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Update November 2017


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Update November 21, 2017

Bombing at Nigeria mosque kills at least 50

This image taken shows the interior of a mosque after a deadly attack by a suicide bomber, in Mubi, Adamawa State, Nigeria, Tuesday Nov. 21. (AP Photo)

Sam Olukoya

Lagos, Nigeria (AP) — A teenage suicide bomber attacked worshippers as they gathered for morning prayers Tuesday at a mosque in northeastern Nigeria, killing at least 50 people, police said, in one of the region's deadliest assaults in years.

Bloody debris covered the floor inside the mosque in Mubi town in Adamawa state where worshippers had arrived around 5 a.m. Outside, people gathered around the dead.

President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted that he was "saddened by the very cruel and dastardly suicide bombing attack."

"May the souls of the dead rest in peace," he added.

Police spokesman Othman Abubakar told The Associated Press they were "still trying to ascertain the number of injured because they are in various hospitals."

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, suspicion immediately fell on the Boko Haram extremist group. The group is based in neighboring Borno state and has been blamed for scores of similar attacks over the years.

Tuesday's attack was the first since Mubi town was liberated from Boko Haram insurgents in 2014.

Boko Haram increasingly has been using teenagers or young women as bombers, many of whom have been abducted.

The police spokesman said the young man detonated his explosives Tuesday while mingling among the worshippers.

While Nigeria's military in recent months has flushed Boko Haram from its forest stronghold, President Muhammadu Buhari's claim late last year that the extremist group had been "crushed" has proven to be premature.

Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 20,000 deaths during its eight-year-old insurgency. The attacks have spilled into neighboring countries and displaced more than 2.4 million people in the Lake Chad region, creating a vast humanitarian crisis.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the suicide attack and reiterated "the solidarity of the United Nations with the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

The U.N. chief called for those responsible "for these heinous acts to be swiftly brought to justice," he said.

The United States condemned the attack. A statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said "that the victims were targeted and killed in a place of worship demonstrates yet again the brutal nature of the terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten the peace and security of Nigerian citizens."

Nauert said the attack only strengthens the resolve of the U.S. to work with Nigerian and regional partners in countering such threats.


Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe's president after 37 years

Zimbabweans celebrate outside the parliament building immediately after hearing the news that President Robert Mugabe had resigned, in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Tuesday, Nov. 21. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Christopher Torchia and Farai Mutsaka

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who once vowed to rule for life, resigned on Tuesday, succumbing to a week of overwhelming pressure from the military that put him under house arrest, lawmakers from the ruling party and opposition who started impeachment proceedings and a population that surged into the streets to say 37 years in power was enough.

The capital, Harare, erupted in jubilation after news spread that the 93-year-old leader's resignation letter had been read out by the speaker of parliament, whose members had gathered to impeach Mugabe after he ignored escalating calls to quit since a military takeover. Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power, whose early promise after the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

"Welcome to the new Zimbabwe!" people chanted outside the conference center where the lawmakers had met. "This is the best day of my life," one man declared as euphoric citizens celebrated on top of cars, clustered around a tank and shook hands with soldiers who were hailed as saviors for their role in dislodging Mugabe, a once-formidable politician who crushed dissent or sidelined opponents but, in the end, was a lonely figure abandoned by virtually all his allies.

"Change was overdue. ...  Maybe this change will bring jobs," said 23-year-old Thomas Manase, an unemployed university graduate.

It was a call echoed by many, and which pointed to the challenges ahead for Zimbabwe, which used to be a regional breadbasket but has since suffered hyperinflation, cash shortages, chronic mismanagement and massive joblessness. And, while Zimbabweans seemed almost universally united in their wish to see an end to the Mugabe era, the hard work of building institutions and preparing for what they hope are free and fair elections scheduled for next year has yet to begin.

Mugabe, who was the world's oldest head of state, said in his resignation letter that legal procedures should be followed to install a new president "no later than tomorrow."

"My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power," Mugabe said in the message read out by parliamentary speaker Jacob Mudenda.

Recently ousted Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was to take over as the country's leader within 48 hours so that he can move "with speed to work for the country," said a ruling party official, Lovemore Matuke. Mnangagwa, who fled the country after his Nov. 6 firing, "is not far from here," Matuke added.

Mugabe's resignation ended impeachment proceedings brought by the ruling ZANU-PF party after its Central Committee voted to oust him as party leader and replace him with Mnangagwa, a former justice and defense minister who served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, a role that earned him the moniker, "Crocodile." Many opposition supporters detest Mnangagwa and believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s.

So far, Mnangagwa has used inclusive language, saying in a statement before Mugabe's resignation that all Zimbabweans should work together to advance their nation.

"Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation," Mnangagwa said.

Zimbabwe's military commander, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, warned people not to target old adversaries following Mugabe's resignation. "Acts of vengeful retribution or trying to settle scores will be dealt with severely," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Zimbabweans to maintain calm. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Mugabe's resignation "marks an historic moment" and that "the path forward" should lead to free and fair elections. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Mugabe was "a despot who impoverished his country" and his exit is a "moment of joy" for Zimbabwe.

The end for Mugabe came when his wife, Grace Mugabe, positioned herself to succeed her husband, leading a party faction that engineered Mnangagwa's ouster. The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called "criminals" around him who allegedly were looting state resources — a reference to associates of the first lady.

In his early days as leader, after a long war between black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence, Mugabe stressed education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished. But in 2000, violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms began, causing agricultural production to plunge. A land reform program was supposed to take much of the country's most fertile land and redistribute it to poor blacks, but Mugabe instead gave prime farms to ZANU-PF leaders and loyalists, relatives and cronies.

As the years went by, Mugabe was widely accused of hanging onto power through violence and vote fraud, notably in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened. Still, he cast himself as a voice of pride and defiance in modern Africa, a message that resonated in many countries that had experienced Western colonialism or intervention.

Mugabe once said he wanted to rule for life, expressing a desire to live until he is 100 years old. He also said he was ready to retire if asked to do so by his supporters.

A year ago, he said: "If I am to retire, let me retire properly."
 


Macron takes Europe's center stage while Merkel falters

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, shakes hands with local residents after visiting a branch of French charitable organization 'Les Restos du Coeur' (Restaurants of the Heart) in Paris, France, Tuesday, Nov. 21. (Ian Langsdon/Pool Photo via AP)

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron looks like the last, best hope to salvage a unified Europe, as Britain drifts away and Germany bogs down.

The role of knight in shining armor is one Macron relishes, whether he's standing up to U.S. President Donald Trump on climate change, mediating in Mideast crises or crusading to make Paris the world's newest financial capital.

Yet pitfalls await.

The inexperienced 39-year-old must surmount many hurdles to transform France into the kind of superpower economy that could drive the rest of Europe toward prosperity.

And instead of leaving Macron alone in the spotlight as Europe's superstar, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's troubles in forming a coalition at home may in fact drag him down with her.

"Macron can only really lead Europe if he is in full cooperation with Germany," said Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform. "France needs an engaged, cooperative Germany."

A divided, inward-looking Germany hobbles Macron's ambitious hopes of revitalizing the European Union and its shared currency through things like a banking union and harmonizing taxes. These ideas were always a hard sell in Germany, and Merkel is now too weakened to push them through.

The mood was somber in Macron's office the morning after Merkel's failure to form a coalition Sunday night. France wants "its principal partner to be stable and strong," a presidential official said.

But Macron isn't giving up, and instead sees Merkel's difficulties as "reinforcing" the need for France to take initiatives to strengthen the EU, the official said.

In a Europe looking for direction, many see Macron as a much-needed captain.

He's energetic, telegenic and forward-looking. He has a big head and big ideas, and doesn't apologize or flinch when critics target his "Jupiter-like" tendencies.

In just six months in power, he's secured support for a more robust European defense operation and rules cracking down on cheap labor, and pushed multinationals to pay more taxes. At European summits, he commands attention, and other leaders seek audiences with him — rivals and supporters alike.

"Along with Merkel, they are the only two leaders of any real stature in Europe at present," notably with Britain, Italy and Spain mired in other troubles, Tilford said.

Macron also vaunts French grandeur — hosting Vladimir Putin in Versailles and inviting Trump to dine in the Eiffel Tower. And Macron's administration has openly lobbied to leech financial activity away from London when Britain quits the EU.

Macron cried victory when the EU voted Monday to move the European Banking Authority from Britain to Paris. "It's the recognition of France's attractiveness and commitment to Europe," he tweeted.

It was based on luck as much as anything — Paris beat Dublin based on a paper draw from a bowl to break their tie.  But it was a clear boost to Macron's efforts to make Paris into a post-Brexit financial capital. It also fits his vision for a more simplified, concentrated EU, since Paris already hosts the European Securities and Markets Authority.

Foreign companies welcomed the move, even if it remains to be seen which European city — if any — is first in line to replace the City of London as the continent's financial hub.

Macron's status as leader of a united Europe will depend heavily on whether France's economic recovery picks up speed and joblessness goes down at last. He's just beginning to dismantle labor laws that have long scared investors away — and is already angering much of the French electorate in the process.

But Macron's success also depends heavily on Germany.

In recent years, "the German engine was spinning at full speed while the French engine was practically at a halt. Now, there is uncertainty about the German engine just at the moment when the French engine is ignited again with President Macron," European Parliament member Alain Lamassoure said on Europe-1 radio.

"It is in all of Europe's interest that Germany comes out of this political crisis as soon as possible."


Myanmar treatment of Rohingya called apartheid in new report

Rohingya people push a cart loaded with fire-wood in Thet Kabyin village, close to Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. (AP Photo/file)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Bangkok (AP) — Myanmar has subjected Rohingya Muslims to long-term discrimination and persecution that amounts to "dehumanizing apartheid," Amnesty International said Tuesday in a report that raises questions about what those who have fled a violent military crackdown would face if they returned home.

Since late August, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh, seeking safety from what the military described as "clearance operations." The United Nations and others have said the military's actions appeared to be a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," using acts of violence and intimidation and burning down homes to force the Rohingya to leave their communities.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month that the world body considered it "an absolutely essential priority" to stop all violence against the Rohingya and allow them to return to their homes. They are now living in teeming refugee camps in a Bangladesh border district, and officials in Dhaka have also urged that Myanmar allow them to return with their safety assured.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday the government would follow a formula set in a 1992-93 repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are holding bilateral negotiations on the new refugee crisis.

Amnesty International compiled two years' worth of interviews and evidence in its report, detailing how Rohingya lived within Myanmar, where they were subjected to a "vicious system of state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination that amounts to apartheid," meeting the international legal definition of a crime against humanity.

Rohingya Muslims have faced state-supported discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country for decades. Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.

Amnesty's report said the discrimination had worsened considerably in the last five years.

"I wanted to go to Sittwe hospital for medical treatment, but it's forbidden," Abul Kadir, 36, was quoted as telling the human rights group. "The hospital staff told me I couldn't go there for my own safety and said I needed to go to Bangladesh for treatment. It cost a lot of money."

Rohingya have fled en masse to escape persecution before. Hundreds of thousands left in 1978 and again in the early 1990s, though policies subsequently allowed many to return. Communal violence in 2012, as the country was transitioning from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy, sent another 100,000 fleeing by boat. Some 120,000 remain trapped in camps outside Rakhine's capital, Sittwe.

Rohingya were thought to number around 1 million people in Myanmar until late last year. That October, a Rohingya militant group killed several officers in attacks on police posts, and the military retaliation sent 87,000 Rohingya fleeing. A larger militant attack on Aug. 25 killed dozens of security forces, and the military response was swift and comprehensive.

By the tens of thousands, Rohingya began fleeing, their villages set aflame, some of the survivors bearing wounds from gunshots and land mines. Though the waves of refugees are now thinner, people are still crossing the Myanmar border nearly three month later.

Suu Kyi in her remarks Tuesday was hopeful a memorandum of understanding could be agreed upon soon to allow for the safe, voluntary return of people who fled to Bangladesh. She did not call them Rohingya, a name shunned by many in Myanmar who believe they are illegal immigrants.

Amnesty International's report cautioned that economic development of Rakhine should not be a tool of further discrimination. Myanmar has supported an international expert panel's recommendations on developing the impoverished state, but the same report urged Myanmar to grant citizenship and ensure that other rights of Rohingya were protected.

Foreign ministers and representatives of 51 countries began a meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar's capital, on Monday in a forum that aims to further political and economic cooperation but takes place against the backdrop of the refugee crisis.

"The international community must wake up to this daily nightmare and face the reality of what has been happening in Rakhine State for years," said Anna Neistat, Amnesty International's Senior Director for Research. "While development is an important part of the solution, it cannot be done in a way which further entrenches discrimination. The international community, and in particular donors, must ensure that their engagement does not make them complicit in these violations."


Giant swastika unearthed in Germany

A giant Swastika-shaped foundation sits on a construction site in Hamburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 21. The foundation was the base of a statue during Nazi times and remained undiscovered for more than 70 years. (Christian Charisius/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) — Construction workers in Germany have unearthed a giant concrete swastika on a sports field in the northern city of Hamburg.

The German news agency dpa reported Tuesday workers were digging in the ground with an excavator to build changing rooms when they suddenly hit the four-by-four meter (13-by-13 foot) Nazi symbol.

Members of the sports club at the Hein-Kling stadium in the city's Billstedt district told dpa the swastika served as a foundation for a monument that was torn down decades ago.

City officials say they want the swastika, which was buried 40 centimeters (1.3 feet) below the ground, gone as quickly as possible. Because it's too heavy to be transported away, they are planning to destroy it with jackhammers..


Update November 21, 2017

Charles Manson, whose brutality made him face of evil, dead

In this 1969 file photo, Charles Manson is escorted to court in Los Angeles during an arraignment phase. Manson, cult leader and mastermind behind 1969 deaths of actress Sharon Tate and several others, died on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. He was 83. (AP Photo, File)

John Rogers

Los Angeles (AP) — Charles Manson, the hippie cult leader who became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after masterminding the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969, died Sunday night after nearly a half-century in prison. He was 83.

Manson died of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence, his name synonymous to this day with unspeakable violence and depravity.

Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, reacted to the death by quoting the late Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who put Manson behind bars. Bugliosi said: "Manson was an evil, sophisticated con man with twisted and warped moral values."

"Today, Manson's victims are the ones who should be remembered and mourned on the occasion of his death," Hanisee said.

A petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood, the charismatic, guru-like Manson surrounded himself in the 1960s with runaways and other lost souls and then sent his disciples to butcher some of L.A.'s rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war — an idea he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles song "Helter Skelter."

The slayings horrified the world and, together with the deadly violence that erupted later in 1969 during a Rolling Stones concert at California's Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement and seemed to mark the death of the era of peace and love.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained during his tumultuous trial in 1970 that he was innocent and that society itself was guilty.

"These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them; I didn't teach them. I just tried to help them stand up," he said in a courtroom soliloquy.

Linda Deutsch, the longtime courts reporter for The Associated Press who covered the Manson case, said he "left a legacy of evil and hate and murder."

"He was able to take young people who were impressionable and convince them he had the answer to everything and he turned them into killers," she said. "It was beyond anything we had ever seen before in this country."

California Corrections Department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said it has yet to be determined what happens to Manson's body. It was also unclear if Manson requested funeral services of any sort.

Prison officials previously said Manson had no known next of kin, and state law says that if no relative or legal representative surfaces within 10 days, then it's up to the department to determine whether the body is cremated or buried.

The Manson Family, as his followers were called, slaughtered five of its victims on Aug. 9, 1969, at Tate's home: the actress, who was 8 months pregnant, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, Polish movie director Voityck Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the estate's caretaker. Tate's husband, "Rosemary's Baby" director Roman Polanski, was out of the country at the time.

The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were stabbed to death in their home across town.

The killers scrawled such phrases as "Pigs" and a misspelled "Healter Skelter" in blood at the crime scenes.

Manson was arrested three months later. In the annals of American crime, he became the personification of evil, a short, shaggy-haired, bearded figure with a demonic stare and an "X'' — later turned into a swastika — carved into his forehead.

"Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969," author Joan Didion wrote in her 1979 book "The White Album."

After a trial that lasted nearly a year, Manson and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Another defendant, Charles "Tex" Watson, was convicted later. All were spared execution and given life sentences after the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972.

Atkins died behind bars in 2009. Krenwinkel, Van Houten and Watson remain in prison.

Another Manson devotee, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975, but her gun jammed. She served 34 years in prison.

Manson was born in Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 1934, to a teenager, possibly a prostitute, and was in reform school by the time he was 8. After serving a 10-year sentence for check forgery in the 1960s, Manson was said to have pleaded with authorities not to release him because he considered prison home.

"My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system," he would later say in a monologue on the witness stand. "I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you."

He was set free in San Francisco during the heyday of the hippie movement in the city's Haight-Ashbury section, and though he was in his mid-30s by then, he began collecting followers — mostly women — who likened him to Jesus Christ. Most were teenagers; many came from good homes but were at odds with their parents.

The "family" eventually established a commune-like base at the Spahn Ranch, a ramshackle former movie location outside Los Angeles, where Manson manipulated his followers with drugs, oversaw orgies and subjected them to bizarre lectures.

He had musical ambitions and befriended rock stars, including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. He also met Terry Melcher, a music producer who had lived in the same house that Polanski and Tate later rented.

By the summer of 1969, Manson had failed to sell his songs, and the rejection was later seen as a trigger for the violence. He complained that Wilson took a Manson song called "Cease to Exist," revised it into "Never Learn Not to Love" and recorded it with the Beach Boys without giving Manson credit.

Manson was obsessed with Beatles music, particularly "Piggies" and "Helter Skelter," a hard-rocking song that he interpreted as forecasting the end of the world. He told his followers that "Helter Skelter is coming down" and predicted a race war would destroy the planet.

"Everybody attached themselves to us, whether it was our fault or not," the Beatles' George Harrison, who wrote "Piggies," later said of the murders. "It was upsetting to be associated with something so sleazy as Charles Manson."

According to testimony, Manson sent his devotees out on the night of Tate's murder with instructions to "do something witchy." The state's star witness, Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity, testified that Manson tied up the LaBiancas, then ordered his followers to kill. But Manson insisted: "I have killed no one, and I have ordered no one to be killed."

His trial was nearly scuttled when President Richard Nixon said Manson was "guilty, directly or indirectly." Manson grabbed a newspaper and held up the front-page headline for jurors to read: "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares." Attorneys demanded a mistrial but were turned down.

From then on, jurors, sequestered at a hotel for 10 months, traveled to and from the courtroom in buses with blacked-out windows so they could not read the headlines on newsstands.

Manson was also later convicted of the slayings of a musician and a stuntman.

Over the decades, Manson and his followers appeared sporadically at parole hearings, where their bids for freedom were repeatedly rejected. The women suggested they had been rehabilitated, but Manson himself stopped attending, saying prison had become his home.

The killings inspired movies and TV shows, and Bugliosi, the prosecutor, wrote a best-selling book about the murders, "Helter Skelter." The macabre rock star Marilyn Manson borrowed part of his stage name from the killer.

"The Manson case, to this day, remains one of the most chilling in crime history," veteran crime reporter Theo Wilson wrote in her 1998 memoir, "Headline Justice: Inside the Courtroom — The Country's Most Controversial Trials." ''Even people who were not yet born when the murders took place know the name Charles Manson, and shudder."


Bounty offered for beheadings of Bollywood director, actress

Members of India's Rajput community shout slogans as they protest against the release of Bollywood film "Padmavati" in Mumbai, India, Monday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Muneeza Naqvi

New Delhi (AP) — A member of India's Hindu nationalist ruling party offered 100 million rupees ($1.5 million) to anyone who beheads the lead actress and the director of an unreleased Bollywood film "Padmavati" rumored to depict a relationship between a Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler.

Suraj Pal Amu, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from the northern state of Haryana, offered the bounty against actress Deepika Padukone and filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Sunday. The film's producers postponed the release of the film, which was set to be in theaters Dec. 1, and Amu was reported by local media to have said at a public rally that the film would not be allowed to be released at all.

"Padmavati" is based on a 16th century Sufi epic poem, "Padmavat," in which a brave and beautiful Rajput queen chose to kill herself rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji. Over centuries of its retelling, the epic has come to be seen as history, despite little evidence.

Padukone plays Padmini, the legendary queen who committed "jauhar," the medieval Rajput practice in which female royals walked into funeral fires to embrace death over the dishonor of being taken captive.

"Padmavati" has been in trouble since the beginning of the year, with fringe groups in the western state of Rajasthan attacking the film's set, threatening to burn down theaters that show it and even physically attacking Bhansali in January.

Most of the anger appears to stem from allegations that Bhansali filmed a romantic dream sequence between the protagonists, which Bhansali has denied.

Earlier this month, the head of the Rajput Karni Sena in Rajasthan said Padukone should have her nose cut — a symbol of public humiliation — for being part of a film that allegedly insulted the famed queen.

India's 1.3 billion-strong democracy is the largest in the world and has made great economic strides, but its politics are held hostage by a complex mix of religion and caste. Books and movies have been banned or received threats of violence because they either offend one religious or caste group, or are deemed offensive to Indian culture in general.

Hollywood movies are routinely scrubbed of sex scenes, and India's film censor board rejected "Fifty Shades of Grey." ''The Da Vinci Code" was banned in Goa state, which has a large Christian population.

In 2014, the publishing house Penguin India pulled from shelves and destroyed all copies of American historian Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus: An Alternative History" after a Hindu right-wing group protested, mainly because they said the book described Hindu mythological texts as fictional.

Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" has been banned since 1998, since many Muslims consider it blasphemous. The Indian-born Rushdie was forced to cancel a 2012 appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival amid protests and threats by prominent Muslim clerics.


Argentina's navy says sounds didn't come from missing sub

 

A ship leaves a naval base to join the search for missing submarine ARA San Juan, in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Monday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Marina Devo)

Paul Byrne and Luis Andres Henao

Mar del Plata, Argentina (AP) — Sounds detected by probes deep in the South Atlantic on Monday did not come from an Argentine submarine that has been lost for five days, the country's navy said Monday, dashing newfound hope among relatives of the 44 sailors aboard.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters that the "noise" was analyzed and experts determined it was likely "biological." He said the sounds did not come from tools being banged against the hull of a submarine as was previously reported by some media.

"We all had hope, but unfortunately this comes from believing sources that are not trustworthy," Balbi said. "Some sources were saying that this was banging on the hull in Morse code signals."

The noise was heard by two Argentine navy ships about 220 miles (360 kilometers) from the Argentine coast and at a depth of about 650 feet (200 meters). A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft was sent to help in the effort to isolate the source of the sounds.

The ARA San Juan went missing Wednesday as it sailed from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the coastal city of Mar del Plata. More than a dozen international vessels and aircraft have joined the search, which has been hindered by stormy weather that has caused waves up to 20 feet (6 meters).

In the first confirmation of a malfunction, an Argentine navy official said earlier Monday that the submarine reported a battery failure Wednesday and was returning to base when it went missing.

Brief satellite calls over the weekend had originally been thought to indicate the crew was trying to re-establish contact, prompting emotional celebrations by family members and officials. But Balbi said earlier Monday that officials analyzed the seven low-frequency satellite signals and determined they were not received from the submarine.

Although the German-built diesel-electric vessel carried enough food, oxygen and fuel for the crew to survive about 90 days on the sea's surface, the sub had only enough oxygen to last seven days submerged, Balbi said.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, said he was sending "fervent prayers" for the crew.

The U.S. Navy ordered its Undersea Rescue Command based in San Diego, California, to deploy to Argentina to support the search for the submarine. The command includes a remotely operated vehicle and vessels capable of rescuing people from bottomed submarines.

Pledges of help also came from Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil and Britain, the latter sending a polar exploration vessel, HMS Protector.

Some relatives of the missing crew members took to social media Monday to ask for support during the search.

"Pray so that my husband, Fernando Santilli can return home," Jesica Gopar wrote. "He's in the San Juan submarine."

The submarine was originally scheduled to arrive Monday at the navy's base in Mar del Plata, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Buenos Aires. Argentine President Mauricio Macri met with family members at the base as they waited anxiously for news about their loved ones.

"We can make up a thousand movies with happy and sad endings, but the reality is that the days pass by and not knowing anything kills you," Carlos Mendoza, the brother of submarine officer Fernando Ariel Mendoza, told the AP.

"Every minute is oxygen that's worth gold."


EU takes tough approach to Brexit as talks enter key weeks

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives for a conference to mark the launch of the Centre for European Reform's new office in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Raf Casert and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — The European Union's top Brexit negotiator on Monday took an uncompromising approach to the Brexit talks over the next few crucial weeks, saying it's up to Britain to offer solutions on outstanding issues and insisting other EU decision-makers could be more unyielding than he has been.

Michel Barnier told a conference in Brussels that London needs to provide clear proposals soon to find a way for the U.K. to leave the EU in 2019 but still have a transparent, open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"Those who wanted Brexit must offer solutions," Barnier told a gathering at the Center for European Reform.

Britain is hoping EU leaders will agree at a Dec. 14-15 summit to start talking about post-Brexit relations and trade. But the EU is demanding "sufficient progress" first on the Irish border, the rights of citizens affected by Brexit and the bill Britain must pay to settle its commitments to the bloc.

Barnier has said Britain has until the end of November to demonstrate that progress.

On Monday, he dashed British hopes that the EU is prepared to make big compromises, saying the bloc's legal rules and commitments had to be respected. And he said there was no point in him being lenient, since EU nations, their legislators and the European Parliament will have to approve any deal, too.

Barnier warned that Britain would not get the close free-trade deal it seeks with the EU unless it stuck to a "European model" of the economy. Some British advocates of Brexit want the U.K. to adopt a low-tax, light-regulation free-market economic model once it leaves the bloc.

"Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want to gradually move away from it?" Barnier asked. He said Britain's answer could be decisive since it will "shape also the conditions for ratification of that partnership in many national parliaments and obviously in the European Parliament."

"I do not say this to create problems but to avoid problems," he said. A late rejection of a divorce agreement in the fall of 2018 by European legislators could create immense problems when Britain leaves on March 29, 2019.

He also dashed hopes for a compromise in which Britain could still use some of the EU's single market of free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

Since Britain wants to end the free movement of people, Barnier said, "this means that the U.K. will lose the benefits of the single market. This is a legal reality."

Barnier also has been steadfast in insisting Britain should settle its outgoing bill before leaving. Britain has offered some 20 billion pounds (22.5 billion euros, $26 billion), but the EU is seeking more than double that.

The British government's Brexit committee is meeting Monday to discuss negotiations. Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman would not confirm reports that Britain is preparing to increase its offer on the Brexit bill by as much as 20 billion pounds.

"The PM has been clear — the U.K. will honor commitments we have made during the period of our membership," said spokesman James Slack.

But he said "specific-figure scenarios are all subject to negotiation."


Suu Kyi blames world conflicts partly on illegal immigration

Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, right, speaks during the Asia Europe Foreign Ministers (ASEM) meeting at Myanmar International Convention Centre Monday, Nov. 20, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Esther Htusan

Naypyitaw, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday that the world is facing instability and conflict in part because illegal immigration spreads terrorism, as her country faces accusations of violently pushing out hundreds of thousands of unwanted Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi did not directly mention the refugee exodus in a speech to European and Asian foreign ministers in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw. But her speech highlighted the views of many in the country who see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and accuse them of terrorist acts.

The ongoing Rohingya exodus is sure to be raised by the visitors at the meetings Monday and Tuesday.

Suu Kyi said the world is in a new period of instability as conflicts around the world give rise to new threats and emergencies, citing "Illegal immigration's spread of terrorism and violent extremism, social disharmony and even the threat of nuclear war. Conflicts take away peace from societies, leaving behind underdevelopment and poverty, pushing peoples and even countries away from one another."

Myanmar has been widely criticized for the military crackdown that has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the crackdown appears to be a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," and some have called for re-imposing international sanctions that were lifted as Myanmar transitioned from military rule to elected government.

Foreign ministers and representatives of 51 countries are meeting in Naypyitaw in a forum that aims to further political and economic cooperation but takes place against the backdrop of the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis.

A flurry of diplomatic activity preceded Monday's opening, with the foreign ministers of Germany and Sweden joining the EU's foreign policy chief in a visit to the teeming refugee camps in Bangladesh. China's Wang Yi was also in Bangladesh and met privately with Suu Kyi on Sunday in Myanmar following that trip.

Suu Kyi is Myanmar's foreign minister and state councilor, a title created for the country's once-leading voice for democracy since she is constitutionally banned from the presidency. She does not command the military and cannot direct its operations in northern Rakhine state, but her remarks in seeming support of the brutal crackdown have damaged her global reputation.

In her speech to the visiting foreign ministers, Suu Kyi also cited natural disasters caused by climate change as compounding the world's problems. She said mutual understanding of problems like terrorism would be crucial for peace and economic development.

"I believe that if policymakers develop a true understanding on each of those constraints and difficulties, the process of addressing global problems will become easier and more effective," she said. "It is only through mutual understanding that strong bonds of partnership can be forged."

The European Union's top diplomat said earlier Monday that she is encouraging Suu Kyi to implement the recommendations of an expert panel on ensuring stability in Rakhine state and work was still needed on that.

The commission, led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called for promoting investment and community-directed growth to alleviate poverty in Rakhine, which Myanmar officials have supported. But it also called for Myanmar to grant citizenship and ensure other rights to the Rohingya, which are hotly disputed and effectively render most of them stateless.

The commission, established last year at Suu Kyi's behest, issued its report the day before a Rohingya insurgent group killed dozens in attacks on multiple police posts on Aug. 25. The military's response has been called disproportionate and a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Rohingya now in Bangladesh have described indiscriminate shootings, rapes and arsons that wiped out whole villages. Some survivors bear wounds from gunshots and land mines.

"Stopping the violence, stopping the flow of refugees and (guaranteeing) full humanitarian access to Rakhine state and safe, sustainable repatriation of the refugees is going to be needed," said Federica Mogherini, the high representative for EU foreign policy.

She said the EU was encouraging Bangladesh and Myanmar to work on that issue.


Update November 20, 2017

German government talks collapse; Merkel seeks to reassure

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

David Rising

Berlin (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged early Monday to maintain stability after the Free Democratic Party pulled out of talks on forming a new government with her conservative bloc and the left-leaning Greens, raising the possibility of new elections.

Merkel told reporters that the parties had been close to reaching a consensus on how to proceed with formal coalition talks but that the Free Democrats decided abruptly to pull out just before midnight Sunday — a move she said she respected, but found "regrettable."

She said she would consult with Germany's president later in the day to brief him on the negotiations and discuss what comes next.

Without bringing the Free Democrats back to the table, Merkel will be forced to try to continue her current governing coalition with the Social Democrats, although that center-left party has said it will not do so, or she could try to form a minority government, which was seen as unlikely.  Otherwise Germany will have to hold new elections.

"It is at least a day of deep reflection on how to go forward in Germany," Merkel said. "But I will do everything possible to ensure that this country will be well led through these difficult weeks."

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and sister Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the pro-business Free Democrats and the left-leaning Greens had already blown past Merkel's own deadline of Thursday to agree on a basis for opening formal negotiations on a coalition of all four parties, a configuration that has never been tried at a national level in Germany.

Key sticking points were the issues of migration and climate change.

Among other things the Greens were pushing for Germany to end its use of coal and combustion engines by 2030, though they had signaled they were open to some compromise.

The other parties are also committed to reducing carbon emissions, but Merkel's bloc hadn't put a date on when to phase out coal. The Free Democrats also expressed concern about what the moves would mean for jobs and Germany's economic competitiveness.

On migration, the Christian Social Union wanted an annual cap on refugees, while the Greens sought to allow more categories of recent migrants to bring their closest relatives to join them.

Merkel said that "we thought we were on a path where we could have reached agreement," when that the Free Democrats decided to pull out.

Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner told reporters that his party decided to withdraw rather than further compromise its principles and sign on to policies the party was not convinced of.

"It is better not to govern, than to govern falsely," he said.

Greens politician Reinhard Buetikofer criticized Lindner's decision, saying on Twitter that the Free Democrat had chosen "a kind of populist agitation instead of governmental responsibility."

Looking ahead, if it comes to a new election, polls currently suggest it would produce a very similar parliament to the current one, which would make efforts to form a new government similarly difficult.

Though Merkel could also abandon the Free Democrats and the Greens and instead form a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, her current partners in the outgoing government, the Social Democrats have been adamant about going into opposition following its disastrous result in the Sept. 24 election.

Party leader Martin Schulz as recently as Sunday again ruled out the possibility of pairing up with Merkel's bloc to form a new government.


Zimbabwe president defies mounting pressure to leave office

 

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers his speech during a live broadcast at State House in Harare, Sunday, Nov, 19. (AP Photo)

Christopher Torchia and Farai Mutsaka

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe defied calls to quit Sunday, saying he will preside over a ruling party congress in December in an announcement that could trigger impeachment proceedings this week and more protests demanding his ouster.

In a televised address, the 93-year-old Mugabe acknowledged what he said were "a whole range of concerns" of Zimbabweans about the chaotic state of the government and the economy, but he stopped short of what many people in the southern African nation were hoping for — a statement that he was resigning after nearly four decades in power.

The once-formidable Mugabe is now a virtually powerless, isolated figure, making his continued incumbency all the more unusual and extending Zimbabwe's political limbo. He is largely confined to his private home by the military. The ruling party has fired him from his leadership post, and huge crowds poured into the streets of Harare, the capital, on Saturday to demand that he leave office.

Yet the president sought to project authority in his speech, which he delivered after shaking hands with security force commanders, one of whom leaned over a couple of times to help Mugabe find his place on the page he was reading.

The Central Committee of the ruling ZANU-PF party voted to dismiss Mugabe as party leader at a meeting earlier Sunday and said impeachment proceedings would begin if he does not resign by noon Monday. Mugabe made no reference to the party moves against him, instead saying he would play a leading role in a party congress planned for Dec. 12-17.

"The congress is due in a few weeks from now," Mugabe said. "I will preside over its processes, which must not be prepossessed by any acts calculated to undermine it or compromise the outcomes in the eyes of the public."

Mugabe has discussed his possible resignation on two occasions with military commanders after they effectively took over the country on Tuesday. The commanders were troubled by his firing of his longtime deputy and the positioning of unpopular first lady Grace Mugabe to succeed him. He referred to the military's concerns about the state of Zimbabwe, where the economy has deteriorated amid factional battles within the ruling party.

"Whatever the pros and cons of the way they went about registering those concerns, I, as the president of Zimbabwe, as their commander in chief, do acknowledge the issues they have drawn my attention to, and do believe that these were raised in the spirit of honesty and out of deep and patriotic concern for the stability of our nation and for the welfare of our people," Mugabe said.

The deputy whom Mugabe fired, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is positioned to become Zimbabwe's next leader after the party committee made him its nominee to take over from Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Committee members stood, cheered and sang after Mugabe was removed from his post as party leader. Meeting chair Obert Mpofu referred to him as "outgoing president" and called it a "sad day" for Mugabe after his decades in power.

"He has been our leader for a long time, and we have all learned a great deal from him," Mpofu said. But Mugabe, he said, "surrounded himself with a wicked cabal."

The meeting replaced Mugabe as party chief with Mnangagwa and recalled the first lady as head of the women's league, in decisions set to be ratified at the party congress next month. The committee accused the first lady of "preaching hate, divisiveness and assuming roles and powers not delegated to the office."

Zimbabwean officials never revealed details of Mugabe's talks with the military, but the military appeared to favor a voluntary resignation to maintain a veneer of legality in the political transition. Mugabe, in turn, has likely used whatever leverage he has left to try to preserve his legacy or even protect himself and his family from possible prosecution.

Hours before Mugabe spoke on television, Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the country's liberation war veterans, said more protests could occur if the president does not step aside. He said he was concerned that the military could end up opening fire to protect Mugabe from protesters.

"We would expect that Mugabe would not have the prospect of the military shooting at people, trying to defend him," Mutsvangwa said. "The choice is his."


Indian passenger train hits and kills 2 Asian elephants

 

Indian vets inspect the carcasses of two endangered Asian elephants that were hit and killed by a passenger train near a railway track in Thakur Kuchi village on the outskirts of Gauhati, Assam state, India, Sunday, Nov. 19. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Gauhati, India (AP) — Two endangered Asian elephants were hit and killed Sunday by a passenger train near the city of Gauhati in northeastern India.

Wildlife warden Prodipta Baruah said the elephants were part of a herd of about 15 that had ventured into the area in search of food before dawn.

Baruah said the other elephants crossed the track and the final two were attempting to cross when the train struck them.

Wildlife workers and veterinarians arrived to perform autopsies on the elephants before burying them in nearby pits.

There was no major damage to the train and no passengers were injured.

Gauhati is in Assam state, which is home to several thousand wild Asian elephants. The animals are revered in Asia but are considered endangered due to habitat loss and poaching.

Roaming elephants in the region are struck by trains fairly regularly.


Greece floods death toll rises to 20 with discovery of body

A resident stands at the entrance of his shop as a bulldozer collects debris at Mandra town, west of Athens, on Saturday, Nov. 18. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Athens, Greece (AP) — Authorities in Greece say that the body of an 83-year-old man has been found in the Athens suburb of Mandra that was struck by flash flooding, raising the overall death toll to 20.

The body was dug out from debris on Sunday several kilometers from where the man was last seen. He had gone hunting when the deadly flash flood struck Wednesday.

Two people are still missing. The government has declared an emergency in areas in central and northern Greece hit by heavy rains last week. There were no casualties in those areas.

More heavy rain fell Sunday across Greece and the bad weather is expected to continue Monday.


EU official backs Spain in fight against Catalan secession

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, arrives for an EU summit in Goteborg, Sweden on Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Joseph Wilson

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — Catalonia's secessionist push is nothing short of a "disaster" that the European Union will work to impede in support of a unified Spain, the European Commission's president said in comments published Sunday.

Spain is facing its worst national crisis in nearly four decades after Catalonia's regional parliament violated the Spanish Constitution by voting to declare independence Oct. 27. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by firing its government, dissolving the Catalan parliament and calling a regional election for Dec. 21.

"Catalonia is an enormous concern," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "I don't like the situation it has provoked. It is a disaster in several ways. It has charged the political atmosphere, it has fractured Spanish and Catalan society, it has caused problems inside families, between friends. It's sad."

Juncker sent a message to Carles Puigdemont, the ex-Catalan president who fled to Belgium, that Catalan secessionists "must not underestimate the wide support that Mariano Rajoy has throughout Europe."

The threat to shatter the EU's fifth-largest economy comes while the 28-nation bloc is handling its divorce with Britain and the impact it will have on the continent's economy and fragile common political project.

"I am in favor of a Europe of regions, of respecting their identity, of what makes them different," he said. "But that does not mean that we are going to support these regions in all their adventures, which sometimes are a tremendous error, and even more so if one declares independence unilaterally based on a referendum that lacked in guarantees."

Puigdemont and Catalonia's separatists claim a mandate for independence from a referendum on secession held against the will of Spanish authorities on Oct. 1. The ballot had been banned by Spain's top court, was boycotted by parties opposed to independence, and failed to meet international standards. Less than half the electorate participated in the poll, which the separatists won in a landslide despite violent police raids. Spain's government has defended the police response, saying it was proportionate to the aggression officers met.

"The (Spanish) government and the (Catalan government) can argue about the degree of its self-rule, but Europe is a club of nations, and I cannot accept that regions go against the nations. Especially when they are outside the law," Juncker said.

Spain's Constitution deems the nation "indivisible."

Puigdemont and four former regional ministers are currently fugitives from Spain and facing extradition from Belgium after they fled to Brussels almost three weeks ago.

Polls forecast a tight race for the December vote between parties in favor of secession and those who want Catalonia to remain a part of Spain.

Juncker said that Catalonia's election next month "could, should improve" the situation.
 


Update November 18-19, 2017

Argentine navy loses contact with submarine carrying 44

This undated photo shows the ARA San Juan submarine near Buenos Aires in Argentina. (Argentina Navy via AP )

Almudena Calatrava and Paul Byrne

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's Navy said Friday it has lost contact with a submarine carrying 44 crew members off the country's southern coast and has mounted an extensive search.

The Navy said that ships and aircraft were searching near the last known location of the ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, which had not been heard from since Wednesday.

The Navy said it was scanning all possible radio transmission frequencies for a sign of the San Juan.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told The Associated Press that it is possible that the submarine had an electrical issue and said it could not yet be termed lost.

"The last position (registered) was two days ago. Without wanting to be alarmist or overdramatic, the facts are that there no form of communications could be established between the vessel and its command, even with the alternative methods that the submarine has," Balbi said.

"What we interpret is that there must have been a serious problem with the communications (infrastructure) or with the electrical supply, cables, antennae or other (onboard) equipment."

Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of the Mar del Plata base that was the submarine's destination, said the vessel had sufficient food and oxygen.

"We have a loss of communications; we are not talking of an emergency," he said.

Still, relatives of some of the crewmembers were at the base awaiting word of the search.

"We are praying to God and asking that all Argentines help us to pray that they keep navigating and that they can be found," Claudio Rodriguez, the brother of one of the crewmembers, told the local Todo Noticias TV channel.

"We have faith that it's only a loss of communications," he added.

Balbi said the sub was headed from the naval base at Ushuaia in Argentina's extreme south to Mar del Plata, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Buenos Aires. He asked for patience while the search is carried out and said that the sub must surface so visual or radar contact can be made.

The Argentine Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the governments of Britain, Chile and the United States had offered "logistical help and an exchange of information for this humanitarian search." The statement also said that Argentina is also working with authorities in neighboring countries in case it needs support to locate the submarine.

The San Juan was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refit in 2014.


Mugabe emerges from house arrest amid pressure to exit

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe sits for formal photographs after presiding over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Farai Mutsaka and Christopher Torchia

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe emerged for the first time Friday from military-imposed house arrest, presiding at a university graduation ceremony in a fragile show of normalcy even as former loyalists across the country demanded that he resign after nearly four decades in power.

In an extraordinary evening newscast, state broadcaster ZBC — for decades, a mouthpiece for the Mugabe government — reported on the surging campaign for his ouster and showed video of ruling party members saying he should resign.

Clad in a blue academic gown, the 93-year-old leader earlier joined academics on a red carpet and sat in a high-backed chair in front of several thousand students and guests, a routine he has conducted for many years as the official chancellor of Zimbabwe's universities.

This time, however, the spectacle was jarring because the authority of the world's oldest head of state, once seen as impregnable, is evaporating daily.

That Mugabe was permitted to go to the Zimbabwe Open University event possibly reflected a degree of respect by the military for the president, a former rebel leader who took power after independence from white minority rule in 1980. The armed forces are in a delicate position, sending tanks and troops into Harare's streets this week to effectively end the Mugabe era, while refraining from more heavy-handed measures that would heighten accusations that they staged a coup and violated the constitution.

Meanwhile, the ruling ZANU-PF party signaled impatience with Mugabe amid negotiations on his exit. Party branches passed no-confidence votes in all 10 Zimbabwean provinces, and the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper said all called for the resignation of Mugabe and his wife. They seek a special meeting within two days of the party's Central Committee.

Demonstrations were called for Saturday in Harare to support the military's move against Mugabe, who drew applause from the graduating students on the outskirts of the capital only when he made brief, perfunctory remarks, usually to bestow degrees on delighted graduates. The military said it supports plans for a march, as long as the demonstration is orderly and peaceful.

"It was a long struggle," graduate Arthur Chipra said of the years of effort that went into his master's degree in conflict resolution. He declined to say anything when asked what he thought about Mugabe's presence at the ceremony, highlighting the lingering caution of many in a country where people have been prosecuted for criticizing the president.

Discontent with Mugabe has been growing because of the dire state of the economy, concerns about corruption and mismanagement, a sense that he is no longer physically capable of leading the country due to advanced age and the ambitions of his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him.

The military stepped into the factional battles of the ruling party on Wednesday after the firing of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is close to the armed forces and was heavily criticized by both Mugabes.

Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after his dismissal, will return only after the process to remove Mugabe is complete, high-level supporters told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about the matter.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for a return to civilian rule in Zimbabwe, urged any new leader to respect democracy and human rights, and said the country has a chance to put itself on a "new path."

China said it hopes Zimbabwe's political situation can be resolved "under the legal framework" and that stability can be restored.

Questions have been raised about China's possible role in Zimbabwe's affairs because Zimbabwe's army commander was in Beijing last week. China said the visit by Gen. Constantino Chiwenga was a "normal military exchange."

As Mugabe tries to hang on in negotiations over his departure from office, he has asked for "a few more days, a few more months," the chairman of the influential war veterans' association in Zimbabwe told reporters.

Chris Mutsvangwa, a Mnangagwa ally, said there is little tolerance for Mugabe to extend his presidency.

Several ruling party figures linked to Grace Mugabe — Jonathan Moyo, the higher education minister; Saviour Kasukuwere, the local government minister; and Ignatious Chombo, the finance minister — were detained during military operations, according to Mutsvangwa. Moyo was not at the graduation ceremony, even though he had been scheduled to attend.

The military said "significant progress has been made in their operation to weed out criminals around President Mugabe," saying they had committed "crimes that were causing social and economic suffering in Zimbabwe."

Photographs of talks at Mugabe's official residence show the president, Defense Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Intelligence Minister Kembo Mohadi, South African Cabinet ministers who are acting as mediators and a local Catholic priest, the Rev. Fidelis Mukonori, whom Mugabe has used as a mediator before. Grace Mugabe was not pictured. Negotiations on Mugabe's exit come ahead of a key ruling party congress next month, and elections next year.

There was no obvious military presence at the university graduation that Mugabe attended. His security was handled by presidential guards. Burly men in suits surrounded him as he walked slowly out of the graduation tent after declaring — to applause — an end to the ceremony.


Greece: Search continues for 6 still missing in flash floods

A dog sits on a flooded beach in Nea Peramos west of Athens on Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Athens, Greece (AP) — Hopes were diminishing as darkness fell Friday for six people reported missing in deadly flash floods that struck near Athens, killing 16.

The fire department said search and rescue efforts continued to locate the six, all reported missing in the Mandra district on the western outskirts of the Greek capital, which was the area hardest hit.

They included two hunters, three motorists and one person who was reported missing from outside a canteen truck stop.

Wednesday's flash floods, which came after an overnight storm, turned roads into raging torrents of mud that flung cars against buildings, inundated homes and businesses and submerged part of a major highway.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, and residents struggled with brooms and hoses to clear their properties of tons of mud, water and debris. Cranes were called in to remove smashed cars from atop walls and porches.

The flooding is one of the worst disasters to have hit the Athens area in decades. Several of those who died drowned trapped in flooded homes and stores, while others were motorists carried away by the floodwater. Two were men whose bodies were recovered by the coast guard after having been swept out to sea.

More bad weather, with heavy rainfall and storms, lashed the capital Friday, flooding a central road in the Keratsini area west of Athens, cutting off traffic.

The fire department said it had received 910 calls for help in the western areas of the capital since Wednesday morning to pump water from flooded buildings and transport people to safety. It said its crews rescued 96 people trapped in vehicles and homes.

The repeated storms led to another 70 calls for help to the fire department in other areas of the Greek capital and the nearby island of Aegina on Friday, and hundreds more from towns in northern Greece.

The Athens municipality said it was providing 2.5 tons of food and hygiene items, as well as clothing, bedding and medicine to those affected. Parliament announced it was giving 1 million euros to help residents in the flooded areas, while the Merchant Marine Ministry said it had arranged for a cruise ship docked in the nearby port of Piraeus to provide housing for those left homeless.


Climate talks wrap up with progress on Paris rulebook

A replica of the Statue of Liberty by Danish artist Jens Galschiot emits smoke in a park outside the 23rd UN Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks in Bonn, Germany, Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Frank Jordans

Bonn, Germany (AP) — Global talks on curbing climate change wrapped up Friday, with delegates and observers claiming progress on several key details of the 2015 Paris accord.

The two-week negotiations focused on a range of issues including transparency, financial assistance for poor nations and how to keep raising countries' targets for cutting carbon emissions.

"We are making good progress on the Paris agreement work program, and we are on track to complete that work by the deadline," Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told diplomats hours before the meeting in Bonn, Germany, was due to conclude.

Bainimarama, who presided over the talks, faced the challenging task of reconciling the often conflicting positions of rich and poor countries, especially when it comes to what each side needs to do to curb climate change.

By late Friday, two main issues remained unresolved: the question of how far in advance rich countries need to commit billions in funding to help developing nations, and a dispute over whether Turkey should have access to financial aid meant for poor countries.

Signatories of the Paris agreement want to keep global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. That goal won't be achieved unless countries make further efforts to sharply reduce carbon emissions caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels.

Observers say the U.S. delegation played a largely constructive role during the talks, despite the Trump administration's threat to pull out of the Paris accord.

While one group of American officials led by White House adviser George David Banks raised eyebrows by hosting a pro-coal event during the talks, a second group consisting of seasoned U.S. negotiators quietly got on with the painstaking job of refining the international climate rulebook, said Elliot Diringer, a veteran of such U.N. meetings.

"It's a smaller team but a strong team," said Diringer, who is the executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank. "From all accounts they have been playing a constructive role in the room advancing largely the same positions as before."

Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, cautioned that while the Bonn talks might be considered a diplomatic success, little concrete progress has been made on tackling what he called the "coal trap."

"We are being pressured by the mass of available coal: it's very cheap on the market but it's very expensive for society because of air pollution and climate change," he said, noting that Japan, Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia plan to keep investing in coal-fired power plants — a major source of carbon emissions.

Environmental groups voiced disappointment at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's failure to announce a deadline for her country to stop using coal, even as other nations such as Canada, Britain and France committed to a phase-out during the talks.

Leadership hopes are now being pinned on President Emmanuel Macron of France, who is hosting a climate summit in Paris next month to mark the second anniversary of the landmark accord.

Further low-level talks will take place over the next year in order to present leaders with final drafts for approval at the next climate meeting in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.


Disbelief as 'most wanted' Indonesia politician hospitalized

 

Aides and paramedics use a blanket to cover Indonesian House Speaker Setya Novanto, center, who lies on a stretcher as he is transferred into Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — A top Indonesian politician embroiled in a scandal involving an epic theft of public money has been hospitalized after a car crash that is being widely mocked online as another tactic to avoid arrest.

Indonesians were hardly surprised that their Donald Trump-admiring speaker of parliament Setya Novanto was nowhere to be found this week when police went to arrest him. But the car crash has unleashed a wave of incredulity among a public often indifferent to the slippery moves of Indonesian politicians.

Images swept across social media Thursday night showing a black SUV with a dented grill resting against a power pole, and Novanto apparently unconscious in a hospital bed with a bandage on his head. Jakarta police have yet to reach a conclusion in their accident investigation, but Novanto's lawyer said the politician was injured and anyone who calls the incident fake should be reported to police.

Some aren't buying it, calling the crash Novanto's most outrageous move yet to stymie the investigation and comparing it to a plot twist in one of the homegrown TV melodramas that regularly captivate millions.

Novanto, once hailed by Trump as one of Indonesia's most powerful men, has for months been using every political, medical and legal maneuver available to avoid questioning after being named a suspect in the $170 million corruption scandal.

In recent weeks he'd been unable to respond to summons for questioning, citing a variety of health problems that required hospital treatment, though earlier this month had apparently gathered enough strength to be a guest at the wedding of the daughter of Indonesia's president.

"Setya Novanto and his team of lawyers must think we Indonesians are all fools," said Rina Amelia, a 29-year-old barista at a Jakarta cafe. "This accident? Seriously?"

The Corruption Eradication Commission had said it would declare Novanto a most-wanted fugitive within 24 hours after he avoided arrest during a Wednesday night raid by commission officials and paramilitary police on his Jakarta home.

A day later Novanto was being driven to an appointment in Jakarta when the accident happened.

Novanto's lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said the politician was sitting in the back of the car and the driver was turning his head to talk to Novanto when he drove into the power pole. The driver, a reporter from a local TV station, only suffered light injuries but Novanto, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was "badly injured" with symptoms of a concussion, according to Yunadi.

Officials from the anti-corruption commission have been at the hospital since Thursday night, Yunadi said.

"I and hospital officials have told them that such a situation was not good for other patients, but they did not care," he said.

Mocking memes on social media using a hashtag that translates as "Save the power pole" quickly went viral.

Some predicted that the next twist in the drama would be Novanto claiming to have lost his memory and therefore unable to answer any questions about the corruption scandal.

"Sit back and grab your popcorn, this ain't over yet," said human rights lawyer Veronica Koman on Twitter.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said police have not yet reached any conclusion about whether the collision was purely an accident or otherwise. Yuwono said the MetroTV reporter who was driving the car would be prosecuted and faces up to three months in prison if convicted of negligent driving.

Anti-corruption police allege that Novanto was among about 80 people, mostly officials and legislators, and several companies used the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds.

Novanto, also chairman of the Golkar party, which is part of Indonesia's governing coalition, has denied any wrongdoing.

A Trump admirer, Novanto made an unexpected appearance at the future president's news conference at Trump Tower in New York in September 2015 along with another Indonesian lawmaker, Fadli Zon. Novanto was introduced by Trump as one of Indonesia's most powerful men who would do great things for the U.S.


Defying Russia, Serbia holds military drills with Americans

Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade and Serbian Army parachutists jump from a US Air Force C-130 transport aircraft during a bilateral Serbian and U.S. airborne exercise at Lisicji jarak airport, some 15 kilometers north of Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Dusan Stojanovic

Belgrade, Serbia (AP) — American and Serbian paratroopers held joint military exercises Friday in Serbia, watched with unease by Russia, which is trying to increase its influence in the Balkans and keep the country within its fold.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attended the last day of the four-day drill that included joint jumps by Serbian and U.S. parachutists from two U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules transport planes that flew close to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

"The joint exercise contributes to the (military) skills, but also enhances partnership and friendship that was not always seen in the past," Vucic said. "I'm grateful to our American partners who have showed that in a short time we could organize these activities."

In 1999,  a 78-day U.S.-led NATO bombardment ended a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in its former province of Kosovo, making the Western military alliance very unpopular among the Serbs.

John Gronski, the U.S. Army Europe deputy commanding general, said after the drills that such exercises with the Serbian forces "build the readiness of both of our militaries and when you have  ready military,  a region can be more stable and secure. "

American and NATO-related military drills in the Balkans regularly trigger anger by the Kremlin, which opposes its expansion in the former communist Eastern Europe. Serbia is considered the last remaining Russian ally in the region.

Serbia, which tries to politically balance between Russia and the West while seeking European Union membership, claims military neutrality. But Moscow has been arming the country with fighter jets and other equipment, worrying neighboring states in the region that saw a bloody civil war in the 1990s.

NATO and Serbia have been improving cooperation since the country joined its outreach Partnership for Peace program in 2006.

"I believe that we will improve (our relations) in the future," Vucic said, adding that "Serbia will, understandably, jealously preserve its military neutrality."

Gronski, the U.S. general, said whether Serbia eventually joins NATO depends on politicians.


Update November 17, 2017

Cambodia's top court orders opposition party dissolved

Riot police stand guard at a blocked street outside the supreme court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Nov. 16. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's Supreme Court ordered the country's main opposition party to be dissolved on Thursday, dealing one of the most crushing blows yet to democratic aspirations in the increasingly oppressive Southeast Asian state.

The decision means authoritarian leader Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, will face no serious challengers in elections due in July — a scenario likely to cement his rule for years to come.

The verdict was widely expected and came amid an intense push by Hun Sen's government to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of the polls.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party issued a statement saying it would not recognize the ruling and would maintain its leadership structure. It said the verdict was politically motivated and deprived millions of their supporters of their right to be represented.

Chief Judge Dith Munty, who is a senior ruling party member, announced the nine-member court's unanimous ruling in the capital, Phnom Penh.

He said 118 opposition party members would also be banned from politics for the next five years, and the verdict could not be appealed.

The government accuses the CNRP of plotting a coup and has called for its dissolution for weeks. The opposition staunchly denies the allegations — a position backed by international rights groups and independent analysts who say no credible evidence has emerged to back the claims.

The party had been expected to be a serious contender in next year's polls. During the last vote in 2013, it scored major gains in a tense race that saw Hun Sen narrowly retain office.

Since then, the opposition's fortunes have ebbed dramatically.

Sam Rainsy, who led the party during that vote, went into exile in 2016 and faces a jail term for a criminal defamation conviction if he returns. The party's current leader, Kem Sokha, has been imprisoned since September, charged with treason.

Amid deepening fears over the nation's fate, more than 20 opposition lawmakers — about half of those with seats in Parliament — have also fled the country.

Mu Sochua, an opposition party vice president who is among those who have left, said the struggle for democracy was not over in Cambodia.

Speaking in London just before the verdict, she said there were no plans to launch demonstrations immediately. "But in the heart, in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirits, in our souls, the fight for democracy will continue. It will not die."

The rights group Amnesty International blasted the decision, calling it "a blatant act of political repression."

"This is yet more evidence of how the judiciary in Cambodia is essentially used as an arm of the executive and as a political tool to silence dissent," said James Gomez, Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"Sadly, this is just the culmination of several months of threats, rhetoric and outright repression. The authorities have launched a widespread assault on dissent ... the international community cannot stand idly — it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable."

The government-led crackdown has targeted civil society groups and independent media outlets, too. In September, authorities shut down the English-language Cambodia Daily, and they have shuttered radio stations that aired programming from U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, whose reports they allege are biased.

The government also expelled the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which helped train political parties and election monitors, accusing it of colluding with its opponents.

The crackdown reflects a major shift away from American influence, which has waned for years as Cambodia edges closer to China. Analysts say Hun Sen has also been emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has welcomed Thailand's coup leader to the Oval Office and praised the Philippine president despite a crackdown on drugs that has left thousands dead.

Hun Sen has been in office since 1985 and has held a tight grip on power since ousting a co-prime minister in a bloody 1997 coup.

Although Cambodia is a nominally a democratic state, its institutions remain fragile and the rule of law weak; the judiciary is not seen as independent.

Before Thursday's ruling, Hun Sen had encouraged opposition lawmakers to defect to his ruling party. In a speech last week to garment workers, he was so confident the court would rule against the opposition party that he offered anyone 100 to 1 odds if they were willing to bet it would not happen.

In a speech late Thursday, Hun Sen called on Cambodians to remain calm and go about their lives. He said the decision was necessary to maintain peace and political stability in the country.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker who chairs the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, slammed the verdict, calling it "the final nail in the coffin for Cambodian democracy."

"Its decision not only leaves the country without its only viable opposition party less than a year before scheduled elections, but also completely undermines Cambodia's institutional framework and the rule of law," Santiago said. "The CNRP was dissolved not for breaking any laws, but simply for being too popular and a threat to the ruling party's dominance."


London police: Final Grenfell fire death toll is 71

 

Emergency workers walk on the roof of the fire-gutted Grenfell Tower in London in this Friday, June 16, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

London (AP) — London police on Thursday gave a final death toll for the Grenfell Tower high-rise fire, putting the number killed at 71 including a stillborn baby.

The Metropolitan Police force said the final two victims were identified this week and they are confident no one remains missing. The youngest victim was a premature baby who died at birth to a woman who was hospitalized with smoke injuries from the blaze.

Police say 223 people escaped the June 14 fire that ravaged the building.

For months, police have estimated that about 80 people died in the fire, which began in a refrigerator in an apartment before racing through the 24-story tower. There has been frustration among survivors at how long it has taken to identify the victims and determine the final toll.

Police say the extreme heat in the burned-out apartments had made identification a challenge.

Police Commander Stuart Cundy said Thursday that specialist teams of police, forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dental experts "have pushed the boundaries of what was scientifically possible to identify people."

"After the fire was finally put out I entered Grenfell Tower and was genuinely concerned that due to the intensity and duration of the fire, that we may not find, recover and then identify all those who died," he said. "I know that each and every member of the team has done absolutely all they can to make this possible."

Police say they are considering individual and corporate manslaughter charges over the fire.

A public inquiry has begun to find out how a small fire was able to spread so quickly, becoming Britain's deadliest blaze in decades.


ASEAN shuns mention of China's new islands, arbitration loss

From left, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha link arms as they pose for a group photo during the East Asia Summit in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday Nov. 14. (Erik De Castro/Pool Photo via AP)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Southeast Asian nations avoided mention Thursday of China's construction of islands in the South China Sea and a U.N.-linked arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's claims in the disputed waters in the latest show of China's regional clout.

President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking on behalf of fellow heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also expectedly skirted any expression of alarm over serious human rights concerns in the region, including the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and his deadly anti-drug campaign in a statement following their annual summit Monday in Manila.

Such statements have been made public shortly after the annual gatherings of leaders of the 10-nation bloc but there was no immediate explanation for the three-day delay, which drew the attention of some Manila-based diplomats. The few instances of delays in the past were caused by differences over wording on long-thorny issues, like the territorial rifts.

China, which wields considerable influence on ASEAN, has steadfastly opposed criticism of its artificial islands, where it has reportedly installed a missile defense system despite widespread concern, including by the United States, Japan and Australia.

Duterte, who took office last year and assumed ASEAN's rotational chairmanship this year, has openly tried to court China's friendship, trade, investment and infrastructure financing. He has toned down sharp rebuke of China's assertive actions in the strategic waterway, one of the world's busiest, and refused to immediately seek Chinese compliance with an arbitration ruling last year that invalidated its vast claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds.

His rapprochement turned the Philippines from being one of Beijing's sharpest critics in the disputed sea.

In the ASEAN statement, Duterte repeated previous calls for a peaceful resolution of the disputes, adherence to the rule of law and welcomed the approval of a framework or outline of a proposed "code of conduct" aimed at preventing confrontation in the contested waters. Deadly clashes have erupted in the past between Chinese and Vietnamese forces.

With an agreed outline, first proposed 15 years ago, negotiations could now start for the regional code, according to a joint statement by ASEAN and China whose leaders met Monday. Both sides agreed to start the negotiations early next year and conclude the talks as soon as possible, with Duterte taking a position that the code should be legally binding, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

"We further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states ... that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea," the statement said.

While ASEAN's decision to adopt a non-confrontational approach promotes friendly relations with China, it may not foster the rule of law, said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

"It is bad because it clearly places the political expediency of good relations with China over holding China to fulfilling its commitments under international law," Cook said. "Short term expediency trumps long-term principle."

On human rights, ASEAN "welcomed the commitment by Myanmar authorities to ensure the safety of civilians, take immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, restore normal socio-economic conditions, and address the refugee problem through verification process" in language devoid of the alarm expressed by some governments amid deadly conditions threatening the Rohingya.

"They expressed support to the Myanmar government in its efforts to bring peace, stability, rule of law and to promote harmony and reconciliation between the various communities, as well as sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine State," ASEAN said.

There was no mention of concerns expressed by European Union, U.S. and U.N. officials over Duterte's bloody crackdown against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of suspects dead and has been marked by allegations of extrajudicial killings.


Famed London theater receives 20 allegations against Spacey

Kevin Spacey. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — London's Old Vic Theatre said Thursday it has received 20 allegations of inappropriate behavior by its former artistic director Kevin Spacey, and acknowledged that a "cult of personality" around the Hollywood star had made it difficult for people to come forward.

The London theater launched an investigation into Spacey last month after claims of sexual harassment emerged in the United States. Spacey, 58, led the Old Vic between 2004 and 2015.

The Old Vic said it had received 20 allegations of "a range of inappropriate behavior," from actions that made people feel uncomfortable to "sexually inappropriate" touching.

All the alleged victims are young men, none under 18 years old. The reported incidents took place between 1995 and 2013, many of them at the Old Vic, and all but four of the alleged victims are former staff of the theater.

In all but one case, the complainants say they didn't report them at the time. One man says he reported an incident to his manager, who didn't act on the information.

The Old Vic said it had encouraged 14 of the complainants to go to police, but couldn't confirm whether any had done so.

The theater said Spacey's "star power" contributed to an atmosphere in which staff "didn't feel confident that the Old Vic would take those allegations seriously, given who he was."

"During his tenure, The Old Vic was in a unique position of having a Hollywood star at the helm around whom existed a cult of personality," the theater said in a statement. "The investigation found that his stardom and status at The Old Vic may have prevented people, and in particular junior staff or young actors, from feeling that they could speak up or raise a hand for help."

A two-time Academy Award winner, Spacey is one of the biggest names to lose work and standing in Hollywood since The New York Times and The New Yorker detailed sexual harassment and abuse allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein earlier this year. The reports sparked a wave of abuse and harassment allegations to surface across the industry.

Spacey has been fired from the Netflix TV series "House of Cards," was dropped by his talent agency and publicist and is being cut out of Ridley Scott's finished film "All the Money in the World," replaced by Christopher Plummer.

The Old Vic appointed law firm Lewis Silkin to investigate in late October, as reports and rumors circulated about Spacey's behavior while he was at the helm of the 200-year-old theater company.

Richard Miskella, a partner at Lewis Silkin who led the investigation, said the firm invited Spacey to participate in its inquiries "and he didn't respond."

The Old Vic has faced criticism for failing to act on what some claim were widespread rumors about Spacey's behavior. But Miskella said he found no evidence that suspicion about wrongdoing was common. He said the company's board of trustees was "completely shocked" by the allegations.

"There wasn't widespread knowledge of this," Miskella said. "Pockets of the business knew, and it didn't get escalated."

The Old Vic promised to improve, and said it would appoint "guardians" whom staff could contact with concerns.

Executive director Kate Varah said this was "a really dismaying time" for the theater.

"The Old Vic does apologize for what is alleged to have happened," she said. "We have not slept since this came out."


Update November 16, 2017

After 37 years, Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe appears to be over

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace are shown in this June, 2, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Farai Mutsaka and Andrew Meldrum

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's military was in control of the capital and the state broadcaster on Wednesday and was holding President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest in what appeared to be a coup against the 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state.

The military was at pains, however, to emphasize it had not staged a military takeover, but was instead starting a process to restore Zimbabwe's democracy.

Still, the military appeared to have brought an end to Mugabe's long, 37-year reign in what the army's supporters praised as a "bloodless correction." South Africa and other neighboring countries were sending in leaders to negotiate with Mugabe and the generals to encourage the transition.

Citizens in Zimbabwe's tidy capital, Harare, contributed to the feeling of a smooth transition by carrying on with their daily lives, walking past the army's armored personnel carriers to go to work and to shops. Many who have never known any leader but Mugabe waited in long lines at banks to draw limited amounts of cash, a result of this once-prosperous country's plummeting economy.

Felix Tsanganyiso, who sells mobile airtime vouchers in Harare, said he was following the developments on WhatsApp.

"But I am still in the dark about what is happening," he said. "So far so good. We are going about our business without harassment. My plea is that whoever takes over should sort out the economy. We are tired of living like this."

The series of whiplash events followed Mugabe's firing last week of his deputy, which appeared to position the first lady, Grace Mugabe, to replace Emmerson Mnangagwa as one of the country's two vice presidents at a party conference next month.

But the 52-year-old first lady is unpopular among many Zimbabweans for her lavish spending on mansions, cars and jewels. Last month she went to court to sue a diamond dealer for not supplying her with a 100-carat diamond that she said she had paid for.

Grace Mugabe has been known as the leader of the G40, a group of Cabinet ministers and officials in their 40s and 50s who are too young to have fought in Zimbabwe's war to end white-minority rule in Rhodesia. When Mnangagwa was fired, the generals and war veterans felt they were being sidelined and took action to stop that, analysts say.

Mnangagwa's whereabouts were not clear Wednesday. He fled the country last week, citing threats to himself and his family.

Critics of the government urged Mugabe to go quietly. "The old man should be allowed to rest," former Zimbabwe finance minister and activist Tendai Biti told South African broadcaster eNCA.

On Monday, the army commander made an unprecedented statement criticizing Mugabe for pushing aside veterans of the liberation war. The following day, the ruling party condemned the army leader for "treasonable conduct" and that evening the army sent armored personnel carriers into Harare and seized control of the state broadcaster and other strategic points, including Mugabe's residence.

In a televised address to the nation early Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo said the army had "guaranteed" the safety of Mugabe and his wife, but added the military would target "criminals" around Mugabe, in an apparent reference to the first lady's G40 group.

South African President Jacob Zuma said he was sending his ministers of defense and state security to Zimbabwe to meet with Mugabe and the military there. He said he hopes Zimbabwe's army will respect the constitution and that the situation "is going to be controlled."

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said the Trump administration was "concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe's military forces" and called on the country's leaders to exercise restraint. The United States "does not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics and does not condone military intervention in political processes," it said in a statement.

Who will rule Zimbabwe should become clearer in the coming days.

"There is a soft transition underway," said Zimbabwean analyst Alex Rusero.

"The whole idea is that the military has always been the chief broker" in Mugabe's ruling party, he said. "But there were attempts to sideline the military by G40 and (the military) are reasserting their position."

Mnangagwa may well be installed as a transitional leader to return Zimbabwe to constitutional rule, Rusero said.

Zimbabwe may enter a period of negotiation to get Mugabe to step down voluntarily, said Piers Pigou, southern Africa consultant for the International Crisis Group, who also suggested that Mnangagwa may be an interim leader.

"Zimbabwe could have some kind of inclusive government and some kind of democratic process, possibly leading to elections," Pigou said. "It's clearly a coup d'etat, but typical of Zimbabwe, the military is trying to put a veneer of legality on the process. ... It is part of the theater that Zimbabwe is so good at, to try to make things look orderly and democratic. South Africa and other neighboring countries may be brought in to help put some lipstick on the pig."


Greece in mourning as floods kill at least 14 near Athens

A barefoot man stands in front of a pile of vehicles in the municipality of Madra western Athens, on Wednesday, Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Elena Becatoros and Petros Giannakouris

Mandra, Greece (AP) — Greece declared a day of national mourning after floods on the outskirts of Athens left at least 14 dead Wednesday, flipping over cars, smashing into homes and cutting off highway traffic.

The flash floods turned roads into raging torrents of mud and debris inundated houses and businesses. Drivers scrambled out of their vehicles as cars were washed away. Rescue crews searched basement homes for residents who may have been trapped.

More torrential rain is expected Thursday.

"This is a very difficult moment for our country. We mourn the deaths of 14 people in what is a great disaster. ... It is the wish of all of us that this number does not increase," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a televised address, announcing a day of national mourning Thursday.

Twelve of the people killed — four women and eight men — were found in or near Mandra, a small town on the western outskirts of Athens that was hardest-hit by the flood. The coast guard recovered the bodies of two more men believed to have been swept out to sea by the flood.

Floodwater carrying debris charged toward the coast, sinking fishing boats in a small harbor. Several people were being treated in a hospital for various injuries, including hypothermia.

There were fears the death toll could rise further as rescue crews searched flooded homes and streets on the western outskirts of Athens.

The flooding came after a severe overnight storm brought driving rain to the area. Roads turned into muddy rivers that carried away vehicles, tossing them into piles on roadsides and against fences and buildings. Several walls from yards and low buildings collapsed, filling the streets with rubble.

The fire department said it had received more than 600 calls for help pumping water out of buildings and had rescued 86 people trapped in vehicles and homes. It said it had deployed 190 firefighters with 55 vehicles. All fire services across the wider Athens area had been put on alert as more bad weather was forecast.

A section of the highway between Athens and Corinth was completely knocked out, with cars, trucks and buses trapped in an inundated underpass.

Judicial authorities ordered an immediate investigation into the deaths and material damage. Investigators would be looking into whether factors such as shoddy or illegal construction might have contributed to the severity of the flooding.

Local authorities shut schools in the areas of Mandra, Nea Peramos and Megara, while the fire department appealed to the public to avoid the area unless absolutely necessary in an effort to reduce traffic.

More hazardous weather was predicted for large swaths of Greece later Wednesday and in coming days, with storms predicted for western Greece and for parts of the Greek capital.

The deaths came a day after authorities declared a state of emergency on the small Aegean Sea island of Symi due to torrential rainfall there that flooded homes and shops, swept vehicles into the sea and cut power after the local power station was flooded.


Australian Senate debates gays rights in marriage bill

Members of the gay community and their supporters celebrate the result of a postal survey calling for gay marriage rights in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Nov. 15. The survey ensures Parliament will consider legalizing same-sex weddings this year. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — A gay lawmaker on Thursday started the Australian Parliament's debate on legal recognition for same-sex marriage with an emotional speech in which he warned against winding back LGBT rights.

Senator Dean Smith has introduced a bill that would limit who could legally refuse to take part in same-sex marriage to churches, religious ministers and a new class of religious celebrants.

But many same-sex marriage opponents want amendments to broaden the range of businesses and individuals who can legally refuse to provide services such as cakes, flowers or a venue to same-sex couples and new free-speech protections for those who denounce gay marriage. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in Australia outside religious institutions.

"Let me be clear: Amendments that seek to address other issues, or which seek to deny gay and lesbian Australians the full rights, responsibilities and privileges that they already have will be strenuously opposed," Smith told the Senate.

"Australians did not vote for equality before the law so that equality before the law that is already gained be stripped away," he added.

Another Liberal Party senator, James Paterson, had won the support of lawmakers who oppose marriage reform with a proposed bill that offered "a limited right of conscientious objection to ensure no one is forced to participate in a same-sex wedding against their sincerely held beliefs." It also would safeguard speaking out against gay marriage and would bar government agencies from acting against people who hold such views.

The Law Council Of Australia, the nation's peak lawyers group, said Paterson's bill "would encroach on Australia's long-established anti-discrimination protections in a dangerous and unprecedented way."

Paterson decided to not introduce his bill because senators favored Smith's bill as the starting point for the debate, but many lawmakers will argue for contentious features of Paterson's bill to be incorporated in Smith's bill as amendments.

The Senate debate began a day after the release of a nonbinding postal survey found that 62 percent of Australian respondents wanted reform. Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull wants gay marriage legislation rushed through by Dec. 7, the last day Parliament is to sit for the year.

The postal survey result sparked street parties across Australia overnight and most marriage equality opponents have accepted that the Parliament now has a clear mandate for change.

Smith came close to tears during his speech as he said he once thought Australia would never embrace marriage equality.

"I never believed the day would come when my relationship would be judged by my country to be as meaningful and valued as any other," Smith said. "The Australian people have proven me wrong."

"To those who want and believe in change and to those who seek to frustrate it, I simply say: Don't underestimate Australia, don't underestimate the Australian people, don't underestimate our country's sense of fairness, its sense of decency and its willingness to be a country for all of us," he added.

Smith's speech was followed a successions of senators who all spoke in favor of gay marriage and supported the bill.

Smith had supported his conservative Liberal Party's opposition to gay marriage when he joined the Senate five years ago. He has said he changed his mind after a siege in a Sydney cafe in 2014 in which a gunman killed cafe manager Tori Johnson. Police then killed the gunman and another hostage was killed in the crossfire. Smith said he was moved by Johnson's loving same-sex relationship.


Poland slams EU Parliament actions as 'scandalous'

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo speaks during a press conference summarizing two years of her government, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Vanessa Gera

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Poland's government hit back Wednesday after the European Parliament launched action over concerns that the right-wing government in Warsaw has compromised the independence of the judiciary and risks breaching fundamental European values.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo described the events in the Parliament — where a bitter debate preceded the vote — as "scandalous." The Foreign Ministry called the resolution a "political instrument of pressure on Poland," describing the document as "one-sided" and saying it was based on political considerations and not on legal analysis.

In a resolution adopted by 438 to 152, with 71 abstentions, the European lawmakers triggered the first stage of a so-called rule-of-law procedure against the Polish government on Wednesday.

The procedure could lead to the suspensions of Poland's EU voting rights.

The assembly's Civil Liberties Committee must now draw up a legal proposal to formally request that the mechanism — known as Article 7 — be activated due to a "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values.

The EU's executive, the Commission, has already launched a procedure of its own amid concerns that new laws in Poland undermine judicial independence and the rule of law.

The vote came after a heated debate that exposed the bitter feelings between European officials trying to keep Poland on a democratic course and Polish officials who argue the ruling party has a democratic mandate to change its own country's court system and that Brussels has no right to interfere in the affairs of sovereign nations.

Ryszard Legutko, a member of Poland's ruling party, accused the EU of waging an illegal "crusade against Poland." He also accused the German media, which have criticized Poland's direction, of holding an "anti-Polish orgy."

In turn, others sharply criticized Poland's government, with the parliament's liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt saying the Polish government "has lost its senses." Gianni Pittella, leader of an alliance of Socialists and Democrats, accused Warsaw of showing "scorn for liberal democracy."

Several also criticized a march of 60,000 people in Warsaw that was organized by extremist far-right groups and included racist banners and slogans on Poland's Independence Day on Saturday. Poland's president sharply condemned the expressions of extremism, but the government leaders have praised the event as a celebration of Polish patriots.

Frans Timmermans, the vice president of the European Commission, said that some of "most terrible parts of European history" were "seen on the streets of Warsaw."

The parliament's resolution called on Poland to act on several points, including to strongly condemn what it called a "xenophobic and fascist march."

Janusz Lewandowski, a member of Poland's opposition Civic Platform party, sharply criticized the ruling party on several points, saying it was "committing abuse of power" and tolerating "racism, xenophobia and neo-fascism on Poland's streets." His words drew an angry retort from Legukto.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland was "shocked" by the language of the debate, saying it qualified as "hate speech" at times; and the prime minister, Szydlo, said "politicians who defame their country in an international forum do not deserve to represent it."


Moroccan migrants in Libya seek return, stage hunger strike

In this photo provided by Sea-Watch, migrants from a sinking inflatable dinghy try to board a Libyan coast guard ship during a rescue operation in international waters off the coast of Libya on Monday, Nov. 6. (Lisa Hoffmann/Sea-Watch via AP)

Reda Zaireg

Marrakech, Morocco (AP) — Moroccan authorities said Wednesday that they are working to bring home a large group of Moroccan migrants who sought to enter Europe illegally but are stuck in a Libyan detention center.

An official at the ministry in charge of migration and Moroccans living abroad told The Associated Press that the "Moroccans will be repatriated."

"The operation takes time and involves several people, but we are working on it," the official said, adding that authorities are holding meetings with the migrants' families to reassure them.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said several government departments are involved in the effort to bring the Moroccans home.

Both officials agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the talks.

A U.N. report this week detailed cruel conditions at Libyan detention centers and revived concerns about European support for Libya's coast guard to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

A video circulating on Moroccan social networks and reported widely by Moroccan media Wednesday featured a man saying that he and 232 other Moroccans have been held for two months in Tripoli and are on a hunger strike to demand repatriation.

In the video, apparently recorded Monday, a man identifying himself as a Moroccan national said some of his fellow countrymen at the center are having medical problems and complained that migrants of other nationalities had already been sent back to their homelands. "We are the only ones still here," he said.

Speaking in Darija, the Moroccan dialect, he said, "No Moroccan official came, nor called ... to inquire about our situation." The man was not identified.

The video was reportedly recorded in an immigration detention facility in Tripoli. At the back of the crowded room where some are sitting, others standing, a flag hanging on the rear wall is stamped with the name of the Libyan Ministry of Interior's Department for Combating Illegal Immigration.

Morocco is both a transit country and a source of many migrants seeking to enter Europe clandestinely. Following the reinforcement of security measures on the Moroccan-Spanish border in the north of Morocco, many Moroccans are now trying to enter Europe via Libya. In August, 190 of them were sent home after being arrested in Libya.

U.N. monitors who visited Libya early in November found thousands of hungry men, women and children locked inside packed hangars. Many had been victims of torture, rape, forced labor, starvation and physical violence during their journeys and in Libyan detention centers, the team said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called the conditions "an outrage to the conscience of humanity."

Under pressure from anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, the European Union has backed the Italy-driven policy of beefing up Libya's coast guard patrols to prevent migrants from leaving aboard smugglers' dinghies bound for Europe.

Human rights groups have denounced the policy, saying it exposes returned migrants to Libya's lawless detention centers, with no legal recourse.


Egyptian singer faces trial after mocking the Nile

In this April 21, 2015 file photo, Egyptian fishermen row on the Nile River in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hamza Hendawi

Cairo (AP) — A famous Arab singer will stand trial next month in her native Egypt over a video clip in which she advises a concert fan against drinking from the Nile River, officials said Wednesday.

The clip shows Sherine Abdel-Wahab, widely known by her first name, saying "You are better off drinking Evian," a reference to a French brand of mineral water.

The fan had asked her to sing one of her hit songs, named for an Egyptian saying, that one who drinks from the Nile is bound to return.

Sherine now faces a host of charges, including incitement and harming the public interest.

The remark, clearly made in jest, set social media ablaze, with some users calling it an insult to Egyptian national pride and others saying the real culprits are those who pollute the river.

The trial, before a Cairo misdemeanor court, is due to start on Dec. 23, according to the court officials.  The case arose from a complaint filed by a lawyer after the video surfaced this week. If convicted, Sherine could face up to three years in prison or a heavy fine, but she will have recourse to appeal.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Egypt's government and media have relentlessly stoked nationalist sentiment since the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013, portraying nearly all criticism as part of an international plot to undermine the country's stability.

Activists, artists or writers who dare speak critically of government policies or the country's general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, risk vilification on popular TV talk shows. Thousands have been jailed in a wide-scale crackdown on dissent.

"At the time when the government is working to revive tourism, the singer acted with crude mockery, which drew laughter from the crowd that amounted to an insult to the Egyptian state," Lawyer Hany Gad wrote in his complaint.

Sherine has also been banned from performing in Egypt by the local musicians union, which said in a statement that her comment was an "unjustified ridicule and mockery of our dear Egypt." The agency that runs state TV and radio informally instructed employees not to broadcast her songs until further notice.

Sherine apologized for her comment in a Facebook post.

"My beloved Egypt and its children: I apologize from all my heart for any pain I may have caused you," she wrote. "It was a bad joke that I would never use if I go back in time."

The Musicians Union said the concert was in Lebanon, but Sherine's statement said she believed it was in the United Arab Emirates more than a year ago.

The video clip emerged at a sensitive time.

Egypt fears a soon-to-be-completed upstream dam in Ethiopia could cut into its share of the river, which supplies more than 90 percent of the arid country's water.

The Nile's polluted waters must be treated to be safe for drinking. But critics took Sherine's remarks to imply that Egypt was not doing enough to protect the river at a time when it is trying to rally world support in the dispute with Ethiopia.

Ahmed Ramadan and Reda Ragab, board members of the Egyptian Musicians Union, said the singer must appear before the union to answer questions on the incident. They did not say when the questioning would take place, and it was not immediately clear whether Sherine was in Egypt.


Update November 15, 2017

Myanmar military denies atrocities against Rohingya Muslims

A view of the Hakim Para camp of Rohingya refugees in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 13. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

Esther Htusan

Naypyitaw, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's military issued its most forceful denial yet that security forces committed atrocities during "clearance operations" in the west of the country, saying an internal investigation had absolved them of any wrongdoing in a crisis that has triggered the largest refugee exodus in Asia in decades.

The report contradicts consistent statements from ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugees now in Bangladesh — some with gunshot wounds and severe burns — who have described massacres, rape, looting and the burning of hundreds of villages by Myanmar's army and civilian mobs.

The U.N. humanitarian office said Tuesday that the number of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 has risen to 618,000.

In a statement issued late Monday, the military said it had interviewed thousands of people during a month-long investigation into the conduct of troops in western Rakhine state after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of deadly attacks there on Aug. 25.

While the report acknowledged that battles against militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, had left 376 "terrorists" dead, it also claimed security forces had "never shot at the innocent Bengalis" and "there was no death of innocent people."

Myanmar's government and most of the Buddhist majority say the members of the Muslim minority are "Bengalis" who migrated illegally from Bangladesh and do not acknowledge the Rohingya as a local ethnic group even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the military's latest claims were "contrary to a large and growing body of evidence" documenting severe rights abuses in Myanmar.

"The Burmese military's absurd effort to absolve itself of mass atrocities underscores why an independent international investigation is needed to establish the facts and identify those responsible," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Burmese authorities have once again shown that they can't and won't credibly investigate themselves."

The military said the investigation — which was led by Lt. Gen. Aye Win, inspector-general of the defense forces — showed that security forces did not use excessive force and abided by the army's rules of engagement.

Myanmar's government does not allow independent journalists to travel freely to the parts of Rakhine state where most of the latest violence has taken place.

The report comes just ahead of an expected visit Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is to hold talks with senior officials on the crisis.

On Tuesday in Naypyitaw, the capital, Myanmar authorities began the first of five days of talks with Bangladesh border guard officials to discuss how to resolve the refugee crisis and other issues along their common frontier.

The U.N. migration agency reports that human trafficking and exploitation are rife among Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh, not only recently but in past years, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The International Organization for Migration reports that "desperate refugees are being recruited with false offers of paid work and ... are willing to take whatever opportunities they are presented with, even risky, dangerous ones that involve their children," Dujarric said.

The migration agency is also concerned about forced and early marriages among the Rohingya, he said.


Military in Zimbabwe's capital after army chief's threat

Armed Zimbabwean soldiers sit on top of a military tank in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Farai Mutsaka

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — At least three explosions were heard in Zimbabwe's capital early Wednesday and military vehicles were seen in the streets after the army commander threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe's possible successor. The ruling party accused the commander of "treasonable conduct."

The Associated Press saw armed soldiers assaulting passers-by in the early morning hours in Harare, as well as soldiers loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles. The explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe campus.

Those developments came several hours after The Associated Press on Tuesday saw three armored personnel carriers with several soldiers in a convoy heading toward an army barracks just outside the capital. For the first time, this southern African nation is seeing an open rift between the military and Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. The military has been a key pillar of his power.

Mugabe last week fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft. Mnangagwa, who enjoyed the military's backing and once was seen as a potential president, fled the country and said he had been threatened. Over 100 senior officials allegedly supporting him have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe's wife, Grace.

The first lady now appears positioned to replace Mnangagwa as one of the country's two vice presidents at a special conference of the ruling party in December, leading many in Zimbabwe to suspect that she could succeed her husband. Grace Mugabe is unpopular with some Zimbabweans because of lavish spending as many struggle, and four people accused of booing her at a recent rally were arrested.

On Monday, army commander Constantino Chiwenga issued an unprecedented statement saying purges against senior ruling ZANU-PF party officials, many of whom like Mnangagwa fought for liberation, should end "forthwith."

"We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in," the army commander said. The state-run broadcaster did not report on his statement.

Showing a generational divide, the ruling party's youth league, aligned with the 52-year-old first lady, on Tuesday criticized the army commander's comments, saying youth were "ready to die for Mugabe."

On Tuesday night the ruling party issued a statement accusing the army commander of "treasonable conduct," saying his comments were "clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability" and were "meant to incite insurrection." It was not clear whether the commander still had his post.

State broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation read out part of the ruling party statement late in the nightly news, which was led by a report on regional tourism.

The army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

"Yes, given the past two weeks' political events, it is tempting to speculate that there is a connection between the deployment of military personnel and the comments of the army chief of staff on an 'intervention' - but there are very real dangers of violence breaking out as a result of rampant and unfounded speculation," African Defence Review analyst Conway Waddington wrote Tuesday evening, saying there appeared to be no other signs of an "organized coup" and that it could have been an act of intimidation instead.

Mugabe in the past has warned military commanders from interfering in succession politics. "Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup," he told supporters in July.

Frustration has been growing in once-prosperous Zimbabwe as the economy collapses under Mugabe. The country was shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, and a once-loyal war veterans association turned on the president, calling him "dictatorial" and blaming him for the economic crisis.

"Mnangagwa was held out by many as the best hope within ZANU-PF for piloting an economic recovery," analyst Piers Pigou with the International Crisis Group wrote Tuesday.

Now, "Mugabe will have to employ all his guile if he intends to ensure continued accommodation with the armed forces."


Filipino leader calls Trudeau's drug war comments insulting

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center, shakes hands with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a photo session of the ASEAN-Canada 40th Commemorative session in Manila, Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 14. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Teresa Cerojano

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was angered and insulted on Tuesday by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments about the Philippine government's war on drugs, which has earned widespread condemnation for leaving thousands of suspects dead.

Trudeau said he raised concerns about human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings in Duterte's anti-drug campaign when he met Tuesday with the president ahead of Canada's summit in the Philippines with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Trudeau was the first leader of the 20 attending this week's ASEAN summit and related meetings who has publicly said he brought up the touchy issue with the volatile Filipino leader.

"I also mentioned human rights, the rule of law and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with," Trudeau said at a news conference. "I impressed on him the need for respect for the rule of law, and as always offered Canada's support and help as a friend to move forward on what is a real challenge."

He said Duterte was receptive to his comments and their exchange was cordial and positive.

But Duterte later told reporters that he had refused to provide an explanation for the killings.

"I said I will not explain. It is a personal and official insult," Duterte said. "It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country. You don't even investigate."

Duterte is highly sensitive to such criticism, and in the past called then U.S. President Barack Obama a "son of a bitch" after the State Department publicly expressed concern over the Philippine anti-drug campaign.

President Donald Trump, who also attended this week's ASEAN summit, did not publicly take Duterte to task for the drug crackdown. Instead, Trump said he and Duterte "had a great relationship," and avoided questions about whether he raised human rights concerns in a meeting with the Philippine leader.

The White House later said they discussed the Islamic State group, illegal drugs and trade during the 40-minute meeting. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights came up "briefly" in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs. She did not say if Trump was critical of Duterte's program.

Harry Roque, Duterte's spokesman, said there was no mention of human rights or extralegal killings during the meeting with Trump, but there was a lengthy discussion of the Philippines' war on drugs, with Duterte doing most of the explaining.

The two sides later issued a statement saying they "underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs."


UK lawmakers battle over Brexit amid customs chaos warning

The flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union fly outside the EU Commission office in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — A fragile government, a legislative minefield and a jittery economy are turning up the tension as Britain tries to turn its vote to leave the European Union into a reality.

Exit negotiations with the bloc are stalled on divorce terms, and on Tuesday Prime Minister Theresa May's government battled to push its central piece of Brexit legislation through a divided Parliament.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is designed to prevent a legal vacuum by converting some 12,000 EU laws into British statute on the day the U.K. leaves the bloc in March 2019.

But many lawmakers claim the bill gives the government too much power to amend legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. And opponents of Brexit — both from the opposition and from May's Conservative Party — will try to amend it to soften the terms of Britain's exit from the bloc.

The House of Commons began eight days of debate on the bill Tuesday, and lawmakers have filed hundreds of proposed amendments — each one a challenge for a minority government that relies on support from a small Northern Ireland party to avoid defeat on key votes.

Legislators reviewed the bill in line-by-line detail Tuesday, starting with wrangling over whether to specify an exact time for Britain's departure from the EU. The government wants to set a time of 11 p.m. (2300GMT) on March 29, 2019, but some pro-EU lawmakers said that degree of specificity could eliminate flexibility Britain might need.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Paul Blomfield said fixing a day in law was "a gimmick" by "a prime minister so weak she is trying to tie her own hands behind her back."

A group of pro-EU Conservatives is threatening to defeat the government unless there are concessions to avoid a "hard Brexit" — that is, an exit without a deal on seamless new trade relations that many businesses fear will cause economic turmoil.

The government has tried to mollify rebellious lawmakers by promising Parliament will get a vote on any Brexit deal agreed on between Britain and the bloc before Britain leaves in March 2019.

But Brexit Secretary David Davis said the vote will be a "take it or leave it" choice: If Parliament rejects the deal, Britain will crash out of the 28-nation bloc without an agreement.

Many businesses see that as a worst-case scenario, as it would bring tariffs and red tape that could see trade with the bloc grind to a halt. A group of lawmakers warned Tuesday there could be catastrophic consequences if Britain fails to put a new customs system in place before the U.K. leaves the EU.

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee said Brexit may lead to a fivefold increase in customs declarations. It said that could bring "huge disruption" for business, with border delays causing "massive backups" at the port of Dover and food rotting in trucks if the system doesn't work properly.

Britain hopes to strike a free-trade deal with the EU, and wants a two-year transition period after 2019 to ease into the new arrangements. But negotiations between London and Brussels remain deadlocked over terms of the U.K.'s withdrawal, including how much Britain must pay to meet its financial commitments to the bloc and the status of citizens affected by Brexit.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says there must be major progress in divorce talks before the end of November if EU leaders are to agree at a Dec. 14-15 summit to move on to discussing trade and future relations.

The rights of 3 million EU citizens in Britain — and 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc — remains a sticking point. Britain says EU nationals will be able to stay and enjoy broadly the same rights as they do now.

But the European Parliament's top Brexit official has warned that the U.K.'s proposals fall far short of what's needed.

Guy Verhofstadt wrote in a letter to Davis — obtained by The Associated Press — that "under your proposals EU citizens will definitely notice a deterioration of their status as a result of Brexit."

Verhofstadt noted that citizens will have to register for settled status in the U.K. individually instead of as a family, that it will be too costly and that there are too many risks of deportation.

Any Brexit deal between the 27 EU nations and Britain needs the approval of the European Parliament.


Indian city rounds up beggars ahead of visit by Ivanka Trump

An Indian man is shown seeking alms at a street in Hyderabad, India, Monday, Nov. 13. (AP Photo /Mahesh Kumar A.)

Omer Farooq

Hyderabad, India (AP) — Authorities in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad are rounding up beggars ahead of a visit by Ivanka Trump for an international conference.

Over the past week, more than 200 beggars have been transported to separate male and female shelter homes located on the grounds of two city prisons. Authorities have been strictly enforcing a begging ban on the city's streets and in other public places.

The crackdown seems to be having the desired effect, with most of Hyderabad's thousands of beggars vanishing from sight.

Trump is a senior adviser to her father, President Donald Trump. Later this month, she is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, which will also be attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Officials say the drive against begging was launched because two upcoming international events are taking place in the city — the entrepreneurship summit and the World Telugu Conference in December.

Begging is a criminal offense in India and can be punished by as much as 10 years in prison, although the law is rarely enforced.

"We will complete the clearing of beggars from the city roads by the end of the month," said V.K. Singh, a top police officer.

The beggars have been rounded up from traffic junctions, bus stations and railway stations and transported by van to the shelters, where they often find themselves separated from their family members.

They are being offered clean clothes, a shower and a bed. But they're also being fingerprinted before they're allowed to leave and told they could face jail time if they are found begging again.

More than 20 percent of India's 1.3 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day. For many, begging is survival.

Beggars tend to crowd around cars at traffic signals, knocking on windows and asking for food and money. They include children as young as 5, who weave through dangerous traffic and often perform small acrobatic acts.

A rights group that runs the two Hyderabad homeless shelters on the grounds of the Chanchalguda and Charalapally jails where the beggars are being taken estimates the city has 13,000 beggars.

About half of them are begging because they are living in poverty while the other half want money for alcohol and drugs, said Gattu Giri, an official with the Amma Nanna Ananda Ashram organization.

The entrepreneurship summit is an annual event that this year will focus on supporting female entrepreneurs. Running from Nov. 28-30, the summit is being jointly hosted by the U.S. and India.

Singh said that next month, after Ivanka Trump has left, police will start offering cash rewards to people who inform them of a beggar's location. Police have set up a control room to receive the information.

This isn't the first time the poor and homeless have been pushed out of sight as India hosts international visitors. Ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, slums were demolished and thousands of beggars pushed to the edge of the city.


Update November 14, 2017

North Korea says US carrier groups raise nuclear war threat

This Nov. 12, 2017 photo shows three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt, top left, USS Ronald Reagan, top center, and USS Nimitz, top right, participating with South Korean Navy's Aegis destroyer, King Sejong the Great, bottom, during joint naval exercises in waters off South Korea's eastern coast. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Edith M. Lederer

United Nations (AP) — North Korea warned Monday that the unprecedented deployment of three U.S. aircraft carrier groups "taking up a strike posture" around the Korean peninsula is making it impossible to predict when nuclear war will break out.

North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Ja Song Nam, said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres that the joint military exercises with South Korea are creating "the worst ever situation prevailing in and around the Korean peninsula."

Along with the three carrier groups, he said, the U.S. has reactivated round-the-clock sorties with nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers "which existed during the Cold War times."

He also said the U.S. is maintaining "a surprise strike posture with frequent flights of B-1B and B-2 formations to the airspace of South Korea."

"The large-scale nuclear war exercises and blackmails, which the U.S. staged for a whole year without a break in collaboration with its followers to stifle our republic, make one conclude that the option we have taken was the right one and we should go along the way to the last," Ja said.

He didn't elaborate on what "the last" might be, but North Korea has launched ballistic missiles that have the potential to strike the U.S. mainland, and it recently conducted its largest-ever underground nuclear explosion. It has also threatened to explode another nuclear bomb above the Pacific Ocean.

The four-day joint naval exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, which began Saturday in waters off the South's eastern coast, were described by military officials as a clear warning to North Korea. They involve the carrier battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz, which include 11 U.S. Aegis ships that can track missiles, and seven South Korean naval vessels.

Seoul's military said in a statement that the exercises aim to enhance the combined U.S. and South Korean operational and aerial strike capabilities and to display "strong will and firm military readiness to defeat any provocation by North Korea with dominant force in the event of crisis."

According to the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, it is the first time since a 2007 exercise near Guam that three U.S. carrier strike groups have operated together in the western Pacific.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted on Monday that the carrier maneuvers are not extraordinary.

"There's no big message" intended for North Korea or anyone else, he told reporters in an impromptu exchange in a Pentagon hallway. "This is what we normally do with allies."

Reminded that it had been 10 years since the last three-carrier exercise, Mattis noted that the Navy has a limited number of carriers and can't often put three in the same place.

"It's just a normal operation," he said.

The military drills come amid U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Asia, which has been dominated by discussions over the North Korean nuclear threat.

Ja accused the U.N. Security Council in Monday's letter of repeatedly "turning a blind eye to the nuclear war exercises of the United States, who is hell bent on bringing a catastrophic disaster to humanity." He said the exercises raise serious concern about "the double standard" of the U.N.'s most powerful body.

He also referenced Trump's September speech to the U.N. General Assembly in which the president said that if the U.S. is "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Trump tweeted soon after making the speech that Korea's leadership "won't be around much longer" if it continued its provocations, a declaration that led the North's foreign minister to assert that Trump had "declared war on our country."

Ja said Monday the U.S. "is now running amok for war exercises by introducing nuclear war equipment in and around the Korean peninsula, thereby proving that the U.S. itself is the major offender of the escalation of tension and undermining of the peace."

Ja asked Guterres to circulate the letter to the Security Council and the General Assembly, and also asked him to use his power under Article 99 of the U.N. Charter to bring to the Security Council's attention "the danger being posed by the U.S. nuclear war exercises which are clearly threats to international peace and security."


Over 400 dead from earthquake in Iran-Iraq border area

Survivors sit in front of apartment buildings damaged by an earthquake in Sarpol-e-Zahab, western Iran, Monday, Nov. 13. (AP Photo/Omid Salehi)

Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat

Tehran, Iran (AP) — Rescuers dug with their bare hands Monday through the debris of buildings brought down by a powerful earthquake that killed more than 400 people in the once-contested mountainous border region between Iraq and Iran, with nearly all of the victims in an area rebuilt since the end of the ruinous 1980s war.

Sunday night's magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck about 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as people were going to bed.

The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.

Residents fled into the streets as the quake struck, without time to grab their possessions, as apartment complexes collapsed into rubble. Outside walls of some complexes were sheared off by the quake, power and water lines were severed, and telephone service was disrupted.

Residents dug frantically through wrecked buildings for survivors as they wailed. Firefighters from Tehran joined other rescuers in the desperate search, using dogs to inspect the rubble.

The hospital in Sarpol-e-Zahab was heavily damaged, and the army set up field hospitals, although many of the injured were moved to other cities, including Tehran.

It also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, according to reports.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched all government and military forces to aid those affected.

Many of the heavily damaged complexes in Sarpol-e-Zahab were part of construction projects under former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The newly homeless slept outside in cold, huddled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blankets — as were the dead.

The quake killed 407 people in Iran and injured 7,156 others, Iran's crisis management headquarters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV. Most of the injuries were minor, he said, with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalized.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported 445 dead and 7,370 injured. There was no immediate explanation of the discrepancy, although double-counting of victims is common during such disasters in Iran.

The official death toll came from provincial forensic authorities based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities have warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was actually higher.

In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country's northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.

The disparity in the fatality figures immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new.

The earthquake struck 14.4 miles (23.2 kilometers) below the surface, a shallow depth that can have broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage.

The quake caused Dubai's skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 kilometers (660 miles) away on the Mediterranean coast. Nearly 120 aftershocks followed.

Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old housewife in Sarpol-e-Zahab, said she could only flee empty-handed when her apartment complex collapsed.

"Immediately after I managed to get out, the building collapsed," Fard said. "I have no access to my belongings."

Reza Mohammadi, 51, said he and his family ran into the alley following the first shock.

"I tried to get back to pick some stuff, but it totally collapsed in the second wave," Mohammadi said.

Khamenei offered his condolences as President Hassan Rouhani's office said Iran's elected leader would tour the damaged areas Tuesday, which was declared a national day of mourning. Authorities also set up relief camps and hundreds lined up to donate blood in Tehran, though some on state TV complained about the slowness of aid coming.

Sarpol-e-Zahab fell to the Iraqi troops of dictator Saddam Hussein during his 1980 invasion of Iran, which sparked the eight-year war between the two countries that killed 1 million people. Though clawed back by Iran seven months later, the area remained a war zone that suffered through Saddam's missile attacks and chemical weapons.

After the war, Iran began rebuilding the town. It also was part of Ahmadinejad's low-income housing project, which aided the Holocaust-questioning hard-liner's populist credentials but also saw cheap construction.

Under the plan dubbed as Mehr or "kindness" in Farsi, some 2 million units were built in Iran, including hundreds in Sarpol-e Zahab. Many criticized the plan, warning that the low-quality construction could lead to a disaster.

"Before its 10-year anniversary, Mehr buildings have turned into coffins for its inhabitants," the reformist Fararu news website wrote Monday.

In Iraq, the quake shook buildings from Irbil to the capital of Baghdad, where people fled into the streets.

Iraqi seismologist Abdul-Karim Abdullah Taqi, who runs the earthquake monitoring group at the state-run Meteorological Department, said the main reason for the lower casualty figure in Iraq was the angle and direction of the fault line in this particular quake, as well as the nature of the Iraqi geological formations that could better absorb the shocks.

University of Colorado geological scientist Roger Bilham said earthquakes in the Zagros range, where there are more than 20 different faults, have killed more than 100,000 people in the last 1,000 years.

Because there are so many earthquakes in the region, proper construction is critical, but it "doesn't trickle down to the villages," Bilham said.

In Darbandikhan, Iraq, Amina Mohammed said she and her sons escaped their home as it collapsed around them.

"I think it was only God that saved us," she said. "I screamed to God and it must have been him to stop the stairs from entirely collapsing on us."

Residents were clearing the rubble from the streets of Darbandikhan, about 10 kilometers from the Iranian border.

The quake caused visible damage to a dam at Darbandikhan that holds back the Diyala River.

"There are horizontal and vertical cracks on the road and in the body of the dam and parts of the dam sank lower," said Rahman Hani, the director of the dam.

No dams were damaged in Iran, the government in Tehran said.

Halabja, closest to the epicenter, is notorious for the 1988 chemical attack in which Saddam killed some 5,000 people with mustard gas — the deadliest chemical weapons attack ever against civilians.

Turkey dispatched emergency aid to northern Iraq as officials expressed "deep sadness" at the disaster. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country acted immediately to provide medical and food aid to northern Iraq.

Kerem Kinik, the Turkish Red Crescent's vice president, told The Associated Press from the Habur border crossing that 33 aid trucks were en route to Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, carrying 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets, as well as food.

Relations between Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Turkey were strained following the Iraqi Kurds' September independence referendum.

Pakistan also extended condolences for the loss of life and injuries suffered by "our Iranian and Iraqi brethren."

Pope Francis offered prayers for the dead and urged rescue crews to stay strong.

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. The last major casualty earthquake in Iran struck in East Azerbaijan province in August 2012, killing over 300.


Southern Mexico reports 8 killed, at least 12 bodies found

Federal police officers patrol Caleta beach in Acapulco, Mexico. The city and Guerrero state in general have experienced a wave of violence attributed to warring drug gangs. (AP Photo/Enric Marti/file)

Jose Antonio Rivera

Acapulco, Mexico (AP) — Eight people were killed in Acapulco on a particularly bloody Sunday for Mexico's violence-plagued Pacific coast resort city, while at least 12 bodies were found in a clandestine grave elsewhere in southern Guerrero state.

"It was a horrible day," said Roberto Alvarez, security spokesman for Guerrero state, which is home to Acapulco.

The violence began early when police were alerted to the bodies of three young men found with tourniquets around their necks and signs of torture in the San Agustin neighborhood on Acapulco's northern outskirts.

Later in the morning, a gunbattle broke out between police and armed men on a central avenue, setting off a chase that ended with one suspect killed and three arrested.

Still before noon, two gunmen stormed into a bar and fatally shot a man and a woman who were drinking there. Police patrolling nearby responded and caught the attackers.

The suspects told police the bar contained a clandestine grave, and an excavation by authorities turned up the bodies of four men and one woman. Authorities said they were resuming the search Monday on the belief that more bodies could be hidden on at least two adjacent properties.

On Sunday afternoon, gunmen killed two men two blocks from the same central avenue where the police chase had taken place earlier. Neighbors found the bodies and notified police.

Elsewhere in Guerrero, state authorities reported six burned bodies, six skulls and two sets of bones were found in the municipality of Copanatoyac.

Alvarez, the state security spokesman, said the remains found in the clandestine body-dumping ground might represent between 12 and 14 people.

Officials were also working to confirm reports of killings in the Guerrero cities of Iguala, Taxco and Tlapa.

The state has been among Mexico's worst hotspots for drug gang violence in recent years. Guerrero recorded 1,726 homicides from January through September, according to federal statistics, up slightly from 1,654 during the same period last year and well more than any other state in the country.


Rescuers try to save whales beached off Indonesia's Aceh

Rescuers attempt to push stranded whales back into the ocean at Ujong Kareng beach in Aceh province, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 13. (AP Photo/Syahrol Rizal)

Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers are trying to save a small pod of whales that beached Monday off Indonesia's Aceh province.

The head of Aceh's marine and fisheries office, Nur Mahdi, said 10 whales were stranded at Ujong Kareng beach and attracted hundreds of onlookers who posed for pictures with them.

He said five were refloated hours later and led out to sea with boats. Rescuers are trying to treat two injured whales and refloat the others, he said.

Mahdi said whale pods follow a group leader and beach if the leader swims too close to shore due to sickness or other reasons.

Police are trying to keep people away while rescuers work with the whales, which are about 15 meters (yards) from shore.

A sperm whale was found dead on an Aceh beach last year after apparently being washed ashore in stormy weather.


EU launches new era in defence cooperation

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, right, speaks with German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 13. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Lorne Cook

Brussels (AP) — European Union countries on Monday officially launched a new era in defence cooperation with a program of joint military investment and project development aimed at helping the EU confront its security challenges.

Twenty-three of the EU's 28 member nations signed up to the process, known as permanent structured cooperation, or PESCO. Britain, which is leaving the EU in 2019, and Denmark with a defence opt-out were among those not taking part.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described it as a "historic moment in European defence," and added that "23 member states engaging booth on capabilities and on operational steps is something big." Those who didn't sign up can join later.

Mogherini said countries have already submitted more than 50 joint projects in the fields of defence capabilities and military operations. Britain can take part in some if they are of benefit to the entire EU.

She said PESCO, backed by the EU defence fund, "will enable member states to use the economy of scale of Europe and in this manner to fulfill the gap of output that we have."

Their signatures are a sign of political will but the program will only enter force once it's been legally endorsed, probably in December.

German Foreign Minister Gabriel lauded the agreement as "a great step toward self-sufficiency and strengthening the European Union's security and defence policy — really a milestone in European development."

Under the cooperation, member countries will submit an action plan outlining their defence aims. Mogherini, EU military chiefs and the European Defence Agency will then evaluate whether the plans are being respected.

Those not living up to their commitments could be kicked out of the group.

EU officials insist this is not just bureaucratic cooperation, but real investment that will help develop Europe's defence industry and spur research and development in military capabilities that the bloc needs most.

Mogherini said the move would complement NATO's security aims. The EU, she said, has tools to fight hybrid warfare — the use of conventional weapons mixed with things like propaganda and cyber-attacks — that the military alliance does not have at its disposal.

The EU can also bring its political and financial weight to bear on security challenges, such as the use of development aid in Africa, where NATO has no real foothold.

Under PESCO, EU countries will commit to increase military spending, but not to specifically adhere to NATO's bottom line of moving towards 2 percent of gross domestic product for defence budgets by 2020. By working together on joint projects, nations will be able to use their combined spending weight to purchase much needed capabilities like air transport or drones.

"The real problem is not how much we spend, it is the fact that we spend in a fragmented manner," Mogherini said.

Gabriel said working together is "more economical than if everyone does the same. I think that European cooperation on defence questions will rather contribute to saving money — we have about 50 percent of the United States' defence spending in Europe, but only 15 percent of the efficiency."
 


Update November 13, 2017

Iranians report at least 61 dead, 300 injured from quake

People stand in the street after feeling aftershocks from an earthquake in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 12. The deadly earthquake hit the region along the border between Iran and Iraq on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Tehran, Iran (AP) — A powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the region along the border between Iran and Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 61 people and injuring 300 in Iran, an Iranian official said.

Iranian state TV said Iraqi officials had reported six deaths and 200 injuries inside Iraq, though there was no official comment from Iraq's government.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja.

The Islamic Republic of Iran News Network quoted the head of the country's emergency medical services, Pirhossein Koulivand, as saying early Monday that at least 61 had been killed and 300 injured on Iran's side of the border.

Iranian state TV also said Iraqi officials reported at least six people dead inside Iraq, along with more than 50 people injured in Sulaymaniyah province and about 150 in Khanaquin city. No reports were immediately available from Iraq's government.

Koulivand earlier told a local television station that the earthquake knocked out electricity in Iran's western cities of Mehran and Ilam. He also said 35 rescue teams were providing assistance.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call with the Interior Ministry emphasized the need for maximum effort from officials.

Iranian social media was abuzz Sunday night with posts of people evacuating their homes, particularly in Kermanshah and Ghasr-e Shirin.

The semi-official Iranian ILNA news agency said at least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected by the earthquake.

Officials announced that schools in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces would be closed Monday because of the tremor.

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.


Chinese President Xi makes state visit to Vietnam

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, second left, and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, left, review an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam Sunday, Nov. 12. (Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool Photo via AP)

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam gave Chinese President Xi Jinping the red carpet treatment Sunday at the start of a state visit, as the two communist neighbors try to broaden their economic ties and work on resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Xi and Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, reviewed an honor guard and headed for talks behind closed doors. It was Xi's first overseas trip since consolidating his power at a party congress last month.

Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump, among others, just finished an Asia-Pacific economic summit in the Vietnamese coastal city of Danang.

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang said that his country wants to end disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful means.

"It's our policy to settle disputes in the East Sea through peaceful negotiations and with respect for diplomatic and legal process in accordance with international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said, referring to the South China Sea.

Quang made the comments Sunday during a joint news conference with Trump. Trump had offered during a meeting earlier Sunday with Quang to serve as a mediator on the South China Sea disputes.

Vietnam and China, along with four other governments, claim all or parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop rich natural resources and occupies one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

China in recent years has built artificial islands and increased its militarization there, drawing criticism from Washington, which argues that the U.S. has a national interest in freedom of navigation in sea lanes critical for world trade.

Vietnam has become the most vocal opponent of China's moves after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte softened his country's stance on China.

Tran Viet Thai of the Vietnam Diplomatic Academy said Xi's visit is important to build mutual trust.

"The visit marks a new step forward in Vietnam-China relations," he said. "Hopefully the relations will continue to stabilize, because the two sides currently share great interests in broadening their cooperation and maintaining stability."

Bilateral relations plunged to their lowest level in years when China in 2014 parked a giant oil rig in an area claimed by Vietnam. The incident sparked deadly anti-China protests for several weeks.

The two communist neighbors have in recent months experienced spats over the South China Sea. In July, Vietnam had to suspend an oil and gas exploration project conducted by Spain's Repsol company, under apparent pressure from China. In September, Vietnam protested live-fire drills by China near the Paracel islands.


Prince Charles stands in for queen at war memorial ceremony

Britain's Prince Charles lays a wreath on behalf of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during the service of remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, Sunday, Nov. 12. The annual service is to remember those who have lost their lives serving in the Armed Forces. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Prince Charles led Britain's annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony for war dead, taking the role held for more than six decades by his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

The 91-year-old queen, dressed in black, watched the service at London's Cenotaph memorial from a nearby balcony alongside her 96-year-old husband Prince Philip.

The monarch, who is gradually cutting back on public duties after 65 years on the throne, had asked her 68-year-old son and heir to lay a wreath of poppies on her behalf.

The queen's grandsons, Prince William and Prince Harry, both military veterans, and other royals also left bright red wreaths at the foot of the monument.

Britain's political leaders, representatives of religious faiths and dignitaries from the Commonwealth of former British colonies also attended the ceremony in central London, laying wreaths on the simple Portland stone monument inscribed with the words "the glorious dead."

Thousands of service personnel, veterans and members of the public gathered on a cold, sunny fall day to honor those killed in World War I and subsequent conflicts.

Whitehall, the wide street lined with government buildings where the Cenotaph stands, fell silent as Parliament's Big Ben bell sounded 11 a.m. The two-minute pause was broken by a bugler sounding "The Last Post."

After the formal wreath-laying, thousands of veterans, war widows and their families marched past the monument to the sound of a military band, applauded by well-wishers lining the sidewalks. Almost everyone wore a red paper poppy — the official symbol of remembrance — on their lapel.

The ceremony takes place every year on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Similar ceremonies were held in dozens of towns and cities across Britain and at British military bases overseas.

In the Northern Ireland town of Omagh, the Remembrance Sunday parade was disrupted when a suspicious device was found near a war memorial. Police cordoned off the area, and Police Service of Northern Ireland chief inspector Graham Dodds said it was "a sickening attempt by cowards to create fear and disruption."

Omagh was the site of the deadliest bombing of Northern Ireland's decades-long Catholic-Protestant conflict, where Irish Republican Army dissidents killed 29 people with a car bomb in 1998.


UK's May under pressure from 2 sides as Brexit crunch looms

British Prime Minister Theresa May is shown outside the EU Commission building in Brussels in this Oct. 20, 2017 file photo. (AP Foto/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May is caught in a vice of pressure from both sides of the Brexit debate as she tries to get a key plank in the government's plans for leaving the EU through Parliament.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns this week to the House of Commons, where it will face a flurry of amendments from lawmakers.

The bill is designed to prevent a legal vacuum by converting some 12,000 EU laws into British statute on the day the U.K. leaves the bloc in 2019. Legislators are scheduled to hold several days of debate and votes starting Tuesday.

But many lawmakers claim the bill gives the government too much power to amend legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. They will try to pass amendments to water down those powers.

And opponents of Brexit — both from the opposition and from May's Conservative Party — will seek to give Parliament a binding vote on the final divorce deal between Britain and the EU.

Meanwhile, supporters of Brexit are pressuring May not to give ground by compromising with the EU or with anti-Brexit lawmakers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, leading euroskeptics in May's Cabinet, warned the prime minister in a note to stand firm in the ambition of making Britain "a fully independent self-governing country by the time of the next election" in 2022, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported.

The note published by the newspaper accused some ministers of not preparing for Brexit with "sufficient energy."

May, weakened by the Conservatives' poor showing in a snap June election, has little room to maneuver. She relies on a small Northern Ireland party to prop up her minority government and is caught between warring factions in her Cabinet.

She also faces a sexual harassment scandal involving a growing number of politicians and the resignation of two Cabinet ministers so far this month.

Businesses, meanwhile, are clamoring for clarity on what the future relationship between Britain and the bloc will be, as economists warn that the uncertainty is slowing Britain's economy.

The government's negotiations with the EU have been slowed by a lack of agreement on the terms of the U.K.'s withdrawal, including how much Britain must pay to meet its financial commitments to the bloc.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says there must be major progress in the next two weeks if EU leaders are to agree at a December summit to move on to discussing trade and future relations.

U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said Sunday that Britain is not about to commit to a firm figure for its Brexit bill.

"It's taking time, and we will take our time to get to the right answer" he told Sky News.

Davis denied the talks had stalled and said, "There has actually been a huge amount of progress" on what he called "the most complex negotiation probably in history."


Trump: 'I'm with our agencies' on Russian election meddling

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam Sunday, Nov. 12. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)

Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — President Donald Trump on Sunday said he believes U.S. intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But Trump also said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is sincere when he says Russia didn't interfere.

"I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election," Trump said of Putin at a news conference with Vietnam's president in Hanoi. "As to whether I believe it, I'm with our agencies."

He added, "As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies."

Top U.S. intelligence officials, including those at the CIA, have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help the Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. A special counsel and multiple Congressional committees are also investigating potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides. That probe has so far led to the indictments of Trump's former campaign chairman and another top aide for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser.

It's a question that has followed Trump since January, when he said for the first time at a press conference in Trump Tower shortly before taking office that he accepted Russia was behind the election year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race.

"As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," Trump said then, quickly adding that "other countries and other people" also hack U.S. interests.

But the issue wasn't settled.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday on his way to Hanoi, Trump had said that Putin again vehemently denied the allegations — this time on the sidelines of an economic conference in the seaside city of Danang. Trump danced around questions of whether he believed Putin, but stressed Putin's denials. He also accused Democrats of using the issue to try to sabotage relations between the two countries, putting lives at risk.

"Every time he sees me, he said: 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said, arguing that it made no sense for him to belabor the issue.

"I'd rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I'd rather have him, you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing," he said.

Trump also lashed out at the former heads of the nation's intelligence agencies, claiming there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings. "I mean, give me a break. They're political hacks," Trump said, citing by name James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, John Brennan, the former CIA director and his ousted ex-FBI director James Comey, whom Trump said was "proven now to be a liar and he's proven to be a leaker."

In a tweet sent Sunday from Hanoi, Trump bashed the "haters and fools" he said were questioning his efforts to improve relations with Russia and accused critics of "playing politics" and hurting the country.

Trump's Saturday comments sparked criticism from lawmakers with ties to the intelligence community. Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is his party's top member on the House's intelligence committee, said in a statement that Trump "fools no one" and that the president understands how the Russians intervened in the election through hacking, social media and television coverage of the presidential race.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party's presidential nominee in 2008, said in a statement that Trump's faith in Putin's denial was "naive."

"There's nothing 'America First' about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community," McCain wrote, referring to Putin's former career in Soviet intelligence. "Vladimir Putin does not have America's interests at heart."

Trump was in Hanoi for a brief state visit. He was traveling to the Philippines later Sunday — the last stop of his five country trip — for a pair of summits.

In brief remarks after his arrival at Hanoi's presidential palace, Trump offered Vietnam help negotiating with China on disputes over the South China Sea. Beijing's island-building there has drawn criticism from Washington, which argues the U.S. has a national interest in freedom of navigation in sea lanes critical for world trade. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month said China's "provocative actions" challenged international law and norms.

"If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know," Trump offered. "I'm a very good mediator and a very good arbitrator. I've done plenty of it from both sides."

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang said he preferred to settle the dispute through "peaceful negotiations" and "with respect for diplomatic and legal process in accordance with international law."

Trump also said he hoped to have more help from Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as Russia, when it comes to isolating North Korea, in an effort to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear weapons program. "President Xi I think is going to be a tremendous help. I hope Russia likewise will be a tremendous help," Trump said. "I think they can make a big difference."

Earlier, Trump had exchanged schools yard taunts with the country's leader Kim Jong-un. "Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Trump tweeted from Vietnam, adding: "Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!"

Asked whether he could really be friends with Kim, Trump said, "I think anything's a possibility. Strange things happen in life."

Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, but the two spoke informally several times and reached an agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria.

Trump's comments made clear that Trump still does not take the meddling seriously and sees little benefit in punishing a nation accused of undermining the most fundamental tenet of American democracy: free and fair elections. They also suggest that Trump is unlikely to work aggressively to try to prevent future meddling despite repeated warnings from senior intelligence officials that Russia is likely to try to interfere again.


Update November 11 - 12, 2017

Anger rises as toxic air chokes India's capital

Indian commuters wait for transport amid thick blanket of smog on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Friday, Nov. 10. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Nick Perry

New Delhi (AP) — As thick smog crept over India's capital this week and smudged landmarks from view, Nikunj Pandey could feel his eyes and throat burning.

Pandey stopped doing his regular workouts and said he felt tightness in his lungs. He started wearing a triple layer of pollution masks over his mouth. And he became angry that he couldn't safely breathe the air.

"This is a basic right," he said. "A basic right of humanity."

Pandey is among many people in New Delhi who have become more aware of the toxic air in recent years and are increasingly frustrated at the lack of meaningful action by authorities.

This week the air was the worst it's been all year in the capital, with microscopic particles that can affect breathing and health spiking to 75 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

Experts have compared breathing the air to smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. The Lancet medical journal recently estimated some 2.5 million Indians die each year from pollution.

Pandey said the millions of rural folk who have moved to the city understand the problem better than they once did, and are trying everything from tying scarves over their faces to eating "jaggery," a sugar cane product that some people believe offers a range of health benefits.

Masks once considered an affectation of hypochondriac tourists are these days routinely worn by government workers and regular people on the street.

Volunteers handed out thousands of green surgical masks this week to make a point about the pollution, but such masks likely have a limited impact on keeping out the tiny particles from people's lungs.

"This is truly a health emergency," said Anumita Roychowdhury, the executive director of research and advocacy at New Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment.

She said doctors in recent days have been dealing with a 20 percent spike in emergency hospital admissions from people suffering heart and lung problems. And that's in a city, she said, where one in every three children already has compromised lungs.

Seema Upadhyaya, who heads a primary school, said she has never before witnessed so many children suffering from respiratory illnesses as she has this year. That has prompted changes to the curriculum.

"It's impacting everybody," she said.

Authorities have been taking extraordinary measures to try to mitigate the immediate crisis. They have temporarily closed schools and stopped most trucks from entering the city. Next week they are considering rationing car usage.

But everyone agrees such measures don't address the root causes, which remain hard to solve.

Roychowdhury said the city's pollution has been trapped this week by a lack of wind at ground level, colliding winds in the upper atmosphere, and cooling temperatures.

Air quality typically gets worse at this time of year as nearby farmers burn fields and people build street fires to keep warm. The conditions this week prompted the capital's top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, to describe his city as a "gas chamber."

While crop burning has been banned in and around the capital, officials say it's hard to punish impoverished farmers for continuing traditional methods that have been handed down through the generations.

Pandey said it's part of a broader problem in India.

"Your water is not healthy, your food is not healthy, your vegetables are polluted, they are poisoned," he said. "I mean, everything is polluted right now."

Roychowdhury said she is encouraged there is rising awareness of the air quality problem, both among residents and the medical community. But she says authorities need to do more.

She said officials have been asking people this week to use more public transport, but at the same time the city doesn't have enough buses and hasn't bought any new ones in recent years.

"What we are saying, and the Supreme Court has already asked for it, is that there should be a comprehensive plan for all sources of pollution," she said.

Meanwhile, people like Pandey say they are going to have to suffer through, because New Delhi is where they need to be based for work opportunities and their families.

"We are India, right?" he said. "We just try to survive in whatever condition we are in. That is how it is."


Talking tough on trade, Trump pushes 'America first' in Asia

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the final day of the APEC CEO Summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Danang, Vietnam, Friday, Nov. 10. (Anthony Wallance/Pool Photo via AP)

Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire

Danang, Vietnam (AP) — President Donald Trump stood before a summit of Asian leaders keen on regional trade pacts and delivered a roaring "America first" message Friday, denouncing China for unfair trade practices just a day after he had heaped praise on President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

"We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore," Trump told CEOs on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. "I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first."

The president — who pulled the United States out of the Pacific Rim trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — said the U.S. would no longer join "large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible."

Instead, he said, the U.S. will pursue one-on-one trade deals with other nations that pledge fair and reciprocal trade.

As for China, Trump said he'd spoken "openly and directly" with Xi about the nation's abusive trade practices and "the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States."

It was a stark change in tone from the day before, when Trump was Xi's guest of honor during a state visit in Beijing. There, Trump opted for flattering Xi and blaming past U.S. presidents for the trade deficit.

Trump said China's trade surplus, which stood at $223 billion for the first 10 months of the year, was unacceptable. He repeated his language from Thursday, when he said he did "not blame China" or any other country "for taking advantage of the United States on trade."

But Trump added forceful complaints about "the audacious theft of intellectual property," ''massive subsidizing of industries through colossal state-owned enterprises," and American companies being targeted by "state-affiliated actors for economic gain."

U.S. officials have raised similar concerns in the past about China, especially with regard to intellectual property.

Behind the scenes, White House officials quietly negotiated with the Kremlin over whether Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold a formal meeting on the sidelines in Danang, with the Russians raising expectations for such a session.

As speculation built, the two sides tried to craft the framework of a deal that Trump and Putin could announce in a formal bilateral meeting, according to two administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Though North Korea and the Ukraine had been discussed, the two sides focused on trying to strike an agreement about a path to resolve Syria's civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, according to officials. But the talks stalled and, just minutes before Air Force One touched down in Vietnam, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the meeting was off.

When asked about the outcome, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later snapped at reporters: "Why are you asking me? Ask the Americans."

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that even without a formal meeting, "Both presidents are in town, and their paths will cross one way or another."

That they did Friday night during the summit's welcome gala: The two men, each wearing traditional Vietnamese shifts, shook hands and greeted one another as they stood side-by-side for the group photo of world leaders.


Russia named as likely source of Europe radioactivity spike

 

This photo provided Friday Nov. 10, by the INRS, Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, shows a map of the detection of Ruthenium 106 in France and Europe. (INRS via AP)

Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — An apparent accident at a Russian facility is suspected of causing a recent spike in radioactivity in the air over much of Europe, according to a report by France's nuclear safety agency.

The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety says the release of the isotope Ruthenium-106 posed no health or environmental risks to European countries. It said the "plausible zone of release" was between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, and suggested random checks on food imports from the region as a precaution.

In a report released Thursday based on monitoring in multiple European countries, IRSN said the Ruthenium appeared to come from an accident in late September involving nuclear fuel or the production of radioactive material. The French agency said the Ruthenium didn't appear to come from an accident in a nuclear reactor because that would have released other elements.

Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection said last week that elevated levels of Ruthenium were reported in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France since Sept. 29, but posed no threat to public health.

After reports of a Ruthenium-106 leak from a plant in the southern Urals first appeared, Russia's state-controlled Rosatom corporation said in a statement last month that it hadn't come from its facilities.

"The claim that the contamination had a Russian origin is unfounded," it said.

The French report says the radioactivity peaked in late September and early October and affected a "majority of European countries" but is no longer detected in the atmosphere over Europe. However it said if such an accident had happened in France, authorities would set up a perimeter around the accident site to monitor health, safety and food quality.

Ruthenium-106 is used for radiation therapy to treat eye tumors, and sometimes as a source of energy to power satellites.

The French agency also said Ruthenium releases could come from the re-entry of a satellite into the Earth's atmosphere, but that the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that no satellites powered by Ruthenium re-entered the atmosphere during the time period.

France, which has an extensive nuclear energy industry, has reported a series of low-level nuclear incidents recently but none involving Ruthenium or threats to public health.


Tensions as Paris suburb tries to stop Muslim street prayers

 

Clichy la Garenne's mayor Remi Muzueau, center right, and President of the Regional Council of the Ile-de-France region Valerie Pecresse, center left, join a demonstration against Muslim street prayers, in the Paris suburb of Clichy la Garenne, Friday, Nov. 10. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Jeffrey Schaeffer and Nicolas Garriga

Clichy-la-Garenne, France (AP) — Tensions erupted Friday as French officials and residents of a Paris suburb tried to block Muslims from praying in the street — a dispute that reflects nationwide problems with mosque shortages.

No one was hurt in the skirmishes in Clichy-la-Garenne, but both sides appeared to be digging in their heels in the dispute over prayer space in the town.

Carrying a large banner reading "Stop Illegal Street Prayers," Mayor Remi Muzeau led more than 100 demonstrators Friday in a show of force to dissuade Muslims from praying on the town's market square. Worshippers have been praying there every Friday for months to protest the closure of a prayer room.

A few dozen worshippers tried to pray anyway but sought to avoid confrontation with the protesters and retreated to a less visible spot. But the demonstrators squeezed them toward a wooden wall.

As worshippers chanted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic, the larger group of demonstrators loudly sang the French national anthem. Some held French flags and a crucifix aloft.

Amid pushing and shoving, a banner the worshippers were carrying reading "United for a Grand Mosque of Clichy" was torn down.

Police with shields then formed a human barricade between the groups and Muslims eventually unrolled their rugs on the pavement, took off their shoes and held their prayers.

When the incident was over, the worshippers clapped, and the mayor pledged to come back again next week — as did the Muslim worshippers.

"We'll do it every Friday if necessary," said Muzeau.

"I must assure the tranquility and freedom of the people in my city," he said. "We must not allow this to happen in our country. Our country, the French Republic is tarnished."

Hamid Kazed, president of the Union of Muslim Associations of Clichy, who led the prayers, said, "We are going to continue until there's a dialogue for a definitive venue."

"That's what they want. To divide the citizens," he said. "We are not fundamentalists. We are for Islam of France."

The demonstrators were joined by the president of the Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, and officials and residents of other Paris suburbs

While Islam has long been France's No. 2 religion, the country has a chronic shortage of mosques for its estimated 5 million Muslims. Muslims in several towns have resorted to praying in the streets, fueling the anti-immigrant sentiment of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Clichy Muslims had been renting a prayer hall from City Hall. But the town's mayor decided to turn that space into a library for the town's 60,000 residents, and the prayer hall was shut down in March following a court battle.

City Hall says Muslims can worship at a new Islamic cultural and prayer center, already used by hundreds that the town inaugurated last year. However some Muslims say the new facility is too small, remote and doesn't meet safety standards.


Indonesia selfie museum stirs outrage with Nazi display

In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photo, a visitor walks past the wax figure of Adolf Hitler displayed against the backdrop of an image of Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau at the De Mata Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

Stephen Wright

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — The teenagers smile as they take selfies with a heroically posed Hitler, apparently unaware that the giant backdrop to their happy moment is the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where more than a million people were exterminated by the Nazi dictator's regime.

It's a scene that plays out every day at a waxwork and visual effects museum in Yogyakarta, an Indonesian city better known for its universities, Javanese culture and as the seat of a historic sultanate. The infotainment-style museum, De Mata, is defending the display as "fun" for teenagers.

Human Rights Watch denounced the exhibit as "sickening" and the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which campaigns against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, demanded its immediate removal.

"Everything about it is wrong. It's hard to find words for how contemptible it is," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center. "The background is disgusting. It mocks the victims who went in and never came out."

The waxwork portrays Hitler as an imposing and dominant figure, a far cry from the drug-addled physical wreck who committed suicide on April 30, 1945, as Russian forces overwhelmed the German capital, Berlin.

Behind the waxwork is a giant image of Auschwitz and the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" — work sets you free — that appeared over the entrance to Auschwitz and other camps where millions of Jews and others were systematically killed during Germany's wartime occupation of much of Europe.

To one side of Hitler there's Darth Vader and directly opposite is Indonesia's current president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

It's not the first time Nazism and its symbols have been normalized or even idealized in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and home to a tiny Jewish community.

A Nazi-themed cafe in the city of Bandung where waiters wore SS uniforms caused anger abroad for several years until reportedly closing its doors at the beginning of this year. In 2014, a music video made by Indonesian pop stars as a tribute to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto stirred outrage with its Nazi overtones.

The latest episode has surfaced during an upsurge in nationalistic rhetoric in Indonesia.

Warli, the marketing officer for the museum who goes by one name, said he was aware Hitler was responsible for mass murder but defended the waxwork, on display since 2014, as "one of the favorite figures for our visitors to take selfies with."

"No visitors complained about it. Most of our visitors are having fun because they know this is just an entertainment museum," he said.

Warli hadn't heard of the Simon Wiesenthal Center but said he'd discuss its demand to remove the display with De Mata's owner, businessman Peter Kusuma, and management.

"We will follow the best advice and the response from the public," he said. "Let people judge whether the character is good or bad."

Cooper said it was inexcusable that a business would intentionally use Nazism and the Holocaust to make money and deplored the "disconnect" with history.

"When Hitler was finished with Europe he was going to come after the folks in Asia," he said.

Human Rights Watch's Indonesia researcher, Andreas Harsono, said the waxwork and its concentration camp backdrop was "sickening" and a reflection that anti-Jewish sentiment in Indonesia is more widespread than generally appreciated.

He said the conflict between Israel and Palestine has fed anti-Semitism in Indonesia for decades but the prejudice has deeper roots in narrow interpretations of the Koran..
 


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