China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, Smith, Brownback for criticism

BEIJING — China said Monday it will impose sanctions on three U.S. lawmakers and one ambassador in response to similar actions taken by the U.S. last week against Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Rep. Chris Smith and Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback were targeted, as was the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The four have been critical of the ruling Communist Party’s policies toward minority groups and people of faith.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the U.S. move had “seriously damaged China-U.S. relations” and that China was determined to uphold its national sovereignty against what it sees as interference in its internal affairs.

“China will respond further according to the development of the situation,” Hua said.

She did not spell out the sanctions beyond saying they would correspond to the American ones. The U.S. prohibited any property transactions by Americans with four senior Chinese officials and barred three of them from entering the U.S.

There was no indication that any of the sanctioned Americans had plans to travel to China.

The sanctioned Chinese officials include Chen Quanguo, who heads the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of Muslim minority groups have been incarcerated in what China terms de-radicalization and retraining centers.

Critics have likened the camps to prisons to which inmates are sentenced with little due process and where they are compelled to denounce their religion, language and culture and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. An Associated Press investigation has also discovered allegations that women in Xinjiang’s predominantly native Uighur ethnic group were forced to use birth control or undergo involuntary sterilizations.

Ties between China and the U.S. have deteriorated steadily over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Beijing policy toward Hong Kong and trade. The Trump administration has also slapped visa bans on Chinese officials deemed responsible for barring foreigners’ access to Tibet, along with those seen as enforcing a clampdown on civil rights in Hong Kong.

Despite such moves, former national security adviser John Bolton has alleged in a new book that Trump told Xi he was right to build detention camps in Xinjiang.

Additional visa restrictions are being placed on other Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.

In addition to Chen, Xinjiang’s party secretary and a member of the national-level Politburo, the other sanctioned officials were Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang political and legal committee; Wang Mingshan, party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau; and Huo Liujun, a former top official in the region’s police force.

They and their immediate family members are banned from entering the United States.

China has sought to crush any hint of separatist tendencies among Uighurs, which critics say amounts to a campaign of cultural genocide. Uighurs are mostly Muslim and their Turkic language, Muslim religion and central Asian culture make them distinct from China’s Han majority.

While China says it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast, resource-rich region, many among Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are being denied economic options in favor of migrants from elsewhere in China.

Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labor in factories.

In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region — including surveillance technology manufacturers and Xinjiang’s public security bureau — effectively blocking them from buying U.S. products.

China’s officially atheist Communist government at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.

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Here are disinfectants for use against the coronavirus

Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve never had to wash our hands more and spring cleaning is even more important.

It’s not easy being clean

The COVID-19 virus is about 10,000 times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. How long it can linger on surfaces is not certain.

A new analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 72 hours.

A report by Johns Hopkins University found coronavirus molecules remain very stable in external cold, or artificial as air conditioners in houses and cars.

The virus also needs moisture to stay stable, and especially darkness. Therefore, dehumidified, dry, warm and bright environments will degrade it faster.

UV light on any object that may contain it breaks down the virus protein.

The virus cannot go through healthy skin.

Meaning of clean

Clean or disinfected? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets technical about the difference.

Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs.

Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

The coronavirus is a protein molecule, it is not killed, but decays on its own. The disintegration time depends on the temperature, humidity and type of material where it lies.

The CDC urges people to wash their hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Hard surfaces

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

Hard surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. The EPA lists more than 350 disinfectants to help fight the virus.

Prepare a bleach solution by mixing: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens are expected to be effective against COVID-19.

Do not mix list

Bleach and vinegarBleach and ammoniaBleach and rubbing alcoholHydrogen peroxide and vinegar

Soft (porous) surfaces

For carpeted floor, rugs and drapes, remove visible contamination if present and clean with appropriate cleaners indicated for use on these surfaces.

After cleaning, launder items and if possible, use the warmest appropriate water setting then dry items completely.

The virus is not a living organism like bacteria; antibodies cannot kill what is not alive.

Do not shake used or unused clothing, sheets or cloth. While the virus is glued to a porous surface, it is very inert and disintegrates only between 3 hours on fabric.

If someone is sick

Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas.

In the bedroom/bathroom dedicated for an ill person, consider reducing cleaning frequency to as-needed.

As much as possible, an ill person should stay in a specific room.

The caregiver can provide personal cleaning supplies for an ill person’s room and bathroom. These supplies include tissues, paper towels, cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants.

Bathrooms should be cleaned and disinfected after each use by an ill person. If this is not possible, the caregiver should wait as long as practical after use by an ill person to clean and disinfect the high-touch surfaces.

Household members should follow home care guidance when interacting with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 cases. More info: coronavirus.org

Wash hands regularly

Hand-washing study

These are some of the results of a 2013 study by Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business that was published in the Journal of Environment Health. When asked, 95% of people claimed to wash their hands after using public restrooms, but the observational study found the following:

The study also found that:

People are more likely to wash their hands in the morning than in the afternoon or evening.

More women than men wash their hands with soap.

Health care and hand-washing

In the history of hand-washing, it’s helped the most in hospitals.

In the 1850s, Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, insisted people wash their hands in war hospitals during the Crimean War. This resulted in greatly reduced infection rates among wounded soldiers.

In today’s hospitals, the most commonly used method to track hand hygiene compliance is direct observation, or someone watching health-care workers.

Germs in the house

The invisible enemy isn’t alone. Here’s a look at germs around the house compiled by British company SCS Cleaning. The information comes from the British National Health Service and the BBC.

According to Authority Dental, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide effectively reduces human coronaviruses on a toothbrush. You can mix hydrogen peroxide with water (1 teaspoon of HP, 1 cup of water) to dilute it. Soak a brush for 1 minute then rinse it under running water.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SCS Cleaning, BBC, Michigan State University

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U.S.: Taliban’s ‘reduction of violence’ deal to start tonight, culminating with peace pact signing

By KATHY GANNON and MATTHEW LEE

ISLAMABAD — The seven-day “reduction of violence” deal promised by the Taliban will begin on Friday night, a senior U.S. State Department official said, without specifying the exact time. That will start the countdown to the signing of a peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States at the end of the month.

That peace agreement, to be signed in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, will pave the way for a withdrawal of U.S. troops and intra- Afghan negotiations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the peace agreement will also lead to an eventual permanent cease-fire.

“We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

The State Department official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal.

But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties.

It’s still not clear who will represent Kabul at the negotiation table for the intra-Afghan talks, considered a key pillar in finding a lasting peace in the war-torn country. The Afghan election commission earlier this week declared President Ashraf Ghani the winner of the presidential elections held in September but his rivals quickly denounced his win.

The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government and also denounced the election results, saying they will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans

Pompeo’s statement did not say who would participate in the intra-Afghan negotiations from Kabul, saying only that “’intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon” after the signing in Doha “and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

The Taliban issued their own statement on the reduction of violence deal.

“Both parties will now create a suitable security situation in advance of agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organizations to participate in the signing ceremony, make arrangements for the release of prisoners, structure a path for intra-Afghan negotiations with various political parties of the country and finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces,” the Taliban said in a statement Friday.

The Taliban added that they will not allow “the land of Afghanistan to be used against security of others so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system.”

___

Lee reported from Washington.

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Under pressure, Iran admits it shot down jetliner by mistake

By NASSER KARIMI and JOSEPH KRAUSS

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday acknowledged that its armed forces “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.

The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.

A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.

“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the military said. It apologized and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.

Those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted, the statement added.

It was unclear whether the plane was shot down by Iran’s conventional forces or the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Soleimani led the Guard’s elite Quds Force.

Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash was likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional military interventions, was seen as a national icon, and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had turned out for funeral processions across the country.

The majority of the plane crash victims were Iranians or Iranian-Canadians. Iranian officials had repeatedly ruled out a missile strike, dismissing such allegations as Western propaganda that officials said was offensive to the victims.

The crash came just weeks after authorities quashed nationwide protests ignited by a hike in gasoline prices. Iran has been in the grip of a severe economic crisis since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani blamed the shootdown of the plane in part on “threats and bullying” by the United States after the killing of Soleimani. He expressed condolences to families of the victims, and he called for a “full investigation” and the prosecution of those responsible.

“A sad day,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”

The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.

The U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believed Iran shot down the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, a conclusion supported by videos verified by The Associated Press.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The Canadian government had earlier lowered the nation’s death toll from 63.

“This is the right step for the Iranian government to admit responsibility, and it gives people a step toward closure with this admission,” said Payman Parseyan, a prominent Iranian-Canadian in western Canada who lost a number of friends in the crash.

“I think the investigation would have disclosed it whether they admitted it or not. This will give them an opportunity to save face.”

Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility was likely to renew questions of why authorities did not shut down the country’s main international airport and its airspace after the ballistic missile attack, when they feared U.S. reprisals.

It also undermines the credibility of information provided by senior Iranian officials. As recently as Friday, Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the national aviation department, had told reporters “with certainty” that a missile had not caused the crash.

On Thursday, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei dismissed reports of a missile, saying they “rub salt on a painful wound” for families of the victims.

Iran had also invited Ukraine, Canada, the United States and France to take part in the investigation of the crash, in keeping with international norms. The Boeing 737 was built in the United States and the engine was built by a U.S.-French consortium.

The military statement, issued by the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces, said Guard officials had been ordered to “provide a detailed explanation” to the public.

The semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, appeared to deflect blame.

“If some individuals, in any position, were aware of the issue but made statements contradicting the reality or hid the truth for any reason, they should be named and tried,” it said.

Germany’s Lufthansa airline and its subsidiaries have canceled flights to and from Tehran for the next 10 days as a precautionary measure, citing the “unclear security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport.” Other airlines have been making changes to avoid Iranian airspace.

Britain’s Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Iran, and against all air travel to, from or within the country.

___

Krauss reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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Buffalo bishop under fire for handling of misconduct resigns

VATICAN CITY  — Pope Francis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone following widespread criticism from his staff, priests and the public over how he handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct.

The Vatican announced the resignation in a brief statement, adding that Francis had named the bishop of Albany, New York, Edward Scharfenberger, to run the Buffalo diocese temporarily until a permanent replacement is found.

The Vatican’s embassy to the U.S. said Malone offered to retire two years before the mandatory retirement age of 75 after learning the results of a Vatican-mandated inquiry into the western New York diocese and its handling of abuse cases.

In a statement, Malone said he had come to believe “that the spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.”

The diocese has been named in more than 220 recent lawsuits by people who claim they were sexually abused by priests.

Many of the claims date back decades, long before Malone’s arrival in Buffalo in 2012. But critics say there have been more recent missteps by Malone, including his decision to return to ministry a priest who had been suspended by a previous bishop for including “love you” in a Facebook message to an eighth-grade boy.

Malone later endorsed the same priest for a job as a cruise ship chaplain, even after he was also accused of making unwanted advances toward young men.

Malone has admitted to making mistakes in cases involving adult victims, but he had firmly refused to resign and insisted he wanted to remain on the job to see the diocese through a process of “renewal.”

Pressure though on him to leave has been intense.

Over the past year, two key members of Malone’s staff have gone public with concerns about his leadership, including his former secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, who secretly recorded Malone calling a then-active priest “a sick puppy,” but taking no immediate action to remove him.

Earlier, his executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, leaked internal church documents after becoming concerned that Malone had intentionally omitted dozens of names from a publicly released list of priests with credible allegations of abuse.

In September, a group of lay Catholics that had been working with Malone to restore trust in the church instead joined in calls for his resignation.

A diocesan priest, meanwhile, has been circulating a “no confidence” letter for signatures.

The Vatican hasn’t released the results of the inquiry into Buffalo conducted by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.

Malone said he had been made aware of the “general conclusions” of the report and that they had been a factor in his decision to seek early retirement.

“It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to, and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal,” he said.

Among those who have called for Malone’s resignation is the former dean of seminarians at the diocese’s Christ the King Seminary. In a letter outlining his decision to withdraw from his studies to become a priest, Stephen Parisi called the diocese’s handing of clerical sexual abuse cases “disgusting and revolting” and raised questions about the institution’s academic practices and oversight.

Malone in April suspended three priests after several seminarians complained the older men subjected them to disturbing and offensive sexual discussions during a party at a rectory.

Scharfenberger, the new apostolic administrator for Buffalo, said he plans to visit the eight-county diocese weekly while keeping up with his duties in Albany.

“I will be doing a lot of listening and learning,” he said in a statement, expressing a desire for openness and transparency.

The Buffalo diocese has paid out more than $18 million to more than 100 victims under a compensation program established last year. Since August, it has been named in a wave of new lawsuits under a New York state law that suspended the usual statute of limitations and opened a one-year window for victims to pursue claims regardless of when the abuse happened.

Attorneys general in several states, including New York, have begun civil investigations into how the Catholic church reviewed and potentially covered up abuse.

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Protecting whistleblowers is almost as old as America

The U.S. has had laws to protect whistleblowers since 1777. Today we look at a few cases in the government and private sector.

The term “whistleblowing” was not popular until the 1970s, but seven months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress passed the first whistleblower protection law.

The first to seek protection were 10 American sailors and Marines who had reported improper behavior by the Continental Navy Commodore Esek Hopkins. Hopkins’ brother was the governor of Rhode Island, who lobbied for his appointment to the position.

Hopkins‘ men sought protection for speaking out against their commander’s treatment of British prisoners, quick temper, misconduct and poor character. The group feared being branded as traitors by their commander and sought protection from Congress.

Hopkins was suspended and relieved of his command in 1778. He lashed out by filing a criminal libel suit in Rhode Island against the 10 petitioners, and two whistleblowers who lived in Rhode Island were arrested and jailed.

The two appealed to the Continental Congress, which responded by passing a law to protect the men — and future whistleblowers.

False Claims Act

During the Civil War, many unscrupulous contractors had defrauded the Union Army by selling it low-quality products such as uniforms that disintegrated in the rain. The government was short of inspectors, so it authorized the public to be whistleblowers.

After passage of the act in 1863, a whistleblower was entitled to half of the damages won by the government.

Parts of the False Claims Act are still in use, and in 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained nearly $3 billion in settlements and judgments in cases involving fraud.

More recent measures

Two of the most recent federal laws established to protect those who call out perceived corruption are:Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Enacted to protect federal employees from retaliation who disclose government waste, fraud or abuse of power.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. It extended protection to federal employees in the intelligence community and others with security clearance.

According to the law firm Hagen Berman, which handles whistleblower cases, the most common types are:

  1. Health care fraud
  2. Defense contractor fraud
  3. Tax fraud
  4. Securities fraud
  5. Procurement fraud

Recent trends

The Aug. 12 anonymous whistleblower complaint regarding a telephone call with President Donald Trump and a foreign official was filed with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who found a “credible concern” with the complaint.

Regardless of the politics involved, whistleblower claims in the private sector and the government appear to be on the rise.

Whistleblower complaints handled by the U.S. Department of Labor from 2012-2018 increased 74%.

Big awards for whistleblowers

In the private sector, many whistleblowers have received awards for helping the Securities and Exchange Commission with cases of fraud. The SEC has ordered wrongdoers in enforcement matters involving whistleblower information to pay more than $975 million in sanctions from 2000-2017. These are the biggest awards from 2000-2017, in millions.

In 2017, California, New York, Texas, Florida and New Jersey yielded the highest number of whistleblower tips.

  • California, 500
  • New York, 438
  • Texas, 250
  • Florida, 229
  • New Jersey, 175

Most common whistleblower tips to the SEC

Since August 2011, the SEC has received more than 22,000 whistleblower tips including 4,400 in 2017.

Whistleblower award recipients

Messenger protection

A 2015 study titled “Whistleblower Protection Laws in G20 Countries” examined protections in the public and private sector. The U.S. had the best score.

The chart shows select countries’ scoring. The best score is 28 and the worst is 84.

The study rated countries in 14 categories that included oversight, confidentiality and remedies.

Anti-whistleblower laws

Ag-gag laws are anti-whistleblower laws that apply within the agriculture industry. Ag-gag laws currently exist in seven states, penalizing whistleblowers who investigate the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video and/or audio at a farm. In 2013, the California legislature voted against an Ag-gag bill sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association.

These are different whistleblowers than those that call out fraud, as some seek employment from agricultural businesses in order to spy for animal rights groups.

The origin of the whistle

Nobody knows how long the whistle has been around, but the first pea whistles used by police were in London.

In 1883, Joseph Hudson created the first London police whistle to replace the hand rattle. Whistles were mostly thought of as toys until enclosing a pellet inside the policeman’s whistle created the unique warbling sound. The police whistle could be heard over a mile away and was adopted as the official whistle of the London bobby.

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Robert Mugabe, longtime Zimbabwe leader, dies at 95

By Farai Mutsaka and Christopher Torchia, The Associated Press

Harare, Zimbabwe — Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe forced to resign in 2017 after a 37-year rule whose early promise was eroded by economic turmoil, disputed elections and human rights violations, has died. He was 95.

His successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed Mugabe’s death in a tweet Friday, mourning him as an “icon of liberation.” He did not provide details.

Mugabe, who took power after white minority rule ended in 1980, blamed Zimbabwe’s economic problems on international sanctions and once said he wanted to rule for life. But growing discontent about the southern African country’s fractured leadership and other problems prompted a military intervention, impeachment proceedings by the parliament and large street demonstrations for his removal.

  • FILE – In this Tuesday, March 18, 2008 file photo, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe addresses party supporters at a rally in Gweru, about 250 kms. (155 miles) south of Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, file)

  • FILE – In this Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1976 file photo, leaders of the Black National Front Joshua Nkomo, left, and Robert Mugabe make a no progress statement after their informal meeting with British chairman Ivor Richard at the Palais of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Dieter Endlicher, file)

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  • FILE – In this Sunday, July, 29, 2018, file photo, Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace pose for a photo after a press conference at their residence in Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

  • FILE – In this Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009, file photo Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe arrives for the burial of a prominent member of his party, Misheck Chando, in Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

  • FILE – In this Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 file photo Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, center, arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

  • FILE – In this Wednesday, April 18, 2012 file photo Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, lights a flame at celebrations to mark 32 years of independence of Zimbabwe, in Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/File)

  • FILE – In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 file photo Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe clenches his fists as he delivers his speech at his party’s 13th annual conference, in Gweru about 250 Kilometres south west of the capital Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

  • FILE – In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 file photo Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, shakes hands with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after he signed the new constitution into law at State house in Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

  • FILE – In this Saturday, Dec, 17, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses people at an event before the closure of his party’s 16th Annual Peoples Conference in Masvingo, south of the capital Harare. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

  • FILE – In this Oct. 3, 2017 file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died.
    (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, FILE)

  • FILE — In this Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 file photo, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe officiates at a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor Robert Mugabe, age 95, has died. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

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The announcement of Mugabe’s Nov. 21, 2017 resignation after he initially ignored escalating calls to quit triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare. Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power and reflected hopes for a better future.

On Feb. 21, 2018, Mugabe marked his first birthday since his resignation in near solitude, far from the lavish affair of past years. While the government that removed him with military assistance had declared his birthday as a national holiday, his successor and former deputy Mnangagwa did not mention him in a televised speech on the day.

Mugabe’s decline in his last years as president was partly linked to the political ambitions of his wife, Grace, a brash, divisive figure whose ruling party faction eventually lost out in a power struggle with supporters of Mnangagwa, who was close to the military.

Despite Zimbabwe’s decline during his rule, Mugabe remained defiant, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources, a populist message that was often a hit even as many nations on the continent shed the strongman model and moved toward democracy.

Mugabe enjoyed acceptance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors. Toward the end of his rule, he served as rotating chairman of the 54-nation African Union and the 15-nation Southern African Development Community; his criticism of the International Criminal Court was welcomed by regional leaders who also thought it was being unfairly used to target Africans.

“They are the ones who say they gave Christianity to Africa,” Mugabe said of the West during a visit to South Africa. “We say: ‘We came, we saw and we were conquered.’”

Spry in his impeccably tailored suits, Mugabe as leader maintained a schedule of events and international travel that defied his advancing age, though signs of weariness mounted toward the end. He fell after stepping off a plane in Zimbabwe, read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament and appeared to be dozing during a news conference in Japan. However, his longevity and frequently dashed rumors of ill health delighted supporters and infuriated opponents who had sardonically predicted he would live forever.

“Do you want me to punch you to the floor to realize I am still there?” Mugabe told an interviewer from state television who asked him in early 2016 about retirement plans.

After independence, Mugabe reached out to whites after a long war between black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known. He stressed education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished and Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.

However, a brutal military campaign waged against an uprising in western Matabeleland province that ended in 1987 augured a bitter turn in Zimbabwe’s fortunes. As the years went by, Mugabe was widely accused of hanging onto power through violence and vote fraud, notably in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.

“I have many degrees in violence,” Mugabe once boasted on a campaign trail, raising his fist. “You see this fist, it can smash your face.”

Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another election marred by alleged irregularities, though he dismissed his critics as sore losers.

Amid the political turmoil, the economy of Zimbabwe, traditionally rich in agriculture and minerals, was deteriorating. Factories were closing, unemployment was rising and the country abandoned its currency for the US dollar in 2009 because of hyperinflation.

The economic problems are often traced to the violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began around 2000. Land reform was supposed to take much of the country’s most fertile land — owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers — and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.

Mugabe was born in Zvimba, 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of the capital of Harare. As a child, he tended his grandfather’s cattle and goats, fished for bream in muddy water holes, played football and “boxed a lot,” as he recalled later.

Mugabe lacked the easy charisma of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader and contemporary who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after reconciling with its former white rulers. But he drew admirers in some quarters for taking a hard line with the West, and he could be disarming despite his sometimes harsh demeanor.

“The gift of politicians is never to stop speaking until the people say, ‘Ah, we are tired,’” he said at a 2015 news conference. “You are now tired. I say thank you.”

Torchia reported from Johannesburg.

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Man behind Paris knife attack born in Chechnya, French official says

PARIS – A French judicial official says the man behind a deadly knife attack Saturday night, May 12 in central Paris was born in Chechnya in 1997, and his parents have been detained.

The official said Sunday, May 13 that the assailant had French nationality but was born in the Russian republic. The official, who wasn’t authorized to be publicly named, provided no other information on the attacker’s identity.

The French interior minister is holding a special security meeting Sunday to address the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

The assailant killed a 29-year-old man and injured four others in a lively neighborhood near Paris’ famed Opera Garnier before he was killed by police.

Counterterrorism authorities took charge of the investigation, and President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France would not bow to extremists despite being the target of multiple deadly attacks in recent years.

Paris police officers evacuated people from some buildings in the Right Bank neighborhood after the attack, which happened on rue Monsigny at about 9 p.m. (1900 GMT.) Bar patrons and opera-goers described surprise and confusion in the immediate area.

Beyond the police cordon, however, crowds still filled nearby cafes and the city’s night ife resumed its normal pace soon after the attack.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said counterterrorism authorities are leading the investigation on potential charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with terrorist motives.

“At this stage, based on the one hand on the account of witnesses who said the attacker cried ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great in Arabic) while attacking passersby with a knife, and given the modus operandi, we have turned this over to the counterterrorist section of the Paris prosecutor’s office,” Molins told reporters from the scene.

The Islamic State group’s Aamaq news agency said in a statement early Sunday that the assailant carried out the attack in response to the group’s calls for supporters to target members of the U.S.-led military coalition squeezing the extremists out of Iraq and Syria.

The Aamaq statement did not provide evidence for its claim or details on the assailant’s identity.

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Activists, rescuers say gas attack killed dozens in Syria — government denies using chemicals

BEIRUT  — Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, allegations denied by the Syrian government.

The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.

It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.

The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, said 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma on Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside.

Videos posted online by the White Helmets purportedly showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.

The Syrian government, in a statement posted on the state-run news agency SANA, strongly denied the allegations. It said the claims were “fabrications” by the Army of Islam rebel group, calling it a “failed attempt” to impede government advances.

“The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents,” the statement said.

Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding the evacuation of Army of Islam fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Douma is the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta.

The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people. That attack prompted the U.S. to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. President Donald Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, denied any involvement in the alleged gas attack.

Douma is in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta. A chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in 2013 that was widely blamed on government forces killed hundreds of people, prompting the U.S. to threaten military action before later backing down.

Syria denies ever using chemical weapons during the seven-year civil war, and says it eliminated its chemical arsenal under a 2013 agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia after the attack in eastern Ghouta.

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Indonesia’s stock exchange evacuated after floor collapses

Indonesia’s stock exchange evacuated people from the vicinity Monday after a floor collapsed during the midday trading break.

The floor collapsed into the ground level of the bourse’s Tower 2, spokesman Rheza Andhika said by phone, adding that it wasn’t an explosion.

Footage aired on local television MetroTV showed several people lying on the ground at the entrance of the building.

The situation remains unclear, with employees still being accounted for, said Friderica Widyasari Dewi, president director at Indonesia Central Securities Depository, which is based at the stock exchange’s building.

The stock exchange building also houses the World Bank’s local office, according to the bourse’s website.

 

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