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►  Attacks in Spain are linked, took long time to plan

The back-to-back vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a nearby resort had been planned for a long time by an Islamic terrorist cell — and could have been far deadlier had its base not been destroyed by an apparently accidental explosion this week, Spanish officials said Friday.

Police intensified their manhunt for an unknown number of suspects still on the loose Friday. They shot and killed five people early Friday who were wearing fake bomb belts as they attacked the seaside resort of Cambrils with a speeding car. Police also arrested four others believed linked to the Cambrils attack and the carnage Thursday on a famous Barcelona promenade.

The number of victims stood at 13 dead and 120 wounded in Barcelona, and one dead and five wounded in Cambrils. Sixty-one people wounded by the van in Barcelona remained hospitalized on Friday, with 17 of them in critical condition.

Authorities said the two attacks were related and the work of a large terrorist cell that had been plotting attacks for a long time from a house in Alcanar, 200 kilometers (124 miles) down the coast from Barcelona. The house was destroyed by an explosion of butane gas on Wednesday night that killed one person.

Senior police official Josep Lluis Trapero said police were working on the theory that the suspects were preparing a different type of attack, using explosives or gas, and that the apparently accidental explosion prevented them from carrying out a far more deadly rampage.

The Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility for Europe’s latest bout of extremist violence, in which a van roared down Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas promenade on Thursday. Hours later, a blue Audi plowed into people in the popular seaside town of Cambrils.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared Friday that the fight against terrorism was a global battle and Europe’s main problem.

Police said they arrested two more people Friday, after an initial two were arrested Thursday — three Moroccans and one Spaniard, none with terrorism-related records. Three of them were nabbed in the northern town of Ripoll. Another arrest was made in Alcanar.

“We are not talking about a group of one or two people, but rather a numerous group,” regional Interior Ministry chief Joaquim Forn told Onda Cero radio.

Amid heavy security, Barcelona tried to move forward Friday, with its iconic Las Ramblas promenade quietly reopening to the public and King Felipe VI and Rajoy joining thousands of residents and visitors in observing a minute of silence in the city’s main square.

“We are not afraid! We are not afraid!” the crowd chanted in Catalan and Spanish.

But the dual attacks unnerved a country that hasn’t seen an Islamic extremist attack since 2004, when al-Qaida-inspired bombers killed 192 people in coordinated assaults on Madrid’s commuter trains. Unlike France, Britain, Sweden and Germany, Spain has largely been spared, thanks in part to a crackdown that has netted some 200 suspected jihadis in recent years.

Authorities were still reeling from the Barcelona van attack when police in the popular seaside town of Cambrils, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the south, fatally shot five people near the town’s boardwalk who had plowed into tourists and locals with their car. Forn said the five were wearing fake bomb belts.

One woman in Cambrils died Friday from her injuries, Catalan police said. Five others were injured.

Cambrils Mayor Cami Mendoza said the town had taken precautions after the Barcelona attack, but the suspects focused their attack on the narrow path to the boardwalk, which is usually packed.

“We were on a terrace,” said bystander Jose Antonio Saez. “We heard the crash and intense gun shots, then the dead bodies on the floor, shot by the police.”

Others described scenes of panic, and found safety inside bars and restaurants until police had secured the area.

Resident Markel Artabe was heading out to get an ice cream when he heard the shots.

“We began to run. We saw one person lying on the pavement with a shot in his head, then 20 to 30 meters farther on we saw two more people, who must have been terrorists as they had explosive belts around them,” he said. “We were worried so we hid.”

Regional police say the Cambrils suspects, armed with knives and an ax, wounded one person in the face with a knife before they were killed by police.

The Cambrils attack came hours after a white van mowed down pedestrians on Barcelona’s picturesque Las Ramblas promenade, leaving victims sprawled across the street, spattered with blood and writhing in pain from broken limbs. Others were ushered inside shops by officers with guns drawn or fled in panic, carrying young children in their arms.

“It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible,” Trapero said.

The Islamic State group said on its Aamaq news agency that the Barcelona attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State” in response to its calls for followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive the extremist group from Syria and Iraq.

Islamic extremists have systematically targeted Europe’s major tourist attractions in recent years. Rented or hijacked vehicles have formed the backbone of a strategy to target the West and its cultural symbols. Barcelona’s Las Ramblas is one of the most popular attractions in a city that swarms with foreign tourists in August.

The dead and wounded in the two attacks hailed from 34 countries. Two Italians, an American and a Belgian woman were among the dead, officials said.

Spanish public broadcaster RTVE and other news outlets named one of those detained in the Barcelona attack as Driss Oukabir, a French citizen of Moroccan origin. RTVE reported that Oukabir went to police in Ripoll to report that his identity documents had been stolen. Spanish media said documents with his name were found in the attack van and that he claimed his brother might have stolen them.

Citing police sources, Spain’s RTVE as well as El Pais and TV3 identified the brother, 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, as the suspected driver of the van. Forn declined to respond to questions about him Friday.

“We don’t know if the driver is still in Barcelona or not, or what direction he fled in,” Forn told SER Radio.

Forn said the police were trying to identify the five dead attackers in Cambrils as well as the driver of the Barcelona van.

“There could be more people in Ripoll connected to the group,” he said, adding that the two attacks “follow the same trail. There is a connection.”

Rajoy called the killings a “savage terrorist attack” and said Spaniards “are not just united in mourning, but especially in the firm determination to beat those who want to rob us of our values and our way of life.”

By Friday morning, Las Ramblas promenade had reopened to the public, albeit under heavy surveillance and an unusual quiet.

“It’s sad,” New York tourist John Lanza said, as the family stood outside the gated La Boqueria market. “You can tell it’s obviously quieter than it usually is, but I think people are trying to get on with their lives.”

At noon Friday, a minute of silence honoring the victims was observed at the Placa Catalunya, near the top of Las Ramblas where the van attack started. The presence of Spain’s king and prime minister alongside Catalonia’s regional authorities marked a rare moment when the question of Catalonian independence — the subject of a proposed October 1 referendum — didn’t divide its people.

Rajoy declared three days of national mourning.

Since the Madrid train bombings, the only deadly attacks in Spain had been bombings claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA that killed five people over the past decade. It declared a cease-fire in 2011.

“Unfortunately, Spaniards know the absurd and irrational pain that terrorism causes. We have received blows like this in recent years, but we also know that terrorists can be beaten,” Rajoy said.


►  Barcelona, Real Madrid honor attack victims

The Latest on the Spain attacks (all times local):

4:40 p.m.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have held a minute of silence for the victims of the attacks in Spain before their training sessions.

Real Madrid players huddled Friday before beginning their activities at the team’s training center in Madrid, while Barcelona’s squad lined up in silence before its practice session at the team’s headquarters.

Barcelona team President Josep Bartomeu joined thousands at a minute of silence near where the driver of a van started an attack Thursday that killed at least 13 people and injured more than 100 others in Barcelona.

There will be a minute of silence held before every Spanish league game this weekend, beginning with Friday’s opening matches: Leganes vs. Alaves and Valencia vs. Las Palmas.

Other soccer leagues across Europe have also planned acts to honor the victims of the attacks. The French league will hold a minute of silence before games.

___

4:30 p.m.

Two memorials to the victims have grown on Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas promenade — one at the top near where the van jumped the curb, the other on the Joan Miro mosaic embedded in the pavement where it stopped.

An ever-expanding jumble of flags, candles, teddy bears and flowers were placed at the base of the ornate Canaletes Fountain. “We are not afraid! We are not afraid!” onlookers chanted in Spanish.

Jesus Borrull, a lifelong resident, gently pushed through the crowd to kneel and pray in front of the fountain. Legend has it that visitors who drink from the fountain will fall in love with Barcelona and return to the city.

Borrull says “the only thing we can do is go forward with peace and goodness ... even though it’s difficult, we have to do it.”

At the other memorial, bystanders held signs declaring they are not afraid. A guitar player strummed out “Imagine” by John Lennon while several people sang along.

___

4:20 p.m.

The State Department says at least one American was killed and one was injured in the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain.

The department said Friday that diplomats from the U.S. consulate in Barcelona are continuing to work with local authorities to identify victims and provide assistance to Americans.

The department did not identify either of the Americans, but said the injured person suffered only a minor wound.

___

4:15 p.m.

Spanish authorities are still investigating whether a car that rammed a police checkpoint in the confused hours after the Barcelona van attack on Thursday was linked to the bloodshed in the city.

Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said the driver of a Ford Focus rammed the control post and wounded a sergeant. Another officer shot at the car, which stopped, he said. Police found a dead body inside and first thought they had shot and killed the person, but forensic reports showed it was a knife wound.

Trapero said a second person may have been in the car. He said it was unclear how or whether it was linked to the other attacks in Spain on Thursday and Friday.

___

4 p.m.

Italy’s premier has released the names of two Italians slain in the Barcelona van attack.

Premier Gentiloni tweeted Friday that “Italy remembers Bruno Gulotta and Luca Russo and gathers tight around their families. Freedom will conquer the barbarianism of terrorism.”

Gulotta, 35, was hailed in his hometown of Legnano as a hero for putting himself between the van and his 6-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter as he strolled with his wife Thursday in the Spanish city.

Italian media reported that Russo, 25, held a university degree in engineering and lived in northern Italy. An Italian officials said Russo’s girlfriend suffered fractures and remains hospitalized.

Verrecchia said two other Italians were injured but have since been released from the hospital.

___

3:50 p.m.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has offered her sympathies to the King of Spain and to the nation following attacks in in Barcelona and the seaside community of Cambrils.

The British monarch says it is “deeply upsetting when innocent people are put at risk in this way when going about their daily lives.”

The queen said Friday that she and Prince Philip offer sincere condolences and that their thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones or are in the hospital.

Fourteen people died and over 100 were injured in attacks Thursday and early Friday.

___

3:45 p.m.

Police in Spain say that attacks in Barcelona, Cambrils had been prepared some time ago.

Senior police official Josep Lluis Trapero said Friday police believe the two attacks were connected with an explosion in a house in the town of Alcanar on Wednesday in which one person was killed. Police believe one of the person injured in that blast and now arrested had links to the two attacks.

Trapero said Cambrils terrorists carried an ax and knives in the car and body belts with false explosives.

Four people have been arrested in all. Thirteen people were killed in the attack in Barcelona on Thursday and one in the resort town Cambrils early Friday.

___

3:30 p.m.

Turkey’s president has condemned the van attack in Barcelona, Spain, in which 13 people were killed.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he “strongly condemned” the attack.

State-run Anadolu news agency reports that Erdogan sent a note offering condolences to King Felipe VI earlier in the day.

Turkish media reports that 33-year-old Turkish businessman Emre Eroglu was injured in the attack. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has instructed Turkish consular officials to accompany him at the hospital and says he is in good condition and has received surgery on a broken foot.

___

3:25 p.m.

Pope Francis says the extremist attack in Barcelona gravely offends God.

Francis sent a condolence telegram Friday to Barcelona’s cardinal, expressing “sorrow and pain” over “such an inhumane action.”

In his message, the pope “once again condemns blind violence, which is a very grave offense to the Creator.”

He offered his blessing for all the victims, their families and “all the beloved Spanish people.”

Francis also expressed “sadness and pain” over the news of the “cruel terrorist attack that has sown death and sorrow on the Rambla of Barcelona.”

___

3:20 p.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says the government is doing all it can to help amid reports of a child missing after the terror attack in Barcelona.

May told Sky News Britain is “urgently looking into reports of a child believed missing, who is a British dual national.” She did not name him.

A post on social media from the 7-year-old boy’s grandfather says Julian Alessandro Cadman became separated from his mother when a driver slammed into a crowd of pedestrians in a major promenade area.

Tony Cadman posted a photograph of Julian on Facebook.

He says the family found his daughter-in-law in a serious but stable condition in a hospital.

___

3:10 p.m.

A police official says that authorities haven’t idenitifed the driver of the van that killed at least 13 people in Barcelona.

Catalan regional police official Josep Lluis Trapero says that the attacks suspects in custody are three Moroccans and a Spaniard. He says that none of them had a record of terror activity although one was known to police for petty crimes. Hours after the Barcelona attack, a car struck pedestrians in the seaside town of Cambrils, killing a woman and injuring others.

Police fatally shot five of the Cambrils attackers. Trapero says that the Cambrils and Barcelona attacks are linked as is an abandoned van and a house south of Barcelona destroyed in an explosion in which a man was killed on Wednesday night.

___

2:55 p.m.

A senior police official in Spain says that a single police officer killed four of the suspects who carried out the attack in the Catalan seaside town of Cambrils.

Catalan regional police official Josep Lluis Trapero says that it was “not easy” for the officer involved despite being a professional. A total of five suspects were killed after the Cambrils attack in which a car plowed into a crowd, killing a woman.

Hours earlier, a van struck a crowd of pedestrians, killing at least 13 people in Barcelona and injured more than 100 people.

___

2:35 p.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says the fight against terrorism is a “global battle” and Europe’s main problem after two attacks in Catalonia that killed 14 people.

Rajoy also thanked the emergency services for their work and messages of support from around the world after the van attack in Barcelona killed 13 people, and subsequent violence in the seaside resort of Cambrils that killed one woman.

Rajoy was speaking at a joint news conference in Barcelona with Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont.

___

1:50 p.m.

Catalan police say they have arrested a fourth person in connection with the attacks in Barcelona and the resort of Cambrils that have killed at least 14 people.

Police made the announcement on Twitter without providing further details.

Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona killed at least 13 people, and one woman was killed early Friday in Cambrils when a car plowed into pedestrians there. Police fatally shot five suspects in Cambrils. It wasn’t immediately clear if the Barcelona van driver is among the arrested or dead suspects.

___

1:40 p.m.

Britain’s Foreign Office says a “small number” of U.K. citizens were injured in the terror attacks in Spain.

It says it is assisting Britons affected by the violence and is trying to find out if anyone else needs help. Officials say they have “deployed additional staff to Barcelona and have offered support to the Spanish authorities.”

The statement came Friday after violence in the town of Cambrils, eight hours after an attack in Barcelona.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Thursday he was “concerned and saddened” after a driver barreled down a main promenade in Barcelona, plowing his van into pedestrians. Fourteen people died and dozens were injured.

Johnson tweeted: “my thoughts are with the Spanish people & those affected by #Barcelona attack. Together we will defeat terrorism.”

___

1:35 p.m.

A British man has described his shock after watching police shoot those suspected of an attack in the Spanish resort town of Cambrils, hours after a similar attack 130 kilometers (80 miles) away in Barcelona.

Fitzroy Davies was visiting Cambrils for a judo camp when attackers apparently struck pedestrians with a car.

Davies tells Sky News says he saw one man get to his feet despite being shot multiple times.

“He then fell down and, within two seconds, he stood back up. He then stepped over the fence, charged the police again, the police fired some more shots and then he fell down again.”

He says “I was watching a film, one of them horror films.”

___

1:30 p.m.

Poland’s interior minister says “Europe should wake up” after the Barcelona attack and realize it’s dealing with a “clash of civilizations” that proves his government’s point that accepting migrants is a tragedy for Europe.

Mariusz Blaszczak says Friday his country is safe because “we do not have Muslim communities which are enclaves, which are a natural support base for Islamic terrorists.”

The ruling Law and Justice party has taken a strong anti-migrant stance, refusing to accept any refugees in a European Union resettlement plan, creating tensions with Brussels.

Blaszczak insisted late Thursday on state TVP that Warsaw will not succumb to EU pressure because it is putting Poland’s security needs first.

He said: “The refugee resettlement system is a system that is encouraging millions of people to come to Europe.”

___

1:15 p.m.

When a few people raised Spanish and Catalan flags before the minute of silence for the Barcelona attack victims, the crowd quickly rebuked them for trying to politicize the solemn event.

The crowd urged them to lower the flags, chanting “Fuera la bandera,” or “Get rid of the flags.”

It was a rare moment when the question of whether the Catalonia region should become independent from Spain didn’t divide people. Polls show the region is split ahead of a planned referendum, which Spain’s central government considers would be illegal to hold, on October 1.

Anna Esquerdo, a lifelong Barcelona resident who works in a uniform apparel store, said “we’re here for the victims and to protest what happened. This is not about anyone’s politics.”

___

12:40 p.m.

Catalan authorities say a woman injured in an attack in a popular seaside town south of Barcelona has died.

The woman, who wasn’t named, is the first fatal victim of the attack late Thursday in Cambrils, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Barcelona.

It came hours after a van slammed into pedestrians on a busy Barcelona promenade, killing 13 people and injuring over 100 others.

In Cambrils, police shot dead five people wearing fake bomb belts who plowed into a group of tourists and residents with a car. In all, six people, including a police officer, were injured in the Cambrils incident.

___

12:30 p.m.

Israel’s president has expressed his nation’s sympathy to the people of Spain and said the world must join together to fight terrorism.

Reuven Rivlin on Friday sent a letter of condolences to King Felipe VI after the bloodshed in Barcelona.

Rivlin said “terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, whether it takes place in Barcelona, Paris, Istanbul or Jerusalem.”

He said “these horrific events once again prove that we must all stand united in the fight against those who seek to use violence to stifle individual liberty and freedom of thought and belief, and continue to destroy the lives of so many.”

Israel is coping with a wave of deadly Palestinian attacks against civilians and security forces that erupted in 2015.

Palestinians say it stems from anger at decades of Israeli rule in territories they claim for a state.

___

12:15 p.m.

An Italian foreign ministry official says two Italians are among those confirmed dead in the Barcelona attack.

Stefano Verrecchia, who heads the ministry’s crisis unit, said Friday that authorities weren’t immediately making the victims’ names public.

But one of the two appeared to be a young father from Legnano, a town in northern Italy.

Legnano Mayor Giambattista Fratus told reporters, “it is sure that our fellow citizen is deceased.” Pino Bruno, head of the company where the victim from Legnano worked, was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying the man’s wife told him she, the victim and their two children were strolling down Barcelona Ramblas street when the attack van suddenly appeared, and the victim kneeled down to successfully shield son, 6, and daughter, 7 months.

___

12 p.m.

Thousands of people including Spain’s king and prime minister have held a minute of silence for the victims of attacks in Barcelona and a nearby seaside resort.

King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, along with Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, stood in front of the crowd in Placa de Cataluyna during the remembrance. The participants then broke into applause before the crowd chanted repeatedly: “I am not afraid! I am not afraid!”

The minute of silence was held near where the driver of a van started an attack that killed at least 13 people and injured more than 100 others on Thursday evening.

___

11:50 a.m.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry says that there were multiple German citizens among the injured in the attacks in Spain.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin on Friday that at the moment they know of 13 Germans injured, “some of them seriously, so seriously that they are still fighting for their lives.”

He says he could not confirm unsourced media reports that Germans were also killed in the attacks.

He says, however, “we also can’t rule that out.”

___

11:35 a.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expressing her sympathy with Spain over the attacks in Barcelona, and says such violence cannot be allowed to change the European way of life.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Merkel said Friday that “these murderous attacks have once again showed us the total hatred of humanity with which Islamist terrorism acts.”

She added “we will not allow these murderers to make us depart from our path, from our way of life.”

She said “terrorism can cause us bitter and deeply sad hours, as has happened in Spain, but it won’t defeat us.”

She said the Foreign Ministry is still working with Spanish authorities to say whether any Germans were among the victims.

“This can’t be said with great precision right now,” she added.

___

11:30 a.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has attended an emergency security meeting in Barcelona to coordinate the investigation into the terror attacks in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Rajoy traveled to Barcelona on Thursday night after a van plowed into a pedestrian promenade, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 others. Police then stopped a second attack in nearby Cambrils when they shot and killed five attackers who had driven a car into another crowd.

Rajoy met on Friday morning with Spain’s interior minister and police and emergency officials. He said on Twitter that the meeting was to “analyze the latest details of the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.”

___

11:20 a.m.

Belgian officials are identifying a woman from the town of Tongeren killed in the van attack in Barcelona as Elke Vanbockrijck.

Two officials, who declined to be identified on the record, confirmed Vanbockrijck’s name to The Associated Press on Friday.

Tongeren Mayor Patrick Dewael said in a tweet late Thursday that a woman from his town had died, and sent his condolences. He told Belgian radio that he had presided over her wedding in 2014.

Belgian media said the 44-year-old woman was holidaying in Barcelona with her husband and sons.

Foreign minister Didier Reynders also confirmed that two Belgians were injured in the attack, one of them seriously.

—By Lorne Cook

___

11:10 a.m.

The Irish and Romanian governments have both confirmed that their nationals were among the 100 people injured when a truck was driven at tourists on Barcelona’s Ramblas.

Irish officials say a 5-year-old boy and his father are among those injured in the terror attack in Barcelona.

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, says a 5-year-old boy and his father received injuries that were not life-threatening. They were part a family of four celebrating the birthday of the youngster, who suffered a broken leg.

Coveney says it’s a miracle more Irish citizens weren’t hurt as “there are so many Irish people in Spain, Barcelona and Cambrils at this time of year.”

Romania’s foreign ministry says three Romanians are among the injured. All three were hospitalized, and the ministry said that two are in a stable condition while the third suffered light injuries. Romania’s consul there was in touch with the injured, who were not identified.

___

10:50 a.m.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is condemning the van attack in Barcelona claimed by the Islamic State group that killed at least 13 people.

In a statement issued in Beirut Friday, the group said the attack must be a renewed incentive to eliminate the group “whose ideology is based on hate.”

Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group whose military wing is considered a terrorist group by the EU, is fighting against IS, a Sunni organization, in both Lebanon and neighboring Syria.

The statement said that “targeting innocent civilians and killing them is part of a satanic plot being carried out by those terrorists, which aims at tarnishing the concept of jihad (holy war) and sullying the image of Islam.”

___

10:35 a.m.

Catalonia’s regional president says that there’s at least one “terrorist still out there” after the attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort.

Carles Puigdemont also told Onda Cero radio “we don’t have information regarding the capacity to do more harm.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the person on the run is the driver of the speeding van that killed at least 13 people and injured more than 100 others on Thursday evening in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas district.

In the early hours of Friday, police killed five suspects in the resort of Cambrils after a car plowed down and injured six people near a boardwalk. One of the injured was a police officer. Police said the suspects were wearing fake bomb belts.

Police have three people in connection with the attacks.

___

10:20 a.m.

German politicians have agreed to tone down election campaigning for the day in the aftermath of the attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main challenger in the September election says he spoke with her and both agreed to limit campaigning.

The Social Democrat’s Martin Schulz told reporters in Berlin on Friday that they made the decision “as a sign of solidarity for those people affected in Spain” by the attacks.

He says: “these are bitter days.”

Schulz added that there was a “common will that there is no place for terror” and that Europe would continue to be an “open tolerant society.”

Speaking of the attackers and their backers, he says “one has to send them the message that they will not win.”

___

10 a.m.

Catalan authorities are confirming that the five suspects killed in a police shootout in the seaside resort of Cambrils had plowed down pedestrians and police in a car attack and were wearing fake bomb belts.

The attack early Friday in Cambrils came hours after a white van mowed down tourists and locals in the popular Las Ramblas promenade in Barcelona, killing at least 13 people and injuring more than 100.

Catalonia’s interior minister, Joaquim Forn, tells Onda Cero radio that the suspects in Cambrils were driving in an Audi 3 and began plowing down people when they reached a populated area near the boardwalk. A police car was damaged and an officer was among the six people injured.

Forn says the suspects killed in a subsequent shootout with police were wearing fake bomb belts. He says the belts were very well made, and that authorities only determined they were phony after a controlled explosion.

___

9:35 a.m.

A town mayor in Belgium says a woman from his town has died in the van attack in a major tourist area in the Spanish city of Barcelona.

Patrick Dewael confirmed in a tweet late Thursday that the woman was from Tongeren, 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Brussels, and sent his condolences. He told Belgian radio that he had presided over her wedding in 2014.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders also confirmed that two Belgians were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously.

___

9:20 a.m.

Barcelona’s famed Ramblas walkway has quietly reopened to the public, the morning after a van rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than 100.

Police closed down the city center Thursday evening, after the van zigzagged down the packed Ramblas before the driver escaped.

Friday morning, residents and tourists were allowed past police lines and slowly trickled back to their homes and hotels. The city center remained under heavy surveillance.

A demonstration that will include a minute of silence honoring the victims was announced by public officials for Friday at noon at the Plaza Catalunya, next to the top of the Ramblas, where the deadly attack began.

___

9:05 a.m.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has condemned the van attack in Barcelona, and extended his condolences to the families of those killed.

In a statement Friday, Abbasi said such terrorist attacks cannot scare the brave Spanish people.

He said “so long as the terrorists underestimate the spirit of the societies they seek to undermine, they will lose”.

Abbasi’s comment came a day after a van barreled down a busy walkway in central Barcelona, swerving back and forth as it mowed pedestrians down.

Thirteen people were killed and 100 were injured, 15 of them seriously, in what authorities called a terror attack.

___

9 a.m.

Danish authorities have confirmed that there are two Danes among those “lightly wounded” following the deadly van attack on tourists in the Spanish city of Barcelona.

Leaders in the Nordic and Baltic region are rushing to condemn the attack. Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he was “horrified by reports from Barcelona,” while his Danish counterpart Lars Loekke Rasmussen said Europe has “again been attacked by terror.”

In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg called it “a cowardly attack,” her Estonian colleague Juri Ratas called it “brutal” and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said it was “despicable.

___

8:50 a.m.

Catalonia authorities say a third person has been arrested in connection with the Barcelona van attack that killed at least 13 people.

Catalonia Interior Minister Joaquim Forn told Catalunya Radio on Friday that the suspect was taken into custody in the northern Catalan town of Ripoll.

On Thursday, one of the two suspects detained in the hours after the Las Ramblas attack was arrested in Ripoll and another in Alcanar.

Police said neither of the two people detained Thursday was the driver of the white van that plowed down pedestrians. The driver escaped the scene on foot.

___

8 a.m.

French officials say 26 French nationals were among the dozens injured in a van attack in Barcelona, and Australia says one of its citizens is unaccounted for.

Spanish authorities previously said the dead and injured are from 24 countries. The attack involved a van that veered onto a busy promenade in downtown Barcelona and struck pedestrians. Thirteen people were killed and 100 injured.

One of the dead was Belgian, and Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters: “We are concerned for one Australian who remains unaccounted for.”

France’s Foreign Ministry said Friday at least 11 of the French nationals who were hurt had serious injuries.

Australia also says three of its citizens were injured, one seriously. Two with slight injuries were Taiwanese. A Greek woman and a Hong Kong resident were also hurt.


►  Chinese traders furious after crackdown on N. Korean imports

Furious Chinese businesspeople said Friday that Beijing’s decision to enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korean seafood imports would hobble the economy of an entire northeastern city, sparking a rare public protest earlier this week after the surprise move suddenly choked off border trade.

Anger swept the city of Hunchun, home to hundreds of seafood processing plants, after Beijing began refusing entry Tuesday to trucks carrying tons of North Korean seafood. China announced Monday that it was cutting off imports of North Korean goods under U.N. sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

But given China’s often-lax history of sanctions enforcement, seafood traders were shocked as trucks began lining up at the border with customs officials ordering them to return the seafood to the North. Dozens of people from seafood companies took to the streets Wednesday, carrying red banners, in a rare display of public anger in a country where the government normally cracks down immediately on dissent.

“I have more than 30 workers and I asked them to all go home or find other jobs,” said Song Min, who runs a fresh seafood business in Hunchun, and who was not involved in the protests.

“But they cannot find other jobs,” she added in a telephone interview Friday. “Everyone here is in the seafood industry.”

Hunchun authorities met with seafood traders one day after the protest, warning them not to make trouble or risk being detained, Yang Jian, a seafood trader, said by phone. “People who attended the meeting said the authorities were being very tough about this, no goods are allowed to get into China,” Yang said.

China, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of North Korean trade, has long been reluctant to push leader Kim Jong Un’s regime too hard economically, fearing it could collapse. But Beijing is increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang, and supported a U.N. Security Council ban on August 5 on key trade goods.

The Chinese customs agency said Monday it would stop processing imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ores and fish at midnight on September 5.

“After that, entry of these goods will be prohibited,” a statement said.

But less than a day later, Chinese customs officials were stopping trucks full of seafood brought from the North Korean coastline, roughly 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, setting off a daylong protest. Hunchun is the largest Chinese city in an area where the borders of China, Russia and North Korea meet.

“Hard-earned Money on China’s Bridge; We hope Chinese Customs Will Release Our Trucks,” read a banner in a photograph featured in a post that was widely circulated on a Chinese social media platform.

But two days later, there was no sign that Beijing had backed down.

“I have to make some changes soon,” said Jin Long, who owns a Hunchun seafood restaurant. “Maybe I’ll change to Russian seafood.”


►  U.S. general pledges to defend Japan from North Korean attack

America’s top military official reiterated Friday his country’s pledge to defend Japan against a North Korean missile attack, as western Japan carried out a test of an emergency alert system.

“I think we made it clear to North Korea and anyone else in the region that an attack on one is an attack on both of us,” Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Tokyo.

North Korea has threatened to test-fire missiles that would fly over Japan and land in waters off the U.S. territory of Guam. The U.S. is treaty-bound to defend Japan from outside attacks.

Dunford and his Japanese counterpart Katsutoshi Kawano agreed to work together to strengthen missile defense systems. The U.S. general is on the last stop of an Asia tour that took him to China and South Korea and has been dominated by talk of the North Korean threat.

Sirens wailed across nine prefectures in western Japan in the test of the emergency system. Twitter users in the region said the sirens didn’t work in some areas.

The flight path of the North Korean missile test would cross that part of the country.

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►  China, India are dangerously close to military conflict in the Himalayas

As nuclear posturing between North Korea and the United States rivets the world, a quieter conflict between India and China is playing out on a remote Himalayan ridge - with stakes just as high.

For the past two months, Indian and Chinese troops have faced off on a plateau in the Himalayas in tense proximity, in a dispute prompted by moves by the Chinese military to build a road into territory claimed by India’s close ally, Bhutan.

India has suggested that both sides withdraw, and its foreign minister said in Parliament that the dispute can be resolved only by dialogue.

Yet China has vociferously defended the right it claims to build a road in the Doklam area, land it also claims.

Since the dispute began, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued an angry stream of almost daily denunciations of India and its “illegal trespass” and “recklessness,“ along with demands that New Delhi withdraw its troops “if it cherishes peace.“

Incursions and scuffles between the two countries have long occurred along India and China’s 2,220-mile border - much of which remains in dispute - although the respective militaries have not fired shots at each other in a half-century.

Analysts say this most recent dispute is more worrisome because it comes as relations between the two nuclear-armed powers are declining, with China framing the issue as a direct threat to its territorial integrity. For the first time, such a conflict involves a third country - the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

And the potential for dangerous clashes elsewhere on the rugged mountainous border remains real, analysts say. Indian and Chinese patrols jostled each other and exchanged blows Tuesday morning by a lake in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, according to local reports.

“It would be very complacent to rule out escalation,“ said Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It’s the most serious crisis in India-China relations for 30 years.“

The standoff also reflects an expanding geopolitical contest between Asia’s most populous nations. As China fortifies islands in the South China Sea and exerts its influence through ambitious infrastructure projects throughout the continent, its dominance of Asian affairs is growing, as is its unwillingness to brook rivals. India is seen by some as the last counterbalance.

“The most significant challenge to India comes from the rise of China, and there is no doubt in my mind that China will seek to narrow India’s strategic space by penetrating India’s own neighborhood. This is what we see happening,“ former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran said recently at an event in New Delhi.

The incident began in mid-June, when a crew from the People’s Liberation Army, the PLA, entered a remote plateau - populated largely by Bhutanese shepherds - with earth-moving and other equipment and “attempted to build a road,“ India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

They were confronted by a Royal Bhutan Army patrol; Indian soldiers pitched tents there two days later. India and Bhutan - a country of just under 800,000 - have long had a special relationship that includes military support and $578 million in aid to Bhutan.

India says the road would have moved Chinese troops closer to India’s strategically important Siliguri Corridor, known as the Chicken’s Neck, the narrow stretch of land that separates India’s northeast from the rest of the country.

China asserted that more than 270 Indian border troops, carrying weapons and driving two bulldozers, “flagrantly crossed the boundary” and advanced about 100 yards into Chinese territory.

The roots of the distrust between the two nations go back to India’s decision to shelter the Dalai Lama in 1959, when the spiritual leader fled Tibet during an uprising there, and to China’s invasion during a brief border war in 1962.

There was a marked deterioration in relations after India signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States in 2005 and ties deepened between the two large democracies.

In 2014, Narendra Modi came into office as the most pro-China Indian prime minister since 1962, wanting not only to emulate China’s economic progress, but also to attract Chinese investment, analysts say.

But he found Chinese President Xi Jinping to be an unreliable partner, as China blocked India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and blocked efforts at the United Nations to declare Pakistani militant Masood Azhar a terrorist at the United Nations.

When China’s sweeping Belt and Road development initiative added an economic corridor through parts of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, a region that India claims, the tensions rose sharply. Modi snubbed a major summit in Beijing that launched the Belt and Road plan this year.

Meanwhile, India alarmed China by allowing the Dalai Lama this year to visit an important Buddhist monastery in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, a region Beijing claims is part of Tibet.

“India has tolerated and supported Tibetan separatists, allowing the Tibetan independence groups to set up an ‘exile government’ in India,“ said Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University in Nanchong.

Two months in, a few hundred Chinese and Indian troops remain hunkered down on the plateau - and the threat of violence looms.

Xu Guangyu, a retired PLA major general, said China has been preparing to evict Indian troops if New Delhi does not back down but hoped that China’s objective could be realized without bloodshed.

“We won’t be the first to fire. We are very clear about this line, and this shows China’s sincerity,“ he said. “But it’s not up to China to decide. Whether there is to be war depends on the Indians. However, if they fire the first shot, they would lose control and the initiative.“

In recent days, Chinese media has kept up its overheated rhetoric, culminating in the release by a state-run news agency of a bizarre video mocking India as a bad neighbor - with an actor wearing a turban, fake beard speaking in a put-on Indian accent. Indian netizens immediately denounced the video as racist. Perhaps more troubling, the Global Times reported that the government was setting up blood collection centers and moving its blood supplies closer to the area in Tibet.

India has undertaken a variety of preparedness measures with its eye on Chinese escalation, Joshi said, including advancing the operational alert status of several units by two months, which involves moving two of its mountain divisions toward the region and allowing troops to begin acclimatizing to higher altitudes.

“Clearly, there are a whole set of measures they’ve taken as discreetly as possible to shield themselves from snap Chinese offenses,“ Joshi said.


►  Attacker rams van into Barcelona crowd, 13 dead and 100 hurt

A van veered onto a promenade Thursday and barreled down the busy walkway in central Barcelona, swerving back and forth as it mowed pedestrians down and turned a picturesque tourist destination into a bloody killing zone. Thirteen people were killed and 100 were injured, 15 of them seriously, in what authorities called a terror attack.

Victims were left sprawled in the street, spattered with blood or writhing in pain from broken limbs. Others fled in panic through Las Ramblas, screaming or carrying young children in their arms.

Map source: Maps4News/HERE

“It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible,” Josep Lluis Trapero, a senior police official for Spain’s Catalonia region told reporters late Thursday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, saying in a statement on its Aamaq news agency that the attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State” in response to the extremist group’s calls for followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive it from Syria and Iraq.

Authorities said a Belgian was among the dead and a Greek woman was among the injured. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was checking reports that German citizens were among the victims.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the killings a “savage terrorist attack” and said Spaniards “are not just united in mourning, but especially in the firm determination to beat those who want to rob us of our values and our way of life.”

After the afternoon attack, Las Ramblas went into lockdown. Swarms of officers brandishing hand guns and automatic weapons launched a manhunt in the downtown district, ordering stores and cafes and public transport to shut down.

Several hours later authorities reported two arrests, one a Spanish national from Melilla, a Spanish-run Mediterranean seafront enclave in North Africa, and the other a Moroccan. They declined to identify them.

Trapero said neither of them was the van’s driver, who remained at large after abandoning the van and fleeing on foot. The arrests took place in the northern Catalan town of Ripoll and in Alcanar, the site of a gas explosion at a house on Wednesday night. Police said they were investigating a possible link between the explosion and Thursday’s attack.

Spanish public broadcaster RTVE and other news outlets named one of the detained as Driss Oukabir, a French citizen of Moroccan origin. RTVE reported said Oukabir went to police in Ripoll to report that his identity documents had been stolen. Various Spanish media said the IDs with his name were found in the attack van and that he claimed his brother might have stolen them.

Media outlets ran photographs of Oukabir they said police had issued to identify one of the suspects. The regional police told the Associated Press that they had not distributed the photograph. They refused to say if he was one of the two detained.

Barcelona is the latest European city to experience a terror attack carried out using a vehicle as a weapon to target a popular tourist destination, after similar attacks in France, Germany, Sweden and Britain.

“London, Brussels, Paris and some other European cities have had the same experience. It’s been Barcelona’s turn today,” Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia’s government.

Thursday’s bloodshed was Spain’s deadliest attack since 2004, when al-Qaida-inspired bombers killed 192 people in coordinated assaults on Madrid’s commuter trains. In the years since, Spanish authorities have arrested nearly 200 jihadists. The only deadly attacks were bombings claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA that killed five people over the past decade but declared a cease-fire in 2011.

“Unfortunately, Spaniards know the absurd and irrational pain that terrorism causes. We have received blows like this in recent years, but we also that terrorists can be beaten,” Rajoy said.

Hours after Thursday’s attack, the police force for Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region said troopers searching for the perpetrators shot and killed a man who was in a vehicle that hit two officers at a traffic blockade on the outskirts of Barcelona. But Trapero the driver’s actions were not linked to the van attack.

Las Ramblas is a wide avenue of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona and is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. It features a pedestrian-only walkway in the center while cars can travel on either side.

A taxi driver who witnessed Thursday’s attack, Oscar Cano, said the white van suddenly jumped the curb and sped down the central pedestrian area at a high speed for about 500 yards (457 meters), veering from side to side as it targeted people.

“I heard a lot of people screaming and then I saw the van going down the boulevard,” another witness, Miguel Angel Rizo, told The Associated Press. “You could see all the bodies lying through Las Ramblas. It was brutal. A very tough image to see.”

Jordi Laparra, a 55-year-old physical education teacher and Barcelona resident, said it initially looked like a terrible traffic accident.

“At first I thought it was an accident, as the van crashed into 10 people or so and seemed to get stuck. But then he maneuvered left and accelerated full speed down the Ramblas and I realized it was a terrorist attack,” Laparra said. “He zigzagged from side to side into the kiosks, pinning as many people as he could, so they had no escape.”

Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century former palace on Las Ramblas that now houses offices and a tourism center, said the van passed in front of the building.

“People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children,” she said.

Tamara Jurgen, a visitor from the Netherlands, said she and a friend were inside a clothing store steps from the scene and were kept inside until it was safe to leave.

“We were downstairs when it happened and everyone was screaming and running. We had to run up to the roof and throw our bags over a wall,” Jurgen said. “We were all together along this wall and we were scared we were going to have to jump.”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau announced a minute of silence to be held Friday in Barcelona’s main square “to show that we are not scared.” The prime minister announced three days of national mourning.

Leaders around the world offered their support and condolences to Barcelona after the attack.

U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: “The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough & strong, we love you!”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. “stands with Spain against terror” while French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Thursday evening: “All my thoughts and solidarity from France for the victims of the tragic attack in Barcelona. We will remain united and determined.”

Place Date Attack
Barcelona, Spain 08.17.17 A van Strikes tourists and residents in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district.
Stockholm, Sweden 04.07.17 A hijacked truck plows into a crowd of people outside a busy department store causing deaths and injuries.
London 03.22.17 Two are killed along London’s Westminster Bridge by a vehicle. Within minutes a knife-wielding attacker stabbed a police officer outside Parliament.
Melbourne, Australia 01.20.17 A man with a history of mental health and drug abuse issues drove into a street crowded with pedestrians, killing at least four.
Israel 01.08.17 A truck driver rammed his vehicle into a crowd of Israeli soldiers at a popular Jerusalem tourist spot, killing four.
Berlin, Germany 12.19.16 A young Tunisian rammed a truck into a crowded Berlin Christmas market, killing 12. He is later killed in Italy following an international manhunt.
Nice, France 07.14.16 A truck mows down crowds celebrating Bastille Day along a beachfront, killing 86.
Dijon, France December 2014 13 pedestrians are injured by a vehicle. A day later, another vehicle strikes pedestrians in Nantes, killing one. Both suspects had histories of mental illness.
Montreal, Quebec 10.20.14 25-year-old man drove his car into to Canadian Air Force members, killing one. The suspect had been flagged for jihadist ambitions.
Glasgow, Scotland 06.30.07 Two men attempted to crash a blazing Jeep loaded with explosives. The car’s path was blocked and the explosives failed to detonate.


Spain has been on a security alert one step below the maximum since June 2015 following attacks elsewhere in Europe and Africa.

Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.

The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked truck to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.

There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March.

Four other men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge, unleashing a rampage with knives that killed eight people in June. Another man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.


►  U.S.: War would be ‘horrific’ but NKorea nukes ‘unimaginable’

A military solution to the North Korean missile threat would be “horrific” but allowing Pyongyang to develop the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the United States is “unimaginable,” the top U.S. military officer said Thursday in Beijing.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, told reporters that Donald Trump directly has “told us to develop credible viable military options and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Dunford was responding to questions about Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon saying in a new interview that the threat posed by North Korea cannot handled by force.

“There’s no military solution, forget it,” Bannon told The American Prospect. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

In Beijing, Dunford said it’s “absolutely horrific if there would be a military solution to this problem, there’s no question about it.”

But, he added, “what’s unimaginable is allowing KJU (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States and continue to threaten the region.”

Dunford met later Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which both men reinforced the importance of exchanges between their militaries in stabilizing a relationship frequently roiled by disputes over security, diplomacy and trade.

“We both know that you and Trump are committed to our improvement in military-to-military relations and we have approached it with great commitment, candor and we certainly want to deliver results,” Dunford told Xi in opening remarks.

Earlier, Dunford met with his Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department, another top general, Fan Changlong and top foreign policy adviser, Yang Jiechi.

Fan, the Chinese general, told Dunford that Beijing insists military action should be ruled out and “negotiations are the only effective option” in addressing the situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to a statement from China’s defense ministry.

Dunford visited South Korea earlier in the week and flies to Japan Thursday night.

In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would consider sending a special envoy to North Korea for talks if the North stops its missile and nuclear tests, in an effort to jumpstart diplomacy.

He also declared, amid fears in South Korea that threats from Trump to unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang could lead to real fighting, that there would be no second war on the Korean Peninsula.

“The people worked together to rebuild the country from the Korean War, and we cannot lose everything again because of a war,” Moon said in a nationally televised news conference. “I can confidently say there will not be a war again on the Korean Peninsula.”

Dunford also told reporters in Beijing that “there’s no question” any potential military action in the Korean Peninsula would be taken only in consultation with South Korea.

“South Korea is an ally and everything we do in the region is in the context of our alliance,” Dunford said.

Moon’s comments follow a spike in animosity generated by North Korea’s warning that it might send missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam, and by Trump’s warlike language. Both of the rival Koreas and the United States have signaled in recent days, however, a willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.

Trump tweeted that Kim had “made a very wise and well reasoned decision,” referring to North Korean official media saying the leader would not give an immediate order to launch multiple missiles toward Guam.

“The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!” Trump wrote.

Next week’s start of annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.

Dunford told reporters that he has advised the U.S. leadership not to dial back on the exercises with South Korea.

“As long as the threat in North Korea exists we need to maintain a high state of readiness to respond to that threat,” he said.

Moon was elected in May after a near-decade of conservative rule that saw animosity deepen between the rival Koreas. Moon wants to engage the North. But his efforts have so far been met with a string of threats and missile tests as the North works to build nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland.

“A dialogue between South and North Korea must resume. But we don’t need to be impatient,” Moon said.

Moon said he thinks Trump’s belligerent words are intended to show a strong resolve for pressuring the North and don’t necessarily display the willingness for military strikes.

“The United States and Trump have already promised to sufficiently consult with South Korea and get our approval for whatever option they will take against North Korea,” Moon said.

North Korea’s threats against Guam and its advancing missile capabilities, highlighted by a pair of intercontinental ballistic missile flight tests in July, have raised security jitters among many South Koreans who worry that a fully functional ICBM in Pyongyang would force the United States to rethink whether to trade New York or Washington for Seoul in the event of a war on the peninsula.

“I think the North perfecting an ICBM, loading an atomic warhead on it and weaponizing it is a red line. North Korea is nearing a threshold for the red line,” Moon said. Moon didn’t elaborate, but many foreign experts have viewed the North’s possessing a reliable ICBM as a tripwire for potential U.S. strikes.


►  North Korea’s neighbors talk about ‘fire and fury’

Ordinary people in East Asia — residents of North Korea’s closest neighbors — talk to The Associated Press about who is to blame for the heightened tensions between North Korea and the United States, and what should be done to ensure war does not break out. Here is a selection:

SHOGO AOKI, a Japanese researcher, says that by threatening North Korea, Trump is putting America’s interests first and appears to be overlooking countries most directly threatened by the North.

“I think (Trump) is thinking that this won’t result in any deaths back home, and if a war happens it will be far from home,” said Aoki. “Whether or not he’s thinking about other countries — Japan or Korea — well, that’s a mystery.”

“In the worst-case scenario, a missile could drop on Japan, and I am very worried about that,” he said. But if Japan cooperates with countries surrounding North Korea and puts more pressure on the nation, “we could still lower the probability of something like a missile or a destructive situation from developing,” Aoki said.

___

MASARU CHIBA, a Japanese salesman, said he hopes dialogue between the parties involved can head off a conflict.

“Most Japanese, including myself, hate war,” said Chiba, 50, a native of Iwate on the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island. “So I am praying it won’t turn into one.”

“If you just leave the situation to be dealt with by the United States, and a war started just like that, we in Japan would be quite scared,” he said. “Of course Japan, China and South Korea and America should create a dialogue with North Korea, and I hope they will come up with a solution peacefully.”

___

CHOI DONG-SAM, from Busan at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, said North Korea would bear ultimate responsibility for any conflict that breaks out, regardless of the circumstances.

“I am very concerned that a war might break out because of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea by the U.S.,” said the 56-year-old South Korean.

“I think the blame is mostly on Kim Jong Un. If North Korea hadn’t developed its nuclear program, we would not be in this current situation. I think that Kim Jong Un should take the initiative and remove the country’s nuclear weapons so we can have peace on this land.”

___

HEO KYUNG YON, from Pohang on South Korea’s east coast, said Trump’s personal self-regard was reflected in his approach to the region and was responsible for inflaming tensions.

“Trump is arrogant to a large extent,” said Heo, 61. “He is self-centered and selfish in a way, and this tendency is reflected in his policy which is geared toward solely pursuing America’s profits. I think his policy could be seen as somewhat disregarding weak countries.”

“It is without a doubt that the North’s policy should undergo some changes, but Trump’s policy is the determining factor in triggering this situation,” said Heo.

___

MA HONGSHUO, a translator from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, said fundamental differences in outlook between Pyongyang and Washington were playing out in the current tensions.

“The North Korean system itself is a bit closed, while at the same time the United States has always played by hegemonic and power politics, so I think this is a problem of both sides,” said Ma, 26.

North Korean hopes for improving their quality of life would likely suffer if a way cannot be found out of the current impasse, she said: “I have some North Korean friends and sometimes they would say they wish their country would improve.”

___

TIGER HAN, a student in China’s capital, Beijing, said both sides bear responsibility for the tensions, which he said threaten to draw in other countries in the region.

“If the U.S. fleets come to this region, with further threats, and both sides have no space to retreat, then it would eventually turn into a regional conflict,” said the 18-year-old. “What worries me most is if the conflict gets bigger, it would be harder to resolve.”

Han said that both sides are equally to blame, with the U.S. seeking to maintain its influence in the region.

“I think they might have an ulterior motive in mind. There may be some motives that are directed toward China,” said Han, reflecting a common sentiment among the Chinese public, officials and state media.

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►  Pence won’t take questions from press in Chile

Mike Pence’s isn’t expected to take questions from reporters after meeting with Chile’s president — even though Pence’s public schedule had listed a “joint press conference” with Michelle Bachelet (bah-cheh-LET’).

Pence spokesman Jarrod Agen tells reporters traveling with Pence that the leaders had never intended to take questions, at the Chileans’ request.

That means Pence won’t face more questions about Donald Trump’s response to violence between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Tuesday, Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence.

Pence is on a weeklong trip to Latin America to build ties with the region and speak out against the growing crisis in Venezuela.


►  Pentagon prepares for a war game on the Korean Peninsula

The U.S. military is preparing to launch a major military exercise with South Korea in coming days, and faces a dangerous balancing act: How do you reassure allies in the region that you are ready for a war with North Korea without provoking an actual conflict in the process?

The annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise is scheduled for 10 days beginning August 21, and will include about 25,000 U.S. troops along with tens of thousands of South Koreans. The exercise focuses on defending South Korea against an attack from the north, and each year triggers threats and rebukes from North Korea. But it comes at an especially sensitive time now, following the exchange of a series of threats between Donald Trump and North Korea.

U.S. Forces Korea, the command that oversees some 28,500 American military personnel on the Korean Peninsula, has no current plans to change the size, format or messaging for this year’s exercise, said Army Col. Chad G. Carroll, a military spokesman in South Korea. The mission is planned well in advance, considered defensive in nature and allows both military forces and civilian officials to strengthen their readiness for a crisis, he said.

“We will see increased numbers [of troops] on the peninsula, but no more than we see every year,“ Carroll said in an email. “Our messaging will remain consistent. . . These exercises are necessary to maintain readiness in the face of provocative acts threatening the [Republic of Korea] and the U.S. Our job is provide our leadership with viable military options if called upon, and exercises like this hone our ability to do that.“

North Korea denounced the exercise Monday, warning that even an accident in the midst of it could trigger a nuclear conflict. But the war game also has drawn scrutiny this year from Russia and China, which have suggested cancelling the operation to alleviate tensions. The United States has rejected that option, saying the exercise is needed to deter North Korean aggression as Washington seeks peaceful means to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development.

“This is why we have military capability that undergirds our diplomatic activities,“ said Marine General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an appearance Monday in Seoul. “These threats are serious to us, and thus we have to be prepared.“

On Tuesday, North Korea appeared to ease up on a threat to shoot missiles toward the U.S. island territory of Guam. A state-run media outlet reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would watch the United States “a little more” rather than responding quickly, but would “make an important decision, as it already declared,“ if the “Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.“

The report came hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that if North Korea hits the U.S. island territory of Guam with a missile, it would be “game on,“ meaning war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined to respond directly Tuesday to Kim’s decision to pull back from his threat to launch missiles toward Guam, but said the door to talks remains open.

“We continue to be interested in finding a way to get to a dialogue, but that’s up to him,“ Tillerson said at the State Department.

Tillerson and Mattis jointly host their Japanese counterparts in Washington on Thursday, with North Korea at the top of the agenda.

Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said that he would not discuss specific scenarios involved in the training exercise. It remains focused on making sure that American and South Korean forces can work together well, he said. About 2,500 additional U.S. troops arrived on the Korean Peninsula temporarily last year for the exercise, according to a Pentagon news release at the time.

Manning said that the United States and South Korea have “made a lot of progress” in the last couple years to prepare against any North Korea threat. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian is a big part of that, with two other related exercises - Foal Eagle and Key Resolve - in the spring serving as the other significant combined training events, he said.

The U.S.-South Korean military exercises have exacerbated tensions in the past. In March, the beginning of Foal Eagle prompted North Korea to test-fire four ballistic missiles, which in turn prompted the Pentagon to announce that it was assembling a missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on the Korean Peninsula with approval of the government in Seoul.

In 2015, Ulchi-Freedom Guardian came shortly after an August 4 attack in which two South Korean soldiers stepped on landmines in the heavily militarized border region with North Korea. ironically known as the Demilitarized Zone. South Korea vowed to retaliate, and the two Koreas exchanged artillery and rocket fire over the border during Ulchi-Freedom Guardian after South Korea began broadcasting propaganda messages over the border to the north and North Korea responded by turning on its own loudspeakers.

The exercise itself has changed several times, and dates back to 1968, when South Korea and the United States created a war game called Focus Lens. That occurred after North Korea hijacked a U.S. Navy intelligence ship, the USS Pueblo, and launched a bloody Special Operations raid on the Blue House, the center of the South Korean government, with plans to kill South Korean President Park Chung-hee.


►  How Trump can avoid another arms race

Several parts of the U.S.-Russia arms-control and nonproliferation architecture are cracking due to a combination of Russian misbehavior and American neglect. The question is whether the Trump team has the will and skill to repair those cracks before that structure comes crumbling down.

Complicating the effort is the fact that U.S.-Russia relations are at a historic low point, following Russian interference in our presidential election, the Russian intervention in Ukraine and an escalating cycle of sanctions and diplomatic retaliation. The arms-control community is urging the Trump administration to work with Russia to address big problems with our cooperation before it’s too late.

Some Republicans in Congress, however, are eager to confront Russia on arms control, ramp up U.S. retaliation and even push for withdrawal from these agreements. For Donald Trump, who views the agreements as bad deals struck by his predecessors, saving them is a hard sell. But he should carefully consider the benefits of these deals before throwing them away.

“The ongoing tensions with Moscow have increased the risk that the nuclear and arms control architecture built up by Bush, Reagan and Obama will collapse,“ said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “We have to be careful not to cut off our nose to spite our face because we are upset with Russia.“

One such troubled agreement hit the newspapers last week when unarmed Russian air force jets flew over the Pentagon, CIA and other sensitive national security sites, alarming many Americans. Even in Washington, most are not familiar with the Treaty on Open Skies, which has allowed the United States, Russia and 32 other countries to fly over each other’s territory since 2002.

Russia has been violating the treaty for years, according to the State Department, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Senate. Russia doesn’t allow flights over key parts of its territory and takes other steps to keep the United States and other countries from realizing their treaty rights.

Some in Congress want the U.S. government to place tit-for-tat restrictions on Russian flights. Some military leaders would prefer to see the treaty go away altogether, because of the information Russia is able to collect, given technological advances.

“I would love to deny the Russians having that capability,“ Marine Lt. General Vincent Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a House committee in March.

Trump administration officials are looking at the Open Skies Treaty as part of their overall interagency nonproliferation policy review. They should keep in mind that it provides transparency on Russia not just for the United States but for America’s allies as well.

Congress is also planning to soon confront Russia on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF. Russia has been violating the INF for years, according to the U.S. government, by developing and deploying a new cruise missile that violates the treaty’s range limits, threatening Europe.

Both the Senate and House versions of the defense authorization bill would provide tens of millions of dollars for the United States to develop its own new cruise missile, potentially putting America in violation. Senate Democrats are planning to fight that provision when the bill hits the Senate floor next month.

In November, Barack Obama’s State Department met with Russia on the INF treaty. The talks were fruitless, but now efforts to reestablish U.S.-Russia negotiations are underway. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov in Washington on July 18 and agreed to hold “Strategic Stability Talks” in the near future.

Thomas Countryman, the State Department official responsible for the issue until January, told me that if Congress put the United States in violation, or if Trump pulled out of the treaty, the country would lose out.

“For the United States to terminate the treaty would do nothing to enhance our national security,“ he said. “It would be a public relations victory for Moscow, and we should do everything possible to pursue a less radical solution.“

Shannon and Ryabkov also pledged to continue consultations under the New START treaty, which limits deployed long-range nuclear weapons. That agreement, up for extension in 2021, is also at risk. Agreeing to extend it now would bolster long-term confidence in the treaty and help to stabilize the relationship, Countryman said.

In their first phone call after Trump’s inauguration, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a New START extension but Trump refused and called it a bad deal, after he paused to ask his aides what it was.

Our current low point in relations was not caused by Russian misbehavior on arms control; it was caused by Russia’s interference in our democracy. But dealing with arms-control issues using tough diplomacy in conjunction with allies could provide Trump a way to achieve what he claims to want most – a path toward improving relations. In the process, he could also avoid another arms race.


►  German pol slams Trump’s ‘downplaying of Nazi violence

A leading German politician has branded U.S. Donald Trump’s comments on the events surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia as “highly dangerous.”

Martin Schulz, who is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main challenger in next month’s election, said Germany has to “do everything to avoid things here going the way they are in America.”

Schulz was asked in an interview with German media group RND about Trump’s comments that “there’s blame on both sides” for the weekend violence in Charlottesville.

In extracts of the interview published Wednesday, Schulz was quoted as saying that “the downplaying of Nazi violence in Trump’s incoherent comments is highly dangerous.”

Schulz, who leads Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, said it was important to “stand decisively against those who sow hatred. Always. And everywhere.”


►  China tells U.S., North Korea to ‘hit the brakes’ on threats

China is telling the U.S. and North Korea to “hit the brakes” on threatening words and actions and work toward a peaceful resolution of their dispute, in a sign of growing concern over the standoff on the part of Pyongyang’s only major ally.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the two countries should work together to contain tensions and permit no one to “stir up an incident on their doorstep,” according to a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

“The most important task at hand is for the U.S. and North Korea to ‘hit the brakes’ on their mutual needling of each other with words and actions, to lower the temperature of the tense situation and prevent the emergence of an ‘August crisis,’” Wang was quoted as saying in the Tuesday conversation.

The ministry quoted Lavrov as saying tensions could rise again with the U.S. and South Korea set to launch large-scale military exercises on August 21.

“A resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue by military force is completely unacceptable and the peninsula’s nuclear issue must be peacefully resolved by political and diplomatic methods,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

China is North Korea’s main economic partner and political backer, although relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have deteriorated amid the North’s continuing defiance of China’s calls for restraint. In recent months, China has joined with Russia in calling for the U.S. to suspend annual military exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang halting its missile and nuclear tests as a first step toward direct talks.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, continued a visit to China following talks the day before with his Chinese counterpart that touched on North Korea. No details of the talks have been released.

Dunford on Tuesday told Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department, that the sides had “many difficult issues” between them but were willing to deal with them through dialogue.

On Monday, Dunford was in Seoul to meet with senior South Korean military and political officials and the local media, seeking to ease anxiety while showing his willingness to back Donald Trump’s warnings if need be.

The U.S. wants to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea, but Washington is also ready to use the “full range” of its military capabilities, Dunford said. His visit to Asia, which also will include a stop in Japan, comes after Trump last week declared the U.S. military “locked and loaded” and said he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.

North Korea’s military on Tuesday presented leader Kim Jong Un with plans to launch missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam and “wring the windpipes of the Yankees,” even as both Koreas and the United States signaled their willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.

The tentative interest in diplomacy follows unusually combative threats between Trump and North Korea amid worries Pyongyang is nearing its long-sought goal of being able to send a nuclear missile to the U.S. mainland. Next week’s start of U.S.-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.

During an inspection of the North Korean army’s Strategic Forces, which handles the missile program, Kim praised the military for drawing up a “close and careful plan” and said he would watch the “foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” a little more before deciding whether to order the missile test, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim appeared in photos sitting at a table with a large map marked by a straight line between what appeared to be northeastern North Korea and Guam, and passing over Japan — apparently showing the missiles’ flight route.

The missile plans were previously announced. Kim said North Korea would conduct the launches if the “Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity,” warning the United States to “think reasonably and judge properly” to avoid shaming itself, the news agency said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, “We continue to be interested in trying to find a way to get to dialogue, but that’s up to (Kim).”

Lobbing missiles toward Guam, a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific, would be deeply provocative from the U.S. perspective. A miscalculation on either side could lead to military confrontation.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, a liberal who favors diplomacy, urged North Korea to stop provocations and to commit to talks over its nuclear weapons program.

Moon, in a televised speech Tuesday on the anniversary of World War II’s end and the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, said Seoul and Washington agree that the nuclear standoff should “absolutely be solved peacefully.” He said no U.S. military action on the Korean Peninsula could be taken without Seoul’s consent.

North Korea’s military said last week that it would finalize the plan to fire four ballistic missiles near Guam, which is about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from Pyongyang. It would be a test of the Hwasong-12, a new missile the country flight-tested for the first time in May. The liquid-fuel missile is designed to be fired from road mobile launchers and has been described by North Korea as built for attacking Alaska and Hawaii.

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►  Both Korean leaders, U.S. signal turn to diplomacy amid crisis

North Korea’s military on Tuesday presented leader Kim Jong Un with plans to launch missiles into waters near Guam and “wring the windpipes of the Yankees,” even as both Koreas and the United States signaled their willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.

The tentative interest in diplomacy follows unusually combative threats between Donald Trump and North Korea amid worries that Pyongyang is nearing its long-sought goal of accurately being able to send a nuclear missile to the U.S. mainland. Next week’s start of U.S.-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year makes it unclear, however, if diplomacy will prevail.

During an inspection of the North Korean army’s Strategic Forces, which handles the missile program, Kim praised the military for drawing up a “close and careful plan” and said he would watch the “foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” a little more before deciding whether to order the missile test, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim appeared in photos sitting at a table with a large map marked by a straight line between what appeared to be northeastern North Korea and Guam, and passing over Japan — apparently showing the missiles’ flight route.

The missile plans were previously announced. Kim said North Korea would conduct the launches if the “Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity,” and that the United States should “think reasonably and judge properly” to avoid shaming itself, the news agency said.

Lobbing missiles toward Guam, a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific, would be a deeply provocative act from the U.S. perspective, and a miscalculation on either side could lead to a military clash. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the United States would take out any such missile seen to be heading for American soil and declared any such North Korean attack could mean war.

Kim’s comments, however, with their conditional tone, seemed to hold out the possibility that friction could ease if the United States made some sort of gesture that Pyongyang considered a move to back away from previous “extremely dangerous reckless actions.”

That could refer to the U.S.-South Korean military drills set to begin Monday, which the North claims are rehearsals for invasion. It also could refer to the B-1B bombers that the U.S. has occasionally flown over the Korean Peninsula as a show of force.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, a liberal who favors engagement with the North, urged North Korea to stop provocations and to commit to talks over its nuclear weapons program.

Moon, in a televised speech Tuesday on the anniversary of the end of World War II and the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, said that Seoul and Washington agree that the crisis over the North’s nuclear program should “absolutely be solved peacefully,” and that no U.S. military action on the Korean Peninsula could be taken without Seoul’s consent.

Moon said the North could create conditions for talks by stopping nuclear and missile tests.

“Our government will put everything on the line to prevent another war on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. “Regardless of whatever twist and turns we could experience, the North Korean nuclear program should absolutely be solved peacefully, and the (South Korean) government and the U.S. government don’t have a different position on this.”

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, on Monday met with senior South Korean military and political officials and the local media, and made comments that appeared to be an attempt to ease anxiety while also showing a willingness to back Trump’s warnings if need be.

Dunford said the United States wants to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea, but Washington is also ready to use the “full range” of its military capabilities in case of provocation.

Dunford is visiting South Korea, Japan and China after a week in which Trump declared the U.S. military “locked and loaded” and said he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.

North Korea’s military had said last week it would finalize and send to Kim for approval the plan to fire four ballistic missiles near Guam, which is about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from Pyongyang.

The plans are based on the Hwasong-12, a new missile the country successfully flight-tested for the first time in May. The liquid-fuel missile is designed to be fired from road mobile launchers and has been previously described by North Korea as built for attacking Alaska and Hawaii.

The North followed the May launch with two flight tests of its Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile last month. Analysts said that a wide swath of the continental United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, could be within reach of those missiles, once they’re perfected.

The North’s latest report said Kim ordered his military to be prepared to launch the missiles toward Guam at any time. Kim said that if the “planned fire of power demonstration” is carried out because of U.S. recklessness, it will be “the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks,” the North reported.

Even with North Korea and the Trump administration exchanging tough talk, back-channel diplomatic contacts between the countries have continued, The Associated Press reported Saturday. People familiar with the contacts who spoke on condition of anonymity say those discussions have addressed deteriorating relations and issues including three Americans still detained in the North.

A foreign ministry spokesman for the North on Tuesday denied that the country is currently discussing the detainees with Washington. “The issue on detained Americans is not an object to discuss in view of the present atmosphere of DPRK-U.S. relations,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted the spokesman as saying.

North Korea is angry about new United Nations sanctions over its expanding nuclear weapons and missile program and the upcoming military drills between Washington and Seoul.

Kim said the United States must “make a proper option first and show it through action, as it committed provocations after introducing huge nuclear strategic equipment into the vicinity of the peninsula” and that it “should stop at once arrogant provocations” against North Korea, state media said.


►  At least 600 missing in deadly Sierra Leone mudslides

The death toll from massive mudslides in Sierra Leone’s capital was certain to rise Tuesday as bodies washed up on a beach and workers searched for an untold number of people buried in their homes. The Red Cross estimated that 600 people were still missing.

Authorities have said more than 300 people were killed in and around Freetown on Monday following heavy rains. Many were trapped under tons of mud as they slept.

The Connaught Hospital mortuary in central Freetown was overwhelmed on Tuesday with more than 300 bodies, many spread on the floor.

“The magnitude of the destruction as a result of the disaster is such that the number of victims in the community who may not come out alive may likely exceed the number of dead bodies already recovered,” said Charles Mambu, a civil society activist and resident of one affected area, Mount Sugar Loaf.

In a sign of hope, he said, “two bodies were brought out alive from the debris last evening.”

Government spokesman Cornelius Deveaux said rescue operations began early Tuesday to remove people still believed to be buried in the rubble. Heavy equipment was deployed to dig into the piles of red mud.

Deveaux said definitive death figures were unknown “as the mortuary is overwhelmed with corpses — men, women and children.”

Many bodies were in a horrible state, missing arms, heads or legs, Deveaux said, adding that proper burials will be vital in keeping disease at bay. “Contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate the outbreak of disease like cholera,” he told a local radio station, FM 98.1.

Sulaiman Parker, the environmental protection officer in the Freetown City Council, said bodies will be buried in the next 48 hours.

Some rescue workers and volunteers dug overnight through the mud and debris with their bare hands in a desperate search for missing relatives. Military personnel have been deployed to help with the operation in the impoverished West African nation.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said Abdul Nasir, program coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away. We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss.”

An estimated 9,000 people have been affected, Nasir told The Associated Press.

The Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp. showed people carrying the dead to the morgue in rice sacks.

Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone’s capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the rainy season. Freetown also is plagued by unregulated building of large residential houses in hilltop areas.

Thousands of makeshift settlements in and around the capital were severely affected.

“The government has been warning people not to construct houses in these areas. When they do this, there are risks,” Nasir said. “People don’t follow the standard construction rules, and that is another reason that many of these houses have been affected.”

Deforestation for firewood and charcoal is one of the leading factors of worsening flooding and mudslides.


►  Analysis: To launch or not? Either way, North Korea may gain

If, after all the fanfare, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doesn’t actually launch missiles toward Guam, many may write the whole episode off as another of the North’s seemingly endless bluffs. But from Pyongyang’s perspective and in the eyes of some U.S. military experts, Kim and his generals have already won this round.

Launch or not, Pyongyang has caused great drama and angst, riled U.S. Donald Trump and alarmed America’s allies in Tokyo and Seoul. It could also set a precedent for more aggressive brinkmanship ahead.

It comes as no surprise then that on Tuesday, as North Korea’s state media released photos of Kim and his military officers examining the launch plan, replete with photos of the missiles’ flight path and a big satellite image of the U.S. territory’s Andersen Air Force Base, it also offered a seeming out.

Kim, it said, wants to “watch a little more” before making a decision.

The North’s plan is to launch four missiles into the waters around the U.S. Pacific territory: one to the north, one to the south, and one each east and west. Pyongyang is calling it an “enveloping fire” demonstration, but in military jargon it’s more commonly called “bracketing.” It was calculated to touch off a storm of anxiety region-wide.

But firing missiles into Guam’s exclusive economic zone, as the North threatened, would be an extremely risky move. “If they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly,” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday. “Yes, that’s called war, if they shoot at us.”

So, from the start, Pyongyang gave itself big exit ramps.

The North has never said it would attack Guam itself. To make its intentions crystal clear, it provided an extremely detailed account of the planned trajectory of the launch, which Japanese prefectures it would go over, the duration of the flight — right down to the second — and the distance of the “splash areas” from Guam’s coast.

More importantly, it never committed to a launch date. Or, for that matter, to launching the missiles at all.

“The regime composed the threat in such a way as to allow Kim to back down without losing face,” said Adam Mount, a nuclear strategy specialist with the Center for American Progress. “North Korea’s Guam threat was more sophisticated, credible, and coercive than any of the vague warnings Trump made last week.”

Of course, Pyongyang could blow past its own fail-safes.

It may still want to try its missiles out at an angle closer to the “battle trajectory” they would fly in a real attack, rather than the “lofted” trajectories they’ve been using to avoid flying over neighboring countries. If pushed further, or possibly as a high-profile protest to U.S.-South Korean military exercises that will begin next week, it could also want to use the launch to show the world what it can do and see what it can get away with.

But many experts who follow North Korea think Kim isn’t in any big hurry.

“It seems to me they plan to draw this out, perhaps expecting Trump to lose interest,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. “It’s not an empty threat, but it’s also fairly high stakes. I imagine that the North Koreans would skip it if the rhetoric was toned down.”

Pyongyang has suggested Kim’s decision is contingent on B-1B bomber flights from Guam to Korean airspace. The B-1B, though no longer capable of carrying nuclear weapons, is one of the most advanced bombers in the Air Force and Washington has frequently ordered such missions — over South Korea but near the DMZ — as a show of force against Pyongyang.

If Washington were to halt the flights, Kim could claim a victory. If it were to order the B-1Bs into the air, Pyongyang would have an excuse to launch. Or it could claim it magnanimously refrained from doing so, while reserving the right to do so at a later date.

For Kim, in the convoluted world of military deterrence, that’s a win-win.

“I think at some point they’re going to say, ‘Look, this is not anything different than your flying B-1 bombers over Korea,’” said Robert Carlin, a contributor to the respected 38 North website and former State Department and CIA analyst.

“We’re going to put our missiles 25 or 30 kilometers offshore. Your bombers come within tens of kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone. If you can ‘reach out and touch’ us, we can ‘reach out and touch’ you.”


►  China says U.S. trade probe would violate international rules

China criticized Donald Trump’s order for a possible U.S. trade investigation of Beijing’s technology policies as a violation of global rules and said Tuesday it will “resolutely safeguard” Chinese interests.

Trade groups for technology companies welcomed Trump’s order Monday but the Chinese Commerce Ministry said it violated the spirit of international trade and Washington’s World Trade Organization commitments. The ministry said Beijing will take “all appropriate measures” if Chinese companies are hurt but gave no details.

Trump told U.S. trade officials to look into whether to launch a formal investigation into whether Beijing improperly requires foreign companies to hand over technology in exchange for market access.

“If the U.S. side disregards the fact it does not respect multilateral trade rules and takes action to damage the economic and trade relations between the two sides, then the Chinese side will never sit back and will take all appropriate measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese side,” said a Commerce Ministry statement.

Beijing requires automakers and other foreign companies in China to work through joint ventures, usually with state-owned partners. They often are required to give technology to partners that might become competitors.

More than 20 percent of 100 American companies that responded to a survey by the U.S.-China Business Council, an industry group, said they were asked to transfer technology within the past three years as a condition of market access, according to Jake Parker, the group’s vice president for China operations.

“We don’t believe market access should be contingent on transferring technology,” said Parker. “It goes counter to China’s WTO commitments.”

Foreign business groups complain companies are being squeezed out of promising Chinese markets or pressured to hand over technology for electric cars and other emerging industries.

Trump said in April he was setting aside trade disputes while Washington and Beijing worked together to persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons development. But American officials have resumed criticizing Chinese policy in recent weeks.

“The White House is right to make clear all options are on the table,” said Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an industry group in Washington, in a statement.

The Commerce Ministry complained Trump’s order was “strong unilateralism” that violated the spirit of multinational trade agreements.

“We believe the U.S. side should strictly adhere to commitments and should not become the destroyer of multilateral rules,” said the statement.

Ahead of Monday’s order, the Chinese foreign ministry appealed to Trump to avoid a “trade war.” A state newspaper, the China Daily, said an investigation could “intensify tensions,” especially over intellectual property.

Parker noted then-President Barack Obama ordered a similar investigation of Chinese policy on green technology in 2010. That ended in a negotiated settlement.

“It didn’t lead to any unilateral sanctions against the Chinese,” said Parker. “Nor did it undermine the overall U.S.-China trade relationship.”


►  Dubai magnate tied to Trump brand seeks new ventures abroad

During recent trips to Croatia and Malta, a Dubai-based billionaire and business partner of the Trump Organization looked more like a head of state himself — mingling with government dignitaries, receiving a presidential reception and visiting the glittering Mediterranean Sea.

Hussain Sajwani met with leaders in the two European nations and addressed local journalists, many of whom referred to his ties to Donald Trump or simply called him “the Donald of Dubai.”

Sajwani’s trips, as well as a recent deal in Oman, show that Trump’s business partner in Dubai wants to expand his development empire beyond the Mideast and a tower under construction in London.

Enter Sajwani’s DAMAC Properties, which launched a new effort this week to sell Trump-branded villas at the golf course bearing the American president’s name.

“My dream is as we have put our major, iconic tower in London, that we do repeat that in major gateway cities around the world,” Sajwani said in a July online video. “Tokyo, Toronto, New York, Paris, I don’t know. But that would be a dream — to grow DAMAC with its iconic brands around the world.”

Sajwani’s dream for a global expansion — as well his growing online presence among social media videos and posts — received a major boost with Trump taking the White House. It also raised the public profile of a billionaire whose fortune grew in part out of contracting work his companies did in supplying U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

DAMAC Properties declined an Associated Press interview request with Sajwani. In a statement, DAMAC spokesman Niall McLoughlin said the company is “exploring opportunities in major gateway cities across Europe and the U.S., hence the numerous and ongoing meetings over the past many years” by Sajwani.

Sajwani wholeheartedly embraced Trump, even as the U.S. presidential candidate’s campaign saw him call for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims coming to the United States. Once reaching office, Trump’s travel ban on six predominantly Muslim countries avoided naming the UAE, a major U.S. ally that hosts some 5,000 American troops and is the U.S. Navy’s busiest foreign port of call.

In February, Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. opened the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai , the first of two to be built in the sheikhdom by Sajwani. DAMAC share prices have nearly doubled from 2.17 dirhams (59 cents) a share on the day of the U.S. election in November, to a high of over 4 dirhams ($1.09).

That made Sajwani, who owns over 70 percent of DAMAC stock, even richer.

However, economies overall have slowed across the Middle East amid a glut in global oil prices. An ongoing diplomatic dispute between Arab nations and Qatar has likely also affected DAMAC, as 6 percent of all its customers from 2014 to 2016 were Qataris, according to an April filing by the company on the Nasdaq Dubai. DAMAC announced results Monday that put its second-quarter earnings at 704 million dirhams ($191.6 million), down from 864 million dirhams ($235.2 million) in the same period last year.

Facing that sluggish market, Sajwani has begun to look abroad.

In Oman, he signed a deal in June with the state-run Oman Tourism Development Co. for DAMAC to help redevelop Port Sultan Qaboos in Muscat, a project valued overall at $1 billion.

Then in July, Sajwani visited Croatia and met with President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Sajwani also visited tourist towns along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, according a DAMAC statement at the time. The local branch of Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm headquartered in Toronto, said it organized the three-day trip for Sajwani, trying to pitch him on developments on the Istria peninsula and Central and Southern Dalmatia.

DAMAC “continues to look at the investment opportunities” in Croatia, primarily along the Adriatic, said Vedrana Likan, the managing partner of Colliers’ Croatian arm.

Sajwani then traveled to Malta, an archipelago nation off Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, and met with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Both Croatia and Malta are members of the European Union, which Emirati citizens have been able to travel to without visas since 2015. That can drive business for any possible DAMAC project in either country, as well as create new European interest in Dubai, where the developer makes its real money, said Issam Kassabieh, an analyst with the UAE-based firm Menacorp Finance.

“It’s a very effective method of branding,” Kassabieh said. “Once foreign investors see the DAMAC name in Europe, they’ll follow it all the way back to the source, which is Dubai, so they can capitalize on it here.”

Meanwhile, DAMAC Properties just this week launched a new set of Trump-branded duplex villas, priced from 2.96 million dirhams ($806,000) that include three-year memberships at the golf course. The company previously offered stand-alone villas at prices starting at 5 million dirhams ($1.3 million) up to 15 million dirhams ($4 million).

The Trump Organization, now run by Trump’s adult sons though the president hasn’t divested from it, also tweeted that the new villas were for sale . It told the AP that the villas are “not a new project” and represented “our longstanding relationship with DAMAC Properties.”

While DAMAC merely mentions Trump as representing “the most respected developments throughout the world,” one Dubai newspaper more bluntly suggested buyers could “own a piece of the Trump name.”

And while it remains unclear how Sajwani trades on his Trump ties in private meetings with foreign leaders, advertising and marketing by DAMAC prominently features Trump. That could lead to potential conflicts, said Norman Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s lead ethics attorney and who now is a part of a watchdog group suing Trump for his alleged violations of a clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits foreign gifts and payments.

If Sajwani “is featuring the Trump name in his marketing materials and if, as one can fairly assume, that’s being furnished to government officials and others, then that would be a not-very-subtle attempt to trade on his business partner’s presence in the White House,” Eisen said.

Turning Down International Threats Might Improve U.S. Stress Levels

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The Sunday morning political talk shows were full of U.S. officials playing down the possibility of a nuclear conflict with North Korea. They insist there is no imminent threat of missile strikes on the U.S. or Guam, despite President Donald Trump’s threats last week.

Indiana University Political Science Professor Edward Carmines said the President’s harsh words and constant tweets also continue to fuel tensions between Democrats and Republicans. He noted that the rift between the parties started widening in the 1970s, and said he feels Trump might have to change his behavior to make the kind of progress in office that he touted on the campaign trail.

“It’s become even more difficult to forge any kind of compromises on any kind of public policy because of the antagonism that had built up between the parties, and now [is] exacerbated by the introduction of Trump and the Trump presidency,” Carmines said.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo both appeared on the Sunday talk shows to say the U.S. and its allies are trying to resolve the North Korean standoff without resorting to military action.

Carmines said he agrees that diplomacy - not bravado - is what’s needed. He’s concerned that the President’s tough talk about North Korea may continue to keep that region, and the U.S., on edge.

“There seems to be a real sense of worry and unease,” he said. “And quite frankly, some of the rhetoric that comes out of the White House is not helpful to try and reassure people that there’s really a way of dealing with some of the, you know, major problems and challenges that face the country.“

In a survey earlier this year by the American Psychological Association, 57 percent of the respondents described the current political climate as a major source of stress - and that survey was taken before the standoff with North Korea.

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►  Austria records first instances of Fipronil-tainted eggs

Austria’s food safety agency says it has found the first instances of eggs contaminated with Fipronil in the country.

The AGES agency says eight of 80 samples tested nationwide yielded traces of the insecticide, with the highest level at 0.1 milligrams a kilogram. That’s below the EU limit of 0.72 milligrams a kilogram and AGES says the traces in Austria are 10 times lower than the highest concentration, found in Belgium.

AGES said Monday the insecticide was found in shipments of egg products for restaurant use from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Poland.

Experts say the risk of getting sick from eating an egg tainted with Fipronil is low. But the illegal use of the insecticide in spray to rid hens of ticks, fleas and lice has prompted European food safety agencies to issue warnings and recalls of possibly affected imports.


►  70 years after Pakistan-India split, Sikhs search for home

Radesh Singh’s grandfather was just 11 years old when he left his village in India’s Punjab province to move to Peshawar, in the far northwest of the country on the border with Afghanistan.

The year was 1901: The British ruled the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan wasn’t even a glimmer in the eye of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and Peshawar held the promise of work and adventure.

Singh’s grandfather would never return to his village, not even in 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was divided into majority Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, generating one of the largest migrations in modern history and unleashing a brutality that left few untouched as mobs of Hindus and Muslims turned on each other.

Singh’s family is neither Hindu nor Muslim but Sikh, a religious minority in both countries. In the 70 years since Partition they have waged a secessionist uprising in India demanding outright independence for India’s Punjab state where they dominate. They have felt increasingly less at home on either side of the border, but particularly so in recent years in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan as they too have become victims of local Taliban violence.

Singh said poverty kept his grandfather in Peshawar, located at the foot of the famed Khyber Pass and dominated by fiercely independent ethnic Pashtun tribesmen.

“It’s not easy to start over at zero when you have very little,” he said.

The hostility in the immediate aftermath of 1947 was brief in the northwest, said Singh. It was followed by decades of peace. The decision to stay in the new country now called Pakistan seemed like a good choice at the time. The Sikhs had lived peacefully for centuries alongside their Pashtun Muslim countrymen.

After all, said Singh, Sikhs had a glorious history in the northwest. For a time in the 18th century they oversaw a dynasty. Their capital was Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore. It was a Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, who rebuilt Peshawar’s infamous Bala Hisar Fort, an imposing walled fortress that some historians say is as old as the city itself, which traces its origins back more than 2,000 years.

Today Sikhs are among Pakistan’s smallest minorities. They are easily identifiable because of their tightly wound and often colorful turbans, and because they share the surname Singh. The CIA Factbook estimates that 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are non-Muslims, including Sikhs, Christians and Hindus.

Until 1984, Singh said, Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs lived as one in northwest Pakistan. Their children married, they even worshipped together. But then India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

“They (Hindus) cut all relations with us. They said Pakistani Sikhs are like all Sikhs everywhere. No difference. They said, ‘From now on, we will be separate from you,’” Singh recalled.

Today Sikhs are battling with the Pakistan government for ownership of dozens of Sikh temples that they call gurdwaras; while it is slow going they have managed to reclaim some of the buildings. Many were abandoned in 1947 and taken over by Muslims who arrived from India. The Pakistan government, which took over the buildings after 1947, allowed the squatters to remain.

In a congested neighborhood in Peshawar’s old city, Singh stepped through large steel gates that opened on to a sweeping courtyard. It no longer resembled a house of worship, but Singh said it was once a vibrant gurdwara attended by hundreds of Sikhs. Now two families call it home.

Two clotheslines crowded with clothes drying in the blistering midday sun stretched from one end of the courtyard to the other. A child’s plastic toy sat idle nearby.

Elsewhere in Peshawar, an armed guard, his rifle slung loosely by his side, stood guard at the city’s largest Sikh temple, an ornate marble building that dates back 250 years. Inside a half dozen Sikh men sat on plastic chairs.

It is a short, bureaucratic-looking man, a Muslim, who has the final say about who enters the gurdwara. He works for the government body that oversees properties vacated by people who fled to India in 1947.

After phone calls made, names recorded, passports handed over and more phone calls made, the doors to the gurdwara were opened. revealing a cavernous carpeted room and ornate pillars decorated with hundreds of tiny mirrors. In a small room at the far end of the upper story, two students read the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book.

Singh, who heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan, said that since his homeland began to turn toward radical Islam, particularly in the Pashtun heartland, young Sikhs have been looking to leave.

“They want to go to another country, not to India or Pakistan,” he said, but every country eyes them with suspicion. Even Indians, he said, see his Pakistani passport and question his intentions, suggesting he wants to agitate for Sikh secessionism, the battle that resulted in Indira Gandhi’s death and a dream still held by many Sikhs on both sides of the border.

For Singh, Pakistan’s slide into intolerance began in the late 1970s with the former Soviet Union’s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military dictator Zia-ul Haq set the country on the course of Islamic radicalization as jihad became a rallying cry to defeat the communists in Afghanistan, he said.

Extremism worsened after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition, he said. The tribal regions were gradually overtaken by Taliban and in 2013 several Sikhs were killed, their limbs severed. The brutality of the killings and the threats sent thousands fleeing Pakistan, said Singh.

He said today Pakistan’s intolerant use blasphemy — a crime that carries an automatic death penalty — as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike.

“That is why we have a fear in our hearts, that this law can be used against us,” he said. The mere accusation of blasphemy can incite mobs to violence.

“In the last nearly 40 years we have been facing the boom, boom (mimicking the sound of explosions) in every city of Pakistan,” said Singh. “In a long time we have not heard any sweet sounds in our Peshawar, but still we love our city.”


►  More than 200 dead in Sierra Leone mudslides

Relatives dug through the mud in search of their loved ones and a morgue overflowed with bodies Monday after heavy rains and flooding early in the day killed at least 200 people in Sierra Leone’s capital.

Bodies were spread out on the floor of a morgue, Sinneh Kamara, a coroner technician at the Connaught Hospital mortuary, told the national broadcaster.

“The capacity at the mortuary is too small for the corpses,” he told the Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp.

Kamara urged the health department to deploy more ambulances, saying his mortuary only has four.

Sierra Leone’s national television broadcaster interrupted its regular programming to show scenes of people trying to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies. Others were seen carting relatives’ remains in rice sacks to the morgue.

Military personnel have been deployed to help in the rescue operation currently ongoing, officials said.

Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone’s capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the West African country’s rainy season.


►  Third of Syrian refugee kids not in school, despite pledges

Since his family fled civil war in Syria five years ago, 15-year-old Ali al-Sbehi hasn’t set foot in a school.

Instead, he has put in 12-hour shifts in a supermarket, a fast food stand and now a coffee shop, enduring abuse from employers, back-breaking work and low pay because he is the sole breadwinner for his family of eight.

“I have no future,” said the lanky teen with narrow shoulders, offering a sober assessment of his prospects.

Ali is among more than half a million Syrian refugee children of school age — or one-third of the total — who are not in school or informal education in overburdened regional host countries Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.

They should all have been enrolled by now under a pledge made 18 months ago by donor countries and international organizations at a Syria aid conference in London.

At the time, donors promised hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the education target, as part of a shift from emergency aid to longer-term development to cope with the fallout from Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year.

However, Syria aid has been plagued by persistent funding shortfalls, as donors face competing global crises. A U.N.-led $8 billion aid appeal for 2017 — $3.4 billion for Syria and $4.6 billion for the host countries — was only 25 percent funded by July, according to U.N. figures.

“If we were fully funded ... more children would be back in school,” said Juliette Touma, regional spokeswoman for UNICEF, the U.N. child welfare agency.

Money could alleviate both the direct and indirect causes of children not getting an education. Deepening poverty among refugees drives more boys into menial work and more girls into early marriage. Local schools are overcrowded. Parents often lack money for transportation to and from school, or fear for their children’s safety.

Progress has been made and many of the donors have stepped up, Touma said. The out-of-school rate in regional host countries dropped from 45 percent to 34 percent between December 2015 and December 2016.

Britain’s Department for International Development, when asked about donors missing the target set in London, pointed to the improvement, saying that “for the first time since the start of the crisis there are more children in school than not in school.” It added that “the scale of the challenge remains huge.”

In Jordan, about 126,000 of 212,000 Syrian refugee children are enrolled in school, with the government supporting the campaign by doubling the number of schools with two shifts to 200 in the fall of 2016.

Another 46,000 children participate in informal education.

This includes new catch-up programs at 60 centers where children who missed more than three years of school can make up for lost time. In the past, such children would not have been able to return to school.

Summer school offers an entry point for those who registered late.

“In Syria, there was war, and planes,” said 11-year-old Mohammed Faisal, a first grader in summer school. “But I like being here. They take us out on breaks, they feed us yummy food, and the teachers treat us with kindness.”

This leaves about 40,000 Syrian refugee children in Jordan who can’t or won’t return to school, as well as thousands more at risk of dropping out.

Robert Jenkins, the head of UNICEF in Jordan, said his $96 million education budget for 2017 is only half funded, and that this jeopardizes programs meant to encourage children to stay in school or re-enroll.

Currently, about 52,000 children get cash grants of 20 dinars ($28) a month to help with school transportation and other costs related to education, or to enable boys to quit their jobs. Jenkins said he had hoped to double the number of participants this year, but instead might have to phase out the program for lack of money.

Jenkins said anecdotal evidence suggests child labor among Syrian refugees is on the rise, but that no statistics are available. “We need to work on both supporting the families and supporting the school system together for this to be successful,” he said.

He said refugee parents face tough choices. “If you ask your typical Syrian refugee family, at the top of the list remains (the wish for) continuing education” of their children, he said.

When Ali Sbehi was 10, his family tried unsuccessfully to register him for school in Jordan.

He was told at the time he would need to repeat third grade because his parents lacked documents showing he had already completed it in Syria. He refused to do so. Since then, he has forgotten most of what he learned in Syria.

His father, who had worked in construction, became bedridden with back problems three years ago.

Ali is now responsible for supporting the family. “I cannot let my family starve to death,” he said. “I am obliged to work, to take responsibility. I have to handle it so I can bring in money.”

During his last job, at a coffee shop, Ali used to wake up at 2 p.m. every day to go to work and return home around dawn. He would sweep floors and serve customers water pipes, with a maximum of five dinars ($7) in his pocket at the end of the shift. His employer often withheld some of that money, and still owes him 63 dinars ($100), Ali said.

Ali’s mother, 40-year-old Khalida, is worried about him.

“I am scared when he’s walking back home somebody will hit him or say something to him. I am afraid for him, a lot,” she said. “Sometimes I just call him and tell him to hell with work, just come home.”


►  Hungry Venezuelans turn to Colombia for a plate of food

Under a scorching sun just a short walk from Colombia’s border with Venezuela, hundreds of hungry men, women and children line up for bowls of chicken and rice — the first full meal some have eaten in days.

An estimated 25,000 Venezuelans make the trek across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge into Colombia each day. Many come for a few hours to work or trade goods on the black market, looking for household supplies they cannot find back home.

But increasingly, they are coming to eat in one of a half-dozen facilities offering struggling Venezuelans a free plate of food.

“I never thought I’d say this,” said Erick Oropeza, 29, a former worker with Venezuela’s Ministry of Education who recently began crossing the bridge at 4 a.m. each day. “But I’m more grateful for what Colombia has offered me in this short time than what I ever received from Venezuela my entire life.”

As Venezuela’s economy verges on collapse and its political upheaval worsens, cities like Cucuta along Colombia’s porous, 1,370-mile (2,200-kilometer) border with Venezuela have become firsthand witnesses to the neighboring South American nation’s escalating humanitarian crisis.

According to one recent survey, about 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds (8.7 kilograms) last year.

The Colombian government has crafted contingency plans in the event of a sudden, mass exodus, but already church groups and nonprofit organizations are stepping in, moved by images of mothers carrying starving babies and skinny men trying to make a few bucks on Cucuta’s streets to bring back home.

Paulina Toledo, 47, a Colombian hairstylist who recently helped feed lunch to 900 Venezuelans, said seeing how hungry they were “hurt my soul.”

“Those of us here on the border are seeing their pain,” she said.

People living on either side of the Colombia-Venezuela border have long had a foot in both countries: A Colombian who lives in Cucuta might cross to visit relatives in San Cristobal; a Venezuelan might make the reverse trip to work or go to school.

In the years when Venezuela’s oil industry was booming and Colombia entangled in a half-century armed conflict, an estimated 4 million Colombians migrated to Venezuela. Many started coming back as Venezuela’s economy began to implode and after Maduro closed the border in 2015 and expelled 20,000 Colombians overnight.

Oropeza said he earned about $70 a month working at the Ministry of Education and selling hamburgers on the side — twice Venezuela’s minimum wage but still not enough to feed a family of four. Once a month his family receives a bundle of food provided by the government, but it only lasts a week.

“So the other three weeks, like most Venezuelans, we have to make magic happen,” he said on a recent afternoon.

Desperate for money to feed his family, he left his job and traveled to the Venezuelan border town of San Antonio. He wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning to be among the first crossing the bridge into Cucuta, where he earns money selling soft drinks on the street.

He goes straight to the “Casa de Paso,” a church-run shelter that has served 60,000 meals to Venezuelans since opening two months ago. On an average day, 2,000 Venezuelans line up for meals, getting a ticket to reserve their spot and then waiting four hours for a meal served at outdoor plastic tables.

Workers stir gigantic metal pots filled with chicken and rice set on the bare dirt floor. Volunteers hand out boxes of juice to tired-looking children. Adults sit quietly, savoring their bowl of food as chickens waddle between them.

“Every day I have to remind myself why I am here,” said Oropeza, dressed in a faded striped collared shirt. “I try to repeat it to myself so that I won’t, you know, so those moments of weakness don’t affect you so much.”

When he’s not helping out or waiting in line at the shelter kitchen, Oropeza sells malted soft drinks for about 50 cents each. He’s been able to bring money back to his family and has earned enough to buy a cellphone, which he’d lacked for two years.

Jose David Canas, a priest, said his church will continue to serve food “as long as God allows.”

“Until they close the border,” he said. “Until everything is eaten or until the province tells us that they no longer have lunches to give out. And then it’s the end.”

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►  World’s oldest man, a Holocaust survivor, dies at 113

Israel Kristal, the world’s oldest man who lived through both World Wars and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp has passed away just a month short of his 114th birthday, his family said Saturday.

Oren Kristal, a grandson, said he died Friday. “He managed to accomplish a lot. Every year he lived was like a few years for somebody else,“ Oren told The Associated Press.

Last year Guinness World Records awarded Kristal a certificate as the world’s oldest man at his home in Haifa, Israel.

Kristal was born to an Orthodox Jewish family near the town of Zarnow in Poland in 1903.

“When he was a child during World War I in Poland he was a helper for a booze smuggler, he used to run barefoot in the snow through the night many kilometers with a heavy package on his back at about 12 years old, smuggling alcohol between the lines of the war,“ Oren, his grandson said.

“He used to walk very fast until he was very old, faster than me, and he used to tell me that when he was my age if you didn’t walk fast enough your feet would stick to the frozen ground,“ Oren recalled his grandfather telling him.

Kristal was orphaned shortly after World War I and moved to Lodz to work in the family confectionary business in 1920.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland Kristal was confined to the ghetto there and later sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. His first wife and two children were killed in the Holocaust. Six million Jews were systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during WWII.

“He used to tell us whenever we were mourning someone that we should consider that they are being buried in the land of Israel, most of the people he knew did not get to be buried in a grave when they died,“ Oren said.

Kristal survived World War II weighing only 37 kilograms (about 81 pounds) — the only survivor of his large family.

He later married another Holocaust survivor and moved with her to Israel in 1950 where he built a new family and a successful confectionary business.

“He was a very hard working man, a lot of energy always running from one place to another doing something,“ Oren, his grandson said.

He said his grandfather participated in one of his great-grandsons bar mitzvah just a few weeks ago.

An observant Jew, Kristal himself only celebrated his bar mitzvah last year, a hundred years later than usual. He missed his bar mitzvah — the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony celebrated when a boy turns 13 — because of World War I.

Oren said his grandfather gave no explanation to the secret for his incredible longevity.

He is survived by two children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, media reported.


►  Submarine owner detained over journalist’s disappearance

A Danish court ordered the owner of an amateur-built submarine Saturday held in pre-trial detention for 24 days while police investigate the disappearance of a Swedish journalist who had been on the ship before it sank.

Peter Madsen was arrested Friday on preliminary manslaughter charges, hours after his 40-ton, nearly 60-foot-long submarine sank off Denmark’s eastern coast.

The inventor, who is from Denmark, has denied responsibility for the fate of 30-year-old Kim Wall, saying the journalist disembarked before his vessel went down.

Judge Kari Soerensen announced the ruling after a two-hour custody hearing held behind closed doors.

Madsen’s defense lawyer, Bettina Hald Engmark, said her client maintains his innocence. He is “willing to cooperate” and hasn’t decided whether to appeal the detention ruling, Hald Engmark said.

Before the hearing was closed, the courtroom was packed with Danish and Swedish reporters and the 46-year-old Madsen’s relatives. Madsen smiled and chatted with his lawyer.

“I would very much like to express myself,“ he said after the preliminary charges were read.

Prosecutor Louise Pedersen said Madsen faces the preliminary manslaughter charge “for having killed in an unknown way and in an unknown place Kim Isabell Frerika Wall of Sweden sometime after Thursday 5 p.m.“

Wall’s boyfriend alerted authorities early Friday that the sub, , named the UC3 Nautilus, had not returned to Copenhagen as expected. The Danish Navy launched a major search involving two helicopters, three ships and several private boats. The Navy said the sub was seen sailing, but then sank shortly afterward.

Kristian Isbak, who had responded to the Navy’s call to help locate the ship on Friday, told The Associated Press he first spotted Madsen standing wearing his trademark military fatigues in the submarine’s tower while it was still afloat.

“He then climbed down inside the submarine and there was then some kind of air flow coming up and the submarine started to sink,“ Isbak said. “(He) came up again and stayed in the tower until water came into it” before swimming to a nearby boat as the submarine sank, he added.

Madsen told authorities he had dropped Wall off on an island in Copenhagen’s harbor a few hours into their Thursday night trip.

“It is with great dismay that we received the news that Kim went missing during an assignment in Denmark,“ her family said in statement emailed to The Associated Press.

The Sweden-born freelance journalist studied at the Sorbonne university in Paris, the London School of Economics and at Columbia University in New York, where she graduated with a master’s degree in journalism in 2013.

She lived in New York and Peking, her family said, and had written for The New York Times, The Guardian, the South China Morning Post and Vice Magazine, among other publications.

A salvage vessel on Saturday raised the submarine, which was 23 feet under water off Copenhagen’s south island of Dragoer. The submarine was brought up some 4.3 miles off the coast and is expected to be transported to land at some point.

In theory, the Nautilus can dive up to 1,550 feet but has rarely gone deeper than 132 feet, according to Madsen’s business web site.

If tried and found guilty, Madsen would face between five years and life in prison.


►  U.S. debate on arming Ukraine puts pressure on Russia, Trump

Seeking leverage with Russia, the Trump administration has reopened consideration of long-rejected plans to give Ukraine lethal weapons, even if that would plunge the United States deeper into the former Soviet republic’s conflict.

The deliberations put pressure on Donald Trump, who’s fighting perceptions he is soft on the Kremlin amid investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

The proposal, endorsed by the Pentagon and the State Department, reflects his administration’s growing frustration with Russian intransigence on Ukraine and a broader deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties. The tensions were seen most recently in Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s order for America to eliminate more than half its diplomatic personnel in Russia.

Awaiting Trump and his closest advisers is an authorization to provide Ukraine with anti-tank and potentially anti-aircraft capabilities, according to U.S. officials familiar with plan. It’s not dramatically different from proposals rejected by President Barack Obama, who feared an influx of U.S. weapons could worsen the violence responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in Ukraine since 2014 and create the possibility of American arms killing Russian soldiers. Such a scenario could theoretically put the nuclear-armed nations closer to direct conflict.

While Obama was still in office, Trump’s campaign also rejected the idea of arming Ukraine, preventing it from being included in the Republican platform.

Now, however, it’s under discussion by Trump’s senior national security aides, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the matter publicly. While there is no deadline for a decision and one is not expected imminently, the debate is going on as U.S. and Russian diplomats prepare to meet as early as this coming week to explore ways to pacify eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have fought the central government for three years.

“The Russians have indicated some willingness to begin to talk with us about a way forward on Ukraine,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after seeing his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, last week in the Philippines.

Tillerson noted his recent appointment of a special representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who will coordinate with Russia and European countries to give “full visibility to all the parties that we’re not trying to cut some kind of a deal on the side that excludes their interests in any way.”

Russia hawks in the U.S. and uneasy American allies have feared such a prospect since Trump took office after a campaign in which he questioned NATO’s viability and repeatedly expressed his wish for a new U.S.-Russian partnership. At one point, two years after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Trump even challenged the notion that the Russians would “go into Ukraine.”

Volker has proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Putin ally Vladislav Surkov, before the end of the month. Lavrov said after his talks with Tillerson that the meeting would be in Moscow. U.S. officials say no venue has been determined, with the neutral venues of Geneva or Vienna also in play.

Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who is known as a Russia hawk, supports arming Ukraine. Such action, he says, would boost the U.S. negotiating position in the east and offer Kiev the means to defend itself against any future aggression. Unsurprisingly, Russia opposes such assistance and warns of consequences.

“I hear these arguments that it’s somehow provocative to Russia or that it’s going to embolden Ukraine to attack. These are just flat out wrong,” Volker told an interviewer last month as he visited Europe on his first trip in his new post. He argued that arming Ukraine would help rather than hurt efforts to stop Russia from threatening or interfering in its neighbor’s territory.

All proposals in recent years have focused on arms that are deemed “defensive” in nature and none would appear to give Ukraine any strategic edge over Russia’s vastly superior military forces.

“We have not provided defensive weapons nor have we ruled out the option to do so,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on August 3. “That’s an option that remains on the table.”

A White House official would not comment on internal administration deliberations but noted that since the crisis began in 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with support equipment for its forces and training and advice to further defense reforms.

Some U.S. officials say the idea is gaining currency because of Washington’s impatience with Russia and its start-and-stop implementation of a 2015 agreement designed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Minsk Accords were agreed by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia with the goal of enforcing a cease-fire in the east and introducing political reforms to give the area more political autonomy.

While the Obama administration allowed Europe to take the lead on the Minsk process, Volker has been empowered to make the U.S. a player in the effort.

The objective now is to change Russia’s strategic thinking, one official said, and providing defensive weapons to Ukraine would be one way to do that.


►  American tourist gives Nazi salute in Germany, is beaten up

Police say a drunken American man was punched by a passer-by as he gave the stiff-armed Nazi salute multiple times in downtown Dresden.

Dresden police said Sunday the 41-year-old, whose name and hometown weren’t given for privacy reasons, suffered minor injuries in the 8:15 a.m. Saturday assault.

Police say the American, who is under investigation for violating Germany’s laws against the display of Nazi symbols or slogans, had an extremely high blood alcohol level. His assailant fled the scene, and is being sought for causing bodily harm.

It’s the second time this month that tourists have gotten themselves into legal trouble for giving the Nazi salute.

On August 05 two Chinese tourists were caught taking photos of themselves making the gesture in front of Berlin’s Reichstag building.

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►  Xi calls for calm after Trump says U.S. is ‘locked and loaded’

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a plea for cool-headedness over escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea in a phone conversation with U.S. Donald Trump on Saturday, urging both sides to avoid words or actions that could worsen the situation.

The call came after Trump unleashed a slew of fresh threats against North Korea on Friday, declaring the U.S. military “locked and loaded” and warning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against U.S. territories or allies.

Trump has pushed China to pressure North Korea to halt a nuclear weapons program that is nearing the capability of targeting the United States. China is the North’s biggest economic partner and source of aid, but says it alone can’t compel Pyongyang to end its nuclear and missile programs.

The White House said in a statement that Trump and Xi “agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior.” It also said that the two “reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

State-run China Central Television quoted Xi as telling Trump the “relevant parties must maintain restraint and avoid words and deeds that would exacerbate the tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

But restraint was not the word of the day on Friday as Trump sent out a cascade of unscripted statements, including what appeared to be another red line — the mere utterance of threats — that would trigger a U.S. attack against North Korea and “big, big trouble” for Kim.

North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper, meanwhile, lashed back at the U.S. in an editorial Saturday.

“The powerful revolutionary Paektusan army of the DPRK, capable of fighting any war the U.S. wants, is now on the standby to launch fire into its mainland, waiting for an order of final attack,” it said. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The tough talk capped a week in which long-standing tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over.

New United Nations sanctions condemning the North’s rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang. Trump, responding to a report that U.S. intelligence indicates Pyongyang can now put a nuclear warhead on its long-range missiles, vowed to rain down “fire and fury” if challenged.

The North then came out with a threat to lob four intermediate-range “Hwasong-12” missiles near Guam, a tiny U.S. territory some 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from Pyongyang.

At the epicenter of the rhetoric, Trump’s New Jersey golf course, the president seemed to put Kim on notice, saying, “If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he has been uttering for years and his family has been uttering for years — or he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.”

Asked if the U.S. was going to war, he said cryptically, “I think you know the answer to that.”

But Trump’s comments did not appear to be backed by significant military mobilization on either side of the Pacific, and an important, quiet diplomatic channel remained open. As a precaution, Japan deployed missile defense batteries under the path a North Korean missile might take.

Life on the streets of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, also remained calm.

There have been no air raid drills or cars in camouflage netting as has been the case during previous crises. State-run media ensures that the population gets the North Korean side of the story, but doesn’t convey any sense of international concern about the situation.

U.S. officials say they will be going ahead with long-scheduled military exercises with South Korea. Pyongyang says it will be ready to send its missile launch plan to Kim for approval just before or as the drills begin.

Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run August 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. North Korea claims the exercises are a rehearsal for war, but Washington and Seoul say they are necessary to deter North Korean aggression.

Trump began his Friday barrage with an especially fiery tweet: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

He later retweeted a posting from U.S. Pacific Command that showed B-1B Lancer bomber planes on Guam that “stand ready to fulfill USFK’s #FightTonight mission if called upon to do so.” ″Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they’re always ready for combat on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump also brushed away calls for caution from other world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.

“I don’t see a military solution and I don’t think it’s called for,” Merkel said Friday, calling on the U.N. Security Council to continue to address the crisis.

“I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer,” Merkel added.

“Let her speak for Germany,” Trump said, when asked about the comment. “Perhaps she is referring to Germany. She’s certainly not referring to the United States, that I can tell you.”

By evening, he seemed to have mellowed a bit.

“Hopefully it’ll all work out,” Trump said. “Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than Trump.”

Speaking to Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, he promised: “You are safe. We are with you a thousand percent.”


►  Death toll rises amid Kenya’s rioting over disputed vote

In an escalation of Kenya’s deadly election violence, police on Saturday fired live ammunition at rioters and used tear gas on vehicles carrying opposition officials trying to enter a Nairobi slum where they have strong support. A young girl was killed by a stray bullet, nine bodies with gunshot wounds were brought overnight to the capital’s main morgue, and a watchdog group said police gunfire has killed 24 people since Tuesday’s disputed vote.

The chaos in the Nairobi slums of Mathare and Kibera, as well as in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu city, contrasted with widespread calm — and celebrations in some areas — in the country of 45 million after Kenya’s election commission said late Friday that President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term. Protests, often violent, began soon after voting when Kenyatta’s main challenger, Raila Odinga, alleged vote-rigging.

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The government said life was returning to normal and that those challenging security forces were criminals intent on looting and destroying property. However, the police came under scrutiny for what the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which monitors government institutions, described as the “unlawful and unacceptable” use of excessive force.

Seventeen of the two dozen people shot by police died in Nairobi, the commission said. It cited allegations of police breaking into homes, beating people, threatening them with rape and demanding money. The watchdog group also lamented “the destruction of private property by both civilians and allegedly by security personnel in the course of their duty.”

Police shot and killed two people during riots by opposition supporters on the outskirts of Kisumu, a regional police commander, Leonard Katana, said Saturday. Another five people were injured by gunfire in Kisumu, Katana said.

In Mathare, where Odinga has significant support, police opened fire to disperse protesters who blocked roads and set up burning barricades. Associated Press photographers saw police charging demonstrators and firing live rounds and tear gas.

One Mathare resident, Wycliff Mokaya, told The Associated Press that his 9-year-old daughter was killed by a stray bullet while on the third-floor balcony of their home.

“I was watching her play with her friends when she suddenly fell down,” Mokaya said. “She was my only hope.”

Nine bodies with gunshot wounds were brought to the Nairobi morgue from Mathare, a mortuary official said Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

An Associated Press photographer said police used tear gas on a large opposition convoy trying to enter the Kibera slum. Police also fired shots in the air.

The Kenya Red Cross said it helped a total of 93 people who were injured during the clashes since the election results were announced.

Police harassed and assaulted at least four journalists covering the violence, witnesses said.

The unrest followed a victory speech Friday in which Kenyatta, whose father was Kenya’s first president after independence from British colonial rule, said he was extending a “hand of friendship” to the opposition.

Kenyatta won with a decisive 54 percent of the vote to nearly 45 percent for Odinga, but the bitter dispute over the integrity of the election process tempered what many Kenyans had hoped would be a celebration of democracy in a regional power known for its economic promise and long-term stability. The opposition said the election commission’s database had been hacked and results were manipulated against Odinga.

The unrest also exposed divisions in a society where poverty and government corruption have angered large numbers of Kenyans, including those who have been protesting in the slums and see Odinga as a voice for their grievances.

Adding to the rift is ethnic loyalty. Kenyatta is widely seen as the representative of the Kikuyu people, the country’s largest ethnic group, while Odinga is associated with the Luo group, which has never produced a head of state.

But reconciliation efforts and the introduction of a progressive constitution in 2010 have helped to defuse fears of the kind of ethnic-fueled violence that followed the 2007 election in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Odinga ran unsuccessfully in that election; he also lost the 2013 vote to Kenyatta and took allegations of vote-tampering to Kenya’s highest court, which rejected his case.

Recalling its failed legal challenge in 2013, the opposition has said it will not go to court again. It has not directly urged supporters to stage protests, instead telling them to stay safe.


►  Venezuela rejects Trump talk of ‘military option’

Venezuela’s government energetically rejected U.S. Donald Trump’s talk of a potential “military option” to resolve the country’s political crisis on Saturday, calling it the most egregious act of belligerence against Venezuela in a century and a threat to stability in the region.

The stinging rebuke came in a statement read by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in a meeting with foreign diplomats, including Lee McClenny, the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

Calling Trump the “boss of the empire,” Arreaza said Trump’s latest comments fit a pattern of aggression against Venezuelan sovereignty and constitute a violation of international law and the U.N. charter.

He said they were particularly menacing given President Nicolas Maduro’s renewed call this week for closer ties and request for a meeting with Trump at the U.N. General Assembly next month.

The White House responded to that request by saying Trump would “gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

Speaking to reporters Friday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump bemoaned the South American nation’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.

“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump volunteered, adding that “a military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

The comment marked a serious escalation in rhetoric for the United States and threatened to undermine Washington’s efforts to rally regional support to isolate Maduro.

Mike Pence kicks off a four-nation tour of Latin America on Sunday with a stop in Colombia, whose government — the staunchest U.S. ally in South America — was quick to distance itself from Trump’s remarks even while reiterating its concerns about a breakdown of democracy in Venezuela.

In a statement, Colombia’s Foreign Ministry condemned “military measures and the use of force” and said all efforts to resolve Venezuela’s crisis should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two-dozen current and former officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a pro-government assembly tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution.

Meeting Saturday, delegates to the constitutional assembly exultantly denounced Trump and shouted anti-American slogans. Loyalists warned of another Vietnam if Trump were to dare send Marines to Venezuela, as the United States last did in the late 19th century during an earlier period of political unrest.

“If the impossible scenario of tarnishing our fatherland were ever to occur, our guns would arrive to New York, Mr. Trump, and we would take the White House,” said Nicolas Maduro, the president’s son, to loud applause. “Solve your own problems, Donald Trump. You have enough.”

Almost from day one since taking office in 2013, the elder Maduro has been warning of U.S. military designs on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves. But most Venezuelans tended to shrug the accusations off as the diversionary tactics of an unpopular leader.

Now those claims are likely to be validated in the eyes of many government supporters.

The threat of military intervention would also seem to contradict the advice of Trump’s top national security adviser. Citing the resentment stirred in Latin America by the long U.S. history of military interventions in the region, General H.R. McMaster said recently that he didn’t want to give Maduro any ammunition to blame the “Yankees” for the “tragedy” that has befallen the oil-rich nation.

“You’ve seen Maduro have some lame attempts to try to do that already,” McMaster said in an interview that aired last Saturday on MSNBC.


►  Tillerson says diplomats in Havana suffered ‘health attacks’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that U.S. diplomats in Havana had been the victims of “health attacks” that left them with hearing loss — the most definitive U.S. statement yet on a series of mysterious incidents that have puzzled longtime observers of U.S.-Cuban relations.

His comments Friday came two days after the State Department issued a vaguely worded statement saying there had been “incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms.” U.S. officials later revealed that American diplomats had suffered unexplained losses of hearing, and on Thursday Canada’s government said at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also had been treated for hearing loss.

“We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved,” Tillerson said in Bedminster, New Jersey, where Donald Trump and members of his administration spoke to reporters.

In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the case. Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, the officials said.

The officials told The Associated Press that the hearing loss appeared to have been caused by the deliberate use of some sort of sonic device operating outside the range of audible sound.

Former diplomats and students of U.S.-Cuba relations said they found it inexplicable that Cuba would have tried to harm U.S. and Canadian diplomats, particularly in the fall of 2016 as President Barack Obama was ending a second term marked partly by the reopening of diplomatic relations with the island.

U.S. officials familiar with the incidents said they began to be reported last October, when most domestic and foreign observers expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidency and continue Obama’s policy of normalization with Cuba.

Attacking Canadian diplomats would be an inexplicable assault on one of Cuba’s most important trading partners and the largest source of tourists to the island.

“There’d be no logic to the Cubans trying to deliberately harm U.S. or Canadian diplomats,” said William LeoGrande, an American University expert on Cuban foreign policy. “It’d really be unprecedented.”

The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement Wednesday that “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

Former U.S. and Canadian diplomats said they had been targets of low-level harassment and intimidation by Cuban agents in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, incidents that included attacks on diplomats’ pets and intimidating maneuvers like tailgating and flashing bright lights into diplomats’ cars as they drove with their families late at night.

“There were things like turning your electricity, turning off your water, entering your home, leaving little reminders that they were there. Things would be out of place,” said John Caulfield, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba from 2011 to 2014.

In addition to harassment, Caulfield said U.S. diplomats in Cuba are under 24-hour surveillance during their assignments.

“Nobody does anything in Cuba without them knowing,” Caulfield said.

A U.S. official said some American diplomats in Cuba had come home to find that someone had used their toilet and not flushed it, in what was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to disgust and unnerve. The official served at the then-interests section in Cuba in the 2000s and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity due to the possibility of a return to Havana.

The State Department’s Inspector General wrote in a 2007 report that “life in Havana is life with a government that ‘lets you know it’s hostile.’ Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets.”

“All employees are fully aware that host government hostility extends to an elaborate, aggressive intelligence apparatus,” the report said.

Caulfield said aggressive tactics largely stopped by late 2013 and 2014 as U.S. and Cuban officials secretly negotiated the diplomatic reopening announced in December 2014, after his departure from Havana.

He said he believed the likeliest explanation for the diplomats’ mysterious deafness was “a new surveillance technique gone bad that had consequences. I do not believe they would randomly cause harm to this variety of people.”

A former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, James Bartleman, said that during his 1981-83 tour in Havana, he and his staff were targets of a string of mysterious attacks.

“One morning in 1982 the butler came to say that our dog had been poisoned and was very sick and dying,” Bartleman said. “My deputy ambassador called to say someone had poisoned his dog and his dog was dead. Then the head of the commercial section called to say that, ‘Out of the blue we opened the door and a rat was nailed to it.’”

Bartleman said he complained to the then-head of the Americas section of Cuba’s foreign ministry, who he quoted as saying: “Someone is trying to harm Canada-Cuba relations.”

He said the Cuban government sent a veterinarian to his house, but he sent his dog back to Canada, where it died six months later.

“We were their bosom buddies back then,” Bartleman said of Canadian-Cuban relations. “We were their largest trading partner and always their largest provider of tourists. Why would they do it? It made no sense then and makes no sense now.”


►  U.S. fighter jet crash lands at Bahrain International Airport

A U.S. F-18 fighter jet suffering an engine problem crash landed Saturday at Bahrain International Airport and its pilot ejected from the aircraft after it ran off the runway, authorities said. The pilot escaped unharmed.

The crash disrupted flights to and from the island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia that’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Images on social media showed the grey fighter jet’s nose tipped into the air but largely intact after what the Navy described as an “uncontrollable” landing.

The F-18 took off from the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier now in the Persian Gulf, said Cmdr. Bill Urban, a fleet spokesman. While in flight, the plane suffered an engine malfunction, forcing the pilot to divert, Urban said.

The pilot initially tried to land at Sheikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain, but instead ended up at the island’s commercial airport, Urban said.

“Due to the malfunction, the aircraft could not be stopped on the runway and the pilot ejected from the aircraft as it departed the runway,” the commander said in a statement.

Naval officials began an investigation into the crash and were trying to help the airport resume operations, Urban said. Bahrain’s Transportation and Telecommunications Ministry called the crash landing a “minor incident” in a statement and said flights resumed at the airport several hours later.

Bahrain hosts 8,000 U.S. troops, mostly sailors attached to a sprawling base called the Naval Support Activity. Officials at that facility oversee some 20 U.S. and coalition naval vessels in the Gulf providing security and others running anti-piracy patrols.

Bahrain is also home to an under-construction British naval base.

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►  Trump warns U.S. ‘locked and loaded’ as North readies missiles

Donald Trump on Friday again delivered a bold warning to North Korea, tweeting that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded” if the isolated rogue nation acts “unwisely,” escalating an exchange of threats between the nuclear-armed nations.

American and South Korean officials said they would move forward with large-scale military exercises later this month that North Korea claims are a rehearsal for war. Pyongyang has laid out plans to strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.

Trump tweeted Friday: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

He later retweeted a posting from U.S. Pacific Command that showed B-1B Lancer bomber planes on Guam that “stand ready to fulfill USFK’s #FightTonight mission if called upon to do so.” ″Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they are always ready for combat on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump’s provocative public declarations, a break from the careful language of his predecessors, have only grown louder as the week as gone on. They included the president musing that his initial warning of delivering “fire and fury” to North Korea — which appeared to evoke a nuclear explosion — was too timid. The days of war rhetoric have alarmed international leaders.

“I don’t see a military solution and I don’t think it’s called for,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She declined to say whether Germany would stand with the U.S. in case of a military conflict with North Korea and called on the U.N. Security Council to continue to address the issue.

“I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer,” Merkel added.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, estimated the risk of a military conflict between the U.S. and North Korea as “very high,” and said Moscow was deeply concerned.

“When you get close to the point of a fight, the one who is stronger and wiser should be the first to step back from the brink,” Lavrov said Friday.

Trump’s bluster, however, stands in stark contrast to an ongoing back channel for negotiations between the United States and North Korea, which came to light Friday. It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student. But it wasn’t known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than U.S. detainees.

People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fueling fears of military confrontation. But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation.

Despite tensions and talk of war, life on the streets of the North Korean capital remains calm. There are no air raid drills or cars in camouflage netting as was the case during previous crises.

North Koreans have lived for decades with the state media message that war is imminent, the U.S. is to blame and their country is ready to defend itself. State-run media ensure that the population gets the North Korean side of the story, but don’t convey any sense of international concern about the situation.

Two days after North Korea laid out its plans to strike near Guam with unsettling specificity, there was no observable march toward combat. U.S. officials said there was no major movement of U.S. military assets to the region, nor were there signs Pyongyang was actively preparing for war.

As it is, the U.S. has a robust military presence in the region, including six B-1 bombers in Guam and Air Force fighter jet units in South Korea, plus other assets across the Pacific Ocean and in the skies above. U.S. military options range from nothing to a full-on conventional assault by air, sea and ground forces. Any order by the president could be executed quickly.

The U.S.-South Korea exercises are an annual event, but they come as Pyongyang says it is readying a plan to fire off four Hwasong-12 missiles toward the tiny island, which is U.S. territory and a major military hub. The plan would be sent to Kim for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea drills begin.

Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run August 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

The exercises were scheduled well before tensions began to rise over Trump’s increasingly fiery rhetoric and North Korea’s announcement of the missile plan, which if carried out would be its most provocative launch yet. Along with a bigger set of maneuvers held every spring, the exercises are routinely met by strong condemnation and threats of countermeasures from North Korea.

The heightened military activity on the peninsula this time is a concern because it could increase the possibility of a mishap or an overreaction of some sort by either side that could spin into a more serious escalation. North Korea has been increasingly sensitive to the exercises lately because they reportedly include training for “decapitation strikes” to kill Kim Jong Un and his top lieutenants.

The possibility of escalation is made even more acute by the lack of any means of official communication across the Demilitarized Zone, though there has been no easing of the barrage of inflammatory comments in the U.S. and the North since new sanctions against North Korea were announced last week.


►  Fear spreads over tainted eggs despite low risk to consumers

Experts say the risk of getting sick from eating an egg tainted with insecticide is low. But that hasn’t stopped stores in Germany and the Netherlands from stripping them from supermarket shelves, or prevented other European food safety agencies from issuing warnings.

The story about the illegal use of the insecticide Fipronil in spray to rid hens of ticks, fleas and lice has gained traction across Europe. Fears about the safety of an everyday food staple along with some less-than-optimal public information have combined to cast a shadow of suspicion over the humble egg.

Amsterdam shopper Karla Spreekmeester said Friday that she only buys eggs from stores selling organic food products.

“I take it seriously,” she said of the Dutch warning. “I’m not scared that I’ll collapse if I eat the wrong egg, but if you can prevent something ...”

Fipronil is commonly used by veterinarians to treat fleas and ticks in pets, but is banned by the European Union for treating animals like chickens that are part of the human food chain.

The EU said contaminated eggs have been found at producers in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It’s believed the Fipronil got into the food chain when it was illegally added to a product used to spray poultry.

The impact for egg producers has been staggering.

Since July 20, Dutch farmers have destroyed millions of unsellable eggs and culled about 1 million hens, said Hennie de Haan of the Dutch union of poultry farmers.

But nobody has been reported to have fallen ill as a result of eating the tainted eggs.

“People are very susceptible to negative information,” said Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “People are very attuned to perceive and respond emotionally to negative information such as potential health hazards or other threatening stimuli.”

In recent days, Dutch authorities blocked sales from about 180 infected farms treated by a company suspected of illicitly using Fipronil.

Almost all lab tests show that only very low levels of Fipronil — seven to 10 times lower than the maximum permitted — have been detected in eggs from the treated chickens, although one test in Belgium was above the European limit. Poisoning by small doses has few effects and requires little treatment. Heavy and prolonged exposure can damage the kidneys and liver or cause seizures.

Dutch authorities warned that eggs from only one farm should not be eaten and said children should not eat eggs from dozens of other farms.

That sent consumers to their refrigerators to check the small codes printed in red ink on the shells of eggs to see if they are from one of the affected farms. Stores have pulled eggs from contaminated farms off their shelves.

The European Union said Friday that tainted eggs have been found so far in 15 EU countries, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong.

In Germany, some supermarkets stopped selling all Dutch eggs regardless of whether they came from infected farms. British authorities issued a warning about a small number of ready-made salads, sandwiches and spreads containing contaminated eggs.

The precautions came despite food safety experts being nearly unanimous in their opinion that the health risk from eating Fipronil-tainted eggs is very low.

“Even when taken deliberately at 10,000 times the maximum amount likely to be consumed from contaminated eggs, the individuals survived with no long-term harm,” Alan Boobis, professor of biochemical pharmacology, Imperial College London, said in a statement.

“Based on the extent of contamination found and the number of such eggs that have reached the U.K. market, there is no reason for consumers to be concerned,” he added.

So why are consumers concerned?

“Bad is stronger than good,” said Van Prooijen, citing a time-honored maxim among psychologists. “And that means human beings pay more attention to negative things than positive things, because negative things can harm you.”

Some farmers say the Netherlands’ food safety watchdog last week fanned such fears.

The acting inspector-general of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, Freek van Zoeren, said on a Dutch TV news show that, “if somebody says ‘I can live without eggs until Sunday,’ I’d advise that.”

Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers acknowledged on another show Thursday night that the statement was ill-judged.

Van Zoeren “made comments that, indeed, did not increase the clarity,” Schippers said.

Anja Visscher, whose 110,000 white hens lay about 100,000 eggs each day, quickly took to Facebook and the internet to reassure customers after Van Zoeren’s comment.

“There are companies whose eggs are OK, so eat an egg,” was the message she and other farmers spread. “You want the market to remain OK.”

On Thursday, authorities arrested two men in the Netherlands who were directors of the company involved in spraying poultry barns, saying they endangered public health. Their identities have not been released while a criminal investigation continues.

Farmers have said they were unaware the spray contained Fipronil and see themselves as unwitting victims. In the Netherlands, they also blame the food safety watchdog for not acting fast enough after receiving an anonymous tip about possible Fipronil use in November 2016.

Some industry groups say the scandal should be a wake-up call.

“Citizens want something cleaner, better, and we have been working on that,” said Philippe Duvivier, president of FUGEA, a Belgian farmers’ group working for sustainable agriculture. “We have to call the whole sector into question now. Perhaps it’s time to go to a whole other kind of agriculture.”


►  Pyongyang challenge: Should U.S. shoot Kim’s missiles down?

With North Korea threatening to send a salvo of ballistic missiles close to Guam, a U.S. military hub in the Pacific, pressure could grow for Washington to put its multibillion-dollar missile defense system into use and shoot them out of the air.

If U.S. territory is threatened, countermeasures are a no-brainer. But if the missiles aren’t expected to hit the island — the stated goal is to have them hit waters well offshore — should it? Could it?

It’s not an easy call.

North Korea claims it is in the final stages of preparing a plan to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and into waters off the tiny island of Guam, where about 7,000 U.S. troops are based and 160,000 U.S. civilians live.

Guam is a launching point for U.S. strategic bombers that the North, virtually flattened by U.S. bombs during the 1950-53 Korean War, sees as particularly threatening. U.S. bombers have flown over the Korean Peninsula several times to show American strength after Pyongyang’s missile tests.

Unlike past missile launches that landed much closer to North Korean territory, firing a barrage near Guam would be extremely provocative, almost compelling a response. Trying to intercept the missiles, however, would open up a whole new range of potential dangers.

Here’s the calculus.

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THE PROS

Each missile North Korea launches brings it closer to having a reliable nuclear force capable of striking the United States mainland, or its allies and military facilities in Asia. Kim Jong Un has radically accelerated the pace of the North’s missile development, and many experts believe it could have an intercontinental ballistic missile able to hit major American cities within a year or two.

It already has ballistic missiles that can strike Japan, a key ally and host to roughly 50,000 U.S. troops. It’s very possible the North could attack Japan and U.S. bases there with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. But the North clearly still needs to conduct more tests to hone its technical skills.

In particular, doubts remain over whether it has perfected re-entry technology for its warheads. It also needs to train its troops to operate effectively in the field to handle nuclear warheads and missiles on short notice.

Shooting down the North’s missiles would hamper its ability to glean the flight data it needs. And if his missiles prove no match for U.S. interceptors, Kim Jong Un might be chastened into thinking twice before conducting any more.

Intercepting a missile over the open ocean has the added benefit of not being a direct attack on North Korea itself. It would send a very strong message but leave more room for de-escalation than a pre-emptive strike against military facilities or other targets on the ground.

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THE CONS

A big problem is that failure would not only be humiliating, but could actually weaken the U.S. position more than doing nothing at all.

The U.S. has pumped billions of dollars into its missile defense systems and sold hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth to its allies, including the very controversial deployment of a state-of-the-art system known by its acronym, THAAD, in South Korea. The U.S. military has also conducted two ICBM interceptor tests since May. Officials called them successes, but critics say they don’t replicate actual conditions close enough to be a fair gauge.

Taking out Guam-bound missiles would require successful intercepts by ship-based SM-3 “hit-to-kill” missiles over the Sea of Japan or land-based PAC-3 “Patriot” missiles on Guam. The ship-based defenses are designed to kill a missile that’s in midflight, while the ground-based ones take out whatever missiles make it through and are in the final stage.

But it’s highly questionable whether either or both would be able to take down the full salvo of four North Korean missiles. Donald Trump hinted the defense system still needs beefing up on Thursday when he told reporters the U.S. will be spending billions more on them.

A failed intercept would likely embolden the North to move ahead even faster. It could also have a chilling psychological impact on allies like Japan and South Korea, which might seek to build up their own nuclear forces independently of Washington. Rival powers China and Russia, meanwhile, might see the exposed weakness as an opportunity to push forward more assertive policies of their own.

Even if it were successful, a policy of shooting down missiles would undoubtedly raise tensions, and put an uncomfortable squeeze on American allies on the front lines.

Worst of all, if American intentions aren’t clear, an attempt to intercept a missile might be misinterpreted by Pyongyang — or Beijing or Moscow — and escalate into a real shooting war.

On a technical level, just as the North learns valuable information on its capabilities with each launch, so does the U.S. military. Shooting down the missiles would cut that intelligence off.

___

BOTTOM LINE

If the U.S. were to pursue this strategy, it would have to be hugely confident of success. And it would definitely want its allies fully on board.


►  Lions, tigers, bears from war-torn Syria evacuated to Jordan

Thirteen animals that had been trapped in harsh conditions in a zoo in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo were evacuated on Friday to a wildlife reserve in Jordan.

Five lions, two tigers, two bears, two hyenas and two dogs were being released into the Al-Ma’wa reserve near the town of Souf in northern Jordan.

The Austrian-based animal charity Four Paws had rescued the animals from the Magic World zoo in Aleppo with help from Turkey. The group said the zoo’s owner, who fled Syria after the 2011 outbreak of civil war there, granted permission to take the animals.

Some of the animals are fine, while others suffer from blindness as well as heart, liver and kidney disease, said Dr. Amir Khalil, a vet for the charity.

One of the lions is due to give birth within two weeks, he said.

“It was a very difficult mission,” said Khalil. “The team calls it ‘mission impossible’ because it’s one of the most dangerous and volatile places on earth, military conflict, a lot of rebels, and it’s not easy to take wild animals from such places.”

Khalil said the animals spent the last three weeks in cages, during their transport from Syria to Turkey and then Jordan.

“We are very happy today to release these animals so they can touch the ground, touch the grass and I think this is a very fine feeling which we like,” he said. “It’s a message of hope for the people in Syria and around the world. It’s peace.”

Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011, quickly transforming from a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad into a brutal civil war. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting. More than 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland and millions more were uprooted inside Syria.

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►  North Korea is fast approaching Trump’s red line

One of the biggest questions about Donald Trump is how he would respond to a crisis. Thus far, Trump’s presidency has been marked by controversies and stubborn politics, yes, but also by a strong economy and no natural disasters, major domestic terrorist attacks or new large-scale foreign conflicts.

That may be starting to change. A new Washington Post report indicates that North Korea is approaching the Trump administration’s red line faster than previously thought.

According to The Post’s report, a previously secret Defense Intelligence Agency analysis indicates that Kim Jong Un’s regime has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside one of the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that it has been testing. Those tests drew a unanimous vote on new sanctions from the United Nations Security Council over the weekend.

The big takeaway, as The Post is reporting, is that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities appear to be advancing far more rapidly than previously believed. This is a milestone when it comes to North Korea’s ability to strike distant targets with nuclear weapons. Although it’s not known yet that Pyongyang can strike the United States with an ICBM, U.S. officials concluded last month that the effort was proceeding more rapidly than experts had anticipated.

Now we find out that those ICBMs could be “nuclear-tipped.“ In other words, North Korea may have solved half of the puzzle when it comes to threatening the U.S. mainland with a nuclear weapon – something it has made clear is its goal.

And, importantly, that’s a threshold that the Trump administration has said North Korea simply wouldn’t be allowed to cross.

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!

- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017”

“It won’t happen!“ Trump tweeted in January. National security adviser H.R. McMaster also said as recently as this weekend that North Korea having nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States would be “intolerable, from the president’s perspective.“ The DIA report is dated July 28, more than a week before McMaster made those comments.

“The president has been very clear about it: He said he’s not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States,“ McMaster told Hugh Hewitt on MSNBC.

McMaster said the list of possible responses to that “includes a military option.“ As The Post’s report indicates, plenty of other options also are on the table, including new multilateral negotiations and putting U.S. battlefield nuclear weapons back on the Korean Peninsula.

“Obviously, war is the most serious decision any leader has to make,“ McMaster said. “And so, what can we do to make sure we exhaust our possibilities, and exhaust our other opportunities to accomplish this very clear objective of denuclearization of the peninsula, short of war?“

The prospect of war, of course, can’t help but hang over this entire drama. And polls show that Americans are increasingly resigned to the fact that the conflict may be headed in that direction. While they don’t necessarily back military action now, it’s clear that public support could quickly be marshaled under the right circumstances. A new Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, for instance, shows that 62 percent of Americans would support sending troops if North Korea invades South Korea – up sharply from recent years. The poll also shows a rise in the threat North Korea is perceived to pose, with 75 percent labeling it a critical threat.

But a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning shows pessimism about Trump’s ability to handle a showdown. About 6 in 10 registered voters – 61 percent – said they were “uneasy” about Trump’s ability to deal with the situation. Only 35 percent said they were “confident.“

The same poll showed that only 29 percent favored military action now, but Republicans were about evenly split, with 48 percent in favor – a striking level of support for military action in the president’s own party. And those numbers are likely to rise given Tuesday’s news.

Trump received plaudits for his limited airstrikes against the Syrian government and even seemed dazzled by his ability to launch them. Increasingly, he also seems to be facing some difficult decisions ahead on North Korea. And for the American people, that’s a moment that’s clearly interlaced with fear.


►  Q&A: What does the U.S. military do on the island of Guam?

The small U.S. territory of Guam has become a focal point after North Korea’s army threatened to use ballistic missiles to create an “enveloping fire” around the island. The exclamation came after Donald Trump warned Pyongyang of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Here’s a look at the U.S. military’s role on the island, which became a U.S. territory in 1898.

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WHAT INSTALLATIONS ARE ON GUAM AND HOW SIGNIFICANT ARE THEY?

There are two major bases on Guam: Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south. They are both managed under Joint Base Marianas. The tourist district of Tumon, home to many of Guam’s hotels and resorts, is in between.

The naval base dates to 1898, when the U.S. took over Guam from Spain after the Spanish-American War. The air base was built in 1944, when the U.S. was preparing to send bombers to Japan during World War II.

Today, Naval Base Guam is the home port for four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and two submarine tenders.

Andersen Air Force Base hosts a Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers that rotate to Guam from the U.S. mainland. It has two 2-mile (3-kilometer) long runways and large fuel and munitions storage facilities.

Altogether, 7,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed on Guam. Most are sailors and airmen. The military plans to move thousands of U.S. Marines to Guam from Okinawa in southern Japan.

Guam’s total population is 160,000.

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WHAT ROLES DO THE BASES PLAY IN THE REGION

Guam is strategically located a short flight from the Korean peninsula and other potential flashpoints in East Asia. Seoul is 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) to the northwest, Tokyo is 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) north and Taipei is 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) west.

Because Guam is a U.S. territory, the U.S. military may launch forces from there without worrying about upsetting a host nation that may object to U.S. actions.

The naval base is an important outpost for U.S. fast-attack submarines that are a key means for gathering intelligence in the region, including the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea where China has been building military bases on man-made islands.

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HOW HAS THE U.S. USED GUAM TO ADDRESS THE THREAT FROM NORTH KOREA?

The U.S. military began rotating bombers — the B-2 stealth bomber as well as the B-1 and B-52 — to Andersen in 2004. It did so to compensate for U.S. forces diverted from other bases in the Asia-Pacific region to fight in the Middle East. The rotations also came as North Korea increasingly upped the ante in the standoff over its development of nuclear weapons.

In 2013, the Army sent a missile defense system to Guam called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD.

It’s designed to destroy ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight. A THAAD battery includes a truck-mounted launcher, tracking radar, interceptor missiles and an integrated fire control system.

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WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE U.S. MILITARY ON GUAM?

The U.S. took control of Guam in 1898, when Spanish authorities surrendered to the U.S. Navy. President William McKinley ordered Guam to be ruled by the U.S. Navy. The Navy used the island as a coaling base and communications station until Japan seized the island on December 10, 1941. The U.S. took back control of Guam on July 21, 1944.

During the Vietnam War, the Air Force sent 155 B-52 bombers to Andersen to hit targets in Southeast Asia. Guam was also a refueling and transfer spot for military personnel heading to Southeast Asia. Many refugees fleeing Vietnam were evacuated through Guam.


►  Controversial film about Russian czar cleared for release

A historical film about the last Russian czar’s affair with a ballerina has been cleared for release, the Culture Ministry said Thursday, a decision that follows months of disputes and angry calls for its ban.

“Matilda,” which describes Nicholas II’s relationship with Matilda Kshesinskaya, has drawn virulent criticism from some Orthodox believers and hard-line nationalists, who see it as blasphemy against the emperor, glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The controversy around the film, unparalleled in Russia’s post-Soviet history, has reflected the church’s rising influence and the increasing assertiveness of radical religious activists.

Russian lawmaker Natalya Poklonskaya, who previously had served as the chief regional prosecutor in Crimea following its 2014 annexation by Moscow, spearheaded the campaign for banning the film.

A devout Orthodox believer, Poklonskaya even asked the Prosecutor General’s office to carry out an inquiry into “Matilda,” which is set to be released on the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

The lavish production, filmed in historic imperial palaces and featuring sumptuous costumes, loosely follows the story of Nicholas II’s infatuation with Kshesinskaya that began when he was heir-apparent and ended at his marriage in 1894.

The czar and his family were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in July 1918. The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.

Director Alexei Uchitel has rejected the accusations and prominent Russian filmmakers have come to his defense. The film’s critics and its defenders both have appealed to the Kremlin, but it has refrained from publicly entering the fray.

On Thursday, the Russian Culture Ministry finally announced that the film has received official clearance for viewers over 16.

Vyasheslav Telnov, the head of the ministry’s film department, said it checked “Matilda” and found it in full compliance with legal norms.

“No state organ or non-government organization can ban production or release of a feature film for political or ideological motives,” Telnov said.

“Matilda” opponents have gathered signatures against the film, and earlier this month several hundred people gathered to pray outside a Moscow church for the movie to be banned.

Russia’s growing conservative streak has worried many in the country’s artistic community. A Moscow art gallery recently shut down an exhibition of nude photos by an American photographer after a raid by vigilantes, and a theater in the Siberian city of Omsk canceled a performance of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” following a petition by devout Orthodox believers.

Matilda’s critics were recently joined by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed regional leader of Chechnya, and authorities in the neighboring province of Dagestan, who argued that “Matilda” should be barred from theaters in the mostly Muslim regions in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Kadyrov, who has encouraged strict observance of Islamic rules in Chechnya, criticized the ministry’s decision and denounced the movie as “immoral” on Instagram. He added that people in Chechnya wouldn’t “waste time” on watching the movie, a statement that sounds like an order in the region tightly controlled by Kadyrov’s feared security forces.

In Ingushetia, another predominantly Muslim province next to Chechnya, the head of the only theater in the region said he won’t show “Matilda.”

Asked to comment on statements from North Caucasus regions, Telnov said that the film has been cleared for release nationwide, but the law allows regional authorities to make their own decisions.

Hard-line lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who comes from St. Petersburg, urged the city authorities to bar Matilda from theaters. In remarks carried by RIA Novosti news agency, Milonov described the film as “an attempt to sow devilish seeds of revolutionary fermentation, an attempt to revive Bolshevik lies about the last Russian emperor.”

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►  Analysis: Trump’s threat fits with North Korea’s image of U.S.

Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea might have been written by Pyongyang’s propaganda mavens, so perfectly does it fit the North’s cherished claim that it is a victim of American aggression.

Not since George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” has the nation had such a strong piece of presidential evidence to back up its argument that only nuclear and missile development can counter “hostile” U.S. policies aimed at ending the rule of the latest member of the Kim family of dictators.

Trump now runs several risks by matching his rhetoric to that of the North, which has regularly vowed to reduce archrival Seoul to a “sea of fire.”

Word choice matters on the Korean Peninsula. A torrent of belligerent warnings by the North in 2013, for instance, including nuclear strike threats against specific U.S. targets, led to an anxious, weeks-long standoff that saw the United States fly its most powerful warplanes — nuclear capable B-2 and B-52 bombers, and F-22 stealth fighters — near the North Korean border.

The risk, now as then, is that heated words could cause a miscalculation that might trigger real fighting across the most heavily armed border on earth, a border that’s only a short drive from greater Seoul’s 25 million people.

Trump’s comments Tuesday were actually linked to Pyongyang’s never-ending stream of threats: “North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Though it seems unlikely it was directly responding to those comments, the North on Wednesday repeated past warnings that it’s examining operational plans for attacking the U.S. territory of Guam.

This is mostly a bluff: North Korea is extremely unlikely to follow through on a suicidal pre-emptive attack on the United States. But there is also almost zero chance that the North will miss the opportunity to put its propaganda specialists to work topping Trump’s threat of total war. Pyongyang, after all, may be the world’s leading producer of such threats — against Seoul, against Tokyo, against Washington, against essentially anything or anyone seen as hostile.

As John Delury, an Asia specialist at Seoul’s Yonsei University, tweeted following Trump’s comments, “Trying to out-threaten North Korea is like trying to out-pray the Pope.”

The risk is that what works for a tiny, impoverished dictatorship that has long seen itself as sandwiched between geopolitical behemoths whose only aim is using the Korean Peninsula for their own interests might not work for the world’s most powerful economy and military.

Trump now confronts a problem that North Korea has long faced: Over-the-top threats are one thing, but what do you do when you can’t back them up?

So far, of course, North Korea has favored smaller scale sneak attacks over following through with its threats to launch missiles into Seoul, let alone a U.S. territory. North Korea will surely continue its nuclear bluster, but Trump cannot bring “fire and fury” without risking the destruction of Seoul, and the deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. troops and citizens in South Korea.

Trump’s comments also feed North Korea’s craving for global attention.

The country uses its scary rhetoric and nuclear boasts to force itself to the top of outside governments’ foreign policy lists. For the North, being ignored is a worse fate than being criticized.

Trump’s “fire and fury” line might also hurt his efforts to get China, the North’s economic and diplomatic enabler, to do more to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

China, though it does not want a nuclear North Korea, sympathizes with Pyongyang’s claim that it is under real threat from Washington.

“The U.S. is trying to tell China, ‘We’re not in this for regime change; we’re not trying to take down (leader) Kim Jong Un; we’re not trying to reunify the Korean Peninsula; what we want is to negotiate their nukes away,’” Delury said in an interview. “To use unprecedented, inflammatory language, to threaten war on North Korea because they make threats, undermines the work the U.S. is trying to do to keep the Chinese on board.”

Before Trump’s threat, the North’s biggest recent example of so-called U.S. hostility was the joint military drills staged by allies Washington and Seoul. Those start up again in a few weeks. Expect to see “fire and fury” drive North Korean propaganda then, and for a long time to come.


►  Guam’s worries grow as tensions rise between U.S., North Korea

Residents of the tiny Pacific island of Guam say they’re afraid of being caught in the middle of escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea after Pyongyang announced it was examining plans for attacking the strategically important U.S. territory.

Though local officials downplayed any threat and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unruffled as he headed to Guam to refuel on his trip back to Washington from Malaysia, people who live and work on the island said they could no longer shrug off the idea of being a potential target. Guam serves as a launching pad for the U.S. military.

“I’m a little worried, a little panicked. Is this really going to happen?” said Cecil Chugrad, a 37-year-old bus driver for a tour bus company in Guam. “If it’s just me, I don’t mind, but I have to worry about my son. I feel like moving (out of Guam) now.”

About 163,000 people live on the island that spans only about 12 miles (19 kilometers) at its widest. They are used to the threats from North Korea. But advances in the country’s nuclear program paired with fiery rhetoric from Donald Trump has raised the already high animosity and heightened worries that a miscalculation might spark conflict between the nuclear-armed nations.

Reports suggested North Korea mastered a technological hurdle needed to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile. The advances were detailed in an official Japanese assessment and later a Washington Post story that cited U.S. intelligence officials and a confidential Defense Intelligence Agency report.

In response, Trump on Tuesday threatened the communist country “with fire and fury.” On Wednesday, the North Korean army said in a statement that it was studying a plan to create an “enveloping fire” in areas around Guam with medium- to long-range ballistic missiles.

On his flight back to Washington, Tillerson said he never considered re-routing the trip to avoid refueling in Guam.

“I do not believe that there is any imminent threat,” Tillerson told reporters aboard the plane. “What we’re hopeful is that this pressure campaign (including sanctions), which the entire world now has joined us in, and with the engagement of China and Russia, two of North Korea’s closest neighbors — that they can begin to persuade the regime that they needed to reconsider the current pathway they’re on and think about engaging in a dialogue about a different future.”

While it is extremely unlikely that Pyongyang would risk the assured annihilation of its revered leadership with a pre-emptive attack on U.S. citizens, some residents of Guam are concerned.

“If anything happens, we all got to be ready, be prepared, and pray to God that it doesn’t happen,” Daisy Mendiola, 56, said after finishing lunch with her family at a restaurant near Hagatna. “Everyone’s afraid, because we’re dealing with powers that’s beyond us.”

Other residents are worried about the political atmosphere and the government’s ability to find a peaceful solution.

Todd Thompson, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats because he “figured cooler heads in Washington would prevail, and it was just an idle threat.”

“But I have to say, I’m not laughing now,” Thompson said. “My concern is that things have changed in Washington, and who knows what’s going to happen?”

His brother Mitch Thompson, who also lives on Guam, added he believes “a lot of people have no confidence that the White House will do the right thing under the circumstances.”

However, the brothers say they haven’t seen anyone panicking or stocking up on supplies.

“I think people are just stunned and really don’t know what to think,” Todd Thompson said.

Guam is about 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers) southeast of Pyongyang and 3,800 miles (6,115 kilometers) west of Honolulu in the Pacific Ocean. For years, North Korea has claimed Guam is within its missiles’ striking distance, making furious statements each time when the U.S. flew powerful bombers from the island’s air base to the Korean Peninsula.

In August last year, the North’s Foreign Ministry warned that all U.S. military bases in the Pacific including Guam would “face ruin in the face of all-out and substantial attack” by the North’s military. In the spring of 2013, state media cited leader Kim Jong Un as having ordered his military to prepare plans on launching strikes on U.S. military bases in Guam, Hawaii and South Korea as well as the American mainland.

Guam is armed with the U.S. Army’s defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which can intercept missiles.

Similar threats in 2013 led Guam’s U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo to advocate for the THAAD system, she said in a statement Wednesday.

“North Korea’s most recent threat to target Guam is dangerous and it further heightens tensions in our region,” Bordallo said. “While we have heard threats like this in the past, I take them very seriously.”

Guam’s Homeland Security Adviser George Charfauros urged calm and said defenses are in place for such threats.

“An attack or threat to Guam is a threat or attack on the United States,” said Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, who said he spoke with White House officials Monday morning. “They have said that America will be defended.”

A travel agent on Guam said they haven’t had a surge of customers seeking to book flights off the island.

“It’s not bad at all, no chaos,” said Mariah Sablan, who works for Golden Dragon Travel Inc. “It’s just like a regular business day.”


►  Deadly Kenya protests as opposition alleges vote hacking

Kenya’s election took an ominous turn on Wednesday as violent protests erupted in the capital and elsewhere after opposition leader Raila Odinga alleged fraud, saying hackers used the identity of a murdered official to infiltrate the database of the country’s election commission and manipulate results.

With results from almost all of the polling stations counted, President Uhuru Kenyatta was shown with a wide lead over Odinga in his bid for a second term.

Soon after Odinga spoke on television, angry protesters in slums of Nairobi and the opposition stronghold of Kisumu in the southwest burned tires, set up roadblocks and clashed with police, witnesses said.

Two people were shot dead in Nairobi as they took advantage of the protests to steal, Nairobi police chief Japheth Koome said. An Associated Press photographer said one was shot in the head. Police killed one person when they opened fire on protesters in another opposition stronghold in Kisii county, said Leonard Katana, a regional police commander.

Many parts of Kenya, East Africa’s commercial hub, were calm a day after the elections for president and more than 1,800 other posts down to the county level. But the violence stirred memories of the unrest following the 2007 vote in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Odinga lost that election; he also lost the 2013 vote to Kenyatta and took allegations of vote-tampering to the Supreme Court, which rejected his case.

Odinga, a former prime minister, blamed Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party for the alleged hacking of the election database.

“The fraud Jubilee has perpetuated on Kenyans surpasses any level of voter theft in our country’s history. This time we caught them,” he tweeted. He also posted online what he said were computer logs proving his allegation.

Odinga claimed that hackers used the identity of Christopher Msando, an election official in charge of managing information technology systems. On July 31, officials announced that Msando had been tortured and killed, alarming Kenyans who feared a recurrence of political violence that has been fueled by ethnic divisions.

A Tuesday morning entry in the purported computer logs that Odinga posted on Facebook reads: “Login failed for user ‘msando’. Reason: The password of the account must be changed.”

Rafael Tuju, a top official in Kenyatta’s party, said the opposition’s claims were unfounded.

Kenya’s election commission said it will investigate Odinga’s allegations. “For now, I cannot say whether or not the system has been hacked,” said Wafula Chebukati, the commission chairman.

Kenyatta was leading with 54.35 percent and Odinga had 44.77 percent after votes at more than 39,320 of the 40,883 polling stations were counted, according to the election commission.

In the city of Kisumu, police used tear gas and shot at protesters who were upset after Odinga’s fraud allegations, said demonstrator Sebastian Omolo.

“He is not accepting the results and that is why we are on the streets, but police have started shooting,” Omolo said.

Kisumu shopkeeper Festus Odhiambo said he was praying for peace even as protesters blocked roads into city slums with bonfires and boulders.

The western port city on Lake Victoria has been a flashpoint in past elections.

Kenya’s interior minister, Fred Matiangi, warned against the use of social media to stoke tensions. Officials have said it was unlikely they would shut down the internet but said they might shut down some social media if necessary to calm hate speech and incitement.

“We assure Kenyans and all residents, the country is safe and I urge everyone to go on freely with their daily chores,” Matiangi said.

Odinga’s running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, also called for restraint as the fraud allegations are investigated.

“There may come a time we may have to call you to action,” Musyoka said. “But for now it is important we be strategic as we delve deep into this matter.”


►  Spray can stunt prompts Twitter to act on hateful tweets

An angry artist has managed to get Twitter to remove hateful tweets — after writing them out in spray paint in front of the company’s German headquarters in Hamburg.

Shahak Shapira says he reported some 300 tweets containing possible illegal content to Twitter over a period of about six months but the social networking company had ignored him.

This occurred at a time when the Twitter was arguing against tough new legislation in Germany, insisting it was already taking sufficient measures against hate speech.

Shapira told The Associated Press that he sprayed almost 30 of the offending tweets on Friday because “flagging things clearly wasn’t enough.”

The stunt received widespread attention and by late Wednesday Twitter had deleted three tweets, suspended four accounts and withheld another seven accounts in Germany.


►  Venezuela’s new assembly declares itself all-powerful

The new constitutional assembly assumed even more power in Venezuela by declaring itself as the superior body to all other governmental institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

That decree came Tuesday just hours after the assembly delegates took control of a legislative chamber and put up pictures of the late President Hugo Chavez, who installed Venezuela’s socialist system.

Delcy Rodriguez, the head of the ruling socialist party and leader of the body, said the unanimously approved decree prohibits lawmakers in congress from taking any action that would interfere with laws passed by the newly installed constitutional assembly.

“We are not threatening anyone,” said Aristobulo Isturiz, the constitutional assembly’s first vice president. “We are looking for ways to coexist.”

Leaders of congress, which previously voted not to recognize any of the new super-body’s decrees, said lawmakers would try to meet in the gold-domed legislative palace Wednesday, but there were questions whether security officers guarding the building would let them in.

The opposition to President Nicolas Maduro also faced another fight Wednesday before the government-stacked Supreme Court, which scheduled a hearing on charges against a Caracas-area opposition mayor. The judges convicted another mayor Tuesday for failing to move against protesters during four months of political unrest.

In calling the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, Maduro said a new constitution would help resolve the nation’s political standoff, but opposition leaders view it is a power grab and the president’s allies have said they will go after his opponents. Before its decree declaring itself all-powerful, the assembly ousted Venezuela’s outspoken chief prosecutor, established a “truth commission” expected to target Maduro’s foes and pledged “support and solidarity” with the unpopular president.

The latest surge of protests began in early April in reaction to a quickly rescinded attempt by the government-supporting Supreme Court to strip the National Assembly of its powers. But the unrest ballooned into a widespread movement fed by anger over Venezuela’s triple-digest inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and high crime.

Opposition lawmakers said security forces led by Rodriguez broke into the congress building late Monday and seized control of an unused, ceremonial chamber almost identical to the one where lawmakers meet.

“This government invades the spaces that it is not capable of legitimately winning,” Stalin Gonzalez, an opposition lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, alluding to the opposition’s overwhelming victory in the 2015 congressional elections.

Before the assembly met Tuesday, the pro-government Supreme Court sentenced a Caracas-area mayor to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations.

Ramon Muchacho was the fourth opposition mayor ordered arrested by the high court the past two weeks. His whereabouts were not known, but he denounced the ruling on Twitter.

The constitutional assembly’s meeting Tuesday came amid mounting criticism from foreign governments that have refused to recognize the new body.

The foreign ministers of 17 Western Hemisphere nations met in Peru to discuss how to force Maduro to back down. The ministers issued a statement after the meeting condemning the body and reiterating previous calls for the parties in Venezuela to negotiate on ending the political crisis.

Meanwhile, leaders from the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations, met in Caracas and declared the creation of the constitutional assembly a “sovereign act” aimed at helping Venezuela overcome its difficulties.

“We reiterate the call for a constructive and respectful dialogue,” the alliance said in a statement read after the meeting.

Since the disputed election, security forces have stepped up their presence. A U.N. human rights commissioner report issued Tuesday warned of “widespread and systematic use” of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators.

Only a few dozen demonstrators heeded the opposition’s call to set up traffic-snarling roadblocks in Caracas on Tuesday to show opposition to the new assembly, underlining the fear and resignation among that has weakened turnout for street protests that once drew hundreds of thousands. At least 124 people have been killed and hundreds injured or detained during the protests.

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►  German court says height rules for police are unfair to men

A court has nixed the minimum height requirement for police recruits in Germany’s most populous state, arguing that it is unfair to men.

The case was brought by a female applicant who was rejected because she is 161.5 centimeters (5 feet 3 inches) tall.

That’s 1.5 centimeters shorter than the minimum height required of women, which is 163 centimeters. Male police recruits in North Rhine-Westphalia state have to be at least 168 centimeters tall.

Duesseldorf administrative court judges noted Tuesday that the state’s differing height requirements were introduced to correct the gender imbalance among applicants, which is skewed toward men.

In disqualifying the height requirement for men, the court automatically eliminated it for women too.

The court ordered authorities to reinstate the application of the 22-year-old plaintiff, Johanna Fee Dillmann.


►  Strong quake in southwestern China

The Latest on a strong earthquake that struck southwestern China (all times local):

12:25 a.m.

An official in southwestern China says a powerful earthquake near a popular national park has killed five tourists and injured 63 other people.

A man surnamed Song who answered the phone at a local emergency office in Aba prefecture, where the Jiuzhaigou (Jee-oh Jai GO) national park, is located said the town of Zhangzha reported the casualties from Tuesday evening’s quake.

The magnitude 6.5 quake struck a region bordered by the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu at a depth of just 9 kilometers (5.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones.

The China Earthquake Networks Center measured the earthquake at magnitude 7.0 and said it struck at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). The quake occurred at about 9:20 p.m. near Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations, the Chinese agency said.

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11:10 p.m.

A strong earthquake has shaken a mountainous region in southwestern China near a famous national park, causing residents to run into the streets and knocking out some phone networks, but there are no reports so far of injuries or major damage.

The magnitude 6.5 quake struck a region bordered by the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu at a depth of just 9 kilometers (5.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The China Earthquake Networks Center measured the earthquake at magnitude 7.0 and said it struck at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). The quake occurred near Jiuzhaigou (Jee-oh Jai GO), or Jiuzhai Valley, a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations.

The area is located on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in northern Sichuan province, home to many Tibetan and other ethnic minority villages.


►  French president Macron wants to give a role to his wife

After more than three years without a first lady, the French don’t appear to be very eager to get a new one.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to formalize the role of his wife Brigitte, but critics say that would be too costly. The president’s office is preparing a formal communication in coming days, Brigitte Macron’s office said Tuesday.

During his presidential campaign, the 39-year-old outspoken centrist promised more “transparency” on the issue.

Unlike in the U.S., France’s first lady doesn’t have an official status.

As the president’s popularity drops in polls, more than 280,000 people have signed a petition in the past few weeks against Macron’s plan to grant a formal budget to finance his wife’s activities.

“There’s no reason why the spouse of the head of state would get a budget from public funds,” the petition says.

However the petition isn’t pushing to get rid of Brigitte Macron’s existing office and staff. It says her current setup — an office at the Elysee palace, two advisers, two secretaries as well as bodyguards — is “sufficient” and she shouldn’t need an official budget or money for special activities.

It’s not yet clear exactly what the president wants the first lady’s role to be. His plan isn’t to change the French Constitution or make a bill to give official status to his wife, but to publish a charter that would detail her public role, her staff and the cost to the French taxpayer, an official in Brigitte Macron’s office told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity.

No estimation has been given of the cost of Brigitte Macron’s current office or any potential changes.

The status of the president’s partner is a sensitive issue in France following a series of scandals in the past few decades, including Macron predecessor Francois Hollande’s complex private life.

Hollande entered office with his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at his side, but she left him after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande’s secret affair with actress Julie Gayet in January 2014.

The French got used to the absence of a first lady: Gayet never publicly appeared by Hollande’s side.

Before him, Sarkozy was the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office.

His former wife, Cecilia, had a prominent role at his side. The couple divorced in the first year of his term. Sarkozy then remarried, to supermodel Carla Bruni.

But the major scandal remains the one surrounding Francois Mitterrand, president from 1981 to 1995. Mitterrand had a secret family made up of his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and their daughter, who lived in a state-owned apartment in Paris.

Macron once said he wants to end “French hypocrisy” about the status of presidential spouses. The person living with the president “must be able to play a role and be recognized for that role” but wouldn’t be paid for it, he said before his election.

Macron created an inseparable team with his wife Brigitte during his presidential campaign, something more often seen on American political stages than in France.

Brigitte Macron, 64, a former teacher at Emmanuel Macron’s high school, attended most of her husband’s rallies. The president doesn’t hide that she is also his close political adviser.

Lawmaker Clementine Autain, from the far-left movement France Insoumise, called the idea of giving official status to the first lady “stupid.”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no need for a status of first lady in a democratic, modern, 21st-century system,” she told BFM television.


►  Israeli prosecutors charge former officials with corruption

Israeli prosecutors have charged a former deputy minister and nine others in a corruption sting centered on Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party.

The Justice Ministry announced Tuesday that 10 suspects in the high-profile case, including former lawmaker Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, were indicted on charges ranging from bribery to tax evasion.

The charges are the culmination of a prolonged investigation by Israeli police into suspected corruption by members of the hard-line nationalist party.

Last year, the Justice Ministry said it had evidence against 16 members of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Tuesday’s announcement didn’t include charges against Stas Misezhnikov, a former tourism minister suspected of bribery, breach of trust and drug use.

Lieberman was cleared of charges in a separate corruption case in 2013.


►  Q&A: Why some countries are trying to muzzle Al-Jazeera

The Al-Jazeera global news network has once again become the subject of the news.

The Israeli government called this week for the Qatar-based company’s Jerusalem bureau to be closed, its journalists’ press credentials revoked and its transmission blocked.

The move follows a decision by Saudi Arabia and Jordan to shutter the network’s local offices. Its websites and channels were also blocked in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Egypt has banned Al-Jazeera since 2013, when the military there took power.

These countries accuse Al-Jazeera of inciting violence. Al-Jazeera says the moves are an attempt by governments to suppress freedom of expression.

Here’s a look at what’s at play.

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WHAT IS AL-JAZEERA’S STORY?

Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and has grown to become one of the most widely seen Arabic news channels in the world. The network says its channels reach 100 countries and 310 million homes worldwide.

Since its inception in 1996, the station has been one of the few to present views that contrast with traditional, state-censored Arabic press. It was the first Arab-owned news outlet to host Israeli officials and commentators, which some analysts note coincided with Qatar’s ties with Israel at the time.

While Al-Jazeera maintains that it operates independently of the Qatari government, critics say its coverage reflects Qatar’s foreign policy.

Al-Jazeera has said the measures to close it in Saudi Arabia are unjustified, and that Israel’s accusations of unfair coverage are “odd” and unsubstantiated.

___

WHY IS AL-JAZEERA BEING TARGETED?

In early June, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain launched a diplomatic assault on Qatar, cutting diplomatic and transport links with the small, energy-rich Gulf country due to its foreign policy. They also took aim at Al-Jazeera and other Qatari-funded media outlets for allegedly seditious and provocative coverage.

The four countries accuse Qatar of backing terror groups and want it to curb its ties with Iran. They also accuse Qatar of backing the Muslim Brotherhood group and its offshoots, which Egypt and UAE see as a top threat.

Qatar says the measures against it are politically motivated and an attempt to strong-arm Qatar into falling in lockstep with Saudi Arabia.

Israeli officials — seeing an opportunity in the Arab quartet’s blockade of Al-Jazeera — criticized the station’s coverage of renewed tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and accused it of presenting unprofessional journalism before proposing to block it altogether.

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WHAT IS QATAR’S ROLE?

Al-Jazeera and Qatar have been intertwined since the network was launched, with financial backing from the ruling emir at the time, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Throughout its existence, the station has received funding from Qatar’s leadership. Its chairman is a member of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family.

The network generates some revenue from advertisers, though details of its finances and ownership are not made publicly available as it is not a listed company.

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has outright rejected demands the country shut down Al-Jazeera. He told The Associated Press in June that Qatar’s foreign policy does not dictate Al-Jazeera’s coverage.

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HOW WILL AL-JAZEERA BE AFFECTED?

Even before this diplomatic spat, the network was shrinking some of its global operations after years of ambitious expansion. It has laid off hundreds of employees in recent years and now has about 4,000 staff. The network in 2016 pulled the plug on its Al-Jazeera America channel less than three years after its launch to compete with U.S. cable news broadcasters.

It’s unclear how effective the bans will be in keeping Al-Jazeera from reaching its viewers. Across the region and in Israel, many Arab citizens watch Al-Jazeera through private satellite dishes rather than traditional cable transmission. The channels also livestream on YouTube.

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WHAT IS AL-JAZEERA’S COVERAGE LIKE?

American viewers became familiar with Al-Jazeera after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when its golden-hued Arabic logo became synonymous with video messages by America’s then-most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The channel aired the messages it received, sparking frequent complaints by then-President George W. Bush’s White House. The station defended its policy, saying the messages were newsworthy.

Critics say in past years, Al-Jazeera — particularly its flagship Arabic channel — has reflected Qatari policy by promoting Islamist movements. Many of the region’s Arab rulers, particularly in Egypt and the UAE, see the Muslim Brotherhood group and its offshoots as a top threat.

Israel has long been irked by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the conflict there. During past wars in the Gaza Strip, Al-Jazeera has carried unflinchingly raw images of Palestinian women and children killed by Israeli airstrikes. Its reporters refer to Israel as an occupying force and to east Jerusalem as Occupied Jerusalem.

However, Al-Jazeera’s English and Arabic channels, as well as its news websites and its popular online AJ+ videos, do not mirror one another in style and target different audiences.

___

WHAT ARE OTHERS SAYING?

Reporters Without Borders says Al-Jazeera has become a “collateral victim” in the diplomatic offensive against Qatar. The group says closing the station’s bureaus is a political decision that amounts to censorship of a TV broadcaster.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has criticized Israel’s moves against Al-Jazeera. The CPJ said closing Al-Jazeera’s offices “would put Israel firmly in the camp of some of the region’s worst enemies of press freedom.” It called on Israel to allow all journalists to report freely from the country and areas it occupies.

Rights group Amnesty International says moves to censor Al-Jazeera are “a brazen attack on media freedom” and “sends a chilling message that the Israeli authorities will not tolerate critical coverage.”


►  Iran president’s Cabinet cuts Guard from defense ministry

After decisively winning re-election almost three months ago, Iran’s president on Tuesday proposed a new Cabinet for his second term that cuts out the hard-line Revolutionary Guard from controlling the Defense Ministry for the first time in nearly 25 years.

However, Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet for now also fails to include women and his pick for the Justice Ministry is on a European Union sanctions list over human rights abuse allegations.

The Cabinet selection shows Rouhani, a cleric whose stances are moderate compared to others in the Islamic Republic, remains pragmatic about how far he can push his administration that is under the ultimate control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani’s Cabinet picks ultimately must be approved by parliament, which is expected to take up the issue next week.

Rouhani’s presidential website offered the list he presented to lawmakers, filling 17 of the 18 positions he’ll have in his Cabinet.

According to the proposal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that saw sanctions lifted in exchange for limits of Iran’s enrichment of uranium, would remain the country’s top diplomat. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who oversaw Iran’s rush by into the global energy market following the atomic accord, and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also would retain their posts.

Rouhani nominated Iran’s acting defense minister, General Amir Hatami of the Iranian army, to permanently take over the position. That represents a major departure from previous Iranian presidents who have since 1993 appointed members of the Revolutionary Guard to the position.

The Guard, a paramilitary force answering only to Khamenei, controls Iran’s disputed ballistic missile program and regularly has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. It has deployed into Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group and into Syria to support embattled President Bashar Assad. It also holds vast economic interests in Iran.

Rouhani, who was sworn in on Saturday, strongly criticized the Guard during his presidential campaign for trying to sabotage the nuclear deal.

After the election, Rouhani met with the Guard and acknowledged their role in Iran’s defense. But his passing over them for the defense minister position will likely draw hard-line criticism.

Rouhani played it safe with the rest of his Cabinet, with analysts describing his choices as the oldest overall Cabinet since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As in Rouhani’s previous Cabinet, there are no women nominated for ministerial posts though he still has three female vice presidents who are expected to keep their posts. Rouhani’s senior vice president, Eshaq Jahangir, is staying on.

What also may trouble European nations is Rouhani’s choice of Alireza Avaee as justice minister. Avaee is on a European Union sanctions list for alleged human rights violations from when he served as president of the Tehran judiciary, from 2005 to 2014.

“He has been responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights and an increase in executions,” the EU said.

Eight of the 17 nominees are new to their posts, including Habibollah Bitaraf, an energy minister under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Bitaraf was among the militant students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage there for 444 days.

Only the position of science minister remains unselected — a position that saw Rouhani get into a legislative dogfight in parliament over in 2014. The science minister oversees Iran’s universities and hard-line lawmakers worry about allowing anyone who offered any sympathy with reformists or the West. That remains especially sensitive following the unrest that followed Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election as university students took part in the street demonstrations.

International News

The Free Press WV

►  Jordan king in rare West Bank trip seen as message to Israel

Jordan’s king flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday — a rare and brief visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Abdullah II met for about two hours, after a red-carpet welcome for the monarch at the Palestinian government compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The two leaders discussed the recent showdown with Israel over the Muslim-administered shrine, including confronting alleged Israeli attempts to expand its role there, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

“This evaluation is very important for us to prepare for the coming stage we expect from Israel and from (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu personally,” Malki said.

Israel has denied allegations by Muslims that it was trying to encroach on their rights at the holy site, which is also revered by Jews.

Abdullah’s visit to the West Bank, his first in five years, came at a time of rising Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The crisis erupted when Israel installed metal detectors at gates to the compound after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there in mid-July. The measures triggered protests by Muslims.

Israel removed the devices after a few days, after intervention from the United States, Jordan and others. The step was seen by many in Israel as a capitulation and by Palestinians and the Arab world as a victory.

The shrine, a sprawling 37-acre (15-hectare) esplanade rising from Jerusalem’s walled Old City, is the third holiest site of Islam and the most sacred one in Judaism. It is central to rival Israeli and Palestinian religious and national narratives and has triggered major confrontations in the past.

Jordan serves as the Muslim custodian of the site, home to the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty has drawn much of its legitimacy from that role.

On Sunday, Abdullah told lawmakers in Jordan that “without the Hashemite custodianship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago.”

“Our success requires one stand with the Palestinian brothers, so that our cause wouldn’t be weakened and our rights would be maintained,” he said.

However, the monarch’s role in the standoff with Israel was complicated by a July 23 shooting in which an Israeli guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan killed two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screwdriver.

The guard was released by Jordan the next day, after a phone call between the king and Netanyahu. A few hours later, the metal detectors were dismantled.

The guard’s release, though in line with diplomatic protocol, has inflamed Jordanian public opinion, especially after the shooter was given a hero’s welcome by Netanyahu. The king blasted the prime minister’s actions as “provocative.”

Israeli authorities have since said they would investigate the embassy shootings, meeting a Jordanian demand.

Since the embassy shooting, Abdullah has taken several steps that appeared aimed at appeasing Jordanian public opinion.

He has said he would donate $1.4 million to the Muslim administration of the shrine.

Separately, Abbas has said his self-rule government in the West Bank will allocate $25 million to improve services for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

During the shrine crisis, Abbas said he was suspending security ties with Israel until the metal detectors have been removed.

It is not clear to what extent such ties — mainly cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian forces against the Islamic militant Hamas — has resumed.


►  UK plans to strengthen online ‘right to be forgotten’

Britain plans to strengthen the online “right to be forgotten” with a law making social media companies delete personal information on request.

The government on Monday published details of a Data Protection Bill , including a provision allowing people to ask for personal data held by companies to be erased.

The changes also would make it easier for people to find out what data companies or organizations hold on them, and would ban firms from collecting personal information without explicit consent.

The proposed law gives a regulator power to levy fines of up to 17 million pounds ($22 million) on firms that fail to comply.

The bill is intended to replace European Union privacy protections when Britain leaves the bloc in 2019. It must be approved by Parliament to become law.


►  U.S. to respond by September 01 to Russia’s expulsion of diplomats

The Trump administration has yet to decide how to respond to Russia’s move to expel hundreds of American diplomats, but plans to deliver a response to Moscow by September 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday.

A day after sitting down in the Philippines with Russia’s top diplomat, Tillerson said he’d asked “clarifying questions” about the Kremlin’s retaliation announced last month following new sanctions passed by Congress and signed by Donald Trump. The Trump administration has struggled to determine how the move will affect the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia, as well as the broader implications for the troubled relationship between the nuclear-armed powers.

Despite the Russian move, which seemed to plunge the two countries even further into acrimony, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emerged from the meeting declaring a readiness for more engagement with the U.S. on North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, among other issues. Tillerson broadly echoed that sentiment, saying the two countries had critical national security issues to discuss despite deep disagreements on some matters.

“I don’t think it is useful to just cut everything off on one single issue,” Tillerson said following his first meeting with Lavrov since the new sanctions were imposed. “These are two very large countries and we should find places that we can work together, let’s try to work together. Places we have our differences, we’re going to have to continue to find a way to address those.”

Tillerson also said that Russia has been showing “some willingness” to start talking about a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, devoid of real progress for years. That assessment came as Lavrov announced that the Trump administration had committed to sending its new special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, to Moscow to discuss next steps.

Yet several obstacles hang over any attempt to pursue a more functional U.S.-Russia relationship: the new U.S. sanctions, Russia’s retaliatory move to expel diplomats, and the ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into Russia’s election meddling and potential Trump campaign collusion.

Fearing Trump might move inappropriately to ease sanctions on Russia, Congress last month passed new legislation that both added more sanctions and made it harder for the president to lift them. Trump and Tillerson opposed the legislation, but facing a likely veto override, Trump begrudgingly signed the bill.

Moscow’s response to the sanctions was to announce it would force the U.S. to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people. That move stoked confusion in Washington, given that the U.S. is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees in Russia.

Lavrov, describing his meeting with Tillerson, said Russia and the U.S. had agreed to resume a high-level diplomatic channel that Moscow had suspended after a previous U.S. move to tighten existing Russia sanctions.

“We felt that our American counterparts need to keep the dialogue open,” Lavrov said. “There’s no alternative to that.”

Trump’s administration has argued there’s good reason for the U.S. to seek a more productive relationship. Tillerson has cited modest signs of progress in Syria, where the U.S. and Russia recently brokered a cease-fire in the war-torn country’s southwest, as a sign there’s fertile ground for cooperation.

The Syrian cease-fire reflected a return of U.S.-Russia cooperation to lower violence there. The U.S. had looked warily at a series of safe zones in Syria that Russia had negotiated along with Turkey and Iran — but not the U.S.

Lavrov cited upcoming talks involving Russia, Iran and Turkey about how to ensure the truce in the last safe zone to be established, around the north-western city of Idlib. He predicted “it will be difficult” to hammer out the details but that compromise can be reached if all parties — including the U.S. — use their influence in Syria to persuade armed groups there to comply.

Tillerson said Russian meddling in the election had “created serious mistrust between our two countries.” Although he and other Cabinet officials have maintained that position consistently, Trump has repeatedly questioned U.S. intelligence about Moscow’s involvement while denying any collusion with his campaign.

Word that Volker, the Ukraine envoy, plans to visit the Russian capital was the latest sign that Washington was giving fresh attention to resolving the Ukraine conflict. The U.S. cut military ties to Russia over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and accuses the Kremlin of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine by arming, supporting and even directing pro-Russian separatists there who are fighting the Kiev government.

In recent days, the Trump administration has been considering providing lethal weaponry to Ukraine to help defend itself against Russian aggression.


►  North Korea says no negotiations over its nukes

The Latest on the diplomatic crisis over North Korea (all times local):

8:00 p.m.

North Korean’s top diplomat says “under no circumstances” will it put its nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles on the negotiating table.

Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho also says that his country has no intention of using nuclear weapons against any country “except the U.S.” He says the only way that would change is if another country joined in an American action against North Korea.

Ri had been scheduled to hold a news conference in Manila, Philippines, where Asian diplomats are gathered for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Instead, Ri’s spokesman handed reporters a copy of a speech that Ri had given at the meeting.

Ri says in the speech that responsibility for the Korean Peninsula crisis lies solely with Washington. He says the North is “ready to teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force.”

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3:20 p.m.

Armed with extraordinary new U.N. sanctions, nations are racing to ensure that North Korea’s biggest trading partners actually carry them out. That’s been a sticking point in that past, and has undercut past attempts to strong-arm Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear weapons.

Donald Trump is demanding full and speedy implementation of the new penalties. But his top diplomat is also laying out a narrow path for the North to return to negotiations.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says if the North stops testing missiles for an “extended period,” the U.S. might deem North Korea ready to talk. But he says it won’t be a matter of a mere 30-day pause leading to the U.S. being willing to talk.

Tillerson says, “We’ll know it when we see it.”


►  Tillerson says Russia willing to discuss Ukraine

The Latest on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Philippines (all times local):

11:30 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia is showing “some willingness” to start talking about a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.

Tillerson made the comment after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. After the meeting, the Russian diplomat announced that the Trump administration was sending its new special representative for Ukraine negotiations to Moscow for talks.

Tillerson says the U.S. has been deliberate about coordinating with all the parties involved in the crisis. He says that’s to avoid the perception the U.S. is trying to cut a side deal that would undermine any group’s interests.

Tillerson says the U.S. has deep differences with Russia including on Ukraine, but that it’s not a good idea to “just cut everything off on one single issue.”

He says the U.S. and Russia still have important national security issues to discuss.

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10:30 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. will respond by September 1 to Russia’s move to force a major reduction in American diplomatic staff.

Tillerson is speaking to reporters during a visit to the Philippines. He says he communicated U.S. plans to respond by that deadline to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in their meeting in Manila on Sunday.

Tillerson says he told Lavrov that the U.S. still hasn’t decided how it will respond. He says he asked Lavrov “several clarifying questions” about the act of Russian retaliation in response to new sanctions passed by Congress.

Russia said recently it was forcing the U.S. to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people. But there’s been confusion because the U.S. is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees in Russia.

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8:20 p.m.

Russia is anticipating difficulties in ensuring a cease-fire in the last of the four safe zones in Syria.

That’s what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (sir-GAY’ lahv-RAWF’) has said in televised comments after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila on Sunday.

Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on a plan in May to establish four “de-escalation” zones in Syria, and they pressed the Syrian air force to halt flights over those areas.

Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar Assad. Turkey supports rebels fighting Syrian government forces.

Lavrov says he thinks “it will be difficult” to hammer out the details of the truce around the Syrian town of Idlib. He says Moscow hopes for a compromise to ensure the cease-fire if each country that wields influence in Syria — including the United States — can get the armed groups to comply.

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7:50 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (sir-GAY’ lahv-RAWF’) says U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has asked him for details about Moscow’s recent action to retaliate against American sanctions.

Lavrov — who met with Tillerson in the Philippines on Sunday — says he explained how Russia will carry out its response. But Lavrov isn’t giving out details.

The Kremlin says the U.S. must cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people. But there’s been confusion because the U.S. is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees in the country.

Russia also closed a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow.

Lavrov says he met with Tillerson because there’s no alternative to dialogue.

There’s no immediate reaction to the meeting from the U.S. side.

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7:30 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (sir-GAY’ lahv-RAWF’) says Donald Trump’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations will soon make his first trip to Moscow.

Lavrov says U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made that commitment during their meeting Sunday in the Philippines.

Lavrov says American Kurt Volker will travel to Russia to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Volker will meet with Vladislav Surkov, the Russian envoy for the Ukraine crisis.

The Trump administration named Volker to the position in July. Volker made his first trip to eastern Ukraine last month.

Lavrov also says Tillerson agreed to continue a dialogue between U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. That channel was created to address hot spots, but Russia suspended it after the U.S. tightened sanctions on Russia.

___

6 p.m.

The top American and Russian diplomats are meeting for the first time since Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law a package of new sanctions targeting Moscow.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (sir-GAY’ lahv-RAWF’) are sitting down in Manila, Philippines, on the sidelines of a regional gathering.

The two diplomats smiled and exchanged pleasantries but made no substantive remarks as journalists were allowed in briefly for the start of their meeting.

Let’s Be Real… Just Imagine…..

What Would Happen if China Decided to Impose Economic Sanctions on the USA?

In June, Washington threatened Beijing with a sanctions regime, in response to China’s increased bilateral commodity trade with North Korea. Initially, the US sanctions were not intended to be against the Chinese government: selected Chinese banks and trading companies involved in the financing of China-DPRK commodity trade would be potential targets of U.S. reprisals.

Having lost patience with China, the Trump administration is studying new steps to starve North Korea of cash for its nuclear program, including an option that would infuriate Beijing: sanctions on Chinese companies that help keep the North’s economy afloat.

According to Chinese sources, China’s trade with the DPRK increased by 37.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017, in relation to the same period in 2016. China’s exports increased by 54.5 percent, with imports from the DPRK experiencing an 18.4 percent increase.

The insinuation was crystal clear: curtail your trade with North Korea, or else…

Coupled with the aggressive legislative sanctions “package” recently adopted by the US Congress directed against Russia, Iran and North Korea, Washington now threatens China in no uncertain terms.

Trump is demanding that Beijing relinquish its relationship with the DPRK, by unconditionally siding with Washington against Pyongyang. Washington has granted China six months “to prove that it is committed to preventing a nuclear-armed North Korea”, despite the fact that Beijing has expressed its firm opposition to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program.

The political deadline is coupled with veiled threats that “if you do not comply”, punitive trade measures will be adopted which could result in the disruption of China’s exports to the United States.

The Free Press WV

Moreover, the White House is intent upon conducting “an investigation into China’s trade practices” focussing on alleged  violations of U.S. intellectual property rights. A “Section 301” investigation, named after a portion of the 1974 Trade Act is slated to be launched.

Following the completion of the investigation, Washington threatens to “impose steep tariffs on Chinese imports [into the US], rescind licenses for Chinese companies to do business in the United States, or take other measures, which could, “pave the way for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese exporters or to further restrict the transfer of advanced technology to Chinese firms or to U.S.-China joint ventures.”

In formulating these veiled threats, the Trump administration should think twice. These measures would inevitably backlash on the U.S. economy.


China is not dependent on U.S.  imports. 
Quite the opposite. America is an import led economy with a weak industrial and manufacturing base, heavily dependent on imports from the PRC.

Imagine what would happen if China following Washington’s threats decided from one day to the next to significantly curtail its “Made in China” commodity exports to the USA.

It would be absolutely devastating, disrupting the consumer economy, an economic and financial chaos.

“Made in China” is the backbone of retail trade which indelibly sustains household consumption in virtually all major commodity categories from clothing, footwear, hardware, electronics, toys, jewellery, household fixtures, food, TV sets, mobile phones, etc.  Ask the American consumer: The list is long. “China makes 7 out of every 10 cellphones sold Worldwide, as well as 12 and a half billion pairs of shoes’ (more than 60 percent of total World production). Moreover, China produces over 90% of the World’s computers and 45 percent of shipbuilding capacity (The Atlantic, August 2013)

A large share of goods displayed in America’s shopping malls, including major brands is “Made in China”.

“Made in China” also dominates the production of a wide range of industrial inputs, machinery, building materials, automotive, parts and accessories, etc. not to mention the extensive sub-contracting of Chinese companies on behalf of US conglomerates.

China is America’s largest trading partner. According to US sources, trade in goods and services with China totalled an estimated $648.2 billion in 2016.

China’s commodity exports to the US totalled $462.8 billion dollars.


Import Led Growth

Importing from China is a lucrative multi-trillion dollar operation. It is the source of tremendous profit and wealth in the US, because consumer  commodities imported from China’s low wage economy are often sold at the retail level more than ten times their factory price.

Production does not take place in the USA. The producers have given up production. The US trade deficit with China is instrumental in fuelling the profit driven consumer economy which relies on Made in China consumer goods.

A dozen designer shirts produced in China will sell at a factory price FOB at $36 a dozen ($3 dollars a shirt). Once they reach the shopping malls, each shirt will be sold at $30 or more, approximately ten times its factory price. Vast revenues accrue to wholesale and retail distributors. The US based “non-producers” reap the benefits of China’s low cost commodity production. (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Global Research, 2003).

The import of commodities from China (in excess of 462 billion dollars) is conducive through the interplay of wholesale and retail markups (which contribute to value added) to a substantive increase in America’s GDP, without the need for commodity production. Without Chinese imports, the GDP rate of growth would be substantially lower.

What we are referring to is Import Led Growth. US businesses no longer need to produce, they subcontract with a Chinese partner.

And why is this occurring? Because America’s manufacturing industries  (in many sectors of production) has in course of the last forty years been closed down and relocated offshore (through subcontracting), to cheap labor locations in developing countries.

China’s economy is not only linked to industrial assembly, China increasingly constitutes a competitor and major exporter in a variety of  high technology sectors.

The Free Press WV
Make America Great Again: Made in China


In Your Face Donald Trump!

In summary, this kind of economic blackmail on the part of the Trump administration against China does not work. It falls flat.

In turn, America is threatening both Russia and China militarily including the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons. How will Russia and China respond to US threats?

While US sanctions against Russia have largely backlashed on the European Union, it is not excluded (although unlikely) that China could at some future date respond to US threats by impose economic sanctions against the USA.

In the short run, the US cannot relinquish its imports of Chinese manufactured goods. It would be economic suicide.


Laughing in Beijing

Chinese policy makers are fully aware that the US economy is heavily dependent on “Made in China”.

And with an internal market of more than 1.3 billion people, coupled with a global export market, these veiled US threats will not be taken seriously by Beijing.

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