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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Indonesia gets State Dept. approval for missile purchase

Washington (UPI)
Mar 11, 2016

An Indonesian request to purchase AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles from the United States has been approved by the State Department.

The proposed deal under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program is worth about $90 million, said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages the FMS program.

"The proposed sale improves Indonesia's capability to deter regional threats and strengthen its homeland defense," DSCA said in its required notification to Congress. "Indonesia is able to absorb this additional equipment and support into its armed forces."

The proposed sales package is for 36 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAMs and one Missile Guidance Section. Also included are control section support equipment, spare parts, services, logistics, technical contractor engineering and technical support, and loading adaptors.

The prime contractor for the proposed sale will be determined by competition, DSCA said, and its implementation will not require the assignment of any U.S. government or contractor representatives to Indonesia.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Indonesia_gets_State_Dept_approval_for_missile_purchase_999.html.

Egypt's justice minister sacked after insulting Islam's Prophet

Monday, 14 March 2016

Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zend has been sacked after making "offensive" remarks about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the Anadolu Agency reported Prime Minister Sharif Ismail announcing yesterday.

"Sharif Ismail, head of the Council of Ministers, has decided to dismiss Ahmed Al-Zend, minister of justice, from his post," government spokesman Hossam Al-Qaweesh told Anadolu.

Earlier yesterday, two separate lawsuits were raised with Egypt’s prosecution authorities against Al-Zend accusing him of "insulting" Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

A judicial source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu that Egyptian Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq had received two legal complaints against Al-Zend based on recent televised remarks in which he had "insulted the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him".

According to lawyer Amr Abdel-Salam, who lodged the first complaint, when replying to a question about the detention of journalists, Al-Zend said: "If the Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - insulted me, I would put him in jail."

After his comments sparked widespread public outrage, he was asked by the Council of Ministers to tender his resignation. When he refused, the decision was taken to sack him, according to state media.

Al-Zend, a prominent judicial figure under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, was a vocal supporter of the 2013 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/24473-egypts-justice-minister-sacked-after-insulting-islams-prophet.

Istanbul soccer match called off over unspecified threat

March 20, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities called off the Galatasaray-Fenerbahce derby in Istanbul about two hours before kickoff on Sunday, citing an unspecified threat, and said the match would be played at a later date.

A brief statement from the Istanbul governor's office said the match was canceled following "the assessment of serious intelligence," but didn't provide details. It said the decision was made following "the request and the agreement" of the two bitter rivals.

Unconfirmed media reports said there was a bomb threat at the stadium. The decision came a day after an Islamic State group-linked suicide bomber killed himself and four foreign tourists on Istanbul's main pedestrian street. The attack was the sixth suicide bombing in Turkey since July that have either been blamed on the IS group or claimed by Kurdish militants.

It came amid heightened alert in Turkey in the run-up to the Kurdish spring festival of Newroz, which have led to violent confrontations between Kurdish protesters and Turkish security forces in the past.

Earlier, fans were told that the game would be played without spectators, the state-run Anatole Agency reported, leading to protests by fans who were already inside the stadium. But authorities later decided to delay the game.

Also Sunday, Turkey's national team canceled training scheduled for Monday in Istanbul ahead of international games against Sweden and Austria, Hurried newspaper reported, adding that training would take place in the city of Antalya.

Suicide bomb attack in Istanbul kills 5, including Israeli

March 19, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A suicide attack on Istanbul's main pedestrian shopping street Saturday killed five people, including the bomber and an Israeli citizen, in the sixth suicide bombing in Turkey in the past year. Several foreigners were among 36 people wounded, according to the health ministry.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the explosion occurred outside a local government office on Istiklal Street, which is also home to cafes, restaurants and foreign consulates. Police swiftly sealed off the area as ambulances and a forensic team rushed to the scene after the bombing about 11 a.m. Normally packed cafes were either closed or virtually empty, with business owners making frantic calls to loved ones to assure them of their safety. Rattled tourists wondered where to go.

"It was one loud explosion," said Muhammed Fatur, a Syrian who works at a butcher shop near the scene of the explosion. "Police came to the scene and sealed off the area." Eli Bin, the head of Israel's rescue service MDA, told Channel 2 TV "there is one Israeli killed whose family has been notified" and said 10 Israelis were wounded in the attack. Turkey's private Dogan news agency said the Israeli killed in the attack was a woman. Israel was investigating to see if its nationals were purposely targeted.

Turkey's health minister, Mehmet Muezzinoglu, said the 36 people wounded included six Israelis, two Irish citizens and one person each from Iceland, Germany, Dubai and Iran. Turkey was already on edge following two recent suicide car bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group that is an off-shoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The most recent bombing attack, on March 13, targeted bus stops on Ankara's busiest street, killing 37 people including two bombers.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu convened a security meeting in Istanbul following the attack. His deputy, Numan Kurtulmus said in televised remarks "it is clear that some people are giving logistic support (to terrorists), that some are giving political support and that they are even providing financial support as well as arms."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday's attack. A senior government official said authorities were still trying to determine who carried it out, with suspicion focusing on Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists on the issue.

British singer Skin wrote on Facebook that the blast went off near her ISTANBUL HOTEL and that buildings "shook like paper." She also expressed solidarity with the "innocent people and their families caught in this evil situation."

Turkey has had heightened security in Ankara and Istanbul in the run-up to a Kurdish spring festival of Newroz on March 21, which Kurds in Turkey traditionally use to assert their ethnic identity and demand greater rights.

Cengiz Fidaner, who owns a cafe near the explosion site, told the AP "the explosion was not so big but I felt it in my heart because our people died. They want a war but our people want peace. This is because of Newroz."

NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack in Istanbul, describing it as "yet another terrorist outrage targeting innocent civilians and our ally Turkey." And the U.S. embassy in Turkey expressed shock over the attack on its Twitter account. "We mourn with the families of the lost, and we wish the injured a speedy recovery."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javar Zarif, who was in Istanbul to meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, also condemned the "inhumane" attack and offered his condolences. The Irish foreign and trade minister, Charlie Flanagan, expressed "horror and sadness" at the attack and confirmed that a number of Irish citizens were among the injured.

Video posted on social media apparently capturing the aftermath of the blast showed several motionless bodies lined up at the foot of shuttered shops as a second ambulance arrives at the scene. On Thursday, Germany had closed its embassy in Ankara, the German school in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul, which is in the same neighborhood as the blast, following a security warning. Twelve German tourists were killed in a January suicide attack in a historic district of Istanbul.

Saturday's explosion marks the sixth suicide attack in the country since July. The previous five attacks, which have killed more than 200 people, were either blamed on the Islamic State group by Turkish authorities or claimed by the PKK's off-shoot.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey for three decades in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. A 2-1/2 year peace process between the government and the PKK broke down in July, reviving the conflict. Since then, the country's security forces have launched large-scale operations against Kurdish militants in several southeast cities and towns, which have raised human rights concerns amid scores of civilian deaths.

Turkey, which is also a partner in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State, has also been drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict and forced to absorb 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Fraser reported from Ankara. Bram Janssen in Istanbul, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

Syria regime retakes Palmyra in major victory over ISIL

27 March 2016 Sunday

Syrian troops backed by Russian forces recaptured the famed ancient city of Palmyra from the ISIL group on Sunday in a major victory over the extremists.

Army sappers were defusing mines and bombs planted by ISIL in the city's ancient ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site where the extremists sparked a global outcry with the systematic destruction of treasured monuments.

"After heavy fighting during the night, the army is in full control of Palmyra -- both the ancient site and the residential neighborhoods," a military source told AFP.

ISIL fighters pulled out, retreating towards the towns of Sukhnah and Deir Ezzor to the east.

ISIL overran the Palmyra ruins and adjacent modern city in May 2015.

It has since blown up two of the site's treasured temples, its triumphal arch and a dozen tower tombs, in a campaign of destruction that UNESCO described as a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court.

The extremists used Palmyra's ancient amphitheater as a venue for public executions, including the beheading of the city's 82-year-old former antiquities chief.

The oasis city's recapture is a strategic as well as symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad, since it provides control of the surrounding desert extending all the way to the Iraqi border.

ISIL, behind a string of attacks in the West including last week's Brussels bombings, is under growing pressure from Syrian and Iraqi military offensives to retake key bastions in its self-proclaimed "caliphate".

On Thursday, the Iraqi army announced the launch of an offensive to recapture second city Mosul, held by the extremists since June 2014.

- 'Heaviest losses' for ISIL -

ISIL lost at least 400 fighters in the battle for Palmyra, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

"That's the heaviest losses that ISIL has sustained in a single battle since its creation" in 2013, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"It is a symbolic defeat for ISIL comparable with that in Kobane," a town on the Turkish border where Kurdish fighters held out against a months-long siege by ISIL in 2014-15, he added.

Russian forces, which intervened in support of longtime ally Assad last September, have been heavily involved in the offensive to retake Palmyra despite a major drawdown last week.

Russian warplanes conducted more than 40 combat sorties in just 24 hours from Friday to Saturday, targeting "158 terrorist" positions, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Elsewhere in Syria, a ceasefire in areas held by the government and non-extremist rebels has largely held since February 27, in a boost to diplomatic efforts to end a five-year war that has killed more than 270,000 people.

The recapture of Palmyra sets government forces up for a drive on the extremists' de facto Syrian capital of Raqa in the Euphrates valley to the north.

"The army will have regained confidence and morale, and will have prepared itself for the next expected battle in Raqa," a military source said on Saturday.

With the road linking Palmyra to Raqa now under army control, ISIL fighters in the ancient city can only retreat eastwards towards the Iraqi border.

Palmyra was a major center of the ancient world as it lay on the caravan route linking the Roman Empire with Persia and the east.

Pledging Russian support for the offensive to retake the city earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin described it as a "pearl of world civilization".

Situated about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Damascus, it drew some 150,000 tourists a year before it became engulfed by Syria's devastating civil war.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/170922/syria-regime-retakes-palmyra-in-major-victory-over-isil.

Syrian Kurds declare federal region amid wide criticism

March 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The main Syrian Kurdish group declared a federal region on Thursday in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria, a move that was immediately rejected by both the government and opposition.

Nawaf Khalil, an official with the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, told The Associated Press that the announcement was made at a conference being held in the town of Rmeilan in the northeastern province of Hassakeh.

The move was rejected by the Syrian Foreign Ministry describing it as "unconstitutional and worthless." It warned against any attempt to encroach upon the integrity of Syrian territory. The Syrian National Coalition, one of the main Syrian opposition groups, also said it rejects such unilateral declarations and warned of any attempt to form autonomous regions that, "confiscate the will of the Syrian people."

Khalil said participants in the Rmeilan meeting have approved a "democratic federal system for Rojava-Northern Syria." Rojava is a Kurdish word that refers to three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under Kurdish control in northern Syria: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.

Khalil said participants who include Turkmen, Arabs, Christian and Kurds in northern Syria said after they approved the draft that they are now preparing a final statement that will be read later Thursday.

"Federal and Democratic Syria is a guarantee of coexistence and brotherly relations between people," read a banner posted online from inside the room of the Rmeilan conference. Salih Muslim, the co-president of the PYD, said by telephone that those meeting "are setting up the basis on how constituencies will deal with each other."

Meanwhile in Moscow, the commander of the Russian Air Force said the withdrawal of the bulk of the Russian forces from Syria should be complete in two to three days. Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Thursday that the Air Force aims to meet President Vladimir Putin's deadline and pull out in the next two to three days.

Putin on Monday announced the withdrawal of most of the Russian forces from Syria to end a five-and-a-half-month campaign there. The first group of bombers left for Russia on Tuesday. Moscow didn't specify how many aircraft and troops would be withdrawn. It has not revealed how many soldiers it has deployed to Syria, but U.S. estimates of the number of Russian military personnel vary from 3,000 to 6,000.

UNRWA distributes $6m for reconstruction of Gaza

Monday, 21 March 2016

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced yesterday that it would pay around $6 million to reconstruct and repair Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, Arab48.com reported.

Some $1.78 million has been allocated for rebuilding houses which were destroyed by the Israeli occupation during the 2014 Israeli offensive against Gaza.

The remaining $4.22 million, UNRWA said, has been allocated for repair works in the partially damaged houses during the same offensive.

UNRWA said repairing and rebuilding damaged homes is a top priority, stressing that it is still committed to supporting families affected by the unrest.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24597-unrwa-distributes-6m-for-reconstruction-of-gaza.

Trash pickup resumes in Lebanon, ending eight-month crisis

March 19, 2016

NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) — Sanitation workers began removing mountains of trash from the suburbs of Beirut on Saturday in what residents hoped would mark the end of Lebanon's eight-month garbage crisis. Early in the day, dozens of trucks started carrying trash to the Naameh landfill just south of the capital, one of three landfills opened as part of a temporary solution announced by the government a week ago.

As garbage began piling up in Beirut last year, protesters formed the "You Stink" movement, demanding sweeping reform in Lebanon's government. Since the peaks of the protest in the summer, authorities managed to blunt the public anger by ensuring that the streets of Beirut were kept relatively garbage-free. However, the trash was instead pushed to the city's periphery, where it piled up along roadsides and the banks of the Beirut River.

The government said last week that Naameh, the country's main landfill, will open again for just two months. The crisis began in July, when the Naameh landfill was scheduled to close with no realistic alternatives; Naameh area residents said the dump was over capacity and began blocking the roads to prevent garbage trucks from reaching it.

Despite anger by residents, there were no protests against the reopening of the landfill on Saturday. In the north Beirut suburb of Jdaideh, home to one of the largest trash piles, a bulldozer loaded thousands of trash bags into trucks. Fadwa Saad had to put a mask to avoid the smell of the trash that could be seen from her balcony.

"We are coughing, we have allergies and there are mosquitoes and flies in our homes," she said. "They say they are removing trash. We hope that they really remove it, not only do it for one day and leave the rest."

Spain bus crash kills 13 exchange students; 34 injured

March 20, 2016

MADRID (AP) — A bus carrying university exchange students back from Spain's largest fireworks festival crashed Sunday on a main highway in the northeast, killing at least 13 passengers and injuring 34 others, officials said.

The passengers included Spaniards and foreign nationals from around 20 countries, authorities said. The bus, which was carrying 57 passengers, appeared to have hit a guardrail of the AP7 highway before cartwheeling across the road, slamming through a divider and landing on its side, said Jordi Jane, spokesman for Spain's northeastern Catalonia province.

The students, part of the Erasmus exchange program, had traveled to the eastern city of Valencia to take part in the renowned Fallas fireworks festival and were returning when the bus crashed, Jane said. Most were studying at two universities in Barcelona.

The crash took place near Freginals, halfway between Valencia and Barcelona. Initially, Jane said 14 had died in the crash, but Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz later confirmed the death toll was 13. He said 28 passengers received medical treatment in local hospitals and others received first aid at the crash site.

The regional government of Catalonia said in a statement in the early evening that "according to the latest data, the ill-fated bus had students from Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Italy, Peru, Bulgaria, Poland, Ireland, Japan, Ukraine, Holland, Belgium, France, Palestine, Turkey, Greece."

It added that two countries — New Zealand and Finland — were still pending confirmation. The statement said autopsies had been completed on nine of the 13 dead and a judge would release the bodies to families once full identification was complete in all cases.

Italy's Foreign Ministry confirmed that Italian citizens were among the dead, but did not say how many. But the Italian news agency ANSA, reporting from Madrid, said as many as seven Italians died in the crash.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said in a tweet that his heart is "broken for the Italian victims and for the other young lives destroyed.". Five Italians were reported to be among the injured who were taken to hospitals in Spain.

Poland's Foreign Ministry said one Polish man was hospitalized after the bus crash and Swiss authorities said one young Swiss woman was injured, but had been discharged from a hospital. The bus that crashed was one of five that had traveled to the festival with students from Barcelona, the Catalan government said in a statement.

Television images from state broadcaster TVE showed the bus also crashed into an oncoming car on the opposite side of the highway. The passengers in the car were injured, the Catalan government said. The bus driver was being held at a police station in the city of Tortosa, Jane said. Road conditions were good at the time of the crash and investigators were looking into the cause of the tragedy, he said.

Fernandez Diaz said the driver passed alcohol and drug tests he was given. Jane said emergency rescue workers were working to clear the wreckage that had closed the major highway linking Spain with France along the Mediterranean coast in both directions.

The Erasmus program provides foreign exchange courses for students from counties within the 28-nation European Union and enables them to attend many of the continent's best universities. The Fallas festival is held each year in Valencia on the feast day of St. Joseph and draws thousands of tourists from across the world.

Large wooden monuments and effigies representing famous people often in humorous postures that local workshops take a year to build are burned in a colorful ceremony accompanied by a cacophonous barrage of very noisy fireworks.

Spain's acting PM won't give up on forming "grand coalition"

March 19, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain's acting prime minister rejects stepping aside to ease the political deadlock that has made it impossible for parties to form a government three months after a general election. Mariano Rajoy, speaking at a political rally in Guadamur in the central province of Toledo, vowed he "won't give up" on his idea of forming a "grand coalition government" with the Socialist Party.

Elections held Dec. 20 produced a fragmented parliament with no party winning a majority in the 350-seat chamber. Rajoy, whose Popular Party came in first, insists his party should head a government, but Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists came second, says he won't work with him.

Lawmakers must form a government within the next two months or another general election will be held June 26.

Scottish police investigate killing of Muslim shopkeeper

March 26, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Scottish police say the killing of a Muslim shopkeeper who wished Christians a happy Easter is being investigated as "religiously prejudiced." Vigils were held Friday and Saturday in memory of 40-year-old Asad Shah, who was killed Thursday night in Glasgow.

He had apparently posted messages on Facebook calling for religious harmony: "Good Friday and very happy Easter, especially to my beloved Christian nation x!" Police say a 32-year-old man has been arrested in connection with Shah's death. The suspect, who police say is Muslim, has not been identified or charged.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined the Friday vigil in support of Shah and his family in Glasgow. Many lit candles and left flowers. Roughly 150 people also gathered in a light rain on Saturday to honor him, an event organized by local teens.

Police Scotland said that "a full investigation is under way to establish the full circumstances surrounding the death which is being treated as religiously prejudiced."

Computer specialist becomes face of Polish protest movement

March 26, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Only months ago Mateusz Kijowski was a computer specialist unknown to the Polish public. Today the 47-year-old is leading the largest civic protest movement that Poland has seen since Lech Walesa's Solidarity defied the communist regime.

His Committee for the Defense of Democracy took form in November, soon after the right-wing party Law and Justice took office and started consolidating its grip, weakening the power of the constitutional court and other institutions that should be checks on government power. That has prompted the European Union and international human rights groups to express alarm about the state of democracy and the rule of law in the EU's largest eastern member.

Kijowski's group, which is supported by many former Solidarity activists and embraces the same values of nonviolent resistance, has organized a string of protests over the past months that have brought many thousands of people into the streets. But he has come under withering verbal attack from the Law and Justice leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has denounced the movement as anti-patriotic and even guided by foreign interests.

In early April Kijowski will travel to Washington for meetings on Capitol Hill and at the State Department, a trip organized by Freedom House, the U.S.-based group that advocates human rights worldwide. His said his message to U.S. officials will be that democracy is under attack but that much of Polish society remains committed to democratic values — and that the country should therefore not be sidelined internationally.

"We want to put strong pressure on the government but we do not want to build barriers between Poland and other countries," Kijowski told The Associated Press in an interview. As the movement, generally known by its Polish acronym, KOD, has brought people to the streets over the past four months, Kaczynski has lashed out. First he called the protesters "Poles of the worst sort" — a slogan they adopted and now use sarcastically on buttons and banners.

Recently, with the country under greater international censure, Kaczynski's accusations have become stronger. He said the supporters of KOD "despise" Poland and have taken their complaints to the Russian embassy. An adviser to the president also accused the protests of being an element in Russian "hybrid warfare" aimed against Poland.

"I have never been in the Russian embassy," retorted Kijowski. "They are trying to discredit us, and are lying about us to show that we are not true Poles, that people shouldn't trust us." "If we treat the language seriously it is horrible because it's going in the direction of fascism," Kijowski said. "But it's probably more funny because he wants to be a dictator but doesn't have the power for that."

Kaczynski is on a mission to create a stronger nation state that is built on traditional, small-town Catholic values, pushing back against pressure to accept gay rights and other values that have arrived with EU membership. A key mainstay of his worldview is that the country is radically flawed by the 1989 deal that ended communism because it left a large degree of influence and wealth in the hands of former communists, the price paid at the time for a peaceful transition. Law and Justice defends its various political moves as necessary to root out liberal and post-communist influences that it sees as harmful.

Kijowski criticizes the ruling party's values, saying they exclude many Poles who don't share its conservative view. "We are trying to be a civic society that connects every citizen, which is open to every citizen, open to all political sympathies, all religions," he said.

He accuses the ruling party of dismantling the legal order. Like the EU and human rights groups, he points to new laws that have paralyzed the Constitutional Tribunal, tightened government control over the state media, given police greater power to spy on citizens and broadened its scope for investigating citizens.

"But the most dangerous thing is the whole affair around the constitutional court because all the other things could be stopped by the Constitutional Tribunal if it could proceed normally," he said. Kijowski was too young to be a part of Solidarity but says that a lot of his movement's support comes from people active in that anti-communist resistance. He said he has sought the advice of Walesa, who has given the movement his support.

"The people who knew communism have deja vu now," Kijowski said.

Poland's president: good talks on security with US senators

March 20, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's president said Sunday that he had held very good talks with U.S. senators about the security situation in Central and Eastern Europe, before a NATO summit that Poland will host in July.

Andrzej Duda said that the five members of the U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee were "not interested in" and didn't discuss Poland's current political crisis that has paralyzed the Constitutional Tribunal, which has drawn censure from European Union leaders and concern from three other U.S. senators.

Duda said the two-hour talks Saturday in the southern city of Krakow centered on threats to security in the region and on issues that Poland considers key for the NATO summit July 8-9. Warsaw wants to obtain greater NATO security guarantees for the region nervous about Russia's actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

He said the closed-door talks were "very good, held in very good atmosphere." The U.S. senators who met with Duda were Richard M. Burr, Republican from North Carolina; Dan Coats, Republican from Indiana; Angus King, Jr., independent from Maine; Barbara Mikulski, Democrat from Maryland; and Mark Warner, Democrat from Virginia.

Tourist-packed Dublin braces for St. Patrick's Parade

March 17, 2016

DUBLIN (AP) — Tourism officials forecast a record crowd for the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, centerpiece of a weeklong festival celebrating Ireland's patron saint. An estimated 125,000 visitors are joining hundreds of thousands of locals at Thursday's two-hour parade down O'Connell Street to St. Patrick's Cathedral in central Dublin.

In his St. Patrick's message the leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics, Archbishop Eamon Martin, called on the faithful to pray for Europe to provide a better home for people fleeing war and poverty.

Martin described Patrick — a Briton originally brought to Ireland as a slave, who returned to spread Christianity across the pagan island — as an undocumented migrant, too. "I ask you to pray for refugees and for all displaced families," Martin said.

1,000 opposition supporters march in Belarus capital

March 25, 2016

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — About 1,000 supporters of Belarus' beleaguered opposition have held a march in the center of Minsk, the capital. The march Friday was the largest opposition gathering of the past year. It was held in commemoration of what the opposition calls Freedom Day, the anniversary of the 1918 founding of the independent Belorussian People's Republic, which fell about nine months later to the Bolsheviks.

Police did not interfere with the march. Under authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, Belarus has cracked down on opposition and independent news media. In February, however, Belarus released all its political prisoners, leading to the lifting of European Union sanctions that had been imposed five years ago.