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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Scandal-plagued Rome is becoming a 'do it yourself' city

April 29, 2016

ROME (AP) — Armed with shovels and sacks of cold asphalt, Rome's residents fill potholes. Defying rats, they yank weeds and bag trash along the Tiber's banks and in urban parks. Tired of waiting years for the city to replace diseased trees, neighbors dig into their own pockets to pay for new ones for their block.

Romans are starting to take back their city, which for years was plundered and neglected by City Hall officials and cronies so conniving that some of them are on trial as alleged mobsters. In doing the work, Romans are experimenting with what for many Italians is a novel and alien concept: a sense of civic duty.

One windy recent Sunday morning, Manuela Di Santo slathered paint over graffiti defacing a wall on Via Ludovico di Monreale, a residential block in Rome's middle-class Monteverde neighborhood. Men, perched on ladders, used mechanical sanders to erase graffiti on another palazzo. Women and children swept up litter, filling black plastic trash bags provided by the city's sanitation service, which is only too glad to have someone do the job for free.

"Either I help the city, or we're all brought to our knees," said Di Santo. Splotches of paint stained a blue bib identifying her as a volunteer for Retake Roma, a pioneer in an expanding array of citizen-created organizations in the past few years aimed at encouraging Romans to take the initiative in cleaning and repairing their city.

Local politicians had been in cahoots with gangsters, shady go-betweens and corrupt city hall bureaucrats, prosecutors allege in investigations that have led to dozens of arrests since 2014. Some defendants are accused of using Mafia-like methods of intimidation to get their hands on lucrative public-works contracts.

Rome's last mayor, who failed in the Herculean task of cleaning up Rome literally and morally, was virtually forced to quit halfway through his term in 2015. Until mayoral elections this June, the Italian capital is being administered by a government-appointed commissioner, under a formula similar to what happens when Italian City Halls are under the grip of organized-crime syndicates.

Retake Roma, which does cleanup projects all over the city, has been enjoying a surge of citizen support, especially since the explosion of the scandal in 2014 led Romans to realize that much-maligned city services like transport and sanitation had been used for patronage jobs for years.

With prosecutors still combing through hundreds of municipal contracts to expose even more alleged kickbacks, payoffs and other corruption, and processes to award contracts are scrutinized under tightened City Hall anti-corruption measures, services for the public have been deteriorating further. Trash piles up. Potholes sprout like weeds, tripping up pedestrians and sending motor-scooter drivers into nasty spins.

Gaetano Capone, who serves on a local district council, joined some 30 neighbors one spring Saturday to rake up broken beer bottles, soda cans and cigarette butts from outside a commuter train station. Volunteers at the local Monteverde Vecchio 4Venti Neighborhood Committee paid a gardener to cut down waist-high weeds.

Romans "understand that the city machinery doesn't work anymore," said Capone. Calls and text messages pour into Cristiano Davoli's cellphone from citizens alerting him to ominously widening potholes on their block or routes to work. On weekends, Davoli and four helpers — an off-duty doorman, a graphic artist, a government worker and a retiree — who call themselves "Tappami" (Fill Me Up) load their car trunks with donated bags of cold asphalt and fan out.

"Sometimes it's the municipal traffic police who call me," said Davoli, a shopkeeper. After the first anti-corruption arrests, Sicilian anti-Mafia magistrate Alfonso Sabella was summoned to Rome for the hastily created post of city legality commissioner to get a handle on just how badly corruption, favoritism and ineptitude infected City Hall.

"It was worse than I thought," said Sabella, who was frustrated that his office wasn't assigned more personnel. Starting with the run-up to the 2000 Holy Year, when government funds flooded the Italian capital to prepare for millions of extra pilgrims, "big projects became popular" with politicians, recalled Sabella. "If you do maintenance on city buses, nobody notices; if you make a new metro station, yes."

Rome's mass transit system is roundly scorned. Not infrequently, passengers have to yank shut doors after drivers pull away from bus stops as malfunctioning doors fail to close, with riders perilously close to falling out of the bus.

American architect Tom Rankin organizes river bank cleanups by Tevereterno, a volunteer group dedicated to making the Tiber, which winds through the heart of Rome, more pleasant for strollers and cyclists. He noted that Retake Roma was inspired by an American who cleaned up the Rome building where she lived, exposing Romans to a deeply rooted American tradition of working together for one's community.

Sweeping sidewalks on Via Ludovico di Monreale, Brunella Fraleoni, who is married to an American and previously lived in the United States, pondered a moment when asked why pitching in with neighbors to clean streets is only just catching on in Rome.

"The idea of fixing up something is very poorly rooted in Italy. Maybe it's because we're used to ruins," she said with a wry laugh. Then she turned serious. She and her neighbors were out there, she said, to "inspire public opinion. Not just cleaning to clean."

Irish leaders end deadlock, make deal for new government

April 29, 2016

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's age-old political enemies struck a historic deal Friday night to create a fragile new government following an inconclusive election and two months of deadlock. The potential three-year agreement between negotiators from the governing Fine Gael and the opposition Fianna Fail parties means it's likely that caretaker Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Ireland's leader since 2011, will be re-elected next week atop a minority Fine Gael government.

To survive, Kenny's government will require vote-by-vote support from the opposition benches, because Fianna Fail has refused to join the coalition and would wield the power to pull the plug on cooperation at any time.

Such minority governments are common in some European countries but a novelty in Ireland, where Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have alternated atop majority governments for nine decades — but never shared power.

"The days of majority rule in absolute terms ... are gone. We are entering into a new era in Irish politics, where the views of everyone need to be taken on board," said Fianna Fail negotiator Michael McGrath.

"It is going to be a very challenging scenario for everybody involved, but we have to make it work," McGrath said. The Feb. 26 election weakened Fine Gael, leaving Kenny's center-right party without a viable coalition partner in a politically fractured 158-member parliament. Fine Gael holds 50 seats while resurgent Fianna Fail came second with 44.

Friday's deal requires formal ratification in separate meetings of lawmakers expected to take place within three days, followed by a parliamentary vote to elect a new prime minister, possibly Wednesday.

Kenny failed to receive a majority of support from lawmakers in three previous parliamentary votes. Friday's deal means that next time, Fianna Fail will decline to vote for their own party leader, Micheal Martin.

If Fianna Fail lawmakers abstain, Kenny will be certain to receive most votes cast and win re-election as premier, giving him authority to form a new Cabinet. The fallout from the Feb. 26 election already has produced the longest period of governmental limbo in Ireland since its 1920s independence from Britain.

While Fianna Fail and Fine Gael share similar politics, they remain fierce rivals dating to their origins as enemies in Ireland's 1922-23 civil war that followed independence.

Germany wants to extend border controls for another 6 months

May 02, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany and some other EU countries are planning to ask the EU Commission for an extension of border controls within the Schengen passport-free travel zone for another six months because they fear a new wave of migrants.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizere's spokesman says a letter is being sent Monday asking for an extension of the controls on the German-Austrian border, which were implemented last year when thousands of migrants crossed into Germany daily.

De Maizere has expressed concern before that an increasing number of migrants will try to reach Europe this summer by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from lawless Libya to Italy, then travel north to Austria and Germany.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million new arrivals last year and is keen to bring the numbers down in 2016.

Protests in Germany overshadow anti-Islam party's convention

April 30, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — A national convention by a populist German party was overshadowed Saturday by clashes between leftists and police, who temporarily detained more than 400 demonstrators in the southern city of Stuttgart.

Protesters shouted "Refugees can stay, Nazis must go!" as some 2,000 members of the Alternative for Germany party arrived at the convention center Saturday morning. The protesters also temporarily blocked a nearby highway and burned tires on another road leading to the convention center. Some 1,000 police officers were on the scene to prevent violent clashes between nationalist party members and leftist demonstrators.

At the convention itself, party leaders tried to play down differences over the party's ideological orientation — in particular, its disputed closeness to the far-right party NPD or to the PEGIDA movement, which has been organizing weekly rallies against Muslims across Germany.

The nationalist party, also known by its acronyms AfD, has been growing in popularity and political influence as it campaigns on an anti-Islam platform. It also advocates much tougher controls on asylum-seekers and has faced criticism for its comments, including an interview in which party leader Frauke Petry suggested that police could shoot refugees trying to enter Germany. Other prominent AfD leaders have asked for a ban on minarets and muezzins in Germany.

This weekend, the members of the three-year-old party plan to debate and approve an official party program that will likely include the statement that "Islam does not belong to Germany," the news agency dpa reported.

Petry told a cheering audience that many important questions are not being discussed openly in Germany — among them "the most dramatic demographic, economic and financial difficulties the country has faced in decades."

Germany saw over 1 million asylum-seekers enter the country last year, many of them from war-torn Syria.

Merkel says Germany ready to reinforce NATO eastern flank

Berlin (AFP)
April 29, 2016

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that Germany was considering sending troops to Lithuania as part of a NATO mission to reinforce the alliance's eastern flank with Russia.

However Merkel stressed that any deployment should aim to avoid inflaming tensions with Moscow.

"We are currently reviewing how we can continue our engagement and perhaps even bolster it... in order to ensure the security of all (NATO) states, particularly in the east," she said.

Merkel was speaking to reporters after talks with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, and after her spokesman confirmed media reports that Berlin was considering a deployment to Lithuania.

"However I personally always stress that it is very important to us that we act within the framework of the NATO-Russia act," a 1997 agreement on post-Cold War relations.

It notably bans the permanent stationing of significant forces and equipment in former Warsaw Pact states.

Poland in particular has recently pressed NATO to establish "as permanent as possible" a presence in the former communist states once ruled from Moscow to counter a growing threat from Russia after its intervention in Ukraine.

Russia blames NATO for increasing the risk of conflict by building up its troops in eastern Europe.

The NATO-Russia Council, which has been on ice since the alliance cut practical ties with Moscow to protest the annexation of Crimea, met last week in Brussels but parted in acrimony over Ukraine and other issues.

Media reports said that the German military could take command of a force in Lithuania, one of Russia's border states, with a deployment of 150 to 250 German soldiers as well as troops from other member states.

German soldiers have already participated in NATO training missions in the Baltic states, but such a deployment would mark a significant expansion of its presence in the region.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas welcomed the German proposal as "a firm step on the way of solidarity which enhances our common security".

Russia's takeover of the Crimean peninsula in early 2014 sparked fears NATO was too slow and unwieldy to meet the challenge posed by a more assertive Moscow.

Since the Ukraine conflict, NATO has established a high-speed response force complete with forward command and logistic centers in its eastern members so it can deploy much more rapidly.

Poland will host a NATO summit in July when these changes and other proposals will be formally concluded.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Merkel_says_Germany_ready_to_reinforce_NATO_eastern_flank_999.html.

In London's mayoral race, candidate rejects 'extremism' barb

May 01, 2016

LONDON (AP) — One is a bus driver's son who grew up in social housing, the other a billionaire's son raised in a mansion. They are two very different London success stories, and one is about to become the city's next mayor.

The contrast between Sadiq Khan of the Labor Party and Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith is resonant in a booming city where rocketing rents and property prices are squeezing out the middle class and increasing extremes of poverty and wealth.

But the election on Thursday has been overshadowed by allegations that Khan, who is Muslim, has links to extremists — and counterclaims that Goldsmith is trying to frighten and divide voters in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities.

Goldsmith has used words such as "radical" and "dangerous" to describe Khan, and said in a campaign speech that his opponent had given "platforms, oxygen and even cover — over and over again — to those who seek to do our police and capital harm."

Prime Minister David Cameron took up the criticism, accusing Khan of appearing "again and again" on platforms alongside Sulaiman Ghani, an imam Cameron called an Islamic extremist. Khan fought back, vowing to be "the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists" and accused Goldsmith of running a "nasty, dog-whistling campaign."

Khan says before he entered politics he was a human-rights lawyer and sometimes shared platforms with people whose views he opposed. His team has produced photos of Ghani with Goldsmith and other senior Conservatives, and pointed out that Khan helped remove Ghani as the imam of a London mosque because of his radical views.

The spat has left a sour taste in a multicultural metropolis where more than 1 million of the 8.6 million residents are Muslims. Goldsmith has been accused of heightening tensions in a city where authorities have foiled several Islamic extremist terrorist plots since suicide bombers killed 52 people on the London transit system in July 2005.

Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said "British politics is used to robust exchanges and accusations," but Goldsmith's tactics have left some people feeling uneasy.

They may also backfire. Despite the allegations, 45-year-old Khan is bookies' and pollsters' strong favorite to win Thursday's election and become London's first Muslim mayor. In the final week before the vote, Khan's campaign has been tinged by claims Labor has a problem with anti-Semitism, inflamed when a former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, claimed that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism before he came to power. Khan quickly condemned the remarks but said his chances of winning have been damaged.

The winner will be only the third mayor in the city's modern history; the post was established in 2000. The two previous office-holders were left-wing Labor politician Ken Livingstone and Conservative attention-grabber Boris Johnson.

Both Goldsmith and Khan are born-and-bred Londoners. Khan grew up with seven brothers and sisters in a three-bedroom social-housing apartment, the son of a bus driver and a seamstress from Pakistan. He practiced law before being elected to Parliament in 2005, representing the area where he grew up.

London "is the greatest city in the world. It gave me the helping hand I needed to fulfill my potential," Khan told voters at a recent rally. Goldsmith, 41, said his family is "as diverse as this great city." He has Jewish ancestors who fled fascism in Europe, and his financier father James Goldsmith was both a French member of the European Parliament and an anti-EU British politician. And he has Muslim nephews — his sister Jemima is divorced from Pakistani cricketer-politician Imran Khan.

Goldsmith attended the elite boarding school Eton until he was expelled for marijuana possession. A lifelong environmentalist, he edited the Ecologist magazine — owned by his uncle — before being elected to Parliament in 2010.

For many voters, Goldsmith's barbed attacks on Khan are a distraction from the most important election issue: housing. Europe's largest city is growing increasingly unaffordable for many of its residents. The average London home price is 530,000 pounds ($770,000), 10 times the average annual household income.

Sky-high house prices are a sign of the city's success. London's financial district attracts the world's billions, and the city's homes draw wealthy buyers from China, Russia and other countries looking for a safe haven for themselves and their money.

And after decades of post-World War II decline, London's population is growing fast — due in part to migration from other countries in the 28-nation European Union, whose citizens have the right to live and work in Britain.

Unrestricted immigration is a major issue in another big vote that looms — Britain's June 23 referendum on whether to stay in the EU — and a vote to leave the bloc could have a huge impact on London. Goldsmith advocates leaving and Khan wants to remain, but the issue has played little part in the mayoral campaign.

Despite their differences, the two candidates agree on the need to tackle the cost of housing and on the other major challenges facing the city: crime and terrorism, overburdened transport and persistent air pollution.

Both have promised to build 50,000 new homes each year, double the current rate. At a recent rally, Khan said he would give Londoners "first dibs for homes, rather than investors from the Middle East and Asia." Goldsmith agreed that London had "a housing crisis for a generation" but said "we have to be honest about how difficult it will be to solve it."

Solving the housing riddle is easier said than done in a city where land is at a premium and a legally protected green belt limits suburban sprawl. London's mayor controls a 16 billion-pound ($23 billion) budget, but has less authority than their counterparts in New York or Paris since they share power with the city's 32 boroughs and financial district.

But if there is no solution, London risks losing residents like Madi Simpson, a 36-year-old mother of three young children. She and her husband have moved four times in six years in the struggle to find an affordable home. They have a solid middle-class income but still spend half of it on rent.

"We're clinging on to London because our church community is here, our families are here," she said. "I don't want to see London hemorrhage families and young people. I don't want a piece of real estate — I want a home."

South Africa: Opposition leader warns president to step down

April 30, 2016

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Fiery South African opposition politician Julius Malema told 40,000 cheering supporters that President Jacob Zuma should step down before the army turns on him because of the corruption allegations against him.

"I am whispering to you, Zuma, wherever you are, those soldiers are going to turn their guns against you," said Malema to roars from the crowd. "Be warned, leave office before the soldiers turn their guns on you."

Malema spoke on Saturday to supporters of his Economic Freedom Fighters party who filled the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Malema described the policies of his party ahead of local government elections which will take place in August this year.

He promised to give priority to South Africa's poor if his party is elected to government and he said the country will then truly belong to the country's black majority. He said many members of South Africa's current parliament are "agents of apartheid," referring to the country's former policy of racial discrimation.

Malema dismissed the treason charges pressed against him earlier this week by the ruling party, the African National Congress. The ANC filed the charges after Malema said he would take up arms against the government if he saw rigging in the elections. He challenged the government to arrest him.

"Anyone who wants to arrest me, here I am," said Malema.

Russia's Mayak nuclear site has produced litany of disasters

April 29, 2016

The remote Mayak nuclear facility is Russia's oldest and biggest center for manufacturing radioactive isotopes and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from several nations. Here are some key moments in its history:

1945: Construction begins on the Mayak facility in secrecy under the supervision of Josef Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria.

1948: The first reactor opens, staffed by workers living in a closed town on site.

1949-1956: Mayak workers regularly dump waste into the Techa River, a local source of drinking water and tributary to the Arctic Ocean.

1957: Buried storage tanks for nuclear waste explode, spreading a plume of fallout 300 kilometers (200 miles) long, exposing 217 towns and villages and 272,000 people to radiation.

1967: A nearby lake used for dumping nuclear waste dries up during a drought. Strong winds blow nuclear dust eastward into 68 towns and villages with 42,000 inhabitants.

1993: The Russian government officially acknowledges that about 450,000 people may have been harmed by Mayak fallout since the late 1940s, sign bill into law creating new regime of medical and other benefits.

1994: The closed town hosting Mayak is placed on official maps for the first time and given the place name Ozersk.

2001-2004: At least 30 million cubic meters (1 billion cubic feet) of radioactive waste is released into the Techa River. Mayak's director is convicted in 2005 of illegal dumping.

Russia's nuclear nightmare flows down radioactive river

April 29, 2016

MUSLYUMOVO, Russia (AP) — At first glance, Gilani Dambaev looks like a healthy 60-year-old man and the river flowing past his rural family home appears pristine. But Dambaev is riddled with diseases that his doctors link to a lifetime's exposure to excessive radiation, and the Geiger counter beeps loudly as a reporter strolls down to the muddy riverbank.

Some 50 kilometers (30 miles) upstream from Dambaev's crumbling village lies Mayak, a nuclear complex that has been responsible for at least two of the country's biggest radioactive accidents. Worse, environmentalists say, is the facility's decades-old record of using the Arctic-bound waters of the Techa River to dump waste from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, hundreds of tons of which is imported annually from neighboring nations.

The results can be felt in every aching household along the Techa, where doctors record rates of chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects and cancers vastly higher than the Russian average — and citizens such as Dambaev are left to rue the government's failure over four decades to admit the danger.

"Sometimes they would put up signs warning us not to swim in the river, but they never said why," said Dambaev, a retired construction worker who like his wife, brother, children and grandchildren have government-issued cards identifying them as residents of radiation-tainted territory. "After work, we would go swimming in the river. The kids would too."

Thousands already have been resettled by Russia's Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp. to new homes two kilometers (a mile) inland from the river, leaving Dambaev's village of Muslyumovo in a state of steady decay as shops close and abandoned homes are bulldozed. The evacuations began in 2008, two decades after Russia started to admit disasters past and present stretching from Mayak's earliest days in the late 1940s as the maker of plutonium for the first Soviet atomic bombs.

The question, 30 years after the former Soviet Union's greatest nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, is whether Mayak is truly cleaning up its act or remains primed to inflict more invisible damage on Russians. Nuclear regulators say waste no longer reaches the river following the last confirmed dumping scandal in 2004, but anti-nuclear activists say it's impossible to tell given the level of state secrecy.

Vladimir Slivyak, an activist for the Russian environmentalist group EcoDefense, has visited villages downstream from Mayak many times to help document the poor health of locals in the area, 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) east of Moscow near Russia's border with Kazakhstan.

"My opinion is they're still dumping radioactive waste," he said, "but proving that is impossible unless Mayak says: 'Yes, we're dumping radioactive waste.'" The Nuclear Safety Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which oversees safety standards for the country's nuclear industry, told the AP that Mayak's nuclear waste processing system presents no danger to the surrounding population. The plant also manufactures a range of radioactive isotopes of use for specialist equipment, medical research and cancer treatments that generate lucrative contracts worldwide.

Rosatom spokesman Vladislav Bochkov, in response to several Associated Press requests seeking an interview to discuss Mayak's safety standards and operations, sent an email Thursday denying Mayak dumps nuclear waste in the river. Bochkov said the complex "follows all the environmental protection guidelines and has all the approvals it needs for operation."

"The level of pollution in the Techa River today completely complies with the sanitary standards of the Russian Federation," he wrote. He said the river water is clean: "You can drink it endlessly." But when the AP took a Geiger counter to the riverbank outside Dambaev's home, the meter reading surged at the water line and the machine began beeping loudly and continuously. Measurements ranged from 8.5 to 9.8 microsieverts — 80 to 100 times the level of naturally occurring background radiation. A typical chest X-ray involves a burst of about 100 microsieverts.

Nuclear Safety Institute member Leonid Bolshov bills these levels as safe, saying: "The level of pollution in the water today is incomparably less to what it used to be." What it used to be is pretty bad. Environmentalists estimate that Mayak tossed 76 million cubic meters (2.68 billion cubic feet) of untreated waste — enough to fill more than 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — into the river from 1948 to the mid-1950s as nuclear scientists scrambled to catch up to the U.S. nuclear program.

In September 1957, underground storage tanks of overheating nuclear waste exploded, sending a cloud of nuclear fallout 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast across 217 towns and villages containing 272,000 people, a minority of which were quietly evacuated over the following two years.

A decade later, a nearby lake used to dispose of nuclear waste dried up amid a summer drought, and high winds whipped the exposed powdery residue to many of the same population centers. Greenpeace estimates the fallout reached 68 towns and villages containing 42,000 people.

Russia suppressed all news of both disasters until the late 1980s, when it acknowledged the two accidents and the Mayak site's very existence. In 1993, Russia said the two accidents combined with longer-term dumping of waste into the river meant that an estimated 450,000 people had been exposed to excess radiation from Mayak. It offered no breakdown of immediate deaths, accelerated deaths or increased rates of illness and disease in the populace.

A 2005 criminal case against Mayak's then-director, Vitaly Sadovnikov, revealed that the plant continued to dump at least 30 million cubic meters (1 billion cubic feet) of untreated nuclear waste into the river from 2001 to 2004. Prosecution documents said the dumping quadrupled the volume of the radioactive isotope strontium-90 in the river.

A study by Greenpeace in 2007, citing hospital records and door-to-door surveys of Muslyumovo residents, reported cancer rates 3.6 times higher than the Russian national average. Russian scientists have reported residents suffer 25 times more genetic defects than the general population.

A decades-long Radiation Research Society study of people living near the Techa River conducted jointly by Russian and American scientists has linked radiation particularly to higher rates of cancer of the uterus and esophagus. In their latest 2015 report, the scientists analyzed 17,435 residents born before 1956, among them 1,933 with cancer. They found that the vast majority of residents had accumulated heightened deposits of strontium-90 in their bones and such "radiation exposure has increased the risks for most solid cancers."

Such figures come as no surprise to one of Muslyumovo's longest-serving doctors, Gulfarida Galimova, a gynecologist and family general practitioner who started work in the village's hospital in 1981. Galimova says she was immediately struck by the exceptional volume of pediatric emergencies involving miscarriages, early and still births, and newborns with malformed limbs and other defects.

Still, like others she did not know Mayak —unmarked on any map at the time and still off-limits to the public today — even existed. She recalls 1980s mornings of blissful ignorance washing her hair in the deceptively soft waters of the Techa.

"The water was nice and not calcified. Soft water. Your hair would be so fluffy," Galimova recalled. She was among some 280 households that accepted Rosatom's offer to abandon their homes in Muslyumovo for new two-story homes away from the river in what today is called New Muslyumovo. But her 2012 move came too late for her own family. A son born in the village in 1985, and a grandson born last year, both have birth defects that she blames on Mayak radiation. Her son has a club foot; her grandson has heart deformities.

One of her neighbors in New Muslyumovo, with its rows of pastel yellow homes with red roofs, blames the new location for her family's health problems. Alfia Batirshina, 28, says a radon deposit beneath the topsoil of the new settlement gives her chronic headaches and her 8-year-old daughter recurring nosebleeds.

She is loath to discuss her daughter's own birth defect, a deformed leg, and keeps her out of view of journalists. Her 62-year-old father, Vakil Batirshin, struggles to say anything at all. His neck is painfully swollen from lymph nodes that have grown triple their normal size, leaving his words nearly unintelligible.

The homemaker says she and neighbors are resigned to their medical fate living in Mayak's nuclear shadow. "I don't hope for anything anymore," she said. "If we get sick, we get sick."

Associated Press reporters Iuliia Subbotovska in Muslyumovo, Jim Heintz in Moscow and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this story.

Iran state media: Moderate bloc wins more seats in runoff

April 30, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's moderate-reformist bloc secured more than 30 more seats in parliamentary runoff elections, according to a Saturday report on state TV. The bloc, which supports President Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal the country reached with world powers last summer, will have to dominate the remaining unannounced seats in order to secure an outright majority in the 290-seat legislature.

State TV on Saturday morning announced winners for 60 of the remaining 68 seats being contested. Among them there are 32 moderate-reformist candidates, with the rest divided between hard-liners and independent candidates.

Final results are expected later on Saturday. In February, the moderate-reformist bloc dominated the vote in Tehran, securing all 30 seats there. But their support is less dominant outside the capital.

The bloc needs to win 40 seats in the runoffs to control the parliament, which will begin its work in late May.

Prime minister says Australia to have July 2 election

May 04, 2016

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's election campaign will officially start soon with climate change policy and union corruption in the national building industry shaping into key battlegrounds for the July 2 poll.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Wednesday that he was likely to visit Governor-General Peter Cosgrove this weekend to lock down the date and officially start the election campaign. A heartening historical fact for Turnbull is that no Australian federal government has lost power after a single three-year term since the tumultuous early years of the Great Depression. But Australia is now in an extraordinary era of political volatility as it grapples to diversify an economy that thrived on a mining boom that has gone bust. If the opposition center-left Labor Party wins the election, it will mean Australia's fifth change of prime minister in six years.

Turnbull replaced his unpopular predecessor Tony Abbott in a leadership ballot of lawmakers in the ruling center-right Liberal Party in September, only two years after the coalition government was elected.

The change of prime minister immediately boosted the government's standing in opinion polls, but recent polls suggest the government is now running neck-and-neck with Labor. Ostensibly Turnbull has called an early election because a hostile senate has refused to pass legislation that would allow the government to create a building industry watchdog called the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The ABCC was disbanded in 2012 by a former Labor government, which is linked to the trade union movement.

While the plight of the ABCC seems an obscure issue to most voters, the political debate focuses attention on opposition leader Bill Shorten's history as a union official. Before he entered parliament in 2007, Shorten was a senior official of the Australian Workers Union, one of five unions targeted by government-commissioned inquiry into union corruption. Labor condemned the inquiry as a politically motivated witch hunt.

Shorten rejected suggestions by inquiry lawyers that he had had conflicts of interests when companies made donations to his union while he was negotiating with them over workers' pay. Even Labor supporters criticized him over news of the donations.

Australian National University political scientist John Wanna expects Turnbull will use the issue to focus on Shorten's union past during the campaign. "He's going to turn the attack on Shorten: 'You're just a union thug; you're just a union hack; you've blocked us from bringing in a measure that would have made unions more accountable,'" Wanna said.

Labor is expected to exploit Turnbull's past support for Australia adopting an emissions trading system to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Australia, on a per capita basis, is among the world's worst polluters.

Turnbull's support in 2009 for a then Labor government's proposal to introduce an emissions trading scheme cost him the leadership of the Liberal Party. He was replaced by Abbott, who repealed a two-year-old carbon tax in 2014. The tax paid by Australia's worst industrial polluters had been due that year to transition into an emissions trading scheme with market forces determining the price of a ton of carbon.

Labor again wants the emissions trading scheme to replace the government's so-called Direct Action policy of paying polluters taxpayer-funded incentives to operate more cleanly, and Shorten has been reminding the public that Turnbull once described Direct Action as "an environmental fig leaf to hide a determination to do nothing."

Turnbull's coalition currently holds 90 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives, while Labor has 55 seats. Turnbull will be hoping that the early election will not only return his government but provide him with a more compliant senate that is more likely to pass his legislative agenda.

All 76 senate seats are up for grabs. The government currently holds 33 senate seats, Labor holds 25 and the left-wing Greens party holds 10. The remaining eight are either independents or sole senators representing minor parties.

230 million-year-old dinosaur footprint found in north Spain

May 02, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain says a footprint of a dinosaur that roamed the area 230 million years ago has been found in northeastern Catalonia, and says it's the best preserved dinosaur print seen so far in the Iberian Peninsula.

The print of a reptile-like creature called an Isochirotherium — an ancestor of dinosaurs and crocodiles — was discovered in early April by a person out walking in Olesa de Montserrat, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Barcelona.

The government said Monday that a plaster cast of the print was made by the town's council and handed over to the region's archaeology and paleontology department "so it can be studied and preserved."

The statement said the "conservation status is exceptional and retains details of claws and skin."