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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Nationalists overtake Merkel's party in German state vote

September 04, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — A nationalist, anti-immigration party performed strongly in a state election Sunday in the region where German Chancellor Angela Merkel has her political base, overtaking her conservatives to take second place amid discontent with her migrant policies.

The three-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 20.8 percent of votes in the election for the state legislature in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Merkel's Christian Democrats polled 19 percent, their worst result yet in the state.

The center-left Social Democrats, who led the outgoing state government in a coalition with the conservatives, remained the strongest party with 30.6 percent support. Economically weak Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in Germany's northeastern corner, is home to 1.6 million of the country's 80 million people and is a relative political lightweight. It is, however, the state where Merkel has her parliamentary constituency, and Sunday's regional vote was the first of five before a national election expected next September.

National AfD leader Frauke Petry celebrated "a blow to Angela Merkel." Local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm told supporters: "Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel's chancellorship today."

Merkel's refugee policies were a prominent issue in the campaign for Sunday's election, which came a year to the day after she decided to let in migrants who were waiting in Hungary to travel to Germany — setting off the peak of last year's influx. Germany registered more than 1 million people as asylum-seekers last year.

New arrivals have slowed drastically this year, policies have been tightened and Mecklenburg is home to few foreigners. Still, New Year's Eve robberies and sexual assaults in Germany blamed largely on foreigners, as well as two attacks in July carried out by asylum-seekers and claimed by the Islamic State group, have fed tensions.

Merkel has stuck to her insistence that "we will manage" the refugee crisis, and has also said that "sometimes you have to endure such controversies." "This result, and the strong performance of AfD, is bitter for many, for everyone in our party," said Peter Tauber, her Christian Democrats' general secretary.

He said the state government's positive record took a back seat for many voters, "because among a recognizable part, there was an explicit wish to voice displeasure and protest, and we saw that particularly strongly in the discussion about refugees."

Sunday's result could make it more difficult for Merkel to bury a festering dispute with the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian arm of her conservative bloc, which has long criticized her decision to open the borders and advocated an annual cap on migrants.

CSU general secretary Andreas Scheuer said that "we feel vindicated in our course." Merkel has yet to say whether she will seek a fourth term next year, as is widely expected. While polls this year have shown her popularity slipping from stellar to merely solid, there is no obvious conservative alternative and her bloc is ahead nationally.

"She is, in people's perception, personally responsible for the border opening, and she has to deal with that," political science professor Karl-Rudolf Korte told ZDF television. "But she can deal with it — she has a year."

Mecklenburg was the only one of Germany's 16 states where the far-right National Democratic Party was represented in a state legislature, but it lost its seats on Sunday. Its support dropped below the 5 percent needed to keep them, with many supporters switching to AfD.

The state has been run for the past decade by the parties that currently govern Germany. Popular Social Democratic governor Erwin Sellering has governed with Merkel's party as his junior partner. Both parties lost support compared with the last state election in 2011, when they polled 35.6 and 23 percent, respectively.

The opposition Left Party — once popular with protest voters — also lost support, slipping five points to 13.2 percent. The left-leaning Greens dropped just under 5 percent and lost their seats. AfD is now represented in nine of Germany's 16 state legislatures and hopes to enter the national Parliament next year. Still, it fell short Sunday of its aim of becoming the strongest party in Mecklenburg, and also didn't match the 24.3 percent support it won in another eastern state, Saxony-Anhalt, in March.

There's no realistic prospect at present of AfD going into government. Other parties won't deal with it. The next regional election is Sept. 18 in Berlin, where local issues are likely to play a stronger role.

France expresses concerns for citizens in Gabon

September 05, 2016

PARIS (AP) — France's foreign minister says the country's authorities have not heard from several French citizens in Gabon in the last few days amid post-presidential election tension. Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a Monday statement that "some arrests have been made in recent days." He said that France is deeply concerned "and wants to be able to exercise consular protection."

Gabon has been torn by violence since last week, shortly after election officials declared that incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba had won the election, a result disputed by opposition candidate Jean Ping.

Clashes quickly broke out in the capital as opposition supporters claimed election fraud, looting and burning buildings. France supports the African Union's proposal to help both parties settle the situation quickly, according to the statement.

Truckers block Calais to demand closure of migrant camp

September 05, 2016

CALAIS, France (AP) — Hundreds of truckers in big rigs, farmers in tractors and dockers and merchants on foot blocked a major highway in northern France on Monday to demand the closure of the Calais migrant camp known as the "jungle."

Local authorities are urging travelers to avoid the area in hopes of limiting disruptions from the Monday blockade, aimed at paralyzing traffic on the route used to access Britain via the Eurotunnel and port.

Tensions have increased as the population of the camp has risen to at least 7,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa, who are trying to reach Britain. The upsurge has come even though authorities have tightened security and closed half of the camp, epitomizing the challenges of Europe's migrant crisis.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Friday that the government would dismantle the camp "in a controlled operation" as soon as possible, but protesters want him to set a date. Truckers are frustrated by migrants' attempts to hop into their vehicles to slip across the English Channel, and local businesses say the migrants have become an economic drain on the city and a stain on its image.

"We are fed up with the migrant situation in Calais. They are increasingly aggressive," said French trucker Blaise Paccou. "We leave in the morning. We don't know how we're going to return in the evening because of the rocks and metal bars being thrown at us."

Migrants have resorted in recent months to increasingly dangerous tactics to slow trucks so they can hop in the back, throwing tree branches and other objects onto the roadway, a risk for truckers and themselves. Seven migrants have been killed on the road this year.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, who backs the protesters, insisted on BFM TV that public order in Calais must be restored. Some 2,000 police have been sent to Calais to protect the entrances to the Eurotunnel and port — important economic links — and chase migrants off the roads, often with tear gas.

The local administration issued a statement Sunday urging people to avoid non-essential travel to the Calais area throughout the day as trucks and tractors reached the port roadway, while hundreds of protesters arrived on foot.

Aid groups warn that a hasty shutdown of the camp would scatter the migrants, aggravate the city's troubles and worsen the humanitarian drama. While the camp conditions are dismal, migrants have access to food distribution and showers. The majority of makeshift shops and restaurants have been closed by authorities who want to destroy all 72. The state is appealing a court ruling saying the commerce cannot be destroyed.

The government says about 7,000 migrants live in the camp, while aid groups estimate the population at more than 9,000.

French prosecutor requests criminal trial for Sarkozy

September 05, 2016

PARIS (AP) — A French prosecutor has requested former President Nicolas Sarkozy be sent to trial over suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign. The Paris prosecutor's office said Monday it has asked investigating judges to send Sarkozy and 13 others to court in the criminal case. It's now up to the judges to decide whether Sarkozy must stand trial.

Sarkozy announced his bid for next year's presidential election last month and faces a primary in November against a dozen other conservative candidates. His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denounced the prosecutor's request as "gross political maneuvering." He noted that the move falls on the day the trial opened for Jerome Cahuzac, a former budget minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande forced to resign and charged with allegedly hiding part of his wealth in overseas tax havens.

If the investigating judges eventually decide to send Sarkozy to court, it's unlikely any trial could be held before the April-May presidential election. If Sarkozy was elected next year, he would be granted immunity as president and would not be able to stand trial in the case before the end of the five-year term.

In February, the judges handed Sarkozy preliminary charges of alleged illegal campaign financing over an invoice system his party and a company named Bygmalion allegedly used to conceal unauthorized overspending.

France had a ceiling on presidential campaign funding in 2012 of 22.5 million euros ($25 million). The conservative Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-2012 and lost that year's election to Socialist Francois Hollande, is accused of spending 17 million euros ($19 million) over that limit.

Sarkozy's party was then called UMP but has since renamed itself the Republicans. He quit as party leader when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago. Several people close to Sarkozy are among those requested to stand trial in the case. The former president has already paid back 364,000 euros ($407,000) for overspending in the campaign.

"We are absolutely serene about the fact that all this will end up in a dismissed case," said Daniel Fasquelle, the treasurer of the Republicans. "I'm also surprised that this news is being announced today... as Nicolas Sarkozy just started his campaign."

The so-called "Bygmalion case" is one of several legal cases in which his name has surfaced. In a separate case, Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges of corruption and influence-peddling based on information gleaned from phone taps about an alleged bid to get information from a judge ahead of a decision. Preliminary charges mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed but give them more time to investigate before deciding whether to send suspects to trial.

Sarkozy has not been convicted of any wrongdoing or gone to trial.

Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.

Britain's new 5-pound note to be made of plastic

September 06, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Britain's new 5-pound note, which is due to enter circulation next week, is printed on plastic, meaning you can safely spend it on beaches or forget it in the washer. Featuring the image of World War II leader Winston Churchill, the new polymer notes promise to be more efficient than paper, as well as more water resistant. They can safely stand up to blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Bank of England staff demonstrated the new banknote's resilience Tuesday dunking it in a pitcher of water repeatedly. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney unveiled the full new design of the note at Churchill's birthplace in Oxfordshire earlier this year and a campaign has been rolled out to give the new note top billing.

The current note features prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

Britain appoints first ambassador to Iran in five years

September 5, 2016

Britain has appointed an ambassador to Tehran for the first time since 2011 in an “upgrade” to its diplomatic relations with Iran.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the decision to designate Nicholas Hopton, previously charge d’affaires at the embassy, was “an important moment in the relationship between the UK and Iran”.

Johnson said in a statement on Monday: “The upgrade in diplomatic relations gives us the opportunity to develop our discussions on a range of issues, including our consular cases about which I am deeply concerned, and which I have raised with Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif.

“I hope this will mark the start of more productive cooperation between our countries, enabling us to discuss more directly issues such as human rights and Iran’s role in the region, as well as ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal and the expansion of the trading relationship between both our countries.”

Ties between the two countries deteriorated in November 2011 after Britain imposed sanctions on Iranian banks over accusations they were assisting Iran’s nuclear program.

Within days, Iran’s parliament voted to expel Britain’s ambassador and protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran.

The embassy eventually reopened in August 2015 in the wake of an international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160905-britain-appoints-first-ambassador-to-iran-in-five-years/.

Britain's May seeks out new trading relations post-Brexit

September 04, 2016

HANGZHOU, China (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that she intends to seize new trading opportunities for a Britain that has voted to leave the European Union, reiterating that "Brexit does indeed mean Brexit" and there will be "no attempt to get out of this."

After May's first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama since she became British leader in July, the two leaders sought to downplay the impact of a British exit on the much touted "special relationship" between the U.S. and U.K.

But Obama did not back away from his assertion, first made as he campaigned against the exit, that Great Britain would have to wait its turn before the United States prioritized a new, separate trade deal with a newly independent Great Britain. Obama noted the U.S. remains focused on finishing trade deals with Asia-Pacific and with the European Union.

The president said that he believed that Britain's priority meanwhile was "figuring out what Brexit means with respect to Europe." Still, Obama promised to work closely with May to avoid "adverse effects" in the trade relationship.

The British people narrowly voted to leave the EU in June, but the government has yet to formally invoke Article 50, the EU treaty clause that would set up its departure. Invoking the clause would start a two-year countdown that would be unlikely to benefit Britain as it has not yet worked out what it wants its future relationship with the European Union to look like. There is also opposition to a British exit among a significant part of the population and questions over whether Parliament will be given a formal vote on triggering Article 50.

"There will be no second referendum, no attempt to turn the clock back, no attempt to try to get out of this," May told reporters on the sidelines of the G-20 economic summit. "The UK will be leaving the European Union."

At a separate news conference minutes later, European Council President Donald Tusk reiterated the EU's stance that they will not start negotiating with Britain on its future relationship with a 27-member bloc until the British government formally invokes Article 50.

He said his words may sound "brutal," but: "We need to protect the interests of the members of the EU that want to stay together, not the one which wants to leave." May also said that she would take a decision this month on whether to approve a French-built and Chinese-backed power plant project in Britain that Beijing is counting on to boost its nuclear technology exports. She abruptly stalled approval for the project pushed through by her predecessor, and said Sunday she was reviewing "all the evidence around this issue," including relating to national security.

Critics of the planned Hinkley Point project say its technology is untested, it is a bad financial deal for Britain and serious concerns remain about a Chinese state-owned company investing in key infrastructure that could give Beijing major political leverage in the event of a conflict.

AP writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.

A look at Croatia's snap election on Sunday

September 09, 2016

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — The European Union's newest member state, Croatia, is holding a snap election this weekend that pits the dominant parties on the left and right against each other but is unlikely to produce a clear winner. The uncertainty is fueling fears of prolonged instability that could hamper reform.

Here is a brief look at Sunday's vote.


Croatia's previous, right-wing government collapsed last spring after only six months in power, paralyzed by internal bickering among the coalition members. That government, led by a nonpartisan businessman from Canada, was formed after an inconclusive election last November.


The main parties in Croatia are the left-wing Social Democrats and the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union, commonly known as HDZ. The parties have dominated Croatia's political scene since it split from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but they will likely depend on smaller, kingmaker groups such as pro-reform Most.

The Croatian Democratic Union led Croatia during the 1991-95 war for independence and is viewed as nationalist.

The Social Democrats — running in a People's Coalition with some smaller groups — are considered successors to Croatia's Communists, who fought against Nazis during World War II and later ruled Croatia while it was part of the Yugoslav federation.

Most, a little-known group formed before last November's elections, came out of the last vote as a kingmaker. It formed a government with HDZ, but it didn't work well and the coalition government collapsed.


Although part of the campaign centered on past ideological divisions, whoever forms the next government will face some hard work on reforming Croatia's economy so it can catch up with the rest of the EU nations. Croatia has one of the weakest economies in the EU partly because of the war and delayed transition.


Croatia has 3.7 million voters. Polls open on Sunday at 0500GMT and close 12 hours later. Preliminary results and projections will start coming in an hour or two after the polls close. Official results are unlikely before Monday.

In Zimbabwe, government and protesters get more defiant

September 07, 2016

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — For many in Zimbabwe, enough is enough. The words are spelled out in anti-government graffiti in the capital, Harare, one of several new declarations of defiance that authorities have trouble scrubbing away.

Over the weekend, President Robert Mugabe also declared "enough is enough" of the growing protests that reflect nationwide anger over a plummeting economy and alleged state corruption. Protesters have clashed with police wielding tear gas, water cannons and batons. Hundreds have been arrested.

Both sides of the political divide are increasingly fed up, an ominous sign in this country whose 92-year-old leader is showing signs of advanced age but makes no move of wanting to quit. Mugabe has been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980, meaning any political transition will be a leap into the unknown for most people in a nation with a record of disputed and sometimes violent elections.

Many in Zimbabwe are waiting to see whether the fragmented opposition that recently joined forces can find enough momentum to force real change. The opposition has faltered in the past because of government crackdowns, internal divisions and other problems.

"Forming a coalition would present the opposition with the best chance to unseat Mugabe," said Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe. But he said the opposition likely would struggle with "state-sponsored election violence, intimidation and the involvement of the military in elections."

Opposition leaders, including former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and a former vice president, Joice Mujuru, have mentioned the possibility of contesting the next elections in 2018 as a single front.

Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has vowed to run for office again. But the shrewd operator, who joked away the latest rumors of his death last weekend after an overseas absence, has struggled to curb divisions within his own party. He continues to say the growing unrest is manipulated by adversaries in the West like the United States.

"We cannot sit idly while our country is being torn apart by unruly foreign-sponsored agents," Ignatius Chombo, the home affairs minister, said last month. Many demonstrations are now organized through social media, prompting the government to announce plans for a law that would tighten social media controls and target what it calls "cyberterrorists."

Mugabe has criticized the courts for overruling an earlier police ban on demonstrations, saying the decision had endangered stability. Human Rights Watch has accused the president of interfering in the judiciary's independence.

A two-week protest ban is currently in effect, but opposition groups plan another demonstration on Sept. 16 after it expires. Amid the uncertainty, many people in this country of 13 million people focus on daily survival, selling medicine, car parts or basic food staples on the street. They stand in long lines at banks because of shortages of the U.S. dollar, which replaced the local currency years ago because of hyperinflation.

The government has failed to pay its more than 500,000 employees, including the military, on time since June. Some Zimbabweans are joining Pentecostal churches that have been mushrooming across the country in hopes of a miracle. The churches are often led by couples calling themselves "prophet and prophetess" who sell things like rubber bracelets and "anointed" water to followers, promising miraculous riches.

"I want the 'prophet' to bless my business. Everything else has failed to work," Mateo Sithole said while packing potatoes at his market stall in the eastern city of Mutare. "People have no money. They are not buying,"

In Harare, the anti-government graffiti on downtown buildings takes aim at the man in charge. "You are now a ghost," one says. Another says: "Old Mugabe must go now."

South Sudan faces 'unprecedented' level of hunger, UN says

September 09, 2016

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — The United Nations says hunger in South Sudan has reached "unprecedented" levels, with nearly 5 million people suffering from severe food insecurity. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday that without a return to stability that will allow agricultural production to continue, "the situation could rapidly become catastrophic."

The World Food Program has said both South Sudan's government and the opposition have held up food shipments in parts of this East African country, which is trying to recover from civil war. Roughly $30 million in supplies were looted from warehouses of the two U.N. agencies during clashes between government and rebel forces in July,

South Sudan is experiencing severe hyperinflation, and the World Food Program said the price of food spiked by 778 percent after the July fighting.

Under pressure, South Sudan agrees to 4,000 new peacekeepers

September 04, 2016

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force approved by the U.N. Security Council after first rejecting the peacekeepers as a violation of its sovereignty.

Sunday's announcement came after the Security Council met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir during a rare visit to the turbulent East African country. The threat of an arms embargo loomed over the meeting, as the council has said it would pursue one if South Sudan didn't accept the additional peacekeepers. The U.N. already has 12,000 peacekeepers in the country, and South Sudan has been wary of giving it more authority.

"The Security Council came to achieve what we have secured," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said. Protecting civilians has become an even more critical issue after fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, in July, killing hundreds and sparking fears of a return to civil war in the already devastated country.

Both civilians and foreigners, including aid workers, were targeted in the July chaos by South Sudanese soldiers who raped women and girls, conducted mock executions and forced people at one hotel compound to watch a local journalist be shot dead.

Challenges already lie ahead for the 4,000 additional peacekeepers, who are tasked with protecting civilians in Juba and perhaps beyond. U.N. officials say the new force needs more than two months to deploy.

And Senegal's ambassador to the U.N., Fode Seck, said there has been difficulty getting enough troops pledged by regional countries that will make up the force. The council meets with African Union officials in Ethiopia on Monday.

In his meeting with the council, Kiir said none of South Sudan's immediate neighbors could contribute troops to the force, a senior U.N. official and a council diplomat said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was intended to be private.

South Sudan also committed to implementing a hybrid court to investigate war crimes, according to Sunday's joint statement by the government and the Security Council. Both government and rebel forces have been accused of widespread abuses in the civil war that began in December 2013 between supporters of Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have died.

Ethnic tensions remain. Kiir told council diplomats that the U.N. peacekeeping mission's neutrality has been compromised because its camps that shelter tens of thousands of South Sudanese mostly are protecting supporters of the opposition, the U.N. official and council diplomat said.

Kiir also said his rival, Machar, who fled the country after the July fighting and is now in neighboring Sudan, can't return to the country until the next election cycle, the U.N. official and diplomat said.

"Fundamentally, it's going to be the tribes themselves and the political leadership of this country that are going to have to come together," Power told reporters.

Gabon's president accuses challenger of fraud, power grab

September 07, 2016

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) — Gabon's president on Wednesday tried to deflect European Union observers' findings of a voting anomaly in his stronghold province that pushed him over the edge to win re-election, accusing his lead opponent of ballot fraud and a plot to seize power.

This oil-rich Central African country has been tense since electoral commission results announced last week showed President Ali Bongo Ondimba beat challenger Jean Ping by 1.57 percentage points. Ping has said 50 to 100 people were killed in protests that followed; the government said just three died. The government says more than 1,200 have been detained.

The opposition party must legally file any complaints by Thursday, eight days after the announcement of the results. International pressure is growing on Gabon's government to show transparency in the vote. France's prime minister has suggested a recount, and the United States and France have urged the government to publish results by individual polling stations. Gabon's justice minister has resigned over the government's refusal to recount the ballots.

Bongo lashed back on France's Europe-1 radio Wednesday, saying "Ping committed fraud" in his home constituency and others with the help of "cyber-criminals." The president did not elaborate. Ping, also speaking to Europe-1, dismissed the accusations and called for international help in determining "the truth." He already has declared himself the rightful winner.

The EU observer commission said Tuesday that in addition to not having full access to all districts within Bongo's stronghold Haut-Ogooue province, voter turnout there appeared inflated. According to the electoral commission, the province saw a 99.93 percent turnout, with 95 percent voting in favor of Bongo. The EU noted that would mean only 47 people in the area would not have voted.

Other provinces showed a 48 percent voter turnout on average, the EU said. "In order to restore the confidence of Gabon, I reiterate my call on the Gabonese authorities to publish the poll results by polling station," said EU observation chief Mariya Gabriel.

The African Union has offered to help find a solution to the crisis. It is difficult to independently verify reports of any deaths in the postelection violence, as the internet in Gabon has been shut off since Aug. 31.

Bongo's re-election would extend a family dynasty in power since the 1960s. He was elected in 2009 after the death of his father, longtime ruler Omar Bongo, and protests followed. "I am calm," Bongo said Wednesday. "Chaos will not descend."

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Algeria decides whether to boycott game with Israel at Paralympics

September 8, 2016

Algeria is set to come to a decision regarding whether or not its Goalball Paralympic team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will boycott its upcoming game with Israel on Saturday.

President of the Federal Special Needs Committee, Rashid Haddad, has been in “tireless communication” with the minister of youth and sports to discuss the issue as the Algerian delegation arrived in Rio for the official opening of the ceremony yesterday.

Algerian public opinion has been clear on its stance since the draw of the two countries was determined in May. Many fear the game going would mean “normalizing relations with Israel.”

The likelihood of a boycott is slim with the Algerian federation recognizing the “embarrassment” the decision would cause before the International Olympic Committee which has a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination based on ethnic, religious and ideological grounds.

Last month, Egyptian Olympic judo player Islam El-Shehaby received criticism and praise from the international community for refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent; a move which led him being summoned by the Disciplinary Committee and sent home from the games.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160908-algeria-decides-whether-to-boycott-game-with-israel-at-paralympics/.

Spain routs Liechtenstein 8-0 in Group G; Italy beats Israel

September 05, 2016

LEON, Spain (AP) — Diego Costa scored a goal in each half to lead Spain to an 8-0 rout of Lichtenstein in Group G of European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup on Monday. Sergi Roberto, David Silva, Victor "Vitolo" Machin and Alvaro Morata also scored for Spain in its first competitive match under new coach Julen Lopetegui, who replaced Vicente del Bosque last month after the team's elimination in the round of 16 at the European Championship.

"We are very pleased with how the team performed and to have won these first three points," Lopetegui said. Costa scored with headers in the 10th and 66th minutes in the northern city of Leon. He had netted only one previous goal for Spain, nearly two years ago against Luxembourg in qualifying for Euro 2016. Del Bosque had left the Chelsea striker out of the squad that travelled to France for the tournament earlier this year.

"It was very important for me to score and for the team to win," Costa said. "My teammates have always supported me and I hope it continues like this." Morata also scored twice, in the 82nd and 83rd minutes, after replacing Costa midway through the second half. Roberto netted his goal in the 55th, Silva added to the lead in the 59th and closed the scoring in injury time, while Vitolo got on the scoresheet on the hour.

Silva had also scored twice in Spain's 2-0 win over Belgium in a friendly last week, a match that marked Lopetegui 's debut with the national team. Monday's result was Spain's biggest win over Lichtenstein, surpassing the 6-0 win from 2011 in qualifying for Euro 2012.


Italy extended its unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifiers to 28 matches despite being reduced to 10 men in Haifa, after defender Giorgio Chiellini was sent off following a second yellow card in the 55th minute.

Chiellini will now be suspended for the much-anticipated match against Spain in the next round on Oct. 6.

Graziano Pelle opened the scoring in the 14th minute and Antonio Candreva doubled Italy's lead from the spot in the 31st.

Ben-Haim pulled one back for Israel four minutes later but Ciro Immobile sealed the result in the 83rd.

ALBANIA 1, MACEDONIA 1 (Suspended)

Albania's match with Macedonia was suspended in the 76th minute because of heavy rain.

The final 15 minutes will be played at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) Tuesday.

Armando Sadiku opened the scoring for Albania in the ninth minute and Ezdjan Alioski equalized in the 51st.

The match was being played at the newly-renovated stadium in Shkodra, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Tirana.

Happy landings: 3 space station crew members back on Earth

September 07, 2016

After watching more than 2,750 sunrises from above the Earth, three crew members of the International Space Station returned to the planet for a sparkling sunrise back on Earth Wednesday. A record-setting American astronaut and his two Russian colleagues felt the sun beat down on them on a cloudless morning after a six-month trek in orbit.

NASA's Jeff Williams returned as the U.S. record holder for time in orbit, logging 534 days in space over four missions. Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka logged 72.8 million miles in space, circling the globe 2,752 times before landing on target in the south central steppes of Kazakhstan just 23 minutes after sunrise Wednesday, 7:13 a.m. local time (1:13 a.m. GMT).

Stretched out in chairs placed in the brown wild grass, the three flyers were all smiles, giving thumbs up, chatting on cell phones. They were promptly pulled out of the Russian Soyuz capsule, which landed on its side, which is not unusual. Williams wore a black baseball cap while seated outside and talking on the phone. Ovchinin clutched a stuffed doll his daughter gave him as a mascot that went into space with him.

They were then carried to a medical tent for routine tests to see how they adjust to gravity, including checking to see how they could stand. The trio undocked from the space station nearly three and a half hours before touchdown in hazy sunshine with a comfortable welcome home temperature around 66 degrees (19 degrees Celsius) about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. They landed thanks to a large orange and white parachute and last second engine firings. NASA spokesman Dan Huot called it a "picturesque landing" on a picture-perfect day.

The three conducted experiments aboard the space station. Williams set the U.S. record last month for most time spent in space. He beat the previous record set by Scott Kelly during his year in orbit. The capsule contained air samples returned from the first inflatable module deployed in orbit.

The world record is held by Russian Gennady Padalka at 879 days in space. Thirteen Russians have more time in space than Williams. "Everything went very smoothly, very normally," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said.

Ceres: The tiny world where volcanoes erupt ice

Tempe AZ (SPX)
Sep 05, 2016

Ahuna Mons is a volcano that rises 13,000 feet high and spreads 11 miles wide at its base. This would be impressive for a volcano on Earth. But Ahuna Mons stands on Ceres, a dwarf planet less than 600 miles wide that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Even stranger, Ahuna Mons isn't built from lava the way terrestrial volcanoes are - it's built from ice.

"Ahuna is the one true 'mountain' on Ceres," said David A. Williams, associate research professor in Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration. "After studying it closely, we interpret it as a dome raised by cryovolcanism."

Volcanic dome Ahuna Mons rises above a foreground impact crater, as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft with no vertical exaggeration. Eruptions of salty, muddy water built the mountain by repeated eruptions, flows and freezing. Streaks from falls of rocks and debris run down its flanks, while overhead views show fracturing across its summit.

This is a form of low-temperature volcanic activity, where molten ice - water, usually mixed with salts or ammonia - replaces the molten silicate rock erupted by terrestrial volcanoes. Giant mountain Ahuna is a volcanic dome built from repeated eruptions of freezing salty water.

Williams is part of a team of scientists working with NASA's Dawn mission who have published papers in the journal Science this week. His specialty is volcanism, and that drew him to the puzzle of Ahuna Mons.

"Ahuna is truly unique, being the only mountain of its kind on Ceres," he said. "It shows nothing to indicate a tectonic formation, so that led us to consider cryovolcanism as a method for its origin."

Dawn scientist Ottaviano Ruesch, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the lead author on the Science paper about Ceres volcanism. He says, "This is the only known example of a cryovolcano that potentially formed from a salty mud mix, and which formed in the geologically recent past."

Williams explained that "Ahuna has only a few craters on its surface, which points to an age of just couple hundred million years at most."

According to the Dawn team, the implications of Ahuna Mons being volcanic in origin are enormous. It confirms that although Ceres' surface temperature averages almost -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit; the scales converge at this temperature), its interior has kept warm enough for liquid water or brines to exist for a relatively long period. And this has allowed volcanic activity at the surface in recent geological time.

Ahuna Mons is not the only place where icy volcanism happens on Ceres. Dawn's instruments have spotted features that point to cryovolcanic activity that resurfaces areas rather than building tall structures. Numerous craters, for example, show floors that appear flatter than impacts by meteorites would leave them, so perhaps they have been flooded from below. In addition, such flat-floored craters often show cracks suggesting that icy "magma" has pushed them upward, then subsided.

A few places on Ceres exhibit a geo-museum of features. "Occator Crater has several bright spots on its floor," said Williams. "The central spot contains what looks like a cryovolcanic dome, rich in sodium carbonates." Other bright spots, he says, occur over fractures that suggest venting of water vapor mixed with bright salts.

"As the vapor has boiled away," he explained, "it leaves the bright 1salts and carbonate minerals behind. " Looking inside

Although volcanic-related features appear across the surface of Ceres, for scientists perhaps the most interesting aspect is what these features say about the interior of the dwarf world. Dawn observations suggest that Ceres has an outer shell that's not purely ice or rock, but rather a mixture of both.

Recently, Williams was involved in research that discovered that large impact craters are missing, presumably erased by internal heat, but smaller craters are preserved.

"This shows that Ceres' crust has a variable composition - it's weak at large scales but strong at smaller scales," he said. "It has also evolved geologically."

In the big picture, said Williams, "Ceres appears differentiated internally, with a core and a complex crust made of 30 to 40 percent water ice mixed with silicate rock and salts." And perhaps pockets of brine still exist in its interior.

"We need to continue studying the data to better understand the interior structure of Ceres," said Williams.

Ceres is the second port of call for the Dawn mission, which was launched in 2007 and visited another asteroid, Vesta, from 2011 to 2012. The spacecraft arrived at Ceres in March 2015. It carries a suite of cameras, spectrometers and gamma-ray and neutron detectors. These were built to image, map and measure the shape and surface materials of Ceres, and they collect information to help scientists understand the history of these small worlds and what they can tell us of the solar system's birth.

NASA plans for Dawn to continue orbiting Ceres and collecting data for another year or so. The dwarf planet is slowly moving toward its closest approach to the sun, called perihelion, which will come in April 2018. Scientists expect that the growing solar warmth will produce some detectable changes in Ceres' surface or maybe even trigger volcanic activity.

"We hope that by observing Ceres as it approaches perihelion, we might observe some active venting. This would be an ideal way to end the mission," said Williams.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Ceres_The_tiny_world_where_volcanoes_erupt_ice_999.html.

Volunteer firefighters in Russia attacked with guns, knives

September 09, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Masked men armed with guns, knives and stun grenades early on Friday attacked a camp of volunteer firefighters who came to southern Russia to help to put out forest fires. The environmental group Greenpeace, whose members were at the camp, said the men attacked their camp at night, beating up people and damaging their tents and cars parked nearby. Several people have been taken to the hospital, one of them with a broken nose, another with broken ribs.

The government has been cutting funding for firefighting brigades so much that volunteers in recent years have been traveling to forest fires to help out. The attackers wielded the batons, knives and guns, Greenpeace Russia on Friday quoted firefighting volunteers coordinator Grigory Kuksin as saying: "They said if we don't get out of here till the morning, no one will ever find us, (they said) we should get the hell out of here to 'our America. "'

The ultranationalist Cossack militia considers Greenpeace and other foreign NGOs to be Western spies infiltrating Russia. Greenpeace said its members were blocked in the camp on Thursday unable to leave after the Cossacks surrounded it.

Russia holds large-scale military drills in Crimea

September 09, 2016

FEODOSIYA, Crimea (AP) — Russia has deployed cruise missiles, multiple rocket launchers, tanks and its latest anti-aircraft system at massive military drills in Crimea. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in April 2014 and since then has sent thousands of troops and heavy weaponry there.

The defense ministry invited dozens of journalists Friday to a remote firing range at the Black Sea coast to display elaborate war games which involved paratroopers, tanks, cruise missiles launched from a submarine and the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

The drills, which began across southern Russia and Crimea earlier this week and involve over 120,000 troops, are some of the largest exercises Russia has held for years.

1,000 in Myanmar protest Annan examining religious conflict

September 06, 2016

SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) — More than 1,000 Buddhists in a Myanmar state wracked by religious and ethnic strife protested Tuesday's arrival of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying the Ghanaian is meddling in the country's affairs by leading a government-appointed commission to find solutions to the conflict.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to "protracted issues" in western Rakhine state, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses by majority Rakhine Buddhists against minority Rohingya Muslims.

The state's dominant Arakan National Party and the Rakhine Women Network led the protest about 300 meters (yards) from the airport in Sittwe, the Rakhine capital, where Annan and other members of the Rakhine Advisory Commission arrived Tuesday morning. As Annan's car passed, the crowd shouted, "Dismiss the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission now."

"We came here because we don't want that foreigner coming to our state," said May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident. "I don't know exactly what this group is and what they are doing, but I came here to protest as I don't like them to come here.

"I cannot accept them talking about the Rakhine and kalar case in our state," said protester Soe Thein. "Kalar" is a derogatory word used in Myanmar to refer to Muslims. Many Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest in Rakhine state, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps there.

"We are here to help provide ideas and advice," Annan said at the Rakhine state government office, where he met government and police officials, community leaders and members of nongovernmental organizations.

"To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace, share values of justice, fairness and equity," he said. "Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must charge their own way forward."

Before Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government created the commission, her international reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy icon had been diminished by what some have viewed as her inaction on the Rohingya issue. Her government still does not even use the word "Rohingya."

"You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now," Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told Annan and other commission members at a news conference Monday. "You will be able to assess for yourself the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them."

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. During their six-day Rakhine trip, the commission will visit the Rohingya camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But the Arakan National Party said it will not meet or work with the commission.

"Rakhine state is in Myanmar and our country has its own sovereignty and there is no way we can accept a commission that is formed by foreigners," ANP official Aung Than Wai said Tuesday.

Myanmar leader says Rakhine commission will help heal wounds

September 05, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed confidence Monday that former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a commission he is leading to resolve religious conflict in western Rakhine state will help heal the "wounds of our people," even as the state's most powerful political party refused to meet with the panel.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to "protracted issues" in Rakhine, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses against minority Rohingya Muslims.

Majority Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps.

"You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now," Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told commission members at a news conference. "You will be able to assess for yourself of the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them."

The effort is separate from peace talks that began last week with the government and many ethnic groups that have been at war with it for decades. "There is a wound that hurts all of us," Suu Kyi said. "And it is because we wish to heal all the wounds of our nation, all the wounds of our people that we look toward Kofi Annan and all the members of the commission to help us to find a way forward."

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. Annan said he is "confident that we can assist the people of Rakhine to chart the common path to the peaceful and prosperous future."

Annan and the commission on Tuesday begin a six-day Rakhine trip during which they will see the camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But Rakhine's largest party, the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Buddhist Rakhine majority, said it will not work with the commission.

"We don't want this commission because we don't want a foreigner's human rights perspectives without actually understanding and evaluating the history of Rakhine people, and how can they know the root causes of the conflicts," ANP secretary Tun Aung Kyaw told The Associated Press by telephone. "Whenever the United Nations' representatives ... came here, they never stood for Rakhine and didn't do the true reports from Rakhine side."

He said that if Annan "wants to meet us personally, not as a commission, then we can meet him to show respect."

Southeast Asian summit opens, overshadowed by Duterte flap

September 06, 2016

VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — A summit of Southeast Asian leaders to discuss issues ranging from terrorism to South China Sea tensions opened Tuesday, overshadowed by the Philippine president's intemperate comments in his debut appearance at the annual meeting. The insult was made more egregious because of who the target was — President Barack Obama.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte occupied center stage on the eve of the summit Monday when he made comments about Obama that included a "son of a bitch" remark. He was again in the spotlight Tuesday when he trooped into a conference hall in the Laotian capital of Vientiane wearing a traditional Filipino shirt with sleeves rolled up, and hands in pant pockets. The other male Southeast Asian leaders were dressed in dark business suits. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi wore a mauve traditional dress.

Filipinos wear the "barong" shirt on formal occasions too, but with sleeves buttoned down at the wrists. Rolled-up sleeves are considered too casual for any formal setting, let alone a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Duterte rolled his sleeves down and buttoned them when Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachith gave a speech to open the summit.

"Multifaceted security challenges have occurred in many parts of the world, such as terrorism and extremism, natural disasters, climate change, migration crisis, trafficking in people, territorial disputes and armed conflicts," Bounnhang said. "At the same time, although the global economy has gradually recovered, growth remains slow and fragile."

"There is a need for us to closely follow these developments and continue to enhance ASEAN cooperation and collaboration with the international community," he said. The 10-nation ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The summit will be followed by a series of other meetings on Wednesday and a summit Thursday between leaders from ASEAN and other countries, including the United States, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Obama arrived in Vientiane on Monday night and will attend Thursday's summit. Duterte also arrived Monday night. But hours before his arrival, Duterte dropped a diplomatic bombshell by saying he doesn't want Obama to ask him questions about extrajudicial killings that have occurred amid an ongoing crackdown on drug dealers in the Philippines. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since he took office on June 30.

In his typical loose-tongued style, Duterte said: "I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Putang ina, I will swear at you in that forum," he said, using the Tagalog phrase for "son of a bitch."

Obama later canceled a bilateral meeting he was scheduled to have with Duterte in Vientiane. On Tuesday, Duterte expressed regret over the remarks, but the damage was already done. Duterte is also planning to ask China's premier at the Vientiane meetings whether China is trying to develop a disputed reef, Scarborough Shoal, off the Philippines' northwestern coast, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

The shoal is part of the larger dispute in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN countries. An international arbitration panel recently ruled that China's expansive claims in the sea are illegal. Beijing has rejected the ruling as a sham.

Although ASEAN has the power of the ruling behind it, its summit is unlikely to mention it in its final declaration, a reflection of Beijing's diplomatic clout. But according to a draft of the final statement ASEAN is scheduled to release on Thursday, the region's leaders will express strong concern about Beijing's construction of man-made islands in the South China Sea, which Southeast Asian countries fear could destabilize the region.

Duterte said last week that the Philippine coast guard has sighted Chinese barges at Scarborough, which he said could presage the transformation of the Chinese-held reef into another man-made island. One of the Chinese vessels had what appeared to be a crane, according to a Philippine official who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss classified intelligence.

China sparked widespread alarm when it converted seven reefs in the Spratly Islands into islands that the United States says could be transformed into military bases to reinforce Beijing's territorial claims and intimidate rival claimant countries.

Duterte has taken a more conciliatory stance toward China than his predecessor. But a confirmation of Chinese reclamation activities at Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground where Filipino fishermen have been forced away by Beijing's coast guard, could impede relations.

U.S. officials have also expressed deep concern over the possibility of China developing Scarborough into an island or starting to erect concrete structures there, which could reinforce Beijing's control over a swath of the South China Sea.