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Update June 2018


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Update June 19, 2018

Dozens missing after ferry sinking at Indonesia's Lake Toba

An Indonesian search and rescue team on an inflatable boat searches for survivors of a ferry carrying about 80 passengers which sank on Lake Toba lake in North Sumatera, Indonesia, Monday, June 18. (AP Photo/ Lazuardy Fahmi)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Dozens of people are missing from a ferry that sank on Indonesia's Lake Toba, casting a tragic pall over holidays marking the end of the Muslim holy month.

Cellphone video released Tuesday by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency shows the crew of another ferry attempting to rescue people struggling in the waters shortly after the sinking Monday evening but being hampered by bad weather and rough waters.

Local police chief Marudut Liberty Panjaitan said 18 people have been rescued and one death confirmed. So far 49 people are confirmed missing, he said, based on reports from relatives.

Initial estimates were that 80 people were on board but there was no passenger manifest and the number may range from 70 to 130, disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter.

Nugroho said the boat sank at about 5:30 p.m. as it sailed from the mainland to an island.

A survivor identified by Indonesian television as Juwita Sumbayak said the vessel was rocked by high waves and was hit a by a wooden boat before suddenly sinking.

"I was desperate, I was scared to death. I'm afraid my family is dead," she said, weeping.

The 1,145-square kilometer (440-square mile) Lake Toba, formed out of an ancient super volcano, is a popular sightseeing destination on the island of Sumatra. Tens of millions of Indonesians return to their hometowns and take holidays at the end of Ramadan.

Maher Tamba, an official with the local disaster agency, said at least half a dozen vessels searched for survivors since Monday night. Bad weather and high waves hampered the search, he said.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame.


Audi CEO detained in diesel emissions case

 

In this Thursday, March 15, 2018 file photo, Rupert Stadler, CEO of German car producer Audi, briefs the media during the annual press conference in Ingolstadt, Germany. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Berlin (AP) — German authorities on Monday detained the chief executive of Volkswagen's Audi division, Rupert Stadler, as part of a probe into manipulation of emissions controls.

The move follows a search last week of Stadler's private residence, ordered by Munich prosecutors investigating the manager on suspicion of fraud and indirect improprieties with documents.

"Audi CEO Rupert Stadler was provisionally arrested this morning," the company said in a statement. It said shortly afterward that a judge had ordered him kept in custody pending possible charges at prosecutors' request.

The company said that it couldn't comment further due to the ongoing investigation, but stressed that "the presumption of innocence remains in place for Mr. Stadler."

German news agency dpa reported that prosecutors decided to seek Stadler's arrest due to fears he might try to evade justice. A former head of Audi's engine development unit is already in investigative detention.

A total of 20 people are under suspicion in the Audi probe, which focuses on cars sold in Europe that were believed to be equipped with software which turned emissions controls off during regular driving.

Volkswagen has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the United States and nine managers, including former CEO Martin Winterkorn, were charged there. Two are serving prison terms; Winterkorn and the others remained in Germany and are unlikely to be extradited.

Audi said in a statement last week that it was "cooperating with the authorities" in the probe.

Volkswagen shares were down 2.1 percent at 157.66 euros in Frankfurt trading.


Spanish PM vows to exhume Franco from controversial site

In this Tuesday, May 10, 2016 file photo, tourists walk past the tomb of former Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco at the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), near Madrid. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Aritz Parra

Madrid (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Monday he wants to remove the remains of the late dictator Gen. Francisco Franco from a controversial mausoleum and turn the site into a monument for reconciliation.

Sanchez told national broadcaster TVE that Spain "cannot afford symbols that separate Spaniards" and that he wants to turn the Valley of the Fallen into "a memorial about the fight against fascism."

More than 33,000 dead from both sides of Spain's 1936-1939 civil war are buried alongside Franco's remains at the neoclassical mausoleum northwest of Madrid.

The socialist leader revealed the idea during his first media interview since taking office earlier this month, following a parliamentary vote that ousted the previous conservative administration of Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy's Popular Party condemned Francoism but had blocked previous attempts to exhume the dictator's bones.

The conservatives have also said that those campaigning for digging up the anonymous mass graves in the Valley of the Fallen or elsewhere across the country were reopening a painful chapter in history.

"It's not about opening wounds, it's about closing them," Sanchez said in Monday's interview.

He said his government would work to fulfill a parliamentary resolution from last year that called to exhume Franco's remains, hand them over to the dictator's relatives and turn the valley into a memorial for the Spanish Civil War.

The then ruling Popular Party abstained, allowing the non-binding resolution to pass in the country's lower house, but didn't move to carry out the proposals.

With its 150-meter (500-foot) -tall cross that can be seen from miles away, Franco presented the grandiose Valley of the Fallen complex as a symbol for national reconciliation.

But victims' relatives and activists have campaigned against it because forced labor was used in its construction and because it keeps in a prominent location, near the basilica's altar, the tomb of the dictator who ruled Spain until his death in 1975.

Some relatives have filed lawsuits seeking to open the niches of those buried without their families' knowledge or consent.

But the decrepit state of the 33,847 bodies has become an obstacle, especially after an independent investigation found that water leaks and dampness in chapels and crypts had turned some of the niches into "piles of bones."

The Francisco Franco Foundation, which receives state funding despite some calls to end it, has pledged to legally fight any moves to exhume Franco's bones.

A petition against Sanchez's plans posted online Sunday by the foundation called "not to desecrate" the Valley of the Fallen and "to respect the death." It received more than 24,000 signatures of support by Monday night.


Compulsive video-game playing now new mental health problem

In this Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 file photo, a man plays a game at the Paris Games Week in Paris. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Jamey Keaten and Maria Cheng

Geneva (AP) — The World Health Organization says compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition — a move that some critics warn may risk stigmatizing its young players.

In its latest revision to an international disease classification manual, the U.N. health agency said Monday that classifying "Gaming Disorder" as a separate condition will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue."

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department for mental health, said WHO accepted the proposal that Gaming Disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to "the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world."

Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents and said only a minority of gamers would be affected.

Others welcomed the move, saying it was critical to identify video game addicts quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don't seek help themselves.

"We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they're seeing their child drop out of school, but because they're seeing an entire family structure fall apart," said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO's decision.

Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.

"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. "Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points."

He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.


Update June 18, 2018

2 feared dead after earthquake hits Osaka in western Japan

 

Passengers get off a train which suspended its service in Osaka, following an earthquake Monday, June 18. (Kyodo News via AP)

Tokyo (AP) — A strong earthquake knocked over walls and set off scattered fires around the city of Osaka in western Japan on Monday morning, and at least two people were feared dead.

Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency said two people were found with no vital signs and 41 others had been injured. Japanese media reported one of the likely victims is a 9-year-old girl at a school. Japanese authorities don't confirm death until after an examination at a hospital.

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck shortly after 8 a.m. north of Osaka at a depth of about 13 kilometers, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The initial strength of the quake was measured at 5.9.

The strongest shaking was north of Osaka, the agency said.

The quake knocked over walls, broke windows and set off scattered building fires. It toppled book shelves in homes and scattered goods on the floor of convenience stores and other shops.

The morning commute was disrupted as train and subway service in the Osaka area including the bullet train were suspended to check for damage to equipment. Television images showed passengers getting off trains onto the tracks between stations.


Former Cambodian PM Ranariddh hurt in car crash; wife killed

Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh's mangled car sits on the side of a road after a collision with another vehicle outside Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Sunday, June 17. (Cambodia National Police via AP)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Former Cambodian Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was seriously injured Sunday in a road crash that killed his wife and injured at least seven other people, officials said.

The 74-year-old Ranariddh was in a convoy along with senior figures of his FUNCINPEC party heading toward Sihanoukville in southwest Cambodia when a taxi traveling in the opposite direction slammed into his SUV, said a senior party member in the group.

Cambodia will hold a general election next month in which both Ranariddh and his wife were standing as candidates.

Sihanoukville police chief Gen. Chuon Narin said Ranariddh — a son of the late King Norodom Sihanouk — suffered head injuries. He was sent to Phnom Penh for urgent treatment. Chuon Narin said Ranariddh's wife, Ouk Phalla, died in a hospital.

Ranariddh was Cambodia's co-prime minister for four years in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with current Prime Minister Hun Sen after his party won a United Nations-organized election in 1993. His party's popularity was largely due to its royalist credentials, although Ranariddh's personal relations with his popular father were often strained.

He was ousted in July 1997 and then fled abroad when long-simmering tensions between him and Hun Sen exploded into two days of bitter fighting in Phnom Penh between his forces and those loyal to Hun Sen.

Ranariddh was allowed to return to contest elections the following year but failed to repeat his success at the ballot. He slid into political irrelevancy, as FUNCINPEC became co-opted by Hun Sen, a much more savvy and tougher politician than Ranariddh.

Ranariddh is currently president of FUNCINPEC. The party holds 41 seats in the National Assembly, but only because seats held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were distributed to other parties after CNRP was dissolved.

The dissolution was widely seen as a maneuver to ensure an easy victory for Hun Sen in next month's general election, with parties contesting the polls generally seen as hopelessly weak or fronting for the ruling Cambodian People's Party so it can claim it ran a fair race by allowing opposition candidates.

Ranariddh is also president of the Supreme Privy Advisory Council to King Norodom Sihamoni, his half-brother.

Ouk Phalla, a classical Cambodian dancer reported to be descended from a separate royal family branch, was Ranariddh's second wife.


Border lake backdrops sealing of Greece, Macedonia name deal

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, right and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, raise their hands during a signing agreement for Macedonia's new name in the village of Psarades, Prespes Greece, on Sunday, June 17. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Costas Kantouris and Jasmina Mironski

Psarades, Greece (AP) — The foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia endorsed an agreement to resolve a long fight over the Macedonia name Sunday during a signing ceremony filled with history and symbolism.

The Greek village of Psarades, located on the shores of Great Prespa Lake, was picked for the occasion since the borders of Greece and Macedonia meet in the water.

The two countries' prime ministers, Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Macedonia's Zoran Zaev, were there to see the deal they reached Tuesday get signed by their foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov, respectively.

Macedonians Zaev and Dimitrov arrived from across the lake on a small speedboat. Their Greek counterparts welcomed them with hugs on a jetty that was enlarged for the event.

Under the agreement, Greece's northern neighbor will be renamed North Macedonia to address longstanding appropriation concerns in Greece, which has a Macedonia province that was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Greece in return will suspend the objections that prevented Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union.

The two countries' leaders said the signing would be the start of closer relations between them and an example for all nations in the Balkans region.

Recalling his first meeting with Zaev this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tsipras told him,  "Very few believed we would succeed" in ending "26 years of sterile dispute between our countries."

"This is our own appointment with history," Tsipras said, adding that Balkan peoples long have suffered from "the poison of chauvinism and the divisions of nationalist hatred."

Zaev, for his part, hailed an "end to decades of uncertainty." Greece and Macedonia would henceforth be "partners and allies" in modeling successful diplomacy for the whole region, he said.

"May we stay as united forever as we are on this day," Zaev said.

Following the signing, the officials took a boat to the Macedonian lake resort of Oteshevo for a celebratory lunch.

Police cordoned off all approaches to Psarades to prevent protesters from reaching the site. The agreement has aroused the fury of nationalists on both sides who claim, simultaneously, that it gave too much to the other side.

More than 4,000 Greek nationalists, who oppose another country having the Macedonia name, instead gathered near Pissoderi, a village 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. Banners in the crowd read "There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek" and "Macedonian identity can't be given away."

Several hundred marched to a nearby police blockade and began throwing rocks. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. The clashes went on into the afternoon. Greek police said 12 people were injured, including six police officers.

Church bells in Psarades and nearby villages rang sorrowfully throughout the ceremony. Most of the village's 60 inhabitants watched from afar, clearly in a sour mood.

"The church bells rang mournfully because something died today in Greece," said local Orthodox Christian priest Irinaios Hajiefremidis. "They are taking from us our soul, our name."

Hajiefremidis noted the ethnic and religious conflicts that generations of Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians fought over the land that makes up present-day Macedonia.

"Today, we commemorated Father George Papadopoulos, who was butchered on June 16, 1907 because he did not say Mass in Bulgarian," he said.

Feelings run as strongly in Macedonia, but there are wide differences of opinion.

"I didn't follow the signing. Follow what? The capitulation? The vanishing of my identity?" retired doctor Vera Jovanov said. "I didn't get their approval to be what I am. Nothing will be good in the future. Nothing good for Macedonia."

Taxi driver Devan Stojanoski said "whatever we are called," Macedonia's people need "a chance for a better life and better standards."

"I do not care about the name any more. I am so disappointed about everything that I have stopped thinking and caring," he said.

A demonstration against the deal attracted an estimated 3,000 people in the southern city of Bitola, Macedonian media reported.

The rally was peaceful, but opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski of the VMRO-DPMNE party, the keynote speaker, used fighting words. He reiterated that his party would not support putting the new name in the Macedonian constitution, one of the terms of the deal.

"I, Hristijan Mickoski, speaking from the heart and with a clear mind..., never, at any price, even if that would cost (my) life, will I support this act of capitulation by Zoran Zaev," Mickoski told the protesters.

A nighttime demonstration outside Macedonia's parliament in the capital of Skopje turned violent when a group of people described by police and media as soccer hooligans started pelting officers with rocks and flares and tried to break through the police cordon. Police used tear gas and stun grenades to beat back the crowd and detained one person. Seven police officers and three protesters were reported injured as the atmosphere remained tense late Sunday.

The signing ceremony was recognized internationally as a significant event. Among those attending were U.N. Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Rosemary di Carlo, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The United Nations' mediator for the name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, also was on hand. Nimetz spent the last 24 years trying to mediate between Greece and Macedonia, first as an envoy of U.S. President Bill Clinton and then representing successive UN secretaries-general.

Nimetz congratulated Tsipras and Zaev, adding that they demonstrated "political courage and strategic vision" not often found. He received warm applause, not only for his often-frustrated effort to make the name dispute a thing of the past, but because Sunday was his 79th birthday Sunday.

Since Macedonia seceded from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece had objected to its use of the name "Macedonia" because it claimed that implied territorial designs on its own northern province of Macedonia.

Greek objections delayed U.N. recognition of Macedonia until April 1993 and then only as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In 1995, the two countries signed an interim agreement after Macedonia agreed to modify its flag.

"I like to think positively and really hope this will be better. Finally, the agony ends and (membership in) EU and NATO will become real," Suzana Eftiska, an art curator in Macedonia, said.


Migration fight shakes German govt as Merkel, ally face off

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Friday, June 15. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Geir Moulson

Berlin (AP) — Germany's interior minister insisted that his party has no intention of bringing down Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government, but there was little sign Sunday of a compromise in a bitter standoff over migration.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is calling for Germany to turn back at its border migrants who have registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries. Merkel opposes unilateral action, arguing that it would weaken the 28-nation European Union. The issue has escalated into a high-stakes power struggle.

Seehofer leads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union party, the sister party to Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union. His party holds a leadership meeting Monday which could authorize Seehofer to push through his demand.

If he actually does so unilaterally in defiance of the chancellor, many observers believe Merkel would likely have to fire him — which in turn could effectively end her current governing coalition and the conservative parties' decades-old alliance in national politics. The two parties govern with the center-left Social Democrats.

However it ends, the spat has laid bare the limits of Merkel's authority in a fractious government that took office in March after nearly six months of postelection haggling.

The CSU's top priority is a difficult October state election in Bavaria in which it is trying to tamp down support for the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party.

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder and the party's top federal lawmaker, Alexander Dobrindt, have been even more vehement than Seehofer in demanding immediate action on migration. Soeder has talked of a need to end "asylum tourism."

"No one in the CSU has an interest in bringing down the chancellor, dissolving the CDU-CSU joint parliamentary group, or blowing up the coalition," Seehofer was quoted as telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "(But) we want finally to have a sustainable solution for turning back refugees at our borders."

Seehofer and Merkel have long had an awkward relationship. In his previous job as Bavarian governor, Seehofer was one of the leading critics of Merkel's decision in 2015 to leave Germany's borders open as migrants streamed across the Balkans.

Merkel has pointed to a June 28-29 EU summit in which immigration will be a key topic as she insists on holding talks with other countries about it.

Migration "is a European challenge that needs a European answer," she said in her weekly video message Saturday. "I think this is issue is one of the most decisive for the cohesion of Europe."

Merkel already has meetings scheduled Monday with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte — the head of a new, populist government whose interior minister has pledged to deport tens of thousands of migrants — and Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron.

On Sunday, the Bild newspaper reported that Merkel is working on a "special summit" before the EU summit with countries particularly affected by migration.

The German government said no special EU summit is planned, that would be a matter for EU leaders in Brussels, but "of course the German government is holding talks with various member states and the (EU) Commission" about immigration in Europe.
 


Update June 16 - 17, 2018

Start of Cambodian trial of Australian filmmaker delayed

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson gestures from inside a prison truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, June 15. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — An Australian filmmaker charged with endangering Cambodian national security for flying a drone over a campaign rally had his trial postponed for a month on Friday after already spending a year in jail.

James Ricketson, 69, looked frail as he was led into Phnom Penh Municipal Court to face the charge of collecting information prejudicial to national defense, for which he could be imprisoned for five to 10 years. The charge is tantamount to one of espionage.

"I'm hoping that I'll find out today which country I'm spying for," he shouted defiantly to reporters as he was led, in shackles and an orange prison uniform, from a truck into the court house. "I haven't been informed which country I am spying for, yet. I would love to know."

The court postponed his trial because his lawyer was absent and because Ricketson requested it, saying he wanted to see what evidence was collected against him. He said that he has seen nothing but the charge against him, and hopes that during the month's delay he can see all relevant documents and evidence. He has been denied release on bail.

As he was being loaded back on to the truck to take him back to prison, he made the same point to reporters, shouting: "No evidence! No evidence at all that I am guilty of any crime!"

He was arrested in June last year after using a drone to film the final rally of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party before local elections. The party has since been dissolved, as part of a sweeping crackdown on opposition against the government of long-standing authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen. That crackdown has also included the media.

According to his family, Ricketson has been detained in a 6-by-16-meter (20-by-52-foot) cell along with 140 other prisoners, and in May he was reportedly taken ill with a chest ailment and moved to the prison hospital.


Fierce fighting intensifies outside Yemen's Hodeida airport

This file photo shows a sign with Arabic that reads, "danger mines, danger mines" on the highway from Abyan to Aden in Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Ahmed Al-Haj

Sanaa, Yemen (AP) — A Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni fighters backing the country's government were on the verge of seizing control of the airport of a vital rebel-held port as fighting intensified Friday, with pro-government forces within meters of the airport gates.

The death toll climbed to at least 280 on the third day of the campaign aimed at driving out the Iranian-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, from the Red Sea port of Hodeida that is the main entry point for food and aid supplies in a country teetering on the brink of famine.

The Saudi-Emirati coalition bombed Houthi positions while rebels said in a statement that they fired a ballistic missile at pro-government forces, but gave no report of causalities.

The fighting comes at a time when Muslims around the world are celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But in Hodeida, people were stockpiling what little food they could for fear of an imminent siege and streets were empty except for beggars and fighters.

Yemeni officials said dozens of pro-government fighters have been killed since the assault began Wednesday, mainly from land mines and roadside bombs disguised as rocks or sacks of wheat. On the rebel side, bodies of Houthi fighters were strewn across the front lines.

Ahmed al-Kawkabani, a Yemeni who leads a pro-government militia known as the Tohama Brigade, told The Associated Press that his forces were positioned in Dawar al-Hodeida, just 2 kilometers from the airport. Another Yemeni commander, Abu Zarah al-Mahrami, was quoted by Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV network as saying that pro-government forces were "within meters" of the airport.

Military officials said preparations were under way for a final push to take the airport and that the ground battles had largely subsided by sunset Friday. They said the assault on the airport would start at dawn on Saturday.

Military commanders said the operation would be complicated because the aim is to protect airport facilities, buildings and nearby fighter jets. The Houthis will depend on snipers and land mines to slow down the multi-pronged advance.

Aid workers have warned the assault on Hodieda's port, known as the "mouth of Yemen," could shut down the vital route for some 70 percent of Yemen's food and humanitarian aid. Two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Houthis of using the port to smuggle weapons and missiles from Iran. The rebels have been raining ballistic missiles down on Saudi cities from across the border. The port is also a lucrative source of revenue for the Houthis, who have controlled most of northern Yemen since 2014.

The United Arab Emirates' minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said that the battle over Hodeida is essential to break a stalemate in the civil war, which otherwise could drag on for years.

Seizing the port "means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun," he said in a post on Twitter. "If they keep Hodeida and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and (add to) the suffering of the Yemeni people."

Hodeida, home to nearly 600,000 people, is some 150 kilometers southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which is under Houthi control.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an air, sea, and land embargo on Yemen since March 2015, aiming to dislodge the Houthis from the territory they control, paralyzing trade and access to the country. The coalition air campaign and Houthi bombardment have left more than 10,000 people dead and 2 million displaced, and devastated the country's already fragile infrastructure, including the health sector, which has helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

In a series of tweets, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the people in Hodeida were "bracing for the worst," and tens of thousands were expected to flee in the coming days, some for a second time.

"People live in slums in the outskirts surviving on bread crumbs they find in the garbage. With the little money they do have, they buy cooking oil in plastic bags — just enough to cook 1 meal a day," the group said, citing the accounts of staffers.

Meanwhile, the U.S., which has backed the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling of fighter jets, has not publicly opposed the assault but has urged the coalition to ensure that humanitarian aid deliveries to the port continue.

Washington however rejected three requests by the UAE to increase its support to the coalition with logistics, intelligence, and mine-sweeping operations.

Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has continued to provide aerial refueling for coalition aircraft and intelligence assistance. That aid includes information on key civilian sites that should not be targeted in order to avoid civilian casualties.

"We are not directly supporting the coalition offensive on the port of Hodeida," Rankine-Galloway said. "The United States does not command, accompany or participate in counter-Houthi operations or any hostilities other than those authorized" against al-Qaida and Islamic State militants in Yemen.

The request for mine sweepers was diverted to France, which said it was considering minesweeping in Hodeida after the end of military operations there.

"Its purpose would be to facilitate the safe transport of humanitarian aid to the city's population," the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The rebels have planted thousands of land mines and roadside bombs on the outskirts of the airport that have killed dozens of coalition-backed fighters, Yemeni officials said.

"Nearly 95 percent of the causalities are because of land mines and roadside bombs," said a medical official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.  He shared pictures of land mines and roadside bombs that were disguised as rocks and sacks of wheat.

The Conflict Armament Research Center said earlier that the bombs are similar to those used by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and by insurgents in Iraq and Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to warn the warring parties that they will face sanctions if they fail to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid.

"The coalition and Houthi forces, now fighting for Hodeida, have atrocious records abiding by the laws of war," said HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson.

In the face of international concerns over the humanitarian situation, the UAE said on Friday that it would begin sending aid by air and sea to Hodeida, the state-run WAM news agency said. At least 10 UAE ships carrying 13,500 tons of food and aid, as well as three flights, were planned for Hodeida, it said.
 


New Delhi orders construction halt as pollution levels soar

Cyclists pedal on a road enveloped by a thick haze of dust in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Thursday, June 14. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)

New Delhi (AP) — New Delhi officials have ordered a two-day halt to construction in an attempt to reduce choking pollution that has cloaked the city in smog and dust.

The government's Central Pollution Control Board rated the city's air quality Friday as "severe" — the worst possible category — for the fourth day in a row.

New Delhi's level of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that can dangerously clog lungs, exceeded 170 Friday morning, more than six times higher than the World Health Organization considers safe.

The order to halt construction, which was issued Thursday night, came amid days of winds that have carried dirt and dust across northern India, causing pollution to spike in numerous cities and forcing dozens of flight cancellations.

The New Delhi government has made scattered attempts in recent years to try to control worsening air pollution, including stricter emission norms for cars and a tax on diesel-fueled trucks entering the city. But experts say there is little that can be accomplished without concerted national efforts, and pollution has only gotten worse.


Retired tennis star Boris Becker claims diplomatic immunity

In this Friday, April 27, 2018 file photo, retired German tennis star Boris Becker, right, shakes hands with Central African Republic President Prof. Faustin Archange Touadera in Brussels, Belgium. (Irle Moser Rechtsanwalte PartG via AP Images)

Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Retired German tennis star Boris Becker is claiming his unpaid role as a sports attache for the Central African Republic gives him diplomatic immunity from bankruptcy proceedings.

The three-time Wimbledon champion took up the role in April. His lawyers claimed in Britain's High Court late Thursday that this protects him from ongoing bankruptcy actions.

He says his role as attache to the European Union on sporting, cultural and humanitarian affairs means he is covered by a 1961 convention on diplomatic relations.

Legal expert Mark Stephens told The Associated Press Becker's that in his view Becker's claim is valid, but he urged the Central African Republic to take steps to prevent apparent abuse of diplomatic immunity.

"The Central African Republic should be asked to revoke his immunity for this particular case because it relates to his personal activities and predates his appointment and in no way relates to his diplomatic function," Stephens said. "That would let the court case proceed."

The 50-year-old Becker, who lives in Britain, was declared bankrupt in June 2017. He is selling some of his memorabilia including Wimbledon trophies in an effort to reduce his debts.

The former world number one criticized the bankruptcy proceedings as "unjustified and unjust," saying he had been pushed into an unnecessary declaration of bankruptcy by "a bunch of anonymous and unaccountable bankers and bureaucrats" trying to damage him.

"I have now asserted diplomatic immunity as I am in fact bound to do, in order to bring this farce to an end, so that I can start to rebuild my life," Becker said.

Becker was named to the volunteer sport attache role on April 26, more than nine months after his bankruptcy declaration.

At the time, Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera said he was "extremely pleased that a world star like Boris Becker, with his extensive international relations, has agreed to support our country."

Becker said at the time that he hoped to help improve living conditions in the Central African Republic. A press release indicated he would have an office at the country's embassy in Brussels.


Update June 15, 2018

Man makes deadly toxin for an attack in Germany

In this Tuesday June 12, 2018 photo, German police officers in protective gear leave an apartment building during an operation in Cologne, Germany. (David Young/dpa via AP)

Kirsten Grieshaber and David Rising

Berlin (AP) — German authorities have thwarted a plot by a Tunisian man who created the deadly toxin ricin using castor bean seeds and planned to use the poison in an Islamic extremist attack in Germany, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Sief Allah H., whose last name wasn't given in line with German privacy laws, was taken into custody Tuesday during a raid on his apartment in Cologne. The 29-year-old was formally arrested Wednesday after a judge reviewed the evidence.

Authorities are still investigating exactly how the suspect planned to use the toxin, but said he was working on a "biological weapon" attack in Germany.

"We don't know how, or how widely, the ricin was to have been distributed," said prosecutors' spokesman Markus Schmitt.

The suspect is believed to have begun procuring material online in mid-May, prosecutors said. He succeeded in creating the toxin this month and investigators found it in the apartment search.

Prosecutors wouldn't say how much ricin the suspect had produced.

The seeds of the castor bean plant are naturally poisonous and can be used to create ricin. The substance kills the body's cells by preventing them from creating protein. A few milligrams are enough to kill an adult if it's eaten, injected or inhaled. Early symptoms include chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing.

The suspect is not known to have been a member of a terrorist organization but did have contacts with extremists, Schmitt said.

"He had contacts with people in the jihadist spectrum," Schmitt said, but would not elaborate on whether those contacts were online, in person or both.

He also would not comment on a report in the top-selling Bild newspaper that American intelligence tipped off German investigators after they detected the suspect's online activity buying the seeds to make ricin.

Bild also reported that the suspect bought bomb-making materials and chemicals used in the production of ricin. It said the suspect lived in the Chorweiler neighborhood of Cologne with his wife, a convert to Islam, and four children. He supposedly used instructions to make a ricin bomb that had been posted online by the extremist Islamic State group.

His wife was initially taken into custody but was later released, prosecutors said.


US seeks to assuage Asian allies after North Korea summit

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 14. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP)

Josh Lederman and Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — The United States and its Asian allies worked Thursday to paper over any semblance of disagreement over President Donald Trump's concession to Kim Jong Un that the U.S. will halt military exercises with South Korea, with Trump's top diplomat insisting the president hadn't backed down from his firm line on North Korea's nukes.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting with top South Korean and Japanese diplomats, put a more sober spin on several moves by Trump after his summit with Kim that had fueled unease in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. He said Trump's curious claim that the North's nuclear threat was over was issued with "eyes wide open," and brushed off a North Korean state-run media report suggesting Trump would grant concessions even before the North fully rids itself of nuclear weapons.

"We're going to get denuclearization," Pompeo said in the South Korean capital. "Only then will there be relief from the sanctions."

Pompeo flew from Seoul to China's capital, Beijing, later Thursday for a meeting with President Xi Jinping, whose country is believed to wield considerable influence with North Korea as its chief ally and economic lifeline. Pompeo was also due to meet with top diplomats and hold a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

At a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated China's support for a political settlement, while also pointing to an eventual lifting of United Nations Security Council economic sanctions.

"We believe that the sanctions themselves are not the end," Geng said.

China has been praised by Trump for ramping up economic pressure on the North that the U.S. believes helped coax Kim to the negotiating table.

On the joint U.S.-South Korea drills that Trump — after meeting Kim — said would be terminated, Pompeo emphasized a key caveat: If the mercurial North Korean leader stops negotiating in good faith, the "war games" will be back on.

The words of reassurance from Pompeo came as diplomacy continued at an intense pace after Tuesday's summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting American president and North Korea's leader in six decades of hostility. In the village of Panmunjom along the North-South border, the rival Koreas on Thursday held their first high-level military talks since 2007, focused on reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border.

Yet even as U.S. and South Korean officials sought to parlay the momentum from the dramatic summit into more progress on the nuclear issue, there were persistent questions about whether Trump had given away too much in return for too little.

Trump's announcement minutes after the summit's conclusion that he would halt the "provocative" joint military drills were a shock to South Korea and caught much of the U.S. military off guard, too. Pyongyang has long sought an end to the exercises it considers rehearsals for an invasion, but U.S. treaty allies Japan and South Korea view them as critical elements of their own national security.

So Pompeo had some explaining to do as he traveled to Seoul to brief the allies on what transpired in Singapore.

In public, at least, South Korea's leader cast the summit's outcome as positive during a short meeting with Pompeo at the Blue House, South Korea's presidential palace. President Moon Jae-in, an avowed supporter of engagement with North Korea, called it "a truly historic feat" that had "moved us from the era of hostility towards the era of dialogue, of peace and prosperity."

Still, there were signs as Pompeo met later with the top Japanese and South Korean diplomats that concerns about the freeze had not been fully resolved. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, speaking in Korean, told reporters afterward that the military drills issue "was not discussed in depth."

"This is a matter that military officials from South Korea and the United States will have to discuss further and coordinate," Kang said.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally would be held in August.

The summit in Singapore did mark a reduction in tensions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests, and Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war.

Kim is now promising to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and state media heralded the meeting as victorious, with photos of Kim standing side-by-side with Trump on the world stage splashed across newspapers in Pyongyang. On Thursday, North Koreans finally got a glimpse of video of Trump and Kim together, as official Korean Central Television broadcast the first footage of Kim's trip to Singapore.

Trump seemed equally ecstatic. As he landed Wednesday in Washington following the summit, he declared on Twitter that America and the world can "sleep well tonight."

"There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," Trump wrote, even though North Korea has yet to give up any of its fissile material, estimated by independent experts to be enough for between about a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs.

Pompeo rejected the suggestion that Trump's Pollyannaish assertion was premature. He said Trump was proceeding "with eyes wide open" to the prospect that diplomacy may falter, and that Trump was merely reflecting the historic nature of his confab with Kim. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty, leaving the United States and North Koreas in a technical state of war.

With the Trump-Kim summit concluded, the baton was being passed to lower-level U.S. and North Korean officials, who Pompeo said would likely resume meeting as early as the next week to hash out details of a disarmament deal, sure to be a complex and contentious process. He said the U.S. was hopeful North Korea would take "major" disarmament steps before the end of Trump's first term in office, which concludes in January 2021.

In the brief, four-point joint statement signed at the summit, North Korea committed "to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" — a promise it has made and reneged on several times in the past 25 years.

The statement made no mention of verification, despite Trump's longstanding insistence on "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization. But Pompeo bristled at reporters who pressed him about that apparent omission, calling questions on the topic "insulting and ridiculous."

The omission is irrelevant, Pompeo said, adding that he was confident the North Koreans fully understood that verification would be a necessity. He pointed out that the statement makes reference to a previous agreement that did mention verification, and argued that as a result, the Trump-Kim statement automatically "incorporates" verification without having to state it outright.


Japanese utility eyes scrapping 2nd Fukushima nuclear plant

This February 2018 aerial photo shows Fukushima Dai-ni, or No. 2, nuclear power plant in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — The utility responsible for meltdowns at a nuclear power plant in northeast Japan seven years ago said Thursday for the first time publicly that it will start making concrete plans to decommission another plant in Fukushima that narrowly escaped the crisis.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings said it will decide on the timeline and other details before formally announcing the dismantling four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ni, or No. 2, plant, which has never restarted since the 2011 disaster.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi, or No. 1, plant was heavily damaged in a March, 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. Three reactors had meltdowns and a fourth had damage to its building. Decommissioning of those reactors has started and the two others are set to be scrapped.

An additional decommissioning in Fukushima would mean all 10 of TEPCO's reactors in Fukushima would be dismantled eventually.

Fukushima officials and residents have demanded TEPCO decommission its remaining reactors, saying uncertainty has hampered reconstruction.

TEPCO president Tomoaki Kobayakawa, who met Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori at the governor's office, announced the plan following the governor's renewed request to scrap Fukushima No. 2.

"We thought prolonging the ambiguity would hamper local reconstruction," Kobayakawa said.

Uchibori welcomed the decision, saying TEPCO's plan for Fukushima No. 2 decommissioning would help alleviate negative image and safety concerns.

TEPCO had kept mum on its decision on Fukushima No. 2, which has been offline since the tsunami and its restart was thought to be a difficult proposition because of local protests.

In addition, its four reactors are more than 30 years old and would have required TEPCO to make huge investments to improve safety to get approvals for restarts.

TEPCO would be left with only Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata, northern Japan, to produce nuclear power. Local restart approvals for two of its seven reactors are pending.

When Fukushima No. 2 decommissioning becomes official, the number of workable reactors in Japan would fall to 35, down from 54 before the disaster.

Nuclear energy now accounts for less than 2 percent of Japan's energy mix since most reactors were idled after the 2011 disaster. Only five reactors have since restarted.

While the government of pro-business Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to start up as many reactors as possible, restarts are coming slowly as anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong and regulators have stepped up screening process.

Still, the government says nuclear energy should account for 20-22 percent of Japan's energy mix by fiscal 2030 in a draft energy plan that experts say as unrealistic.

Japanese utilities have been opting to scrap aging reactors nearing their 40-year lifespan rather than take advantage of an exemption that would allow them to extend their operation for up to 20 more years. Meeting new safety standards put in place after the Fukushima disaster costs more, making nuclear power more expensive than it used to be.


Glass walls, not metal fencing, to surround Eiffel Tower

Bernard Gaudillere, president of the SETE, Eiffel Tower Exploitation Society poses in front of a new security bulletproof glass barrier under construction around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Thursday, June 14. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Sylvie Corbet

Paris (AP) — Goodbye metal fencing, hello glass walls: Paris authorities are building a permanent security belt around the Eiffel Tower, replacing the current fencing around it with more visually appealing glass walls.

The company operating France's most-visited monument says see-through panels are being set up at the north and south ends of the site. Each panel, made from over 6-centimeter thick armored glass, measures 3 meters and weighs 1.5 tons.

In all, 450 glass panels will compose the two walls north and south of the monument.

Two graphic grids have been erected on the two other sides of the site and bollards against vehicle ramming attacks will be set up all around.

French soldiers and police will keep patrolling outside and inside the area, as they have done since the deadly November 2015 attacks in the French capital.

The glass walls being installed allow visitors to admire the views from the nearby Champ-de-Mars gardens to the other side of the Seine River that cuts through Paris.

The renovation, which will also embellish the gardens beneath the tower, is part of a 300 million euro project announced last year to modernize the 129-year-old tower that has become the most recognized landmark in Paris.

The security renovation should be completed by September.

"When you are on site, you see that the 3-meter high walls, compared to the scale of the monument, are absolutely not visible," said Jose Luis Fuentes, an architect at Dietmar Feichtinger Architects, which is in charge of the project. "It will really look as if the square (under the Eiffel Tower) was open."

Between 6 and 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year.


Update June 14, 2018

Big hurdles for bold push to split California into 3 states

This Oct. 28, 2015, file photo shows the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline from the Marin Headlands above Sausalito, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Kathleen Ronayne

Sacramento, Calif. (AP) — Californians will face a choice this November of whether to divide the nation's most populous state into three, an effort that would radically shake up not only the West Coast, but the entire nation.

The "Cal 3" initiative is driven by venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has tried and failed in the past to place an effort to break up California on the ballot, including a bid in 2016 to create six separate states. Backers of the measure argue California has become "ungovernable" because of its economic and geographic diversity as well as its population approaching 40 million people.

Election officials say this year's effort gathered the roughly 365,000 signatures it needed to land on the general election ballot. It will be officially certified later this month. Even if it wins passage from voters, the measure would face significant hurdles.

THE SPLIT

California would break into three states — Northern California, California and Southern California. The measure aims to create states with relatively equal populations and economic strengths.

The new Northern California would include 40 counties, including Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco as well as the state's wine country and rural northern areas.

Keeping the name California would be a group of six counties centered around Los Angeles, with a total population of 12.3 million people.

Southern California, meanwhile, would include Orange and San Diego Counties as well what's now known as California's Central Valley and Inland Empire.

NATIONAL REACH

It's not just California that would feel the effects of such a change.

Turning one state into three would create four new U.S. senators, a move that would significantly boost Californians' influence in Washington. The number of representatives in the U.S. House could change slightly based on each state's population breakdown. Three separate Californias would also shake up the Electoral College, which picks the president.

Although California as it exists today is heavily Democratic, one of the new Californias might not be. The newly proposed Southern California includes traditionally Republican areas such as Orange County. Democratic voters currently edge out Republicans in the 12 counties, but not by much. That could potentially boost the GOP's West Coast representation in Congress.

WHO'S BEHIND IT

Draper is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist known for investing in companies such as Skype, Tesla and Hotmail and has poured millions of dollars into efforts to break up California.

Draper argues that California has become "nearly ungovernable" because of its diverse economies and population. He and backers also argue that voters outside of large urban areas such as Los Angeles are underserved in Sacramento because so many state lawmakers come from major cities.

"Breaking the states into three smaller, more manageable states means those states will be more responsible and more responsive," said Peggy Grande, a Cal 3 spokeswoman.

WHO DECIDES

Passing at the ballot box is just the first hurdle. That would require support from a simple majority of voters.

The measure then directs the governor to ask Congress for the ultimate OK — likely a tall order. If Congress gave a green light, it would then be up the Legislature to determine exactly how the split would happen, including how the state's debts would be divided. Each of the three states would determine their own governance structure.

Lawmakers would only have 12 months after congressional approval to set the new rules; otherwise the state's debts would automatically split between the three new ones.

Beyond those difficulties, lawsuits would surely follow.

WHAT CRITICS SAY

Critics of the measure take a different tack, calling it an unworkable and costly approach to solving California's problems.

An opposition effort called OneCalifornia argues the proposal would cause "political chaos" and greater inequality. The California Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, said such a monumental change would be costly and complicated, which would only serve to create new problems.

Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Tuesday he opposes the measure.


Italy: Diplomatic tensions flare as migrants head to Spain

Migrants wait to disembark from an Italian Coast Guard vessell "Diciotti" as it docks at the Sicilian port of Catania, southern Italy, Wednesday, June 13. (Orietta Scardino/ANSA via AP)

Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield

Catania, Sicily (AP) — Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations Wednesday after France accused the new populist government of cynical, irresponsible behavior by refusing entry to a migrant ship, evidence that the standoff is having continent-wide repercussions.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was to brief Parliament later Wednesday on the situation as the Aquarius and its 629 passengers continued their dayslong, westward voyage to Spain.

Italy has defended its decision to refuse the Aquarius entry, saying it has never abandoned the ship and is escorting it to Valencia. Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor after Italy and Malta both refused.

On Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily, with 932 migrants aboard in a sign that Italy under the populist 5-Star Movement and anti-migrant League is still accepting some migrants, but is forcing other countries to share the burden.

Two corpses were also aboard the vessel Diciotti.

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports.

The Diciotti was greeted in Catania's port by activists criticizing the new policy, with a banner draped at the port saying "Stop the attack on refugees."

French President Emmanuel Macron blasted what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius, which is operated by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee and the French-founded Doctors Without Borders.

Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

Salvini shot back that France has turned away thousands of migrants trying to reach France at Italy's northern border at Ventimiglia. He accused France of having caused the instability in Libya that has allowed smuggling networks to thrive by spearheading the 2011 NATO-led military campaign that led to the downfall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

"Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons about migration from countries that have always preferred to look away," said a statement from the office of Premier Giuseppe Conte.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that it had convened the French ambassador for consultations over the French comments a day earlier.

The standoff over the Aquarius appeared a clear tactic by Italy's new government to force Europe's hand at the upcoming summit of EU leaders in Brussels June 28-29. Italy for years has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe's migrant crisis, but the League-5-Star government says its tactics have finally gotten the point across.

"Italy is again central and has woken up Europe," Salvini tweeted Wednesday. "I hope all countries contribute to the common goal: defending borders, defending the Mediterranean."

Salvini's League campaigned during the March 4 national election on a strong anti-migrant agenda that included promises of mass expulsions of migrants already here. According to government figures, Italy has accepted 640,000 migrants since 2014, but the number of arrivals this year is at a five-year low: 14,441 since January.

The number of migrants arriving in Italy began plummeting last year after the Italian government under the center-left Democratic Party negotiated controversial deals with Libya that beefed up its capacity to better patrol its coasts and discouraged land-based smugglers.

The Aquarius and two other Italian ships that have taken some of the migrants are now expected to arrive in Valencia on Saturday night, weather conditions permitting, said SOS Mediterranee's co-founder Sophie Beau. The port is some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from where the ship had been on standby since Saturday night after both Italy and Malta refused it entry.

"It's a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe," Beau told reporters in Marseille, France.


Cambodia scorns US sanctions against senior military officer

In this April 20, 2014, photo, commander of Cambodia's Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit Gen. Bun Hieng, second from left, looks on to Prime Minister Hun Sen, foreground right, at Phnom Penh International Airport in Cambodia. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian authorities reacted with scorn Wednesday to an announcement by the United States that it has blacklisted an important senior army officer over human rights abuses, blocking his access to any assets in the U.S.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions Tuesday against Gen. Hing Bun Hieng, commander of Cambodia's Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit, which it said had been engaged in serious human rights violations for at least the past 21 years.

A Cambodian Defense Ministry statement issued Wednesday regretted and condemned the U.S. action, which it described as unjust and not backed by any evidence. It said it was a "stupid decision that Cambodia cannot accept."

The U.S. move came just a little over a month before a general election in which the main and only credible opposition party will not take part because it was dissolved last year by Cambodian courts in what critics contend was a politically motivated move to ensure the continued rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Other moves to curb the opposition have included silencing most independent media.

Bun Hieng, a four-star general, also holds the position of deputy commander of the armed forces. The bodyguard unit is an elite force with thousands of troops which is seen as being deeply involved in internal security matters and especially loyal to Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades.

The Treasury Department announcement said the unit "has been implicated in multiple attacks on unarmed Cambodians over the span of many years" and is "connected to incidents where military force was used to menace gatherings of protesters and the political opposition going back at least to 1997, including an incident where a U.S. citizen received shrapnel wounds."

The 1997 incident involved grenades being thrown at a small political protest the opposition leader was attending in the middle of the capital city, Phnom Penh. Seventeen people were killed and about 150 wounded.

The Treasury Department action also bars U.S. citizens generally from doing any transactions with Bun Hieng.

Bun Hieng told The Associated Press that he had not committed any human rights abuses and held no property in the United States.

"As an army commander, I have never committed anything that was contrary to the Cambodian Constitution and laws, therefore, I am not worried at all by the U.S. sanction," he said by telephone. "The sanctions are laughable because I don't have any property in the U.S. or deposited with any company there."

Additional statements decrying the U.S. action were issued by the Foreign Ministry and the offices of the Cabinet — which said it violated Cambodia's sovereignty — and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The Foreign Ministry statement said it could be construed as part of a series of coordinated attacks on the government's image ahead of next month's polls.

Washington's move was applauded by others.

"Hin Bun Hieng's position as commander of PM Hun Sen's bodyguards makes him one of the most feared men in Cambodia, and with good reason. It's about time the U.S. finally recognized that it falls to a major global power to call out such a powerful figure on human rights grounds, and hold him accountable for the atrocities he's committed," said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party, the opposition grouping that was dissolved last year, said it welcomed the U.S. action, calling it justified because Bun Hieng was, it charged, one of the country's biggest human rights abusers.

It said Washington's move should serve as a warning to Cambodia's government that it must cease its abuses or face punishment from the international community.


Toyota investing $1 billion in ride-hailing company Grab

Toyota Motor Corp. is investing $1 billion in ride-hailing company Grab, the company said Wednesday, June 13. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Yuri Kageyama

Tokyo (AP) — Japan's top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. is investing $1 billion in Grab, the leading ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia, the company said Wednesday.

Toyota said it reached a deal with Grab Holdings to strengthen the existing partnership to grow in mobility services in the region.

A Toyota executive will be appointed to Grab's board and another Toyota official is being tapped to be an executive officer at Grab, the company said.

Grab, which is similar to Uber in the U.S., is in eight nations in the region, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Uber's Southeast Asian operations were acquired by Grab earlier this year. Uber retained a 27.5 percent stake in the new merged entity.

Toyota was initially cautious about ride-sharing and autonomous-driving technology.

In recent years, the maker of the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models has been aggressively playing catch-up, signing on partners around the world.

Grab, based in Singapore, has recently attracted investments from SoftBank, a Japanese technology and telecommunications company, and Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride-sharing and autonomous driving company.

In Japan, where Uber has been trying to grow, ride-sharing is facing resistance from the nation's powerful networking of cab companies, especially in urban areas like Tokyo. Toyota supplies the bulk of the vehicles used by such cab companies.


Greece-Macedonia name deal meets with mixed reaction

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zeav addresses the media during a news conference in the Government building in Skopje, Macedonia, Tuesday, June 12. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Elena Becatoros and Jasmina Mironski

Athens, Greece (AP) — A historic deal ending a decades-long dispute between neighbors Greece and Macedonia over the latter's name met with mixed reactions in both countries Wednesday, with some welcoming the agreement and others horrified at what they see as unacceptable concessions.

Under the deal reached between the two countries' prime ministers Tuesday, Macedonia will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, and will amend its constitution. The agreement is expected to be signed this weekend.

The name dispute has poisoned the two countries' relations since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, with Greece arguing that the term "Macedonia" implied a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name.

The dispute has roused strong emotions and nationalist sentiments on both sides for years, and on Wednesday reactions to the deal were mixed on the streets of both capitals.

"We lost the country, this is a disaster," 45-year-old lawyer Mila Ivanovska said in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and began to cry.

In Greece, opponents were equally angry.

"You, Slavs from Skopje through the centuries, you have never been true Macedonians," said Athenian resident Konstandinos Goutras.

Nonetheless, the agreement should pave the way for the former Yugoslav republic to begin the process of acceding to NATO and the European Union, and was welcomed by international officials.

The dispute was deadlocked for years, but hope for a resolution was rekindled after left-wing Zoran Zaev became Macedonia's prime minister last year, replacing conservative Nikola Gruevski who had served as prime minister for a decade.

Reaching a deal was highly contentious in both countries, where mass rallies had been held in recent months to protest any compromise. New calls were circulating on social media in both countries for renewed street protests, with opponents on both sides arguing their prime ministers had given up too much to reach the deal.

Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, have also faced political dissent.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is the coalition partner in Tsipras' government, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote. This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.

In Skopje, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov had said before the deal was announced that he opposed writing the new name into the constitution, a move intended to show the change is permanent and binding for domestic and international use.

On Wednesday, the head of Greece's main opposition party described the agreement as "deeply problematic."

Conservative New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greece's president to intervene so the deal can be debated in parliament before it is signed, instead of after.

But for others it marks a welcome end to a protracted dispute.

"North Macedonia is acceptable for me," said Svetlana Jancevska, a 55-year-old music teacher in Skopje, adding that it does "not damage my identity as Macedonian. The language remains Macedonian and that makes me happy. It was high time for the problem to be solved."

Opponents in Greece objected to any use of the term "Macedonia" in their northern neighbor's name, fearing territorial claims and seeing the use of the name as a usurping of Greece's ancient heritage. Opponents in Macedonia disagreed with any modification to their country's name, seeing it as a threat to their national identity.


Update June 13, 2018

Trump sees 'new future' for North Korea, but path unclear

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey, Josh Lederman and Foster Klug

Singapore (AP) — President Donald Trump wrapped up his five-hour nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with surprisingly warm words and hope for "a bright new future" for Kim's isolated and impoverished nation. Yet he immediately faced pointed questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much in his push to make a deal with the young autocrat — including an agreement to halt U.S. military exercises with South Korea.

Meeting with staged ceremony on a Singapore island, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement Tuesday agreeing to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, although the timeline and tactics were left unclear. Trump later promised to end "war games," with ally South Korea, a concession to Kim that appeared to catch the Pentagon and Seoul government off guard and sowed confusion among Trump's Republican supporters in Washington.

The head-scratching was a fitting end for a meeting marked by unpredictability. The face to face was unthinkable just months earlier as the two leaders traded insults and nuclear threats. In agreeing to the summit, Trump risked granting Kim his long-sought recognition on the world stage in hopes of ending the North's nuclear program.

While progress on the nuclear question was murky, the leaders spent the public portions of their five hours together expressing optimism and making a show of their new relationship. Trump declared he and Kim had developed "a very special bond." He gave Kim a glimpse of the presidential limousine. Kim, for his part, said the leaders had "decided to leave the past behind" and promised, "The world will see a major change."

Soon, Kim was on a plane headed home, while a clearly ebullient Trump held forth for more than an hour before the press on what he styled as a historic achievement to avert the prospect of nuclear war. Before leaving himself, Trump tossed out pronouncements on U.S. alliances, human rights and the nature of the accord that he and Kim had signed.

The details of how and when the North would denuclearize appear yet to be determined, as are the nature of the unspecified "protections" Trump is pledging to Kim and his government.

As Trump acknowledged that denuclearization would not be accomplished overnight, the North suggested Wednesday that Trump had moved away from his demand for complete denuclearization before U.S. sanctions on the long-isolated country are removed.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday the two leaders "shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The White House did not immediately respond to the North Korean characterization of the deal.

The Singapore accord largely amounts to an agreement to continue discussions, echoing previous public statements and commitments. It does not, for instance, include an agreement to take steps toward ending the technical state of warfare between the U.S. and North Korea.

Nor does it detail plans for North Korea to demolish a missile engine testing site, a concession Trump said he'd won, or Trump's promise to end military exercises in the South while negotiations between the U.S. and the North continue. Trump cast that decision as a cost-saving measure, but also called the exercises "inappropriate" while talks continue. North Korea has long objected to the drills as a security threat.

It was unclear whether South Korea was aware of Trump's decision before he announced it publicly. U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement Tuesday it was unaware of any policy change. Trump phoned South Korean President Moon Jae-in after leaving Singapore to brief him on the discussions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Seoul Wednesday for follow-up meetings.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally is held in August.

The Pentagon said Tuesday it was consulting with the White House and others, but was silent on whether the August exercise would proceed. Mattis' chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, told reporters he was "in full alignment" with Trump.

Lawmakers, too, were looking for details. Republicans emerged from a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence wanting more information on which exercises were on hold.  Colorado Sen. Corey Gardner said Pence told them that small-scale exercises would continue, but "war games will not." Pence's spokeswoman later denied that comment.

"There will be certain exercises that will continue." Gardner told AP, adding he hoped "there's further clarification what that means."

North Korea is believed to possess more than 50 nuclear warheads, with its atomic program spread across more than 100 sites constructed over decades to evade international inspections. Trump insisted that strong verification of denuclearization would be included in a final agreement, saying it was a detail his team would begin sorting out with the North Koreans next week.

The agreement's language on North Korea's nuclear program was similar to what the leaders of North and South Korea came up with at their own summit in April. Trump and Kim referred back to the so-called Panmunjom Declaration, which contained a weak commitment to denuclearization but no specifics on how to achieve it.

But Tuesday's meeting was as much about theatrics as the details of a deal.

The U.S. president brushed off questions about his public embrace of the autocrat whose people have been oppressed for decades. He did say that Otto Warmbier, an American who died last year just days after his release from imprisonment in North Korea, "did not die in vain" because his death helped bring about the nuclear talks.

In the run-up to Tuesday's historic face-to-face with Kim, Trump had appeared unconcerned about the implications of feting an authoritarian leader accused by the U.S. of ordering the public assassination of his half brother with a nerve agent, executing his uncle by firing squad and presiding over a notorious gulag estimated to hold 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners.

In their joint statement, the two leaders promised to "build a lasting and stable peace regime" on the Korean Peninsula. Trump has dangled the prospect of economic investment in the North as a sweetener for giving up its nuclear weapons. The longtime property developer-turned-politician later mused about the potential value of condos on the country's beachfront real estate.

The formal document-signing, which also included an agreement to work to repatriate remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action from the Korean War, followed a series of meetings at a luxury Singapore resort.

Ahead of the meeting Trump had predicted the two men might strike a nuclear deal or forge a formal end to the Korean War in the course of a single meeting or over several days. But in the hours before the summit, the White House unexpectedly announced Trump would depart earlier than expected.

Aware that the eyes of the world were on a moment many people never expected to see, Kim said many of those watching would think it was a scene from a "science fiction movie."

Critics of the summit leapt at the leaders' handshake and the moonlight stroll Kim took Monday night along the glittering Singapore waterfront, saying it was further evidence that Trump was helping legitimize Kim on the world stage.

"It's a huge win for Kim Jong Un, who now — if nothing else — has the prestige and propaganda coup of meeting one on one with the president, while armed with a nuclear deterrent," said Michael Kovrig, a northeast Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group in Washington.

Trump responded that he was embracing diplomacy with Kim in hopes of saving as many as 30 million lives.

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions for years as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pompeo held firm to Trump's position that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes — and said they would even increase if diplomatic discussions did not progress positively.


Paris hostages freed, suspect arrested after 4 hours

Emergency services arrive at the scene of a hostage situation, in central Paris, France, Tuesday, June 12. (AP Photo Francois Mori)

Elaine Ganley

Paris (AP) — A four-hour hostage standoff in central Paris ended with police moving in, arresting the armed suspect and freeing the people held in a ground-floor office, France's interior minister announced late Tuesday.

"All the hostages are safe and sound," Gerard Collomb said in a brief statement. At least two people had been held.

There was no indication of an extremist motive, police said.

The Paris prosecutor's office detained the suspect, a 26-year-old man born in Morocco, a judicial official said. It was not immediately clear if he had French nationality.

The man is being investigated on multiple counts, including kidnapping and sequestration, attempted homicide and violence with a weapon, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and asked not to be named.

Two hostages were freed, one who reportedly had been doused with gasoline and threatened by the hostage-taker with being set on fire, French TV news stations BFM-TV and CNews reported.

Authorities provided no details of the raid by specially trained intervention police officers four hours after the hostage-taking began at about 4 p.m.

Before the arrest, police and firefighters sent a water-spraying robot into the building, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

Dozens of officers in riot gear, firefighters and rescue workers had evacuated and blocked off the Rue des Petites Ecuries while negotiations took place. The hostages were held in a ground-floor office in a crowded neighborhood. Their captor apparently was armed with knives.

As negotiations progressed, the hostage-taker reportedly asked to speak to the Iranian ambassador, a police union official, Yves Lefebvre, said. However, a motive for the demand was not established.

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported that a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, said the Iranian Embassy in Paris stood ready to help "considering the importance of people's lives and human aspects of the issue."

During the negotiations, the hostage-taker reportedly evoked a strange mix of events, from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center to the kidnapping and death last year of a young girl in an Alpine town.

The hostage-taker also claimed he had an accomplice outside the building with a bomb, according to union official Lefebvre. Police swept vehicles in the area with a device but found nothing, he said.

Before officers moved in, Lefebvre said a third hostage had been freed. That hostage was also reportedly doused with gasoline and hit in the face, he said.

Paris police have not revealed how many people were taken hostage.


UK government wins Brexit skirmish by making concessions

British Prime Minister Theresa May is shown in this Thursday, May 17, 2018 file photo. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — The British government was rocked by a resignation and faced anger in Parliament over its Brexit plans Tuesday, but staved off defeat by offering concessions to lawmakers who want to soften the terms of the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.

By a vote of 324 to 298, the House of Commons rejected a move to give lawmakers power to send the government back to the negotiating table if they don't like the terms of the Brexit deal struck with the EU.

The result left Prime Minister Theresa May to fight another day as she tries to take Britain out of the bloc while retaining support from pro-EU and pro-Brexit wings of her Conservative Party.

But it came at a cost — a government promise to strengthen Parliament's voice, potentially at the expense of its own power to set the terms of any final divorce deal with the EU.

The vote came on the first of two days of high-stakes debate and votes in the House of Commons on the government's flagship Brexit bill.

The European Union Withdrawal Bill, a complex piece of legislation intended to disentangle Britain from four decades of EU rules and regulations, has had a rocky ride through Parliament. The upper chamber, the House of Lords, inserted amendments in 15 areas to soften the departure.

The government says the changes would weaken Britain's negotiating position and is seeking to reverse them in the Commons.

Brexit Secretary David Davis urged lawmakers to "respect the result of the referendum" that approved the withdrawal. He said giving Parliament power to direct the government's hand in talks would be "an unconstitutional shift which risks undermining our negotiations with the European Union."

"It's not practical, it's not desirable and it's not appropriate," Davis said.

The government won the first set of votes Tuesday, but looked set to face defeat on the issue of whether Parliament should have a "meaningful vote" on the Brexit deal. Several pro-EU Conservative lawmakers said they would join the opposition in voting against the government.

The pro-EU faction got a boost when junior justice minister Phillip Lee resigned Tuesday, saying he could no longer support the government's "irresponsible" plans for Brexit.

In a concession, the government promised that lawmakers would have a say on what to do next if there is no agreement with the EU, or if Parliament rejects the deal offered.

The change reduces the likelihood that Britain could leave the EU without a deal if it does not like the divorce terms. Pro-Brexit members of the government want to be able to play the "no deal" card, but the House of Commons, where pro-EU voices are stronger, would almost certainly reject the idea.

Details of the government's commitment will have to be formalized next week in a new amendment to the bill. The Brexit Department said in a statement that it would look for compromise, but would not agree to lawmakers "binding the government's hands" in negotiations.

But pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve said that with the government's move "I am quite satisfied that we are going to get a meaningful vote on both 'deal' and 'no deal'" scenarios.

Another flashpoint could come when lawmakers vote Wednesday on an amendment seeking to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU.

Two years after Britain voted to leave the EU, and eight months before it's due to leave on March 29, 2019, the bloc is frustrated with what it sees as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

A paper laying out the U.K. government position, due to be published this month, has been delayed because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.

May's government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the EU, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.

Parliamentary debates about complex legal amendments rarely rouse much heat, but passions run high over anything to do with Brexit.

Pro-Brexit tabloid the Sun warned lawmakers on Tuesday's front page that they had a choice: "Great Britain or great betrayal." The Daily Express thundered: "Ignore the will of the people at your peril."

Anna Soubry, a pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, said she knew of one legislator who would not vote with their conscience because of "threats to their personal safety" and that of staff and family.

Pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh slammed pro-EU colleagues, saying Parliament must respect the result of the June 2016 voter referendum.

"The people want us to leave the EU. They want us to regain control of our borders," he said.

"Parliament, don't stand against the people — implement their will!"


Report describes Dubai real estate as money-laundering haven

 

In this Sept. 22, 2015 file photo, laborers work at a construction site at the Palm Jumeirah, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, UAE (AP) — War profiteers, terror financiers and drug traffickers sanctioned by the U.S. in recent years have used Dubai's real-estate market as a haven for their assets, a new report released Tuesday alleges.

The report by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, relying on leaked property data from the city-state, offers evidence to support the long-whispered rumors about Dubai's real-estate boom. It identifies some $100 million in suspicious purchases of apartments and villas across the city of skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates, where foreign ownership fuels construction that now outpaces local demand.

The government-run Dubai Media Office said it could not comment on the report.

For its part, the center known by the acronym C4ADS said Dubai has a "high-end luxury real estate market and lax regulatory environment prizing secrecy and anonymity above all else." That comes as the U.S. already warns that Dubai's economic free zones and trade in gold and diamonds poses a risk.

"The permissive nature of this environment has global security implications far beyond the sands of the UAE," the center said in its report. "In an interconnected global economy with low barriers impeding the movement of funds, a single point of weakness in the regulatory system can empower and enable a range of global illicit actors."

The properties in question include million-dollar villas on the fronds of the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago to an apartment in the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Others appear to be one-bedroom apartments in more-affordable neighborhoods in Dubai, the UAE's biggest city.

Among the highest-profile individuals named in the report is Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and one of that country's wealthiest businessmen. The U.S. has sanctioned Makhlouf, who owns the largest mobile phone carrier Syriatel, for using "intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper financial advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians."

Makhlouf and his brother, also sanctioned by the U.S., own real estate on the Palm Jumeirah, according to the report. They also have ties to two UAE-based free-zone companies. The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms led from oil-rich Abu Dhabi, has opposed Assad in his country's yearslong war.

The UAE also opposes Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia group backed by Iran. However, C4ADS' report identified at least one property directly linked to Lebanese businessmen Kamel and Issam Amhaz, who the U.S. sanctioned in 2014 for helping Hezbollah "covertly purchase sophisticated electronics" for military drones. The report identified another nearly $70 million in Dubai properties owned by two other shareholders in Amhaz's sanctioned firms.

Separately, the report identified some $21 million in real estate still held by individuals associated with the Altaf Khanani money laundering organization, a Pakistani ring that aided drug traffickers and Islamic extremists like al-Qaida through its currency exchange houses.

The report identified Dubai properties owned by Hassein Eduardo Figueroa Gomez, a Mexican national indicted in the U.S. for importing mass quantities of chemicals needed to make methamphetamine. It also identified properties owned by two Iranians previously sanctioned for their work on Iran's missile program.

Dubai, an Arabian Peninsula entrepot, long has been a favorite port of call for those skirting the law. Gold smuggling into India served as one of the emirate's most lucrative trades for the decades after the pearling industry collapsed. Guns, drugs and other illicit cargo also moved through the city-state.

Over time, however, Dubai itself became a haven. The emirate's decision in 2002 to allow foreign ownership of so-called "freehold" properties drew a rapid construction boom that attracted developers from across the world, including President Donald Trump, whose name is on two golf course projects and villas.

Dubai's easily flipped luxury properties offered an opportunity for those wanting to park money they otherwise couldn't spend. The Federation of American Scientists warned based on news reports in 2002 that "money-laundering activity in the UAE may total $1 billion annually."

Money quickly flowed in from all corners, especially those now involved in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, likely topping that.

From Kabul, the Afghan capital, over $190 million in physical cash left for Dubai in three months in 2009 on commercial flights, according to an October 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. In 2008, some $600 million, as well as 100 million euros and 80 million British pounds, made the trip, according to the cable.

A banking scandal in Afghanistan in 2010 saw regulators demand that a banker turn over 18 Palm Jumeirah villas and two business properties. The brother of former Afghan President Hamad Karzai also profited from the sale of a Palm Jumeirah villa at the time.

In Pakistan, authorities believe citizens invested $8 billion in Dubai's property market over four years, possibly to evade taxes, officials said in 2017. Alleged Australian drug kingpins arrested in Dubai last year also owned real estate in the city, while the governments of Nigeria and South Africa also have launched investigations into alleged money laundering involving Dubai.

Unlike in the U.S., where property records are public, Dubai does not offer an accessible database of all its transactions, instead requiring specific details only individual buyers and sellers would have. C4ADS said it relied in part on "private UAE data compiled by real estate and property professionals" offered by a confidential source for its reporting.

The U.S. State Department as recently as this year issued a warning about money laundering in the UAE in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, noting the country's money-exchange shops can allow for "bulk cash smuggling." The UAE's economic free zones, real estate sector and its trade in gold and diamonds also pose risks.

"The UAE has demonstrated both a willingness and capability to take action against illicit financial actors if those actors pose a direct national security threat or present a reputational risk to the UAE's role as the leading regional financial hub," the State Department said.  "However, the UAE needs to continue increasing the resources devoted to investigating, prosecuting and disrupting money laundering."


Update June 12, 2018

Trump, Kim shake hands to open momentous summit

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands ahead of their meeting at Capella Hotel in Singapore, Tuesday, June 12. (Host Broadcaster Mediacorp Pte Ltd via AP)

Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey, Josh Lederman and Foster Klug

Singapore (AP) — President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un kicked off a momentous summit Tuesday, with Trump declaring the two would have a "great discussion" and Kim saying they had overcome "obstacles" to get to this point.

Before a row of alternating U.S. and North Korean flags, the leaders shook hands warmly at a Singapore island resort, creating an indelible image of two unorthodox leaders as they opened a conversation that could determine historic peace or raise the specter of a growing nuclear threat.

Trump and Kim planned to meet one on one for most of an hour— joined only by interpreters. Then aides to each were to join for more discussions and a working lunch. But even before they met, Trump announced plans to leave early, raising questions about whether his aspirations for an ambitious outcome had been scaled back.

The first meeting of a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader was the product of dizzying weeks of negotiations over logistics and policy.

Up early in Singapore, Trump tweeted with cautious optimism: "Meetings between staffs and representatives are going well and quickly ... but in the end, that doesn't matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!"

In the run-up to the talks, Trump had hopefully predicted the two men might strike a nuclear deal or forge a formal end to the Korean War in the course of a single meeting or over several days. But on the eve of the summit, the White House unexpectedly announced Trump would depart Singapore by Tuesday evening, meaning his time with Kim would be fairly brief. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to keep expectations for the summit in check.

"We are hopeful this summit will have set the conditions for future successful talks," Pompeo said, describing a far more modest goal than Trump had outlined days earlier.

The sudden change in schedule added to a dizzying few days of foreign policy activity for Trump, who shocked U.S. allies over the weekend when he used a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies in Canada to alienate America's closest friends in the West. Lashing out over trade practices, Trump lobbed insults at his G-7 host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump left the summit early, and as he flew to Singapore, he tweeted that he was yanking the U.S. out of the group's traditional closing statement.

As for Singapore, the White House said Trump was leaving early because negotiations had moved "more quickly than expected," but gave no details about any possible progress in preliminary talks. On the day before the meeting, weeks of preparation appeared to pick up in pace, with U.S. and North Korean officials meeting throughout Monday at a Singapore hotel.

The president planned to stop in Guam and Hawaii on his way back to Washington.

Trump spoke only briefly in public on Monday, forecasting a "nice" outcome. Kim spent the day mostly out of view — until he left his hotel for a late-night tour of Singapore sights, including the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, billed as the world's biggest glass greenhouse.

As Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sat down for a working lunch at the Istana house, the president sounded optimistic, telling Lee, "We've got a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely." Trump had earlier tweeted about "excitement in the air!"

It was a striking about-face from less than a year ago, when Trump was threatening "fire and fury" against Kim, who in turn scorned the American president as a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard." As it happens, the North Korean and the American share a tendency to act unpredictably on the world stage.

Beyond the impact on both leaders' political fortunes, the summit could shape the fate of countless people — the citizens of impoverished North Korea, the tens of millions living in the shadow of the North's nuclear threat, and millions more worldwide. Or, it could amount to little more than a much-photographed handshake.

Still, the sense of anticipation was great in Singapore, with people lining spotless streets holding cellphones high as Trump headed to meet Lee.

U.S. and North Korean officials huddled throughout Monday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel ahead of the sit-down aimed at resolving a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal. Delegates were outlining specific goals for what the leaders should try to accomplish and multiple scenarios for resolving key issues, a senior U.S official said, adding that the meetings were also an ice breaker of sorts, allowing the teams to get better acquainted after decades of minimal contact between their nations.

Trump's early exit will be his second from a summit in just a few days.

As he was trying to build a bridge with Kim, he was smashing longtime alliances with Western allies with his abrasive performance at the G-7. After his premature departure from Quebec, he continued to tweet angrily at Trudeau from Singapore, saying Monday, "Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal."

Trump advisers cast his actions as a show of strength before the Kim meeting.

Alluding to the North's concerns that giving up its nuclear weapons could surrender its primary deterrent to forced regime change, Pompeo told reporters that the U.S. was prepared to take action to provide North Korea with "sufficient certainty" that denuclearization "is not something that ends badly for them."

He would not say whether that included the possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, but said the context of the discussions was "radically different than ever before."

"I can only say this," Pompeo said. "We are prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique, than America's been willing to provide previously."

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pompeo held firm to Trump's position that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes — and said they would even increase if diplomatic discussions did not progress positively.

Experts believe the North is close to being able to target the entire U.S. mainland with its nuclear-armed missiles, and while there's deep skepticism that Kim will quickly give up those hard-won nukes, there's also some hope that diplomacy can replace the animosity between the U.S. and the North.

While advisers say Trump has been reviewing briefing materials, the president insists his gut instincts will matter most when he gets in the room with Kim. He told reporters he thinks he will know almost immediately whether a deal can be made, saying: "I will know, just my touch, my feel. That's what I do."


Pope begins purge in Chilean church over sex abuse scandal

Pope Francis is shown at the Vatican in Rome, Saturday, June 9. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Nicole Winfield

Vatican City (AP) — Pope Francis began purging Chile's Catholic hierarchy on Monday over an avalanche of sex abuse and cover-up cases, starting with accepting the resignations of the bishop at the center of the scandal and two others.

More heads were expected to roll, given that the scandal has only grown in the weeks since all of Chile's 30-plus active bishops offered to quit over their collective guilt in failing to protect Chile's children from priests who raped, groped and molested them.

A Vatican statement said Francis had accepted the resignations of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt. He named a temporary leader for each diocese.

Barros, 61, has been at the center of Chile's growing scandal ever since Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno in 2015 over the objections of the local faithful, his own sex abuse prevention advisers and some of Chile's other bishops.

They questioned Barros' suitability to lead given he had been a top lieutenant of Chile's most notorious predator priest and had been accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse by that priest.

Barros denied the charge, but he twice offered to resign in the ensuing years. Last month, he joined the rest of Chile's bishops in offering to step down during an extraordinary Vatican summit. Francis had summoned Chile's church leaders to Rome after realizing he had made "grave errors in judgment" about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during a visit to Chile in January.

In a statement Monday, Barros asked forgiveness "for my limitations and what I couldn't handle." He thanked the pope for his concern for the common good and said he prayed "that one day all the truth will shine."

Barros' removal, which had been expected, was praised by abuse survivors and Catholics in Osorno. Some said more housecleaning now is needed to heal the devastation wrought by the scandal.

"A new day has begun in Chile's Catholic Church!" tweeted Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor who had denounced Barros for years and pressed the Vatican to take action.

"I'm thrilled for all those who have fought to see this day," he said. "The band of criminal bishops ... begins to disintegrate today."

The other two bishops whose resignations were accepted had submitted them prior to the pope's summit after having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. But victims had accused both of having botched cases in the past.

Francis realized he had misjudged the Chilean situation after meeting with Cruz and reading a 2,300-page report compiled by two leading Vatican investigators about the depth of Chile's scandal.

The investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, are heading back to Chile on Tuesday to begin what the Vatican has said is a "healing" mission to Osorno.

By accepting Barros' resignation, Francis essentially gave Scicluna and Bertomeu a hand in helping to heal the divisions in a diocese where Barros never was fully accepted as bishop.

But with the other two resignations, Francis is making clear that the troubles in Chile's church do not rest on Barros' shoulders alone, or on those of the more than 40 other priests and three other bishops trained by the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima, a powerful preacher close to Chile's elite, to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his sex crimes. But the Scicluna-Bertomeu report exposed a far bigger scandal that has implicated several religious orders, including priests and brothers in the Franciscans, the Legion of Christ, the Marist Brothers and the Salesian orders.

It also exposed evidence that the Chilean hierarchy systematically covered up and minimized abuse cases, destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church investigators to discredit abuse accusations and showing "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophile priests.

Those findings, which leaked to the media while the Chilean bishops were at the Vatican, have opened a Pandora's Box of new accusations that led Francis to become the first pope to refer to a "culture of abuse and cover-up" in the Catholic Church.

The biggest new scandal involved revelations of a gay priest sex ring in the Rancagua diocese of the bishop who headed the Chilean church's sex abuse prevention commission. To date, 14 priests in Rancagua have been suspended and the bishop resigned as head of the commission after admitting he was slow to act on accusations that a minor had been abused.

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who fiercely opposed Barros, said Francis' acceptance of the bishop's resignation signaled "the end of the damage" that the pope himself had inflicted on the diocese by appointing Barros in the first place.

Claret said Barros' exit was the "minimum condition" to begin a dialogue with the Vatican to try to rebuild peace in the diocese. He called for a process to find "truth, justice and reparation" for the damage caused.

"Bishop Barros has ceased being bishop but he hasn't stopped being a brother in the faith, and for this — if he too wants to seek forgiveness — he is called to take part and assume his responsibilities," Claret said.


Italy's new leaders get tough on migrants; Spain steps up

In this photo taken on Friday, June 1, 2018 the rescue vessel Aquarius ship approaches the Pozzallo harbor, Southern Italy. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — Italy's new "Italians first" government claimed victory Monday when the Spanish prime minister offered safe harbor to a private rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to allow it permission to disembark its 629 migrant passengers in their ports.

The Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by aid group SOS Mediterranee, has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea since Saturday, when Italy refused its crew permission to dock and demanded that Malta do so. Malta refused on Sunday.

Spain's new Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez stepped in Monday, ordering authorities in Valencia to prepare for the ship's arrival.

"It's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people," Sanchez said.

Both the ship and its passengers were caught up in a political dispute that might not have happened weeks ago.

One of the coalition partners in the populist government that took over in Italy on June 1, the right-wing League, promised voters other European Union countries would be made to share the burden of caring for asylum-seekers who set out for Europe on unseaworthy smugglers' boats.

"Evidently it pays to raise one's voice, something Italy hasn't done as long as one can remember," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the League's leader, said Monday at party headquarters.

For those aboard the Aquarius, Spain's offer of docking rights at the port of Valencia was welcome news, although it did not provide a quick or easy solution. By Monday evening, the ship was more than 1,400 kilometers (over 750 nautical miles) from Valencia and still awaiting formal instructions to head to Spain as weather forecasts predicted worsening conditions.

It was unclear if the days of sailing west it would take to get to Spain were feasible, SOS Mediterranee Maritime Operations Manager Antoine Laurent said. The traumatized, exhausted passengers include 120 minors, many of them traveling alone, and seven pregnant women. Several migrants had water in their lungs, suffered hypothermia or burns from a mix of boat fuel and seawater while in their traffickers' boats.

Malta had food and water ferried Monday to the Aquarius, which was running out of supplies.

"The situation is stable but it cannot run on forever”, Laurent said.

A doctor aboard the ship, David Beversluis, said one passenger had to be revived after he was rescued.

"All the survivors are exhausted and dehydrated because they spent many hours adrift in these boats," he said.

Even as the Aquarius' crew grappled with the logistics, Italy vowed to block other rescue boats, including the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, another aid group's boat. Like the Aquarius, the Sea-Watch 3 rescued migrants in the waters off Libya, where human smugglers are based and asylum-hopefuls have reported torture, beatings, rape and scarce rations in migrant detention centers.

"Little changes if the boat is called Aquarius or Sea-Watch 3," Salvini, the interior minister, said. "We want to put an end to this traffic in human beings. And, so, as we have raised the problem for the Aquarius, we'll do it for all the other boats."

Even as he drew his line, an Italian coast guard vessel with 936 migrants and two migrants' bodies on board was headed toward Catania, Sicily, where it was expected to dock on Tuesday evening, Italian news agency ANSA said. The passengers were rescued in seven separate operations.

The exulting by Salvini, who is also deputy premier, nearly eclipsed the satisfaction expressed by his fellow deputy, Luigi Di Maio, who leads the governing coalition's senior partner, the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement.

Spain's offer is "important news, since it signals a turning point," Di Maio said.

The vast majority of the people traveling on the Aquarius — 400 — were rescued by Italian coast guard and navy vessels as well as cargo ships in the waters off Libya. They were transferred to the Aquarius on Saturday before the standoff developed.

Given that the aid ship had no emergency, Italy decided to appeal to other European countries "so they don't leave Italy alone yet again in managing the migratory flows, which is a phenomenon that is all of Europe's business," Di Maio said in a Facebook post.

Under a European Union agreement, the country where asylum-seekers arrive and are identified must care for them until their asylum requests are decided, a process that can take a couple of years.

The refusals by Italy and Malta, leaving the Aquarius unable to quickly bring the migrants to a safe port, dismayed others.

"The duty of a democratic government is not to look away" in a humanitarian crisis, said Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who also offered her port as a potential solution to the standoff.

Italy had argued that Malta, a tiny island nation that also is an EU member, was the safest, closest port to the ship. Malta, which in the last few years has only accepted a few hundred migrants, refused, retorting that it bore no responsibility because Italy had coordinated the rescues in Libya's search-and-rescue zone.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating international norms governing sea rescues and said the government's stance risked "creating a dangerous situation for all those involved." He thanked Spain for stepping in.

Italy's premier, Giuseppe Conte, a political novice who backs the 5-Star Movement, on Monday was touring towns in struck by a 2016 quake. He hailed Spain's decision as a "gesture of solidarity" on behalf of the European Union.

The decision by Sanchez "to exceptionally allow a rescue ship, Aquarius, to dock in his country is courageous and welcome," the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said.

Doctors Without Borders tweeted a video of some of the women aboard the ship praying Monday morning. "Thank you, Lord," the women sang.

The passengers, with many migrants from Sudan among them, were apparently unaware of they had become pawns of sorts in Europe's new political equilibrium.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying," Salvini said in a Facebook post. "This time we say no."


Philippines says Chinese seizures of fish catch unacceptable

Protesters display placards during a rally at the Chinese Consulate in the financial district of Makati city to protest alleged continued seizure of catches of Filipino fishermen at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, Monday, June 11. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president's office on Monday called Chinese seizures of fish caught by Philippine fishing boats near a disputed shoal unacceptable, and presented three fishermen who described their experiences.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano raised the incidents with the Chinese ambassador in Manila, who assured them that Chinese coast guard personnel would be punished if an investigation finds the accusations are accurate.

The recent incidents at Scarborough Shoal have sparked new criticism after a TV network interviewed fishermen and broadcast a video of the alleged confiscations. China has sparked alarm with its recent actions to fortify its sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the reported installation of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on its newly built islands.

The incidents have increased pressure on President Rodrigo Duterte's government to take a stronger stance toward China's behavior in the disputed waters. Since his inauguration, Duterte has forged cozier ties with China and avoided strongly criticizing it in public.

Dozens of Filipino fishermen and left-wing activists protested at the Chinese Consulate on Monday with posters reading "I can't eat today, China stole our catch" and "I can't fish in our own seas." Some brought fish to symbolize what they called China's "robbery" and "extortion" at sea.

"What they did to our fishermen ... shows that they have claimed the area and not only that they stole the fishermen's catch that was supposed to feed their families on that day, their family went hungry because of this," protest leader Roberto Aleroza said.

Roque said the government has taken action to prevent a repeat of the Chinese actions. "The Chinese coast guard should not be taking even a kilo and we're not allowing this," he said, adding that Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed that Filipinos should be able to fish freely at Scarborough, which was seized by China in 2012.

Roque, however, suggested the Chinese actions were not an act of harassment and were just "a dent" that would not affect friendly relations between China and the Philippines. Chinese coast guard personnel at times gave noodles, cigarettes and water to Filipino fishermen in exchange for the fish, he said.

Rommel Sihuela, one of the three fishermen presented by Roque at a news conference in the presidential palace on Monday, said Chinese coast guard personnel boarded Philippine fishing boats at Scarborough and took some of their best catch against their will. "They went on board, then helped themselves in our fish containers," he said. "We just let them because they may shoo us away again if we don't allow them to take the fish."

In December, armed Chinese personnel seized fishing equipment from Filipino fishermen, he said.

Two Filipino officials told The Associated on Friday that the Philippines protested Chinese seizures of fish caught by Filipinos at Scarborough at a meeting in Manila in February. Chinese officials at the meeting "took note" of the concerns and promised to look into the incidents, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Antonio Carpio, a senior associate justice of the Supreme Court who has done extensive studies of the territorial disputes, said the Philippines could file a new case against China for violating a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The ruling, which China has ignored, said China violated the rights of Filipinos by preventing them from fishing at Scarborough, a traditional Asian fishing area.


Update June 11, 2018

Trump, Kim arrive in Singapore ahead of high-stakes summit

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Paya Lebar Air Base for a summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, Sunday, June 10, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Foster Klug and Catherine Lucey

Singapore (AP) — President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un converged on this island city-state Sunday ahead of one of the most unusual and highly anticipated summits in recent world history, a Tuesday sit-down meant to settle a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

Trump descended from Air Force One into the steamy Singapore night, greeting officials and declaring he felt "very good," before he was whisked away to his hotel, driving along a route lined with police and photo snapping onlookers. Trump traveled to Singapore from Canada, where he attended a meeting of the Group of Seven Nations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana or presidential palace on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Hours earlier, a jet carrying Kim landed. After shaking hands with the Singapore foreign minister, Kim sped through the city's streets in a massive limousine, two large North Korean flags fluttering on the hood, surrounded by other black vehicles with tinted windows and bound for the luxurious and closely guarded St. Regis Hotel.

Kim smiled broadly Sunday evening as he met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The entire world is watching the historic summit between (North Korea) and the United States of America, and thanks to your sincere efforts ... we were able to complete the preparations for the historic summit," Kim told Lee through an interpreter.

Trump is set to meet with Lee on Monday.

Trump has said he hopes to win a legacy-making deal with the North to give up their nuclear weapons, though he has recently sought to manage expectations, saying that it may take more than one meeting.

The North, many experts believe, stands on the brink of being able to target the entire U.S. mainland with its nuclear-armed missiles, and while there's deep skepticism that Kim will quickly give up those hard-won nukes, there's also some hope that diplomacy can replace the animosity between the U.S. and the North.

This will be the first summit of its kind between a leader of North Korea and a sitting U.S. president. The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The North Korean autocrat's every move will be followed by 3,000 journalists who have converged on Singapore, and by gawkers around the world, up until he shakes hands with Trump on Tuesday. It's a reflection of the intense global curiosity over Kim's sudden turn to diplomacy in recent months after a slew of North Korean nuclear and missile tests last year raised serious fears of war.

Part of the interest in Tuesday's summit is simply because Kim has had such limited appearances on the world stage. He has only publicly left his country three times since taking power after his father's death in late 2011 — twice traveling to China and once across his shared border with the South to the southern part of the Demilitarized Zone in recent summits with the leaders of China and South Korea respectively.

But it's Kim's pursuit of nuclear weapons that gives his meeting with Trump such high stakes. The meeting was initially meant to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, but the talks have been portrayed by Trump in recent days more as a get-to-know-you session. Trump has also raised the possibility of further summits and an agreement ending the Korean War by replacing the armistice signed in 1953 with a peace treaty. China and South Korea would have to sign off on any legal treaty.

It's unclear what Trump and Kim might decide Tuesday.

Pyongyang has said it is willing to deal away its entire nuclear arsenal if the United States provides it with a reliable security assurance and other benefits. But many say this is highly unlikely, given how hard it has been for Kim to build his program and that the weapons are seen as the major guarantee to holding onto his unchecked power.

Any nuclear deal will hinge on North Korea's willingness to allow unfettered outside inspections of the country's warheads and nuclear fuel, much of which is likely kept in a vast complex of underground facilities. Past nuclear deals have crumbled over North Korea's reluctance to open its doors to outsiders.

Another possibility from the summit is a deal to end the Korean War, which North Korea has long demanded, presumably, in part, to get U.S. troops off the Korean Peninsula and, eventually, pave the way for a North Korean-led unified Korea.

The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, but the war technically continues today because instead of a difficult-to-negotiate peace treaty, military officers for the U.S.-led United Nations, North Korea and China signed an armistice that halted the fighting. The North may see a treaty — and its presumed safety assurances from Washington — as its best way of preserving the Kim family dynasty. The ensuing recognition as a "normal country" could then allow sanctions relief, and later international aid and investment.

Just meeting with Trump will also give Kim a recognition North Korea has long sought, setting him up as global player and equal to the U.S. domestically and, internationally, as the leader of a "normal country" worthy of respect.


Migrants are saved, but stranded at sea by Italian politics

 

Migrants stand in line to register after being rescued aboard the MV Aquarius. (AP Photo/Sima Diab/File)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — A private rescue ship carrying 629 migrants remained at sea Sunday evening after more than a day of not receiving permission to dock in either Italy or the small Mediterranean island nation of Malta.

Aid group SOS Mediterranee said the passengers on its ship, the Aquarius, included 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy, that country's coast guard and private cargo ships and transferred. The rescue ship's crew itself pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers' unseaworthy boats Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown promoted by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe."

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he personally contacted Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius."

But Muscat, "while comprehending the situation," rebuffed him, Conte said in a Facebook post late Sunday. That stance "confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency."

Like Malta, Italy didn't appear to be budging.

Italy's firebrand interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party in the governing coalition, has long railed against what he depicts as Europe's failure to show solidarity with Italy during the migrant crisis in recent years.

"Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration," Salvini tweeted Sunday.

After leading an hours-long meeting with his coalition leaders Sunday night at the premier's office, Conte said Italy was sending two motorboats with medical staff aboard in case the migrants needed help but he made no mention of how the Aquarius might ever get into port.

Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta's responsibility to "open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued on the NGO ship Aquarius."

"The island can't continue to turn the other way," the ministers said. "The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon in solitude."

Earlier, Malta said in a statement that the Aquarius took on the passengers in waters controlled by Libya and where Italian authorities in Rome coordinate search-and-rescue operations.

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Center "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority," the statement said.

SOS Mediterranee spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain told The Associated Press the ship was "heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers" Saturday night. The Rome-based rescue coordination center gave the instructions.

The aid group said in a statement it had taken "good note" of Salvini's stance, as reported earlier by Italian media. It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety."

SOS Mediterranee said Maltese search-and-rescue authorities were contacted by their Italian counterparts "to find the best solution for the well-being and safety" of the people on the ship.

Farther west in the Mediterranean, Spain's maritime rescue service saved 334 migrants and recovered four bodies from boats it intercepted trying to reach Europe over the weekend. The rescue service said its patrol craft reached nine different boats carrying migrants that had left from Africa on Saturday and early Sunday.

One boat found Sunday was carrying four bodies along with 49 migrants. The cause of death was yet to be determined.

To the east, Libya's coast guard intercepted 152 migrants, including women and children, from two boats stopped in the Mediterranean off the coast of the western Zuwara district Saturday. The migrants were taken to a naval base in Tripoli.

Human rights groups oppose returning rescued migrants to Libya, where many are held in inhumane conditions, poorly fed and often forced to do slave labor.

Libya was plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising. The lawlessness in Libya has made it a popular place for migrants to try to depart for Europe.

Driven by violent conflicts and extreme poverty, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached southern Europe in recent years by crossing the Mediterranean in smugglers' boats that often are unseaworthy.

The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.


Assad says West is fueling Syria war, hoping to topple him

 

In this photo released on Sunday, June 10, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Daily Mail, in Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP)

Beirut (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Sunday that the West is fueling the devastating war in his country, now in its eighth year, with the aim of toppling him.

Assad told the Mail on Sunday that Western nations have lied about chemical attacks in Syria and supported terrorist groups there, while Russia has supported his government against the foreign "invasion."

Assad reiterated his long-held position that the uprising against his rule was part of a conspiracy to remove a leader that did not go along with Western policies in the region. Syria is allied with Iran and Russia, and has had turbulent relations with the West. Syria is technically at war with Israel, which occupies the Syrian Golan Heights, but a cease-fire has largely held since the 1970s.

"The whole approach toward Syria in the West is, 'we have to change this government, we have to demonize this president, because they don't suit our policies anymore.'" Assad said. They tell lies, they talk about chemical weapons, they talk about the bad president killing the good people, freedom, peaceful demonstration."

Syria's conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests against the Assad family's decades-long rule. The government's violent response to the protests, and the eventual rise of an armed insurgency, tipped the country into a civil war that has claimed nearly half a million lives.

Since then, Western nations and independent experts have accused the government of carrying out several chemical weapons attacks, most recently in April, in an attack near Damascus that reportedly killed dozens of people and prompted Western airstrikes. The government has denied ever using chemical weapons.

Assad also dismissed reports that Israel has conducted recent airstrikes in Syria with tacit Russian cooperation. Russia has provided crucial military support to Assad's forces, waging an air campaign since 2015 that turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor. Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah group have also provided extensive military support.

"Russia never coordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily," Assad said. "How could they help the Syrian Army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?"

Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes against Iranian forces in Syria last month. The lack of any Russian response, despite the heavy Russian presence in the skies over Syria, suggested that Moscow might have been notified ahead of time.

Assad said he has remained in office through more than seven years of war because he has "public support."

"We are fighting the terrorists, and those terrorists are supported by the British government, the French government, the Americans and their puppets whether in Europe or in our region," he said.

"We are fighting them, and we have public support in Syria to fight those terrorists. That's why we are advancing. We cannot make these advances just because we have Russian and Iranian support."

On Sunday, airstrikes killed at least nine people in the town of Taftanaz and another two people in nearby towns in the northern Idlib province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory and an activist-run media center in Taftanaz said a local pediatric hospital was struck, putting it out of order.


Police in German town say suspect confessed to killing girl

In this Saturday, June 9, photo police officers guide the suspect Ali B. in front of the police headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)

David McHugh

Frankfurt, Germany (AP) — Police said Sunday that a 20-year-old asylum-seeker admitted killing a 14-year-old girl in a case that has stirred up debate over Germany's immigration policies.

Police in the town of Wiesbaden said Ali Bashar made the admission after he was extradited the previous day from Iraq. Bashar and his family abruptly left a home for asylum applicants in Germany after the girl's slaying.

Police said the body of Susanna Maria Feldman was found buried on the outskirts of the town Wednesday. She had been missing since May 22.

Wiesbaden police said Bashar claimed the girl suffered facial injuries in a fall and he feared she would inform authorities. Bashar repeated his statement in front of a judge, who ordered him held pending investigation.

Police said Bashar was a suspect in a string of previous offenses in the area, including a robbery at knifepoint. He is believed to have arrived in Germany in October 2015 at the height of the migrant influx to Germany and was appealing the rejection of his asylum application.

The dpa news agency reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a televised interview Sunday night that "the case showed how important it is that people who have no permission to remain must receive their court proceedings without delay and be sent home quickly."

Alice Weidel, a leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany Party, said last week that Merkel should resign over the case. A legislator from the party used his speaking time in parliament for an unannounced minute of silence for Susanna, leading to accusations from other lawmakers that the party was exploiting the girl's death for political purposes.

Previous killings by asylum-seekers in Germany have fanned tensions over the influx of more than a million migrants from places like Afghanistan and Syria in 2015 and 2016, an issue that helped the far-right Alternative for Germany Party enter the German parliament last year.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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Migrants are saved, but stranded at sea by Italian politics

Assad says West is fueling Syria war, hoping to topple him

Police in German town say suspect confessed to killing girl

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