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Update September, 2019


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Torrential rains kill another 42 people in India

A Sadhu, or Hindu holy man, takes shelter from the rain under a cart in Prayagraj, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Associated Press

New Delhi (AP) — Monsoon rains continue to batter parts of India, with at least 42 more people dying in the past 24 hours, officials said Sunday.

At least 35 people died from rain-related causes in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and seven died in the eastern state of Bihar, officials said.

The latest toll came days after reports of at least 59 fatalities in the past week amid forecasts that heavy rains would continue until Monday.

Sandhaya Kureel, a spokeswoman for the Disaster Management and Relief Department in Uttar Pradesh, said Sunday that 17 people in the state were injured and being treated in hospitals. At least 29 houses collapsed because of heavy rain, she said.

In Bihar, Disaster Management Department Principal Secretary Pratay Amrit said four people were killed on the outskirts of the state capital, Patna, when a huge tree fell on the three-wheeler they were sitting in to avoid being drenched. Three other people were killed in the state's Bhagalpur district when a wall collapsed on them following heavy rains.

More than 350 people have been killed by rain-related causes in India, Nepal and Bangladesh this monsoon season, which runs from June through September.


Trump allies in disarray as Democrats push impeachment

In this May 5, 2018, file photo, Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Laurie Kellman

Washington (AP) — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he expects the whistleblower at the heart of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump to testify "very soon."

"All that needs to be done, at this point, is to make sure that the attorneys that represent the whistleblower get the clearances that they need to be able to accompany the whistleblower to testimony," said Schiff, D-Calif., "and that we figure out the logistics to make sure that we protect the identity of the whistleblower."

As Democrats and the director of national intelligence worked out key arrangements, Trump's allies erupted in a surge of second-guessing and conspiracy theorizing across the Sunday talk shows, suggesting the White House strategy is unclear against the stiffest challenge to his presidency. One former adviser urged Trump to confront the crisis at hand and get past his fury over the probe of Russian election interference.

"I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation," said Tom Bossert, Trump's former homeland security adviser. "If he continues to focus on that white whale," Bossert added, "it's going to bring him down."

The Ukraine investigation produced what the Russian probe did not: formal House impeachment proceedings based on the president's own words and actions.

The White House last week released a rough transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as well as the whistleblower's complaint alleging the U.S. president pressured his counterpart to investigate the family of Joe Biden, the former vice president who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump's reelection next year.

In a series of tweets Sunday night, Trump said he deserved to meet "my accuser" as well as whoever provided the whistleblower with what the president called "largely incorrect" information. He also accused Democrats of "doing great harm to our Country" in an effort to destabilize the nation and the 2020 election.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son Hunter Biden in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

The House forged ahead, with Schiff's committee leading the investigation. Democrats are planning a rapid start to their push for impeachment, with hearings and depositions starting this week. Many Democrats are pushing for a vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year, mindful of the looming 2020 elections.

Schiff has said the whistleblower has agreed to testify, but the logistics involving security had yet to be set.

On a conference call later Sunday, Pelosi, who was traveling in Texas, urged Democrats to proceed "not with negative attitudes towards him, but a positive attitude towards our responsibility," according to an aide on the call who requested anonymity to share the private conversation. She also urged the caucus to be "somber" and noted that polling on impeachment has changed "drastically."

A one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted last Wednesday found that about half of Americans — 49% — approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

There remains a stark partisan divide on the issue, with 88% of Democrats approving and 93% of Republicans disapproving of the inquiry. But the findings suggest some movement in opinions on the issue. Earlier polls conducted throughout Trump's presidency have consistently found a majority saying he should not be impeached and removed from office.

On the call, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York urged the caucus to talk about impeachment by repeating the words "betrayal, abuse of power, national security." At the same time, Democrats' campaign arm was mobilizing to support the candidates, according to a person on the call who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details.

In contrast, Republicans offered a televised array of strategies to a president who spent the day at his golf club in Virginia and prefers to handle his own communications.

Stephen Miller, the president's senior policy adviser, called the whole inquiry a "partisan hit job" orchestrated by "a deep state operative" who is also "a saboteur."

"The president of the United States is the whistleblower," Miller said.

And House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump had done nothing impeachable.

"Why would we move forward with impeachment? There's not something that you have to defend here," the California Republican said.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer who has been encouraging Ukraine to investigate both Biden and Hillary Clinton, promoted a debunked conspiracy theory, insisting that Ukraine had spread disinformation during the 2016 election.

Bossert advised that Trump drop that defense.

"I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again," said Bossert, who also was an adviser to President George W. Bush. "That conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated."

Giuliani not only repeated it but also brandished what he said were affidavits that support them and claimed that Trump "was framed by the Democrats."

Schiff said in one interview that his committee intends to subpoena Giuliani for documents and may eventually want to hear from Giuliani directly. In a separate TV appearance, Giuliani said he would not cooperate with Schiff, but then acknowledged he would do what Trump tells him. The White House did not provide an official response on whether the president would allow Giuliani to cooperate.

"If they're going to obstruct," Schiff warned, "then they're going to increase the likelihood that Congress may feel it necessary to move forward with an article on obstruction."

Two advisers to the Biden campaign sent a letter Sunday urging major news networks to stop booking Giuliani on their shows, accusing Trump's personal attorney of spreading "false, debunked conspiracy theories" on behalf of the president. The letter added: "By giving him your air time, you are allowing him to introduce increasingly unhinged, unfounded and desperate lies into the national conversation."

Biden advisers Anita Dunn and Kate Bedingfield sent the letter to the presidents of ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News as well as executive producers and anchors of their news shows. The advisers also asked that if Giuliani continues to appear, the networks give equivalent time to a Biden campaign surrogate and admonished the networks for giving Giuliani time in the first place, calling it "a disservice to your audience and a disservice to journalism."

Giuliani appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CBS' "Face the Nation," while Schiff was interviewed on ABC, NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "60 Minutes." Bossert spoke on ABC and Miller on "Fox News Sunday." McCarthy's remarks were broadcast Sunday on "60 Minutes."


More violence grips Hong Kong ahead of China's National Day

A protestor prepares to throw molotov cocktail in Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

 Eileen Ng

Hong Kong (AP) — Protesters and police clashed in Hong Kong for a second straight day on Sunday, throwing the semiautonomous Chinese territory's business and shopping belt into chaos and sparking fears of more ugly scenes leading up to China's National Day holiday this week.

Riot police repeatedly fired blue liquid — used to identify protesters — from a water cannon truck and multiple volleys of tear gas after demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at officers and targeted the city's government office complex.

It was a repeat of Saturday's clashes and part of a familiar cycle since pro-democracy protests began in early June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement.

"We know that in the face of the world's largest totalitarian regime — to quote Captain America, 'Whatever it takes,'" Justin Leung, a 21-year-old demonstrator who covered his mouth with a black scarf, said of the violent methods deployed by hard-line protesters. "The consensus right now is that everyone's methods are valid and we all do our part."

Protesters are planning to march again Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more violent confrontations that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks 70 years since taking power. Posters are calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as "A Day of Grief."

"So many youngsters feel that they're going to have no future because of the power of China," Andy Yeung, 40, said as he pushed his toddler in a stroller. "It's hopeless for Hong Kong. If we don't stand up, there will be no hope."

Hong Kong's government has already scaled down the city's National Day celebrations, canceling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.

Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's leader, will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in National Day festivities.

Sunday's turmoil started in the early afternoon when police fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd that had amassed in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district. But thousands of people regrouped and defiantly marched along a main thoroughfare toward government offices, crippling traffic.

Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters and foreign flags, sang songs and chanted "Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom." Some defaced, tore down and burned National Day congratulatory signs, setting off a huge blaze on the street. Others smashed windows and lobbed gasoline bombs into subway exits that had been shuttered.

Police then fired a water cannon and tear gas as the crowd approached the government office complex. Most fled but hundreds returned, hurling objects into the complex.

Members of an elite police squad, commonly known as raptors, then charged out suddenly from behind barricades, taking many protesters by surprise. Several who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.

The raptors, backed by scores of riot police, pursued protesters down roads to nearby areas. Officers continued to fire a water cannon and more tear gas, and the cat-and-mouse clashes lasted late into the night. Streets were left littered with graffiti on walls and debris.

The demonstration was part of global "anti-totalitarianism" rallies to denounce "Chinese tyranny." Thousands rallied in Taipei, Taiwan's capital, while more than 1,000 took part in a rally in Sydney.

The protracted unrest, approaching four months long, has battered Hong Kong's economy, with businesses and tourism plunging.

Chief Executive Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags at the Victoria Peak hilltop and a waterfront cultural center in a show of support for Chinese rule.

"We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country, China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong" apart from the protests, said organizer Innes Tang.

Mobs of Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps.

Many people view the extradition bill, which would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.


Afghan protesters claim US strikes kill 5 civilians in east

Afghan villagers stand over bodies of civilians during a protest in the city of Ghazni, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Rahmatullah Nikzad)

Associated Press

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — An airstrike by U.S.-led forces overnight in eastern Afghanistan killed at least five civilians, local villagers said Sunday.

The villagers carried the bodies of the dead to the province's capital of Ghazni, chanting, "Death to Ashraf Ghani, death to America."

The day before, President Ashraf Ghani had called on Afghans to participate in presidential elections, despite widespread violence and political uncertainty following the collapse of U.S.-Taliban peace talks earlier this month to end America's longest war.

Ahmad Khan Serat, spokesman for Ghazni province's police chief, said dozens of people marched from the Khoja Omari district to bring the five bodies to local authorities in the regional capital.

Shakaruddin Khan, who lost a son and a brother in the attack, described a drone attack the previous night. Five civilians were immediately killed, he said, with another dying in hospital from wounds soon after.

The U.S. military in Kabul confirmed Sunday that airstrikes in the nearby Khoja Omari and Khogyani districts killed 11 Taliban fighters, but did not confirm civilian casualties.

Saturday's vote was marred by violence, Taliban threats and widespread allegations of mismanagement and abuse. It was the fourth time Afghans have gone to the polls to elect a president since 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition ousted a regressive Taliban regime.



Ex-French President Chirac, who stood up to US, dies at 86

 

In this Nov.14, 2006 file photo, French President Jacques Chirac poses with residents during his visit to Amiens, northern France. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Elaine Ganley

Paris (AP) — Jacques Chirac, a two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France's role in the Holocaust and defiantly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, died Thursday at age 86.

His son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux told The Associated Press that Chirac died "peacefully, among his loved ones." He did not give a cause of death, though Chirac had had repeated health problems since leaving office in 2007.

Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France's conservative right, and mayor of Paris for nearly two decades. He was nicknamed "Le Bulldozer" early in his career for his determination and ambition. As president from 1995-2007 he was a consummate global diplomat but failed to reform the economy or defuse tensions between police and minority youths that exploded into riots across France in 2005.

Yet Chirac showed courage and statesmanship during his presidency.

In what may have been his finest hour, France's last leader with memories of World War II crushed the myth of his nation's innocence in the persecution of Jews and their deportation during the Holocaust when he acknowledged France's part.

"Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state," he said on July 16, 1995. "France, the land of the Enlightenment and human rights ... delivered those it protects to their executioners."

With words less grand, the man who embraced European unity — once calling it an "art" — raged at the French ahead of their "no" vote in a 2005 referendum on the European constitution meant to fortify the EU.  "If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, do it, but after don't complain," he said. "It's stupid, I'm telling you." He was personally and politically humiliated by the defeat.

His popularity didn't fully recover until after he left office in 2007, handing power to protege-turned-rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

Chirac ultimately became one of the French's favorite political figures, often praised for his down-to-earth human touch rather than his political achievements.

In his 40 years in public life, Chirac was derided by critics as opportunistic and impulsive. But as president, he embodied the fierce independence so treasured in France: He championed the United Nations and multipolarism as a counterweight to U.S. global dominance, and defended agricultural subsidies over protests by the European Union.

Chirac was also remembered for another trait valued by the French: style.

Tall, dapper and charming, Chirac was a well-bred bon vivant who openly enjoyed the trappings of power: luxury trips abroad and life in a government-owned palace. His slicked-back hair and ski-slope nose were favorites of political cartoonists.

Yet he retained a common touch that worked wonders on the campaign trail, exuding warmth when kissing babies and enthusiasm when farmers — a key constituency — displayed their tractors. His preferences were for western movies and beer — and "tete de veau," calf's head.

After two failed attempts, Chirac won the presidency in 1995, ending 14 years of Socialist rule. But his government quickly fell out of favor and parliamentary elections in 1997 forced him to share power with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

The pendulum swung the other way during Chirac's re-election bid in 2002, when far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen took a surprise second place behind Chirac in first-round voting. In a rare show of unity, the moderate right and the left united behind Chirac, and he crushed le Pen with 82 percent of the vote in the runoff.

"By thwarting extremism, the French have just confirmed, reaffirmed with force, their attachment to a democratic tradition, liberty and engagement in Europe," Chirac enthused at his second inauguration.

Later that year, an extreme right militant shot at Chirac — and missed — during a Bastille Day parade in 2002. Inspecting troops, the president was unaware of the drama.

While he had won a convincing mandate for his anti-crime, pro-Europe agenda at home, Chirac's outspoken opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 rocked relations with France's top ally, and the clash weakened the Atlantic alliance.

Angry Americans poured Bordeaux wine into the gutter and restaurants renamed French fries "freedom fries" in retaliation.

The United States invaded anyway, yet Chirac gained international support from other war critics.

Troubles over Iraq aside, Chirac was often seen as the consummate diplomat. He cultivated ties with leaders across the Middle East and Africa. He was the first head of state to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Chirac was greeted by adulating crowds on a 2003 trip to Algeria, where he once battled Algerians fighting for independence from France.

At home, myriad scandals dogged Chirac, including allegations of misuse of funds and kickbacks during his time as Paris mayor.

He was formally charged in 2007 after he left office as president, losing immunity from prosecution. In 2011, he was found guilty of misuse of public money, breach of trust and illegal conflict of interest and given a two-year suspended jail sentence.

He did not attend the trial. His lawyers explained he was suffering severe memory lapses, possibly related to a stroke. While still president in 2005, Chirac suffered a stroke that put him in the hospital for a week. He had a pacemaker inserted in 2008.

Jacques Chirac was born in Paris on Nov. 29, 1932, the only child of a well-to-do businessman. A lively youth, he was expelled from school for shooting paper wads at a teacher. He sold the Communist daily "L'Humanite" on the streets for a brief time.

Chirac traveled to the United States as a young man, and as president he fondly remembered hitchhiking across the country. He worked as a fork-lift operator in St. Louis and a soda jerk at a Howard Johnson's restaurant while attending summer school at Harvard University.

Chirac served in Algeria during the independence war, which France lost, and enrolled at France's Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the elite training ground for the French political class.

In 1956, just before heading to Algeria, Chirac married Bernadette Chodron de Courcel, the niece of a former de Gaulle aide and herself involved in local politics in the central farming region of Correze, where Chirac spent much of his youth. They had two daughters, Laurence and Claude, who became his presidential spokeswoman.

He worked his way up the political ladder and was named premier in 1974 by President Valery Giscard d'Estaing at the age of 41.

A personality clash with Giscard d'Estaing led Chirac to resign, but he quickly assumed the presidency of the conservative political party he refounded as the Rally for the Republic. He became mayor of Paris in 1977 and used the highly visible office as a power base for the next 18 years.

Chirac lost the 1981 presidential election to Socialist Francois Mitterrand, a scenario repeated in 1988. He became president at last in 1995.

Two painful setbacks in his career involved student protests: In 1986, a student was killed during protests over university reforms while Chirac was prime minister, prompting him to abandon the measure. In 2006, Chirac withdrew a measure that would have made hiring and firing young people easier after weeks of nationwide student action. He failed repeatedly in efforts to reform France's labor rules and economy.

In recent years, Chirac was very rarely seen in public. He was visibly weak and walked with a cane at a November 2014 award ceremony of his foundation, which supports peace projects.

Chirac is survived by his wife and younger daughter, Claude. His daughter, Laurence, died in 2016 after a long illness that Chirac once said was "the drama of my life."


Ukrainian leader bristles at release of Trump transcript

President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Dmytro Vlasov

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president bristled at the release of his comments from a private conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump, which caused him some embarrassment at home.

The rough transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released Wednesday shows that Trump pressed Ukraine to "look into" his Democratic political rival Joe Biden. The July 25 call is now at the center of a U.S. impeachment probe.

"I think such things, such conversations between heads of independent states, they shouldn't be published," Zelenskiy told reporters at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He didn't indicate whether the White House warned him that his comments would be released.

During the conversation, Zelenskiy appears to make an effort to stay in Trump's good graces, telling him at least twice that he is "absolutely right" and assuring Trump they are "great friends."

But in speaking to reporters he said "no one can pressure me." He sought to play down the situation involving Biden and his son's activities in Ukraine, calling it just one of "many cases that I talk about with leaders of other countries."

Before the White House released the rough transcript, Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had received permission from the Ukrainian government to do so. "They don't know either what the big deal is. A total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats," Trump tweeted Tuesday.

Ukrainian legal expert Roman Marchenko said if the Ukrainian government didn't give its approval, the release could have violated constitutional protections of privacy in correspondence and phone calls.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general's office, the office of former President Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian government officials wouldn't comment to The Associated Press on the transcript or Biden on Thursday.

While the transcript was a bombshell for U.S. politics, it didn't dominate the media landscape or daily conversation in Ukraine, where many are disillusioned with politics, corruption and Ukraine's struggling economy.

"I think that Trump may put pressure on Ukraine, because the U.S. gives a huge amount of money to support Ukraine," said Kyiv resident Serhiy Cheshyr.

Taras Semenyuk, political expert at the KyivStratPro consulting company, said the assumption that investigations can be ordered from on high "is a result of the weakness of our institutions."

"The situation is very unpleasant for Ukraine. Ukraine loses its reputation," he said.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on a Ukrainian gas company's board at the same time his father as vice president was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Zelenskiy told reporters that he doesn't know the details.

At their meeting on Wednesday in New York, Trump said he placed "no pressure" on the Ukrainian leader. But the rough transcript of the call shows Trump repeatedly prodded Zelenskiy to work with the U.S. attorney general and Trump's personal attorney to investigate Biden.

The call is the subject of a whistleblower complaint against Trump and the basis for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to open an impeachment inquiry.

Zelenskiy tried to smooth over tensions with Germany and France after the transcript revealed critical comments about German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

"I am grateful for any assistance to Ukraine from our European leaders, from Ms. Merkel, from Mr. Macron, and from others," he said.

But he maintained his criticism of the Nord Stream 2 project for a pipeline to send Russian gas to Europe. He called it "a big threat to our energy security" and said Ukraine would lose billions of dollars.

Merkel's office refused to comment on Trump's remarks in the transcript that the German leader "talks Ukraine, but she doesn't do anything." Germany's Foreign Ministry provided figures disputing Trump's account, telling The Associated Press that since 2014, German direct support to Ukraine amounted to 1.18 billion euros, in addition to another 200 million euros through European Union support.


5.8 magnitude earthquake shakes Istanbul, 8 slightly injured

People sit in a grassy area after evacuating their homes, following an earthquake in Istanbul, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Ibrahim Mase/DHA via AP)

Associated Press

Istanbul (AP) — A 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Istanbul slightly injured eight people Thursday and sent school children and residents into the streets of Turkey's commercial and cultural hub.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said the earthquake struck in the Sea of Marmara at 1:59 p.m. (1059 GMT) at 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) deep and was felt throughout the western Marmara region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said eight people were injured and had received treatment. "Apart from small damage, we have not received any reports so far that would pain our hearts," he said.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Twitter confirmed there were no deaths.

News footage showed a collapsed minaret in the city's western Avcilar district. The emergency agency said one building tilted, two showed damage and cracks were found in others. Turkish media showed children being evacuated from schools and city residents waiting outside their homes. Schools were cancelled for the day.

The U.S. Geological Survey assessed the quake's magnitude at 5.7. The Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute recorded several aftershocks, with the highest at 4.4 magnitude.

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and prone to earthquakes. Experts have long warned that a major earthquake is expected to hit Istanbul, Turkey's most populous city with more than 15 million residents. A 4.6 magnitude earthquake hit the city on Tuesday.

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in western Turkey killed more than 17,000 people.
 


Fire blazes at French chemical plant, schools closed

A fire is pictured at a chemical plant in Rouen, Normandy, Thursday, Sept.26, 2019. (AP Photo/Stephanie Peron)

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — A huge fire at a Normandy chemical plant spewed a mass of black smoke over a wide region Thursday, prompting French authorities to shut down roads and schools and order people to stay indoors as firefighters battled for hours to contain it.

No injuries have been reported in the blaze, and the cause is under investigation. The Interior Ministry said the fire was under control by early afternoon, about 12 hours after it broke out, but not yet extinguished.

The Lubrizol plant in the medieval city of Rouen is among the highest-risk industrial sites in Europe, part of a system called Seveso that requires such facilities to have additional security measures because they handle dangerous substances.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner rushed to the site. He said on RTL radio that "there is no element that could lead us to believe that the smoke is dangerous," but authorities are taking precautionary measures and carrying out air quality tests as around 200 firefighters worked to stop the blaze.

The administration for the Seine-Maritime region urged people to avoid non-essential travel in the area after the fire alarm rang at the Lubrizol plant in Rouen early Thursday. Residents in nearby nursing homes were confined.

Authorities closed schools in 11 surrounding towns and asked residents within a 500-meter (550-yard) perimeter to stay indoors.

The fire spread to two neighboring companies, according to the administration for the Nord region. It warned of a "strong, nauseating odor" produced by the smoke but said "no heightened toxicity" was immediately measured in the air.

The plant produces additives for lubricants and paint, and pledges on its website "to lead all activities in full security for people and goods while preserving the natural environment." The company didn't comment on the fire.

Images showed bursts of orange flames and the sounds of repeated explosions from the plant overnight. The site was still spewing huge plumes of black smoke after dawn, with bursts of flames still visible as sirens sounded over and over.



Earthquake shakes eastern Indonesia, damage being evaluated

 

Motorists are seen stuck in traffic as they rush to higher ground following an earthquake in Ambon, Maluku province, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo)

Associated Press

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — A strong earthquake in eastern Indonesia cracked a bridge and a university building Thursday, while aftershocks sent people streaming outdoors as further damage was being assessed.

The magnitude 6.5 quake was centered 37 kilometers (23 miles) northeast of Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, at a depth of 29 kilometers (18 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Rahmat Triyono, the head of Indonesia's earthquake and tsunami center, said the inland earthquake did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, but witnesses told television stations that people along coastal areas ran to higher ground in fear one might occur.

Television footage showed hundreds of people gathered outdoors as aftershocks rocked the Maluku island chain where the quake was mostly strongly felt.

"The temblor was so strong, causing us poured into the streets," said Musa, an Ambon resident who uses a single name. He said there were no damages or injuries in his neighborhood, but he said people on social media chatted about damage elsewhere in the city.

The national disaster mitigation agency said authorities are still gathering information about damage and injuries at several affected areas. It said the quake had caused cracks in a main bridge in Ambon, and pictures released by the agency showed minor damage at Pattimura University in the city.

Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location along the "Ring of Fire," the string of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.


Washington plunges into Trump impeachment investigation

 

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Julie Pace

Washington (AP) — President Donald Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to "look into" Joe Biden, Trump's potential 2020 reelection rival, as well as the president's lingering grievances from the 2016 election, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats' impeachment probe.

Trump repeatedly prodded Volodymyr Zelenskiy, new president of the East European nation, to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer. At one point in the July conversation, Trump said, "I would like for you to do us a favor."

The president's request for such help from a foreign leader set the parameters for the major U.S. debate to come — just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation's history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a "shakedown" of a foreign leader, while Trump - backed by the vast majority of Republicans - dismissed it as a "nothing call."

The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint about the president's activities that have roiled Washington and led Democrats to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry of the Republican president on the cusp of the 2020 campaign.

After being stymied by the administration, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees took their first look at the complaint late Wednesday. Republicans kept largely quiet, but several Democrats, including Intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, called the classified account "disturbing."

Some from both parties want it to be made public. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.

Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable TV split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. Included on his schedule: a meeting with Zelenskiy.

In a light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn't want to get involved in American elections, but added, "Nobody pushed me." Trump chimed in, "In other words, no pressure."

The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were quickly developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. A rush of lawmakers, notably moderate Democrats from districts where Trump remains popular, set aside political concerns and urged action.

One option Pelosi is considering, pressed by some lawmakers, is to focus the impeachment inquiry specifically on the Ukraine issues rather than the many others Congress has already been investigating.

"For me, that's what's important," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., among the new lawmakers in Congress with national security backgrounds. She said it's "just an egregious idea that the president of the United States can contact a foreign leader and influence him for dirt on a political opponent. ... That can't be normalized."

Pelosi announced the impeachment probe Tuesday after months of personal resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: "Congress must act."

Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

"It's a joke. Impeachment, for that?" Trump said during a news conference in New York. He revived the same language he has used for months to deride the now-finished special counsel investigation into election interference, declaring impeachment "a hoax" and the "single greatest witch hunt in American history."

Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the rough transcript revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.

"I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call, it was a congratulatory phone call," said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. "The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there's no there there."

The Trump administration also continued to raise questions about the whistleblower's motives. According to a Justice Department official, the intelligence community's inspector general said in letter to the acting director of national intelligence that the whistleblower could have "arguable political bias."

The memo released by the White House was not a verbatim transcript, but was instead based on the records of officials who listened to the call. The conversation took place on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference.

In the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine's economy, saying: "Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country."

At another point in the conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a favor: his help looking into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and determined it was carried out by Russia. Trump has falsely suggested Crowdstrike was owned by a Ukrainian.

In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the gas company's board at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Biden said it was "tragedy" that Trump was willing to "put personal politics above his sacred oath." He singled out Trump's attempts to pull Barr and the Justice Department into efforts to investigate Biden, calling it "a direct attack on the core independence of that department, an independence essential to the rule of law."

While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.

Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump's businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.

Details of Trump's dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi announced the probe, two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.

The burden will probably now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.


Authorities begin earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan

Residents walk alongside a damaged portion of a road caused by a powerful earthquake in Jatlan near Mirpur, in northeast Pakistan, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Anjum Naveed

Mirpur, Pakistan (AP) — Authorities began distributing tents, food and water among thousands of earthquake victims in Pakistan-held Kashmir on Wednesday, as the death toll from a powerful 5.8 magnitude temblor that rocked a large swath of the country's northeast a day earlier jumped to 37, officials said.

Kashmir bore the brunt of Tuesday's quake in which hundreds of other people were injured. One person was killed in Jehlum, a city in northeastern Punjab province.

Fearing aftershocks, many spent the night in the open in the hardest hit areas in Mirpur, a district in Pakistan-held Kashmir where hundreds of homes and buildings were damaged, affecting thousands in the city of some 5 million residents.

Authorities said rescue work in quake-hit areas was completed and authorities were still assessing damages.

According to a military statement, army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday visited quake-affected areas in Kashmir.

Earlier, under cloudy skies, some residents complained they had not received any aid 24 hours after the quake rattled the region and some were seen by an Associated Press reporter picking through ruined buildings. Others sat in shock as relatives and a small number of volunteers provided small amounts of food.

"I came out of the (office) building and a part of the roof collapsed on my head. I was injured on my head and back," resident Muhammad Mehmood told the AP. "After receiving treatment, I came to my home and saw seven rooms of my house had collapsed but my family members were safe."

Mehmoud was frustrated at having to wait for assistance. "You can see my damaged home. You can see other damaged homes — and is there any sign of government help?" he said.

Pakistani officials have said they are providing disaster relief to people affected by the earthquake, but as of Wednesday afternoon an AP reporter saw no tents in quake-affected areas.

Government aid arrived in Mirpur after Mohammad Afzal, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said tents, food and blankets should start reaching affected areas later Wednesday, adding: "Each and every quake victim will be looked after."

Afzal said doctors were treating hundreds of people, some of whom had received multiple injuries. Authorities in Mirpur were seen repairing a key road close to the earthquake's epicenter.

Earlier in the day, mourners buried the dead in Mirpur and nearby villages. Mirpur is in the mountainous Kashmir region, which is divided between Pakistan and neighboring India but claimed by both in its entirety.

"The shallow earthquake was 10 kilometers (six miles) deep and that is why it caused so much damage in Mirpur in Kashmir," which isn't far from the quake's epicenter, meteorologist Muhammad Riaz said Tuesday.

The quake also rattled the capital, Islamabad, and parts of northwest Pakistan but caused no damage there.

Pakistan is prone to violent seismic upheavals. A magnitude 7.6 quake in 2005 killed thousands of people in Pakistan and Kashmir.


China opens new Beijing airport ahead of party anniversary

An aerial view is seen of the new Beijing Daxing International Airport, Sept. 17, 2019. The Chinese capital has opened a second international airport with a terminal billed as the world’s biggest. (CCTV via AP)

Associated Press

Beijing (AP) — President Xi Jinping on Wednesday inaugurated a second international airport for the Chinese capital with the world's biggest terminal ahead of celebrations of the Communist Party's 70th anniversary in power.

Beijing Daxing International Airport is designed to handle 72 million passengers a year. Located on the capital's south side, it was built in less than five years at a cost of 120 billion yuan ($17 billion).

The airline's first commercial flight, a China Southern Airlines plane bound for the southern province of Guangdong, took off Wednesday afternoon, state broadcaster CCTV reported. Six more flights took off later for Shanghai and other destinations.

The main Beijing airport, located in the city's northeast, is the world's second-busiest after Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is nearing capacity.

Daxing, designed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, includes a terminal billed as the world's biggest at 1 million square meters (11 million square feet).

Despite that, its builders say travelers will need to walk no more than 600 meters (2,000 feet) to reach any boarding gate.

The vast, star-shaped airport is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of downtown Beijing. It has four runways, with plans for as many as three more.

Carriers including British Airways and state-owned China Southern, the country's biggest airline by passengers, plan to move to Daxing from Beijing Capital International Airport.

The capital has a third airport, Nanyuan, for domestic flights, but the government says that will close once Daxing is in operation.
 


Pakistan PM warns of war with India over disputed Kashmir

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, speaks to reporters during a news conference at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Foster Klug

United Nations (AP) — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned in blunt terms Tuesday of possible war between Pakistan and India over what he called a brutal Indian crackdown in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, have been locked in a worsening standoff since August 5, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who Khan called a "racist," stripped the portion of Kashmir that India controls of its limited autonomy. Indian authorities imposed a sweeping military curfew and cut off residents from all communications and the internet.

"For 50 days, the people of Kashmir have been locked down by 900,000 soldiers," Khan said, describing mass arrests, non-functioning hospitals and "a total news blackout" in the region.

"Eight million people in an open jail is unprecedented in this day and age," Khan said. "The biggest worry is what happens once the curfew is lifted? We fear with 900,000 soldiers there, there will be a massacre."

India and Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir dates to the late 1940s when they won independence from Britain. The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world, patrolled by soldiers and paramilitary police. Most Kashmiris resent the Indian troop presence. Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.

U.S. President Donald Trump said after an earlier meeting with Khan that it would be great if Modi and Khan can resolve their standoff over Kashmir.

But while Khan said he has raised Kashmir with world leaders this week, he expressed no interest in meeting with Modi.

"Unfortunately India today is governed by a racist, a Hindu supremacist," Khan said. "They do not consider Muslims as equal citizens"

Indian U.N. Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin indicated in a recent interview that a meeting between Modi and Khan was unlikely: "There has to be an enabling environment before leaders meet."

"Today the talk that is emanating from Pakistan in certainly not conducive to that enabling environment," he said.

Khan also addressed claims by India's army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, that Pakistan has reactivated militant camps in Pakistan-held Kashmir and about 500 militants are waiting to infiltrate India. He didn't provide any evidence to back his claims.

Khan called the claims "nonsense."

"What possible benefit is Pakistan going to have now sending in terrorists when there are 900,000 security forces there? All that would happen is that there would be more oppression on the people of Kashmir," he said.

Khan also said that he had begun, at the request of the U.S. president, to mediate between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over a nuclear standoff. He provided no other details but said he had spoken to Rouhani on Monday after Trump asked Khan to "deescalate the situation."

"We are trying our best," he said.


Zimbabwe's capital runs dry as taps cut off for 2M people

Residents wait to fetch water at a borehole in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, Sept, 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Farai Mutsaka

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Tempers flared on Tuesday as more than 2 million residents of Zimbabwe's capital and surrounding towns found themselves without water after authorities shut down the main treatment plant, raising new fears about disease after a cholera outbreak while the economy crumbles even more.

Officials in Harare have struggled to raise foreign currency to import water treatment chemicals; about $2.7 million is needed per month. Meanwhile, water levels in polluted reservoirs are dropping because of drought.

For residents who have seen shortages of everything from medicines to bread to petrol in recent months, the latest indignity brought weariness and disgust.

"The toilets at school are just too filthy, people continue using them yet there is no water," said 12-year-old Dylan Kaitano, who was among many uniformed school children waiting in line at wells, some shoving in impatience. "I didn't go to school today because I have to be here."

Everyone living in Harare is affected, City Council spokesman Michael Chideme said, as residents turned to other options such as bottled water. He called it a dangerous situation because of the risk of water-borne diseases.

"It is a desperate situation," Deputy Mayor Enock Mupamaonde told The Associated Press outside the closed treatment plant. And more people are affected than thought, he said, estimating that another 2 million non-residents enter the city each day to use its services and conduct business.

At the Chivero reservoir, the city's main water supply, plastic bottles, vehicle tires and algae floated in the shallow water which was green and emitted a choking, foul smell.

Zimbabwe's capital now frequently records cases of diseases such as typhoid due to water shortages and dilapidated sewer infrastructure. Some residents for months have been forced to get water from shallow, unsafe wells and defecate in the open, while children pick their way across fetid yards.

The AP earlier this month watched some residents pump water then wait a half-hour for enough water to seep into a well to pump again.

"We are suffering," said Gladys Mupemhi, a resident of the low-income Kuwadzana suburb who said some people woke up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday to wait for hours in line. "We are only allowed a maximum of 20 liters of water per person, what can I do with 20 liters?"

Claudius Madondo, chairman of the residents association controlling the line, said nearby wells were no longer functioning, forcing the rationing. Some of the people waiting heckled him.

"Nothing is working in this country, how do we survive?" Hatineyi Kamwanda, another resident, said. "We can't even use the toilets, the children are not going to school because of this and now we fear cholera is going to hit us again.

"The president should treat us as human beings, we voted for him."

Twenty-six people died last year in a cholera outbreak, leading President Emmerson Mnangagwa to express dismay that Zimbabweans were suffering from a "medieval" disease.

The economic and social pressures follow Mnangagwa as he attends the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders this week.

Zimbabwe once was a bright spot in southern Africa and a regional breadbasket but the economy has collapsed in recent years, and foreign currency is hard to come by. Prices for many basic items continue to rise, and the public health care system falters as some doctors and others say they can hardly afford the commute to work.

As services largely collapse, many Harare residents in recent months have found themselves lining up at wells in the middle of the night for water or lighting their homes by candle or mobile phone.

The deepening frustrations have exploded more than once into protests that have swiftly been followed by sometimes violent government crackdowns.

More than 50 government critics and activists have been abducted in Zimbabwe this year, at times tortured and warned by suspected state security agents to back off from anti-government actions. The government over the weekend warned against what it calls "fake" abductions it asserts are meant to make it look bad.

One abducted woman was forced to drink raw sewage, Human Rights Watch said — a rare example of something that exasperated Harare residents now have in surplus.


Top UK court: Johnson's suspension of Parliament was illegal

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he departs from Hudson Yards, in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Gregory Katz, Mike Corder and Jill Lawless

London (AP) — In a decision that badly undermines Boris Johnson's authority, Britain's highest court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the prime minister broke the law by suspending Parliament in a way that squelched legitimate scrutiny of his Brexit plan.

The historic move by the U.K. Supreme Court offered a ringing endorsement of Parliament's sovereignty and slapped down what justices viewed as the legislature's silencing by the executive.

The ruling upended the prime minister's plan to keep lawmakers away until two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. The Supreme Court said Johnson's suspension was "void" and never legally took effect, opening the door for Parliament to resume its duties Wednesday morning as if nothing had happened.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the decision, saying citizens were "entitled" to have Parliament in session to review the government and enact laws.

The ruling also established that Johnson had involved Queen Elizabeth II — one of the most revered and respected figures in British life — by giving her improper advice when he sought her permission to shutter Parliament for five weeks.

The justices made clear they were not criticizing Elizabeth, who as a constitutional monarch was required to approve the prime minister's request.

The British government said Johnson spoke to the queen after the ruling, but did not disclose details of the conversation.

Johnson said he objected to court's decision but would comply.

"I have the upmost respect for our judiciary. I don't think this was the right decision," Johnson said in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly. He said the suspension of Parliament "has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge."

The ruling could not have been clearer. Reading a unanimous decision by the 11 highest judges in the land, Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said the prime minister had acted illegally.

"It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason — let alone a good reason — to advise her majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks," she said. "We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful."

The suspension "had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification," Hale said.

The ruling forced a chastened Johnson to cut short his trip to New York to fly home overnight in time for Parliament's unexpected session, where he will undoubtedly face a crescendo of calls to resign after his judicial humiliation.

The demands started on the courthouse steps moments after the verdict came in when Scottish National Party lawmaker Joanna Cherry, one of the legislators who had brought the legal challenge, said he must step down immediately.

"His position is untenable, and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign," she said.

The prime minister remains on a collision course with Parliament over his determination to sever Britain from the European Union on Oct. 31 even if no divorce deal is reached. Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension if there is no deal, but Johnson says he will not do that under any circumstances.

He may be tempted to defy Parliament, but the Supreme Court ruling on the suspension suggests the courts will not look kindly on such a tactic.

Labour Party legislator Jon Trickett said the opposition will seek to have Johnson appear Wednesday in Parliament to explain his actions.

"I suspect we will be summoning the prime minister to Parliament to make a statement," he said. "We want to hear what legal advice he was acting on, why he ended up in court and being ruled in this quite extraordinary way."

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders from a wide array of parties called for Johnson to step down.

Johnson strode to power in late July after easily winning a Conservative Party leadership race to succeed Theresa May. He boldly promised Britain would leave the European Union by the Oct. 31 deadline and dominated the news in his first weeks at 10 Downing Street while Parliament was on its summer break.

Since then, however, he has suffered a remarkable string of defeats.

He lost six consecutive important votes in Parliament, saw his working majority in Parliament evaporate, had his own brother step down from a government post in protest and even failed to get the legislature to back his call for a national election.

Now his suspension of Parliament has been nullified, and feisty lawmakers may use the sessions to look for new ways to make sure Britain does not leave the EU without a deal in place.

It is also possible, although no one in the public will ever know, that the queen — who has been holding weekly private meetings with prime ministers since the days of Winston Churchill — will have questions about Johnson's advice and requests.

Nonetheless, Johnson plans to press on with his Brexit strategy. He reiterated Tuesday that Brexit will happen Oct. 31 and said he is focused on reaching a new deal with the EU before then.

"As the law currently stands, the U.K. leaves the EU on Oct. 31 come what may. But the exciting thing for us now is to get a good deal. And that is what we are working on," Johnson said in New York. "And to be honest, it is not made much easier by this kind of stuff in Parliament or in the courts."


Google wins case over EU's 'right to be forgotten' rules

This Nov. 1, 2018, file photo shows the Google logo at the company’s offices in Granary Square, London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) — Handing Google a major victory, the European Union's highest court ruled Tuesday that the EU's "right to be forgotten" rules that allow people to control what comes up when their name is searched online do not apply outside the 28-nation bloc.

Over the past five years, people in Europe have had the right to ask Google and other search engines to delete links to outdated or embarrassing information about themselves, even if it is true. More recently, France's privacy regulator wanted the rule applied to all of Google's search engines, even those outside Europe.

But the European Court of Justice declared there is "no obligation under EU law for a search engine operator" to abide by the rule beyond the EU.

It said, however, that a search engine operator must put measures in place to discourage internet users from going outside the EU to find the deleted information.

The decision highlighted the growing tension between privacy and the public's right to know and underscored the difficulties in enforcing different jurisdictions' rules when it comes to the borderless internet.

It also illustrated the way the internet is regulated more heavily in Europe than in the U.S., where authorities are constrained by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and freedom of the press. The U.S. has no laws equivalent to Europe's "right to be forgotten" measure.

Peter Fleischer, Google's senior privacy counsel, welcomed the ruling and added that the U.S. internet search giant has worked hard "to strike a sensible balance between people's rights of access to information and privacy."

Those who wanted to see the rule extended beyond the EU argued that on the internet it is easy to switch between national versions of Google's website — from google.fr to google.com, for example — to find missing information.

Since Google started handling "right to be forgotten" requests in 2014, it has deleted about 1.3 million web links from its search results, or 45% of all requests processed, according to the company's transparency report .

Takedown requests filed by Europeans are reviewed by Google staff members, based mainly in Ireland, who look into whether the webpage contains sensitive information such as race, religion or sexual orientation; relates to children or crimes committed as a minor; or is about old convictions, acquittals or false accusations.

Last year, Google removed a 1984 German news article about an individual's conviction for hijacking an East German airplane to flee to West Germany, because it was "very old" and related to now-repealed laws against illegal emigration.

Pages about a former politician involved in a drug scandal were deleted because they disclosed his home address, and links about convictions for rapes, sexual abuse and aiding and abetting terrorism were removed because the offenders had served their sentences.

Google does not remove such material from all web searches, just when a person's name is typed in. The material will still show up when other search terms are used.

Google says it may reject a delisting request if the page contains information that is "strongly in the public interest." That can include material on public figures that relates to the person's criminal record.

It can also say no if the content consists of government documents or is "journalistic in nature."


20 killed, 70 hurt in protests in Indonesia's Papua province

 People gather as shops burn in the background during a protest in Wamena in Papua province, Indonesia, Monday, Sept 23, 2019. (AP Photo)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — At least 20 people were killed Monday, including three shot by police, in violent protests by hundreds of people sparked by rumors that a teacher insulted an indigenous student in Indonesia's restive Papua province, officials said.

An angry mob torched local government buildings, shops and homes and set fire to cars and motorbikes on several roads leading to the district chief's office in Wamena city, said Papua police chief Rudolf Alberth Rodja.

Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto said at least 16 civilians, including 13 from other Indonesian provinces, were killed in Wamena, mostly after being trapped in burning houses or shops.

He said at least one soldier and three civilians died in another protest in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.

About 65 civilians were injured in Wamena and five police officers were critically injured in Jayapura, he said.

Television video showed orange flames and black smoke billowing from burning buildings in Wamena.

Rodja said the protest was triggered by rumors that a high school teacher in Wamena who is not from Papua called an indigenous Papuan student a "monkey" last week.

He said a police investigation did not find any evidence of racism against the student, and that false rumors have been spreading among students in other schools and native communities.

"We believe this false information was intentionally designed to create riots," Rodja told reporters in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. "This is a hoax and I call on people in Papua not to be provoked by untrue news."

Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said students from another school in Wamena who refused to join the protest brawled with another group of students.

Video circulated on the internet showed dozens of people, many armed with machetes, standing in front of their shops and homes to protect them from the angry mob.

Joko Harjani, an airport official, said the protest forced authorities to close the city's airport until the situation returns to normal.

The protest came days after Indonesian authorities managed to get the province under control after weeks of violent demonstrations by thousands of people in Papua and West Papua provinces against alleged racism toward Papuans. At least one Indonesian soldier and four civilians were killed in that violence.

The previous protests were triggered by videos circulated on the internet showing security forces calling Papuan university students "monkeys" and "dogs" in East Java's Surabaya city when they stormed a dormitory where Papuan students were staying after a torn Indonesian flag was found in a sewer.

The videos prompted hundreds of Papuan students who study in other Indonesian provinces to return home and force a local state university to accommodate them.

Daryanto said a mob of angry students attacked a soldier and several police officers in Jayapura with machetes and rocks, forcing security forces to respond with gunfire, killing three civilians. The soldier died on the way to a hospital. At least five police officers were in critical condition.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.

In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region.


Hundreds of thousands affected as British travel firm fails

British passengers with Thomas Cook wait in line at Antalya airport in Antalya, Turkey, Monday Sept. 23, 2019. (IHA via AP)

Carlo Piovano and Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Families stranded, honeymoons and vacations canceled, thousands of workers laid off: The sudden collapse of British tour company Thomas Cook and its network of airlines and hotels sowed chaos for hundreds of thousands of travelers and businesses around the world Monday.

Brought down by a variety of factors, including crushing debts and online competition, the 178-year-old travel agency that helped pioneer the package tour ceased operating in the middle of the night. Its four airlines stopped carrying customers, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries lost their jobs.

The company's failure rippled across the tourism industry, particularly around the Mediterranean, with travelers uncertain how they would get home, hotels worried they wouldn't get paid, guests afraid they wouldn't be allowed to check out without settling their bills, and resorts hit with cancellations.

Overall, about 600,000 people were traveling with Thomas Cook as of Sunday, though it was unclear how many would be left stranded, as some regional subsidiaries were in talks with local authorities to continue operating.

The British government swung into action, lining up flights to bring an estimated 150,000 Britain-based customers back home from vacation spots around the globe in what was called the biggest peacetime repatriation effort in the country's history.

Some 50,000 Thomas Cook travelers were reported stranded in Greece, up to 30,000 in Spain's Canary Islands, 21,000 in Turkey and 15,000 in Cyprus. Travelers lined up at airports, looking for other ways to get home.

James Egerton-Stanbridge and his wife, Kim, were set to fly from London's Gatwick Airport to Egypt to celebrate her 60th birthday when flights were grounded.

"Kim was crying this morning. We're devastated," he said.

Long lines of British tourists snaked through the terminal in the Mexican resort of Cancun as travelers waited to find out when they could return home, and some discovered they would be taken to cities hours from their homes.

Katie Cowdrey, her husband and 6-year-old son had been scheduled to end their two-week vacation Monday anyway, but instead of flying home to London, they were told a plane would take them to Manchester.

"There's chaos as you can see. No one knows what's going on," Cowdrey said. "We only found out from the news. We weren't told any other way. The hotel didn't know what was going on."

Others took the news in stride. Sweden's Bengt Olsson, who was traveling in Cyprus, said there were worse places to be stranded: "It's nice to stay here. It's warm."

The reality was far harsher for the Thomas Cook employees who lost their jobs overnight.

"The staff have been stabbed in the back without a second's thought," said Brian Strutton, head of the British Airline Pilots' Association.

An estimated 1 million customers also found their bookings for upcoming trips canceled. Many of them are likely to receive refunds under travel insurance plans but had no idea when they would get their money back. Thomas Cook said it served 22 million customers a year.

The company, which began in 1841 with one-day train excursions in England, grew to have travel operations around the world but has been struggling for years because of competition from budget airlines and low-cost online booking sites.

In contrast to internet sites, Thomas Cook had high fixed costs: It operated a fleet of 105 jets and owned about 550 travel agencies on major streets across Britain as well as 200 hotels in sun-drenched countries.

"The growing popularity of the pick-and-mix type of travel that allows consumers to book their holiday packages separately, as well as new kids on the block like Airbnb, has seen the travel industry change beyond all recognition in the past decade, as consumers book travel, accommodation, and car hire independently," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Business was also hurt in recent years by terror attacks in the Middle East and heat waves in Northern Europe that led people to stay home.

Things got worse this year, with the company blaming a slowdown in bookings on uncertainty over Britain's impending departure from the European Union. A drop in the pound also made it more expensive for Britons to travel abroad.

While many of these factors also affected rival companies, Thomas Cook was also burdened by $2 billion in debt. It was seeking 200 million pounds ($250 million) to avoid going bust and held talks over the weekend with shareholders and creditors.

CEO Peter Fankhauser stood outside the company's offices before dawn and announced that the effort to stave off collapse had failed.

"I know that this outcome will be devastating to many people and will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption," he said.

British authorities chartered dozens of aircraft to fly customers home free of charge over the next two weeks, but warned of delays and urged patience.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was traveling to New York for a meeting at the United Nations, said the government was right not to bail out the company, arguing that doing so could have led other businesses to expect the same treatment.

Most of Thomas Cook's customers from Britain are protected by the government-run travel insurance program, which makes sure vacationers can get home if a British-based tour operator fails while they are abroad.

In Germany, the government was considering a request for a bridge loan from Thomas Cook's unit there, the airline Condor. The subsidiary was still flying but stopped carrying Thomas Cook customers.

Thomas Cook's collapse is also a blow to the many companies in resort areas that have long relied on it for business, including some 3,150 hotels.

In Spain's Canary Islands, a favored year-round destination for Europeans, the association of hotels said it feared an economic hit. The Spanish government held meetings with regional authorities to assess the damage.

In Tunisia, the TAP news agency said the tourism minister intervened after reports that some Thomas Cook tourists in Hammamet were locked into a hotel and "being held hostage" as hotel staff demanded they pay extra. The government said the situation was resolved and the guests would not be prevented from leaving the country.


'You are failing us': Plans, frustration at UN climate talks

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Seth Borenstein

United Nations (AP) — Scolded for doing little, leader after leader promised the United Nations on Monday to do more to prevent a warming world from reaching even more dangerous levels.

As they made their pledges at the Climate Action Summit, though, they and others conceded it was not enough. And even before they spoke, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg shamed them over and over for their inaction: "How dare you?"

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres concluded the summit by listing 77 countries that committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, 70 nations pledging to do more to fight climate change, with 100 business leaders promising to join the green economy and one-third of the global banking sector signing up to green goals.

"Action by action, the tide is turning," he said. "But we have a long way to go."

Businesses and charities also got in on the act, at times even going bigger than major nations. Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced Monday that his foundation, along with The World Bank and some European governments, would provide $790 million in financial help to 300 million of the world's small farmers adapt to climate change. The Gates foundation pledged $310 million of that.

"The world can still prevent the absolute worst effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing new technologies and sources of energy," Gates said. "But the effects of rising temperatures are already under way."

As the day went on Monday and the promises kept coming, the United States seemed out in the cold.

Before world leaders made their promises in three-minute speeches, the 16-year-old Thunberg gave an emotional appeal in which she scolded the leaders with her repeated phrase, "How dare you."

"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here," said Thunberg, who began a lone protest outside the Swedish parliament more than a year ago that culminated in Friday's global climate strikes.

"I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you have come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."

"We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and yet all you can talk about is money," Thunberg said. "You are failing us."

Later, she and 15 other youth activists filed a formal complaint with an arm of the U.N. that protects children, saying that governments' lack of action on warming is violating their basic rights.

Outside experts say they heard a lot of talk Monday but not the promised action needed to keep warming to a few tenths of a degree. They say it won't produce the dramatic changes the world requires.

"Sometimes I feel that Greta is still out in front of the Swedish parliament out on her own," said Stanford University's Rob Jackson, who chairs the Global Carbon Project, which targets carbon emissions across the world.

Bill Hare, who follows national emissions and promises for Climate Action Tracker, called what was said "deeply disappointing" and not adding up to much.

"The ball they are moving forward is a ball of promises," said economist John Reilly, co-director of MIT's Joint Center for Global Change. "Where the 'ball' of actual accomplishments is, is another question."

Of all the countries that came up short, World Resources Institute Vice President Helen Mountford said one stood out: the United States for "not coming to the table and engaging."

"What we've seen so far is not the kind of climate leadership we need from the major economies," Mountford said. She did say, however, that businesses, as well as small- and medium-sized countries had "exciting initiatives."

Nations such as Finland and Germany promised to ban coal within a decade. Several also mentioned goals of climate neutrality — when a country is not adding more heat-trapping carbon to the air than is being removed by plants and perhaps technology — by 2050.

U.S. President Donald Trump dropped by the summit, listened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel make detailed pledges — including going coal-free — and left without saying anything.

The United States did not ask to speak at the summit, U.N. officials said. And Guterres had told countries they couldn't be on the agenda without making bold new proposals.

Even though there was no speech by Trump — who has denied climate change, called it a Chinese hoax and repealed U.S. carbon-reduction policies — he was talked about.

In a jibe at Trump's plans to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said countries "must honor our commitments and follow through on the Paris Agreement."

"The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the collective goal of the world community," Wang said to applause.  Also Monday, Russia announced that it had ratified the Paris pact, which it had signed already.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the U.N.'s special climate envoy, thanked Trump for stopping by, adding that it might prove useful "when you formulate climate policy," drawing laughter and applause on the General Assembly floor.

Thunberg told the U.N. that even the strictest emission cuts being talked about only gives the world a 50% chance of limiting future warming to another 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) from now, which is a global goal. Those odds, she said, are not good enough.

"We will not let you get away with this," Thunberg said. "Right now is where we draw the line."

As this all played out, scientists announced that Arctic sea ice reached its annual summer low and this year the ice shrank so much it tied for the second lowest mark in 40 years of monitoring.

Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, said she represents "the most climate-vulnerable people on Earth." Her tiny country has increased its emissions-cut proposals in a way that would limit warming to that tight goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

"We are now calling on others to join us," Heine said.

Several leaders talked about getting off coal, but Climate Action Tracker's Hare said it wasn't enough and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said if the world can make driverless cars, it can tackle climate change.

"There simply can be no more coal power plants after 2020 if we are serious about our future," she said.

Speaking for small nations that are already being eaten away by sea level rise and blasted by stronger storms, Mottley said, "We refuse to be relegated to the footnotes of history and be collateral damage."

"The nations of the world are not fighting a losing battle, but the nations of the world are losing this battle today," Mottley said. "It's within our battle to win it. The only question is: Will it be too late for the small nations of the world?"

Guterres opened the summit Monday by saying: "Earth is issuing a chilling cry: Stop."

He told the more than 60 world leaders scheduled to speak that it's not a time to negotiate but to act to make the world carbon neutral by 2050.

"Time is running out," he said. "But it is not too late."


2 killed in collapse of Manila hotel being demolished

Rescuers search for victims after a budget hotel undergoing demolition, collapsed Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Associated Press

Manila, Philippines (AP) — At least two workers were killed and another was injured Monday when part of a small budget hotel they were demolishing in Manila collapsed, Philippine officials said.

Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso helped supervise efforts to locate the two workers with cranes and drones after a portion of Hotel Sogo collapsed for still-unclear reasons.

The hotel has long been closed and was being demolished by several workers when the accident happened. A busy road in Manila's Malate tourism and entertainment district was closed due to the rescue efforts.

"It's sad but we can't do anything, everybody tried their best," Moreno told reporters, adding rescuers moved rapidly but carefully due to the building's fragility.

Police are investigating the collapse, which Moreno said prompted him to order guests in an adjacent budget motel to leave the building for safety reasons.


Tour company Thomas Cook collapses, global bookings canceled

In this May 19, 2016 file photo, a Thomas Cook plane takes off in England. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)

Associated Press

London (AP) — British tour operator Thomas Cook collapsed after failing to secure rescue funding, and travel bookings for its more than 600,000 global vacationers were canceled early Monday.

The British government said the return of the firm's 150,000 British customers now abroad would be its largest repatriation in peacetime history.

The Civil Aviation Authority said Thomas Cook has ceased trading, its four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will be left unemployed.

The debt-laden company had said Friday it was seeking 200 million pounds ($250 million) to avoid going bust, was in talks with shareholders and creditors to stave off failure. The 178-year-old firm also operated around 600 UK stores.

CAA said it had arranged an aircraft fleet for the British repatriation effort lasting two weeks beginning Monday.

"Due to the significant scale of the situation, some disruption is inevitable, but the Civil Aviation Authority will endeavour to get people home as close as possible to their planned dates," it said in a statement.

Most of Thomas Cook's British customers are protected by the government-run travel insurance program, which makes sure vacationers can get home if a British-based tour operator goes under while they are abroad.

Thomas Cook, which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England and now operates in 16 countries, has been struggling over the past few years. It only recently raised 900 million pounds ($1.12 billion), including from leading Chinese shareholder Fosun.

In May, the company reported a debt burden of 1.25 billion pounds and cautioned that political uncertainty related to Britain's departure from the European Union had hurt demand for summer holiday travel. Heat waves over the past couple of summers in Europe have also led many people to stay at home, while higher fuel and hotel costs have weighed on the travel business.

The company's troubles were already affecting those traveling under the Thomas Cook banner.

A British vacationer told BBC radio on Sunday that the Les Orangers beach resort in the Tunisian town of Hammamet, near Tunis, demanded that guests who were about to leave pay extra money for fear it wouldn't be paid what it is owed by Thomas Cook.

Ryan Farmer, of Leicestershire, said many tourists refused the demand, since they had already paid Thomas Cook, so security guards shut the hotel's gates and "were not allowing anyone to leave."

It was like "being held hostage," said Farmer, who is due to leave Tuesday. He said he would also refuse to pay if the hotel asked him.

The Associated Press called the hotel, as well as the British Embassy in Tunis, but no officials or managers were available for comment.


Typhoon heads to northeast Japan after some damage in south

A girl grimaces against a strong wind brought by Typhoon Tapah in Nakatane, Kogoshima prefecture, southwestern Japan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — A powerful typhoon was heading northeast to Japan's main island of Honshu on Sunday after lashing parts of the country's southern islands with heavy rains and winds that caused flooding and some minor injuries.

Typhoon Tapah was passing near Nagasaki in southern Japan on Sunday afternoon after hitting other parts of southern Japan, including Okinawa, the two previous days.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the storm was moving northeast at a speed of 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph), with maximum winds of 162 kph (100 mph).

The agency warned of heavy rain, flooding and possible landslides through Monday in western Japan.

The typhoon hit Okinawa on Friday and Saturday and left 18 people with minor injuries. The storm disrupted air and train travel in the region during what is a three-day weekend.

In Nobeoka City in Miyazaki prefecture, a tornado believed to have been triggered by the typhoon damaged at least one house and injured two people slightly, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The winds blew a cargo container into an electricity tower, causing power loss to some train stations in the area.

The city postponed Sunday's entrance exam for city employees due to the typhoon.

The approaching typhoon also caused fears in parts of Chiba, near Tokyo, which was hit hard by another typhoon earlier this month and is still recovering from damage. That typhoon damaged many houses and electric poles, causing widespread blackouts in the prefecture and triggering criticism and concern about aging infrastructure systems in the country.

Cleanup and power restoration efforts continued Sunday in parts of Chiba.


Pakistan bus crash kills 26; brakes fail on mountain road

A victim in a bus accident is treated at a hospital in Chilas, northwest Pakistan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Muhammad Qasim)

Associated Press

Islamabad (AP) — A bus crash in northern Pakistan killed 26 people Sunday after its brakes failed on a winding mountain road, police said.

Another 20 passengers were injured when the bus smashed head-on into a dirt embankment, said Abdul Wakil, a local police officer.

Such road accidents are common in Pakistan, where motorists largely disregard traffic rules and safety standards on worn-out roads. Last month, a speeding bus fell off a mountainous road into a river in the northwest, killing 24 passengers.

Rescue efforts were hampered Sunday by the remote terrain near the town of Chilas on the route between the cities of Rawalpindi and Skardu. That's in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, part of the larger Kashmir region.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and has been the sight of recent tensions. An army statement said ten soldiers were among those killed in the crash.

Wakil said two of the injured had died after being taken to the hospital, and that all the dead and injured had been evacuated to hospitals from the crash site.
 


Albania quake has 340 aftershocks, people afraid to go home

Damaged cars are shown outside the Faculty of Geology building after an earthquake in Tirana, Albania, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

Llazar Semini

Tirana, Albania (AP) — Fear and safety hazards kept many residents of Albania's capital of Tirana and the port city of Durres out of their homes Sunday after an earthquake the day before injured 105 people and damaged hundreds of buildings.

Albania's Institute of Geosciences, Energy, Water and Environment said more than 340 aftershocks have followed the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Saturday afternoon near Durres.

About 600 houses, most built before 1990, suffered damage in the quake, which also temporarily knocked out power and water facilities in Tirana, Durres and some western and central districts, authorities said.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center recorded the rupture on Albania's western Adriatic Sea coast as a magnitude 5.6 quake.

It was felt along the western coast and far to the east. Many people ran outdoors when the quake hit at 4:04 p.m. At least 500 spent the night in temporary shelters.

Inspectors evaluated damaged structures Sunday. Some Tirana residents were kept out of damaged homes deemed unsafe.

"Luckily, oil wells were not damaged." Defense Minister Olta Xhacka said.

In Durres, residents afraid of going back into their homes and apartments planned to spend a second night away. Army troops put up tents at a soccer stadium where food and a medical team were sent.

Authorities also sent counsellors to every family coping with post-quake fear. Education Minister Besa Shahini said all schools would be closed Monday in Tirana, Durres and Elbasan, the places the earthquake hit hardest. She said 98 schools had damage but only two were declared unsafe.

"People are not ready emotionally (to send children to school)," Shahini said.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said he had phone calls from his Italian, French, German and other European counterparts offering assistance.

Located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Albania is earthquake-prone and registers seismic activity every few days.


US to send troops to Saudi Arabia, hold off on striking Iran

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns

Washington (AP) — The Pentagon on Friday announced it will deploy additional U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as President Donald Trump has at least for now put off any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters this is a first step to beef up security and he would not rule out additional moves down the road. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more details about the deployment will be determined in the coming days, but it would not involve thousands of U.S. troops.

Other officials said the U.S. deployment would likely be in the hundreds and the defensive equipment heading to the Middle East would probably include Patriot missile batteries and possibly enhanced radars.

The announcement reflected Trump's comments earlier in the day when he told reporters that showing restraint "shows far more strength" than launching military strikes and he wanted to avoid an all-out war with Iran.

Instead, he laid out new sanctions on the Iranian central bank and said the easiest thing to do would be to launch military strikes.

"I think the strong person's approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint," Trump told reporters during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. "Much easier to do it the other way, and Iran knows that if they misbehave, they are on borrowed time."

Dunford told reporters the extra equipment and troops would give the Saudis a better chance of defending against unconventional aerial attacks.

"No single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that," he said, "but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran."

The U.S. has not provided any hard evidence that Iran was responsible for the attacks, while insisting the investigation continues, but Esper on Friday said the drones and cruise missiles used in the attack were produced by Iran.

"The attack on Sept. 14 against Saudi Arabian oil facilities represents a dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression," Esper said, adding that the U.S. has thus far shown "great restraint."

In deciding against an immediate U.S. strike, Trump for the second time in recent months pulled back from a major military action against Iran that many Pentagon and other advisers fear could trigger a new Middle East war. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians.

On Friday, he left the door open a bit for a later military response, saying people thought he'd attack Iran "within two seconds," but he has "plenty of time."

Trump spoke just before he gathered his national security team at the White House to consider a broad range of military, economic and diplomatic options in response to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Iran has denied involvement and warned the U.S. that any attack will spark an "all-out war" with immediate retaliation from Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as "an act of war."

Esper and Dunford declined to discuss any potential ship movements to the region, although a number of U.S. Navy vessels are nearby.

The additional air and missile defense equipment for Saudi Arabia would be designed to bolster its defenses in the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.

A forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
 


Haze from Indonesian fires now affecting Philippines

Haze from forest fires blankets villages along Kahayan river in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago)

Jim Gomez and Niniek Karmini

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Haze blown by monsoon winds from fires in Indonesia has begun affecting some areas of the Philippines and raised concerns about aviation safety and possible health risks, an official said Friday.

Landrico Dalida Jr., the deputy administrator of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, said light to moderate haze was covering the southern city of Zamboanga, the central cities of Cebu and Dumaguete and the western province of Palawan. Authorities were verifying other areas that might also be affected, he said.

"It's visible, meaning there are particles that are really coming from those areas in Indonesia and they reach us," Dalida said.

If visibility is affected, airport officials and airlines may cancel flights because of safety concerns. Dalida advised people to wear masks if the haze worsens.

Officials of the Environmental Management Bureau, in charge of pollution prevention and control, said its regional offices have relayed information to local officials in haze-hit areas to enable them to advise the public, especially people with respiratory ailments, to stay indoors if conditions worsen.

Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency said the number of hotspots has been rising in the past week and reached 5,086 on Friday, despite government efforts to battle the fires and control the haze.

The agency recorded 1,443 hotspots in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo, an island which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

It said 99% of the hotspots were caused by deliberately set fires.

Firefighting efforts involve 52 helicopters dropping 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of water and 163 tons of salt for cloud seeding.

Indonesian authorities have deployed more than 29,000 people to fight the fires, which have razed more than 328,700 hectares (812,000 acres) of land across the nation, with more than half in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

The six provinces which have a combined population of more than 23 million have declared an emergency since the fires began in February.

National police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said police have arrested 249 people suspected of starting some of the fires. Those arrested could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that provides for a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land.

Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the ministry is investigating 370 plantation companies suspected of intentionally setting fires for new planting, including 103 in Riau province.

She said authorities have sealed off land owned by at least 52 companies in the past week for investigation after fires were found there, including a Singaporean-based company and four firms affiliated with a Malaysian palm oil corporate group.

Indonesia's fires are an annual problem that strains relations with neighboring countries. The smoke from the fires has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in a noxious haze. The fires are often started by smallholders and plantation owners to clear land for planting.

Poor visibility caused by smoke has caused delays of flights at several airports in Indonesia and Malaysia and prompted authorities to shut thousands of schools in some parts of the two countries, affecting more than 1.5 million students in Malaysia alone.

Indonesia's annual dry season fires were particularly disastrous in 2015, burning 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles) of land. The World Bank estimated the fires cost Indonesia $16 billion, and a Harvard and Columbia study estimated the haze hastened 100,000 deaths in the region.


Tens of thousands join climate protests before UN summit

Thousands of protestors, many of them school students, gather in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, calling for action to guard against climate change. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters joined rallies on Friday as a day of worldwide demonstrations calling for action against climate change began ahead of a U.N. summit in New York.

Some of the first rallies in what is being billed as a "global climate strike" were held in Australia's largest city, Sydney, and the national capital, Canberra. Australian demonstrators called for their nation, which is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Organizers estimate more than 300,000 protesters took to Australian streets in what would be the largest demonstrations in the country since the Iraq War began in 2003.

Similar rallies were planned Friday in cities around the globe. In the United States more than 800 events were planned, while in Germany more than 400 rallies were expected.

In New Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, dozens of students and environmental activists chanted "We want climate action" and "I want to breathe clean" at a rally outside the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

They carried banners with some displaying messages like "There is no Earth B."

Hundreds of people marched in Thailand's capital and staged a "die-in" outside the Ministry of Natural Resources to demand the government declare a climate emergency, ban coal energy by 2025 and completely replace fossil fuel energy with renewable energy by 2040.

In Hong Kong, where near-daily protests all summer have demanded greater democracy, about 50 people found a different reason to demonstrate: climate change.

Carrying banners and posters, they chanted "Stop the pollution" as they marched along the harbor front under a blazing sun.

The protests are partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading "Fridays for Future" over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change. Many who have followed her lead are students, but the movement has since spread to civil society groups.

Similar coordinated protests in March drew crowds around the world.

Protests were staged in 110 towns and cities across Australia on Friday, with organizers demanding government and business commit to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Australian universities said they would not penalize students for attending Friday's rallies, while Australian schools varied on what action, if any, they would take against children who skipped classes to attend demonstrations.

Siobhan Sutton, a 15-year-old student at Perth Modern School, said she would fail a math exam by attending a protest in the west coast city of Perth.

"I have basically been told that because it is not a valid reason to be missing school — it is not a medical reason or anything — I am going to get a zero on the test if I don't actually sit it," she said.

"Even though we ourselves aren't sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it," she added.

Siobhan said her math teacher had given her the option to sit the exam before Friday, but she was unable to do so because of her commitments as one of the protest organizers.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said students should be in school.

"These sorts of rallies should be held on a weekend where it doesn't actually disrupt business, it doesn't disrupt schools, it doesn't disrupt universities," McCormack told reporters in Melbourne.

"I think it is just a disruption," he added.

School Strike 4 Climate said 265,000 protesters turned out at demonstrations in seven Australian cities alone. The largest crowd was an estimated 100,000 in Melbourne, followed by 80,000 in Sydney.

Most police services declined to release their own crowd estimates. Organizers put the crowd in Brisbane at 30,000, while police estimated 12,000. Organizers said 15,000 rallied in Canberra, but police said 7,000.

Australian police have a reputation for underestimating by half crowd numbers at protests.

The demonstrations come as Australia's center-left opposition mulls abandoning its policy, rejected at May elections, of reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative coalition won a surprise third term with a commitment to reduce emissions by a more modest 26% to 28% in the same time frame.

Morrison is in the U.S. for a state dinner with President Donald Trump on Friday and has been criticized for failing to include in his New York itinerary the U.N. climate summit on Monday, when leaders will present their long-term plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some companies are encouraging their employees to join the climate strike.

Australian Council of Trade Unions, which represents labor unions, said it supported employees taking time off work to protest.

The council said in a statement that it "must take a stand for our future when our government will not."

The demonstrations in 2003 that protested Australia sending combat troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq were the largest since the Vietnam War.


Facebook suspends thousands of apps but user impact unclear

This July 16, 2013, file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Barbara Ortutay and Frank Bajak

Menlo Park, Calif. (AP) - Facebook said Friday that it has suspended "tens of thousands" of apps made by about 400 developers as part of an investigation following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The announcement came the same day that unsealed legal documents in Massachusetts disclosed that Facebook had suspended 69,000 apps. In the vast majority of cases, however, the suspensions came not after any kind of serious investigation but because app developers had failed to respond to emailed information requests.

Starting in March 2018, Facebook began looking into the apps that have access to its users' data. The probe came after revelations that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten data from millions of Facebook users through an app, then used the data to try to influence U.S. elections.

It led to a massive backlash against Facebook that included CEO Mark Zuckerberg being called to testify before Congress. The company is still trying to repair its reputation.

Facebook said Friday its app investigation is ongoing and it has looked at millions of apps so far.

The company said it has banned a few apps completely and has filed lawsuits against some, including in May against a South Korean data analytics company called Rankwave. In April, it sued LionMobi , based in Hong Kong, and JediMobi, based in Singapore, which the company says made apps that infected users' phones with malware.

Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission for a record $5 billion this summer over privacy violations that stemmed from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company said the FTC agreement "will bring its own set of requirements for bringing oversight to app developers. It requires developers to annually certify compliance with our policies" and that developers who don't do this will be "held accountable."

Also on Friday, a judge unsealed a subpoena by the Massachusetts attorney general demanding that the social network disclose the names of apps and developers that obtained data from its users without their consent. It also asked for all Facebook internal communications about those apps.

The state began investigating Facebook when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. But the company refused to identify any of the apps or developers, and the subpoena would have remained confidential under Massachusetts law had Facebook not insisted on keeping it and related exhibits secret.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's consumer protection division had sought data on apps from prior to 2014, when Facebook announced changes to the platform to restrict access to user data.

Facebook tried to redact the subpoena in negotiations before Friday's ruling by state Judge Brian A. Davis. But Healey's office fought to limit the redacted sections.

Facebook did disclose that it had identified more than 10,000 apps that "show characteristics associated with higher risks of data misuse" but did not identify any of them.

The state attorney general noted that Facebook had allowed developers to integrate at least 9 million apps into the platform as of 2014 and had, for many years, allowed developers to access user data, including photos, work history, birthdates and "likes." This applied not just from people who installed the apps but also to their Facebook friends who did not.

The unsealed subpoena also says that Facebook informed the Massachusetts attorney general's office that it had identified about 2 million apps "as warranting a closer examination for potential misuses of Facebook user data."

That suggests that, five years ago, more than one in four apps may have been accessing Facebook users' data without their knowledge or consent.


Indonesian police arrest hundreds linked to forest fires

Firefighters spray water to extinguish forest fire in Kampar, Riau province, Indonesia, Wednesday, Sept.18, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafka Majjid)

Niniek Karmini

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police said Thursday they have arrested 230 people suspected of starting some of the fires that are spreading health-damaging haze across a large part of Southeast Asia.

Among those arrested are three men who were caught Monday while trying to clear land to plant crops in Tesso Nilo National Park, which is home to about 140 endangered wild elephants, said Dedi Prasetyo, the national police spokesman.

Those arrested could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that provides for a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land.

Indonesia's fires are an annual problem that strains relations with neighboring countries. The smoke from the fires has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in a noxious haze.

Poor visibility caused by smoke has caused delays of flights at several airports in Indonesia and Malaysia and prompted authorities to shut thousands of schools in some parts of the two countries, affecting more than 1.5 million students in Malaysia alone.

Malaysian authorities have been conducting cloud seeding operations in an attempt to clear the haze and are considering passage of a law that would penalize Malaysian plantation companies that start fires abroad.

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Thursday that a more lasting regional solution is needed.

Singapore, directly across the Strait of Malacca from Indonesia's Riau province on the island of Sumatra, experienced air pollution levels ranging between moderate and unhealthy levels on Thursday.

Elevated levels of PM2.5, tiny airborne particulates, caused Singaporean authorities to issue health advisories to limit outdoor activities, especially among the elderly, pregnant women and children.

PM2.5 particulates are small enough to be sucked deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, and can cause respiratory problems and over time may raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Thailand's southernmost provinces, which are north of Malaysia halfway up the Malay Peninsula, were blanketed with haze from Indonesian fires on Thursday.

Thai authorities said the level of air pollution has risen since Sept. 5, reaching a dangerous level in the last few days.

The Air Pollution Research Station of Prince of Songkhla University urged residents of the affected areas to refrain from outdoor activities and not leave home without wearing masks.

Health officials in Yala province have been giving out free masks to people on the streets while urging motorists to exercise caution when driving on highways because of poor visibility.

"We face the problem every year between July and September, the worst was in 2015," said Kaneungnit Srisamai of the government's environment quality monitoring center. "We have seen less smoke in the last four years, but this year we may be facing it again due to a reduction in rainfall."

In addition to the arrests, Indonesian authorities have also sealed off land owned by at least 49 plantation companies in the past week for investigation after fires were found there.

The Indonesian Disaster Mitigation Agency detected 2,719 hotspots across the country on Thursday. It said 99% of the hotspots were caused by deliberately set fires.

The agency said 44 helicopters had dropped more than 270 million liters of water and 163 tons of salt for cloud seeding as part of the firefighting efforts.

Indonesian authorities have deployed more than 9,000 people to fight the fires, which have razed more than 328,700 hectares of land across the nation, with more than half in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

Indonesia's annual dry season fires were particularly disastrous in 2015, burning 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles) of land. The World Bank estimated the fires cost Indonesia $16 billion, and a Harvard and Columbia study estimated the haze hastened 100,000 deaths in the region.


Iran envoy: 'All-out war' to result if hit for Saudi attack

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Jon Gambrell

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Any attack on Iran by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia will spark an "all-out war," Tehran's top diplomat warned Thursday, raising the stakes as Washington and Riyadh weigh a response to a drone-and-missile strike on the kingdom's oil industry that shook global energy markets.

The comments by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif represented the starkest warning yet by Iran in a long summer of mysterious attacks and incidents following the collapse of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the accord.

They appeared to be aimed directly at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who while on a trip to the region earlier referred to Saturday's attack in Saudi Arabia as an "act of war."

Along with the sharp language, however, there also were signals from both sides of wanting to avoid a confrontation.

On Thursday evening, a spokesman at Iran's mission to the United Nations said Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani had received U.S. visas to attend next week's annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

In his comments, Zarif sought to expose current strains between the Americans and the Saudis under Trump, who long has criticized U.S. wars in the Middle East.

Trump's close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been challenged by opponents following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and the kingdom's long, bloody war in Yemen. That country's Houthi rebels claimed the oil field attack Saturday in Saudi Arabia, although the U.S. alleges Iran carried it out.

"I think it is important for the Saudi government to understand what they're what they're trying to achieve. Do they want to fight Iran until the last American soldier? Is that their aim?" Zarif asked in a CNN interview. "They can be assured that this won't be the case ... because Iran will defend itself."

Asked by the broadcaster what would be the consequence of a U.S. or Saudi strike, Zarif bluntly said: "An all-out war."

"I'm making a very serious statement that we don't want war. We don't want to engage in a military confrontation," he said. "We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful."

Zarif, who was to travel to New York on Friday, added: "We'll have a lot of casualties, but we won't blink to defend our territory."

Pompeo, who was in the United Arab Emirates, dismissed Zarif's remarks, saying: "I was here (doing) active diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American."

Pompeo said he hoped Iran would choose a path toward peace, but he remained doubtful. He described "an enormous consensus in the region" that Iran carried out the attack.

"There are still those today who think, 'Boy, if we just give Iran just a little bit more money they'll become a peaceful nation,'" he said. "We can see that that does not work."

Pompeo met Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and joined the kingdom in its war with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The 4-year-old war has killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed much of the country, with millions more driven from their homes and thrown into near starvation.

On Wednesday, Pompeo met with the Saudi crown prince in Jiddah about the attack on the kingdom's crucial oil processing facility and oil field, which cut its oil production in half.

While Pompeo struck a hard line, Trump has been noncommittal on whether he would order U.S. military retaliation. He said separately Wednesday that he is moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack, without elaborating. Iran already is subject to a crushing American sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.

The UAE said it had joined a U.S.-led coalition to protect waterways across the Middle East after the attack in Saudi Arabia.

The state-run WAM news agency quoted Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to "ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy."

Saudi Arabia joined the coalition on Wednesday. Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom also are taking part.

The U.S. formed the coalition after attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Tehran, as well as Iran's seizure of tankers in the region. Iran denies being behind the tanker explosions, although the attacks came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

Iraq said it would not join the coalition. The government in Baghdad, which is allied with both Iran and the U.S., has tried to keep a neutral stance amid the tensions.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Saudis displayed broken and burned drones and pieces of a cruise missile that military spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malki identified as Iranian weapons collected after the attack. He also played surveillance video that he said showed a drone coming in from the north. Yemen is to the south of Saudi Arabia.

Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to hit their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen. That opinion was shared by weapons experts who spoke to The Associated Press .

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian similarly was skeptical of the Houthi claim of responsibility.

"This is not very credible, relatively speaking," he told CNews television. "But we sent our experts to have our own vision of things."

Separately, a U.N. panel of experts on Yemen arrived in Saudi Arabia to investigate the attack, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.


Hurricane rips roofs, cuts power in Bermuda, but no deaths

Men stand on a tree felled by Hurricane Humberto on Pitts Bay Road in Hamilton, Bermuda, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Akil J. Simmons)

The Associated Press

Miami (AP) — Hurricane Humberto blew off rooftops, toppled trees and knocked out power as it blew past the British Atlantic island of Bermuda. But officials said Thursday that the Category 3 storm caused no reported deaths.

"We've made it through and everyone is safe," Premier David Burt said. "That's what is most important."

Security Minister Wayne Caines said power had been restored to most customers by midday Thursday and emergency crews were clearing roads of power lines damaged by the hurricane, which had winds of about 120 mph (195 kph) at its nearest approach to the island Wednesday night.

Caines said government offices would reopen Friday, though schools would remain closed.

"The country is getting back on its feet and the good news is there was no loss of life," he said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Humberto would still kick up high surf in Bermuda and along the U.S. East Coast.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) late Thursday afternoon, with tropical storm-force winds extending outward for 380 miles (610 kilometers), covering a huge swath of ocean. The storm was centered about 550 miles (885 kilometers) northeast of Bermuda and moving to the northeast at a brisk 24 mph (39 kph).

Meanwhile, a brush with land near Puerto Vallarta knocked newly formed Hurricane Lorena back down to tropical storm force, though forecasters said it would soon become a hurricane again on a track that would carry it close to the Los Cabos resorts at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula by midday Friday.

The storm's center came onshore in darkness in the western state of Colima, whipping palm trees about with its strong winds and lashing the area with sheets of rain.

Lorena flooded streets, washed out roads and touched off minor slides in 10 municipalities. Dozens of trees were downed, and there were power outages in some areas.

Water topped the banks of an arroyo and swamped some homes in the port city of Manzanillo, where 21 people sought refuge at a temporary shelter at a school, state Gov. José Ignacio Peralta said Thursday.

At an afternoon news conference, Peralta said nearly 8 inches (200 millimeters) of rain had fallen in a little under 24 hours, and more than 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares) of crops such as bananas and papayas were damaged statewide.

But there were no deaths or significant damage to infrastructure, he said.

"There are no losses of human lives to lament," Peralta said.

Lorena had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) Thursday evening and it was centered about 185 miles (300 kilometers) east-southeast of Cabo San Lucas. It was moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Forecasters said the storm could bring 5 to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 centimeters) of rain to parts of the region. Mexican officials voiced concern that some parts of southern Mexico, which have seen a lack of rainfall, could suffer dangerous flash floods and landslides unleashed by torrential rain.

Authorities in Los Cabos said schools would be closed Friday.

Another tropical storm, Mario, was also moving north across the Pacific several hundred miles farther out to sea. It was located about 400 miles (645 kilometers) south of the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula and had sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kilometers). It wasn't expected to hit land, however.

In Texas and Louisiana, the remains of Tropical Depression Imelda kept bringing rains and flooding.  Forecasters warned that Imelda could drop up to 35 inches (90 centimeters) of rain in some areas of Texas through Friday.

In the Texas town of Winnie, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water was inundating several homes and businesses.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic region, Jerry strengthened into a hurricane on a track that would carry it near the northern Leeward Islands on Friday and north of Puerto Rico on Saturday.

It had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph) Thursday evening and was centered about 435 miles (700 kilometers) east of the northern Leeward Islands. It was moving to the west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).


Japan court: TEPCO execs not guilty of nuke crisis liability

A group of supporters of the trial shows banners reading "unjust sentence" in front of Tokyo District Court in Tokyo Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (Satoru Yonemaru/Kyodo News via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) — A Japanese court on Thursday ruled that three former executives for Tokyo Electric Power Company were not guilty of professional negligence in the 2011 Fukushima meltdown.

The ruling by the Tokyo District Court ended the only criminal trial in the nuclear disaster that has kept tens of thousands of residents away from their homes because of lingering radiation contamination.

The plaintiffs were expected to appeal the decision. A group of their supporters stood outside the court Thursday with placards reading "unjust sentence."

The court said ex-TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and two other former executives were also not guilty of causing the deaths of 44 elderly patients whose health deteriorated during or after forced evacuations from a local hospital.

The executives were charged with failing to foresee the tsunami that struck the plant after an earthquake and for failing to take preventive measures that might have protected the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on Japan's northeastern coast.

Katsumata and co-defendants, Sakae Muto, 69, and Ichiro Takekuro, 73, pleaded not guilty during the trial's opening session in June 2017. They said predicting the enormous tsunami was impossible.

Three of the plant's reactors had meltdowns after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, spreading radiation into surrounding communities and into the sea.

Prosecutors in December demanded a five-year prison sentence for each executive, accusing them of professional negligence for not taking sufficient measures to guard against the threat of a tsunami despite knowing the risks.

In the ruling the court said TEPCO officials were aware of a need to improve tsunami prevention measures and considering taking steps, but their measures were in line with government safety standards at the time.

It was unclear if they could have completed preventive measures in time for the tsunami.

Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi also said experts were also divided over evaluations of various tsunami predictions.

The prosecutors had argued TEPCO could have prevented the disaster had it stopped the plant to install safety measures ahead of the tsunami.  But the court said the company's responsibility for supplying electricity to the public meant that idling the plant would have caused a "social impact."

The acquittal disappointed dozens of Fukushima residents and their supporters observing the ruling in the courtroom.

"Unbelievable," some of them said.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the more than 5,700 Fukushima residents who filed the criminal complaint to prosecutors, said before the ruling that he expected the legal battle to last about a decade because the losing side would appeal.

"This is only the beginning of a major battle," he said at a rally ahead of Thursday's ruling. "Our ultimate goal is to eradicate dangerous nuclear plants that have thrown many residents into despair."

Prosecutors have told the court that the three defendants had access to data and scientific studies that anticipated the risk of a tsunami exceeding 10 meters (30 feet) that could trigger a loss of power and severe accidents.

Defense attorneys for the TEPCO executives told the court that the tsunami projection was not well-established. They said the actual damage was larger than projected, and that if TEPCO had taken steps based on the projection, it would not have prevented the disaster.

Prosecutors said TEPCO was already conducting a tsunami safety review following a 2007 earthquake in Niigata, another location in northern Japan, and the three former executives routinely participated in that process. In March 2008, a TEPCO subsidiary projected that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters (47 feet) could hit Fukushima, prompting the company to consider building seawalls.

Prosecutors presented hundreds of pieces of evidence including emails between safety officials and the two vice presidents that suggested increasing concern and a need for more tsunami measures at the plant. More than 20 TEPCO officials and scientists testified in court.

Government and parliamentary investigations said TEPCO's lack of a safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimation of the tsunami risks, led to the disaster. They said TEPCO colluded with regulators to disregard tsunami protection measures.

The company has said it could have been more proactive with safety measures, but that it could not anticipate the massive tsunami that crippled the plant.

TEPCO has spent 9 trillion yen ($83 billion) on compensation related to the disaster. It needs to spend an estimated 8 trillion yen ($74 billion) to decommission the plant and 6 trillion yen ($55 billion) for decontamination.


US says attack on Saudi oil site was an Iranian 'act of war'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks after stepping off his plane upon arrival at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

Jon Gambrell, Aya Batrawy and Fay Abuelgasim

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil installations an "act of war" against the kingdom by Iran, as the Saudis displayed missile and drone wreckage and cited other evidence they said shows the raid was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran."

Iran, which has denied involvement in the attack, warned the U.S. it will retaliate immediately if it is targeted.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, said he is moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack. He was noncommittal on whether he would order U.S. military retaliation.

At a news conference, Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said the attack Saturday that did heavy damage to the heart of the Saudi oil industry was "launched from the north and was unquestionably sponsored by Iran." Yemen is south of Saudi Arabia, while Iran and Iraq lie to the north.

Al-Malki stopped short of accusing Iran of actually firing the weapons itself or launching them from Iranian territory.

Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of people.

At the news conference, the Saudis displayed broken and burned drones and pieces of a cruise missile that Al-Malki identified as Iranian weapons collected after the attack. He also played surveillance video that he said showed a drone coming in from the north.

Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to make their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen.

"This is the kind of weapon the Iranian regime and the Iranian IRGC are using against the civilian object and facilities infrastructure," Al-Malki said, referring to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. He added: "This attack did not originate from Yemen, despite Iran's best effort to make it appear so."

Pompeo, who landed in Saudi Arabia shortly after the news conference, took a harder line, telling reporters: "The Saudis were the nation that was attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly."

He said en route to Saudi Arabia that "it doesn't matter" whether the Houthis claim they were behind the attack. "This was an Iranian attack," he said.

"It doesn't change the fingerprints of the ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply," Pompeo said, referring to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei.

The attack came after a summer of heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. over Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

Iran sent a note to the U.S. via Swiss diplomats Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies involvement in the aerial attack, the country's state-run IRNA news agency reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Iran for decades.

"If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran's answer immediately," IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran's response wouldn't be limited to the source of the threat.

The U.S. State Department had no comment on the warning.

Trump, meanwhile, tweeted: "I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!"

He did not elaborate, and it was not immediately clear what further means are available since he has already cut deeply into Iran's oil market. National Security Council officials declined to comment.

IRNA also reported that Iran's delegation to the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting has yet to receive the necessary U.S. visas. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to travel to New York on Friday, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani following on Monday.

The U.N. meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Rouhani and Trump.

Asked in Los Angeles whether Rouhani will come to New York, Trump said, "I really don't know. If it was up to me, I'd let them come."

"I've always felt the United Nations is very important," he added. "I think it's got tremendous potential. I don't think it's ever lived up to the potential it has. But I would certainly not want to keep people out if they want to come."

As the host of the U.N.'s headquarters, the U.S. is required to offer world leaders and diplomats visas to attend meetings. But as tensions have risen, the U.S. has put increasing restrictions on Iranians like Zarif.

In Tehran, Rouhani told his Cabinet that Saudi Arabia should see the weekend attack as a warning to end its war in Yemen, where it has fought the Houthi rebels since 2015 and sought to restore the internationally recognized government.

Rouhani said Yemenis "did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar," referring to the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes.

He said the Houthis were responsible for the attack on the oil installations: "They attacked an industrial center to warn you. Learn the lesson from the warning."


Bermuda lashed by heavy winds from Cat 3 Hurricane Humberto

People board up a store in preparation for Hurricane Humberto in Hamilton, Bermuda, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Akil J. Simmons)

Associated Press

Miami (AP) — Hurricane Humberto lashed Bermuda with strong winds Wednesday night as the powerful Category 3 storm passed just to the north of the British Atlantic territory, while another growing storm threatened tourist resorts along Mexico's Pacific coast.

Bermuda Gov. John Rankin called up 120 members of the Royal Bermuda Regiment to prepare for possible storm recovery efforts and National Security Minister Wayne Caines cautioned everyone to stay inside. Authorities had ordered early closings of schools, clinics and government offices.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said hurricane-force winds began to hit the island of some 70,000 people by late afternoon and would last into early Thursday.

Humberto's maximum sustained winds held at 120 mph (195 kph) and the storm was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Bermuda on Wednesday night. It was moving east-northeast at 20 mph (31 kph).

James Dodgson, director of the Bermuda Weather Service, warned that the storm could produce tornadoes and dangerous storm surge.

"Humberto's a big hurricane and we're looking at the conditions already deteriorating. There's some very strong winds kicking in, particularly this evening," he said.

Caines said non-emergency medical services would be closed until Thursday. Evening flights from the U.S. and Britain were canceled.

"We'd like to ask all of Bermuda to prepare for the storm, to know that the government and everyone is rooting for us, and we can get through this," Caines said. "We've been through this before."

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lorena posed an increasing threat to tourist resorts on Mexico's Pacific Coast and the Baja California Peninsula.

Forecasters said Lorena was expected to pass "near or over the coast" somewhere between the port of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday night and Thursday, while growing toward hurricane force. The still-uncertain long-term forecast track showed it approaching the Los Cabos resort area Friday night and Saturday.

Maximum sustained winds were 70 mph (110 kph) by evening. It was centered about 60 miles (110 kilometers) south-southeast of Manzanillo and was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Hurricane warnings were in effect from Punta San Telmo to Cabo Corrientes.

Heavy rains were spreading onshore along the coast, the Hurricane Center said. Mexican officials voiced concern that some parts of southern Mexico, which have seen a lack of rainfall, could now get torrential rains that could result in dangerous flash floods and landslides.

In parts of Colima, Jalisco and Michoacan states, "it is forecast that the total accumulations of rain could ... represent 40% of the rain for an entire year in that part of the country," said Blanca Jiménez Cisneros, director-general of Mexico's National Water Commission.

Classes were suspended in Colima as a precaution.

In Texas, the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda drenched parts of Southeast Texas, but officials in the Houston region said that so far there had been no severe problems. It was the first named storm to hit that area since Hurricane Harvey's much heavier rains flooded more than 150,000 homes around the city and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.

Tropical Storm Jerry also formed Wednesday morning far out in the Atlantic and was forecast to become a hurricane as it nears the outermost Caribbean islands Thursday night or Friday.


Johnson faces Brexit flak from EU lawmakers

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, left, speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Jill Lawless, Samuel Petrequin and Mark Carlson

Strasbourg, France (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused by European Union officials Wednesday of failing to negotiate seriously and branded the "father of lies" by a lawyer in the U.K. Supreme Court, as his plan to leave the EU in just over six weeks faced hurdles on both sides of the Channel.

In Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament said it would be the fault of Britain, not the bloc, if the U.K. crashed out of the EU without a divorce deal on the scheduled Oct. 31 departure day.

In London, Johnson's government battled to convince the U.K.'s top court that the prime minister's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks with Brexit looming was neither illegal nor improper. The government's opponents claim Johnson illegally shut down the legislature to prevent lawmakers from scrutinizing his Brexit plans.

Government lawyer James Eadie told 11 Supreme Court justices that the decision to send lawmakers home until Oct. 14 was "inherently and fundamentally political in nature," and not a matter for the judiciary. He said that if the court intervened it would violate the "fundamental constitutional principle" of the separation of powers.

But a lawyer for lawmakers challenging the shutdown accused the government of being "unworthy of our trust."

"We've got here the mother of parliaments being shut down by the father of lies," said attorney Aidan O'Neill. He urged the judges to "stand up for truth, stand up for reason, stand up for diversity, stand up for Parliament, stand up for democracy."

The judges, for their part, wondered why Johnson had refused to provide a sworn statement to the court about his reasons for the suspension.

"Isn't it odd that nobody has signed a witness statement to say: 'This is true. These are the true reasons for what was done'?" said one of the judges, Nicholas Wilson.

The developments were the latest in a rocky week for Johnson, who pulled out of a news conference with the prime minister of Luxembourg on Monday because of noisy protesters nearby. On Wednesday he was berated by the father of a sick child over funding cuts to Britain's health service as he visited a London hospital.

Johnson took power in July with a vow that Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31 "come what may." He promised to break a stalemate that saw the Brexit agreement struck between the EU and Johnson's predecessor Theresa May rejected three times by Britain's Parliament, prompting May to resign.

Many lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and have put obstacles in Johnson's path, including legal challenges to the Parliament shutdown.

Last week, Scotland's highest civil court ruled the move illegal, saying it had the intention of stymieing Parliament. The High Court in London, however, said it was not a matter for the courts.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who is right in a three-day hearing that ends Thursday. If it overturns the suspension, lawmakers could be called back to Parliament as early as next week.

Johnson insists he is working hard to get an agreement with the EU that will ensure a smooth departure. EU leaders are skeptical of that claim.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that the risk of a no-deal Brexit remained "very real" because Britain still had not produced workable new proposals.

"I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage," Juncker said. "As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made."

Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told a gathering of the European Parliament that a no-deal Brexit "might be the choice of the U.K., but it will never be ours."

The main sticking point over a Brexit deal is the Irish border "backstop," an insurance policy that would require Britain to respect EU trade and customs rules in order to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland until a better solution is found.

Pro-Brexit British politicians oppose the backstop because it would prevent the U.K. from striking new trade deals around the world. Johnson says he won't back any Brexit deal unless the backstop is removed.

But the EU sees the measure as essential to ensuring an open border, which underpins the local economy and the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

"I have no sentimental attachment to the backstop," Juncker said. But he added that he remains committed to the purpose it serves, which is to prevent border structures that could be detrimental to peace in Northern Ireland.

"That is why I called on the British prime minister to come forward with concrete proposals, operational and in writing, on all alternatives that would allow us to reach these objectives," Juncker said.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was no point "pretending to negotiate."

"It's our responsibility to continue this process with determination and sincerity," said Barnier, who offered to keep working "night and day" in order to find a deal that could satisfy both sides.

He said that if Britain left without a deal, major problems would still have to be resolved, including the future of U.K. and EU citizens hit by Brexit, peace in Northern Ireland and the protection of the EU's single market and the Irish economy.

"None of these questions disappears," Barnier said. "We need legally operative solutions in the withdrawal agreement to respond precisely to each problem — to address each risk — that Brexit creates."

Lawmakers in the European Parliament pledged Wednesday to reject any deal without a backstop and insisted Britain would be "solely responsible for a no-deal departure." The legislature must endorse any Brexit deal for it to be implemented.

European lawmakers also agreed to support a delay if Britain asked for one. They adopted a non-binding resolution supporting another extension to the Brexit deadline, which has already been postponed twice.

Just before the suspension, Britain's Parliament passed a law ordering the government to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if no agreement has been reached by late October.

Johnson says he will not seek a delay under any circumstances, though it's not clear how he can avoid it.


Hong Kong cancels China national day fireworks amid protests

Pro-China supporters wave a Chinese national flag in a shopping mall in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Associated Press

Hong Kong (AP) — An annual fireworks display in Hong Kong marking China's National Day on Oct. 1 was called off Wednesday as pro-democracy protests show no sign of ending.

The city issued a terse statement saying the show over its famed Victoria Harbour had been canceled "in view of the latest situation and having regard to public safety."

Major protests are expected on Oct. 1, which will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party-governed People's Republic of China.

Hong Kong has experienced often-violent demonstrations all summer as many residents fear the Chinese government is eroding the rights and freedoms the semi-autonomous territory is supposed to have under a "one country, two systems" framework.

The protests have divided the city. Dozens of supporters of China waved Chinese flags and sang the national anthem in a mall on Wednesday, while anti-government protesters booed them.

Plainclothes police escorted them out of the mall, and officers formed a human chain to prevent clashes with the other side. At a similar rally at a mall last weekend, what started as heckling turned violent as people traded blows, some using umbrellas to hit their opponents.

The anthem singing has sought to counter a newly penned protest song, "Glory to Hong Kong," sung by democracy supporters in malls and other public spaces. Fans of rival soccer teams gathered Wednesday evening on soccer pitches in a large downtown park to sing the protest song while forming a human chain, in a show of the protest movement's unity.

The protests also led the Hong Kong Jockey Club to cancel horse racing on Wednesday night. Some protesters had suggested targeting the club because a horse owned by controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was due to run, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

"Our concerns are tied to potential social unrest in the vicinity tonight, the very real threat of a disturbance or possible violence at Happy Valley Racecourse, and uncertainty regarding transportation ... for racegoers, jockeys and employees and horses throughout the evening," the club said in a statement.

Beijing warned the U.S. not to get involved, a day after a group of activists including former student leader Joshua Wong and Hong Kong pop singer Denise Ho appealed to Washington to support their fight. They asked U.S. lawmakers to ban exports of police equipment used against demonstrators and step up monitoring of Chinese efforts to undermine civil liberties.

"Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs. We urge the U.S. and other relevant parties not to meddle in China's internal matters or interfere in China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing in Beijing. "At the same time, we have to warn certain people who engage in anti-China activities to disrupt Hong Kong with foreign support that all their efforts are doomed to be futile and destined to fail."


Indonesia sends more people, aircraft to battle forest fires

Kuala Lumpur city is shrouded with haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. More than 100 schools were closed Tuesday after the air quality in the area continued to trend at very unhealthy levels. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Associated Press

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's president traveled to the area hardest hit by forest fires, as neighboring countries urged his government to do more to tackle the blazes that have spread a thick, noxious haze around Southeast Asia.

President Joko Widodo flew to Riau province, where nearly 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) have burned, to encourage authorities to get the haze under control.

Widodo told reporters Tuesday in the provincial capital, Pekanbaru, that about 5,600 additional military personnel have been deployed to help the 9,000 people currently fighting the fires, which have razed more than 328,700 hectares (812,000 acres) of land nationwide.

He said at least 52 helicopters have dropped more than 263 million liters (69.5 million gallons) of water and 164 tons of salt for cloud seeding as part of the firefighting efforts in six provinces that have declared states of emergency.

"All efforts have been made, with more personnel on the ground to battle the fires," Widodo said, "But the most important measure is prevention before fires occur."

Widodo regretted that local authorities have been slow in detecting and responding to fires before they start to grow.

"We have all the resources, but all of them were not activated properly," he said.

He urged people to refrain from setting fires on peatlands or in forests that could trigger wildfires, and ordered authorities take firm action against arsonists, both company employees and villagers.

Nearly every year, Indonesian forest fires spread health-damaging haze across the country and into neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. The fires are often started by smallholders and plantation owners who set land on fire as a cheap way of clearing it for new planting.

Many areas of Indonesia are prone to rapid burning because of the draining of swampy peatland forests for pulp wood and palm oil plantations.

Poor visibility caused by smoke caused flight delays at several airports in Indonesia and Malaysia, and prompted authorities to shut schools in some parts of both countries.

The Indonesian Disaster Mitigation Agency detected 2,153 hotspots across the country on Monday, mostly in the six provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. It said 99% of the hotspots were caused by deliberately set fires.

Indonesia's annual dry season fires were particularly disastrous in 2015, burning 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles) of land and spreading haze across Indonesia, Singapore, southern Thailand and Malaysia. The World Bank estimated the fires cost Indonesia $16 billion, and a Harvard and Columbia study estimated the haze hastened 100,000 deaths in the region.


20 dead as truck falls off cliff in southern Philippines

Red Cross volunteers retrieve the bodies of victims following a road accident Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in South Cotabato province in the Philippines. (Philippine Red Cross, South Cotabato Chapter Via AP)

Associated Press

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Twenty villagers were killed and 14 others were injured when the truck they were riding in lost control and fell off a cliff Tuesday in a remote mountain village in the southern Philippines, police and the Red Cross said.

Provincial police chief Joel Limson said the truck was negotiating a downhill road in Tboli town in South Cotabato province when its brakes apparently failed and plummeted down a ravine, pinning 15 people to death. Five other victims later died in hospitals, Limson said.

Police, Red Cross volunteers and villagers retrieved the 15 bodies from the wreckage at the bottom of the ravine. Some of the dead included children returning from a family reunion at a beach resort, Limson said by phone.

Red Cross leader Erwin Rommel del Carmen said several passengers survived by jumping off the wayward bus.

"Majority of the survivors jumped out of the bus as it ran out of control. They were scattered on the mountainside," del Carmen, who was among those who retrieved the dead, said by phone.

Video posted by witnesses online showed the upland road where the accident happened has no steel or concrete railing. Below, the mangled wreckage of the truck is seen lying on its side.

Deadly road accidents are common in the Philippines because of weak enforcement of traffic laws, rickety vehicles and inadequate road safety railings and signs, especially in the countryside.


Bombing kills 22 at Afghan president's rally; Ghani unhurt

Afghan security forces work at the site of a suicide attack near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Hours earlier Afghan officials said a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle packed with explosives into the entrance to a campaign rally of President Ashraf Ghani in northern Parwan province, killing over 20 people and wounding over 30. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Rahim Faiez

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted a campaign rally by President Ashraf Ghani in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 22 people and wounding 31, officials said. Ghani was present at the venue but was unharmed, according to his campaign chief.

Just hours later, an explosion struck near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul but details on that blast were not immediately known.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. The violence comes as Afghanistan faces presidential elections on Sept. 28. The Taliban have warned that polling stations and election campaigns would be targeted.

In Tuesday's suicide attack, the bomber rammed his motorcycle packed with explosives into the entrance of the venue where Ghani was campaigning on the outskirts of the city of Charakar in northern Parwan province.

There were many women and children among the casualties, said Dr. Qasim Sangin, a local official.

Wahida Shahkar, spokeswoman for Parwan's governor, said the rally had just begun when the explosion occurred.

Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said there was no immediate information about casualties in the Kabul blast, which took place near Massood Square, a deeply congested intersection in the center of Kabul. NATO and U.S. compounds are located nearby as are several Afghan government ministries.

Campaigning for the Afghan elections resumed last week after President Donald Trump declared that the U.S.-Taliban talks which have been going on for months in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar are over.

Most presidential candidates had suspended their campaigns while negotiations were taking place and as the U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a deal was all but signed.

Trump's tweets at the beginning of September declaring the deal and the talks were "dead" launched the war-battered nation on an election campaign.

Ghani, who had been sidelined during much of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, resumed campaigning immediately and had been steadfast in his demand that presidential polls should take place.

Khalilzad and some of Ghani's rivals, however had talked of establishing an interim administration to run the country while a peace deal was implemented.

In the aftermath of the scrapped talks, Afghans braced for what many expected to be an increase in violence.

The Taliban have opposed the elections and have refused to meet with representatives of Ghani's government for talks. They have also refused to agree to a cease-fire.

But it was two attacks in Kabul in recent weeks that caused Trump to halt the negotiations with the Taliban, including one that killed two NATO soldiers, one of whom was an American. Another U.S. soldier died in combat in Afghanistan on Monday.


Hong Kong leader: PR firms decline to restore city's image

 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to reporters' during a press conference at the government building in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Eileen Ng

Hong Kong (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that international public relations firms have turned down the government's requests to help restore the city's reputation after months of pro-democracy protests.

The firms responded that "the time is not right" as the violence and unrest in the semiautonomous Chinese territory have shown no sign of ending, Lam said at a news conference. She didn't give details on the firms or when they were approached.

The city's reputation has likely been tarnished not just by the protests but also by what many view as the government's slow response to the crisis.

Days after more than a million people took to the streets in early June, kicking off the protests, Lam suspended an extradition bill that sparked the unrest but refused to formally withdraw it. She caved in this month after the demonstrations escalated, but the promise to ax the bill was deemed too little, too late as protesters widened their demands to include democratic reforms.

"It would perhaps be not the most cost-effective way to use government resources to launch any campaign to rebuild Hong Kong's reputation, but sooner or later, we will have to do it because I have every confidence in Hong Kong's fundamentals," Lam said Tuesday.

"The time will come for us to launch a major campaign to restore some of the damage done to Hong Kong's reputation," she said.

Violence flared again over the weekend after an unapproved march downtown descended into familiar chaos. Hong Kong's economy, already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war, is facing its first recession in years, with tourist arrivals plunging and businesses being hit by the unrest.

The government has took out a full-page advertisement in the Australian Financial Review earlier this month, two days after Lam's announcement that she was formally withdrawing the bill, vowing a peaceful resolution to the conflict amid concerns of possible military intervention by China. It's the only known overseas effort by the government to assuage international jitters.

Lam said the city's downgrade this week by credit ratings agency Moody's was "disappointing" but acknowledged that the continued instability has tarnished international perception of Hong Kong's financial stability. Moody's was the second agency to make the move after Fitch Rating.

The world's largest brewer, AB InBev, which produces Budweiser and Corona, provided a fillip to the city as it revived plans Tuesday to list its Asian business to raise up to $4.8 billion in Hong Kong's biggest IPO this year.

It was, however, half the size of its initial public offering, which was shelved two months ago and aimed to raise $9.8 billion in what would have been the world's biggest IPO this year. Jan Craps, CEO of the group's Asia-Pacific arm, said there was strong investor interest in the company's growth potential despite the challenging market conditions.

Lam said that she will begin open dialogues next week with various community groups, including protesters, and that participants can freely express their views.

Many protesters have said the dialogues are meaningless if the government refuses to accept their four other demands — direct elections for the city's leaders, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, unconditional release of protesters who have been detained and not labeling the protests as riots.

One prominent activist, Joshua Wong, was going to speak to U.S. lawmakers Tuesday at a Washington hearing on U.S. policy responses to the protests.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused Western forces of voicing public support for what she described as rioters and meeting with those advocating for the city's independence.

"We know that those Hong Kong separatists are now in the United States," she said, without mentioning Wong or anyone else by name.

Lam said not all Hong Kong citizens support the protesters' demands and reiterated that the government cannot condone violence. She said the dialogues are not one-off "gimmicks" but an important first step to resolve grievances over problems such as shortage of affordable housing and lack of jobs that contributed to the unrest.

Also Tuesday, A subway train derailed during the morning rush hour, sparking rumors that it may have been caused by protesters, some of whom have vandalized subway stations in recent weeks. Transport Secretary Frank Chan urged the public not to speculate as investigations are ongoing. The fire department said eight people were injured, including five who were hospitalized.


Noise but no breakthrough as Johnson, Juncker talk Brexit

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center right, speaks with the media as he shakes hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prior to a meeting at a restaurant in Luxembourg, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Lorne Cook and Jill Lawless

Luxembourg (AP) — Boris Johnson was booed by protesters and berated by Luxembourg's leader on a visit to the tiny nation Monday for his first face-to-face talks with the European Union chief about securing an elusive Brexit deal.

On a day of commotion and conflicting signals, Johnson pulled out of a news conference because of noisy anti-Brexit demonstrators, leaving Luxembourg's prime minister standing alone next to an empty lectern as he addressed the media.

Still, Johnson insisted there was a strong possibility of securing a divorce agreement before Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc in just over six weeks.

"Yes there is a good chance of a deal. Yes, I can see the shape of it," Johnson asserted at a separate appearance before reporters at the British ambassador's residence.

EU leaders were far more skeptical.

With the Brexit deadline just 45 days away, the European Commission said the first in-person meeting between Johnson and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ended with no breakthrough in the impasse over how Britain can leave the EU with a plan in place to manage the divorce.

Britain had yet to offer any "legally operational" solutions to the problem of keeping goods and people flowing freely across the Irish border, the main roadblock to a deal, it said in a statement.

"Such proposals have not yet been made," the Commission said, adding that officials "will remain available to work 24/7."

Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31 with or without a Brexit deal. He hopes to strike a revised agreement with the bloc at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18, in time for an orderly departure. The agreement made by his predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by Britain's Parliament, prompting her to resign.

Opponents fear Johnson — who helped lead the 2016 referendum campaign that ended in a vote to leave the EU — is heading full-speed toward a disruptive no-deal Brexit.

Many EU leaders suspect the same thing, and mistrust the brash British leader's populist rhetoric. Johnson has vowed to complete Brexit "do or die," and has compared himself and the U.K. to angry green superhero the Incredible Hulk, telling the Mail on Sunday newspaper: "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets, and he always escapes ... and that is the case for this country."

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who also met Johnson on Monday, said the British leader needed to "stop speaking and act."

"We need more than just words," he said. "We need a legally operable text to work on as soon as possible."

The key sticking point to a Brexit deal is the so-called "backstop," an insurance policy in May's agreement intended to guarantee an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland. That is vital both to the local economy and to Northern Ireland's peace process.

British Brexit supporters oppose the backstop because it keeps the U.K. bound to EU trade rules, limiting its ability to forge new free trade agreements around the world after Brexit.

Britain has suggested the backstop could be replaced by "alternative arrangements" — a mix of technology to replace border checks and a common area for agricultural products and animals covering the whole island of Ireland.

A small but noisy crowd of anti-Brexit protesters booed and shouted "shame on Boris!" as Johnson arrived after lunch for a meeting with Luxembourg prime minister Bettel.

Johnson pulled out of a planned outdoor news conference, saying later that the pair would have been drowned out. Instead Bettel addressed reporters alone, next to an empty lectern, while Johnson issued his statement outside the British ambassador's nearby residence.

The visibly frustrated Luxembourg leader said Brexit had become a "nightmare," and U.K. and European citizens face huge uncertainty.

"You can't hold their future hostage for party political gains," Bettel said.

"Now it's on Mr. Johnson," he added, gesturing at the empty lectern in front of a Union Jack.

Despite the EU's frustration at the lack of detail, Juncker and Johnson agreed to ramp up the pace of talks, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and U.K. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay getting involved.

"Over the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of work — papers have been shared — but we are now in the stage where we have to start really accelerating the work," Johnson said. "That was the agreement today."

Monday's meeting kicked off a tumultuous week for Johnson.

On Tuesday, Britain's Supreme Court will consider whether Johnson's decision to suspend the British Parliament for five weeks was lawful, after conflicting judgments in lower courts.

Johnson sent British lawmakers home until Oct. 14, a drastic move that gives him a respite from rebellious lawmakers determined to thwart his Brexit plan.

Last week, Scotland's highest civil court ruled the move illegal because it had the intention of stymieing Parliament. The High Court in London, however, said it was not a matter for the courts.

If the Supreme Court overturns the suspension, lawmakers could be called back to Parliament as early as next week.

Many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop the U.K. from crashing out of the bloc on Oct. 31.

Just before the suspension, Parliament passed a law ordering the government to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if no agreement has been reached by late October.

Johnson reiterated Monday that he will not seek a delay under any circumstances, though it's not clear how he can avoid it.

"I will uphold the constitution, I will obey the law but we will come out on October 31st," Johnson told the BBC.

EU leaders, meanwhile, are reluctant to delay Brexit any longer unless Britain radically changes course.

"An extension is only an option if it serves a purpose," Bettel said. "We will not grant another extension just for the sake of granting another extension."


India arrests senior Kashmir leader under controversial law

In this Aug. 4, 2019, file photo, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, center, gestures during an all parties meeting in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Sheikh Saaliq

New Delhi (AP) — A Parliament member who is a senior pro-India politician in Indian-controlled Kashmir was arrested Monday under a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.

Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar, the summer capital and main city of the disputed Himalayan region.

"We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be," said Muneer Khan, a top police official.

Abdullah is the first pro-India politician who has been arrested under the Public Safety Act, under which rights activists say more than 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the last two decades.

Amnesty International has called the PSA a "lawless law," and rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the criminal justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.

The PSA came into effect in 1978, under the government of Abdullah's father, who himself was a highly popular Kashmir leader.

The law, in its early days, was supposedly meant to target timber smugglers in Kashmir. After an armed rebellion started in the region in 1989, the law was used against rebels and anti-India protesters.

Abdullah's residence was declared a subsidiary jail and he was put under house arrest on Aug. 5 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories.

Thousands of additional Indian troops were sent to the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world's most militarized regions. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband internet and cable TV services were cut for the valley's 7 million people, although some communications have been gradually restored.

On Aug. 6, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah denied to the lower house of Parliament that Abdullah had been detained or arrested.

"If he (Abdullah) does not want to come out of his house, he cannot be brought out at gunpoint," Shah said, when other parliamentarians expressed concern over Abdullah's absence during the debate on Kashmir's status.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court sought a response from the central government and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on a plea seeking to produce Abdullah before the court.

Many anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders have been held in jails and other makeshift facilities to contain protests against India's decisions, according to police officials.

Kashmir's special status was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, but each controls only part of it.

India has often tried to suppress uprisings in the region, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.


IS leader calls on fighters to free detained comrades

This file image posted on a militant website April 29, 2019, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, being interviewed by his group's Al-Furqan media outlet. (Al-Furqan media via AP)

Associated Press

Beirut (AP) — The leader of the Islamic State group released a new alleged audio recording Monday calling on members of the extremist group to do all they can to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

The purported audio by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he also said that his group is carrying out attacks in different countries, was his first public statement since April, when the shadowy leader appeared in a video for the first time in five years.

In the 30-minute recording released by a media arm of the group, Al-Furqan, al-Baghdadi asked: "How can a Muslim enjoy life?" when Muslim women are held in camps he called "prisons of humiliation run by Crusaders and their Shiite followers."

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi is the world's most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.

IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, while in Syria, it lost its last territory in March, marking the end of the extremists' self-declared caliphate.

Despite these battlefield defeats, IS sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in both Iraq and Syria.

Al-Baghdadi said in the new recording that militants should target interrogators and judges who are questioning IS members.

He also urged detainees and women held in camps to be patient. One of the largest camps is al-Hol camp in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province. It's home to some 73,000 people, many of them families of IS who emerged from the group's last bastion in Syria. Tens of thousands of fighters and other members of the group are held in detention centers across northern Syria and in Iraq.

In Syria, the centers are controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which spearheaded the fight against IS in eastern Syria.


Volkswagen to pay up to $87 million in Australia for scandal

Display cars are parked at a Volkswagen dealership in Sydney, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Volkswagen has agreed to pay up to 127 million Australian dollars (US$87 million) to settle an Australian class action stemming from the 2015 diesel emissions scandal, the German automaker and a lawyer said Monday.

The settlement was announced in the Federal Court in Sydney by law firm Maurice Blackburn and has yet to be approved by a judge.

Volkswagen will pay between AU$87 million and AU$127 million, depending on how many owners of the affected 100,000 Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda diesel vehicles sold in Australia join the class action, the firm's principal lawyer Julian Schimmel said.

Volkswagen said in a statement that it made no admission of liability in the settlement. Volkswagen has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs' legal costs, which have yet to be assessed.

Volkswagen has paid 30 billion euros (US$33.5 billion) in fines and civil settlements around the world after it was revealed that the world's largest automaker after Toyota installed software on diesel vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.

Volkswagen announced in May it had set aside 1 billion euros (US$1.1 billion) for legal risks related to the diesel scandal.

Plaintiff Alister Dalton, a Volkswagen owner, said a good settlement had been reached "I think everyone should be happy with how it's all progressed and what the outcome is," Dalton told reporters.

Robyn Richardson, another plaintiff who owns an Audi, said she was relieved. "It's been a long road. It's been a winding road. There have been peaks and troughs in terms of the work and the demands on the legal team," Richardson said.

Volkswagen said another settlement was close to being finalized with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the competition and trade law watchdog. Details of that settlement remain confidential.

"Volkswagen views the in-principle settlements as a further step toward overcoming the diesel issue," the statement said.
 


Trump: US locked and loaded for response to attack on Saudis

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco's Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. (U.S. government/Digital Globe via AP)

Jon Gambrell and Zeke Miller

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A weekend drone attack on Saudi Arabia that cut into global energy supplies and halved the kingdom's oil production threatened Sunday to fuel a regional crisis, as the U.S. released new evidence to back up its allegation that Iran was responsible for the assault amid heightened tensions over Tehran's collapsing nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump said the U.S. had reason to believe it knew who was behind the attack — his secretary of state had blamed Iran the previous day — and assured his Twitter followers that "we are ... locked and loaded" depending on verification and were waiting to hear from the Saudis as to who they believe was behind the attack and "under what terms we would proceed!"

The tweets followed a National Security Council meeting at the White House that included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Hours earlier, senior U.S. officials said satellite imagery and other intelligence  showed the strike was inconsistent with one launched from Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had claimed responsibility.

Iran, meanwhile, called the U.S. claims "maximum lies," while a commander in its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard reiterated its forces could strike U.S. military bases across the Mideast with their arsenal of ballistic missiles.

The U.S. government produced satellite photos showing what officials said were at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities, including damage at the heart of the kingdom's crucial oil processing plant at Abqaiq. Officials said the photos show impacts consistent with the attack coming from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south.

Iraq denied Sunday that its territory was used for an attack on the Kingdom and U.S. officials said a strike from there would be a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

The U.S. officials said additional devices, which apparently didn't reach their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, did not address whether the drone could have been fired from Yemen, then taken a round-about path, but did not explicitly rule it out.

The attacks and recriminations are increasing already heightened fears of an escalation in the region, after a prominent U.S. senator suggested striking Iranian oil refineries in response to the assault, and Iran warned of the potential of more violence.

"Because of the tension and sensitive situation, our region is like a powder keg," said Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. "When these contacts come too close, when forces come into contact with one another, it is possible a conflict happens because of a misunderstanding."

Actions on any side could break into the open a twilight war that's been raging just below the surface of the wider Persian Gulf in recent months. Already, there have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that America blames on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

The attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom's crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world's daily supply. It remained unclear how King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will respond to an attack targeting the heart of the Saudi oil industry.

Crude oil futures shot up 9.5% to $60 as trading opened Sunday evening in New York, a dramatic increase. A spike in oil prices could have negative effects for the global economy.

Saudi Arabia has promised to fill in the cut in production with its reserves, but has not said how long it will take to repair the damage. The Wall Street Journal cited Saudi officials as saying a third of output would be restored on Monday, but a return to full production may take weeks.

Trump said he had approved the release of U.S. strategic petroleum reserves "if needed" to stabilize energy markets. The president said the final amount of the release, if any, would be "sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied."

Images from the European Commission's Sentinel-2 satellite examined by the AP showed black char marks at the heart of the Abqaiq plant on Sunday, marks not seen over the prior month. Identical marks are visible on the U.S. imagery. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in August identified the area with the char marks as the plant's stabilization area. The center said the area includes "storage tanks and processing and compressor trains — which greatly increases the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations."

The state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, which the kingdom hopes to offer a sliver of in a public stock offering, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the Saudi attack on Twitter late Saturday, and officials worked to provide evidence for his claim the following day.

"Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply," Pompeo wrote. "There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen."

The U.S., Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and U.N. experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones — a charge that Tehran denies.

U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday dismissed Pompeo's remarks as "blind and futile comments."

"The Americans adopted the 'maximum pressure' policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning toward 'maximum lies,'" Mousavi said in a statement.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's office issued a statement on Sunday denying the drone attack came from there. Oil-rich Kuwait also said it would increase security around the country's "vital sites" over the attacks.

Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti reiterated his group's claim of responsibility, telling The Associated Press on Sunday it exploited "vulnerabilities" in Saudi air defenses to strike the targets. He did not elaborate.

Iran, meanwhile, kept up its own threats.

Hajizadeh, the brigadier general who leads the country's aerospace program, said in an interview published across Iranian media Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces were ready for a counterattack if America responded, naming the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as immediate targets, as well as U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

"Wherever they are, it only takes one spark and we hit their vessels, their air bases, their troops," he said in a video published online with English subtitles.

It wasn't just Iran making threats. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican close to Trump, suggested retaliatory strikes targeting Iran.  "Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime's back," Graham wrote on Twitter.

With the U.N. General Assembly taking place in a little over a week, there had been speculation of a potential meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the summit's sidelines, possibly in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions the American leader imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear accord over a year ago.

But Trump seemed to reject that idea Sunday night, tweeting: "The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!)." In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters last week that "the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions."

If Iran had a hand in Saturday's attack, it could be to bolster their position ahead of any talks, analysts say.

"The main point for Iran, in my opinion, is not necessarily to derail a meeting between Trump and Rouhani but to increase its leverage ahead of it," said Michael Horowitz, the head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based risk management firm Le Beck International. "By carrying out such a major attack, Iran wants to send the message that the only way to decrease tensions is to comply with its demands regarding sanctions relief."

However, he warned there could be a danger of Iran "overplaying" its hand.

"There will be no political benefit for Trump in a meeting with Rouhani if this meeting sends the message that the U.S. simply surrendered to Iranian demands," he said.


Violence flares after Hong Kong protesters defy police ban

 

An anti-government protester throws back a tear gas canister fired by the police during a demonstration near Central Government Complex in Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Eileen Ng and Phoebe Lai

Hong Kong (AP) — Police fired chemical-laced blue water and tear gas at protesters who lobbed Molotov cocktails outside the Hong Kong government office complex Sunday, as violence flared anew after thousands of pro-democracy supporters marched through downtown in defiance of a police ban.

A mixed crowd of hardcore protesters in black and wearing masks, along with families with children, spilled into the roads of the Causeway Bay shopping belt and marched for over 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the central business district. Some waved U.S. and British flags, while others carried posters reiterating their calls for democratic reforms.

Police had turned down a request by the Civil Human Rights Front to hold the march, but the demonstrators were undeterred, as they've been all summer.

"I feel this is our duty. The government wants to block us with the ban, but I want to say that the people will not be afraid," said one protester, Winnie Leung, 50.

The march disrupted traffic, and many shops, including the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong's largest department stores, closed their doors.

Protesters burned Chinese flags and tore down banners congratulating China's ruling Communist Party, which will celebrate its 70th year in power on Oct. 1. In familiar scenes, some protesters smashed glass windows and surveillance cameras at a subway station exit.

Hundreds of protesters later targeted the government office complex, throwing bricks and gasoline bombs through police barriers. Police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and using water cannon trucks to spray chemical-laced water as well as blue liquid that helped them identify offenders, in a repeat of confrontational scenes from the last several weeks of the protests.

Protesters retreated but regrouped in the nearby Wan Chai neighborhood, setting fires outside a subway station exit and on the streets. They fled again after riot police advanced and the cat-and-mouse battles went on for a few hours before calm returned.

Police fired tear gas again later in the nearby North Point area after protesters obstructed traffic after brawling there earlier with pro-government supporters.

Hospital authorities said eight people were injured throughout the day, including three in serious condition.

The protests were triggered in June by an extradition bill that many saw as an example of China's increasing intrusion and at chipping away at Hong Kong residents' freedoms and rights, many of which are not accorded to people in mainland China.

Hong Kong's government promised this month to withdraw the bill, which would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, but protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested amid increasing clashes between protesters and police, who demonstrators have accused of abuses.

The unrest has battered Hong Kong's economy, which was already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war. It is also seen as an embarrassment to Beijing, which has accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of protesters waved British flags, sang "God Save the Queen" and chanted "UK save Hong Kong" outside the British Consulate as they stepped up calls for international support for their campaign.

With banners declaring "one country, two systems is dead," they repeated calls for Hong Kong's former colonial ruler to ensure the city's autonomy is upheld under agreements made when Britain ceded power to China in 1997.

Demonstrators held similar rallies Sept. 1 at the British Consulate and last weekend at the U.S. Consulate.

On Saturday, pro-democracy protesters and supporters of the central government in Beijing clashed at a Hong Kong shopping mall and several public places. Police arrested more than a dozen people and hospital authorities said 25 were injured.

The clashes amid the mid-autumn festival holiday came after several nights of peaceful rallies that featured protesters belting out a new protest song in mass singing at shopping malls. Thousands of people also carried lanterns with pro-democracy messages in public areas and formed illuminated human chains on two of the city's peaks on Friday night to mark the major Chinese festival.


Italian hard-liner Salvini vows to return League to power

 

Leader of The League party, Matteo Salvini, speaks at a party rally in Pontida, northern Italy, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Colleen Barry

Pontida, Italy (AP) — Down but not out, Matteo Salvini pledged Sunday to tens of thousands of die-hard backers of his populist League that the party will return to government with even more power than before, and he hit a euro-skeptic note as he warned Italy's European allies in shaky French, German and English that "the Italian people are no one's servant."

"I will never give up," Salvini told an annual pilgrimage of League voters to a foothill Lombard town with long historical associations to nationalist movements. He was relaunching himself as the head of Italy's opposition after his grave political miscalculation landed League out of government.

"Those who thought that I would be worn out and need a break, I give my word of honor, I will work even more than before," Salvini said. "I won't give up because our country deserves everything."

This year's gathering took on additional significance as Salvini whips up his base in opposition to the new 5-Star-Democratic Party government that took office this month after his failed move to force new elections pushed the League out of government and deprived him of his bully pulpit as Italy's hard-line anti-migrant interior minister.

"I'd rather concede seven ministry posts to traitors now, that we will win back with interest and transparency in a few months," Salvini told the crowd.

While he muted his often fiery tones, urging supporters to be patient and polite in their political discourse, speakers who took the stage before him spoke of revolution and resistance, and the rank-and-file attacked Italian journalist Gad Lerner, who was flanked by police bodyguards.

League backers remained undaunted by Salvini's speedy fall from government, waving regional and party flags and chanting "Elections" and "Freedom" during the annual gathering which mixes politics with a festival atmosphere in a meadow in the town of Pontida. It is a place of pilgrimage for the League as the birthplace of a medieval alliance that repelled a foreign emperor.

"I like Salvini because he is the only one that fights the idea of a European Union, which I do not support, because I believe the European bureaucrats do not do Italy any good," said Luca Carminati, a laborer from nearby Bergamo who said he has seen his boss struggling to keep a small business alive in the face of high taxation and bureaucracy. "Salvini fights that idea. He is trying to give value to the Italian people again.'

A survey published Sunday in the financial daily il Sole 24 Ore shows that despite Salvini's political missteps, the League remains the strongest party in Italy with the support of 34% of those surveyed, while the new government is viewed unfavorably by 55%. The survey of 1,500 of voting-age Italians by Winpoll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3%.

Any future government with Salvini would likely need the support of other right-wing parties. The Winpoll survey indicated a coalition with the far-right Brothers of Italy would enjoy 43% support, while throwing in former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia would bring it up to a more stable majority of nearly 50%.

But Salvini will have to tame the rhetoric if he wants to re-align the League with center-right Forza Italia. Forza Italia lawmaker Osvaldo Napoli told the news agency ANSA in Rome that "the climate of violence and hatred registered in these hours in Pontida should make all political leaders reflect, not just those on the center-right but also in the current, uncertain and opaque majority in government."


Egypt says no 'breakthrough' with Ethiopia over Nile dam

In this June 28, 2013 file photo, construction work takes place, at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa, Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Elias Asmare)

Associated Press

Cairo (AP) — Egypt on Sunday said negotiations over an upstream Nile dam being built by Ethiopia have not led to any "breakthrough."

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters that talks over the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam had stopped for more than a year before restarting in Cairo earlier in the day.

The long-running dispute centers on the filling and operation of what will be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam.

Egypt fears the dam could reduce its share of the Nile River which serves as a lifeline for the country's 100 million people. Ethiopia, which has roughly the same population size, maintains that the dam will help its economic development.

Shoukry said he hopes that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia can agree to a timetable to reach a deal over the soon-to-be-completed dam.

Shoukry said his county "respects Ethiopia's right to development" but "without affecting Egypt."

He said Egypt has been ready to reach a settlement, but warned against any side "to attempt to establish a de facto situation on the ground" without an agreement.

In May last year, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan reached an agreement to set up a scientific study group to consult on the filling of the dam. But no progress was reported since then.

Shoukry said Sunday's talks were "scientific" and that Egypt was open for further discussions.

The dam is now more than 60% finished, and Ethiopia hopes to become a key energy hub in Africa upon its completion. The dam will generate about 6,400 megawatts, more than doubling Ethiopia's current production of 4,000 megawatts.

Egypt received the lion's share of the Nile waters under decades-old agreements seen by other Nile bastion countries as unfair.
 


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