manhunt for the perpetrators and prompted officials to briefly raise the national terrorism threat to the highest level.

The suspects still being held include an 18-year-old from Iraq detained at the English Channel port of Dover on Saturday.

Two men aged 25 and 30 arrested in Newport earlier this week remained in custody, as did a 17-year-old detained early Thursday in south London.

None of the suspects has been charged, and their names haven't been released.


Today in History - Friday, Sept. 22, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Friday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2017. There are 100 days left in the year. Autumn arrives at 4:02 p.m. Eastern time.

Today's Highlight in History:

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in rebel states should be free as of January 1, 1863.

On this date:

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

In 1792, the French First Republic was proclaimed.

In 1917, the silent comedy-drama "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," starring Mary Pickford, was released.

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 1957, the TV series "Maverick," starring James Garner and Jack Kelly, premiered on ABC.

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 December 31, 2007.)

In 1982, the situation comedy "Family Ties" premiered on NBC.

In 1993, 47 people were killed when an Amtrak passenger train fell off a bridge and crashed into Big Bayou Canot near Mobile, Alabama. (A tugboat pilot lost in fog pushed a barge into the railroad bridge, knocking the tracks 38 inches out of line just minutes before the train arrived.)

Ten years ago: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke briefly with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (NOO'-ree ahl-MAHL'-ih-kee) at the United Nations, but they did not discuss a Baghdad shootout involving guards from Blackwater USA that claimed civilian lives. Marcel Marceau, the master of mime, died in Cahors, France, at age 84.

Five years ago: President Barack Obama campaigned before a crowd of 18,000 in Wisconsin, the home state of GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In the aftermath of the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, residents of the Libyan city of Benghazi protested at the compounds of several militias, vowing to rid themselves of armed factions and Islamic extremists.

One year ago: Prosecutors charged a white Oklahoma police officer with first-degree manslaughter less than a week after she killed an unarmed black man on a city street, saying in court documents the officer "reacted unreasonably." (Betty Shelby was acquitted in May 2017 of manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher.) It was disclosed that computer hackers had swiped personal information from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts in what was believed to have been the biggest digital break-in at an email provider. President Barack Obama paid tribute to comedian Mel Brooks, NPR interviewer Terry Gross and others at a White House ceremony celebrating "creators who give every piece of themselves to their craft."

Today's Birthdays: Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda is 90. Actress Anna Karina is 77. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern is 75. Actor Paul Le Mat is 72. Musician King Sunny Ade (ah-DAY') is 71. Capt. Mark Phillips is 69. Rock singer David Coverdale (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) is 66. Actress Shari Belafonte is 63. Singer Debby Boone is 61. Country singer June Forester (The Forester Sisters) is 61. Singer Nick Cave is 60. Rock singer Johnette Napolitano is 60. Actress Lynn Herring is 60. Classical crossover singer Andrea Bocelli (an-DRAY'-ah boh-CHEL'-ee) is 59. Singer-musician Joan Jett is 59. Actor Scott Baio is 57. Actress Catherine Oxenberg is 56. Actress Bonnie Hunt is 56. Actor Rob Stone is 55. Actor Dan Bucatinsky (TV: "24: Legacy") is 52. Musician Matt Sharp is 48. Rock musician Dave Hernandez is 47. Rapper Mystikal is 47. Rhythm-and-blues singer Big Rube (Society of Soul) is 46. Actor James Hillier (TV: "The Crown") is 44. Actress Mireille Enos is 42. Actress Daniella Alonso is 39.

Actor Michael Graziadei (GRAHT'-zee-uh-day-ee) is 38. Actress Ashley Drane (Eckstein) is 36. Actress Katie Lowes is 35. Rock musician Will Farquarson (Bastille) is 34. Actress Tatiana Maslany is 32. Actor Ukweli Roach (TV: "Blindspot") is 31. Actor Tom Felton is 30. Actress Juliette Goglia is 22.

Thought for Today: "Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." — William Cullen Bryant, American poet (1794-1878)..
 


DAILY UPDATE

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Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Stampede on crowded Indian pedestrian bridge leaves 22 dead

EU moves ahead faster on new future than on Brexit talks

Villagers race to save Bali cows from volcanic oblivion

Trump's health secretary resigns in travel flap

Aid flows to Puerto Rico but many still lack water and food

Mona Lisa unveiled? Nude sketch may have link to masterpiece


Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner dies at 91

Mexican rescue dog Frida became symbol of earthquake hope

UN chief urges Myanmar to halt anti-Rohingya operations

Vanuatu orders evacuation of island with rumbling volcano


UN body alarmed by attack on Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka

Russia reports destruction of all remaining chemical weapons

Interpol approves Palestinian membership, angering Israel

Catalan leader says Europe can't ignore independence vote

Trump calls Facebook 'anti-Trump' after it aids Russia probe


Japan's Fukushima cleanup plan delays removal of fuel rods

Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive for 1st time next year

Macron: Europe is too slow, blind to dangers of nationalism

Iraq warns Kurds as they claim victory in independence vote

Parents of Ohio student speak out against North Korea


Evacuations from Bali volcano swell to about 50,000

Myanmar officials: Insurgents killed 45 Hindu villagers

North Korean diplomat says tweet by Trump 'declared war'

Japan's Abe says he will call snap election for parliament

Uber CEO apologizes to London users for company's mistakes

Today in History - Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017


Today in History - Monday, Sept. 25, 2017

Merkel wins 4th term but nationalists surge in German vote

Philippines assures Vietnam of fair probe on dead fishermen

Catalonia's separatists defy Spain with ballots for vote

Vatican denounces ousted auditor who says he was forced out

Baghdad orders Kurdistan region to hand over borders, ports


Dam failing as scope of Puerto Rico's disaster becomes clear

Pakistan: Death toll from India attack in Kashmir rises to 6

British police charge 18-year-old over London subway bombing

NASA's asteroid chaser swings by Earth on way to space rock

Spain to send extra police to try to halt Catalan referendum

Today in History - Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017


Kim Jong Un: 'Deranged' Trump will 'pay dearly' for threat

Mexico shocked by news: Girl trapped in rubble didn't exist

Pope admits church realized sex abuse problem 'a bit late'

2 of 6 arrested over London subway bomb freed without charge

Today in History - Friday, Sept. 22, 2017

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