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Update October 2017


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Update October 18 , 2017

Amnesty says Myanmar army killed 100s of Rohingya

Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims rest on embankments after spending a night in the open at Palong Khali in Bangladesh, Tuesday, Oct. 17. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Bangkok (AP) — Myanmar security forces killed hundreds of men, women and children during a systematic campaign to expel Rohingya Muslims, Amnesty International said in a new report Wednesday that calls for an arms embargo on the country and criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.

More than 580,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar's government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The continuing exodus of Rohingya Muslims has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which still denies atrocities are taking place.

Based on interviews with more than 120 fleeing Rohingya, Amnesty International said at least hundreds of people were killed by security forces who surrounded villages, shot fleeing inhabitants and then set buildings alight, burning to death the elderly, sick and disabled who were unable to flee.

In some villages, women and girls were raped or subjected to other sexual violence, according to the report.

The witnesses repeatedly described an insignia on their attackers' uniforms that matched one worn by troops from Myanmar's Western Command, Amnesty International said.

When shown various insignia used by Myanmar's army, witnesses consistently picked out the Western Command patch, it said.

The 33rd Light Infantry Division and border police, who wear a distinctive blue camouflage uniform, were also frequently involved in attacks on villages, along with Buddhist vigilante mobs, witnesses said.

Matthew Wells, an Amnesty crisis researcher who spent several weeks at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, said the rights group plans to issue another report in the coming months examining individual criminal responsibility, including specific commanders and others that may be involved in abuses.

He said hundreds of Rohingya have been treated for gunshot wounds and doctors say that the injuries are consistent with people being shot from behind as they fled.

There were credible indications that a total of several hundred people had been killed in just five villages that were the focus of Amnesty's reporting. Wells said that given that dozens of villages across northern Rakhine State have been targeted in a similar fashion, the death toll could be much higher.

He said satellite imagery, corroborated by witness accounts, show that Rohingya homes and mosques have been burned entirely in villages, while non-Rohingya areas just one or two hundred yards (meters) away were untouched.

"It speaks to how organized, how seemingly well-planned this scorched-earth campaign has been by the Myanmar military and how determined the effort has been to drive the Rohingya population out of the country," Wells said.

Among almost two dozen recommendations, the human rights group called for the U.N. Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and financial sanctions against senior officials responsible for violations that Amnesty says meet the criteria for crimes against humanity.

It said the council should explore options for bringing the perpetrators to justice under international law if Myanmar authorities do not act swiftly.

"It is time for the international community to move beyond public outcry and take action to end the campaign of violence that has driven more than half the Rohingya population out of Myanmar," Amnesty International said.

On Aug. 25, a Rohingya insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked at least 30 security posts on Aug. 25, causing dozens of casualties, according to Myanmar authorities. The brutal attacks against Rohingya that followed has been described by the U.N. as "textbook ethnic cleansing."

The exodus of Rohingya into Bangladesh has continued, with a few small breaks, over the last eight weeks.

New arrivals, almost all terrified and starving, have described scenes of incredible violence with army troops and Buddhist mobs attacking Rohingya homes.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied citizenship for the Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized, which effectively renders them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them "Bengalis" and saying they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.


US-backed forces celebrate fall of IS 'capital' of Raqqa

Fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrate victory over the Islamic State occupying forces in Raqqa, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 17. (Hawar News Agency via AP)

Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam

Beirut (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian forces celebrated in the devastated streets of Raqqa on Tuesday after gaining control of the northern city that once was the heart of the Islamic State's self-styled caliphate, dealing a major defeat to the extremist group that has seen its territory shrink ever smaller since summer.

Militants took over the vibrant metropolis on the Euphrates River in 2014, transforming it into the epicenter of their brutal rule, where opponents were beheaded and terror plots hatched.

It took thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition and more than four months of grueling house-to-house battles for the Syrian Democratic Forces to recapture Raqqa, marking a new chapter in the fight against the group whose once vast territory has been reduced to a handful of towns in Syria and Iraq.

"Liberating Raqqa is a triumph for humanity, especially women," who suffered the most under IS, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior member of the SDF political wing.

"It is a salvation for the will to live an honorable life. It is a defeat to the forces of darkness," said Ahmed, speaking to The Associated Press from Ein Issa, just north of Raqqa.

Fighters from the SDF celebrated by chanting and honking their horns as they spun doughnuts with their Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and hoisting yellow SDF flags around Naim, or Paradise Square.

The infamous square was the site of public beheadings and other killings by the militants. Bodies and severed heads would be displayed there for days, mounted on posts and labeled with their alleged crimes, according to residents who later dubbed it "Hell Square."

Crumbled and flattened buildings stood behind the fighters as they drove around the square, a sign of the massive destruction the city has suffered since the militants took over. It was in Naim Square that the extremists paraded tanks and military hardware in 2014 in a chilling show of force that was a sign of things to come.

SDF commanders later visited Raqqa's sports stadium, which IS had turned into a notorious prison. Dozens of militants who refused to surrender made their last stand earlier Tuesday holed up inside.

"Immortal martyrs!" chanted the men and women in SDF uniforms, saluting their comrades who died battling for the city. According to the coalition, about 1,100 SDF forces have been killed fighting IS in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.

"Military operations in Raqqa have ceased and we are now combing the city for sleeper cells and cleaning it from land mines," Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo told the AP earlier in the day.

A formal declaration that Raqqa has fallen would be made soon, once troops finish their clearing operations, Sillo said.

Col. Ryan Dillon, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, was more cautious, saying only that "more than 90 percent" of Raqqa had been cleared. He estimated about 100 IS militants were still in the city and said he expects the SDF to encounter "pockets of resistance" during the clearing operations.

The battle of Raqqa has killed more than 1,000 civilians, many of them in coalition airstrikes in recent months, and displaced tens of thousands of people who face the prospect of returning to ruined homes. The coalition and residents who managed to escape accused the militants of using civilians as human shields and tried to stop them from leaving the city.

In a reminder of the humanitarian catastrophe unleashed by the fighting, the international charity group Save the Children said that camps housing tens of thousands of people who fled Raqqa are "bursting at the seams."

It said about 270,000 people from Raqqa are still in critical need of aid. With the high level of destruction reported in and around Raqqa, most families have nowhere to go and are likely to be in camps for months or years.

Ahmed, the SDF official, said the hardest part will be administering and rebuilding Raqqa. The group has appointed a civilian administration of locals to rebuild the city, but larger questions loom.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic force, but its Kurdish leadership harbors ambitions of autonomous rule over a Kurdish region in Syria that now includes the Arab-majority Raqqa, leading to concerns of a possible backlash among the city's Sunni Arab population.

Brett McGurk, the top U.S. presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition, arrived in northern Syria and met Tuesday with members of the Raqqa Civil Council and members of the reconstruction committee.

He also met tribal leaders and urged them to work closely with the SDF, preventing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad from using any divisions between them, according to the Furat FM, an activist-run news agency.

An immediate challenge was clearing Raqqa of thousands of land mines and booby traps that have killed returning civilians and senior SDF commanders in recent days. One of those killed Monday was the head of the internal security force affiliated with the SDF.

Another challenge for the troops is searching the tunnels that were dug by the militants around the city, Dillon said.

"This will take some time, to say that the city is completely clear," he told AP. "We still suspect that there are still (IS) fighters that are within the city in small pockets."

The loss of Raqqa will deprive the militants of a major hub for recruitment and planning, Dillon said, because the city attracted hundreds of foreign fighters and was a place where attacks in the Middle East and Europe were planned. The militants remain active in Syria, he said, farther south around the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

In recent months, the Islamic State has steadily lost ground in Iraq and Syria, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul. It has also lost major territory to Syrian government forces who have been marching against the group in a simultaneous but separate offensive, mainly in Deir el-Zour province.

Syria's state news agency said government forces and their Russian and Iranian-backed allies captured the Deir el-Zour villages of Mouhassan, Bouomar and Bouleil that were once extremist strongholds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that government forces now control more than 90 percent of the city of Deir el-Zour, where a major offensive is underway to capture remaining IS-held neighborhoods.

The battle for Raqqa began in June and the SDF met with stiff resistance from the militants. It began its final assault on Sunday after nearly 300 IS fighters surrendered. Naim Square was captured Monday.

The force seized the hospital Tuesday, taking down the last black IS flag, according to the Kurdish-run Hawar news agency. A video from Hawar showed the clashes around the hospital, which appeared riddled with bullets and partly blackened from a fire.


Ophelia batters UK after pummeling Ireland, leaves 3 dead

 

Waves break around the church in the harbour at Porthleven, Cornwall southwestern England, as the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia hit parts of Britain and Ireland. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

London (AP) — Storm Ophelia is battering Scotland and northern England after leaving three people dead and hundreds of thousands without power in Ireland.

The former Atlantic hurricane downed trees and power lines, sent waves surging over coastal defenses and disrupted transport again Tuesday, a day after making landfall on Ireland's south coast with gusts of almost 100 miles an hour (160 kilometers an hour).

Britain's Met Office weather service said Scotland could see heavy rain and gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph), with winds gradually diminishing.

Schools in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were closed for a second day as authorities assessed the damage from the worst storm to hit Ireland in decades.

Irish authorities said it could take several days to restore power to 330,000 homes.

Commuters faced delays and downed trees blocked rail lines.

Train services between the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and from London to Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth were slowed down by trees that were blown onto the tracks.

In Dumfries and Galloway in western Scotland, a scout hall roof was blown off amid winds of up of up to 77 mph (124 kph). In Cumbria in northwest England, part of a soccer club's stand was ripped off by the wind.

Some areas hit by the storm were affected by water shortages.

By Tuesday, the UK Met Office reduced the area covered by a yellow weather warning, though it said windy weather is still likely.

Parts of southern Norway reported a smoky smell on Tuesday morning, which the local meteorological institute said it was likely carried there by Ophelia from the wave of forest fires in Portugal and Spain that killed at least 41 people over the weekend.

In Sweden, people in the capital of Stockholm and elsewhere launched a flurry of calls to authorities, saying the skies were much darker than usual Tuesday morning.

That was also probably due to Ophelia's strong winds, which carried a mix of red sand from the Sahara and tiny particles from the Iberian forest fires across western Europe.


Taliban launch wave of attacks in Afghanistan, kill 74

Afghan National Amy commandos open fire during a military exercise in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 17. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Amir Shah

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers in the country's south, east and west, and killing at least 74 people, officials said.

Among those killed in one of the attacks was a provincial police chief. Scores were also wounded, both policemen and civilians.

Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, Murad Ali Murad, called the onslaught the "biggest terrorist attack this year."

Murad told a press conference in Kabul that attacks in Ghazni and Paktia provinces killed 71 people.

In southern Paktia province, 41 people — 21 policemen and 20 civilians — were killed when the Taliban targeted a police compound in the provincial capital of Gardez with two suicide car bombs. Among the wounded were 48 policemen and 110 civilians.

The provincial police chief, Toryalai Abdyani, was killed in the Paktia attack, Murad said.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement earlier Tuesday that after the two cars blew up in Gardez, five attackers with suicide belts tried to storm the compound but were killed by Afghan security forces.

Health Ministry spokesman Waheed Majroo said the Gardez city hospital reported receiving at least 130 wounded in the attack.

Hamza Aqmhal, a student at the Paktia University, told The Associated Press that he heard a very powerful blast that shattered glass and broke all the windows at the building he was in. The university is about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from the training academy, said Aqmhal, who was slightly injured by the glass.

A lawmaker from Paktia, Mujeeb Rahman Chamkani, said that along with the provincial police chief, several of his staff were killed. Most of the casualties were civilians who had come to the center, which also serves a government passport department, Chamkani said.

In southern Ghazni province, the insurgents stormed a security compound in Andar district, using a suicide car bomb and killing 25 police and five civilians, Murad said. At least 15 people were wounded, including 10 policemen, he added.

Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor in Ghazni, said the Taliban attack there lasted nine hours. By the time the attackers were repelled, there were 13 bodies of Taliban fighters on the ground, Noori added.

And in western Farah province, police chief Abdul Maruf Fulad says the Taliban attacked a government compound in Shibkho district, killing three policemen.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for all three attacks.

Despite the staggering numbers, Murad said Afghan forces are confident in their "readiness to fight terrorists and eliminate them from Afghanistan." He said the Taliban have suffered heavy defeats over the past six months at the hands of Afghan forces and were seeking revenge.

Later on Tuesday, an Afghan official said drone strikes killed 35 Taliban fighters in the country's east, near the border with Pakistan.

Abdullah Asrat, spokesman for the governor of Paktia province, said drones fired missiles at four locations in Anzarki Kandaw, killing the insurgents and wounding 15 others. He said a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Abu Bakr, and other senior insurgents were among the dead. He did not provide further details.

Chamkani, the lawmaker from Paktia, said the drones struck as the Taliban were collecting the bodies of 20 militants killed in a strike Monday on a militant base near the border.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Monday's drone strike hit a militant compound on the Pakistani side of the border, but Pakistan's army later denied any such strike on its territory. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two accounts.


Catalans protest sedition case, court declares vote illegal

Holding signs reading in Catalan 'freedom', people gather to protest against the National Court's decision to imprison civil society leaders without bail, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 17. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Aritz Parra  and Ciaran Giles

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — Spain's top court ruled Tuesday that an independence referendum in Catalonia was unconstitutional, adding weight to government efforts to block the region from breaking away from the rest of the country but not persuading demonstrators demanding the release of two jailed separatist activists.

The Constitutional Court's ruling was not a surprise. The Spanish government had repeatedly insisted the referendum was illegal. Regional leaders defied the Madrid-based central government and held the Oct. 1 vote even after police seized millions of ballots and used force to close polling stations.

Supporters of secession maintain the "Yes" vote won and Catalan officials have a mandate to declare independence. Portraying the central government as repressive, they showed no signs of giving up despite the court ruling that concluded the referendum was invalid.

Thousands of people holding candles and banners flooded a main avenue in Barcelona on Tuesday night to demand the release of the two Catalan activists jailed by Spanish authorities on possible sedition charges a day earlier.

Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, are being investigated for organizing rallies last month that allegedly hampered a judicial probe of preparations for the secession vote.

"We are facing an executive power in the state that uses the judiciary branch to block the legislative," Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters shortly after the Constitutional Court ruling was announced.

Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala said Sanchez and Cuixart, were jailed because they are suspected of committed crimes by interfering with a judge's orders. Catala rejected the term "political prisoners" to describe the two, saying it could be considered a case of "politicians in prison."

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont made an ambiguous statement about the region's future last week, saying he has the mandate to declare independence but adding that he would not immediately move to implement it in order to allow time for talks with the central government.

Spain has said that no dialogue can take place with independence on the table because a reform of the country's Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament is the only legal way to achieve secession.

On Monday, a Madrid judge provisionally jailed Sanchez and Cuixart, leaders of different grassroots groups promoting independence for Catalonia. The judge ruled they were behind huge demonstrations Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona that got in the way of a police operation designed to prevent the referendum.

Participants in the Tuesday protest chanted, "Political prisoners, freedom."

Meanwhile, Agusti Alcoberro, the man who standing in for Sanchez as head of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana, said peaceful protests would be the local response to what he said was the Spanish government's heavy-handed approach.

"No modern state in the 21st century can survive if it bases its legitimacy on subjugating politically and dominating part of its population with the police and military," Alcoberro told The Associated Press. "That is suicidal, and somebody should explain it to the Spanish government."
 


Xi says China's prospects are bright but challenges severe

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 19th Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 18. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Christopher Bodeen

Beijing (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping trumpeted his nation's prospects as bright but made a rare acknowledgement of severe economic challenges as he opened the Communist Party's twice-a-decade national congress on Wednesday.

Other Chinese leaders have regularly warned since the 2008 financial crisis that China's economic growth faces "downward pressure" due to weak global demand that threatens export industries in the world's second-largest economy. But Xi's comments were unusual in a keynote speech meant to highlight the party's confidence and long-range vision.

Among the grave issues Xi said were insufficiently addressed are a widening income gap and problems in employment, education, medical care and other areas.

Xi has been consolidating his already considerable power and is expected to get a second five-year term as party leader at the gathering.

In his speech, he also hailed China's island-building efforts in the disputed South China Sea as well as his signature foreign policy initiative, the "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure investment project aimed at improving connections between China, Europe and Africa.

He praised the party's tightened grip over domestic security, saying that social stability had been maintained and national security strengthened.

Observers will be watching the congress meeting this week for signs of whether Xi may be looking to appoint a successor to take over after his traditional second five-year term in office. While he is limited to two five-year terms as president, the office of general secretary is bound by no such restrictions. Xi, 64, could also step aside for a younger leader while maintaining ultimate control from behind the scenes.

Whatever the outcome, most analysts say Xi has largely completed the task of sidelining his competitors in other cliques, including those surrounding his immediate predecessor Hu Jintao and former leader Jiang Zemin.


Today in History, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017

 The Associated Press

Today is Wednesday, Oct. 18, the 291st day of 2017. There are 74 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 18, 1767, the Mason-Dixon line, the boundary between colonial Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, was set as astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completed their survey.

On this date:

In 629, Dagobert I is crowned King of the Franks.

In 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian church in Jerusalem, is completely destroyed by the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who hacks the Church's foundations down to bedrock.

In 1685, King Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau, revoking the Edict of Nantes that had established legal toleration of France's Protestant population, the Huguenots.

In 1867, the United States took formal possession of Alaska from Russia.

In 1892, the first long-distance telephone line between New York and Chicago was officially opened (it could only handle one call at a time).

In 1922, the British Broadcasting Co., Ltd. (later the British Broadcasting Corp.) was founded.

In 1931, inventor Thomas Alva Edison died in West Orange, New Jersey, at age 84.

In 1944, Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia during World War II.

In 1954, Texas Instruments unveiled the Regency TR-1, the first commercially produced transistor radio.

In 1967, the Soviet probe Venera 4 reaches Venus and becomes the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet.

In 1977, West German commandos stormed a hijacked Lufthansa jetliner on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia, freeing all 86 hostages and killing three of the four hijackers.

Today's Birthdays:

International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova is 61. Boxer Thomas Hearns is 59. Actor Jean-Claude Van Damme is 57. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis is 56. Actor Vincent Spano is 55. Rock musician Peter Svenson (The Cardigans) is 43. Rhythm-and-blues singer-actor Ne-Yo is 38. Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn is 33. Actor Zac Efron is 30. Actress Joy Lauren is 28.

Thought for Today:

"I do not prize the word cheap. It is not a badge of honor ... it is a symbol of despair. Cheap prices make for cheap goods; cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country!" — President William McKinley (1843-1901).


Update October 17 , 2017

North Korea says 'a nuclear war may break out any moment'

 

A U.S. F-35 stealth fighter is seen during the 2017 Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Edith M. Lederer

New York (AP) — North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador warned Monday that the situation on the Korean peninsula "has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment."

Kim In Ryong told the U.N. General Assembly's disarmament committee that North Korea is the only country in the world that has been subjected to "such an extreme and direct nuclear threat" from the United States since the 1970s — and said the country has the right to possess nuclear weapons in self-defense.

He pointed to large-scale military exercises every year using "nuclear assets" and said what is more dangerous is what he called a U.S. plan to stage a "secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership."

This year, Kim said, North Korea completed its "state nuclear force and thus became a fully-fledged nuclear power which possesses the delivery means of various ranges, including the atomic bomb, H-bomb and intercontinental ballistic rockets."

"The entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range and if the U.S. dares to invade our sacred territory even an inch it will not escape our severe punishment in any part of the globe," he warned.

Kim's speech follows escalating threats between North Korea and the United States, and increasingly tough U.N. sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that his country is curtailing economic, scientific and other ties with North Korea in line with U.N. sanctions, and the European Union announced new sanctions on Pyongyang for developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the North Korean crisis "will continue until the first bomb drops." His commitment to diplomacy came despite President Donald Trump's tweets several weeks ago that his chief envoy was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he derisively referred to as "Little Rocket Man."

North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador called his country's nuclear and missile arsenal "a precious strategic asset that cannot be reversed or bartered for anything."

"Unless the hostile policy and the nuclear threat of the U.S. is thoroughly eradicated, we will never put our nuclear weapons and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table under any circumstances," Kim said.

He told the disarmament committee that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — North Korea's official name — had hoped for a nuclear-free world.

Instead, Kim said, all nuclear states are accelerating the modernization of their weapons and "reviving a nuclear arms race reminiscent of (the) Cold War era." He noted that the nuclear weapon states, including the United States, boycotted negotiations for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was approved in July by 122 countries at the United Nations.

"The DPRK consistently supports the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the efforts for denuclearization of the entire world," he said. But as long as the United States rejects the treaty and "constantly threatens and blackmails the DPRK with nuclear weapons ... the DPRK is not in position to accede to the treaty."


Portugal wildfires kill at least 35; 4 dead in Spain

People watch a wildfire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Barry Hatton

Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — Late season wildfires that broke out over the weekend in Portugal have killed at least 35 people, including a 1-month-old infant, authorities said Monday, making 2017 by far the deadliest year on record for forest blazes in the country.

In neighboring Spain, wildfires have also killed at least four people and prompted the evacuation of thousands in the northwest region of Galicia, as the remnants of winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames along Iberia's Atlantic coast.

The fires returned to Portugal four months after a summer blaze claimed 64 lives in one night. The year's current total of 99 deaths is far higher than the previous annual record of 25, in 1966.

A one-month-old baby was among the dead, the Civil Protection Agency said Monday. The infant's body was found near Tabua, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Lisbon. The parent's bodies reportedly were found nearby. Officials did not provide further details.

Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said the death toll could rise.

"We are still searching burnt areas to see if there are any more victims," Gaspar told The Associated Press.

She said 56 people were injured, 16 of them seriously, and nine people were reported missing in the blazes that broke out over the weekend.

More than 5,300 firefighters with more than 1,600 vehicles were still battling the fires through dense pine and eucalyptus forests Monday.

Portugal endures widespread forest blazes every summer. Most fires are set deliberately, officials say, and spread quickly due to poor forest management which leaves debris that fuels fires.

Emergency services recorded 523 wildfires Sunday, the highest number in a single day this year and the highest on one day in more than a decade. "You don't see that in any other country in the world," said Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar.

A prolonged drought has made the calamity worse this year.

"We have all our firefighters out there doing everything they can," said Home Affairs Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa, who is in charge of emergency services and has been the target of criticism for her handling of the tragedy.

She said climate change has brought an additional factor into the battle against woodland fires. Due to climate change, "large-scale catastrophes are now a reality all over the world," Urbano de Sousa said. That meant more effort has to be put into preventive measures, she said.

Spain's prime minister focused on criminal intent, and said authorities were certain the fires were caused by arsonists.

"What we are seeing here doesn't happen accidentally. This has been induced," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from Galicia, said during a visit to a Galician fire department.

Officials in both countries said they expected that rain and cooler weather forecast for later Monday would help put out the fires.


Court jails 2 Catalan independence leaders in sedition probe

Jordi Cuixart, president of the Catalan Omnium Cultural organization, left, and Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly wave to supporters on arrival at the national court in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Aritz Parra and Ciaran Giles

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — Spain's confrontation with its independence-seeking region of Catalonia intensified Monday when a judge ordered the leaders of two pro-independence groups jailed while they are investigated on possible sedition charges for organizing demonstrations before the region's disputed secession vote.

The jailing of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the heads of grassroots organizations Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural, sparked an immediate outcry in Barcelona, Catalonia's capital. People banged on pots and pans, honked car horns and clapped in the streets.

The judge's order came nearly 12 hours after a Monday morning deadline passed without the president of Catalonia clarifying whether he has declared independence from Spain.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont now has until Thursday to backtrack on any steps the region has taken toward secession. If he refuses, the government has said it would invoke constitutional authority to restrict or revoke the areas of self-governance Catalonia has now.

The judge ordered Sanchez and Cuixart jailed while their roles in organizing Sept. 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona are investigated. Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices on those two days to prevent an independence referendum from taking place on Oct. 1.

In Monday's court ruling, the Spanish National Court judge said Sanchez and Cuixart led the demonstrations, ignored some police recommendations for maintaining safety, and helped form a cordon to keep Spanish police from carrying out their duties, among other actions.

If indicted, tried and convicted of sedition, they could face prison terms of up to 15 years.

The actions of Catalonia's police chief and a senior deputy during the September demonstrations also are being investigated. However, the judge ruled Monday that police chief Maj. Josep Lluis Trapero and Lt. Teresa Laplana, could remain free with restrictions, including revocation of their passports and orders to appear come back to court every two weeks.

Earlier, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy exchanged letters but made no headway in the solving the region's conflict, one of the deepest political crises the country has faced in the four decades since democracy was restored.

Catalonia's government held the Oct. 1 referendum over the Spanish government's insistence the vote was illegal and a court suspending it so its constitutionality could be considered. Those who voted were overwhelmingly in favor of secession, but fewer than half of eligible voters cast ballots.

Based on the referendum results, Puigdemont made an ambiguous declaration of independence last week, but said he would not immediately move to put it into effect to allow time for talks and mediation.

Responding to the Spanish government's demand to state explicitly by Monday morning whether he had declared independence, Puigdemont instead sent a four-page letter seeking two months of negotiations and mediation.

"The priority of my government is to intensively seek a path to dialogue," Puigdemont said in his letter. "Our proposal for dialogue is sincere and honest."

The conservative prime minister, in a response less than two hours later, lamented that Puigdemont declined to answer the question and said he had until Thursday morning to fall in line.

"To extend this situation of uncertainty is only favoring those who are trying to destroy civic concord and impose a radical and impoverishing project in Catalonia," Rajoy wrote in his letter.

Spain has repeatedly said it's unwilling to sit down with Puigdemont if calls for independence are on the table. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Puigdemont's request for dialogue was "not credible."

"It wasn't very difficult to say yes or no," Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid. "That was the question that was asked, and the response shouldn't be complicated."

After the judge's decision in the sedition case, Puigdemont described the jailing of the pro-independence group leaders as "very bad news."

"They try to imprison ideas but they make stronger the need for freedom" he tweeted.

Catalonia is home to 7.5 million people and contributes a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.3 trillion) economy. Polls have shown about half of the people in the wealthy region don't want to break away from Spain.

The Spanish government is lowering the country's economic growth forecast for 2018 from 2.6 to 2.3 percent, blaming the political uncertainty in Catalonia for the slowdown.

The more modest growth target appears in the budget plan that Spain's conservative government has submitted to European authorities. It was shared with The Associated Press early Tuesday.

In the plan, Spanish authorities also forecast a public deficit level of 2.3 percent, 0.1 percent higher than earlier estimates. Authorities blame the revisions both on a slower global economic cycle and less consumer spending domestically as a result of the deadlock in Catalonia.


Bomb kills reporter who covered Malta's 'Panama Papers' link

The wreckage of the car of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia lies next to a road in the town of Mosta, Malta, Monday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)

Stephen Calleja

 Valletta, Malta (AP) — A Maltese investigative journalist who exposed the island nation's links to offshore tax havens through the leaked Panama Papers was killed Monday when a bomb exploded in her car, the prime minister said.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, had just driven away from her home in Mosta, a large town on Malta's main island, when the bomb went off, sending the vehicle's wreckage spiraling over a wall and into a field, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

Caruana Galizia's death resulted from a "barbaric attack" that also amounted to an assault on freedom of expression, Muscat said.  He described her as "one of my harshest critics, on a political and personal level" as he denounced her slaying.

One of the topics the veteran reporter examined was what the documents from the 2016 leak said about Malta. She wrote that Muscat's wife, the country's energy minister and the government's chief-of-staff had offshore holdings in Panama to receive money from Azerbaijan.

Muscat and his wife, Michelle, denied they had companies in Panama.

Caruana Galizia filed a police report two weeks ago saying she was receiving threats, law enforcement officials told Malta news outlets on Monday.

The slain journalist had been a regular columnist for The Malta Independent, writing twice weekly for the newspaper since 1996. She also wrote a blog called "Running Commentary," which was followed in Malta.

A half hour before she was killed, she posted to her web site an item about a libel claim the prime minister's chief of staff had brought against a former opposition over comments the latter made about corruption.

Caruana Galizia herself had been sued for libel over articles she wrote for her blog. Opposition leader Adrian Delia sued her over a series of stories linking him to a prostitution racket in London. Economy Minister Chris Cardona claimed libel when she wrote that he visited a brothel while in Germany on government business.

Monday evening's Parliament session was scrapped, except for briefings about the bombing given by Muscat and Delia, who called the reporter's slaying a "political murder."

Muscat said he has asked the U.S. government and the FBI for help investigating the car bombing.

Caruana Galizia is survived by her husband and three sons. One son, Matthew, was on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its work on the Panama Papers scandal.

The leak exposed the identities of rich and powerful people around the world who allegedly had offshore holdings in Panama.

Caruana Galizia's family has asked the Courts of Malta to have the magistrate assigned to conduct the inquiry into the journalist's death replaced.

The family said the magistrate, Consuelo Scerri Herrera, "in her personal capacity, had launched judicial procedures against (Caruana Galizia) regarding comments she had written."

Caruana Galizia for many years was a harsh critic of Malta's Labor party and government. More recently she had expanded her criticism to include the opposition Nationalist Party.

Her slaying drew swift denunciations in the tiny EU nation.

"Daphne played a vitally important role in unearthing serious allegations of money laundering and corruption in Malta, including those involving senior figures in the Maltese government," said Sven Giegold, a Greens member in the European Parliament.

Italian newsweekly L'Espresso, which has also written about alleged corruption linked to Malta, said the reporter's murder demonstrated that a well-documented expose' "is perceived as a danger by the powerful and by organized crime."

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in a tweet called the development a "tragic example of a journalist who sacrificed her life to search for the truth."


UK, EU leaders agree on need for speed in Brexit talks

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center right, embraces British Prime Minister Theresa May, center left, after a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Danica Kirka and Raf Casert

 Brussels (AP) — Britain's prime minister capped a day of Brexit diplomacy Monday with hugs from the chief of the European Union's executive arm and an agreement that negotiations on the U.K.'s departure from the EU need to be sped up.

Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said after dining together in Brussels that the stalled talks "should accelerate over the months to come."

Earlier in the day, May spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish leader Leo Varadkar to build support before the working dinner with senior European Union officials.

Britain is set to cut its membership with the EU in March 2019. Officials have said the negotiations should be concluded by November 2018, making haste a necessity.

May and Juncker said their dinner "took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere," a stark contrast to increasingly bad-tempered barbs the two sides exchanged in recent weeks.

British Chancellor Philip Hammond on Friday described the EU as "the enemy" in the Brexit negotiations. Hammond later apologized.

Juncker said ahead of the dinner there would be an "autopsy" at the end, but that the negotiations did not appear dead yet.

At the end of their Monday night dinner, he escorted May to her car and warmly embraced her. He also gave Britain's chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, a big hug.

May is scheduled to join the leaders of the 27 other EU countries at a Brussels summit later this week. The remaining countries were set to announce there was insufficient progress in the talks to begin negotiating a future trade relationship, a step Britain badly wants.

The dinner came only days after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that the latest round of Brexit talks ended in a "disturbing deadlock" over Britain's financial obligations to the bloc.

EU estimates suggest Britain must pay from 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros ($80 billion to $120 billion) to settle commitments it made while part of the EU, such as development projects and the pensions of civil servants. Britain has rejected such figures.

May's Downing Street office downplayed any suggestion that new proposals were on the table, arguing that her recent speech in Florence, Italy constituted her latest offer.

The EU is demanding progress on the so-called divorce issues — the financial settlement, citizens' rights and the status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland — before talks can move on to issues such as future trading and security arrangements.

By speaking with EU heads of state in advance, May is likely trying to re-position the country in the talks, said Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in British politics at the University of Leeds.

"If May can try to get some leverage with Merkel, Macron etc. then she might be able to reach a deal ... that will require (Barnier) to be given new instructions," said Honeyman.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday urged the EU to speed up talks and start a discussion of the future relationship with the U.K.

Johnson said it was time for the negotiators to get moving and "stop letting the grass grow under our feet."

The pressure is on for May and her government. Big business, and in particular the financial services industry, is pressuring the country's leaders to act, arguing that further delays will force companies to relocate.

Financial firms with EU headquarters in London worry about losing the automatic right to do business in the rest of the EU if Britain crashes out of the bloc without agreeing on a new trade relationship.

TheCityUK, a lobbying group for financial services, warned Monday that firms will start relocating jobs in the new year unless a transitional deal is struck soon.

"They can still take their foot off the accelerator if a transitional deal is agreed, but without progress soon, it may be too late," the group's chief executive, Miles Celic, said. "Once businesses start moving, there is no reverse gear."


Egypt says Ramses II temple unearthed southwest of Cairo

This undated photo shows the remains of a recently discovered temple for King Ramses II, in Abusir, southwest of Cairo. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities via AP)

Cairo (AP) — Egypt's antiquities agency says archaeologists have unearthed remains of a temple belonging to King Ramses II southwest of Cairo, which may shed light on the life of the 19th Dynasty pharaoh, over 3,200 years ago.

Mustafa Waziri, the head of agency, told The Associated Press on Monday that the discovery was made by an Egyptian-Czech mission in the village of Abusir near the step pyramid of Saqqara.

In a statement on Sunday, Miroslav Barta, the head of the Czech team, said the temple is the only evidence of the presence of Ramses II in the Badrashin area in Giza, part of Greater Cairo.

He said the discovery confirms the continued worship of the sun god "Ra" in Abusir, which started in the 5th Dynasty, over 4,500 years ago.


Today in History, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Tuesday, Oct. 17, the 290th day of 2017. There are 75 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 17, 1931, mobster Al Capone was convicted in Chicago of income tax evasion. (Sentenced to 11 years in prison, Capone was released in 1939.)

On this date:

In 1091, a tornado thought to be of strength T8/F4 strikes the heart of London.

In 1604, German astronomer Johannes Kepler observes a supernova in the constellation Ophiuchus.

In 1610, French King Louis XIII, age nine, was crowned at Reims, five months after the assassination of his father, Henry IV.

In 1771, the opera Ascanio in Alba premieres in Milan, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, age 15.

In 1777, British forces under Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered to American troops in Saratoga, New York, in a turning point of the Revolutionary War.

In 1807, Britain declared it would continue to reclaim British-born sailors from American ships and ports regardless of whether they held U.S. citizenship.

In 1888, Thomas Edison files a patent for the Optical Phonograph (the first movie).

In 1933, Albert Einstein arrived in the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany.

In 1943, the Burma Railway (Burma–Thailand Railway) is completed.

In 1956, the first commercial nuclear power station is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Sellafield, in Cumbria, England.

In 1957, the movie "Jailhouse Rock," starring Elvis Presley, had its world premiere in Memphis, Tennessee.

In 1967, Puyi, the last emperor of China, died in Beijing at age 61.

In 1979, Mother Teresa of India was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1989, the East German Politburo votes to remove Erich Honecker from his role as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

Today's Birthdays:

Actress Marsha Hunt is 100. Actress Julie Adams is 91. Singer Gary Puckett is 75. Actress Margot Kidder is 69. Actor George Wendt is 69. Reggae singer Ziggy Marley is 49. Singer Wyclef Jean is 48. South African golfer Ernie Els is 48. Singer Chris Kirkpatrick ('N Sync) is 46. Rapper Eminem is 45. Actress Felicity Jones is 34. Actor Chris Lowell is 33.

Thought for Today:

"To talk to a child, to fascinate him, is much more difficult than to win an electoral victory. But it is also more rewarding." — Colette, French author (1873-1954).


Update October 16 , 2017

276 killed in deadliest single attack in Somalia's history

 

Somali women react at the scene of Saturday's blast, in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sunday, Oct. 15. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

Abdi Guled

Mogadishu, Somalia (AP) — The most powerful bomb blast ever witnessed in Somalia's capital killed 276 people with around 300 others injured, the country's information minister said early Monday, making it the deadliest single attack in this Horn of Africa nation. The toll was expected to rise.

In a tweet, Abdirahman Osman called the attack "barbaric" and said countries including Turkey and Kenya had already offered to send medical aid. Hospitals were overwhelmed a day after a truck bomb targeted a crowded street near key government ministries, including foreign affairs.

As angry protesters gathered near the scene of the attack, Somalia's government blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group for what it called a "national disaster." However, Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group, which often targets high-profile areas of the capital, had yet to comment.

Al-Shabab earlier this year vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia's recently elected president announced new military efforts against the group.

The Mogadishu bombing is one of the deadliest attacks in sub-Saharan Africa, larger than the Garissa University attack in Kenya in 2015 and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Doctors at Mogadishu hospitals struggled to assist badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. "This is really horrendous, unlike any other time in the past," said Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Medina hospital.

Inside, bleary-eyed nurses transported a man whose legs had been blown off. He waited as surgeons attended to another badly injured patient. Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open, while screams from victims and newly bereaved families echoed through the halls.

"Nearly all of the wounded victims have serious wounds," said nurse Samir Abdi. "Unspeakable horrors." The smell of blood was strong.

A teary-eyed Hawo Yusuf looked at her husband's badly burned body. "He may die waiting," she said. "We need help."

Ambulance sirens echoed across the city as bewildered families wandered in the rubble of buildings, looking for missing relatives. "In our 10 year experience as the first responder in #Mogadishu, we haven't seen anything like this," the Aamin Ambulance service tweeted.

Grief overwhelmed many.

"There's nothing I can say. We have lost everything," wept Zainab Sharif, a mother of four who lost her husband. She sat outside a hospital where he was pronounced dead after hours of efforts by doctors to save him.

The country's Somali-American leader, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood. "I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate," he said.

Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabab, was stunned by the force of Saturday's blast. The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government's ability to secure the seaside city of more than 2 million people.

"They don't care about the lives of Somali people, mothers, fathers and children," Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said of the attackers. "They have targeted the most populated area in Mogadishu, killing only civilians."

Rescue workers searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of the largely destroyed Safari Hotel, which is close to Somalia's foreign ministry. The explosion blew off metal gates and blast walls erected outside the hotel.

The United States condemned the bombing, saying "such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism." It tweeted a photo of its charge d'affaires in Somalia donating blood.

But the U.S. Africa Command said U.S. forces had not been asked to provide aid. A spokesman told The Associated Press that first responders and local enforcement would handle the response and "the U.S. would offer assistance if and when a request was made."

The U.S. military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country.

The United Nations special envoy to Somalia called the attack "revolting," saying an unprecedented number of civilians had been killed. Michael Keating said the U.N. and African Union were supporting the Somali government's response with "logistical support, medical supplies and expertise."

In a tweet, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "sickened" by the attack, and his spokesman urged all Somalis to unite against extremism and work together to build a "functional" federal state.

Saturday's blast occurred two days after the head of the U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia's president, and two days after the country's defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.

Amid the chaos, the stories of victims began to emerge. Amino Ahmed said one of her friends, a female medical student, was killed on the eve of her graduation. The explosion also killed a couple returning from a hospital after having their first child, said Dahir Amin Jesow, a Somali lawmaker.

"It's a dark day for us," he said.


Ophelia to bring hurricane-force wind, heavy rain to Ireland

This satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Ophelia, top center, on Sunday, Oct. 15. (NOAA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Irish authorities ordered all schools in the country to close Monday and warned cyclists and motorists to stay off roads as Hurricane Ophelia bore down on Ireland and the U.K. with potentially deadly winds.

Ophelia weakened to a Category 1 hurricane Sunday as it moved north-northeast across the Atlantic, with sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph).

It is expected to be downgraded to a post-tropical storm before making landfall in southern Ireland Monday morning, but U.K. Met Office forecaster Luke Miall said it could still pack "hurricane force" winds.

Ireland's Met Eireann weather service warned of "violent and destructive gusts" of up to 80 mph (130 kph) along with heavy rain and storm surges, as the storm crosses the country.

The Irish weather service issued a red warning, the highest level, for the whole country, and officials said schools and colleges across Ireland would be closed Monday. Cyclists and motorists were warned to stay off the roads during the height of the storm, and most ferry crossings between Ireland and Britain were canceled.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm could bring two to three inches (50 to 75 millimeters) of rain in western Ireland and Scotland, with coastal flooding and "large and destructive waves" where it makes landfall.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted: "Defence forces being deployed in Red weather alert areas and on standby for further action tomorrow."

Dublin and Shannon airports advised passengers to check flight information before travelling, while Cork airport in southwest Ireland said cancellations were likely.

Britain's Met Office said 80-mph gusts could hit Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and warned of potential power cuts, flying debris and disruption to transport and phone signals.  Strong winds could also hit Scotland, Wales and England.


Wild elephants attack Rohingya camp, killing 4 in Bangladesh

The Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is shown in this Sept. 26, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Dhaka, Bangladesh (AP) — Wild elephants attacked a new camp where Rohingya refugees were sleeping, killing a woman and her three children in southern Bangladesh, an official said Sunday.

A herd of elephants entered the Balukhali camp in Ukhiya town early Saturday and trampled tents where several refugees were sleeping, said district forest official Mohammed Ali Kabir.

Four other people, including the woman's husband, were injured in the attack, Kabir said. Many others fled to safety when they heard the elephants approaching.

Officials said the new camp was built in a forest area that was earlier frequented by elephant herds.

The woman's husband, Abu Bakar Siddique, said Sunday that he had been released from the hospital, but that one of his children and some other relatives were still hospitalized.

More than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces responded to attacks by a militant Rohingya group with a broad crackdown on the long-persecuted Muslim minority. Many houses were burned down.

The United Nations has called the violence "textbook ethnic cleansing."

Siddique said he and his family made the perilous journey from Rakhine state to reach Bangladesh some four days ago.

They found a place and were living in a tent in one of the camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have taken refuge.

"I fled Myanmar to avoid attacks by the military. But the elephants have killed my wife and children," Siddique said. "It is painful to live this way. I have lost everything."

Kabir, the forest official, said that the elephant habitat was under threat and that the passages used by the animals to move from one place to another have been encroached by human settlements.

Bangladesh's government had earlier declared around 27,000 hectares (66,720 acres) of land as reserve forests where herds comprising some 117 elephants had been spotted in the past, Kabir said.

It was the third attack by wild elephants on the refugees in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, which borders Myanmar. At least three people died in the two previous attacks.


Austrian poised to become Europe's 1st millennial leader

 

Sebastian Kurz, head of the Austrian People's Party, speaks during the election party in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Oct. 15. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

George Jahn

Vienna (AP) — At age 31, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is poised to become the first millennial to lead a European country following his party's victory in a national election Sunday.

While no party won a majority, the telegenic Kurz is most likely to be sworn in as Austria's next chancellor — and Europe's youngest leader — after the tough coalition government negotiations that lie ahead.

Near-final results from Sunday's balloting put his People's Party comfortably in first place, with 31.4 percent of the vote. The right-wing Freedom Party came in second with 27.4 percent. The center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria, which now governs in coalition with People's Party, got 26.7 percent.

Becoming head of government would be the next leap in a political career that started eight years ago when Kurz, then studying law, was elected chairman of his party's youth branch.

Smart and articulate, he eventually caught the eye of People's Party elders. He was appointed state secretary for integration, overseeing government efforts to make immigrants into Austrians, in 2011.

After a Social Democratic-People's Party coalition was formed four years ago, Kurz, then 27, became Austria's foreign minister — the youngest top diplomat in Europe.

He hosted several rounds of talks between Iran and six other countries on Tehran's nuclear program, meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other powerbrokers. Other international events further boosted his visibility and party influence.

When a new wave of migrants and refugees seeking to relocate to Europe became a continent-wide concern in 2015, Kurz recognized Austrian voters' anxiety over unchecked immigration involving large numbers of Muslim newcomers.

He called for tougher external border controls, better integration and stringent control of "political Islam" funded from abroad. He also organized the shutdown of the popular overland route through the West Balkans many newcomers were using to reach the EU's prosperous heartland.

By now, Kurz and his traditionally centrist party had drifted considerably to the right of their Social Democratic government partners, making governing difficult. Kurz's moment came when both agreed this spring to an early national election.

The People's Party, then lagging in third place and long seen as a stodgy old boys network, made him leader. Kurz set out to reinvent the party's image after securing guarantees for unprecedented authority.

The youthful, Vienna-born politician turned out to be the tonic the party needed, helping it shrug off criticism that it's been part of the political establishment for decades. He mostly goes without a tie, works standing behind a desk and flies economy class. He has a girlfriend, but is private about his life outside politics.

Noting that his center-right party had triumphed over the rival Social Democrats only twice since the end of World War II, Kurz called Sunday's election a "historic victory."


Opposition vies for landmark victory in polarized Venezuela

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots outside a polling station during regional elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 15, (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Fabiola Sanchez and Christine Armario

Caracas, Venezuela (AP) — Sunday’s elections in Venezuela could tilt a majority of the country' 23 governorships back into opposition control for the first time in nearly two decades of socialist party rule — though the government said the newly elected governors will be subordinate to a pro-government constitutional assembly.

The election was being watched closely as an indicator of how much support President Nicolas Maduro and the socialist movement founded by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, maintain amid soaring inflation and crippling food and medical shortages that continue to wreak havoc in Venezuelans' daily lives.

Anti-government candidates were projected in polls to win more than half the races, but this success depended heavily on their ability to motivate disenchanted voters.

Voting got off to a relatively slow start in Miranda, the country's second most populous state that surrounds the capital. Some polling centers were nearly empty in the morning, but voting appeared to pick up in the afternoon. Some people were still in line waiting to cast ballots after the official closing time. Venezuelan law requires election officials to keep voting centers open until everyone still in line has voted.

Both Venezuela's opposition and pro-government leaders reported high levels of participation as voting counting got underway, but no official results had been released early Sunday night.

Socialist party leader Jorge Rodriguez said participation was "much higher" Sunday than during the last regional vote in 2012, when 9.2 million Venezuelans cast ballots.

Opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo described the election as "a gigantic popular victory of historic proportions."

"The Venezuelan people have expressed their desire with their vote," he said at the opposition's headquarters. "They have expressed their protest and they have expressed their hope."

The election comes during one of the most turbulent years in recent Venezuelan history. Four months of anti-government protests that began in April left at least 120 people dead. In August, the new pro-government constitutional assembly ruling with virtually unlimited powers was installed after a vote that opposition leaders refused to participate in and that the National Electoral Council was accused of manipulating.

With few checks and balances remaining, a rising number of foreign leaders are calling Venezuela a dictatorship.

In a taped message released Sunday, Maduro urged Venezuelans to vote in what he said would be a demonstration that the nation maintains a "vigorous democracy."

"They've said we are a dictatorship," Maduro said, walking calmly while holding a cup of coffee. "No. We are a democratic people, rebellious, and with an egalitarian sensibility."

Opposition leaders scoffed at Maduro's suggestion the election would be held up as proof that Venezuela remains a vibrant democracy.

"We are fighting to recover our democracy," said Henrique Capriles, one of the opposition's most recognizable figures. "Democracy is not just voting."

Maduro has warned that new governors will have to take a loyalty oath submitting to the authority of the assembly that is re-writing the nation's constitution. Opposition candidates have vowed not to submit themselves to an assembly they consider illegal.

The regional elections were originally scheduled to take place last December, but the pro-government National Electoral Council postponed the vote after polls showed socialist candidates were widely slated to lose. The vote was rescheduled for this December, but delegates at the new constitutional assembly later moved it up to October.

Days before the vote, the electoral council announced it was moving more than 200 voting centers, predominantly in opposition strongholds. Council officials defended the relocations as a security measure in areas where violent protests took place in July.

The opposition accused the council of trying to suppress turnout among its base — a significant portion of which has grown disillusioned about the possibility of change and lost faith in leaders they perceive as disorganized and divided.

Opposition-arranged buses were transporting voters to the new sites Sunday — some of which were nearly an hour away. Other voters from middle-class neighborhoods were being sent to vote in poor communities where crime is high.

Susana Unda, a homemaker who voted for Carlos Ocariz, the opposition's candidate in Miranda, used her truck to transport voters whose polling sites were relocated.

"I was born in a democracy and I want to die in a democracy," she said.

Electoral council president Tibisay Lucena said the election was proceeding with the lowest number of reported irregularities that Venezuela had seen in an election, though the independent Venezuelan Electoral Observatory reported several incidents of harassment and voter intimidation.

Luis Lander, the group's director, said those incidents included reports of pro-government supporters on motorcycles threatening voters gathered at polling sites. He said the number of voting centers that opened late was also higher than in previous elections.

Socialist candidates urged Venezuelans to stick with the egalitarian principles installed by Chavez while also promising change.

"People don't want more protests," said Hector Rodriguez, the young, charismatic pro-government candidate challenging Ocariz in Miranda. "They want us to work to improve the economy and security."

Rodriguez's message resonated with Sergio Camargo, a private security guard who said he hoped his vote would set Venezuela on the right path.

"I hope that after this vote, the people against the government of President Nicolas Maduro are more sensible and let him govern," he said.


Philippine, Australian forces stage sea drill as ties deepen

The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Adelaide cruises alongside landing crafts with Philippine Marines and Australian troops as they conduct a joint Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise off Subic Bay in northwestern Philippines Sunday, Oct. 15. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Bullit Marquez

Subic Bay, Philippines (AP) — Filipino and Australian naval forces darted across the sea and landed on a Philippine wharf in a disaster-response drill Sunday that reflects their deepening security ties in a region prone to calamities, piracy and territorial rifts.

Lt. Col. Daniel Turner of the Australian Defence Force said the naval maneuvers in Subic Bay, northwest of Manila, will strengthen the two countries' ability to jointly respond to typhoons and other disasters when roads, bridges and ports are damaged or destroyed.

The drills reflect the strengthening security relations between the two U.S. allies despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's often antagonistic stance toward American security policy. Australia and the United States have deployed surveillance aircraft to help Filipino troops quell a disastrous siege by pro-Islamic State group militants in southern Marawi city.

During the maneuvers, more than 100 Philippine marines and Australian naval personnel took off from an Australian navy ship, the HMAS Adelaide, on board troop carriers then rushed to a port at Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base. Two Associated Press journalists were allowed to witness the exercises from a helicopter.

When typhoons and floods happen, "traditional infrastructure is damaged and the only way we could get to the affected area is through helicopters and landing craft," Turner said. "Our militaries can operate together, support those affected people."

Australia signed a 2007 accord that allows its forces to train in the Philippines. Australia is the only country aside from the United States with which Manila has forged such a defense pact, commonly known as a status of forces agreement.

Subic Bay faces the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines and four other governments have long-unresolved territorial disputes, but Australian officials stressed that Sunday's exercises were aimed only at improving the ability of Australian and Philippine forces to deal jointly with natural catastrophes.

Australia does not take sides in the disputes, but Captain Jonathan Earley, commanding officer of the Adelaide, said his government has an interest in keeping regional stability and the rule of law.

"What that includes is our ability to conduct freedom of trade, so trade is unimpeded, and that countries do have that ability to exercise freedom of navigation," Earley said.


Today in History, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Monday, Oct. 16, the 289th day of 2017. There are 76 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 16, 1987, a 58-1/2-hour drama in Midland, Texas, ended happily as rescuers freed Jessica McClure, an 18-month-old girl trapped in a narrow, abandoned well.

On this date:

In 456, Magister militum Ricimer defeats Emperor Avitus at Piacenza and becomes master of the Western Roman Empire.

In 690, Empress Wu Zetian ascends to the throne of the Tang dynasty and proclaims herself ruler of the Chinese Empire.

In 1793, during the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, was beheaded.

In 1813, the Sixth Coalition attacks Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Leipzig.

In 1834, much of the ancient structure of the Palace of Westminster in London burns to the ground.

In 1847, the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontė is published in London.

In 1869, the Cardiff Giant, one of the most famous American hoaxes, is "discovered".

In 1934, Chinese Communists, under siege by the Nationalists, began their "long march" lasting a year from southeastern to northwestern China.

In 1946, ten Nazi war criminals condemned during the Nuremberg trials were hanged.

In 1950, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is published, starting The Chronicles of Narnia series.

In 1957, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip began a visit to the United States with a stopover at the site of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia.

In 1968, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos sparked controversy at the Mexico City Olympics by giving "black power" salutes during a victory ceremony after they'd won gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter race.

In 1978, the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church chose Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to be the new pope; he took the name John Paul II.

In 1984, Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1991, a deadly shooting rampage took place in Killeen, Texas, as a gunman opened fire at a Luby's Cafeteria, killing 23 people before taking his own life.

In 1998, former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is arrested in London on a warrant from Spain requesting his extradition on murder charges

Today's Birthdays:

Actress Angela Lansbury is 92. Actor Peter Bowles is 81. Actor-producer Tony Anthony is 80. Rock musician C.F. Turner (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) is 74. Actress Suzanne Somers is 71. Rock singer-musician Bob Weir is 70. Producer-director David Zucker is 70. Actor-director Tim Robbins is 59. Actor-musician Gary Kemp is 58. Rock musician Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) is 55. Singer Wendy Wilson (Wilson Phillips) is 48. Rapper B-Rock (B-Rock and the Bizz) is 46. Rock singer Chad Gray (Mudvayne) is 46. Actor Paul Sparks is 46. Actress Kellie Martin is 42. Singer John Mayer is 40. Actor Jeremy Jackson is 37. Actress Caterina Scorsone is 37. Actress Brea Grant is 36. Australian motorcycle racer Casey Stoner is 32.

Thought for Today:

"What is time? The shadow on the dial, the striking of the clock, the running of the sand, day and night, summer and winter, months, years, centuries — these are but arbitrary and outward signs, the measure of Time, not Time itself. Time is the Life of the soul." — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807-1882).
 


Update October 14 - 15 , 2017

Floods and landslides kill 54, leave 39 missing in Vietnam

Flash floods damage a house in the northern province of Hoa Binh, Vietnam on Friday Oct. 13. (Nhan Sinh/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Hanoi (AP) — Floods and landslides have killed at least 54 people in Vietnam and left another 39 missing since a tropical depression hit the country earlier this week, in one of its worst natural disasters in years, officials said Friday.

The heavy rain in the central and northern regions disrupted transportation in some areas, hampering efforts to rescue the missing.

The storm, which hit central Vietnam on Tuesday, also injured 31 people, submerged more than 30,000 houses, and damaged infrastructure and crops, the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said in a statement Friday.

Disaster official Nguyen Thi Lien from northern Yen Bai province, where six people died from the floods, said 580 soldiers and police and more than 2,000 residents have been mobilized to search for 16 others still missing in the province.

"Transportation to and from the southern district of Tram Tau was cut off by landslides and floods, making it impossible to send additional search forces to look for six people still missing there," Lien said, adding that the search operations in the district are relying on local military, police and villagers.

Another tropical depression has been upgraded to a tropical storm, Khanun, which swept through the Philippines' northern island of Luzon early Friday and is moving in the South China Sea toward Vietnam, according to national weather forecasters.

The storm could bring more rain and misery to the central and northern regions already soaked by rain and floodwaters.

Vietnam is ranked the seventh most disaster-prone country in the world, and disasters over the past two decades have caused more than 13,000 deaths and property damage in excess of $6.4 billion, according to Achim Fock, acting country director for the World Bank in Vietnam.

Speaking at a conference in Hanoi on Friday marking International Day for Disaster Reduction, Fock said it is time for Vietnam to prepare seriously to reduce its climatic vulnerability.

"If Vietnam does not invest in disaster resilience today, it misses an opportunity for social, economic and environmental progress that will have impacts for years to come," he said, according to a copy of the speech provided by the World Bank.


Freighter sinks off Philippine coast; 10 crew missing

This photo shows a damaged lifeboat, which is believed to be off the Emerald Star near its sinking site, off the Philippines' eastern coast Friday, Oct. 13. (The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters via AP)

Tokyo (AP) — A Hong Kong-registered freighter sank Friday in rough seas off the Philippine coast, leaving 10 crewmembers missing, Japan's coast guard said.

It said a distress call was received early Friday from the 33,205-ton Emerald Star from a location about 150 nautical miles (280 kilometers) off the Philippines' eastern coast. It said 26 crewmembers, all Indians, were aboard.

The coast guard said three passing freighters rescued 16 of the crewmembers from the sea, and a fourth freighter later also joined the search in the area where the Hong Kong ship is believed to have sunk.

Two patrol aircraft dispatched by the coast guard are searching from the sky, while three patrol boats are still on their way, slowed down by a storm in the area.

Photos taken by coast guard aircraft showed a damaged lifeboat believed to be from the sunken ship floating in choppy waters, along with traces of an oil leak.

The coast guard said the cause of the sinking was not known.


Teams report first progress against California wildfires

A Sonoma City firefighter walks in front of flames during a backburn operation Friday, Oct. 13, in Glen Ellen , California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Paul Elias and Jocelyn Gecker

Santa Rosa, Calif. (AP) — A fifth day of desperate firefighting in California wine country brought a glimmer of hope Friday as crews battling the flames reported their first progress toward containing the massive blazes, and hundreds more firefighters poured in to join the effort.

The scale of the disaster also became clearer as authorities said the fires had chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. The death toll rose to 36, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.

"The emergency is not over, and we continue to work at it, but we are seeing some great progress," said the state's emergency operations director, Mark Ghilarducci.

Over the past 24 hours, crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from as far away as Canada and Australia.

Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the blazes have reduced entire neighborhoods to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.

Individual fires including a 1991 blaze in the hills around Oakland killed more people than any one of the current blazes, but no collection of simultaneous fires in California ever led to so many deaths, authorities said.

People remained on edge, worried about the wind shifting fires in their direction, said Will Deeths, a Sonoma middle school principal helping to supervise volunteers at Sonoma Valley High School, now an evacuation shelter.

"In the afternoons we start looking up at the flag pole and we start looking to see, is the wind blowing? Is the flag moving?" he said. "It's been really crazy."

Dozens of search-and-rescue personnel at a mobile home park in Santa Rosa, also in Sonoma County, carried out the grim task Friday of searching for remains. Fire tore through Santa Rosa early Monday, leaving only a brief window for residents to flee, and decimated the park, which was known as Journey's End and was home to hundreds of people.

Workers were looking for two missing people who lived at the park. They found one set of remains, mostly bone fragments, and continued looking for the other, said Sonoma County Sgt. Spencer Crum.

To help in the search, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office near San Francisco sent specialized equipment, including drones with three-dimensional cameras and five dogs trained to sniff out human remains.

Authorities have said that some victims were so badly burned they were identified only by metal surgical implants found in the ashes that have ID numbers on them.

The influx of outside help offered critical relief to firefighters who have been working with little rest since the blazes started.

"It's like pulling teeth to get firefighters and law enforcement to disengage from what they are doing out there," CalFire's Napa chief Barry Biermann said. "They are truly passionate about what they are doing to help the public, but resources are coming in. That's why you are seeing the progress we're making."

In addition to manpower, equipment deliveries have poured in. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.

Two of the largest fires in Napa and Sonoma counties were at least 25 percent contained by Friday, which marked "significant progress," said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But he cautioned that crews would face more gusty winds, low humidity and higher temperatures. Those conditions were expected to take hold later Friday and persist into the weekend.

Smoke from the blazes hung thick over the grape-growing region and drifted south to the San Francisco Bay Area. Face masks were becoming a regular accessory, and sunsets turned blood-red from the haze.

"It's acrid now," said Wayne Petersen in Sonoma. "I'm wearing the mask because I've been here two or three days now. I live here. It's starting to really affect my breathing and lungs."

Fire officials were investigating whether downed power lines or other utility failures could have sparked the fires, but they say they are far from determining how the blazes began.


Russia launches European atmosphere monitoring satellite

A rocket carrying the atmosphere-monitoring satellite for Europe’s Copernicus programme, Sentinel-5P, lifts off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia Friday, Oct. 13. (ESA via AP)

Moscow (AP) — Russia successfully launched a satellite into orbit Friday that will monitor Europe's atmosphere, helping to study air pollution.

The European Space Agency's Sentinel-5P satellite was launched by a Rokot missile from the Plesetsk launch pad in northwestern Russia. The satellite will map the atmosphere every day.

After separating from the upper stage booster, the satellite deployed its solar panels and began communications with Earth, the ESA said. The first signal was received 93 minutes after launch as the satellite passed over the Kiruna station in Sweden.

Controllers at ESA's operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, then established command and control links allowing them to monitor the satellite's condition.

"The Sentinel-5P satellite is now safely in orbit so it is up to our mission control teams to steer this mission into its operational life and maintain it for the next seven years or more," ESA Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement.

The mission will contribute to volcanic ash monitoring for aviation safety and for services that warn of high levels of UV radiation causing skin damage. The measurements also will help understand processes in the atmosphere related to the climate and to the formation of holes in the ozone layer.

It's the sixth satellite in the ESA's Copernicus program. Other Earth-observing Sentinel satellites launched earlier provide radar and optical imagery of the Earth, and monitor the condition of the world's oceans and ice sheets.

"Having Sentinel-5P in orbit will give us daily and global views at our atmosphere with a precision we never had before," ESA quoted Josef Aschbacher, the head of its earth observation programs, as saying.

Philippe Gaudy, who oversees the Sentinel project for the European Space Agency, said data collected by Sentinel 5P would help scientists to better monitor air pollution, such as for nitrogen oxide emitted by cars.

A recent report estimated that more than 400,000 people die prematurely in Europe alone because of air pollution.

Orbital observation can be used to compare reported air pollution by governments with actual data, to see whether countries are living up to their commitments under international treaties, Gaudy said.

The data from Sentinel-5P will be made available for free to anyone who wants it, he added.

It will take engineers several months to calibrate and validate the measurements, meaning data will start to become available in the first half of next year.


Weah maintains lead in Liberia election's early results

In this Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, former soccer star George Weah, casts his vote during the presidential election in Monrovia, Liberia. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

Monrovia, Liberia (AP) — Former international soccer star George Weah maintained an early lead in Liberia's election Friday as the West African nation released a second round of provisional results of the vote to succeed Africa's first female president.

With 20 candidates, observers expect a runoff election. National Election Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya has warned candidates' supporters against declaring victory until final results are announced, which must be done by Oct. 25. A candidate must get just over 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

Based on about 33 percent of the votes cast at more than 5,300 polling stations, Weah had 39.6 percent of the ballots counted. He held a slight lead over Vice President Joseph Boakai, who received 31.1 percent, according to election commission data. Charles Brumskine was third with 9.3 percent.

Liberia seeks a successor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country as it recovered from civil war and the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.

The 51-year-old Weah is a former striker for AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. His youthful Congress for Democratic Change party is in a coalition with two others, including the National Patriotic Party of now-jailed former President Charles Taylor. Weah's running mate is Jewel Howard-Taylor, Taylor's ex-wife.

Boakai, who has been vice president for nearly 12 years, is running for the ruling Unity Party.

One of Liberia's largest political parties has called for a halt to vote-counting, alleging voting irregularities and fraud. The Liberty Party claims that polls opened late and that ballot-tampering occurred in at least one location in the capital, Monrovia.

The Liberty Party's candidate is Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who placed third in 2005 elections and fourth in 2011.

The election commission is ready to listen to official complaints but the vote-counting will continue, spokesman Henry Boyd Flomo said. He said he could not address the accusation of ballot-tampering but acknowledged that many voters found it difficult to find their voting station. Everyone was allowed to vote, he added.

The Carter Center, which observed elections, has commended Liberians "for the calm and peaceful atmosphere" of the vote. It noted difficulties with long lines and management of voter lists but said it could not give a final assessment until vote counting is complete.

"No matter the outcome of this election, it will result in a transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another for the first time in the lives of many Liberians," it said in a statement.


Today in History, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Saturday, Oct. 14, the 287th day of 2017. There are 78 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 14, 1947, U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles E. ("Chuck") Yeager became the first test pilot to break the sound barrier as he flew the experimental Bell XS-1 (later X-1) rocket plane over Muroc Dry Lake in California.

On this date:

In 1066, Normans under William the Conqueror defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings.

In 1322, Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeats King Edward II of England at Byland, forcing Edward to accept Scotland's independence.

In 1773, just before the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, several of the British East India Company's tea ships are set ablaze at the old seaport of Annapolis, Maryland.

In 1926, "Winnie-the-Pooh" by A.A. Milne was first published by Methuen & Co. of London.

In 1944, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel committed suicide rather than face trial and certain execution for allegedly conspiring against Adolf Hitler.

In 1959, actor Errol Flynn died in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at age 50.

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis begins after a U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane flies over the island of Cuba and takes photographs of Soviet SS-4 Sandal missiles being installed and erected in Cuba.

In 1964, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev was toppled from power; he was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and by Alexei Kosygin as Premier.

In 1968, Jim Hines of the United States of America becomes the first man ever to break the so-called "ten-second barrier" in the 100-meter sprint in the Summer Olympic Games held in Mexico City with a time of 9.95 seconds.

In 1977, singer Bing Crosby died outside Madrid, Spain, at age 74.

In 1987, a 58-hour drama began in Midland, Texas, as 18-month-old Jessica McClure slid 22 feet down a narrow abandoned well at a private day care center; she was rescued on Oct. 16.

In 1997, novelist Harold Robbins died in Palm Springs, California, at age 81.

In 2012, Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere in the Red Bull Stratos project.

Today's Birthdays:

Fashion designer Ralph Lauren is 78. Singer Sir Cliff Richard is 77. Singer-musician Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) is 71. Actor Harry Anderson is 65. Singer-musician Thomas Dolby is 59. Actor Steve Coogan is 52. Actress-singer Shaznay Lewis (All Saints) is 42. Singer Usher is 39.

Thought for Today:

"To think is to speak low. To speak is to think aloud." — F. Max Mueller, German philologist (1823-1900).


Update October 13, 2017

Myanmar's Suu Kyi urges unity, creates new aid committee

People on a motorbike watch a televised speech by Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, by a roadside Thursday, Oct. 12, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Yangon (AP) — Myanmar's embattled leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, called for national unity Thursday and said she has created a committee that will oversee all international and local assistance in violence-struck Rakhine state.

More than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from the state to neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when security forces responded to attacks by a militant Rohingya group with a broad crackdown on the long-persecuted Muslim minority. Many houses were burned down.

The U.N. has called the violence "textbook ethnic cleansing."

Suu Kyi acknowledged in a speech on state-run television that the country is facing widespread criticism over the refugee crisis and called for unity in tackling the problem. She said her government is holding talks with Bangladesh on the return of "those who are now in Bangladesh." She gave no details, but officials have suggested they would need to provide residency documents, which few have.

Myanmar's Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although many families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Suu Kyi did not use the word "Rohingya" in her speech but referred to several other ethnic minorities by name.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner, has been widely criticized outside Myanmar for not speaking out on behalf of the Rohingya.

She said in her speech that those who return from Bangladesh would need to be resettled, without providing details, and that development must be brought to Rakhine, one of the country's poorest areas, to achieve a durable peace.

She said she would head the new committee, the "Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine," and that it would coordinate all efforts to create a "peaceful and developed Rakhine state."

The government has tightly restricted access to Rakhine for international aid groups and journalists.

Suu Kyi said her government has invited U.N. agencies, financial institutions such as the World Bank, and others to help develop Rakhine.

Myanmar officials deny there has been ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar's ambassador to Japan, Thurain Thant Zin, told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday that his government was providing humanitarian aid to all affected by the violence and denied reports of human rights abuses by the military.

"To say the Myanmar military conducted those illegal acts is untrue and cannot be true," he said. "The Myanmar government protests the use of such terms as ethnic cleansing and genocide."

At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesman said he is sending Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Myanmar for several days starting Friday to meet government officials and others to address urgent issues the U.N. chief has raised regarding the Rohingyas.

These issues include Guterres' repeated calls for an end to military operations and violence in northern Rakhine state, unfettered humanitarian access, and the voluntary and "sustainable return" of refugees who fled to Bangladesh, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met Myanmar's National Security Ambassador U Thaung Tun and raised the same issues.

She urged an immediate end to violence by all sides and access to all those affected by the fighting and appealed to Myanmar "to facilitate the safe, dignified return of all those displaced as quickly as possible."

The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, has invited former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who headed a commission on Rakhine state, to an informal meeting Friday to discuss its findings and recommendations. The commission, which disbanded last month, focused on long-term solutions to improve people's lives and addressed many of the root causes of the current crisis.


Rivals Hamas, Fatah reach preliminary deal on governing Gaza

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, center right, and Hamas' representative, Saleh al-Arouri, center left, sign a reconciliation agreement during a press conference at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Oct. 12. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Hamza Hendawi and Fares Akram

Cairo (AP) — Rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah have reached a preliminary, partial agreement that could pave the way for President Mahmoud Abbas to resume governing the Gaza Strip a decade after Hamas overran the territory, officials said Thursday.

Details of the deal were announced at a news conference in Cairo, where the negotiators were meeting. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the deal was reached under "generous Egyptian auspices," without elaborating.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas, the leader of Fatah, might visit Gaza in the coming weeks, depending on the successful implementation of the agreement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.

The Western-backed Abbas hasn't set foot in Gaza since 2007, when the Islamic militant Hamas, his main ideological rival, seized the territory after days of factional street battles. The Hamas takeover, which came a year after the group defeated Fatah in Palestinian parliamentary elections, left Abbas with autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Over the past decade, each side deepened control over its territory, making it increasingly difficult to forge compromises, and repeated attempts at reconciliation failed.

Under the emerging agreement, Hamas would hand over responsibilities of governing Gaza to the West Bank-based government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah delegation, said Abbas' Palestinian Authority would assume control of the crossing points between Gaza and Israel by Nov. 1. He said Abbas' presidential guard would assume control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, but did not specify a timetable.

Egypt has kept the Rafah border crossing closed for most of the last decade. Before the Hamas takeover, Abbas' presidential guard administered the crossing under EU monitoring.

"The Rafah crossing needs some measures to improve and renovate the buildings in a way that is worthy of Egypt and the Palestinian people so as it can operate smoothly," al-Ahmad said during the announcement of the deal.

A senior Hamas official, who spoke earlier on condition of anonymity pending the formal announcement, said both sides agreed that European monitors could be posted at the crossing, a measure that might assuage Israeli concerns about weapons smuggling.

A permanent opening of the Rafah crossing would mean an end to the crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza after the Hamas takeover, which prevents free trade and bars the vast majority of Gaza's 2 million people from leaving the territory.

Only one of Gaza's four commercial crossings to Israel, Kerem Shalom, is currently operating, down from four before 2007. A small number of people, mainly medical patients, business people and aid workers, use the Erez crossing to enter Israel, usually bound for the West Bank.

Hamas has indirectly run the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom commercial crossing, collecting taxes and fees on imports. At Erez, Hamas maintained security control from a checkpoint near the crossing, while the Palestinian Authority had a small office to coordinate with the Israeli side.

Officials close to the talks said the sides agreed to set up committees to work out other details. In the past, such mechanisms quickly led to deadlock.

One committee would have four months to determine who among thousands of Hamas civil servants would be able to join the new government. Another committee would merge 3,000 Palestinian Authority loyalists into Gaza's Hamas-run police force.

Saleh al-Arouri, the head of the Hamas delegation in Cairo, said "we in Hamas are determined, serious and sincere this time and every time to end the division."

"We have adopted the strategy of one step at a time so that the reconciliation will succeed," he added.

Key issues were not addressed in the Cairo talks.

A major sticking point has been the Hamas military wing and its arsenal, which Hamas has said is not up for discussion. Hamas officials have assured the Fatah negotiators that the military wing would maintain a low profile as part of any deal. It's not clear if this will satisfy Abbas, or if the dispute will re-emerge later on.

The Hamas official said Hamas, Fatah and smaller Palestinian factions would meet next month to discuss other issues related to reconciliation, including holding long-overdue parliamentary and presidential elections. Hamas and Fatah would return to Cairo in early December to assess implementation of the agreement, the official said.

Struggling with the fallout from the border blockade, Hamas has found it increasingly difficult to govern or provide basic services, such as electricity.

The 82-year-old Abbas, meanwhile, might be thinking about his legacy. The political split has been a major stain on his rule, and there have been no negotiations with Israel since the peace process last collapsed in 2014.

Abbas heads the political camp that seeks to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Hamas suggested in a new political manifesto earlier this year that it might consider a state in pre-1967 lines as an interim option, but also endorses an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including what is now Israel. The group refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.


EU laments Brexit progress amid divorce bill deadlock

British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis left, and European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier participate in a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Oct. 12. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Lorne Cook and Jill Lawless

Brussels (AP) — Brexit talks have made little progress, the European Union's chief negotiator said Thursday, meaning they cannot yet be broadened beyond the terms of Britain's exit to include key issues like future trade relations.

Michel Barnier said that despite the "constructive spirit" shown in this week's fifth round of talks, "we haven't made any great steps forward." On the question of how much Britain has to pay to settle its financial commitments, he said: "We have reached a state of deadlock, which is disturbing."

Barnier said he would not be able to recommend to EU leaders meeting next week that "sufficient progress" has been made to broaden the talks to future EU-British relations, including trade.

The leaders meet in Brussels on Oct. 19-20, and with time short to seal a deal it had been hoped they would agree to widen the talks.

The EU says this can only happen when there has been progress on the issues of the financial settlement, the rights of citizens affected by Brexit and the status of the Northern Ireland-Ireland border.

Many businesses are worried that Britain could leave the EU without a trade deal in place, which would mean tariffs on exports from both sides, reams of red tape and chaos at ports. The pound fell Thursday on news of the slow progress, trading 0.6 percent lower at $1.3142.

Britain says its exit terms are closely intertwined with those on future relations like trade and must be discussed together.

"I hope the member states will see the progress we have made and take a step forward" next week, British Brexit envoy David Davis told reporters.

"We would like them to give Michel the means to broaden the negotiations. It's up to them whether they do it. Clearly I think it's in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union that they do," Davis said.

Despite the lack of progress, Barnier said the two would work to achieve "sufficient progress" in time for a subsequent meeting of EU leaders in December.

Around one third of the negotiating time has already elapsed. Britain must leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but the talks must be completed within about a year to leave time for EU states' national parliaments to ratify the Brexit agreement.

European estimates on the size of the divorce bill have varied from around 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros, but Prime Minister Theresa May's government has rejected such numbers without clearly explaining how the amount should be calculated.

"The U.K. repeated that it was still not ready to spell out these commitments," Barnier said. "There have therefore been no negotiations on this subject."

The negotiations appear to be moving at a snail's pace, and each round leaves a sense of deja vu, with Barnier lamenting the lack of movement, and Davis appealing for more European flexibility. Thursday's news conference, though, was brightened briefly by an unexpected visitor dressed as a superwoman promoting her book on why Europe needs one.

Mindful that the clock is ticking, Barnier reaffirmed that parting with "no deal will be a very bad deal."

"To be clear, on our side, we will be ready to face any eventualities, and all the eventualities," he said.

The British government is under pressure from euroskeptic lawmakers to increase planning for a "no deal" Brexit, without a trade agreement.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers are urging May's government to set aside money for new customs posts and other infrastructure that would be needed in the event of no deal. Some even say Britain should walk away from the negotiations if the EU does not agree to start the next phase by the end of the year.

The Brexit spokesman for Britain's opposition Labour Party, accused the government of risking a collapse in the talks with its infighting.

Keir Starmer said crashing out without a deal "would be catastrophic for jobs and living standards and must be rejected as a viable option."

He urged Davis to ask for an emergency round of talks before next week's EU summit in an attempt to unblock the logjam.


US to pull out of UNESCO amid Palestinian tensions

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization logo is pictured on the entrance at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Matthew Lee and Angela Charlton

Paris (AP) — U.S. officials have said that the United States is pulling out of UNESCO, after repeated criticism of resolutions by the U.N. cultural agency that Washington sees as anti-Israel.

While the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The withdrawal was confirmed Thursday by U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to be publicly named discussing the decision. It was not clear when the move would be formally announced.

The decision comes as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is voting to choose a new director this week, in tense balloting overshadowed by the agency's funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership.

Many saw the vote to include Palestine as evidence of long-running, ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world. The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, to promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and to defend media freedom, among other activities.

The Trump administration has been preparing for a likely withdrawal for months, and a decision was expected before the end of the year, according to U.S. officials. Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs.

In addition, the Trump administration's proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.

The lack of staffing and funding plans for UNESCO by the U.S. have been accompanied by repeated denunciations of UNESCO by senior U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The U.S. pulled out of UNESCO in the 1980s because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.


Volcanic eruption in Japan spreads ash in 4 cities, towns

Volcanic smoke rises from the Shinmoedake volcano after its eruption in the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, southwestern Japan, Thursday, Oct. 12. (Tomoaki Ito/Kyodo News via AP)

Tokyo (AP) — A volcano in southwestern Japan is erupting for the first time in six years, spewing ash over nearby farms, cities and towns.

Japanese broadcaster TBS showed elementary school students wearing helmets and masks Thursday on the way to their school at the foot of the Shinmoedake volcano. Residents also described hearing rumbles from the volcano and ash fell in at least four cities and towns in Miyazaki prefecture.

Street cleaners swept ash from city streets, and farmers used leaf blowers to clear the growing piles of ash from the tops of their plastic greenhouses.

The volcano on the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures started erupting Wednesday for the first time in six years.

On Thursday, an ash plume rose 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) from the crater, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The agency has raised the volcanic alert level from 2 to 3 on a scale of 5. Level 3 warns people to not approach the volcano.

It said pyroclastic flow, which is an emission of hot gases and volcanic matter at high speed, is possible within 2 kilometers of the crater. Emissions of ash and volcanic rocks were forecast through Friday for a wider area, but the locations at risk would depend on wind conditions and altitude.

The seismically active area around the Pacific known as the "Ring of Fire" includes active volcanoes in Japan as well as two causing mass evacuations in Indonesia and Vanuatu in recent weeks.


Today in History, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Friday, Oct. 13, the 286th day of 2017. There are 79 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 13, 1792, the cornerstone of the executive mansion, later known as the White House, was laid by President George Washington during a ceremony in the District of Columbia. 

On this date:

In A.D. 54, Roman Emperor Claudius I died, poisoned apparently at the behest of his wife, Agrippina.

In 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrests of the Knights Templar on charges of heresy.

In 1773, the Whirlpool Galaxy was discovered by Charles Messier.

In 1821, the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire is publicly proclaimed.

In 1884, the International Meridian Conference votes on a resolution to establish the meridian passing through the Observatory of Greenwich, in London, as the initial meridian for longitude.

In 1917, the "Miracle of the Sun" is witnessed by an estimated 70,000 people in the Cova da Iria in Fįtima, Portugal.

In 1923, Ankara replaces Istanbul as the capital of Turkey.

In 1943, the new government of Italy sides with the Allies and declares war on Germany.

In 1962, Edward Albee's four-character drama "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" opened on Broadway.

In 1972, a Uruguayan chartered flight carrying 45 people crashed in the Andes; survivors resorted to feeding off the remains of some of the dead in order to stay alive until they were rescued more than two months later.

In 1981, voters in Egypt participated in a referendum to elect Vice President Hosni Mubarak the new president, one week after the assassination of Anwar Sadat.

In 2010, rescuers in Chile using a missile-like escape capsule pulled 33 men one by one to fresh air and freedom 69 days after they were trapped in a collapsed mine a half-mile underground.

Today's Birthdays:

Greek singer and politician Nana Mouskouri is 83. Singer-musician Paul Simon is 76. Singer-musician Sammy Hagar is 70. Singer Marie Osmond is 58. Former NFL football player Jerry Rice is 55. Actress Kelly Preston is 55. Olympic silver medal figure skater Nancy Kerrigan is 48. Actor Sacha Baron Cohen is 46. Singer Ashanti is 37. Olympic gold medal swimmer Ian Thorpe is 35.

Thought for Today:

"Nobody holds a good opinion of a man who has a low opinion of himself." — Anthony Trollope, English author (1815-1882).


Update October 12, 2017

Pressure mounts for Vegas police to explain response time

Flowers, candles and other items surround the famous Las Vegas sign at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting Monday, Oct. 9, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Michael Balsamo

Las Vegas (AP) - Pressure mounted Wednesday for Las Vegas police to explain how quickly they reacted to what would become the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history after two hotel employees reported a gunman spraying a hallway with bullets six minutes before he opened fire on a crowd at a musical performance.

On Monday, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo revised the chronology of the shooting and said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, had shot a hotel security guard through the door of his suite and strafed a hallway of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino with 200 rounds six minutes before he unleashed a barrage of bullets into the crowd.

That account differed dramatically from the one police gave last week when they said Paddock ended his hail of fire on the crowd in order to shoot through his door and wound the unarmed guard, Jesus Campos.

"These people that were killed and injured deserve to have those six minutes to protect them," said Chad Pinkerton, an attorney for Paige Gasper, a California college student who was shot under the arm in the attack. "We lost those six minutes."

Maintenance worker Stephen Schuck told NBC News that he was checking out a report of a jammed fire door on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay when he heard gunshots and the hotel security guard who had been shot in the leg peeked out from an alcove and told him to take cover.

"It was kind of relentless so I called over the radio what was going on," Schuck said. "As soon as the shooting stopped we made our way down the hallway and took cover again and then the shooting started again."

Gunshots can be heard in the background as Schuck used his radio to report the shooting, telling a dispatcher: "Call the police, someone's firing a gun up here. Someone's firing a rifle on the 32nd floor down the hallway."

Campos also used his radio and possibly a hallway phone to call hotel dispatchers for help, police have said. It was unclear if and when the hotel relayed the reports of shots being fired to police.

Las Vegas authorities did not respond to questions about whether hotel security or anyone else in the hotel called 911 to report the gunfire.

"Our officers got there as fast as they possibly could and they did what they were trained to do," Las Vegas assistant sheriff Todd Fasulo said previously.

The parent company of the hotel has raised concerns that the revised timeline presented by police may be inaccurate.

"We cannot be certain about the most recent timeline," said Debra DeShong, a spokeswoman for MGM Resorts International. "We believe what is currently being expressed may not be accurate."

DeShong declined to comment on a lawsuit filed Tuesday by lawyers for Gasper against the company, concert promoter, gunman's estate and the manufacturer of the "bump stocks" used by the gunman to help mimic a fully automatic firearm.

Undersheriff Kevin McMahill earlier defended the hotel and said the encounter between Paddock and the security guard and maintenance man disrupted the gunman's plans, but he would not comment on the revised timeline.

"MGM and the people associated with the MGM and people involved that night at the event did a fantastic job," McMahill said.

The six minutes wouldn't have been enough time for officers to stop the attack, said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director who has worked on SWAT teams.

Rather than rush in without a game plan, police would have been formulating the best response to the barricaded gunman, he said.

"Maybe that's enough time to get the first patrolman onto the floor but the first patrolman is not going to go knock on that customer's door and say 'What's going on with 200 holes in the door?'" Hosko said.


Floods caused by tropical depression kill 15 in Vietnam

Two soldiers walk a pig through flood water in northern province of Thanh Hoa, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 11. (Trinh Duy Hung/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

Hanoi (AP) — Floods triggered by a tropical depression in Vietnam have killed 15 people and left eight others missing, officials said Wednesday.

The storm hit central Vietnam on Tuesday, bringing heavy rain to the region and to parts of northern Vietnam.

Eight people, including two children, were killed in central Nghe An province, disaster official Nguyen Thi Kim Dung said.

Provincial officials said three people died and five others were missing in the northern province of Yen Bai. In Thanh Hoa province, north of Nghe An, two people were killed and three others were missing. Disaster officials said two people died in the northern province of Hoa Binh.

Vietnam is prone to storms and floods which kill hundreds of people each year.


Spain gives ultimatum to Catalonia: Back down or be punished

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during a press conference at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 11. (AP Photo/Paul White)

Ciaran Giles and Aritz Parra

Madrid (AP) — Spanish authorities gave Catalonia's separatist leader five days to explain whether his ambiguous statement on secession was a formal declaration of independence and warned Wednesday that his answer dictated whether they would apply never-used constitutional powers to curtail the region's autonomy.

Threatening to invoke a section of the Spanish Constitution to assert control over the country's rogue region, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's response to the central government's ultimatum would be crucial in deciding "events over the coming days."

Puigdemont announced on Tuesday that he was using the victory in a banned Oct. 1 referendum to proceed with a declaration of Catalan independence, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for dialogue and mediation with the government in Madrid.

His equivocal position seemed designed to appease the most fervent separatists, but also to build support —both in Catalonia and internationally — by provoking another tough response from Rajoy's Cabinet. Spanish police used force to try to stop the referendum vote, producing images that elicited sympathy for the separatists.

Speaking in the national parliament in Madrid on Wednesday, Rajoy said the referendum Catalonia's regional parliament and Puigdemont's government held in violation of a court order was illegal and part of a strategy "to impose independence that few want and is good for nobody."

The ensuing crisis, he said, was "one of the most difficult times in our recent history."

Rajoy, whose government has been under fire for the police violence, blamed the Catalan separatists for inciting recent street protests and said that "nobody can be proud of the image" Spain has projected to the rest of the world with the referendum.

Lawyers, civil society groups and politicians in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain have offered to mediate between the two sides, but the prime minister rejected the offers. He said he refused to engage in dialogue with a disobeying Catalan government.

"There is no possible mediation between democratic law and disobedience and unlawfulness," Rajoy said, throwing the ball back to the Barcelona-based Catalan authorities for the next move.

If Puigdemont replies before Monday that he indeed proclaimed independence with his Tuesday announcement, he would have three more days to rectify the situation, according to a formal demand submitted by the central government Wednesday. That would mean abandoning implementation of the declaration Catalan separatist lawmakers signed establishing a new Catalan republic, the government said.

A refusal to backtrack or providing no response will lead Madrid to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows central authorities to take some or total control of any of the country' 17 regions if they rebel or don't comply with their legal obligations.

The warning issued Wednesday was the first step required before Rajoy's Cabinet can invoke the article for approval from the Senate, where Rajoy's ruling Popular Party has an absolute majority.

The measure has never been invoked during the nearly four decades since the 1978 Constitution restored democracy in post-dictatorship Spain.

The central government "wants to offer certainty to citizens," Rajoy said, adding that it was "necessary to return tranquility and calm."

There was no immediate response by Catalan authorities.

Marta Rivas, a regional lawmaker with the Catalonia Si Que es Pot anti-establishment party, warned that applying Article 155 to curb the region's autonomy could backfire and produce more protests.

"If the Spanish state repeats its actions and enforces the clause, we will be in full confrontation with the state," Rivas said.

About 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region — voted in the independence referendum. Regional authorities say 90 percent were in favor of secession and declared the results valid. Opponents of the referendum being held had said they would boycott the vote.

Rajoy's government previously had refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it would only poll a portion of Spain's 46 million residents and was therefore unconstitutional.

A window to change the law that authorizes regional referendums only with the central government's approval opened Wednesday. Opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez announced that he was backing Rajoy's efforts to quell the Catalan separatists' defiance, but said the premier had agreed to open talks on amending the constitution in six months.

The deal between the Socialists and Rajoy's People's Party primarily is aimed at appeasing the Catalans by reforming the system that governs all the autonomous regions. Many regions — Catalonia most of all — regard the system as outdated.

In Catalonia, the decades-long desire for more self-governance has evolved into a growing push to break the region's century-old ties with Spain. The separatist camp swelled during the country's recent economic crisis and with Madrid's repeated rejection of the region's attempts to strengthen self-rule.

Sanchez said his party would nevertheless strive to change the current regional arrangements to "allow for Catalonia to remain a part of Spain."

On the streets of Barcelona, residents followed developments closely.

"They both keep on repeating the same things," resident Alicia Gallego said, referring to Rajoy and Puigdemont.

"The best would be if they could sit down and make some clarity and decide something, maybe a bit more autonomy. I don't know. I am not a politician," she said. "But it is clear that this must have a more reasonable solution."

Another Barcelona resident, Jose Alfaro, said he does not expect any decisive developments to happen any time soon.

"There is enough time to reopen dialogue. Now we are starting a new chapter," he said. "We have to wait and see. I don't think that in the short term something will happen."


2 Indian air force commandos, 2 rebels killed in Kashmir

Villagers carry the body of Kashmiri rebel Nasrullah Mir in Hajin town, 38 kilometers north of Srinagar in Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Oct. 11. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Srinagar, India (AP) — Two Indian air force commandos and two rebels were killed on Wednesday in a fierce gun battle in the disputed region of Kashmir, officials said.

Soldiers began an anti-militant operation by cordoning off northern Hajin town on a tip that rebels were hiding in the area, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman. He said the deaths occurred in the ensuing intense fighting.

It is the first time the Indian army has said that air force personnel were participating in ground combat against rebels in Kashmir.

Kalia said the two air force commandos "were operating with the army for operational experience and training."

In 1990, at least four air force officers were killed in an ambush by Kashmiri rebels, but they were not participating in any operation.

Street clashes erupted in Hajin shortly after the fighting ended as hundreds of residents demanded an end to Indian rule in Kashmir. Government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to quell the rock-throwing protesters.

Protesters later marched in the town carrying the body of one of the dead militants. They chanted anti-India and pro-rebel slogans while women sang dirges.

Meanwhile, police said they have detained two Kashmiri policemen for allegedly supplying ammunition to rebels.

Police Director-General S.P. Vaid said the two detained officers are being questioned after ammunition was recovered from them.

After the outbreak of an anti-India armed rebellion in Kashmir in 1989, police, including local officers, initially fought against it. However, within a few years, most Kashmiri police abandoned the task and stayed at their posts and barracks after rebels began targeting their families. Dozens even joined the rebel ranks, rising to become militant commanders, including one former police constable who was killed in a gunbattle last year.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.


UK finance chief: Worst-case Brexit could ground all flights

 

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond answers questions at the parliamentary Commons Treasury Select Committee in London on Wednesday Oct. 11. (PA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — A worst-case Brexit scenario could see all air traffic between the U.K. and the European Union grounded the day after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019, Britain's finance minister said Wednesday.

Philip Hammond said he considers that outcome highly unlikely, but he said there must be rapid progress on divorce negotiations to stop uncertainty acting as a dampener on the British economy.

Leaving the EU means untangling four decades of laws, regulations and agreements covering everything from food standards to aviation.

Hammond said it's conceivable "there will be no air traffic between the U.K. and the European Union on the 30th of March 2019, but I don't seriously think anybody believes that is where we will get to."

He said uncertainty about Brexit is weighing on the economy, and "we need to remove it as soon as possible by making progress" in talks with Brussels.

Hammond said there was a "need for speed" from the 27 other EU nations.

"We are being affected by uncertainty around the negotiating process we are engaged in at the moment," Hammond said. "There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that businesses and consumers are waiting to see what the outcome is, or at least what the direction of travel is, before firming up investment decisions and consumption decisions."

Hammond was answering questions from lawmakers, a day after the International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecast of U.K. economic growth to 1.7 percent this year and 1.5 percent in 2018. Britain was the only major economy not to have its forecast raised by the IMF.

A fifth round of negotiations is being held this week, with talks bogged down in details of the divorce settlement, including the amount of money Britain owes the bloc.

Hammond said the government is "planning for all scenarios including a no-deal scenario" in which divorce talks end without a deal on trade, security and other relations.

"At the moment, although of course we hope for a different outcome, we cannot be certain of that different outcome," he said.

But he said he was not committing large sums to set up infrastructure such as truck parks and English Channel ports, as some Brexit-backing lawmakers have demanded.

He said that "every pound we spend on contingent preparations for a hard customs border is a pound we can't spend on (health care), social care, education, or deficit reduction."


Russia scores temporary win against US on cybercrime suspect

In this Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 file photo, police officers escort Alexander Vinnik, center, as they leave a courthouse at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Thessaloniki, Greece (AP) — Russia on Wednesday won the latest round in a judicial tug-of-war with the U.S. over who should try a Russian cybercrime suspect arrested during a holiday in Greece.

Last week, a panel of judges in the city of Thessaloniki agreed to send Alexander Vinnik to the U.S. to face charges he laundered $4 billion worth of bitcoins through BTC-e, one of the world's largest digital currency exchanges, which he allegedly operated.

On Wednesday, a different panel of judges accepted a Russian extradition request, which followed the initial U.S. one. In Russia, Vinnik is accused of a 667,000-ruble ($11,500) fraud.

The final decision will rest with Greece's justice minister once Vinnik, 37, has exhausted the process of appealing his extradition to the U.S.

"When both requests from two different countries are accepted (in court), like in this case, it's up to the Justice Minister to decide which request to comply with," said Xanthippe Moissidou, one of Vinnik's lawyers.

Vinnik denies both sets of charges, but said he wants to be tried in Russia. He has appealed his U.S. extradition, and Greece's Supreme Court is expected to rule on that appeal in coming weeks.

"If the Supreme Court rejects the U.S. request, as our client wants, the minister is obliged to follow (its) decision," Moissidou said.

The U.S. Justice Department says that Vinnik has been indicted by a grand jury in the Northern District of California, on charges including money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

The charges, if proved in court, carry maximum sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Following a U.S. request, Vinnik was arrested in July while on holiday with his family in the Halkidiki area of northern Greece, which is popular with Russian tourists.


Today in History, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Thursday, Oct. 12, the 285th day of 2017. There are 80 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 12, 1492 (according to the Old Style calendar), Christopher Columbus' expedition arrived in the present-day Bahamas.

On this date:

In 1792, the first recorded U.S. celebration of Columbus Day was held to mark the tricentennial of Christopher Columbus' landing.

In 1810, the German festival Oktoberfest was first held in Munich to celebrate the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

In 1823, Charles Macintosh of Scotland sells the first raincoat.

In 1915, English nurse Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium during World War I.

In 1917, the First Battle of Passchendaele takes place resulting in the largest single day loss of life in New Zealand history.

In 1933, bank robber John Dillinger escaped from a jail in Allen County, Ohio, with the help of his gang, who killed the sheriff, Jess Sarber.

In 1957, the Dr. Seuss Yuletide tale "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" was first published by Random House.

In 1960, Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev pounds his shoe on a desk at United Nations General Assembly meeting to protest a Philippine assertion of Soviet Union colonial policy being conducted in Eastern Europe.

In 1964, the Soviet Union launched a Voskhod space capsule with a three-man crew on the first mission involving more than one crew member (the flight lasted just over 24 hours).

In 1973, President Richard Nixon nominated House minority leader Gerald R. Ford of Michigan to succeed Spiro T. Agnew as vice president.

In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher escaped an attempt on her life when an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded at a hotel in Brighton, England, killing five people.

In 1997, singer John Denver was killed in the crash of his privately built aircraft in Monterey Bay, California; he was 53.

In 2000, 17 sailors were killed in a suicide bomb attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen.

In 2002, bombs blamed on al-Qaida-linked militants destroyed a nightclub on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians and seven Americans. 

Today's Birthdays:

Actress Antonia Rey is 90. Singer Sam Moore (formerly of Sam and Dave) is 82. Carlos the Jackal, Venezuelan terrorist and murderer is 68. Susan Anton, American actress and model is 67. Actor Hugh Jackman is 49. Olympic gold medal skier Bode Miller is 40. Rock singer Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory) is 38.

Thought for Today:

"Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honoured by posterity because he was the last to discover America." — James Joyce, Irish author and poet (1882-1941).


Update October 11, 2017

Catalan leader stakes claim to independence, then delays it

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signs an independence declaration document after a parliamentary session in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Aritz Parra and Joseph Wilson

Barcelona, Spain (AP) — Catalan separatists on Tuesday signed what they called a declaration of independence from Spain to cheers and applause in the regional parliament. Catalonia's president said he would delay implementing it for several weeks to give dialogue a chance.

Spain, however, called an emergency Cabinet meeting for Wednesday morning and gave little indication it is willing to talk.

In his highly anticipated speech, regional President Carles Puigdemont said the landslide victory in a disputed Oct. 1 referendum gave his government the grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain.

But he proposed that the regional parliament "suspend the effects of the independence declaration to commence a dialogue, not only for reducing tension but for reaching an accord on a solution to go forward with the demands of the Catalan people."

"We have to listen to the voices that have asked us to give a chance for dialogue with the Spanish state," Puigdemont said.

The central government in Madrid responded that it did not accept the declaration of independence by the separatists and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said an emergency Cabinet meeting had been called for Wednesday.

The Catalan leader "doesn't know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go," she said.

Saenz de Santamaria said the government couldn't accept the Catalan government's validation of its referendum law because it is suspended by the Constitutional Court, or the results of the Oct. 1 vote because it was illegal and void of guarantees.

She said Puigdemont had put Catalonia "in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet."

One of the government's options at the Wednesday meeting could be to set about applying Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions that don't comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.

Puigdemont also could be called in for questioning in court and possibly arrested.

Following his speech, the Catalan leader was the first to sign the document titled "Declaration of the Representatives of Catalonia." Dozens of other separatist lawmakers signed it after him.

The signatories said the document was a full declaration of independence.

Joan Barcelo, a researcher on political conflicts at Washington University in St. Louis, said the mixed messages sent by Puigdemont's speech did little in his effort to rally international support.

"It's a mess and a mistake in political communication strategy," Barcelo said. "He was trying not to burn bridges to dialogue, but he's going to create doubts among his supporters."

In his remarks, Puigdemont was highly critical of the Spanish government's response to the referendum and the violent police reaction that left hundreds injured on voting day, but said Catalans have nothing against Spain or Spaniards, and that they want to understand each other better.

"We are not criminals, we are not crazy, we are not pulling off a coup, we are not out of our minds. We are normal people who want to vote," he said.

Opposition leader Ines Arrimadas of the Ciutadans (Citizens) party slammed the speech.

"This is a coup. Nobody has recognized the result of the referendum. Nobody in Europe supports what you have just done," she said.

"The majority of Catalans feels they are Catalans, Spanish and European. ... We won't let you break our hearts into bits," Arrimadas said.

Socialist leader Miquel Iceta also was highly critical.

"You are proposing to suspend a declaration that hasn't been made, that's pretty tough," he said with irony, adding that "you can't claim a mandate from the Oct. 1 vote ... a vote that had no guarantees."

Puigdemont's speech marked a critical point in a decade-long standoff between Catalan separatists and Spain's central authorities. Security was tight in Barcelona and police cordoned off a park surrounding the legislative building.

In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk pleaded directly with the Catalan leadership ahead of the speech to choose dialogue rather than a divisive call for independence.

"I ask you to respect in your intentions the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible," he said.

Some 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region — voted in the referendum. Regional authorities say 90 percent were in favor and declared the results valid. Those who opposed the referendum had said they would boycott the vote.

Rajoy's government had repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, since it would only poll a portion of Spain's 46 million residents.

Catalonia's separatists camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain's recent economic crisis and by Madrid's rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.

The political deadlock has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

Thousands rallied in Barcelona's streets and watched Puigdemont's speech. For some, his move to not declare outright secession was disappointing.

"I feel a little sad because now is not independence," said 55-year-old Maria Gill. "We must wait a few weeks, a few weeks we must talk with the government of Spain."

Others took a more stoic approach.

"Perhaps it isn't the decisive declaration, declaring the republic and breaking away (from Spain) from today before any negotiation," said Oscar Baldes. "But it's a first step and that's important."

Any declaration of independence won't immediately lead to the creation of a new state because the Catalan government will need to figure out how to wrest control of its sovereignty from a Spanish government that has the law, and international support, on its side, said Barcelo, the researcher on political conflicts.

He said any declaration must be viewed through the lens of "the Catalan government's long-term strategy of provoking an extraordinary and even clumsy reaction from central authorities" to build support.

Hundreds of thousands have turned out for protests in Barcelona and other towns in the past month to back independence and protest against police violence during the vote. Those committed to national unity have also staged separate, large-scale rallies.

Polls indicate that Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are evenly divided over secession, although a majority support holding a referendum on independence authorized by central authorities.

The tension has already affected the economy, with dozens of companies relocating their corporate addresses to remain under Spanish and European laws if Catalonia secedes. The moves of the firms' bases have not so far affected jobs or investments, but they don't send a message of confidence in the Puigdemont government.


S. Korean lawmaker says North Korea hacked war plans

In this Sept. 18, 2017, file photo, a U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber drops a bomb as it flies over the Korean Peninsula during joint military drills with South Korea. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

Foster Klug

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean lawmaker says North Korean hackers stole highly classified military documents that include U.S.-South Korean wartime "decapitation strike" plans against the North Korean leadership.

The United States, meanwhile, staged another show of force meant to deter any North Korean aggression by flying two B-1B supersonic bombers Tuesday night from an air base in the U.S. territory of Guam to the South for drills with South Korean jets. Such flights by the powerful aircraft based in Guam incense the North, which claims they are preparation for war; Pyongyang has threatened to send missiles into the waters around Guam.

If confirmed, the reported hacking attack by the North would be a major blow for South Korea at a time when its relations with rival North Korea are at a low point. The South has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward the North's belligerence amid back-and-forth threats of war between North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump. North Korea's possession of secret war plans would require a major overhaul of how South Korea and its ally Washington would respond if there's another war on the Korean Peninsula.

An unusually aggressive approach to the North by Trump, which has included rhetoric hinting at U.S. strikes and threatening the destruction of North Korea's leadership, has some South Koreans fearful that war is closer than at any time since the Korean War ended in 1953 in a shaky ceasefire, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.

Rep. Lee Cheol-hee, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Party who sits on the National Defense Committee, said defense sources told him that North Korean hackers last year stole the classified U.S.-South Korean war plans, including parts of Operational Plan 5015, which includes procedures for a decapitation strike on the North's leadership if a crisis breaks out or appears imminent.

The Defense Ministry after an investigation said in May that North Korea was likely behind the hacking of the Defense Integrated Data Center in September last year, but had refused to confirm media speculation that the decapitation strike plan was compromised. Defense officials refused to comment Wednesday.

Lee, who didn't specify his sources, said the plans allegedly stolen by the North include operations for tracking the movement of the North's leadership, isolating their hideouts, executing air assaults and follow-up actions for securing and eliminating targets, which would obviously include North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"There is an urgent need for the military to change and update parts that were stolen by North Korea," Lee said.

A pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang's leadership would be difficult to undertake, but it's widely seen as the most realistic of the limited military options Seoul has to deny a nuclear attack from its rival.

Outside governments and international human rights organizations say Kim rules as a tyrant over a largely malnourished and abused population while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle backed up by a weapons program nearly advanced enough to viably target the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles. But Kim, the third generation of his family to rule, is officially revered in the North, and any suggestion of removing him from power is taken extremely seriously in Pyongyang.

Lee said that 235 gigabytes of military documents were taken, but the military has yet to identify 80 percent of the documents that were compromised. Other stolen data included contingency plans for South Korean special forces and information on military facilities and power plants, he said.

Seoul says North Korea has repeatedly staged cyberattacks on South Korean business and government websites. North Korea routinely denies responsibility.

Not long after the news of the alleged cyberattacks broke, two B-1B bombers few from Guam to conduct drills with two South Korean fighter jets Tuesday night, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.

The U.S. bombers staged simulated air-to-ground missile striking drills off the peninsula's east coast before flying across the country accompanied by the two South Korean jets. The aircraft then conducted similar simulated air to ground striking drills off the peninsula's west coast, the official said.

North Korea has yet to comment on either the bombing drills or the hacking claims.
 


Video in Malaysian court shows practice before Kim attack

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is escorted by police as she leaves after the court hearing at Shah Alam court house in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Eileen Ng,

Shah Alam, Malaysia (AP) — The Vietnamese suspect in the assassination of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader was seen on airport security video presented in court Wednesday smearing something on a person's face two days before Kim Jong Nam was killed in that manner.

The footage showed Doan Thi Huong running toward a person from behind and wiping his face, then clasping her hands and slightly bowing before moving away.

Describing other security videos the day of the murder, police officer Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz testified Huong was more "aggressive" when she approached Kim Jong Nam compared to the practice incident.

Wan Azirul, the chief police investigator, said Huong arrived at the Kuala Lumpur airport two hours before the attack and bought a taxi voucher.

The attack on Kim took place about 9 a.m. on Feb. 13 in the airport's departure hall. After smearing Kim's face, Huong hurried away from Kim and "her hand gestures showed she was uncomfortable," wan Azirul said. She walked swiftly to a restroom one floor below, keeping her hands partially raised and her palms away from her body as if to avoid contact.

Prosecutors said previously they would present evidence the two murder suspects knew they were handling poison when they killed Kim. Their defense lawyers have said the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a TV show.

"She seemed to be anxious. From my observation, Doan has been informed and knew what needed to be done. Even though she seemed to be in panic, she knew what to do," wan Azirul told the court.

Huong was in the restroom for just over a minute, and the police investigator testified she was more relaxed and her hands were in normal position after she left the restroom. She then headed to the taxi queue and was joined by the second suspect, Siti Aisyah from Indonesia, shortly afterward.

Other witnesses have testified that VX nerve agent was detected on Kim's face and on the suspects' clothing and on Huong's fingernails clippings. Witnesses also testified that washing hands could remove the oily substance.

Huong and Aisyah have pleaded not guilty to murder charges that carry a mandatory death sentence if they are convicted.


Smoke, ash from wildfires blanket California cities

 

A cruise ship passes beneath the Golden Gate Bridge as smoke from wildfires blankets the San Francisco skyline Tuesday, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Olga R. Rodriguez and Amy Taxin

San Francisco (AP) — Millions of Californians on Tuesday saw their lawns covered in ash and air filled with smoke as firefighters battled ferocious wildfires in the northern and southern parts of the state.

The fast-moving blazes produced thick, gray clouds that hovered over densely-populated areas in Northern and Southern California, forcing many schools to keep students inside and air quality agencies to issue smoke advisories calling on residents to limit outdoor activity.

At Disneyland, visitors snapped photos of hazy, orange skies late Monday that gave an ominous glow to a theme park already decked out for Halloween. Ash fell like snow over seaside Southern California communities more than a dozen miles from the hillside neighborhoods where the fire raged.

"My eyes tear and it's uncomfortable for me to breathe," said Yolanda Ramos, 66, who had driven to Santa Ana from her Los Angeles County home to visit her 91-year-old father. "I wanted to take my father out in the wheelchair, and they said no."

At least 15 people have been killed and as many as 2,000 homes and businesses destroyed in an onslaught of fires stretching across Northern California.

The West this year has been hit hard by dozens of fires that have blanketed the air with choking smoke, prompting officials to issue air quality advisory alerts throughout the region.

The fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of world-renowned wineries, sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) away. Air quality concerns prompted schools throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to cancel outdoor football, soccer and other sports practices.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a warning saying the wildfires north of San Francisco are causing very unhealthy air quality throughout the region, and advised residents to stay inside if possible and keep windows and doors closed.

San Francisco officials put air filters in four public libraries for those seeking relief from the smoke.

Some workers in San Francisco's financial district wore masks as they went to the street from their offices.

To the south, the wind-driven brush fire that burned 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) in northeastern Orange County led officials to close more than a dozen schools. Schools as far away as Long Beach limited outdoor activity as a precaution or have kept children inside for physical education and recess.

"We're trying to keep them indoors," said Annie Brown, a spokeswoman for Irvine Unified School District. "It's kind of like a rainy day."

In the 24 hours since the fire began, Orange County health officials recorded a 7.5 percent uptick in emergency respiratory transports to emergency rooms compared with the daily average for such cases last week. Most of these cases were related to asthma.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an advisory in effect through Wednesday morning that warns the air quality may be unhealthy in large stretches of Orange and Riverside counties..


US Navy relieves of duties top officers of wrecked warship

 

This Aug. 22, 2017 file photo shows the damaged port aft hull of the USS John S. McCain while docked at Singapore's Changi naval base. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Elaine Kurtenbach

Tokyo (AP) — The commander and executive officer of the USS John S. McCain were relieved of their duties Wednesday due to lost confidence after the warship and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August.

The cause of the Aug. 21 collision is still under investigation but the U.S. Navy described it as preventable. The Navy statement said Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and the ship's executive officer, Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, were reassigned.

The crash killed 10 U.S. sailors and injured five more. It was one of several accidents in the region that raised concern over the safety and operational effectiveness of U.S. naval vessels.

Some Navy officials have cited strains from frequent extended deployments, delayed maintenance and nearly a decade of budget constraints and reductions in resources devoted to training as factors.

But the Navy statement said it also was "evident the collision was preventable, the commanding officer exercised poor judgment and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship's training program."

The Navy fired the then-commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, shortly after the McCain's crash.

It followed the collision of the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship in waters off Japan in June, which killed seven sailors. In January, the USS Antietam ran aground near Yokosuka base in Japan, and in May the USS Lake Champlain had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat.

McCain Cmdr. A. Sanchez, was reassigned to the headquarters of Naval Forces Japan and Cmdr. J. Sanchez was reassigned to the Ship Repair Facility at Yokosuka, home port of the 7th Fleet, the Navy said.

It said Cmdr. Ed Angelinas, former commanding officer of the USS McCampbell, was named acting commanding officer of the McCain. Lt. Cmdr. Ray Ball, chief engineer of USS Antietam, is acting executive officer.


Today in History, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2017

The Associated Press

Today is Wednesday, Oct. 11, the 284th day of 2017. There are 81 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Oct. 11, 1942, the World War II Battle of Cape Esperance began in the Solomon Islands, resulting in an American victory over the Japanese.

On this date:

In 1634, the Burchardi flood (the second Grote Mandrenke) killed around 15,000 men in North Friesland, Denmark and Germany.

In 1649, after a ten-day siege, English New Model Army troops (under Oliver Cromwell) stormed the town of Wexford, killing over 2,000 Irish Confederate troops and 1,500 civilians.

In 1779, Polish nobleman Casimir Pulaski, fighting for American independence, died two days after being wounded during the Revolutionary War Battle of Savannah, Georgia.

In 1899, the Second Boer War begins: In South Africa, a war between the United Kingdom and the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State erupts.

In 1954 in the First Indochina War, the Viet Minh take control of North Vietnam.

In 1958, the lunar probe Pioneer 1 was launched; it failed to go as far out as planned, fell back to Earth, and burned up in the atmosphere.

In 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, was launched with astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Fulton Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham aboard. The government of Panama was overthrown in a military coup.

In 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavķk, Iceland, in an effort to continue discussions about scaling back their intermediate missile arsenals in Europe.

In 2002, former President Jimmy Carter was named the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today's Birthdays:

Former England footballer Bobby Charlton is 80. Actor Amitabh Bachchan is 75. Singer Daryl Hall (Hall and Oates) is 71. Actress-writer-comedian Dawn French is 60. NFL Football Hall of Famer Steve Young is 56. Actor Luke Perry is 51. Rapper MC Lyte is 46. Golfer Michelle Wie is 28.

Thought for Today:

"Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life." — Eleanor Roosevelt, American first lady (born this date in 1884, died 1962).
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Amnesty says Myanmar army killed 100s of Rohingya

US-backed forces celebrate fall of IS 'capital' of Raqqa

Ophelia batters UK after pummeling Ireland, leaves 3 dead

Taliban launch wave of attacks in Afghanistan, kill 74

Catalans protest sedition case, court declares vote illegal

Xi says China's prospects are bright but challenges severe

Today in History, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017


North Korea says 'a nuclear war may break out any moment'

Portugal wildfires kill at least 35; 4 dead in Spain

Court jails 2 Catalan independence leaders in sedition probe

Bomb kills reporter who covered Malta's 'Panama Papers' link

UK, EU leaders agree on need for speed in Brexit talks

Egypt says Ramses II temple unearthed southwest of Cairo

Today in History, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017


276 killed in deadliest single attack in Somalia's history

Ophelia to bring hurricane-force wind, heavy rain to Ireland

Wild elephants attack Rohingya camp, killing 4 in Bangladesh

Austrian poised to become Europe's 1st millennial leader

Opposition vies for landmark victory in polarized Venezuela

Philippine, Australian forces stage sea drill as ties deepen

Today in History, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017


Floods and landslides kill 54, leave 39 missing in Vietnam

Freighter sinks off Philippine coast; 10 crew missing

Teams report first progress against California wildfires

Russia launches European atmosphere monitoring satellite

Weah maintains lead in Liberia election's early results

Today in History, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017


Myanmar's Suu Kyi urges unity, creates new aid committee

Rivals Hamas, Fatah reach preliminary deal on governing Gaza

EU laments Brexit progress amid divorce bill deadlock

US to pull out of UNESCO amid Palestinian tensions

Volcanic eruption in Japan spreads ash in 4 cities, towns

Today in History, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017


Pressure mounts for Vegas police to explain response time

Floods caused by tropical depression kill 15 in Vietnam

Spain gives ultimatum to Catalonia: Back down or be punished

2 Indian air force commandos, 2 rebels killed in Kashmir

UK finance chief: Worst-case Brexit could ground all flights

Russia scores temporary win against US on cybercrime suspect

Today in History, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017


Catalan leader stakes claim to independence, then delays it

S. Korean lawmaker says North Korea hacked war plans

Video in Malaysian court shows practice before Kim attack

Smoke, ash from wildfires blanket California cities

US Navy relieves of duties top officers of wrecked warship

Today in History, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2017

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