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Update September 08-09, 2018

Iran, Russia, Turkey presidents meet in high-stakes summit

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, centre, flanked by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pose for photographs in Tehran, Iran, ahead of their summit to discuss Syria, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The three leaders began a meeting to discuss the war in Syria.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

By Jon Gambrell and Nasser Karimi, Associated Press

Tehran, Iran (AP) — The presidents of Iran and Russia on Friday backed a military offensive to retake the last rebel-held area of Syria as Turkey's president pushed for a cease-fire, perhaps the final chance to avoid what activists warn will be a humanitarian disaster.

The trilateral summit in Tehran between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been viewed as a chance for a diplomatic solution before unleashing a full-scale assault on Syria's northwestern Idlib province.

Instead, it further highlighted the stark differences between allies of convenience in Syria's 7-year-old war, the topic of a summit that did not see embattled President Bashar Assad directly represented.

Putin pushed for a muscular military response to crush rebel fighters in Idlib, calling at one point for the "total annihilation of terrorists in Syria." Rouhani focused on reconstruction and the need for Syria's displaced to return home, while also calling for the U.S. to immediately withdraw.

"The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end," Rouhani said, while adding that terrorism must "be uprooted in Syria, particularly in Idlib."

Erdogan, meanwhile, may have been the leader with the most to lose ahead of the offensive. Turkey, which backed opposition forces against Assad, fears a flood of refugees fleeing a military offensive and the destabilization of areas it now holds in Syria.

"Idlib isn't just important for Syria's future, it is of importance for our national security and for the future of the region," Erdogan said. "Any attack on Idlib would result in a catastrophe. Any fight against terrorists requires methods based on time and patience."

"We don't want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath," he added.

Northwestern Idlib province and surrounding areas are home to about 3 million people — nearly half of them civilians displaced from other parts of Syria. That also includes an estimated 10,000 hard-core fighters, including al-Qaida-linked militants.

For Russia and Iran, both allies of the Syrian government, retaking Idlib is crucial to complete what they see as a military victory in Syria's civil war after Syrian troops recaptured nearly all other major towns and cities, largely defeating the rebellion against Assad.

A bloody offensive that creates a massive wave of death and displacement, however, runs counter to their narrative that the situation in Syria is normalizing, and could hurt Russia's longer-term efforts to encourage the return of refugees and get Western countries to invest in Syria's postwar reconstruction. Russia also wants to maintain its regional presence to fill the vacuum left by America's long uncertainty about what it wants in the conflict.

"We think it's unacceptable when (someone) is trying to shield the terrorists under the pretext of protecting civilians as well as causing damage to Syrian government troops," Putin said. "As far as we can see this is also the goal of the attempts to stage chemical weapons incidents by Syrian authorities. We have irrefutable evidence that militants are preparing such operations, such provocations."

Putin offered no evidence to back his claim. The United Nations and Western countries have blamed Assad's forces for chemical weapons attacks during the country's civil war, something denied by Russia and Syria.

Responding to Erdogan's proposal for a cease-fire in Idlib, Putin said "a cease-fire would be good" but indicated that Moscow does not believe it will hold.

"We hope that we will be able to reach an agreement and that our call for reconciliation in the Idlib area will be heard," the Russian president said. "We hope that the representatives of those terrorist organizations will be smart enough to stop the resistance and lay down arms."

There was no immediate reaction from fighters in Idlib. Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation, said before the summit that his forces were prepared for a battle that they expect will spark a major humanitarian crisis.

"Idlib is about a lot of international power play and everyone is looking after their interests," al-Mustafa said.

Early on Friday, a series of airstrikes struck villages in southwest Idlib, targeting insurgent posts and killing a fighter, said Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Abdurrahman said suspected Russian warplanes carried out the attack.

Already, close to half a million people have been killed in Syria's long, grinding war, which began first as a popular uprising against Assad and later devolved into a sectarian and regional conflict. Eight aid agencies warned Friday that in the coming offensive "it will be the most vulnerable who will pay the heaviest price, with women, children, and the elderly in Idlib unlikely to be able to move to safety."

Iran, Russia and Turkey all separately face sanctions from the U.S. under the administration of President Donald Trump. Although America has some 2,000 troops and outposts in Syria, Trump has said he wants to pull those forces out after the war against the Islamic State group dislodged the extremists from vast territories it once held there and in Iraq.

America's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has warned any military offensive in Idlib "would be a reckless escalation." The U.S. will chair a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday about the possible offensive.

"There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict," Haley said in a statement Wednesday. "Assad's brutal regime — backed by Russia and Iran — cannot continue to attack and terrorize Syria's citizens."

Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Zeina Karam and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.


Obama to step into midterms, campaign for Democrats

In this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo, former President Barack Obama speaks in Chicago. Obama is stepping into the midterm battle. Ahead of his first campaign events of the midterm elections, Obama is set to speak Friday as he accepts an ethics in government award in Illinois. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

By Juana Summers, Associated Press

Washington (AP) — Former President Barack Obama is stepping into the midterm battle. Obama is set to speak Friday as he accepts an ethics in government award in Illinois.

Obama has spent much of his post-presidency on the political sidelines, but an adviser says that in the speech he will be more "pointed" in his reflection on the current political environment, including President Donald Trump. The speech will be a preview of the argument Obama will make this fall campaign season.

After the speech, Obama will travel to California and campaign for more than a half-dozen House Democratic candidates at an event in Orange County. Next week, he'll return to the campaign trail in Ohio to campaign for Richard Cordray and other Democrats.


Typhoon leaves major airport closed and destruction in Japan

 

By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

Tokyo (AP) — One of Japan's busiest airports remained closed indefinitely, a day after the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years flooded a runway, toppled huge cranes, flipped cars on their side, damaged historic shrines and caused at least 11 deaths as it swept across part of Japan's main island.

Typhoon Jebi came ashore with sustained winds of 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour, cutting a path of destruction in and around Osaka and nearby cities that bore the brunt of the storm.

A large commercial ship was washed onto a breakwater, and shipping containers were left floating in the sea. In Kyoto, the former imperial capital and a popular tourist destination, wooden shrine buildings and tall orange-red entrance gates were knocked down. Soaring trees fell at a shrine in Nara, another historic city.

More than 400,000 households in western and central Japan remained without power Wednesday, and electric utilities warned that it would take time to bring everyone back on line. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at least 11 people had been confirmed dead and 470 people were injured.

Some 3,000 airline passengers who had to spend the night at the offshore Kansai airport were able to leave on boats and buses under sunny skies. They were stranded after a tanker unmoored by the storm's pounding waves and wind slammed into a bridge that is the airport's only link to the mainland.

Officials could not say when the airport, a gateway for Asian tourists visiting Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, would reopen. "Right now, we cannot say for certain when we can reopen," said Hiroshi Nishio, an executive at the Kansai Airport. "Equipment has been flooded and inspection takes time."

The closure of the main airport serving one of Japan's major business and commercial areas triggered concern about the possible impact on tourism and the economy.

"If Kansai Airport is unusable for a long time, it would have a certain impact on the regional economy as well as the Japanese economy overall, as the airport is a key trading hub for companies," MUFG Bank analyst Akira Yoshimura told NHK public television.

Flooding at the airport had largely subsided Wednesday but flight operations equipment needed to be assessed for damage, as did the crushed part of the bridge. The airport was built on artificial islands in Osaka Bay.

Passengers stranded overnight appeared relieved but exhausted after an uneasy night in the dark.

Hideko Senoo, a 51-year-old homemaker planning a family trip to India, said the terminal was hot and dark after losing power, and food at convenience stores was sold out.

"We could not use vending machines or access the wireless network to get information," she told Japan's Kyodo News service.

Miki Yamada, a 25-year-old office worker planning a trip to Thailand with her friend, told Kyodo she spent the night at an airport cafeteria. "It was a rather scary night, as we were so isolated," she said.

The Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka was closed for a second day Wednesday but said it would reopen Thursday.

Factories in the region, including automaker Daihatsu Motor Co., electronics giant Panasonic and beverage maker Kirin Co., were expected to resume operations Wednesday after suspending production during the typhoon, Kyodo said.

The deaths included a man in his 70s who was blown to the ground from his apartment in Osaka prefecture. Police said at least five others died elsewhere in the prefecture after being hit by flying objects or falling from their apartments. In nearby Shiga prefecture, a 71-year-old man died when a storage building collapsed on him, and a man in his 70s died after falling from a roof in Mie, officials said.

In Nishinomiya in Hyogo prefecture, about 100 cars at a seaside dealership burned after their electrical systems were shorted out by sea water, fire officials and news reports said.

Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.


World criticism doesn't have Suu Kyi or Myanmar on the ropes

In this May 6, 2016, file photo, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's foreign minister and de facto leader, left walks with senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's commander-in-chief, right, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Myanmar's government looks as if it's under siege from an international community concerned about the condition of its nascent democracy, with widespread calls for a genocide tribunal to hold its military to account for the brutal treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)

By Grant Peck, Associated Press

Bangkok (AP) — Myanmar's government looks as if it's under siege from an international community concerned about the condition of its nascent democracy, with widespread calls for a genocide tribunal to hold its military to account for the brutal treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority.

But experts say not to expect any change of course from the country's leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, even after a fresh round of withering criticism from abroad following Monday's show-trial conviction of two Reuters reporters who helped expose extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men and boys.

Suu Kyi's motivations are opaque. Even as a revered pro-democracy activist, the Nobel Peace laureate had a reputation for being autocratic, but now her core ideology has come into question.

There is at least a loose consensus that she faces real restrictions on her actions due to the power retained by the military that is enshrined in the constitution it imposed in 2007.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to balance her delicate and antagonistic relationship with the military and her conception of society's needs, perhaps fearing too strident a stance could prompt an overt return to military rule, which is possible under the constitution in certain circumstances," David Steinberg, professor emeritus at Georgetown University, wrote in July in the online magazine The Diplomat.

Other observers are less generous, saying Suu Kyi's seeming impassivity toward the plight of the Rohingya — and hostility toward those wishing to address the issue — undercut the narrative pitting her against the military.

"People tended to think that Aung San Suu Kyi and the military were at odds, and each feared that the other would dislodge them from power," said Khin Zaw Win, a rare outspoken critic of the government who directs the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based capacity-building institution.

He said the conviction of the two Reuters journalists, who were sentenced to seven years in prison, is a reminder that "shows that what they fear in tandem is the world out there finding the truth and seeking to unseat them."

The old saying, "They have to hang together, or they hang separately," describes their situation, he said.

Political realities inside and outside Myanmar suggest there is neither the will nor a way to ensure justice for the Rohingya, 700,000 of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army. Myanmar denies any large-scale human rights violations and says its actions were a response to surprise attacks by militants in August last year that killed a dozen members of the security forces. Critics charge it was ethnic cleansing.

Those inclined to bring Myanmar to account have few weapons to do so. Despite the recommendation last month of a special U.N. fact-finding commission that top Myanmar commanders be charged with genocide, no trial is likely to be held in the foreseeable future.

It's far from clear that any country would officially push prosecution, and certain that several would seek to frustrate it. Major powers that have never entertained much interest in human rights — China and Russia — also have strategic reasons to cozy up to Myanmar, a well-situated outpost on the Indian Ocean.

"A tribunal at the International Criminal Court, for example, on genocide charges will be difficult to pull off," Murray Hiebert, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said in an email interview. "Not only isn't Myanmar a member of the ICC, but a case must be brought by a member of the U.N. Security Council. China and Russia have made clear that they would block a case against Myanmar."

The desire to contain China's growing influence in Southeast Asia is a major issue.

"The U.S. and most Western democracies want to avoid pushing Myanmar further in the arms of Beijing," Hiebert said.

Competition with China for geopolitical influence, as well as friendship from regional countries anxious not to rock the boat or jeopardize investments, also limits the threat of unfriendly action.

"I think Myanmar can still count on most Southeast Asian countries as partners, and also India and probably Japan — Japan has been wary of taking a tough stance on the issues related to the Rohingya, for fear of losing strategic influence in Myanmar," said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for the New York-headquartered Council on Foreign Relations.

Sanctions — the second-line approach to pressuring Myanmar — face the same constraints as pushing for a genocide tribunal, though nations inclined to do so can act unilaterally.

Hiebert noted that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a stalwart supporter of Suu Kyi in her Nobel Prize-winning days as a freedom fighter against military rule — remains sympathetic to her and is a roadblock to tougher action by Washington.

"I think Myanmar and most of the population will hunker down in the face of more sanctions as they have stood up to most protests over the treatment of the Rohingya over the past year," Hiebert said. "They tell foreign visitors that they have resisted and survived sanctions before. The difference this time, of course, is that most of the population seems to support the military's moves against the Rohingya, while in the past many people seemed to support the sanctions to put pressure on the military to move toward greater democracy."


Update September 07, 2018

Trafficked Myanmar woman faced heart-wrenching choice on son

In this March 21, 2018, photo, Marip Lu sits in her family's shelter in a refugee camp in northern Kachin State, Myanmar. Marip Lu, 24, claims she was kidnapped by traffickers and suffered six years of captivity, rape and abuse deep in China. As the demand for "brides" in China rises, The Associated Press has pieced together the tragic ordeal of one woman who escaped, but had to leave her son behind. (AP Photo/Esther Htusan)

In this July 12, 2018, photo, Li Mingming, whose foot is chained to a bed, a practice sometimes employed by families in rural China to keep mentally disabled relatives from wandering away, watches television in this home in Gucheng village in central China's Henan province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

In this July 11, 2018, photo, Xu Ying, left, stands with her neighbor at their home in Gucheng village in central China's Henan province. The AP spoke to the family Marip Lu, a young woman from Myanmar, accused of abusing her. The father, Li Qinggong, and mother, Xu Ying, (pictured) both denied Marip Lu had been abused or raped, and insisted she had not been purchased. But neither was able to explain how she'd ended up in their faraway village, or how she allegedly met and "married" their mentally disabled son, Li Mingming. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

In this May 3, 2017, smartphone photo taken at an undisclosed location in central China, the partially silhouetted face of a driver is shown shortly after rescuing Myanmar national Marip Lu, who claims she was kidnapped by traffickers and suffered six years of captivity, rape and abuse deep in China. (Marip Lu via AP)

In this July 12, 2018, photo, Li Qinggong stands outside the entrance to this home in Gucheng village in central China's Henan province. The AP spoke to the family Marip Lu, a young woman from Myanmar, accused of abusing her. The father, Li Qinggong, and mother, Xu Ying, both denied Marip Lu had been abused or raped, and insisted she had not been purchased. But neither was able to explain how she'd ended up in their faraway village, or how she allegedly met and "married" their mentally disabled son, Li Mingming. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

In this March 21, 2018, photo, Chinese security officers stand at a border gate between Kachin rebel-controlled Laiza in Myanmar's north and China's western Yunnan, which are divided by a narrow creek. People from both countries cross the border gate for trading purposes. It is common for Myanmar nationals to cross the creek illegally to seek jobs in China. (AP Photo/Esther Htusan)

 In this March 21, 2018, photo, wearing a T-shirt with words which read "I am not a commodity to sell," Marip Lu sits in her family's shelter in a refugee camp in northern Kachin State, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Esther Htusan)

By Todd Pitman, Esther Htusan and Dake Kang, Associated Press

Gucheng, China (AP) — They were the first photos Marip Lu had ever taken of her son, and it broke her heart to think they might be the last.

The little boy was standing in their living room in rural China with his tiny chest puffed out, brown eyes beaming as he watched cartoons on TV. She wanted to remember him this way — smiling, playful, innocent.

Just three years old, he had no idea his mother was facing a heart-wrenching choice that would change their lives: stay with him and the family holding her hostage, or leave him behind and be free.

Six years earlier, Marip Lu had been drugged, kidnapped and trafficked to this place far from her native Myanmar. She had been beaten and abused, forced to "marry" a mentally disabled man, and repeatedly raped, she said.

Now the people organizing her rescue had warned it was too dangerous to take her son. But how could she go without him?

"What if he never has someone to call 'mama'?" Marip Lu kept asking herself, as the clock ticked down to her escape. "What will they do to him if I'm no longer there?"

___

As a girl growing up in northern Myanmar, Marip Lu had spent most of her youth in school, in church, and farming her family's rice fields. But in June 2011, fighting erupted between the army and rebels from an ethnic minority called the Kachin. Marip Lu's family, who are Kachin, fled to the home of relatives in Laiza, on the Chinese frontier.

The move brought new dangers — from human traffickers who are increasingly luring teenage girls with the false promise of jobs. Once inside China, the girls are kidnapped, then sold to men looking for "brides" for between US$5,000 and US$10,000, according to the Kachin women's association, Myu Shayi.

Nobody knows how many have been trafficked, because most are never heard from again or too ashamed to report the crime. However, the U.S. State Department said in its latest report that numbers from Myanmar are rising, and Myu Shayi says the average number of known victims from rebel-held Kachin state — a tiny sliver of Myanmar — has jumped from about 35 annually to 50 last year. Myanmar's government has reported over 1,100 cases in the country since 2010.

Human Rights Watch's Heather Barr, who interviewed 37 victims this year, said those figures "are only the tip of the iceberg."

The phenomenon is a direct consequence of China's one-child policy, which grossly skewed the nation's gender balance for decades before the government ended the practice two years ago. Chinese men, though, still outnumber women by more than 30 million, fueling a huge demand for foreign brides that has sucked in countless girls from neighboring Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

Although Chinese authorities have broken up trafficking rings, rights advocates say anti-trafficking enforcement is weak, and the practice continues.

The Associated Press pieced together Marip Lu's story through interviews with her, several family members and the women's group that orchestrated her rescue. Some details were corroborated by 195 photographs on her cell phone. In an effort to ensure Marip Lu's safety, AP is not using her full name.

The AP also traveled to the village of Gucheng, in Henan province, to interview the couple Marip Lu accuses of buying her — Li Qinggong and his wife, Xu Ying. Both denied all allegations of abuse, but neither was able to explain how Marip Lu had ended up in their faraway village, or how she allegedly met and "married" their mentally disabled son, Li Mingming. When the AP visited their home, Li Mingming was only able to mumble incoherently; his foot was chained to a bed, a practice sometimes employed by families in rural China to keep mentally disabled relatives from wandering away.

Still, Li Qinggong insisted that "we did not abduct her or buy her. ... It's not true."

Xu claimed they treated Marip Lu like a daughter, and tearfully accused her of neglecting her son and abandoning them. But she acknowledged knowing Marip Lu wanted to leave and said without explanation that "in some families, they run away after several months — some don't even last a single month."

At one point, the couple got into a screaming match as they discussed whether to talk to AP. Li Qinggong hurled his phone at his wife. "You're asking for trouble," he told her. "Why don't you go die?"

"These are all family affairs," Li Qinggong later said, explaining his reticence. "It's sad to talk about family affairs, and we don't bring it up."

__ 

When Marip Lu heard about a job at a barbecue restaurant in Yingjiang, a half-hour's drive away from Laiza, she had every reason to believe it was real. The offer came from a woman who had lived next to her family for years and attended their church.

After Marip Lu told her parents the news, her mother, Tangbau Hkawn, begged her not to go.

"You're too young," she said. "You've never traveled out of Myanmar. You've never been anywhere alone."

"Don't worry mama," replied Marip Lu, who was just 17 at the time.

When she entered China surreptitiously in September 2011, there were no border guards, no checkpoints. They walked across a shallow creek in broad daylight.

In Yingjiang, after eating a bowl of noodles for breakfast at a local restaurant, Marip Lu began to feel dizzy.

Soon, her vision blurred. Then everything went black.

When Marip Lu regained consciousness, she was slumped on the back of a red motorcycle racing down a highway, a chubby Chinese man holding onto her with one hand.

Rubbing her eyes, she saw rivers and flower parks flashing by. Then things she'd only seen in movies: twinkling skyscrapers with vast crowds walking between them like ants.

When she reached for the phone in her purse, she noticed it was missing along with her Myanmar identification card and the handful of Myanmar kyat — worth only a few U.S. dollars — that she'd brought.

Suddenly, she understood. She'd been tricked, then drugged. And now, she was being trafficked.

Marip Lu began to scream, but she was too weak to resist.

She was handed over to an older man who pulled her aboard a public bus. The night turned into day, then night again, and she was forced into a car that drove into a small village with no paved roads. The car stopped in front of a bland, two-story home made of cement, where a middle-aged couple greeted her excitedly with huge smiles as if she were a long-lost relative.

Li Qinggong, who had dark hair and bushy eyebrows, spoke rapidly and loudly. His wife, who had high cheekbones and a wide face, sat with him, alongside a thickset younger man in his 30s — their son.

The woman offered sunflower seeds, and later, dinner. But Marip Lu was nauseous and frightened. The last thing she wanted to do was eat. She could even not communicate with her captors, who only spoke Chinese.

"Please, dear God," she prayed, closing her eyes. "Please don't let anything bad happen to me."

___

In the darkness on the bed that first night, Marip Lu felt like a caged animal.

The couple, through hand gestures, had made it clear she was to sleep in the same room as Li Mingming. He had ripped off her clothes, and when she had tried to run they had pushed her back inside and slammed the door shut.

Li Mingming began heaving his naked body against hers, she said, grunting as she recoiled in disgust.

But then, unexpectedly, he stopped. For some reason, he had not raped her, and in the days that followed, she began to understand why: he was mentally disabled in some way.

Sometimes he would mumble or talk to himself, or scream unexpectedly. Sometimes he would stare blankly at the television, his eyes just inches away.

For months, Marip Lu said, her captors never left her alone. The windows upstairs were blocked by dirty white bars. Whenever the couple left, they locked the iron front door — from the outside.

One winter's night, four weeks into her captivity, Marip Lu said, the couple burst into her bedroom, dragged her into the kitchen and tore off her clothes.

As she lay curled in a ball on the hard marble floor, they kicked and slapped and cursed her. Li Qinggong then poured buckets of ice water over her shivering body.

When the mother sat down, Marip Lu crawled forward and wrapped her arms around her legs.

"Please don't do this!" she begged in Kachin — a language only she understood. "Oh God! What did I do wrong?"

The next night, the couple barged in again as she slept, according to Marip Lu. This time, they forced her into their bedroom. As Xu sat in a chair barking instructions, Li Qinggong pushed Marip Lu onto the bed and raped her repeatedly, she said. The couple later insisted she had never been raped.

When Marip Lu retreated, shaking with fear, she found her "husband" hiding in their room under a blanket like a child. It was the same thing he did when his parents fought.

As the weeks turned into months, then years, she began following a grim routine. During the day, they made her wash clothes, clean the house and cook — and beat her if she did not. At night, the couple would often drag their "daughter" into their room — or their son's — and rape her as she cried, she said.

They called her Baobei — "baby."

One day, Marip Lu looked into the mirror at several bright red imprints on her cheeks where she had been slapped. It was hard to recognize the girl looking back.

She wanted more than anything to escape, but there was nowhere to run. The sheer vastness of China, combined with the fact that she could not speak Chinese, had created the perfect prison. And even if she could get out, she had no money and no way to contact home.

The hardest part was the loneliness.

Marip Lu wanted to tell someone what was happening, but there was nobody to talk to. The first time she tried to wave down a neighbor, she said, Xu yanked her away by the wrist and cursed them both. Even those who entered their house tried to avoid making eye contact.

The neighbors may not have suspected anything was wrong. Foreign brides are not uncommon in rural China, and many women come voluntarily. Marriages are also sometimes seen as transactional events in a country where the traditional practice of paying dowries still exists.

Two years after her arrival, Marip Lu seemed to fall ill. She began throwing up each morning, and for the first time, Xu took her to a clinic.

She was five weeks pregnant.

Xu was overjoyed. But Marip Lu felt numb. The new life inside her belly was the product of the hell in which she existed.

The rape and the beatings came to a halt. Then, on Sept. 23, 2013, Marip Lu gave birth to a healthy boy. She called him Erzi, which means son.

The first time she looked into his eyes, she was overwhelmed by something she had not felt in a long time: love.

She melted when she saw his pouting lips smile involuntarily as he slept. Even his cries were soothing.

Although Marip Lu insists Li Qinggong is the father, she said the couple referred to the boy as their "grandson," proudly telling everyone in their village he belonged to their son and their "daughter-in-law." In conversations with the AP, Li Qinggong never replied to the question of whether he was the father.

When the beatings and the rape resumed months later, Marip Lu felt different. The baby was a profound source of comfort; she no longer felt alone.

The day her son turned one, Xu took her and the boy to a photo studio for a souvenir of the moment. The glossy image they received was embossed with a tiny smiley face and a digital slogan written in English: "Happy Day."

___

Marip Lu had all but given up on ever returning home when she spotted something strange in the trash: an old, beat-up cell phone.

It was missing a SIM card. But she knew how to get one: by skimming cash from the money the couple gave her to buy food.

It took several weeks. When she inserted the card, she was shocked. It worked.

Immediately, she tried to dial friends or family in Myanmar. But nothing went through.

She began calling numbers at random in Yunnan, a province that borders Myanmar. The idea was simple: try to reach anyone who spoke Kachin.

For weeks she dialed in secret, again and again, number after number. Until one day a woman answered in Kachin — a language she had not spoken or heard in years.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Marip Lu said she was working in China and had lost contact with her family back home.

"I'm desperate to speak to them," she said. "Can you help?"

Miraculously, the woman lived in Yingjiang, the same place Marip Lu had been kidnapped from four years before. Even more stunning: one of the woman's relatives was planning to make her first trip to Myanmar — to Laiza for a wedding.

Marip Lu passed on her brother-in-law's address, and when the woman crossed the border she knocked on his door.

Numbers were exchanged. And several days later, Marip Lu made a call she thought she'd never be able to make again.

"Marip Lu?" her mother asked.

"Yes, mama. Yes," she said, and wept into the phone.

___

In Laiza, Myu Shayi, the women's association affiliated with the rebel administration, immediately took up the case.

"I want you to be patient," a case worker named Ja Ring told Marip Lu by phone. "We will get you out as soon we can."

For months, the two stayed in touch, agreeing that only Marip Lu would call. Then Xu discovered the phone.

"Who are you calling? You have no friends here," she screamed, her face red with anger as she snatched it away. "You should not be talking to anyone. Your family is here."

The loss turned out to be a blessing. With money she got to celebrate her son's second birthday in 2015, and more skimmed cash, Marip Lu secretly purchased a low-cost, Chinese-built smartphone.

Another woman from Myu Shayi told her to install the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat. The woman, Hkawn Shawng, then asked her to send a message by clicking on an icon that looked like a balloon.

When Marip Lu pressed "send," a digital map appeared on Hkawn Shawng's phone with a red flag on it. For the first time, it indicated precisely where she was — a house about 2,700 kilometers from Laiza.

Following protocol, Hkawn Shawng wrote a letter to Chinese authorities requesting a rescue.

Then they waited, for months.

Marip Lu was outside her home with her son when a pair of police cars suddenly pulled up months later, red and blue lights flashing. One of the officers turned and asked: "Are you Marip Lu? Is that your name?"

"Yes, yes, yes," she said, barely able to contain herself.

When the officers said they were taking her down to the police station, Li Qinggong tried to intervene.

"We take good care of her in this house. She's happy," he said, smiling meekly. "Just look around, do you see any problem here?"

Marip Lu, frozen, dared not say a word. But when the police took her away, she told them everything.

"Someone sold me to this Chinese family," she said. "I'm terrified of these people."

The officers recorded her testimony solemnly. Then they took her photograph.

"Do you want to go home?" one asked.

"Of course," Marip Lu pleaded. "Very much."

But hours later, inexplicably, they called the Chinese family to come pick her up. They said they would come back to get her when they received orders from their bosses after the Chinese New Year holiday.

"Don't be afraid," one of them said. And "don't be in a hurry ... Don't you know there is war in Myanmar? Aren't you worried about that?"

The next day, Marip Lu called Hkawn Shawng in tears.

"Why didn't they send me home?" she said, her voice trembling. "When are you going to rescue me? Am I going to die here?"

"You must stay strong," Hkawn Shawng replied. "Keep praying to God ... we will get you out."

A few weeks later, Hkawn Shawng received a letter from the police. It claimed Marip Lu had told them she did not want to return.

It was unclear what had happened, but Hkawn Shawng speculated police had either been bought off, or didn't care. Police in Gucheng declined to speak to AP about the case when contacted by phone.

There was a Plan B. Myu Shayi had surreptitious networks of its own in China that rescue trafficked girls. Hkawn Shawng would send a driver, but Marip Lu would have to get as far away from her house as she could first, to ensure their vehicle was not traced or followed.

"And my son?" Marip Lu asked.

Hkawn Shawng said she could only be rescued alone. The boy was a Chinese citizen, and spiriting him out of the country would be interpreted by Chinese authorities as one thing only: kidnapping.

By now, the couple was so confident Marip Lu would not — or could not — leave, they let her drive their three-wheeled vehicle to the market alone. And when they discovered her new white phone, they shrugged, and let her keep it.

___

On Wednesday, May 3, 2017, Marip Lu walked her son home from school at 11 a.m., holding his hand just as she always did.

Once there, she packed a small pink bag with two changes of clothes, a little bit of money, and several laminated photos of her son.

He stood beside her, pulling at her leg.

"Mama! Mama!" he said. "I'm hungry."

Marip Lu told him to go to the kitchen and wait for lunch, but the boy said he did not want to go alone.

"Go on," she said. "Be a good boy. Mama needs to finish washing the clothes."

As the boy walked away, he turned back several times, his sad eyes pleading for her to follow. But as soon as he was out of sight, Marip Lu ran down to the garage, where she cranked up the family's motorcycle.

Xu was in another room at the time, with her elderly mother.

Marip Lu's eyes welled with tears.

She dared not say bye to her son, or hug him one last time. She knew that if she did, she would never be able to leave.

Half an hour later, she reached a nearby town. She abandoned the motorcycle in an alley, and messaged her GPS location to a driver sent by Myu Shayi who was supposed to pick her up.

Hours later, she saw a van with a man standing outside it in a white shirt.

"Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up!"

Marip Lu began to run.

"Quick! Get in!"

Once inside, Marip Lu took the SIM card out of her phone, rolled down the window and threw it into the wind.

Over the next several days, Marip Lu took 45 photos out the window as they traveled toward the Myanmar border: of bridges and skyscrapers and a Ferris wheel along the endless highways.

Eventually, the van cut through fields of tall sugarcane, then suddenly turned onto a dirt road.

It was Myanmar. Marip Lu was home.

When her family saw her for the first time, there were tears, hugs, and disbelief. It was as if their daughter had returned from the dead.

But they knew the innocent girl who left Myanmar six years earlier would never came back.

"She talks at night when she sleeps now," her mother, Tangbau Hkawn, says forlornly. "Sometimes she screams. Sometimes she shouts things like 'don't touch me!'"

When the Associated Press interviewed Marip Lu in a rebel-controlled part of northern Myanmar's Kachin state, a year after her escape, she could not hide her hatred for the family she said held her for so long.

"I want them to know what it feels like," she says through gritted teeth. "They destroyed my life."

In June, though, Marip Lu was overcome by the desire to contact her son. To do so, she had to muster the courage to call Li Qinggong.

At first, nobody answered, but then a familiar voice called back.

Li Qinggong refused to let her speak to the boy, she said, and asked if she had told the AP what happened in their home. Later, she sent several photos of herself because "I wanted (my son) to know he has a mother somewhere."

It's unclear if the boy ever saw them. Neither Li Qinggong nor Xu answered repeated calls to their mobile phones from AP.

More than anything else, Marip Lu says she wants to get her son back.

But Hkawn Shawng, the woman who helped engineer her rescue, says that is all but impossible. Her organization has spearheaded the return more than 200 women to Myanmar since 2011.

All those with children were forced to leave them behind.

Pitman and Htusan reported from Laiza, Myanmar. AP photographer Han Guan Ng in Gucheng and reporter Yanan Wang and researcher Shanshan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.


India decriminalizes homosexual acts in landmark verdict

 

Supporters and members of the LGBT community celebrate after the country's top court struck down a colonial-era law that makes homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. The court gave its ruling Thursday on a petition filed by five people who challenged the law, saying they are living in fear of being harassed and prosecuted by police. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

By Ashok Sharma, Associated Press

New Delhi (AP) — India's supreme court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would "pave the way for a better future."

The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India's gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision.

"Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading out the verdict. "Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual."

As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags.

"We feel as equal citizens now," said activist Shashi Bhushan. "What happens in our bedroom is left to us."

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a "biological phenomenon" and that any discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights.

"We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future," said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution.

Arvind Datar, the attorney for the petitioners, argued in the court that the provision was unconstitutional because it provides for the prosecution and sentencing of consenting adults.

Homosexuality has a tangled history in India, with some of Hinduism's most ancient texts accepting of gay sex. Transgendered people known as "hijras" have been a common sight in India for centuries. They are shunned by the wider community and often forced to work as beggars and prostitutes, but are also sometimes embraced because they are believed to bring powerful blessings.

On Thursday, a leader of a prominent hard-line Hindu group noted that while it doesn't see homosexuality as a crime, it believes gay marriage is not "compatible with nature."

Arun Kumar, a spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said Indian society "traditionally does not recognize" gay relationships, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

A New Delhi High Court in 2009 declared Section 377 unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned in a ruling by three Supreme Court justices in 2013 on the grounds that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament. But lawmakers failed to take action and in July the government told the Supreme Court to give a ruling in the case.

Over the past decade, gays have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of deeply conservative India, especially in big cities. Some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. Still, being gay is seen as shameful in much of the country.

Sukhdeep Singh, a gay rights activist and editor of Gaylaxy Magazine, said the community still had a lot of distance to go "to be legally with your partner."

"This will obviously open the doors for a lot of more things, more civil rights. And we'll fight for our rights, definitely. This is the first battle that has been won and there are many more battles that we are going to fight and we'll win that as well. For sure," he said.

Karan Johar, a Bollywood producer and director, said Thursday's verdict was history in the making.

"So proud today! Decriminalizing homosexuality and abolishing section 377 is a huge thumb up for humanity and equal rights! The country gets its oxygen back!" he wrote on Twitter.


Big quake hits northern Japan, leaving 9 dead, 30 missing

Residents watch a road damaged by an earthquake in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A powerful earthquake shook Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, causing landslides that crushed homes, knocking out power across the island. (Hiroki Yamauchi/Kyodo News via AP)

This aerial photo shows houses destroyed by a landslide after an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A powerful earthquake rocked Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, triggering landslides that crushed homes, knocking out power across the island, and forcing a nuclear power plant to switch to a backup generator. (Kyodo News via AP)

Buildings destroyed by a landslide block a road after an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Several people were reported missing in the nearby the town, where a massive landslide engulfed homes in an avalanche of soil, rocks and timber. (Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

A worker of a restaurant near the area distributes soup following a powerful earthquake in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Rescuers were rushing to unearth survivors and restore power Thursday after a powerful earthquake jolted Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, buckling roads, knocking homes off their foundations and causing entire hillsides to collapse. (Hiroki Yamauchi/Kyodo News via AP)

By Eugene Hoshiko, Haruka Nuga and Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

Sapporo, Japan (AP) — A powerful earthquake Thursday on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido triggered dozens of landslides that crushed houses under torrents of dirt, rocks and timber, prompting frantic efforts to unearth any survivors.

At least nine people were killed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. Officials said at least 366 were injured, five of them seriously, and about 30 people were unaccounted for after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake jolted residents from their beds at 3:08 a.m.

Nearly 3 million households were left without power by the quake — the latest in an exhausting run of natural disasters for Japan.

It paralyzed normal business on the island, as blackouts cut off water to homes, immobilized trains and airports, causing hundreds of flight cancellations, and shut down phone systems.

In the town of Atsuma, where entire hillsides collapsed, rescuers used small backhoes and shovels to search for survivors under the tons of earth that tumbled down steep mountainsides, burying houses and farm buildings below. The area's deep green hills were marred by reddish-brown gashes where the soil tore loose under the violent tremors.

Twenty-eight people remained unaccounted for in the town, Atsuma Mayor Shoichiro Miyasaka told public broadcaster NHK.

"We will carry on searching for them," he said.

Miyasaka said the town had emergency meals for up to 2,000 people and that more than 500 had sought refuge in its emergency shelters.

The landslides ripped through some homes and buried others. Some residents described awakening to find their next-door neighbors gone.

"The entire thing just collapsed," said one. "It's unbelievable."

The island's only nuclear power plant, which was offline for routine safety checks, temporarily switched to a backup generator to keep its spent fuel cool. Nuclear regulators said there was no sign of abnormal radiation — a concern after a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011 that hit northeast Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake's epicenter was 40 kilometers (24 miles) deep. But it still wreaked havoc across much of the relatively sparsely inhabited island.

Many roads were closed and some were impassable. NHK showed workers rushing to clean up shattered glass and reinstall ceiling panels that had fallen in the region's biggest airport at Chitose.

Japan is used to dealing with disasters, but the last few months have brought a string of calamities. The quake came on the heels of a typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered major flooding in western Japan, leaving the main airport near Osaka and Kobe closed after a tanker rammed a bridge connecting the facility to the mainland. The summer also brought devastating floods and landslides from torrential rains in Hiroshima and deadly hot temperatures across the country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that up to 25,000 troops and other personnel would be dispatched to Hokkaido to help with rescue operations.

As Japan's northern frontier and a major farming region with rugged mountain ranges and vast forests, Hokkaido is an area accustomed to coping with long winters, isolation and other hardships. But the blackouts brought on by the quake underscored the country's heavy reliance on vulnerable power systems: without electricity, water was cut to many homes, train lines were idled and phone systems out of order.

In the prefectural capital of Sapporo, a city of 1.9 million, the quake ruptured roads and knocked houses askew. A mudslide left several cars half buried. By evening the city's streets were dark and shops closed.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters that the extensive power outage was caused by an emergency shutdown of the main thermal power plant at Tomato-Atsuma that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.

The hope had been to get power back up within hours and some electricity was gradually being restored. However, damage to generators at the plant meant that a full restoration of power could take more than a week, Seko said.

Utilities were starting up several other thermal and hydroelectric plants and power was restored to 340,000 households, but even with those stopgap supplies thousands will still be without electricity for some time.

Authorities sent power generator vehicles to hospitals and other locations and water tanker trucks to communities in Sapporo, where residents were collecting bottles to tide them over until electricity and tap water supplies come back online. Long lines of people waited to charge their cellphones at the city's regional government office.

The quake's impact was widespread. To the north, in the scenic town of Biei, residents lined up outside of supermarkets and convenience stores, quickly clearing shelves of water, toilet paper and food.

"Only a few cartons of instant ramen were left," said Mika Takeda, who lives in the town of 10,000. The one local gas station was limiting customers to only 20 liters (5 gallons) of gas, she said.

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed from Tokyo.


Burned National Museum in Rio had relics from around world

Firefighters and museum personnel carry away a burnt painting from the National Museum after an overnight fire in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. A huge fire engulfed Brazil’s 200-year-old museum, lighting up the night sky with towering flames as firefighters and museum workers raced to save historical relics from the blaze. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Associated Press

Rio De Janeiro (AP) — Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, which suffered a massive fire late Sunday, boasted the largest archive of historical artifacts and documents in Latin America, some 20 million pieces from around the globe. Museum officials say it's too soon to say what had been lost or spared, as firefighters were still putting out ambers and assessing whether it was safe to enter.

Here is a look at some of the museum's most notable pieces, according to its website:

'LUZIA'

Discovered during an excavation in 1975 outside of the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, the fossilized remains sat in storage for two decades. In the mid-1990s, tests by scientists determined it was the oldest fossil in the Americas. It was given the name "Luzia," homage to "Lucy," the famous 3.2-million-year-old remains found in Africa.

ANCIENT EGYPT

Among the Egyptian relics is the mummy of Sha-Amun-In-Su, dating back to 750 B.C. The mummy was in its original coffin, which was closed. It was given to Dom Pedro II by Egyptian Viceroy Ismail Pasha during a visit to the Middle East.

INDIGENOUS REMAINS

One of the museum's most important expositions of indigenous peoples were three bodies mummified together, an adult and two children. It was originally found in the state of Minas Gerais. The collection also includes bows and arrows from different indigenous groups and explanations about studies conducted by the royal family on the Tupi and Guarani languages.

METEORITE

Called Bendego and weighing more than five tons, the meteorite is the largest ever found in Brazil. It was found in the state of Bahia in the 18th century. The meteorite, which sits in a main entrance, could be seen in the burned-out building.

DINOSAUR

One of the museum's most popular displays was one of its biggest, a dinosaur called Maxakalisaurus tapai. Found in Minas Gerais in 1998, the excavation and reconstruction of the dinosaur took 10 years.


Update September 06, 2018

New Zealand leader steals limelight at Pacific meeting

Nauru President Baron Waqa, left, talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before the Pacific leaders gather for a photo opportunity during the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Jason Oxenham/Pool Photo via AP)

By Nick Perry, Associated Press

Nauru (AP) — Leaders in the Pacific met this week to forge new agreements on climate change and other pressing regional issues, but it was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her absent baby who stole the limelight.

While some people in New Zealand grumbled that Ardern had cost taxpayers thousands of dollars by scheduling an extra flight to the Pacific Islands Forum to minimize time away from her baby, Nauru's President Baron Waqa penned Ardern and 11-week-old Neve a tribute.

During a break in an all-day's leaders retreat on Wednesday, Waqa grabbed a guitar and along with a group of elders sang the song he titled "Aotearoa our friend, Jacinda our new star in the sky." The first word is the indigenous Maori name for New Zealand. The lyrics included the line: "A little baby star is born."

Ardern disputed whether her trip had cost taxpayers anything, saying the military had told her they had a fixed budget which they could use on extra trips like hers or training exercises.

"So I have been advised it cost the taxpayer no additional funding," she said.

Ardern added she would have been the first New Zealand leader in almost 50 years to miss the forum, aside from those who had been campaigning during an election cycle.

"I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't," she said, adding "At the end of the day, I am Prime Minister. I have a job to do."

Barry Soper, who writes a column for the New Zealand Herald newspaper, questioned whether the trip was necessary: "If Ardern decided not to go because of baby Neve, surely the family-focused Pacific leaders, more than any others, would have understood."

Ardern, 38, in June became just the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while holding office, after Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gave birth to daughter Bakhtawar in 1990.

The leaders at the forum were signing a new security agreement called the Boe Declaration that identifies climate change as a major threat to security in the Pacific, since low-lying islands might cease to exist if sea levels keep rising.

The declaration also addresses crimes such as drug smuggling and illegal fishing that cross borders, as well as cybercrime and health concerns such as communicable diseases and pandemics. The agreement was the centerpiece of the three-day meeting.

Earlier Wednesday, Pacific fishing and community groups signed an agreement with the European Union to improve sustainable fishing and ocean governance in the region.

Under the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership, the EU will provide 35 million euros ($41 million) and Sweden will provide 10 million euros ($12 million) over five years. The program will provide direct assistance to regional organizations.

Tensions over China and refugees ran high at the forum after Nauru on Tuesday accused a Chinese official of bullying and temporarily detained a New Zealand journalist who had been interviewing a refugee.

Nauru is home to more than 600 refugees who had tried to reach Australia by boat. The island's economy relies on the money Australia spends on keeping the refugees there.

Australia designed the policy of keeping boat refugees and asylum seekers far from its shores to deter more of them from trying to make the voyage, but many critics say the policy violates human rights.


South Korean envoys meet Kim to advance nuclear diplomacy

In this Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 photo provided on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 by South Korea Presidential Blue House via Yonhap News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, poses for a photograph with members of South Korean delegation headed by National Security Director Chung Eui-yong, third from left, and Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, right, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP)

By Kim Tong-Hyung, Associated Press

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean delegation met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday during a visit to arrange an inter-Korean summit planned for this month and help rescue faltering nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang.

The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the envoys led by his national security adviser delivered his personal letter to Kim and "exchanged opinions" on unspecified issues.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the Korean officials fixed a date for a third summit this year between Moon and Kim or made any progress in breaking an impasse in talks between the North and the United States over dismantling Kim's nuclear weapons program. When asked whether the meeting with Kim went well, Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said he didn't know.

The envoys are planning to fly back to the South after attending a dinner reception hosted by the North. Earlier on Wednesday, they met Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief who has been negotiating with the United States on nuclear issues, and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North's agency that handles inter-Korean affairs, at Pyongyang's Koryo hotel.

South Korean officials said they couldn't provide further details. Moon's office is planning to hold a briefing on the visit on Thursday.

Moon, who discussed his plans with President Donald Trump by telephone on Tuesday, said before the trip that his envoys are tasked with a crucial role at a "very important time" that could determine the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

While pushing ahead with summits and inter-Korean engagement, Seoul is trying to persuade Washington and Pyongyang to proceed with peace and denuclearization processes at the same time so they can overcome a growing dispute over the sequencing of the diplomacy.

Seoul also wants a trilateral summit between the countries, or a four-nation meeting that also includes Beijing, to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The U.N. General Assembly in late September would be an ideal date for Seoul, but many analysts see that possibility as low, considering the complications of the process and how far apart the parties currently are.

U.S. officials have insisted that a peace declaration, which many see as a precursor to the North eventually calling for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nukes. Such steps may include providing an account of the components of its nuclear program, allowing outside inspections and giving up a certain number of its nuclear weapons during the early stages of the negotiations.

While an end-of-war declaration wouldn't imply a legally binding peace treaty, experts say it could create political momentum that would make it easier for the North to steer the discussions toward a peace regime, diplomatic recognition, economic benefits and security concessions.

The North has accused the United States of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands on denuclearization and holding back on the end-of-war declaration. North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday published a lengthy statement on its website saying that an end-of-war declaration would be a necessary trust-building step between the wartime foes that would "manifest the political will to establish the lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."

South Korean officials said an end-of-war declaration will be among the issues discussed in the meetings between the South Korean envoys and North Korean officials.

"Our government believes that an end-of-war declaration is very much needed while we enter a process toward stabilizing peace in the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization," said Chung Eui-yong, Moon's national security adviser and the head of the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang, in a news conference on Tuesday.

"We will continue to put in efforts so that an end-of-war declaration can be reached by the end of the year. We are always maintaining close communication with the United States."

Moon's five-member delegation, which also includes his top intelligence officer, Suh Hoon, consists of the same group that traveled to Pyongyang in March where they talked and dined with North Korean leader Kim and reached an agreement on the first summit between the Korean leaders in April. The South Korean officials later visited Trump at the White House where they conveyed Kim's desire for a summit, to which Trump accepted on spot.

After their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim announced a vague statement about a nuclear-free peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang got off to a rocky start and quickly settled into a stalemate.

While the United States maintains that efforts to improve relations between the Koreas should move in tandem with efforts to denuclearize the North, Moon has recently said inter-Korean engagement could take the lead.

"If needed, we should pull forward the negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with the development in relations between the South and North," Chung said.

Any progress could depend on whether Moon's envoys were able to coax a stronger verbal commitment from North Korea on denuclearization to help put the nuclear talks between the United States and Pyongyang back on track.

Trump called off a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, citing insufficient progress in denuclearization. The resumption of U.S.-North Korea talks sometime before the next inter-Korean summit, which will likely take place in mid-September, could give Moon more to work with when he arrives in Pyongyang.

Considering the difficult circumstances, it's unclear whether Moon's envoys would return with anything other than a fixed date for his new summit with Kim.

The two past inter-Korean summits in April and May removed war fears and initiated a global diplomatic push that culminated with a meeting between Kim and Trump in June. But Moon faces tougher challenges heading into his third meeting with Kim with the stalemate in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington raising fundamental questions about Kim's supposed willingness to abandon his nukes.

Moon has been aggressively pushing engagement with North Korea in past months, but the lack of progress in nuclear talks could mean an end to the inter-Korean detente.

"Now is a very important time for establishing lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula; that's why special envoys are being sent to North Korea," Moon said Monday. "Peace in the Korean Peninsula goes together with the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the government is closely examining and carefully managing the situation."

The Korean War ended with an armistice, leaving the peninsula technically still at war. Moon has made an end-of-war declaration an important premise of his peace agenda with North Korea.


Pakistan PM 'optimistic' after brief talks with Pompeo

In this photo released by Press Information Department, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, meets visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, front, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Press Information Department via AP)

By Kathy Gannon, Associated Press

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistan's newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Islamabad on Wednesday, saying he was "optimistic" he could reset the relationship with Washington after the U.S. suspended aid over the country's alleged failure to combat militants.

"You know I'm a born optimist," said Khan, a former cricket star who was sworn in last month. "A sportsman always is an optimist. He steps on the field and he thinks he's going to win."

Pompeo spent just four hours in Pakistan, his first visit to the country. At the airport before leaving for neighboring India, he said he was "hopeful" that a foundation had been laid to move forward.

"We've still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had," he said. "It's time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitment... We've had lots of times where we've talked and made agreements, but we haven't been able to actually execute those."

Pompeo held meetings with Khan, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the powerful Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

"We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset the relationship between our two countries across a broad spectrum, economic, business, commercial," Pompeo said.

He said they also discussed "the work that we all know that we need to do to try to develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan that benefits certainly Afghanistan, but also the United States and Pakistan."

"I'm hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward," he said on the tarmac before leaving.

The United States last weekend canceled a $300 million Coalition Support Fund payment to Pakistan after long complaining that it was not doing enough to combat the Taliban and other militants who attack Afghan and U.S. forces across the porous border.

Pakistan has rejected those allegations, saying it has played a key role in the U.S.-led campaign against extremists that began after the 9/11 attacks.

On the plane to Pakistan, Pompeo announced his appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad, a veteran diplomat who is unpopular in Pakistan, as the new U.S. special adviser on Afghan reconciliation, which could further complicate relations with Islamabad.

Khalilzad "has been very critical of Pakistan in the past and his appointment will not help move things forward," said Zahid Hussain, a defense analyst and the author of two books on militancy in the region.

Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan and served as U.S. special envoy to the country following the collapse of the Taliban from 2001-2003 and then as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003-2005.

He has been critical of Pakistan, often blaming Afghanistan's deteriorating security and country-wide chaos on Pakistan's military and powerful ISI intelligence agency, accusing them of harboring and aiding Taliban insurgents.

Khalilzad has been criticized for his role in cobbling together an Afghan government of warlords headed by Hamid Karzai following the Taliban's collapse. Afghanistan's corruption-plagued government and, by some accounts, poorly trained security forces have frustrated Afghans and contributed to the country's deteriorating security situation.

Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan can afford a complete rupture in relations, but Hussain said Islamabad is frustrated that the relationship has been reduced to a single issue: Afghanistan.

"The United States seems only to see Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan," he said. "The main thing is we would like to be allies with the U.S. but with dignity."

As an opposition leader, Khan often chastised Pakistan's reliance on U.S. financial assistance. He briefly stopped trucks supplying fuel and other goods to U.S. and NATO troops from crossing into Afghanistan to protest U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border.

 

In a speech following the July 25 elections that propelled him to power, Khan said Pakistan would not participate in the U.S. war on terror, instead advocating a peaceful end to the protracted war in Afghanistan.

Khan has flatly rejected a U.S. strategy that advocates a heavy military hand to force Afghanistan's Taliban to the negotiating table.

Pompeo arrived shortly before 8 p.m. local time (1430 GMT) in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
 


Trump, others dispute book's description of unhinged leader

A copy of Bob Woodward's "Fear" is photographed Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in New York. It's not clear whether President Donald Trump has much to fear from "Fear" itself. But the book of that name has set off a yes-no war between author Bob Woodward and the president, using all the assets they can muster. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

By Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Washington (AP) — An incendiary tell-all book by a reporter who helped bring down President Richard Nixon set off a firestorm in the White House, with its descriptions of current and former aides calling President Donald Trump an "idiot" and a "liar," disparaging his judgment and claiming they plucked papers off his desk to prevent him from withdrawing from a pair of trade agreements.

The book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward is the latest to throw the Trump administration into damage-control mode with explosive anecdotes and concerns about the commander in chief. The Associated Press obtained a copy of "Fear: Trump in the White House" on Tuesday, a week before its official release.

Trump decried the quotes and stories in the book on Twitter as "frauds, a con on the public," adding that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly had denied uttering quoted criticisms of the president in the book.

And he denied accounts in the book that senior aides snatched sensitive documents off his desk to keep him from making impulsive decisions. He said in an interview with The Daily Caller, "There was nobody taking anything from me."

Later Tuesday, Trump was back on Twitter denying the book's claim that he had called Attorney General Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded" and "a dumb southerner."

Trump insisted he "never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff," adding that "being a southerner is a GREAT thing." Sessions has been a target of the president's wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

The publication of Woodward's book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all their colleagues cooperated with the famed Watergate journalist. The White House, in a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dismissed the book as "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."

Woodward did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The book quotes Kelly as having doubts about Trump's mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, "We're in Crazytown." It also says he called Trump an "idiot," an account Kelly denied Tuesday.

The book says Trump's former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, doubted the president's ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination with Trump's campaign. Dowd, who stepped down in January, resigned after the mock interview, the book says.

"Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit," Dowd is quoted telling the president.

Dowd, in a statement Tuesday, said "no so-called 'practice session' or 're-enactment'" took place and denied saying Trump was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit.

Mattis is quoted explaining to Trump why the U.S. maintains troops on the Korean Peninsula to monitor North Korea's missile activities. "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III," Mattis said, according to the book.

The book recounts that Mattis told "close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — 'a fifth- or sixth-grader.'"

Mattis said in a statement, "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence."

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Rob Manning, said Mattis was never interviewed by Woodward.

"Mr. Woodward never discussed or verified the alleged quotes included in his book with Secretary Mattis" or anyone within the Defense Department, Manning said.

Woodward reported that after Syria's Bashar Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted the Syrian leader taken out, saying: "Kill him! Let's go in." Mattis assured Trump he would get right on it but then told a senior aide they'd do nothing of the kind, Woodward wrote. National security advisers instead developed options for the airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley denied Tuesday that Trump had ever planned to assassinate Assad. She told reporters at U.N. headquarters that she had been privy to conversations about the Syrian chemical weapons attacks, "and I have not once ever heard the president talk about assassinating Assad."

She said people should take what is written in books about the president with "a grain of salt."

Woodward also claims that Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, boasted of removing papers from the president's desk to prevent Trump from signing them into law, including efforts to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and from a deal with South Korea.

Trump did not speak to Woodward until after the book's manuscript was completed. The Post released audio of Trump expressing surprise about the book in an August conversation with Woodward and dismay that he did not have an opportunity to contribute. Woodward tells Trump he had contacted multiple officials to attempt to interview Trump and was rebuffed.

"I never spoke to him," Trump told The Daily Caller. "Maybe I wasn't given messages that he called. I probably would have spoken to him if he'd called, if he'd gotten through."

The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, who spoke with Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff's book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.

Woodward's work also comes weeks after former White House aide and "Apprentice" contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly's decision.

While White House aides have become increasingly numb to fresh scandals, the latest book still increased tensions in the West Wing, especially given the intimate details shared and the number of people Woodward appeared to have interviewed. Some White House officials expressed surprise at the number of erstwhile Trump loyalists willing to offer embarrassing stories of the president and his inner circle.

White House aides on Tuesday coordinated with other officials quoted in the book to dispute troublesome passages. But insiders speculated the fallout could be worse than that from "Fire and Fury," given Woodward's storied reputation.

Woodward's book was already ranked the top-selling book on Amazon on Tuesday.

Trump has been increasingly critical of anonymous sources used by reporters covering his administration. Woodward's account relies on deep background conversations with sources, meaning their identities are not disclosed.

Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer defended Woodward's methodology. "I've been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book," he tweeted Tuesday. "There were quotes in it I didn't like. But never once - never - did I think Woodward made it up."

He added: "Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays it straight. Someone told it to him."

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Robert Burns, Ken Thomas and Eric Tucker in Washington and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.


Tiny Alaska village experiences boom in polar bear tourism

In this April 15, 2015, file photo, provided by the United States Geological Survey, a polar bear wearing a GPS video-camera collar lies on a chunk of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A tiny Alaska Native village has experienced a boom in tourism in recent years as polar bears spend more time on land than on diminishing Arctic sea ice. (Anthony Pagano/USGS via AP)

Juneau, Alaska (AP) — A tiny Alaska Native village has experienced a boom in tourism in recent years as polar bears spend more time on land than on diminishing Arctic sea ice.

More than 2,000 people visited the northern Alaska village of Kaktovik on the Beaufort Sea last year to see polar bears in the wild, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Monday.

The far north community is located on north shore of Barter Island on the Beaufort Sea coast in an area where rapid global warming has sped up the movement of sea ice, the primary habitat of polar bears. As ice has receded to deep water beyond the continental shelf, more bears are remaining on land to look for food.

The village had less than 50 visitors annually before 2011, said Jennifer Reed, of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Today we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of visitors, many from around the world each year," Reed said.

Polar bears have always been a common sight on sea ice near Kaktovik, but residents started noticing a change in the mid-1990s. More bears seemed to stay on land, and researchers began taking note of more female bears making dens in the snow on land instead of on the ice.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists began hearing reports of increasing numbers of polar bears in the area in the early 2000s, Reed said. As more attention was given to the plight of polar bears about a decade ago, more tourists stated heading to Kaktovik.

Most tourists visit in the fall, when bears are forced toward land because sea ice is the farthest away from the shore. Some bears become stranded near Kaktovik until the sea freezes again in October or November.

The fall is also when residents of Kaktovik kill three bowhead whales. Bruce Inglangasak, an Inupiaq subsistence hunter who offers wildlife viewing tours, said residents were unsure how tourists would react to whaling.

"The community was scared about, you know, activists that was going to try to get us to shut down the whaling — subsistence whaling," Inglangasak said. "But that's not true."

Inglangasak said he's been offering polar bear tours since 2003 or 2004.

Most of his clients are from China and Europe, as well as from the Lower 48 U.S. states and arrive in Katovik on charter planes from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Many tourists stay several days in the village, which has two small hotels, Inglangasak said.


Update September 05, 2018

Strong typhoon slams western Japan; 2 dead, airport flooded

A tanker is seen after it slammed into the side of a bridge connecting the airport to the mainland, damaging part of the bridge and the vessel in Osaka, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.  A powerful typhoon blew through western Japan on Tuesday, causing heavy rain to flood the region's main offshore international airport and high winds to blow a tanker into a connecting bridge, disrupting land and air travel. (Kentaro Ikushima/Mainichi Newspaper via AP)

High waves hit breakwaters at a port of Aki, Kochi prefecture, Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. Powerful Typhoon Jebi is approaching Japan's Pacific coast and forecast to bring heavy rain and high winds to much of the country. (Ichiro Banno/Kyodo News via AP)

Kansai International Airport is partly inundated following a powerful typhoon in Izumisano, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kentaro Ikushima/Mainichi Newspaper via AP)

Kansai International Airport is partly inundated following a powerful typhoon in Izumisano, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kentaro Ikushima/Mainichi Newspaper via AP)

Kansai International Airport is partly inundated following a powerful typhoon in Izumisano, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Sayaka Kamohara/Mainichi Newspaper via AP)

Overturned cars are seen on street following a powerful typhoon in Osaka, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kota Endo/Kyodo News via AP)

Overturned cars are seen on street following a powerful typhoon in Osaka, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Kota Endo/Kyodo News via AP)

By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

Tokyo (AP) — A powerful typhoon slammed into western Japan on Tuesday, causing heavy rain to flood the region's main international airport and strong winds to blow a tanker into a bridge, disrupting land and air travel and leaving thousands stranded. The storm left at least two people dead.

Jebi, reportedly the strongest typhoon to make landfall in Japan since 1993, headed north across the main island of Honshu toward the Sea of Japan. It was off the northern coast of Fukui on Tuesday evening with sustained winds of 126 kilometers per hour (78 miles per hour) and gusts up to 180 kph (110 mph), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

A man in his 70s died apparently after being blown to the ground from his apartment in Osaka prefecture, while a 71-year-old man died when a storage building collapsed on him, officials said.

NHK public television said 126 people were injured.

High seas poured into Kansai International Airport, built on artificial islands in Osaka Bay, flooding one of its two runways, cargo storage and other facilities, and forcing it to shut down, said the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. A passenger was slightly injured by shards from a window shattered by the storm.

A 2,591-ton tanker that was mooring slammed into the side of a bridge connecting the airport to the mainland, damaging the bridge and making it unusable, leaving about 3,000 passengers stranded at the airport, transport ministry official Mitsuo Nakao said.

The tanker was also damaged, but its 11 crewmembers were not injured and remained on board, according to the coast guard.

More than 700 flights were canceled, according to Japanese media tallies. High-speed bullet train service was suspended from Tokyo west to Hiroshima, though service resumed partially later Tuesday when the typhoon left the region.

The storm also cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and caused schools, shops and factories to close in Osaka, Japan's second largest city and a business center.

More than 1.6 million households remained without power in Osaka, Kyoto and four nearby prefectures late Tuesday, according to Kansai Electric Power Co.

Daihatsu Motor Co. stopped production at its Kyoto and Osaka factories, while Panasonic halted work at its air conditioning and refrigerator factory in Shiga. Major beverage maker Kirin Co. suspended production at its brewery in Kobe, according to Kyodo News agency.

Elsewhere in Osaka, the Universal Studios Japan theme park and U.S. Consulate were both closed. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled a scheduled trip to Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island, to oversee the government's response to the typhoon, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

In nearby Nishinomiya in Hyogo prefecture, about 100 cars at a seaside dealership were in flames after their electrical systems were shorted out by sea water, fire officials and news reports said.

The typhoon first made landfall on Japan's southwestern island of Shikoku and then again near Kobe on Honshu. Television footage showed sea water overflowing onto low-lying areas.

Tokyo escaped relatively unscathed, with some intermittent squalls.

Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.


Wives of convicted Myanmar reporters shocked by sentences

Than Zaw Aung, right, a lawyer of two Reuters journalists, talks to journalists during a press briefing together with Pan Ei Mon, second left, wife of Reuters journalist Wa Lone, Chit Su Win, second right, wife of Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, and Khin Maung Zaw, left, a lawyer of two Reuters journalists, at a hotel Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — The wives of two Myanmar reporters for the Reuters news agency sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for possessing state secrets say they were shocked by the court's decision.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced Monday in proceedings that were widely decried as unfair. They had reported about the army's brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to Bangladesh. The subject is sensitive in Myanmar because of worldwide condemnation of the military's human rights abuses, which it denies.

Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, said at a news conference Tuesday that she never expected such a harsh punishment "because everyone knows that they didn't do anything wrong."

Kyaw Soe Oo's wife, Chit Su, said she felt like a "crazy person."


Highway overpass collapses in Kolkata; at least 1 dead

This grab made from video provided by Indranil Mukherjee, an eyewitness shows a highway overpass that collapsed in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. There were no immediate reports of deaths, but police and firefighters were using cutting tools to clear the wreckage, and it was unclear if anyone was trapped. (Indranil Mukherjee via AP)

Kolkata, India (AP) — A highway overpass collapsed Tuesday in the crowded Indian city of Kolkata, with a concrete segment slamming to the ground and killing at least one person, officials said.

A half-dozen vehicles, including a bus, fell with the broken section of concrete, about 100 feet (30 meters) long, in Kolkata's Majerhat neighborhood.

News reports said more than 20 people were taken to area hospitals. At least one person died, according to an official at the city's Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

Officials were unsure how many people might be trapped beneath the concrete, and police and firefighters were working into the night, using cutting tools to clear the wreckage.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters that several transportation workers may have been in a small office under the overpass when the collapse occurred.

It was the second major road collapse in Kolkata in recent years. In 2016, a section of an unfinished overpass cutting through Kolkata collapsed, killing 26 people and leaving dozens injured.

An official report later blamed that accident on bad design and poor-quality materials.


Judy Garland's stolen ruby slippers from 'Wizard of Oz' are found

This April 10, 1996, file photo shows one of the four pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" on display during a media tour of the "America's Smithsonian" traveling exhibition in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

Minneapolis (AP) — Federal authorities say they have recovered a pair of sequined ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" that were stolen from a museum in her northern Minnesota hometown 13 years ago.

The slippers were taken from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids in August 2005 by someone who climbed through a window and broke into the small display case. The shoes were insured for $1 million. Law enforcement offered an initial $250,000 reward, and a fan in Arizona offered another $1 million in 2015.

The FBI planned to announce details of how the shoes were found at a news conference Tuesday. The North Dakota U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers and Grand Rapids Police Chief Scott Johnson were due to attend.

The slippers had been on loan to the museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw. Three other pairs that Garland wore in the movie are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Smithsonian and a private collector.

The ruby slippers are key in the 1939 movie. After mysteriously landing in the colorful Land of Oz after a tornado hit her farm in Kansas, Garland's character, Dorothy, has to click the heels of her slippers three times and repeat "there's no place like home" to return.

The shoes are made from about a dozen different materials, including wood pulp, silk thread, gelatin, plastic and glass. Most of the ruby color comes from sequins, but the bows of the shoes contain red glass beads.

The genre-busting Wizard of Oz — presented in black and white, and color — was a box office smash and won multiple Academy Awards, including the Oscars for best picture and best cinematography.

Garland, who was born Frances Gumm, lived in Grand Rapids, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, until she was 4, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died of a barbiturate overdose in 1969. The Judy Garland Museum, which opened in 1975 in the house where she lived, says it has the world's largest collection of Garland and Wizard of Oz memorabilia.


Anti-migrant mood boosts far-right party in Swedish election

In this Aug. 30, 2018 photo Marian Omar, left, and Anab Adan, both from Somalia, pose in front of the town hall in Flen, some 100 km west of Stockholm, Sweden. The town has welcomed so many asylum seekers in recent years that they now make up about a fourth of the population. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

By Vanessa Gera and David Keyton, Associated Press

Flen, Sweden (AP) — For Monica and Bengt Borg, a retired Swedish couple, Flen doesn't feel like Sweden anymore. As they sit on a bench on the town's main street, an Iraqi man nearby watches a Kurdish television program on his phone. Arabic pop music pulses from a girl's phone. A constant flow of Somalis, Ethiopians and Syrians pass by, the women in headscarves.

"We don't recognize our country as it is today," said Bengt Borg, 66. His wife, 64, says she no longer feels safe walking alone at night due to reports of rapes by immigrants. Both plan to join a growing number of Swedes voting for a nationalist and anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, in Sunday's general election.

The vote will be the first since the nation of 10 million accepted 163,000 migrants in 2015 — the largest number relative to the total population of any European state during the massive migrant influx into Europe that year. In the town of Flen, with just 6,000 residents, asylum-seekers now make up about a fourth of the population.

On a broader scale, Sunday's balloting is also set to be the latest test for populist far-right forces as much of Europe shifts to the right amid a backlash to immigration. Far-right parties have made gains in several countries that shouldered a large share of the migrant burden, including Germany, Italy and Austria.

The Sweden Democrats have their roots in a neo-Nazi movement. Despite working for years to soften their image, many are not convinced, fearing the party's rise could erode the country's longstanding democratic and liberal traditions and identity as a "humanitarian superpower."

Others, however, worry that the egalitarian ethos of Sweden — the first country to make gender equality a foreign policy priority — is threatened by the large number of Muslim newcomers.

Support for the once-fringe party has swollen to around 20 percent — up from the 13 percent it won in 2014. Part of that success reflects disillusionment with the governing coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green Party, which has run the country for the past four years. The coalition's earlier open-door policies toward migrants are now widely denounced.

While 20 percent would not be enough for the Sweden Democrats to lead a government, a strong show of support will give the party greater power to pressure the next government and could deprive the Social Democrats or the center-right Moderates, the country's other major party, of a clear mandate.

The narrative of Sweden as a failing experiment of multiculturalism is backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who caused a stir in early 2017 when he suggested an extremist attack had happened overnight in Sweden. The night, in fact, had been quiet; Trump had seen a Fox News report about crime by immigrants in Sweden. But he insisted his overall picture of the country was still correct: as one where large migration has brought crime and insecurity.

David Crouch, a British journalist and author of "Bumblebee Nation: The Hidden Story of the Swedish Model," said Sweden's unique high-wage, high-welfare social model and emphasis on progressive policies had long given the country a wonderful reputation as "a country which does things differently and gets things right." That has changed dramatically in the past two years.

"Particularly with Donald Trump in power, a different, much darker, narrative has emerged of Sweden on the brink of some sort of social catastrophe, with talk about violence, shooting, rape, and so on," he said.

Crouch believes that view is "not representative of the country as a whole." Sweden's economy is booming and creating jobs, meaning there is potential to bring newcomers into the labor market, he argued. He added that much of the message about a Sweden on the verge of apocalypse is a product of media with a racist agenda.

"If you are a racist and you hate immigrants, you don't want immigrants coming to your country. So you take a country which has got a lot of immigrants and you say: that country is going down the toilet, this country is failing," he said. Some with that agenda have reported "downright lies, things that didn't happen."

Voices supporting the Sweden Democrats have been amplified on social media. The Swedish defense research agency said last week that automated Twitter accounts, or bots, were 40 percent more likely to support the Sweden Democrats than genuine accounts. Swedish officials had earlier warned of Russian interference in the elections, saying Russia is seeking to create divisions by stressing the problems of immigration and crime.

A police officer in a southern Stockholm suburb who supports the Sweden Democrats acknowledged that it is an exaggeration to portray Sweden as so overrun by crime that there are "no-go zones" where police dare not enter, a common refrain by the European far-right.

Still, he sees real problems in migrant neighborhoods and blames mainstream political parties for a climate of political correctness that long prevented Swedes from openly debating them.

"If five years ago you had said that we should consider how many migrants we take in, you would have been considered a racist," the officer told The Associated Press. He refused to be identified because people "can lose friends and jobs" for supporting the party.

The Sweden Democrats have benefited by distancing themselves from their origins as a white supremacist movement. Years ago they changed their symbol, a flaming torch in the blue and yellow national colors, to a pretty blue-yellow flower.

Party leader Jimmie Akesson has also cracked down on open expressions of xenophobia, though some question how deep the changes are. Last week the Expressen newspaper reported that nine people left the party for voicing pro-Nazi sentiments. One had reportedly posted a manipulated image of Anne Frank in a sweatshirt saying "Coolest Jew in the Shower Room."

Many Swedes don't agree with the backlash against migrants. Some volunteer to teach Swedish to the newcomers, and some politicians even argue that as the national population ages and shrinks, the country needs even more to maintain what is one of the most generous welfare states in the world.

That's the position of Hakan Bergsten, head of the local government in Flen, where an ice-cream producer and a Volvo maintenance plant provide some of the only industrial jobs in a rural area 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Stockholm.

For Bergsten, the election can be summed up by a choice between parties "only focusing on the problems today, while others are trying to explain why we need to take this step" of welcoming migrants for the future.

Crouch, the author, said the nature of debate surrounding immigration in Sweden has changed so radically in the past years that "it's hard to imagine how the issue of immigration was almost taboo."

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report. 


Update September 04, 2018

Myanmar court sentences Reuters reporters to 7 years in jail

In this combination image made from two photos, Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo, left, and Wa Lone, are handcuffed as they are escorted by police out of the court Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

By Victoria Milko and Aung Naing Soe, Associated Press

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison Monday on charges of illegal possession of official documents, a ruling met with international condemnation that will add to outrage over the military's human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya when they were arrested and charged with violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They had pleaded not guilty, contending that they were framed by police.

"Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere," Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement. He said the charges were "designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press."

The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took power in 2016. Though the military, which ruled the country for a half-century, maintains control of several key ministries, Suu Kyi's rise to government had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy and her stance on the Rohingya crisis has disappointed many former admirers.

As the verdict was announced in the hot Yangon courtroom, Kyaw Soe Oo's wife started crying, leaning into the lap of the person next to her. Outside the court, police and journalists shouted as the two Reuters reporters were led to a truck to be taken away.

"This is unfair," Wa Lone told the crowd. "I want to say they are obviously threatening our democracy and destroying freedom of the press in our country."

Kevin Krolicki, Reuters regional editor for Asia, said outside the court that it was "heartbreaking for friends and colleagues and family of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who in addition to the outrage many will feel, are deprived of their friends and colleagues, husband and father."

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, both testified they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations after their arrests last December. Their several appeals for release on bail were rejected. Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple's first child in Yangon on Aug. 10, but Wa Lone has not yet seen his daughter.

The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.

Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.

The accusation of genocide was rejected by Myanmar's government, but is the most serious official recommendation for prosecution so far. Also last week, Facebook banned Myanmar's powerful military chief and 19 other individuals and organizations from its site to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation in connection with the Rohingya crisis.

"Today's verdict cannot conceal the truth of what happened in Rakhine state," Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's director of crisis response, said in a statement Monday. "It's thanks to the bravery of journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, that the military's atrocities have been exposed. Instead of targeting these two journalists, the Myanmar authorities should have been going after those responsible for killings, rape, torture and the torching of hundreds of Rohingya villages."

The new U.N. human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, called the trial a "travesty of justice" and said she would urge the Myanmar government to release the journalists immediately.

Dozens of journalists and pro-democracy activists marched Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, in support of the reporters. But in the country at large, with an overwhelming Buddhist majority, there is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya, and in the government and military, there is near-xenophobic sensitivity to foreign criticism.

Myanmar's courts are one of the country's most conservative and nationalistic institutions, and the darkened political atmosphere had seemed unlikely to help the reporters' cause.

The court earlier this year declined to stop the trial after an initial phase of presentation of evidence, even though a policeman called as a prosecution witness testified that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the journalists. After his testimony, the officer was jailed for a year for violating police regulations and his family was kicked out of police housing.

Other testimony by prosecution witnesses was contradictory, and the documents presented as evidence against the reporters appeared to be neither secret nor sensitive. The journalists testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.


Recriminations fly after fire roars through Brazilian museum

A man watches as flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. According to its website, the museum has thousands of items related to the history of Brazil and other countries. The museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

By Peter Prengaman and SARAH DiLorenzo, Associated Press

Rio De Janeiro (AP) — Smoke rose Monday from the burned-out hulk of Brazil's National Museum, as recriminations flew over who was responsible for a huge fire that destroyed of at least part of Latin America's largest archive of historical artifacts and documents.

A few hundred protesters gathered outside the museum gates tried several times to push into the site. They demanded to see the damage and called on the government to rebuild. Police pushed the crowd back with pepper spray, tear gas and batons.

The museum's director said part of the collection was destroyed, but that it was not possible yet to detail the losses. The collection of 20 million items included Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts and the oldest human skull found in the Western hemisphere. The building was once the home of the Portuguese royal family.

It was not clear how the fire began Sunday evening, when the museum was closed. But the flames quickly fueled criticism over Brazil's dilapidated infrastructure and budget deficits as the nation prepares for national elections in October.

"Just crying doesn't solve anything," Alexander Kellner, the museum's director, told reporters at the scene. He became emotional as he described plans to salvage what was left of the collection and rebuild. "We have to act."

Kellner said the institution had recently secured approval for money for a planned renovation, including an upgrade of the fire-prevention system.

"Look at the irony. The money is now there, but we ran out of time," he said.

Fire department spokesman Roberto Robadey said firefighters got off to a slow start because the two fire hydrants closest to the museum did not work. Instead, trucks had to gather water from a nearby lake.

Kellner said there were fire extinguishers on the site, but it was not clear if there were sprinklers, which are problematic for museums because water can damage objects.

The building was still standing Monday morning, but much of it appeared to have been gutted. A few hundred people crowded at the gates, some in tears.

On the massive site where the museum sits, the fencing was dilapidated, stonework was cracked and lawns appeared untended.

"This fire is what Brazilian politicians are doing to the people," said Rosana Hollanda, a 35-year-old high school teacher, who was crying Monday at the gates. "They're burning our history, and they're burning our dreams."

Roberto Leher, the rector of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, of which the museum is a part, told reporters that the building needed an upgrade to its electrical and water systems and a new fire-prevention plan.

"We all knew the building was in a vulnerable state," he told reporters. Officials had been working with firefighters to reduce those risks, he added.

"A fire of this scale, the reality unfortunately showed this, we needed a systematic intervention," he said.

Asked by a reporter why such disasters don't happen at cultural institutions in other countries, Kellner, the museum director, replied: "Ask yourself that. That's a good question."

Latin America's largest nation has struggled to emerge from its worst recession in decades. The state of Rio de Janeiro has been particularly hard hit in recent years thanks to a combination of falling prices for oil, one of its major revenue sources, mismanagement and massive corruption.

DiLorenzo reported from Sao Paulo. Associated Press video journalist Yesica Fisch contributed to this report from Rio. AP reporter Mauricio Savarese contributed from Recife, Brazil.


Ukrainian city remembers Jews on Holocaust anniversary

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy, right, presents a glass copy of an old metal synagogue key to Yanina Hescheles, Polish writer and a Nazi concentration camp survivor, at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city's Jewish population by Nazi Germany in Lviv, Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018.

By Vanessa Gera, Randy Herschaft and Yevheniy Kravs, Associated Press

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian city of Lviv, once a major center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, commemorated on Sunday the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city's Jewish population by Nazi Germany and honored those working today to preserve what they can of that vanished world.

City authorities presented the honored recipients with 75 glass keys — replicas of a metal key that once belonged to a Jewish synagogue and which an American artist found at a street market in Lviv. The anniversary events, which included a prayer concert at the ruins of former synagogues, come amid other attempts to revive suppressed memories of the Jews who once were an integral part of the region.

"God forbid our city once suffered such a misfortune," Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said at the ceremony. "Today we cannot even imagine for a moment the pain, humiliation and grief that thousands of Lviv's people suffered in the last century."

Iryna Matsevko, deputy director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe and an organizer of the anniversary events in Lviv, said it was the first time the western Ukrainian city has acknowledged the historical preservation efforts in such an extensive way.

Matsevko said consciousness is growing in Ukrainian society of the need to remember the Jews who were annihilated by Nazi forces, in some cases with the participation of local people.

Initiatives have included introducing Jewish history courses at universities, new research by young Ukrainian scholars and grassroots efforts by volunteers, such as the recovering Jewish gravestones that were used to pave roads and returning them to cemeteries.

"This is part of the process of reviving the memory of the Jewish heritage. Of course, this process is slow. I want it to be quicker, but for the last 10 years we have seen how the Jewish heritage is returning to people's consciousness and a lot of activities are taking place," Matsevko said. "It is very important that people are being acknowledged for their work in Jewish heritage."

Before World War II, Lviv and the surrounding area belonged to Poland. Then called Lwow, it was the third largest Jewish community in prewar Poland after Warsaw and Lodz, with most working as merchants, manufacturers or artisans. Before World War I, Lviv and the surrounding area were part of the eastern Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the city was called by its German name, Lemberg.

In June 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, its former ally. When the German forces entered the city, they and their Ukrainian collaborators massacred Jews in the city and countryside. While occupying the area, Germans murdered Jews in the ghetto, the Belzec death camp and a forced labor camp, Janowska, with the final annihilation completed by June 1943.

Of a population of about 150,000 Jews, only an estimated 1 percent survived.

In the postwar years, with Ukraine part of the Soviet Union, the memories of the murdered Jews began to vanish. Historian Omer Bartov has called the area a "land of memory and oblivion, coexistence and erasure, high hopes and dashed illusions."

The remembrance work is taking place as Ukraine finds itself mired in crisis and conflict following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and a continuing Russia-backed insurgency in the east. Nationalism has been on the rise, and some Ukrainians laud the Nazi-affiliated irregulars who fought against the Soviet Army in World War II.

To what extent this has led to greater anti-Semitism is a matter of dispute. Some of the people trying to sustain the history of Jewish life in western Ukraine think the amount of anti-Semitism is exaggerated as part of a Russian propaganda effort.

Among those honored was Marla Raucher Osborn, an American who heads Rohatyn Jewish Heritage . The group's projects include restoring a Jewish cemetery in nearby Rohatyn.

Osborn said she was honored to be acknowledged along with local activists "working quietly in local communities, recovering Jewish memory with little or no knowledge of their projects outside of those communities, especially among the distant Jewish diaspora."

The glass keys were the work of New Mexico-based artist Rachel Stevens, who found the rusted synagogue key on which they were based in February while seeking remnants of Jewish culture in eastern Galicia as part of a research project.

Stevens used glass for the replicas because in Jewish tradition the material "represents the fragility of life." Creating them "became a tangible way for me to express my grief about the past and my hope for the future," she said.

"The idea for this artwork seems almost mystically delivered to me," Stevens said.

Vanessa Gera reported from Warsaw, and Randy Herschaft from New York.


Maker of James Bond's favorite sports car eyes stock market

In this Tuesday, June 19, 2018 file photo, a staff member from the Bonhams motor car department poses for photographers with the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 driven by actor Pierce Brosnan in his role as James Bond in the 1995 movie GoldenEye during a photocall at premises of Bonhams auction house in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

London (AP) — Aston Martin, the maker of James Bond's favorite sports car, said Wednesday it may sell shares for the first time as it seeks to attract more wealthy buyers with an expanded product range including sedans, sports utility vehicles and even submarines.

The company said it will sell at least 25 percent of Aston Martin's shares if it decides to go forward with an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange. Details of the IPO would be published around Sept. 20.

The announcement came as Aston Martin said first-half pre-tax profits rose to 20.8 million pounds ($26.8 million) from 20.3 million pounds during the same period last year.

Chief Executive Andy Palmer said the potential IPO "represents a key milestone in the history of the company."

Laith Khalaf, an analyst with Hargreaves Lansdown, said the expected value of the company could put it near the top end of the FTSE 250 index of mid-sized U.K. companies.

Noting that when Ferrari floated in 2015 it took the stock ticker RACE, Khalaf quipped that Aston Martin should go for "007."

"There are few people who wouldn't want an Aston Martin on their drive, and even fewer who can afford one," he wrote to investors.

"However this stock market float allows investors to buy into a little of the glamour of Aston Martin, without getting a second mortgage."

But he added that potential investors should "concentrate on the company's financial prospects and not to get carried away by the brand."


Russian state TV channel airs new program devoted to Putin

In this Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 file photo released by Kremlin press service on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin rests during a mini-break in the Siberian Tyva region, Russia. (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Moscow (AP) — A Russian state-owned television channel has a new weekly current affairs program devoted to President Vladimir Putin.

The first episode of "Moscow. Kremlin. Putin." aired on Sunday night, stressing the Russian president's work to address various crises and stay in touch with ordinary Russians.

The Kremlin has consolidated its control over television stations since Putin came into office in 2000, and Putin's activities traditionally receive wide coverage on news programs on state television. Still, a weekly show devoted to news events as seen through the work of Putin is something new for Russia.

The hour-long program on Rossiya 1 featured interviews with Putin's spokesman and the Kremlin pool reporter who covered the president's activities last week, as well as a segment about Putin's break in the mountains last month.

Quizzed by the show's host about Putin's recent meeting with gifted children and his supposed love for the youth, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Putin loves not only children, he loves people in general. He's a very humane person."

The Russian leader's approval ratings sharply declined in July after the government proposed raising the ages for pension eligibility the previous month.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon Peskov insisted that the Kremlin did not commission the TV show, and that it was the channel's own idea. He added that the program was done in a balanced manner.


Update September 03, 2018

McCain buried at Naval Academy alongside a longtime friend

In this photo provided by the family of John McCain, Cindy McCain lays her head on the casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during a burial service at the cemetery at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. (David Hume Kennerly/McCain Family via AP)

In this image proved by the family of John McCain, the family follows as the casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is moved from the Chapel on the grounds of the United States Navel Academy after a service Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. The casket was carried by horse-drawn caisson to the cemetery at the Naval Academy where McCain was buried. (David Hume Kennerly/McCain Family via AP)

 Family members, including Cindy McCain, back center, follow a horse-drawn caisson that carries the casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as it proceeds to the United States Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Md., Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, for burial. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In this image provided by the family of John McCain, Jimmy McCain hugs his brother Jack McCain, touching casket, as Cindy McCain, watches during a burial service for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at the cemetery at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018 (David Hume Kennerly/McCain Family via AP)

By Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Annapolis, Md. (AP) — Sen. John McCain's final journey ended Sunday on a grassy hill at the U.S. Naval Academy within view of the Severn River and earshot of midshipmen present and future, and alongside a lifelong friend.

A horse-drawn caisson carrying the senator's casket led a procession of mourners from the academy's chapel to its cemetery following a private service. The senator's widow, Cindy, and his children were among those who walked behind the caisson. Joining them were family and friends as well as members of McCain's Class of 1958 and military leaders.

The U.S. Navy band played marches along the way and several hundred Naval Academy midshipmen lined the path. A flyover of military aircraft in "missing man" formation honored the Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam and held more than five years as a prisoner of war.

After the American flag was removed from the casket, a grieving Cindy McCain pressed her check to its surface and McCain sons Jimmy and Jack shared a hug. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis presented flags to Cindy McCain and Roberta McCain, the senator's 106-year-old mother.

The burial was private as per the wishes of McCain, the Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential nominee died Aug. 25 from brain cancer at age 81.

Those offering tributes or readings during the funeral service included Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; McCain sons Jack and Douglas; retired Gen. David Petraeus, former CIA director; and Mark Salter, McCain's longtime co-author.

Petraeus said McCain was a man of "great courage, unshakable determination, and unwavering devotion to our country and those who defend it," according to remarks released by the family.

Jack McCain said of his father, "He fought hard, obstinately, exuberantly because he liked to fight, but more importantly, because he believed in what he was fighting for." He later added, "My father fought and suffered, endured defeats, rose from the ground and fought again to keep faith with his heroes, to safeguard the country he loved and her causes, to be a better man, and to make a better world."

Earlier, as the hearse carrying McCain passed through a gate and into the academy, there was loud applause from the several hundred people lining the street outside on the hot and muggy summer day. Many held their hands over their hearts and waved American flags. Some shouted, "God bless you."

People in the crowd held signs that read "Senator John McCain Thanks For Serving! Godspeed" and "Rest In Peace Maverick."

For his final resting place, McCain picked the historic site overlooking the Severn River, not Arlington National Cemetery, where his father and grandfather, both admirals, were buried.

Years ago Chuck Larson, an admiral himself and an ally throughout McCain's life, reserved four plots at the cemetery — two for McCain and himself, and two for their wives, now widows. Larson died in 2014, and McCain wrote in a recent memoir that he wanted to be buried next to his friend, "near where it began."

Among the pallbearers on a list provided by McCain's office were Frank Gamboa, his academy roommate; Mattis; and two men who were POWs with McCain in Vietnam, John Fer and Everett Alvarez Jr.

Tributes to McCain began Wednesday in Arizona and continued for the remainder of the week. On Saturday, speeches by his daughter Meghan and two former presidents — Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama — remembered McCain as a patriot who could bridge painful rivalries. While their remarks made clear their admiration for him, they also represented a repudiation of President Donald Trump's brand of tough-talking, divisive politics. Trump and McCain were at odds during the 2016 campaign and for much of Trump's presidency.


McCain ends 81-year journey with burial at Naval Academy

The casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried out of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, after a memorial service, as Cindy McCain is escorted by her son Jimmy McCain and other family members. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By Laurie Kellman, Associated Press

Washington (AP) — John McCain is being laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy after a five-day procession that served as a final call to arms for a nation he warned could lose its civility and sense of shared purpose.

The private ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, was as carefully planned as the rest of McCain's farewell tour, which began in Arizona after he died Aug. 25 from brain cancer and stretched to Washington.

On Saturday, speeches by his daughter Meghan and two former presidents — Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama — remembered McCain as a patriot who could bridge painful rivalries. But even as their remarks made clear their admiration for him, they represented a repudiation of President Donald Trump's brand of tough-talking, divisive politics.

"So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage," Obama said. "It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that."

McCain was gone, said Bush, who called his 2000 rival for the GOP presidential nomination a friend.

"John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder — we are better than this, America is better than this," Bush said.

But it was Meghan McCain's emotional remarks that most bluntly rebuked Trump, who had mocked her father for getting captured in Vietnam. At the pulpit of the spectacular cathedral, with Trump's daughter Ivanka in the audience, McCain's daughter delivered a broadside against the uninvited president.

"The America of John McCain," she declared with a steely stare, "has no need to be made great again because America was always great."

The audience of Washington's military, civilian and other leaders burst into applause.

With that, McCain's family, including his 106-year-old mother, Roberta, is escorting his remains to Annapolis on Sunday.

McCain's choice of burial location was as deliberate as the other details of his procession. He picked the historic site overlooking the Severn River over the grandeur of Arlington National Cemetery, where his father and grandfather, both admirals, are buried. Larson, McCain's beloved friend from their Class of 1958, had reserved four plots at the storied cemetery — two for McCain and himself, and two for their wives, now widows. Larson died in 2014, and McCain wrote in his recent memoir that he wanted to be buried next to his friend, "near where it began."

Trump was to remain in Washington. He spent Saturday tweeting and golfing in Virginia.


Paul McCartney talks of psychedelic experience in interview

 

In this Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 file photo, singer/songwriter Paul McCartney performs on stage at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP, File)

London (AP) — Former Beatle Paul McCartney has told a British newspaper he believes he once saw God during a psychedelic trip.

The 76-year-old star told The Sunday Times he was "humbled" by the experience.

He said that "it was huge. A massive wall that I couldn't see the top of, and I was at the bottom. And anybody else would say it's just the drug, the hallucination, but we felt we had seen a higher thing."

The Beatles' music was heavily influenced by psychedelic drugs in the band's final years.

McCartney also spoke of allowing himself to believe that his lost loved ones, including his late wife Linda, are "looking down" on him.

The singer is promoting a new album and a tour. He remains one of music's most popular concert acts.


Balloon poking fun at Mayor Sadiq Khan flies over London

People watch as an inflatable caricature balloon of Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan is released over Parliament Square in London, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Nishat Ahmed)

London (AP) — Protesters seeking to oust London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday launched a giant balloon over Parliament Square depicting him dressed in a yellow bikini.

A small group of supporters watched the inflatable take to the skies, and the crowd cheered and shouted, "higher, higher, higher" as the balloon was launched.

Protesters believe Khan has failed to curtail street crime in London, and some wore T-shirts reading "Make London safe again."

Organizers had raised more than 58,000 pounds ($75,000) to create the blimp in a protest against Khan's policies.

It was meant as a rebuke to Khan, who backed protesters' right to launch a giant balloon depicting U.S. President Donald Trump as an angry baby during his July visit to Britain.

Organizer Yanny Bruere said Saturday's protest was set up "in retaliation" for the Trump blimp.

"I think a certain amount of respect should be afforded to the leader of the free world and the greatest ally the U.K. has," he said.

Khan, London's first Muslim mayor, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump for his handling of security and crime in the British capital.

The bikini is a reference to an advertisement Khan banned from the city's transport network that showed a young woman in a skimpy yellow bikini asking, "Are you beach body ready?"

He said the weight loss ad was demeaning, but opponents argued banning it was an attack on free speech.

Protester Steve Charlston said Khan was a "complete hypocrite," saying he deemed the beach body ad offensive enough to ban it but felt it was "fine and dandy" to allow the anti-Trump blimp to fly over London while the president was visiting.


Pope decries "emergency" of plastics blighting world's seas

In this May 24, 2014 file photo, Pope Francis prays in front of the river Jordan in Bethany, the site of Christ's baptism, west of Amman, Jordan, Saturday, May 24, 2014. Francis made the appeal in a message Saturday Sept. 1, 2018 to galvanize Christians and others to work to save what he hails as the “marvelous,” God-given, gift of the “great waters and all they contain.” (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, Pool, FILE)

By Frances D'Emilio, Associated Press

Vatican City (AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday called for concrete action to combat the "emergency" of plastics littering seas and oceans, lamenting the lack of effective regulation to protect the world's waters.

Building on his papacy's concern for the environment, Francis issued a message aimed at galvanizing Christians and others to commit to saving what he hails as the "impressive and marvelous," God-given gift of the "great waters and all they contain."

"Sadly, all too often many efforts fail due to the lack of effective regulation and means of control, particularly with regard to the protection of marine areas beyond national confines," the pope wrote.

"We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic," Francis said. "Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency."

Francis recommended a two-pronged approach, saying: "We need to pray as if everything depended on God's providence and work as if everything depended on us."

He also denounced as "unacceptable" the privatization of water resources at the expense of the "human right to have access to this good."

With countries from Italy to Australia promoting policies to thwart migrants from arriving by sea, Francis prayed that "waters may not be a sign of separation of peoples, but of encounter for the human community."

"Let us pray that those who risk their lives at sea in search of a better future may be kept safe," Francis added.

Malta and Italy have recently cracked down on charity-run boats which aim to rescue migrants from smugglers' unseaworthy boats. Other European Union nations, such as Hungary and Poland, have refused to share the burden of caring for some of the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers who reached the continent's southern shores in recent years.

Francis didn't single out any countries. Instead, he directed part of his message to all politicians having to tackle migration and climate change, appealing for them to apply "generous and farsighted


France's Macron calls for world trade discussion in Paris

Paris (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has called for trade discussions to be held between the U.S., Europe, China and Japan in November in Paris.

In a speech to French ambassadors Monday, Macron said world trade rules aren't currently working but "unilateralism and trade war is the worst response."

He proposed to organize a meeting on the issue on the margins of World War One commemorations on Nov. 11 in Paris, since he has invited dozens of world leaders to the event including U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he would come.

"I think we can build a fairer and more efficient system. I think we should not give in to one's hegemony and everyone's division", Macron said in a reference to Trump's trade policies to impose tariffs on countries like China.


Foreign minister to Germans: get off the couch, fight racism

FILE - In this May 30, 2018 file photo German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin. Germany’s foreign minister tells his fellow countrymen they’re too lazy when it comes to battling racism and fighting for democracy. Heiko Maas, 51, said Sunday, “We have to get up from the couch and open the mouth.” (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

By Adam Pemble and Kirsten Grieshaber, Associated Press

Chemnitz, Germany (AP) — Germany's foreign minister told his fellow countrymen Sunday they're too lazy when it comes to battling racism and fighting for democracy.

"We have to get off the couch and open the mouth," Heiko Maas said in an interview with weekly Bild am Sonntag. "Our generation was given freedom, rule of law and democracy as a present. We didn't have to fight for it; (now) we're taking it too much for granted."

Maas' comments followed Saturday's demonstrations by about 4,500 far-right protesters in Chemnitz, who were rallying against migration a week after a German was killed in the eastern city, allegedly by two migrants from Iraq and Syria. Around 4,000 leftist protesters also marched through the city in a counter-protest, and 1,800 police officers were deployed to keep the groups apart.

Eighteen people, including three police officers, were injured during the rallies, which at times were very tense, especially after police ended a march of the far right groups early.

After the rallies were over, small groups clashed with each other, police reported.

Soeren Bartol, a lawmaker with the Social Democrats, tweeted that after the end of the protests he and his group "were attacked by Nazis" who destroyed their party flags and physically attacked some of them.

Far-right activists and leftist groups had already clashed in Chemnitz on Monday, a day after the 35-year-old German man's death. Scenes of vigilantes chasing foreigners in the city's streets have shocked people in others parts of Germany since then.

The tension that has built up over the past week in Chemnitz, reflects the growing polarization over Germany's ongoing effort to come to terms with an influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants seeking jobs since 2015.

The far right has constantly criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Monday, thousands of people are expected to travel to Chemnitz again, this time, however, to visit a free open air concert that has been quickly organized by some of the country's most popular bands, including the rock group Tote Hosen, as a stand against far-right nationalism and anti-migrant prejudice.

Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin.


Update September 01, 2018

McCain salute: One of nation's 'bravest souls' in war, peace

Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leans over his flag-draped casket in the U.S. Capitol rotunda during a farewell ceremony, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Actors Warren Beatty, right, and his wife Annette Bening, pay their respects at the flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who lived and worked in Congress over four decades, in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, talks with Vice President Mike Pence, left, after he speaks at a ceremony for John McCain as he lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, Friday, August 31, 2018 in Washington. Seated third from left is Cindy McCain and Vice President Mike Pence to her right. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool photo via AP)

Members of the public walk past the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of John McCain of Arizona, who lived and worked in Congress over four decades, in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Derek Anderson of Arlington, Va., center, pays his respects, with other members of the public, at the flag-draped casket of John McCain of Arizona, who lived and worked in Congress over four decades, in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Laurie Kellman and Matthew Daly, Associated Press

Washington (AP) — Congressional leaders saluted John McCain Friday as a model of service in war and peace and "one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced," in a memorial ceremony at the heart of the political battlefield where he fought for more than three decades.

Then thousands of fellow Americans, who had lined up outside the U.S. Capitol in stifling heat, began filing past in the majestic rotunda to say goodbye as he lay in state.

McCain, the Arizona senator who died Saturday at 81, was remembered as a man who inspired other leaders even as he vexed them with a rebellious streak and impish humor. Absent from the event was Donald Trump, invited to stay away by the family of the senator, who had deep disagreements with the president.

McCain's service in Vietnam, and his refusal to be released early as a prisoner of war, made the setting of Friday's service all the more fitting, some said.

"Half a world away, wearing our nation's uniform, John McCain stood up for every value that this Capitol Building represents," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the crowd of McCain's family, friends and aides. "Then, he brought that same patriotism inside its walls -- to advocate for our service members, our veterans and our moral leadership in the world. So it is only right that today, near the end of his long journey, John lies here."

Friday's ceremony and public viewing was the midpoint of McCain's five-day cross-country funeral procession from Arizona, where he and wife Cindy raised their family, through the Capitol where he worked for more than 35 years, to the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland — "back where it began," as he wrote in his recent memoir, "The Restless Wave." On Saturday, the procession will pause by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the way to a formal funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.

In Trump's absence, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and other officials represented the administration. Pence at one point said that Trump, who mocked McCain for being captured, "respected his service to the country."

The stop at the Capitol was designed to spotlight McCain's outsized role in an institution bursting with big, willful personalities. Just to the north of the rotunda in the semi-darkened Senate, McCain's desk remained draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses.

After the ceremony, Cindy McCain quietly sat behind her husband's desk, escorted by his seatmate and close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham plucked two of the roses from the vase and gave them to her during that private moment, said two people close to McCain and his family.

Of those who spoke at Friday's ceremony, fellow Republican McConnell had perhaps the fullest sense of the McCain experience. The two had served in the Senate together since McCain's 1986 election.

"Depending on the issue, you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent," McConnell recalled. "At any moment, he might be preparing an eloquent reflection on human liberty — or a devastating joke, served up with his signature cackle and that John McCain glint in his eye."

But just about anyone who worked in the Capitol over the past 35 years could attest to McCain's iron will and what House Speaker Paul Ryan called his "distinct brand of candor."

"With John, it was never feigned disagreement. The man didn't feign anything," Ryan said. "He just relished the fight."

"This," Ryan added of McCain, "is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced."

Pence, himself a former House member, recalled traveling through Iraq with McCain and falling asleep during a dinner with officials. McCain, nearly 23 years older, told him, "'Mike, we've got a few more meetings tonight. But why don't you turn in. You look like you could use some rest,." Members of McCain's family, seated nearby, smiled.

Cindy McCain was the first to pay respects at her husband's casket. She bowed over it and appeared to pray. The last of the family to file past was his mother, 106-year-old Roberta McCain. Wheeled up to her son's flag-draped casket, she crossed herself and was wheeled out.

Others from McCain's long career paused. Some wept. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reached out with both hands to touch the flag. Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and actors Warren Beatty and Annette Bening also stopped.

Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee that McCain chaired, crossed himself in front of the casket. Then he waited for retired Sens. Carl Levin, a Democrat, and John Warner, a Republican, both of whom chaired the powerful committee at one time. The three left the rotunda arm-in-arm.

As the service ended, thousands of people were guided into snaking lines along First Street on the border of the Capitol complex to pay respects to McCain.

Among them were more than 100 family members of Vietnamese political prisoners who traveled to Washington to honor McCain for his advocacy for Vietnamese refugees..

Khuc Minh Tho, president of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association, said that with McCain's help, almost 800,000 prisoners and their families who were in Vietnam are now in the U.S.

"We respect him and want to wish that he rests in peace," she said.

Sibyl Kalish, 59, traveled with her 89-year-old mother, Beverly, from New York and waited in the blistering heat to file past McCain's coffin. They are from a liberal, military family, Kalish said.

"I respect him for what he gave for this country. He tried his best. I'd like to see more people like him," Beverly Kalish said.

Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.


President and stars join in epic farewell to Queen of Soul

 

A person holds a program during the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary Clinton, left, applaud during the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By Jeff Karoub, Associated Press

Detroit (AP) — Former presidents and preachers joined a parade of singers Friday in a hip-swaying, piano-pounding farewell to Aretha Franklin, remembering the Queen of Soul as a powerful force for musical and political change and a steadfast friend and family member.

"Aretha's singing challenged the dangling discords of hate and lies and racism and injustice," the pastor William J. Barber II said. "Her singing was revelation and was revolution."

In a send-off both grand and personal, a celebrity lineup of mourners filled the same Detroit church that hosted Rosa Parks' funeral and offered prayers, songs and dozens of tributes. Guests included former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

Robinson, the Motown great, remembered first hearing Franklin play piano when he was just 8, and he remained close to her for the rest of her life. They talked for hours at a time.

"You're so special," he said, before crooning a few lines from his song "Really Gonna Miss You," with the line "really gonna be different without you."

The epic funeral unfolded on the same day as services for Arizona Sen. John McCain in the nation's capital, creating a challenge for some news networks trying to show both ceremonies. The McCain memorial, with its reverential silence and ramrod-straight honor guard, contrasted sharply with the joyous remembrance in Detroit.

Bill Clinton described himself as an Aretha Franklin "groupie," saying he had loved her since college. He traced her life's journey and praised her as someone who "lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears."

He remembered attending her last public performance, at Elton John's AIDS Foundation benefit in November in New York. She looked "desperately ill" but managed to greet him by standing and saying, "How you doing, baby?"

Her career, Clinton noted, spanned from vinyl records to cellphones. He held the microphone near his iPhone and played a snippet of Franklin's classic "Think," the audience clapping along.

"It's the key to freedom!" Clinton said.

Lasting just over eight hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple encompassed many of the same elements and emotions that were hallmarks of Franklin's more than six decades on sacred and secular stages. She was remembered as the pride of Detroit and a citizen of the world.

Actress Cicely Tyson reworked the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem "When Malindy Sings" to "When Aretha Sings." Music mogul Clive Davis, who helped revive Franklin's career in the 1980s, described her as a loving friend and a dedicated and unpredictable artist, whose passions ranged from soul to ballet. He remembered her turning up at a tribute to him in a tutu.

"There was the Queen of Soul, accompanied by members of the City Center Ballet Company," he recalled, with Franklin "doing well-rehearsed pirouettes and dancing with most impressive agility and dignity. It was wonderful."

Music was in abundance, of course. Jennifer Hudson, whom Franklin said she wanted to play her in a movie about her life, brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing "Amazing Grace." Ariana Grande sang one of the Queen's biggest hits, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and Faith Hill performed "What a Friend We Have In Jesus."

The Aretha Franklin Orchestra opened the funeral with a medley featuring "I Say a Little Prayer," ''Angel" and other songs she was known for, along with such gospel numbers as "I Love the Lord" and "Walk in the Light."

Gladys Knight segued from "You'll Never Walk Alone" to "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Near the end, Stevie Wonder brought the dwindling audience to their feet, swaying to his classic tribute to love, "As." Jennifer Holliday ended the funeral with "Climbing Higher Mountains," an uptempo gospel original by Franklin herself.

A statement from former President George W. Bush that was read to the crowd said Franklin would "continue to bring joy to millions for generations to come." The Rev. Al Sharpton read a statement from former President Barack Obama, who wrote that Franklin's "work reflected the very best of the American story."

Sharpton received loud cheers when he denounced President Donald Trump for saying that the singer "worked for" him as he responded to her death. "She performed for you," Sharpton said of Franklin, who had sung at Trump-owned venues. "She worked for us."

"She gave us pride. She gave us a regal bar to reach. She represented the best in our community," Sharpton said.

Many noted her longtime commitment to civil rights and lasting concern for the poor. The Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled Franklin raising money for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and urged attendees to honor her memory by registering to vote. Her friend Greg Mathis, the reality show host and retired Michigan judge, recalled his last conversation with her. They talked about the tainted water supply in Flint. "You go up there and sock it to 'em," she urged Mathis, paraphrasing the "sock it to me" refrain from "Respect."

Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76.

Her body arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse. She wore a shimmering gold dress, with sequined heels — the fourth outfit Franklin was clothed in during a week of events leading up to her funeral.

The casket was carried to the church that also sent Franklin's father, the renowned minister C.L. Franklin, to his and Parks' final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery, where the singer will join them. Pink Cadillacs filled the street outside the church, a reference to a Franklin hit from the 1980s, "Freeway of Love."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced during the service that the city would rename the riverfront amphitheater Chene Park to "Aretha Franklin Park."

Family members, among them granddaughter Victorie Franklin and niece Cristal Franklin, spoke with awe and affection as they remembered a world-famous performer who also loved gossip and kept pictures of loved ones on her piano.

Grandson Jordan directed his remarks directly to Franklin, frequently stopping to fight back tears.

"I'm sad today, because I'm losing my friend. But I know the imprint she left on this world can never be removed. You showed the world God's love, and there's nothing more honorable."

Associated Press writers Josh Replogle, Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.


Ukraine separatists say leader killed in cafe bombing

 

In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Alexander Zakharchenko, pro-Russian rebel leader speaks during a press conference in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. The leader of the Russia-backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region was killed Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 by an explosion at a cafe, the separatists' news agency said Friday.

By Jim Heintz, Associated Press

Moscow (AP) — A blast in a war-themed cafe in eastern Ukraine on Friday killed the most prominent leader of the Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, rebel officials said.

The death of Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, underlined the dismal prospects for resolving the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Rebel and Russian authorities blamed the Ukrainian government, with some suggesting that the United States had a role, while a top Ukrainian security official said the blast was likely the result of the separatists' factional infighting or an operation by Russian special forces.

Deputy rebel military commander Eduard Basurin said the explosion in the region's capital of Donetsk was caused by a bomb planted in the restaurant, which was named "Separ" in honor of the separatists and decorated with camouflage netting hanging from the eaves.

Seriously injured in the blast was Alexander Timofeev, the revenues and taxes minister for the separatists, according to the rebels' DAN news agency. In September 2017, Timofeev was injured in another bombing in Donetsk, the region's capital.

The Donetsk People's Republic, along with a separatist republic in neighboring Luhansk, has fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, the same year Zakharchenko became the DPR's prime minister. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

Fighting fell off significantly after the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in 2015 signed an accord in Minsk, Belarus, on ending the violence. But most of the agreement's provisions remain unfulfilled and clashes break out sporadically.

"The assassination of the DPR head makes the Minsk accords devoid of sense," Russian parliament speaker Alexander Volodin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded Zakharchenko, who was 42, as "a true people's leader" and promised Donetsk residents that "Russia always will be with you."

Denis Pushilin, the speaker of the separatists' parliament, blamed Ukraine's forces for the explosion, calling it "the latest aggression from the Ukrainian side," according to DAN. A statement from the rebel command said "it was conducted by special operations forces of Ukraine under control of U.S. special services."

"Instead of fulfilling the Minsk accords and finding ways to resolve the internal conflict, the Kiev war party is implementing a terrorist scenario," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of Zakharchenko's death. "Having failed to fulfill the promise of peace, apparently they decided to turn to a bloodbath."

Igor Guskov, chief of staff of the Ukrainian Security Service, rejected allegations of any involvement, saying: "We have reason to believe that the death of Zakharchenko may be the result of an internal criminal conflict among the rebels ... but we do not exclude that it was an attempt by Russian special services to remove this odious figure."

There have been several assassinations or attempted slayings of prominent rebels in recent years. It never was established if pro-Kiev attackers were responsible or if the violence resulted from disputes within the rebel ranks or Moscow's possible desire to eliminate individuals it found inconvenient.

Among the prominent separatists who have been targeted are former Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky, who was severely injured in 2016 when a bomb exploded near his car; Arsen Pavlov, a feared squadron leader known as "Motorola," who died when the elevator of his apartment building was bombed; and fighter Mikhail Tolstykh, whose office is believed to have been hit by a shoulder-fired rocket.

Russia denies providing troops or equipment to the separatists despite widespread allegations it has done so. Russia is believed to have supplied a mobile Buk missile launcher that a team of international investigators alleges shot down a Malaysian passenger jet while flying over rebel territory in 2014, killing all 209 people aboard.

The rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk arose soon after pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power amid mass protests in February 2014. Russian-speakers predominate in the two regions, and separatist sentiment skyrocketed.

Encouraged by Russia's annexation of Crimea, which also came after Yanukovych's ouster, rebel leaders initially hoped their regions would be absorbed by Russia as well.

Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed.


Groundbreaking alternative paper Village Voice shuts down

In this Nov. 27, 2013 photo, plastic newspaper boxes for The Village Voice stand along a Manhattan sidewalk in New York. Village Voice publisher Peter Barbey announced on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, that the venerable alternative weekly will cease publication. The announcement comes three years after Barbey bought the paper and one year after it ceased publishing in print. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

By Karen Matthews, Associated Press

New York (AP) — The Village Voice, the Pulitzer Prize-winning alternative weekly known for its muckraking investigations, exhaustive arts criticism, naughty personal ads and neurosis-laden cartoons, is going out of business after 63 years.

Its publisher, Peter Barbey, announced Friday that the paper is ceasing publication altogether because of financial problems, a year after it stopped circulating in print and went to digital-only.

"Today is kind of a sucky day," he told staff members.

Eight of the Voice's 18 remaining staffers were laid off. Others stayed behind to digitize its print archive so that future generations can read it.

News editor Neil deMause said staffers were more saddened than shocked by the news.

"It's 2018 and we're all aware of the state of the journalism industry," said deMause, 52, who started reading the Voice as a teenager in the 1980s.

The Voice was the country's first alternative newsweekly, founded in Greenwich Village in 1955 by a group that included writer Norman Mailer. It once had a weekly circulation of 250,000 copies and was home to some of New York's best investigative journalists and music writers.

The combative, left-leaning paper became known for its brash political reporting and its coverage of music and theater. It also became a powerful advocate for New York's gay community.

It won three Pulitzers, for editorial cartooning and feature writing in the 1980s and for international reporting in 2000 for a series on AIDS in Africa.

The Voice nurtured such talents as jazz maven and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff; investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, whose targets included Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Donald Trump; and culture writers such as Manohla Dargis, now a film critic for The New York Times.

"This is a tragedy, and it hurts my heart," Dargis wrote on Twitter. "This is where I started my professional writing life and where I met brilliant writers — and many friends — too numerous to mention."

Cartoonist Jules Feiffer's jagged, satirical comic strip ran in the Voice form 1956 through 1997. His obsessions included psychoanalysis, sex and the manifold urban anxieties of Cold War America.

"As a longtime reader and fan of the Voice even more than as a writer and editor, I am deeply saddened that we won't have the Voice's voice anymore," deMause said. "It's a huge, huge loss."

Barbey, also president of The Reading Eagle newspaper in Pennsylvania, bought the Voice in 2015 in an attempt to save it following a series of ownership changes, staff departures and losses in readership and advertising that had left it in a state of perpetual peril.

He tried to stem the paper's losses by giving up print publication last summer and publishing online only — a step that removed the Voice from the sidewalk boxes that were a fixture on New York street corners for generations.

It failed to stop the financial bleeding.

"In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media," Barbey wrote. "Like many others in publishing, we were continually optimistic that relief was around the next corner. Where stability for our business is, we do not know yet. The only thing that is clear now is that we have not reached that destination.".
 


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