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Update November 2018


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Update November 11 - 14, 2018

Thousands in Gaza demand revenge after deadly Israeli raid

Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of two of the seven Hamas militants who were killed in an Israeli raid late Sunday, during their funerals in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 12. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Fares Akram and Tia Goldenberg

Gaza City, Gaza Strip (AP) — Chanting "revenge" and flanked by masked gunmen in camouflage, thousands of mourners in the Gaza Strip on Monday buried seven Palestinian militants killed in an Israeli incursion as the ruling Hamas group launched a feverish security sweep across the territory.

Hamas said Israeli undercover forces entered the territory in a civilian vehicle late Sunday and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen. The clashes killed an Israeli lieutenant colonel and prompted Israeli airstrikes and a salvo of rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel.

The cross-border fighting came just days after Israel and Hamas reached indirect understandings, backed by Qatar and Egypt, to allow cash and fuel into Gaza. The understandings are meant to be part of a broader effort to alleviate deteriorating conditions in the impoverished territory after 11 years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

It was not clear if the burst of violence, which appeared to have subsided early Monday, would derail those arrangements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris because of the flare-up, and he returned to Israel on Monday for consultations with top security officials.

Hamas authorities beefed up security measures after the incident, deploying checkpoints across Gaza in a show of force after what appeared to be a major security breach for the militant group. It also restricted movement through crossings with Israel, preventing foreign journalists, local businessmen and some aid workers from leaving the territory.

Hamas also canceled a weekly beach protest in northwestern Gaza along the border with Israel. The organizers cited "the ongoing security situation."

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh led a funeral for four militants as masked gunmen in uniforms carried the coffins, wrapped in the flag of Hamas' armed wing, and mourners chanted "revenge."

The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said that in Sunday's incursion, Israeli undercover forces drove about 3 kilometers (2 miles) into southeastern Gaza and shot and killed Nour el-Deen Baraka, a mid-level commander in charge of a sensitive area in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. Qassam members discovered the car and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said.

The empty vehicle apparently used by the Israeli force was reduced to a charred chassis after aircraft fired several missiles at it, leaving a gaping crater in the ground.

The Israeli military said there had been an exchange of fire during an operation in Gaza, with troops withdrawing from the territory with the help of aircraft. It said that militants then launched 17 rockets from Gaza toward Israeli communities, where school and train service was cancelled in response, and that it had reinforced troops and its aerial defense system along the border following the flare-up.

The military provided few details about the reason for the raid. The Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said a "special force" carried out "a very meaningful operation to Israel's security," without elaborating.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the operation was "not intended to kill or abduct terrorists but to strengthen Israeli security." He said the force faced a "very complex battle" and was able to "ex-filtrate in its entirety."

Netanyahu returned to Israel on Monday morning, cutting short a trip to Paris where he was set to meet French President Emmanuel Macron after having participated in ceremonies marking 100 years since the end of World War I.

In a tweet after his arrival back home, Netanyahu praised the slain officer, whose identity was being kept confidential for security reasons, and said "our forces acted courageously." The officer's funeral was being held Monday.

The overnight violence came after several months of confrontations along the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence. Since late March, Hamas has been leading mass marches, with turnout driven by growing despair in Gaza, to try to break the border blockade. The blockade has led to over 50 percent unemployment and chronic power outages, and prevents the vast majority of Gazans from traveling.

More than 170 demonstrators, most unarmed, have been killed by Israeli army fire in the confrontations, in which some of the participants threw stones, burned tires or hurled grenades toward Israeli forces.

Israel says it is defending its border against militant infiltrations, but its army has come under international criticism because of the large number of unarmed protesters who have been shot.

Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver $15 million in aid to Gaza's cash-strapped Hamas rulers. Hamas responded by lowering the intensity of the border protest last Friday.

On Sunday, Netanyahu defended his decision to allow through the Qatari cash to Gaza as a way to avert an "unnecessary war," maintain quiet for residents of southern Israel and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the impoverished Gaza Strip.


UN refugee agency warns against returning Rohingya refugees

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers the keynote speech at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2018 in Singapore, Monday, Nov. 12. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Elaine Kurtenbach

Singapore (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency on Monday cautioned against returning ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar from Bangladesh at this time, urging that officials be allowed to assess whether it is safe for them to return.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees issued the warning after the Myanmar government said Sunday that this week it would begin repatriating the more than 700,000 Rohingya who have fled from the Rakhine state in western Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape deadly violence carried out by Myanmar security forces.

"Myanmar authorities should allow these refugees to undertake such go-and-see visits without prejudice to their right to return at a later date, if indeed the refugees decide after the visits that the current conditions in Rakhine State would not allow them to return in safety and dignity," the UNHCR said in a statement.

The Rohingya refugees generally have been denied citizenship and civil rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where prejudice against them runs high. The overwhelming majority of people in Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya are a native ethnic group, instead seeing them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and calling them "Bengalis."

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, attending a business conference Monday in Singapore on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian summit, did not mention the issue and did not take any questions.

On Sunday, officials in Myanmar announced that Bangladesh had said repatriations would begin on Thursday, with an initial group of 2,251 to be sent back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Senior Myanmar officials said they would do their best to be ready, but Bangladesh's repatriation commissioner said he was unaware that a date had been set.

The UNHCR said it supports the "voluntary and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees in safety and in dignity to their places of origin or choice, and will work with all parties towards this goal." It is Myanmar's responsibility to improve conditions in the restive Rakhine region, it said.

Sunday's Myanmar government statement said the returning Rohingya would stay at repatriation camps for two days and receive food and clothing before moving on to transit camps. It said China, India and Japan were "providing necessary assistance" for the repatriation process, but did not give details.

The Rohingya exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following coordinated insurgent attacks in August 2017. The scale, organization and ferocity of the operation led to accusations from the international community, including the United Nations, of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Myanmar's government has denied this.


EU, UK inch closer to a deal as Brexit hangs in the balance

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, shakes hands with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney during a meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 12. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Lorne Cook and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — Britain and the European Union appeared to be inching toward agreement on Brexit on Monday, but British Prime Minister Theresa May faced intensifying pressure from her divided Conservative government that could yet scuttle a deal.

Britain leaves the EU on March 29 — the first country ever to do so — but a deal must be sealed in the coming weeks to leave enough time for the U.K. and European Parliaments to sign off. May faces increasing domestic pressure over her proposals for an agreement following the resignation of another government minister last week.

The British leader had been hoping to present a draft deal to her Cabinet this week. But no Brexit breakthrough was announced Monday after talks between European affairs ministers. The two sides are locked in technical negotiations to try to bridge the final gaps in a move laden with heavy political and economic consequences.

May said talks were in their "endgame" but that negotiating a divorce agreement after more than four decades of British EU membership was "immensely difficult."

May told an audience at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London that "we are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the Withdrawal Agreement, which are significant.

"Both sides want to reach an agreement," May said, though she added she wouldn't sign up to "agreement at any cost."

The main obstacle to a deal is how to keep goods flowing smoothly across the border between EU country Ireland and Northern Ireland in the U.K.

Both sides have committed to avoid a hard border with costly and time-consuming checks that would hamper business. Any new customs posts on the border could also re-ignite lingering sectarian tensions. But Britain and the EU haven't agreed on how to achieve that goal.

"Clearly this is a very important week for Brexit negotiations," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. "The two negotiating teams have really intensified their engagement ... There is still clearly work to do."

And Martin Callanan, a minister in Britain's Brexit department, said all involved were "straining every sinew to make sure that we get a deal but we have to get a deal that is right for the U.K., right for the EU and one that would be acceptable to the U.K. Parliament."

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier didn't speak to reporters Monday and a planned news conference with him was canceled.

Instead, EU headquarters issued a short statement saying that Barnier explained to the ministers that "intense negotiating efforts continue, but an agreement has not been reached yet."

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the two sides "are getting closer to each other."

"But in negotiations there is only a deal if there is full agreement," Blok said. "There is only a 100-percent deal. There is not a 90-percent deal or a 95-percent deal."

Earlier, France's EU affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, stepped up pressure on May. "The ball is in the British court. It is a question of a British political decision," she said.

The EU is awaiting Barnier's signal as to whether sufficient progress has been made to call an EU summit to seal a deal.

Rumors have swirled of a possible top-level meeting at the end of November. But Austrian EU affairs minister Gernot Bluemel, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said "so far progress is not sufficient to call in and set up another (summit)."

In recent days there have been signs of progress behind the scenes, but all parties have remained tight-lipped about the developments, given the politically charged atmosphere.

In Britain, pro-Brexit and pro-EU politicians alike warned May that the deal she seeks is likely to be shot down by Parliament.

Boris Johnson, a staunch Brexit supporter, wrote in a column for Monday's Daily Telegraph that May's plan to adhere closely to EU regulations in return for a trade deal and an open Irish border amounts to "total surrender" to the bloc.

The proposed terms are scarcely more popular with advocates of continued EU membership.

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening on Monday called May's proposals the "worst of all worlds," and said the public should be allowed to vote on Britain's departure again.

"We should be planning as to how we can put this final say on Brexit in the hands of the British people," Greening told the BBC.

Johnson's younger brother, Jo Johnson, resigned last week backing calls for a second referendum on whether the country should leave the EU. May has consistently rejected the idea of another nationwide vote on Brexit.


Fake images of woman acquitted of blasphemy roil Pakistan

In this Nov. 1, 2018, file photo, Pakistani protesters burn a poster image of Christian woman Aasia Bibi, in Hyderabad, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Pervez Masih)

Kathy Gannon

Islamabad (AP) — The Pakistani government, already struggling with a crisis surrounding a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy charges after eight years on death row, now has to deal with "fake" images on social media purporting to show her outside the country.

The deceptive images have prompted death threats to a lawmaker shown in one photograph, and are likely intended to whip up radical religious fervor over Aasia Bibi's case. It's unclear who is behind the circulation of the images.

Radical Islamists have held mass protests and demanded that she be publicly executed. They've also filed a petition to repeal her Supreme Court acquittal. The government says Bibi remains in Pakistan, at a secret location for her own protection, until the review process is finished.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned hard-line groups against using her plight to further their political aims with street protests.

He has defended the Supreme Court judges who on Oct. 21 acquitted the 54-year old mother of five of blasphemy charges. But he has also acquiesced to demands by the Islamists that the acquittal be reviewed in an appeal process.

Blasphemy is a highly charged issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can incite mobs into a frenzy of violence. The charge carries the death penalty, and critics say the blasphemy law is abused to settle religious scores.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry slammed the "fake" postings on Monday, one of which claims to show Bibi meeting Pope Francis. The photo is actually of Bibi's daughter from two years ago. Bibi and her family have always maintained her innocence and say she never insulted Islam's prophet.

Chaudhry said the images misidentifying Bibi prompted death threats to a lawmaker in one photograph, Fazal Khan from the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf Party. The lawmaker's constituency is in a deeply conservative region in the country's northwest.

"People can even be killed because of such fake postings," Chaudhry said. The pictures were widely circulated on social media in Pakistan and shared on several local journalists' groups, even a police and a media group.

"We are trying to seek cooperation from Twitter and Facebook against such fake news," Chaudhry added.

Bibi's ordeal dates back to 2009 when she went to fetch water for herself and fellow farmworkers. An argument took place after two Muslim women refused to drink from the same container as Bibi, who is Roman Catholic. The women later said Bibi had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and she was charged with blasphemy. She was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.

Following Bibi's acquittal last month, the founder of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbak Party, Mohammed Afzal Qadri, issued a fatwa calling for the death of the three Supreme Court judges who handed down the acquittal and the overthrow of Khan's government. He also incited the military to mutiny.

In 2011, the governor of Punjab province was killed by his own guard after he defended Bibi and criticized the blasphemy law. A year later, the minister for minorities was shot and killed.

Bibi, who was freed from detention last week, is being held at a secret, closely guarded location in Pakistan. Those who are familiar with her circumstances say she is expected to remain there until the Supreme Court carries out the review.

On Sunday, the prime minister said the Supreme Court's decision would be final. For now, it's unclear when the review will be held or who would defend Bibi. Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, fled the country following her acquittal, fearing for his life.


Update November 6 - 10, 2018

Marine combat veteran kills 12 in rampage at California bar

People comfort each other as they stand near the scene in Thousand Oaks, Calif. where a gunman opened fire Wednesday, November 7, inside a country dance bar crowded with hundreds of people. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Krysta Fauria

Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP) — Terrified patrons hurled barstools through windows to escape or threw their bodies protectively on top of friends as a Marine combat veteran killed 12 people at a country music bar in an attack that added Thousand Oaks to the tragic roster of American cities traumatized by mass shootings.

Dressed all in black with his hood pulled up, the gunman apparently took his own life as scores of police converged on the Borderline Bar and Grill in Southern California.

The motive for the rampage late Wednesday night was under investigation.

The killer , Ian David Long, 28, was a former machine gunner and Afghanistan war veteran who was interviewed by police at his home last spring after an episode of agitated behavior that authorities were told might be post-traumatic stress disorder.

Opening fire with a handgun with an illegal, extra-capacity magazine, Long shot a security guard outside the bar and then went in and took aim at employees and customers, authorities said. He also used a smoke bomb, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The dead included a man who had survived last year's massacre in Las Vegas, a veteran sheriff's deputy who rushed in to confront the gunman, a 22-year-old man who planned to join the Army, a freshman at nearby Pepperdine University and a recent Cal Lutheran graduate.

"It's a horrific scene in there," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said in the parking lot. "There's blood everywhere."

Survivors of the rampage — mostly young people who had gone out for college night at the Borderline, a hangout popular with students from nearby California Lutheran University and other schools — seemed to know what to do, having come of age in an era of active-shooter drills and deadly rampages happening with terrifying frequency.

For some it was not a new experience. Survivors and their relatives said several people who were at the bar Thursday had been at the outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas last year where a gunman in a high-rise hotel killed 58 people.

"I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts," said Susan Schmidt-Orfanos, whose son Telemachus Orfanos survived the Vegas shooting only to die less than 10 minutes from his home. "I want those bastards in Congress — they need to pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn't come home."

Many of the estimated 150 patrons at the Borderline dived under tables, ran for exits, broke through windows or hid in the attic and bathrooms, authorities and witnesses said.

"Unfortunately our young people, people at nightclubs, have learned that this may happen, and they think about that," the sheriff said. "Fortunately it helped save a lot of lives that they fled the scene so rapidly."

Matt Wennerstrom said he instinctively pulled people behind a pool table, and he and friends shielded women with their bodies after hearing the shots. When the gunman paused to reload, Wennerstrom said, he and others shattered windows with barstools and helped about 30 people escape. He heard another volley of shots once he was safely outside.

"All I wanted to do was get as many people out of there as possible," he told KABC-TV. "I know where I'm going if I die, so I was not worried."

A video posted on Instagram after the shooting by one of the patrons shows an empty dance floor with the sound of windows shattering in the background. As a silhouetted figure comes through a doorway, the camera turns erratically and 10 gunshots ring out.

"I looked him in his eyes while he killed my friends," Dallas Knapp wrote on his post. "I hope he rots in hell for eternity."

The tragedy left a community that is annually listed as one of the safest cities in America reeling. Shootings of any kind are extremely rare in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Los Angeles, just across the county line.

Mourners gathered for a vigil on Wednesday evening as smoke from a fast-moving, nearby wildfire billowed over them.

Earlier, people stood in line for hours to give blood. All morning, people looking for missing friends and relatives arrived at a community center where authorities and counselors were informing the next-of-kin of those who died. Many people walked past TV cameras with blank stares or tears in their eyes. In the parking lot, some comforted each other with hugs or a pat on the back.

Jason Coffman received the news that his son Cody, 22, who was about to join the Army, was dead. Coffman broke down as he told reporters how his last words to his son as he went out that night were not to drink and drive and that he loved him.

"Oh, Cody, I love you, son," Coffman sobbed.

It was the nation's deadliest such attack since 17 students and teachers were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school nine months ago. It also came less than two weeks after a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, in his first public appearance since winning office on Tuesday, lamented the violence that has returned to California.

"It's a gun culture," he said. "You can't go to a bar or nightclub? You can't go to church or synagogue? It's insane is the only way to describe it. The normalization, that's the only way I can describe it. It's become normalized."

President Donald Trump praised police for their "great bravery" in the attack and ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of the victims.

Authorities searched Long's home in Newbury Park, about 5 miles from the Borderline bar, for clues to what set him off.

"There's no indication that he targeted the employees. We haven't found any correlation," the sheriff said. "Maybe there was a motive for this particular night, but we have no information leading to that at all."

Long was in the Marines from 2008 to 2013, rose to the rank of corporal and served in Afghanistan in 2010-11 before he was honorably discharged, the military said. Court records show he married in 2009 and was divorced in 2013.

Authorities said he had no criminal record, but in April officers were called to his home, where deputies found him angry and acting irrationally. The sheriff said officers were told he might have PTSD because of his military service. A mental health specialist met with him and didn't feel he needed to be hospitalized.

Tom Hanson, 70, who lives next door to Long and his mother, said he called the police about six months ago when he heard "heavy-duty banging" and shouting coming from the Longs' home.

"Somebody has missed something here," his wife, Julie Hanson, said. "This woman has to know that this child needed help."

Long was armed with a Glock 21, a .45-caliber pistol designed to hold 10 rounds plus one in the chamber, according to the sheriff. But it had an extended magazine — one capable of holding more ammunition — that is illegal in California, Dean said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus and a passing highway patrolman arrived at the club around 11:20 p.m. in response to several 911 calls, heard gunfire and went inside, the sheriff said. Helus was shot immediately, Dean said.

The highway patrolman pulled Helus out, then waited as a SWAT team and other officers arrived. Helus died at a hospital.

By the time officers entered the bar again — about 15 to 20 minutes later, according to the sheriff's office — the gunfire had stopped. They found 12 people dead inside, including the gunman, who was discovered in an office, the sheriff said.

"There's no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect," said Dean, who was set to retire Friday. He praised the slain officer — a close friend — as a hero: "He went in there to save people and paid the ultimate price."

One other person was wounded by gunfire, and as many as 15 others suffered minor injuries from jumping out windows or diving under tables, authorities said.

Five off-duty police officers who were at the bar also helped people escape, authorities said.

For several hours after the violence, survivors gathered in the dark, some sobbing and hugging as they awaited word on the fate of friends as ambulances idled nearby. Several men were bare-chested after using their shirts to plug wounds and tie tourniquets.

Around midday, the body of the slain sheriff's officer was taken by motorcade from the hospital to the coroner's office. Thousands of people stood along the route or pulled over in their vehicles to watch the hearse pass.

Helus was a 29-year veteran of the force with a wife and son and planned to retire in the coming year, said the sheriff, choking back tears.


Woman freed in blasphemy case still in hiding in Pakistan

Ashraf Asim Jalali, second from left, leader of Pakistani Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious Party addresses a news conference with others regarding the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Nov. 8. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Kathy Gannon

Islamabad (AP) — A week after Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy, a Christian woman who had been on death row for eight years was freed from detention Thursday, but her whereabouts are a closely guarded secret following demands by extremists that she be hanged in public.

The case of Aasia Bibi has become a political minefield for Prime Minister Imran Khan. He is trying to placate the Muslim extremists who have threatened to topple his government, while keeping the 54-year-old mother of five safe from a lynch mob and also finding a way to allow her to leave Pakistan without bringing rioters into the streets.

Bibi has been offered asylum by the European Parliament, which championed her case after she was convicted in 2010 under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy law. There has been sharp worldwide criticism of the law, which remains popular in the Muslim majority country and carries the death penalty for insulting Islam but also has been used as a way to settle scores and pressure minorities.

Bibi was with her family under heavy security after being transferred to the Pakistani capital overnight from her detention facility in southern Punjab, triggering expectations of an imminent departure from the country.

For the moment, Bibi remained in Pakistan, according to two people close to her who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to endanger her. That was confirmed later Thursday by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

Following her Oct. 31 acquittal by Pakistan's Supreme Court, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party forced a nationwide shutdown as its supporters filled the streets for three days to protest the ruling. The rallies only dispersed after Khan's government promised that a court would review a motion to challenge the acquittal and deny Bibi permission to leave Pakistan.

Khan, who came to power after elections last summer in part on an Islamist agenda, was immediately accused by critics of giving in to the extremists.

Bibi's release, high-security transfer to Islamabad and her likely departure raised the possibility that Khan's promises to the Islamists could have been an effort to buy time. The government, however, has not openly declared that Bibi was free to leave.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik, in a video message that was circulated widely Thursday, said it received government assurances following Bibi's relocation to Islamabad that she wouldn't leave the country until the review petition was heard.

Khan, a former cricket star and playboy who has embraced religious conservatism before he ran for prime minister, is hamstrung by contradictions within his own government, according to Zahid Hussain, who has written two books on the rise of militancy in Pakistan.

"There are some within the party, senior members of the party, who are pampering religious extremists for the sake of votes, and some believe in the same kind of world view," Hussain said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Bibi's ordeal began on a blistering hot day in 2009 when she went to fetch water for herself and fellow farmworkers. An argument took place after two women refused to drink from the same container as Bibi, who is Roman Catholic.

The two women later said Bibi had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and she was charged with blasphemy. She was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.

While her conviction was appealed, her case gained worldwide attention and focused international criticism on the blasphemy law. In announcing her acquittal last week, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court upheld the law itself but said prosecutors had failed to prove Bibi had violated it.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited Bibi and her family to Europe. In a letter, a copy of which was seen by the AP, Tajani told Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih that the parliament is "extremely concerned for your safety as well as your family's, due to the violence by extremist elements in Pakistan."

The letter added to expectations that she and her family would leave for Europe, though their destination has not been confirmed. Spain and France have offered her asylum.

Speaking to the AP earlier this week in the Punjab capital of Lahore, Masih said he hasn't slept much since his wife's acquittal and the subsequent outrage by extremists. His initial joy quickly turned to sadness when he realized the ordeal was not over.

He said that he is consumed by fear every time his phone rings and haunted by the shouts of "Hang her!"

"Sometimes I pace on the rooftop, sometimes I walk on the road outside our home," he said. "I look at the faces around me and I wonder if anyone is waiting to hurt us."

Even the mere suggestion of blasphemy can whip mobs into a lynching frenzy in Pakistan. In 2011, the governor of Punjab province was killed by his own guard after he defended Bibi and criticized the blasphemy law. A year later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities and a Christian, was shot and killed.

For Bibi's husband, leaving Pakistan is painful but remains a matter of life and death.

"We have no other choice but to leave," he said. "I love Pakistan but I can't live here."

Even in Bibi's home village of Aitta Wali — an impoverished farming community where animals and residents share tiny, sunbaked mud houses — there is still outrage over her acquittal, and its remaining three Christian families have fled.

"Our entire village swore on the Quran that she insulted the prophet but no one believes us and everyone believes her," said Aman Ali, one of the villagers. "Before this, we liked the Christian families. We always got along. But now there is only anger."

Some of that anger was directed at a visiting AP reporter, who was told by one resident: "Go. Just get out. Go."

Muhammad Afzal Qadri, a leader in the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party and a religious scholar, said he doesn't regret calling for the deaths of the three judges who acquitted Bibi, or for calling on his followers to overthrow Khan's government.

At his sprawling madrassa in the Punjab city of Gujrat, Qadri told the AP this week that he had the religious authority to declare a fatwa, or edict, demanding the judges be killed.

Pakistan is bound by Islamic injunctions, he said, adding that he was qualified to decide such matters. The West only seeks to undermine Pakistan's Islamic traditions and culture, Qadri said.

Hussain, the author on Pakistani militancy, said the demonstrations over Bibi's acquittal were an attempt to regain positions the extremists had lost in the July elections.

Another rally Thursday in the southern city of Karachi drew thousands. One religious leader, Fazlur Rehman, whose party was routed in the elections, said the "court of the masses" has rejected Bibi's acquittal.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban insurgent group warned anyone who would commit blasphemy that "our daggers will cut your throat."

Hussain said the extremists "are trying to mobilize people on this issue, creating more extremism. They have created a sense of fear in society, for anyone who disagrees with their view of Islam."


Tens of thousands of people flee fast-moving wildfire

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Don Thompson and Noah Berger

Paradise, Calif. (AP) — Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures.

Everyone in Paradise, a community of 27,000 people about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, was ordered to get out. The extent of the injuries and damage was not immediately known. Butte County CalFire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.

As she fled, Gina Oviedo described a devastating scene in which flames engulfed homes, sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.

"Things started exploding," Oviedo said. "People started getting out of their vehicles and running."

At a late afternoon news conference, Read said he had reports of several hundred destroyed structures in Paradise, but he cautioned that officials had not been able to assess yet.

Officials won't have an exact count until they can get into the area, he said. An Associated Press photographer saw dozens businesses and homes leveled or in flames, including a liquor store and gas station.

"It's a very dangerous and very serious situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "I'm driving through fire as we speak. We're doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas."

The blaze erupted as windy weather swept the state, creating extreme fire danger. A wind-whipped fire north of Los Angeles in Ventura County burned about 15,000 acres (23 square miles) and at least one home in a matter of hours. It prompted evacuations of a mobile home park, a state university campus and a small community. A nearby blaze was smaller at less than 1,000 acres (1.5 square miles) but moving quickly.

Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire-stricken area in Northern California.

Shari Bernacett said her husband tried to get people to leave the Paradise mobile home park they manage. He "knocked on doors, yelled and screamed" to alert as many residents as possible, Bernacett said.

"My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill's on fire. God help us!" she said before breaking down crying. She and her husband grabbed their dog, jumped in their pickup truck and drove through flames before getting to safety, she said.

Terrifying videos posted on social media showed cars driving along roads that looked like tunnels of fire with flames on both sides of the road.

Concerned friends and family posted frantic messages on Twitter and other sites saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone.

Among them was Kim Curtis, who was searching for her grandmother, who told family at 8 a.m. Thursday that she would flee her Paradise home in her Buick with her cat. Her grandmother, who is in her 70s and lives alone, never showed up up at a meeting spot in Chico, though.

"We've just been posting all over social media. And just praying for a miracle, honestly," said Curtis, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Officials were sending as many firefighters as they could, Cal Fire spokesman Rick Carhart said.

"Every engine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are coming," he said. "There are dozens of strike teams that we're bringing in from all parts of the state."

The sheriff confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles. Rescuers were trying to put them in other vehicles, he said.

"We're working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is: If you can evacuate, you need to evacuate," Honea said.

The wildfire was reported around daybreak. Within six hours, it had grown to more than 26 square miles (69 square kilometers), Gaddie said.

Thick gray smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.

Fire officials said the flames were being fueled by winds, low humidity, dry air and severely parched brush and ground from months without rain.

"Basically, we haven't had rain since last May or before that," said Read, the fire chief. "Everything is a very receptive fuel bed. It's a rapid rate of spread."

At the hospital in Paradise, more than 60 patients were evacuated to other facilities and some buildings caught fire and were damaged. But the main facility, Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, was not, spokeswoman Jill Kinney said.

Some of the patients were initially turned around during their evacuation because of gridlocked traffic and later airlifted to other hospitals, along with staff, Kinney said.

Four hospital employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.

The National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings for fire dangers in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through Friday evening.


Italy's budget row with EU escalates ahead of deadline

European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici presents the Autumn 2018 economic forecast at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Nov. 8. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Colleen Barry and Pan Pylas

Milan (AP) — The Italian government insisted Thursday it is sticking with its plan to rapidly increase public spending as a dispute with the European Union over the budget intensified following a gloomy set of forecasts.

In response to the EU's executive Commission's prediction that Italy will be the slowest-growing economy in the 19-country eurozone through 2020, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said his government had no intention of revising its plans by next week, as Brussels had requested.

"The Commission growth forecast for next year underestimates the positive impact of our economic maneuver and our structural reforms," he said. "We are going ahead with our estimates on the public finances, with growth that will increase and debt and deficit that will decrease."

The worry in Brussels and in financial markets, where interest rates on Italian bonds have spiked sharply, is that the budget plans would prevent the country's huge debt burden from falling, as promised.

And that could raise renewed questions about the future of the euro. Italy's public debt burden stands at around 130 percent of the annual GDP, second in the eurozone behind Greece, which only emerged from its eight-year bailout era in the summer.

The Commission said it expects the Italian economy, the eurozone's third-largest, to grow by only 1.2 percent in 2019, below the 1.5 percent projected by the government. And in 2020, the Commission forecasts Italian growth of only 1.3 percent, again 0.3 percentage point-lower than the projection from Rome.

As a result, the Commission expects higher budget deficits for Italy, notably for next year. Rather than the 2.4 percent of GDP predicted by Italy, the Commission expects 2.9 percent, a level that would not bring down Italy's overall debt stock.

"There are no grounds for questioning the foundation and sustainability of our forecasts," said Conte, adding that Italy expects the debt load to decrease to 126.7 percent of GDP by 2021.

The Commission doesn't appear to be in a mood to haggle.

"There cannot be a sort of negotiation on this," said Pierre Moscovici, the commissioner responsible for economic matters.

Countries that use the euro have to seek approval from the Commission for their budgets as part of a coordination exercise designed to prevent a repeat of the debt crisis that afflicted the region over the past decade. The Commission could sanctions Italy if it does not revise its plans by Tuesday.

The Italian government argues that the economy needs a stimulus so it can turn around after stagnating for years. Boosting growth, it argues, will help control debt levels and eventually solidify the country's place within the single currency bloc.

As part of those ambitions, the Italian government is raising spending to fund, among other things, a minimum income scheme for jobseekers and restore early retirement for eligible workers, doing away with an unpopular reform.

Lorenzo Codogno, a former Italian Treasury official who runs LC Macro Advisors, said the Commission's deficit forecasts were perhaps a bit "pessimistic" given the likely delays in the implementation of policy measures.

The Commission, he added, looked like it was setting the stage to sanction Italy and that any "possible tweaks the government may be considering to introduce by the Nov. 13 deadline will do little to narrow this huge gap."

Bond market investors are already fretting, having marked up interest rates on Italian debt significantly over the past few months.

Italy's economy comes amid a broader slowdown in the eurozone as a whole, which the Commission expects to slow amid global uncertainties, trade tensions, and higher oil prices.

Overall eurozone growth is forecast to moderate to 2.1 percent this year from a decade-high rate of 2.4 percent in 2017. It expects a further easing to 1.9 percent in 2019 and 1.7 percent in 2020.

And Brexit could yet hurt growth even further, especially if Britain crashes out of the EU in March with no deal on future relations. Uncertainty over Brexit is the main reason why the Commission expects Britain to match Italy's paltry growth of 1.2 percent next and to remain at that level in 2020.


Indian rebels blow up bus, killing 4 civilians, 1 soldier

Indian paramilitary soldiers walk past the remains of a bus that was blown up by Maoist rebels in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh state, India, Thursday, Nov. 8. (KK Production via AP)

Patna, India (AP) — Maoist rebels blew up a bus on Thursday, killing four civilians and a paramilitary soldier, in a central Indian state where legislative elections are to be held next week.

Senior police officer D.M. Awasthi said the attack occurred in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh state, a stronghold of the insurgents.

Two other soldiers were wounded in the attack and were hospitalized, Awasthi said.

The New Delhi Television channel said an explosive device tore through the bus, which was carrying civilians and paramilitary soldiers.

The rebels have put up posters in the area warning people against voting in the elections.

It was the third Maoist attack in the state in less than two weeks. In the previous two attacks, four paramilitary soldiers, two policemen and one television cameraman were killed.

The Maoist rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the Indian government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for tenant farmers, the poor and indigenous communities. They have thousands of fighters and control vast swaths of territory in several Indian states.

The government has called the rebels India's biggest internal security threat.

The rebels, also known as Naxalites, have ambushed police, destroyed government offices and abducted officials. They have blown up train tracks, attacked prisons to free their comrades and stolen weapons from police and paramilitary warehouses.


Norwegian frigate is rammed by tanker in harbor, could sink

The Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad takes on water after a collision with the tanker Sola TS, in Oygarden, Norway, Thursday Nov. 8. (Marit Hommedal/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Jan M. Olsen

Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) — An oil tanker rammed a Norwegian navy frigate Thursday in a harbor on the country's western coast, tearing a large hole in its side, the military said. The frigate's 137 crew members were evacuated amid fears that it may sink.

Eight people on the KNM Helge Instad were injured in the 4 a.m. collision in Sture, north of Bergen, said Rear Adm. Nils Andreas Stensoenes, the head of Norway's navy. Two of them were taken to a nearby hospital.

The ship, which had recently taken part in the vast Trident Juncture NATO military drill in Norway, is "strongly listing," Stensoenes told a news conference Thursday afternoon. The frigate was lying in the water almost on its side with its stern under the water.

The 134-meter (442-foot) long frigate, built in Spain in 2009, is part of a NATO fleet in the Atlantic. The alliance has been informed of the accident, he said.

The Maltese-flagged oil tanker, Sola TS, was not damaged and its 23-man crew remained on board. The shipping site Sysla reported the tanker had been loaded with crude oil and was on its way to Britain.

Stensoenes said the cause of the accident was not clear and the Navy would wait for the findings of Norway's Accident Investigation Board. Earlier reports had said a towboat was also involved in the collision, but Stensoenes denied that report.

He said the frigate had been pushed by towboats into shallow water where it could not sink fully.

"We are in a security phase for the time being," he said. He declined to comment on what would happen to the weapons on board the ship.

Some 10,000 liters of helicopter fuel from the frigate has leaked into the sea, said Johan Marius Ly of the Norwegian Coast Guard. The fuel was expected to evaporate quickly.

Norway's largest oil and gas company, Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, said its non-emergency activities at the Sture terminal where the collision occurred were shut down as a precaution for many hours but were gradually starting up again late Thursday afternoon.

The Accident Investigation Board said because the tanker is Maltese-registered, the Marine Safety Investigation Unit (MSIU) of Malta will participate in the investigation.


Update November 3 - 5, 2018

Storms, floods in Sicily kill at least 12 people; 2 missing

The swollen Milicia river runs in the area where nine people lost their lives when their home was flooded in Casteldaccia, near Palermo, Sicily, Sunday, Nov. 4. (Ruggero Farkas/ANSA via AP)

Frances D'Emilio

Rome (AP) — Storms lashing Sicily have killed at least 12 people with torrential floods, Italian authorities said Sunday, including nine members of two families who were spending a long weekend in a country home near Palermo that was overrun by water from a rapidly swelling river.

After surveying the stricken Mediterranean island by helicopter Sunday, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said two of the victims were a German couple whose car was swept away by flood waters near Agrigento, a tourist town known for its ancient Greek temples.

State broadcaster RaiNews24 said the owner of the flooded home in Casteldaccia was the sole survivor of the deluge that hit late Saturday. He had stepped outside to walk the family dogs when the torrent filled his home with rushing water and mud.

Italian media said the man clung to a tree, then ended up on the roof of a nearby house. He used his cellphone to call for help but it was too late for the victims, who included a 1-year-old, 3-year-old and a teenager.

The two families had gathered in the villa during Italy's long weekend centering on the Nov. 1 All Saint's Day national holiday. Some members of the group went out earlier to buy desert and escaped the flood, Italian media said.

Casteldaccia Mayor Giovanni Di Giacinto told Sky TG24 that the flood water reached 2 meters (move than 6 feet) high inside the home.

Premier Conte called the disaster "an immense tragedy."

Rescuers retrieved the bodies from the home. A Sicilian prosecutor opened an investigation to determine if human error, such as possible inadequate drainage of the river, played a role in the deaths or if the home was built illegally close to the river.

Only days earlier, other storms battered much of northern Italy, killing at least 15 people, uprooting millions of trees near Alpine valleys and leaving several Italian villages without electricity or road access for days.

Conte said a special Cabinet meeting could be in the coming days to deliberate aid for storm-ravaged communities, as well as to approve 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) to ensure safe hydrogeological conditions in Italy, including proper cleaning of riverbeds.

The other known casualty in Sicily was a man whose body was also found on a guardrail along a Palermo-area road after floodwaters swept away his car, Italian news reports said.

Across the island, in the town of Cammarata, near Agrigento, the fire department said its divers worked to recover the bodies of the couple whose car was caught up in the flooding waters of the Saraceno River.

Also in Agrigento province, firefighters rescued 14 people from a hotel in the town of Montevago, which was threatened by floodwaters from the Belice River.

Elsewhere in Sicily, at least two other people were missing Sunday after floodwaters swept away their cars, including a doctor heading to the hospital in the hill town of Corleone.

In Casteldaccia, Maria Concetta Alfano said she, her husband and their adult disabled daughter fled after barking dogs drew their attention to the rising waters in the Milicia River, the Italian news agency ANSA said. It quoted the husband, Andrea Cardenale, as saying he drove away as "water was up to the hood of the car."
 


Voters in Pacific territory choose to keep ties with France

A man drapes his country's flag over his shoulders as residents of New Caledonia's capital, Noumea, wait in line at a polling station before casting their vote as part of an independence referendum, Sunday, Nov. 4. (AP Photo/Mathurin Derel)

Charlotte Antoine

Noumea, New Caledonia (AP) — A majority of voters in the South Pacific territory of New Caledonia chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence, election officials announced Sunday as French President Emmanuel Macron promised a full dialogue on the region's future.

The decision to keep ties with France was watershed moment for the archipelago that lies east of Australia and has sun-kissed lagoons as well as a nickel mining industry. The independence referendum itself was a milestone in New Caledonia's three-decades-long decolonization process, which was borne out of deep resentment by the region's native Kanaks of decades of ill treatment by their European colonizer.

Final results Sunday saw 56.4 percent of voters choosing to remain part of France compared to 43.6 percent support for independence, the high commissioner's office said.

The poll had a record-high participation rate of 80.6 percent of registered voters — so many that some polling stations in the capital, Noumea, had to stay open about an hour longer than planned Sunday to handle the crush.

More than 174,000 registered voters were invited to answer the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?" France has ruled New Caledonia since the mid-19th century.

"I'm asking everyone to turn toward the future to build tomorrow's New Caledonia," Macron said, speaking from the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. "The spirit of dialogue is the sole winner."

Praising both sides for their "responsible" campaigns, Macron added that "contempt and violence" were the only losers in the historic poll.

The high commissioner's office reported limited outbreaks of unrest in Noumea as votes were counted, with seven cars set ablaze, some roads closed and two instances of stone-throwing. But otherwise the vote was overwhelmingly peaceful.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is set to meet with New Caledonian officials Monday morning for talks about the political future of the territory of 270,000 people. New Caledonia receives about 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in French state subsidies every year, and many had feared the economy would suffer if ties were severed.

Residents of the region include the native Kanaks, who represent about 40 percent of the population, people of European descent, which make up about 27 percent and others from Asian countries and Pacific islands.

Most Kanaks had tended to back independence, while most descendants of European settlers had favored keeping the French connection.

The referendum is the result of a process that started 30 years ago to end years of violence between independence supporters and opponents that had overall claimed more than 70 lives. The two sides agreed upon a 1988 deal and another agreement a decade later included plans for an independence referendum.

Voter Monette Saihulinwa said she opposed independence.

"I don't necessarily want our lives to change," the 50-year-old said.

Others hailed the ballot as historic.

"We've been waiting for 30 years for this vote," said Mariola Bouyer, 34. "This vote must demonstrate that we want to live in peace, no matter our race, our roots. It's building a country together."

The New Caledonia archipelago became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III — Napoleon's nephew and heir — and was used for decades as a prison colony. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957. Under French colonial rule, the Kanaks faced strict segregation policies and suffered discrimination.


Data recovered from crashed Lion Air data recorder: official

 

Rescuers hand body bags containing the remains of the victims of the crashed Lion Air jet to colleagues upon arrival at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, Nov. 3. (AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Investigators succeeded in retrieving hours of data from a crashed Lion Air jet's flight recorder as Indonesian authorities on Sunday extended the search at sea for victims and debris.

National Transportation Safety Committee deputy chairman Haryo Satmiko told a news conference that 69 hours of flight data was downloaded from the recorder including its fatal flight.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet crashed just minutes after takeoff from Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board in the country's worst airline disaster since 1997.

The flight data recorder was recovered by divers on Thursday in damaged condition and investigators said it required special handling to retrieve its information. The cockpit voice recorder has not been recovered but searchers are focusing on a particular area based on a weak locator signal.

National Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi said Sunday the search operation, now in its 7th day and involving hundreds of personnel and dozens of ships, would continue for another three days.

Syaugi paid tribute to a volunteer diver, Syahrul Anto, who died during the search effort on Friday. The family of the 48-year-old refused an autopsy and he was buried Saturday in Surabaya.

More than 100 body bags of human remains had been recovered. Syaugi said the number would continue to increase and remains were also now washing up on land.

He said weak signals, potentially from the cockpit voice recorder, were traced to a location but an object hadn't been found yet due to deep seabed mud.

Flight tracking websites show the plane had erratic speed and altitude during its 13 minute flight and a previous flight the day before from Bali to Jakarta. Passengers on the Bali flight reported terrifying descents and in both cases the different cockpit crews requested to return to their departure airport shortly after takeoff. Lion has claimed a technical problem was fixed after the Bali fight.

Syaugi said a considerable amount of aircraft "skin" was found on the seafloor but not a large intact part of its fuselage as he'd indicated was possible Saturday.

He and other top officials including the military chief plan to meet with families on Monday to explain the search operation.

The Lion Air crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people died on a Garuda flight near Medan. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing all 162 on board.

Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade. The ban was completely lifted in June. The U.S. lifted a decadelong ban in 2016.

Lion Air is one of Indonesia's youngest airlines but has grown rapidly, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.


Egypt says perpetrators of attack against Christians killed

In this Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 photo, relatives and friends carry the coffin of, Maria Kamal, who was killed in an attack on a bus Saturday, after funeral services at the Church of Great Martyr Prince Tadros, in Minya, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Hamza Hendawi

Cairo (AP) — Egypt said Sunday that security forces have killed 19 militants in a shootout, including the gunmen suspected of killing seven Christians in an attack on pilgrims traveling to a remote desert monastery.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said the militants were tracked to a hideout in the desert west of the central province of Minya, the site of Friday's attack, which also left 19 people wounded.

It said the alleged militants opened fire when they realized they were being besieged by security forces. It did not say when the shootout took place or explain how it had determined that the perpetrators of Friday's attack were among the 19 killed.

The ministry published photographs purporting to show the bodies of the slain militants, as well as rifles, shotguns and pistols. Other images showed the inside of a tent with the black banner of the Islamic State group — which claimed responsibility for Friday's attack — unfurled on the ground.

An IS affiliate centered in the Sinai Peninsula has repeatedly targeted Christians, in part over their support for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

El-Sissi led the 2013 overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president and has since waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists and other activists.

Friday's attack was the second in as many years to target pilgrims on their way to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor, after a May 2017 assault left 29 dead.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 100 million people and have long complained of discrimination. They have accused police of negligence after this and other attacks, and say authorities often go easy on Muslim assailants after outbreaks of sectarian violence.

They have found a measure of protection under el-Sissi which, according to Christian activists, did not extend to members of the ancient community in rural regions where radical Muslims whip up anti-Christian sentiments, often over the construction or restoration of churches or romantic relationships between Christians and Muslims.

Pope Francis on Sunday decried the attack and invited the faithful in St. Peter's Square to pray with him for the seven people killed on Friday. He said he was praying for the "pilgrims killed for the sole fact of being Christians," asking that those grieving be comforted.

Addressing a meeting of youths in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, el-Sissi on Sunday sought to send out a message of reconciliation. He said Friday's attack pained all Egyptians, adding that his rule has been more tolerant of minorities than that of his predecessors.

"The state now is tasked with building churches for its citizens, because they (Christians) have the right to worship," he said, alluding to a 2016 law that, in theory, regulates the construction of churches and mosques without bias. "If followers of other religions lived in Egypt, we would have built places of worship for them too," said the Egyptian leader who has been in office since 2014.


WWI centenary to be marked in London and Paris, not Berlin

A field of graves belonging to WWI soldiers in the main cemetery in Frankfurt, Germany, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

David Rising

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on French soil, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be in London for a ceremony in Westminster Abbey with Queen Elizabeth II.

But while Germany's leaders visit the capitals of its wartime enemies, at home there are no national commemorations planned for the centenary of the Nov. 11 armistice that ended the four-year war that left 17 million dead, including more than 2 million German troops.

Next week, the German parliament is holding a combined commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the first German republic, the 80th anniversary of the brutal Nazi-era pogrom against Jews known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), and the 29th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Almost as an afterthought, parliament notes there's also art exhibition in the lobby called "1914/1918 - Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever."

More than just being on the losing side of World War I, it's what came next that is really behind Germany's lack of commemorative events.

For Germany, the Nov. 11 armistice did not mean peace like it did in France and Britain. The war's end gave rise to revolution and street fighting between far-left and far-right factions. It also brought an end to the monarchy, years of hyperinflation, widespread poverty and hunger, and helped create the conditions that brought the Nazis to power in 1933.

The horrific legacy of the Holocaust and the mass destruction of World War II simply overshadows everything else in Germany, said Daniel Schoenpflug, a historian at Berlin's Free University's Friedrich-Meinecke-Institute. His new book, "A World on Edge," explores the immediate aftermath of the war through individual perspectives.

"One can't reduce it to the simple fact that one country won the war and the other lost," Schoenpflug said. "Germany is a country that draws practically its entire national narrative out of the defeat of 1945" — and not the defeat of 1918.

By contrast in Turkey, which was also on the losing side in World War I, the war's end produced a similar collapse of the Ottoman empire and a war of independence, but also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern Turkish republic.

In Germany, even though the end of World War I is now viewed through the prism of Hitler and the Holocaust, in the immediate postwar period there actually was a time of utopianism, with movements promoting idealistic visions of peace and democracy, Schoenpflug said.

Yet on the other side of the political spectrum, utopianism on the right also gave birth to fascism, he said.

And as initial euphoria over the end of World War I faded, hopes for the future quickly gave way to feelings of resentment at the reparations and conditions imposed on Germany by the victorious powers. The Nazis and right-wing nationalists were able to garner support by pushing the "stab-in-the-back" myth, which held that Germany's civilian leaders sold out the army by agreeing to the Nov. 11 surrender.

"There was a war of dreams, a clash of utopias" between the right and the left, Schoenpflug said.

Although there aren't any national commemorations in Germany marking the war's end, individual events are planned, including an exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. A special World War I religious service is also being organized by the German Bishops Conference at the Berliner Dom cathedral.

And in addition to German officials taking part in events in London and Paris, the Foreign Ministry said they and their British counterparts have worked together to coordinate the ringing of church and secular bells around the world on Nov. 11 to mark the war's centenary.

"The bells will ring at midday to commemorate the more than 17 million victims of World War I and as a call for understanding and reconciliation across borders," the ministry said.


Update November 1, 2018

Lion Air crash search finds debris, belongings on seafloor

Members of National Search and Rescue Agency inspect debris retrieved from the waters where Lion Air flight JT 610 is believed to have crashed, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago)

Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — The search for the crashed Lion Air plane has found aircraft debris and passenger belongings on the seafloor but the object thought to be the fuselage is still eluding it, an Indonesian official said Wednesday, as chilling video of passengers boarding the fatal flight emerged.

Search and Rescue Agency chief Muhammad Syaugi said the seafloor findings give the search team confidence they will find the body of the aircraft. The location of the airplane's "black box" flight data recorder has been identified, he said, but strong currents prevented it from being recovered.

"We saw belongings such as life jackets, pants, clothes scattered on the seabed," Syaugi said. "We believe the fuselage will be around there, we hope that our target can be found."

The 2-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea early Monday just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia's fast-growing aviation industry, which was recently removed from European Union and U.S. blacklists, and also raised doubts about the safety of Boeing's new generation 737 MAX 8 plane.

Syaugi said one of the ships with high-tech equipment being used in the search dispatched a remote-operated vehicle that recorded parts of the aircraft on the seafloor but not the 22-meter (72-foot) -long object detected at a depth of 32 meters (105 feet) that is believed to be the fuselage. He said the area is about 400 meters (1,300 feet) from the coordinates where the airplane lost contact.

Three other objects in separate locations were reached by divers but turned out to be two sunken boats and a fish trap. A remote-operated vehicle was sent to the black box location "but the currents on the seabed were very strong, the ROV was carried away," Syaugi said.

Searchers have sent 57 body bags containing human remains to police identification experts who on Wednesday said they'd identified their first victim, a 24-year-old woman, from a ring and a right hand.

Anguished family members have been providing samples for DNA tests and police say results are expected within 4-8 days.

Musyafak, the head of Said Sukanto Police Hospital, said nearly 150 samples for DNA testing have been collected but more are still needed, especially from parents and children of victims.

Boeing Co. experts were expected to arrive in Indonesia on Wednesday and Lion Air has said an "intense" internal investigation is underway in addition to the probe by safety regulators.

Data from flight-tracking sites show the plane had erratic speed and altitude in the early minutes of a flight on Sunday and on its fatal flight Monday. Safety experts caution, however, that the data must be checked for accuracy against the plane's black boxes.

Several passengers on the Sunday flight from Bali to Jakarta have recounted problems that included a long-delayed takeoff for an engine check and terrifying descents in the first 10 minutes in the air.

Two interviewed on Indonesian TV recalled details such as a strange engine sound, a smell of burnt cables, and panicked passengers crying out for God to save them as the plane rapidly lost altitude. Later in the flight, a man who was either the captain or first officer walked through the plane and returned to the cockpit with what looked like a large manual.

Lion Air has said maintenance was carried out on the aircraft after the Sunday flight and a problem, which it didn't specify, was fixed.

Indonesian TV broadcast a smartphone video of passengers boarding Flight 610, its mundane details transformed into unsettling moments by knowledge of the tragedy that would transpire.

It showed passengers' boarding passes being checked and people walking along a concourse and then down stairs with bright red and white Lion Air jets visible on the tarmac.

At one point, the passenger who shot the video, Paul Ferdinand Ayorbaba, zoomed in on the flight number on his boarding pass. A part of the video shows passengers walking up the boarding stairs to a Lion jet.

"My husband sent that video to me via WhatsApp. It was his last contact with me, his last message to me," said Inchy Ayorbaba, interviewed at the Jakarta police hospital where she had taken their three children for DNA tests.

The messaging app's timestamp showed the video was sent about 35 minutes before the plane took off, said Ayorbaba, who first saw the message at 6:30 a.m., some 10 minutes after the plane departed, and then went back to sleep.

Lion Air's technical director was removed from duty Wednesday at the order of the Transport Ministry. It also has ordered all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by Lion Air and national carrier Garuda to be inspected. Lion has ordered 50 of the jets, worth an estimated $6.2 billion, and currently operates nine.

Daniel Putut, a Lion Air managing director, said Tuesday evening the airline has many questions for Boeing.

"Of course there are lots of things we will ask them, we all have question marks here, 'Why? What's the matter with this new plane,'" Putut said.

The crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people died in the crash of a Garuda flight near Medan. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing all 162 on board.

Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade. The ban was completely lifted in June. The U.S. lifted a decadelong ban in 2016.

Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.


Pakistan acquits Christian woman facing death for blasphemy

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group chant slogans during a protest after a court decision, in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, Oct. 31. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmed

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistan's top court on Wednesday acquitted a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2010, a landmark ruling that sparked protests by hard-line Islamists and raised fears of violence.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar announced the verdict to a packed courtroom and ordered Asia Bibi released. She has been held at an undisclosed location for security reasons and is expected to leave the country.

The charges against Bibi date back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. Two Muslim women refused to drink from a container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. She was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

The mere rumor of blasphemy can ignite mob violence and lynchings in Pakistan, and combatting alleged blasphemy has become a central rallying cry for hard-line Islamists.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot and killed by one of his guards in 2011 for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hard-liners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

Ahead of the verdict, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a hard-line cleric who has brought tens of thousands of people into the streets for past rallies, called on his supporters to gather in all major cities to express their love for the prophet and to protest if Bibi is released. Authorities have stepped up security at churches around the country.

Shortly after the ruling, hundreds of Islamists blocked a key road linking the city of Rawalpindi with the capital, Islamabad. Islamists gathered in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, in the northwestern city of Peshawar and elsewhere. Police urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

In the eastern city of Multan, police arrested several demonstrators after clashes.

Paramilitary troops deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security for the judges was being beefed up.

Bibi's family and her lawyer say she never insulted the prophet. In previous hearings her attorney, Saiful Malook, pointed to contradictions in testimony from witnesses. The two Muslim women who pressed charges against Bibi denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, rejected the verdict, saying Bibi had confessed to making derogatory remarks against the prophet to seek pardon.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran. But they said prosecutors had failed to prove that Bibi violated the law. In addition to citing the Quran, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Bibi was "more sinned against than sinning."

Critics of the blasphemy law have said it is used to settle personal scores or to attack minority communities. Bibi's case was closely followed internationally amid concern for Pakistan's religious minorities, who have frequently come under attack by extremists in recent years.

Bibi's husband hailed Wednesday's verdict.

"I am very happy. My children are very happy. We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent," said Ashiq Masih.

"My wife spent so many years in jail and we hope that we will soon be together in a peaceful place," he said.


4 rescued, at least 19 missing in Philippine landslide

Rescuers dig through the earth to search for survivors after a massive landslide in Natonin township, Mountain Province in northern Philippines Wednesday, Oct. 31. (DPWH MPDSEO via AP)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Rescuers have pulled out four survivors and three bodies but several more were missing after a massive landslide set off by a typhoon crashed down on two government buildings in a northern Philippine mountain province, officials said Wednesday.

Regional police Chief Superintendent Rolando Nana said at least 19 more people still are missing from the landslide in the far-flung town of Natonin in Mountain province. Smaller land- and rockslides on roads leading to Natonin have slowed the advance of more rescuers and earth-moving equipment.

Disaster response officer Jennifer Pangket said there could be up to 24 people still trapped in the landslide, which occurred as Typhoon Yutu pummeled the region Tuesday. At least nine people have died due to the typhoon, which blew out of the northern Philippines on Tuesday.

"It's a massive landslide and boulders also came rolling down from the mountain. The buildings got demolished and entombed. They're gone," government engineer Junel Emengga told The Associated Press by phone from the site of the landslide.

More than 100 workers, police, firefighters and volunteers were scrambling to find more survivors in the avalanche using shovels and their hands because earth-moving equipment could not go through roads blocked by smaller landslides, he said.

One new building was being constructed and an old one was being expanded, he said.

Emengga said he and other staffers of the Department of Public Works and Highways did not work at the four-story buildings Tuesday because of the typhoon but other workers from a private company continued to work. Nearby residents also sought shelter in the buildings when their homes were hit by the landslides and fierce wind, he said.

Typhoon Yutu weakened considerably from its earlier super typhoon status over the Pacific Ocean before slamming into the Philippines' northeastern Isabela province before dawn Tuesday. Aside from the landslides, it also knocked down trees and power posts and ripped roofs off houses and stores, officials said.

The storm weakened further as it blew across mountains and then barreled westward through provinces still recovering from the deaths and devastation wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut in mid-September.

Yutu blew out into the South China Sea later Tuesday and weakened into a storm, Philippine forecasters said.

One of the world's most disaster-prone countries, the Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons and storms each year. It is also located in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.


Towering statue of India's independence leader unveiled

 

Indian policemen gather next to the Statue of Unity at Kevadiya colony in Gujarat state, India, Wednesday, Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Ashok Sharma

New Delhi (AP) — India's prime minister on Wednesday unveiled a towering bronze statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a key independence leader being promoted as a national icon in the ruling party's campaign ahead of next year's general elections.

Patel, who hailed from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's native Gujarat state, was also India's first home minister after the 1947 independence from Britain.

He was known as the "Iron Man of India" for integrating various states in the post-independence era, when the creation of Pakistan led to massive bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims moving between the two nations.

The statue is part of a broader project by Modi to counter the opposition Indian National Congress Party's firm claim on India's history by way of the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his mentor, peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, and his daughter, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by her guards in 1984.

Nehru's great-grandson, Rahul Gandhi, leads the Congress Party, and if a unified opposition wins a majority of seats in parliamentary elections due next spring, he could be a candidate for India's next prime minister.

The Patel statue "puts the opposition in a quandary because any criticism of Modi's showmanship will enable him to depict critics as being legatees of those who denied Patel his rightful place in the nation and history," said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a Delhi-based political analyst and author of the book "Modi: The Man, The Times."

"In the process, not only will the Statue of Unity literally dwarf statues of all other Indians leaders, but the event will also enable the memory of Sardar to rise imposingly over Congress Party leaders," Mukhopadhyay said.

At 182 meters (597 feet), Patel's bronze figure in Kevadiya, a village in Gujarat, is one of the tallest statues in the world — almost 10 stories higher than the 153-meter (501-foot) Spring Temple Buddha statue in China and nearly twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, which stands at 93 meters (305 feet).

The 42-month project built by 250 engineers and 3,000 workers began in 2013, when Modi was the top elected official in Gujarat. After he became prime minister in 2014, he pledged to complete it despite some critics balking at the nearly $403 million price tag, which they said could be better spent on welfare programs for India's poor.

Standing on the banks of the Narmada River on Wednesday as Indian air force pilots dropped flower petals on Patel's imposing figure, Modi said the statue would serve as a beacon of hope for India and "keep on reminding the whole world" about Patel's courage.

The monument will have a museum with 40,000 documents, 2,000 photographs and a research center dedicated to Patel's life and work.

"Though Patel was from Gujarat state, all Indians were proud of him because of his stature," said Rashesh Patel, a 42-year-old businessman among the crowd gathered for the inauguration ceremony.

The Patel statue could, however, soon be topped by the 212-meter (696-foot) Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial commemorating a 17th-century Indian warrior king, which is set to open in Mumbai in 2021.


Austria says it won't sign UN global migration pact

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and President Alexander Van Der Bellen, from left, review recruits on the occasion of national holiday celebrations at Vienna's Heldenplatz, Austria, Friday, Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Berlin (AP) — The Austrian government said Wednesday that it won't sign a global compact to promote safe and orderly migration, citing concerns about national sovereignty as it joined neighboring Hungary in shunning the agreement.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office last December in a coalition with the nationalist, anti-migration Freedom Party. Austria currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, and Kurz has made curbing unregulated migration a priority.

The Global Compact for Safety, Orderly and Regular Migration, which isn't legally binding, was finalized under U.N. auspices in July. It is due to be formally approved at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, from Dec. 11-12.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Austria won't sign the document or send an official representative to Marrakech. They cited, among other things, fears about a possible watering-down of the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

"There are some points that we view critically and where we fear a danger to our national sovereignty," Kurz said.

"Some of the contents go diametrically against our position," added Strache, the Freedom Party's leader.

"Migration is not and cannot become a human right," Strache said. "It cannot be that someone receives a right to migration because of the climate or poverty."

In September 2016, all 193 U.N. member states, including the United States under President Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own and agreeing to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018.

But last December, the United States said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact, stating that numerous provisions were "inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies" under President Donald Trump.

In July, Hungary said it would withdraw from the process.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said then that the pact was contrary to Hungary's interests because while it had some positive aims, like fighting human trafficking, overall it considered migration an unstoppable and positive phenomenon worthy of support.

The compact has 23 objectives that seek to boost cooperation to manage migration and numerous actions ranging from technical issues like the portability of earnings by migrant workers to reducing the detention of migrants.


Missing girl's family presses Vatican about found bones

A military soldier guards the entrance of the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's embassy to Italy, in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 31. (Fabio Frustaci/ANSA via AP)

Vatican City (AP) — Lawyers for the family of a 15-year-old girl who went missing in 1983 pressed Italian prosecutors and the Vatican on Wednesday for more details regarding human bone fragments found in an annex of the Holy See's embassy in Rome.

The find, announced late Tuesday, raised immediate speculation over possible links with the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee whose fate remains one of the Vatican's most enduring mysteries. The news agency ANSA reported that prosecutors were focusing on whether the remains could be linked either to Orlandi, who disappeared on June 22 1983, or another 15-year-old girl, Mirella Gregori, who went missing a month earlier in Rome, on May 7, 1983.

"We are asking Rome prosecutors and the Holy See by what means the bones were found and how their discovery was placed in relation to the disappearances of Emanuela Orlandi and Mirella Gregori," lawyer Laura Scro said, adding that the Vatican statement "provides little information."

The Vatican said human bone fragments were found this week during renovations of a room annexed to the embassy, and that Italian forensic experts had been asked by prosecutors to determine the age and gender of the body and the date of death. Experts say that could be determined in a week to 10 days, if adequate DNA can be extracted from the fragments.

The Orlandi and Gregori disappearances have never been formally linked. The Orlandi disappearance is by far the higher-profile, with its Vatican links and many twists. The teen disappeared after leaving her family's Vatican City apartment to go to a music lesson in Rome.

Over the years, her case has been linked to everything from the plot to kill St. John Paul II to the financial scandal of the Vatican bank and Rome's criminal underworld.
 


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Missing girl's family presses Vatican about found bones