The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Nation & World Wed, 25 May 2016 23:02:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Supermodel launches fight to save sea turtles Wed, 25 May 2016 22:55:11 +0000 UNITED NATIONS — Gisele Bundchen is fighting for sea turtles.

The United Nations said Wednesday that the Brazilian supermodel has been named a goodwill ambassador as part of an unprecedented global campaign to fight the illegal wildlife trafficking entitled “Wild for Life.”

“Knowledge is power and now is the time to set our minds to ending all illegal wildlife trade before the choice is no longer in our hands. Today, I am giving my name to change the game for sea turtles,” Bundchen said in a statement.

The campaign was launched at the second United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

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Mckellen tells India ‘It’s time to grow up’ Wed, 25 May 2016 22:45:29 +0000 MUMBAI, India —British actor Ian McKellen has criticized India’s use of a British colonial law to crack down on homosexuals, saying in an interview with a Mumbai newspaper published Tuesday that “India needs to grow up.”

The 76-year-old actor was in the west coast Indian city this week to promote the British Film Industry’s “Shakespeare on Film” series coinciding with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. He also dined with Bollywood stars, and helped open the regional LGBT-themed Kashish Film Festival on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Mumbai Mirror, the openly gay actor spoke candidly about Britain’s social and political evolution toward equal rights for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and reportedly said that “India is going through what the UK went through 30 years ago.”

He took issue with a colonial-era law – Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – that makes sex between people of the same gender punishable by up to 10 years in prison. While actual criminal prosecutions are rare, the law is frequently used to harass people.

“It is appalling and ironical that India would use a colonial law to oppress its homosexuals,” McKellen is quoted as saying in the interview. “India needs to grow up. India needs to realize that it doesn’t need to follow British laws anymore.”

A New Delhi court declared the law unconstitutional in 2009, but that ruling was overturned four years later when the Supreme Court decided lawmakers should make the decision. Earlier this year, the top court agreed to re-examine the issue, but has not said when it might decide on repealing the 1861 law.

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LePage joins officials from 10 states suing over Obama’s transgender directive Wed, 25 May 2016 19:03:33 +0000 Maine Gov. Paul LePage has joined officials from 10 other states in suing the Obama administration over a new directive that says public schools should let transgender students use bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The lawsuit includes the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin – all led by Republican governors and nearly all Southern, conservative states where social issues are often front and center.

LePage stands alone in signing on to the suit in his personal capacity, not as a representative of the state of Maine, where the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2014 that schools cannot discriminate against transgender students.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the action reflects his belief that “the Obama administration is continuously reckless with its overreach on states.”

“Recently, we have seen the president force overtime rules, which will have a devastating effect on our economy that has been rebounding for the past five years,” she said in an email. “And we have seen the Obama administration threaten its use of unilateral authority regarding the designation of National Monuments – an issue we currently are dealing with in our Katahdin Region. The president is dictating by fiat and governors are pushing back.”

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, said Maine law requires approval of the attorney general for anyone other than the attorney general to file an entry of appearance or represent the state in any legal matter.

“Our approval was not obtained in this case,” he said. “The governor apparently signed on in his personal capacity only. As a matter of law, the state of Maine is not a party to this lawsuit.”

This month, the Justice Department issued a federal directive to U.S. schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Although it doesn’t impose new legal requirements, the directive clarifies expectations for how schools should comply with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination by any schools or activities that receive federal funding.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement this month.

The lawsuit filed this week asks a judge to declare the directive unlawful.

According to the Associated Press, Texas was a likely candidate to rush to the courthouse first. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sued the Obama administration more than two dozen times when he was attorney general, a pace that his successor, Republican Ken Paxton, has kept up since taking office last year.

Texas’ lieutenant governor has previously said the state is willing to forfeit $10 billion in federal education dollars rather than comply with the directive.

The transgender bathroom debate has intensified since March, when the state of North Carolina passed a law that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that match the sex on their birth certificate.

Supporters of that law say it’s needed to protect women and children from sexual predators, although the Justice Department and others argue the threat is practically nonexistent and the law is discriminatory.

The Obama administration has sued, saying the law violates the Civil Rights Act. Several businesses have boycotted the state of North Carolina, and musicians such as Bruce Springsteen have canceled concerts there in protest.

LePage’s action drew swift condemnation from many on Wednesday.

Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine, an LGBT advocacy group, said he was discouraged but not surprised.

“This is the second lawsuit in a row that the governor has joined trying to eliminate protections for transgender children,” he said, referring to another case in December when the governor joined other Republican officials in signing a court brief in Virginia seeking to block a transgender boy’s challenge of his school’s bathroom policy. “It’s unfortunate that the governor is spending his time attacking children.”

Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the governor is ignoring the will of Maine people.

“Gov. LePage is trying to legalize discrimination and roll back equality that has been in place for years,” she said in a statement. “This is yet another example of the governor acting like he is above the law and like the separation of powers doesn’t apply to him. We should all be concerned that the governor is spending his time interfering in issues that don’t involve our state.”

Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland also had strong words.

“The governor and I have worked together on a lot of issues, and I’m proud of our record of finding common ground where we could. But let me be the first to say that in joining this lawsuit, the governor does not represent me, nor does he represent the people of Maine who so overwhelmingly support equality and freedom from discrimination,” he said. “When it comes to the slow, steady march toward equality, you can count on Gov. Paul LePage to be on the wrong side of history.”

The debate over bathrooms for transgender youth has been settled in Maine since 2014 when the state’s supreme court ruled that a transgender girl from Orono was discriminated against when she was told she could not use the girls’ bathroom.

Nicole Maines, now a student at the University of Maine, has become an advocate for transgender youth.

Moonen said that even if the lawsuit filed this week is successful – which he doesn’t think it will be – he believes nothing would change in Maine.

Feeley, the AG’s spokesman, agreed.

“The governor’s position in this particular matter, moreover, appears to be inconsistent with the law of Maine as enunciated by the Maine Supreme Court recently,” he said.

In February, LePage halted his Department of Education from issuing rules to project transgender students, saying the Legislature needs to pass a law first. Democrats, however, said the governor is misinterpreting the court’s decision in the Maines case.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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Hacker Guccifer pleads guilty to hacking Bush emails Wed, 25 May 2016 15:59:54 +0000 ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Romanian hacker known as Guccifer will serve at least two years in prison after pleading guilty to breaking into computer accounts of the Bush family and others.

Forty-four-year-old Marcel Lazar pleaded guilty Wednesday morning at a hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to unauthorized access to computers and identity theft. The conviction carries a mandatory minimum of two years and a possible maximum of seven years.

Lazar is best known for hacking the email account of a Bush family member and revealing private family photos and paintings connected to former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Lazar also made news earlier this month with unsubstantiated claims he hacked into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The plea deal does not address that allegation.

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Obama urges Vietnam youth to tackle climate change Wed, 25 May 2016 14:53:32 +0000 HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Wrapping up a historic visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised the country’s next generation of leaders for being more conscious of the environment than previous ones and urged them to “do something about” climate change.

During his final public event here, Obama basked in the admiration of hundreds of young leaders who participated in a town hall-style event and prefaced some of their questions to him with praise about his leadership and his “inspiring speeches.”

Obama used a question about preserving a Vietnamese cave from development to pivot to climate change, one of his top issues as president. He said Vietnam will be one of the countries most affected by the trend of warming temperatures and rising seas.

“That could have a huge impact on Vietnam’s ability to feed its people, on fishermen, on farmers, and it could be a really big problem if we don’t do something about it, so it’s going to be up to you to start,” said Obama, who routinely includes question-and-answer sessions with young leaders on his foreign trips.

“One of the great things about your generation is that you’re already much more conscious about the environment than my generation was or previous generations were,” said Obama. He had told a previous questioner that he “fooled around a lot” when he was young and wasn’t serious about school.

“I was more into basketball and girls. I wasn’t always that serious,” Obama said. “You’re already way ahead of me. That’s good.”

Obama also promoted a 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade pact that includes Vietnam but is stalled in the U.S. Congress and opposed by the three leading U.S. presidential candidates. But he avoided wading too deeply into politics when asked where he sees himself in five years, around the end of his successor’s first term. Obama has said on previous occasions that world leaders ask him all the time about the unpredictable election.

“Sometimes, our politics doesn’t express all the goodness of the people, but usually, eventually, the voters make good decisions and democracy works,” Obama said. “So I’m optimistic that we’ll get through this period.”

As for his future, Obama said he expects to stay involved with public policy issues and return to his roots as an organizer. “I’ll be like a community organizer, except a little more famous than I used to be.”

The town-hall event capped Obama’s historic visit to Vietnam. He spent three days in the capital of Hanoi, in the north, and in Ho Chi Minh City, in the south, meeting with government leaders and addressing the Vietnamese people in a speech and through less formal encounters, such as when “people were trying to take selfies” with him as he worked out in the hotel gym.

In a show of how deeply relations between the former wartime enemies had thawed, Obama announced the end of a five-decades-old ban on the sale of arms to Vietnam. He also announced that the Peace Corps would begin operating in the country for the first time.

In his appearances, Obama also pressed Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its citizens, arguing that respect for human rights would improve the communist country’s economy, stability and regional power. He returned to the issue Wednesday when a young Vietnamese woman asked about the importance of governments promoting the arts and culture.

“You’ve got to let people express themselves. That’s part of what a modern 21st century culture is all about,” Obama said.

Before the event, Obama met privately with U.S. Consulate staff and family members. The White House said the meeting included seven Foreign Service nationals who served at the U.S. Embassy during the evacuation of Saigon – the former name for Ho Chi Minh City – in 1975 during the Vietnam War.

Japan was the next and final stop on Obama’s swing through Asia, a region he says helped shape him growing up in his native Hawaii and later in Indonesia. Among the officials greeting him at the airport late Wednesday was U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.

Obama met Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before joining his counterparts for a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations opening Thursday in Shima, Japan. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe would raise the recent arrest of a former U.S. Marine in connection with the murder of a Japanese woman on the southern island of Okinawa.

Obama also planned a historic visit Friday to Hiroshima, seven decades after the U.S. ushered in the nuclear age by dropping an atomic bomb to end World War II. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.

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State Department report sharply criticizes Clinton’s email practices Wed, 25 May 2016 14:24:39 +0000 WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and her team ignored clear guidance from the State Department that her email setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers, a department audit shows. Her aides twice brushed aside concerns, in one case telling the technical staff “the matter was not to be discussed further.”

The inspector general’s review also revealed Wednesday that hacking attempts forced then-Secretary of State Clinton off email at one point in 2011, though she insists that the personal server she used was never breached. Clinton and several members of her senior staff declined to be interviewed for the investigation.

Earlier this month, Clinton declared that she was happy to “talk to anybody, anytime” about the matter and would encourage her staff to do the same.

Opponents of her Democratic presidential campaign pointed to the audit as proof that Clinton has not been truthful about her private email and fresh evidence that she is not trustworthy or qualified to be commander in chief.

Campaigning in California, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump noted solemnly that Clinton had received “a little bad news” and then railed against her “horribly bad judgment.”

Clinton, also campaigning in California, didn’t mention the controversy and ignored reporters’ shouted questions. A spokesman for Clinton, who was the nation’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, declared that the audit showed her email use was consistent with what others in the department have done.

The 78-page analysis, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says Clinton ignored clear directives. She never sought approval to conduct government business over private email, and never demonstrated that the server or the Blackberry she used while in office “met minimum information security requirements.”

Twice in 2010, the State Department’s information management staff raised concerns that Clinton’s email practices failed to meet federal records-keeping requirements. The staff’s director responded that Clinton’s personal email system had been reviewed and approved by the legal staff, “and that the matter was not to be discussed any further.”

The audit found no evidence of a legal staff review or approval. It said any such request would have been denied by senior information officers because of security risks.

The inspector general’s inquiry was prompted by revelations of Clinton’s email use, a subject that has dogged her presidential campaign.

The review encompassed the email and information practices of the past five secretaries of state, finding them “slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks associated with electronic data communications, particularly as those risks pertain to its most senior leadership.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon underscored that point Wednesday.

“The inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” Fallon said.

The audit did note that former Secretary of State Colin Powell exclusively used a private email account, though it did not name any other prior secretaries who had done so. But the failings of Clinton were singled out in the audit as being more serious than her predecessor’s.

“By Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the department’s guidance was considerably more detailed and more sophisticated,” the report concluded. “Secretary Clinton’s cybersecurity practices accordingly must be evaluated in light of these more comprehensive directives.”

Republicans said Wednesday that the audit shows Clinton was in clear violation of the Federal Records Act and endangered national security.

The State Department has released more than 52,000 pages of Clinton’s work-related emails, including some that have since been classified. Clinton has withheld thousands of additional emails, saying they were personal.

Critics have questioned whether her server might have made a tempting target for hackers, especially those working with or for foreign intelligence services.

Separately from the State Department audit, the FBI has been investigating whether Clinton’s use of the private email server imperiled government secrets. It has recently interviewed Clinton’s top aides, including former chief of staff Cheryl Mills and deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin. Clinton is expected to be interviewed.

Clinton has acknowledged in the campaign that the homebrew email setup in her New York home was a mistake. She said she never sent or received anything marked classified at the time, and said hackers never breached the server.

The audit said a Clinton aide had to shut down the server on Jan. 9, 2011, because he believed “someone was trying to hack us.” Later that day, he said: “We were attacked again so I shut (the server) down for a few min.”

The next day, a senior official told two of Clinton’s top aides not to email their boss “anything sensitive,” saying she could “explain more in person.”

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” this month, Clinton said, “I’ve made it clear that I’m more than ready to talk to anybody, anytime. And I’ve encouraged all of (my staff) to be very forthcoming.”

The audit said four of her closest State Department aides – Mills, Abedin, policy chief Jake Sullivan and strategy aide Philippe Reines – all declined interview requests.

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Ex-Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee bidding to become next Vermont governor Wed, 25 May 2016 14:14:47 +0000 BURLINGTON, Vt. — A former Major League Baseball player is running for governor in Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union party, which bills itself as nonviolent and socialist.

Bill “Spaceman” Lee tells WCAX-TV voters will “need umbrellas” if he’s elected because “it’s going to be raining dollars,” referring to money trickling down from the wealthy.

Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1969 to 1978. He was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

Lee says he’s a “pragmatic, conservative, forward thinker.” He supports legalizing marijuana, a single-payer health care system and paid family leave.

Four other candidates — including a Google executive — are also running.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders first ran for office in Vermont — unsuccessfully — as a Liberty Union candidate.

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Court refuses to overturn arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange Wed, 25 May 2016 13:34:58 +0000 HELSINKI — A Swedish court has turned down a request to overturn the arrest warrant of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Stockholm District Court says it made the decision because Assange is still wanted for questioning in a case of suspected rape and there is a possibility he might evade prosecution.

The court said Wednesday that no new circumstances had come to light warranting another detention hearing.

Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, is wanted for questioning by Swedish police over rape allegations when he visited the country in 2010.

The court said that it disagrees with an earlier U.N. panel hearing, which found Assange’s stay at the embassy constitutes arbitrary detention.

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Putin to pardon Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko Wed, 25 May 2016 12:46:44 +0000 KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin says in televised comments that he has decided to pardon Ukrainian pilot Nadezda Savchenko, who has become the national rallying cause in Ukraine.

Putin was shown on national television on Wednesday meeting two young women described as relatives of the two Russian journalists who were killed in a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine in June 2014. Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in prison by Russia for the involvement in that attack.

Putin says he made the decision to release Savchenko after the relatives of the killed journalists petitioned him to show mercy to Savchenko.

Russia on Wednesday released Savchenko as part of a swap for two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin’s spokesman confirmed that the plane carrying Savchenko from Rostov-on-Don had landed Wednesday at Kiev’s Borispol Airport.

Savchenko was swapped for two Russian servicemen imprisoned in Ukraine, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev. Russian state television showed them arriving at a Moscow airport on Wednesday.

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The federal government spends billions to run ancient computer systems Wed, 25 May 2016 12:36:30 +0000 WASHINGTON — The government is spending about three-fourths of its technology budget maintaining aging computer systems, including platforms more than 50 years old in vital areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. One still uses floppy disks.

In a report to be released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators say the increasing cost of maintaining museum-ready equipment devours money better spent on modernization.

Despite a White House push to replace aging workhorse systems, the budget for modernization has fallen, and will be $7 billion less in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office. The report was provided to The Associated Press ahead of a House oversight committee hearing.

GAO said it found problems across the government, not just in a few agencies. Among those highlighted in the report:

— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon is initiating a full replacement and says the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.

— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old, and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems, but has no firm dates.

— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system, but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.

— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, but facing challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.

— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information relied on by regulators. The system is about 41 years old, and some of its software is no longer supported by vendors, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.

GAO estimates that the government spent at least $80 billion on information technology, or IT, in 2015. However, the total could be significantly higher. Not counted in the report are certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.

“Legacy federal IT investments are becoming obsolete,” GAO concluded. “The federal government runs the risk of continuing to maintain investments that have outlived their effectiveness and are consuming resources that outweigh their benefits.”

The report also profiled aging systems operated by the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Veterans Affairs.

The White House has been nudging agencies to identify obsolete systems and start replacing them, but GAO said that clearer, more specific goals and timetables are needed. A starting point could be recent legislation supported by the White House to create a revolving fund of $3 billion for replacing or upgrading older technology. It seems certain that President Barack Obama’s successor will have to grapple with the issue.

“The federal government is years and in some cases decades behind the private sector,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. “Taxpayers deserve a government that leverages technology to serve them, rather than one that deploys insecure, decades-old technology that places their sensitive and personal information at risk.”

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Afghan Taliban chooses new leader but opposition quickly emerges Wed, 25 May 2016 09:49:52 +0000 KABUL, Afghanistan – A little-known extremist cleric was chosen Wednesday to be the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, just days after a U.S. drone strike killed his predecessor.

But within hours of the Taliban’s announcement that the group’s council of leaders had unanimously selected Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, opposition to him emerged – a sign that rifts within the insurgency could widen and possibly drive the Taliban further from peace talks with the government of Afghanistan.

The Taliban called on all Muslims to support Akhundzada as a matter of religious obligation and declared three days of official mourning for Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour, who was slain Saturday by a U.S. drone in Pakistan.

The announcement came as a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying court employees in Kabul, killing at least 11 people, an official said. The Taliban promptly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan government officials took the opportunity of Akhundzada’s ascension to again offer direct negotiations aimed at ending the Taliban’s 15-year insurgency. Both Kabul and Washington considered Mansour to be an obstacle to the peace process.

The office of President Ashraf Ghani said the latest developments brought the Taliban “yet another opportunity to end and renounce violence, lay down their arms, and resume a normal and peaceful life.”

Deputy presidential spokesman Zafar Hashemi said if the Taliban decide against joining the peace process, “they will face the fate of their leadership.”

Hours after the Taliban’s statement on their new leader was made to the media, the head of a main dissident faction that broke away last year to protest Mansour’s elevation said the group would not accept Akhundzada either.

The breakaway faction, led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool, did not appear to object so much to Akhundzada as to the closed and undemocratic manner of the selection process by the council, which is believed to have met in Pakistan. Rasool’s splinter group is based in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, and has fought fierce battles in the south with Mansour loyalists.

Rasool’s deputy, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, said the faction would not accept Akhundzada’s leadership for the same reason they rejected Mansour: He was elected by a small clique of Pakistan-based insiders with little input from the rank-and-file or field commanders in Afghanistan.

“For us, the issue with Mullah Akhtar Mansour and this Haibatullah is the same,” Niazi said. “We were not against Mullah Akhtar Mansour but the way he was selected, and yet again they sit together and choose one another. … We will not accept him as a new leader until and unless all religious scholars and tribal elders sit together and appoint a new leader.”


Akhundzada, believed to be in his 50s, is a religious scholar who was the Taliban’s chief justice before his appointment as a deputy to Mansour. He is known for public statements justifying the Taliban’s extremist tactics and their war against the Afghan government.

His views are regarded as hawkish, and he is expected to continue the aggressive style of Mansour, who refused offers to negotiate with the Kabul government and launched a series of bold attacks during his brief and divisive rule.

Akhundzada is regarded as a convincing orator and was close to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, who consulted with him on religious matters.

A member of the Noorzai tribe, Akhundzada comes from a line of religious scholars and heads a string of madrassas, or religious schools, across Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province.

Pakistani authorities have long been accused by both Kabul and Washington of giving shelter and support to some Taliban leaders – an accusation that Islamabad denies. The insurgents have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001, when their own Islamic regime was removed by the U.S. invasion.

Mansour officially became leader of the Taliban last summer, when the 2013 death of Mullah Omar was revealed, but he is believed to have run the movement in Mullah Omar’s name. The revelation of Mansour’s apparent deception led to widespread mistrust among senior Taliban commanders, with several factions breaking away and fighting Mansour loyalists in Afghanistan’s poppy-growing southern Taliban heartland.


Senior Taliban figures had hoped Mansour’s death and Akhundzada’s ascension could help heal some of those rifts. A former foreign minister under the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Ghous, told The Associated Press that Akhundzada was well-respected inside the movement and choosing him as leader was “a very wise decision.”

The Taliban statement also said two new deputies to Akhundzada have been appointed – both of whom had earlier been considered to be among the main contenders for the top job.

One of them is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was also one of Mansour’s deputies and who leads the notorious Haqqani network – the faction behind some of the most ferocious attacks in Afghanistan since 2001. The other is the son of Mullah Omar, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, who controls the Taliban military commissions for 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Akhundzada’s appointment came as a surprise to some, including Ghous, who said that despite not being a top contender but a “third candidate,” the new leader would rise above any personal animosity or conflict that might have arisen had either Haqqani or Yaqoub been chosen.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

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Protests turn violent outside Trump rally Wed, 25 May 2016 04:21:28 +0000 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In one of the presidential campaign year’s more grisly spectacles, protesters in New Mexico opposing Donald Trump’s candidacy threw burning T-shirts, plastic bottles and other items at police officers, injuring several, and toppled trash cans and barricades.

Police responded by firing pepper spray and smoke grenades into the crowd outside the Albuquerque Convention Center.

During the rally, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, who shouted, held up banners and resisted removal by security officers.

The banners included the messages “Trump is Fascist” and “We’ve heard enough.”

At one point, a female protester was physically dragged from the stands by security. Other protesters scuffled with security as they resisted removal from the convention center, which was packed with thousands of loud and cheering Trump supporters.

Trump responded with his usual bluster, instructing security to remove the protesters and mocking their actions by telling them to “Go home to mommy.”

He responded to one demonstrator by asking, “How old is this kid?” Then he provided his own answer: “Still wearing diapers.”

Trump’s supporters responded with chants of “Build that wall!”

Trump later tweeted “Great rally in New Mexico, amazing crowd!”

Riot police block off the Albuquerque Convention Center to anti-Trump protests following a rally and speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the convention center where the event was held in Albuquerque.

Riot police block off the Albuquerque Convention Center to anti-Trump protests following a rally and speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the convention center where the event was held in Albuquerque.

The altercations left glass at the entrance of the convention center smashed.

Albuquerque attorney Doug Antoon said rocks were flying through the convention center windows as he was leaving Tuesday night. Glass was breaking and landing near his feet.

“This was not a protest, this was a riot. These are hate groups,” he said of the demonstrators.

Albuquerque police said several officers were treated for injuries after getting hit by rocks thrown by protesters. At least one person was arrested from the riot, police said.

During the rally, protesters outside overran barricades and clashed with police in riot gear. They also burned T-shirts and other items labeled with Trump’s catchphrase, “Make America Great Again.”

Tuesday marked Trump’s first stop in New Mexico, the nation’s most Hispanic state. Gov. Susana Martinez, head of the Republican Governors Association and the nation’s only Latina governor, has harshly criticized his remarks on immigrants and has attacked his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The governor did not attend the rally and has yet to make an endorsement.

A woman waves the Mexican flag while driving past the Albuquerque Convention Center after a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

A woman waves the Mexican flag while driving past the Albuquerque Convention Center after a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Trump read off a series of negative statistics about the state, including an increase in the number of people on food stamps.

“We have to get your governor to get going. She’s got to do a better job, OK?” he said, adding: “Hey, maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going.”

The governor’s office fired back, saying Martinez has fought for welfare reform.

“The potshots weren’t about policy, they were about politics,” said spokesman Michael Lonergan. “And the Governor will not be bullied into supporting a candidate until she is convinced that candidate will fight for New Mexicans, and she did not hear that today.”

Trump supporters at the rally said they appreciated his stance on boosting border security and stemming the flow of people crossing the border illegally, but some said they were frightened by the violent protests outside.

Karla Molinar, a University of New Mexico student, said she participated in disrupting Trump’s speech because she felt he was attacking members of her family who are living in the country illegally. She said she believes Trump is using them as scapegoats for the nation’s problems.

]]> 20, 25 May 2016 08:33:36 +0000
To the letter, Spanish police suspect they’re being defamed Wed, 25 May 2016 02:18:18 +0000 MADRID — A woman may be fined under the country’s public security law for carrying a bag bearing the initials A.C.A.B., which police interpreted to stand for “All Cops Are Bastards” and not “All Cats Are Beautiful,” as was written on the bag.

A spokesman said Tuesday the type and coloring of the lettering are traditionally associated with the insult to police.

The fine of between $112 to $672 was proposed under the 2015 Public Security Law nicknamed the “gag law,” which has been criticized by opposition parties, United Nations experts and journalists and rights groups, who say it curtails free assembly and expression. Opposition parties say they will ditch the law if they get into government.

The A.C.A.B. slogan has long been used to insult police on T-shirts and graffiti, while the cat wording is seen by some as a way of concealing it.

The “gag law” allows the expulsion of migrants illegally entering Spain’s two North African enclaves, sets stiff fines for protests outside Parliament or strategic installations and allows authorities to fine journalists and media organizations who distribute unauthorized images of police. In this case, the alleged offense was a lack of respect for police.

The measure was drawn up following a wave of anti-government protests in 2012 as Spain was in the throes of the financial crisis.

]]> 0 Tue, 24 May 2016 22:18:18 +0000
In Vietnam, Obama tempers his critique Wed, 25 May 2016 01:57:01 +0000 HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — When President Obama met with human rights advocates and other activists Tuesday, he spoke of the “remarkable strides” Vietnam was making on a range of issues. Nguyen Quang A missed the meeting: That morning, the 70-year-old activist said, security men grabbed his arms and legs, threw him in a car and drove him into the countryside, where they held him until Obama left town.

The episode in Hanoi was a measure of both the progress and the unfinished business as the U.S. and Vietnam move from one-time enemies to full partners with stronger economic and security ties.

For all the lusty cheers and warm welcomes that Obama has gotten during his time in Vietnam, the transformation clearly is still very much a work in progress.

Three activists were prevented from attending Obama’s meeting with civic leaders, the White House acknowledged, and even administration protests lodged with the Vietnamese government couldn’t change that.

In his public remarks, though, Obama chose to focus on the positive and tread lightly on the setbacks.

“Vietnam has made remarkable strides in many ways – the economy is growing quickly, the Internet is booming and there’s a growing confidence here,” Obama told reporters after his meeting with the activists. But then he added: “There are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, accountability with respect to government.”

Later, in a speech to more than 2,000 Vietnamese citizens, including students and government officials, Obama again took up the matter of human rights carefully, saying that “no nation is perfect” and listing the United States’ own shortcomings first. He ticked them off: “too much money in our politics, and rising economic inequality, racial bias in our criminal justice system, women still not being paid as much as men doing the same job.”

Only then did Obama address the Vietnamese government’s own need to do more to respect human rights. He made his argument on economic grounds:

“When there is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and when people can share ideas and access the Internet and social media without restriction, that fuels the innovation economies need to thrive,” Obama said. “That’s where new ideas happen. That’s how a Facebook starts. “

A, one of the activists prevented from meeting with Obama, said the president’s human rights push was a difficult balancing act.

“I would welcome it if he had been a bit stronger,” A said of Obama. But then he added that human rights advocates are idealists, and politicians “have to consider so many other things.”

Other human rights advocates were less willing to cut Obama slack.

“Vietnam has demonstrated itself that it doesn’t deserve the closer ties the U.S. is offering,” said John Sifton, Asia policy director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “It’s like Vietnam is putting on a demonstration for Obama of their repressive governance.”

From Hanoi, Obama traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where he held out his own schedule as a metaphor for the country’s transition toward economic powerhouse.

He went first to the century-old Jade Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s cultural treasures, then sped a few miles by motorcade to Dreamplex, a hip workplace for startups and entrepreneurs.

Obama said it was emblematic of Vietnam’s evolution as a country honoring its history but “boldly racing into the future.”

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 21:57:01 +0000
Suit in Texas alleges charter school network illegally solicits and overpays Turkish staff Wed, 25 May 2016 01:09:48 +0000 A complaint filed Tuesday with Texas education officials accuses a charter-school network of abusing a visa program to import large numbers of Turkish teachers and violating state and federal laws by paying them more than American teachers.

The complaint also asserts that the network, Harmony Public Schools, skirts competitive bidding rules to award contracts to Turkish vendors.

Harmony denounced the complaint as politically motivated and without merit.

It was filed by attorney Robert Amsterdam, who was hired by the Turkish government to investigate some 150 publicly funded U.S. charter schools started by followers of a reclusive Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, is a political foe of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has launched a crackdown on Gulen and his moderate Islamic movement in Turkey.

“The allegations filed today with the Texas Education Agency by an agent of the President of Turkey are nothing more than a politically-motivated rehash of old claims and complaints that have been heard and investigated previously and found to be without merit,” Soner Tarim, a founding member and CEO of Harmony, said in a statement.

In a news release, Amsterdam accused the Harmony schools of using taxpayer money to “finance an illegal … visa scheme that places underqualified Turkish teachers into key positions in its schools, while simultaneously underpaying its more qualified non-Turkish teachers.”

He charged that Harmony funnels money to Gulen’s movement. Gulen has repeatedly denied any connection.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said officials are reviewing Amsterdam’s complaint and will decide whether an investigation is warranted.

]]> 1 Tue, 24 May 2016 21:09:48 +0000
LGBT rights take center stage in budget battle Wed, 25 May 2016 00:16:38 +0000 The House is headed for another showdown over LGBT rights this week as Democrats plan to revive a measure to bar the government from paying contractors that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., failed last week despite originally appearing to have enough votes to pass. Democrats accused House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., of forcing seven GOP members to switch their votes to kill the language.

Now Maloney, who is openly gay, plans to try again. Maloney said Tuesday that he would try and attach his proposal to the energy and water spending bill scheduled to be debated in the House this week – that measure is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday.

“There is a majority in the House of Representatives right now to oppose discrimination in the workplace,” Maloney said in an interview. “Really, the only way discrimination is going to win is if Kevin McCarthy keeps rigging the votes.”

LGBT rights have sparked an intense political debate around the country and last week, exploded onto the House floor when Maloney tried to include his language about federal contractors in a military construction and veterans affairs bill. The episode signaled the start of what is likely to be a long and controversial battle over so-called religious liberty and other LGBT measures in the context of the congressional budget process.

Because the 12 spending bills are among the only must-pass legislation on Congress’s plate, supporters and defenders of such measures are likely to use them as vehicles for such proposals.

Congressional Republican leaders acknowledged Tuesday that LGBT concerns could hamstring the budget process, and that they were engaged in a discussion with their members.

“Leaders have spoken to members about the best way to proceed in a way that will keep the appropriations on track,” said a GOP aide on Tuesday.

But that won’t stop Democrats from slamming Republicans on the issue.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., spoke out on Tuesday about Maloney’s original attempt to attach his anti-discrimination language to last week’s spending bill. He said GOP leaders pushed members to oppose the measure after conservatives threatened to tank the overall bill if it contained the language.

“I’m sure there will be opportunities and there will be additional amendments offered so that we have a country that is dealing with people equally, fairly and justly,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said that scuffle last week proves that the anti-discrimination measure has enough support to pass as long as Republican leaders allow members to vote their conscience.

As part of their pledge to maintain regular order, McCarthy and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., have said they are committed to maintaining an open amendment process, allowing any member to introduce language once a bill hits the House floor.

But Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., – who sponsored last week’s energy and veterans spending bill – and many House Democrats said what transpired was not consistent with that spirit.

“On the one hand, many of our members want regular order and an open process but when they get it several threaten to vote against the underlying bill,” Dent said in an interview. “You can’t have it both ways.”

]]> 0, 25 May 2016 07:55:28 +0000
U.S. to seek death penalty in Charleston church massacre Tue, 24 May 2016 21:37:59 +0000 WASHINGTON – The Justice Department intends to seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing nine black parishioners last year in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday.

“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision,” Lynch said in a brief statement that said the department had considered “all relevant factual and legal issues.”

Roof is awaiting trial on federal hate crime charges in connection with the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church, which contributed to a national conversation about race relations and also led to the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse.

Roof is also charged with nine counts of murder in state court, and South Carolina prosecutors have already announced plans to seek the death penalty when he stands trial next year.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 17:53:51 +0000
New Hampshire toughens charges against drug dealers Tue, 24 May 2016 20:42:09 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. – When Kevin Manchester was arraigned on charges of selling drugs in February, prosecutors alleged he knew his buyers were overdosing but he kept selling anyway.

In a fresh indictment announced Monday, the 27-year-old is being held responsible for the death of Michelle MacLeod, who overdosed in January on fentanyl he allegedly sold her. The charge is called “death resulting,” and it carries a potential life sentence but doesn’t rise to the level of murder.

It comes as the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office mounts an aggressive effort to make dealers criminally liable for deaths from the drugs they sell.

“If somebody knows what they’re selling is deadly, I don’t see it as a lot different than selling poison to somebody,” Attorney General Joe Foster said.

Foster’s office announced efforts to treat overdoses as crimes roughly six months ago, and MacLeod’s case is one of at least 40 that have been referred to his office for a criminal investigation since. No one has been charged with murder, but Foster said someone could be if the right evidence exists. Both murder and death resulting charges carry potential life sentences with the possibility of parole.

The death resulting charge isn’t new; how frequently New Hampshire police and prosecutors use it is. Foster expects the number of cases to grow after a training effort begins in June to teach police officers statewide what to look for at crime scenes to link dealers to the deaths. But critics say pursuing criminal charges against dealers, many of whom are addicts themselves, is a step in the wrong direction that continues a failed war on drugs.

Deaths from fentanyl in particular are on prosecutors’ radar. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin, contributed to 280 of the state’s roughly 430 overdose deaths in 2015. Investigating deaths as crimes may also help generate evidence to crack down on distribution channels, prosecutors said.

Similar efforts are underway in New Jersey. The Ocean County prosecutor’s office has pursued manslaughter charges in 23 drug overdose cases since 2013, prosecutor Joe Coronato said. The initiative began “out of desperation” after 112 people in the county died from drugs in a single year, he said. He said law enforcement is just one piece of the puzzle in fighting the drug crisis, alongside providing adequate prevention, treatment and recovery services.

“We want people to know that they’re going to be accountable for their actions,” he said. “Even if somebody is a small-town dealer, we’re still going to hold you accountable.”

Criminal defense attorney Cathy Green argues that’s the wrong approach.

“Prosecuting addicts is not the way to deter or solve the opioid epidemic,” said Green, a Manchester-based attorney who has represented defendants in drug cases.

She said there’s a difference between addicts who sell and use as part of the cycle of addiction versus high-level drug dealers. She cautioned against using money and resources to strengthen enforcement against low-level drug dealers rather than providing more treatment options.

“Just because you can charge somebody doesn’t mean that you should,” she said.

Agati and Foster said a dealer’s personal circumstances would be taken into account during the sentencing phase.

Manchester, the latest New Hampshire resident to face a death resulting charge, will be arraigned Thursday in Nashua. The prosecutor at his February arraignment on other drug charges said Manchester was a “danger to the community as well as himself,” according to the Nashua Telegraph.

Manchester, for his part, told the court he wants help and would go to a treatment program if given the chance, the newspaper reported.

“I’m just an addict,” he said. “I don’t want to live this life.”

]]> 4 Tue, 24 May 2016 19:01:12 +0000
Massachusetts rescue farm overwhelmed with goats Tue, 24 May 2016 19:46:10 +0000 METHUEN, Mass. – An animal rescue farm in Massachusetts is experiencing a goat overload and is seeking the public’s help.

The MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen recently received nearly 50 goats and is asking people to step forward and give them new homes.

The goats are an assortment of alpine, pygmy and angora mixes. They were voluntarily turned over by an owner in Montague who couldn’t handle the growing herd. Some are nursing kids and pregnant does.

Nevins Farm barn manager Gia Barss says people who want to adopt the goats should have experience raising them and be willing to adopt more than one because goats are highly social.

Most of the goats tested positive for a bacteria that causes intestinal upset and parasitic infections, but they’re expected to recover.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 15:52:23 +0000
Obama takes a gamble with killing of Taliban chief Tue, 24 May 2016 18:38:02 +0000 The Obama administration’s decision to kill Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in his Pakistani sanctuary signals that the White House has given up on peace talks for the moment and is willing to roll the dice on trying to undercut the insurgency by decapitating its leadership.

The operation represented a break in the administration’s approach to the war, as it had never launched a concerted effort to take out Taliban leaders based in Pakistan despite repeated pleas from Washington’s allies in the Afghan government.

But with efforts to kick-start peace negotiations going nowhere and the Taliban not even bothering to show up for talks, President Barack Obama gave the green light for the U.S. military to launch its first-ever drone strike in the anarchic Pakistani region of Baluchistan. The rhetoric the U.S. Defense Department used to explain the strike was notable in its emphasis on the Taliban chief’s diplomatic role rather than his military one: “Mansour has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government.”

The stakes for the administration’s gamble in killing Mansour couldn’t be higher. The White House hopes the strike will inflict a lasting blow on the Taliban, undercutting the group’s capacity to carry out attacks, sapping morale and disrupting long-term planning, akin to the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, which had a debilitating effect on the terrorist group’s ability to carry out overseas attacks. But it could wind up prolonging the war by permanently fracturing the insurgency and complicating any attempt at a political settlement.


There’s reason to assume the worst. When the Taliban acknowledged last August that its reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had been dead for two years, it was unclear how the insurgency’s foot soldiers would respond. But after the revelation, there was no letup in the scale and frequency of the Taliban’s attacks in Afghanistan. If anything, the group has stepped up the pace of its strikes, including large-scale attacks in the capital Kabul – and has enjoyed more battlefield gains than it has in years.

Since last September, the Taliban – under Mansour’s hand – have mounted an escalating offensive against Afghan government forces across the country, from Kunduz in the north to Helmand province in the south, gaining territory and killing hundreds of troops and civilians. The Taliban initiated about 800 to 1,000 attacks per month in the second half of 2015, according to the Pentagon. In September 2015, the Taliban seized the city of Kunduz in what was an embarrassing setback for Kabul. Afghan forces, backed by American air power, pushed the group out two weeks later but at an enormous cost: An accidental U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital left 42 people dead.


With no clear successor, the killing of the Taliban chief opens the door to a power struggle in the already divided insurgency. Speculation as to who will take over the Taliban has focused on Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mohammad Yaqub; former Guantánamo detainee and senior commander Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir; and Mansour’s senior deputies, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Moulavi Haibatullah Akhunzada. All four are considered to be even more hard-line than Mansour, which could portend even bloodier attacks on civilian targets inside Afghanistan and even less willingness to take part in peace talks.

Still, the impact of Mansour’s death on the peace process is far from clear, and many of the world’s top regional analysts remain divided over whether his killing will help jump-start the long-stalled negotiations or, in fact, doom any attempt at national reconciliation.

“The strike would never have taken place if there were any prospects for peace talks coming together in the near term,” said Andrew Small, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “The fact that it happened is a reflection of how much people had given up on this coming together this year.”

Washington, at least publicly, says it believes talks are still the best way to end Afghanistan’s carnage. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told FP the United States continues to support an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process for a negotiated resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.”

“All groups, including the Taliban, should be part of such a dialogue so that Afghans can talk to other Afghans about the future of their country,” he added.


The prospects for a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government peaked last July following a breakthrough round of talks between the two sides in Murree, Pakistan. But the reported death of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar not long after derailed the negotiations and led to a postponement of future talks as an internal power struggle ensued between Mullah Omar’s successors. Mansour – who had deep roots in the insurgency and even served as the Taliban’s aviation minister in the 1990s – eventually wound up on top.

“It was clear [Mansour] was the leader of the Taliban,” a U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Senior deputies were handling day-to-day tactical operations while Mansour was concentrating on its military and political strategy, including efforts to persuade breakaway factions to rejoin the insurgency, the official said.

The failure of peace talks to materialize in March further damaged the credibility of the Pakistani government, which the United States and China had pressured to help bring the Taliban to the table.

In February, following the meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group – Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the United States – Pakistani diplomats raised expectations about a new round of direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in March. But that too failed to materialize after a Taliban bomb-and-gun assault on a government intelligence agency in Kabul slaughtered nearly 70 people in the group’s deadliest attack on the capital since it was thrown from power in 2001. The attack, which injured hundreds of people, prompted calls for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to abandon plans to engage in peace talks.

Small and other experts said the strike could prove useful because it raises the costs for the Taliban to avoid the peace talks. “The problem has been that not taking part in the reconciliation process became a cost-free proposition,” he said. “Now that’s no longer the case.”


But others say the killing of Mansour could actually make the Taliban’s return to the negotiating table even more unlikely.

That’s because despite 10 months of uncooperative behavior from the militant group on peace talks, Mansour may have been the Taliban leader most open to reconciliation and most capable of speaking for the entire group or instructing others to do so. By contrast, his potential successors are likely to aggressively oppose the peace process, said Marvin Weinbaum, a Pakistan expert at the Middle East Institute.

“His chief competitor for leadership, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a former Guantánamo prisoner, had regularly attacked Mansour for his conciliatory moves and close links to Pakistan,” Weinbaum said, adding that Zakir’s rival, Sirajuddin Haqqani, “has the reputation of being a ruthless, radical ideologue opposed to dialogue.”

That dynamic correlates with research done by terrorism analyst Max Abrahms of Northeastern University, who has not found a significant reduction in violence following the targeting of militant chiefs in most cases.

“I’ve found that decapitation strikes can be counterproductive because the successor is not more moderate,” Abrahms said. “In fact, just the opposite is true, and the replacement is actually more extreme.”

He pointed to two studies he conducted in 2015 looking at the behavior of militant groups around the world in the aftermath of a decapitation. The studies find that the groups become more extreme and tend to increase their attacks on civilian populations.

Even if the next Taliban leader is more moderate, he may have a weak hold on power, forcing him to rally his subordinates against the Afghan government in order to unite the various Taliban factions.


There’s also the possibility that taking out Mansour could trigger in-fighting that sets back peace talks by preventing any one leader from being able to negotiate for the group as a whole.

“The strike is likely to sow some confusion within the Taliban and interrupt some of the insurgency’s fighting plans,” said Scott Worden, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “But a more fractured movement can make peace negotiations more difficult. While Mansour’s death may buy the government some breathing room, it is unlikely to bring Afghanistan closer to the long-term strategic goal of peace.”

But given the serious threats to the Afghan government’s rule – only expected to increase during the summer fighting season – the value of disrupting the Taliban may be worth the price. “Throwing the Taliban into some disarray and shaking things up is probably a good tactic, given that the peace talks weren’t working,” said Daniel Markey, a Pakistan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Afghan officials were elated over the operation, with many in Kabul interpreting it as a sign that the United States was committed to helping it defeat the Taliban.

The strike also represented a boost for Ghani, who has presided over a dramatic security deterioration in the wake of the withdrawal of the U.S.-led force, which has dwindled to about 12,000 troops.

Ghani had come into office promising to shore up relations with neighboring Pakistan in a bid to breathe life into stalled peace talks with the Taliban, but he came away empty-handed.

“He was seen as having failed, as having been weak, been outwitted and manipulated by the Pakistanis,” said David Sedney, a former senior policy advisor at the Pentagon on Afghanistan and Pakistan who has just returned from Kabul.

But the strike against Mansour has given Ghani a new lease on his political life and allows him to point to a success thanks to his close ties with the United States. “It has bought him not only time but a huge amount of political capital,” Sedney said.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 15:33:07 +0000
Remains from EgyptAir suggest explosion, forensics official says Tue, 24 May 2016 17:58:33 +0000 CAIRO – Human remains retrieved from the crash site of EgyptAir Flight 804 have burn marks and are very small in size, suggesting an explosion on board may have downed the aircraft in the east Mediterranean, a senior Egyptian forensics official said Tuesday.

“The logical explanation is that an explosion brought it down,” the official told The Associated Press.

The official, who is part of the Egyptian team investigating the crash that killed all 66 people on board the flight from Paris to Cairo early last Thursday, has personally examined the remains at a Cairo morgue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

However, the head of the government’s forensic agency later Tuesday dismissed as speculation all media reports about human remains from the crash indicating an explosion.

“Whatever has been published is baseless and mere assumptions,” Hisham Abdel-Hamid told Egypt’s state MENA news agency.

A statement from the government’s investigative committee also warned media outlets to be cautious about what is published “to avoid chaos and spreading false rumors and damaging the state’s high interests and national security.”

The Egyptian expert told the AP that all 80 pieces that have been brought to Cairo so far are very small. “There isn’t even a whole body part, like an arm or a head,” said the official, adding that one piece was the left part of a head.

He said the body parts are “so tiny” and that at least one piece of a human arm has signs of burns – an indication it might have “belonged to a passenger sitting next to the explosion.”

“But I cannot say what caused the blast,” he said. He did not say whether traces of explosives were found on the human remains retrieved so far.


The expert’s comments mark a new dramatic twist surrounding last week’s crash, which still remains a mystery. The plane’s black boxes have yet to be found and photographs of retrieved debris published by the Egyptian military over the weekend were not charred and appear to show no signs of fire.

Egyptian officials have said they believe terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure, or some other catastrophic event, and some aviation experts have said the erratic flight reported by the Greek defense minister suggests a bomb blast or a struggle in the cockpit.

But so far no hard evidence has emerged on the cause of the disaster.

Also Tuesday, the investigative team led by Ayman al-Moqadem issued its second report on the case, saying that so far pieces of the plane wreckage have been taken to Cairo in 18 batches. It added that the priority is to locate the black boxes and to retrieve more bodies.


France’s aviation accident investigation agency would not comment on anything involving the bodies or say whether any information has surfaced in the investigation to indicate an explosion.

A French patrol boat took one doctor on board to help with searches when and if the body parts are found. But the French Navy said that if it finds debris and body parts, this would be first reported to Egyptian authorities and French justice officials.

In a search for clues, family members of the victims gave been arriving during the day Tuesday at the Cairo morgue forensics’ department to give DNA samples to help identify the remains of their kin, a security official said. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Also, a technical team from Egypt’s forensic medicine department went to a hotel near the Cairo International Airport where relatives of the victims are gathered to take DNA samples to use in identifying the bodies.

The EgyptAir crash shocked a nation struggling to revive its ailing economy and contain a resilient insurgency by Islamic militants.


Safety onboard Egyptian aircraft and at the country’s airports have been under close international scrutiny since a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last October, killing all 224 people on board, shortly after taking off from an Egyptian resort. The crash – claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai and blamed by Moscow on an explosive device planted on board – decimated Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry, which had already been battered by years of turmoil in the country.

If mechanical or structural failure is found to be behind the crash of Flight 804, that would deal another severe blow to both tourism and the national carrier. If downed by an act of terror, the Egyptians can point to security at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, from which the plane took off.

Egypt has dispatched a submarine to search for the flight’s black boxes and a French ship joined the international effort to locate the wreckage and search for the plane’s data recorders.

Ships and planes from Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece and the United States are also taking part in the search for the debris from the aircraft, including the black boxes.

Associated Press writers Angela Charlton and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 15:34:38 +0000
Nurse from Maine acquitted on drug charges in N.H. Tue, 24 May 2016 16:08:59 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — A nurse accused of diverting drugs at a New Hampshire hospital has been acquitted of four charges and jurors couldn’t reach a verdict on seven others after 12 hours of deliberation.

The Concord Monitor reports jurors handed down the decision on Monday against 47-year-old Kerry Bridges.

Prosecutors say the Warren, Maine, woman stole liquid painkillers and wrote bogus medication orders from doctors. But defense attorney Jim Moir says there was no evidence that his client committed the crime.

The traveling nurse worked at Concord Hospital for five weeks last year and was fired when the allegations came to light.

Assistant County Attorney Brooke Belanger says prosecutors haven’t determined whether they will pursue another trial on the seven undecided counts against Bridges.

]]> 2 Tue, 24 May 2016 12:54:52 +0000
Republican governors ask FCC to address illegal prison cellphones Tue, 24 May 2016 16:03:30 +0000 COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is among 10 Republican governors urging the Federal Communications Commission to give states more autonomy in combatting cellphone use by inmates who have them illegally in prison.

Haley on Monday wrote to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler encouraging him to give states “flexibility and authority” to deal with the issue, universally seen as a security threat.

States need FCC permission to block cell signals, and Haley has been vocal in her opposition to required FCC approval. Testifying last month at an FCC field hearing in Columbia, Haley said the state had tried multiple other methods, but none are as effective as blocking.

The letter also was signed by governors from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

]]> 5 Tue, 24 May 2016 12:55:15 +0000
Coming soon to Twitter: More room to tweet Tue, 24 May 2016 14:34:00 +0000 NEW YORK – Twitter is making some big changes, at least in the context of 140 characters or less.

The social media service said Tuesday that in coming months, photos, videos and other media won’t count toward Twitter’s 140-character limit.

That means more wordy tweets are on the way.

The change, announced Tuesday, is yet another attempt by the San Francisco company to make its messaging service easier to use, and to attract new users.

Twitter did not, as many had speculated in recent months, abolish its character limit.

A person’s Twitter handle, which starts with the “(at)” symbol, also will not count against character limits. And people will be able to retweet and quote their own tweets.

In another change, any new tweet beginning with an (at)name will be seen by all followers. Previously, a tweet that started with a person’s handle did not become part of their feed.

Twitter has tried to keep all users happy, those for and against relaxing character limits, by sticking to the current count while allowing more freedom to express thoughts, or rants, through images and other media.

Above all, Twitter Inc. hopes that the changes will re-ignite user growth.

The San Francisco company, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday, is dwarfed by its rival, Facebook. Its current number of users, about 310 million users, trails even than the professional networking service LinkedIn.

Facebook has 1.65 billion users. Even though many people are familiar with Twitter, at least that it exists, the company has been unable to convert them to active users. Twitter remains hard to understand for many, with its own lingo of hashtags and symbols.

The changes announced Tuesday are the latest put in place with hopes of spurring growth.

Late last year, as it continued to struggle, Twitter brought back co-founder Jack Dorsey. In addition to staff and cost cuts, it launched a channel called “Moments” that brings together hot topics in one place. Earlier this year, it tweaked its timeline to show users tweets that they may have missed while they were away.

Yet company shares continue to hemorrhage, falling 40 percent this year.

Shares on Tuesday fell 4 percent.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 11:11:19 +0000
As Zika spreads, Florida town a study in bug-borne illness Tue, 24 May 2016 13:25:00 +0000 RIO, Fla. – A summer flu seemed to be sweeping through Rachel Heid’s riverfront neighborhood. Pale and shaky, she left work with a fever. Neighbors had the same symptoms, and a contractor at her home felt so sick he went to the hospital.

Heid thought the neighborhood children were passing a bug around their circle. She never suspected a virus carried by bugs hovering around their birdbaths and tarp-covered boats – until health officials left pamphlets at their houses asking for blood samples if they recently suffered from fevers and joint or muscle pain.

The dengue fever outbreak infected 28 people in August and September 2013. It caught Florida’s Atlantic coast by surprise. The mosquito-borne disease associated with crowded, third-world conditions had spread among the pink plastic flamingoes of Rio (pronounced RYE-oh) and Jensen Beach.

The mosquitoes that spread dengue also carry the Zika virus, which has been linked to serious birth defects and has grown into an epidemic in Central and Latin America – though officials expect only small outbreaks in the United States. The successful fight against dengue in these Florida suburbs may forecast what other U.S. communities worried about Zika face as the summer mosquito season begins. Among the lessons local officials learned: the importance of home inspections by mosquito control technicians, media campaigns to “drain and cover” standing water, and changes residents made in their own yards.

Travelers occasionally come home with dengue, but Florida went 75 years without a local infection until a 2009 outbreak in Key West. The state now records a handful of cases annually, mostly in the densely populated Miami area. Health officials have alerted hospitals to the potential for dengue, but mosquito-borne diseases have rarely worried lifelong Florida residents like Heid.

“We don’t have an international airport here. We don’t have a lot of tourism. We don’t have a cruise, we don’t have a port – nothing. So we don’t have the international intake like you would in Miami or the Keys. But yet – we had dengue here,” Heid said.

The 2013 outbreak in Martin County seemed like an anomaly – 100 miles north of Miami, in communities with fewer than 15,000 people – but it had the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit dengue and a traveler who brought home the virus two years earlier.

The last time Heid had thought of mosquitoes as more than pests was in 1990, during a statewide outbreak of mosquito-borne St. Louis encephalitis. Her Martin County high school started playing afternoon football games to avoid bugs biting at dusk, and she remembers the smell of insecticides wafting over as mosquito control trucks passed by.

“When I was a kid, when they would fog, it was heavy,” she said. “It smelled like a can of Raid.”

She noticed there were fewer chemicals deployed in 2013.

Fogging trucks rumbled down the streets of affected neighborhoods nearly every night for a month, but county employees spent more time – four or five hours daily – on sweeps targeting all small containers holding water where Aedes aegypti breed. The biggest offenders: buckets, kiddie pools, recycling bins, convenience-store soda cups, potato chip bags and boats.

“Rio is this old seaside town, you know, a fishing town,” said Stephen Noe, a county mosquito control inspector. “Boats were a huge problem.”

Maintenance and office workers from the county engineering department joined Noe and five other mosquito control employees for the work. The response drew resources away from mosquito surveillance elsewhere in the county, but for an operation with a budget under $1 million dollars and only six employees, it was enough to handle the outbreak, said Don Donaldson, the county’s engineering director.

Eight people needed hospitalization, but none suffered more severe forms of dengue. Things could have been worse, hospital officials said.

Caught off-guard by the outbreak, blood banks suspended collections in two counties. Officials later determined that was overkill and could have jeopardized a third of Florida’s blood supply if dengue had struck a larger county, said OneBlood’s chief medical officer, Dr. Rita Reik. New protocols suspend donations only from the ZIP codes immediately affected by mosquito-borne viruses.

Today, all but a handful of hotspots in the outbreak areas remain mostly clear of the discarded containers that attract Aedes aegypti, Noe said. “You can’t, you know, eradicate totally, but to go from a dozen houses to just two, even three years later, is great,” he said.

No one has contracted dengue in Martin County since 2013, even though a neighboring county has since documented local transmission of another virus carried by the same mosquito.

Mosquito-borne disease outbreaks develop from a perfect storm of variables, and there’s little evidence supporting the effectiveness of any particular effort to control Aedes aegypti or prevent it from spreading diseases, according to researchers.

“You’ll have to have an infected person arriving into the community, you’ll have to have the vector species in some critical abundance, you’ll need people active outdoors – and you can imagine these things happening every day in Florida. Why in particular did it take hold in that location and it doesn’t take hold in other locations when you have the same exact circumstance?” said Nathan Burkett-Cadena, who studies how mosquitoes transmit viruses at the University of Florida’s medical entomology laboratory.

Mosquito control efforts helped end the 2013 outbreak, but no one can say to what extent, or to what extent similar efforts would prevent or control Zika transmission elsewhere, Burkett-Cadena said.

But people learned something from the dengue outbreak, said Heid, a 39-year-old office manager who now keeps insect repellent by her front door and in her car and adds a capful of bleach when filling a kiddie pool for her dog to cool off.

A few summers ago, she’d be slapping away at mosquitoes while tending to her garden.

“Now it’s not as bad because people emptied their birdbaths,” she said. “They don’t leave standing water. Everyone’s conscious that their garbage can lids are flipped. Even planters that have a catch pan for the water – people are emptying those.”

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 09:37:18 +0000
Adult smoking rate in U.S. is falling fast Tue, 24 May 2016 13:01:22 +0000 NEW YORK — The nation seems to be kicking its smoking habit faster than ever before.

The rate of smoking among adults in the U.S. fell to 15 percent last year thanks to the biggest one-year decline in more than 20 years, according to a new government report.

The rate fell 2 percentage points from 2014, when about 17 percent of adults in a large national survey said they had recently smoked.

The smoking rate has been falling for decades, but it usually drops only 1 point or less in a year.

The last time there was a drop nearly as big was from 1992 to 1993, when the smoking rate fell 1.5 percentage points, according to Brian King of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported the new statistic Tuesday. It’s based on a large national survey that is the government’s primary measuring stick for many health-related trends.

Smoking is the nation’s leading cause of preventable illness, causing more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, the CDC estimates.

Why the smoking rate fell so much in 2015 — and whether it will fall as fast again — is not quite clear.

About 50 years ago, roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked. It was common nearly everywhere — in office buildings, restaurants, airplanes and even hospitals. The smoking rate’s gradual decline has coincided with an increased public understanding that smoking is a cause of cancer, heart disease and other lethal health problems.

Experts attribute recent declines decline to the mounting impact of anti-smoking advertising campaigns, cigarette taxes and smoking bans.

The increased marketing of electronic cigarettes and their growing popularity has also likely played a role. But it is not yet clear whether this will help further propel the decline in smoking, or contribute to an increase in smoking in years to come.

E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a vapor, delivering the chemical that smokers crave without the harmful by-products generated from burning tobacco.

That makes them a potentially useful tool to help smokers quit, but experts fear it also creates a new way for people to get addicted to nicotine.

Some CDC surveys have shown a boom in e-cigarette use among teenagers, and health officials fear many of those kids will get hooked on nicotine and later become smokers.

As today’s teenage e-cigarette users become adults in the next few years, “we may see 18-, 19- and 20-year olds pick up the habit,” worried Dr. Jonathan Whiteson, a smoking cessation specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

Still, he and others are optimistic in part because regulators are turning their attention to the potential dangers of e-cigarettes. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced sweeping new rules that will for the first time apply long-standing rules covering traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels. Minors would be banned from buying the products.

“We’d expect continued declines in smoking, as we’ve seen in the past 50 years. But it’s hard to say what future holds,” King said.

]]> 2, 24 May 2016 09:18:43 +0000
Judge orders Bill Cosby to stand trial in sexual assault case Tue, 24 May 2016 12:41:01 +0000 NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Bill Cosby was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on sexual assault charges after a hearing that hinged on a decade-old police report in which a woman said the comedian gave her three blue pills that put her in a stupor, unable to stop his advances.

District Judge Elizabeth McHugh ruled that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to bring Cosby to trial, and she set his arraignment for July 20, at which time the TV star will enter a plea and a trial date will be set.

Cosby, 78, could get 10 years in prison if convicted.

“Mr. Cosby, good luck to you, sir,” the judge said.

“Thank you,” he replied.

The hearing was not the face-to-face confrontation between accuser and accused that some had anticipated: Andrea Constand, the former Temple University employee who said Cosby violated her at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004, was not in the courtroom, and the judge ruled that she would not have to testify.

Instead, prosecutors had portions of her statement to police read into the record.

She told police in 2005 that the comedian penetrated her with his fingers after giving her pills that made her dizzy, blurry-eyed and sick to her stomach, her legs “like jelly.”

“I told him, ‘I can’t even talk, Mr. Cosby.’ I started to panic,” she told police.

In his own statement to police, also read in court, Cosby portrayed it as consensual sexual activity, saying Constand never said “no” as he put his hand down her pants.

Cosby’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that reading Constand’s statement instead of putting her on the stand would be hearsay and would deprive him of his right to confront his accuser. Such testimony from law enforcement officers is common practice at preliminary hearings in Pennsylvania, which have a far lower burden of proof than trials.

In her statement, she said Cosby told her the pills were herbal medication. She said he also urged her to sip wine even though she said had not eaten and didn’t want to drink. Constand said her legs felt “rubbery” and “like jelly.” ”Everything was blurry and dizzy. I felt nauseous,” she said.

Constand told detectives that Cosby positioned himself behind her after telling her to lie down on the couch. She said she awoke with her bra askew and did not remember undoing it.

In excerpts read in court from his own statement to police in 2005, a seemingly relaxed Cosby said he and Constand had had other “petting” sessions before.

Cosby also told police the pills were over-the-counter Benadryl that he takes to help him sleep. He said he gave Constand one and a half pills and she did not ask what they were.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Cosby attorney Brian McMonagle questioned why Constand continued to see the comedian and even returned to the house to meet with him after the alleged assault.

Detective Katherine Hart testified that Constand told detectives in 2005 that she went back to Cosby’s home to confront him about what had happened.

Constand also told detectives she contacted Cosby after moving to Canada because she wanted tickets to one of his comedy shows. McMonagle said Constand brought a present for Cosby.

Earlier Tuesday, the comedian walked into the courthouse on the arm of an aide, waving to people waiting outside. He looked healthier than he did when he was charged in December, and was not carrying a cane this time.

Prosecutors reopened the case last year after dozens of women leveled similar allegations and after Cosby’s sealed deposition in Constand’s lawsuit was made public.

He settled her lawsuit for an undisclosed sum in 2006 after testifying about his extramarital affairs, his use of quaaludes to seduce women and his efforts to hide payments to former lovers from his wife.

The testimony and the barrage of allegations have all but destroyed Cosby’s nice-guy image from TV’s “Cosby Show.”

Cosby’s lawyers are trying to get the case thrown out, arguing that a previous prosecutor a decade ago made a binding promise that the comic would never be charged. On Monday, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rejected a request to delay the preliminary hearing while Cosby pursues a dismissal.

Cosby has not entered a plea since his Dec. 30 arrest. He is free on $1 million bail.

He is also fighting defamation lawsuits across the country for allegedly branding his accusers liars and is trying to get his homeowner insurance to pay his legal bills.

Constand is now a massage therapist in Toronto.


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Writings by Mother Teresa to be published in August Tue, 24 May 2016 12:28:01 +0000 NEW YORK — A collection of previously unreleased writings by Mother Teresa is coming out in August, weeks before the late Nobel Peace Prize winner is to be canonized.

Image, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it has set an Aug. 16 release date for “A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve.” The material in the book focuses on mercy and compassion and was compiled by the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who has led the case for Mother Teresa’s sainthood.

On Sept. 4, Pope Francis will declare Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint. She died in 1997, at age 87.

Kolodiejchuk also edited “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta,” published in 2007.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 09:19:21 +0000
Analysis: U.S. puts China on notice with Vietnam arms deal Tue, 24 May 2016 03:52:28 +0000 HANOI, Vietnam — If President Obama’s decision to sell arms to Vietnam after 40 years was meant to signal a final end to Cold War tensions, it also inserted the United States more forcefully into a new Asian dispute.

Analysts said it served as a warning to China, which has been angering neighbors such as Vietnam with aggressive moves around the South China Sea, the vital shipping lanes that serve as the lifeline of the region.

“This is really a warning shot fired across the bow of China’s forward maritime policy,” said Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China relations at the Asia Society.

“It … provides Vietnam a hedge against China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea,” said Murray Hiebert, deputy director and senior fellow of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China’s reaction was cool.

“As a neighbor to Vietnam, China is happy to see Vietnam develop normal relations with all countries, including the U.S. And we hope this would be conducive to regional peace, stability and development,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

Vietnam has not given the United States a specific wish list, but experts say Hanoi could be looking for warships, missiles and radar, surveillance and communications equipment. For example, Lockheed’s P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules, or Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon could help track Chinese ships and submarines.

Vietnam’s current main source of weapons is Russia, which has provided Kilo-class submarines and Sukhoi fighter jets, and would likely remain a cheaper and more efficient supplier.

Obama said at a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang that the decision was not about China, but rather one “based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process toward moving toward normalization with Vietnam.”

“This change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War,” he said. “It also underscores the commitment of the United States to a fully normalized relationship with Vietnam, including strong defense ties with Vietnam and this region for the long term.”

The U.S. has not sold lethal weapons to Vietnam since communists took control of the entire country at the end of the Vietnam War, which left nearly 60,000 Americans dead. President Ronald Reagan officially prohibited arms sales in 1984.

“Vietnam very much appreciates the U.S. decision to completely lift the ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam, which is clear proof that both countries have completely normalized the relations,” Quang said.

In a word of caution, however, Quang said later at a luncheon that “the wounds of the war have not been fully healed in both countries.”

Moreover, many analysts in the U.S. and elsewhere remain alarmed about human rights abuses in Vietnam, and fear that Obama gave away important leverage on that front by allowing weapons sales.

“President Obama has rewarded Vietnam even though they have done little to earn it: The government has not repealed any repressive laws, nor released any significant number of political prisoners, nor made any substantial pledges,” said John Sifton, Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch.

Sifton called on the U.S. government to use the regulatory framework and licensing regime for future sales and transfers to create incentives for Vietnam to improve its human rights record.

Obama can lift the arms embargo to Vietnam without congressional approval. But lawmakers will need to sign off on individual sales.

He had removed a piece of the ban in late 2014, allowing the sale of equipment for “maritime security purposes.” But, according to Capitol Hill staffers and experts, Vietnam has not made any major weapons purchases since 2014.

Several Vietnamese groups and U.S. lawmakers had pushed Obama to completely lift the weapons ban because of China’s actions.

“They sunk a Vietnamese vessel a couple years ago. There is a history, a 2,000-year history, of occupation of Vietnam,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, said in an interview before the decision was announced. “I believe that Chinese behavior warrants us assisting them in obtaining the ability to defend their rights as a nation.”

Vietnam has criticized China for threatening its fishing boats, engaging in exploratory drilling and embarking on a massive land-reclamation program, all in the South China Sea.

Arms sales to Vietnam would come after a gradual increase in U.S. interaction and aid to Vietnam over the years. In 2013, the U.S. announced it would provide $18 million to Vietnam to help buy coast guard patrol vessels for the South China Sea. More recently, Congress authorized $450 million over five years to provide equipment, supplies and training to South East Asian nations, including Vietnam, to deal with maritime sovereignty issues.

]]> 6, 24 May 2016 08:00:35 +0000
Colorado tops survey of substance use; Mainers among top consumers of pot, alcohol Tue, 24 May 2016 01:26:53 +0000 Americans in different parts of the country are known to vary significantly in their consumption of particular foods – be it spicy chili, cream-cheese covered bagels or collard greens. Recent federal government data show that the country is equally diverse in its consumption of intoxicating substances.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration annually surveys Americans age 12 and older about whether they use opioid painkillers for non-medical reasons or consume any marijuana, alcohol or cocaine. States are ranked into quintiles based on what proportion of their population uses each substance, thereby creating a “top 10 list” for all four.

Colorado stands out as the only state which is a top consumer of all four substances. The state’s heavy consumption of marijuana is predictable given that the drug is legal there. The other three legalization states are heavy consumers of pot, too (Washington, Alaska and Oregon; the latter is also a leader in non-medical use of prescription opioids). But residents of the mile-high state are also heavy consumers of all non-marijuana intoxicants as well.

Northern New England is another notable concentration of heavy use, with a cluster of states that are top consumers of multiple substances. Although the opioid overdose crisis in that part of the country has attracted extensive attention, none of the New England states is among the nation’s highest for non-medical consumption of prescription painkillers. Instead, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are leading consumers of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, with Maine a leading consumer of alcohol and marijuana. New York, in contrast, is a top consumer of only cocaine.

Like Colorado, Washington, D.C., is a center of extensive substance use despite not being in a particularly heavy-consuming part of the country. The District of Columbia ranks among the nation’s leaders for cocaine, alcohol and marijuana use.

As the most religious region of the country, the Southeast and Bible Belt have long tended to have lower consumption of intoxicating substances – particularly alcohol – than the rest of the country. Yet non-medical painkiller use is an exception to this general rule, with most of its top consumers being in or near this region: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio.

The Midwest and Plains states are not leading consumers of any of the three illicit drugs. But Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota are all national leaders in their proportion of drinkers, continuing a pattern established during the period of heavy migration from Scandinavia and beer-loving, beer-brewing Germany.

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Decades later, family of World War II soldier celebrates his homecoming Tue, 24 May 2016 01:26:19 +0000 NEW ORLEANS — More than seven decades after being killed during World War II, Pvt. Earl Joseph Keating finally came home to his native New Orleans after his remains were discovered on the Pacific island where he died in 1942.

It’s a journey long in the making.

Keating’s nephew, Nadau “du Treil” Michael Keating Jr., was only 6 months old when his 28-year-old uncle was killed Dec. 5, 1942. The private died at a place that came to be known as the Huggins Roadblock on the island of New Guinea just north of Australia – part of the bloody campaign to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific theater.

But the nephew remembers his grandmother’s message to him when he was just 12 years old and she was on her deathbed.

“She said ‘I want you to remember to please find Earl with your dad. Help your dad find Earl,’ ” he said.

Pvt. Keating was part of a group manning the roadblock when it came under withering attacks by the Japanese. The group repelled the onslaughts but suffered heavy casualties, including Keating and fellow Pvt. John H. Klopp, 25, also of New Orleans. Fellow soldiers buried them together.

But for Keating’s mother back home, the loss of one of her three sons never healed. She wrote the military repeatedly, beseeching them to find her son’s remains, and the family frequently remembered him in prayers.

It wasn’t until decades later that Michael Keating Jr., who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, was able to answer that deathbed request with the help of villagers in Papua New Guinea. A villager out hunting came across the remains of the two men and some personal effects.

“He dug around and found a helmet and some artifacts such as the dog tags,” said Tyler Lege, Michael Keating’s young nephew. Word that some remains and effects had been found was eventually passed along to the U.S. military, which sent a team to investigate.

The U.S. military runs an extensive effort to recover the remains of missing troops from conflicts around the world. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency investigates reports of service members missing in action from Vietnam, World War II, the Korean War and other conflicts. There are 82,729 people unaccounted for from all conflicts, according to the organization’s Website. Yet troops from World War II make up the vast majority – 73,159.

To help identify Pvt. Keating’s remains, the U.S. military needed more DNA, said Michael Keating. He tracked down a cousin, Sue duTreil, and she and her brothers also provided DNA samples. Eventually the military was able to positively identify the remains.

“I’m so glad that he’s getting the attention that he deserves. He went through a lot from what we’ve learned,” said Sue duTreil. “I wasn’t born yet when Earl died and du Treil was only 6 months old, but somehow we have become the ones to help bring him home.”

Pvt. Keating will actually be buried in two places. Some of his remains were so intertwined with that of his friend, Pvt. Klopp, that they were buried with Klopp’s remains at Arlington National Cemetery in March. The remains that were positively identified as Keating’s arrived Monday.

The remains were met at the airport by family and a U.S. military honor guard and transported to the funeral home where an opera singer sang “Amazing Grace.”

During the May 28 funeral services, Michael Keating plans to read a letter written by his father to Pvt. Keating; it was never read by the young soldier because he died before it arrived. Instead the letter was stamped “Deceased” and returned to sender. After the funeral service, the soldier’s remains will be driven past the city’s World War II museum, where the American flag will be lowered to half-staff and taps sounded before the procession continues to the cemetery.

“It’s a lifelong promise of my parents and my grandparents and it’s being completed and it’s a great, great honor for me to be able to do this,” said Keating.

]]> 0, 24 May 2016 08:11:07 +0000
Supreme Court overturns all-white jury verdict, death sentence Tue, 24 May 2016 01:22:34 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court upended the conviction and death sentence of a black Georgia man Monday because prosecutors violated the Constitution by excluding African-Americans from the all-white jury that determined his fate.

The 7-1 ruling in favor of death row inmate Timothy Tyrone Foster came in a case in which defense lawyers obtained strikingly frank notes from prosecutors detailing efforts to keep African-Americans off of Foster’s jury. The decision broke no new ground in efforts to fight racial discrimination in jury selection, but underscored the importance of a 30-year-old high court ruling that took aim at the exclusion of minorities from juries.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that “prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race” when they struck African-Americans from the jury pool, focusing on the decision to exclude two black jurors. Two such jury strikes “on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows,” Roberts wrote.

The high court returned Foster’s case to state court, but Stephen Bright, Foster’s Atlanta-based lawyer, said “there is no doubt” that the decision Monday means Foster is entitled to a new trial, 29 years after he was sentenced to death for killing a white woman.

The decision did nothing, however, to limit peremptory strikes, lawyers’ ability to reject potential jurors without offering any reason. The late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, once said that racial discrimination would persist in jury selection unless peremptory strikes were curtailed.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying he would have respected the decisions of state judges who sided with prosecutors and rejected Foster’s claims. Thomas, a Georgia native, recounted Foster’s confession to having murdered a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher “after having sexually assaulted her with a bottle of salad dressing.”

When the case was argued in November, the justices did little to hide their distaste for the tactics employed by prosecutors in north Georgia. Justice Elena Kagan said the case seemed as clear a violation “as a court is ever going to see.”

Still, Georgia courts had consistently rejected Foster’s claims of discrimination, even after his lawyers obtained prosecutors’ notes that revealed their focus on the black people in the jury pool. In one example, a handwritten note headed “Definite No’s” listed six people, of whom five were the remaining black prospective jurors.

The sixth person on the list was a white woman who made clear she would never impose the death penalty, according to Bright. And yet even that woman ranked behind the black jurors, he said.

]]> 2, 23 May 2016 21:22:34 +0000
Austrians narrowly elect left-winger to presidency Tue, 24 May 2016 01:07:18 +0000 BRUSSELS — It was like Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump in the heart of Europe, and the Bern won by a nose.

Left-wing economics professor Alexander Van der Bellen was elected Austria’s largely ceremonial president, holding off an anti-immigration nationalist who campaigned on a Trump-style “Austria First” platform.

But the nail-biter margin – 31,026 votes out of almost 4.5 million cast – signified polarization and gridlock, more of a defeat for the crisis-plagued European establishment than a victory of an alternative political program.

The tight vote “indicates not so much the strength of the extremes, but the weakness of the center,” said Timo Lochocki, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “You win elections if you polarize and personalize and have a story to tell.”

Austria was fertile ground for the revolt because it has been governed by a cozy twosome of center-left and center-right parties for most of the post-World War II period.

With Austria’s mainstream parties blurring together and divvying up posts and patronage, the opposition was banished to the fringes. That ostracism ended in the first round on April 24 when candidates from the two traditional parties were eliminated.

“It’s a Europe-wide trend: The economic good times are over, and the search is on for new policies,” said Peter Hajek, a public-opinion analyst in Vienna. “And that’s where there’s a divergence of views.”

For some, the triumph of Van der Bellen, 72, over the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer showed the right can be stopped. Austria will get a Green Party-backed president to go along with a Social Democratic chancellor. For the Freedom Party, the near-miss was just a stepping stone to taking over the chancellorship, the real seat of power, in the next elections in 2018.

Austria rehearsed a right-wing rise once before, when the Freedom Party made it into the governing coalition in 2000 and then fizzled. Hofer, 45, would have become the first western European head of state in the modern era from the far right, a label he disputes.

Still, the electoral close call demonstrated that, in countries north of the Alps, the anti-immigrant variant of populism strikes a chord with voters even in an era of relative prosperity.

Austria has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the 19-nation euro zone, at 5.8 percent in March. A 4.2 percent rate in Germany, the lowest, hasn’t prevented the rise of a fledgling anti-euro, anti-immigration party there.

“Populist parties do not only flourish during recessions or in economically difficult times,” said Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba AG in Frankfurt. “The ingredients and underlying political trends of the Austrian presidential elections are likely to stay in the euro zone for a while.”

The Freedom Party’s platform is marked by blood-and-soil politics with an emphasis on (heterosexual) marriage, national identity and Christianity. It shares a focus on crime-fighting and skepticism of the European Union with other nationalist parties.

Austria’s balloting brought the era of voter wrath from places like Hungary, Poland, Greece and Spain to the EU’s core. Economic grievances mingle with hostility to the outside world and alienation from the EU’s coordinating bodies in Brussels.

]]> 1, 23 May 2016 21:07:18 +0000
Suspect in officer shooting had long criminal record Mon, 23 May 2016 22:37:43 +0000 BOSTON — The man suspected of killing a Massachusetts police officer during a weekend traffic stop had a lengthy criminal record and had been released from a maximum-security prison in 2013, officials said Monday.

The suspect, 35-year-old Jorge Zambrano, was fatally shot by police late Sunday after he burst out of a bedroom closet and opened fire on officers inside a duplex apartment in Oxford, investigators said. Oxford is about 7 miles from Auburn, where police Officer Ronald Tarentino was fatally shot early Sunday.

A state trooper was shot in the shoulder by Zambrano, and officers returned fire, state police Col. Richard McKeon said. The trooper, an 18-year veteran of the force and former Navy SEAL, underwent surgery late Sunday and was recovering in the hospital. The trooper’s name wasn’t released.

State officials said Zambrano had been released from the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley on Nov. 1, 2013, after serving a seven-year sentence on charges including cocaine trafficking, two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and two counts of resisting arrest.

Since getting out of prison, Zambrano had been arrested multiple times and had court cases pending on charges that included assault and battery, driving with a suspended license, trespassing, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The violent bedroom encounter came nearly 18 hours after Tarentino pulled over Zambrano about 12:30 a.m. in Auburn, because the license plate on the SUV he was driving was not registered to that vehicle, said Paul Jarvey, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. Jarvey said authorities are still investigating why Zambrano shot the 42-year-old officer and then fled.

Officials later learned that Zambrano was at the Oxford duplex and spotted what they believed was his vehicle parked behind the building. Jarvey said Zambrano knew someone who lives at the duplex.

Tarentino had been with the Auburn police force for two years, and before that worked with the Leicester Police Department in his hometown. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

Leicester Police Chief James Hurley said Tarentino was a dedicated officer with a constant smile and an infectious laugh whose father served as a police officer in Medford for more than 30 years.

Hurley urged people to honor Tarentino by supporting police officers “today, tomorrow, next month, next year and well into the future.”

State and local police officers lined up outside the hospital Sunday as a police vehicle, escorted by a procession, took Tarentino’s body to the state medical examiner’s office in Boston, where the vehicle was met by another large contingent of officers.

Outside the Auburn police station, the American flag was lowered to half-staff. The town’s residents left bouquets of flowers and miniature American flags piled at the bottom of a stone monument dedicated to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

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Scores killed as Islamic State bombs hit Syrian government strongholds Mon, 23 May 2016 20:02:26 +0000 BEIRUT – A series of coordinated blasts hit bus stations, an electricity plant and a hospital across two Syrian cities Monday, killing at least 80 people in the first major security breach of President Bashar Assad’s coastal strongholds in the country’s five-year war.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on social media. The militants are not known to maintain a presence in the surrounding countryside, an area in which mainstream rebels and al-Qaida affiliated insurgents form the predominant opposition to Assad’s forces.

The seven closely-coordinated morning blasts in the pro-government cities of Tartus and Jableh targeted civilians in large numbers, and seemed intended to send a message that no part of Syria is safe from violence.

They also underlined the worrying inability of world powers to jumpstart Syrian peace talks in Geneva as the violence worsens.

A coalition of nearly 30 rebel factions said Sunday they would give the government 48 hours to end its offensives around besieged opposition-held suburbs of Damascus or they would consider the partial cease-fire brokered in late February “dissolved.” Yet fighting had already resumed in earnest around the country by late April.

The peacefulness of the two coastal cities meant they housed hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people who fled violence from other parts of the country – and who are now coming under suspicion by shell-shocked long-term residents and government security forces.

Syria’s state news agency, SANA, reported that four explosions struck Jableh, the result of three suicide attacks and a car bomb. The targets included the emergency entrance of the Jableh National Hospital, it said.

Shortly afterward, suicide bombers followed by an explosives-laded car tore through a packed bus station and a petrol station in Tartus, minutes apart, TV reports and residents said. More than 38 people were killed and many injured in those blasts, Syrian state media reported.

A resident said she heard the first explosion, followed by the wail of ambulance sirens rushing to the scene. The bombs struck busy areas of the city, she said. The bus stop would have been crowded with school students, who had just finished taking their exams when the blasts occurred just after 9.30 a.m. local time. On most mornings more than 100 cars would have been lining up at the targeted gas station, because of petrol shortages.

She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fears for her own safety.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, put the death toll much higher than Syrian government sources, saying that more than 145 had been killed.

The four explosions in Jableh and three in Tartus ripped through both locations almost simultaneously, indicating a high degree of organization.

They sparked a backlash against the displaced, including a reprisal attack on a camp for those internally displaced by war located in Tartus. Parts of the al-Karnak camp were burned down, according to Ghassan Hassan, who heads the Tartous2day media agency.

Some 700,000 refugees from the war-torn Aleppo, Idlib, and Raqqa governorates are settled in Tartus, Hassan said. Security forces arrested dozens of refugees in sweeps of Jableh and Tartus, the Observatory reported.

The local community of Tartus and Jableh had co-existed relatively well with the tens of thousands of refugees they host.

Russia, which is heavily invested in the Syrian war on behalf of Assad’s government, keeps a naval base in Tartus, the only such base on the Mediterranean. It also has an air base in Latakia province, about three miles (five kilometers) north of Jableh.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the increase in militant attacks and bombings in Syria “once again demonstrates how fragile the situation in Syria is.” Putin sent a message to Assad conveying his condolences for the civilian deaths and confirming Russia’s readiness to continue supporting its “Syrian partners.”

Assad’s government and the government of his father, who ruled the country from 1971 until his death in 2000, have historically drawn on the coastal provinces for political support.

They are home to a sizable population of Alawites, the religious minority to which the Assads belong. Both Assads have amply rewarded the population for their loyalty throughout their autocratic rule, and the incumbent Assad has been keen to project an image of stability in these strongholds.

But the region has also been the backdrop to some of the war’s darker junctures, including twin massacres in Baniyas and Bayda, two formerly restive towns about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Tartus. Pro-government forces or militias summarily executed 248 civilians and looted and burned down Sunni neighborhoods in May 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. The New York-based monitoring group said the methods suggested that the attackers intended to drive the Sunni population out of the towns.

Moderate and ultraconservative Sunnis now form the backbone of the insurgency against the government in the surrounding regions.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks on civilians in Tartus and Jableh. Ban was also concerned by escalating military activity in and around Damascus and Homs, which is causing a rising number of civilian casualties, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

According to the U.N., Syria’s civil war has displaced over eleven million civilians since March 2011 and it has killed over 250,000 people – but the international organization stopped collecting figures in mid-2015.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Mon, 23 May 2016 16:02:26 +0000
Supreme Court dismisses Republican appeal over Virginia districts Mon, 23 May 2016 14:55:07 +0000 WASHINGTON – A unanimous Supreme Court has dismissed a Republican appeal over congressional districts in Virginia.

The justices on Monday left in place a decision by a lower court that said Virginia illegally packed black voters into one district to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents.

Republican members of Congress wanted the court to reinstate the districting map. But the justices ruled that the elected officials did not have the right to challenge the court ruling.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that there is no “record evidence that supports their claim of harm.”

The same three-judge court that threw out the map drawn by the state Legislature in 2012 has since created new districts that are in place for the 2016 congressional elections.

The dispute concerned the old boundaries of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, which is the only one in the state with a majority of African-American residents. Represented by Democrat Bobby Scott, the district ran from north of Richmond to the coastal cities of Norfolk and Newport News, and its shape has been described as a “grasping claw.”

Scott’s seat is one of 11 congressional districts in Virginia. Republicans who controlled the state Legislature when the new map was drawn in 2012 created districts that elected eight Republicans and three Democrats. At the same time, Democrats carried Virginia in the past two presidential elections and hold both Senate seats and the governor’s office.

The lower court has since drawn a new congressional map, in which Scott’s district is more compact and no longer includes Richmond, for use in this year’s elections.

Republican House members wanted to preserve the map as it was adopted because they fear that a redrawn map could water down minority strength in Scott’s district and increase the number of Democratic-leaning black voters in neighboring Republican districts.

The case is Wittman v. Personhuballah, 14-1504.

]]> 2 Mon, 23 May 2016 11:22:04 +0000
Clinton email probe winding down as Republicans try to up pressure Mon, 23 May 2016 14:54:41 +0000 WASHINGTON – FBI agents probing whether Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server imperiled government secrets appear close to completing their work, a process experts say will likely culminate in a sit-down with the former secretary of state.

The FBI has already spoken with Huma Abedin, a Clinton confidant who was among the Democratic presidential front runner’s closest aides at the State Department. Former chief of staff Cheryl D. Mills is also cooperating with the investigation, according to her lawyer.

That signals that agents will probably seek to interview Clinton in the near future, if they haven’t already, former Justice Department officials told The Associated Press. The FBI’s standard practice is to save questioning the person at the center of an investigation for last, once they have gathered available facts from others.

“With a person like Secretary Clinton, the FBI probably assumes they are going to get one chance to interview her, not only because she is a prominent person but because she is very busy right now with the presidential campaign,” said David Deitch, a former Justice Department prosecutor who handled national security cases. “It makes sense they would defer interviewing her until late in their investigation.”

Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation on May 8, Clinton said the FBI had not yet reached out to her, but she was “more than ready to talk to anybody, anytime.”

“I hope that this is close to being wrapped up,” she said.

A campaign spokesman did not respond to calls this week seeking comment about whether anything has changed since Clinton last spoke on the topic.

Clinton has good reasons to want the FBI to close its investigation soon. She has been dogged by questions about her email practices for more than a year, since AP first revealed that the server was in the basement of Clinton’s New York home while she served as the nation’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.

Clinton has acknowledged on the campaign trail that her homebrew email setup was a mistake, but said she never sent or received any documents that were marked classified at the time.

FBI Director James Comey said earlier this month he is keeping close tabs on the progress of the investigation to ensure that it’s conducted properly and completed promptly. However, he added there is no timeline for completing the probe tied to events on the political calendar, such as the 2016 Democratic National Convention set for late July.

Republicans are working hard to keep the issue alive through the November presidential election, alleging that she put national security at risk.

“Clinton’s irresponsible behavior as secretary of state and her deliberate attempts to mislead the American people show she lacks the judgment and character to be president,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said earlier this month.

In addition to the ongoing FBI investigation, the inspectors general at the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community are reviewing whether security procedures or laws were broken. There have also been at least three dozen civil lawsuits filed, including one by the AP, over public records requests related to Clinton’s time as secretary.

A federal judge recently approved a request from the conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch to question Clinton’s aides under oath in a series of depositions scheduled through the end of June. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan also said he may require Clinton herself to testify, depending on what information comes to light.

The State Department has so far released more than 52,000 pages of Clinton’s work-related emails, including some that were censored because they contained information considered sensitive to national security. Thousands of additional emails were withheld by Clinton, whose lawyers said they contained personal messages unrelated to her government service.

Critics have questioned whether Clinton’s server might have made a tempting target for hackers, especially those working with or for foreign intelligence services.

A Romanian computer hacker now in U.S. custody, Marcel Lazar, boasted in media interviews aired earlier this month that he breached Clinton’s home server three years ago. However, Lazar, who went online by the name Guccifer, has provided no evidence to back up his claim, such as copies of previously unreleased Clinton emails or insider knowledge of how the system was set up. Also, Lazar’s expertise was hacking into the email accounts of politicians and celebrities who used free commercial services, not breaking into a stand-alone email server.

Legal experts have said it appears unlikely Clinton would be formally charged with committing a crime. The relatively few U.S. laws that govern the handling of classified materials were generally written to cover spies and leakers. Lawyers who specialize in national security matters have told AP it would be a stretch to apply these statutes to a former cabinet secretary whose communication of sensitive materials was with aides – not a national enemy.

The Justice Department also does not appear to have convened a grand jury to examine Clinton’s email use, a likely step if prosecutors were weighing felony criminal charges.

Lansing Woo, a retired FBI official who supervised counterintelligence investigations in the Los Angeles field office, said the recent interviews of Clinton’s aides appear to follow standard operating procedure.

“You start at the periphery of the circle,” Woo said. By the time investigators move from far-removed witnesses to the person they most want to speak with, “they’re already going to know what’s what, who’s who, who did what, and they’re going to then ask the questions around that,” he said.

But Deitch, now in private practice, stressed that just because investigators may seek to interview Clinton does not necessarily mean she is in legal jeopardy.

“As a defense attorney, I have had many cases where targets of an investigation were interviewed and no indictment was ever forthcoming,” Deitch said. “It’s just part of the process.”

]]> 6, 23 May 2016 11:21:33 +0000
Baltimore officer acquitted in death of Freddie Gray Mon, 23 May 2016 11:36:55 +0000 BALTIMORE — Prosecutors failed for the second time in their bid to hold Baltimore police accountable for the arrest and death of Freddie Gray when an officer was acquitted Monday in the racially charged case that triggered riots a year ago.

A judge cleared Officer Edward Nero of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct, concluding that Nero played little role in Gray’s arrest and wasn’t responsible for the failure to buckle the black man into the police van where he suffered a broken neck.

Upon hearing the verdict, Nero hugged his attorney and appeared to wipe away a tear.

Nero, who is white, was the second of six officers charged in the case to stand trial.

The manslaughter case against Officer William Porter ended in a mistrial in December when the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors plan to retry him in September.

Nero’s lawyers said he and his wife and family are “elated that this nightmare is finally over.”

“The state’s attorney for Baltimore City rushed to charge him, as well as the other five officers, completely disregarding the facts of the case and the applicable law,” they said in a statement.

Prosecutors had no comment; they are under a gag order.


Trial No. 3 – that of van driver Caesar Goodson, who prosecutors believe is most culpable in Gray’s death – is due to begin in two weeks. He is charged with second-degree murder.

David Weinstein, a Florida attorney and former federal civil rights prosecutor who has followed the case, said the verdict will probably serve as a “wake-up call” for prosecutors.

“This speaks to the notion a lot of people had when this first happened, which is that it was a rush to judgment,” Weinstein said.

“The state’s attorney was trying to balance what she had with the public outcry and call to action given the climate in Baltimore and across the U.S. concerning policing, and I think she was overreaching.”

Gray died a week after suffering a spinal injury in the back of the van while he was handcuffed and shackled but not belted in.

His death set off looting and arson that prompted authorities to declare a citywide curfew and call out the National Guard to quell unrest in Baltimore for the first time since the riots that erupted in 1968 over the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Gray’s name became a rallying cry in the growing furor over the deaths of black men in clashes with police.

Nero, 30, waived his right to a jury trial, choosing instead to let Circuit Judge Barry Williams decide his fate. The assault charge alone carried up to 10 years in prison.

“The state’s theory has been one of recklessness and negligence,” the judge said in his ruling.

“There has been no evidence that the defendant intended for a crime to occur.”

Nero remains on desk duty and still faces a departmental investigation that could result in disciplinary action.

About a dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse as the verdict was read, but they were far outnumbered by members of the media.


Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake noted the departmental review and pleaded for calm.

“We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion,” she said. “In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”

Gray’s family settled with the city for $6.4 million in September. An attorney for the family, Billy Murphy, said they respected the verdict, and he commended the judge for resisting “enormous pressure” and showing “tremendous courage in ruling against public opinion.”


Some legal experts said the judge’s ruling was so narrowly tailored – and the facts so different from those of the other defendants – that it provides little guidance to what could happen in the upcoming trials.

Baltimore defense attorney Warren Alperstein, who watched the trial, said Nero wisely elected a non-jury trial, because a judge is more capable of applying the complex constitutional questions involving what is a proper arrest.

The van driver, though, should put his fate in the hands of a jury, because “when you’re facing a murder charge, as Goodson is, you do not want to put all your eggs in one basket,” Alperstein said.

]]> 8, 23 May 2016 21:41:19 +0000
Obama makes history by lifting Vietnam arms sales embargo Mon, 23 May 2016 10:51:03 +0000 HANOI, Vietnam – Eager to banish lingering shadows of the Vietnam War, President Barack Obama lifted the U.S. embargo on selling arms to America’s former enemy Monday and made the case for a more trusting and prosperous relationship going forward. Activists said the president was being too quick to gloss over serious human rights abuses in his push to establish warmer ties.

After spending his first day in Vietnam shuttling among meetings with different government leaders, Obama will spend the next two days speaking directly to the Vietnamese people and meeting with civil society groups and young entrepreneurs. It’s all part of his effort to “upgrade” the U.S. relationship with an emerging economic power in Southeast Asia and a nation that the U.S. also hopes can serve as a counterweight to Chinese aggression in the region.

Tracing the arc of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship through cooperation, conflict, “painful separation” and a long reconciliation, Obama marveled during a news conference with the Vietnamese president that “if you consider where we have been and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable.”

President Tran Dai Quang said later at a lavish state luncheon that he was grateful for the American people’s efforts to put an end to “an unhappy chapter in the two countries’ history,” referring to the 1965-1975 U.S. war with Vietnam’s communists, who now run the country.

The only war America has lost, the conflict killed 57,000 American military personnel and as many as 2 million Vietnamese military and civilians.

Quang added, though, that “the wounds of the war have not been fully healed in both countries.”

Still, Quang said, both sides are determined to have a more cooperative relationship.

That mindset was evident in the friendly crowds that lined the streets as Obama’s motorcade zigzagged around Hanoi on Monday. And when Obama emerged from a tiny Vietnamese restaurant after a $6 dinner with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain, the president shook hands with members of the squealing crowd and waved as if he really didn’t want to get back in the limousine.

Obama was to address the Vietnamese people on Tuesday morning. A White House official said the president would use his address to stress the importance of having a “constructive dialogue” even when the two nations disagree – including on human rights.

But that is unlikely to mollify activists, who said the president had given up his best leverage for pressing Vietnam to improve its rights record by lifting the arms embargo – and done it just when the Vietnamese government had “insulted” him by arresting six activists in recent days, in the words of John Sifton, Asia policy director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

“Today President Obama rewarded Vietnam even though its government has done little to earn it: It has not repealed any repressive laws, nor released any significant number of political prisoners, nor made any substantial pledges,” Sifton added.

Duy Hoang, U.S.-based spokesman for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy party that is banned inside Vietnam, said that until Vietnam makes progress on human rights, the U.S. should not sell it military gear that could be used against the population.

“The U.S. should also reiterate the message that closer security cooperation is to bolster Vietnam’s external security and that the proper role of the Vietnamese military is to protect the nation, not the current political regime,” Hoang said by e-mail.

Bill Wise, senior associate director of the Southeast Asian studies program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the arms embargo was “an anachronism” and the lifting will demonstrate to Communist Party skeptics that engagement with the U.S. is paying off.

The Vietnam Veterans of America hasn’t taken an official position on the president’s action, but Bernard Edelman, deputy director of government affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America, noted the good cooperation surrounding efforts to account for troops still missing in action.

“The war’s over,” he said.

Obama said there had been “modest progress on some of the areas that we’ve identified as a concern.” He added that the 12-nation trans-Pacific trade deal that he’s pushing could help prompt Vietnam to implement a series of labor reforms “that could end up being extraordinarily significant.”

For Vietnam, lifting the arms embargo was a psychological boost. The United States partially lifted the ban in 2014, but Vietnam pushed for full access as it tries to deal with China’s land reclamation and military construction in nearby seas.

It was unclear whether striking the ban would quickly result in an increase in arms sales. Obama said that each deal would be reviewed case by case, and evaluated based on the equipment’s potential use. But he said he no longer believed a ban based on “ideological” differences was necessary. He added that the U.S. would “continue to speak out on behalf of human rights we believe are universal.”

Vietnam holds about 100 political prisoners and there have been more detentions this year, some in the past week. In March, seven bloggers and activists were sentenced for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “spreading anti-state propaganda.” Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.

Associated Press writers Foster Klug in Hanoi, Tammy Webber in Chicago and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at

]]> 5, 23 May 2016 16:07:29 +0000
Voters accentuate the negative in new presidential poll Mon, 23 May 2016 03:07:00 +0000 The coming presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump begins in a virtual dead heat, a competition between two candidates viewed unfavorably by a majority of the current electorate and with voters motivated as much by whom they don’t like as by whom they do, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Never in the history of the Post-ABC poll have the two major party nominees been viewed as harshly as Clinton and Trump.

Nearly 6 in 10 registered voters say they have negative impressions of both major candidates. Overall, Clinton’s net negative rating among registered voters is minus-16, while Trump’s is minus-17, though Trump’s numbers have improved since March. Among all adults, Trump’s net negatives are significantly higher than those of Clinton.

As the primaries are due to draw to a close next month, Democrats and Republicans have begun to consolidate around their presumptive nominees, even though Republican voters remain divided on the question of whether Trump reflects the core values of their party. Partisans in both parties say they are confident that they will be unified for the fall campaign, though one-fifth of Republicans express doubts.

In all, the survey foreshadows a hard-fought, competitive and negative general election. At this point, the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among registered voters, with Trump favored by 46 percent and Clinton favored by 44 percent. That represents an 11-point shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee since March. Among all adults, Clinton holds a six-point lead (48 percent to 42 percent), down from 18 points in March.

Nonetheless, Clinton is rated ahead of Trump across a range of attributes and issues, and she is seen as having superior experience, temperament and personality to be president. Trump is viewed as unqualified by a majority of adults, but he has strong appeal to voters as the anti-Clinton candidate who can bring change to Washington in an election year in which outsiders have thrived.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has given Clinton a stiff challenge in the contest for the Democratic nomination, enjoys the most positive rating of the three. Among registered voters, Sanders is net positive – 49 percent to 41 percent – and has seen his image improve steadily the longer he has been a candidate.

The other politician who is judged positively at the moment is President Obama, which is important to Clinton’s prospects in the fall. Obama’s overall approval rating among all adults remained at 51 percent, as it was in March, while his disapproval rose from 43 percent to 46 percent, within the margin of error.

Among those registered voters who say they favor Clinton, 48 percent say their vote is in support of the candidate, while an identical percentage say their vote is mainly to oppose Trump. Among Trump’s backers, 44 percent say they are casting an affirmative vote for the Republican, while 53 percent say their motivation is to oppose Clinton.

Support for the two candidates as they begin their direct engagement appears tepid. Less than half of those in Clinton’s column say they strongly support her, while a bare majority say they support her “somewhat.” The numbers for Trump are virtually identical.

Nor are people fully satisfied with their choice of major party nominees – 51 percent call themselves satisfied while 44 percent say they want a third-party option.

Some leading Republican leaders and some grass-roots activists have been exploring the possibilities of finding a third-party candidate to stand as an alternative.

The Post-ABC poll tested a hypothetical three-way race that included Trump, Clinton and Mitt Romney, the Republican 2012 nominee and one of the most outspoken critics of the New York businessman. Among registered voters, Clinton gets 37 percent, Trump 35 percent and Romney 22 percent. Underscoring the divisions within Republican ranks, Romney gets a third of Republicans in a three-way race.

Among registered voters, Clinton runs away from Trump on attributes such as having the right experience to be president, having the personality and temperament to serve in the Oval Office and having realistic policy proposals. Trump’s strongest calling card is as a change agent. The two are judged more or less evenly on honesty and trustworthiness, on strength of leadership and on keeping the country safe.

On issues, registered voters clearly prefer Trump on taxes and by a narrower margin on international trade. Clinton has a wide lead on issues of importance to women and rates ahead of Trump on dealing with an international crisis and handling international relations, and holds a slight edge on handling immigration.

The question of whether voters are looking for a candidate with political experience or someone who comes from outside the political establishment remains a fault line of significance. At present, 52 percent of Americans favor experience while 43 percent want an outsider.

]]> 11 Mon, 23 May 2016 08:10:22 +0000
Obama to face rights abuses in Vietnam Mon, 23 May 2016 02:36:16 +0000 HANOI, Vietnam — The biggest obstacle to President Obama’s hope to improve relations with Vietnam on his visit, which began Sunday, will be the communist nation’s dismal record on human rights.

Some residents can’t practice their religion. Other activists aren’t allowed to run for political office. And an increasing number of bloggers face retribution for calling for more freedom and transparency. Human rights groups say nearly 100 dissidents are imprisoned in Vietnam.

The country has what a group of U.S. senators calls one of the most repressive regimes in the world, after other nearby communist countries like China and North Korea.

All political power lies firmly with the ruling Communist Party, which carefully monitors public and private lives. There is no independent media, and civil society groups cannot legally register unless they submit to the Communist Party’s control, said Rafendi Djamin, director of Amnesty International’s South East Asia and Pacific Regional office.

That will force Obama into a delicate balancing act as he tries to boost economic and military ties to the former enemy while not appearing to accept Vietnam’s actions on human rights.

“Obama should stand next to Vietnam’s leaders in public and call on them to respect the right to freely choose government representatives, stand for office, and peacefully advocate for democracy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “If this trip is partially about legacy-building, as some suggest, there can be no more meaningful legacy than helping the people of Vietnam achieve fundamental reforms.”

The president will get his first chance Monday when he meets with Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang. Obama’s visit also will include a speech to the nation.

]]> 0 Sun, 22 May 2016 22:36:16 +0000
Trump raises personal attacks on Clintons Mon, 23 May 2016 02:22:58 +0000 For weeks, Donald Trump has dredged up stories from the 1990s about Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs. Then Trump went a step further, reviving an unsubstantiated rape accusation against the former president.

Even for Trump, the anything-goes showman whose insults left rivals reeling in the Republican presidential primaries, the attacks have a searing personal dimension, pushing boundaries and forcing his presumed Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, to relive the humiliation of her husband’s adultery.

His almost daily reminders of Clinton melodramas darken the glow that the former first couple often puts on their White House years, an era of economic prosperity.

Trump is open about also using the personal attacks to blunt attempts by Hillary Clinton and her allies to go after him over his repeated derogatory remarks about women.

Charlie Black, a veteran Republican campaign consultant who supports Trump, said the former president’s history is fair game when Trump is fighting the Democrats’ accusations.

“A lot of voters are so young they don’t even know about this stuff,” Black said. “And the ones who are old enough to remember, it probably doesn’t hurt to remind them of it – that (Hillary Clinton’s) cooperation with him in trying to cover up these things is just not a pro-women stance.”

Still, there is additional risk in revisiting the tumultuous past: reminding voters of the Republican hypocrisy surrounding the White House sex scandal.

Newt Gingrich, the House speaker who led the charge for Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, admitted later that he was having an extramarital affair at the time.

Gingrich’s successor, Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, gave up the post just before Clinton’s Senate trial after acknowledging his own extramarital affairs. Republicans then gave the speaker’s job to Rep. J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who was sentenced last month to 15 months in prison for financial crimes committed in his effort to cover up his sexual abuse of high school boys on a wrestling team he coached.

As noted by Paul Begala, a senior White House adviser to Bill Clinton, the result was a backlash that resulted in a surprising gain of Democratic seats in the 1998 congressional election.

“It didn’t work when it was hot and new, and about the guy that was president,” said Begala, now a strategist for a pro-Hillary Clinton political action committee. “I don’t think it’s going to work when it’s old and stale and about the husband of the woman running for president.”

]]> 12, 23 May 2016 08:11:15 +0000
New York bill on cat declawing draws howls from both sides Mon, 23 May 2016 01:15:49 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — For many decades, declawing cats has been a routine veterinary procedure, but this is no simple pedicure. There’s anesthesia, pain medication and the amputation of the cat’s toes back to the first knuckle.

New York’s first-in-the-nation legislative proposal to ban the declawing of cats has sparked a heated debate among veterinarians and cat lovers alike, with some insisting it’s inhumane and others saying it should be allowed as a last resort for felines that won’t stop scratching furniture, carpets and their owners.

“None of us love the procedure,” said Richard Goldstein, a veterinarian at New York City’s Animal Medical Center and a former faculty member at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “But when the alternative is condemning the cat to a shelter or to death? That’s why we do it.”

The state and national veterinary organizations that say they oppose a ban on declawing do so because it’s often the only way for cats with behavioral problems to keep from being abandoned or euthanized, they say. Such medical decisions should be left to the professionals and cat owners, not lawmakers, they add.

The debate comes as Americans’ feelings about their four-legged friends continue to evolve. Another bill in New York’s Legislature would remove sales taxes on pet food, and lawmakers here voted last year to allow dogs to join their human companions on the patios of restaurants. Several states have now banned surgeries which remove a dog’s vocal cords. And all 50 states now have statutes making severe animal cruelty a felony.

“There’s a rising tide of social concern about animal welfare,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “We’ve proven that the American public is deeply concerned about the welfare of animals, the ones that live with them and the ones used for food production.”

Estimates are that about a quarter of all household cats will be declawed in their lifetimes – though some vets that spoke to the AP say it’s becoming less common.

]]> 2 Mon, 23 May 2016 08:18:55 +0000
At heart of ‘Brexit’: Immigration backlash Mon, 23 May 2016 01:02:54 +0000 PETERBOROUGH, England — Seen from London, Edinburgh, Oxford or other havens of the cosmopolitan British elite, this country’s vote next month on whether to quit the European Union may appear to be a relatively easy choice.

Not a day goes by when a foreign leader, renowned economist or military chief doesn’t warn of the dire consequences of a vote to leave – for Britain and for the world.

But venture just 45 minutes north of London by train to the ancient market city of Peterborough and it soon becomes clear why, with just over a month to go before the referendum, the polls are running nearly even.

Here, the initials EU are spat rather than spoken, Brussels is a dirty word, and all the prophecies of doom seem a small risk compared with the opportunity to unshackle Britain from Europe.

For in Peterborough – by at least one measure the least EU-friendly city in Britain – Europe doesn’t mean the world’s most prosperous and peaceful continent. It means a mass influx of Eastern European immigrants across open borders that residents say has transformed this city beyond all measure.

“This used to be the posh part of Peterborough. Look at it now,” David Jackson, a 41-year-old teacher, said as he ruefully surveyed the scene on Lincoln Road, the commercial heart of the city’s multiethnic immigrant communities. “Romanians pissing in the park. Lithuanians out on the street drinking, doing drugs. Even the rats here are on heroin.”

If Britain does vote to leave the EU on June 23, analysts say, a powerfully emotional backlash against decades of immigration in cities such as Peterborough will be the primary driver.

“Immigration is by far the best issue for the ‘Leave’ campaign,” Freddie Sayers, editor in chief of the polling firm YouGov, wrote in a recent analysis. “If the coming referendum were only a decision on immigration, the Leave campaign would win by a landslide.”

Although the EU itself ranks near the bottom of surveys measuring the issues that matter to Britons, immigration – levels of which have been at historic highs – often tops the list. Advocates for a British exit have hammered the point, arguing that getting out of the EU is the only way for the country to control its borders, because the 28-member club guarantees its citizens freedom of movement.

The anti-EU campaign’s emphasis on metaphorically walling off the British Isles and, in some cases, demonizing immigrants as criminals, addicts or welfare cheats has generated comparisons to the xenophobia and nativism of another political movement that is shaking the Western political establishment this year.

“The Leave campaign is really the Trump campaign with better hair,” William Hague, a pro-EU former British foreign secretary, wrote last week, describing a “transatlantic mirror-image” of resentment toward foreigners and protest against the political class.

America’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee has endorsed Brexit, as the British departure from the EU is popularly known. But the Leave campaign has not welcomed Donald Trump’s support, and it bristles at any parallel.

To Stewart Jackson, Peterborough’s ardently anti-EU representative in Parliament, Trump is nothing more than a “media-driven buffoon” who has built his campaign on prejudice and bigotry. The push for Brexit, by contrast, is in his eyes a rational rejection of a supernational union that limits British control over its own laws, “something that no American would accept.”

“We have an old-fashioned view that the best people to run Britain are the British,” Jackson said. “That shouldn’t be a radical concept.”

Still, Jackson acknowledged that when it comes to immigration, there are similarities in the fervency of the backlash in Britain and the United States.

The foreign-born population in both countries is about 13 percent. But immigration has grown significantly faster in the United Kingdom, with the number of foreign-born residents more than doubling over the past two decades. Last year, net migration to Britain – the difference between inflows and inflows – hit a record high at 336,000. Of those, 180,000 were EU citizens, who can move to Britain simply by hopping aboard a plane or a train. Unlike in countries across continental Europe, refugees made up only a relatively small portion of the inflow in Britain.

Peterborough has been a particular magnet for Eastern Europeans, who have come by the tens of thousands to work the surrounding fields of asparagus, potatoes and beets, or to take relatively low-paid service jobs in the city center.

Those immigrants have helped make Peterborough one of the fastest-growing cities in Britain – with an unemployment rate lower than the national average – and they describe it as a land of opportunity.

“I love this country, and I love this city,” said Simona Budvyte, a 27-year-old Lithuanian who moved to Peterborough nearly five years ago, along with her newborn. “My daughter goes to school here. She’s learning English better than me.”

Budvyte spoke as she busily swept the sidewalk in front of the Lithuanian restaurant where she works as a waitress, along a stretch of Lincoln Road that includes Baltic convenience stores, Indian curry houses and Portugese tapas joints. She said the diverse population blends well in Peterborough, and that the restaurant attracts a clientele from all over. “Everyone likes Lithuanian food,” she said proudly.

But not everyone in Peterborough likes the changes that have come to their city as a result of the immigrant influx.

“You can’t just keep taking people,” said Chris Brooks, a 62-year-old art dealer and resolute supporter of the Leave campaign. “There’s definitely some bitterness out here.”

He criticized the new arrivals for “not doing anything” and for “coming here and working for less than the average English person wants.”

Jackson, the member of Parliament, said his constituents aren’t naturally prejudiced toward foreigners. But he said they have been poorly served by governments that cheer the overall economic benefits of immigration without accounting for the downside: Hospitals and schools are strained, waiting lists for public housing grow longer, and workers – particularly those with low skills – are squeezed out of the labor market.

“People in London get their skinny organic lattes served to them by an immigrant at a cafe, and they don’t see the impact that uncontrolled immigration has on people in low-skill work,” he said. “We’re creating a subculture of people who are alienated from society. And that fuels anger and resentment.”

The resentment is especially acute in Peterborough. It’s one of the largest cities in Britain without a university, meaning that young people have to go elsewhere to finish their schooling. That’s helped to make the city fertile ground for “out,” with support for Brexit highest among less-educated voters.

“We’re 40 miles from Cambridge, but we might as well be 40,000,” said Joseph Wells, the 24-year-old local coordinator for the campaign to keep Britain inside the EU.

Wells acknowledged that finding enthusiastic supporters for his cause has been a struggle. Until recently, his volunteer cadre numbered in the single digits.

Pro-Brexit campaigners, by contrast, say they expect little trouble motivating their troops to hit the streets over the coming month.

“We’re going to paint this town red and white,” said prominent local Brexit backer Lisa Duffy, referring to the colors of the “Vote Leave” signs that have sprung up amid the yellow fields of rapeseed that ring Peterborough.

For Duffy and her partner, Peter Reeve, the referendum is the culmination of more than a decade of campaigning for a British exit. But Reeve said he’s nervous that immigration alone won’t be enough to persuade a majority of Britons to back his cause.

Voters, he said, want to know what Britain will look like outside the EU, and that’s a question that no one can definitively answer. The “in” camp, for instance, argues that promises of dramatically reduced EU immigration following Brexit are a fantasy, because the union will demand Britain accept free movement as a condition of continued access to Europe’s common market.

But at least with Brexit, Reeve tells his wavering neighbors, the country will control its destiny.

“We’d have a voice again,” he said. “Then we’ll be able to be as open and tolerant or as closed as we want to be.”

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U.S. escalates role in Afghan war with attack on Taliban’s top leader Mon, 23 May 2016 00:09:36 +0000 ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The U.S. airstrike thought to have killed Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour over the weekend represents another escalation in U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan by trying to cripple an insurgent group that has for years found refuge on Pakistani soil.

Although U.S. officials were awaiting final confirmation of Mansour’s death, the strike early Saturday marks the most aggressive U.S. military action in Pakistan since the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also believed to be the first time that the U.S. military has directly targeted the top leader of the Afghan Taliban, a potentially destabilizing action that could leave the group violently lashing out as it seeks to find a new leader.

“This is an unprecedented move to decapitate the Taliban leadership in its safe haven of Pakistan,” said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert of the Brookings Institution. “It exposes Pakistan’s role in promoting and protecting the Taliban, and will provoke a crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations.”

But unlike the bin Laden raid, which prompted outrage in Pakistan, the reported airstrike on Mansour provoked a fairly muted reaction Sunday from Pakistani government and military leaders, even as Afghan officials cheered and described the attack as proof of the Afghan Taliban’s deep presence in Pakistan.

“While further investigations are being carried out, Pakistan wishes to once again state that the drone attack was a violation of its sovereignty,” the country’s foreign office said in a written statement that also noted it was unable to confirm whether Mansour had been killed.

What the apparent blow means for the Taliban remains uncertain. When Mansour took over after the death of former Taliban leader Mohammad Omar was announced last year, he had already effectively been running the group for two years, said Wahid Mozhda, a former Taliban diplomat who is now a political analyst in Kabul.

Appointing a successor now may be more challenging, with Omar’s eldest son, Mohammad Yaqob, and top deputies Serajuddin Haqqani and Moulavi Habatullah Akhunzada likely vying for control.

If Mansour’s death is confirmed (some Taliban supporters deny he was killed) the strike will pose even more turmoil for an insurgency movement that was already showing signs of fraying, despite continued success on the battlefield.

For Taliban leaders, a key question is whether Saturday’s drone strike will be followed up by additional U.S. military actions in southwestern Pakistan.

Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani general who was Pakistan’s defense attache to Kabul from 2003 to 2006, said the Taliban will now face “a very difficult choice.”

“If they remain in Quetta, in their comfort zone, they will have to deal with some Pakistani pressure to leave,” he said. “But if they go out, they will have to deal with attacks that could be life-threatening.”

U.S. officials said the drone strike was justified because Mansour refused to negotiate with Afghan leaders and had been plotting to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who was traveling in Burma, said in a statement Sunday.

In a statement late Saturday, the Pentagon said several unmanned U.S. aircraft struck a vehicle in which Mansour was traveling in western Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Local officials in Baluchistan said they recovered a charred vehicle and two bodies.

The passenger, suspected of being Mansour, had a Pakistani passport registered to an address in Karachi. The other man was apparently a taxi driver, local officials said.

“On Thursday night, he told me that he’ll be on a long drive with a passenger coming from Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Qasim, the brother of the driver. “I don’t know anything other than that.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in Qatar for a two-day state summit. But Ghani’s spokesman described the strike as a potential turning point in the 14½ -year-old Afghanistan conflict.

“This shows the strong U.S. resolve in fighting those who are against peace and are terrorists,” said Dawa Khan Mina Pal, the spokesman.

After a truck bombing in Kabul about a month ago that killed at least 64 people, the Afghan president signaled that he may try to get the United States to expand the war into Pakistan. In a speech before parliament, Ghani said he had all but given up on the peace process and urged Pakistan to take decisive action against Taliban militants on its side of the border.

If Pakistan failed to act, he warned, Afghanistan would call for “responsible international entities” to “act outside of Afghanistan against the criminals whose hands are stained in the blood” of Afghans.

But with just 9,800 American troops on the ground, Obama has been trying for months to transition the U.S. military out of direct offensive action in Afghanistan.

About 6,600 troops are based in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission to train Afghan security forces. The remaining U.S. troops are stationed there for counterterrorism missions targeting al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The U.S. does not officially designate the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist group.

But under their rules of engagement, U.S. forces are allowed to take defensive action when threatened by the Taliban.

It was not clear how a kill-strike against Mansour in Pakistan fits into the criteria. Most previous U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan were carried out by the CIA in the northwestern tribal belt.

“This presented an opportunity to eliminate the threat Mansour posed,” said Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, chief spokesman for the U.S-led coalition.

Noting the limited reaction Sunday in Pakistan, some Pakistani analysts wondered whether Pakistan’s military could have secretly sanctioned the airstrike.

Muhammad, the retired Pakistani general, said he doubts Pakistan wanted Mansour killed.

“Obviously, they want a Taliban group that remains united because, if fragmented, it becomes much more difficult to control,” said Muhammad, who still stays in contact with some elements of the Taliban leadership. “This will create a very difficult situation for Pakistan, especially due to expectations Pakistan should bring them to the peace table.”

Mansour brought the leadership of the Haqqani network, a somewhat independent offshoot of the Taliban that the United States considers a terrorist group, into his command structure. Coalition commanders have said that Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was named Mansour’s top deputy, is taking a leading role in planning battlefield strategy .

Some Afghan analysts believe that Haqqani, known for employing especially brutal tactics against coalition forces and foreigners, is now well-positioned to assume full control over the Taliban. But Mansour’s other two deputies, Akhundzada and Yaqob, are also considered top contenders for the job.

Both Muhammad, the retired Pakistani general, and Mozhda, who worked as diplomat when the Taliban controlled Kabul before 2001, think Yaqob would have the upper hand in a leadership struggle.

Muhammad noted that most senior Taliban commanders come from southern Afghanistan and would seek to install a leader from that same region. Haqqani is from eastern Afghanistan.

Adbul Qayoum Zakir, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and member of the Taliban executive council, could be a dark-horse candidate, Muhammad said.

Regardless, the leadership struggle may not be accompanied by a lull in violence.

After Omar’s death was announced last summer, the Taliban launched three major attacks in Kabul within 24 hours, killing more than 50 people.

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Submarine joins search for EgyptAir jetliner recorders Sun, 22 May 2016 23:45:37 +0000 CAIRO — Egypt sent a submarine Sunday to join the hunt for the flight recorders from the EgyptAir jetliner that crashed in the Mediterranean and killed all 66 people aboard, while hundreds of Coptic Christian mourners filled a church in Cairo to pray for their relatives among the dead.

Mounting evidence pointed to a sudden and dramatic catastrophe that led to Thursday’s crash of Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, although Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said it “will take time” to establish what happened aboard the Airbus A320.

In his first public comments since the crash, el-Sissi cautioned against premature speculation.

“It is very, very important to us to establish the circumstances that led to the crash of that aircraft,” el-Sissi said in remarks broadcast live on Egyptian TV. “There is not one scenario that we can exclusively subscribe to. … All scenarios are possible.”

A submarine belonging to the Oil Ministry was headed to the site about 180 miles north of the Egyptian port of Alexandria to join the search, el-Sissi said. The vessel can operate at a depth of 9,800 feet, he said.

After starting his comments with a minute of silence to remember the victims, he thanked the nations that have joined Egyptian ships and aircraft in the search.

Beside Egypt, ships and planes from Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece and the United States are taking part in the search for debris from the aircraft, including its flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Some wreckage, including human remains, has been recovered already.

Egypt’s aviation industry has been under international scrutiny since Oct. 31, when a Russian Airbus A321 traveling to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Russia said the crash was caused by a bomb planted on the plane, and the local branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility, citing Moscow’s involvement in Syria.

Thursday’s crash will further damage Egypt’s tourism industry, already reeling from years of political turmoil. The nation of 90 million people has been in crisis after crisis since a popular 2011 uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

El-Sissi spoke a day after the leak of flight data indicated a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane’s cockpit windows in the final moments of the flight.

Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet into the sea, never issuing a distress call.

The data was published by The Aviation Herald.

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Absentee ballot count to decide extremely close Austrian election Sun, 22 May 2016 20:02:08 +0000 VIENNA – With direct ballots counted but a final result still outstanding, Sunday’s elections for Austria’s presidency were too close to call a winner between a right-wing politician and a challenger whose views stand in stark opposition to his rival’s anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic message.

The direct votes gave right-winger Norbert Hofer 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent for Alexander Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent. But final projections that included still-to-be-counted absentee ballots put each at 50 percent with Van der Bellen narrowly ahead.

Those nearly 700,000 absentee ballots will be counted Monday, making them the likely decider by a minuscule portion of votes, considering that 4.48 million people voted directly Sunday.

Candidates backed by the long-dominant Social Democratic and centrist People’s Party were eliminated in last month’s first round, which means neither party would hold the presidency for the first time since the end of the war. That reflects disillusionment with the status quo, and their approach to the migrant crisis and other issues.

But Sunday’s voting revealed a profound split over which direction the nation should now take, particularly over migration and the future of the European Union.

Van der Bellen’s supporters back liberal refugee policies and a strong, unified EU. Hofer’s Freedom Party wants closed borders and campaigns consistently on strong anti-EU sentiment within the country.

Hofer and Van der Bellen drew clear lines between themselves both during the campaign and as they voted Sunday.

Asked as he arrived to cast his ballot what differentiated him from Hofer, Van der Bellen said: “I think I’m pro-European and there are some doubts as far as Mr. Hofer is concerned.”

Hofer, in turn, used his last pre-election gathering to deliver a message with anti-Muslim overtones.

“To those in Austria who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women – I say to those people: ‘This is not your home,”‘ he told a cheering crowd Friday.

On Sunday, Hofer sought to soothe international fears that he is a radical far-righter. The Austria Press Agency cited him as telling foreign reporters Sunday that he is “really OK,” and “not a dangerous person.”

Still, with the elections reverberating beyond Austria’s borders, such assurances are unlikely to have much weight. A Hofer win would be viewed by European parties of all political stripes as evidence of a further advance of populist Eurosceptic parties at the expense of the establishment.

In Austria, the result could upend decades of business-as-usual politics, with the two candidates serving notice they are not satisfied with the ceremonial role for which most predecessors have settled.

Van der Bellen says he would not swear in a Freedom Party chancellor even if that party wins the next elections, scheduled within the next two years. Hofer has threatened to dismiss Austria’s government coalition of the Social Democrats and the People’s Party if it fails to heed his repeated admonitions to do a better job – and is casting himself as the final arbiter of how the government is performing.

The constitution gives the president the right not only to sack the government but also to dissolve parliament. Still, both men are likely to avoid open confrontation, even if they occasionally stray from the usual ceremonial functions associated with the office, such as greeting incoming ambassadors, cutting ribbons and giving rubber-stamp approvals of new governments.

Political scientists suggested as much.

“The president can function only if he cooperates with the government,” said Anton Pelinka,. “I therefore see any outcome as having major atmospheric but less immediate political significance.”

Peter Filzmaier said both would tone down their messages if elected, because “if they constantly take positions without being able to enact their views, they will soon have the image of a ranting heckler who cannot accomplish anything politically.”

At the same time, Hofer as president may be unwelcome in some European capitals as governments there try to keep their populist Eurosceptic parties in check. And the Freedom Party’s anti-Muslim campaigning also could result in Mideast governments avoiding him.

It would not be a first for Austria. President Kurt Waldheim, who was backed by the centrist People’s Party, was boycotted internationally decades ago after revelations that he served in a German unit linked to atrocities in World War II.

Even with the vote still undecided, Hofer worked Sunday to lessen any negative international fallout should he be declared the victor. He said, the international community will soon realize that reports that he is on the far-right extremist fringe “do not jibe with the facts.”

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Suspect in Massachusetts officer’s slaying released from prison in 2013 Sun, 22 May 2016 17:42:02 +0000 AUBURN, Mass.  —The man suspected of killing a Massachusetts police officer during a weekend traffic stop had a lengthy criminal record and had been released from a maximum-security prison in 2013, officials said Monday.

The suspect, 35-year-old Jorge Zambrano, was fatally shot by police late Sunday after he burst out of a bedroom closet and opened fire on officers inside a duplex apartment in Oxford, investigators said. Oxford is about 7 miles from Auburn, where police Officer Ronald Tarentino was fatally shot early Sunday morning.

A state trooper was shot in the shoulder by Zambrano, and officers returned fire, state police Col. Richard McKeon said.

The trooper, an 18-year veteran of the force and former U.S. Navy Seal, underwent surgery late Sunday night and was recovering in the hospital. The trooper’s name wasn’t released.

Zambrano died at a hospital.

State officials said Zambrano had been released from the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley on Nov. 1, 2013, after serving time on a list of charges, including cocaine trafficking, two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and two counts of resisting arrest.

The violent bedroom encounter came nearly 18 hours after Tarentino pulled over Zambrano at about 12:30 a.m. in Auburn, because the license plate on the SUV he was driving was not registered to that vehicle, said Paul Jarvey, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr.

Zambrano fatally shot the 42-year-old officer and then fled, investigators said.

Officials later learned that he was at the Oxford duplex and spotted what they believed was his vehicle parked behind the building. Jarvey said Zambrano knew someone who lives at the duplex.

Tarentino had been with the Auburn police force for two years, and before that worked with the Leicester Police Department in his hometown. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

State and local police officers lined up outside of the hospital Sunday as a police vehicle, escorted by a procession, took Tarentino’s body to the state medical examiner’s office in Boston, where the vehicle was met by another large contingent of officers.

Outside the Auburn police station, the American flag was lowered to half-staff. The town’s residents left bouquets of flowers and miniature American flags piled at the bottom of a stone monument dedicated to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

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Bad night for moose crashes in New Hampshire’s North Country Sun, 22 May 2016 13:57:02 +0000 TWIN MOUNTAIN, N.H. – New Hampshire state police say they were pretty busy Saturday night with moose accidents in the North Country.

Troopers say they responded to three separate collisions within a three-hour span involving drivers striking moose.

They say the first occurred on Route 2 in Randolph just after 7 p.m., when a man in a Toyota struck a moose. The next was at 9:32 p.m., when they say two cars struck a moose on Interstate 93 in the town of Sugar Hill. The third took place on Route 110 in Stark at 9:50 p.m., when police say a couple in a minivan hit a moose.

Police say all the vehicles involved were heavily damaged but the occupants suffered only minor injuries.

Drivers are reminded to be aware that moose and deer are on the move day and night.

]]> 0, 22 May 2016 17:30:11 +0000
U.S. airstrike likely kills Taliban leader Sun, 22 May 2016 00:13:08 +0000 WASHINGTON — The U.S. conducted an airstrike Saturday against Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, the Pentagon said, and a U.S. official said Mansour was believed to have been killed.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the attack occurred in a remote region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He said the U.S. was still studying the results of the attack, essentially leaving Mansour’s fate uncertain.

But one U.S. official not authorized to discuss the operation publicly said Mansour and a second male combatant accompanying him in a vehicle were probably killed. This official said the attack was authorized by President Obama.

Cook said Mansour has been “actively involved with planning attacks” across Afghanistan. He called Mansour “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation” between the Taliban and the Afghan government who has barred top Taliban officials from joining peace talks.

Members of Congress lauded the attack. One lawmaker said Mansour’s death, if confirmed, would be a significant blow to the Taliban, though not be enough to allow the U.S. to disengage from a conflict that has involved thousands of U.S. troops for nearly 15 years.

“We must remain vigilant and well-resourced in the field, and must continue to help create the conditions for a political solution,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was glad Mansour “has met his just end” but urged stepped-up coalition attacks on the Taliban.

“Our troops are in Afghanistan today for the same reason they deployed there in 2001 – to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for global terrorists,” McCain said.

The U.S. official said the attack was carried out by unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. Special Operations Forces. The official said the operation occurred at about 6 a.m. EDT southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal and caused no collateral damage because it occurred in an isolated region.

Mansour was chosen to take the helm of the Afghan Taliban last summer after the death several years earlier of the organization’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, became public. Mullah Omar’s longtime deputy, Mansour had actually been the Taliban’s de facto leader for years, according to the Afghan government.

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