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Friday, June 30, 2017

Portugal awaits foreign help to fight deadly wildfires

June 19, 2017

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — More than 1,500 firefighters in Portugal are still battling to control major wildfires in the central region of the country, where one blaze killed 62 people. Reinforcements are due to arrive Monday, including more water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy as part of a European Union cooperation program.

Portugal is observing three days of national mourning after 62 people were killed in a wildfire Saturday night around the town of Pedrogao Grande, which is by far the deadliest on record. Just over 1,000 firefighters are still attending that blaze about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Lisbon.

Scorching weather, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), as well as strong winds and dry woodland after weeks with little rain are fueling the blazes.

Maduro says helicopter fired on Venezuela's Supreme Court

June 28, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro said a stolen police helicopter fired on Venezuela's Supreme Court Tuesday in what he called a thwarted "terrorist attack" aimed at ousting him from power.

The confusing exchange, which is bound to ratchet up tensions in a country already paralyzed by months of deadly anti-government protests, took place as Maduro was speaking live on state television. He later said the helicopter had fired on the court with grenades, one of which didn't go off, helping avoid any loss of life. The nation's air defense system was immediately activated.

Adding to the intrigue, pictures of a blue police helicopter carrying an anti-government banner appeared on social media around the same time as a video in which an alleged police pilot, identified as Oscar Perez, called for a rebellion against Maduro's "tyranny" as part of a coalition of members of the country's security forces. Authorities said they were still searching for the man.

"We have two choices: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government," the man said while reading from a statement with four people dressed in military fatigues, ski masks and carrying what looked like assault rifles standing behind him.

Maduro sounded alternately calm and angry as he told the audience about what had happened in the airspace just beyond the presidential palace where they were gathered. "It could've caused a tragedy with several dozen dead and injured," he said.

Later, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement from the government accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the Interior Ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people celebrating national journalist's day. It then flew a short distance to the court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of "Colombian origin," two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.

The pro-government president of the high court said there were no injuries from the attack and that the area was still being surveyed for damages. Villegas said security forces were being deployed to apprehend Perez as well as recover the heisted German-built Bolkow helicopter. Photos of the pilot standing in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter were displayed on state TV to further bolster the government's case that he was taking instructions from the CIA and the U.S. Embassy

Meanwhile many of Maduro's opponents took to social media to accuse the president of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution. Venezuela has been roiled by anti-government protests the past three months that have left at least 75 people dead and hundreds injured.

Maduro said one of the pilots involved in the alleged attack used to fly for his former Interior Minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who he accused of working for the CIA. Rodriguez Torres, who has been leading a campaign against by Maduro made up of leftist supporters of the late Hugo Chavez, immediately dismissed the accusation as baseless.

As the drama was unfolding outside the courtroom, inside magistrates were busy issuing a number of rulings further hemming in the opposition. One dismissed a challenge against Maduro's plans for a constitutional assembly by chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, a longtime loyalist who broke with the government over the issue. Another broadened the powers of the nation's Ombudsman, giving him the authority to carry out criminal investigations that until now had been the exclusive prerogative of Ortega's office.

The helicopter incident capped a volatile 24 hours that began with widespread looting in the coastal city of Maracay on Monday night and continued Tuesday when opposition lawmakers got into a heated scuffle with security forces assigned to protect the National Assembly.

At least 68 supermarkets, pharmacies and liquor stores were looted and several government offices burned following anti-government protests in Maracay, which is about a 90 minute drive from Caracas. Maduro condemned the violence but with a stern warning to his opponents that's likely to only further inflame an already tense situation.

"We will never surrender. And what we couldn't accomplish through votes we will with weapons," he said. On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers got into fisticuffs with national guardsmen as they tried to enter the National Assembly. In a video circulating on social media, the commander of a national guard unit protecting the legislature aggressively shoved National Assembly President Julio Borges as he's walking away from a heated discussion.

At nightfall, a few dozen people were still gathered inside the neoclassical building as pro-government supporters stood outside threatening violence.

Venezuelan protesters, security forces clash at air base

June 25, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Young protesters broke down a metal fence guarding an air base in Caracas on Saturday before being repelled by security forces firing tear gas in another day of anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital.

Demonstrators threw stones, and some protesters were injured. The clashes took place after a peaceful mass demonstration next to La Carlota base where a 22-year-old protester was killed this week when a national guardsman shot him in the chest at close range with rubber bullets.

Protesters also fought with security forces outside the base Friday, and activists burned some vehicles during the confrontation. President Nicolas Maduro said in an address to troops Saturday that he had managed to break up a U.S.-backed plot to oust him. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro frequently accuses the U.S. of trying to topple Venezuela's socialist administration.

Maduro praised Venezuela's military for standing by the government and he warned that attempts are underway to try to sow further dissent. More than 70 people have been killed and hundreds injured in almost three months of demonstrations.

Colombia: Bombing at mall kills 3, including French woman

June 18, 2017

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A bomb rocked one of the busiest shopping centers in Colombia's capital Saturday, killing three people, including a 23-year-old French woman, and injuring nine others. Witnesses told of being evacuated from movie theaters and stores after the blast in a second-floor women's restroom at the upscale Centro Andino in the heart of Bogota's tourist district. Ambulances and firetrucks rushed to the scene and the injured were taken to a hospital, where two later died.

Police said a bomb from an undetermined explosive had caused the destruction. Mayor Enrique Penalosa called it a "cowardly terrorist bombing," and attention immediately focused on the National Liberation Army, which is the last rebel movement still active in Colombia. The group, known as the ELN, carried out a spate of recent attacks in Bogota, but leaders denied involvement in the latest bombing.

Penalosa said the French victim, identified as Julie Huynh, had been in Colombia the past six months volunteering at a school in a poor neighborhood. He said she was preparing to return to France in the coming days in the company of her mother, who was with her in Bogota.

The ELN, which is engaged in long-running peace talks with the government, rejected accusations it was behind the attack. "We ask for seriousness from people making unfounded and reckless accusations," ELN negotiators at peace talks taking place in neighboring Ecuador said on Twitter. "This is the way people are trying to tear up the peace process."

The ELN in February claimed responsibility for a bombing near Bogota's bullring that killed one police officer and injured 20 other people. But the group said it doesn't target civilians. Penalosa urged residents of Bogota's wealthier districts to be on high alert but cautioned that there was no hint of other attacks being planned. Police said they were still trying to determine what the device that exploded was made of.

The government last year reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which was much bigger than the ELN. Some analysts attribute an uptick in violence in Colombian cities to the ELN's desire to wrest concessions from the government at the negotiating table.

Bogota has seen dramatic improvement in security over the past decade as the country's long-running conflict has wound down. But the capital remains vulnerable to attacks as residents have let down their guard

Still, the Andino shopping center would seem a difficult target. All vehicles entering the parking garage are screened by bomb-sniffing dogs and security guards are present throughout the mall. President Juan Manuel Santos was expected to visit the mall to personally oversee the investigation and in a message posted on Twitter he expressed his solidarity with the victims.

Serbia's first gay PM- designate honored by nomination

June 16, 2017

VRNJACKA BANJA, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's Prime Minister-designate Ana Brnabic says it is an honor to serve the country and thanked the president for trusting her. Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic nominated Brnabic as the conservative country's first openly gay prime minister, a move which infuriated nationalists.

Brnabic said Friday: "I'm proud and still too emotional from all of this." Her government needs formal approval by Serbia's parliament next week for her to become the first female head of government in Serbia.

Brnabic's nomination is considered part of Vucic's tactics to please the West amid strong pressure from Moscow to maintain influence in the region and keep Serbia away from Western integration. Pro-Russian opposition official Bosko Obradovic says U.S.-educated Brnabic is "a foreign agent" who was nominated to the position by the West.

Romania: president, political parties in talks over new PM

June 26, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's largest party has nominated a former economy minister to be the next prime minister. The nomination of 50-year-old Mihai Tudose was announced before President Klaus Iohannis and Liviu Dragnea, the powerful leader of Romania's biggest party, the leftist Social Democratic Party.

Normally, as party leader, Dragnea would be prime minister, but in 2016 he was convicted of vote-rigging, which disqualifies him from holding the post. The Social Democrats withdrew support for Premier Sorin Grindeanu saying he had underperformed. He refused to resign and the party and its allies ousted Grindeanu's government in a no-confidence vote last week.

Romania ruling party goes to Parliament to remove premier

June 18, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's ruling party plans to submit a vote of no-confidence against its own government Sunday after it withdrew its support for the prime minister. Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has refused to quit, sparking a political crisis.

The center-left Social Democratic Party convened lawmakers to read out the motion against the government, a day earlier than scheduled, in its efforts to remove Grindeanu, accused of not implementing the party's program. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to dismiss the government.

Grindeanu, in office since January, denies that he has underperformed. He claims the powerful party chairman, Liviu Dragnea, who can't be prime minister because of a conviction in 2016 for vote rigging, wants to install a party loyalist as premier.

Ex-Prime Minister Victor Ponta, an ally of the prime minister, called for talks with Dragnea to resolve the crisis and avoid a no-confidence vote, which he called "an atomic war between the Social Democrats and the Social Democrats."

Ponta said the party in-fighting would benefit President Klaus Iohannis, a political rival, who nominates a premier who is then approved by Parliament. The Social Democrats and their political allies need 233 votes out of a total of 465 seats to remove the government.

Migrant pressures grow; Italy presses EU nations to do more

June 29, 2017

ROME (AP) — Italy's leader pressed his European Union allies Thursday to take in more migrants, saying the relentless arrival of tens of thousands on Italy's shores is putting his country under enormous strain. He spoke after 10,000 migrants were pulled to safety from the Mediterranean Sea in the last few days alone and were heading to Italy.

With an election due in less than a year, political pressure is building on Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni's center-left government to push for relief from fellow EU nations. Flanked by EU national leaders and EU officials at a news conference in Berlin, Gentiloni said the growing number of arrivals "puts our welcome capability to a tough test."

Italy has already taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last few years. Some estimates say 220,000 migrants could land in Italy by the end of 2017. In addition to those who arrive, over 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the U.N.

"It's a country under pressure, and we ask the help of our European allies," Gentiloni said, when asked about reports that Italy is considering blocking its ports to non-Italian NGO ships that pluck to safety migrants from distressed dinghies and other unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast.

While acknowledging that European nations take part in patrols to deter smuggling in the central Mediterranean, Gentiloni said the job of caring for the migrants "remains in one country only" — Italy.

On Sunday, Italy's anti-migrant Northern League Party teamed up with the center-right opposition forces led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and triumphed in several mayoral races. The Democrats, Italy's main government party, took an embarrassing drubbing.

Many Italian towns say they just can't handle hosting hundreds of migrants any more. Right-wing parties remind citizens that Italians themselves are suffering from high unemployment and a practically flat economy.

In one port alone Thursday, in Reggio Calabria, 1,066 migrants disembarked from the Save the Children rescue ship Vos Hestia. Among them were 241 unaccompanied minors. This ship's rescued migrants came from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Somalia and several sub-Saharan nations of Africa and included a four-day-old boy. Six migrants had chicken pox and some 250 showed signs of scabies, so officials set up pressurized showers.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of unaccompanied minors doubled to more than 25,000, according to the Interior Ministry. Populist leader Beppe Grillo, founder of the opposition 5-Star Movement, slammed as a "suicide pact" the accord that lets the European sea patrol off Libya bring all the migrants they rescue to Italy.

There's also concern that if Italy, a stalwart supporter of the EU, sours on Brussels because it feels abandoned on the migrant issue, the EU's very survival itself could be compromised. "Either the Union can shake itself up, or the fear is that it can collapse definitively," said Francesco Laforgia, a left-leaning lawmaker.

"The situation is no long sustainable," Nicola Latorre, head of the Senate's defense commission, told the Il Messaggero daily. "Obviously saving human lives remains a priority. But it's unthinkable that Italy does it all by itself."

That Italy is considering prohibiting some NGO ships from bringing migrants to southern Italian ports reflects growing frustration in the country toward others in the EU, said Elizabeth Collett, director of MPI Europe, an independent research institution studying migration in Europe.

"What they see is an insufficient willingness of other countries to step up and help out," Collett said. One rescue group, SOS Mediterranee, expressed understanding, saying Italy has been "at the front line of this humanitarian tragedy for too long."

Still, their statement said: "NGOs are not the cause, nor the solution, to this humanitarian crisis but a response to the failure of the European Union to find a common approach to the tragedy." Earlier Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insisted that other EU countries share the burden of caring for migrants. But previous plans hatched in Brussels to make other EU countries take in a fixed number of migrants from Italy and Greece have largely stalled.

Several central and eastern European EU members — including large countries like Hungary and Poland — have flat out refused to take in a quota of the asylum-seekers. French President Emmanuel Macron, in Berlin along with Gentiloni, insisted that France would do its part as far as those deserving asylum. But Macron noted that more than 80 percent of the people flowing into Italy from across the sea have been described as economic migrants.

"How to explain to our fellow citizens, to our middle classes, that suddenly there is no limit anymore?" the French leader asked.

AP reporter Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.

Center-right set to win top race in Italian mayoral runoffs

June 26, 2017

ROME (AP) — Exit polls early Monday indicated that center-right forces, including an anti-immigrant party, were headed to victory in several key mayoral runoffs, two weeks after a first round of voting saw most populist candidates eliminated in all big cities up for grabs.

An election alliance of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives, the anti-migrant Northern League party and a right-wing party with its power base in Rome, appeared to have triumphed in the most-watched race, Genoa, a working class port city in the Liguria region which had long been a stronghold for the political left.

In Sunday's runoffs, center-left alliances anchored by former Premier Matteo Renzi's Democrats had been hoping for support from voters who backed losing populist 5-Star Movement candidates in the June 11 first round. In that vote, the Movement, which bills itself as anti-establishment, failed to capture any main city, including Genoa, where 5-Star founder-comic Beppe Grillo lives.

National elections for Parliament and the premiership are due by spring 2018. In the past, local voting results didn't always correlate with national elections to choose a new Parliament in Rome as well as premier.

But conservative party leaders, buoyed by the makings of victory in Genoa and some other smaller cities Sunday, touted the runoff results as a possible formula for a winning team of parties when national elections are held.

"I think the center-right can tranquilly stay together on a national level too," Liguria Gov. Giovanni Toti told Sky TG24 TV. Toti is a leader in Forza Italia, the party founded by media mogul and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. He noted that in Genoa on Sunday, the winning ticket grouped together local forces from center-right Forza Italia, the Northern League party, and a right-wing party with a Rome power base.

In the affluent northern city of Parma, incumbent mayor Federico Pizzarotti, a former 5-Star politician who became disenchanted with Movement after Grillo declined to back him in a probe in which the mayor was eventually cleared, appeared headed to re-election on a ticket grouping various civic forces.

Dutch government partially liable in 300 Srebrenica deaths

June 27, 2017

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government was partially liable in the deaths of more than 300 Muslim men killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The ruling formally struck down a civil court's landmark 2014 judgment that said the state was liable in the deaths of the Bosnian Muslim men and boys who were turned over by Dutch U.N. peacekeepers to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 and subsequently killed.

But the appeals panel largely upheld the earlier case's findings while significantly cutting the amount of damages relatives of the dead could receive by assessing the victims' chances of survival had they remained in the care of the Dutch troops.

The court estimated the chances of Muslim males' survival if they had stayed in the Dutch compound at around 30 percent. "The state is therefore liable for 30 percent of the losses suffered by the relatives," the court said in a statement. The 2014 judgment didn't include that qualification.

In a written reaction, the Dutch Defense Ministry said the government would carefully study the latest ruling. "The starting point is that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible," the statement said. Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the ruling as drawing a line in the sand for peacekeepers.

"More than two decades after the Srebrenica massacre, this decision establishes that peacekeepers can be held responsible for a failure to protect civilians and that their governments can and will be held to account for their conduct," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe Director.

The appeals judgment is the latest in a string of legal cases in the Netherlands concerning the country's role in the Srebrenica massacre and whether the country's soldiers could or should have done more to prevent the mass killings.

The ruling came the morning after a lawyer told a late-night television show that he was filing a claim for 206 veterans of the Dutch Srebrenica mission seeking compensation and recognition for the suffering they have endured since the fall of the enclave.

Lawyer Michael Ruperti told talk show host Eva Jinek he is claiming 22,000 euros ($25,000) per veteran, a symbolic amount of 1,000 euros per year since the fall of Srebrenica. Defense Ministry spokesman Klaas Meijer said the ministry already handles claims filed by veterans with "demonstrable" physical or psychological complaints as a result of their deployment.

"If people have demonstrable suffering they can come to our veterans department and file a claim," Meijer said. "It is important that we can handle the claims individually and carefully," he added. Hague Appeals Court presiding judge Gepke Dulek said the Muslim men in Srebrenica were killed after being removed by Dutch U.N. peacekeepers from their compound during a mass evacuation. Bosnian Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic had overrun the U.N.-declared safe haven in eastern Bosnia.

"By having the men leave the compound unreservedly, they were deprived of a chance of survival," presiding judge Gepke Dulek said. The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

The ruling angered a group of female relatives of victims of the massacre who were in court for the ruling. Munira Subasic, who leads an organization called the Mothers of Srebrenica that brought the case, stood up and waved her finger at the judge after the ruling, saying "this is a huge injustice."

Lawyers for the victims can now begin discussions with government lawyers about compensation. Lawyer Marco Gerritsen, who represented the relatives, said he understood the relatives' anger. "But from a legal point of view it is not that bad. Of course we would have hoped for more and I think we had a good case," he said.

Gerritsen called the court's assessment of the men's survival chances "very arbitrary." He said he will study the judgment to see if it is possible to appeal to the Dutch Supreme Court. On July 13, 1995, Dutch peacekeepers bowed to pressure from Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladic and forced thousands of Muslims out of their fenced-off compound, where they had sought refuge.

The Bosnian Serb forces sorted the Muslims by gender, then trucked the males away and began killing them in what would become the bloody climax to the 1992-95 Bosnian war, a slaughter that international courts have ruled was genocide. The war claimed 100,000 lives in all.

The Srebrenica bodies were plowed into hastily made mass graves, which were later bulldozed and scattered among other burial sites in an attempt to hide the evidence. Mladic is on trial for genocide and other offenses at a U.N. tribunal in The Hague for his alleged role in the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes during the war.

Dutch royals return from Vatican with royal heirloom

June 22, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Dutch king and queen are returning home from a state visit to the Vatican with a royal heirloom: the baton purportedly carried by William of Orange during the 16th century Dutch War of Independence from Spanish rule.

The head of the Jesuit religious order, the Rev. Arturo Sosa Abascal, handed over the wooden baton Thursday at a ceremony in the Apostolic Library after King Willem-Alexander and his Argentine-born wife, Queen Maxima, met with Pope Francis.

According to the Dutch royal household, Spanish Catholic forces took possession of the baton after they quashed the Protestant revolt headed by William of Orange at the Battle of Mookerheide in 1574. The baton had been housed in a Jesuit convent in Spain. It's going on display at the Dutch military museum in Soesterberg.

Garbage crisis hits Greek capital over job freeze

June 26, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — With a heat wave expected later this week, Greece's government Monday urging striking garbage collectors to return to work after a 10-day protest has left huge piles of trash around Athens.

Striking workers scuffled with riot police in central Athens outside the stuttered entrance of a ministry building, where a union delegation was expected to present its demands. Temperatures are forecast to reach 42 degrees Celsius in Athens (107 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the week, prompting a public health agency to issue a warning over the continuing strike.

"The continued accumulation of garbage ... combined with high temperatures poses a risk to public health," the state-run Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. Despite the strike, municipal crews agreed to collect some garbage in busy tourist areas, outside hospitals and at intersections where tumbling piles of trash were slowing traffic.

Later Monday, the government is due to submit draft legislation to parliament to renew job contracts for thousands municipal garbage works. Striking unions are demanding that government fulfill commitments to provide permanent jobs for long-term contract workers — an action that could breach strict budget obligations set out under the Greece's international bailout agreements.

Greece has been repeatedly criticized by the European Union for its heavy reliance on open landfills and low rates of recycling, and has been fined on many occasions for failing to close illegal dump sites.

Germany denies permission for Erdogan rally on G-20 visit

June 29, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany will deny permission for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to address Turks at a rally when he visits for the upcoming Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany's foreign minister said Thursday.

Turkey officially requested permission Wednesday for Erdogan to make the appearance while in Germany for the July 7-8 summit, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said during a trip to Russia. Gabriel said he had told his Turkish counterpart weeks ago that "we don't think this is a good idea."

"We are telling Turkey that we are convinced such an appearance in Germany is not possible," Gabriel said, according to news agency dpa. Earlier Thursday, Gabriel said that "Mr. Erdogan is an important guest at the G-20 and will be received with all honors by us there. But we believe everything that goes beyond that is inappropriate at this point in time."

He pointed to stretched police resources around the G-20 summit as well as Germany's current tensions with Turkey. Erdogan last addressed supporters in Germany in May 2015. Germany has a large ethnic Turkish minority.

Earlier this year, Erdogan accused Germany, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, of "committing Nazi practices" after some local authorities blocked appearances by Turkish ministers hoping to campaign in Germany ahead of Turkey's referendum on expanding presidential powers.

Relations between the two countries have been frayed by a widening range of other issues, including Turkey's jailing of two German journalists.

German parliament remembers former Chancellor Helmut Kohl

June 22, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's parliament honored former Chancellor Helmut Kohl in a memorial on Thursday, remembering him as the architect of German reunification but also as someone who wasn't without flaws.

Norbert Lammert, the parliament speaker, said that because of Kohl "the peaceful unity of our country and a free and pacified Europe is today a reality." Kohl, who spearheaded German reunification in 1990 and was an architect of the euro, died Friday at age 87.

Remembering the party financing scandal that embroiled Kohl after he left office in 1998, Lammert said the former chancellor himself "acknowledged some mistakes." Lammert told Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others that "Kohl's path was sometimes painful, sometimes caused by himself and sometimes caused by others."

Kohl is being honored with an official European memorial event, a first for the European Union, at the European Parliament on July 1. A requiem mass will then be held at the cathedral in Speyer, in Kohl's home region, where the former leader also will be buried. Unusually, however, there won't be a state funeral in Germany beyond the official European event — apparently at Kohl's wish.

Lammert, a member of Kohl's party, remarked in his speech to parliament that the location and format in which Kohl is honored for his political work in Germany is "with all due respect, not just a family matter."

Kohl's death has highlighted rifts in the ex-chancellor's family. He had fallen out with his two sons and one of them, Walter Kohl, said he and two of the former leader's grandchildren were turned away from Kohl's home when he tried to visit Wednesday.

Stephan Holthoff-Pfoertner — a lawyer for Maike Kohl-Richter, Kohl's widow and second wife — accused the younger Kohl of ignoring earlier efforts to organize contact and deliberately setting up the scene by turning up unannounced. Walter Kohl denied that.

UK lawmakers face key vote on Conservative govt's agenda

June 29, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers were set to vote Thursday on whether to approve the Conservative government's plans for a Brexit-dominated parliamentary session, in a test of Prime Minister Theresa May's shaky minority administration.

The vote comes at the end of debate on last week's Queen's Speech, which set out the government's proposed legislation for the next two years. The slimmed-down agenda jettisoned several pledges made by the party before Britain's June 8 election, in which voters stripped May's Conservative party of its majority in Parliament. Several of the planned new laws relate to Britain's exit from the European Union, due in 2019.

The election left the Conservatives with 317 of the 650 seats in Parliament, several short of a majority. It also severely undermined the authority of May, who called the early vote in a misjudged attempt to increase her grip on power ahead of Brexit negotiations with the EU.

As May struggles to short up her support, the main opposition Labour Party is seeking to disrupt her plans by putting forward amendments that would reverse Conservative policies on Brexit and spending cuts.

But the government is likely to get its way Thursday thanks to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 lawmakers have agreed to support the Conservatives on key votes. On Wednesday the government, with the help of the DUP, managed to defeat a Labour motion calling for a reversal of public spending cuts. The vote was 323 to 309 — the first of what is likely to be many close calls for May's administration in Parliament.

The DUP deal — secured with a promise of 1 billion pounds ($1.29 billion) in new spending for Northern Ireland — has dismayed some Conservatives on account of the smaller party's socially conservative policies on issues including abortion, which is all but outlawed in Northern Ireland.

One amendment up for a vote Thursday will test the unity of Conservative lawmakers. It calls on the government to pay for women from Northern Ireland to travel to England for abortions. Voting down the measure could be hard to stomach for some liberal Tory legislators.

Ride-hailing services transform Vietnam's transport culture

June 29, 2017

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Nguyen Kim Lan used to make a decent living shuttling customers around town on his Honda motorbike. But his clientele has dwindled as young and tech-savvy Vietnamese increasingly use ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab to summon cheaper, safer motorbike taxis.

The expansion of the ride-hailing services across Southeast Asia is shaking up traditional motorcycle taxi services that are a key source of informal work for people like Lan. In some cases, the Xe Om, or motorbike taxi, drivers are venting their anger in attacks on the new competitors.

Lan is just frustrated. He says his income has fallen to just 20 percent to 30 percent of what it used to be. "Nowadays, my frequent customers have all booked Grab and Uber, so they don't come here anymore," said Lan, 62, as he waited for customers at an intersection in downtown Hanoi.

"Before, office workers would come here after work. Now they just sit in their offices and get picked up at the door," he said. As elsewhere in the region, motorbikes are Vietnam's main form of transportation, especially in the capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. They can maneuver through crowded, narrow city streets more easily than cars and are less expensive to buy and run.

Having invaded the conventional taxi market, ride hailing apps like Uber and Malaysia-based Grab are now elbowing aside the Xe Om with their UberMoto and GrabBike services. Vietnam, a communist-ruled country of 93 million, has about 45 million motorbikes, the highest rate of motorcycle ownership per capita in Southeast Asia. Some 3.1 million new motorbikes were sold last year.

Practically everyone has mobile phones, and cheap Internet access has enabled most Vietnamese city dwellers to get online. Nguyen Tuan Anh, chairman of Grab Vietnam, said the number of GrabBike drivers has jumped from 100 when they first launched in late 2014 to more than 50,000, with hundreds joining every day.

The growth of passengers is "explosive," he said. Many Vietnamese now prefer to use ride hailing apps, viewing their services as safer and cheaper, Tuan Anh said. "GrabBike brings transparency and that's why customers love it. They know that they will not be cheated by the drivers."

But Tuan Anh said he knows of more than 100 cases where GrabBike drivers were attacked in the past year, often by Xe Om drivers worried about losing business. Bus stations, hospitals and schools are hotspots for conflict. In one case, a GrabBike driver was stabbed in the lung. In another, police fired warning shots to disperse crowds of Xe Om and GrabBike drivers who were battling near a bus station in Ho Chi Minh City.

Similar problems have been reported in Thailand and Indonesia. Tuan Anh said GrabBike tells its drivers to be cautious and to seek help from police. Many Vietnamese seem keen to use such services despite the potential for conflict.

Tran Thuc Anh, a 21-year-old video games designer, says she switched to using GrabBike to commute from bus stations to and from her office about six months ago. It costs her half as much as using Xe Om did, she says.

"I just need to be online to book a bike without going around to look for a traditional Xe Om, so it's very convenient," Thuc Anh said. Many GrabBike drivers originally worked as Xe Om, but not all are willing to sign up. Older motorbike taxi drivers say they don't know how to use online apps or lack the cash to buy smart phones. Others are put off by the cheaper fares GrabBike charges.

But Nguyen Quang Trung, a 30-year-old salesman who began moonlighting for GrabBike six months ago, said Xe Om drivers who try to overcharge their customers are finished. "Uber and Grab are safe and their fares are reasonable and customers see this," Trung said. "Only elder people or those who are in hurry use traditional Xe Om. Young people and people who are not short on time never use Xe Om."

5 found guilty in Russian opposition leader's murder trial

June 29, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — A jury has found five men guilty of involvement in the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov, a top opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was shot late at night in 2015 as he was walking across a bridge just outside the Kremlin.

Russian news agencies say a jury at a Moscow court on Thursday found the suspected triggerman, a former officer in the security forces of Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, guilty of murdering Nemtsov. Four other men were found guilty of involvement in the killing.

The brazen assassination sent shockwaves through the Russian opposition. Nemtsov's allies have criticized the investigators for stopping short of studying a possible role of top Chechen officers and Kadyrov himself in the killing.

Tokyo election, populist leader could shift Japan politics

June 30, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — An election for Tokyo's metropolitan assembly on Sunday is attracting more attention than usual because it could shift the political landscape in Japan. A big win for a new political party created by populist Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike could strengthen her base and foreshadow an eventual run for prime minister.


A former TV newscaster-turned-politician, Koike served in key Cabinet and ruling party posts, including defense minister, before becoming the first female leader of Japan's capital in July 2016. Stylish and media savvy, she is a populist whose policies can sway depending on public opinion, experts say. Once called a migratory bird for her repeated party-hopping before settling with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in 2002, she launched a new party in May for Sunday's election: "Tomin (Tokyoites) First." She has put her nationalistic and hawkish stances on defense on the back burner.


A reformist image and challenge to the male-dominated Tokyo city government have won her an approval rating of around 60 percent. The assembly has long been dominated by the Tokyo branch of the LDP, and Koike has portrayed it as the anti-reform politics of the old boys. She has pushed administrative reforms, reviewed costly venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to reduce city spending, suspended a divisive relocation of the Tsukiji fish market over safety concerns and halved her salary. "It's a typical populist approach. She is challenging the establishment and stressing she is on the side of Tokyo residents," said University of Tokyo politics professor Yu Uchiyama.


Media polls show Koike's Tomin party slightly ahead of the LDP in the race for the 127-seat assembly. Some experts predict victory for most of the 50 Tomin candidates even though most are unknowns. Hakubun Shimomura, a senior LDP lawmaker in charge of the party's Tokyo branch, has said he expects a setback. The ruling party's popularity has been hit by scandals and gaffes at the national level, and for railroading a contentious anti-conspiracy law through parliament.

The result of the Tokyo assembly election usually sets the tone for the subsequent national election, experts say. Koike has struck an alliance with the Komei party that could allow them to gain a majority. It's politically interesting, because Komei is a longtime LDP partner at both the local and national levels. Koike, despite her row with the LDP's Tokyo branch, has maintained friendly ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prompting speculation she may eventually return to national politics.


Koike ranked third in a Nikkei newspaper survey in March about who should be prime minister, trailing current leader Abe and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's son, Shinjiro. So far, Koike has brushed off speculation about a return to national politics, saying her focus is on Tokyo and its future.

The University of Tokyo's Uchiyama says Koike would have to broaden her party vision to something like "Japan First" to aim for parliament. Jeff Kingston, coordinator of Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan Campus, says Koike has a high support rating but hasn't achieved much. "I would say her popularity is as high as it goes, and there are a lot more risks of the downside from here onward," he said. "It's too soon to declare her as the likely successor of Abe."

China flexes military muscle in Hong Kong during Xi's visit

June 30, 2017

HONG KONG (AP) — President Xi Jinping inspected troops based in Hong Kong on Friday as he asserts Chinese authority over the former British colony China took control of 20 years ago. Xi rode in an open-top jeep past rows of soldiers lined up on an airstrip on his visit to the People's Liberation Army garrison. He called out "Salute all the comrades" and "Salute to your dedication" as he rode by each of the 20 troop formations.

Armored personnel carriers, combat vehicles, helicopters and other pieces of military hardware were arrayed behind the troops. It was a rare display of the Chinese military's might in Hong Kong, where it normally maintains a low-key presence.

Xi, wearing a buttoned-up black jacket in the steamy heat, spent about 10 minutes reviewing the troops at the Shek Kong base in Hong Kong's suburban New Territories. It's part of a visit to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover, when Britain gave up control of the Asian financial hub to China on July 1, 1997.

Hong Kong was granted the freedom to run most of its affairs after it came under China's control under the "one country, two systems" principle. However, Beijing is in charge of the city's defense and foreign affairs and the troops based in the city are deployed from the mainland.

Xi's three-day visit to mark the anniversary includes presiding at the inauguration of the city's new leader, Carrie Lam, on Saturday. Security has been tight for his visit as authorities brace for protests.

Some 26 people, including young activist leader Joshua Wong, have been released on bail after being arrested for protesting on Wednesday. The department said Friday the activists have not been charged but are required to report back to police in September.

The activists, some of whom were detained more than 30 hours, had climbed onto a giant flower sculpture that was a gift from Beijing and is near the hotel complex where Xi is staying.

China's Xi visits Hong Kong under heavy security

June 29, 2017

HONG KONG (AP) — China's President Xi Jinping was greeted by supporters waving red Hong Kong and Chinese flags as he arrived Thursday to mark two decades since China took control in the former British colony.

Xi's Air China plane touched down Thursday at midday for the three-day visit. The trip culminates Saturday with Xi overseeing an inauguration ceremony for the Asian financial hub's new leader, Carrie Lam.

Hong Kong authorities were taking no chances with disruptions from protesters and deployed heavy security across the city. Police and barricades lined the streets around a downtown convention center and hotel complex where Xi was expected to spend most of his time.

Three pro-democracy activist groups said 26 of their members were arrested Wednesday evening on public nuisance charges for staging a sit-in at a giant flower sculpture near the complex. Those arrested included Joshua Wong, the young activist who helped lead 2014's "Umbrella Movement" protests, and Nathan Law, another student protest leader who was elected to the legislature last year.

NATO agrees to send more troop trainers to Afghanistan

June 29, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO has agreed to send more troops to help train and work alongside Afghan security forces. The move comes in response to a request from NATO commanders who say they need as many as 3,000 additional troops from the allies. That number does not include an expected contribution of roughly 4,000 American forces. They would be divided between the NATO training and advising the mission in Afghanistan, and America's counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday that 15 countries "have already pledged additional contributions." He expected more commitments to come.

Britain has said that it would contribute just under 100 troops in a noncombat role. "We're in it for the long haul. It's a democracy. It's asked for our help and it's important that Europe responds," British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters. "Transnational terror groups operate in Afghanistan, are a threat to us in Western Europe."

European nations and Canada have been waiting to hear what U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will offer or seek from them. U.S. leaders have so far refused to publicly discuss troop numbers before completing a broader, updated war strategy.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan this week, meeting with commanders to gather details on what specific military capabilities they need to end what American officials say is a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.

The expected deployment of more Americans is intended to bolster Afghan forces so they eventually can assume greater control of security. Stoltenberg said the NATO increase does not mean the alliance will once again engage in combat operations against the Taliban and extremist groups. NATO wants "to help the Afghans fight" and take "full responsibility" for safeguarding the country.

He did acknowledge "there are many problems, and many challenges and many difficulties, and still uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan." Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's defense ministry, welcomed NATO's decision and said Afghan troops were in need of "expert" training, heavy artillery and a quality air force.

"We are on the front line in the fight against terrorism," Radmanish said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, the Afghan capital. But Afghan lawmaker Mohammad Zekria Sawda was skeptical. He said the offer of an additional 3,000 NATO troops was a "show," and that NATO and the U.S. were unable to bring peace to Afghanistan when they had more than 120,000 soldiers deployed against Taliban insurgents.

"Every day we are feeling more worry," he said, "If they were really determined to bring peace they could do it," Sawda said. As the war drags on, Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned and even former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has questioned the international commitment to bringing peace.

Many Afghans, including Karzai, are convinced that the United States and NATO have the military ability to defeat the Taliban. But with the war raging 16 years after the Taliban were ousted, they accuse the West of seemingly wanting chaos over peace.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

France's Macron to reshuffle government after parliament win

June 19, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is poised to rearrange his Cabinet after his new centrist party swept parliamentary elections. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Monday on RTL radio that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would resign "in the coming hours" and a new government would be named in the coming days. It's a largely symbolic move required after legislative elections.

Since Macron's Republic on the Move! Party won an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, Castaner said the government reshuffle would be "technical and not far-reaching." He refused to say whether ministers who have come under corruption suspicions would keep their jobs.

Many victorious parliament members have never held office before. They started arriving Monday at the National Assembly to learn their way around before the first parliament session next week.

EU leaders to weigh terrorism, defense ties, migration

June 22, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are gathering Thursday to weigh measures to tackle terrorism, closer defense ties and migration, convinced that anti-EU sentiment and support for populist parties are waning.

Ahead of the two-day meeting in Brussels, summit chairman Donald Tusk trumpeted the resurgence of the EU, even as Britain launched talks this week on leaving. Tusk told the leaders in an invitation letter that after a series of election defeats for anti-migrant parties, notably in France, the EU is "slowly turning the corner."

"We are witnessing the return of the EU rather as a solution, not a problem," he wrote. French President Emmanuel Macron, attending his first summit, warned countries against defying Europe's principles and values, as some eastern European states challenge the bloc's refugee-sharing scheme, which was adopted with a legally binding majority vote.

"Europe is not a supermarket. Europe is a common destiny. It gets weaker when it allows its principles to be rejected. European countries that don't respect the rules have to draw all the political consequences," Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers ahead of the summit.

Prior to these meetings, government leaders and heads of state usually meet in their political groupings to prepare. Macron is breaking with tradition and plans to hold talks with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, most of whom have challenged the refugee plan.

On migration, the leaders will acknowledge the need to boost support and training for the coast guard in Libya — the main jumping-off point for people from Africa seeking better lives in Europe. "Further efforts shall also be made to achieve real progress in return policy," so that unauthorized migrants can be sent home in greater number and more efficiently, according to a draft of their final summit statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is also due to praise the good atmosphere at Monday's Brexit talks, and explain how to protect the rights of citizens hit by Britain's departure. Britain is set to become the first country to leave the EU by late March 2019, but Tusk held out hopes Thursday that it might not come to pass.

Ahead of private talks with May Thursday, Tusk said he had been asked by British friends if he could see a way of Britain still staying in. "I told them that in fact the EU was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve," Tusk said.

"So who knows? You may say I am a dreamer but I'm not the only one," he added, quoting John Lennon's popular hit "Imagine." Relations with Russia are also on the summit menu. The leaders are not expected to raise any objections to prolong a number of sanctions against Moscow for destabilizing Ukraine.

N Ireland party signs deals to support UK Conservative gov't

June 26, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The leader of a Northern Ireland-based party struck a 1.5 billion pound ($1.9 billion) deal with British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives on Monday to support her minority government in a crucial vote on her legislative package later this week.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said the funding would "address the unique circumstances" of Northern Ireland. As part of the deal, funds will be provided to boost Northern Ireland's economy and offer investment in new infrastructure, health and education.

May said that the two parties "share many values." "We also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its program and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues," May said. "So the agreement we have come to is a very, very good one."

But the figure is certain to raise questions at a time of funding pressure to support police and security services following several extremist attacks as well as a national housing crisis following a devastating fire in a London high-rise that killed at least 79 people. The other parts of the United Kingdom are also certain to object to special consideration for Northern Ireland.

Foster's party had demanded tangible benefits for Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and investment in order to offer its support for May, who lost her majority in the House of Commons in a snap election earlier this month. The prime minister needs the DUP's 10 lawmakers to back her legislative program in order to stay in power.

As part of the deal, money will be earmarked to address a bottleneck between three busy roads in Northern Ireland, and to open up "new opportunities for growth and connectivity" in digital infrastructure.

In an annex outlining the deal, the government said it "recognizes that Northern Ireland has unique circumstances within the United Kingdom, not least as a consequence of responding to challenges of the past," and would therefore allocate 50 million pounds a year for two years "to address immediate pressures in health and education."

But critics, including members of May's Conservatives, have objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP because of some of its views, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. Northern Ireland's other political parties have also objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP, as it jeopardizes the government's pledge to be a neutral arbiter as part of the Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian strife.

UK police: Mosque attack suspect held on terror charges

June 20, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The family of the suspect arrested in a van attack on a London mosque says they are "massively shocked" and that "their hearts go out to the injured." British media identified the suspect as Darren Osborne from the Welsh city of Cardiff. He was arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder.

Relatives and acquaintances have described him as "complex" or "troubled" in comments to the British media. Witnesses said Osborne claimed he wanted to "kill all Muslims" after he drove into a crowd leaving a mosque early Monday morning. One man who was receiving first aid at the time of the attack died; it's unclear if his death was a result of the attack or from a previous condition.

Nine people were hospitalized after the attack and one person has since been discharged. Two others were treated for minor injuries at the scene. In a statement on behalf of the family, Osborne's nephew Ellis Osborne said they were devastated for the families of the victims but said that his uncle was not a racist.

Darren Osborne's sister Nicola said her brother had been "troubled for a long time." His mother, Christine, described him as a "complex" person. "I'm not going to defend him, but he's my son and it's a terrible, terrible shock," she told ITV.

"It's not just robbing a bank, it's an atrocity. And at this moment in time, I can't cope with it, I can't. I don't want to say anything more." Police were searching an address where Osborne was said to be living before the attack. British media reported that there was no evidence Osborne belonged to any far-right organization and said he was not known to the security services.

One of Osborne's neighbors in Cardiff, Khadijh Sherazi, told the Guardian newspaper she had never had any problems with Osborne or his family until this weekend. Sherazi said her son, Nadeem, 12, said Osborne came up to him while he was on his bike and called him an "inbred."

"At this stage in the investigation, it is believed that the suspect acted alone but we are of course investigating all the circumstances leading up to the attack," the Metropolitan police said in a statement. "All the victims were from the Muslim community and we will be deploying extra police patrols to reassure the public, especially those observing Ramadan."

As Brexit talks begin, Europe sees economic upswing over UK

June 20, 2017

LONDON (AP) — When Britain voted to leave the European Union a year ago, proponents argued Britain's economy was being held back by the slow-growing, dysfunctional bloc. A year on, and with the Brexit divorce talks finally starting, the situation is radically different.

Britain's economy is growing more slowly than Greece's, its households are getting poorer as inflation rises and the government is struggling to stay in power. The remaining 27 members of the EU, meanwhile, appear to have pushed into a higher gear and found renewed vigor from the election of pro-EU governments like that of France.

"The tables have turned somewhat," said James Nixon, chief European economist at Oxford Economics. "The European economy is now enjoying a solid upswing and sentiment, especially towards the EU, is improving."

The situation could embolden the EU negotiators in the Brexit talks and weaken the British side, though it is still far from certain how the talks, which are due to last two years, will play out. For Britain, it's a role reversal, having been buoyed by strong growth in recent times — even after the momentous vote on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU.

Rather than fall into recession in the wake of the Brexit vote, as many economists had predicted, Britain last year was one of the fastest-growing economy among the Group of Seven industrial nations. That was largely due to the sharp fall in the value of the pound in the wake of the Brexit vote, which made British exports cheaper in international markets.

The EU, and the 19-country eurozone in particular, was still reeling from a debt crisis that raised questions over the future of its euro currency and was struggling to cope with a flow of refugees seeking sanctuary from the war in Syria. The Brexit vote had raised questions about the future of the EU and its detractors, including many political parties, were looking to deliver it blows in key elections in France and elsewhere.

For Britain, things have clearly gotten worse this year. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May failed spectacularly to achieve a majority for her Conservative Party in the general election she called for earlier this month, undermining confidence in her ability to remain in the top job. And the economy started showing clear signs of worsening.

A 15 percent drop in the pound against the dollar has pushed up inflation as it makes imports more expensive, causing living standards to fall as wage increases fail to keep up pace. The consequence of that is households are spending less — retail sales are growing at their slowest rate in four years.

Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the Brexit talks — such as the possibility that Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal — is also likely to make consumers cautious. As will the prospect of higher interest rates from the Bank of England. Last week's policy meeting showed that three of eight rate-setters surprisingly backed the first increase in nearly a decade.

The pound's fall has helped exporters by making their goods cheaper around the world. But the impact of the depreciation doesn't last long and credit ratings agency DBRS says that whatever the shape of the Brexit deal, uncertainty "is likely to adversely impact the economy and the fiscal accounts."

The upshot is that Britain is now at the bottom of the G-7 growth table. Even Greece, which is just coming out of an economic depression and is operating under an international bailout, is doing better, with quarterly growth of 0.4 percent, double Britain's.

Philip Hammond, reappointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by May after the election, is increasingly arguing for the need for business to be front and center in the Brexit discussions, over and above any other consideration, such as reclaiming sovereignty or clamping down on immigration.

"When the British people voted last June, they did not vote to become poorer, or less secure," Hammond said Tuesday. "They did vote to leave the EU. And we will leave the EU. But it must be done in a way that works for Britain. In a way that prioritizes British jobs, and underpins Britain's prosperity."

While the situation in Britain has clearly worsened, it has gotten brighter in the rest of the EU. Populist, Euroskeptic politicians in Austria, the Netherlands and France failed to make the headway they may have anticipated in recent elections, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely expected to win again in elections this autumn. Meanwhile, the region's debt crisis doesn't look like it's going to flare up again anytime soon as Greece got the money it needed to meet a big summer repayment hump.

"The second half of the year now looks far less threatening," said Simon Derrick, chief markets strategist at BNY Mellon. Perhaps the most important development for the economy has been the election of Macron as France's new president, and his party's big success in legislative elections on Sunday.

Macron was elected on a mandate to deeply reform France's economy, such as making it easier to hire and fire workers. The French economy is performing better than at any time in years, which could make it more palatable for people to accept the changes.

All the signs are that the French economy, for years a laggard in Europe, has pushed into a higher gear. The same can be said for the wider eurozone economy, which grew by 0.6 percent in the first three months of the year.

Investors are getting more confident about its prospects, with some funds, including Blackrock and Morgan Stanley, recommending clients to go "overweight" on European stocks. It's still unclear how this divergence in performance between the two sides of the Brexit negotiating table will play out. The worry for Britain is that the EU will be able to tough it out a bit more than it could have done a year ago.

Diverse London neighborhood unites in fire aftermath

June 16, 2017

LONDON (AP) — It's been called a "tale of two cities": London's Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with its billionaires' homes, neat rows of embassies and a royal palace, is known around the world as the wealthiest place in Britain. Yet it's also home to some of the capital's poorest, most ethnically diverse neighborhoods — including the one where an apartment block went up in flames this week, leaving at least 17 dead and whole families missing.

The shock of that tragedy, the worst of its kind London has seen in decades, has mobilized residents to set aside the extreme inequalities of the borough and come together in an outpouring of grief and support.

Churches and mosques near Grenfell Tower were inundated with donations for victims of the fire, many piled so high with boxes they had to turn away a steady stream of residents who kept appearing with food, clothing and other supplies. Strangers stopped each other in the street to catch up on which items needed to go where, offering their bikes for transporting donations.

"We've all got compassion. We've all got children who went to school with the kids who lived in that building," said Kirsteen Malcolm, who has lived in north Kensington for 20 years. Malcolm was helping at a makeshift collection station under an overpass, where affluently dressed Britons and headscarf-covered Arab women alike jumped in as volunteers, forming a spontaneous human chain to load cases of bottled water into a van. Other volunteers sorted through mountains of donation boxes and bags. A local restaurant closed for business Thursday, instead setting up a stall at the station to serve free meals to all.

"The community is just rallying. People have just shown up to help," said Sinead O'Hare, a volunteer working at another donation point. "When I arrived last night it was so busy, but a stranger put me up in her house. It's amazing."

Those trapped and unaccounted for in Grenfell Tower, a 24-story government-owned block, included many migrant families from the Middle East and northern Africa. A wall of prayers and condolences outside a local community church reflects the diverse backgrounds of local residents, with hundreds of messages left in English and Arabic. "Allah, make it easy for everyone," one read.

Suhad Adam, who works with a local charity helping Somali communities, said she felt the atmosphere of solidarity defied the impression that London was tense from community divisions in the wake of the recent extremist attacks on the city.

"It's the first time I've seen London come together like this, Muslims, Jews, Christians," she said. "The message now is a strong one. We are together." While Kensington commands the most expensive property prices in the country, its northern tip, where the blaze took place, includes neighborhoods ranking among the 10 percent most deprived in England, according to official data.

Just blocks away, toward the south of the borough, are the glamorous houses and restaurants of Notting Hill, an area favored by investment bankers and wealthy expatriates, and mega-mansions owned by the likes of Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich. Kensington Palace, the home of Prince Harry, Prince William and his wife Kate, is also close by.

The tower blaze has brought out long-simmering anger about that stark divide. When approached by reporters, a local resident railed about gentrification projects that knocked down low-income housing in the area, saying no one in government had paid attention to their plight. Another man at the scene said that only better-off people "with a cut-glass accent" have any hope of being taken seriously by officials.

"The people who died and lost their homes, this happened to them because they are poor," rap musician Akala told Channel 4 television. "Repeated requests were ignored. There is no way that rich people live in a building without adequate fire safety."

Still, the overall feeling at the scene was one of a community united — for now — in its determination to help in whatever way it could. Volunteer Joy Ebere, who was handing out free pastries, cakes and fruit, said: "The food is for everyone. They have shown their love.

"We've seen many tears — my colleague here was just crying," she added. "But at the same time we are trying to use good to overcome the pain."

Back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace deal talks

June 26, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — It's back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace talks. This time the rival leaders of the ethnically-divided island will be meeting at the secluded Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. Previous summits were held in Mont Pelerin and Geneva.

The talks kick off Wednesday and are due to last at least a week. They will likely determine whether a deal to reunify Cyprus, which is divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south, is possible or not.

The key issue is how security will be overseen if and when Cyprus is reunified as a federation. Other issues still to be resolved include how much territory the Greek and Turkish Cypriot federated states would be made up of and the process for allowing tens of thousands of displaced people to reclaim lost homes and property.

Here's a look at what will be at play at the peace summit:


The issue is one of the toughest in the complex negotiations that officials say have made significant headway in the last two years and has been left to be tackled last.

It revolves around the 35,000-plus troops that Turkey has kept in place since 1974 when it invaded Cyprus following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkey mounted the military action, invoking intervention rights that were granted under Cyprus' 1960 constitution to the island's "guarantors": Turkey, Greece and ex-colonial ruler Britain.

Cyprus' Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, both tackled the security conundrum in Geneva during January talks. The foreign ministers of the "guarantor" nations also took part.

But that meeting dissolved relatively quickly amid recriminations that neither side was unwilling to put its cards on the table and get down to hard bargaining.


The Greek Cypriot side wants military intervention rights expunged and Turkish troops gone to eliminate what is sees as an existential threat and Ankara's instrument of control over the island. Its argument is that no European Union member country would ever need third-country security guarantees.

Anastasiades has proposed an international police force to oversee post-reunification security with the U.N. Security Council using its clout to back it up.

The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey's troops as their sole assurance of protection in case a peace deal unravels and want them to stay.

Akinci has said a rethink over the need for troops could happen around 15 years after reunification. Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials insist a Greek Cypriot call for a full troop withdrawal is a non-starter.

An alternative proposal that's been floated unofficially would see small contingents of Greek and Turkish troops deployed on the island after a deal, while intervention rights would be amended to remove any clause for unilateral action.


Any compromise on security must pass muster with Greek and Turkish Cypriots who will vote on any peace accord in separate referendums before it would be implemented.

U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide told The Associated Press in April that the world body has helped put together a compromise formula to overcome the security hurdle. He said the formula was the result of consultation with the Cypriot leaders, the European Union and the "guarantors."

The Greek Cypriot side has insisted on prioritizing a security deal before other issues are tackled. Turkish Cypriots said all issues must be discussed concurrently as part of an overarching bartering process.

To accommodate both sides, negotiations at Crans-Montana will be split into two rooms — security in one, and everything else in the other.


The aim at Crans-Montana is for the two sides to achieve a breakthrough on an agreed peace accord framework. More work will be needed over the weeks and months ahead to fill in the gaps and prepare the ground for putting the completed deal to a vote.

Although it's said the talks will be open-ended, officials say it'll likely last a week to 10 days. And timing is essential.

The Cyprus government is set to start promising exploratory oil and gas drilling off the island's southern shore in mid-July amid strong opposition from Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriots who warn of a potential "crisis" if drilling proceeds.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say a "unilateral" Greek Cypriot search for gas flouts their rights to the island's offshore mineral wealth. The Cypriot government insists drilling is it's sovereign right and that any hydrocarbon proceeds will be shared after a peace deal is sealed, signed and delivered.

Cyprus uses high-tech tools to speed search for its missing

June 23, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — With glue gun in hand, Turkish Cypriot anthropologist Sinem Hossoz meticulously pieces together tiny fragments — the pulverized skull of a child, one of the youngest victims of conflict on ethnically divided Cyprus.

Paul-Henri Arni, the U.N.-appointed member to the Committee on Missing Persons, says such things must be done. "It's for the dignity of the dead," he says, but also to spare relatives the shock of seeing a smashed skull when the remains are returned to them.

"The skull in all cultures, including here, is the center of the human person, it's the soul," Arni said at the CMP laboratory on the grounds of the disused Nicosia airport straddling a U.N. controlled buffer zone where skeletal remains are assembled for identification.

With international donations, the CMP has worked diligently for 11 years to help heal a gaping wound from this east Mediterranean island's tortured past and foster its future reconciliation. It has unearthed and identified more than a third of the 2,001 Greek and Turkish Cypriots who vanished during fighting between the two sides in the 1960s and during the summer of 1974. That's when a coup aiming at union with Greece triggered a Turkish invasion that split the island into a breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized south.

Time is working against the committee. Potential eyewitnesses who could help pinpoint graves are dying out, while unceasing construction sometimes makes such burial sites forever inaccessible. To expedite its work, Arni says the CMP is now sifting through archival information it has for the first time gained access to from the U.N., the International Committee of the Red Cross and some six countries that had dispatched peacekeeping troops to Cyprus at the time of the fighting.

It's also investing in new technologies like the Geographic Information System, or GIS, that links all information gathered from archives, investigators and eyewitnesses to give a more exact estimate of possible burial sites.

Gulden Plumer Kucuk, the CMP's Turkish Cypriot member, says she expects the new approach will begin to produce results within a year. She estimates the archival search will boost the inflow of information by up to 20 percent.

"The important thing is that we do everything in our capacity ... so when we turn our faces to the families, we should be able to say that we did everything for them," she said. The decades-long agony of the relatives of the disappeared is what drives Romanos Liritsas, a Greek Cypriot researcher with the committee.

It's "the humanitarian aspect that edges us to speed up, because the relatives have been waiting much too long to find their beloved ones," says Liritsas, standing in a field in the northern, Turkish Cypriot half of the island where colleagues, acting on an tip, are searching for a missing soldier's remains.

Greek Cypriot Eleni Kyriakou lived long enough to bury her son. The 88-year-old sat in a wheelchair at the head of the grave into which the small, wooden flag-draped coffin carrying the remains of her son Epiphanios was lowered — a burial with full military honors at Makedonitissa military cemetery.

The remains of Epiphanios, a 20-year-old second-lieutenant, were found along with those of five other comrades in a makeshift grave after vanishing on Aug. 15, 1974, during a retreat from of advancing Turkish troops.

A Turkish Cypriot man who recently recalled seeing the soldiers' unburied bodies in a gully shortly after fighting ceased, said Sevgul Uludag, a Turkish Cypriot journalist who for years has been gathering information on the whereabouts of the missing. The Turkish Cypriot man was 7 years old at the time, riding atop a donkey led by his grandfather, who had buried the soldiers.

Epiphanios' older brother Kyriakos said the back of his brother's skull bore a small hole. "After 43 years, you can imagine the emotional pressure," said Kyriakou. "When I saw the bones of my brother, I felt relief from this pressure."

The CMP still encounters a strong unwillingness from some witnesses or even perpetrators to talk, despite promised immunity from prosecution. "We're 100 percent sure that there are people that are still alive who are keeping information," says Kucuk's Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nestoras Nestoros. "We want them to understand that it is very, very useful for us and for the families that are still waiting and still looking for their loved ones."

A public appeal for information has been made by the island's Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who will meet in late June in Geneva for a summit in continuing pursuit of a breakthrough deal reunifying the island. A similar appeal has been made by the island's Christian and Muslim leaders.

Not all remains of the missing will be found, says Kucuk. In some instances, only partial skeletal remains will be returned to families. Some of the dead were left exposed on hilltops or buried in riverbeds, so their bones were scattered. Others may be buried under apartment buildings where the remains are inaccessible, although the CMP did dig up a private pool to get to the remains of two missing persons. In other instances, remains could have been dug up and reburied elsewhere, reinforcing the silence of perpetrators.

Nestoros says even a single bone from a missing person can offer some consolation to families. "It shows that this person has died," he says. "This is an answer for the relatives." Turkish Cypriot Raif Toluk is hopeful his family will soon find answers about his missing father. Working at the state telecommunications authority CyTA, Mehmet Raif vanished on Dec. 22, 1963. Toluk says his brothers were told their father was shot as he rode his bicycle home.

For 40 years, the family had heard nothing. Now Uludag's investigative work has indicated that Mehmet Raif may be among a number of Turkish Cypriots buried in a mass grave. Toluk says an excavation at the site late last year unearthed the remains of seven people and that DNA results are pending.

"My mother died waiting, 'He will come, he will come,'" says Toluk. "When you say 'This is your father' and we bury, I think we will relax. At least we will know that he's there."

Norway to Brazil: Curb deforestation or we stop the money

June 23, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway's prime minister warned Brazil's president on Friday to curb deforestation in the Amazon or Norway will reduce its financial contribution to the project this year. The announcement comes as the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut down at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, according to official Brazilian figures.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway's more than $1 billion contribution to the so-called Amazon fund is "based on results," Norway's NTB news agency said. Since 2001, Norway has donated billions to encourage the conservation of forests.

"If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017," Solberg said after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Oslo. Temer praised Norway's contribution to the fund but declined to take questions from media after he and Solberg had made their statements.

"This contribution has enabled us to make a more effective impact to avoiding deforestation," Temer said, according to NTB. Temer said Monday he had vetoed legislation to reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. However, the apparent victory for environmental groups most likely will be short-lived, as Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho is working on similar legislation.

The legislation passed by Brazil's Congress last month would have converted around 1.4 million acres (566,000 hectares) of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use. However, last week, Filho announced plans to create a new expedited bill that would convert 1.1 million acres of protected land to other uses.

Last year, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian government's satellite monitoring. That was the highest rate since 2008. Before his meeting with Solberg, Temer was met by protesters holding posters reading "Stop rainforest destruction" and "Respect indigenous peoples' rights" as he arrived at the prime minister's office in Oslo.

Trump to speak to Poles at site that honors nation's heroism

June 22, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump has chosen to deliver a speech during his upcoming visit to Poland at the site of a memorial to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Germans, a Polish official says.

Krzysztof Szczerski, an aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said late Wednesday that it is an honor for Poles that Trump will give a major speech at Krasinski Square, "a site which symbolizes Polish heroism."

The speech will come during a brief visit that Trump will make to Warsaw on July 6 before he attends a summit of Group of 20 leaders in Hamburg, Germany. In Warsaw, Trump will also attend a summit devoted to the Three Seas Initiative, a relatively new effort to expand and modernize energy and infrastructure links in a region of Central Europe from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic and Black seas in the south.

The Warsaw Uprising, the largest act of resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, saw insurgents and civilians fight the German occupiers for more than two months. The revolt was brutally crushed and resulted in the death of more than 200,000 Poles and the destruction of Warsaw.

Today, it stands for Poles as one of the most heroic episodes in their history, an act of courage against a brutal occupier. The presence of a U.S. president on that spot will be a welcome gesture to many Poles, including Polish-Americans in the United States, a constituency that tends to be conservative and that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

It is also clearly a diplomatic success for Poland's conservative government, which has made it a key policy aim to increase knowledge abroad of positive episodes in Poland's past, part of an effort to improve the country's image internationally.

New report blames South Sudan military for civilian deaths

June 21, 2017

ABUROC, South Sudan (AP) — Albin Koolekheh watched his 4-year-old son die in his arms. He and his family were among tens of thousands of people who escaped a wave of fighting in South Sudan's civil war, only to find themselves living in a filthy camp near the border with Sudan.

A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands like Koolekheh from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee.

"Even considering South Sudan's history of ethnic hostility," the mass displacement was shocking, the report says. As South Sudan faces its fourth year of civil war, the fighting shows no signs of ending. Both government and opposition forces have been accused of war crimes including mass rape and targeted killings, while the United Nations warns of ethnic violence. While the focus has been on ethnic tensions between the Dinka of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer of rebel leader Riek Machar, the new report highlights the threat to others caught in the crossfire.

When government troops attacked his hometown of Wau Shilluk in January, Koolekheh grabbed his wife and three children and left. After a day of walking through the bush, his youngest son fell sick. With no food or water, the boy died on the side of the road.

"Bullets, guns, screaming, it was everywhere," the weary 32-year-old father told The Associated Press this week. "This violence is known to the world. But what is everyone doing about it?" Now Koolekheh crouches on the dirt floor in the back room of a small shop, scrubbing metal bowls with a rag, his eyes fixed on the floor.

He and his family are sheltering in Aburoc, an ad hoc displaced person's camp. At the peak of the fighting, 25,000 people were living in this bleak shantytown. Now roughly 10,000 remain, the rest gone to Sudan or nearby villages.

Makeshift houses with plastic roofs are scattered across muddy fields. Food is scarce and disease is rife. A cholera outbreak threatened the population in May. Yet many have no choice but to call this town home. This is their third or fourth attempt at finding refuge in less than six months after being uprooted over and over by violence.

Satellite imagery collected by Amnesty International shows the destruction of homes and other civilian buildings, including a temple, in the central areas of Wau Shilluk. The group's report says government troops often deliberately killed civilians, shooting them in the back when they tried to flee.

"These accounts are unfounded," said a South Sudan military spokesman, Col. Santo Domic Chol. He said it isn't within the military's mandate to kill civilians and chase them from their homes. Yet stories abound of families fleeing for their lives.

When government forces attacked the nearby opposition-held town of Kodok three months ago, Victoria Adhong said she fled and will never go back. Although Aburoc is currently peaceful, Adhong, the acting governor of Fashoda state, said it's hard to feel safe when the "enemy's next door."

Another of the displaced, Elizabeth Adwok, said she fled Kodok with her seven children amid gunfire. They arrived in Aburoc in April and have struggled to find food, with little in the market and prices high.

"We're not here because we like it," Adwok said. "But we have nothing." The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few organizations with a presence in Aburoc, warned that with the onset of the rainy season things will only get worse.

"Access to food, water and health care is extremely limited," said Matthieu Desselas, head of the office in Kodok. But for the thousands of civilians already so far from their homes, this town is their last hope.

"It's the only place left for me in South Sudan," Koolekheh said. "I'll stay here until there's peace."

Gunmen attack resort in Mali's capital, killing 2

June 19, 2017

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Jihadis attacked a hotel resort Sunday in Mali's capital, taking hostages at a spot popular with foreigners on the weekends. More than 30 people managed to escape though at least two people were killed, authorities said.

Moussa Ag Infahi, director of the national police, told The Associated Press that three of the assailants had been killed while a fourth escaped. Gunfire first rang out at the Campement Kangaba on the outskirts of Bamako in the late afternoon, according to a security guard who was working at the time.

Mahamadou Doumbia said a militant on a motorcycle entered the area around 3:40 p.m. and cried "Allah Akbar" before jumping off and running toward the pool area. "Then a car with three jihadis entered the resort and they started to fire their weapons," he said. "A French soldier who had come for the weekend but had his gun shot and wounded" a jihadi.

Mali's security minister later issued a statement confirming at least two deaths, one of which was a dual French-Gabonese citizen. As night fell, witnesses saw smoke rising from the Campement Kangaba, which features three swimming pools and is a popular escape from the Malian heat. It was not immediately clear what was burning, although extremists in other attacks have set cars ablaze.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place amid the final week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In predominantly Muslim Mali, people have been fasting from sunrise to sundown for three weeks.

Sunday's violence came about a week after the U.S. State Department warned of possible attacks on Western diplomatic missions and other locations in Bamako that Westerners frequent. A U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists said those at the resort when the attack began included people affiliated with the French military mission, as well as the U.N. and European Union missions in the country.

Religious extremism in Mali once was limited to northern areas, prompting the French military in 2013 to lead a military operation to oust jihadis from power in the major towns in the north. But the militants have continued targeting Malian forces and peacekeepers, making it the deadliest U.N. mission in the world.

There are no French troops based in Bamako, but about 2,000 French troops are based in northern Mali fighting Islamic extremists. French President Emmanuel Macron was informed about the attack and was following the events carefully, according to an official in his office.

In recent years, the extremists have become even more brazen, attacking sites frequented by Westerners. In March 2015, five people died when militants hit a popular restaurant in the capital. A devastating attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako later that year left 20 dead - six Malians and 14 foreigners.

That attack was jointly claimed by both the regional al-Qaida affiliate and a group known as Al Mourabitoun, which was founded by Moktar Belmoktar after he fell out with al-Qaida leaders. In a video released in March, jihadis said those two were joining together along with two Mali-based terror groups.

Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Vietnamese dissident recounts forced deportation to France

June 26, 2017

PARIS (AP) — A Vietnamese dissident who says he was arrested at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City and forcibly exiled to France said he is determined to continue his activity as a pro-democracy blogger.

Pham Minh Hoang, a 61-year-old math lecturer, recounted his arrest and deportation in a phone interview Sunday with The Associated Press a few hours after his arrival in France. He said three police officers burst into his house on Friday and grabbed his arms when he refused to follow them while wearing only shorts, an undershirt and slippers.

"Once outside, I was horrified to see that there were not three, but a hundred policemen in uniform and in plainclothes around my house and in the neighboring streets," said Hoang, who was a dual French-Vietnamese national before he was stripped of his Vietnamese citizenship last month.

After being detained in front of his wife, Hoang said he was driven to a detention center two hours away, where he spent 24 hours and was visited by the Consul General of France. He said Vietnamese authorities forced him on a plane to Paris on Saturday night.

Hoang's deportation came two weeks after he learned a presidential decree had revoked his Vietnamese citizenship. Human Rights Watch denounced Hoang's expulsion in a statement as a "blatantly illegal, rights violating act" that effectively forces the activist into "indefinite exile."

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. The French foreign ministry confirmed that its Consul General assisted Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City. As a French citizen, he can settle in the country and enjoy full freedom of speech, the ministry said.

The human rights activist and blogger was sentenced to three years in prison in 2011 for attempted subversion by posting articles on his blog criticizing the Communist government and for being a member of the California-based Vietnam Reform Party, or Viet Tan. The government considers Viet Tan a terrorist organization.

Hoang eventually served 17 months in prison and three years of house arrest. International human rights groups and some Western governments have criticized Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views, but Hanoi says only law breakers are put behind bars.

"The vaguely worded decision was a thinly veiled move to silence Pham Minh Hoang for his peaceful advocacy," Viet Tan said in a statement about the stripping of Vietnamese citizenship from Hoang. Before being deported from his country, Hoang said he was questioned at length by two officials whom he thinks were members of the political police. When he refused to consent to his deportation, he said officials reminded him that his wife and daughter were still living in Vietnam. Two policemen slept in the room where he was held, he said.

France is not a country unknown to Hoang. He studied and lived here for 27 years between 1973 and 2000, working as a computer and civil engineer. It is where he started to write articles critical of his country's regime. He said he returned to Vietnam to teach and help the Vietnamese youth with the new technologies.

Today, he doesn't know who will take care of the disabled brother who lived with him in Ho Chi Minh City. He hopes he'll be able to stay in regular contact with his wife and his 13-year-old daughter. "I will continue to help my daughter do her homework, using internet video or other secure means," he said.

Hoang assumes he will have to remain in France for a long time and said he is determined to continue his political activism — "my raison d'être" — as an exile. "I still have a little hope, one day, to come back to live and die in Vietnam," he said.

UN: Number of global displaced up to 65.6 million last year

June 19, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — The number of people displaced from their homes across the world due to war and persecution climbed slightly to a record 65.6 million last year, with the escalating conflict in South Sudan largely accounting for the rise, the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.

The figure that includes refugees, asylum seekers and people uprooted inside their own countries was some 300,000 higher at the end of last year than at the end of 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said. That was a smaller increase than in the four previous years, prompting the U.N. agency to warn against complacency.

"Although these figures represent small shifts compared to the previous year ... the relatively stable figures mask a very unstable situation," agency chief Filippo Grandi said ahead of the official release of the report Monday. "This is becoming a forgotten crisis."

Of the total, some 10.3 million people were newly displaced in 2016, around two-thirds fleeing within their own countries, according to an annual report by the group. The total refugee population — people who fled their home countries — was about 22.5 million people, and nearly half of those were children. In Germany, which vastly expanded its acceptance of people fleeing war from places like Syria, the number of refugees doubled to over 600,000 last year.

Syria's six-year civil war remained the largest single cause of displacement, with 12 million people — around two-thirds of the population — either uprooted within the country or fleeing abroad, the group said.

They were followed by some 7.7 million Colombians, 4.7 million Afghans, 4.2 million Iraqis and 3.3 million South Sudanese. Turkey, which has taken in the largest number of Syrians, to a total of 2.9 million at the end of 2015. It has since exceeded 3 million.

Syria is the only country in which a majority of the population is forcibly displaced. South Sudan, with a little over a quarter, has the next-biggest proportion — and fastest growing displaced population overall, the agency said. By the end of 2016, 3.3 million people from the world's newest country had fled their homes, more than half to neighboring countries.

"The international neglect that you see here is matched nowhere else in the world," Grandi told The Associated Press on Sunday while visiting South Sudan's largest internally displaced camp in the town of Bentiu. "Wherever you look there are dead ends."

Thousands of South Sudanese now live in U.N protected camps, including 80 percent of Bentiu's population. The figures are based on the agency's own data and on numbers reported by governments and non-governmental organizations.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Sam Mednick in Bentiu, South Sudan, contributed to this report.