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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Windsor gears up for royal wedding, embraces Harry, Meghan

May 19, 2018

WINDSOR, England (AP) — Meghan Markle will have an heir to the British throne walk her down the aisle — and have her mother and friends on hand for support — when she marries Prince Harry at Windsor Castle.

Friday's announcement that Markle has asked her future father-in-law Prince Charles to offer a supporting elbow, stepping in for Markle's father after he became ill, meant arrangements were almost complete for Saturday's royal wedding.

The event's mix of royalty, celebrity, pomp and ceremony has drawn stratospheric levels of interest around the world and will be broadcast live to tens of millions. Kensington Palace said Prince Charles "is pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Markle to the royal family in this way" after Markle's father Thomas was unable to attend due to illness.

Thousands of well-wishers descended Friday on Windsor amid final preparations for the wedding, which has drawn royal fans and an international media throng to the castle town and royal residence 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of London.

Union Jacks have been unfurled, security barriers and police patrols put into place and fans were already camping out to capture the prime viewing positions for Saturday's royal carriage ride through the town.

Harry and Prince William, his brother and best-man, delighted royal fans when they emerged from Windsor Castle late Friday afternoon to greet well-wishers. If Harry was feeling nervous, he didn't show it. The smiling prince gave a thumb's up and answered "Great, thank you" when asked how he was feeling on the eve of his wedding. The 33-year-old prince accepted a teddy bear from one well-wisher as he chatted to people from Britain, the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

Tens of thousands of spectators, including many Americans who have come in support of the California-born Markle, are expected in Windsor to soak up the royal atmosphere. British police say they will be subject to airport-style security scanners and bag searches. Metal barriers have also been erected to stop vehicle attacks like the ones that killed several people on London and Westminster bridges last year.

Sniffer dogs and mounted patrols are also out and about, and well-wishers have been asked not to throw confetti when the newlyweds ride through town in a horse-drawn carriage Saturday. "It poses a potential security risk and it's a bit of a pain to clean up!" said Thames Valley Police.

Buckingham Palace also announced that Queen Elizabeth II's husband the Duke of Edinburgh will attend the royal wedding, just a few weeks after undergoing a hip replacement operation. Harry's 96-year-old grandfather has largely retired from public duties and it had not been clear earlier whether he would be well enough to attend.

Markle's mother, Doria Ragland, flew to England from her California home earlier in the week and had tea Friday with the queen at Windsor Castle. It was her first meeting with a head of state within whom she's about to share a family bond.

On Thursday, Ragland dined with William's family and a day earlier she met Charles and his wife Camilla. Ragland had been was the bookies' favorite to escort the bride down the aisle, but Charles has a lifetime of experience in appearing at large-scale public events amid intense scrutiny.

"I think some people will be disappointed — people who were looking forward to the historic moment of a woman walking her daughter down the aisle, and a woman of mixed race heritage from America. It would have made an historic shot," said royal historian Robert Lacey.

But, he added, "for Prince Charles, the future king, to walk a bride down the aisle, what more could Meghan dream of?" Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who will conduct the wedding ceremony, said Charles is "a very warm person and that he's doing this is a sign of his love and concern and support. And I think it's wonderful. It's beautiful."

The archbishop also said Harry and Markle are "a very self-possessed couple" and the atmosphere in rehearsals has been "relaxed, laughing and enjoyable." It's not the first time a royal bride hasn't been walked down the aisle by her father. The monarch's sister, the late Princess Margaret, was walked down the aisle by Prince Philip because her father was dead. Queen Victoria walked two daughters down the aisle.

Roseline Morris, 35-year-old fan from Basildon, England, noted that Charles hasn't got a daughter himself. "He's never going to get the chance to walk a daughter down the aisle, so this will be nice for him as well," she said.

Having the father of the groom escort the bride is yet another twist in a royal wedding that is proving to be different from many others. Master baker Claire Ptak said Friday that the royal wedding cake — a three-part layered lemon and elderflower cake — will have an "ethereal" taste and be presented in a non-traditional way.

Markle will not have a maid of honor but there will be 10 young bridesmaids and page boys, including 4-year-old Prince George and 3-year-old Princess Charlotte, the elder children of William and his wife Kate.

The 600 invited guests include members of the royal family and celebrity friends of Harry and Meghan's including, it's rumored, Elton John. Also invited are several of Markle's co-stars from the legal TV drama "Suits."

The couple will be married by Welby in a Church of England ceremony, but the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, will also deliver a sermon. Curry — the son of an American civil rights activist and the descendant of African slaves — has spoken out for gay rights and plans to join a march on the White House next week to reject U.S. President Donald Trump's "America first" stance.

On Friday, Curry said seeing the couple up close, he saw "two real people who are obviously in love." "When I see them, something in my heart leaps," he said. "That's why 2 billion people are watching them."

Lawless reported from London. Danica Kirka contributed from London.

No clear winner: Mixed results in local English elections

May 04, 2018

LONDON (AP) — The two major parties have failed to deliver a knockout blow to one another in a series of English local elections. Results released Friday showed the left-leaning Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has gained ground in some parts of England but was unable to dent Conservative Party strongholds in key parts of London.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party did not lose significant ground in the local results of city and town councils in many parts of England despite the party's weak showing in last year's general election.

Party chairman Brandon Lewis said the Conservatives did better than expected. Support for the right-wing U.K. Independence Party faltered badly after a series of leadership changes following its successful role in the 2016 referendum to take Britain out of the European Union.

Meghan and Harry choose horse-drawn carriage for wedding day

May 02, 2018

LONDON (AP) — It wouldn't be a royal wedding without a horse-drawn carriage. Royal officials say Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have chosen an open-topped Ascot Landau from the royal carriage collection to use in their wedding procession.

The couple's office said Wednesday that after their May 19 wedding the newlyweds will take the carriage, pulled by four horses, from Windsor Castle through the town center and back for their reception.

Thousands of people are expected to line the streets of the town west of London to see them. Kensington Palace says the couple hope it "will be a memorable moment for everyone who has gathered together in Windsor to enjoy the atmosphere of this special day."

If it rains, the couple will use the Scottish State Coach, which has a glass roof.

Turkey marks 1944 tragedy of Crimean Tatars

18.05.2018

ANKARA

Turkey on Friday remembered the deportation and ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars 74 years ago by the Soviet Union.

In a written statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said that some 250,000 Crimean Tatar Turks were exiled thousands of kilometers away from their homeland on the night of May 17-18, 1944.

"Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatar Turks perished under the inhumane circumstances of this deportation," Aksoy said. "Many of them passed away in exile under harsh conditions. Today more than 100,000 Crimean Tatar Turks still live far from their homeland."

"On this occasion, we commemorate those who lost their lives during this exile and respectfully bow before their memory," Aksoy said.

He also marked the date of May 21, 1864, which is commemorated as the anniversary of the “Circassian Exile” tragedy.

"During the invasion of the Caucasus by Czarist Russia, hundreds of thousands of Caucasian people lost their lives. Many survivors were exiled from their homeland and had to take shelter in Anatolia. The pain of this tragedy is still alive," he said.

On May 18, 1944, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime, which accused them of collaborating with occupying Nazi forces.

The Crimean Tatars were deported to various regions within Soviet territory, in particular Siberia and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the exiles, who endured long months of dire living conditions, are thought to have died of starvation and disease.

The exile continued until 1987, when the Soviet government allowed 2,300 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. Another 19,300 people followed in 1988.

Nearly 1.5 million Circassians were expelled from the region to the east of the Black Sea when it was overrun by Russia in 1864. Some 400,000-500,000 are believed to have died.

Most of the Circassian exiles were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, settling as far away as present-day Jordan.

Source: Anadolu Agency.
Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/todays-headlines/turkey-marks-1944-tragedy-of-crimean-tatars/1149837.

Croats gather in Austria for controversial commemoration

May 12, 2018

BLEIBURG, Austria (AP) — Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters gathered in a field in southern Austria on Saturday to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazi Croats by victorious communists at the end of World War II.

The controversial annual event was held amid a surge of far-right sentiment in Croatia, the European Union's newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly pro-fascist soldiers known as Ustashas, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav army offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful anti-fascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.

The Croatian Ustasha regime sent tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian anti-fascists to death camps during the war. Top Croatian officials attended Saturday's gathering Saturday on a vast field surrounded by mountains. Croatian Catholic Church clergy held a Mass for the killed Croats.

"Awful crimes have been committed in the Bleiburg field," Croatian parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said. "Today we are paying our respect to the victims, civilians as well as soldiers." Croatia's center-right government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the rising extremism and downplaying the crimes of the Ustasha regime. The policies have triggered protests from Croatia's minority Jewish and Serb communities.

Top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said he tried to persuade Austria's conservative government to ban the rally, but without success. "It's absolutely outrageous that Austrian authorities allow an event like this to happen," Zuroff told The Associated Press by phone from Jerusalem. "In Austria, you are not allowed to brandish Nazi symbols, but they allow Ustasha symbols."

For the first time since the first massive commemoration was held in the 1990s, Austrian authorities on Saturday banned the Ustasha insignia to be worn at the event. Despite the ban, some participants brandished T-shirts bearing the Ustasha wartime call: "For the Homeland, ready!"

"The main culprit of the tragedy of those people was the British Army because they tricked the Croatian soldiers to disarm before they were handed over to (Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz) Tito," said Branko Mandic, one of the mourners.

A small anti-Fascist rally was held in the town of Bleiburg, with protesters displaying banners reading "Nazis Out!" Croatian officials repeatedly have denied backing policies that run counter to European Union standards, saying they are focused on major economic and social reforms and not the revival of the far-right sentiments.

Trump thrusts abortion fight into crucial midterm elections

May 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration acted Friday to bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, energizing its conservative political base ahead of crucial midterm elections while setting the stage for new legal battles.

The Health and Human Services Department sent its proposal to rewrite the rules to the White House, setting in motion a regulatory process that could take months. Scant on details, an administration overview of the plan said it would echo a Reagan-era rule by banning abortion referrals by federally funded clinics and forbidding them from locating in facilities that also provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, a principal provider of family planning, abortion services and basic preventive care for women, said the plan appears designed to target the organization. "The end result would make it impossible for women to come to Planned Parenthood, who are counting on us every day," said executive vice president Dawn Laguens.

But presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the administration is simply recognizing "that abortion is not family planning. This is family planning money." The policy was derided as a "gag rule" by abortion rights supporters, a point challenged by the administration, which said counseling about abortion would be OK, but not referrals. It's likely to trigger lawsuits from opponents, and certain to galvanize activists on both sides of the abortion debate going into November's congressional elections.

The policy "would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Social and religious conservatives have remained steadfastly loyal to President Donald Trump despite issues like his reimbursements to attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to a porn star alleging an affair, and Trump's past boasts of sexually aggressive behavior. Trump has not wavered from advancing the agenda of the religious right.

Tuesday night, Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List's "campaign for life" gala. The group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion. It says it spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton and promote a "pro-life Senate."

The original Reagan-era family planning rule barred clinics from discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring "nondirective" counseling to include a full range of options for women.

The Trump administration said its proposal will roll back the Clinton requirement that abortion be discussed as an option along with prenatal care and adoption. Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women a year through clinics, costing taxpayers about $260 million.

Although abortion is politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report .

Abortion remains legal, but federal family planning funds cannot be used to pay for the procedure. Planned Parenthood clinics now qualify for Title X family planning grants, but they keep that money separate from funds that pay for abortions.

Abortion opponents say a taxpayer-funded program should have no connection to abortion. Doctors' groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling women trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the administration action amounts to an "egregious intrusion" in the doctor-patient relationship and could force doctors to omit "essential, medically accurate information" from counseling sessions with patients.

Planned Parenthood's Laguens hinted at legal action, saying, "we will not stand by while our basic health care and rights are stripped away." Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents clinics, said requiring physical separation from abortion facilities is impractical and would disrupt services for women.

"I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged," Marcella said. But abortion opponents said Trump is merely reaffirming the core mission of the family planning program.

"The new regulations will draw a bright line between abortion centers and family planning programs, just as ... federal law requires and the Supreme Court has upheld," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a key voice for religious conservatives.

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said, "Abortion is not health care or birth control and many women want natural health care choices, rather than hormone-induced changes." Abortion opponents allege the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins' group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers to support the Trump administration's proposal.

Abortion opponents say the administration plan is not a "gag rule." It "will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion ... but neither will it include the current mandate that (clinics) must counsel and refer for abortion," said the administration's own summary.

Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Trump's pull out from Iran deal deepens US isolation

May 09, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran, abruptly restoring harsh sanctions in the most consequential foreign policy action of his presidency. He declared he was making the world safer, but he also deepened his isolation on the world stage and revived doubts about American credibility.

The 2015 agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration and included Germany, France and Britain, had lifted most U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program, making it impossible to produce a bomb and establishing rigorous inspections.

But Trump, a severe critic of the deal dating back to his presidential campaign, said Tuesday in a televised address from the White House that it was "defective at its core." U.S. allies in Europe had tried to keep him in and lamented his move to abandon it. Iran's leader ominously warned his country might "start enriching uranium more than before."

The sanctions seek to punish Iran for its nuclear program by limiting its ability to sell oil or do business overseas, affecting a wide range of Iranian economic sectors and individuals. Major companies in the U.S. and Europe could be hurt, too. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that licenses held by Boeing and its European competitor Airbus to sell billions of dollars in commercial jetliners to Iran will be revoked. Certain exemptions are to be negotiated, but Mnuchin refused to discuss what products might qualify.

He said the sanctions will sharply curtail sales of oil by Iran, which is currently the world's fifth largest oil producer. Mnuchin said he didn't expect oil prices to rise sharply, forecasting that other producers will step up production.

Iran's government must now decide whether to follow the U.S. and withdraw or try to salvage what's left with the Europeans. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he was sending his foreign minister to the remaining countries but warned there was only a short time to negotiate with them.

Laying out his case, Trump contended, "If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world's leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world's most dangerous weapons."

The administration said it would re-impose sanctions on Iran immediately but allow grace periods for businesses to wind down activity. Companies and banks doing business with Iran will have to scramble to extricate themselves or run afoul of the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, for nations contemplating striking their own sensitive deals with Trump, such as North Korea, the withdrawal will increase suspicions that they cannot expect lasting U.S. fidelity to international agreements it signs.

Former President Barack Obama, whose administration negotiated the deal, called Trump's action "misguided" and said, "The consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America's credibility and puts us at odds with the world's major powers."

Yet nations like Israel and Saudi Arabia that loathed the deal saw the action as a sign the United States is returning to a more skeptical, less trusting approach to dealing with adversaries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Trump's announcement as a "historic move."

Trump, who repeatedly criticized the accord during his presidential campaign, said Tuesday that documents recently released by Netanyahu showed Iran had attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in the previous decade, especially before 2003. Although Trump gave no explicit evidence that Iran violated the deal, he said Iran had clearly lied in the past and could not be trusted.

Iran has denied ever pursuing nuclear arms. There was a predictably mixed reaction from Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Iran deal "was flawed from the beginning," and he looked forward to working with Trump on next steps. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, slammed Trump in a statement, saying this "rash decision isolates America, not Iran."

In a burst of last-minute diplomacy, punctuated by a visit by Britain's top diplomat, the deal's European members had given ground on many of Trump's demands for reworking the accord, according to officials, diplomats and others briefed on the negotiations. Yet the Europeans realized he was unpersuaded.

Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping about his decision Tuesday. Hours before the announcement, European countries met in Brussels with Iran's deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araghchi.

In Iran, many are deeply concerned about how Trump's decision could affect the already struggling economy. In Tehran, Rouhani sought to calm nerves, smiling as he appeared at a petroleum expo. He didn't name Trump directly, but emphasized that Iran continued to seek "engagement with the world."

The first 15 months of Trump's presidency have been filled with many "last chances" for the Iran deal in which he's punted the decision for another few months, and then another. As he left his announcement Tuesday, he predicted that Iranians would someday "want to make a new and lasting deal" and that "when they do, I am ready, willing and able."

Even Trump's secretary of state and the U.N. agency that monitors nuclear compliance agree that Iran, so far, has lived up to its side of the deal. But the deal's critics, such as Israel, the Gulf Arab states and many Republicans, say it's a giveaway to Tehran that ultimately would pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran.

For the Europeans, Trump's withdrawal constitutes dispiriting proof that trying to appease him is futile. Although the U.S. and Europeans made progress on ballistic missiles and inspections, there were disagreements over extending the life of the deal and how to trigger additional penalties if Iran were found in violation, U.S. officials and European diplomats have said.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller and Ken Thomas in Washington and Amir Vahdat and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.