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►  What Puerto Rico is doing to get the power back after storm

Electrical linemen descend from helicopters, balancing on steel girders 90 feet high on transmission towers in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, far from any road. At the same time, crews fan out across the battered island, erecting light poles and power lines in a block by block slog.

A month after Hurricane Maria rolled across the center of Puerto Rico, the power is still out for the vast majority of people on the island as the work to restore hundreds of miles of transmission lines and thousands of miles of distribution lines grinds on for crews toiling under a blazing tropical sun.

And it won’t get done soon without more workers, more equipment and more money, according to everyone involved in the effort.

“It’s too much for us alone,” Nelson Velez, a regional director for the Puerto Rican power authority, said as he supervised crews working along a busy street in Isla Verde, just east of San Juan, on a recent afternoon. “We have just so many, so many areas affected.”

The office of Governor Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that about 20 percent of the island has service and he has pledged to get that to 95 percent by December 31. For now, though, most of the island’s 3.4 million people suffer without air conditioning or basic necessities. Many have resorted to using washboards, now frequently seen for sale along the side of the road, to clean clothes, and sleeping on their balconies and flocking to any open restaurants for relief from daytime temperatures above 90 degrees.

“I thought we would we have power in the metro area by now,” said Pablo Martinez, an air conditioning technician, shaking his head in frustration.

Hurricane Maria, which caused at least 48 deaths on the island, made landfall on the southeastern coast near Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of about 154 mph (248 kph). It passed out of the territory about 12 hours later near Barceloneta in the north, still with sustained winds of about 115 mph (185 kph). The onslaught was sufficient to knock down hundreds of transmission towers and thousands of distribution poles and lines.

The storm’s path was ideal for taking down the entire grid. Most of Puerto Rico’s generating capacity is along the southern coast and most consumption is in the north around San Juan, with steel and aluminum transmission towers up to 90 feet (27 meters) tall running through the mountains in the middle. At least 10 towers fell along the most important transmission line that runs to the capital, entangling it with a secondary one that runs parallel and that lost about two dozen towers in a hard-to-reach area in the center of the island.

“It reminds me of a fireball that just burned everything in its path,” said Brig. General Diana Holland, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers unit working to clear debris and restore the grid, with nearly 400 troops on the ground.

The storm also struck at a terrible time. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority filed for bankruptcy in July. It has put off badly needed maintenance and had just finished dealing with outages from Hurricane Irma in early September.

“You stop doing your typical deferred maintenance, and so you become even that much more susceptible to a storm like Maria and Irma coming and blowing down your towers, water coming up in your substations and flooding them,” said Tom Lewis, president of the U.S. division of Louis Berger, which has been supplying generators in Puerto Rico to clients that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everything becomes that much more sensitive to any kind of damage whether it be from wind or water.”

PREPA Director Ricardo Ramos said the authority is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and contractors to bring in more “bucket trucks” and other equipment. It already has about 400 three- to five-member repair crews and is trying to reach 1,000 within three weeks with workers brought in from the U.S. “With this number of brigades we will be able to advance much more rapidly,” Ramos assured reporters during a recent news conference.

PREPA brought in a Montana company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help its crews restore the transmission and distribution lines across the island. It has a rolling contract and can bill up to $300 million for its work, said Odalys de Jesus, a spokeswoman for the power authority.

It is a huge job for a young company, formed in 2015. Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said previous work restoring transmission lines damaged by wildfires in the western U.S. has prepared them for the Puerto Rico contract. “We don’t like easy,” he said during a break at one of the company’s base camps near Barceloneta.

The camp buzzes with activity as helicopters come and go, taking linemen and equipment to the mountain towers, the pilots deftly navigating the lines and mountains to lower men and equipment to the steel-and-aluminum girds high above the trees. Whitefish had about 270 employees in Puerto Rico as of midweek, working both on transmission and distribution. It expects the number to double in the coming weeks if it can find sufficient lodging and transport to the island.

Other contractors working in Puerto Rico include Fluor Corp., which was awarded a $336.2 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal and power restoration, and Weston Solutions, which is providing two generators to stabilize power in the capital for $35 million.

Their efforts are to restore the system that was in place before the storm, not to build a better one, at least not yet. Governor Rossello says the island needs to overhaul its power grid, make it less vulnerable and look at alternative sources. He welcomed a proposal by Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car company Tesla, to expand solar energy and has raised the issue of longer-term improvements with Washington.

House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to express at least a willingness to consider helping Puerto Rico build back better when he visited the island this month. “If you going to put up a power line let’s put up a power line that can withstand hurricane-force winds,” he said. “It makes no sense to put temporary patches on problems that have long term effects.”

Techmanski said Whitefish was making progress on the line that carries about 230,000 volts to San Juan from the Aguirre power plant in the south, which will vastly increase the amount of power reaching the capital.

“We’re getting it done,” he said. But, asked about the goal of getting 95 percent of power back by the end of the year, he wasn’t sure: “It is very optimistic at this point.”


►  The day anti-Vietnam War protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon

They’d demonstrated before, thousands of anti-war protesters singing and waving banners and burning draft cards on the Mall in Washington.

Now the organizers for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam wanted to go further - much further. On October 21, 1967, they announced, anti-war protesters would march en masse past the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge all the way to the front steps of the Pentagon.

And then they would try to levitate it.

And storm it.

And bring the military-industrial complex to its knees.

“We will dye the Potomac red, burn the cherry trees, panhandle embassies, attack with water pistols, marbles, bubble gum wrappers, bazookas, girls will run naked and #### on the Pentagon walls, sorcerers swamis, witches, voodoo, warlocks, medicine men and speed freaks will hurl their magic at the faded brown walls,“ promised Abbie Hoffman, one of the organizers and a co-founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies). “We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.“

As many as 100,000 people, mostly young, mostly white, flooded the capital for the demonstration, anticipating an injection of counterculture flair into the anti-war movement. An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 demonstrators descended on the Pentagon. And by dawn the next day, nearly 700 had been arrested for various acts of civil disobedience, including trying to get inside the building.

It was an early test of that fall’s new motto, “from protest to resistance,“ and a concrete shift in the “tone and tactics of the anti-war movement,“ according to Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College who attended the Pentagon march as a 16-year-old high school student.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of that pivotal weekend, Isserman and more than 100 others plan to demonstrate once again in Washington as part of a two-day retrospective event organized by the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee.

“This is not an attempt to repeat what happened in 1967,“ said Terry Provance, a VPCC staffer who helped organize the weekend’s festivities.

“Though you never know,“ he joked. “If somebody acts on their own, they act on their own.“

That was the mindset 50 years ago, too, as the mobilization committee worked with different factions within the anti-war movement to plan the Pentagon march.

Some groups were only comfortable demonstrating at the Mall. Others supported putting the pressure on military officials, rather than picketing the White House or marching to Capitol Hill. And still others were made quite nervous by the radical rhetoric of Hoffman and his Yippies co-founder Jerry Rubin, who were primarily responsible for the threats to levitate the Pentagon and turn the Potomac River red.

A few months before the demonstration, Hoffman and Rubin held a press conference to detail their plans of an “exorcism to cast out evil spirits” by the “flower power contingent.“ They had incense and a “psychedelic bomb,“ which looked like a bowling ball, according to Jonah Raskin’s book “For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman.“

On October 21, 1967, demonstrators began filling the Mall mid-morning. Speakers included writer Norman Mailer, poet Robert Lowell, pediatrician Benjamin Spock and Clive Jenkins of the British Labor Party, whose remarks were interrupted when a member of the American Nazi Party tried to punch him at the podium.

By late afternoon, the momentum had shifted toward the Pentagon. Throngs of people marched south, bottle-necking as they crossed the bridge and slowing to a shuffle, Isserman recalled.

All around the Pentagon, military police, federal marshals and thousands of Army troops with rifles and riot gear were stationed in place, according to the Department of Justice, ready to defend the nation’s wartime command center against the demonstrators coming to storm it. From their perimeter positions on the ground and perches on the roof, the officers watched as the protesters inched closer and closer, spilling into the Pentagon’s parking lot and toward its entrance.

They readied their weapons, though some officers said years later that the guns weren’t loaded.

“It was a great deal of uncertainty,“ Isserman said. “You kind of didn’t know which way it was going to go.“

Isserman had no intention of getting arrested - he had promised his parents he wouldn’t. But then a section of fencing gave way on the perimeter and suddenly people were pouring through by the thousands, pushing closer and closer to the Pentagon entrance. Isserman was in the middle of it.

Most of the crowd was quickly cordoned off, not allowed to move forward or backward. More than a dozen others broke the line though, making it just inside the Pentagon doors before being carted out by officials.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara watched the chaos from the safety of his office. He would later say he’d turned against the war himself by 1967.

The Potomac never ran red, no cherry trees burned and the Pentagon did not leave the ground. The hippies and yippies who wanted to levitate the massive 3.7 million-square-foot building couldn’t fully encircle it as planned - though the exorcism was more about theatrics than anything else.

As the sun set, the crowd began to shrink. But there were confrontations into the evening, with brawls and bloodied heads and tear gas lobbed into the crowd. The steps of the Pentagon were streaked red.

By dawn the next day, only a few protesters remained, huddled together, having burned their signs to keep warm.

At that point, nearly 20,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam, and the war would claim 38,000 more lives before the U.S. finally withdrew in 1975. But the march on the Pentagon became a defining moment of the anti-war movement, immortalized in Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Armies of the Night.“

“It was really hard for the anti-war movement to understand it’s own progress,“ Isserman said. “In a way, we had more influence than we possibly could have known staring up at the Pentagon.“


►  Pollution kills 9 million people each year, new study finds

Dirty air in India and China. Tainted water in sub-Saharan Africa. Toxic mining and smelter operations in South America. Pollution around the globe now contributes to an estimated 9 million deaths annually - or roughly one in six - according to an in-depth new study published Thursday in the Lancet. If accurate, that means pollution kills three times more people each year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, with most of those deaths in poor and developing countries.

“Going into this, my colleagues and I knew that pollution killed a lot of people. But we certainly did not have any idea of the total magnitude of the problem,“ said Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-chair of the commission behind the report. “I think all of us were really surprised when we saw this.“

The two-year project, which relied on data from researchers in more than 130 countries documenting the causes of disease and premature deaths in recent decades, found that poor air quality was the most significant pollution-related killer. That includes both outdoor pollution tainted by mercury, arsenic and other harmful particulates, and household air dirtied by the burning of wood, dung and other organic materials. The result: An estimated 6.5 million deaths in 2015 from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.

Water pollution, which includes everything from unsafe sanitation to contaminated drinking water, accounted for an additional 1.8 million annual deaths from gastrointestinal diseases and other infections, researchers found.

Pollution in the workplace also took a heavy toll on some of the world’s poorest workers. From bladder cancer in dye workers to the lung disease pneumoconiosis in coal miners, researchers found that occupational exposure to various carcinogens and toxins was linked to about 800,000 deaths annually.

In 2015, the largest number of deaths attributable to pollution occurred in India and China, with an estimated 2.5 million and 1.8 million deaths respectively. Other severely affected countries include Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya.

Beyond the massive human toll, the authors of Thursday’s report also focused on the financial toll caused by pollution-related health problems.

“Until now, people haven’t recognized what an incredible hit pollution makes on the economy of a country,“ Landrigan said. “Pollution control can stimulate the economy because it reduces death and disease.“

They estimated the hit to national budgets at about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product in low-income countries, compared to about 0.5 percent in developed, high-income countries. In addition, nations facing crippling pollution tend to spend much more on health care to treat diseases related to the problem.

“When you’re looking at developing countries, you really have to address this challenge if you want to move people out of poverty and into the middle class,“ said Gina McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who was not involved in the study but had studied its conclusions. “It is holding people back.“

And the warming of the Earth’s climate is likely to fuel more deaths in the absence of international action, she said.

“Climate change is going to exacerbate the very problems that are identified in this article. There will be more contagious and infectious diseases. There will be more lives lost, more injuries, if we don’t identify a path that gets us out of the hole that we’re in,“ McCarthy said. “What people don’t realize is the instability that results from poverty, the instability that results from migration as a result of climate change.“

The startling conclusion that pollution accounts for 16 percent of deaths worldwide is, of course, an estimate. But the findings build on previous studies, including a 2016 report from the World Health Organization, detailing the extent to which pollution represents a public health crisis. “If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,“ then-WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said last year.

McCarthy said the Lancet study also is built on the most complete epidemiological data available.

“These are the best numbers that we have available to us. And even if they’re off by a factor of 10, you’re still talking about huge, huge impacts. But they’re not off by a factor of 10,“ she said. “It’s very clear if you go to other countries and it’s clear if you go to some of our own communities that they are being held back because of the impact of pollution on their kids and their elderly. And we have to stop thinking that because we can’t see the pollution and it’s not as visible that it’s not there.“

Landrigan said there is “an old wive’s tale” that developing countries inevitably suffer through troublesome pollution and disease on their way to becoming more prosperous.

Rather, he and the study’s other authors insisted that countries must do much to reduce pollution and improve the health of their citizens - and that they will reap economic benefits for doing so. In addition, he said developed nations can play a meaningful role in helping poorer countries slash pollution, and major nonprofit foundations that have largely steered clear of the problem must be convinced that it is a global priority.

“It doesn’t have to [get worse]. It’s not an inevitable outcome,“ Landrigan said of the annual death toll. “Pollution control is a winnable battle.“

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The Free Press WV

►  Spain ready to revoke Catalan autonomy amid independence bid

Spain’s government on Thursday set in motion plans to take away Catalonia’s local powers after its defiant regional president refused to give up his demands for Catalan independence.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just minutes before a deadline set by the central government for him to backtrack on his calls for secession. Puigdemont didn’t give in, but instead threatened to go ahead with a unilateral proclamation of independence if the government refuses to negotiate.

“If the State Government persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues, the Parliament of Catalonia will proceed, if deemed appropriate, to vote on the formal declaration of independence,” Puigdemont’s letter said, in an English translation provided by the Catalan regional government.

Spain’s government responded by calling a special Cabinet session for Saturday in which it would trigger the process to activate Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution. That article allows for central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions, including Catalonia.

The Cabinet meeting will “approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards,” the statement said.

The constitutional law has never been used in the four decades since democracy was restored at the end of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

Spain’s government needs to outline what are the exact measures it wants to apply in Catalonia and submit them for a vote in Spain’s Senate.

The ruling Popular Party’s majority in the top chamber would be enough to approve the measure, but Rajoy has held discussions with opposition leaders to rally further support.

The main opposition Socialist party backed Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s moves but wants the Article 155 measures to be limited in scope and time.

Abroad, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his recent support for Rajoy, saying at a European Union summit in Brussels that it would be “marked by a message of unity around member states amid the crises they could face, unity around Spain.”

Puigdemont addressed the regional parliament on October 10, saying he had the mandate under a banned October 1 referendum to declare independence from Spain. But he immediately suspended the implementation of the secession proclamation and called for talks with Spain and international mediators.

Spain’s government responded by setting two deadlines for Puigdemont — a Monday one for him to say a simple “yes” or “no” to whether he indeed had declared independence or not, and a second one for Thursday morning for him to fall in line with Spain’s laws.

Spain’s government says that Puigdemont hasn’t offered any clarity in his replies.

Catalans would consider the application of Article 155 an “invasion” of the region’s self-government, while Spain’s central authorities have portrayed it as an undesired move, yet a necessary one, to restore legality after Puigdemont’s government pushed ahead with a banned referendum that violated the country’s constitution.

More than 40 percent of Catalonia’s 5.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in the illegal October 1 referendum as police used violence to try to enforce a court order to stop it from going ahead. Opponents boycotted the vote.

Catalan officials say that hundreds of people were injured in police violence, while Spanish authorities say hundreds of police officers were also hurt and the use of force was proportional to the resistance they met.

The separatists declared an overwhelming victory despite the boycott by opponents, who said it was illegal and lacked basic guarantees such as an independent electoral board.

Spain’s government had said it would be willing to hold off on applying Article 155 if the Catalan separatist leader were to call a snap regional election. But Catalan officials have ruled that out.

The Catalan government’s international affairs director, Raul Romeva, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday that Catalonia’s banned secession referendum gave the region’s separatist government a mandate to declare independence from Spain.

Andrew Dowling, an expert in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales, said that any declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament would be symbolic without border and institutional control and no international support.

Such a declaration “will see the fracture between hardliners and the pragmatic people in Catalonia who are already seeing an economic fallout,” Dowling said.

More than 700 companies, including Catalan banks, multinationals and mid-size businesses, have moved their registered addresses out of the troubled region because of concerns about the region’s legal status, according to Spain’s Association of Commercial Registers. While it doesn’t affect jobs, the firms could delay investments if the standoff continues.

Civil society groups who have drawn hundreds of thousands to the streets in peaceful pro-independence demonstrations over the past few years are calling for new protests Thursday at the gates of the central government’s office in Barcelona and a bigger march later this week.


►  China’s conflicted goals: Freer markets, more party control

China’s ruling Communist Party is expanding its role in business even as it promises freer markets and support for entrepreneurs on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s second five-year term as leader.

Party officials are tightening their control over state-owned enterprises and want a voice in how some foreign companies are run. State companies that dominate energy and other fields are being made even bigger through mergers. Some are forming ties with private sector success stories such as tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to draw on their skills.

Beijing’s conflicting goals are raising concerns that leaders might put off changes needed to reinvigorate a cooling economy that faces surging debt and trade tensions with Washington and Europe.

“There is no grand vision. There are parallel goals that are competing with each other,” said Andrew Polk, an economist at Trivium/China, a research firm in Beijing. “We are not sure which ones are going to win out at a given moment.”

No major policy changes are expected out of the twice-a-decade party congress that is due to re-appoint Xi as general secretary. The party also will name a Standing Committee, the country’s ruling inner circle of power, in preparation for installing a new government in early 2018.

The impact of those choices, by creating jobs and business opportunities or dragging on economic activity, will take time to filter down to ordinary Chinese.

At the opening of the congress Wednesday, Xi repeated official promises to support entrepreneurs and give market forces a “decisive role” but affirmed the dominance of state-owned industry.

“There must be no irresolution about working to consolidate and develop the public sector,” said Xi in a nationally televised address.

Data released Thursday showed economic growth stayed relatively stable in the quarter ending in September, buoyed by strength in consumer spending and exports. Output rose 6.8 percent, down marginally from the previous quarter’s 6.9 percent.

Investors are watching the congress for signs of where the party wants to go and how fast. A key indicator will be which posts go to Xi allies seen as reformers with the personal authority to overcome opposition from party or state industry factions that might lose influence.

One closely watched figure is Wang Qishan, a vice premier and respected problem-solver who oversaw China’s response to SARS and at age 69 is obliged by party tradition to leave the seven-person Standing Committee. If he stays in a leadership post, analysts say that would suggest Xi wants his help to carry out painful changes.

Reform advocates complain that since Xi took power in 2012, the leadership has dragged its feet on fulfilling promises to tackle debt that has soared to dangerous levels, curb the dominance of state industry and give a bigger role to entrepreneurs who create China’s new jobs and wealth.

Instead, Xi focused on an anti-corruption campaign and tightened political control, detained activist lawyers and stepped up internet censorship.

Foreign industry groups complain China is moving too slowly on promises to shrink state-owned steel and aluminum producers they accuse of threatening jobs by flooding global markets with low-cost exports.

“Generally speaking, there has been no major progress in economic reform,” said Sheng Hong, director of the Unirule Institute, an independent economic research group in Beijing.

Regulators closed Unirule’s website and social media accounts in a crackdown in January on liberal voices.

The party’s internal conflict is reflected in a 2013 declaration that promised for the first time to give market forces the “decisive role” but also vowed the party would intensify its control of state industry. Private sector analysts say this appears to be aimed at rooting out corruption and waste.

This year, some foreign companies say the party, which already has cells in all enterprises and controls agencies that regulate them, is trying to expand its authority further by asking for a formal voice in commercial decisions.

Some 32 mainland companies with shares traded in Hong Kong have proposed changes to their legal structure to make the party an adviser to their board. Financial commentators complain this might hurt shareholders.

“This is potentially a huge problem,” said the German ambassador to China, Michael Clauss. “Many foreign companies are very alarmed.”

Foreign companies already are frustrated by rules that give them little access to industries such as finance and technology, plans they say might limit their role in promising fields such as electric cars. That pessimism helped lead to a 1.2 percent decline in investment into China in the first seven months of this year, breaking a series of annual double-digit gains.

A business leader in Wenzhou, a southeastern city known as a hotbed of private sector activity, welcomed Xi’s pledge to do more to help entrepreneurs.

“If private enterprises succeed, China’s economy succeeds,” said Zhou Dewen, president of the city’s Association for Promotion of Development of Small and Medium-sized Companies.

Beijing is pushing entrepreneurs to support state-owned enterprises, or SOEs.

The party pledged in a September 25 declaration to promote “entrepreneurial spirit” while also urging entrepreneurs to learn “socialist core values.”

In August, one of the country’s three major state-owned phone carriers, China Unicom Ltd., sold an $11.7 billion stake to private investors including Alibaba Group, the biggest global e-commerce company by sales volume; Tencent Holdings Ltd., which operates the popular WeChat social media platform, and internet search giant Baidu Inc. There was no indication they would get any voice in management.

In September, Tencent paid $366 million for 5 percent of state-owned investment bank China International Capital Corp. CICC gets access to Tencent’s marketing and other skills, but the private company gained no management control.

Other state companies have announced similar plans to bring in private shareholders.

Meanwhile, authorities are discussing taking a direct state ownership stake in Alibaba and Tencent, The Wall Street Journal reported this month, citing unidentified sources.

“Supposed reforms in state-own companies such as ‘mixed ownership’ can never be called a reform,” said Sheng. “Setting up party committees in companies not only is not a reform, but is a step backward.”

In August, the government announced the merger of Shenhua Group, the world’s biggest coal producer, and Guodian Group, a major power supplier, to form the world’s biggest utility by assets.

“They are being quite clear that they want bigger, bolder, better SOEs, with not just state but party leadership,” said Polk.

The pressure for action is building.

Economic growth has been propped up this year by a lending boom and government stimulus, but that sets back official efforts to build a consumer-driven economy.

Forecasters expect growth to cool as regulators tighten lending controls to rein in debt that has risen to the equivalent of 260 percent of annual economic output — unusually high for a developing country.

“Strains within the country’s banking sector are already glaringly evident,” the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a report.


►  Russian opposition divided over TV host’s presidential bid

A presidential bid by a celebrity Russian TV host drew conflicting reaction from the country’s beleaguered opposition Thursday, with some accusing her of playing into the Kremlin’s hands and others welcoming her move.

Though President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that the Kremlin has encouraged Ksenia Sobchak to run, some opposition figures say her move would allow the government to counter voter apathy and at the same time sow discord in opposition ranks.

The 35-year old Sobchak announced her intention to run in the March 2018 election Wednesday, saying the country has grown tired of stagnation and needs change.

She is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the reformist St. Petersburg mayor in the early 1990s. President Vladimir Putin once worked as her father’s deputy.

Sobchak, who joined anti-Kremlin protests in 2011-2012, said she had warned the president of her intention during a recent meeting, adding that Putin didn’t seem to like it.

Putin hasn’t yet said whether he would seek re-election, but he’s widely expected to run and is poised to convincingly see off the same set of lackluster veterans of past campaigns.

One of them, liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky, warned that Sobchak would play a role similar to billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election, casting himself as a representative of Russian liberal circles. Putin won with nearly 64 percent of the vote, while Prokhorov polled 8 percent.

“It’s the same trap, shall we walk into it again?” he tweeted.

Liberal politician Dmitry Gudkov sounded more positive, saying that if Sobchak runs a real campaign critical of the Kremlin, it could help encourage political competition and draw young voters to the polls.

Russia’s most popular opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, who is serving a 20-day jail term for organizing an unsanctioned protest, hasn’t commented on Sobchak’s declaration.

When rumors about Sobchak’s presidential ambitions first circulated last month, Navalny, warned her on YouTube that she would only serve the Kremlin’s goals by joining the campaign.

“They need a cartoonish liberal candidate at a time when they don’t want to allow me to enter the race,” Navalny said.

Navalny has declared his intention to run, even though a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated, bars him from running. The 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader has organized a grassroots campaign to support his bid and staged several waves of protests this year to raise pressure on the Kremlin to let him join the race.

Sobchak has rejected Navalny’s criticism, saying she would push for his registration and could even withdraw her candidacy in his favor if he’s allowed to run.

She cast herself as a “candidate against all,” trying to tap public resentment with the nation’s tightly-controlled and corrupt political system.

“It’s our peaceful and legitimate way to say: Enough, guys, we really had enough of you all!” she said in a YouTube video.

Pundits saw the slogan as a smart move to reach the apathetic voters tired of the same familiar faces on the nation’s political scene.

Sobchak, who first became known as a socialite and a fashion icon before she launched her successful TV career as a reality show host, has been frequently described as Russia’s version of Paris Hilton in the past.

Unlike her pushy TV persona, Sobchak sought to sound calm and compromising while declaring her bid.

And in contrast with Navalny who encouraged his supporters to take to the streets in defiance of official bans, Sobchak appealed to those who shun unsanctioned protests and want peaceful change.

“I’m against revolution,” she said in her manifesto.

“But I’m a good mediator and organizer. I’m a woman, and I don’t have that horrible masculine ego that always prevents politicians from reaching accord and makes force an option of choice for solving any problem.”

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►  UN, U.S. failed to prevent ‘ethnic cleansing’ in South Sudan

Until the summer of 2016, South Sudan’s Yei region was a leafy oasis in the midst of the country’s civil war. But when a national peace deal broke down and government soldiers ransacked the area, a handful of U.N. and U.S. officials begged their leaders for help.

The United Nations must send peacekeepers to Yei to protect civilians from President Salva Kiir’s forces, who are burning villages and slaughtering men, women and children, they argued. And the U.S. needs to change its approach in the face of a potential genocide, they warned.

The pleas of officials and residents fell on deaf ears. The U.N. did not send peacekeeping troops to stay in Yei, and the U.S. continued to support South Sudan’s military, possibly in violation of U.S. law, an AP investigation found. The investigation is based on more than 30 internal or confidential documents from the U.N., White House or State Department, and dozens of interviews with current or former officials and civilians.

In a matter of weeks, Yei became the center of a nationwide campaign of what the U.N. calls “ethnic cleansing,” which has created the largest exodus of civilians in Africa since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. More than 1 million people have now fled to Uganda, mostly from the Yei region. And while there is no tally for how many people have died in South Sudan, estimates put the number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

Kate Almquist Knopf, director at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the U.S. Defense Department, compared the situation in South Sudan to Rwanda, where nearly a million people died in 100 days with little action from the U.S. or other world leaders.

“The reality is that Rwanda happened while the U.N. was there, while the international community was there, and they didn’t do anything. The same thing is happening now in South Sudan,” said Knopf. “It’s happening on Africa’s watch. It’s happening on America’s watch. It’s happening on the United Nations watch. It’s appening on everyone’s watch.”

More than a year later, the U.N. says it is still considering sending a permanent peacekeeping force to Yei if it gets more troops. The U.N. now has about 12,000 peacekeepers throughout South Sudan, but U.S. officials say it would take roughly 40,000 to secure the country. That leaves Yei and other major population centers — such as Bentiu, Malakal and Wau — vulnerable.

“There are always discussions,” said Daniel Dickinson, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in South Sudan. “It’s all about what resources the mission has available.”

For its part, the U.S. budgeted $30 million for technical training, non-lethal equipment and advisers to South Sudan’s military for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. The State Department in July gave a further $2 million for a military and security operations center that supported the country’s security service and presidential guards.

The assistance appears to violate a U.S. law prohibiting support to any unit that has committed a gross violation of human rights — in this case including an attack on a popular hotel that targeted aid workers and American citizens, the AP found. South Sudanese soldiers have killed a journalist, gang-raped women, and conducted mock executions on civilians and aid workers.

A spokesperson for the State Department said military officials who received assistance “were vetted and not credibly implicated in the gross violation of human rights.” They added the U.S. has exerted pressure on both the government and the rebels to stop fighting.

However, the U.S. aid is a “red flag,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, who sponsored the law. “The South Sudanese security forces, like their rebel counterparts, are notorious for violating human rights without fear of being punished. We do not want the United States to be associated with such misconduct.”

__________

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has received more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid every year from the U.S. and the U.N. It gained independence in 2011 with the strong support of the Bush and Obama administrations.

But in 2013, civil war broke out between forces loyal to Kiir and supporters of his former deputy, known as the rebels. While both sides have been accused of atrocities, the U.N. says a majority have been committed by government soldiers.

A peace deal brokered by the U.S. and the international community collapsed in July 2016. That month, government troops rampaged through the town of Nyori in the Yei region, according to a former local official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. He ran into the bush to hide, and returned three days later to carnage.

“I witnessed with my own eyes, young children, they were slaughtered,” he said.

Rose Kiden fled from a town near Yei when the soldiers swarmed her house. In a hushed voice, Kiden recounted how she came back to find her sister on the floor, after being raped by eight soldiers. Kiden said she knew six other women who were raped by soldiers.

Her husband was killed by government troops when he went to collect food. But even as the violence near Yei spread, Kiden said, U.N. vehicles drove by without stopping.

“They didn’t do anything,” Kiden said, as she held her baby, who now has no father. “They just passed.”

When U.N. officials visited Yei in September 2016, they were horrified by stories of women gang-raped and a baby hacked with a machete.

“If the security situation is not rapidly stabilized, the protection crisis in Yei will swiftly become a multi-faceted humanitarian crisis,” said a U.N. report from September 15 obtained by AP to the top U.N. leader in South Sudan at the time, Ellen Loj.

After nearly two months, the U.N. started sending small, temporary patrols to the Yei region. But both residents and U.N. officials said the violence merely continued after the blue helmets left. In late October 2016, a U.N. patrol remained on the ground for only three days.

In November, the AP saw seven corpses inside a hut, where local officials said people had been arrested, trapped and burned alive. One charred body was slouched against a wall with its arms and legs missing, and another lacked a torso.

On November 11, special advisor Adama Dieng warned about “the potential for genocide” and highlighted the violence in Yei.

“One person reported desperately to me, ‘Tonight I don’t know what will happen to me,’” Dieng said at the time.

That month, the U.N. decided not to send a permanent force to Yei. When asked why at her farewell press conference on November 28, Loj said the U.N. did not have enough troops. She said the Yei region would be the next to get peacekeepers.

“But I don’t know when it will be possible,” she added. “South Sudan is a big country and we cannot have a soldier behind each and every South Sudanese.”

In the meantime, South Sudan’s government blocked or harassed U.N. officials dozens of times per month, according to confidential U.N. documents. U.N. officials told the AP that the mission should have sent in peacekeepers to Yei anyway.

“This is what the peacekeepers were there for,” said Donatella Rovera, a crisis advisor at Amnesty International. “There was a failure to do what needed to be done at the time it needed to be done.”

During another U.N. visit in February this year, a community leader from the Yei area said he had begged for peacekeepers three times in the past few weeks.

“We need imminent protection before it’s too late,” he said, according to an internal report. “If we get killed because we told you the truth today so be it.”

Hours later the U.N. left.

The South Sudan government has denied “ethnic cleansing” and human rights violations.

“All these reports that go to the U.N. are written by individuals who are anti peace in South Sudan,” said Minister of Information Michael Makuei.

_______________

The U.S. also struggled to respond to the crisis in South Sudan, according to documents and interviews.

In July 2016, the South Sudanese military fired dozens of bullets into two U.S. embassy vehicles. The same month, government troops killed a journalist, gang-raped women and beat people, including Americans, as they rampaged through a hotel.

Still, the U.S. continued to believe it could fix South Sudan’s military. In September, President Barack Obama sought a “long-term military to military relationship” with South Sudan, according to a letter to Congress obtained by AP. The letter, which allowed military training and education for South Sudan’s army, circumvented a law blocking U.S. support for countries that use child soldiers.

“Once again in South Sudan, we have shown a pattern of having bad analysis, either ignoring the symptoms of the problem entirely, not seeing them, or analyzing them in the wrong way,” said Cameron Hudson, the director of African affairs at the National Security Council in the Bush administration.

One State Department official was blunt.

“We just don’t have a policy,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. “There is no game plan.”

The centerpiece of the U.S. response to South Sudan was a push for an additional 4,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to protect civilians under attack. The U.S. got the force approved by the Security Council. At a press conference in South Sudan in September 2016, Samantha Power, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., described an agreement with President Kiir on the extra 4,000 peacekeepers, known as the Regional Protection Force.

“We came to get consent to the RPF, and that is a consent that has been given,” said Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a book that details America’s failure to prevent genocide in Germany, Rwanda and the Balkans. “The details have to be worked through.” If the government didn’t accept the troops, Power warned, the Security Council would place an arms embargo on the country.

But in a stark reversal, as Power left the next morning, South Sudan’s government denied having ever accepted the extra 4,000 peacekeepers.

“I think the government won the game,” South Sudanese Cabinet Minister Martin Lomuro bragged to reporters.

One State Department official described Power’s visit as “supremely embarrassing” because of the public failure. Others doubted that she was fooled by South Sudan’s leaders. Power declined requests for comment.

In the fall, a dissent cable drafted within the State Department argued that the U.S. support for the peace deal and failure to act was fueling violence.

“Further calamity is likely; the risks of famine, continued mass atrocities, and genocide are among the highest in the world,” the draft cable said. The risks of not changing U.S. policy, it continued, “are immediate and unacceptably high.” The draft was never finalized because it did not gain enough support, two U.S. officials said.

Senior Obama administration officials said pulling out of the country’s peace deal would have created even more violence, and there was a limit to what the U.S. could accomplish without partners in the African Union.

Others disagree. The U.S. gave “tacit endorsement” to South Sudan’s government, according to Alan Boswell, a researcher on South Sudan.

U.S. policy “did not start the violence, but it meant that we were not going to try and stop it,” Boswell said.

____________

Today, more than 18,000 homes have been destroyed in the Yei region, U.N. satellite images show.

Yei is in danger of famine. Hundreds of people have died, and many more have fled, creating the world’s largest refugee camp in Uganda, Bidi Bidi. Government forces attacked some even as they tried to escape.

“When women went to collect food at farms, the soldiers raped people, raping everyone,” said Simon Nigo, a refugee at Bidi Bidi. “No protection for the civilians.”

A pastor from the Yei area, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from South Sudanese intelligence officials, came to Bidi Bidi after the military took over the orphanage he ran. He said the charred bodies the AP discovered in the burnt house on the outskirts of Yei were his relatives.

His bible is inscribed with the word “Redemption,” promising revenge. Like others at Bidi Bidi, he said he felt abandoned by the U.N. and the world.

“They could have protected people’s lives,” he said. “They could have saved us from coming to this camp.”


►  As congressional investigations wear on, some eye a finish

As congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections wear on in the Capitol, some lawmakers are starting to wonder when — and how — the probes will end.

After months of clandestine interviews and a few public, partisan committee clashes, some Republicans on the House intelligence panel have privately been pushing for their probe to wrap up by the end of the year. And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., is signaling he wants his more bipartisan investigation to finish in the next several months, before the 2018 elections get into full swing and the Russians have a chance to again interfere.

It’s still unclear whether the congressional committees looking into the interference will come to firm conclusions about whether Donald Trump’s campaign was involved, or if they have found any direct evidence of any collaboration with Russia. Those involved say it’s too early to know if they will be able to issue bipartisan reports, and whether those reports will have firm conclusions or just be a series of findings.

With no ability to do criminal investigations and difficulty in getting some witnesses to appear, the panels could leave some of the more controversial assessments to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is also investigating the meddling and the question of whether Trump’s campaign was involved. Mueller has the ability to prosecute, and Congress must refer any criminal findings to him.

“I think there are lots of Republicans who just want this to go away, and I think the White House very much wants it to go away,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Tuesday. “So I don’t think it’s necessarily the easiest call in the world for our Republican colleagues.”

Trump made his views clear, again, at a Monday news conference, saying “the whole Russian thing” is an excuse for Democrats who lost the presidential election.

“So there has been absolutely no collusion,” Trump said. “It’s been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it, because I think the American public is sick of it.”

In the Senate, Burr has worked closely with the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, Virginia Senator Mark Warner. Burr said Tuesday that the committee “needs to have some conclusion in time to get ready for the 2018 elections ... that gives you a window of somewhere between the end of the year and maybe February.”

Burr said the panel’s timeline is unrelated to Mueller’s probe.

“They’re on a criminal investigation and we’re looking at Russian influence in the election,” Burr said, adding that he hopes his investigation will be done before Mueller’s.

At a news conference with Warner on October 4, Burr said the issue of collusion is “still open.” He has said repeatedly that the committee has continued to find new threads, and that a firm timeline isn’t possible. He said the committee has 25 interviews this month, including two public hearings related to the investigation. The panel has still yet to talk to Donald Trump Jr. and other witnesses who attended a June 2016 campaign meeting with Russians.

“We’ve still got a fairly long list of people to see, and it’s more of a mathematical equation now,” Burr said.

The head of the House intelligence probe, Republican Representative Mike Conaway of Texas, has similarly said the committee is continuing to follow leads and he has declined to set out a timeline. He took over the investigation after the GOP chairman of the intelligence committee, California Representative Devin Nunes, stepped back amid criticism that he was too close to Trump’s White House.

Some other Republicans on the House panel have questioned how long it should go on.

“It’s getting old,” said Republican Representative Tom Rooney of Florida, a member of the intelligence panel. He said the committee should not “prolong the investigation for the sake of prolonging it. Those days are going to come to an end here soon.”

Rooney said the panel should stick to witnesses that are directly related to the meddling and to the intelligence community, which is the committee’s jurisdiction. He said once the committee has interviewed enough pertinent witnesses he’d recommend to Conaway and House Speaker Ryan that the panel write a final report and conclude the probe.

Democrats on the House intelligence committee are trying to head off calls to end the investigations. California Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said in a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend that some witnesses have been “rushed” before the committee amid White House calls to end the probe. Schiff said that the panel has much more work to do, and, unlike with Mueller’s probe, the point of the congressional investigations is to “tell the American people what happened or prescribe remedies.”

Schiff notes that Congress also could serve as a conduit for some of Mueller’s findings, if he declines to issue his own report. But it’s unclear whether the Justice Department will share that information with Capitol Hill.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, believes that it’s too soon to wrap up. The Judiciary panel is also doing an investigation, but its probe has moved slowly amid negotiations over witnesses.

“I feel the pressure to move forward at a better pace, but not necessarily to finish,” Blumenthal said, adding: “The Russians are going to do it again ... unless they pay a price they will heighten their interference in our elections.”

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►  Catalans vow to resist after Spain court rules vote illegal

Spain’s top court ruled Tuesday that a recent independence referendum in Catalonia was unconstitutional, adding legal weight to the government’s efforts to block an attempt by the wealthy region’s leaders to break away from the rest of the country.

Armed with that Constitutional Court ruling, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government is in a stronger position to potentially strip Catalonia of its self-government, or parts of it, for disobeying the law. Rajoy has given the secession-minded regional authorities until Thursday to back down from their independence ambitions.

The court’s ruling wasn’t surprising — Spain’s government had repeatedly insisted the vote was illegal. But regional leaders defied the Madrid-based central government and went ahead with the October 1 referendum on whether the region should separate from Spain. They say the “Yes” side won and that the result gave the region a mandate to declare independence.

Despite the Constitutional Court’s decision, the supporters of secession in Catalonia showed no signs of giving up. They have portrayed the central government as repressive.

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

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

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

Tuesday’s court ruling came a day after a Madrid judge provisionally jailed two Catalan independence leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, in a sedition probe. The judge ruled they were behind huge demonstrations September 20-21 in Barcelona that hindered the police operation against preparations for the referendum.

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

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


►  EU pins hopes on Congress to uphold Iran nuclear pact

The European Union urged Congress to uphold the Iranian nuclear agreement, calling it key to global security, after Donald Trump threatened to walk away from the deal.

EU foreign ministers including France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian said Trump’s refusal on October 13 to certify the international accord aimed at preventing Tehran from developing atomic weapons was misguided. Trump asked . Congress to toughen the terms of the 2015 pact, saying it doesn’t do enough to contain Iranian ambitions.

“We hope the Congress won’t call into question this agreement,“ Le Drian told reporters on Monday in Luxembourg, where he conferred with his EU counterparts. “The European Union also needs to put pressure on the American Congress.“

Europe is counting on evidence that Iran is fully respecting the agreement and on worldwide concerns about the spread of nuclear arms as North Korea continues testing them to win over U.S. lawmakers. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency monitors Iran’s compliance with the deal, which has eased economic sanctions on the country in return for nuclear curbs.

“We as Europeans in general have great concerns that the decision of the American president could lead us back into a military confrontation with Iran,“ German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said. “That’s the biggest problem that exists at the moment.“

Trump’s decision last week, required every 90 days under U.S. law, stopped short of repudiating the accord. The president said the agreement wasn’t serving U.S. national security interests and said the Iranian regime’s aggression has only escalated since the 2015 deal was reached. He also promised new sanctions on Iran.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the ministerial talks in Luxembourg, said she would visit Washington in early November to defend the accord.

“It’s an agreement that is working,“ Mogherini said. “It’s an agreement that we need for our security.“

She said the IAEA has “never” found any Iranian violation of the pact, it keeps “the channels of engagement, dialogue and cooperation with Iran open” and it doesn’t prevent parallel efforts to address other controversial activity by Tehran such as ballistic-missile tests. The nuclear deal is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

“Any non-nuclear-related issue that we might and we want to discuss with Iran and with others in the region will be managed first of all not linked to the JCPOA implementation; for us it’s two very clearly distinct issues,“ Mogherini said. “Second, the international community—and also the European Union—would not be in any way in a better place to address these issues without the JCPOA in place.“

In a statement released after the discussions in Luxembourg, the EU said it “is committed to the continued full and effective implementation of all parts of the JCPOA.“ While also expressing “concerns related to ballistic missiles and increasing tensions in the region,“ the bloc said those matters need to be addressed “in the relevant formats and fora” outside the scope of the nuclear agreement.

“At a time of acute nuclear threat, the EU is determined to preserve the JCPOA as a key pillar of the international non-proliferation architecture,“ the 28-nation EU said.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the start of a Cabinet meeting on Monday, said “a lot of people agreed with what I did” and said the JCPOA was still being studied.

“I’m tired of being taken advantage of as a nation,“ Trump said, adding that “total termination” of the accord is still a possibility.

Iran would consider withdrawing from the nuclear deal should the U.S. seek to reimpose sanctions eased on commerce such as oil and aircraft as a result of the accord, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said over the weekend. Zarif said that Trump showed an “absence of any strategy” vis-a-vis Iran and repeated that Iranian defense and missile programs would never be subject to negotiation.

Cornelius Adebahr, a Germany-based researcher at the Carnegie Europe think tank, said Trump’s new approach to Iran had damaged the U.S.‘s “reputation and reliability” and diminished the prospect of reaching any accord over North Korea’s nuclear program. He said it was fanciful to believe the Iranian nuclear pact could be improved.

“There are no real chances of having a better deal,“ Adebahr said by phone.


►  Files show new details of U.S. support for Indonesia bloodbath

Declassified files have revealed new details of U.S. government knowledge and support of an Indonesian army extermination campaign that killed several hundred thousand civilians during anti-communist hysteria in the mid-1960s.

The thousands of files from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta covering 1963-66 were made public Tuesday after a declassification review that began under the Obama administration. The Associated Press reviewed key documents in the collection in advance of their release.

The files fill out the picture of a devastating reign of terror by the Indonesian army and Muslim groups that has been sketched by historians and in a U.S. State Department volume that was declassified in 2001 despite a last-minute CIA effort to block its distribution.

In 1965, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party after China and the Soviet Union, with several million members, and the country’s president, the charismatic Sukarno, was vociferously socialist and anti-American.

U.S. officials despaired of Indonesia’s apparently unstoppable drift into the communist fold and were ecstatic when conservative generals imposed martial law in Jakarta, seized state radio and set out to annihilate the country’s communist party on the pretext that it had tried to overthrow the government. Within months, the army would prevail in its power struggle with Sukarno, shifting Indonesia’s political orientation to the U.S. and opening its huge market to American companies.

The newly released files underline the U.S. Embassy’s and State Department’s early, detailed and ongoing knowledge of the killings and eagerness to avoid doing anything that would hinder the Indonesian army. Historians had already established that the U.S. provided lists of senior communist party officials, radio equipment and money as part of active support for the army.

The documents also show that U.S. officials had credible information that contradicted the Indonesian army’s lurid story that the kidnapping and killing of seven generals in an abortive coup by junior officers on September 30, 1965, which paved the way for the bloodbath, was ordered by the Indonesian communist party and Beijing.

The documents specifically mention mass killings ordered by Suharto, a general who within months would seize total power and rule Indonesia for more than three decades, and the pivotal role in carrying out the massacres by groups that today remain Indonesia’s biggest mainstream Muslim organizations: Nahdlatul Ulama, its youth wing Ansor and Muhammadiyah.

A December 21, 1965, cable from the embassy’s first secretary, Mary Vance Trent, to the State Department referred to events as a “fantastic switch which has occurred over 10 short weeks.” It also included an estimate that 100,000 people had been slaughtered.

In Bali alone, some 10,000 people had been killed by mid-December, including the parents and distant relatives of the island’s pro-communist governor, and the slaughter was continuing, the cable said. Two months later, another embassy cable cited estimates that the killings in Bali had swelled to 80,000.

A cable that was part of the 2001 State Department volume showed that by April 1966, the embassy was staggered by the scale of the murders and acknowledged, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000.” Even the Indonesian government had only a “vague idea” of the true number, the cable said.

The release of the documents coincides with an upsurge in anti-communist rhetoric in Indonesia, where communism remains a frequently invoked boogeyman for conservatives despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly three decades ago and China’s embrace of global capitalism.

Discussion of the 1965-66 period that departs from the Suharto era’s partly fictional account of a heroic national uprising against communism is still discouraged. A landmark symposium last year that brought together aging survivors of the bloodbath and government ministers sparked a furious backlash. And last month, an anti-communist mob led by retired generals attacked a building in central Jakarta where activists had planned to discuss the killings.

“The mass killings of 1965-66 are among the world’s worst crimes against humanity, and our country’s darkest secret,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer. “The 1965-66 survivors are all very old now, and I’m afraid that they will not see justice before they die. Hopefully with these cables coming to light, the truth can emerge and perpetrators can be held accountable.”

Indonesia’s Muslim mass organizations are among those reluctant to face scrutiny for their role, which in the fevered atmosphere of 1965 was characterized by Islamic leaders as a holy war against atheists.

Under the direction of the army, the Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah were enthusiastic participants in mass murder, carrying out indiscriminate killings as well as organized executions, according to the documents. They also mention the army’s recruiting of Catholics to help with its extermination campaign in central Java.

A December 1965 cable from the U.S. Consulate in Medan, Indonesia, reported that preachers in Muhammadiyah mosques were telling congregations that all who joined the communist party must be killed, saying they are the “lowest order of infidel, the shedding of whose blood is comparable to killing chicken.”

A detailed four-page report covering mid- to late November 1965 by the U.S. Embassy’s political affairs officer, Edward E. Masters, discussed the spread of mass executions to several provinces and the role of youth groups in helping to solve the “main problem” of where to house and what to feed PKI prisoners. PKI is the Indonesian acronym for the country’s communist party.

“Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or killing them before they are captured, a task in which Moslem youth groups are providing assistance,” the report said. A cable from earlier in the month mentions an estimated 62,000 prisoners in the province of Central Java alone.

Ansor, the youth arm of Nahdlatul Ulama, was responsible for “brutal attacks” on communists, according to a December 10, 1965, cable, but also caused problems by doing the same to non-communists involved in personal feuds with its members.

Possibly the earliest mention of systematic bloodshed in cables to Washington is a mid-October 1965 record of conversations between the embassy’s second secretary and Bujung Nasution, a special assistant to Indonesia’s attorney general involved with intelligence matters. Like other intermediaries of the Indonesian army and its allies sent to approach the embassy, Nasution was apparently trying to assess whether the U.S. would object to the extermination campaign.

According to Nasution, the army had already executed many cadres, but this information, he said, must be closely held because the army needed more time to break the communists.

The memo described Nasution as alarmed that reports of atrocities had been leaked to the Malaysian press. It said he warned that it was critical that Sukarno did not learn of the extent of the army’s repression, especially from the foreign media.

In response, the second secretary, Robert G. Rich, reassured Nasution.

The U.S. government was fully aware of the sensitive nature of the current events, said Rich, and was “making every effort to avoid stimulating press speculation.”

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►  Populist parties point pathway for European politics

Right-wing parties chalked up two more victories in Europe over the weekend, putting further pressure on mainstream conservatives to take a harder line on immigration.

The issue has been at the forefront of European politics with the arrival of more than two million migrants since 2015.

Tabloid papers and populist politicians have seized on the influx, and the strategy has paid off at the polls — boosting backers of Britain’s move to leave the European Union and putting a far-right candidate into the final round of France’s presidential elections.

On Sunday, a right-wing party came second in Austria’s national election while another won seats in a 15th German legislature.

Experts warn that chasing populist policies could backfire because it could shift Europe further to the right overall.


►  Did he or didn’t he? No clarity on Catalan independence bid

A Monday morning deadline came and went without the president of the Catalonia region clarifying whether he had declared independence from Spain, and the Spanish government says he now has until Thursday to backtrack on any steps the region has taken toward secession.

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

Responding to a demand from Spain’s central government to state explicitly whether he had declared independence, Puigdemont instead sent a four-page letter seeking two months of negotiations and mediation.

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

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

Otherwise, he faces the possibility of Spain activating Article 155 of the Constitution, which would allow the central government to rescind some of the powers that Catalonia has to govern itself. The wealthy northeast region, which includes Barcelona, is home to 7.5 million people and contributes a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.3 trillion) economy. Polls have shown about half of the people there don’t want to secede.

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

“It wasn’t very difficult to say yes or no,“ Rajoy’s number 2, deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, told reporters in Madrid. “That was the question that was asked and the response shouldn’t be complicated.“

Saenz de Santamaria said that Puigdemont’s call for dialogue is “not credible” and that Spain’s national parliament is the place to talk.

Spain has repeatedly said that it’s not willing to sit down with Puigdemont if calls for independence are on the table, or to accept any international mediation at all.

The new deadline gives him till Thursday to either say he didn’t declare independence or to show he’s taking action to cancel the declaration if he did.

Puigdemont held a banned independence referendum on October 01. Those who voted were overwhelmingly in favor of the wealthy northeast region seceding from the rest of the country, but fewer than half of those eligible turned out to cast ballots.

Based on the referendum, Puigdemont made an ambiguous declaration of independence last week, then immediately suspended it to allow time for talks and mediation.

In Monday’s letter, he called on Spanish authorities to halt “all repression” in Catalonia, referring to a police crackdown during the referendum that left hundreds injured.

He said the Spanish government should also end its sedition case against two senior Catalan regional police force officers and the leaders of two pro-independence associations. All four, including Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero and Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, were due at a hearing Monday in Spain’s National Court in Madrid.

Officials are investigating the roles of the four in September 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona. Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations.

The four were released after questioning October 06, but the court said they would be recalled once it reviewed new police evidence relating to the referendum.

Trapero and Sanchez arrived separately to the court and were greeted by shouts of “traitors” by one or two protesters.

Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leader of the pro-secession Omnium Cultural group who is also under investigation, were greeted by several dozen supporters from pro-independence Catalan parties who chanted “you are not alone” as the two entered the court together amid heavy security.

Court officials said it wasn’t immediately known if the fourth suspect, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, would testify by video conference from Barcelona.

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►  Tillerson: NKorea diplomacy continues until 1st ‘bomb drops’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the North Korean crisis “will continue until the first bomb drops.”

But it was only recently that Donald Trump tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with the leader of the nuclear-armed nation.

Tillerson says in a television interview that Trump “has made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He is not seeking to go to war.”

Mixed messaging from Washington has raised concerns about the potential for miscalculation amid the increasingly bellicose exchange of words by Trump and Kim.

North Korea has launched missiles that potentially can strike the U.S. mainland and recently conducted its largest ever underground nuclear explosion. It’s threatened to explode another nuclear bomb above the Pacific.


►  U.S. calls Somalia attack ‘senseless and cowardly’

The Latest on explosion in Somalia’s capital (all times local):

10:05 p.m.

The United States is condemning “in the strongest terms” the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history.

The State Department statement expresses condolences to victims and wishes a quick recovery for the injured.

Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu killed at least 231 people. Another 275 are hurt.

The U.S. calls the attack “senseless and cowardly” and says it will stand with Somalia in its fight against extremism.

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6:35 p.m.

Qatar says its embassy was “severely damaged” in the deadly truck bombing in Somalia’s capital.

A foreign ministry statement Sunday says the embassy’s charge d’affaires was “slightly injured in the explosion but he is now in a good health, and the rest of staff are fine.”

Saturday’s blast killed at least 231 people. It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

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5:50 p.m.

The United Nations special envoy to Somalia calls the deadly truck bombing in the capital “revolting” and says an unprecedented number of civilians have been killed.

A statement from Michael Keating says: “I am shocked and appalled by the number of lives that were lost in the bombings and the scale of destruction they caused.” Saturday’s blast struck a densely populated neighborhood of Mogadishu.

The death toll has risen to 231. It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

Keating says the U.N. and African Union are supporting the Somali government’s response with “logistical support, medical supplies and expertise.”

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5:45 p.m.

The U.S. Africa Command says U.S. forces have not been asked to provide aid following Saturday’s deadly attack in Somalia’s capital.

A U.S. Africa Command spokesman tells The Associated Press that first responders and local enforcement would handle the response and “the U.S. would offer assistance if and when a request was made.”

A Somali senator says the death toll from the massive truck bomb blast in Mogadishu has risen to 231, with 275 people injured.

It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

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5:35 p.m.

Angry protesters have taken to the streets in Somalia’s capital a day after a massive truck bomb killed at least 231 people.

The protesters who gathered at the scene of the blast are chanting against the attack, the deadliest ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

The government has blamed the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group for what it calls a “national disaster.” Al-Shabab has not commented but often targets Mogadishu with bombings.

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5:20 p.m.

A senator says the death toll from a massive truck bomb blast in Somalia’s capital has risen to 231.

Abshir Abdi Ahmed says 275 others were injured. He cites doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu.

Saturday’s blast is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries are yet to be identified.

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3:05 p.m.

Local journalists say one freelance journalist was killed in Saturday’s massive bombing in Somalia’s capital and several were injured.

Voice of America says one of its reporters, Abdulkaidr Mohamed Abdulle, is among the injured.

Police and hospital sources say the death toll from the truck bomb in Mogadishu has risen to 189 in what is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

— Abdi Guled in Mogadishu.

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2:35 p.m.

The death toll from a massive explosion in Somalia’s capital has risen to 189 with over 200 others injured, police and hospital sources say, making it the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

Doctors are struggling to assist hundreds of horrifically wounded victims, with many burnt beyond recognition.

Somalia’s government has blamed Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu on the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not commented.

— Abdi Guled in Mogadishu.

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1:25 p.m.

The United States is joining the condemnation of Saturday’s massive truck bombing in Somalia’s capital that left scores dead.

A statement by the U.S. mission to Somalia says that “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

The U.S. military this year has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and often targets Mogadishu.

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1:20 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says four volunteers with the Somali Red Crescent Society are among the dead after a huge truck bombing in Somalia’s capital.

A statement Sunday says “this figure may rise as there are a number of volunteers still missing.”

Security and medical sources say at least 53 people are dead after what Mogadishu residents call the largest explosion they’ve ever witnessed.

Officials have pleaded for blood donations. More than 60 people are injured.

Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not commented.

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10:45 a.m.

Security and medical sources say the death toll from Saturday’s truck bomb blast in Somalia’s capital has risen to 53 as hospitals struggle to cope with the high number of casualties. More than 60 others are injured.

Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein says many victims died at hospitals from their wounds.

Somalia’s government has yet to release the exact death toll from an explosion many called the most powerful they had ever witnessed in Mogadishu.

Ambulance sirens still echo across the city as bewildered families wander in the rubble of buildings.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims.

The al-Shabab extremist group often targets high-profile areas in the capital with bombings.


►  In Africa, LGBT rights activists worry about Trump impact

Gay rights activist Joseph Achille Tiedjou is worried every day that he will be harassed or arrested in Cameroon.

Defending LGBT rights can be dangerous in Africa, where many countries have laws against homosexuality. But in recent years activists have stepped out of the shadows, empowered by the support of the Obama administration and the international community.

Now many fear the Trump administration will undermine those gains, and that their exposure could make them more vulnerable if support fades.

“I have so many worries with the new administration,” the 32-year-old Tiedjou said, pointing out Trump’s ban on transgender people in the U.S. military. “Obama was known to be very engaged. Hillary Clinton was a champion of LGBT rights and made many guarantees in addressing these issues specifically.”

Obama’s administration made LGBT rights a major domestic and foreign policy, though some in Africa saw it as pushing “Western ideals.” The Obama administration also created a special envoy position on LGBT rights. The Trump administration has said it will keep the post, but concerns remain.

“The difference with the previous administration was that the rights of LGBT people were explicitly part of foreign policy. So LGBT groups around the world could absolutely rely on the moral and, indeed, material support that came from the U.S. government and that made a huge difference,” said Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program. “Under this administration, we are no longer going to be seeing that proactive engagement around LGBT rights.”

Though the Trump administration’s overseas policies on LGBT rights remain to be seen, the erosion of domestic advances directly undermines the authority of the U.S. to speak out internationally, Reid said. He cited the pushback against federal protections and the appointment of “openly homophobic officials” to senior government positions.

The U.S. recently joined a dozen other countries to vote against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that urged countries not to use the death penalty for specific forms of conduct, including consensual same-sex relations. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the vote was made “because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances” but said the U.S. “unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality.”

Same-sex acts are illegal in more than 33 African countries and can lead to death sentences in parts of at least four, including Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia, according to Amnesty International.

Homosexuality is criminalized in the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, authorities recently stopped health providers from non-governmental organizations from providing services to LGBT people.

In Cameroon, a strong ally of the U.S. in the fight against extremism, Human Rights Watch has documented high levels of arrests of LGBT people.

Colonial-era anti-gay laws are still in place in Ghana and are implemented from time to time, and a high level of social intolerance and family violence exists against the LGBT community.

In Gambia, where former leader Yahya Jammeh made “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life in prison, activists are waiting to see whether new President Adama Barrow will amend the law.

In Senegal, violence is directed at LGBT communities, along with arrests, according to Human Rights Watch.

“In practice the act is criminalized so it can be used broadly to detain people based on their orientation,” said Francois Patuel, a West Africa researcher for Amnesty International.

But despite setbacks in some countries there have been some gains, Patuel said.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2014 adopted a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. South Africa’s constitution specifically protects the rights of LGBT and allows same-sex marriage.

The United States has provided support for HIV/AIDS and other programs that indirectly have enabled gay rights groups to form in some sub-Saharan African countries. Patuel urged that such support not be revoked under the Trump administration.

In Mali, activist and journalist N’Deye Traore said social media has been used to incite hatred against the LGBT community, discouraging people from publicly advocating change and forcing many to live in hiding and at risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.

Traore said she worries about the example set by the Trump administration.

“It is the life of human beings that is at stake and must be respected!” she said. “I urge the American president to seize and at least tolerate this community for sustainable development in America and around the world.”

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►  Coup, revolution and mistrust: Moments in Iran-U.S. relations

Donald Trump’s decision to not re-certify the Iranian nuclear deal marks yet another key moment in relations between Iran and America, which has seen decades of mistrust and mutual recriminations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani mentioned many of them in his reaction to Trump’s decision Friday night.

Here are some of the key moments of that relationship:

1953 COUP

In the aftermath of World War II, Iran nationalized the British oil refinery at Abadan, at the time one of the world’s largest. America, fearful of Soviet influence, sided with the British in fomenting a coup against the elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. Though initially a failure, street protests fanned by the CIA ultimately pushed Mosaddegh out of power and cemented the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. role in the coup plays a large part in the mistrust of America that persists in Iran to this day.

1979 ISLAMIC REVOLUTION

By January 1979, the cancer-stricken shah’s grip on power had waned. Facing protests and strikes, he fled into exile, shocking his American backers who had no idea a revolution was in the making. The long-exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, a charismatic hard-line Shiite cleric, returned to Tehran. Soon, he would become Iran’s first supreme leader in its clerically overseen government, having final say on all state matters. Khomenei later would turn against those who supported the revolution but opposed his absolute rule.

THE U.S. EMBASSY TAKEOVER AND HOSTAGE CRISIS

In November 1979, Iranian university students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. They demanded the return of the shah to Iran to face trial. President Jimmy Carter refused and launched a failed commando raid to free the captives. Six Americans who fled the initial takeover and found refuge with the Canadian ambassador later escaped Iran with the CIA’s help. Their escape was dramatized in the 2012 film “Argo.” Iran held the hostages for 444 days, releasing them only after the 1981 inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.

IRAN-CONTRA SCANDAL

Under the Reagan administration, the United States agreed to secretly send weapons to Iran, then under an arms embargo amid its 1980s war with Iraq. Money earned from those sales went to fund American-backed Contra rebels fighting in Nicaragua. The Americans also hoped the sales would encourage the Iranian government to use its sway to help free American hostages held by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. When George H.W. Bush became president, he told Iran that “good will begets good will” and while American hostages in Lebanon were freed, relations never went further.

NAVAL BATTLE AND JETLINER SHOOTDOWN

Iran and the U.S. fought a one-day naval battle on April 18, 1988, after the near-sinking of the missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts by an Iranian mine during the Iran-Iraq war. That day, U.S. forces attacked two Iranian oil rigs and sank or damaged six Iranian vessels. A few months later, in July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz mistook an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and killing all 290 people onboard.

‘AXIS OF EVIL’

Iran helped the U.S. immediately after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks amid the American-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban. However, President George W. Bush would single out Iran in early 2002 along with North Korea and Iraq as belonging to what he described as the “axis of evil,” three countries he said that were actively “seeking weapons of mass destruction.” Iranian assistance immediately ended after that.

BATTLEFIELD RIVALRIES

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, American forces said the expeditionary Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard trained Iraqi militants to build dangerous roadside bombs. Iran denied it. Iranian forces and Hezbollah later would aid embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war, despite the U.S. opposing his rule. Iran also has offered support to Shiite rebels in Yemen, who have been fighting a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government to power. But in present-day Iraq, Iranian-advised Shiite militias are among the strongest on the ground in the battle against the Islamic State group.

AHMADINEJAD’S ASCENT

Hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-questioning populist, became Iran’s president in 2005. Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program spiked under his government. The Stuxnet computer virus, suspected to be made by the U.S. and Israel, destroyed Iranian centrifuges. New economic sanctions squeezed Iran’s economy. In 2009, his contested re-election as president sparked the biggest demonstrations Iran has seen since the 1979 revolution. Authorities brutally put down the protests. The U.S., while criticizing the violence, avoided directly intervening in the turmoil.

2015 NUCLEAR DEAL

Secret talks in Oman with the U.S. under the administration of President Barack Obama led to Iran sitting down to negotiate over its nuclear program with world powers. In 2015, it agreed to an accord that saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Western powers struck the deal in order to deny Iran the ability to quickly develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it has never sought nuclear arms. The deal saw Iran make billions of dollars in deals for airplanes and start widely selling its oil, though the average Iranians say they still haven’t seen the benefits of the agreement.


►  Trump’s speech sparks a new war of words between U.S., Iran

Donald Trump’s refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal has sparked a new war of words between the Islamic Republic and America, fueling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians.

The speech has also served to unite Iranians across the political spectrum — from Trump’s declining to call the Persian Gulf, the waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, by its name, to undercutting those trying to change Iran’s clerically overseen government from within.

That is also likely to strengthen the hand of hard-liners within Iran, who long have insisted that United States remains the same “Great Satan” denounced in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“Under the deal, it was supposed to be that we get concessions, not that we give more concessions,” the hard-line Kayhan newspaper raged.

Iranian officials and media outlets on Saturday uniformly condemned Trump’s comments that angrily accused Iran of violating the spirit of the 2015 accord and demanded Congress toughen the law governing U.S. participation. Trump said he was not ready to pull out of the deal but warned he would do so if it were not improved.

In a televised speech shortly after Trump made his announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would remain in the deal, but criticized Trump’s words, referring to them as “curses.”

Rouhani also said Iran would continue to build and test ballistic missiles, something allowed under the nuclear deal though Americans believe it violates the accord’s spirit.

“We have always been determined and today we are more determined,” Rouhani said. “We will double our efforts from now on.”

The Iranian president also offered a list of moments that showed the United States could not be trusted by the average Iranian, dating back to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s power.

Like many others in Iran, Rouhani focused on the fact that Trump used the term “Arabian Gulf” to refer to the Persian Gulf. Some traded online video clips of past American presidents calling it the Persian Gulf, while one semi-official news agency published a photo gallery with the title “Persian Gulf forever.”

Posts with the hashtag PersianGulf and the Iranian flag circulated on social media.

The name of the body of water has become an emotive issue for Iranians who embrace their country’s long history as the Persian Empire, especially as the U.S.′ Gulf Arab allies and the American military now call it the “Arabian Gulf.” Rouhani even suggested during his speech that Trump needed to “study geography.”

“Everyone knew Trump’s friendship was for sale to the highest bidder. We now know that his geography is too,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Zarif went on, with sarcasm, to mention Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, all hereditarily ruled Gulf nations, saying: “No wonder supporters of Trump’s inane Iran speech are those bastions of democracy in the Persian Gulf.”

Iran’s Education Minister Mohammad Bathai also suggested in a tweet that American teachers allocate more time toward teaching “history and geography” — another dig at Trump.

Recent surveys have shown an increasing majority of Iranians are skeptical that the U.S. will live up to its obligations in the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, most have yet to see the benefits of the deal itself as Iran’s economy still struggles to overcome rampant inflation, few jobs and bad loans to its banks.

“Iran has in no way violated the nuclear deal, and as far as we know it has always remained committed to its promises, but it has always been (the Americans) who have broken their promises and have had other options on the table,” Tehran resident Hamed Ghassemi said.

The U.S. has also levied new sanctions against Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, whose forces fight the Islamic State group in Iraq, support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, have tense encounters with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and run the country’s ballistic missile program.

However, the U.S. has balked at adding the Guard’s name to a formal State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. That could have proven problematic, especially with the Guard’s vast economic holdings across Iran.

General Masoud Jazayeri , a Guard commander and spokesman for Iran’s joint armed forces staff, said late on Friday that the country’s military will continue boosting its power and influence.

“We tell the corrupt and evil government of the U.S. that we will continue promoting defensive power of the country, more determined and with more motive than before,” Jazayeri was quoted as saying by the Guard’s news website. “We do not spare a while for defending suppressed people in any point of the world.”


►  Vatican court convicts ex-hospital chief in housing scandal

A Vatican court on Saturday convicted the former president of the pope’s children’s hospital of diverting some $500,000 in donations to renovate a cardinal’s flat and gave him a one-year suspended sentence.

The original charges against ex-hospital president Giuseppe Profiti had been embezzlement. But the court convicted him of a lesser offense of abuse of office after the defense argued the money was intended as an investment to benefit the hospital.

The three-judge tribunal absolved Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital’s former hospital treasurer, Massimo Spina. Notably, neither the cardinal who benefited from the renovation nor the contractor who was apparently paid twice for doing the work were charged.

More than anything, the trial exposed how Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s former secretary of state, bent Vatican rules to get his retirement apartment ready after Pope Francis was elected in 2013 and named a new secretary of state.

It also revealed the “opacity, silence and poor management” in the handling of Vatican assets, prosecutor Roberto Zanotti said in his closing statements. A lack of financial transparency and accountability has bedeviled the Holy See for centuries and been a top concern for Francis’ reform-minded papacy.

In addition, the trial shined further light on Bambino Gesu hospital, which was the subject of an Associated Press investigation earlier this year.

The AP uncovered a secret 2014 Vatican-authorized probe that found that the hospital’s mission under the Profiti administration had become “more aimed at profit” than patient care.

After retiring in 2013, Bertone was assigned a 400 square meter (4,305 sq. feet), top-floor bachelor pad in the Vatican-owned Palazzo San Carlo, which sits on the edge of the Vatican gardens and offers fabulous views of St. Peter’s Basilica and overlooks the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.

During the trial, Bertone was shown to have personally engineered the unprecedented maneuver to get an old friend, Gianantonio Bandera, to do the renovation. Bertone’s project jumped the queue for Vatican real estate repairs and avoided the normal external bidding process required for such an expensive overhaul — presumably because he promised to foot the bill himself.

And Bertone did pay some 300,000 euros ($355,000) out of his own pocket. The problem is the hospital foundation also paid Bandera’s firm 422,000 euros for a job that totaled 533,000 euros, including communal repairs to the palazzo’s leaky roof.

In closing arguments Saturday, Profiti lawyer Antonello Blasi insisted there was no crime in using foundation money as an investment since Profiti intended to use Bertone’s apartment for fundraising events to benefit the hospital.

“Investing is not the same thing as spending,” Blasi told the court.

Profiti, for his part, told the court the only reason the operation didn’t return the investment was because the new administration that replaced his had a “new style of fundraising” and didn’t use the apartment.

Prosecutors did not dispute the investment motive for Profiti’s actions.

In the end, Bandera’s firm, Castelli Re, went bankrupt, and the hospital’s 422,000 euros were sent instead to another Bandera company located in Britain, Lg Contractors Ltd.

That was presumably the transaction that tripped up the Vatican’s financial regulators, who were called to testify at trial but declined to provide details, citing the need to keep their intelligence-gathering operations secret.

The only hint of a potential kickback involved a proposed six-figure “donation” from Bandera to the hospital foundation. Profiti said he “didn’t exclude” that he had sought such a donation, and Spina testified that he tried to get the money out of Bandera. Bandera, however, pleaded financial hardship after his company went bankrupt and never paid up.

Neither Bertone nor Bandera were indicted in the case, though it is possible prosecutors in the Vatican and Italy now have the evidence they need to mount a case against the builder over the allegation he got paid twice for the same work.

At the trial, Bandera testified that he never billed twice for the works, though he acknowledged he was no longer fully in control of the company after it went bankrupt in early 2014.

Bertone has insisted he knew nothing of the hospital’s payment. After the scandal came to light in late 2015, Bertone quickly made a 150,000 euro ($177,300) “donation” to the hospital. He insisted it wasn’t a payback but a gesture of goodwill.

International News

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►  600 migrants rescued; fears rise of new surge from Libya

Some 600 migrants rescued at sea arrived Friday in Sicily — one of the biggest influxes since Italy struck a deal with Libyan authorities to limit migrant smuggling — raising concerns of a renewed surge on the Libyan human trafficking route.

The migrants, including many unaccompanied minors from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued in seven operations over 36 hours, and transported Friday to Palermo by the German non-governmental organization SOS Mediterranee.

They came as three weeks of fighting around the Libyan city of Sabratha has destabilized militias that pledged to help reduce the flow of migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea, leaving many migrants and refugees displaced.

SOS Mediterranee President Valeria Calandra told Sky TG24 that the renewed instability in Libya has only increased the desire of migrants to escape the lawless North African country.

“It was very improbable that from today to tomorrow you can stop everyone,” she said. “I think this rescue is the first of many others that will arrive.”

The number of migrants dropped dramatically in July and August, before an uptick from 3,914 in August to 6,288 in September. Still, September arrivals were two-thirds below last year’s total for the same month, and the 2,800 arrivals so far this month are well below the 12,400 in the same period last year.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Rome, Federico Fossi, says it’s too early to say what is driving the recent uptick and if it will be sustained. He noted that even the deal with Libyan forces to stanch the flow of migrants never fully stopped the smugglers’ boats.

“In last few days, there has been a light increase. We need to see over the medium-term if there is a new trend,” he said.

The UNHCR said Friday that fierce clashes over the last three weeks near Sabratha, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tripoli, have stranded 3,000 Libyan families, most of whom have since returned home, and displaced more than 10,000 refugees and migrants, who remain “in need of urgent assistance.”

After taking control of detention centers that had been run by migrant traffickers, Libyan authorities transferred 4,500 migrants to a hangar in the Dahman area and others to detention centers near Tripoli, the refugee agency said.

UNHCR said it was sending emergency assistance including sleeping bags, hygiene kits, food and blankets to Libya. Many migrants were found without clothing or shoes, had suffered injuries requiring urgent medical care or were severely traumatized and in need of psychological support, the refugee agency said.

“’Overall, our team on the ground paint a very grim picture,” UNHCR said.


►  Iran’s speaker: Spiking nuclear deal would be insult to UN

The Kremlin warned Friday that a U.S. move against a nuclear deal with Iran would hurt global stability, while the Iranian parliament speaker said it would be an insult to the United Nations.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said “such action would undoubtedly hurt the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world.”

Peskov’s comments were in response to a question about what the Kremlin reaction would be if the U.S. opts out of the deal. He spoke hours before U.S. Donald Trump delivers a speech expected to contain harsh criticism of the 2015 nuclear accord.

Trump is expected to say the deal is no longer in U.S. national security interests, but he won’t withdraw or immediately re-impose sanctions against Tehran, according to U.S. officials and outside advisers to the administration.

The agreement offered Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for strict limits on its nuclear program. It was painstakingly negotiated by then-President Barack Obama’s administration and involved a coalition of world powers including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Peskov said a U.S. move against the nuclear deal would have “very negative consequences” and “seriously exacerbate the situation around the Iranian nuclear dossier.” He added that Iran has warned that it would respond by opting out of the deal.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said on a visit to Russia that the accord has received a U.N. blessing, so any move to spike it would represent “primarily an insult to the U.N.”

He added that any revision of the deal would allow Iran to take its own actions, and warned that a U.S. move could destabilize the international situation.

“We will continue to adhere to our obligations ... for as long as other parties observe the agreement,” he said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.


►  Russia launches European atmosphere monitoring satellite

Russia successfully launched a satellite into orbit Friday that will monitor Europe’s atmosphere, helping to study air pollution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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►  U.S. to pull out of UNESCO amid Palestinian tensions

The United States is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” of the U.N. cultural agency.

While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal for months, the announcement by the State Department on Thursday rocked UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new director is under way.

The outgoing UNESCO chief expressed her “profound regret” at the decision and tried to defend the reputation of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions.

The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect December 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited U.S. belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs. In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.

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

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and that it was not discussed with other countries but was the result of an internal U.S. government deliberation.

The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said the U.S. is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

Many saw the 2011 UNESCO vote to include Palestine as evidence of long-running, ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, called the U.S. departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. She said the U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now to better fight “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism.”

She defended UNESCO’s reputation, noting its efforts to support Holocaust education and train teachers to fight anti-Semitism — and that that the Statue of Liberty is among the many World Heritage sites protected by the U.N. agency. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls in poor countries and in scientific fields and to defend media freedom, among other activities.

Other UNESCO members did not immediately comment on the U.S. departure.

It’s not the first time the U.S. pulled out of UNESCO: Washington did the same thing in the 1980s because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003.


►  Paris hopes to ban gas-powered cars in city by 2030

In the future, the noise of car engines revving around the streets of Paris might become just a memory.

In its latest initiative to reduce air pollution, Paris City Hall wants gasoline-powered cars off the roads by 2030. The controversial move announced Thursday follows Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s plan to ban all diesel cars from the city by 2024, when Paris will host the Summer Olympics.

Speaking on France Info radio, the Paris deputy mayor in charge of transport, Christophe Nadjovski, said “we have planned the end of thermic vehicle use, and therefore of fossil energies, by 2030.”

Many Parisians don’t own a car but Hidalgo still has angered many of them with her efforts to make Paris a greener city, notably by adding cycling paths that have slowed vehicle traffic along the Seine River. Her detractors have accused her of waging a war against cars.

Wary of those critics, Paris City Hall issued a statement Thursday insisting the 2030 deadline isn’t a proper ban but “a feasible and realistic” goal. The statement added that Paris officials would keep discussing the issue with residents and car makers in the coming months.

Paris has faced rising air pollution in the last few years. Some pollution spikes have been so bad they forced City Hall to bar half of all cars from traveling and to make public transportation free for several days.

Hidalgo has been seeking to reduce pollution with a series of measures. She has launched a program banning traffic from the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue once a month, introduced rental bicycles in the streets as well as a fleet of electric cars to encourage residents to leave their polluting vehicles at home.

In September 2016, Paris authorities decided to close a 3.5 kilometer (2.2- mile) downtown road and transform it into a promenade. A year later, the body measuring air pollution said the move had no significant impact on residents’ exposure to carbon emissions across the whole city.

With her ambition of taking gasoline-powered cars off the Paris roads by 2030, Hidalgo wants to go faster than the French government. Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot has said he wants to banish from France all fossil fuel cars by 2040.

“This government goal affects the whole French territory, rural zones included,” the Paris City Hall statement said. “If we want to achieve this, it implies that the end of diesel and gasoline should take place several years in advance in urban areas, and particularly in big cities.”


►  ‘Why so much hate?’ Femicides plague Mexico’s largest state

Just like any other day, Dr. Jessica Sevilla Pedraza went to work at the hospital that morning, came home for a quick lunch and then left again. The plan was to see more patients, hit the gym and be back in time for her usual dinner with dad before he went to his night-shift job.

Instead a hospital co-worker showed up at the family’s door in the evening. She said a man had come in with a bullet wound in his leg and told doctors he had been with Sevilla when gunmen intercepted them, shot him and took off with the doctor in her own car.

“Ma’am,” the woman told Sevilla’s mother, Juana Pedraza, “it’s my duty to tell you that we cannot locate your daughter.”

Two days later Pedraza identified 29-year-old Jessica’s body at the morgue. She had been shot in the head and decapitated, and the skin had been flayed from her skull.

“I can’t understand why,” Pedraza said. “Why so much fury? Why so much hate?”

Sevilla’s gruesome death was part of a wave of killings of women plaguing the sprawling State of Mexico, which is the country’s most populous with 16 million residents and surrounds the capital on three sides. The mounting crisis of femicides — murders of women where the motive is directly related to gender — prompted the federal government to issue a gender violence alert in 2015, the first for any Mexican state.

Sometimes the deaths are caused by domestic abuse. Other killings appear to be opportunistic, by strangers. Often the bodies are mutilated and dumped in a public place — which many read as a message to other women: There is no safe place, time of day or activity.

The week before Sevilla’s killing, 18-year-old Mariana Joselin Baltierra vanished when she walked to the corner store in Ecatepec, a hardscrabble suburb of Mexico City. Her body was found in a butcher shop next door; she had been sexually assaulted and disemboweled. The suspect, an employee at the butcher shop, allegedly took the money in the register and fled. He remains at large.

In June, Valeria Teresa Gutierrez Ortiz, 11, disappeared in Nezahualcoyotl after taking a public bus home from school. She was later found dead in the abandoned vehicle, partially clothed and with signs of sexual assault. The bus driver was arrested for the killing. Three days later he was found dead in his cell with a cord around his neck.

The State of Mexico officially ranks second to the nation’s capital with 346 killings classified as femicides since 2011, according to government statistics. Dilcya Garcia Espinoza de los Monteros, deputy state prosecutor for gender violence crimes, said femicides fell by about a third between January and July this year compared with the same period in 2016, but that can hardly be read as an indicator of improvement.

“We should not fall into this incomplete dance of figures where if we see an increase we believe we have to work extra hard and if there is a decrease we have no more work to do,” Espinoza said. “This problem is difficult to eradicate because it is rooted in ideas that assume that we as women are worth less than men, that we as women can be treated like trash.”

The official “femicide” classification allows significant room for interpretation, and critics claim the official figures are understated. Many violent crimes such as disappearances often go unreported and unpunished, and the State of Mexico is widely considered ground zero for killings of women in the country today. The nonprofit Citizen Observatory Against Gender Violence, Disappearance and Femicides in Mexico State counted 263 femicides in 2016 alone.

Before Mexico State, it was Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, that was notorious for killings of women, with nearly 400 slain there since 1993 and only a handful of cases resulting in convictions. Common to both places are marginalized, peripheral communities with high levels of violent crime, corruption and impunity.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was Mexico State’s governor before assuming the presidency in 2012, said during his state of the union address this year that the country’s rising murders have more to do with common crime than organized crime.

But that has been no comfort for families who grieve for lost mothers, sisters and daughters, and who too often face daunting hurdles when seeking justice.

Jessica Sevilla lived in Villa Cuauhtemoc, a small town surrounded by corn fields and empty lots outside the state capital, Toluca, with her parents, her four younger sisters and her 1-year-old son, Leon. The daughter of a truck driver and a shop owner, she went to college and became a doctor, cementing her place as the pride of the family. Her mother said whenever Jessica wasn’t working or working out, she spent her time with Leon.

Jessica’s disappearance, on a Friday in August, set off a frantic 48 hours of searching by the family. Under the gender violence alert issued two years earlier, authorities are supposed to investigate any woman’s disappearance urgently. But Pedraza said authorities told her to wait until Sunday afternoon.

“And if she didn’t come back (by then), I would have to come on Monday so they could start searching for my daughter,” Pedraza said. “It was negligent, because otherwise we might be talking about my daughter being alive.”

Ana Yeli Perez, an attorney with the National Citizens’ Observatory Against Femicide, said that sort of response is all too common.

“Despite there already being tools that force public prosecutors to issue the gender violence alert, they refuse to launch investigations under the gender violence guidelines,” Perez said.

Femicides have been getting increasing attention elsewhere in Latin America as well. In Argentina, a coalition of activists, artists and journalists started a movement known as Ni Una Menos, or Not One Less, after a spate of killings. The name came from a poem about the killings in Ciudad Juarez by Mexican writer Susana Chavez, who herself was slain in 2011.

“Ni Una Menos” has become a widely used hashtag on social media in many places as more women turn up dead — as in the case of 19-year-old Mara Castilla, who disappeared after using a ride-hailing service in the central Mexican state of Puebla. The driver was arrested after it was determined that he never dropped her off at her house. Thousands of people gathered in Mexico City to protest her murder.

In Nezahualcoyotl, a group called Nos Queremos Vivas, or We Want to Stay Alive, sprung up after Valeria Gutierrez’s murder. It has organized marches and a self-defense workshop at a high school where 70 percent of the students are girls.

At one class, students threw punches and kicks on an indoor soccer court — and talked about learning to be afraid from a young age.

“I don’t feel safe. ... A woman cannot walk down the street freely because there are always people, men, who start harassing you, who try to touch you just because you’re wearing shorts or tight jeans,” said Monica Giselle Rodriguez, 15.

“We want to help them prepare in case they have to defend themselves,” martial arts instructor Cristofer Fuentes said.

Jessica Sevilla’s mutilated body was found on a highway about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from where she was last seen alive at a gas station in her red, brand-new Mazda. A week after the burial, Pedraza marched across town with family members carrying a stone cross to mark her grave. The murder remains unsolved.

Pedraza raised her five daughters to be confident that they are equal to men and that nobody can hold them back. Now tasked with raising her grandson, Leon, she said she’s focusing on the other side of the equation: Schools teach kids to read and write, but other values are instilled at home.

“With little Leon, we have the idea that we are going to teach him how to be a man,” Pedraza said. “You don’t hit women. You don’t insult them. If she can clear your plate, you can do it too. ... Equality and respect, above all.”

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►  Spain’s PM demands clarity from Catalonia on independence

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy demanded on Wednesday that the Catalan leader clarify whether he has declared independence, issuing a veiled threat that the central government could limit or rescind the region’s autonomy if he has.

Rajoy said the Catalan government’s response would be crucial in deciding “events over the coming days.”

It is the first time that Rajoy has openly said that Article 155 of the Spanish constitution will be the next step taken by the government if Catalan authorities don’t backtrack. He said the government “wants to offer certainty to citizens” and that it is “necessary to return tranquility and calm.”

Rajoy issued the demand following a special Cabinet meeting to respond to an announcement from the president of the wealthy Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence but was suspending it for several weeks to facilitate negotiations.

Opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez said that Spain’s two main political parties agreed to renegotiate laws governing autonomy. He said a deal was reached with Rajoy to open talks in six months on reforming the constitution that would allow changes to the current setup governing Spain’s 17 regions, including Catalonia.

Sanchez said his party wanted the reform to “allow for Catalonia to remain a part of Spain,” and that the socialists were backing Rajoy’s call for clarification from Puigdemont.

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

But he proposed that the regional parliament suspend the effects of the declaration to commence a dialogue and help reduce tension, in what is Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. The central government in Madrid has given little indication it is willing to talk, saying it didn’t accept the declaration and didn’t consider the referendum or its results to be valid.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said late Tuesday that the Catalan leader “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go.”

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

Article 155 of the Constitution allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don’t comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.

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

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

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

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


►  S. Korean lawmaker says North Korea hacked war plans

A South Korean lawmaker says North Korean hackers stole highly classified military documents that include U.S.-South Korean wartime “decapitation strike” plans against the North Korean leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

The bilateral training mission between the U.S. B-1B bombers and South Korean F-15K fighter jets on Tuesday night followed a September 23 mission in which U.S. bombers and fighter escorts used pre-dawn hours to fly to the farthest point of the border between North and South Korea by any U.S. aircraft this century.

South Korean analysts say the nighttime flights, and also the decisions by Washington and Seoul to release the itinerary of the warplanes, are aimed at sending a clear warning to North Korea and demonstrating capability for surprise attacks.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers after the September 23 mission that North Korea failed to detect the B-1B bombers as they flew in international airspace east of the country. Pyongyang belatedly responded by relocating some of its military aircraft to its east coast, the National Intelligence Service then said. Some military experts believe that power supply problems make it difficult for North Korea to turn on its air defense radars for 24 hours a day and also that the systems might struggle to effectively track advanced warplanes such as B-1Bs, which have low radar-cross sections.

During Tuesday’s drills, the U.S. bombers, which flew from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, staged simulated air-to-ground missile striking drills off the peninsula’s east coast before flying across the country accompanied by the two South Korean fighters. The aircraft then conducted similar simulated air to ground striking drills off the peninsula’s west coast, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

The drills were conducted not long after Lee broke the news about the alleged cyberattacks to reporters. Lee, who didn’t specify his sources, said the plans allegedly stolen by the North include operations for tracking the movement of the North’s leadership, isolating their hideouts, executing air assaults and follow-up actions for securing and eliminating targets, which would obviously include North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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

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

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

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

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

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


►  Russia scores temporary win against U.S. on cybercrime suspect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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►  French public sector strike disrupt schools, hospitals

A nationwide strike Tuesday disrupted schools, hospitals and air traffic across France, and nearly a quarter million civil servants took to the streets around the country to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

They’re expressing anger at wage freezes, the axing of 120,000 jobs in public services over the next five years and a succession of spending cuts and labor reforms that Macron argues will boost the economy.

In Paris, the police said they counted 26,000 demonstrators, while the CGT, the main trade union, counted twice that number in the capital alone and hundreds of thousands across the country. The Interior ministry said 209,000 took part in protests nationwide.

It was the first time in ten years that all public service unions had called for strike action. Philippe Martinez, the CGT leader, told reporters in the Paris demonstration that the participation in this strike day was “very significant” and praised the union unity.

Among the protesters marching in Paris, Beatrice Vieval, a 49-year-old nurse, says her Paris public hospital has seen three recent suicides among staff, and she fears that Macron’s plans “will make the situation worse.”

Alongside teachers, hospital workers made up many of the protesters. Vieval, who works at the Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris, told The Associated Press she already feels squeezed by increasing cutbacks — “wages are frozen, hospital conditions are deteriorated, staff is depleted by reorganizing services.”

Amado Lebaube, a 20-year-old philosophy student in the Sorbonne university, said degraded working conditions are already hurting consumers of public services, and could threaten his ability to stay in school. He expressed thanks for state-paid teachers, student housing aid and government scholarships, adding, “I can study today because there are public services in this country.”

Flagship carrier Air France said about 25 percent of domestic flights were cancelled due to a walkout by some traffic controllers. The airline maintained long-haul flights to and from Paris airports.

The education ministry said in a statement about 17 percent of teachers across the country were on strike Tuesday. Some school canteens and nurseries were closed, and several high schools in Paris were closed because students were blocking the entrances in solidarity with the union action.

“They unravel all the social protections supposed to protect the weakest and the workers,” said Sandrine Amoud, a teacher on strike in Paris to protest against Macron’s policies.

Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of the FO union, called on Macron to stop “austerity” policies toward public servants during a protest in the city of Lyon.

While demonstrations were largely peaceful across the country, a small group of protesters skirmished with police at the end of a march to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris.

Tuesday’s industrial action comes after several other street protests in recent weeks against Macron’s proposed changes to labor laws, which apply to employees of the private sector. Unions fear Macron’s economic policies would weaken France’s hard-won worker protections.

The hard-left CGT union called for new protests and strikes against Macron’s labor reforms on October 19.


►  Poll: Most don’t want young immigrants deported

Just 1 in 5 Americans want to deport young immigrants brought to the United States as children and now here illegally, the focus of a politically fraught debate between the White House and Congress.

Americans also have largely negative opinions about Donald Trump’s signature immigration pledge to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just under half — 49 percent — oppose construction, while 32 percent support it.

On Sunday, Trump told lawmakers his hardline immigration priorities, including the wall, must be approved if he is to go along with protecting the young immigrants from deportation.

About 800,000 young immigrants had been given a deportation reprieve under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, until Trump ended the program last month. He’s given Congress six months to act.

About 60 percent of Americans favor allowing those young immigrants, commonly referred as “Dreamers,” to stay in the U.S. legally, compared to 22 percent who are opposed. Just 19 percent of respondents say all these childhood arrivals should be deported.

Sixty-eight percent of Hispanics, 61 percent of blacks and 57 percent of whites favor extending protections. Eight in 10 Democrats favor allowing the young immigrants to stay legally. So do more than 4 in 10 Republicans.

“For the ones who are already here, there should be a way for them to stay because it wasn’t their fault,” said Nik Catello, a 57-year-old independent film producer from Orange County, California. “But you have to give them a path to citizenship.”

Showing sympathy for the young immigrants does not always translate into softer views on immigration. Catello, for example, favors the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

Among those who favor a border wall, 38 percent also favor allowing “Dreamers” to stay.

“What you see is growing support within the voters overall in giving Dreamers a path to citizenship,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Giving Dreamers the ability to earn citizenship is the most popular bipartisan, not just immigration, issue, the single most united issue in the country.”

When Trump ordered the phase-out of the DACA program last month, he gave 150,000 young immigrants the chance to quickly renew permits that are to expire before March 5. Officials say that more than 35,000 didn’t make his October 5 deadline. And many others will see their status begin expiring after March 5, unless Congress acts before then.

Trump suggested at the time that he was eager for a deal to settle the matter, telling reporters, “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.” He also tweeted that if Congress was unwilling to find a fix, he would “revisit this issue!” in six months.

Trump had previously said he wanted a DACA deal to include significant money for border security and eventual funding for the wall. But the priorities released by the White House this week went far beyond that.

The White House’s demands include limiting green cards to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, hiring 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers and making it easier to deport unaccompanied children. The White House says the measures are to soften the impact on the U.S. caused by granting benefits to DACA recipients.

Carolyn Kurtz, a 62-year-old retired engineer from Monument City, Colorado, who wants protections for young immigrants, said Trump hasn’t done “the research necessary” on immigration.

“Do I believe that immigration should be more carefully monitored and maybe limited? Yes. But the way he wants to go about it is not the way to do it,” Kurtz said. She called the president’s stance “very close-minded.”

Two-thirds of Americans — 64 percent — say they disapprove of Trump’s handling of immigration, and a similar percentage — 65 percent — say the same of his handling of foreign policy. Both of those are similar to Trump’s overall approval rating.

The poll also revealed more Americans favor than oppose another aspect of Trump’s immigration policy — his latest travel ban. Forty-four percent favor it compared to 37 percent who say they are against the new rules.

In September, the administration announced the most recent restrictions which affect citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. They are to go into effect October 18. It was the administration’s third try at limiting travel after a broader ban sparked chaos in January and was challenged in courts across the country.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,150 adults was conducted September 28-October 02 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

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►  Spain on edge before possible Catalan secession declaration

The focus of the deepening clash between Catalan separatists and Spanish authorities is shifting to the regional parliament for a key session likely to include a historic declaration of independence that Spain has pledged to crush.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont hasn’t revealed the precise message he will deliver Tuesday evening with separatist politicians expecting some sort of declaration based on the results of the disputed October 1 referendum on independence.

At stake is the territorial integrity of Spain, threatened by a growing separatist movement that is sorely testing the strength of its constitution and the skill of its national and regional leaders.

Some expect a strictly symbolic declaration, while others believe a risky full-scale break with Spain will be attempted, even as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows he will use all lawful means to keep Spain intact.

The Spanish leader has said he is willing to use a constitutional clause that allows Madrid to take over direct control of regions if they violate Spain’s constitution — a move that could apply in this case because Spain’s constitutional court had suspended the referendum.

Its results are therefore considered invalid under Spanish law.

“Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will do everything that legislation allows us to ensure this,” Rajoy told German newspaper Die Welt. “We will prevent this independence from taking place.”

Puigdemont’s embrace of independence may be slowed by the decision of several major banks and businesses to move their headquarters out of Catalonia because they want to remain under the European Union’s regulatory umbrella, and also by the bloc’s backing of Spain despite a police crackdown on people trying to vote in the referendum.

The Spanish government’s staunch opposition, the lukewarm response of the international community to the prospect of a breakaway state in Europe and the concerns of business leaders all suggest an independence move would extract a heavy price from Catalan’s separatist leaders.

Still, separatist politicians say there will be a declaration of independence for the northeastern region of 7.5 million people during the Tuesday session, although some ruling coalition lawmakers say the move could be simply “symbolic.”

The October 1 referendum vote has been followed by mass protests of Catalans angered by heavy-handed police tactics.

But there also have been well-organized, large-scale rallies in both Catalonia and Madrid by people committed to keeping Spain intact.

Police say roughly 350,000 took part in the anti-independence protests Sunday in Barcelona. The demonstrators chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Puigdemont to go to prison for holding the banned referendum. Some held up signs thanking Spain’s National Police and Guardia Civil for their support.

Despite the opposition, some politicians and activists say they won’t accept anything less than a full declaration of independence at Tuesday’s session.

“Credibility and dignity suggest making the declaration of independence tomorrow (Tuesday),” Jordi Sanchez, the head of the civil group National Catalonia Assembly, said Monday.

A lawmaker with the Catalan CUP party told The Associated Press that the far-left separatists won’t accept compromise on the issue.

“It’s very clear to me that those who I represent won’t accept any other scenario,” Benet Salellas said during an interview at the regional parliament.

With so much uncertainty in the air, Catalonia’s top judicial official ordered additional Spanish police protection for the headquarters of the regional judiciary.

The High Judiciary in Catalonia says its president, Jesus Barrientos, has asked the chief of the National Police force in the region to join in the protection of the building. The statement says the move is aimed at stopping any attempt to suspend the judiciary and ouster of its president in the event of secession, even if the declaration would be illegal under Spanish laws.

Catalan authorities say the “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, although only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was disrupted by police raids of polling stations.

They say this validates their independence bid.

Rajoy has said the central government could take direct control of Catalonia, which now enjoys a measure of autonomy.

“The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions,” Rajoy said this weekend.

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

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


►  South Sudan winning against Guinea worm, says Jimmy Carter

War-torn South Sudan “should serve as an example” for other countries in the progress it is making in eradicating Guinea worm, said former United States President Jimmy Carter.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Carter praised the world’s youngest nation for making steady progress in ridding itself of the debilitating parasite despite the “tremendous problems.”

Contracted and spread by drinking infected water, Guinea worm affects some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

In 2006, when the Guinea worm program launched in South Sudan, the country had more than 20,500 cases in over 3,000 endemic villages. At the time it was one of nine affected countries. Today, it remains one of three still tackling the disease, with Chad and Ethiopia.

This year South Sudan reported zero cases. If this continues, the country will be on track to becoming certified Guinea worm free in the next couple of years.

This feat is being touted as one of the few successes to emerge from the young nation, while it battles a 4-year civil war, starvation and grave human rights atrocities being committed against its own people.

Jimmy Carter has been at the helm of the international campaign to eradicate Guinea worm for more than 30 years. From 1986, when there were an estimated 3.5 million people infected annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia, the number has dwindled to 10 confirmed cases all of which are in Chad.

Unlike other diseases which are controlled by medicines or vaccines, Guinea worm can be eradicated by educating people how to filter and drink clean water.

An excruciating affliction, the meter-long worm is asymptomatic and incubates in people for up to a year before painfully emerging, often through extremely sensitive parts of the body.

“It was more painful than giving birth,” said Rejina Bodi, tracing the stump of her deformed toe with her finger. “Childbirth ends but this pain persists.”

In 2009, the 48-year-old mother of six was one of South Sudan’s most severe Guinea worm cases. Seated on a mat outside her small hut in the rural village of Terekeka, Bodi yanks down her shirt to expose her chest and frantically point to the many scars covering her narrow frame.

Eight years ago more than 10 worms were pulled out from her breasts, legs, feet and arms over a seven month period. Three worms forced their way out of one hole in her small toe, leaving it misshapen and a permanent reminder of the agony she endured.

“It’s a disease of those who basically have nothing,” says Makoy Samuel Yibi, director for South Sudan’s Guinea worm eradication program.

Due to its low literacy rates and remote location, Yibi says Terekeka was one of the worst hit areas.

He attributes the success of South Sudan’s Guinea worm project to more than 17,000 community volunteers who go door-to-door providing preventative information and acting as surveillance systems in some of the most hard to reach areas across the country.

“The worst thing is a missed case,” said Yibi. Due the mass displacement of people since the onset of the war, his team is working closer with neighboring countries to increase cross border surveillance.

Looking back, Jimmy Carter said this local network is something he wished he had implemented sooner.

“At the beginning we underestimated the importance of local leaders,” said Carter, who admitted that he initially thought Guinea worm would be eradicated within five to 10 years of launching the campaign.

Much of South Sudan’s success is due to the large strides taken before the war erupted in 2013, although experts say the conflict hasn’t greatly harmed the program’s progress. Between 2006 and 2012 the country’s cases reduced by 93 percent.

Globally, the Guinea worm program is entering the final stretch, however, according to the World Health Organization, the last remaining cases can be the most difficult to control as they usually occur in remote and often inaccessible areas. Guinea worm has been on the verge of being eradicated for a few years.

Although fighting between President Salva Kiir’s government forces and troops loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar show no signs of ending, those battling Guinea worm refuse to let the war stand in their way.

“We’re pretty stubborn,” said Carter. “We don’t ever give up.”

International News

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►  U.S. and Turkey suspend bilateral non-immigrant visa services

The U.S. said Sunday it was suspending non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey following the arrest of a consulate employee, prompting Turkey to halt visa services in the U.S.

The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Ankara tweeted a statement from the U.S. Mission to Turkey saying that recent events have forced it to “reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.”

The Turkish Embassy in Washington responded with a similar statement on Twitter late Sunday and said it would “reassess the commitment of the Government of the United States to the security of Turkish mission facilities and personnel.” It said the measures would apply to e-Visas, visas issued at borders and visas in passports.

This week, Turkish authorities arrested a U.S. Consulate employee of Turkish nationality for alleged links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government blames for last summer’s failed coup. Gulen denies involvement.

Metin Topuz is accused of espionage and “attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and constitution.” Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that he allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe, 121 people involved in the attempted coup and hundreds of people using an encrypted mobile messaging application. The U.S. Embassy said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest.

Hamza Ulucay, a translator of the U.S. Consulate in the southern province of Adana, was arrested in March for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

The U.S. statement said the suspension of non-immigrant visa services was “effective immediately” to minimize visitor numbers to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate for now. The suspended services will affect business, tourism, medical treatment, student, exchange visitor, crew member, media and journalist, treaty trader, diplomatic and official visas.

Relations between Turkey and the U.S. have been tense over disagreements on Syrian Kurdish militants, which the U.S. backs in the war against the Islamic State group. Turkey considers them a terror group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged an insurgency within Turkey’s borders for more than 30 years.

An infamous brawl during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to DC in May led to an indictment charging 19 people, including 15 Turkish security officials, of conspiracy to commit a crime of violence. Erdogan called the indictment “scandalous” and said his security detail was protecting him against Kurdish militants protesting outside his ambassador’s residence.

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for over 20 years, has also been behind bars for a year for alleged links to Gulen. Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the U.S. was pressing Turkey to return a “cleric” while refusing to hand over another “cleric.”

More than 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 have been fired from government jobs as part of a state of emergency declared after the failed coup in Turkey.


►  Reports: Navalny supporters detained in Russian capital

Russian civil society organizations say that more than a dozen supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny have been detained in Moscow while holding small demonstrations.

The detentions come a day after protests called for by Navalny were held in cities across the country to mark President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday. The Interior Ministry said Sunday that 136 people were arrested in Saturday’s demonstrations and that all had been released from custody.

The Open Russia group and OVD-Info, which monitors political arrests, said that Sunday’s detentions took place in Manezh Square, adjacent to the Kremlin, and outside the nearby building of the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

The reports’ figures on detentions differed and there was no immediate statement from police.


►  Frost, rot cut French wine output to lowest in 60 years

French winemakers are lamenting the smallest vintage in 60 years after spring frost damaged vines at Bordeaux chateaus like Angelus and Canon La Gaffeliere, while summer storms caused grape rot in Champagne.

Wine volume will fall 19 percent to the equivalent of about 4.9 billion bottles, the Agriculture Ministry forecasts. That would be the least since 1957, another year when a freeze destroyed spring buds, based on data from the ministry and the European Union’s statistics department.

“The drop in production will be mainly on account of the hard spring frost,“ the ministry said. “The persistent drought in the southeast further reduces production.“

France and Italy typically compete for the rank of world’s biggest wine producer, with weather a key factor. While Italian vineyards also suffered damage from frost, drought and hot weather, volumes are still expected to outpace those in France. The Italian association of wine-industry technicians forecasts output of 47.2 million hectoliters, compared with 36.9 million hectoliters for France.

Bordeaux was among French wine regions hardest hit by frost in late April, with the volume of wine carrying the regional label falling 39 percent, according to the agriculture ministry. Even so, output was slightly higher than the ministry was expecting in August.

The frost struck in April as the vines that produce the likes of Chateau Petrus and Chateau Margaux were at their most vulnerable, generating fresh shoots after their winter dormancy. Growers in Bordeaux resorted to fires, fans and helicopters to take the edge off the bud-killing cold.

In Champagne, where the frost was less destructive than in 2016, production of designated-origin wines is seen falling 9 percent. That’s a reversal from an August outlook for an increase, after summer storms caused grape damage and rot that required winemakers to sort their fruit more rigorously.

Champagne houses such as LVMH’s Moet & Chandon keep reserve stocks in their cellars that allow for regular production even in lean years.

Wine is France’s most valuable farming product, with value-added production of $13.5 billion (11.5 billion euros) in 2016, according to statistics office Insee. It’s also the country’s top agricultural export with a value of 8.25 billion euros last year, with Bordeaux and Champagne in the lead.

While frost was the problem in much of France, the country’s southeast suffered from the opposite blight. Hot, dry and windy weather parched the grapes, reducing yields and grape juice, and harvesting was completed earlier than usual. Languedoc-Roussillon near the Mediterranean, where much of France’s bulk wine is grown, also saw sharply reduced quantities.

Despite lower yields across much of France, the Burgundy-Beaujolais region expects a 6 percent increase in the volume of wine carrying a regional label. That’s good news for fans of Burgundy’s pinot noir-based reds and chardonnay whites, who’ve watched prices of some of the world’s most expensive wines, like those of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, soar in recent years as global demand grows and supplies dwindle.


►  U.S. escalates trade dispute with Canada in new tariff decision

The U.S. Commerce Department moved Friday to impose an 80 percent tariff on Canadian jetliners, siding with U.S. manufacturer Boeing in a case that alleges Canadian jet-maker Bombardier is selling jets in the United States at unfairly low prices. It comes on top of a separate preliminary 219 percent tariff decision announced last week.

If both decisions are confirmed by the International Trade Commission, a quasi-independent government agency that has the final say in such disputes, they would quadruple the price of certain Canadian jets sold in the United States, effectively shutting Bombardier out of the U.S. market. The commission’s final ruling is expected in February.

Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross described Friday’s decision as an effort to level the playing field on trade with Canada.

“The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada, but this is not our idea of a properly functioning trading relationship,“ Ross said in a statement. “We will continue to verify the accuracy of this decision while [doing] everything in our power to stand up for American companies and their workers.“

Boeing heralded Friday’s decision as a long-awaited move to curtail alleged “dumping” by Bombardier, a term in international trade law that refers to selling a product abroad at an artificially low price.

“These duties are the consequence of a conscious decision by Bombardier to violate trade law and dump their C Series aircraft to secure a sale,“ Boeing said in its statement. “This dumping in our home market was not a situation Boeing could ignore, and we’re now simply asking for laws already on the books to be enforced.“

Bombardier described the decision as an “egregious overreach and misapplication of U.S. trade laws” in a statement issued Friday. The company also criticized Commerce Department’s handling of the issue, saying it has “completely ignored aerospace industry realities” in calculating tariff margins.

The decision is yet another blow in an escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada.

Trump has criticized Canada for its pricing practices on certain dairy products from the United States, calling the country’s trade posture “a disgrace” that has hurt dairy farmers in states like Wisconsin and New York. He also is trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Friday’s decision concerns a multibillion-dollar deal from 2016 in which Bombardier agreed to sell 75 C-series CS100 jets to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. The CS100 is a commercial jetliner that seats about 100 people, on the smaller end of the spectrum for commercial jets.

In April, Boeing brought two trade complaints that teed off the current dispute: the first accusing Bombardier of selling planes in the United States at unfairly low prices, and the second accusing it of unfairly benefiting from government subsidies when it competes abroad.

Canadian and British leaders reacted sharply to last week’s decision. The dispute also ensnares the United Kingdom because Bombardier employs a few thousand people at a factory in Northern Ireland.

“This is not the sort of behavior we expect from a long-term partner,“ British Prime Minister Theresa May said of Boeing, which is a supplier to the British military.

Leaders from both countries have asked Trump to intervene in the matter, and they also suggested the dispute would hurt Boeing in future competitions for military contracts.

Some U.S. politicians also criticized the decision. In a September 28 letter to the International Trade Commission, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pointed out that Bombardier employs close to 7,000 people in the United States, and urged the commission to “avoid levying unnecessary or politically motivated penalties that could have negative impacts on aerospace employees, U.S. carriers, and airline consumers.“ A bipartisan Group of Seven Senators issued their own statement criticizing the decision on Friday.

Both tariffs could still be invalidated by the International Trade Commission’s decision on the matter, which isn’t expected until February. For the tariffs to be finalized Boeing has to prove that it has been directly harmed by Bombardier’s business practices.

International News

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►  Navalny backers rally across Russia on Putin’s 65th birthday

In a challenge to President Vladimir Putin on his 65th birthday, protesters rallied across Russia on Saturday, heeding opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to pressure authorities into letting him enter the presidential race.

Police allowed demonstrators in Moscow to rally near the Kremlin in an apparent desire to avoid marring Putin’s birthday with a crackdown. A bigger rally in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, was disbanded by police after protesters blocked traffic and attempted to break through police cordons.

The rallies came as Navalny himself is serving a 20-day jail term for calling for an earlier unsanctioned protest.

In Moscow, several hundred protesters, most of them students, gathered on downtown Pushkinskaya Square, waving Russian flags and chanting “Russia will be free!” and “Let Navalny run!” Police warned them that the rally wasn’t sanctioned and urged them to disperse, but let the protest continue for hours without trying to break it up.

Mostly teenage protesters later walked down Moscow’s Tverskaya Street toward the Kremlin, shouting “Putin, go away!” and “Future without Putin!”

Police lines blocked them from approaching Red Square and they turned back. Several hours later, some made a new attempt to march on the Kremlin, shouting “Putin thief!” and briefly attempted to block traffic.

“We battle for Russia to be free from Putinism. Because the power we have now is feudal, we have no freedom of speech, no freedom of choice,” said protester Stepan Fesov.

The authorities’ decision to refrain from breaking up the Moscow protest contrasted with a more forceful response to previous Moscow rallies called by Navalny, when police detained more than 1,000 demonstrators.

Police also didn’t intervene at first with a bigger unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg, where over 1,000 gathered at Marsovo Pole park and then marched across the city, cutting traffic and chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin, retire!”

Shortly after, police broke up the demonstration, detaining dozens after some tried to break through police lines. Police said they will face fines for blocking traffic.

“Putin has been in charge since I was born,” Dmitry Samokhin, 18, who was among the protesters in St. Petersburg. “The country is mired in stagnation and I want to see changes.”

Navalny’s headquarters called protests in 80 cities. Most were not sanctioned by authorities, but police largely refrained from dispersing the rallies that drew from a few dozen to a few hundred people. The Siberian city of Yakutsk saw a tough police response, with a few dozen demonstrators reportedly detained.

Navalny has declared his intention to run for president in the March 2018 election, even though a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated bars him from running. The 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader has organized waves of protests this year, raising the pressure on the Kremlin.

Putin hasn’t yet announced whether he would seek re-election, but he’s widely expected to run. With his current approval ratings topping 80 percent, he is set to easily win another six-year term in a race against torpid veterans of past election campaigns, like Communist Party chief Gennady ZyugaNovember

Navalny argues that the high level of support for Putin comes from the lack of real political competition and urged supporters to help him get registered.

“(Putin’s) 86 percent approval rating exists in a political vacuum,” he said. “It’s like asking a person who has been fed rutabaga his entire life how eatable they find it and the rating will be quite high. Listen, there are other things that are better than rutabaga.”

The sarcastic analogy demonstrated Navalny’s stinging style, which has helped him win broad support among the young.

Navalny has worked to expand his reach with videos exposing official corruption and YouTube live broadcasts. His documentary about Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged ill-gotten wealth has been viewed nearly 25 million times since its release in March, helping galvanize protests.

Following Navalny’s call, tens of thousands took to the streets in dozens of cities and towns across Russia in March and June in the biggest show of defiance since the 2011-2012 anti-government protests.

Unlike those past rallies, which were driven by anti-corruption slogans, Navalny this time focused on rallying support for his own presidential bid — a reason some gave for the smaller protest in Moscow.

“Some people dislike Putin and the government, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to unequivocally back Navalny,” political analyst Valery Solovei said on Dozhd television.

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