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Update November 2017


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Update November 30, 2017

Pope in Myanmar preaches forgiveness, healing of old wounds

 

Pope Francis waves from the Pope mobile as Myanmar Catholics wave flags ahead of a holy mass Wednesday, Nov. 29, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Nicole Winfield and Esther Htusan

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — Pope Francis urged Myanmar's religious leaders and ordinary faithful on Wednesday to help the country heal its old wounds, preaching a message of forgiveness and tolerance as the country emerges from military dictatorship and seeks to make peace with its many ethnic minorities after decades of conflict.

At an open-air Mass, an audience with Myanmar's senior Buddhist monks and during an encounter with his own Catholic bishops, Francis sought to encourage greater dialogue and understanding at a delicate time of transition in the predominantly Buddhist South Asian nation.

"I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible," Francis told a huge open-air Mass in Yangon's Kyaikkasan Ground park. While the temptation is to respond with revenge, Francis urged instead a response of "forgiveness and compassion."

"The way of revenge is not the way of Jesus," Francis told the crowd, speaking from an altar erected on a traditional Buddhist-style stage.

Local authorities estimated that about 150,000 people turned out for the Mass, but the crowd seemed far larger and included faithful bearing flags from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, among other places.

Francis has said his aim in coming to Myanmar is to minister to its Catholic community, which numbers around 660,000 people, or just over 1 percent of the population of about 52 million. His message, though, has echoed far beyond the Christian community, with his visit making front-page news and being replayed constantly on Myanmar television news.

The trip has been overshadowed by Myanmar's military operations targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state. The crackdown, which has been described by the U.N. as a campaign of "textbook ethnic cleansing," has drawn international condemnation.

Francis has refrained from referring directly to the conflict, though he called for Myanmar to respect the rights of all people who call the country home — "none excluded" — an indirect reference to the Rohingya's plight. The violence, including the looting and burning of Rohingya villages in Rakhine, has resulted in more than 620,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh in Asia's worst refugee crisis in decades.

In his homily Wednesday, Francis acknowledged the suffering that Myanmar's ethnic and religious groups have endured, a reference to the decades of conflicts between Myanmar's ethnic minorities who seek greater autonomy and the military. The conflicts involving the Karen, Kachin, Sha and Wa — who are 40 percent of the country's population — have claimed thousands of lives and continue today in parts of the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, which came to power in 2015 after decades of military rule, has been negotiating with 17 of the 20 major ethnic groups, a process Francis and the Myanmar Catholic Church have sought to encourage.

A prayer read out in the Karen language during the Mass referred directly to the initiative. "For the leaders of Myanmar, that they may always foster peace and reconciliation through dialogue and understanding, thus promoting an end to the conflict in the states of Kachin, Rakhine and Shan, we pray to the Lord," read the prayer.

Members of Myanmar's mostly Christian Kachin minority were on hand for the Mass, many of whom traveled two days by train from Kachin state to see the first pope ever to visit Myanmar.

Despite the high humidity, the scene at the park was joyous and pious, with many women covering their heads with lace veils.

"I can't express how happy I am," said Henery Thaw Zin, a 57-year-old ethnic Karen from Hinthada, a four-hour drive from Yangon. "I can't imagine, or can't expect to get a chance like this again, not just in this life, but in my next life as well."

Later Wednesday, in a meeting with Myanmar's senior Buddhist monks, Francis called for religious leaders to speak with one voice affirming their commitment to peace and respect for justice and dignity for all people.

"If we are to be united, as is our purpose, we need to surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice and hatred," Francis told the Sangha council, a committee of high-ranking monks appointed by the government.

Citing the teachings of both Buddha and his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, Francis said: "May that wisdom continue to foster patience and understanding and heal the wounds of conflict that through the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions."

The head of the council, Bhamo Sayadaw, lamented how some people use religion for "extremism and terrorism," saying such interpretations were wrong and inspired by "greed and ego" since religion is meant to inspire the common good.

The elderly monk didn't refer to any particular religion, but the government has identified a group of Rohingya Muslim militants as a terrorist group, while the Sahgha council has denounced Myanmar's growing Buddhist nationalist group, which has used hate speech to inspire violence against Muslims.

And in his final event of the day, Francis met with his bishops in Yangon's Catholic cathedral, and urged them to help their tiny flock heal from "deeply-rooted divisions" that have scarred the country, and help foster unity.

Francis wraps up his visit to Myanmar on Thursday with a Mass for young people in Yangon's cathedral before heading to Bangladesh for the second and final leg of his weeklong South Asia tour.


Croat war criminal's shocking death stuns UN tribunal

In this photo provided by the ICTY on Wednesday, Nov. 29, Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle of poison to his lips, during a Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. (ICTY via AP)

Mike Corder

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) — Seconds after a U.N. judge confirmed his 20-year war crimes sentence on Wednesday, former Bosnian Croat military commander Slobodan Praljak shouted, "I am not a war criminal!" threw back his head, drank liquid from a small bottle and told the court he had taken poison. A flustered judge halted the hearing and Praljak was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died.

Shocking images of the 72-year-old former philosophy professor and theater director who became a wartime general shouting and drinking what he said was poison were streamed live on the court's website and around the Balkans.

The death cast a pall over the last case at the groundbreaking International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Judges upheld sentences ranging from 10-25 years against Praljak and five other Bosnian Croat wartime political and military leaders for their part in a plan linked to Croatia's late former President Franjo Tudjman to violently carve out a Croat-dominated mini-state in Bosnia during the Balkan wars by killing, mistreating and deporting Muslims.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic offered his condolences to Praljak's family and said the former general's actions reflected the "deep moral injustice" done to him and the five others whose sentences were also upheld by the appeals judges Wednesday.

In their ruling, the judges confirmed that Praljak was guilty of crimes including murder, persecution and inhumane treatment as part of the plot to establish a Croat entity in Bosnia in the early 1990s, as well as the 20-year sentence initially handed to Praljak in May 2013 at the end of the six men's trial.

Ironically, Praljak, who surrendered to the tribunal in April 2004 and had already been jailed for 13 years, could have soon walked free because those who are convicted are generally released after serving two-thirds of their sentences.

After Praljak's outburst, Dutch police immediately were called in to launch an independent investigation. Questions the detectives will attempt to answer include: What was the liquid Praljak drank and how did he manage to get it into the tightly guarded courtroom?

The courtroom where the dramatic scene unfolded was sealed off. Presiding Judge Carmel Agius said it was now a "crime scene."

A Serbian lawyer who has frequently defended suspects at the U.N. war crimes court in the Netherlands told The Associated Press it would be easy to slip poison into the court.

Attorney Toma Fila said that security for lawyers and other court staff "is just like at an airport," with security staff inspecting metal objects and confiscating cell phones, but "pills and small quantities of liquids" would not be registered.

Nick Kaufman, an Israeli defense lawyer who used to work as a prosecutor at the tribunal, also said a defendant could find a way to bring in a banned substance.

"When deprived of authority over the masses and the attention which formerly fueled their ego and charisma, such defendants can often be extremely resourceful with the little power they retain," he said.

In the past, two Serbs have taken their lives while in the tribunal's custody.

In July 1998, Slavko Dokmanovic, a Croatian Serb charged in the deaths of over 200 Croat prisoners of war, was found dead in his prison cell in The Hague. Milan Babic, a wartime Serbian leader who was closely cooperating with prosecutors, took his life in a prison tribunal cell in March 2006.

Wednesday's hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month. The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.

The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and still underlies frictions in the country today.

Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic said that his country's leadership during the Bosnian war could "in no way be connected with the facts and interpretations" of Wednesday's judgment.
 


Bali airport reopens, but volcano still spewing ash

Villagers watch the Mount Agung volcano spew smoke and ash in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Stephen Wright

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — The airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened Wednesday after an erupting volcano forced its closure two days earlier, but the country's president said the danger had not passed and urged anyone within the mountain's exclusion zone to get out "for the sake of their safety."

Volcanic ash reaching 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) in the air began drifting south and southeast of Mount Agung, leaving clean space above the airport for planes to land and take off, said airport spokesman Arie Ahsannurohim.

The airport, which handles more than 400 flights a day, had closed Monday, disrupting travel for tens of thousands of people trying to enter or leave the popular vacation destination. Thick ash particles are hazardous to aircraft and can choke engines.

Despite the all-clear from authorities, flights are unlikely to rapidly return to normal levels and a change in the direction of the ash or a new more powerful eruption could force the airport's closure again.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo ordered all concerned ministries and agencies, as well as the military and police, to help Bali's government deal with the disaster.

"I hope there will be no victims hit by the eruption," he said.

Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave an area extending up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) in places from the volcano as it belches gray and white plumes. Nearly 40,000 people are now staying in 225 shelters, according to the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Karangasem. But tens of thousands more have remained in their homes because they feel safe or don't want to abandon their land and livestock.

In the village of Tulamben inside the exclusion zone, farmers were plowing their fields with cattle Wednesday, seemingly unbothered by the smoking mountain behind them swelling with orange lava.

In Sukadana village, about 8 kilometers from the crater, a few remaining residents said mudflows of volcanic debris and water had passed through the area for a couple of days before solidifying.

Some stranded tourists managed to get off the island before the airport reopened, but they faced an arduous journey involving crowded roads, buses, ferries and sometimes overnight waits in yet another airport in Surabaya on the island of Java.

"This is a very unforgettable experience for us. So much hassle and definitely one for the books," said Sheryl David, a tourist from Manila, Philippines, who arrived Saturday in Bali with three friends and was supposed to leave Tuesday. She remained stuck in a third airport on Wednesday in the capital, Jakarta, waiting for a flight home that required buying a new ticket, but said the experience didn't dampen her feelings about the island.

"Yes, still a paradise," she texted.

The volcano's last major eruption, in 1963, killed about 1,100 people, but it is unclear how bad the current situation might get or how long it could last. A worst-case scenario would involve an explosive eruption that causes the mountain's cone to collapse.

"An analogy would be the twin towers collapsing in New York on 9/11," said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University. "You saw people running away from the debris raining down and columns of dust pursuing people down the street. You will not be able to outrun this thing."

Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago when seismic activity increased at the mountain. The activity decreased by late October, and the alert was lowered before being lifted to the highest level again Monday.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and has more than 120 active volcanoes.


Bitcoin surges past $10,000 threshold, only to plunge

 

The price of bitcoin, the most widely used virtual currency, rose above US$ 10,000 on Wednesday for the first time, breaking a symbolic threshold in what has been a vertiginous ascent this year. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Carlo Piovano

London (AP) — The price of bitcoin surged through $10,000 on Wednesday, adding to its ten-fold jump in value this year and fueling a debate as to whether the virtual currency is gaining mainstream acceptance or is merely a bubble waiting to burst.

But as soon as bitcoin went through $10,000, it surged past $11,000, only to plummet from those lofty levels. The cost of buying one bitcoin as measured by the website Coindesk was hovering around $9,800, and was as low as $9,300 on Wednesday afternoon. A price of one bitcoin had been roughly $1,000 at the beginning of the year.

The vertiginous rise in the price of bitcoin and other virtual currencies this year has divided the financial community on their merits and whether — or when — the value might come crashing back down.

The CEO of JPMorgan Chase has called bitcoin a "fraud," as it is not based on anything other than software code and is not backed by any monetary authority.

Other executives, including International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, say virtual currencies should not be dismissed and could have useful applications, such as a means of payment in countries with unstable currencies.

Some countries, like China, have tried to stifle bitcoin exchanges. But in a move that gave further credibility to the virtual currency, the U.S. exchange operator CME Group said last month that it plans to open a futures market for the currency before the end of the year, if it can get approval from regulators.

Bitcoin was created about a decade ago as an alternative to government-issued currencies. Transactions allow anonymity, which has made it popular with people who want to keep their financial activity, and their identities, private.

The digital coins are created by so-called "miners," who operate computer farms that verify other users' transactions by solving complex mathematical puzzles. These miners receive bitcoin in exchange. Bitcoin can be converted to cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading.

Whereas virtual currencies were initially used primarily as a method of payment, in recent months they have become a hot investment among speculators.

Daniele Bianchi, an assistant professor of finance at the Warwick Business School in England, says that the price increases are due to rising demand but also to the fact that the supply of bitcoins is kept fixed. There are currently only 21 million that can be mined in total.

Bianchi also noted that trading in bitcoin is becoming more professional and open to the general public. He believes virtual currencies are "here to stay" and expects the price to rise higher still.

"The increasing demand pressure from investors and speculators makes the case for an even further increase in bitcoin prices in the near future," he said.

Others are far more skeptical.

Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at ETX Capital in London, says bitcoin is "following the playbook for a speculative bubble to the letter."

A new market enjoys a boom when professional investors start entering the market. That's followed by euphoria as others rush in to partake in the gains. Wilson says bitcoin could rise a lot further, but says it is merely a question of when, not if, the bubble bursts.

"This sort of thing never, ever lasts," he said.


Update November 29, 2017

NKorea launches ICBM in possibly its longest-range test yet

A man watches a TV screen showing a local news program reporting North Korea's missile launch at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Kim Tong-Hyung and Foster Klug

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — After 2 months of relative peace, North Korea launched its most powerful weapon yet early Wednesday, a presumed intercontinental ballistic missile that could put Washington and the entire eastern U.S. seaboard within range.

Resuming its torrid testing pace in pursuit of its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the U.S. mainland had been widely expected, but the apparent power and suddenness of the new test still jolted the Korean Peninsula and Washington. The launch at 3:17 a.m. local time and midday in the U.S. capital indicated an effort to perfect the element of surprise and to obtain maximum attention in the United States.

The firing is a clear message of defiance aimed at the Trump administration, which had just restored the North to a U.S. list of terror sponsors. It also ruins nascent diplomatic efforts, raises fears of war or a pre-emptive U.S. strike and casts a deeper shadow over the security of the Winter Olympics early next year in South Korea.

A rattled Seoul responded by almost immediately launching three of its own missiles in a show of force. The South's president, Moon Jae-in, expressed worry that North Korea's growing missile threat could force the United States to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent.

"If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control," Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office. "We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike."

Moon, a liberal who has been forced into a more hawkish stance by a stream of North Korean weapons tests, has repeatedly declared that there can be no U.S. attack on the North without Seoul's approval, but many here worry that Washington may act without South Korean input.

The launch is North Korea's first since it fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan on Sept. 15, and may have broken any efforts at diplomacy meant to end the North's nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.

The missile also appears to improve on North Korea's past launches.

If flown on a standard trajectory, instead of Wednesday's lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles), said U.S. scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. "Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States," Wright wrote in a blog post for the Union for Concerned Scientists.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the missile landed inside of Japan's special economic zone in the Sea of Japan, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Aomori, which is on the northern part of Japan's main island of Honshu. Onodera says the missile could have been an upgraded version of North Korea's Hwasong-14 ICBM or a new missile.

A big unknown, however, is the missile's payload. If, as expected, it carried a light mock warhead, then its effective range would have been shorter, analysts said.

An intercontinental ballistic missile test is considered particularly provocative, and indications that it flew higher than past launches suggest progress by Pyongyang in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could strike the U.S. mainland. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having that capability — using military force if necessary.

In response to the launch, Trump said the United States will "take care of it." He told reporters after the launch: "It is a situation that we will handle." He did not elaborate.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan within 370 nautical kilometers (200 nautical miles) of Japan's coast. It flew for 53 minutes, Japan's defense minister said.

South Korea's responding missile tests included one with a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) range, to mimic striking the North Korea launch site, which is not far from the North Korean capital.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday afternoon at the request of Japan, the U.S. and South Korea.

Italy's U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, the current Security Council president, told reporters late Tuesday that "it's certainly very worrying. Everybody was hoping that there would be restraint from the regime."

He said the latest and toughest sanctions resolutions against North Korea "are working, having an effect on the situation ... on the capacity of the regime to obtain hard currency because to go along with the military programs or missile or nuclear (programs) you need money, and that's the objective."

"There is still room for new measures, but for the moment ... we don't know what the council decision will be," he said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile flew higher than previous projectiles.

"It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they've taken," he told reporters at the White House. "It's a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world."

A week ago, the Trump administration declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war. Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.

North Korea called the terror designation a "serious provocation" that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.

Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the early flight data suggests the North Korean missile was likely a Hwasong-14, which the North fired twice in July. The North is likely trying to further evaluate the weapon's performance, including the warhead's ability to survive atmospheric re-entry and strike the intended target, before it attempts a test that shows the full range of the missile.

South Koreans are famously nonchalant about North Korea's military moves, but there is worry about what the North's weapons tests might mean for next year's Winter Olympics in the South. President Moon told his officials to closely review whether the launch could in anyway hurt South Korea's efforts to successfully host the games in Pyeongchang, which begin Feb. 9.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who spoke with Trump, said Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its strong alliance with the U.S.

Trump has ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the North to prevent its nuclear and missile development. So far, the pressure has failed to get North Korea's government, which views a nuclear arsenal as key to its survival, to return to long-stalled international negotiations on its nuclear program.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that North Korea was "indiscriminately threatening its neighbors, the region and global stability." He urged the international community to not only implement existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea but also to consider additional measures for interdicting maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the country.

"Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now," Tillerson said, adding the U.S. remains committed to "finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea."


Bali volcano spits ash 2 miles in the sky, airport remains closed

Mount Agung volcano spouts plumes of ash into the sky in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Tuesday, Nov. 28. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Firdia Lisnawati and Margie Mason

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — A volcano with a deadly history continued to erupt Tuesday on Bali, one of the world's most popular resort islands, spitting ash 4,000 meters (2 miles) high and stranding tens of thousands of tourists for a second day. Lava was welling in its crater, but it remained unclear how bad the eruption might get or how long it could last.

Authorities have raised the alert for Mount Agung to the highest level and told 100,000 people to leave an area extending 10 kilometers (6 miles) from its crater as it belches grey and white plumes into the sky. Its last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.

Officials extended the closure of Bali's international airport for another 24 hours due to concerns that jet engines could choke on the thick volcanic ash, which was moving across the island.

Tourists waiting for planes stared at information screens reading "canceled" for every flight. Airport spokesman Ari Ahsanurrohim said more than 440 flights were canceled Tuesday, affecting nearly 60,000 passengers, about the same as Monday. Without aircraft, getting in or out of Bali requires traveling hours by land and boat to an airport on another island.

"I don't know, we can't change it," said stranded German traveler Gina Camp, who planned to go back outside and enjoy another day on the island, which attracts about 5 million visitors a year to its famed resorts and world-class surf spots. "It's nature and we have to wait until it's over."

Experts said a larger, explosive eruption is possible or Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks.

"If it got much worse, it would be really hard to think of. You've got a huge population center, nearly a million people in Denpasar and surroundings, and it's very difficult to envision moving those people further away," said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University, adding that an eruption in 1843 was even more explosive than the one in 1963.

"There are many examples in history where you have this kind of seismic buildup — steam ejections of a little bit of ash, growing eruptions of ash to a full-scale stratosphere-reaching column of ash, which can presage a major volcanic event," he said.

A NASA satellite detected a thermal anomaly at the crater, said senior Indonesian volcanologist Gede Swantika. That means a pathway from the storage chamber in the volcano's crust has opened, giving magma easier access to the surface.

Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago when a rash of seismic activity was detected at the mountain. More than 100,000 people living near the volcano fled their homes, many abandoning their livestock or selling them for a fraction of the normal price. The seismic activity decreased by the end of October, causing authorities to lower the alert level.

Tremors increased again last week and officials upped the alert and ordered another large-scale evacuation, with nearly 40,000 people now staying in 225 shelters, according to the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Karangasem. But tens of thousands of villagers have remained in their homes because they feel safe or don't want to abandon their farms and livestock.

"Ash has covered my house on the floor, walls, banana trees outside, everywhere" said Wayan Lanus, who fled his village in Buana Giri with his wife and daughter.

Flows of volcanic mud have been spotted on Agung's slopes, and Arculus warned more are possible since it's the rainy season on Bali.

"They're not making a lot of noise. It's just suddenly coming like a flash flood out of nowhere," he said. "You do not want to be near them. Stay out of the valleys."

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and has more than 120 active volcanoes.


Spring wedding at Windsor Castle for Prince Harry and Markle

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for the media in the grounds of Kensington Palace in London, Monday Nov. 27. (Eddie Mulholland/Pool via AP)

Gregory Katz and Jill Lawless

London (AP) — It will be a spring wedding on the glorious grounds of Windsor Castle for love-struck Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Royal officials — thrilled with the international response to news of the couple's engagement, and the positive reaction to their first ever TV appearance — revealed a few key details Tuesday but kept mum on others, such as who will be Harry's best man?

The wedding will be in May, but the date has not been chosen, Harry's communications secretary, Jason Knauf, told a packed briefing at Buckingham Palace.

"In a happy moment in their lives, it means a great deal to them that so many people throughout the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world are celebrating with them," he said before fielding questions about things like how many of Markle's rescue dogs would move to Britain with her.

Knauf said Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, had given permission for the couple to wed at St. George's Chapel, the historic church on the Windsor Castle grounds that has long been a touchstone for royal rites of passage. He said the 91-year-old monarch will attend the wedding.

Windsor Castle, west of London, is one of the queen's favorite residences. St. George's, the 15th-century chapel where the couple will wed, is more intimate than Westminster Abbey, where Harry's older brother, William, married Kate Middleton in 2011.

Knauf said Windsor "is a very special place for Prince Harry," and that he and Markle have regularly spent time there since they began dating about a year and a half ago.

He said the wedding "will be a moment of fun and joy that will reflect the characters of the bride and groom."

The image-conscious royals also made clear in a statement that the royal family, not British taxpayers, will foot the bill for what is expected to be a grand extravaganza. The family will pay for the church service, the music, the flowers, the decorations and the reception that follows.

Harry's press team is keeping some details private for the moment — perhaps because final decisions have not been made.

It's also not clear who will be Harry's best man, though older brother William would seem to be a strong contender.

Knauf also would not say whether Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will preside over the service. And as for what titles will be given to Harry and Markle, that will be decided by the queen and revealed at a later date.

The palace was ready to answer some delicate questions about the 36-year-old Markle's move to Britain and her taking up a senior role in the royal family, sometimes called "the firm."

Knauf said she will comply with all immigration requirements and will become a British citizen, a process that may take several years, and will retain her U.S. citizenship throughout the process.

He did not say whether she would drop her U.S. citizenship at some point.

Asked about her religion, Knauf said Markle is a Protestant who will be baptized in the Church of England, which is headed by the queen in a largely ceremonial role.

Markle's personal belongings are being shipped from Canada, where she has lived for seven years while performing in the TV legal drama "Suits," to Nottingham Cottage, where she and Harry will live. The cottage is located on the grounds of Kensington Palace in central London.

She has already brought one of her two rescue pups, Guy, but the other — Bogart — is being left behind and will reside permanently with "good friends," Knauf said.

The union of the 33-year-old prince and Markle, an accomplished TV actress in her own right, represents a blending of Hollywood and royalty that is expected to draw an international audience — officials said it is a safe assumption that the service will be televised.

The couple will carry out their first official engagement on Friday, visiting a youth charity and a World AIDS Day event in Nottingham in central England. For Markle, it will be a first taste of life as a working royal.

Markle's divorced status would once have barred her from marrying the prince in church. Harry's father Prince Charles, who is heir to the British throne, married his wife Camilla in a low-key civil ceremony in 2005 because both bride and groom were divorced.

Camilla said Tuesday she was "delighted" her stepson was marrying the U.S. actress.

"America's loss is our gain," she said.

Newspapers hailed news of the engagement as a breath of fresh air and symbol of a modernizing monarchy.

The Daily Telegraph said in an editorial: "A divorced, mixed-race Hollywood actress who attended a Roman Catholic school is to marry the son of the next king. Such a sentence could simply not have been written a generation ago."


Russian probe asks if czar's 1918 killing was ritual murder

In this file photo taken on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, a visitor walks past a photo showing Russia's last Czar Nicholas II with his family at the 1914-1945 Russia history exhibition in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — The head of a Russian Orthodox Church panel looking into the 1918 killing of Russia's last czar and his family said it is investigating whether it was a ritual murder — a statement that has angered Jewish groups.

Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Orthodox bishop heading the panel, said after Monday's session that "a large share of the church commission members have no doubts that the murder was ritual."

A representative of the Investigative Committee, Russia's top state investigative agency, also said that it will conduct its own probe into the theory.

Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities, Russia's largest Jewish group, expressed a strong concern Tuesday about the claims that he described as a "throwback to the darkest ages."

Some Christians in medieval Europe believed that Jews murdered Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes, something which historians say has no basis in Jewish religious law or historical fact and instead reflected anti-Jewish hostility in Christian Europe.

Nicholas II, his wife and their five children were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad on July 17, 1918, in a basement room of a merchant's house where they were held in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.

The speculation that the czar and his family were killed by the Jews for ritual purposes long has been promoted by fringe anti-Semitic groups.

Gorin said his group was shocked and angered by the statements from both the bishop and the Investigative Committee, which he said sounded like a revival of the century-old "anti-Semitic myth" about the killing of the imperial family.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill attended Monday's meeting of the church panel investigating the killing of the czar and his family. He didn't address the issue of whether the killing was ritual, but emphasized that the church needs to find answers to all outstanding questions and "doesn't have the right for mistakes."

Bishop Tikhon's words carried particular weight given his reported close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and influence within the church.

The bishop elaborated on his statement Tuesday, telling the state RIA Novosti news agency that the "Bolsheviks and their allies engaged in the most unexpected and diverse ritual symbolism." He claimed that "quite a few people involved in the execution — in Moscow or Yekaterinburg — saw the killing of the deposed Russian emperor as a special ritual of revenge" and added that Yakov Yurovsky, the organizer of the execution who was Jewish, later boasted about his "sacral historic mission."

The conspiracy theories blaming the Jews for spearheading the Bolshevik revolution were popular among the post-revolution Russian emigres and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, and were later picked up by some hard-line nationalists after the Soviet collapse.

While Tikhon steered clear of singling out Jews as those responsible for the killing, Gorin said that the use of the term coined by anti-Semites of all stripes was "extremely alarming."

"Bishop Tikhon's invectives undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Russian Orthodox Church," he said. "And a representative of the Investigative Committee talking about the same theory yesterday casts a shadow on the government as a whole."

Gorin said he expects both the church leadership and Russian government officials to provide explanation.

Lyudmila Narusova, a member of the Russian upper house of parliament and the widow of St. Petersburg's mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, also criticized the panel's talk about the ritual murder of the czar's family, saying that it was fomenting ethnic strife, according to the Interfax news agency.

Putin, who served as Sobchak's deputy in the 1990s and maintained contacts with his family, is set to attend a meeting of top Russian Orthodox Church's hierarchs later this week.

Under Putin's rule, Russia's Jewish community has enjoyed a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.


Update November 28, 2017

Pope dives into Rohingya crisis upon arrival in Myanmar

Pope Francis is greeted by young children in traditional clothes upon his arrival at Yangon's airport, Myanmar, Monday, Nov. 27. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Nicole Winfield

Yangon, Myanmar (AP) — Pope Francis arrived Monday on a visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh to encourage their tiny Catholic communities and reach out to some of Asia's most peripheral and poor, but the big question looming was whether he would utter the word "Rohingya" while he's here.

Francis immediately dove into the Rohingya Muslim crisis by meeting Monday evening with Myanmar's powerful military leader, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and three officials from the bureau of special operations. The general is in charge of the security operations in Rakhine state, where a military crackdown against the Muslim minority has sent more than 620,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke didn't provide details of the private, 15-minute meeting at the archbishop's residence, other than to say that "They spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition."

Rohingya in recent months have been subject to what the United Nations says is a campaign of "textbook ethnic cleansing" by the military in Rakhine. But Myanmar's local Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid using the term "Rohyingya" because it is shunned by many locally because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country.

Francis, though, has already prayed for "our Rohingya brothers and sisters," and any decision to avoid the term could be viewed as a capitulation to Myanmar's military and a stain on his legacy of standing up for the most oppressed and marginalized of society, no matter how impolitic.

Burke didn't say if Francis used the term in his meeting with the general, which ended with an exchange of gifts: Francis gave him a medallion of the trip, while the general gave the pope a harp in the shape of a boat, and an ornate rice bowl.

Upon arrival in Yangon, the pope was greeted by local Catholic officials and his motorcade passed by thousands of Myanmar's Catholics, who lined the roads, wearing traditional attire and playing music.

Children in traditional dress greeted him as he drove in a simple blue sedan, chanting "Viva il papa!" (Long live the pope) and waving small plastic Burmese and Holy See flags. Posters wishing Francis "a heartiest of welcome" lined the route into town.

En route from Rome, Francis greeted journalists on the plane and apologized for the expected heat, which was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) upon his arrival and is expected to rise during his stay.

On Tuesday, Francis begins the main protocol portion of his week-long trip, meeting with the country's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and delivering a speech to other Burmese authorities and diplomats. He'll greet a delegation of Rohingya Muslims and meet with Bangladesh's political and religious leadership in Dhaka. Masses for the Catholic faithful and meetings with the local church hierarchy round out the itinerary in each country.

The trip was planned before the latest spasm of violence erupted in August, when Rohingya militants attacked security positions in Rakhine. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign that forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, where they are living in squalid refugee camps.

In the Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, Senu Ara, 35, welcomed Francis' arrival for what he might be able to do for the refugees.

"He might help us get the peace that we are desperately searching for," she said. "Even if we stay here he will make our situation better. If he decides to send us back, he will do so in a peaceful way."

But in Yangon, the sentiment was different. Myanmar's government and most of the Buddhist majority consider them Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country, though Rohingya have lived there for generations.

"Being a religious leader — Catholic leader — means that he is well-regarded, but of course there is this worry if he says something, people might say, 'OK, he just came to meddle,'" said Burmese analyst Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner. "So, I think a lot of diplomacy is needed, in addition to the public relations."

Seaman Kyaw Thu Maung said the issue is difficult because the term "Rohingya" carries so much political weight for all of Myanmar's people.

"But my feeling is that if the pope is going to talk about the Rakhine issue, the people aren't going to like the pope anymore," he said.
 


Pakistan law minister resigns, Islamists celebrate victory

Supporters of the radical religious party, 'Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah', celebrate after the country's Law Minister Zahid Hamid's resignation, during a sit-in protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Nov. 27. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistani Islamists celebrated their victory over the government and called off their sit-in on Monday after the country's law minister resigned, caving in to the fundamentalist protesters who have been demanding his ouster in a three-week-long rally.

After Zahid Hamid's resignation, the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party, which was behind the sit-in in Islamabad and protests in other cities and towns across Pakistan, said they were dispersing peacefully under an agreement with the government.

The development underscored how a small Islamist party was able to pressure the Pakistani government and force it to accept its demands through a protracted standoff that started earlier in November.

The Islamists had demanded Hamid's resignation over an omitted reference to Islam's Prophet Muhammad in a parliamentary bill. He apologized for the omission in the bill, saying it was a clerical error that was later corrected.

But the Islamists persisted, taking to the streets and setting up their sit-in at the Faizabad intersection on the edge of the Pakistani capital. The Islamists effectively blocked the country's key highway, the Grand Trunk Road motorway, linking Islamabad with the eastern Punjab province and the northwest, disrupting life and forcing commuters to look for alternate routes.

Clashes erupted on Saturday when riot police tried to disperse the Islamabad sit-in and descended on the protesters with tear gas and batons, leaving six dead and dozens injured.

The violent crackdown also triggered solidarity protests by Islamists in other Pakistani cities and towns, leading to what could have been a major political crisis that could have paralyzed many urban areas.

Hamid, the law minister, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi late on Sunday after security forces held back from another attempt to disperse the protesters, three security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Justice Shaukat Sadiqui of the Islamabad High Court on Monday that the government signed an agreement with the rally organizers to avoid a "civil-war like situation."

Islamabad-based analyst Imtiaz Gul described the outcome of the standoff as a "retreat" by the state. He said Saturday's crackdown "was a miserably planned and poorly executed."

"This operation was launched by thousands of security forces against Islamists and it ended up with the state's retreat," Gul told The Associated Press.

At the Faizabad intersection, jubilant Islamists kissed the hand of their leader and party chief, firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, handed out sweets and chanted, "God is Great" and "Prophet, we are here for you."

In announcing the deal with the government, Rizvi told supporters they "are immediately ending" the rally. He also thanked the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, for facilitating the agreement under which Hamid would resign and all detained party activists would be freed.

Rizvi asked his followers to pack up but await the return of their detained activists so they could all go back together to the city of Lahore, the party's base. Buses lined up near the site amid tight security to take them back to Lahore later Monday.

After Rizvi spoke, security forces began removing shipping containers surrounding the sit-in that had meant to prevent the protest from spreading deeper into the city.

Under the deal, the Islamists also agreed not to issue a fatwa, or Muslim edict that could endanger Hamid. The minister's home in eastern Punjab province was twice attacked by Islamists in recent days though he was not there at the time.

The government agreed not to seek any compensation from the organizers for the damage caused to government and public property during Saturday's violence in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and in other parts of the country.

Ghulam Nabi Joya, a middle-aged bearded man from the district of Jhang in Punjab province, was among those celebrating Hamid's resignation at Faizabad.

"This is the greatest news I ever heard in my life. Our efforts in love of the Prophet bore fruit," said.

Shahid Irfan, 22, who was wounded in face and right hand in Saturday's clashes, said he was overjoyed.

"What else we can want from Allah after this," he asked. "I think we are all on a pathway to heaven. ... Prophet, we are here for you."


Vietnam sentences activist to 7 years in prison

Nguyen Van Hoa, center, stands on trial in central province of Ha Tinhi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 27. (Cong Tuong/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) — A court in central Vietnam on Monday sentenced an activist to seven years in prison for producing online videos and interviews related to an environmental disaster that instigated anti-government protests, in the authorities' latest crackdown on dissent.

Following a trial that lasted half a day, Nguyen Van Hoa was convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda by the People's Court in Ha Tinh province.

He was also charged with using social media platforms including Facebook to spread documents that defamed the government, the state-run online Ha Tinh newspaper reported. It said Hoa also sent distorting articles to "reactionary" groups in exile for financial support.

Court officials weren't immediately available for comment.

In April last year, Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics Group's steel complex in Ha Tinh province dumped toxins into the ocean that killed hundreds of tons of fish along 200 kilometers (124 miles) of coastline in four central provinces. It was one of Vietnam's worst environmental disasters.

The incident devastated the region's seafood and tourism industries and sparked protests against Formosa and the local government for its allegedly slow response to the disaster. The Taiwanese company was ordered to pay compensation of $500 million.

The Ha Tinh newspaper said 22-year-old Hoa had directly arranged for the videos, photos and interviews related to the disaster to be posted on social media to instigate protests against the government.

Vietnam opened up to foreign trade and investment three decades ago and has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, but the Communist government continues to have almost no tolerance for dissent.

International human rights groups and some Western governments often criticize Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views, but Vietnam's government says only lawbreakers are punished.

In the last 12 months, police have arrested at least 28 people and charged them with vaguely interpreted national security violations, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

More than 100 activists are currently serving prison terms for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion, the rights group says.


Philippine modernization program imperils jeepney

In this Sept. 26, 2017, photo, passengers board jeepneys at a terminal in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Aaron Favila

Manila, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' iconic passenger jeepney, once regarded as Manila's "King of the Road," is chugging toward change and uncertainty.

A remnant of World War II, the gaudily decorated jeepneys evolved from the U.S. military jeeps that American forces left behind after the war. The vehicles were modified and reproduced by Filipinos, and for decades were their most popular mode of land transport, becoming a daily showcase of Philippine culture on wheels.

Atop the jeepney's hood stands a horse emblem in chrome, with the vehicle's body wrapped in vibrant colors and all sorts of artwork, ads and mundane slogans.

Running on diesel engines, jeepneys, with their low fares, have been the choice transport of working-class Filipinos. But they have also had a major downside: The dark fumes coughed out by thousands of jeepneys have been blamed for Manila's notoriously polluted air.

Now, a Philippine government modernization program aims for a major makeover of the jeepney and other modes of public transportation by improving their engines, safety and convenience. Aging jeepneys must go or be outfitted with cleaner engines, Wi-Fi and security cameras in an overhaul that poor Filipino drivers and owners say they can't afford.

George San Mateo, who leads a group of drivers and owners called Piston, said the government program would displace more than 600,000 drivers and 250,000 owners and jack up fares. With new jeepneys costing between 1.2 million and 1.6 million pesos ($23,000-$31,000), San Mateo complained that drivers have not been offered a concrete financial assistance scheme by the government.

Drivers have protested, but they got a warning from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after staging a two-day strike last month.

"By Jan. 1, if I see any jeep of yours which has not been registered, I'll drag them away in front of you," the tough-talking president said.

"It is given that every time there is change, there is resistance," said Aileen Lizada of the government's Land Transportation and Franchise Regulatory Board. The government, she said, will convince drivers and owners that the program will actually benefit them, the public and the environment.

Ed Sarao, whose family's Sarao Motors Inc. is among the most popular jeepney manufacturers in the Philippines, said the company is awaiting the enforcement of the modernization program amid resistance.

"Right now people are still clamoring for the traditional jeepney," Sarao said, although he added that many prospective buyers have been asking when the modern jeepneys will roll on the road.

"I tell them that the government still has no go signal yet so it is still a wait and see situation for the manufacturers," Sarao said.

Promoters have been hard at work. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to take a short ride on an "e-jeep," which runs on electricity, this month on the sidelines of an annual diplomatic summit in Manila.

"He's very happy because he can see our aspirations in changing the Filipinos' lives," said Philippine Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, who accompanied Trudeau to the ceremony. "He said that transportation here is really difficult so there needs to be a lot of patience and understanding and creativity to address the problem."

Manufacturers of the "modern jeepney" recently unveiled their models, some of which featured security and dashboard cameras, speed limiters, air conditioning to fight the tropical heat and an automatic fare collection system. Some were as big as buses for more passenger load and others have completely discarded the look of traditional jeepneys.

The impending change has divided drivers.

Roberto Martin, president of another group of jeepney drivers and owners called Pasang Masda, said that with some jeepneys running on 30- to 40-year-old engines, drivers should yield to change for the sake of the planet and public health.

"Let's drive the old jeepneys over to the museum," Martin said. "If people look for the jeepneys, let's bring them to the museum."

Victorino Samson, who has raised his family and children as a driver of traditional jeepneys for more than three decades, disagreed. The modernization program, he said, should be opposed because it would push the old jeepneys into extinction and deprive him and thousands of other drivers of work that has provided about 500 pesos ($10) in daily income.

Some of 62-year-old Samson's sons have become drivers themselves.

"Where will our jeeps go? How about the drivers?" Samson asked with a worried look.


Update November 27, 2017

Bali volcano alert raised, international airport closed

Villagers carry their belongings during an evacuation following the eruption of Mount Agung, seen in the background, in Karangasem, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati

Firdia Lisnawati

Karangasem, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities raised the alert for a rumbling volcano to the highest level on Monday and closed the international airport on the tourist island of Bali, stranding thousands of travelers.

Mount Agung has been hurling ash thousands of meters into the atmosphere since Saturday, which had already forced the small international airport on the neighboring island of Lombok to close as the plumes drifted east.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said Bali's international airport, where most flights had been continuing, was closed for 24 hours. It said authorities would consider reopening it Tuesday after evaluating the situation.

Geological agency head, Kasbani, who goes by one name, said the alert level was raised at 6 a.m. because the volcano has shifted from steam-based eruptions to magmatic eruptions. However he says he's still not expecting a major eruption.

"We don't expect a big eruption but we have to stay alert and anticipate," he said.

The exclusion zone around the crater was widened to 10 kilometers (6 miles). Previously it ranged between 6 and 7.5 kilometers.

Ash up to half a centimeter (less than half an inch) thick has settled on villages around the volcano and soldiers and police distributed masks on the weekend.

The volcano's last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.

Video showed passengers on the tarmac at Bali's airport checking their phones and chatting. Bali is Indonesia's top tourist destination, with its gentle Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.

Indonesia sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and has more than 120 active volcanoes.

Mount Agung's alert status was raised to the highest level in September following a dramatic increase in tremors from the volcano, which doubled the exclusion zone around the crater and prompted more than 140,000 people to leave the area. The alert was lowered on Oct. 29 after a decrease in activity.


Explosion in Chinese port city kills 2, injures 30

This image from video run by China's CCTV shows debris and damaged vehicles following an explosion in Ningbo in east China's Zhejiang province, Sunday, Nov. 26. (CCTV via AP Video)

Joe McDonald

Beijing (AP) — An explosion in a port city south of Shanghai on Sunday killed two people and injured at least 30 others, knocked down buildings and left streets littered with damaged cars and debris, the government and news reports said.

The early morning explosion struck a riverfront neighborhood in Ningbo, one of China's busiest ports, the official Xinhua News Agency and other outlets reported.

Firefighters traced the blast to a hole in the ground where a toilet had been but the cause still was under investigation, state television said on its website. It gave no indication whether the explosion site was inside a building.

Two people were killed and two more seriously injured, the district office announced on its social media account. It gave no details.

At least 30 others were taken to hospitals, according to Huanqiu.com, a website operated by the Global Times newspaper.

China suffers frequent deadly fires and industrial accidents, often blamed on negligence.

Official safety crackdowns have improved conditions in some areas, but many companies still cut corners. In 2015, an explosion traced to improperly stored chemicals killed at least 173 people in Tianjin, a port east of Beijing.

Sunday's blast knocked down residential buildings, but they were vacant and in the process of being demolished, Huanqiu.com said. It said there might have been people in the area collecting scrap for recycling.

Bystanders said the explosion might have been caused by a gas pipeline that was damaged during demolition work, but the Ningbo gas company said it had no lines in the area, the China Youth Daily newspaper reported on its website.

Photos on News.163.com showed an injured woman being carried away on a man's back and what appeared to be the body of man lying in the debris of a wrecked building.

Video clips on multiple websites showed a white cloud of smoke rising above the explosion site and rolling across nearby buildings.

A photo on news.ifeng.com showed a room in an industrial building with a floor-to-ceiling hole blown through an exterior wall. Other photos showed apartments with windows blown out and glass littering the floors.


Pakistan Islamists rally on after deadly clashes with police

Supporters of religious groups take part in a rally to express solidarity with protesters, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Zarar Khan

Islamabad (AP) — Pakistani Islamists pressed ahead with their rally near Islamabad in even larger numbers on Sunday, a day after clashes with police left six dead and dozens wounded.

Angry protesters gathered on the edge of Pakistan's capital torched a car, three motorcycles and a guard post erected near the rally site Sunday. No casualties were reported.

Pakistani riot police and paramilitary troops were deployed nearby — apparently in preparation for another crackdown after security forces on Saturday failed to disperse supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party. But by midday, there was no action by the security forces.

The demonstrators have camped out at the Faizabad intersection for the past three weeks, demanding the resignation of the country's law minister over an omitted reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a parliamentary bill. The minister, Zahid Hamid, apologized for the omission — a phrase saying that Muhammad is the last prophet in Islam was dropped from the text — and said it was a clerical error that was later corrected.

But the Islamists continued the rally, adamant that Hamid resign.

"God willing we will get victory and will disperse with honor," cleric Mohammad Shahid Chishti told The Associated Press as about 3,000 demonstrators gathered Sunday.

On Saturday, security forces failed to disperse the protesters when riot police moved in with tear gas and batons. Hospital officials said nearly 200 people were hurt, most of them policemen. They confirmed six people were killed in clashes with police at the Islamabad rally.

The government asked the army for help but the military questioned the need of army troops, saying enough police and para military troops were available.

Pakistan's commission that regulates electronic media continued to keep broadcasts off the air for a second day Sunday, allegedly because the media had violated the government policy banning live coverage of security operations. Key social media sites also remained blocked.

Supporters of the Islamist party blocked roads and staged sit-ins for a second day Sunday in cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Multan and others, in a show of solidarity with the Islamabad demonstrators.

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, was completely shut down for the second day Sunday as hundreds of protesters blocked over a dozen important intersections. They were largely peaceful but occasionally younger men hurled stones at the police, though elders quickly stopped them.

The biggest of almost two dozen rallies scattered across Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, was near the Punjab Assembly building, where some 3,000 protesters gathered peacefully.

Cleric Ashraf Jalali said the protesters would not leave until their demand for Hamid's resignation is met. "We are peaceful but ready to face any kind of operation" by the police, he said.

In Multan, some 5,000 Islamist supporters marched through the city, chanting slogans against the government. Hundreds of protesters blocked roads elsewhere in Multan and in some places set car tires on fire. Public bus service was also suspended in Multan, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Shah Mohammad Qureshi, a moderate opposition leader, criticized the government, saying it had mishandled the situation.

"This government has blocked the entire country to clear one intersection in Islamabad," Qureshi said.

Malik Mohammad Ahmed, the Punjab provincial spokesman, said protesters in Rawalpindi on Saturday attacked the residence of the former interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, damaging the main gate. They wounded lawmaker Javed Latif in Shaikhupura, hitting him in the head with a stone, he said. Angry crowds also attacked Law Minister Hamid's villa in Pasroor, ransacking the place.


Nepal votes in 1st provincial polls amid democracy hopes

A Nepalese man casts his vote during the legislative elections in Chautara, Sindupalchowk, 80 kilometers east of Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Binaj Gurubacharya

Chautara, Nepal (AP) — Residents of mountain villages and foothill towns voted Sunday in Nepal's first provincial polls, with the hope of bringing government closer to the Himalayan nation's rural and remote areas.

Nepal's chief election commissioner, Ayodhi Prasad Yadav, said turnout was more than 65 percent among the 3.2 million voters who were choosing lawmakers in seven newly formed federal states as well as the national assembly.

The lawmakers who are elected on Sunday, and Dec. 7 in the remaining parts of the country, will be able to name their states, draft provincial laws and choose local leaders.

"The central government is finally moving to our region. We will be closer to the government now with the state assemblies," said schoolteacher Swasthani Thapa, who was among the voters lining outside the polling station at Chautara, 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Kathmandu, even before it opened at 7 a.m.

Chautara was one of the areas hardest hit by a devastating 2015 earthquake. People in Nepal's mountain regions complained they did not get enough help from the central government because their voices were not heard. Two years later, destroyed and damaged houses are still scattered around Chautara and surrounding areas.

"This is a historic day for us," said businessman Surya Lal Shrestha. "The setting up of states will give final shape to the democracy process, which should finally bring stability and development for our country."

In nearby Balefi village, election official Rijedra Subedi said people walked up to four hours to reach the polling station from their remote mountain villages.

"Farmer left their fields and laborers took the day off to come vote with their families," Subedi said.

Nepal's slow path to democracy began in 2006, when protesters forced the king to give up his rule. Two years later, Nepal officially abolished the centuries-old monarchy and decided that a federal system would best deliver services to all corners of the nation, which remains one of the poorest in the world.

But bickering among political parties delayed until 2015 the implementation of the new constitution, which declared Nepal a republic.

Security was stepped up for the elections, with thousands of police and army soldiers deployed. According to the Home Ministry, more than 400 people were detained in days leading up to the vote.

Soon after the constitution was implemented in 2015, protests by ethnic groups in southern Nepal turned violent and left some 50 people dead.

The ethnic Madhesi group protested for months, saying they did not get enough territory in the province assigned to them. They said they deserved more land because they represented a bigger population. Their protest blocked the border with India for months, cutting off fuel and other supplies in Nepal.


Update November 25-26, 2017

Militants attack Egyptian mosque, kill at least 235 people

Abdallah Abdel Nasser, 14, receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Brian Rohan and Samy Magdy

Cairo (AP) — In the deadliest-ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt, militants assaulted a crowded mosque Friday during prayers, blasting helpless worshippers with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades and blocking their escape routes. At least 235 people were killed before the assailants got away.

The attack in the troubled northern part of the Sinai Peninsula targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic movement within Islam. Islamic militants, including the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

The startling bloodshed in the town of Bir al-Abd also wounded at least 109, according to the state news agency. It offered the latest sign that, despite more than three years of fighting in Sinai, the Egyptian government has failed to deter an IS-led insurgency.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack "will not go unpunished" and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism. But he did not specify what new steps might be taken.

The military and security forces have already been waging a tough campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency for months. Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists as well as against other dissenters and critics, raising concern about human rights violations.

Seeking to spread the violence, militants over the past year have carried out deadly bombings on churches in the capital of Cairo and other cities, killing dozens of Christians. The IS affiliate is also believed to be behind the 2016 downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed 226 people.

Friday's assault was the first major militant attack on a Muslim congregation, and it eclipsed past attacks, even dating back to a previous Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s.

The militants descended on the al-Rouda mosque in four off-road vehicles as hundreds worshipped inside. At least a dozen attackers charged in, opening fire randomly, the main cleric at the mosque, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Fatah Zowraiq told The Associated Press by phone from a Nile Delta town where he was recuperating from bruises and scratches suffered in the attack.

He said there were explosions as well. Officials cited by the state news agency MENA said the attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and shot men as they tried to run from the building. The militants blocked off escape routes with burning cars, three police officers on the scene told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Abdullah Abdel-Nasser, 14, who was attending prayers with his father, said the shooting began just as the cleric was about to start his sermon, sending panicked worshippers rushing to hide behind concrete columns or whatever shelter they could find. At one point, a militant shouted for children to leave, so Abdel-Nasser said he rushed out, though he was wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel and a bullet.

"I saw many people on the floor, many dead. I don't think anyone survived," he said at a hospital in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, where around 40 of the wounded were taken, including many children.

Mohammed Ali said 18 members of his extended family were killed in the attack. The mosque belonged to a local clan, the Jreer, so many of its members worshipped there.

"Where was the army? It's only a few kilometers away. This is the question we cannot find an answer to," he said.

The attackers escaped, apparently before security forces could confront them.

Afterward, dozens of bloodied bodies wrapped in sheets were laid across the mosque floor, according to images circulating on social media. Relatives lined up outside a nearby hospital as ambulances raced back and forth. The state news agency MENA put the death toll at 235.

Resident Ashraf el-Hefny said many of the victims were workers at a nearby salt mine who had come for Friday services at the mosque.

"Local people brought the wounded to hospital on their own cars and trucks," he said by telephone.

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack. But the IS group affiliate has targeted Sufis in the past. Last year, the militants beheaded a leading local Sufi religious figure, the blind sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, and posted photos of the killing online.

Islamic State group propaganda often denounces Sufis. In the January edition of an IS online magazine, a figure purporting to be a high level official in the Sinai affiliate of the group vowed to target Sufis, accusing them of idolatry and heretical "innovation" in religion and warning that the group will "not permit (their) presence" in Sinai or Egypt.

Millions of Egyptians belong to Sufi orders, which hold sessions of chanting and poetry meant to draw the faithful closer to God. Sufis also hold shrines containing the tombs of holy men in particular reverence.

Islamic hardliners view such practices as improper, even heretical, and militants across the region often destroy Sufi shrines, saying they encourage idolatry because people pray to the figures buried there for intercession.

El-Sissi convened a high-level meeting of security officials as his office declared a three-day mourning period.

In a statement, he said the attack would only "add to our insistence" on combatting extremists. Addressing the nation later on television, he said Egypt is waging a battle against militancy on behalf of the rest of the world, a declaration he has often made in seeking international support for the fight.

President Donald Trump denounced what he called a "horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers."

"The world cannot tolerate terrorism" he said on Twitter, "we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!" He later tweeted that he would call el-Sissi and said the attack showed the need to get "tougher and smarter," including by building the wall he has promised along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Islamic militants stepped up their campaign of violence in northern Sinai after the military ousted the elected but divisive Islamist Mohammed Morsi from power in 2013 and launched a fierce crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group.

The result has been a long, grinding conflict centered on el-Arish and nearby villages. The militants have been unable to control territory, but the military and security forces have also been unable to bring security, as the extremists continuously carry out attacks.

The attacks have largely focused on military and police, killing hundreds, although exact numbers are unclear as journalists and independent investigators are banned from the area. The militants have also assassinated individuals the group considers spies for the government or religious heretics.

Egypt has also faced attacks by militants in its Western Desert.


'Gunfire' sparks panic in London, but police find nothing

The scene outside the London Palladium in the west end of London after Oxford Circus station was evacuated Friday Nov. 24. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Shoppers scattered in panic and police flooded one of London's busiest areas Friday after multiple reports of shots being fired at Oxford Circus subway station.

But an hour later police said they had found no sign of any gunshots, suspects or casualties.

The panic erupted on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, in a jittery city that has been hit by four violent attacks this year.

The area, full of big-name chain shops and department stores, was packed with shoppers browsing Black Friday sales.

Amid reports of several shots being fired, commuters and shoppers ran from Oxford Circus station and took shelter in nearby stores.

"I was next to the Tube station and everyone started screaming and shouting and then a flood of people came up the stairs," said Greg Owen, 37.

Police said they were responding "as if the incident is terrorist related," sending armed officers to the scene, cordoning off several blocks and telling people to avoid the area.

Some stores filled with people taking shelter; others were evacuated. At upmarket department store Selfridges, shoppers were ordered to leave. At least three heavily armed men believed to be police could be seen on the escalators inside.

About an hour after the first report of shots, the Metropolitan Police force said officers "have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or causalities." Oxford Circus subway station reopened soon afterward.

It is not yet clear what set off the panic.

British Transport Police said one woman suffered a minor injury while leaving the station. The force, which patrols the train and subway network, said it was investigating what had caused the initial report of shots inside the station.

After declaring the incident over, the Metropolitan Police said that "given the nature of the information received, the Met responded in line with our existing operation as if the incident was terrorism, including the deployment of armed officers."

Kensington Palace officials said the security alert will not keep Prince William and his pregnant wife Kate from attending a Royal Variety Performance Friday evening at the nearby London Palladium. Officials said in a statement that the royal couple will arrive later than had been planned but should be in place by the start of the show.

Britons in general, and Londoners in particular, have been jumpy after a string of extremist attacks this year, including deadly attacks using vehicles to hit pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and outside a London mosque.

The city of Manchester was also traumatized by a bombing at a concert arena, which killed 22 people.

Britain's official terrorist threat level is set at "severe" indicating an attack is considered highly likely.


Pope's place as refugee champion tested in Myanmar

Pope Francis is shown in this Nov. 22, 2017, file photo. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Nicole Winfield

Vatican City (AP) — Pope Francis heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh with the international community excoriating Myanmar's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims as "ethnic cleansing" but his own church resisting the label and defending Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only hope for democracy.

Francis will thus be walking a fraught diplomatic tightrope during the Nov. 27-Dec. 2 visit, which will include separate meetings with Suu Kyi, the powerful head of Myanmar's military as well as a small group of Rohingya once Francis arrives in neighboring Bangladesh.

Francis has defined his papacy by his frequent denunciations of injustices committed against refugees, and he would be expected to speak out strongly against the Rohingya plight. But he is also the guest of Myanmar's government and must look out for the well-being of his own tiny flock, a minority of just 659,000 Catholics in the majority Buddhist nation of 51 million.

"Let's just say it's very interesting diplomatically," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke responded when asked if Francis' 21st foreign trip would be his most difficult.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Jesuit commentator, was more direct: "I have great admiration for the pope and his abilities, but someone should have talked him out of making this trip," Reese wrote recently on Religion News Service.

Reese argued that Francis' legacy as an uncompromising champion of the oppressed will come up against the harsh reality of blowback for Myanmar's minority Christians if he goes too far in defending the Rohingya against the military's "clearance operations" in Rakhine state.

"If he is prophetic, he puts Christians at risk," Reese said. "If he is silent about the persecution of the Rohingya, he loses moral credibility."

Francis isn't known for his deference to protocol and he tends to call a spade a spade. But he has already been urged by the Catholic Church in Myanmar and his hand-picked cardinal, Charles Bo, to refrain from even using the term "Rohingya," which is rejected by most in Myanmar.

"The pope clearly takes this advice seriously," Burke said. "But we'll see together."

Francis has used the term "Rohingya" in the past, when he condemned the "persecution of our Rohingya brothers," denounced their suffering and called for them to receive "full rights."

Myanmar's government and most of the Buddhist majority don't recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, even though they have lived in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for generations.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said Francis would likely call for a lasting solution for the Rakhine Muslims that takes into account "the importance for the people of having a nationality." He declined in a Vatican Radio interview to use the term "Rohingya."

Francis had originally intended his 2017 itinerary to involve a visit to India and Bangladesh. But preparations fell apart in India, and Myanmar was added in late, after Myanmar and the Holy See established diplomatic relations during a visit by Suu Kyi to Rome in May.

Since then, the situation on the ground has deteriorated badly, after Rohingya militants attacked security positions in poverty-wracked Rakhine in August. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the U.N., U.S. and human rights groups have labeled as textbook "ethnic cleansing."

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where they are living in squalid refugee camps. This week, the U.N. envoy on sexual violence in conflict said the widespread gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls by the Myanmar military could amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Burke demurred when asked if the spasm of violence had complicated the Vatican's plans, saying only that "stuff happens" and "the trip was going to happen in any case."

Bo, whom Francis named as Myanmar's first cardinal in 2015, has resisted terming the violence "ethnic cleansing," saying the military response was disproportionate but that it was "premature" and unhelpful to put a label on it.

He defended Suu Kyi as Myanmar's only hope for democracy, saying criticism against her was "unfair" and that she was working to implement recommendations by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to improve opportunities for all religious minorities, Christians among them.

The Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of the AsiaNews news agency that closely covers the Catholic Church in Asia, said he expected Francis would use the visit to help shore up Suu Kyi, whose international stature has suffered as a result of the crisis even though she is limited constitutionally in what she can say or do against the military.

"The question of the Rohingya is a 'casus belli' to eliminate the government of Aung Sang Suu Kyi," Cervellera said. "If we take away Aung San Suu Kyi, the military dictatorship returns, which means setting all the minorities on fire."

Francis will host an interfaith peace meeting in the garden of the Dhaka archbishops' residence, at which a small group of Rohingya are expected.

Other highlights of the trip include Francis' meeting with Myanmar's Buddhist monks and encounters with Catholic youth capping the visit in each country.

The youth encounters "demonstrate that it's a young church with hope," Burke said.


Chinese parents demand answers to kindergarten abuse claims

An elderly man escorts a child to the RYB kindergarten in Beijing, China, Friday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Yi-Ling Liu and Sam McNeil

Beijing (AP) — Dozens of upset parents gathered Friday outside a kindergarten in Beijing run by a U.S.-listed company demanding answers after reports alleged some children had been molested, abused and left with what appeared to be needle marks on their bodies.

The allegations, coming just weeks after reports of abuse at a Shanghai day-care center, prompted a wave of anger from parents nationwide and a swift government response. The State Council, China's cabinet, on Friday ordered nationwide inspections of kindergartens to review teacher conduct, citing "recent incidents in many locations."

After worrying about food and drug safety for years, Chinese parents say they now worry about potential lapses in supervision in the booming private preschool industry.

The latest scandal in Beijing erupted after influential newsmagazine Caixin and other Chinese media quoted some parents as saying their children were molested, forced to strip as punishment, found with unexplained apparent needle marks on their bodies and made to take unidentified white pills. The claims could not be independently verified.

A group of parents demanded answers outside the Xintiandi school gate on Friday while other parents led their children past reporters and plainclothes security agents to the doors.

"We need clarification. As parents, we have the right to question the school, don't we?" said a father who gave only his surname, Wang.

Another man, who also gave only his surname, Li, said: "If there is no explanation, I'm not sending my child here anymore. I will come over every day until they respond."

The Beijing Municipal Commission of Education said it would inspect other kindergartens in the Chinese capital, while the company that runs the preschool, Beijing-based RYB Education, said in a statement it has suspended three teachers. It promised to cooperate with police in a thorough investigation and vowed "zero tolerance" for abusive staff.

It's the latest case involving schools to spark online outrage in China.

"Laws must be enforced, supervision strengthened, teacher wages increased," an editorial by the official Xinhua News Agency said. "The childcare industry cannot be allowed to grow in an uncivilized fashion."

Earlier this month, surveillance video emerged of abuse at a Shanghai daycare center run by China's largest online travel company, Ctrip. The video, uploaded by angry parents on Chinese social media, showed teachers slapping a crying girl, pushing a toddler to the ground, and force-feeding students a substance later confirmed to be wasabi. In April, RYB Education suspended the headmaster and two teachers at another branch in Beijing after a video of a teacher kicking children was widely shared online.

In its statement on the latest reports, RYB suggested it was the victim of frame-up and false accusations by an "individual" and said it raised this with police.

Concern rippled beyond families at the school. Pictures of alleged injuries were widely shared by users of China's WeChat messaging service before the country's internet censors started deleting posts.

"This is quite terrifying," said Zhang Yang, a mother in Beijing whose children don't attend RYB schools. She said the allegations were alarming because they were being made against a well-known private institution.

"All my friends went home and asked their children if they've ever been given medications or injected," Zhang said.

RYB and its franchisees operate 1,300 daycare centers and nearly 500 kindergartens in 300 Chinese cities, according to its website.

The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September, joining other Chinese providers capitalizing on rising demand from the country's emerging middle class for educational services.

In China, private early education programs have seen steady growth in a market forecast to reach 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) in 2017, according to China Online Education Institute. But experts and parents say China lacks skilled and experienced teachers and adequate oversight over the rapidly expanding sector.

Early childhood education providers like RYB that are focused on rapid expansion to drive profits will find it hard to ensure teacher quality, said Yong Zhao, a professor specializing in Chinese education at the University of Kansas.

"When education becomes a profit-driven center, you have to sacrifice somewhere," Zhao said. "You will not be willing to spend more money on people and you will not attract high-quality educators."


Oscar Pistorius' sentence increased to 13 years, 5 months

In this July 6, 2016, file photo, Oscar Pistorius, center, arrives at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, for a sentencing hearing for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his home on Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Shiraaz Mohamed)

Gerald Imray

Somerset West, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius' prison sentence was more than doubled to 13 years and five months on Friday, a surprisingly dramatic intervention by South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal in the Olympic athlete's fate after the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In an announcement that took a matter of minutes, Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti said a panel of judges unanimously upheld an appeal by prosecutors against Pistorius' original six-year sentence for shooting Steenkamp multiple times in his home in 2013.

Under that initial sentence, which the court called "shockingly lenient," the double-amputee runner could have been released on parole in mid-2019. Now, the earliest he'll be eligible for parole is 2023.

The ruling could finally bring an end to the near five-year legal saga surrounding Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and record-breaker who was the first amputee to run at the Olympics and one of the most celebrated sportsmen in the world.

Steenkamp's parents, Barry and June, were "emotional" as they watched Seriti deliver the verdict live on television at their home, family lawyer Tania Koen said.

"They feel there has been justice for Reeva. She can now rest in peace," Koen told The Associated Press. "But at the same time, people must realize that people think this is the end of the road for them ... the fact is they still live with Reeva's loss every day."

Pistorius killed Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013 after shooting four times through a closed toilet cubicle door with his 9 mm pistol. He claimed he mistook the 29-year-old model and reality TV star for an intruder and was initially convicted of manslaughter by trial judge Thokozile Masipa. That conviction was overturned and replaced with a murder conviction by the Supreme Court in 2015. Pistorius was then sentenced to six years for murder by Masipa, a decision also now rejected by the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors called the six-year sentence much too lenient and the Supreme Court agreed, saying in a full written ruling released later that "the sentence of six years' imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivialising this serious offence."

The Supreme Court said that Pistorius "displays a lack of remorse, and does not appreciate the gravity of his actions."

Pistorius' brother, Carl, wrote on Twitter: "Shattered. Heartbroken. Gutted." A spokesman for the Pistorius family didn't answer calls from the AP.

Pistorius should have been sentenced to the prescribed minimum of 15 years for murder, Seriti said, as he delivered the verdict of a panel of five judges at the Supreme Court in the central city of Bloemfontein. There is no death penalty in South Africa.

The new sentence of 13 years and five months took into account the one year and seven months Pistorius served in prison and under house arrest after his manslaughter conviction.

The new sentence was backdated to start on the day he began his murder sentence, on July 6 last year.

Supreme Court judges are generally reluctant to change sentences handed down by trial courts, and it's rare for them to change one so dramatically.

"I did not expect the Supreme Court of Appeal to hand down such a lengthy sentence of imprisonment," legal analyst Ulrich Roux said on the eNCA news channel. "But, if one looks at what the law states, and given the fact that murder does carry the minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, I think the decision could be vindicated."

Pistorius must serve at least half of the 13 years and five months — nearly seven years — before he can be considered for parole. He has served a year and five months of his murder sentence.

Pistorius, who turned 31 on Wednesday, is being held at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre on the outskirts of the South African capital, Pretoria, and did not attend any of the appeal hearings.

Friday's decision also has possible consequences for where he is held for the remainder of his sentence. Pistorius was moved from the high security Kgosi Mampuru II Prison in central Pretoria to Atteridgeville, which houses prisoners sentenced to six years or less. Pistorius might now be moved back to a higher security facility.

Pistorius' lawyers have one avenue left open to them if they want to challenge the new sentence, and that is to appeal to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa.

Pistorius failed with an appeal to the Constitutional Court last year to challenge his murder conviction.


Update November 24, 2017

Myanmar, Bangladesh sign agreement on Rohingya refugees

Myanmar's Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, right, shakes hand with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali after signing the Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Thursday, Nov. 23. (Myanmar Information Ministry via AP)

Bangkok (AP) — Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on Thursday covering the return of Rohingya Muslims who fled across their mutual border to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Myanmar announced the agreement but provided no details on how many Rohingya refugees would be allowed to return home. Bangladesh said the repatriations are to begin within two months.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the army began what it called "clearance operations" following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh said their homes were set on fire by soldiers and Buddhist mobs, and some reported being shot at by security forces.

The office of Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the agreement "on the return of displaced persons from Rakhine state" was signed by Cabinet officials in Naypyitaw, Myanmar's capital. It said the pact follows a formula set in a 1992 repatriation agreement signed by the two nations after an earlier spasm of violence. Under that agreement, Rohingya were required to present residency documents, which few have, before being allowed to return to Myanmar.

"We're continuing our bilateral talks with Myanmar so that these Myanmar nationals (Rohingya) could return to their country," Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh news agency. "It's my call to Myanmar to start taking back soon their nationals from Bangladesh."

Rohingya at a refugee camp in Bangladesh expressed deep doubts about the agreement.

"They burned our houses, they took our land and cows - will they give us these things back?" asked Abdul Hamid from Hoyakong.

"I'm not happy at all. First, I need to know if they are going to accept us with the Rohingya identity," said Sayed Alom, also from Hoyakong.

Rohingya Muslims have faced state-supported discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar 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.

The Myanmar government has refused to accept them as a minority group, and the statement issued Thursday by Suu Kyi's office did not use the term "Rohingya."

The United States on Wednesday declared the violence against Rohingya to be "ethnic cleansing," and threatened penalties for Myanmar military officers involved in the crackdown.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday that the discrimination against Rohingya has worsened considerably in the last five years, and amounts to "dehumanizing apartheid."

"There can be no safe or dignified returns of Rohingya to Myanmar while a system of apartheid remains in the country, and thousands are held there in conditions that amount to concentration camps. Returns in the current climate are simply unthinkable," the group's director for refugee and migrant rights, Charmain Mohamed, said in a statement Thursday.


Sound heard in Argentine sub search was likely 'explosion'

A woman cries in front of a fence enclosing the Mar de Plata Naval Base, Thursday, Nov. 23 after learning that a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Almudena Calatrava and Luis Andres Henao

Mar del Plata, Argentina (AP) — An apparent explosion occurred near the time and place an Argentine submarine went missing, the country's navy reported Thursday, prompting relatives of the vessel's 44 crew members to burst into tears and some to say they had lost hope of a rescue.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan, despite the evidence of an explosion and with more than a week having passed since the submarine disappeared. It was originally scheduled to arrive Monday at Argentina's Mar del Plata Navy Base.

The U.S. Navy and an international nuclear test-ban monitoring organization said a "hydro-acoustic anomaly" was produced just hours after the navy lost contact with the sub on Nov. 15.  It was near the submarine's last known location.

"According to this report, there was an explosion," Balbi told reporters. "We don't know what caused an explosion of these characteristics at this site on this date."

The navy spokesman described the "anomaly" as "singular, short, violent and non-nuclear."

Relatives of the crew who had gathered at the Mar del Plata base to receive psychological counseling broke into tears and hugged each other after they received the news. Some fell on their knees or clung to a fence crowded with blue-and-white Argentine flags, rosary beads and messages of support. Most declined to speak, while a few others lashed out in anger at the navy's response.

"They sent a piece of crap to sail," said Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez. "They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment."

Balbi defended the Argentine Navy, saying that "with respect to the maintenance and state of our naval and air units, no unit ever leaves port or takes off if it isn't in operating conditions to navigate or fly with total security."

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refitted in 2014.

During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts say that refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers and even the smallest mistake during the cutting phase of the operation can put the safety of the ship and the crew at risk.

The Argentine navy and outside experts have said that even if the ARA San Juan is intact, its crew might have only enough oxygen to be submerged seven to 10 days. It lost contact as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia. The submarine's captain had reported a battery failure.

Authorities said late Wednesday that Argentine navy ships as well a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a Brazilian air force plane would return to the area to check out the abnormal sound, which originated about 30 miles north of the submarine's last registered position.

The search location straddles the edge of the continental shelf, with widely varying ocean depths, some as great as 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). Experts say the submarine could not have supported pressures that far down.

"If a submarine goes below its crush-depth, it would implode, it would just collapse," said James H. Patton Jr. a retired Navy captain. "It would sound like a very, very big explosion to any listening device."

Whatever it was, U.S. Navy Lt. Lily Hinz said the sound detected "was not a whale, and it is not a regularly occurring sound."

Claudio Rodriguez, brother of crew member Hernan Rodriguez, said his family suspects "the explosion was so strong that they were not able to rise to the surface or shoot any flares. They didn't have time for anything."

"As a family, we're grateful to all the people who prayed for us and for the families of all the 44," he said.

More than a dozen airplanes and ships have been participating in the multinational search despite stormy weather that has caused waves of more than 20 feet (6 meters). Search teams are combing an area of some 185,000 square miles (480,000 square kilometers), which is roughly the size of Spain.

The U.S. government has sent two P-8 Poseidons, a naval research ship, a submarine rescue chamber and sonar-equipped underwater vehicles.  U.S. Navy sailors from the San Diego-based Undersea Rescue Command were also helping with the search.

Britain's Ministry of Defense sent a special airplane with emergency life support pods to join the hunt that includes planes and ships from a dozen nations.

Hopes were buoyed after brief satellite calls were received and when sounds were detected deep in the South Atlantic. But experts later determined that neither was from the missing sub.

"They haven't come back and they will never come back," said Jesica Gopar, wife of submarine officer Fernando Santilli, choking back tears. "I had a bad feeling about this and now it has been confirmed."


Facebook opens 2nd office combating hate speech in Germany

 

Employees of the Competence Call Center (CCC) work for the Facebook Community Operations Team in Essen, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Essen, Germany (AP) — Facebook is adding 500 more contractors in Germany to review content posted to the social media site, after a new law came into force targeting online hate speech.

The company says the staff will work for a service provider called CCC at a new office in the western city of Essen that was formally opened Thursday.

German lawmakers approved a bill in June that could see social networking sites fined up to 50 million euros if they persistently fail to remove illegal content within a week.

Critics say the law could force Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to decide what is legal or not.

Together with an existing office in Berlin, Facebook will have more than 1,200 people reviewing posts in Germany by the end of the year.


Papua New Guinea officials pressure refugees to leave camp

This image shows police entering the immigration camp on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, Thursday Nov. 23. (Refugee Action Coalition via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Papua New Guinea authorities on Thursday removed dozens of asylum seekers and ratcheted up pressure on more than 300 others to abandon a decommissioned immigration camp, where refugees reported their shelters, beds and other belongings have been destroyed.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki said 50 police and immigration officials entered the Manus Island camp Thursday morning and "peacefully relocated" 50 asylum seekers among the 378 men to alternate accommodations in the nearby town of Lorengau.

Water, power and food supplies to the Manus camp ended when it officially closed on Oct. 31, based on the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court's ruling last year that Australia's policy of housing asylum seekers there was unconstitutional. But asylum seekers fear for their safety in Lorengau because of threats from local residents.

Australia pays Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbor, and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to hold thousands of asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have attempted to reach Australian shores by boat since mid-2013.

Shen Narayanasamy, a human rights campaigner for the activist group GetUp!, said some of those bused from the camp on Thursday reported being forced to leave.

Baki said in a statement all had "left voluntarily" except for Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochan, a journalist who used social media to report on disturbing conditions on Manus.

Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News television that Boochan was among "a small number of people ... arrested."

But Baki said Boochan was neither arrested nor charged.

"He was stirring up trouble and telling the other refugees not to move out of the center so police and officers ... simply escorted him out," Baki said. "I am glad that this relocation exercise was done peacefully and without use of force."

Boochan had earlier tweeted from the camp: "They are destroying everything. Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings."

Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas denied reports that authorities destroyed asylum seekers' property in an effort to persuade them to leave.

Amnesty International cited reports of immigration officials entering the camp armed with sticks and knives.

"The risks of serious injury if the authorities use force now is completely foreseeable," the London-based rights group's researcher, Kate Schuetze, said in a statement.

Authorities have previously made conditions tougher in the camp by emptying drinking water tanks and removing shelters. Deadlines to abandon the camp have passed without authorities taking action.

Australia will not settle any refugees who try to arrive by boat — a policy that the government says dissuades asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous ocean crossing from Indonesia. It has also prevented boats from reaching Australia since July 2014 by using the Australian navy to turn boats back.

The United States has agreed to resettle up to 1,250 of the refugees under a deal struck by former President Barack Obama's administration that President Donald Trump has reluctantly decided to honor. So far, only 54 have been accepted by the United States.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed asylum seekers' fears for their safety in Lorengau, accusing them of trying to pressure Australia into resettling them by refusing to move from Manus.

"They think that ... in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers," Turnbull told reporters.

"People on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all the facilities they need, they should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the legal directions of Papua New Guinea," he added.


Ruling party assured Mugabe he wouldn't face prosecution

Zimbabwean military parade during a dress rehearsal ahead of Friday's presidential inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa, at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe Thursday, Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Farai Mutsaka and Christopher Torchia

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's ruling party assured Robert Mugabe that he wouldn't be prosecuted if he resigned, a party official said Thursday, as the fate of the 93-year-old became clearer and the country prepared to move on.

"Prosecuting him was never part of the plan," ZANU-PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke told The Associated Press. "He is safe, his family is safe and his status as a hero of his country is assured. All we were saying is resign or face impeachment."

As Zimbabwe prepared to witness the swearing-in of new president Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday morning, its citizens circulated on social media a new photo showing what appeared to be Mugabe at the end of his 37-year rule.

Mugabe and his wife are shown sitting on a sofa with advisers standing behind them. A dejected-looking Grace Mugabe, who just days ago had been poised to replace Mnangagwa after his firing as vice president and even succeed her husband, looks off camera. A listing Robert Mugabe's eyes are closed. The photo could not immediately be verified.

Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as lawmakers began impeaching him, has not spoken publicly since his stunning speech on Sunday defying calls from the military, ruling party and the people to step down.

But it appears he and his wife will remain in the capital, Harare.

According to protocol, Mugabe could even be present at the 75-year-old Mnangagwa's swearing-in on Friday morning at a 60,000-seat stadium after making a triumphant return to the country. He fled shortly after his firing, claiming threats to his life.

Mnangagwa's speech upon his return Wednesday night outside ruling party headquarters promised "a new, unfolding democracy" and efforts to rebuild a shattered economy. But he also recited slogans from the ruling ZANU-PF party, unlikely to reassure the opposition.

The opposition party MDC-T, which supported Mugabe's removal, said it had not been invited to the inauguration. Spokesman Obert Guru said the party was closely watching Mnangagwa's next moves, "particularly regarding the dismantling of all the oppressive pillars of repression."

In a new statement Thursday, Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans against "vengeful retribution."

The pastor who led large anti-government protests last year, Evan Mawarire, says Zimbabweans should let Mnangagwa know that the country should be for everyone and not just the ruling party.

Mnangagwa, a former justice and defense minister with close ties to the military who served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, remains on a U.S. sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents.

He fled Zimbabwe after being fired on Nov. 6 and was in hiding during the week-long political drama that led to Mugabe's resignation. His appearance on Wednesday, flanked by heavy security, delighted supporters who hope he can guide Zimbabwe out of political and economic turmoil.

Mnangagwa will serve Mugabe's remaining term until elections at some point next year. Opposition lawmakers who have alleged vote-rigging in the past say balloting must be free and fair, a call the United States and others have echoed.

Mugabe's resignation was met with wild celebrations by people thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise after taking power at the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overshadowed by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

On Thursday, an editorial in the privately run NewsDay newspaper said Mnangagwa has "an unenviable task" and that he should set up a coalition government that represents all Zimbabweans.


Update November 23, 2017

Light pollution increasing around the globe

This photo combo of images shows photographs of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, taken from the International Space Station on Dec. 23, 2010, left, where residential areas are mainly lit by orange sodium lamps; and on Nov. 27, 2015, right, where many areas on the outskirts are newly lit compared to 2010, and many neighborhoods have switched from orange sodium lamps to white LED lamps. (NASA's Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — The world's nights are getting alarmingly brighter — bad news for all sorts of creatures, humans included.

A German-led team reported Wednesday that light pollution is threatening darkness almost everywhere. Satellite observations during five Octobers show Earth's artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2 percent a year from 2012 to 2016. So did nighttime brightness.

Light pollution is actually worse than that, according to the researchers. Their measurements coincide with the outdoor switch to energy-efficient and cost-saving light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Because the imaging sensor on the polar-orbiting weather satellite can't detect the LED-generated color blue, some light is missed.

The observations, for example, indicate stable levels of night light in the United States, Netherlands, Spain and Italy. But light pollution is almost certainly on the rise in those countries given this elusive blue light, said Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences and lead author of the study published in Science Advances .

Also on the rise is the spread of light into the hinterlands and overall increased use. The findings shatter the long-held notion that more energy efficient lighting would decrease usage on the global — or at least a national — scale.

"Honestly, I had thought and assumed and hoped that with LEDs we were turning the corner. There's also a lot more awareness of light pollution," he told reporters by phone from Potsdam. "It is quite disappointing."

The biological impact from surging artificial light is also significant, according to the researchers.

People's sleep can be marred, which in turn can affect their health. The migration and reproduction of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats can be disrupted. Plants can have abnormally extended growing periods. And forget about seeing stars or the Milky Way, if the trend continues.

About the only places with dramatic declines in night light were in areas of conflict like Syria and Yemen, the researchers found. Australia also reported a noticeable drop, but that's because wildfires were raging early in the study. Researchers were unable to filter out the bright burning light.

Asia, Africa and South America, for the most part, saw a surge in artificial night lighting.

More and more places are installing outdoor lighting given its low cost and the overall growth in communities' wealth, the scientists noted. Urban sprawl is also moving towns farther out. The outskirts of major cities in developing nations are brightening quite rapidly, in fact, Kyba said.

Other especially bright hot spots: sprawling greenhouses in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Photos taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station also illuminate the growing problem.

Franz Holker of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, a co-author, said things are at the critical point.

"Many people are using light at night without really thinking about the cost," Holker said. Not just the economic cost, "but also the cost that you have to pay from an ecological, environmental perspective."

Kyba and his colleagues recommend avoiding glaring lamps whenever possible — choosing amber over so-called white LEDs — and using more efficient ways to illuminate places like parking lots or city streets. For example, dim, closely spaced lights tend to provide better visibility than bright lights that are more spread out.

The International Dark-Sky Association , based in Tucson, Arizona, has been highlighting the hazards of artificial night light for decades.

"We hope that the results further sound the alarm about the many unintended consequences of the unchecked use of artificial light at night," Director J. Scott Feierabend said in a statement.

An instrument on the 2011-launched U.S. weather satellite, Suomi, provided the observations for this study. A second such instrument — known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS — was launched on a new satellite Saturday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This latest VIIRS will join the continuing night light study.


Unrepentant Mladic sentenced to life for Bosnia atrocities

A Bosnian woman raises her arms upon hearing the sentence at the end of former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic's trial at the memorial center in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia, Wednesday, Nov. 22. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Mike Corder

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) — An unrepentant Ratko Mladic, the bullish Bosnian Serb general whose forces rained shells and snipers' bullets on Sarajevo and carried out the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, was convicted Wednesday of genocide and other crimes and sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Defiant to the last, Mladic was ejected from a courtroom at the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal after yelling at judges: "Everything you said is pure lies. Shame on you!"

He was dispatched to a neighboring room to watch on a TV screen as Presiding Judge Alphons Orie pronounced him guilty of 10 counts that also included war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Human-rights organizations hailed the convictions as proof that even top military brass long considered untouchable cannot evade justice forever. Mladic spent years on the run before his arrest in 2011.

"This landmark verdict marks a significant moment for international justice and sends out a powerful message around the world that impunity cannot and will not be tolerated," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe director.

For prosecutors, it was a fitting end to a 23-year effort to mete out justice at the U.N. tribunal for atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. Mladic's conviction signaled the end of the final trial before the tribunal closes its doors by the end of the year.

But legal battles will continue. Mladic's attorneys vowed to appeal his convictions on 10 charges related to a string of atrocities from the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to its bitter end.

"The defense team considers this judgment to be erroneous, and there will be an appeal, and we believe that the appeal will correct the errors of the trial chamber," Mladic lawyer Dragan Ivetic said.

Mladic's son, Darko, said his father told him after the verdict that the tribunal was a "NATO commission ... trying to criminalize a legal endeavor of Serbian people in times of civil war to protect itself from the aggression."

Presiding Judge Alphons Orie started the hearing by reading out a litany of horrors perpetrated by forces under Mladic's control.

"Detainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another. Many Bosnian Muslim women who were unlawfully detained were raped," Orie said.

The judge recounted the story of a mother who ventured into the streets during the deadly siege of Sarajevo with her son as Serb snipers and artillery targeted the Bosnian capital. She was shot. The bullet passed through her abdomen and struck her 7-year-old son's head, killing him.

In Srebrenica, the war reached its bloody climax as Bosnian Serb forces overran what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected safe haven. After busing away women and children, Serb forces systematically murdered some 8,000 Muslim males.

"Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution," Orie said.

Mladic looked relaxed as the hearing started, greeting lawyers, crossing himself and giving a thumbs-up to photographers in court. But midway through the hearing Mladic's lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, asked for a delay because the general was suffering from high blood pressure. The judge refused, Mladic started yelling and was tossed out of court.

When he started speaking, "it was not about his health but much more I think trying to insult the judges," Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said.

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia erupted after the country's breakup in the early 1990s, with the worst crimes taking place in Bosnia. More than 100,000 people died and millions lost their homes before a peace agreement was signed in 1995. Mladic went into hiding for around 10 years before his arrest in Serbia in May 2011.

Mladic's political master during the war, former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, was also convicted last year for genocide and sentenced to 40 years. He has appealed the ruling.

The man widely blamed for fomenting wars across the Balkans, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died in his U.N. cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could reach verdicts in his trial.

The ethnic tensions that Milosevic stoked from Belgrade simmer to this day.

Top Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik said the tribunal only underscored its anti-Serb bias by convicting Mladic. Dodik said the court was established with the "single purpose" of demonizing Serbs.

"This opinion is shared by all the Serbs," Dodik said, describing Mladic as "a hero and a patriot."

Serbian President Alksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who supported Mladic's war campaigns but now casts himself as a pro-EU reformer, agreed that the court has been biased against Serbs but added that "we should not justify the crimes committed" by the Serbs.

"We are ready to accept our responsibility" for war crimes "while the others are not," he said.

For a former prisoner of Serb-run camps in northwestern Bosnia who was in The Hague, the verdict was sweet relief.

Fikret Alic became a symbol of the horrors in Bosnia after his skeletal frame was photographed by Time magazine behind barbed wire in 1992 in a Bosnian Serb camp.

"Justice has won," he said. "And the war criminal has been convicted."


US Navy plane with 11 aboard crashes into Pacific; 8 rescued

In this March 14, 2017, file photo, a U.S. Navy C-2 Greyhound approaches the deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Ken Moritsugu

Tokyo (AP) — Tokyo (AP) — Eight people were rescued and three remained missing after a U.S. Navy plane crashed into the western Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, the Navy said.

The C-2 "Greyhound" transport aircraft came down about 500 nautical miles (925 kilometers) southeast of Okinawa as it was bringing passengers and cargo from Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the Navy said in a statement.

The Reagan was operating in the Philippine Sea during a joint exercise with Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force when the twin-propeller plane crashed at 2:45 p.m. Japan time. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear and the incident will be investigated, the Navy said.

Eight people were rescued about 40 minutes later. They were taken to the Reagan for medical evaluation and are in good condition, the Navy said.

U.S. and Japanese naval ships and aircraft are searching for the missing. Japan's Defense Ministry said the crash site is about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Okinotorishima, a Japanese atoll.

The names of the crew and passengers are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

In Washington, the White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the crash.

Trump said in a tweet: "We are monitoring the situation. Prayers for all involved."

The Nov. 16-26 joint exercise in waters off Okinawa has been described by the Navy as the "premier training event" between the U.S. and Japanese navies, designed to increase defensive readiness and interoperability in air and sea operations.

The Navy's Japan-based 7th Fleet has had two fatal accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan.

The Navy has concluded that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who didn't quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies. A Navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.


Zimbabwe's incoming leader returns home to cheers

 

Zimbabwe's President in waiting Emmerson Mnangagwa greets supporters gathered outside the Zanu-PF party headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 22. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Christopher Torchia

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Poised to become Zimbabwe's next president, a former confidant of ousted leader Robert Mugabe on Wednesday promised "a new, unfolding democracy" and reached out to the world, saying international help is needed to rebuild the shattered economy.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe upon being fired from his job as vice president on Nov. 6, made a triumphant return to the country a day after 93-year-old Mugabe resigned. His departure after 37 years in power followed a week of intense pressure — from the military that staged a government takeover, from members of parliament who started impeachment proceedings and from citizens who protested in the streets.

While Mnangagwa talked in his speech about democracy and "working together," he also recited slogans from the ruling ZANU-PF party such as "Forward with ZANU-PF, down with enemies" that are unlikely to attract Zimbabweans in the opposition.

He served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, a role that earned him the nickname "Crocodile." Many opposition supporters believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s.

Mnangagwa was in hiding during the political drama that led to Mugabe's resignation. His appearance at the headquarters of the party electrified a crowd that waited for hours. Flanked by bodyguards, and dressed in a blue suit, he raised his fists and danced a little on a podium, delighting supporters who hope he can guide Zimbabwe out of political and economic turmoil that has exacted a heavy toll on the southern African nation of 16 million.

"Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new, unfolding democracy," said the 75-year-old, who added that he had already received messages of support from other countries.

"We need the cooperation of the continent of Africa," he said. "We need the cooperation of our friends outside the continent."

After meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, Mnangagwa flew in a private jet from South Africa to Zimbabwe. He indicated that his inauguration as president will be on Friday. That is "when we finish this job to legally install a new president," he said.

Mnangagwa will serve Mugabe's remaining term until elections next year. Opposition lawmakers who have alleged vote-rigging in the past say that balloting must be free and fair.

The party's Central Committee had voted to remove Mugabe from his party leadership post and replace him with Mnangagwa, a former justice and defense minister with close ties to the military.

Mugabe fired his longtime deputy as the former president's wife, Grace Mugabe, positioned herself to replace him and succeed her husband. That led the military to step into the party's factional battle a week ago by sending tanks into the streets and putting the president under house arrest — a move that opened the door for the party and the people to turn against the leader who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.

The resignation was met with wild celebrations across the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. People were thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise, including an emphasis on education, was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

Mnangagwa "faces high expectations but will have a short honeymoon while he starts the process of moving Zimbabwe forward," the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper said in a commentary.

"He has the best wishes of most Zimbabweans, at least today," the newspaper said.

One unemployed man who heard that Mnangagwa was arriving at an air force base on the outskirts of Harare waited in vain at its entrance in hopes of seeing him.

Godwin Nyarugwa said he was "very ecstatic" about Mugabe's resignation and that "we need change in this country, change in everything" after years of economic crisis. But he said Mnangagwa would have to produce results.

"We have to try him and see," he said of Mnangagwa. "If he doesn't come up with something, we need to change him as well."


Argentina reports new clue in search for missing submarine

 

In this Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 photo, members of the Argentine Air Force search for a missing submarine in the South Atlantic near Argentina's coast. Argentine families of 44 crew members aboard a submarine that has been lost in the South. (Argentine Navy via AP)

Almudena Calatrava and Luis Andres Henao

Mar del Plata, Argentina (AP) — Ships and planes hunting for a missing Argentine submarine with 44 crew members will return to a previously search area after officials said Wednesday that a noise made a week ago in the South Atlantic could provide a clue to the vessel's location.

The Argentina navy spokesman, Capt. Enrique Balbi, said the "hydro-acoustic anomaly" was determined by the United States and specialist agencies to have been produced Nov. 15, just hours after the final contact with the ARA San Juan and could have come from the sub.

The sound originated about 30 miles north of the submarine's last registered position, he said.

"It's a noise. We don't want to speculate" about what caused it, Balbi said.

He said Argentine navy ships as well as a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a Brazilian air force plane would return to the area to check out the clue, even though the area already was searched.

On land, relatives of the submarine's crew grew increasingly distressed as experts said the vessel lost for seven days might be reaching a critical period of low oxygen.

Jorge Villarreal kept his eyes fixed on the ocean, hoping to catch a glimpse of the vessel that carried his son, Fernando Villareal, a submarine officer.

"As a dad I want him to be rescued immediately, but we can't forget about the inclemency of the weather. And the foreign help just doesn't come from one day to the next," he said. "We hope this will go right because of the improving weather and the technology that's being used."

The San Juan went missing as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the city of Mar del Plata, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Buenos Aires.

The Argentine navy and outside experts worry that oxygen for the crew would last only seven to 10 days if the sub was intact but submerged. Authorities do not know if the sub rose to the surface to replenish its oxygen supply and charge batteries, which would affect the calculation.

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was scheduled to arrive Monday at the naval base in Mar del Plata, where city residents have been dropping by with messages of support for relatives of the crew.

More than a dozen airplanes and ships are participating in the multinational search despite stormy weather that has caused waves of more than 20 feet (6 meters). Search teams are combing an area of some 185,000 square miles (480,000 square kilometers), which is roughly the size of Spain.

The U.S. government has sent two P-8 Poseidons, a naval research ship, a submarine rescue chamber and sonar-equipped underwater vehicles.  U.S. Navy sailors from the San Diego-based Undersea Rescue Command are also helping with the search.

President Donald Trump went on Twitter to offer his good wishes to Argentina on Wednesday, though he inflated the number of missing sailors by one.

"I have long given the order to help Argentina with the Search and Rescue mission of their missing submarine. 45 people aboard and not much time left. May God be with them and the people of Argentina!" his tweet said.

Hopes were lifted after brief satellite calls were received and when sounds were detected deep in the South Atlantic. But experts later determined that neither was from the missing sub. A U.S. Navy aircraft later spotted flares and a life raft was found in the search area, but authorities said neither came from the missing submarine.

The false alarms have rattled nerves among distraught family members. Some have begun to complain that the Argentine navy responded too late.

"They took two days to accept help because they minimized the situation," Federico Ibanez, the brother of submarine crew member Cristian Ibanez, told The Associated Press.

The navy has said the submarine reported a battery failure before it went missing. Authorities have no specific details of the problem.

"I feel like authorities let too much time pass by and decisions were taken late," Ibanez's sister, Elena Alfaro, said outside the base. "And yet, I still carry some hope."


Indian police probe Maria Sharapova housing fraud case

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Muneeza Naqvi

New Delhi (AP) — Maria Sharapova is being investigated by police in India in a cheating and criminal conspiracy case involving a real estate company who used the tennis star to endorse a luxury housing project that never took off.

Real estate firm Homestead Infrastructure is accused of taking tens of millions of rupees (millions of dollars) from home buyers for a project named "Ballet by Maria Sharapova," a luxury apartment complex with its own helipad, tennis academy and other amenities. The five-time Grand Slam champion travelled to India in 2013 to launch the project at a glitzy ceremony. Police began the investigation on Nov. 16.

Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing one of the home buyers, said Wednesday that Sharapova's celebrity was the reason most people put their money into the project.

Singh said his client, Bhawana Agarwal, paid Homestead Infrastructure 5.3 million rupees ($81,678) in 2013 because she was impressed by Sharapova's association with the project located in Gurgaon, a suburb of the Indian capital. The cost of an apartment in the swanky project was 20 million rupees ($308,000).

Agarwal then spent the next three years chasing the builders for updates on the property and her investment in it but they stopped taking her calls, Singh said. On Wednesday, several calls to the numbers of the building company's website went unanswered.

"The project never saw the light of day," Singh said.

Singh said the police investigation based on his client's complaint was testing relatively new legal ground - that celebrities endorsing projects that draw vast sums of money from investors had a responsibility "to do some due diligence" on the project before lending their name and credibility to it.

Sharapova isn't the only international sports celebrity that the real estate firm roped in. Its website also advertises a project with Formula One great Michael Schumacher called the Michael Schumacher World Tower.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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