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Update August 2018


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Update August 16, 2018

Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

Rescuers recover an injured person after the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, northern Italy, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

Paolo Santalucia and Frances D'Emilio

Genoa, Italy (AP) — Italian emergency experts pulled two more bodies out of tons of broken concrete and twisted steel Wednesday after a highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, raising the death toll in the disaster to at least 39 people.

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge sent dozens of cars and three trucks plunging as much as 45 meters to the ground Tuesday as many Italian families were on the road ahead of Wednesday's major summer holiday.

Civil protection authorities confirmed Wednesday that 39 people had died and 15 were injured.  Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said three children were among the dead.

Working with heavy equipment, rescuers climbed over concrete slabs with sniffer dogs all through the night and into the day, searching for survivors or bodies.

Investigators, meanwhile, were working to determine what caused an 80-meter long stretch of highway to break off from the 45-meter high bridge in the northwestern port city.

Italian politicians, for their part, were trying to find who to blame for the deadly tragedy.

The 1967 bridge, considered innovative in its time for its use of concrete around its cables, was long due for an upgrade, especially since the structure was more heavily trafficked than its designers had envisioned. One expert in such construction, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge "a failure of engineering."

An unidentified woman who was standing below the bridge told RAI state TV that it crumbled Tuesday as if it were a mound of baking flour.

Engineering experts, noting that the bridge was 51 years old, said corrosion and weather could have been factors in its collapse.

The Italian CNR civil engineering society said structures dating from when the Morandi Bridge was built had surpassed their lifespan. It called for a "Marshall Plan" to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s. It said that simply updating or reinforcing the bridges would be more expensive than destroying and rebuilding them with new technology.

Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said pressure from "dynamic loads," such as heavy traffic or wind, could have resulted in "fatigue damage" in the bridge's parts.

Italy's minister of transportation and infrastructure, Danilo Toninelli, said there was a plan pending to spend 20 million euro on bids for significant safety work on the bridge.

While the collapse's cause is yet to be determined, political bickering moved into high gear Wednesday.

Toninelli, from the populist 5-Star Movement, threatened in a Facebook post that the state, if necessary, would take direct control of the highway contractor responsible for the bridge if it couldn't properly care for the roads and bridges it was responsible for.

State radio reported Wednesday that some 5-Star lawmakers in 2013 had questioned the wisdom of an ambitious, expensive infrastructure overhaul program as possibly wasteful, but that a post about that on the Movement's site was removed Tuesday after the bridge's collapse.

Within hours after the collapse, Salvini was trying to shift the blame away from Italy's new populist government, vowing not to let European Union spending strictures on Italy, which is laden with public debt, stop any effort to make the country's infrastructure safe.

Genoa is a flood-prone city, and officials were warning that the debris from the collapse must be removed as soon as possible. Some of the wreckage landed in a dry riverbed that could flood when the rainy season resumes in a few weeks.


Suicide bomber targets Shiite students in Kabul, killing 48

Afghan men stand in front of burned out shops following a Taliban attack in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Rahmatullah Nikzad)

Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber struck a private education center in a Shiite neighborhood of Kabul on Wednesday where high school graduates were preparing for university entrance exams, killing 48 young men and women and leaving behind a scene of devastation and tragedy.

The bombing, blamed on the Islamic State group, was the latest assault on Afghanistan's Shiite community, which has increasingly been targeted by Sunni extremists who consider Shiites to be heretics.

It also showed how militants are still able to stage large-scale attacks, even in the heart of Kabul, and underscored the struggles of the Afghan forces to provide security and stability on their own.

The attack comes amid a particularly bloody week in Afghanistan that has seen Taliban attacks kill scores of Afghan troops and civilians.

It was not immediately clear how the bomber managed to sneak into the building, used by the Shiite community as an education center, in the Dasht-i Barcha area of Kabul.

The spokesman for the public health ministry, Wahid Majroh, said 67 people were also wounded in the bombing and that the death toll — which steadily rose in the immediate aftermath of the bombing — could rise further. He did not say if all the victims were students and whether any of their teachers were also among the casualties.

Dawlat Hossain, father of 18-year-old student Fareba who had left her class just a few minutes before the bombing but was still inside the compound, was on his way to meet his daughter and started running when he heard the explosion.

Hossain recounted to The Associated Press how when he entered Fareba's classroom, he saw parts of human bodies all over student desks and benches.

"There was blood everywhere, all over the room, so scary and horrible," he said. After finding out that his daughter was safe, he helped move the wounded to hospitals.

Fareba was traumatized that so many of her friends were killed, but Hossain said she was lucky to be alive.

The explosion initially set off gunfire from Afghan guards in the area, leading to assumptions that there were more attackers involved, but officials later said all indications were that there was only one bomber.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Jawad Ghawari, a member of the city's Shiite clerical council, blamed IS, which has carried similar attacks on Shiites in the past, hitting mosques, schools and cultural centers. In the past two years, there were at least 13 attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul alone, he said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the "terrorist" attack that "martyred and wounded the innocent" — students attending class — and ordered an investigation into the attack.

"By targeting educational and cultural centers, terrorists have clearly shown they are against all those Islamic principles (that strive) for both men and women to learn and study," Ghani said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the bombing as a "heinous and cowardly terrorist attack," saying that it "underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice."

The head of the U.N. children's agency denounced the attack, saying it's "deplorable" that children continue to be hardest hit in the growing violence across Afghanistan.

"Children are not, and must never be the target of violence," said UNICEF's executive director Henrietta Fore.

Meanwhile, a Taliban assault on two adjacent checkpoints in northern Afghanistan late on Tuesday night killed at least 30 soldiers and policemen.

The attack took place in Baghlan province's Baghlan-I Markazi district, said Mohammad Safdar Mohseni, the head of the provincial council.

Dilawar Aymaq, a parliamentarian from Baghlan, said the attack targeted a military checkpoint and another manned by the so-called local police, militias recruited and paid by the Interior Ministry.

At least nine security forces were still missing and four others were wounded in the attack, said Abdul Hai Nemati, the governor of Baghlan. He said reinforcements have been dispatched to help recapture the checkpoints.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault.

Life was gradually returning to normal Wednesday in parts of the eastern city of Ghazni after a massive, days-long Taliban attack, though sporadic gunbattles was still underway in some neighborhoods.

The Taliban launched a coordinated offensive last Friday, overwhelming the city's defenses and capturing several neighborhoods. Afghan forces repelled the initial assault and in recent days have struggled to flush the insurgents out of residential areas where they are holed up.

The United States and NATO launched airstrikes and sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces as they fight for the city, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Afghan capital with a population of some 270,000 people.

At least 35 Ghazni civilians have been killed, said Arif Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The wounded were still arriving at the city's only hospital, which has been overwhelmed by casualties, he added.

Hundreds of people have fled the fighting in Ghazni, which has also killed about 100 members of the Afghan security forces.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in the southern Zabul province early Wednesday, killing four policemen, according to the provincial police chief, Mustafa Mayar.

The Taliban have seized several districts across the country in recent years and carry out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces. The assault on Ghazni was widely seen as a show of force ahead of possible peace talks with the U.S., which has been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 17 years.

Also Wednesday, six children were killed when they tinkered with an unexploded rocket shell, causing it to blow up, said Sarhadi Zwak, spokesman for the governor of the eastern Laghman province. The victims were girls, aged 10-12, who were gathering firewood, he said, blaming the Taliban.

Afghanistan is littered with unexploded ordnance left by decades of war. It is also plagued by roadside bombs planted by insurgents, which are usually intended for government officials or security forces, but often kill and maim civilians.


British media say crash suspect is Briton of Sudanese origin

 

Forensics officers work near the car that crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — British authorities said Wednesday they are considering turning the area around Parliament into a pedestrian zone to prevent future vehicle attacks as police searched three properties for clues about the motivation of a man who plowed a car into cyclists and pedestrians, injuring three.

Local media on Wednesday identified the suspect as Salih Khater, a 29-year-old British citizen of Sudanese origin. Police searched the suspect's apartment in the central England city of Birmingham, as well as another property in the city and a third in Nottingham, about 50 miles away.

A Facebook page for a man of the same name says he lives in Birmingham, works as a shop manager, and has studied at Sudan University of Science and Technology. Coventry University in central England said Khater had studied accounting there between September 2017 and May 2018 but was no longer enrolled.

Ahmed Abdi, a neighbor of Khater in Birmingham, said he recognized him from news footage, "and I was shocked."

"He was very, very quiet and he never spoke to anybody. He would say nothing to nobody," Abdi said.

British authorities do not name suspects until they are formally charged. London's Metropolitan Police force said the suspect was not known to counterterrorism officers or the intelligence services.

The suspect was being held at a London police station as detectives traced the movements of the Ford Fiesta which careered across a road, hitting cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a security barrier at Parliament. Three people were injured, but none remains in hospital.

Detectives say the car was driven from Birmingham to London late Monday, and drove around the area near Parliament for an hour and a half on Tuesday morning before the rush-hour crash.

The incident appears to be the second in less than 18 months in which a vehicle has been used to attack the heart of Britain's government. Over the past two decades authorities have tightened security around Parliament with fences, crash barriers and armed police.

Now the rise of vehicle attacks around the world is triggering calls for traffic to be barred from Parliament Square, currently a busy traffic route.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that the plan presented challenges, but "it's possible to have a design solution that meets the objectives ... in relation to keeping our buildings and our people as safe as we can do, but also not losing what's wonderful about our city which is a vibrant democracy."


Heavy monsoon rains kill 67 in southern India, close airport

An Indian man grazing buffalos tries to cross River Tawi that was flooded following monsoon rains in Jammu, India, Monday, Aug.13. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

New Delhi (AP) — Torrential monsoon rains have disrupted air and train services in the southern Indian state of Kerala where flooding, landslides, house and road bridge collapses have killed more than 60 people in the past week, officials said Wednesday.

The international airport at Kochi, a major port city, suspended flight operations until Saturday after rains flooded the runway.

Authorities asked tourists to stay away from the popular hill station of Munnar in Idukki district because of flooding. Kerala is a popular tourist destination with scenic landscapes, waterfalls and beautiful beaches.

People also have been asked to avoid the Sabarimala hill shrine as the water level in the nearby rain-fed Pampa River was rising. Sabarimala, a Hindu pilgrimage center in mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta district, attracts around 45 million devotees every year.

Krishna Kumar, a relief official, said there's no immediate respite for thousands of people in state-run relief camps with more rain and gusty winds forecast until Saturday.

Heavy rains forced the state authorities to release excess water from dozens of reservoirs, causing floods downstream. The flooding has submerged vast areas in 12 of 14 districts in the state.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Kerala state officials have put the death toll at 67 since Aug. 8.

Monsoon rains kill hundreds of people every year in India. The monsoon season runs from June to September.


New Zealand bans most foreigners from buying homes

A house is pictured for sale in Christchurch, New Zealand in this Aug. 13, 2018, photo. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has banned most foreigners from buying homes as it tries to tackle runaway housing prices.

Previously the housing market was open to investors worldwide, but the government on Wednesday passed legislation that allows only New Zealand residents to buy homes.

In recent years, there have been many anecdotal stories of wealthy foreigners from Silicon Valley and beyond buying ranches in picturesque rural New Zealand as a "bolt hole" or escape option from a turbulent world.

There have also been stories of wealthy Chinese buyers outbidding New Zealanders on suburban homes in the main city of Auckland.

Statistics indicate about 3 percent of New Zealand homes are being sold to foreigners, but the amount rises to 5 percent in the scenic Queenstown region and 22 percent in central Auckland.

Last month, the directors of the International Monetary Fund executive board said they encouraged New Zealand to reconsider the ban, which they thought would be unlikely to improve housing affordability.

But the government says there is no doubt that foreigners are driving up prices, and the only question that remains is by how much. The new law fulfils a campaign pledge by the liberal-led government which came to power last year.

There are some exceptions. Foreigners with New Zealand residency status will still be able to buy homes, as will people from Australia and Singapore, thanks to existing free-trade agreements.

Foreigners who already own homes in New Zealand won't be affected. And overseas buyers will still be able to make limited investments in large apartment blocks and hotels.

"We're here today to take another step toward restoring the great New Zealand dream of home ownership," said Associate Finance Minister David Parker.

He said it was the birthright of New Zealanders to buy homes at a fair price.

"This government believes that New Zealanders should not be outbid by wealthier foreign buyers," Parker said. "Whether it's a beautiful lakeside or oceanfront estate, or a modest suburban house, this law ensures that the market for our homes is set in New Zealand, not on the international market."

Opposition lawmaker Judith Collins said the bill was unnecessary.

"We oppose the bill because we don't believe that it actually fixes any problem," Collins said. "It is, in fact, nothing more than an attempt to justify some of the policies of the incoming government."

Skyrocketing home prices in Auckland have been of particular concern to New Zealanders, although that market has cooled over the past year. Still, prices there remain among the most expensive in the world when compared with people's incomes.

Figures released Wednesday by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand indicate the median house price in Auckland is 835,000 New Zealand dollars (US$547,000) while the median price across the country is NZ$550,000 (US$361,000).

In June, officials decided that former "Today" show host Matt Lauer could keep a lakeside ranch near Queenstown after authorities concluded there wasn't enough evidence he'd breached a "good character" condition.

Lauer has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least three women and was fired from NBC last November.


Cambodian election results give ruling party sweep of seats

 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is shown in this Aug. 1, 2018, file photo. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party has won all 125 seats in the National Assembly, official results released Wednesday by the state election board confirmed.

An announcement by the state National Election Committee showed that the Cambodian People's Party had swept the polls, ensuring that Hun Sen, who has held power for 33 years, will receive another five-year term.

Both the legitimacy and the results of the polls had already been challenged by Hun Sen's opponents, who say the July 29 vote was not fair because the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the only credible opposition force, was disbanded last year by court order after a complaint by the government.

Critics also were skeptical about the July 29 vote itself. The former leaders of the opposition CNRP called for a voter boycott of the election, but the official turnout was a high 83 percent. Hun Sen's party also won more than two-thirds of the vote in every province.

Nineteen parties had competed against Hun Sen's CPP, but almost all were vanity vehicles or groups serving as window-dressing to give the illusion of democratic choice.

The new parliament is to convene on Sept. 5, and the next government is to be installed on Sept. 6.

"This result shows that our compatriots fully believed in the right leadership of the Cambodian People's Party which is led by Prime Minister Hun Sen," Hun Sen said on his Facebook page after the announcement of the official results, adding that voting for his party meant voting for peace and development for the entire country.

He called the July 29 election free and fair and said it was conducted according to the principle of democracy.

In a speech earlier Wednesday to thousands of garment workers, Hun Sen said he wanted to hold a meeting with the leaders of the 19 other parties that contested the election, and was considering offering them positions as government advisers or senior posts in various ministries.

Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled founder of the opposition CNRP and Hun Sen's chief political nemesis, said the official voting results were fraudulent.

On his Facebook page, he said Wednesday that the vote totals were inflated by 2 million — purportedly cast in the names of people who did not go to the polls — and that all those votes were counted as being for the ruling CPP.

He said the National Election Committee "was able to play all sorts of tricks because, after the forceful dissolution of the CNRP, the election body was placed under the absolute control of the CPP. There were no independent and credible observers and no CNRP representatives to monitor this election."

Several established poll-watching groups — as well as national contingents from the United States and the European Union — declined to take part because they felt the polls were not legitimate. One of the bigger Cambodian groups participating in poll-watching was led by one of Hun Sen's sons.

Hun Sen's party was alarmed by the results of the last general election in 2013, when the race was close enough for the opposition to claim that it would have won had it not been for manipulation of the voter registration process.

Cambodia's Supreme Court last November ordered the opposition CNRP dissolved on the pretext that it had conspired with the United States to overthrow the government. It banned its leaders from holding office for five years and expelled its members from the elective positions they held. Sam Rainy already was in exile and the other party founder was in jail awaiting trial on the treason charge.

Hun Sen's government also silenced critical voices in the media. Over the past year, about 30 radio stations shut down and two English-language newspapers that provided serious reporting were gutted, one forced to close and the other put under ownership friendly to the government.

After initial election results were earlier announced, the United States said it regretted the "flawed elections" and would consider its response, including expanding visa restrictions that were announced in December.

A statement from the White House press secretary's office said the U.S. was disappointed in the government's decision to disenfranchise voters, citing the exclusion of the principal opposition party, the jailing and banning of its officials, and threats to punish nonvoters.


Update August 15, 2018

Cars plunge in Italian highway bridge collapse; 25 killed

A view of the Morandi highway bridge after a section of it collapsed, in Genoa, northern Italy, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Colleen Barry

Milan (AP) — A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed Tuesday in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 45 meters into a heap of rubble. The city's mayor said at least 25 people were killed, although some people were found alive in the debris.

A huge section of the Morandi Bridge fell at midday over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete onto warehouses below. Photos from the Italian news agency ANSA showed a massive gap between two sections of the bridge.

The head of Italy's civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said 30-35 cars and three heavy trucks were on the 80-meter section of the bridge that collapsed.

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency officials were searching for survivors in the rubble with heavy equipment. Firefighters said at least two people were pulled alive from vehicles and taken by helicopter to a hospital.

Video of the collapse captured a man screaming: "Oh, God! Oh, God!" Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the edge and the tires of a tractor trailer in the rubble.

There was confusion over the exact death toll, which kept rising during the day.

Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci told Sky TG24 that the number of dead was above 25 people and that 11 injured were pulled from the rubble. Two other officials earlier put the death toll at 22 with 13 injured but said it was expected to rise.

Borrelli told a news conference in Rome that all the victims appeared to all have been in vehicles that fell from the bridge.

The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France, and northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.

The collapse also came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary. It's the high point of the Italian summer holiday season, when most cities and business are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains. That means traffic could have been heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.

The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is just over a kilometer long.

Borrelli said highway engineers were checking other parts of the bridge and that some areas were being evacuated as a precaution. He said they were still trying to figure out the reason for the collapse.

"You can see there are very big portions of the bridge (that collapsed). We need to remove all of the rubble to ascertain that all of the people have been reached," he said, adding that more than 280 rescue workers and dogs units were on the scene.

"Operations are ongoing to extract people imprisoned below parts of the bridge and twisted metal," he said.

Borrelli said there was no construction going on at the time on the bridge.

Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.

Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli called the collapse "an enormous tragedy."

ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later in the day.

"We are following minute by minute the situation," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron offered his country's help in a phone call with Conte.

It was the second deadly disaster on an Italian highway in as many weeks.

On Aug. 6, another major accident occurred on an Italian highway near the northern city of Bologna. A tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck and getting hit from behind. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.


UK police treat Parliament crash as terrorism, man arrested

A police woman patrols on Westminster Bridge after a car crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless

London (AP) — A car plowed into pedestrians and cyclists near the Houses of Parliament in London during the morning rush hour Tuesday, injuring three people in what police suspect is the latest in a string of attacks in the British capital that used vehicles as weapons.

A rooftop camera recorded the car driving past Parliament and suddenly veering sharply to the left, striking cyclists waiting at a set of lights before crossing the road and crashing into a barrier outside Parliament. Armed police surrounded the car within seconds, pulling a man from the vehicle.

Police said the driver, a man in his late 20s, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses. He was alone and no weapons were found in the car.

"Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident," Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police told reporters outside Scotland Yard.

Police flooded the area after the incident was reported at 7:37 a.m., cordoning off streets surrounding the heart of Britain's government. The nearby Westminster subway station was closed, and police asked people to stay away from the area, which is filled with government offices and major tourist attractions including Westminster Abbey.

Most of the cordons were lifted by mid-afternoon, apart from a stretch of road right outside Parliament, where forensics officers in blue coveralls collected evidence from the crashed Ford Fiesta.

The suspect was not cooperating with police, and officers were working to confirm his identity, said Basu, who oversees U.K. counterterrorism policing. No other suspects have been identified and police believe there is no further threat to Londoners, he said.

Basu said "we don't believe this individual was known" to police or Britain's intelligence services.

Eyewitnesses said the silver car was traveling at high speed when it hit pedestrians and cyclists, then crashed into a barrier designed to protect Parliament from vehicle attack. Two people were taken to local hospitals and another was treated at the scene. One woman remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon, but her injuries aren't believed to be life threatening, authorities said.

"The car drove at speed into the barriers outside the House of Lords. There was a loud bang from the collision and a bit of smoke," Ewelina Ochab told The Associated Press. "The driver did not get out. The guards started screaming to people to move away."

Jason Williams also saw a car moving at high speed.

"It didn't look like an accident," he said. "How do you do that by accident?"

Donovan Parsons, a cameraman for ITV's "Good Morning Britain," was filming outside Parliament when he heard a loud crash.

"I saw the car crash into the barrier outside Westminster Palace, with smoke coming out of the vehicle. Police were around it, telling people to get back. ... They dragged someone out of the car."

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: "My thoughts are with those injured in the incident in Westminster and my thanks to the emergency services for their immediate and courageous response."

U.S. President Donald Trump was less measured, tweeting that the crash was "another terrorist attack in London."

Trump added: "These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!"

Trump has a history of tweeting about violence, or alleged violence, in London. He angered many when he said a London hospital was like a war zone because of knife violence.

Parliament has been a target for attacks several times over the years, and security has grown progressively tighter. Concrete and steel barriers protect against vehicle attacks, armed police officers patrol the grounds and visitors undergo airport-style security screening.

Since a series of vehicle attacks in London last year, concrete barriers or bollards have been erected along bridges and beside some major roads to prevent cars mounting the sidewalk to hit pedestrians.

The House of Commons and House of Lords are on their summer break, so lawmakers and some of their staff are not currently working in the building.

Parliament was the site of an attack in March 2017, when Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing four people. Masood abandoned his car and then stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot dead in a courtyard outside Parliament.

Less than three months later, a van rammed into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men abandoned the vehicle and attacked weekend revelers in the nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured in the attack.

On June 19, 2017, a man drove a van into a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque in north London, killing one man and injuring eight others.

The official terrorist threat level for Britain is "severe," indicating an attack is considered highly likely.


With gun salutes, Pakistan marks 71 years of independence

Students visit the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, to celebrate the 71st Independence Day in Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistan kicked off a day of celebrations Tuesday to mark the country's 71 years of statehood and independence.

This year, the anniversary comes amid political change with a new government taking over following the July 25 general elections. Pakistan's former cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan is to become the next prime minister.

President Mamnoon Hussain hoisted the national flag at a ceremony in Islamabad while Pakistanis across the country raised the banner at their homes and on their cars.

Fireworks erupted over the capital, Islamabad, at midnight on Monday, ushering in the festivities. During the day, gun salutes were held in Islamabad and the four provincial capitals.

Festive rallies and school functions were also taking place.

Pakistan gained independence when British left India and split the subcontinent in 1947.


Indian rupee falls to all-time low against dollar

In this Nov. 11, 2016 file photo, a shopkeeper in Jammu, India prepares a garland with Indian 10 Rupees denomination notes used particularly to garland grooms on their wedding day. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Tim Sullivan

New Delhi (AP) — The Indian rupee fell to an all-time low Tuesday against the U.S. dollar amid worries that Turkey's growing financial crisis could spread to other developing-world economies.

Indian Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chander Garg told reporters that there was "nothing at this stage to worry" about after the rupee reached 70.1 to the dollar earlier in the day. He said the dip resulted from "external factors."

The rupee ended the day at 69.93 per dollar, down 110 paise or 1.6 percent. It was the currency's biggest one-day drop in five years. The rupee has lost about 8 percent of its value this year.

Garg said the country had sufficient foreign exchange reserves to weather the downturn.

Turkey's central bank has been unable to stop a sharp plunge in the lira, pushing the value of the dollar higher and driving down emerging-market currencies from South Africa to Mexico.

Rajnish Kumar, chairman of the State Bank of India, said he believed the rupee would stabilize at around 69-70 to the dollar, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Turkey's economy has been troubled for years, but the latest crisis was set off by worries over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's economic policies and a trade dispute with the United States. Turkey's government has so far refused to raise interest rates to prop up the currency, fearing a political backlash if it causes the economy to slow.

The falling rupee, which will make Indian exports cheaper on overseas markets, was welcomed by one of India's top industrialists.

"With this boost to India's export competitiveness could we now convince global companies that it's time to switch to India for world-scale, export-focused manufacturing?" Anand Mahindra, the executive chairman of the Mahindra Group, said on Twitter. Mahindra's interests range from cars to construction equipment to insurance.

India's manufacturing economy has long been overshadowed by China's.


Swedish leader voices anger after dozens of cars are burned

Burned cars are shown parked at Frolunda Square in Gothenburg, Tuesday, Aug. 14. (Adam Ihse/TT via AP)

Jan M. Olsen

Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) — Masked youths torched dozens of cars overnight in Sweden and threw rocks at police, prompting an angry response from the prime minister, who denounced an "extremely organized" night of vandalism.

About 80 cars were set ablaze overnight, chiefly in Sweden's second largest city, Goteborg, and nearby Trollhattan, an industrial city, and fires were also reported on a smaller scale in Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, police said Tuesday.

In Trollhattan, northeast of Goteborg, where at least six cars were burned, rocks were also thrown at police and roads were blocked. Goteborg is 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Stockholm.

Police noted the fires started within a short period of time and believe "there is a connection between the blazes."

"As of now we have no motive whatsoever," police spokesman Christer Fuxborg told The Associated Press. "Our theory is that the fires have somehow been coordinated on social media like Snapchat but we do not know why."

Local newspaper Goteborg-Posten noted police in recent days have been active in pursuing drug dealers in Frolunda, a suburb of Goteborg where of some the fires took place.

"Honestly we do not know whether this has something to do with it," Fuxborg said.

Photos posted by Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet showed black-clad men torching cars on a parking lot near Goteborg.

Sweden's news agency TT said witnesses had seen "masked youngsters" running away.

Several youths that police met at the scene have been identified.

"We have spoken with them but we cannot conclude they started the fires. We also have spoken with their parents," Fuxborg said, adding police were in the early stages of the investigation.

Two people, aged 16 and 21 and living in Frolunda were detained for questioning, Fuxborg said. They later were formally arrested on suspicion of arson. More suspects likely could be detained.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lashed out at the perpetrators, asking them: "What the heck are you doing?"

In an interview on Swedish radio, he said he was "really getting mad" and that "society must react in a tough manner." He said the fires seemed to be "extremely organized."

No injuries have been reported. However, the fires occupy police and rescue officials and frighten residents.

"You damage residential areas and ruin it for your neighbors," Lofven said.

"I am speechless. This so terrible, it's destructive and it's pure evil," Jonas Ransgaard, a member of the Goteborg City council, told local daily Goteborgs-Posten.
 


Update August 14, 2018

Malaysia eyes more than 10-fold hike in Singapore water deal

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is interviewed in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Monday, Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Adam Schreck

Putrajaya, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's prime minister said Monday he is seeking to hike the price of water sold to the neighboring country of Singapore by more than ten times as his country searches for ways to pay off massive debts.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who shot back to power in an electoral upset in May, told The Associated Press that a decades-old treaty governing the water agreement needs to be revised to reflect increases in the cost of living.

The water deal has long been a point of contention between the two countries. Mahathir said in June he wants to renegotiate the deal.

Malaysia currently sells water to Singapore at 3 sen (0.7 U.S. cents) per thousand gallons and buys treated water at 50 sen (12 cents) per thousand gallons.

Mahathir said that by comparison, the southern Malaysian state of Johor sells water to the neighboring state of Melaka at 30 sen per 1,000 gallons — a rate he described as "charitable" given that it's a domestic deal.

"To a foreign country, we need to get more than that," he said. He declined to discuss specifics, citing ongoing negotiations.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said his country will live up to the agreement and expects Malaysia to do the same.

Mahathir also continued to cast doubt on the value of a high-speed rail project linking the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to the wealthy island city-state. He announced the cancellation of the project in May as part of a wider review of big-ticket infrastructure deals reached under his predecessor, Najib Razak, though the government has since reconsidered and is trying to renegotiate the terms.

"We cannot afford it. If the price is brought down within our means, then maybe we'll go ahead," he said Monday. He added, though, that it would be preferable to improve existing train lines to improve travel times.


Death toll from quake that hit Indonesian island passes 430

Indonesian men carry the body of a victim of last week's earthquake past a damaged building during a funeral in Gangga, Lombok Island, Indonesia, Sunday, Aug. 12. (AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — The death toll from the earthquake that rocked the Indonesian island of Lombok a week ago has passed 430 and the government is estimating economic losses will exceed several hundred million dollars.

The national disaster agency said Monday the Aug. 5 quake killed 436 people, most of whom died in collapsing buildings.

It said damage to homes, infrastructure and other property is at least 5 trillion rupiah ($342 million), calling that a temporary figure that will rise as more assessments are made. The agency said rebuilding will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The magnitude 7.0 quake flattened thousands of homes and according to the disaster agency's latest estimate has displaced about 350,000 people.

"The damage and losses are very large," said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"When all data has been collected later, the amount will be greater. It needs trillions of rupiah (hundreds of millions of dollars) for rehabilitation and reconstruction. It will take time to restore community life and economic development," he said.

Nugroho said damaged roads were hindering access to isolated mountainous areas and helicopters had been deployed by the disaster agency, the military and the search and rescue agency to distribute aid.

Lombok, a popular but less developed tourist destination than neighboring Bali, was hit by three strong quakes in little over a week and has endured more than 500 aftershocks.

A July 29 quake killed 16 people. An aftershock measuring magnitude 5.9 on Thursday caused panic, more damage and more than two dozen injuries.


Turkey tries to contain crisis but currency keeps falling

An oversized copy of a 200 Turkish lira banknote, featuring a photo of modern turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decorates a currency exchange shop in Istanbul, Monday, Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Suzan Fraser

Ankara, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's central bank took action Monday to free up cash for banks as the country grapples with a currency crisis sparked by concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's economic policies and a trade and diplomatic dispute with the United States.

The Turkish lira has nosedived over the past week, accelerating a months-long decline, and tumbled another 7 percent on Monday as the central bank's measures failed to restore market confidence.

Investors are worried about a confluence of factors: the country's reliance on foreign loans that may stop flowing in as interest rates rise in other economies, like the U.S.; Erdogan's insistence that the central bank not raise interest rates, as most independent analysts say it should; and a spat with the U.S. that has led to sanctions and the fear of greater isolation from longtime allies in the West.

The uncertainty pushed down world stock markets and briefly caused a sharp drop in the currencies of other emerging countries, like South Africa and India, amid concerns that investors might see similar problems in their economies.

The lira hit a record low of 7.23 per dollar late Sunday after Erdogan remained defiant in his economic policies and the standoff against the United States, a NATO ally.

"Turkey is faced with an economic siege," Erdogan said Monday, in the latest of a series of speeches. "We are taking the necessary steps against these attacks and will continue to do so."

He has threatened to seek new alliances — a veiled hint at closer ties with Russia — and warned of drastic measures if businesses withdraw foreign currency from banks.

Erdogan also ruled out the possibility of higher interest rates, as they can slow economic growth. But independent analysts say higher rates are needed urgently to stabilize the currency and Erdogan's hard line is one of the reasons investors are worrying.

Erdogan won a second term in office in June under a new system of government that gives him sweeping powers. He has used his new power to put pressure on the central bank to not raise rates.

On Monday, the central bank announced a series of measures to "provide all the liquidity the banks need" — but offered no hint of a rate increase.

The moves are meant to grease the financial system, ease worries about trouble at banks and keep them providing loans to people and businesses.

In times of high uncertainty, banks tend to shy away from lending to each other. A so-called credit crunch, a lack of daily liquidity, can cause a bank to collapse.

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said the central bank's measures are unlikely to be enough. In the absence of a decisive rate increase, he said, "it is...hard to look at these announcements as being anything more than temporary calming measures, rather than solutions to the problems at hand."

The lira has now dropped some 45 percent this year.

Part of the concerns about Turkey are the same as other emerging markets. As interest rates rise in the U.S., investors pull their money out of countries that had enjoyed strong economic growth but are perceived as somewhat riskier.

Turkey's situation is among the most precarious among emerging markets because so much of its growth was fueled with debt in foreign currencies. That makes the currency drop so much more painful as it will increase the cost of servicing debt for Turkish companies and banks and could lead to bankruptcies.

So far, the impact on developed economies has been relatively contained. Stocks have fallen modestly in the U.S. and Europe since last week, but analysts do not see a big risk of financial turmoil. A few European banks have business there that could lead to losses, but that is not expected to pose a systemic danger to the region.

Among the most important things investors are watching out for is whether Turkey, in an effort to stymie the outflow of capital from the country, puts limits on money flows.

Berat Albayrak, Turkey's finance chief — and Erdogan's son-in-law — said Sunday that the government had no plans to seize foreign currency deposits or convert deposits to the Turkish lira. He said it had readied an "action plan," without elaborating.

The country's economic trouble has been heightened by a dispute with the U.S. that has centered on the continued detention of an American pastor who is on trial for espionage and terror-related charges. The U.S. has responded by slapping financial sanctions on two ministers and later doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday that the United States would not achieve aims by exerting pressure and imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Addressing a conference in Ankara gathering Turkish ambassadors, he called on Washington to "remain loyal to ties based on traditional friendship and NATO alliance" with Turkey.

Meanwhile, Turkey moved to take legal action against hundreds of social media accounts it accused of provoking the lira's plunge.

The Interior Ministry said it initiated legal investigations against 346 social media accounts "which posted content provoking the dollar exchange rate."

It did not provide information on the accounts but said they aimed to "manipulate the dollar rate and form negative perceptions" concerning the Turkish economy.

The Istanbul Public Prosecutor's office announced it had begun investigating "those who had taken actions which threatened economic stability." The Capital Markets Board of Turkey issued a similar warning to those who spread "lies, false or misleading information, news or analysis."


120 Afghan forces, civilians killed in battle with Taliban

In this Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, photo, Afghan Security personnel patrol in the city of Ghazni province west of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mohammad Anwar Danishyar)

Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — Four days of ferocious fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban over a key provincial capital has claimed the lives of about 100 Afghan policemen and soldiers and at least 20 civilians, the defense minister said Monday.

The staggering numbers provided by Gen. Tareq Shah Bahrami were the first official casualty toll since the Taliban launched a massive assault on Ghazni, the capital of Ghazni province, last Friday.

The multi-pronged assault overwhelmed the city's defenses and allowed insurgents to capture several parts of it. It was a major show of force by the Taliban, who infiltrated deep into this strategic city barely 120 kilometers from the capital, Kabul.

The United States has sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces.

The fall of Ghazni, a city of 270,000 people, would mark an important victory for the Taliban. It would also cut off a key highway linking Kabul to the southern provinces, the Taliban's traditional heartland.

Bahrami, the defense minister, spoke to reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Monday. He said the casualty figures are not yet definite and that the numbers might change. He didn't offer a breakdown of the casualties but Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said nearly 70 policemen were among those killed.

Bahrami said about 1,000 additional troops have been sent to Ghazni and helped prevent the city from falling into Taliban hands. He also said 194 insurgents, including 12 leaders, were killed — with Pakistani, Chechen and Arabs foreign fighters among the dead.

The Taliban have inflicted huge damages on the city, especially Ghazni's historic parts and cultural heritage, Bahrami said, adding that he believes the next 24 hours would turn the tide in the battle.

Barmak, the interior minister, said top security and government officials, as well as the military chief of staff were now in Ghazni, leading the "clearing up operations" in different parts of the city."

The attack began on Friday, with insurgents infiltrating people's homes and slipping out into the night to attack Afghan forces in Ghazni.

The Taliban also destroyed a telecommunications tower on Ghazni's outskirts, cutting off all landline and cellphone links to the city and making it difficult to confirm details of the fighting.

Afghan authorities have insisted that the city would not fall to the Taliban and that Afghan forces remained in control of key government positions and other institutions there.

Col. Fared Mashal, the province's police chief, said the majority of the insurgents fighting in Ghazni are foreigners, including Pakistanis and Chechens. "The Taliban have failed in reaching their goal," Mashal added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians have fled from the city.

One of them, 60-year-old Ghulam Mustafa, made it to neighboring Maidan Wardak province with 14 of his family members.

"The city became so dangerous," he told The Associated Press.  "Ghazni has become a ghost city."

Mustafa's wife Razia said they had no food, water or and electricity for the past four days. "There were so many dead bodies under the bridges, at the side of roads and under the destroyed houses," she said.

A 14-year-old girl, Fereshta, who only goes by one name, said when the Taliban entered Ghazni, it was the first time in her life that she saw the insurgents.

Over the past months, the Taliban have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, but have been unable to capture and hold urban areas.

The United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but have since then repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces as they struggle to combat the resurgent Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is said to be considering a cease-fire offer to the Taliban for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts Aug. 21. A three-day holiday cease-fire in June brought rare quiet to much of the country, but the insurgents rejected a government request to extend it.

Instead, the Taliban appear intent on seeking a position of strength ahead of expected talks with the United States, which has been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 17 years.

The Taliban say they met with Alice Wells, the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia, in Qatar last month for preliminary talks. Washington neither confirmed nor denied the meeting, but acknowledged Wells was in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an office. The Taliban said they expect another round of talks.

As part of an effort to bolster Afghan fighting strength, the U.S. earlier this year sent more military advisers to Afghanistan. It also shifted A-10 attack planes and other aircraft from striking Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. These and other moves boosted the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500 to a total of more than 14,000.

The United Nations has expressed its concerns for the civilians caught up in the fighting in Ghazni.

Ghazni's residents "have seen their city turn into a battlefield since Friday morning, with fighting and clashes reportedly still ongoing. We have received initial reports of a number of civilian casualties and of people trying to reach safe areas outside of the city," said Rik Peeperkorn, acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

Ghazni's hospitals are running out of medicines and people are unable to safely bring casualties, Peeperkorn's statement added. Electricity, water supply and food are also running low, the statement said.

"Parties to the conflict need to ensure that access to medical services is not denied and respect for medical facilities and staff is upheld," Peeperkom said.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association jointly put out a statement condemning the violence in Ghazni and attacks on journalists there.

Media technician Mohammad Dawood was among those killed in Ghazni, the statement said, and also condemned the torching of Ghazni's radio and television station.


3 WWII bombs removed from Baltic Sea resort in Poland

Navy explosives experts retrieve three World War II-era bombs from the Baltic Sea bed in the vacation resort of Kolobrzeg, Poland, on Monday, 13 August. (AP Photo/Sekcja Prasowa 8.Flotylla Obrony Wybrzeża)

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — More than 2,000 people were evacuated Monday while Polish navy experts removed three World War II bombs from the Baltic Sea bed at the vacation resort of Kolobrzeg.

The spokesman for the local navy unit, Jacek Kwiatkowski, said the bombs were hoisted out of the sea and onto a special truck and were taken to a test range for a controlled detonation.

Each bomb weighed about 300 kilograms and their impact radius was estimated at 2 kilometers. Two other metal objects found at the site turned out to be parts of an old anchor and some scrap metal.

Dariusz Trzeciak, a Kolobrzeg city official, said about 2,000 residents and 200 vacationers were evacuated in their own cars or in buses. They were later allowed to return.

Kolobrzeg, which was part of Germany during the war, was the site of fierce fighting in the war's last phase.


Update August 13, 2018

Tens of thousands rally for removal of US base off Okinawa

Protesters display signs against a planned U.S military base relocation during a rally in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, on the southern Japanese island Saturday, Aug. 11. (Koji Harada/Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters in Okinawa vowed to stop the planned relocation of a U.S military base, saying they want it off the southern Japanese island entirely.

Opponents of the relocation say the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded neighborhood to a less populated coastal site would not only be an environmental debacle but also ignore local wishes to remove the base.

About 70,000 people gathered Saturday at a park in the state capital of Naha under pouring rain ahead of an approaching typhoon and observed a moment of silence for Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, who died Wednesday of cancer.

Onaga, elected in 2014, had spearheaded opposition to the relocation and criticized the central government for ignoring the voices of Okinawans. He had filed lawsuits against the central government and said he planned to revoke a landfill permit issued by his predecessor that is needed for construction of the new base.

Deputy Gov. Kiichiro Jahana, representing Onaga at Saturday's rally, said he will follow through with the revocation process as instructed by the governor and succeed his "strong determination and passion."

Okinawans are trying to block the government plan to start dumping soil into Henoko Bay within days to make a landfill for the new site of the Futenma base. Environmental groups say construction at the bay risks corals and endangered dugongs.

The protesters held up signs saying "Henoko new base, NO!" and "Okinawans will not give up," as they chanted slogans. They also adopted a resolution demanding the central government to immediately scrap the relocation plan.

Japan's government says the current plan is the only solution, but many Okinawans want the base off the island. About half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa.

Onaga had said Tokyo's postwar defense posture under the Japan-U.S. security alliance was built on Okinawa's sacrifice.

The dispute over the Futenma relocation reflects centuries-old tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, which annexed the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of the Ryukus, in 1878. Okinawa was Japan's only home battleground in the final days of World War II, and the island remained under U.S. rule for 20 years longer than the rest of Japan.

Okinawa is still forced to sacrifice for the interest of the mainland, Onaga's son Takeharu, an Okinawa assemblyman, told the rally.

"The (relocation issue) is pushed to Okinawa because nobody on the mainland wants it," he said, urging the rest of the country to also think about the issue. "Let us keep fighting so we can achieve my father's unfinished goal and give him good news."


NASA spacecraft rockets toward sun for closest look yet

This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. It's designed to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that’s capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius). (Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL/NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft zoomed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

As soon as this fall, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, that was visible during last August's total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) of the surface in the years ahead, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible.

No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years," said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including Parker and his family. He proposed the existence of solar wind — a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun — 60 years ago.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him. Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around as it climbed through a clear, star-studded sky. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe — the size of a small car and well under a ton — racing toward the sun.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. He came away impressed, saying it was like looking at the Taj Mahal for years in photos and then beholding "the real thing" in India.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years," Parker said on NASA TV.

NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, was thrilled not only with the launch, but Parker's presence.

"I'm in awe," Zurbuchen said. "What a milestone. Also what's so cool is hanging out with Parker during all this and seeing his emotion, too."

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall.  On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. Zurbuchen expects the data from even this early stage to yield top science papers.

By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour).

Nothing from Planet Earth has ever hit that kind of speed.

Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission's derring-do.

"To me, it's still mind-blowing," she said. "Even I still go, really? We're doing that?"

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe — it's ours, after all — and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions. By better understanding the sun's life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted. In today's tech-dependent society, everyone stands to benefit.

With this first-of-its-kind stellar mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun," Fox said. "We've looked at it. We've studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there."

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. If there's any tilting, the spacecraft will correct itself so nothing gets fried. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA's books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams," Fox said. "It's incredible to be standing here today."

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works," Parker said.


Blast in northern Syria kills at least 36; cause unclear

This photo shows Syrian White Helmet civil defense workers at the scene of an explosion that brought down a five-story building, in the village of Sarmada, near the Turkish border, north Syria, Sunday, Aug. 12. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Beirut (AP) — An explosion in northern Syria killed at least 36 people Sunday and wounded many others, but the cause of the blast wasn't immediately known, opposition activists said.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said the blast occurred in the village of Sarmada near the Turkish border, killing 36 people and wounding many others. The explosion collapsed two five-story buildings, burying many of the victims, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 39, including 21 women and children.

An opposition media collective known as the Smart news agency, said the dead included civilians as well as members of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

The Observatory said an arms depot in the basement of a building had detonated. It said the depot was run by an arms dealer close to the Levant Liberation Committee.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces fighting rebels in Idlib province have sent more reinforcements ahead of a potential offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

The pro-government Al-Watan daily said Sunday that huge military reinforcements have reached the outskirts of Idlib province as a preliminary step to launch a wide-scale offensive.

Quoting military sources, the paper said that troops have reached the northern countryside of the neighboring Hama province as part of military preparations to recapture Idlib province.

The expected offensive on Idlib comes after government forces captured major rebel strongholds earlier this year near the capital Damascus and in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

The paper said that the battle would be "comprehensive" starting from Hama's northern countryside to the southern countryside of Aleppo, adding that the target of the battle is to seize Idlib City.

Government airstrikes on the province on Friday killed dozens.

Pro-government activists said on social media that the elite Tiger Force, led by Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, arrived in northern Syria to spearhead what they called the "Dawn of Idlib" operation.


Manchester police say 10 people injured in shooting

Forensic officers attend the scene of a shooting in the Moss Side area of Manchester, England, Sunday Aug. 12. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

London (AP) — Ten people, including two children, were injured early Sunday morning when shots were fired after a Caribbean carnival in the northern English city of Manchester.

Greater Manchester police said one man is in stable but serious condition at a local hospital with injuries to his legs. The other nine people are being treated for pellet-type wounds suffered in the shooting, which was reported at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

"Thankfully the injuries suffered do not appear to be as serious as first believed, and hopefully people will begin to leave hospital over the course of the day following treatment," Chief Superintendent Wasim Chaudhry said in a statement, urging anyone else who may be injured to seek treatment. "This was a reckless act that could have had devastating consequences with families and friends losing loved ones."

He later added the working hypothesis of authorities is that the pellets came from a shotgun discharge.

"How many times it has been discharged isn't clear at this stage and forms part of our investigation," he said.

The shooting comes amid a spike in gun and knife crime in Britain that has sparked calls for government action in a country where firearms are strictly controlled.


Update August 11-12, 2018

Latest Ebola outbreak more challenging than ever, WHO says

Healthcare workers from the World Health Organization prepare to give an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker in Beni Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday, Aug 10. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro and Carley Petesch

Beni, Congo (AP) — Armed groups, dense populations and mass displacement make Congo's latest deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus more challenging than ever to contain, the World Health Organization's chief said Friday.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke after vaccinations began this week, with support from a U.N. peacekeeping mission, in Congo's restive northeast where multiple rebel groups pose a threat and a heavily traveled border with Uganda is nearby.

Tedros and Congo's health minister on Saturday planned to visit the village where the latest outbreak, Congo's tenth, was declared on Aug. 1. The ministry says 48 cases have been reported, 21 of them confirmed as Ebola, including 11 deaths.

This outbreak is different from the one in Congo's northwest that was declared over a week before this one began, Tedros said. "And that may require actually a stronger response."

The use of the experimental vaccine and a swift international response were key in stopping the earlier outbreak, which killed 33 people. Health officials are using the same strategy now, first vaccinating health workers, contacts of Ebola cases and their contacts while finding and monitoring nearly 1,000 people so far.

"The vaccination alone cannot help," Tedros warned, adding that finding and monitoring people is crucial, along with community awareness programs. WHO has said more than 3,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine are available in Congo.

The region's shifting population poses a challenge. North Kivu province, where most of the cases in the new outbreak have been reported, hosts about 1 million internally displaced persons because of the regional insecurity, according to the U.N.'s migration agency. 

The U.N. refugee agency on Friday said Ebola screenings are being carried out at transit points while an estimated 250 to 300 people a day cross into Uganda seeking refuge. Officials have said travel restrictions in response to the outbreak are not necessary.

Some worried Congolese have called for mass vaccinations in the border region, which the health minister said could not be done.

Others want more security.

"We call on the Congolese army to strengthen their presence and guard convoys of aid workers who are treating Ebola in the Beni region," pastor Gilbert Kambale told The Associated Press.

Civil society groups have pointed out the threat from Allied Democratic Forces rebels who have killed more than 1,500 people in and around Beni in less than two years.


Violence erupts amid Gaza cease-fire, 2 Palestinians killed

Palestinians inspect the damaged building of Said al-Mis'hal cultural center after it was hit bombed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Ian Deitch and Fares Akram

Jerusalem (AP) — Violence erupted at the Gaza border Friday after the territory's militant Islamic Hamas rulers and Israel appeared to be honoring a cease-fire that ended two days of intense violence amid efforts by neighboring Egypt to negotiate between the two sides.

Israel's military said no rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel overnight and it conducted no airstrikes in Gaza against Hamas targets. Israel's government hasn't confirmed the truce.

On Friday evening, however, two Palestinians, including a paramedic, were shot and killed by Israeli fire at a Hamas-led protest along the border, Gaza's Health Ministry said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the deaths.

The military said a tank fired shells at a Hamas positon after Palestinians threw explosive devices and a grenade at forces stationed near the border.

It was not immediately clear whether the Hamas protests at the border were included in cease-fire negotiations.

Hamas' Al Aqsa TV channel reported late Thursday that the Egyptian-brokered deal took hold "on the basis of mutual calm." It was at least the third such truce in recent weeks.

But the deal did not seem to address the deeper issues that have prevented the bitter enemies from reaching a longer cease-fire arrangement.

Gaza militants fired some 200 rockets at Israel and the Israeli military carried out a similar number of airstrikes in Gaza in the latest round of violence this week.

Also on Friday, the Israeli military lifted restrictive recommendations for residents of some areas in southern Israel that it had set amid the Palestinian bombing, including suggestions to avoid open areas and beaches. "Following a security assessment," residents can resume their daily routine, the military said.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. In this week's fighting, the Palestinian Health Ministry said three Palestinians were killed. Israeli officials said seven people were wounded by rocket or mortar fire on the Israeli side.

Israel and Hamas have come close to serious conflict in recent weeks after four months of violence along Gaza's border.

Hamas has led weekly border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza. Large turnout at the protests has also been driven by widespread desperation in Gaza, amid worsening conditions linked to the blockade. Power is on for just a few hours a day, unemployment has sky-rocketed and poverty is widening.

Gaza's Health Ministry said Abdullah al-Qutati, 26, was shot and killed and 70 others were wounded by live fire as thousands protested at the border Friday evening. A 55-year-old Palestinian was also killed, it said.

Another paramedic, Mohammed Suhwail, told The Associated Press he witnessed the shooting. He said after treating wounded al-Qutati " began walking toward the (field hospital) but was shot in the back and the bullet existed from his chest."

Israel has also been battling almost daily airborne arson attacks from Gaza caused by kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices flown across the border that have sparked large fires that destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife and livestock.

Over the past four months, 164 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 121 protesters and three medics according to the Hamas run Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this same period.

Israel says it is defending its border and accuses Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction, of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Palestinians have thrown explosive devices and opened fire at forces along the border in numerous instances over the past few months, the military says. But the high casualty rate among mainly unarmed protesters has drawn international criticism.


Ryanair pilots strike in Germany, 4 other countries

Aircraft of Irish Ryanair airline stand on the tarmac of the Hahn airport, western Germany, Friday, Aug. 10. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — Ryanair pilots in several European countries staged a strike over work conditions on Friday that prompted the budget carrier to cancel 400 flights.

Walkouts called by German and Belgian unions accounted for many of the cancelations, with strikes also called in Sweden and Ireland.

The airline said that over 2,000 flights, or 85 percent of its schedule, would operate as normal and that the majority of passengers affected have been re-booked on other Ryanair services.

German pilot representatives had said this week they were joining the strike action with a 24-hour walkout, ending at 2.59 a.m. Saturday, because they want pay and work conditions comparable to those at Ryanair's competitors.

The company has pointed to recent pay increases and invitations to meet for negotiations. Ryanair urged the unions "to continue negotiations instead of calling any more unjustified strikes."

Ryanair built its low-cost business model without unions, but said last year it would recognize them. Labor representatives are seeking collective-bargaining agreements in the different countries.

The airline has already been hit with strikes by flight attendants in Spain, Portugal and Belgium. Irish pilots have held four strike days.

In the Netherlands, the carrier was using non-striking pilots to keep its service running for passengers. In a tweet Thursday night, the company said that "there will be no cancellations" as a result of the Dutch union's strike.

Ryanair launched unsuccessful legal action in a Dutch court to prevent the strike in the Netherlands.

In Sweden, some 40 Ryanair pilots walked out to demand a collective labor agreement.

Martin Lindgren, head of the Swedish Air Line Pilots Association, said that "a strike is necessary to show the airline that it no longer can avoid treating its employees in a dignified manner."

At Ryanair's main Belgian hub, the Charleroi airport south of Brussels, a few dozen striking pilots gathered in the main terminal behind a banner marked "Ryanair on strike, Ryanair must change."

The Belgian Cockpit Association's Alain Vanalderweireldt said the strike in Belgium "is the conclusion of six months of discussions between Ryanair and the union representatives that has led to nowhere concretely."

While the union wants to apply Belgian labor laws to employees, Ryanair is still applying Irish laws, he said.


UK man pleads guilty to plotting van attack on London street

Pedestrians walk past the House of Fraser department store on Oxford Street in London, Friday, Aug. 10. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

London (AP) — A Muslim convert pleaded guilty Friday to plotting an Islamic State group-inspired van attack on crowds in London's busy Oxford Street shopping district.

During a hearing at London's Central Criminal Court, Lewis Ludlow admitted preparing acts of terrorism and fundraising for the militant group.

Prosecutors say the 26-year-old wrote down his attack plans, saying Oxford Street was an "ideal" target because it was busy and "it is expected nearly 100 could be killed."

Police found the notes ripped up in a garbage bin and pieced them together. Ludlow's list of "potential attack sites" also included the Madame Tussauds wax museum, St Paul's Cathedral and a Shia temple in Romford, east London.

Evidence recovered from Lewis's phone included a video of him swearing allegiance to IS and pictures of crowded areas, which prosecutors said were taken during "hostile reconnaissance."

Ludlow, from Rochester in southern England, was stopped at Heathrow Airport in February as he tried to board a flight to the Philippines, where prosecutors say he planned to join IS militants. They say he later plotted to attack London, and allegedly set up a Facebook account called Antique Collections as a front to send money to militants in the Philippines.

Lewis, who was arrested on April 18, admitted preparing terrorist acts and funding terrorism.

Judge Nicholas Hilliard set sentencing for Nov. 2.


Update August 10, 2018

Third strong earthquake shakes Lombok as death toll tops 300

A girl injured in an earthquake is treated in Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia, Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Andi Jatmiko

Tanjung, Indonesia (AP) — The Indonesian island of Lombok was shaken by a third big earthquake in little more than a week Thursday as the official death toll from the most powerful of the quakes topped 300.

The strong aftershock, measured at magnitude 5.9 by the U.S. Geological Survey, caused panic, damage to buildings, landslides and injuries. It was centered in the northwest of the island and didn't have the potential to cause a tsunami, Indonesia's geological agency said.

Videos showed rubble strewn across streets and clouds of dust enveloping buildings. In northern Lombok, some people leaped from their vehicles on a traffic-jammed road while an elderly woman standing in the back of a pickup truck wailed "God is Great." An Associated Press reporter in the provincial capital, Mataram, saw people injured by the quake and a hospital moving patients outside.

The aftershock caused more "trauma," said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Wiranto, Indonesia's top security minister, told reporters the death toll from Sunday's magnitude 7.0 quake had risen to 319. The announcement came after an inter-agency meeting was called to resolve wildly different figures from various government offices.

"We are taking action as fast as we can to handle this disaster," he said.

Nguroho said in statement that the death toll will continue to rise because rescue workers are still finding victims in the ruins of collapsed buildings and some people who are already buried are not yet included in the official toll.

Grieving relatives were burying their dead and medics tended to people whose broken limbs hadn't yet been treated in the days since the quake. The Red Cross said it was focusing relief efforts on an estimated 20,000 people yet to get any assistance.

In Kopang Daya village in the hard-hit Tanjung district of north Lombok, a distraught family was burying their 13-year-old daughter who was struck by a collapsing wall and then trampled when Sunday's quake caused a stampede at her Islamic boarding school.

Villagers and relatives prayed outside a tent where the girl's body lay covered in a white cloth.

"She was praying when the earthquake happened," said her uncle Tarna, who gave a single name. "She was trying to get out, but she got hit by a wall and fell down. Children were running out from the building in panic and she was stepped on by her friends."

Nearly 68,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Sunday's quake and 270,000 people are homeless or otherwise displaced, according to the disaster agency's latest update.

"People are always saying they need water and tarps," said Indonesian Red Cross spokesman Arifin Hadi. He said the agency has sent 20 water trucks to five remote areas, including one village of about 1,200 households.

In Kopang Daya, injured villagers got their first proper treatment Thursday after medics arrived with a portable X-ray machine and other supplies. They tended to an elderly woman with an injured face and hips who had been knocked over by her grandson as they scrambled from their house.

"Her son managed to get out from the house when the earthquake hit but the grandmother and grandson were left behind," said a relative, Nani Wijayanti. "The grandson tried to help the grandmother to get out but he pushed too hard."

A July 29 quake on Lombok killed 16 people.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Wiranto, who goes by one name, said the government will develop a plan to rebuild communities on Lombok, which like its more famous neighbor Bali is a popular tourist destination with powder white beaches, mountains and a lush interior.

"We will make a new roadmap for what we are going to do after this emergency response is finished," he said. "For example, how we can deal with the number of damaged houses, mosques, schools, hospitals. Who will rebuild and how much money and how long it takes."


Hamas says Gaza cease-fire reached with Israel

 

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on a building of Said al-Mis'hal cultural center in Gaza City, Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo/Arafat Kareem)

Josef Federman

Jerusalem (AP) — Gaza's Hamas rulers said late Thursday that a truce had been reached with Israel, ending an intense two-day burst of violence that had pushed the region closer to war. But the deal did not appear to address the deeper issues that have prevented the bitter enemies from reaching a longer cease-fire arrangement.

Hamas' Al Aqsa TV channel reported late Thursday that the Egyptian-brokered deal has taken hold "on the basis of mutual calm." It said the deal was mediated by Egypt and other unidentified regional players.

A senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the agreement merely ended the latest round of violence, in which Gaza militants fired some 200 rockets at Israel and the Israeli military carried out a similar number of airstrikes in Gaza. He said Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between the sides, would continue the more difficult task of brokering a long-term cease-fire.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, denied a deal had been reached. But early Friday, the situation in Gaza appeared quiet.

The Hamas announcement came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Security Cabinet ordered the army to take unspecified "strong action" against Gaza militants as the military reinforced units along the border.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. In this week's fighting, the Palestinian Health Ministry said three Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her 1-year-old daughter and a Hamas militant, were killed in separate airstrikes. Israeli officials said seven people were wounded by rocket or mortar fire on the Israeli side.

At times, Thursday's fighting resembled the 2014 war. In Israel, air raid sirens warning of incoming rocket fire wailed in southern Israel overnight and throughout the day, sending families scrambling into bomb shelters, canceling outdoor summer cultural events and forcing summer camps indoors. The Israeli air force, meanwhile, pounded targets across Gaza.

A Palestinian rocket struck the southern city of Beersheba late in the afternoon, landing in an open area. It was the first time a rocket had hit the city since the 2014 war.

Shortly after, an Israeli airstrike flattened the five-story cultural center in the Shati refugee camp, a crowded neighborhood of Gaza City. The airstrike set off a powerful explosion and sent a huge plume of black smoke into the air, causing crowds to scream in panic. Medical officials said at least seven bystanders were wounded.

The building is home to a popular theater and exhibits plays and other shows on a daily basis. An Egyptian-Palestinian cultural society also has an office in the building.

"The deliberate targeting of a cultural center with airstrikes and destruction ... is a barbaric act," said Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman. He said the destruction of the Egyptian cultural office was "an Israeli attempt to sabotage" the Egyptian cease-fire efforts.

The Israeli military said the building served as a Palestinian military installation. Hamas' Interior Ministry, including its secret police, has offices in an adjacent site, but those offices were not hit.

Despite the animosity, the enemies have signaled, through their contacts with Egypt, that they want to avoid another war. Reaching a deal, however, will likely require major concession on both sides.

Hamas is demanding the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has devastated Gaza's economy, while Israel wants an end to rocket fire, as well as recent border protests and launches of incendiary balloons, and the return of the remains of two dead soldiers and two Israelis believed to be alive and held by Hamas.

Israel is believed to be offering an easing, but not an end, to the blockade.

Gaza's Health Ministry identified those killed in the airstrikes as 23-year-old Enas Khamash and her daughter Bayan, as well as a Hamas fighter, Ali Ghandour.

Kamal Khamash, the woman's brother-in-law, said the family was asleep when the projectile hit the house, and that her husband had been critically wounded. "This is a blatant crime and Israel is responsible for it," he said.

In southern Israel, two Thai laborers were among the seven wounded, and rockets damaged buildings in the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. The military said it intercepted some 30 rockets, while most of the others landed in open areas.

At the United Nations, Israel's ambassador, Danny Danon, urged the secretary-general and U.N. Security Council to condemn Hamas militants for what he called "the unprovoked terrorist attack" on southern Israel.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said U.S. officials were concerned by the situation in Gaza.

"Overall, we condemn the launching of missile attacks into Israel, and call for an end to the destructive violence. We've seen reports that 180 or so rocket attacks have taken place, shot from Gaza into Israel, and we fully support Israel's right to defend itself, and to take actions to prevent provocations of that nature," Nauert said.

Tension along the Israel-Gaza border has escalated since late March, when Hamas launched what have become regular mass protests along Israel's perimeter fence with Gaza. The protests have been aimed in part at trying to break the blockade.

Israel and Hamas have engaged in several bouts of fighting over the past month. The latest round erupted Tuesday, when the Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in Gaza after it said militants fired on Israeli troops on the border. Hamas said two of its fighters were killed after taking part in a gunfire parade inside a militant camp.

Hamas officials said the group waited a day to retaliate until a group of senior leaders visiting from abroad had left the territory. The delegation was in Gaza to discuss the cease-fire efforts with local leaders.

Over the past four months, 163 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 protesters, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.

Israel says it has been defending its sovereign border against infiltration attempts by Hamas. But it has come under heavy international criticism for its frequent use of force against unarmed protesters.


Landslides caused by monsoon rains kill 19 in southern India

Water gushes out following heavy rain and landslide in Kozhikode, Kerala state, India, Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo)

New Delhi (AP) — Landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 19 people in southern India, cutting off road links and submerging several villages.

Kerala state's disaster management agency said 11 deaths have been reported since Wednesday from Idukki district alone. Many areas are submerged after authorities opened the sluice gates of an overflowing Idamalayar dam.

Wayanad district has been completely cut off by landslides and the state government has sought the army's help to restore the road network to the hill district.

At least 58 people were killed by flooding and house collapses in northern Uttar Pradesh state two weeks ago.

Monsoon rains kill hundreds of people every year in India through house collapses and flooding of wide swaths of land. The monsoon season runs from June to September.


Australian man arrested in Bali on cocaine charges

Police officers escort an Australian man identified only as Brandon at a local police headquarters in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo/Nyoman Hendra)

Denpasar, Indonesia (AP) — An Australian man faces up to 20 years in prison in Indonesia after being arrested for allegedly possessing cocaine on the resort island of Bali.

The chief of Denpasar district police, Hadi Purnomo, said Thursday the 43-year-old man, whom he identified only as Brandon, was arrested with his Indonesian girlfriend at a rented room last Saturday in the tourist hotspot of Kuta.

He said police found 11.6 grams of cocaine packed into 13 plastic bags.

Purnomo told reporters that the man, identified by Indonesian news site Kumparan as Brandon Johnson, had been living in Bali for four years and was a designer or architect.

He faces between five and 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Indonesia has very strict drug laws and convicted traffickers can be executed by firing squad.


Spain takes more African migrants despite signs of tension

The Open Arms Search and Rescue vessel arrives in Algeciras, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 9. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo)

Barry Hatton and Valerio Nicolosi

Algeciras, Spain (AP) — A rescue boat carrying 87 African migrants who were saved in the Mediterranean Sea docked Thursday at the southern Spanish port of Algeciras, but without the welcome offered to previous groups as the political mood in Spain began showing signs of tension about a spike in migrant arrivals.

The boat operated by Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms brought what it said were mostly Sudanese war refugees, including 12 minors, picked up off the Libyan coast on Aug. 2.

Spain allowed the boat to come after other, geographically closer, European Union countries refused to let it dock amid continuing tension among EU governments about how best to respond to the wave of migrants crossing from Africa.

Spain's new center-left Socialist government made fair treatment for migrants one of its headline policies after coming to power two months ago.

In June, it announced measures to "put people's rights first" in the country's migration policies. Among other things, it took the first steps toward extending public health care to foreigners without residence permits.

That same month, it accepted the Aquarius rescue ship with 630 migrants on board after Malta and Italy turned it away.

Authorities gave those migrants who arrived in Valencia a special entry permit into Spain of 45 days for humanitarian reasons. A further 60 who arrived on a rescue ship in Barcelona last month were given a 30-day permit while they decided what to do. Their paperwork was also fast-tracked.

But those who arrived in Algeciras on Thursday will get no such special treatment.

They will be processed, the government said, like any other migrants rescued at sea: held by police for 72 hours at a migrant camp, given a medical check-up, identified and detained while they await asylum or are given an expulsion order.

The government official overseeing immigration, Magdalena Valerio, said earlier this week there would be no extra money for migrant policies before the end of the year.

The Spanish Network for Immigration and Refugee Help, a non-governmental organization, accused the government of abruptly "changing course" in its immigration policies and "discriminating" against the new arrivals.

"We'd like Spain to remain a safe haven and be a bulwark against the populism of (Italian Interior Minister Matteo) Salvini and (French far-right nationalist leader Marine) Le Pen," the organization's president, Daniel Mendez, told Spanish news agency Europa Press.

Critics of the new government's perceived softer approach toward migrants said its policies had backfired, by attracting ever higher numbers, and the government is increasingly wary of that criticism.

The U.N. Migration Agency says almost 24,000 refugees and other migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year — nearly three times the number last year.

The agency says Spain has become the most popular European destination for Mediterranean migrants, with just over 40 percent of the total, after Libya and Italy began cracking down. Most come on overcrowded smugglers' boats from Tunisia and Morocco.

Opposition leader Pablo Casado has targeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's immigration policies.

"What Spaniards are looking for is a party which says clearly that we can't give documents to everyone, and Spain can't take in millions of Africans," Casado said last month.

Such criticism has left Sanchez politically exposed when he heads a minority government with just 84 of the 350 seats in the lower house of parliament.

It has also fueled fears that populism may spread further in the EU. Far-right parties have joined the governments in Italy and Austria and made gains elsewhere.

Residents from the region around Algeciras expressed concern about the latest arrivals.

"With so much unemployment we do not need extra expenses," Manuel Ruiz said. "The refugees, because they are not cared for properly, they start stealing to live and this causes all sorts of problems." He added: "We have to give them all the aid we can, but it has to be balanced."

Jose Lopez Vicente feared a backlash.

"I think the European Union should take more of an interest in this situation. If not, the population will become racist, even if they are not."

Sanchez, the prime minister, says his government and EU officials are in talks with Morocco, from where traffickers take the migrants across the Mediterranean, and with the migrants' countries of origin on how to stem the flow.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean on Thursday, a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Turkish coast, killing seven children and two women, Turkey's state-run news agency said. Many migrants continue to attempt to reach the Greek islands from the Turkish coast, hoping to eventually move to more prosperous European Union countries.


Update August 9, 2018

Australia's most populous state entirely in drought

In this June 4, 2018, photo, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, second right, looks at dry soil with farmers during a visit to Strathmore Farm near Trangie, 485 kilometers northwest of Sydney. (Ivan McDonnell/AAP Image via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Australia's most populous state was declared entirely in drought on Wednesday and struggling farmers were given new authority to shoot kangaroos that compete with livestock for sparse pasture during the most intense dry spell in more than 50 years.

Much of Australia's southeast is struggling with drought. But the drought conditions in New South Wales state this year have been the driest and most widespread since 1965.

The state government said Wednesday that 100 percent of New South Wales' land area of more than 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) was now in drought.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said farmers were enduring one of the driest Southern Hemisphere winters on record.

"This is tough. There isn't a person in the state that isn't hoping to see some rain for our farmers and regional communities," Blair said in a statement.

Farm reservoirs have dried up and crops are failing.

State and federal governments are providing financial help, but not enough for many farmers.

With dry conditions forecast to continue for the next three months, farmers had to decide whether to continue the expensive and laborious task of hand-feeding cattle and sheep or sell their livestock.

The state government on Wednesday also lifted the number of kangaroos that farmers are allowed to shoot and reduced bureaucratic red tape facing land holders applying for permission to shoot.

The requirement to tag dead kangaroos to keep a tally of the number shot across the state had been dispensed with.

"Many farmers are taking livestock off their paddocks, only to then see kangaroos move in and take whatever is left," Blair said.

"If we don't manage this situation, we will start to see tens of thousands of kangaroos starving and suffering, ultimately leading to a major animal welfare crisis," he added.

But Ray Borda, president of the Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia, which represents commercial shooters who hunt kangaroos for meat and leather, raised animal welfare concerns about the regulation changes.

"Anybody on the land that will make a phone call to the Department of Environment can get permission to shoot almost whatever they want to shoot and it's unaudited and unchecked and that's our concern — animal welfare," Borda told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The government would have been better off subsidizing professional shooters to reduce kangaroo numbers more humanely, he said.

"We see this as probably the worst possible outcome for the kangaroo, but I've got to emphasize we do understand the plight that farmers are in," Borda said.
 


Indonesia quake deaths top 130, aid effort intensifies

A military paramedic tends to a boy who suffers head injury from Sunday's earthquake at a makeshift hospital in Kayangan, Lombok Island, Indonesia, Wednesday, Aug. 8. (AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago)

Andi Jatmiko

Bangsal, Indonesia (AP) — Aid began reaching isolated areas of the Indonesian island struggling after a powerful earthquake that killed more than 130 people as rescuers intensified efforts Wednesday to find those buried in the rubble.

The national disaster agency stood by its latest death toll of 131 from Sunday's quake despite other government agencies including the military reporting much higher figures.

The governor of the province that includes Lombok where the quake was centered, the military, the national search and rescue agency and regent of North Lombok issued different death tolls that ranged from 226 to 381.

But disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement the information from those sources was incomplete and hadn't been cross-checked for duplication. He has said several times that the number of deaths will increase. An interagency meeting will be held Thursday to compare information, Nugroho said.

As the aid effort stepped up, volunteers and rescue personnel erected more temporary shelters for the tens of thousands left homeless on Lombok by the magnitude 7.0 quake.

Water, which has been in short supply due to a prolonged dry spell on the island, as well as food and medical supplies were being distributed from trucks. The military said it sent five planes carrying food, medicine, blankets, field tents and water tankers.

Still, government assistance was barely a trickle in the west Lombok village of Kekait where Zulas Triani, an elementary school teacher who was sharing a tent with 30 others, said they had received only a basket with three noodle packets, five eggs and a small ration of water.

"My house was flattened. We are all frustrated to live like this — in a tent without certainty. Where should we go if we have no house anymore, nowhere to live?" said the mother of 15- and 9-year-old girls.

"I don't know how to rebuild on my own. We're all relying on the government to help. I do hope the government can help," she said.

Nearly 1,500 people have been hospitalized with serious injuries and more than 156,000 have been displaced due to the extensive damage to thousands of homes. Thousands of people have been sleeping in makeshift shelters or out in the open.

At a collapsed mosque in Bangsal district, emergency workers in orange uniforms removed a woman's body from the ruins on Wednesday morning. A green and yellow dome rested on the pile of rubble, the only part of the structure still intact.

Authorities said all the tourists who wanted to be evacuated from three outlying vacation islands due to power blackouts and damage to hotels had left by boat, some 5,000 people in all.

The quake was the second in a week to hit Lombok. A magnitude 6.4 earthquake on July 29 killed 16 people and cracked and weakened many structures, amplifying the damage that occurred in Sunday's quake.

Like its famous neighbor Bali, Lombok is known for beaches, mountains and a lush interior. Hotels and other buildings in both locations are not allowed to exceed the height of coconut trees.


Ebola vaccinations begin in Congo's latest deadly outbreak

 

A healthcare worker from the World Health Organization gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Wednesday, Aug 8. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro and Carley Petesch

Dakar, Senegal (AP) — Ebola vaccinations began Wednesday for Congo's latest outbreak of the deadly virus that has already claimed at least nine lives.

Health officials have warned that containing the outbreak in North Kivu province is complicated by the presence of multiple armed groups vying for mineral-rich land in the northeastern region that borders Uganda and Rwanda. Ebola screening of travelers at the Congo-Rwanda border was "already in high gear," the World Health Organization said.

The latest outbreak, declared Aug. 1 in Mangina village in the Mabalako health zone, is Congo's tenth outbreak since the virus was identified in 1976.

This outbreak now has 17 confirmed Ebola cases, 27 probable cases and 47 suspected ones.

Some 36 people have died from hemorrhagic fever amid the outbreak, but officials said many cannot be confirmed as Ebola deaths at this point.

Three thousand doses of the Ebola vaccine are being sent from Kinshasa, the capital, and will be used first in the Mabalako health zone and in the nearby city of Beni, which has more than 680,000 people.

The experimental vaccine was used in an earlier, unrelated outbreak in Congo's northwest that was declared over last month.

The first to be vaccinated are health workers, contacts of confirmed Ebola cases and their contacts in what is called a ring vaccination campaign. The strategy is the same that was used to contain the previous outbreak in Equateur province, with more than 3,300 people vaccinated.

The first people to be vaccinated on Wednesday included the Beni's region chief doctor and medical staff. Other residents in Beni and Mangina will receive vaccinations Thursday, authorities said.

"I will be very content to receive the vaccination tomorrow," said Solange Mbambu. "When I see the doctors preparing the funerals for those who have died from Ebola, without their family, it gives me goose bumps."

Ebola jumps to humans from animals including bats and monkeys. It can be spread through contact of bodily fluids of someone infected, living or dead. There is no specific treatment, and the virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Genetic analysis confirmed the virus strain in this latest outbreak is the Zaire one.


Activists mark 30th anniversary of Myanmar uprising

 

A boy holds a portrait of Gen. Aung San during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising, Wednesday, Aug. 8, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

Grace Brown and Min Kyi Thein

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — Hundreds of people on Wednesday commemorated the 30th anniversary of Myanmar's 8888 uprising, a seminal and ultimately bloody episode in the Southeast Asian nation's struggle for democracy.

The flag of the uprising — a fighting peacock — flew on the campus and in a hall of Yangon University, where activists including those who took part in the mass revolt heard speeches and viewed exhibits that recalled the events.

The Aug. 8, 1988, uprising came after more than a quarter of a century of military rule and international isolation that had condemned once-prosperous Myanmar — then called Burma — to poverty. More than 1 million people are estimated to have protested throughout the country, driven to take to the streets after the government's sudden demonetization of the country's currency, which wiped out many people's savings.

The revolt dislodged longtime dictator Ne Win but was violently crushed by the army in the weeks that followed. Estimates of the number of deaths range as high as 3,000. Although an equally repressive set of generals took over, the events also marked the founding of the pro-democracy movement of Aung San Suu Kyi, which finally took power peacefully in 2016, although under a restrictive constitution that forced it to share power with the military.

Many of the leading figures of the 1988 uprising are still active in political and social work, and several on Wednesday recalled the momentous historical events and how they started.

"Suddenly, someone put out the student flag, which had been hidden under his shirt, and waved it," recounted former student protest leader and 88 Generation activist Min Ko Naing. "At the same time, another person brought a bamboo stick to the fence and tied that flag to the top. All the rest started chanting and waving their posters."  All of a sudden, the demonstration had begun, he recalled, adding that it had been "born in our hearts" many years before.

Along with hundreds of others, Min Ko Naing was arrested in the army takeover that followed. He spent approximately 19 years behind bars, before finally being released in 2012 during a mass pardon of political prisoners.

An exhibition inside the university showed in detail what took place in 1988. People young and old stopped to read carefully preserved archives of journals and newspapers, hanging like ornaments.

Members of the 88 Group, an association of protest veterans, also showed visitors how word spread to the streets in the pre-internet era, relying on foreign radio stations including Voice of America and BBC. Using simple manual printing techniques, transcripts of the broadcasts were shared in quiet teashops from Yangon to Mandalay, the traditional venues for gossip and discussion.


Portugal says major wildfire will take days to put out

People observe as fire gets closer to the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal's Algarve region, Sunday, Aug. 5. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo)

Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — A major wildfire blackening hills in Portugal's southern Algarve region likely will take several more days to bring under control, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that efforts to control the fire that broke out Friday were being hampered by gusting winds, the region's deep ravines and the numerous plantations where combustible eucalyptus is grown for paper pulp.

Costa spoke after visiting the headquarters of the Portuguese Civil Protection Agency, the government body that is coordinating the emergency response to the fire.

The Civil Protection Agency said almost 1,300 firefighters from across Portugal were assigned to the blaze, the most since it started. Public TV network RTP said more than 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) have burned in the fire.

The prime minister is aware of potential political repercussions from major wildfires; the deaths of 109 people in blazes last year almost brought down his government.

Costa acknowledged that much more work was needed to prevent catastrophic fires, including diversifying the vegetation in Portugal's forests and establishing fire breaks.

High clouds of black smoke have towered for days over the Algarve region, a top European vacation destination.

While winds have made the firefighting effort more difficult, crew working overnight kept flames from reaching the town of Silves, a popular tourist spot and home to about 6,000 people.

The torrid weather that has hung over much of Europe for weeks also was subsiding, with a high of 31 degrees Celsius (88 F) forecast for the Algarve on Wednesday.

Along with ground crews, 13 aircraft and more than 380 vehicles were battling the blaze.

In neighboring Spain, 27 aircraft were helping some 700 firefighters put out a fire near Valencia. Radio broadcaster Cadena SER said nearly 2,900 hectares have been burned.


DAILY UPDATE

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