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Update August, 2019


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China rotates new troops into Hong Kong amid mass protests

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, armored personnel carriers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) pass through the Huanggang Port border between China and Hong Kong, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (Yuan Junmin/Xinhua via AP)

Ken Moritsugu and Yanan Wang

Hong Kong (AP) — China's military deployed fresh troops to Hong Kong on Thursday in what it called a routine rotation amid speculation that it might intervene in the city's pro-democracy protests.

Video broadcast on China Central Television showed a long convoy of armored personnel carriers and trucks crossing the border at night and troops in formation disembarking from a ship. Earlier, scores of soldiers ran in unison onto trucks, which the state broadcaster said were bound for ports and entry points into Hong Kong. A handover ceremony was held before dawn.

"This time the task has a glorious mission. The responsibility is great. The job is difficult," an unnamed major said to troops before they departed. "The time for a true test has arrived!"

The official Xinhua News Agency said it was the 22nd rotation of the People's Liberation Army's garrison in Hong Kong. The previous one was in August 2018.

Nearly three months of fiery anti-government demonstrations have sparked concerns that the military will be deployed in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The Hong Kong garrison earlier published a promotional video with scenes of soldiers facing off with people dressed like protesters.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that the demonstrators must abide by Hong Kong's laws.

A leader of 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong said the city's government is using the same tactics as five years ago.

"The government is just trying to threaten people with emergency law, with the entrance of the People's Liberation Army," Yvonne Leung said at a news conference.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" framework, which promises the city certain democratic rights that are not afforded to the mainland. In recent years, however, some Hong Kong residents have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms.

The newly arrived Chinese troops have been educated on Hong Kong's laws and vowed to defend the nation's sovereignty, Xinhua said.

"We will firmly implement the guideline of 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law and the Garrison Law of Hong Kong," Liu Zhaohui, the garrison's deputy chief of staff, said on CCTV.

The Garrison Law allows the Hong Kong-stationed troops to help maintain public order at the request of the city government. That has never happened, and Hong Kong authorities have said they can handle the situation themselves.

Troops stationed in Macao, another special administrative region, also completed a rotation Thursday.

The Xinhua report on the previous rotation in August 2018 did not mention "one country, two systems" or national sovereignty.


India accuses Pakistan of trying to infiltrate terrorists

Pakistani protesters rally against India to express solidarity with Indian Kashmiris, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Associated Press

New Delhi (AP) — India on Thursday said it has information that Pakistan is trying to infiltrate terrorists into the country to carry out attacks amid rising tensions over New Delhi's decision to abrogate the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir.

External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters that Indian security forces were prepared to deal with any eventuality.

He was reacting to Indian media reports that cited unidentified Indian intelligence sources as saying Pakistan-trained commandos have entered Indian waters to attack port facilities in western Gujarat state.

He said Pakistan is trying to infiltrate terrorists to create an alarmist situation after New Delhi imposed a lockdown and ended Indian-controlled Kashmir's autonomy early this month.

In Pakistan, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor rejected the Indian claims, saying Pakistan was a responsible state and "we would be insane to allow infiltration" across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two countries.

Kumar said Pakistan "has been using terror and cross-border terrorism as a policy. We have continued to highlight that Pakistan has an obligation to take action against terrorist and terror groups operating from its soil."

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming insurgent groups that have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies. Pakistan says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to these groups.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947. They have fought two wars over its control.


Brazil bans most burning for 60 days to curb Amazon fires

In this image released Thursday Aug. 29, 2019, shows part of a time-lapse series that identifies carbon monoxide associated with fires from the Amazon region in Brazil from Aug. 8-22, 2019. (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory via AP)

Anna Jean Kaiser

Rio de Janeiro (AP) — Brazil on Thursday banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the burning that has devastated parts of the Amazon region.

The decree prohibiting the fires was signed by President Jair Bolsonaro and followed international criticism of his handling of the environmental crisis.

The period of the new ban coincides with the dry season, when most fires are usually set. The decree allows fires in some cases, including those deemed healthy for plant life and if set by indigenous people who engage in subsistence farming.

"I think this should have happened a long time ago," said Waldeglace Sousa Mota, a worker at the airport in the Amazon city of Porto Velho.

"I think it will bring relief during this time," she said of the ban.

More people, particularly children and the elderly, have been suffering respiratory problems in Porto Velho, where smoke from the fires has often shrouded the sky in past weeks.

The 60-day ban will help curb the burning but its effect could be "very limited" if people ignore it as the peak burning season starts, said Xiangming Xiao, a plant biologist at the University of Oklahoma who studies deforestation in the Amazon. Most fires in Brazil are set in late August, September and early October, he said.

"Both legal and illegal fire events occurred in Brazil. It will be very challenging to identify and separate them," he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Brazil's forest code normally allows farmers and others to set some fires as long as they have licenses from environmental authorities.

This year, however, there was a sharp increase in nationwide fires over the same period in 2018, raising concerns that people were emboldened to burn more after Bolsonaro said rainforest protections were blocking economic development.

Bolsonaro suggested —without citing evidence — that environmental groups were setting illegal fires to try to destabilize his government and sparred with French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders who questioned his commitment to protecting the Amazon ecosystem.

The acrimony sidelined a pledge of $20 million from the Group of Seven nations to help protect rainforest in the Amazon. Much of the burned land had already been deforested, but the location of many fires next to intact forest reflected the increased threat of deforestation.

The Amazon rainforest is vital for the planet's health in part because it drains heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Italy's bitter political foes unite in bid to foil Salvini

Designate premier Giuseppe Conte delivers his speech after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella at Rome's Quirinale presidential palace, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (Alessandro Di Met/ANSA via AP)

Colleen Barry and Giada Zampano

Rome (AP) — Days after stepping down, Italy's ex-premier accepted the role of premier-designate on Thursday in a bid to cobble together a new coalition of long-time political foes aimed at blocking a power grab by Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader whose anti-migrant crackdowns and euroskeptic provocations have dominated Italian politics for more than a year.

But even if Giuseppe Conte, a 55-year-old law professor whose political career spans 14 months at the helm of a mostly squabbling populist coalition, succeeds in building a new majority between the grass-roots 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, political analysts warn it may not last.

"Weak leadership and significant intra-party cleavages ... will limit the shelf-life" of any coalition government between the two parties, which were bitter enemies until just days ago, said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of the Teneo consultancy.

Another government collapse would likely set the country back on course to new elections, which could play straight into the hands of Salvini, the leader of the right-wing, anti-migrant League party.

Salvini, whose popularity soared as he grabbed the spotlight with hard-line policies blocking Italian ports to humanitarian rescue ships carrying migrants, is already crying foul, accusing the 5-Stars and the Democratic Party of engineering a plan to block his ascent to power.

On Thursday, he called for a demonstration in Rome on Oct. 19 to protest any outcome that doesn't lead to fresh elections.

"We need to be heard against this theft of democracy," Salvini said in a Facebook direct video.

Salvini plunged Italy into crisis when he withdrew support for Conte earlier this month in a bid to force new elections that he was convinced the League would win. Salvini was emboldened by his strong showing in this spring's European elections as well as local votes and political surveys that showed the League had nearly doubled its support since the 2018 elections, while that of the 5-Stars had fallen by half.

But Salvini didn't count on the former political foes closing ranks. And he is set to lose both his role as Italy's powerful interior minister in charge of migrant policy and his position as vice premier if a new government is installed.

The 5-Star Movement and Democrats are an unlikely alliance. The two parties have long traded barbed insults and just last year, the Democratic Party refused to even consider talks with the 5-Star Movement after inconclusive March 2018 national elections that eventually led to the 5-Star coalition with the League.

But in accepting the challenge to create a new coalition, the head of the Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti, said the parties intended to end "the season of hatred, of rancor and of fear."

Salvini's move created political instability that once again focused investor attention on Italy, raising borrowing costs on its stubbornly high debt which eased after President Sergio Mattarella formally tapped Conte as premier-designate. Italy also faces a critical fall deadline for drafting a budget for the European Union, with the looming prospect of raising the value-added tax to cover shortfalls.

Conte is seen as an ally of the 5-Stars, even though the law professor had no party affiliation when he became premier in June 2018. He kept a relatively low profile during the 5-Star-League government, but before handing in his resignation on Aug. 20, he blasted Salvini for forcing his government to collapse.

Conte immediately began meetings with parties Thursday, and said he will work hard to give the country a solid government as Rome faces key decisions and a delicate political phase.

"We're at the beginning of a new legislature and we need to make up for the time we've lost to allow Italy to recover its central role in Europe," Conte said.

He stressed that a new government would not be "against someone" — a clear reference to Salvini — but said the government needed to act quickly to name Italy's candidate for the new European Commission and to draft a complex budget law.

"This is a very delicate phase for the country," Conte said. "We need to exit political uncertainty as quickly as possible."


UK's Johnson moves to suspend Parliament ahead of Brexit

 

A pro EU protestor waves a European flag outside Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Danica Kirka

London (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson maneuvered Wednesday to give his political opponents even less time to block a no-deal Brexit before the Oct. 31 withdrawal deadline, winning Queen Elizabeth II's approval to suspend Parliament. His critics were outraged.

Though Johnson previously had refused to rule out such a move, the timing of the decision took lawmakers — many of whom are on vacation — by surprise.

Lawmakers reacted with fury, including John Bercow, speaker of the lower House of Commons, who was not told in advance of Johnson's plan.

"Shutting down Parliament would be an offense against the democratic process and the rights of parliamentarians as the people's elected representatives," Bercow said. "Surely at this early stage in his premiership, the prime minister should be seeking to establish rather than undermine his democratic credentials and indeed his commitment to Parliamentary democracy."

The main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the queen to protest "in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my party and I believe all the other opposition parties are going to join in with this."

But the monarch declined to get involved, in keeping with her steadfast refusal to interfere in politics. As head of state, she is politically neutral and acts on the advice of her government in political matters.

The House of Commons will convene from Sept. 3-10 and then was scheduled to go on a break until Oct. 9 — though lawmakers had suggested they might cancel that break and stay in session because of the national crisis. But Johnson said he has decided to ask the queen to give her speech that outlines the government's legislative agenda on Oct. 14.

Since Parliament is normally suspended before her speech, the decision means opposition lawmakers would be unlikely to have enough time to pass laws blocking the U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union without a negotiated deal on Oct. 31.

The pound plunged on the news, down to $1.2196 from almost $1.2300 the previous day.

The EU is adamant that it will not renegotiate the agreement struck with former Prime Minister Theresa May on the terms of Britain's departure and the framework of future relations. Without such a deal, Britain faces a chaotic Brexit that economists warn would disrupt trade by imposing tariffs and customs checks between Britain and the bloc, send the value of the pound plummeting and plunge the U.K. into recession.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted: "Make no mistake, this is a very British coup."

"Whatever one's views on Brexit, once you allow a Prime Minister to prevent the full and free operation of our democratic institutions you are on a very precarious path," he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit official, called Johnson's move "sinister."

"As a fellow parliamentarian, my solidarity with those fighting for their voices to be heard," he tweeted. "Suppressing debate on profound choices is unlikely to help deliver a stable future EU-UK relationship."

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers declared that they would work together to try to stop a departure from the EU without an agreement, setting up a legislative challenge to Johnson and his promise to complete the divorce by Oct. 31.

Some 160 lawmakers have signed a declaration pledging "to do whatever is necessary" to prevent Johnson from bypassing Parliament in his plans.

Johnson has told EU officials it won't be possible to agree a deal on Britain's departure from the bloc without the removal of controversial language on a "backstop," aimed at avoiding the return of a border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland. He said at the close of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Monday that he was "marginally more optimistic," of progress.

Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, said Johnson's maneuver touched off the biggest crisis since the abdication of King Edward VIII to marry the divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson.

"This is biggest constitutional crisis since the 1930s," Lucas said. "Even World War II didn't present a constitutional crisis because the coalition government and Parliament agreed the rules of the game."

It's also a potential economic crisis because of the projected drop in GDP, he added.


25 killed in fiery attack on bar in southern Mexico

Police officers guard the scene outside a bar where more than 20 people died in an overnight attack, in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, early Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

Mark Stevenson

Mexico City (AP) — An attack on a bar in Mexico's Gulf coast city of Coatzacoalcos killed 25 people and injured about a dozen, officials said Wednesday, and they said it was apparently overseen by a man who had been recently arrested but released.

"The criminals went in, closed the doors, the emergency exits, and set fire to the place," President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at his daily morning news conference.

Veracruz state police said the Tuesday night attack targeted the "Bar Caballo Blanco," or "White Horse Bar." It advertised "quality, security and service," private rooms for $7.50 "all night," ''sexy girls" and a pole dance contest.

It is located just off a busy commercial street in Coatzacoalcos, a city whose main industry has long been oil and oil refining.

"This is the most inhuman thing possible," López Obrador said.

"It is regrettable that organized crime acts in this manner," he said, adding, "It is more regrettable that there may be collusion with authorities."

López Obrador said local prosecutors should be investigated because "the alleged perpetrators had been arrested, but they were freed."

Gov. Cuitláhuac García identified the chief suspect as a man known as "La Loca" and gave his name as Ricardo "N'' because officials no longer give the full names of suspects.

García said the man had been detained by marines in July, but was released after being turned over to the state prosecutor's office.

"In Veracruz, criminal gangs are no longer tolerated," García wrote of the attack, adding that police, the armed forces and newly formed National Guard are searching for the attackers.

Anti-crime activist and businessman Raul Ojeda said the attack had all the hallmarks of an unmet demand for extortion payments.

"They have been threatening all the businesses like that," Ojeda said. "The ones that don't pay close down or pay the consequences, as in this case."

Photos of the scene showed tables and chairs jumbled around, with the bodies of semi-nude women lying amid the debris.

Prosecutors initially said the fire killed eight women and 15 men and injured 13 people. López Obrador said the death toll had risen to 25, but did not specify the gender of the victims or the number of injured. There was no immediate information on their condition.

The attack came almost eight years to the day after a fire at a casino in the northern city of Monterrey killed 52 people. The Zetas drug cartel staged that 2011 attack to enforce demands for protection payments.

The Zetas, now splintered, have also been active in Coatzacoalcos. The Jalisco New Generation cartel also has a presence in the area and local journalists said "La Loca" is believed to be linked to that group.

Veracruz has suffered from high levels of organized crime for years. It was one of the first states where López Obrador deployed the country's new National Guard in April after 13 people were killed during a party in Minatitlan, 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Coatzalcoalcos.

More recently, in early August, nine dismembered bodies were found in bags in the town of Maltrata.

According to the most recent government data, there are 2,500 guardsmen patrolling the state. They are among some 13,500 federal forces in Veracruz.

The attack, along with the killing of 19 people in the western city of Uruapan earlier this month, is likely to renew fears that the rampant violence of the 2006-2012 drug war has returned.


Epstein accuser says Prince Andrew should 'come clean'

Virginia Roberts Giuffre speaks during a press conference outside a Manhattan court where sexual victims addressed a hearing after the accused Jeffrey Epstein killed himself before facing sex trafficking charges, Tuesday Aug. 27, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Associated Press

London (AP) — An alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein who claims she was also delivered to Britain's Prince Andrew for paid sex as a teenager has challenged the British royal to speak up, saying: "He knows exactly what he's done and I hope he comes clean about it."

The jet-setting middle son of Queen Elizabeth II was a longtime friend of the financier who killed himself while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. But the prince strenuously denies any knowledge of criminal behavior by Epstein and has described himself as "appalled" by allegations from many women who accused Epstein of sexual abuse.

Among them is Virginia Roberts Giuffre. She has said she was a 15-year-old working at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club when she was recruited to perform sex acts on Epstein. Giuffre said in a sworn affidavit that she was flown on Epstein's private planes to his properties in New Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Paris and New York, and said meetings were also arranged for sex in London and elsewhere with Prince Andrew.

Without making specific new allegations against the British royal, Giuffre used a New York court appearance Tuesday to heap more attention on Andrew's links to Epstein.

"He knows what he's done and he can attest to that," Giuffre told reporters outside the courthouse after she and 15 other women testified about abuse they allege they suffered at Epstein's hands.

Pressed for additional comment, she added: "He knows exactly what he's done and I hope he comes clean about it. Thank you."

There was no mention of the prince during the court hearing itself. But Giuffre's comments outside were widely reported in the British media Wednesday, focusing further scrutiny on the 59-year-old prince whose 10-year marriage with Sarah Ferguson ended in divorce in 1996, three years before the prince says he first met Epstein.

In a statement last Saturday, the prince who served in the Royal Navy and worked in an ambassadorial role promoting Britain as an investment destination, said he saw Epstein "infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year. I have stayed in a number of his residences."

A photo in court records shows Andrew with his arm around Giuffre's waist. She claims she first met the prince when she was 17.

In a document about her alleged experiences filed in a federal court in Florida, she claimed to have had sex with the prince three times — in London and at Epstein's New York mansion when she was 17 — and in the U.S. Virgin Islands when she was about 18. She alleged Epstein paid her about $15,000 following the London trip.

Giuffre has targeted similar allegations of abuse against a long list of rich and powerful men, including a former U.S. senator, a former U.S. governor, a modeling agent and American lawyer Alan Dershowitz, with whom she was involved in a years-long legal battle. All of the men have denied the allegations and claimed she's making them up.

Outside the 2½-hour court hearing in New York , where Epstein's alleged victims poured out their anger, some crying as they described falling into Epstein's web, Giuffre said: "We need to get to the bottom of everybody who is involved."

"I was recruited at a very young age from Mar-a-Lago and entrapped in a world that I didn't understand and I've been fighting that very world to this day and I won't stop fighting. I will never be silenced until these people are brought to justice," she vowed.

Brad Edwards, a lawyer representing Epstein accusers, said he would welcome Andrew's help in trying to seek justice for the women.

"I personally extended that invitation to Prince Andrew multiple times. Anytime, we are ready and we have a lot of questions for him," he said. "We have specific pointed questions and if he really wants to help, then we want his help."

In his written statement, Andrew said: "At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction."

That referred to Epstein's 2008 conviction after pleading guilty to prostitution-related state charges. Epstein served 13 months behind bars.

In his statement, Andrew acknowledged that he also met Epstein after his release in 2010 but said it was a "mistake."

Epstein, 66, was found dead at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 10, touching off outrage that such a high-profile prisoner could have gone unwatched at the Manhattan federal lockup. He was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges involving dozens of teenage girls.


Dorian aims for US, causes limited damage in Caribbean

 

This GOES-16 satellite image taken Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, shows Dorian, a Category 1 hurricane, crossing over the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Forecasters say it could grow to Category 3 status as it nears the U.S. mainland as early as the weekend. (NOAA via AP)

Dánica Coto

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Dorian caused limited damage in the northern Caribbean as it left the region Wednesday night, setting its sights on the U.S. mainland as it threatened to grow into a dangerous Category 3 storm.

Power outages and flooding were reported across the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra after Dorian hit St. Thomas as a Category 1 storm.

"We're happy because there are no damages to report," Culebra Mayor William Solís told The Associated Press, noting that only one community lost power.

Meanwhile, Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and scattered power outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta told AP. In addition, the storm downed trees and at least one electric post in St. Thomas, he said, adding that there were no reports of major flooding.

"We are grateful that it wasn't a stronger storm," he said.

There were no immediate reports of damage in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.

Dorian had prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency Tuesday night and order federal assistance for local authorities.

At 11 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of San Juan. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said its maximum sustained winds had increased to 85 mph (140 kph) as the storm moved northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

The Hurricane Center said the storm could grow into a dangerous Category 3 storm as it pushes northwest in the general direction of Florida.

Dennis Feltgen, a Hurricane Center meteorologist in Miami, said Dorian may grow in size and could land anywhere from South Florida to South Carolina on Sunday or Monday.

"This will be a large storm approaching the Southeast," he said.

People in Florida were starting to get ready for a possible Labor Day weekend strike, with county governments along Florida's east-central coast distributing sandbags and many residents rushing to warehouse retailers to load up on water, canned food and emergency supplies.

"All Floridians on the East Coast should have 7 days of supplies, prepare their homes & follow the track closely," Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a tweet. Later Wednesday, he declared a state of emergency for the counties in the storm's path.

A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning remained in effect for Puerto Rico, with Dorian expected to dump 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the eastern part of the island.

However, Puerto Rico seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief to many on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island's 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria, a Category 4 storm.

Ramonita Torres, a thin, stooped, 74-year-old woman who lives by herself in the impoverished, flood-prone neighborhood of Las Monjas in the capital of San Juan, was still trying to rebuild the home she nearly lost after Maria but was not able to secure the pieces of zinc that now serve as her roof.

"There's no money for that," she said, shaking her head.

Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico by Wednesday evening, according to Ángel Figueroa, president of a union that represents power workers.

Police said an 80-year-old man in the northern town of Bayamón died on Wednesday after he fell trying to climb up to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.

Dorian initially had been projected to brush the western part of Puerto Rico and the change in the storm's course caught some off guard in Culebra and Vieques, both popular tourist destinations.

Earlier, Trump sent a tweet assuring islanders that "FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job."

He added a jab at Puerto Rican officials who have accused this administration of a slow and inadequate response to Hurricane Maria: "When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You — Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!"

The mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, tweeted that Trump needs to "calm down get out of the way and make way for those of us who are actually doing the work on the ground," adding that maybe he "will understand this time around THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIM; THIS IS NOT ABOUT POLITICS; THIS IS ABOUT SAVING LIVES."

Dorian earlier caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St. Lucia and flooding in islands including Martinique.


3 European nations condemn North Korea's missile launches

This Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 photo shows the test firing of an unspecified missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Associated Press

New York (AP) — Three important U.S. allies on Tuesday condemned the "repeated provocative launches" of ballistic missiles by North Korea, saying they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any such activity.

The United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement after a closed council briefing by U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo that they requested because of serious concerns at the series of missile launches in recent weeks by North Korea.

The three European council members urged North Korea "to engage in meaningful negotiations with the U.S.," as President Donald Trump and its leader Kim Jong Un agreed to on June 30 at their meeting in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.

"Serious efforts by North Korea to re-engage diplomatically and make progress on denuclearization are the only way to guarantee security and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the region," their statement said.

The three countries stressed that "international sanctions must remain in place and be fully and strictly enforced until North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled."

Many diplomats and analysts credit 11 rounds of increasingly tougher U.N. sanctions, which have sharply cut North Korea's exports and imports, with helping promote the thaw in relations between North Korea and South Korea, and the two summits between Trump and Kim.

But negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have been at a standstill since the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February broke down over what the United States described as excessive North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The statement by the U.S. allies was not joined by the United States or other members of the 15-nation Security Council — and it was at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump's comments downplaying the recent launches.

In Saturday's latest launch, North Korea said Sunday that Kim Jong Un supervised the test-firing of a "newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher." It appeared to be another demonstration of the North's expanding weapons arsenal apparently aimed at increasing its leverage ahead of a possible resumption of nuclear talks with the United States.

Trump responded to the launch saying, "Kim Jong Un has been, you know, pretty straight with me. ... He likes testing missiles but we never restricted short-range missiles. We'll see what happens."

Most of the North Korean weapons tested in recent weeks have shown short-range flight distances. This suggests that North Korea still doesn't intend to lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, which would certainly derail negotiations with Washington.

Britain, France and Germany said "it is vital that the Security Council shows unity in upholding its resolutions," which have imposed increasingly tougher sanctions on North Korea in an effort to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

They blamed "the North Korean regime ... for the current dire situation of its people" and stressed that making progress on denuclearization is also the only way to guarantee "a brighter future for the people of North Korea."


TS Dorian expected to strengthen, could hit Puerto Rico

Jorge Ortiz works to tie down his roof as he prepares for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, in the Martín Peña neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Gianfranco Gaglione)

Dánica Coto

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Dorian made a last-minute shift in its path on Tuesday, threatening Puerto Rico with a direct hit as forecasters said it could reach near-hurricane strength in its approach to the U.S. territory.

The storm is expected to pass over or near western and central Puerto Rico on Wednesday as authorities warned of landslides, widespread flooding and power outages.

"Practically the entire island will be under sustained tropical storm force winds," said Roberto García, director of U.S. National Weather Service San Juan, during a press conference late Tuesday.

However, he said the forecast could change overnight, adding that late shifts occur with storms such as Dorian that do not have a well-defined center.

Dorian was located about 300 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) and was forecast to strengthen during the next 24 hours as it moves west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph). The storm is expected to dump 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

The change in the storm's course concerned many across the U.S. territory, where some 30,000 homes still have blue tarps as roofs nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island's 3.2 million inhabitants still depend on a shaky power grid that has remained prone to outages since it was destroyed by the Category 4 storm.

Jorge Ortiz, a 50-year-old construction worker, was taking no chances. Wiping sweat from his brow, Ortiz climbed up a shaky ladder under a punishing morning sun and tied down pieces of zinc that now serve as his roof because Maria ripped the second floor off his house when it hit on Sept. 20, 2017.

He was forced to rebuild everything himself and finished just three months ago with no assistance from the local or federal government.

"They told me I didn't qualify because it was a total loss," he said, shaking his head as he added that he was wary. "I'm worried that despite all this sacrifice, I'll lose it again."

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Puerto Rico and a tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A tropical storm watch was in force for the Dominican Republic from Samaná to Puerto Plata.

Dorian already caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St. Lucia, and a still-uncertain long-term track showed the storm near Florida over the weekend.

Although top government officials in Puerto Rico said they were prepared for the storm and had sufficient equipment, a couple of mayors, including those in the western region, said they did not have enough generators or shelters that were properly set up.

Jesús Laracuente, a 52-year-old construction worker who lives in the impoverished neighborhood of Las Monjas in the capital of San Juan, also had doubts about government preparations.

"The people here are prepared. We already learned our lesson," he said, referring to Maria. "What despairs us is knowing that the slightest breeze will leave us without power. It's the government that fails us."

José Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority, acknowledged that the distribution system still has weak areas and could "suffer" under winds of 50 to 60 mph. However, he stressed the agency has the needed inventory, including more than 120,000 lights, 23,000 poles and 7,400 transformers.

But Freddyson Martínez, vice president of a power workers' union, told The Associated Press that while the electric grid has improved in some areas, he worries about a lack of power line workers and post-Maria patches which feature lines affixed to palm trees.

"Those are problems that are still being corrected to this day," he said. "These are the realities we have to face with this storm."

The island's transportation secretary acknowledged that crews are still rebuilding roads damaged or blocked by Maria, more than 1,000 of which remain blocked by that storm's landslides.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez urged those living in flood-prone areas or under a blue tarp to move into one of the island's 360 shelters on Tuesday night. Housing Secretary Fernando Gil has said some 9,000 to 13,000 homes with blue tarp roofs are located in the region that Dorian is expected to affect the most.

Officials also said public schools and government offices would remain closed through at least Thursday.

"We learned our lesson quite well after Maria," Vázquez said. "We are going to be much better prepared."

Dorian was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night or Friday.

Meanwhile, a new tropical depression formed Monday between the U.S. eastern coast and Bermuda. It was located about 315 miles (510 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph) Tuesday with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph). It was expected to become a tropical storm on Wednesday and continue blowing off the U.S. East Coast this week on a path to Canada's North Atlantic provinces.


Students rally in Pakistan-held Kashmir against India

Pakistani students rally to express solidarity with Indian Kashmiris, in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Students denounced India's downgrading of the special status of the portion of the disputed region it controls. (AP Photo/M.D. Mughal)

Associated Press

Muzaffarabad, Pakistan (AP) — More than a thousand students rallied Tuesday in the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir to denounce India's downgrading of the special status of the portion of the disputed region it controls.

The demonstrators chanted "We want freedom" and denounced human rights violations in Indian-administrated Kashmir. Kashmir, which is split between two countries and claimed by both, has been the cause of two of wars between Pakistan and India since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.

The rally in Muzaffarabad came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to globally highlight the issue of Kashmir. He will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27 to highlight what he calls "Indian atrocities" in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's military accused Indian troops of firing across the Line of Control in the Kashmir region Tuesday, killing two civilians and wounding three others.

In a statement, it said the dead included a 45-year-old man and a 3-year-old girl.

The Indian fire also burnt three homes in the village of Nekrun near the frontier on Pakistani side of Kashmir, it said.

Pakistan and India often exchange fire in the Himalayan region, but tensions have increased since Aug. 5 when New Delhi changed the status of Indian-administered Kashmir, stripping it of its constitutional autonomy.

The army did not say whether it returned fire and there was no immediate comment from India.

Tuesday's rally and civilian killings came hours after authorities said Pakistani troops were still on maximum alert in Kashmir.
 


Russian firm sues Boeing over Max jet, says defects hidden

In this April 26, 2019, file photo a worker walks past a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane being built for Oman Air at Boeing's assembly facility in Renton, Washington State. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Associated Press

Moscow (AP) — A Russian aircraft leasing company that ordered 35 Boeing Max jets is suing the U.S. aircraft maker and seeking to cancel the deal, accusing Boeing of hiding defects in the plane that was grounded after two deadly crashes.

The Miami-based lawyer for the leasing company said Tuesday it is the first lawsuit filed against Boeing by a Max customer. He said he is talking to other companies about joining the case.

The lawsuit on behalf of Avia Capital Services was filed Monday in state court in Illinois, where Boeing is based. It claims that Boeing committed fraud and breach of contract and was negligent in how it designed and built the plane and convinced the Federal Aviation Administration to approve it.

A spokesman for Boeing declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Avia could become the first customer to cancel a signed agreement to buy the Max as a result of the crashes and grounding. In July, Saudi Arabian discount airline flyadeal backed out of a commitment to order 50 Max jets, but unlike Avia, flyadeal never signed a firm order.

Nearly 400 Max jets that were being flown by airlines around the world have been grounded since March, shortly after the second of two crashes that together killed 346 people.

Avia ordered Max jets in 2012 and was originally set to begin receiving them this year, but the deliveries were delayed. The company is seeking damages of at least $115 million, which attorney Steven Marks said included a $40 million deposit and $75 million in lost profit, plus additional money for punitive damages.

Marks, who also represents families of passengers who were killed in the two crashes, said he has talked to "several" other Max customers and expects some to join the Avia lawsuit. None are U.S. companies, he said.

Executives for Southwest, American and United have stood by Boeing through the Max ordeal.

Boeing lost $3 billion in the second quarter after taking a $4.9 billion after-tax charge to cover future costs of compensating airlines and other Max customers. Boeing is working to upgrade flight-control software implicated in the crashes and expects the plane to be cleared to fly in November.


Indonesia to move capital from sinking Jakarta to Borneo

Indonesia President Joko Widodo gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's president says the country's capital will move from overcrowded, sinking and polluted Jakarta to a site in sparsely populated East Kalimantan province on Borneo island, known for rainforests and orangutans.

President Joko Widodo said Monday intense studies over the past three years had resulted in the choice of the location on the eastern side of Borneo island.

The new capital city, which has not yet been named, will be in the middle of the vast archipelago nation and already has relatively complete infrastructure because it is near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, Widodo said.

He said the burden has been become too heavy on Jakarta on Java island as the center of government, finance, business, trade and services as well as the location of the country's largest airport and seaport.

Widodo said the decision was made not to move the capital elsewhere on Java because the country's wealth and people are highly concentrated there and should be spread out.

Currently 54% of the country's nearly 270 million people live on Java, the country's most densely populated area.

"We couldn't continue to allow the burden on Jakarta and Java island to increase in terms of population density," Widodo said at a news conference in the presidential palace. "Economic disparities between Java and elsewhere would also increase."

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Widodo said he wants to separate the center of government from the country's business and economic center in Jakarta.

Jakarta is an archetypical Asian mega-city with 10 million people, or 30 million including those in its greater metropolitan area. It is prone to earthquakes and flooding and is rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled extraction of ground water. The ground water and rivers are highly contaminated. Congestion is estimated to cost the economy $6.5 billion a year.

Mineral-rich East Kalimantan was once almost completely covered by rainforests, but illegal logging has removed many of its original growth. It is home to only 3.5 million people and is surrounded by Kutai National Park, known for orangutans and other primates and mammals.

Widodo said the relocation of the capital to a 180,000-hectare (444,780-acre) site will take up a decade and cost as much as 466 trillion rupiah ($32.5 billion), of which 19% will come from the state budget and the rest will be funded by cooperation between the government and business entities and by direct investment by state-run companies and the private sector.

He said the studies determined that the best site is between two districts, North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, an area that has minimal risk of disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanic eruptions or landslides in the seismically active nation.

Indonesia's founding father and first president, Sukarno, once planned to relocate the capital to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province.

Infrastructure improvement has been Widodo's signature policy and helped him win a second term in April elections.

Decades of discussions about building a new capital on Borneo island moved forward in April when Widodo approved a general relocation plan. He appealed for support for the move in an annual national address on the eve of Indonesia's independence day on Aug. 16.

He said Monday that his government is still drafting a law on the new capital which will need to be approved by Parliament.


Iraq coalition calls Israeli strikes a 'declaration of war'

This photo shows the aftermath of a drone attack near Qaim border crossing with Syria, in Anbar province, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (Popular Mobilization Forces via AP)

Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Ali Abdul Hassan

Baghdad (AP) — A powerful bloc in Iraq's parliament called on Monday for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, following a series of airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Shiite militias in the country that have been blamed on Israel.

The Fatah Coalition said it holds the United States fully responsible for the alleged Israeli aggression, "which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people." The coalition is a parliament bloc representing Iran-backed paramilitary militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.

The coalition's statement came a day after a drone strike in the western Iraqi town of Qaim killed a commander with the forces — the latest in strikes apparently conducted by Israel against the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. It added that U.S. troops are no longer needed in Iraq.

The Shiite militiamen, meanwhile, held a funeral procession in Baghdad for the commander killed Sunday.

"There is no greater God but God!" the mourners shouted as they marched behind a banner with the words "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." Some trampled on an American flag as they marched.

The U.S. Defense Department issued a statement Monday denying responsibility for the recent attacks and promising to cooperate with Iraqi investigations.

"We support Iraqi sovereignty and have repeatedly spoken out against any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq, " Pentagon spokesman Jonathan R. Hoffman said. "The government of Iraq has the right to control their own internal security and protect their democracy."

Anger is mounting in Iraq following a spate of mysterious airstrikes that have targeted military bases and a weapons depot belonging to Iran-backed militias. The drone attacks have not been claimed by any side but U.S. officials have said Israel was behind at least one of the attacks.

The Shiite militias have blamed the attacks on Israel but hold its ally the United States ultimately responsible. The attacks are threatening to destabilize security in Iraq, which has struggled to remain neutral in the conflict between Washington and Tehran.

"These strikes won't break us, they'll make us stronger," the militias' Lt. Gen. Hussein Abed Muttar told The Associated Press at the funeral.

Along with the commander, another member of the Shiite militia was also killed in the drone attack on Sunday evening near the Qaim border crossing with Syria. The attack targeted vehicles belonging to the Hezbollah Brigades faction, also known as Brigade 45, which operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned Shiite militias.

U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and, together with the PMF, drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.

The U.S. maintains about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and some groups say there's no longer a justification for them to be there now that IS has been defeated.

"While we reserve the right to respond to these Zionist attacks, we hold the international coalition, particularly the United States, fully responsible for this aggression which we consider a declaration of war on Iraq and its people," the statement by the Fatah Coalition said.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh hosted a meeting Monday that included the prime minister and parliament speaker as well as PMF militia leaders to discuss the recent attacks.

A statement issued after the meeting avoided blaming the drone attacks on any specific country, but described it as a "blatant act of aggression" aimed at dragging the PMF away from its ongoing role of eradicating remnants of the Islamic State group.

Absent from the meeting were the leaders of two of the most powerful factions strongly allied to Iran, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qais al-Khazali. An official who attended the meeting said they were in Iran.


Brazilian firefighters toil in Amazon region hazy with smoke

Firefighters work to put out fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest, near the city of Porto Velho in the Vila Nova Samuel region which is part of Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Luis Andres Henao and Christopher Torchia

Jacunda National Forest, Brazil (AP) — Equipped with hoses connected to rubber backpacks, Brazilian firefighters in the Amazon on Monday raced in a truck along dirt roads toward plumes of smoke after a spotter in a military helicopter directed them to a fast-spreading fire.

A landowner opened the gate of a barbed wire fence and the firefighters set to work, dousing a conflagration they believed was intentionally set to prepare land for crops or pasture. When their water supply ran out, they made a fire break, clearing brush with machetes and chainsaws to starve the blaze of its fuel.

The smoke-shrouded scene near the lush Jacunda national forest in the Amazonian state of Rondonia, witnessed by an Associated Press team, showed the enormity of the challenge ahead: putting out a multitude of blazes and safeguarding — in the long term — a vast region described by world leaders as critical to the health of the planet.

The country's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded that the number of fires has risen by 85% to more than 77,000 in the last year, a record since the institute began keeping track in 2013. About half of the fires have been in the Amazon region, with many in just the past month.

At a summit in France, the Group of Seven nations pledged $20 million on Monday to help fight the flames in the Amazon and protect the rainforest, in addition to a separate $12 million from Britain and $11 million from Canada.

The international pledges came despite tensions between European countries and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has accused rich countries of treating the region like a "colony" and suggested the West is angling to exploit Brazil's natural resources.

But the funds, which are widely seen as critical support, are still a relatively meager amount for dealing with an environmental crisis that threatens what French President Emmanuel Macron has called "the lungs of the planet."

The AP team drove for hours at a stretch outside the Rondonia capital of Porto Velho without seeing any major fires, suggesting that many had been extinguished or burned themselves out since rapidly spreading in recent weeks. Many fires were set in already deforested areas to clear land for farming and livestock.

Still, smoke billowed from charred fields and scrub, shrouding the sky. The airport in Porto Velho closed for more than one hour on Monday morning because of poor visibility caused by the haze.

Under international pressure to act, Bolsonaro said he might visit the Amazon region this week to check on firefighting efforts and would make 44,000 troops available to fight the blazes. However, the military presence in the area seemed scarce on Monday, with only a few soldiers seen patrolling roads and lending a hand.

At dawn, the blazing sun was hidden under thick smoke that blanketed the horizon like fog. Trucks carrying fresh timber sped through a road that cut through lands where heaps of ash were piled around charred logs.

Some local residents seemed torn between knowing that the fires were devastating the environment around them, and needing to extract the Amazon's rich natural resources to make a living.

"We have to preserve the land. The government has to help small farmers more, prioritize and take care of the large reserves, where people do most of the illegal things," said Willian Sabara Dos Santos, a farm manager. Behind him, a Brazilian flag on a pole fluttered in the wind next to a statue of a bull that he said was a replica of the iconic "Charging Bull" sculpture on New York's Wall Street.

In a nearby village, Darcy Rodrigo De Souza walked barefoot into a shop where people drank coffee and ate Pao de Queijo, traditional Brazilian cheese bread, on a street named "New Progress."

"We have many problems with the fires. But we also depend on the wood for our economy. If it wasn't for that, there would be nothing," said De Souza, who wore a straw hat. "It's true that the Amazon has to be protected, but this president is going to protect it. The Americans want us to protect Brazil. But why don't they protect their stuff?"

About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil; although the vast forest also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname. The Amazon's rainforests are a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and described by environmentalists as a critical defense against climate change.

On Monday, army Maj. Fabio da Paixão Pinheiro said officials have determined that the fires around Porto Velho have decreased as a result of rains over the last couple of days.

But near the Jacunda national forest, thunder boomed as firefighters worked to suffocate flames that continued to burn into the evening.

One fireman prayed for rain as he put on a protective mask. All around him, the heavy smell of burning wood permeated the air, making it hard to breathe.


Barbados braces as Tropical Storm Dorian nears Caribbean

Residents board up a storefront pharmacy as they prepare for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, in Bridgetown, Barbados, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Brandis)

 Dánica Coto

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Much of the eastern Caribbean island of Barbados shut down on Monday as Tropical Storm Dorian approached the region and gathered strength, threatening to turn into a small hurricane that forecasters said could affect the northern Windward islands and Puerto Rico in upcoming days.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley closed schools and government offices across Barbados as she warned people to remain indoors.

"When you're dead, you're dead," she said in a televised address late Sunday. "Stay inside and get some rest."

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for St. Lucia and a tropical storm warning for Barbados, Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It also issued a tropical storm watch for Puerto Rico, Dominica, Grenada, Saba and St. Eustatius. The storm was expected to dump between 3 to 8 inches (8 to 20 centimeters) of rain in Barbados and nearby islands, with isolated amounts of 10 inches (25 centimeters).

As of 8 p.m. EDT Monday, the fourth tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east-southeast of Barbados and moving west at 14 mph (22 kph). Maximum sustained winds were at 60 mph (95 kph). Forecasters said it could brush past southwest Puerto Rico late Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane and then strike the southeast corner of the Dominican Republic early Thursday.

In St. Lucia, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet announced that everything on the island of nearly 179,000 people would shut down by 6 p.m. EDT on Monday, with the hurricane expected to hit around 2 a.m. EDT on Tuesday.

"We are expecting the worst," he said.

Some were still boarding up windows and buying food and water, but not Joannes Lamontagne, who lives in the island's southwest region. He said by phone that everything at his hotel, Serenity Escape, was already protected.

"I don't wait until it's announced," he said of the storm. "We're always prepared no matter what."

Meanwhile, in Barbados, many of the 285,000 inhabitants heeded the government's warning, including Fitz Bostic, owner of Rest Haven Beach Cottages. He said he's prepared in case officials shut down power and utility services as they have in previous storms.

"We have to be very cautious," he said in a telephone interview. "The word 'storm' frightens me man. I'm very nervous."

In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, hundreds of people have been crowding into grocery stores and gas stations to prepare for Dorian, buying food, water and generators, among other things. Many are worried about power outages and heavy rains on an island still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit in September 2017. Some 30,000 homes still have blue tarps as roofs and the electrical grid remains fragile and prone to outages even during brief rain showers.

Forecasters said the storm could pass near or south of Puerto Rico on Wednesday and approach the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night.

On Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and provided a list of all the new equipment that public agencies have bought since Hurricane Maria.

"I want everyone to feel calm," she said. "Agency directors have prepared for the last two years. The experience of Maria has been a great lesson for everyone."

She said public schools will close Tuesday afternoon and that at least one cruise ship canceled its trip to Puerto Rico. She said those without a proper roof can stay in one of the 360 shelters around the island.

Also on Monday, a new tropical depression formed between the U.S. eastern coast and Bermuda. It was located 295 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and was moving east at 2 mph (4 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph). It was expected to become a tropical storm late Monday or Tuesday.


Hong Kong police draw guns, arrest 36 from latest protest

Policemen pull out their guns after a confrontation with demonstrators during a protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Kelvin Chan and Kin Cheung

Hong Kong (AP) — Hong Kong police drew their guns and fired a warning shot after protesters attacked officers with sticks and rods, and brought out water cannon trucks for the first time, in an escalation in the summer-long protests that have shaken the city's government and residents.

Sunday's main showdown took place on a major drag in the outlying Tsuen Wan district following a protest march that ended in a nearby park. While a large crowd rallied in the park, a group of hard-line protesters took over a main street, strewing bamboo poles on the pavement and lining up orange and white traffic barriers and cones to obstruct police.

After hoisting warning flags, police used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd. Protesters responded by throwing bricks and gasoline bombs toward the police. The result was a surreal scene of small fires and scattered paving bricks on the street between the two sides, rising clouds of tear gas and green and blue laser lights pointed by the protesters at the police.

The protesters eventually decided to abandon their position. Two water cannon trucks and a phalanx of police vehicles with flashing lights joined riot police on foot as they advanced up the street. They met little resistance. Television footage showed a water cannon being fired once, but perhaps more as a test, as it didn't appear to reach the retreating protesters.

Officers pulled their guns after a group of remaining protesters chased them down a street with sticks and rods, calling them "gangsters." The officers held up their shields to defend themselves as they retreated. Police said that one officer fell to the ground and six drew their pistols after they were surrounded, with one firing the warning shot.

Some protesters said they're resorting to violence because the government has not responded to their peaceful demonstrations.

"The escalation you're seeing now is just a product of our government's indifference toward the people of Hong Kong," said Rory Wong, who was at the showdown after the march.

One neighborhood resident, Dong Wong, complained about the tear gas.

"I live on the 15th floor and I can even smell it at home," he said. "I have four dogs, sneezing, sneezing all day. ... The protesters didn't do anything, they just blocked the road to protect themselves."

Police said they arrested 36 people, including a 12-year-old, for offenses such as unlawful assembly, possession of an offensive weapon and assaulting police officers.

Earlier Sunday, tens of thousands of umbrella-carrying protesters marched in the rain. Many filled Tsuen Wan Park, the endpoint of the rally, chanting, "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

The march in Hong Kong's New Territories started near the Kwai Fong train station, which has become a focal point for protesters after police used tear gas there earlier this month. Police with riot gear could be seen moving into position along the march route.

Protesters have taken to the semiautonomous Chinese territory's streets for more than two months. Their demands include democratic elections and an investigation into police use of force to quell the protests.

A large group clashed with police on Saturday after a march in the Kowloon Bay neighborhood, building barricades and setting fires in the streets. Police said they arrested 29 people for various offenses, including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting police officers.

The clashes, while not as prolonged or violent as some earlier ones, ended a brief lull in the violence. The protests, which began in early June, had turned largely peaceful the previous weekend, after weeks of escalating violence.

In nearby Macao, another Chinese territory, a pro-Beijing committee chose a businessman as the gambling hub's next leader with little of the controversy surrounding the government in Hong Kong.

Ho Iat-seng, running unopposed, will succeed current leader Chui Sai-on in December. Asked about the protests in Hong Kong, the 62-year-old Ho said they would end eventually, like a major typhoon.

Protesters in Hong Kong have demanded that the city's leader, Carrie Lam, also chosen by a pro-Beijing committee, step down, though that demand has evolved into a broader call for fully democratic elections.


Brazil's Bolsonaro causes global outrage over Amazon fires

A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Luis Andres Henao and Marcelo de Souza

Porto Velho, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has insulted adversaries and allies, disparaged women, blacks and homosexuals, and even praised his country's 1964-1985 dictatorship. Yet nothing has rallied more anger at home and criticism from abroad than his response to fires raging in parts of the Amazon region.

The far-right populist leader initially dismissed the hundreds of blazes and then questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world's largest rainforest to spur development.

In response, European leaders threatened to end a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations. Thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and outside Brazilian embassies around the world. #PrayforAmazonia became a worldwide trending topic. Pope Francis added his voice to the chorus of concern, warning that the "lung of forest is vital for our planet."

Bolsonaro finally took a less confrontational approach Friday and announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the blazes, which mostly seem to be charring land deforested, perhaps illegally, for farming and ranching rather than burning through stands of trees.

Some say it's not enough and comes too late.

"No democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through," said Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. "By breaching international environmental agreements, Brazil has been discredited, blurred and unable to exercise any type of leadership on the international stage."

Brazilian military planes began dumping water on fires in the Amazon state of Rondonia over the weekend, and a few hundred of the promised troops deployed into the fire zone. But many Brazilians again took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday to demand the administration do more. Some held banners that read: "Bol$onaro is burning our future."

Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil's economic development. Critics say the record number of fires this year has been stoked by his encouragement of farmers, loggers and ranchers to speed efforts to strip away forest.  Although he has now vowed to protect the area, they say it is only out of fear of a diplomatic crisis and economic losses.

"The international pressure today has a bigger impact than the demonstrations by Brazilians on the streets," Santoro said.

The leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday that they were preparing a plan for helping Brazil battle the fires and repair the damage.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the help would involve both technical and financial mechanisms "so that we can help them in the most effective way possible."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk with Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once the fires have been extinguished.

"Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question," she said. "The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions."

Fires are common during Brazil's dry season, but this year has set an alarming record. The country's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil this year. That is an 85% rise over last year, and about half of the fires have been in the Amazon region.

"We've had eight months without any type of concrete action in defense of the Amazon," said Rómulo Batista, a member of Greenpeace Brazil's Amazonia Campaign. He said the flames licking over swaths of the Amazon are a reflection of Bolsonaro's environmental policy.

"The government created a sense of impunity among farmers who were willing to commit illegal acts to deforest," he said.

"Thousands of species of plants and animals are being killed, many of them that we don't even know. The population of nearby cities is suffering terrible damage because they're breathing that air and it's causing them respiratory problems. And the rise in deforestation can completely alter the rain patterns by region and devastate agriculture, even in South America."

Bolsonaro has argued with critics who note that the Amazon produces vast amounts of oxygen and is considered crucial for efforts to contain climate change. But Batista predicts the fires will prove a turning point and the pressure by G-7 leaders will shift Bolsonaro's view on the environment.

Brazil's federal police agency announced Sunday that it would investigate reports that farmers in the state of Para, one of those most affected by the blazes, had called for "a day of fire" to ignite fires Aug. 10. Local news media said a group organized the action over WhatsApp to show support for Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen environmental regulations.

Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Bolsonaro "asked for a rigorous investigation" and said "the criminal fires will be severely punished."

Merkel noted Bolsonaro is putting "significant forces" into the effort to save the rainforest.

But Bolsonaro has had a tense relationship with foreign governments — including Germany's — and non-governmental groups that he accuses of meddling in his country's management of the Amazon.

Macron's office on Friday complained that the Brazilian leader "had lied to him" about environmental commitments.

Asked if he would speak with Macron, Bolsonaro said Saturday: "If he calls me, I will answer. I am being extremely well-mannered with him even though he called me 'a liar.'"


Johnson acknowledges touch and go prospects for Brexit deal

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures ahead of a working session on World Economy and Trade on the second day of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Danica Kirka

Biarritz, France (AP) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Sunday that the prospect of a Brexit deal was "touch and go," as other European Union capitals grasp the problems Britain has with the withdrawal agreement.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit, Johnson said that in the last few days, following visits to France and Germany, it has dawned on the EU what "the shape of the problem is for the U.K." Among the key issues is how to prevent the return of a border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland.

As the clock runs down to the Oct. 31 exit date, Johnson injected doubt into hopes that a deal might be stuck.

"I think it's going to be touch and go," he told the BBC. "But the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal."

And with that, there would be a price. He confirmed, speaking to broadcaster Sky, that he would withhold the bulk of the 39 billion-pound ($48 billion) Brexit divorce bill if there is not a deal.

The comments came after Johnson won U.S. President Donald Trump's approval for his approach in talks to leave the EU after a chummy meeting on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in France.

Johnson glowed as Trump said he gave him a vote of confidence in his approach to the Brexit talks. The British prime minister's promise to bring his country out of the EU on Oct. 31 no matter what has raised worries about a disorderly divorce that would see new tariffs and border checks on trade between Britain and the EU, seriously disrupting business.

Trump promised that he and Johnson would work out "a very big trade deal" between their nations once the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

"I'm very grateful for that," Johnson said. "And we're looking forward to having some pretty comprehensive talks about how to take forward the relationship in all sorts of ways, particularly on trade. We're very excited about that."

But the pair were barely past the elegant winding staircase at the Hotel du Palais when it became clear that each had a different vision of what a trade deal might look like. The United States has said it is ready to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. in pieces — rather than London's wish of a comprehensive pact.

Johnson pledged a "fantastic deal once we clear up some of the obstacles in our path." Trump interrupted, promising "lots of fantastic mini-deals."

The British prime minister badly needs a trade deal with the United States. Supporters of Brexit say a free trade deal with the United States can help make up for any reduction in commerce with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc's single market for goods and services. In 2018, Britain did almost half its trade with the EU, while the U.S. accounted for 18% of U.K. exports and 11% of imports.

"We're working on a very big trade deal and I think it's going to work out," Trump said.

The meeting between the leaders came a day after Johnson warned that getting a trade deal with the United States won't be "plain sailing" as he bemoaned barriers to the United Kingdom's goods in American markets.

Speaking to reporters as he flew to France for the Group of Seven meeting, Johnson cited examples small and large of British goods that struggle in U.S. markets for bureaucratic reasons. He cited things like cauliflower, English wine, pillows, rail cars and even parts for showers.

It wasn't just goods on Johnson's radar, but professional services, which far and away make up most of Britain's economy. Accountants, lawyers, architects and others face barriers in providing services to the U.S. that don't exist the other way around, he said.

"If you want to sell insurance in the U.K. you only need to speak to two regulators," Johnson fumed. "If you want to sell insurance in the U.S. you have to speak to 50 regulators. The same point can be made about architects and many other professions."

Even though he needs a deal, Johnson was at pains to say he wasn't giving away the store. Some sectors of the U.K. economy wouldn't be part of any pact. Johnson has promised the National Health Service will be off-limits and that animal welfare standards would be safeguarded.

The odds don't look good for Johnson, who holds a majority in Parliament of a single vote and a wish to honor a highly divisive 2016 referendum that resulted in his present course. Nonetheless, whenever cameras are near at least, he remains unflaggingly optimistic.

"Let me give you a metaphor," Johnson told ITV as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed behind him.

"I swam round that rock this morning. From here you cannot tell there is a gigantic hole in that rock. There is a way through," he said. "My point to the EU is that there is a way through, but you can't find the way through if you just sit on the beach."


Asian shares tumble as US-China trade war renews uncertainty

A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Yuri Kageyama

Tokyo (AP) — Asian shares tumbled Monday after the latest escalation in the U.S.-China trade war renewed uncertainties about global economies, as well as questions over what President Donald Trump might say next.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 started plummeting as soon as trading began and stood at 20,234.87 in the morning session, down 2.3%. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 1.5% to 6,427.20. South Korea's Kospi lost 1.7% to 1,916.14. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 3.3% to 25,309.37, while the Shanghai Composite was down 1.2% at 2,862.87.

Stephen Innes, managing partner at Valour Markets in Singapore, compared the difficulty of assessing the volatile market situation to reading tea leaves.

"Nobody understands where the president is coming from," he said, adding that the best thing Trump can do for market stability is to "keep quiet."

"The problem that we're faced right now is that we are making a lot of assumptions ahead of the economic realities."

The market is now dominated by fears of a portending U.S. recession, although the American economy is actually holding up, and much of the U.S. economy is made up of consumption, Innes said. If interest rates come down, he added, consumer spending is likely to go up, working as a buffer for the economy.

"What the market's really waiting for is for them to drop interest rates," Innes said. "Right now, we are still sitting on that uncertainty."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 600 points Friday after the latest escalation in the trade war between the U.S. and China rattled investors. The broad sell-off sent the S&P 500 to its fourth straight weekly loss.

The tumbling began after Trump responded angrily on Twitter following China's announcement of new tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods. In one of his tweets he "hereby ordered" U.S. companies with operations in China to consider moving them to other countries — including the U.S.

Trump also said he'd respond directly to the tariffs — and after the market closed he delivered, announcing that the U.S. would increase existing tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods to 30% from 25%, and that new tariffs on another $300 billion of imports would be 15% instead of 10%. Those announcements are likely to influence stock markets in Asia when trading opens there Monday.

The ongoing trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, and especially its unpredictability, is certain to have damaging effects on Asia. The unpredictability affects the real decisions central banks make on fiscal policy and companies make on their strategies and investments, setting off ripples of uncertainty.

Zhu Huani of Mizuho Bank in Singapore said what he called Trump's "tariff tantrum" was setting off "the sense that tariffs could continue to rise," with the "the unpredictability of timing and extent of these trade actions risk accentuating the paralysis of business decisions and big-ticket business spending."

"No matter which way you cut the cake, it is nearly impossible to construct a bullish, or even neutral scenario for equity markets today," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda.

The tweets from Trump around 11 a.m. last Friday ignited a wave of selling.

The S&P 500 fell 75.84 points, or 2.6%, to 2,847.11. The index is now down 4.5% for the month. It's still up 13.6% for the year. The Dow lost 623.34 points, or 2.4%, to 25,628.90. The average briefly dropped 745 points. The Dow has had five declines of 2% or more this year, with three of them coming this month. The Nasdaq gave up 239.62 points, or 3%, to 7,751.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks skidded 46.52 points, or 3.1%, to 1,459.49.

Trump also said Friday morning that he was "ordering" UPS, Federal Express and Amazon to block any deliveries from China of the powerful opioid drug fentanyl. The stocks of all three companies fell as traders tried to assess the possible implications.

Some analysts think the Federal Reserve will lower interest rates this year.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell indicated last week that the central bank was prepared to cut interest rates but gave no clear signal on when and by how much, while suggesting that uncertainty over Trump's trade wars have complicated the central bank's ability to set interest rate policy.

A quarter-point rate cut reduction in September is considered all but certain. Some think the Fed will cut rates again in December.

The price of benchmark crude fell 71 cents to $53.46 a barrel. It sank $1.18, or 2.1% to settle at $54.17 a barrel Friday, as traders worried that the latest escalation in the trade battle could sap global demand for energy. Brent crude oil, the international standard, fell 63 cents to $58.71 a barrel.

The dollar fell to 105.24 Japanese yen from 106.65 yen Friday. The euro strengthened to $1.1145 from $1.1057.


Deadly lightning storm like terror attack

Rescue helicopter and ambulance have brought to hospital the first people injured by a lighting strike that struck in Poland's southern Tatra Mountains during a sudden thunderstorm, in Zakopane, Poland, on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.(AP Photo/Bartlomiej Jurecki)

By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish emergency official on Friday likened the deadly lightning storm over the Tatra Mountains that killed at least five people and injured more than 150 to a terror attack in terms of the number of casualties and some of the wounds.

Survivors described horrific scenes in which climbers were blown off slopes, suffered severe trauma injuries after being hit by rocks or couldn't move in the initial aftermath of multiple lightning strikes that hit the Giewont peak and other locations in the Tatras on Thursday.

Polish authorities say that all people who were reported missing have been found safe over the course of Friday.

The thunderstorm, which witnesses said came suddenly on a day that began with clear weather, produced an unimaginable emergency in the popular trekking region, said Jan Krzysztof, head of the TOPR Tatra emergency service.

"This is a situation that can be compared to a terrorist attack," Krzysztof said. "A large group of random people has been hit. Many people, including children. Burnt, with broken legs, wounds all over their bodies."

Local prosecutors have opened an investigation to determine if anyone was responsible for allowing a situation in which lives were lost.  Authorities in the Tatra resort town of Zakopane announced three days of mourning and all entertainment events were canceled.

Survivors described scenes of people falling off the slopes or being hit by rocks split by lightning strikes.

Mariusz Brodzinski, who was on his first trip to the Tatras with his wife, said he saw a young woman who was walking in front of his wife on the Giewont mountain suddenly fall off the slope after lightning struck the metal chains they were holding on to.

"This woman is dead," Brodzinski told Polish broadcaster TVN24. "My wife slid and suffered a fractured pelvis and injured head. I have a burnt foot. It felt like it was scorching."

He said that for 15 minutes after the strike his hands felt numb and he had no strength to get to his wife. It was over an hour before the first helicopter came, he said.

"We were some six, seven meters (yards) from a crevasse," he said.

"We are grateful to God that we survived," Brodzinski said. "It was our first trip into the mountains and was supposed to be unforgettable. And it sure will be."

Another survivor, Robert Wojcik, told TVN24 he could see rocks flying after lighting struck near him.

"I was hit be one of the rocks and I could feel electric current run through my arm" as he was touching the rocky slope.

"I have three stitches on my head but that is peanuts compared to the others," Wojcik said.

Rescuers early Friday were checking the slopes of the popular Giewont limestone peak, which rises 1,894 meters (6,214 feet) high, for the people who didn't return to their accommodations following the storm and couldn't be reached by their families, but all of them have been located, Krzysztof said.

Officials said the lightning storm killed four people in Poland, including two children, aged 10 and 14, and two women, and a Czech tourist in neighboring Slovakia. Polish tabloid Fakt reported that the children were brother and sister.

In addition, more than 150 people caught in the storm were treated for burns, fractures and heart problems at the hospital in Zakopane. Officials said 34 people remained hospitalized Friday in Zakopane, Krakow and other locations.

Among them were three teenagers aged between 11 and 16 who suffered serious burns. Nobody was in life-threatening condition, according to hospital officials.

Krzysztof said it was a "disaster on the Giewont" and that the major mountain rescue operation that involved five helicopters and about 180 rescuers and firefighters "went beyond" any scenario that his team had ever faced.

But rescuers also said that many people ignored the signs of the approaching storm and continued up the peak, instead of hurrying down to safety. They appealed to tourists to pay more attention to weather forecasts and conditions. The trails to Giewont have been closed indefinitely.

The Tatras, part of the Carpathian mountain range, are the highest mountains in Poland and in Slovakia and attract tourists from near and far with scenic lakes and peaks that soar to 2,655 meters (8,710 feet). Giewont is a highly frequented destination, often with long lines waiting to get to the top, but the metal chains that were installed there to aid the climbers and a huge metal cross atop attract lighting, making it very dangerous during thunderstorms.

The deadly storm raised a debate on social media on whether the 15-meter (50 feet) cross installed in 1901 by residents of the deeply Catholic region should be removed. Krzysztof argued that lightning struck other places and that many people climb up especially to reach the cross.

Thursday's lightning strikes were the worst tragedy in the Tatras since August 1937, when lighting killed four people on Giewont.


Putin orders Russia to respond after US missile test

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with members of the Security Council in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Putin ordered the Russian military to ponder a quid pro quo response after Sunday's test of a new U.S. missile banned under a now-defunct arms treaty. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military on Friday to work out a quid pro quo response after the test of a new U.S. missile banned under a now-defunct arms treaty.

In Sunday's test, a modified ground-launched version of a U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile accurately struck its target more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away. The test came after Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Speaking at a meeting of his Security Council, Putin charged that the U.S. waged a "propaganda campaign" alleging Russian breaches of the pact to "untie its hands to deploy the previously banned missiles in different parts of the world."

He ordered the Defense Ministry and other agencies to "take comprehensive measures to prepare a symmetrical answer."

The U.S. said it withdrew from the treaty because of Russian violations, a claim that Moscow has denied.

In an interview this week with Fox News, Defense Secretary Mark Esper asserted that the Russian cruise missiles Washington has long claimed were a violation of the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty, might be armed with nuclear warheads.

"Right now Russia has possibly nuclear-tipped cruise - INF-range cruise missiles facing toward Europe, and that, that's not a good thing," Esper said.

The Russian leader noted that Sunday's test was performed from a launcher similar to those deployed at a U.S. missile defense site in Romania. He argued that the Romanian facility and a prospective similar site in Poland could also be loaded with missiles intended to hit ground targets instead of interceptors.

Putin has previously pledged that Russia wouldn't deploy the missiles previously banned by the INF Treaty to any area before the U.S. does that first, but he noted Friday that the use of the universal launcher means that a covert deployment is possible.

"How would we know what they will deploy in Romania and Poland — missile defense systems or strike missile systems with a significant range?" Putin said.

Russia long has charged that the U.S. launchers loaded with missile defense interceptors could be used for firing surface-to-surface missiles. Putin said that Sunday's test has proven that the U.S. denials have been false.

"It's indisputable now," the Russian leader said.

He added the missile test that came just 16 days after the INF treaty's termination has shown that the U.S. long had started work on the new systems banned by the treaty.

While Putin hasn't spelled out possible retaliatory measures, some Moscow-based military experts theorized that Russia could adapt the sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles for use from ground launchers.

The Interfax news agency quoted a retired Russian general, Vladimir Bogatyryov, as saying that Moscow could put such missiles in Cuba or Venezuela if the U.S. deploys new missiles near Russian borders.

Putin said Russia will continue working on new weapons in response to the U.S. moves, but will keep a tight lid on spending.

"We will not be drawn into a costly arms race that would be disastrous for our economy," Putin said, adding that Russia ranks seventh in military spending after the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Japan.

He added Russia remains open to an "equal and constructive dialogue with the U.S. to rebuild mutual trust and strengthen international security."

Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


Global worry over Amazon fires escalates; Bolsonaro defiant

By MARCELO SILVA de SOUSA Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Amid global concern about raging fires in the Amazon, Brazil's government complained Thursday that it is being targeted in smear campaign by critics who contend President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough to curb widespread deforestation.

The threat to what some call "the lungs of the planet" has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who has described Brazil's rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development and who traded Twitter jabs on Thursday with France's president over the fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an international crisis and said the leaders of the Group of 7 nations should hold urgent discussions about them at their summit in France this weekend.

"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet's oxygen — is on fire," Macron tweeted.

Bolsonaro fired back with his own tweet: "I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem."

Onyx Lorenzoni, the president's chief of staff, earlier in the day accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in Brazil in order to disrupt its commercial interests.

"There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say," said Lorenzoni, according to the Brazilian news website globo.com.

His allegation came after Germany and Norway, citing Brazil's apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazilian forests.

The debate came as Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84 percent over the same period in 2018. Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted: "In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected."

Federal prosecutors in Brazil's Amazon region launched investigations of increasing deforestation, according to local media. Prosecutors said they plan to probe possible negligence by the national government in the enforcement of environmental codes.

Bolivia is also struggling to contain big fires, many believed to have been set by farmers clearing land for cultivation.

Bolsonaro said there was a "very strong" indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.

Bolsonaro, who won election last year, also accused media organizations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.

"Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela," he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighboring South American country.

London-based Amnesty International blamed the Brazilian government for the fires, which have escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The rights group this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty's secretary general.

"Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires," Naidoo said.

The WWF conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro's allegations about NGOs, saying they divert "the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon."

Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, won office after channeling outrage over the corruption scandals of the former government.

Filipe Martins, an adviser to Bolsonaro, said on Twitter that the Brazilian government is committed to fighting illegal deforestation and that many other countries are causing environmental damage.

The Amazon will be saved by Brazil and not "the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs," Martins said.

Sergio Bergman, Argentina's environment minister, appealed for people to overcome political or ideological divisions to protect the environment. He spoke at a five-day U.N. workshop on climate change in Brazil's northern state of Bahia.

"We all, in a way, understand that it is not possible to keep using natural resources without limits," Bergman said.

Associated Press journalists Victor Caivano in Salvador, Brazil, and Christopher Torchia in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.


As global economic picture dims, solutions seem out of reach

By PAUL WISEMAN, DAVID McHUGH and JOSH BOAK AP Business Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) — As global leaders gather on two continents to take account of a darkening economic outlook, this is the picture they face:

Factories are slumping, many businesses are paralyzed, global growth is sputtering and the world's two mightiest economies are in the grip of a dangerous trade war.

Barely a year after most of the world's major countries were enjoying an unusual moment of shared prosperity, the global economy may be at risk of returning to the rut it tumbled into after the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Worse, solutions seem far from obvious. Central banks can't just slash interest rates. Rates are already ultra-low. And even if they did, the central banks would risk robbing themselves of  the ammunition they would need later to fight a recession. What's more, high government debts make it politically problematic to cut taxes or pour money into new bridges, roads and other public works projects.

"Our tools for fighting recession are no doubt more limited (than) in the past," said Karen Dynan, an economist at Harvard University's Kennedy School.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have downgraded the outlook for worldwide growth. On Thursday, Moody's Investors Service said it expects the global economy to expand 2.7% this year and next — down from 3.2% the previous two years. And it issued a dark warning: Get used to it.

"The new normal will likely continue for the next three to four years," the credit rating agency said.

Concerns are rising just as central bankers meet in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies gather this weekend in the resort town of Biarritz in southwestern France. A spotlight will shine, in particular, on whatever message Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sends in a speech Friday in Jackson Hole.

The dour global outlook partly reflects President Donald Trump's combative trade conflicts with China and other countries. A realization has taken hold that Trump likely will keep deploying tariffs — and in some cases escalating them — to try to beat concessions out of U.S. trading partners.

"The trade uncertainty is here to stay," said Madhavi Bokil, senior credit officer at Moody's.

Squeezed by tightening protectionism, global trade is likely to grow just 2.5% this year, its slowest pace in three years, the IMF says. Manufacturers, whose fortunes are closely tied to trade, are struggling. J.P. Morgan's global manufacturing index dropped in July for a third straight month, hitting the lowest level since 2012.

The global funk also reflects the pull of gravity: The economies of Europe and Japan, fueled by central banks' easy-money policies, overexerted themselves a couple of years ago and are now returning to their more typical state: Sluggishness.

The IMF expects China's economy, the world's second biggest, to grow 6.2% this year — the weakest since 1990 — and just 6% next year. Trump's trade war is certainly a factor. The president has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and is set to tax nearly $300 billion more before year's end. China's slowdown is also being orchestrated in part by the officials in Beijing, who are trying to contain lending to control the country's runaway debts.

And an economic chill in China sends shivers into the many countries — from copper-producing Chile to iron ore-making Australia — that feed Chinese factories with raw materials.

Then there's Europe. In the 19 countries that use the euro currency, growth slowed to an anemic 0.2% in the second quarter from the quarter before. The eurozone, which maintains close trade ties with the U.S. and China, has been sideswiped by the collision between Trump and President Xi Jinping. What's more, Trump has threatened to impose significant tariffs on European auto imports.

Even more than the tariffs themselves, uncertainty over whether the trade disputes will be resolved is chilling investment and purchasing.  Despite cheap borrowing costs from central bank stimulus, investment in new plants is lagging — an ominous sign that bosses don't foresee future prosperity.

In Europe's usual economic powerhouse, Germany, the economy shrank 0.1% in the second quarter from the quarter before. If output should fall for a second straight quarter, , Germany would find itself on the verge of a recession.

Some of Germany's troubles originate closer to home. Its major automakers have been compelled to sink billions into technology to meet stricter emissions tests, and some have endured delays in doing so. BMW lost money on its car business for the first time in a decade in the first quarter. Daimler posted its first net loss since 2009 in the second quarter.

Brexit is another risk for Europe. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK will leave the 28-country European Union and its free-trade zone on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. Not knowing what will happen is a nagging source of uncertainty.

Facing such risks, the European Central Bank has signaled that it could launch new monetary stimulus as early as next month. As recently as December, the ECB had been confident enough in the European economy to halt a nearly four-year, $2.6 trillion euro ($2.9 trillion) bond purchase program. That optimism has vanished.

The U.S. economy, now enjoying a record-breaking 10-year expansion, still shows resilience. American consumers, whose spending accounts for 70% of U.S. economic activity, have driven the growth.

Retail sales have risen sharply so far this year, with people shopping online and spending more at restaurants. Their savings rates are also the highest since 2012, which suggests that consumers aren't necessarily stretching themselves too thin, according to the Commerce Department.

But Trump's tariffs loom over the U.S. economy. The import taxes he plans to impose on China on Sept. 1 and again on Dec. 15 are likely to hit ordinary Americans more than the earlier rounds of tariffs.

Already, companies are delaying investments because they don't know where to put new factories, seek suppliers or find customers until they have a better idea where the trade disputes are going. "Uncertainty is high," said Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management. "Businesses everywhere are sitting on their hands."

"All forecasts for the U.S. economy in the second half of this year and beyond are contingent on the trade war," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, concluded in a note Thursday.

For all the global gloom, RBC's Lascelles said policymakers aren't without options. Even with short-term interest rates near zero, central banks can aggressively buy bonds to pump money into the financial system — the so-called quantitative easing the Federal Reserve, the ECB and the Bank of Japan used to revive growth during and after the financial crisis.

And even with the heavy debt burdens, governments could capitalize on low rates to borrow cheaply if they decided to stimulate their economies with tax cuts or stepped-up spending, Lascelles said.

McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany.


UN report condemns sexual violence by Myanmar military

Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, FILE)

A general view of Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Thursday, Aug.22, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu, FILE)

By GRANT PECK Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Sexual violence carried out by Myanmar's security forces against the country's Muslim Rohingya minority was so widespread and severe that it demonstrates intent to commit genocide as well as warrants prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a U.N. report charged Thursday.

The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said it found the country's soldiers "routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people in blatant violation of international human rights law."

Its report on sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar covers the Kachin and Shan ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar as well as the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine.

The report, released in New York, charges that the genocidal intent of Myanmar's military toward the Rohingya was demonstrated "by means of killing female members of the Rohingya community, causing Rohingya women and girls serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting on the Rohingya women and girls conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya in whole or in part, and imposing measures that prevented births within the group."

Many human rights groups have accused Myanmar of carrying out genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. In an earlier report, the U.N. mission documented other major abuses in Rakhine since 2016, including widespread killings and torching of villages, and found that similar abuses were carried out in Kachin and Shan states.

The fact-finding mission, led by Indonesian human rights lawyer Marzuki Darusman, was established by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in 2017 in reaction to increasing repression of the Rohingya, an ostracized minority in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. Violence against the Rohingya increased markedly in August that year, when security forces launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya villagers into neighboring Bangladesh.

The Rohingya refugees still live in squalid camps in Bangladesh, and a planned effort Thursday to repatriate an initial large group to Myanmar collapsed when none showed up to be taken back.

The new report condemns Myanmar's failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of the abuses, noting that "such violence was only possible in a climate of long-standing tolerance and impunity, where military personnel had no reasonable fear of punishment or disciplinary action."

The report says its finding of genocidal intent toward the Rohingya was supported by "the widespread and systematic killing of women and girls, the systematic selection of women and girls of reproductive ages for rape, attacks on pregnant women and on babies, the mutilation and other injures to their reproductive organs, the physical branding of their bodies by bite marks on their cheeks, neck, breast and thigh, and so severely injuring victims that they may be unable to have sexual intercourse with their husbands or to conceive and leaving them concerned that they would no longer be able to have children."

A less detailed 2018 report by the fact-finding mission also tied sexual and gender-based violence to genocidal intent, citing the statements of Myanmar officials and what was described as an "organized plan of destruction that included the targeting of women and girls of reproductive age for rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence" and the military's "extreme brutality, including attacks on pregnant mothers and on babies."

Myanmar's government and military have consistently denied carrying out human rights violations, and said its military operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

In reaction to another report by the mission earlier this month about the alleged corporate enablers of the military, Myanmar's foreign ministry said that in establishing the fact-finding mission, the U.N. Human Rights Council "exceeded its mandate and contravened the terms and practices of International Law. We do not recognize either the Fact-Finding Mission or the report that it produced. The Government of Myanmar categorically rejects the latest report and its conclusions."


Danish ex-PM attacks Trump for comments on defense spending

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen makes a comment about US President's cancellation of his scheduled State Visit, in front of the State Department in Copenhagen, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix)

By JAN M. OLSEN Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A former Danish prime minister on Thursday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump for his tweet about military spending, saying defense willingness is not just about the amount of money spent.

Lars Loekke Rasmussen's comment is the latest in an escalating spat between the U.S. and Denmark after Trump scrapped a visit to the country, saying current Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was "nasty" when she rejected his idea of buying Greenland as an absurdity.

Loekke Rasmussen, who led the country until June, tweeted Thursday to Trump: "We have had (proportionally) exactly the same numbers of casualties in Afghanistan as US. We always stand firm and ready."

Trump, who has urged NATO members to do more to meet the alliance's goal of committing 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense, earlier tweeted that "Denmark is only at 1.35%."

"We will not accept that our defense willingness is only about percentages," Loekke Rasmussen tweeted. "I told you at the NATO Summit in Brussels last year."

In January, Denmark agreed to increase its long-term defense spending after a coalition in Parliament agreed to add 1.5 billion kroner ($223 million) to the already agreed-upon defense budget for 2023, which would put defense spending at 1.5 percent of gross domestic product for that year. The U.S. spends about 3.4% of its GDP on defense.

Trump abruptly canceled his planned Sept. 2-3 visit to Denmark on Tuesday, after Frederiksen had called Trump's idea to buy Greenland "an absurd discussion."

Trump said her comment "was nasty. I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to say was say, 'No, we wouldn't be interested.'"

Frederiksen said the U.S. remains one of Denmark's close allies.

The political brouhaha over the world's largest island comes from its strategic location in the Arctic. Global warming is making Greenland more accessible to potential oil and mineral resources. Russia, China, the U.S., Canada and other countries are racing to stake as strong a claim as they can to Arctic lands, hoping they will yield future riches.

Frederiksen has said that Denmark doesn't own Greenland, which belongs to its people. It is part of the Danish realm along with the Faeroe Islands, another semi-autonomous territory, and has its own government and parliament, the 31-seat Inatsisartut.

The sparsely populated island, which is four times zones behind Copenhagen, became a Danish colony in 1775 and remained that way until 1953, when Denmark revised its constitution and made the island a province.

In 1979, Greenland and its 56,000 residents, who are mainly indigenous Inuits, got extensive home rule but Denmark still handles its foreign and defense policies, as well as currency issues.

Denmark pays annual subsidies of 4.5 billion kroner ($670 million) to Greenland whose economy otherwise depends on fisheries and related industries.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with his Danish counterpart and "expressed appreciation for Denmark's cooperation as one of the United States' allies and Denmark's contributions to address shared global security priorities."

Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Pompeo and Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod "also discussed strengthening cooperation with the Kingdom of Denmark — including Greenland — in the Arctic."

"Appreciate frank, friendly and constructive talk with @SecPompeo this evening, affirming strong US-DK bond," Kofod tweeted Wednesday evening. "U.S. & Denmark are close friends and allies with long history of active engagement across globe."
 


FBI takes down Nigerian fraudsters in $46M case

Federal agents hold a detainee, second from left, at a downtown Los Angeles parking lot after predawn raids that saw dozens of people arrested in the L.A. area Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

By STEFANIE DAZIO Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The relationship between a Japanese woman and a U.S. Army captain stationed in Syria started online, through an international social network for digital pen pals. It grew into an internet romance over 10 months of daily emails.

It ended with the woman $200,000 poorer and on the verge of bankruptcy after borrowing money from her sister, ex-husband and friends to help Capt. Terry Garcia with his plan to smuggle diamonds out of Syria.

In reality, there were no diamonds and there was no Garcia — they were part of an elaborate scam hatched by an international ring of cyber thieves operating mainly out of Los Angeles and Nigeria.

Federal authorities cited the case of the Japanese woman, known only as "F.K." in court papers, on Thursday when they announced an indictment charging 80 people with stealing at least $46 million through various schemes that targeted businesses, the elderly and anyone susceptible to a romance scam. Most of the defendants are Nigerians.

"We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told a news conference. "We are taking a major step to disrupt these criminal networks."

The investigation began in 2016 with a single bank account and one victim, said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office. It grew to encompass victims who were targeted in the U.S. and around the world, some of whom like the Japanese woman lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"F.K. was and is extremely depressed and angry about these losses," the federal complaint states. "She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her."

Her relationship began innocently in March 2016 with an email but soon "Garcia" made "romantic overtures," according to federal authorities. He told her they couldn't talk by phone because he wasn't allowed to use one in Syria.

So a stream of emails went back and worth, with her using Google to translate his English into her Japanese.  A month into the relationship, Garcia told her he'd found a bag of diamonds in Syria and he began introducing her to his associates, starting with a Red Cross representative who told her Garcia had been injured but had given him the box.

F.K. ultimately made 35 to 40 payments, receiving as many as 10 to 15 emails a day directing her to send money to accounts in the U.S., Turkey and the United Kingdom through the captain's many purported associates.

The fraudsters even threatened her with arrest if she did not continue to pay and at one point she traveled to Los Angeles because she was told a Russian bank manager had embezzled more than $33,000 of her funds.

Authorities arrested 14 defendants Thursday, mostly in the Los Angeles area. FBI agents could be seen processing suspects in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot before they were arraigned in federal court. It was not immediately known if they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

Two suspects were previously in custody and a few others were arrested earlier this week. Hanna said he hoped to be able to work with foreign governments to extradite the remaining defendants.

They all face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft, and some are charged with additional offenses for alleged fraud and money laundering.


S. Korea cancels Japan intelligence deal amid trade dispute

 

South Korean police officers stand guard in front of Japanese embassy as a rally demanding the South Korean government to abolish the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, an intelligence-sharing agreement between South Korea and Japan, is held near the embassy, in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

By HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Thursday it will terminate an intelligence-sharing deal with Japan that focused on classified information about North Korea, a surprise announcement that is likely to set back U.S. efforts to bolster security cooperation with two of its most important allies in the Asian region.

South Korea attributed the decision to its bitter trade dispute with Japan, which has plunged the two countries' relations to their lowest point since they established diplomatic ties in 1965. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono called the decision "extremely regrettable" and summoned the South Korean ambassador to protest the linking of trade and security issues.

Many experts had predicted that South Korea would be unlikely to spike the 3-year-old intelligence-sharing deal for the sake of its relations with the United States. South Korea has been seeking U.S. help in resolving the trade dispute, and Seoul and Washington have also been working together to restart stalled talks on stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons.

South Korea's presidential office said it terminated the intelligence deal because Japan's recent decision to downgrade South Korea's trade status caused a "grave" change in security cooperation between the countries.

"Under this situation, the government has determined that maintaining the agreement, which was signed for the purpose of exchanging sensitive military intelligence on security, does not serve our national interests," Kim You-geun, the deputy director of South Korea's presidential national security office, said in a nationally televised statement.

He said South Korea would formally notify Japan of its decision before Saturday, the deadline for an extension of the pact for another year.

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono said in a statement that the decision "was an action that completely misjudged the current security environment in the region and is extremely regrettable."

He said South Korea's linking of trade and security was "absolutely unacceptable, and we firmly protest to the South Korean government."

Since early last month, Japan has imposed stricter controls on exports to South Korea of three chemicals essential for manufacturing semiconductors and display screens — key export items for South Korea — and decided to remove South Korea from a list of countries granted preferential trade status.

South Korea accuses Japan of weaponizing trade to punish it over a separate dispute linked to Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan denies that, saying its steps were taken because of unspecified security concerns.

The Japanese trade curbs triggered an outburst of anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea. Many South Korean citizens rallied in the streets, canceled planned holiday trips to Japan and launched widespread boycotts of Japanese beer, clothes and other products. The South Korean government, for its part, decided to downgrade Japan's trade status.

Some experts say the tit-for-tat actions could eventually hurt South Korea's economy more than Tokyo's. Many big South Korean manufacturers including Samsung rely heavily on materials and components imported from Japan, while Japan doesn't import many vital materials from South Korea.

Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who earlier declared his country would "never again lose" to Japan, used the Aug. 15 anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan to extend an olive branch. Moon said Seoul will "gladly join hands" if Tokyo wanted to talk.

There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. government. On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, told reporters in Seoul that he appreciated what he called "strong and continued cooperation between the U.S., South Korea and Japan."

The intelligence deal went into effect in 2016, reportedly at the strong urging of the United States, which wants to boost three-day security cooperation to better cope with North Korea's nuclear threat and a rising China. The United States stations a total of 80,000 troops in the two Asian countries, the core of America's military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Experts said the deal enabled a quicker exchange of information between Seoul and Tokyo, because they had previously exchanged intelligence via the United States. In 2012, the countries nearly forged a similar deal but it was scrapped at the last minute following a vehement backlash in South Korea.

However, it is unclear how effective the deal has been for both countries, especially on intelligence on North Korea, one of the world's most secretive countries. But there has been a general consensus that South Korea needed information gathered by Japanese satellites and other high-tech systems, while Japan enjoyed signal, voice and human intelligence from South Korea.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday that it will try to maintain a "stable and perfect combined security posture" with the United States regardless of the termination of the intelligence deal. It called the South Korean-U.S. alliance "powerful."

South Korean government and ruling party officials have publicly questioned how Seoul could share intelligence with a country that questioned Seoul's handling of sensitive materials imported from Japan. Without providing concrete evidence, some Japanese officials including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have suggested that some critical Japanese materials with potential military applications exported to South Korea may have reached North Korea. Seoul flatly denies that.

The fate of the deal had divided people in South Korea. Some argued that South Korea should do whatever it could to inflict pain on Japan, and that just floating the idea of ending the intelligence deal could force the United States to persuade Japan to lift its trade curbs. But some stressed that the deal's cancellation would impair relations with the United States at a time when South Korea faces many security challenges including the stalemated North Korean nuclear talks.

Moon's government has lobbied hard to facilitate talks between the U.S. and North Korea on the nuclear crisis. But the diplomacy has remained largely stalemated for months, and North Korea now says it won't go through South Korea to talk to the United States. The North recently test-fired a series of short-range missiles and other weapons capable of striking much of South Korea.

Last month, a Russian military plane allegedly violated South Korean airspace in the first such trespassing by a foreign warplane since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Russian and Chinese warplanes allegedly also made a highly unusual joint entrance to South Korea's air defense identification zone, in what analysts said was an attempt to see how the Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security cooperation worked.

South Korea's main conservative opposition party accused the Moon government of confusing "genuine courage" with "foolhardy courage." The Liberty Korea Party said security coordination with Washington and Japan needed to be solidified in the face of strengthening cooperation among Russia, China and North Korea.

"We would have lots of things to lose from the deal's termination," said analyst Go Myong-Hyun of the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "If the U.S. turned its back on South Korea, we would be completely isolated in Northeast Asia."

On Thursday evening, about 30 anti-Tokyo activists gathered near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to welcome the intelligence deal's termination. Jubilant participants held placards that read "The scrapping of the South Korea-Japan deal is a people's victory."

Associated Press journalists Lee Jin-man in Seoul, South Korea, and Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.


Indian spacecraft launched last month is now orbiting moon

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan speaks during a press conference at their headquarters in Bangalore, India, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

NEW DELHI (AP) — An unmanned spacecraft India launched last month began orbiting the moon Tuesday as it approaches the lunar south pole to study previously discovered water deposits.

The Indian Space Research Organization said it successfully maneuvered Chandrayaan-2, the Sanskrit word for "moon craft," into lunar orbit, nearly a month after it left Earth. The mission is led by two female scientists.

Chandrayaan will continue circling the moon in a tighter orbit until reaching a distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the moon's surface.

The lander will then separate from the orbiter and use rocket fuel to brake as it attempts India's first moon landing on a relatively flat surface between two craters in the south polar region on Sept. 7 — an area where no moon landing has been attempted before.

The mission is on track even though the launch was delayed by a week.

The success rate of landing on the moon is only 37%, ISRO chairman Dr. K. Sivan said in a news conference. When the semi-autonomous lander uses artificial intelligence to land on its own, after matching the landing spot with pre-loaded images of the region, "it'll be a mix of feeling, of happiness and tension and more anxiety," Sivan said, likening it to a "bridegroom separated from the parents' house."

A rover will study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain 100 million tons of water, deposits that were confirmed by India's Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.

Scientists believe water and mineral deposits could make the moon a good pit stop for further space travel.

Sivan said NASA's Artemis mission will use the data from Chandrayaan-2 to send astronauts to the moon by 2024, preparing the way for human missions to Mars.

"The globe is waiting for our data," Sivan said.

"We are going to land at a place for the first time on the south pole and NASA has already announced the project of a having human habitat type of thing on the south pole. So this will be giving input on a program which is concerning humanity in a major way," he added.

Sivan has said that the around $140 million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation's most prestigious to date, in part because of the technical complexities of landing on the lunar surface — an event he described as "15 terrifying minutes."

If India did manage the landing, it would be only the fourth country to do so after the U.S., Russia and China.


UN: Don't worry about drinking microplastics in water

In this May 23 2019 file photo, Southern Connecticut State University professor Vincent Breslin holds a sample of water that contains possible microplastics at the North Haven Water Treatment Plant on Universal Drive. (Bailey Wright/Record-Journal via AP)

By JAMEY KEATEN and MARIA CHENG Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization says the levels of microplastics in drinking water don't appear to be risky, but that research has been spotty and more is needed into their effects on the environment and health.

Microplastics are created when man-made materials break down into tiny particles smaller than about 5 millimeters  (roughly one-fifth of an inch), although there is no strict scientific definition.

In a report published Wednesday, the U.N. health agency said the minuscule plastics are "ubiquitous in the environment" and have been found in drinking water, including both tap and bottled, most likely as the result of treatment and distribution systems."But just because we're ingesting them doesn't mean we have a risk to human health," said Bruce Gordon, WHO's coordinator of water, sanitation and hygiene. "The main conclusion is, I think, if you are a consumer drinking bottled water or tap water, you shouldn't necessarily be concerned."

Gordon acknowledged, however, that the available data is "weak" and that more research is needed. He also urged broader efforts to reduce plastic pollution.

The report is WHO's first review to investigate the potential human health risks of microplastics. It said people have inadvertently consumed microplastics and other particles in the environment for decades without sign of harm.

Andrew Mayes, a senior lecturer in chemistry at Britain's University of East Anglia who didn't participate in the WHO report, agreed that microplastics in water don't appear to be a health worry for now.

"But I wouldn't want people to go away with the idea that microplastics are no longer important," because they might be harming the environment, he said. He said stronger measures to reduce plastic are needed.

"We know that these types of materials cause stress to small organisms," he said. "They could be doing a lot of damage in unseen ways."

"Even if we stop (adding) plastic to the environment right now, microplastics will increase as larger pieces divide into smaller and smaller pieces," Mayes said, adding scientists have little understanding of the long-term consequences.

WHO called for further analysis of microplastics in the environment and their potential health significance.

Gordon said that although WHO would continue to monitor levels of microplastics in water, the higher priority is proven risks in drinking water like bacteria that cause typhoid and cholera.

"These are things that cause immediate illness and can kill a million people," he said.

Cheng reported from London.


Hong Kong police in standoff with protesters after sit-in

Riot police gather outside the Yuen Long MTR station during a protest in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

By JOHNSON LAI and YVES VAN DAM Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong riot police faced off briefly with protesters occupying a suburban train station Wednesday evening following a commemoration of a violent attack there by masked assailants on supporters of the anti-government movement.

Near the end of the event, the police began what they called a "dispersal operation, using minimum force" after some protesters blocked roads and flashed laser pointers at officers.

Police with riot shields faced off at the station entrance against a group of remaining protesters, who sprayed a firehose and spread soap on the floor to slow a police approach, while piling up trash bins, a wheelchair and umbrellas in a makeshift blockade.

They also discharged fire extinguishers, creating a cloud obscuring visibility. The station's entrance shutters were lowered, barricading the protesters inside.

The confrontation ended without further incident, as police retreated and protesters left on trains.

The black-clad protesters flooded earlier into Yuen Long station to commemorate the July 21 rampage by a group of men suspected of organized crime links, in what was a shocking escalation of the city's summer of protest.

The protesters observed a moment of silence, then covered their right eyes, a reference to a woman who reportedly suffered a severe eye injury from a police projectile.

Many sat on the station floor, while others walked slowly around the concourse in a protest march.

Chanting "Liberate Hong Kong" and "Revolution of our times," they also drew attention to what they say is the lack of progress by police in investigating the attack, which left both protesters and passers-by injured. Protesters have accused the police of colluding with the attackers by pointing to their delayed response, but authorities have denied it.

Police say they have arrested 28 people in connection with the attack but haven't charged anyone yet. They say some of those arrested have triad links, referring to organized crime syndicates.

The anti-government protests began more than two months ago and have spiraled into a political crisis, with supporters demanding full democracy and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

The Yuen Long attack came after a massive protest was winding down in July. The assailants, all clad in white in contrast to the protesters' black, swung wooden poles and steel rods, injuring 45 people.

Also Wednesday, China said a staffer at the British consulate in Hong Kong has been given 15 days of administrative detention in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen for violating regulations on public order.

The case is stoking fears that Beijing is extending its judicial reach to semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

"The relevant employee is a Hong Kong resident, not a British citizen," so the case is "purely the internal affairs of China," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing.

A small group of supporters gathered outside the British consulate to demand the U.K. government step up efforts to secure the release of the man, Simon Cheng Man-kit, chanting "Save Simon now!"

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China brooked no foreign interference in Hong Kong but understood foreign countries' concerns about the safety of their citizens and investments and was determined to maintain the territory's stability and prosperity under the "one country, two systems" framework, which gives Hong Kong wide autonomy.

"We believe the government of the special administrative region can maintain (foreign nationals') proper legal rights. All sides should understand and support the special region government in stemming violence and chaos using the law and take an objective and fair stance on this," Wang said, according to a statement on the ministry's website.

Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan contributed to this report.


Rust-belt China looks abroad as economy slows, tariffs bite

In this July 24, 2019, photo, workers watch as a truck passes by stacks of shipping containers at a port in Yingkou in northeastern China's Liaoning Province. (AP Photo/Olivia Zhang)

By OLIVIA ZHANG Associated Press

YINGKOU, China (AP) — From Thailand to Kenya, trains run on tracks from steel mills in China's northeast, a rust-belt region that is trying to capitalize on a multibillion-dollar national initiative to build ports, railways and other projects abroad.

Announced in 2012, the Belt and Road Initiative is helping to boost demand from developing countries at a time when China's economy is slowing and exporters face U.S. tariff hikes in a war over trade and technology.

It calls for building railways, power plants and other infrastructure across an arc of more than 60 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Europe and Africa. Estimates of the total cost of planned projects run as high as $6 trillion, though it's unclear if all will be built.

Ansteel, in Liaoning province, has won bids to supply steel for railways in Thailand and Kenya. In Pakistan, the company has delivered 8,000 tons of track for the $1.6 billion Orange Line of the Lahore Metro.

"Where the Belt and Road construction goes, our railway tracks will follow," said Wang Jun, manager of Ansteel's Bayuquan production base in Yingkou.

State-owned Ansteel is among dozens of suppliers of steel, industrial equipment and other goods in the region that are pinning their export hopes on Chinese building projects.

Liaoning was left behind as market-style economic reforms transformed China's east coast and southeast into the world's factory.

Most Belt and Road projects are financed by Chinese bank loans and built by Chinese contractors using technology, steel and other materials from China.

The government releases no information on the number of projects or the scale of investment. Less than $200 billion had been spent through the end of 2018, according to Derek Scissors at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Liaoning's exports to Belt and Road countries rose 20.3% in the first quarter of 2019 from a year earlier, according to the provincial Commerce Department.

Sales to Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates doubled, said the department's deputy director, He Rui.

President Donald Trump's tariff hikes have dented Liaoning's exports, but the United States accounts for only 10% of its foreign sales of car parts, refined oil and farm goods, said He.

Ansteel built the Bayuquan base to sell to Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, according to Wang.

Many host governments want more building materials to come from local suppliers, but Belt and Road still is an export opportunity for Chinese suppliers of high-speed rail, power plant and other technology.

Dalian Huarui Heavy Industry supplied equipment for the $3.3 billion Hassyan coal-fired power station in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Huarui has contracts in 15 Belt and Road countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan, said its vice president, Wei Xufeng. Wei said those account for 60% of its exports and 20% of total revenue.

Local leaders are promoting Dalian in Liaoning, the northeast's busiest port, as a Belt and Road hub to connect shippers with East Asia and Europe.

Plans call for opening six railway routes and more than 100 sea routes, according to Xia Ting, manager of Dalian Container Development of Liaoning Port Group.

Trains on one of six routes that link Dalian with Russia carry Samsung electronic products and components made by other washing machine and television manufacturers. In 2017, the line carried a total of 4,500 containers of goods worth $270 million.

"In the future, we aim to sell more with high added value," said Xia. "We think these are suitable for China-Europe cargo trains."

The port can move Japanese and South Korean autos to Kazakhstan or other Central Asian countries by train, said Ding Hao, manager of Dalian Car Wharf.

"Belt and Road will bring us significant benefits, but we need some time to see it," said Ding.

Still, Belt and Road faces hurdles that might trip up hopes for boosting Chinese exports.

Governments including Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Nepal have scaled back or renegotiated projects they said were too costly or gave too little work to local contractors.

Ansteel's experiences reflect the potential volatility of exports based on the ebb and flow of Chinese-led construction projects. It reported 2018 exports of 5.8 billion RMB ($840 million), or about 5.5% of its total revenue, down by 10% from 2017.

Developing countries need industrial equipment but cannot replace U.S. demand for consumer goods, said economist Zhu Zhenxin at the Rushi Financial Institute in Beijing.

The northeast also is targeted in a multi-year government effort to shrink the bloated state-owned steel industry in hopes of making producers more efficient and profitable.

Liaoning closed 18 steel mills and eliminated 6 million tons of production capacity in 2016.

Policies aimed at reviving the northeast were unveiled by Beijing in 2003, but the region is struggling with pollution and an aging population.

In 2016, Liaoning's economy shrank by 2.5%. Its output was less than one-third that of Guangdong province, the manufacturing powerhouse that abuts Hong Kong.

The total population of Liaoning and the two other provinces in China's northeast — Jilin and Heilongjiang — declined by 380,000 people last year as migrants left for other regions in search of work.


Facebook rolls out tool to block off-Facebook data gathering

In this July 30, 2019, file photo, the social media application, Facebook is displayed on Apple's App Store. (AP Photo/Amr Alfiky)

By BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Soon, you could get fewer familiar ads following you around the internet - or at least on Facebook.

Facebook is launching a long-promised tool that lets you block the social network from gathering information about you on outside websites and apps.

The company said Tuesday that it is adding a section where you can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its "like" buttons and other means. You can choose to turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been.

Formerly known as "clear history," the tool will now go by the somewhat awkward name "off-Facebook activity." The feature will be available in South Korea, Ireland and Spain on Tuesday, consistent with Facebook's tendency to launch features in smaller markets first. The company did not give a timeline for when it might expand it to the U.S. and other countries, only that it will be in "coming months."

Blocking the tracking, which is on by default, could mean fewer ads that seem familiar - for example, for a pair of shoes you decided not to buy, or a nonprofit you donated money to. It won't change the actual number of ads you'll see on Facebook.

Facebook faces increasing governmental scrutiny over its privacy practices, including a record $5 billion fine from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Boosting its privacy protections could help the company pre-empt regulation and further punishment. But it's a delicate dance, as Facebook still depends on highly targeted advertising for nearly all of its revenue.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the "clear history" feature more than a year ago. The company said building it has been a complicated technical process, which is also the reason for the slow, gradual rollout. Facebook said it sought input from users, privacy experts and policymakers along the way, which led to some changes. For instance, users will be able to disconnect their activity from a specific websites or apps, or reconnect to a specific site while keeping other future tracking turned off.

You'll be able to access the feature by going to your Facebook settings and scrolling down to "your Facebook information." The "off-Facebook activity" section will be there when it launches.

The tool will let you delete your past browsing history from Facebook and prevent it from keeping track of your future clicks, taps and website visits going forward. Doing so means that Facebook won't use information gleaned from apps and websites to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It also won't use such information to show you posts that Facebook thinks you might like based on your offsite activity, such as news articles shared by your friends.

"We do think this could have an impact on our revenue," said Stephanie Max, product manager at Facebook, adding that this will depend on how people will use the tool. But she added that giving people "transparency and control" is important.

Off-Facebook activity is one of many pieces of information that Facebook uses to target ads to people. The changes won't affect how your actions on Facebook are used to show you ads. It also won't change the metrics Facebook sends back to advertisers to tell them how well their ads work.


Afghans restore art shattered by Taliban as peace deal nears

 

In this Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 photo, a complete figure of a seated Buddha dating from the third or fourth century is on display at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 photo, conservator Sherazuddin Saifi, works on pieces of a small statue damaged by the Taliban because they were judged to be against Islam, at the National Museum of Afghanistan, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

By CARA ANNA Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban fighters arrived with hammers and hatred. What they left behind is laid out on tables at the National Museum of Afghanistan, 18 years later: shattered pieces of ancient Buddha figurines, smashed because they were judged to be against Islam.

Museum workers in Kabul have been trying to fit them together again as a nervous country waits for the Taliban and the U.S. to reach a deal on ending America's longest war. The agreement is expected to lead to intra-Afghan talks in which the extremist group would play a role in shaping Afghanistan's future.

As the workers pick with gloved hands through hundreds of neatly arranged shards labeled "ears," ''hands," ''foreheads" and "eyes," that future feels especially fragile.

Few details have emerged from several rounds of U.S.-Taliban negotiations held over the past year, and no one knows what a Taliban return to the capital, Kabul, might look like. The country still sees near-daily attacks not only by the long-established Taliban, who now control about half of Afghanistan, but also from a brutal local affiliate of the Islamic State group.

The Taliban's five-year rule imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, denying girls education, banning music and banishing women to their homes. It ended shortly after the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to rout the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden.

Sherazuddin Saifi remembers the day the Taliban arrived at the national museum in 2001, a period of cultural rampage in which the world's largest standing Buddha statues in Bamyan province were dynamited, to global horror.

For several days, the Taliban set upon the Kabul museum's trove of artifacts from Afghanistan's millennia-old history as a crossroads of cultures: Greek, Persian, Chinese and other. They selected offending items that showed human forms, even early Islamic ones, shattered them with hammers or smashed them against the floor.

"We could not prevent them. They were breaking all the locks, entering each room and smashing all items into pieces," said Saifi, who is part of the restoration team. "It was heartbreaking and horrific ... they destroyed their own history."

More than 2,500 statues were shattered, parts of them ground into powder. Restoration work could take a decade, Saifi said, but "we really feel happy after we put these pieces together again" and revive their meaning.

Among the objects destroyed were the Hadda figurines, a notable collection of Buddhist sculptures discovered decades ago in eastern Afghanistan, near the present-day city of Jalalabad. Photographs that remain of the intact figurines, and the shards themselves, hint at delicate curls of hair or lip.

The Taliban smashed them into thousands of pieces, many the size of fists or even a coin. Now some of the shattered heads are held together with rubber bands in the workshop, part of a sprawling puzzle that can take days of patient effort to join a single piece to another.

The Hadda figurines are the museum's most visible sign these days of the years-long recovery from the turmoil in Afghanistan that began even before the Taliban, when warlords fought over Kabul in the wake of a Soviet retreat.

Much of the museum's holdings, thousands of pieces, were looted and the building was shelled, though some treasures were hidden in the presidential palace in Kabul and elsewhere. The roof of the room where the Hadda figurines are now being pieced together was destroyed.

The museum's recovery began in earnest in 2004, during the period when the defeated Taliban quietly began to regroup. A few hundred objects have been restored in recent years. Now the museum and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute are compiling as complete an inventory as possible in the hope of tracking down missing artifacts — and saving a digital record of the collection in case of further threat.

That database is more than 99% complete, with more than 135,000 surviving pieces, the Oriental Institute says. For the missing artifacts it hopes to create digital "wanted" posters with their images to post online, "so that these objects can be spotted, and ideally recovered and repatriated."

Experts and advocates of Afghanistan's rich history have expressed dismay that cultural preservation apparently has not been on the agenda in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, which have been focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees that the country will not be used as a launching pad for global terror attacks.

"If it has been discussed, we are unaware of it, and this is something we have been following closely," said Adam Tiffen, deputy director of the Virginia-based Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage. The U.S. envoy leading the talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, is the organization's director emeritus.

"If we do not learn from our past we are a fool, I would say," said museum director Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, who is very concerned about the potential Taliban return and is making plans to protect the museum's holdings. "I hope they have learned that this is not against the (law) of Islam, nobody is worshipping these objects, everybody is considering these objects as showing our history."

He urged the Taliban to go to museums in Doha, Qatar, where the group has a political office, and see the artifacts that are preserved there.

"We have achieved a lot in 18 years" since the Taliban were defeated, Rahimi said. "If they are here in power and there is no change in their mentality, it means we are definitely back where we started and whatever we achieved will be gone."

Not all the Hadda artifacts were destroyed. A short walk down the hushed corridor from the workshop that reflects so much Taliban carnage, a complete figure of a seated Buddha is on display, dating from the third or fourth century.

"His face suggests gentle meditation," the placard says.


Urgency for vaccine grows as virus ravages China's pigs

 

In this May 8, 2019, photo, pigs eat feed at a pig farm in Panggezhuang village in northern China's Hebei province. As a deadly virus ravages pig herds across Asia, scientists are accelerating efforts to develop a vaccine to help guard the world's pork supply. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

By SAM MCNEIL and CANDICE CHOI Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Scientists are working to develop a vaccine to help guard the world's pork supply as a deadly virus ravages Asia's pig herds.

Farmers have long contained its spread by quarantining and killing infected animals, but the disease's devastating march into East Asia is intensifying the search for another solution.

The virus hadn't been considered as high a priority for researchers until it turned up last year in China, home to half the world's pig population, likely by way of Eastern Europe and Russia. Since then, it has spread to other Asian countries including Vietnam and Taiwan, killing millions of pigs along the way. Though it does not sicken people, the disease is highly contagious and deadly to pigs.

"Today's situation, where you have this global threat, puts a lot more emphasis on this research," said Dr. Luis Rodriguez, who leads the U.S. government lab on foreign animal diseases at Plum Island, New York.

One way to develop a vaccine is to kill a virus before injecting it into an animal. The disabled virus doesn't make the animal sick, but it prompts the immune system to identify the virus and produce antibodies against it. This approach, however, isn't consistently effective with all viruses, including the one that causes African swine fever.

It's why scientists have been working on another type of vaccine, made from a weakened virus rather than a dead one. With African swine fever, the puzzle has been figuring out exactly how to tweak the virus.

In Vietnam, where the virus has killed 3.7 million pigs in six months, the government said this summer it was testing vaccines but provided few details of its program. In China, the government indicated scientists are working on a vaccine that genetically alters the virus, an approach U.S. scientists have been pursuing as well.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it recently signed a confidential agreement with a vaccine manufacturer to further research and develop one of Plum Island's three vaccine candidates. The candidates were made by genetically modifying the virus to delete certain genes.

But before a vaccine becomes available, it needs to be tested in large numbers of pigs in secure facilities with isolation pens, waste and carcass incinerators and decontamination showers for staff, said Linda Dixon, a biologist at London's Pirbright Institute, which studies viral diseases in livestock. The process takes two to five years, she said.

The extensive testing is necessary to ensure vaccines made by weakened viruses don't have unintended side effects.

In the 1960s, for instance, Spain and Portugal tested such a vaccine after outbreaks of African swine fever. The treated pigs seemed fine at first, but then lesions broke out on their skin, arthritis locked up their joints and the animals failed to fatten up, said Jose Manuel Sanchez-Vizcaino Rodriguez, who leads a lab focused on African swine fever at the University in Madrid.

The two countries eventually eradicated the disease by enforcing strict sanitary protocols, quarantining and killing infected and carrier pigs.

Even if vaccines become available, they might not work across the globe. Vaccines developed for the virus in China and Europe, for example, might do nothing in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease has been around longer.

A vaccine might be most desirable in places where the disease is widespread, said Daniel Rock, who previously headed Plum Island's African swine fever program. Other countries might prefer the quarantine-and-kill method.

That could be the case in the U.S., where health officials have been training pork producers how to spot and report potential symptoms, which can include bleeding, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Still, Rock said the disease's global spread has made the option of a vaccine a high priority in the U.S.

Candice Choi reported from New York.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


'Protesters vs. police': HK die-hards defend their stance

In this Aug. 16, 2019, photo, Wayne, a 33-year-old self-described “front line” protester, stands along with other demonstrators in Tai Po, on Hong Kong's outskirts. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

By YANAN WANG Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) — On a recent sweltering Saturday, a day now reserved for protest in Hong Kong, a demonstrator named Wayne stepped past a row of plastic barricades, lifted a pair of binoculars and squinted.

Four hundred meters away, a line of riot police stood with full-length shields, batons and tear-gas launchers.

It was a familiar sight for Wayne after more than two months on the front lines of Hong Kong's turbulent pro-democracy demonstrations. Along with hard hats and homemade shields, face-offs with police have become part of the 33-year-old philosophy professor's new normal.

The stories of Wayne and three other self-described "front line" protesters interviewed by The Associated Press provide insights into how what started as a largely peaceful movement against proposed changes to the city's extradition law has morphed into a summer of tear gas and rubber bullets. They spoke on condition they be identified only by partial names because they feared arrest.

The movement has reached a moment of reckoning after protesters occupying Hong Kong's airport last week held two mainland Chinese men captive, beating them because they believed the men were infiltrating their movement.

In the aftermath, pro-democracy lawmakers and fellow demonstrators — who have stood by the hard-liners even as they took more extreme steps — questioned whether the operation had gone too far.

It was the first crack in what has been astonishing unity across a wide range of protesters that has kept the movement going. It gave pause to the front-liners, who eased off the violence this past weekend, though they still believe their more disruptive tactics are necessary to get the government to answer the broader movement's demands.

The demands grew from opposing legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited for trials in mainland China's murky judicial system to pressing for democratic elections, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's resignation and an investigation into allegations of police brutality at the demonstrations.

The protesters on the front lines are the ones who throw bricks at police and put traffic cones over active tear gas canisters to contain the fumes. They have broken into and trashed the legislature's chambers, blocked a major tunnel under Hong Kong's harbor, besieged and pelted police headquarters with eggs and halted rush-hour subways by blocking the train doors from closing.

To Lam, these are "violent rioters" bent on destroying the city's economy. To China's ruling Communist Party, their actions are "the first signs of terrorism."

To these most die-hard protesters, there's no turning back.

"The situation has evolved into a war in Hong Kong society," said Tin, a 23-year-old front-line demonstrator. "It's the protesters versus the police."

When Hong Kong's youth banded together for this summer's protests, they established a few rules: They would not have clear leaders, protecting individuals from becoming symbols or scapegoats. And they would stick together, no matter their methods.

The peaceful protesters would not disavow the more extreme, sometimes violent tactics of the front-liners, who would distract the police long enough for others to escape arrest.

These were lessons learned from 2014, when the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement fizzled after more than two months without winning any concessions. Many involved feel internal divisions partly led to defeat.

Chong, a 24-year-old front-liner, said everyone's opinion is heard and considered, and they decide on the right path together. But no decision is absolute: The demonstrators have pledged to not impede actions they may disagree with.

Two massive marches roused Chong and others who had given up on political change after the failure of Occupy Central, also dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.

On consecutive weekends in June, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the extradition bill. It struck at fears that China is eroding civil rights that Hong Kong residents enjoy under the "one country, two systems" framework.

"I didn't think I would ever do this again," said Chong, who quit his job as an environmental consultant to devote himself to the protests. "But this time, society is waking up."

On June 12, three days after the first march, protesters blocked the legislature and took over nearby streets, preventing the resumption of debate on the extradition bill. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Lam suspended the bill indefinitely the day before the second march, but it didn't mollify the protesters, who turned out in even greater numbers.

As their demands expanded, Lam offered dialogue but showed no signs of giving ground.

That's when hard-liners like Chong and Wayne became convinced that peaceful protest might not be enough.

They blocked roads with makeshift barricades and besieged the Chinese government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, defacing the national seal over its entrance. Week after week, they clashed with police, who became an object of their anger. Every round of tear gas only seemed to deepen their conviction that the government did not care.

"We've had numerous peaceful protests that garnered no response whatsoever from the government," said J.C., a 27-year-old hairstylist who quit his job in July. "Escalating our actions is both natural and necessary."

Then came the "white shirt" attack. On July 21, dozens of men beat people indiscriminately with wooden poles and steel rods in a commuter rail station as protesters returned home, injuring 44. They wore white clothing in contrast to the protesters' trademark black.

A slow police response led to accusations they colluded with the thugs. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said resources were stretched because of the protests.

Many saw the attack as proof police prioritized catching demonstrators — around 700 have been arrested so far — over more violent criminals. That view has been reinforced by other images, including police firing tear gas at close range and a woman who reportedly lost vision in one eye after being hit by a beanbag round shot by police.

Each accusation of police brutality emboldens the hard-core protesters to use greater violence. Gasoline bombs and other flaming objects have become their projectiles of choice, and police stations are now their main target.

In this cauldron of growing rage, the protesters set their sights on Hong Kong's airport.

Hundreds of flights were canceled over two consecutive nights last week as protesters packed the main terminal, blocking access to check-in counters and immigration.

While the major disruption of one of the world's busiest airports got global attention, it was the vigilante attacks on two Chinese men that troubled the movement.

In a written apology the following day, a group of unidentified protesters said recent events had fueled a "paranoia and rage" that put them on a "hair trigger." During the prior weekend's demonstrations, people dressed like protesters had been caught on video making arrests, and police acknowledged use of decoy officers.

At the airport, the protesters were looking for undercover agents in their ranks. Twice they thought they found them.

The first man ran away from protesters who asked why he was taking photos of them. Protesters descended on him, bound his wrists with plastic ties and interrogated him for at least two hours. His ordeal ended only when medics wrested him away on a stretcher.

The second man was wearing a yellow "press" vest used by Hong Kong journalists but refused to show his credentials. In his backpack, protesters found a blue "Safeguard HK" T-shirt worn at rallies to support police.

A small group of protesters repeatedly beat him, poured water on his head and called him "mainland trash." He turned out to be a reporter for China's state-owned Global Times newspaper.

Footage of the mob violence inflamed anti-protester sentiment in China, where the reporter became a martyr. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy lawmakers said it was something that "will not and should not happen again."

Within the movement, some apologized for becoming easily agitated and overreacting. Others questioned whether provocateurs had incited the violence.

Through it all, the front liners called for unity. They pointed to the injuries sustained on their side and the rioting charges that could lock them up for 10 years.

On the night of the airport beating, Wayne couldn't get through the crowd to see what was happening, but he understood how the attackers felt.

"I would have done the same thing," he said. "It's not rational, but I would have kicked him or punched him at least once or twice."
 


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