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Experts Ground Iowa Museum’s Hopes: ‘Inverted Jenny’ a Fake

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 07:17

Hopes by small aviation museum in southwestern Iowa that a stamp in its possession was rare enough to parlay into a fortune crashed Friday when experts told them it wasn’t real, and likely not even worth the paper it was glued upon.

The Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield, Iowa, has had what it thought was a 1918 “Inverted Jenny” stamp on public display for some 20 years, dating back to when it was donated to the museum, glued to a board along with several other stamps. A notation from the donor attached to the board speculated then that it was worth about $73,000.

Experts at the national stamp convention meeting in Omaha knew immediately the stamp wasn’t authentic, said Ken Martin with the American Philatelic Society that’s holding the show through Sunday.

Likely cut from a catalog

“It wasn’t the right size. It was too small,” Martin said. “This version was likely cut out of a postage stamp auction catalog.”

An examination under a microscope confirmed experts’ initial doubt. A 100-year-old stamp would have been printed from an artist’s engraving, so the image under a microscope would appear as a series of lines. A reproduction for printed material decades later would have been comprised of a series of tiny dots, which is what appeared under the scope, Martin said.

The news was disappointing for those at the museum, which also serves as the home of the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame and had hoped to auction the stamp for hundreds of thousands of dollars and build a new museum hangar.

“We really didn’t know what we had,” Larry Konz, a tour guide at the museum, said Friday. “When we were told that we might have the real deal, I thought, ‘My God, we might have something quite valuable here, and we’ve had it hanging on a wall all this time.”

Had it been real, it would be worth between $300,000 and $400,000 at auction, Martin said. There were only 100 of the stamps printed in 1918, with the image of a JN-4-H “Jenny” biplane accidentally displayed upside-down on a 24-cent stamp.

A slim chance

Norma Nielson, of Eugene, Oregon, was at the convention Friday to see for herself if the museum was in possession of one of the few rare and unaccounted stamps. Nielson is a stamp collector who grew up in the museum’s hometown of Greenfield, and had put museum officials in touch with the American Philatelic Society to check the stamp’s authenticity.

“I knew it was probably a slim chance of it being genuine, given how rare that stamp is,” she said. “But, boy, it sure would have been exciting if it had been.”

Africa Clothing Industry Hopes to Benefit From Continent's Trade Deal

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 06:39

NAIROBI, KENYA — Many merchants in Nairobi's bustling Toi market are busy selling secondhand clothes — a big business in Kenya, which imports 100,000 tonnes of such garments every year.

Smart, frugal customers like Emily Mugure find good buys at the market. 

"I am looking for a few items I can add to my closet for work, and I have an event I want to go to,” she said during a recent visit.  “So I am looking for something unique.” She said the market offered a large variety of items, and she liked the quality and prices. 

Emily Mugure checks out a secondhand jacket in Nairobi's Toi market. (M. Yusuf/VOA)

Kenyan businesses hope to get customers like Mugure to buy locally made clothing as a step toward reviving the textile industry. Demand from a stronger textile industry helps cotton farmers and also helps other businesses expand and develop. 

Sub-Saharan Africa’s apparel and footwear market is already worth $31 billion, according to Euromonitor, a global market research firm, and globally, sizable growth in the sector is expected over the next decade. 

The African Continental Free Trade Area, which took effect in May, was designed to get a bigger share of that market for Africans. The free-trade deal’s objective is to boost economic growth on the continent by cutting tariffs among member states. Lower costs for trade means more trade, which boosts demand, sales and jobs. 
Betting on growth, Kenya revived and equipped its biggest textile factory, Rivatex, in June, hoping to create 9,000 jobs at the government-owned facility.  

Shoppers stroll through the Toi market in Nairobi, Kenya. (M. Yusuf/VOA)

Managing Director Thomas Kipkurgat told VOA his company was getting orders from other African countries. 
"We have been approached by the Namibian government to make camouflage fabric, and also Uganda, Rwanda and other countries,” he said. “So we want to showcase that we can make [goods that are as good as] imports." 
Kipkurgat said new equipment at Rivatex uses 30 percent less power, which helps the facility price its products so that they can compete with imports. “So looking at the competition,” he said, “we have no issue." 
Speaking to the Reuters news agency this week, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, said the continent's industries must improve if they are to grab a share of the growing fashion and textile market. 
"Africa cannot be a market where others simply import and put stuff in,” Adesina said. “Africa has to have its own industrial capacity to be able to take advantage of a $3.3 trillion market with the African Continental Free Trade Area, so Africa has to industrialize. Industrialization is critical. It is not just about moving raw materials. It is value-added products." 
Boosting the textile industry is one step toward connecting 1.3 billion people across 54 nations and heating up commerce across the continent. 

Puerto Rico House Confirms Pierluisi as Secretary of State

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 04:53

Puerto Rico's House of Representatives voted Friday to confirm Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, removing an important obstacle to the veteran politician becoming governor with an hour to go before Ricardo Rossello was expected to step down.

The House voted 26-21, with one abstention, to confirm Rossello's nominee and potential successor. The legislature, which is controlled by Pierluisi's New Progressive Party, erupted into cheers when the deciding vote was cast.

But Pierluisi's fate remains unclear. The secretary of state is next to line for the governor's chair when the chief executive resigns. However, the issue of who is rightfully governor is almost certain to go to court. 

Rossello was due to step down at 5 p.m., a resignation he promised in response to weeks of popular protest over mismanagement, and a series of leaked chats in which he and advisers denigrated a range of Puerto Ricans.

If Pierluisi, 60, does not become governor, the position is taken by Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, who is not widely popular and already is the target of protests.

The down-to-the-wire maneuvering risked political chaos and a constitutional crisis and sowed bitterness and pessimism among Puerto Ricans about the fate of their island, which has been battered by years of bankruptcy and Hurricane Maria in 2017, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Citizens attend Pedro Pierluisi's confirmation hearing at the House of Representatives, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Aug. 2019.

Only days ago, there was jubilation over the success of the popular movement to force Rossello out of office over mismanagement and a series of leaked chats in which he and advisers denigrated a wide range of Puerto Ricans.

“People are disgusted with the government in general, not just Ricardo Rossello, everyone,” said Janeline Avila, 24, who recently received her degree in biotechnology.

Hundreds of protesters marched to the governor's residence, the Fortaleza, banging pots and drums and singing the national anthem.

The demonstrators chanted “Ricky, get out! You didn't quit, the people fired you!” 

Some lawmakers and officials believe that because the legislature was not in session when Pierluisi was appointed, he's already secretary of state unless the legislature rejects him.

Others argue that he still needs to be confirmed by the House or both the House and Senate.

One constitutional amendment states that everyone in line to become governor has to be confirmed by both House and Senate, except for the secretary of state.

Constitutional law professor Carlos Ramos and other legal experts questioned the legal validity of that amendment and believed Pierluisi must be confirmed by the House and Senate because the amendment contradicts the intent of the constitution and its statement of motives.

Lawmakers and Pierluisi himself expressed concern that the continuing political uncertainty would damage Puerto Rico's efforts to get federal funds to recover from the hurricane and confront the economic crisis.Several legislators have accused Pierluisi of a conflict of interest because he worked for a law firm that represents a federal control board overseeing the island's finances, a body that has repeatedly clashed with local officials over demands for austerity measures.

Proposed Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi (back to camera) speaks during his confirmation hearing at the House of Representatives, in San Juan, Aug. 2, 2019.

Pierluisi, whose brother-in-law is the board's chairman, tried to dispel those concerns in his opening remarks.

“Who better than me to advocate for our people before the board? Who better than me to facilitate the process that will force the board to leave? That is what we all want,” he said.

The board was created by Congress to oversee the restructuring of more than $70 billion in public debt after Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy.

Pierluisi told lawmakers he is against several austerity measures demanded by the board, including laying off public employees and eliminating a Christmas bonus.

He said he supports public-private partnerships and the privatization of the island's public power company.

“The people want a change, and I don't blame them,” he said.

A key obstacle for Pierluisi has been Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who has said he would not vote for Rossello's nominee and wants to run for governor himself next year.

Several legislators have said they prefer Rivera Schatz over Pierluisi, but the Senate leader is a powerful figure deeply associated with Puerto Rico's political and business elite, and his elevation to the governorship could re-ignite popular outrage.

Rivera Schatz has scheduled a Senate hearing on Pierluisi for Monday.

Pierluisi was Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress from 2009 to 2017 and then ran against Rossello in the 2016 primaries and lost. He also served as justice secretary under Rossello's father, Pedro Rossello, when he was governor.

The political infighting and paralysis followed a wave of street protests against Rossello, who joins more than a dozen government officials who have resigned in the wake of an obscenity-laced chat in which they made fun of women, gay people and hurricane victims.

Toxicology Reports Awaited in Death of RFK Granddaughter

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 04:25

BOSTON — Authorities said Friday that they were looking to toxicology reports for clues to the death of Saoirse Kennedy Hill, a granddaughter of assassinated U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. 
The Kennedy family confirmed the death in a statement after police responded to a call Thursday afternoon about a possible drug overdose at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The statement was issued by Brian Wright O'Connor, a spokesman for Saoirse Hill's uncle, former U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II. 
Hill, 22, was the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's fifth child, Courtney, and Paul Michael Hill, who was one of four people falsely convicted in the 1974 Irish Republican Army bombings of two pubs. The two are now divorced. 
``She lit up our lives with her love, her peals of laughter and her generous spirit,'' the statement said, adding she was passionate about human rights and women's empowerment and worked with indigenous communities to build schools in Mexico. 

'Gifted student'
Hill, whose first name is pronounced SIR-shuh, attended Boston College, where she was a member of the Class of 2020. The college issued a statement Friday saying she was a communications major and ``a gifted student.'' 
``She was also active in the College Democrats, and had many friends on the BC campus,'' spokesman Jack Dunn said. 
The Cape and Islands district attorney's office said Barnstable police responded to a home ``for a reported unattended death.'' Barnstable police and Massachusetts State Police detectives were investigating. The district attorney's office said Friday that Hill was taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. It said an autopsy showed no signs of trauma, and that toxicology reports would help determine the cause and manner of death. 

American flags are lowered as people gather at the Kennedy compound on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, in Hyannis Port, Mass. Saoirse Kennedy Hill, granddaughter of Ethel Kennedy and her late husband Robert F. Kennedy, died at the compound Thursday…

The family statement did not include a cause of death, but audio of a Barnstable police scanner call obtained by The Associated Press said officers were responding to a report of a drug overdose at the compound. 
``The world is a little less beautiful today,'' the Kennedy family statement quoted Hill's 91-year-old grandmother and RFK's widow, Ethel Kennedy, as saying. 
Hill had written frankly and publicly about her struggles with mental health and a suicide attempt while in high school. ``My depression took root in the beginning of my middle school years and will be with me for the rest of my life,'' she wrote in a February 2016 column in The Deerfield Scroll, the student newspaper at Deerfield Academy, the private school in Massachusetts she attended. 
Hill wrote that she became depressed two weeks before her high school junior year started and she ``totally lost it after someone I knew and loved broke serious sexual boundaries with me.'' She wrote that she pretended it hadn't happened, and when it became too much, ``I attempted to take my own life.'' 
She urged the school to be more open about mental illness. 

Other activism
Hill also helped found a group at the school called Deerfield Students Against Sexual Assault, according to a November 2016 story in the paper, and she attended a March for Our Lives gun violence prevention rally in Barnstable in March 2018, The Barnstable Patriot newspaper reported at the time. 
Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Los Angeles in 1968 after winning California's Democratic presidential primary. He had served as attorney general in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. He also served as a U.S. senator from New York. 
RFK's family, like the rest of the Kennedy clan, has been touched by tragedy. 
One of his and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children, Michael Kennedy, was killed in a skiing accident in Colorado on New Year's Eve 1997 at age 39. And in 1984, another son, David Anthony Kennedy, died of a drug overdose in Florida at age 28. 
JFK's son, John F. Kennedy Jr., was killed with his wife and sister-in-law when his small plane crashed off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, in July 1999. 
One of Hill's relatives, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who is now an advocate for substance abuse and mental health treatment, tweeted in tribute to her Friday. 
``Saoirse will always remain in our hearts. She is loved and will be deeply missed,'' he wrote. 
Funeral plans were incomplete Friday. 

US Navy Identifies Pilot Killed in California Fighter Jet Crash

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 03:40

 The U.S. Navy has identified the pilot killed in the crash of a fighter jet in the California desert.

A Navy statement Friday says the pilot was 33-year-old Lt. Charles Z. Walker.  

The Navy released a photo of Walker but provided no additional information, such as his hometown.

Walker's F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed July 31 in Death Valley National Park while flying through a canyon where military pilots routinely conduct low-level training missions.

Seven park visitors on a canyon overlook suffered minor injuries caused by debris from the crash.

The Super Hornet was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California's Central Valley.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

How Trump's Latest China Tariffs Could Squeeze US Consumers

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 03:40

The latest batch of tariffs that President Donald Trump plans to impose on Chinese goods would likely cost U.S. households an average of $200 a year, some economists have estimated.

That would come on top of the roughly $831 imposed per household from Trump's existing tariffs, according to a New York Federal Reserve analysis.

Trump plans to tax $300 billion of Chinese imports at 10% starting in September with the goal of accelerating trade talks with Beijing to favor the United States. The new tariffs would be in addition to 25% tariffs Trump has imposed on $250 billion in Chinese products. Those are mostly industrial goods. By contrast, the new tariffs would target products used by American consumers such as shoes, clothing and cellphones.

President Donald Trump meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019.

By Friday, Trump's new planned tariffs had triggered worries, especially among retailers, about the consequences. Retail stores, many of which have been struggling, would have to make the painful choice of either absorbing the higher costs from the new tariffs or imposing them on price-conscious customers.

Additionally, China has signaled the likelihood of imposing counter-tariffs on U.S. goods, which would hurt American exporters. The stock market sold off sharply on Friday, in part over concerns about the effect on corporate profits. 

Some economists have estimated that Trump's additional tariffs would cost an average U.S. household $200 a year. For retailers already feeling pressure, the higher prices would hit hard as the critically important holiday shopping season is getting underway.

Some companies are considering moving up their delivery of goods before the new tariffs take effect. Isaac Larian, CEO of Los Angeles-based MGA Entertainment, which makes the popular L.O.L. doll, said the company will be accelerating shipments from China to the U.S. ahead of the Sept. 1 deadline — and will pay an extra $300 to $400 more per shipping container to do so. 

He envisions having to raise prices 10 percent across his entire toy line. 

“A lot of consumers can't afford it, and demand will go down,” Larian said.

Peter Bragdon, executive vice president at Columbia Sportswear, said the company had been diversifying away from China and now makes products in more than 20 countries. He said he thinks companies such as Columbia Sportswear will fare better than the smaller outdoor rivals.

“The larger companies that have the experience are going to be able to weather really bad public policy,” he said.

People walk past a store advertising a sale in a shopping mall in Beijing, Aug. 2, 2019.

Washington and Beijing are locked in a battle over complaints that China steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. The Trump administration worries that American industrial leadership might be threatened by Chinese plans for government-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other technologies. Europe and Japan echo U.S. complaints that those plans violate Beijing's market-opening commitments.

Companies were already shifting to suppliers outside of China in countries such as Vietnam to avoid the existing tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. But plenty of clothing and footwear companies are still vulnerable as importing for holiday sales is starting — and the president's announcement means that all Chinese imports might be taxed.

In 2018, 42% of all U.S. sold apparel was made in China, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a trade group. That number is 69% for footwear.

“This creates a cash crunch, a lot of confusion and uncertainty,” said Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the trade group. “It couldn't come at a worse time.”

The Trump administration has publicly denied that consumers would be significantly harmed by the tariffs.

“Any consumer impact is very, very small,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters Friday.

FILE - Economic analyst Larry Kudlow appears on CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, March 7, 2018.

The tariffs taken together would more than wipe out the savings a middle-class household received from Trump's 2017 income tax cuts.The average tax filer earning between $50,000 and $75,000 paid $841 less in taxes last year, according to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. 

Many economists forecast that the proposed tariffs would shave about 0.1% off economic growth but that the real risk is a further escalation and side effects that could be devastating.

Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, compared the president's moves to the errors that ultimately led to the terrifyingly destructive World War I.

He said of World War I, “Leaders were relentlessly overconfident on the prospects of victory, fully convinced that any war would be brief, incompetent in planning and execution, and miscalculated economic damage. Accordingly, the war dragged on for over four years at terrible, terrible costs. See any parallels?”

In answer to his own question, Porter noted that Trump has declared trade wars are “good” and “easy to win.”

On Friday, China threatened retaliation in ways that could magnify the potential damage to both of the world's two biggest economies. Stocks fell around the globe as investors adjusted to these risks. 

China's government accused Trump of violating his June agreement with President Xi Jinping to revive negotiations aimed at ending a costly fight over Beijing's trade surplus and technology ambitions.

FILE - Zhang Jun, then-procurator-general of China's Supreme People's Procuratorate, delivers a report at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 12, 2019.

China's new U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun suggested that the new tariffs could halt negotiations that were expected next month.

“China's position is very clear that if the United States wishes to talk, then we will talk,” Zhang said. “If they want to fight, then we will fight.”

Trump, EU Officials Announce Beef Trade Deal

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 03:09

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a deal on Friday to sell more American beef to Europe in what was a modest win for an administration that remains mired in a trade war with China.

Trump gathered European Union officials and cowboy-hatted American ranchers in the White House Roosevelt Room to announce the pact.

"The agreement that we sign today will lower trade barriers in Europe and expand access for American farmers and ranchers," Trump said.

He spoke shortly before the agreement was signed by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union's ambassador to the United States and EU representative Jani Raappana.

The European Commission has stressed that any beef deal will not increase overall beef imports and that all the beef coming in would be hormone-free, in line with EU food safety rules. An agreement would need to be approved by the European parliament.

After the agreement was signed, Trump joked at the podium that his administration was working with the EU "on a 25% tariff on all Mercedes-Benz and BMWs coming into our nation." "So, we appreciate — I'm only kidding," he said to laughter.

The beef deal could help alleviate some of the damage to the domestic agricultural industry due to tariffs Beijing has imposed on U.S products in retaliation for U.S. levies on China.

Trump said in the first year duty-free U.S. beef exports to the EU will increase by 46% and over seven years will rise another 90%. "In total the duty-free exports will rise from $150 million to $420 million, an increase of over 180%," he said.

Without mentioning China by name, Lambrinidis said the United States and Europe could work together to stand against countries that did not compete fairly in the global market.

"The agreement shows us that as partners we can solve problems," he said.

EU sources and diplomats in June said a deal had been reached to allow the United States a guaranteed share of a 45,000 ton European Union quota.

The announcement coincides with Trump ratcheting up Washington's trade dispute with China. On Thursday, he said he would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports from Sept. 1 and threatened to raise tariffs further if Chinese President Xi Jinping failed to move faster on striking a trade deal.

The dispute between the world's two top economies has hurt world growth, including in Europe, as it enters its second year.

U.S. and European officials have sought to lay the groundwork for talks on their own trade agreement but have been stymied over an impasse on agriculture. European officials last month said trade talks had produced mixed results.

The agreement on beef could, however, ease tensions between the two sides, which are each other's largest trading partners.

The Trump administration has been pursuing a host of new trade deals with Europe, China and others as part of the Republican president's "America First" agenda as he seeks a second term in office, but difficulties in securing final pacts have roiled financial markets.

European stocks on Friday were battered by Trump's latest salvo against China and Wall Street also took a hit.

Lingering issues remain in other areas of U.S.-EU trade, including import duties on industrial goods that Europe wants removed, and the threat of tariffs on European cars imported to the United States. EU governments cleared the agreement on July 15, but it still needs European Parliament approval.

Illinois State Senator Indicted on Embezzlement Charges 

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:55

CHICAGO — An Illinois state senator has been indicted on federal charges that he took more than $250,000 in salary and benefits over a three-year period from the Teamsters while doing little or no work, prosecutors said Friday. 
In a news release, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago said Thomas E. Cullerton of Villa Park was indicted by a federal grand jury on 39 counts of embezzlement from a labor union, one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plans, and one count of making false statements in a health care matter.  
According to the release, Cullerton, 49, a member of the Teamsters before he took office, was hired as a ``purported union organizer'' for Teamsters Joint Council 25 in March 2013. Prosecutors said that over the next three years he was paid nearly $190,000 in salary, bonuses, and vehicle and cellphone allowances, and another $64,000 in health and pension contributions, despite the fact that he ``did little or no work as a union organizer.'' According to the release, when the Joint Council did ask him to perform his job duties, ``Cullerton routinely ignored them.'' 
Cullerton also was reimbursed for almost $22,000 in medical claims from a union local's Health and Welfare Fund after falsely providing information that he was a ``route salesman,'' according to the indictment, a claim that concealed the fact that he wasn't eligible to participate in the fund.  
The indictment of Cullerton, a cousin of Senate President John Cullerton, came just days after former Teamsters Joint Council 25 President John T. Coli Sr. pleaded guilty of shaking down a Chicago film studio and agreed to cooperate with investigators.  
And even before Coli's plea agreement was announced, it became clear that federal officials were investigating ties between the two men when it was reported earlier this year that they had subpoenaed records related to Cullerton in their probe of the powerful former union leader.  
But in a written statement, Cullerton's attorney, John Theis, said Cullerton was innocent and suggested he was being framed by Coli.  
``The action by the U.S. Department of Justice has nothing to do with Mr. Cullerton's work in the Illinois State Senate but is the result of false claims by disgraced Teamsters boss John Coli in an apparent attempt to avoid penalties for his wrongdoing,'' he said.  
The U.S. attorney's office said an arraignment in federal court had not yet been scheduled. 

British Military Called in to Stop Dam Collapsing and Flooding Town

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:44

A British military helicopter dropped sacks of ballast onto the outer slope of a reservoir dam on Friday in a bid to prevent it collapsing and flooding the town below.

Police were evacuating more than 6,000 residents of Whaley Bridge, in central England, telling them to take pets and any medication they needed with them after the dam was badly damaged during heavy rains.

Officials said the dam, holding back 300 million gallons of water in the reservoir above the town, was in danger of failing, putting lives at risk.

"The structural integrity of the dam wall is still at a critical level and there is still a substantial risk to life should the dam wall fail," the assistant chief constable of Derbyshire police, Kem Mehmet, said at a news conference.

Police said the water level had fallen by 0.5 meters, but still needed to be lowered by several more meters until it was below the damage — an operation that could take several days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the area late on Friday, meeting with emergency services involved in the operation.

Police said a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter was shifting 400 tonnes of aggregate — a mixture of sand, gravel and stone — onto the reservoir wall to reinforce it.

Engineers have been pumping water out of the reservoir to get the level down, to reduce pressure on the wall and allow repairs to begin.

Evacuated residents would be allowed to briefly return to their homes to collect animals and belonging under police escort.

Britain's Environment Agency issued a severe flood warning for the area, saying river levels in the River Goyt, which runs through the town, could rise rapidly.

Heavy rain this week led to flash floods in areas across northern England causing bridges to collapse and road closures. Britain's Met Office said on Wednesday downpours had led to 50 mm (2 inches) of rain falling in just one hour.

Gary Lane, the Royal Air Force liaison officer at the scene, said the helicopter only had a narrow space to drop the sacks of aggregate to avoid putting pressure on the dam.

"It's a bit like a big Lego block that we're building, we've got a foundation in there and we're carrying on building each on top of each other" he said.

Florida Latest Place to Declare Emergency Over Hepatitis A

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:32

Officials have declared a public health emergency over the rising number of hepatitis A cases in Florida, the latest part of the country dealing with outbreaks of the liver disease.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared an emergency Thursday to allow the state to spend more on testing and treatment, saying Florida has had more than 2,000 cases since the beginning of the year compared with 548 all of last year. Most have been in central Florida, and health officials are still investigating the sources.

“We urge vaccination and stress the importance of washing your hands regularly,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a tweet .

San Diego Opens Giant Tents for Homeless to Battle Hepatitis A Outbreak

The U.S. city of San Diego has opened the first of three large tents that together will house 700 homeless people in an effort to contain an outbreak of hepatitis A that is being spread among the homeless population.

About 20 people made the tent their temporary home Friday. The first tent erected will house 350 single men and women.

Philadelphia also declared an emergency Thursday, and Mississippi officials announced an outbreak in their state earlier in the week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has had 4,793 cases since an outbreak there in 2017; since 2018, Ohio has had 3,220 and West Virginia 2,528.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is spread through food, water and objects tainted by feces, or through close contact. Its flulike symptoms, if they occur, usually last about two months. It had been considered a disease that was fading away, thanks in part to vaccines available since 1995. As recently as 2015, fewer than 1,400 cases were reported nationwide.

But three years ago, a wave of outbreaks among homeless people and illicit drug users began appearing in the U.S. More than two dozen states have reported such outbreaks since then, with more than 22,500 cases, including 221 deaths. Vaccines have typically been administered to children, but many of the new cases have been in adults.

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. That compares with 548 last year and 276 cases in 2017.

US Panel Recommends New Adult Vaccine Against Hepatitis BVaccine called Heplisav-B was licensed in November and is first new hepatitis B vaccine in 25 years

Dr. Eugene Schiff, director for liver diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and former epidemic intelligence service officer for CDC, told The Associated Press that the disease is likely spreading in Florida among homeless and unvaccinated people. He said intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and the homeless are at a higher risk for the illness.

“Homelessness is a big issue throughout the country and in Florida, and they are at higher risk to spread hepatitis A around,” Dr. Schiff said. “It is more epidemic in the homeless community.”

But he noted that the vaccine protects people against the disease: “This is entirely preventable. It is not that this is a virulent strain, there is just a larger risk if people haven’t been vaccinated.”

Sources: Boeing Changing Max Software to Use 2 Computers

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:22

Boeing is working on new software for the 737 Max that will use a second flight control computer to make the system more reliable, solving a problem that surfaced in June with the grounded jet, two people briefed on the matter said Friday. 
When finished, the new software will give Boeing a complete package for regulators to evaluate as the company tries to get the Max flying again, according to the people, who didn't want to be identified because the new software hasn't been publicly disclosed. 
The Max was grounded worldwide after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed a total of 346 people.  
Use of the second computer, reported Thursday by The Seattle Times, would resolve a problem discovered in simulations done by the Federal Aviation Administration after the crashes. The simulations found an issue that could result in the plane's nose pitching down. Pilots in testing either took too long to recover from the problem or could not do so, one of the people said. 
In the new configuration, both of the plane's flight control computers would be monitored by software, and pilots would get a warning if the computers disagreed on altitude, air speed and the angle of the wings relative to the air flow, the person said. Only one computer was used in the past because Boeing was able to prove statistically that its system was reliable, the person said.  
The problem revealed in June is like the one implicated in the two crashes. That problem was with flight-control software called MCAS, which pushed the nose down based on faulty readings from one sensor. MCAS was installed on the planes as a measure to prevent aerodynamic stalling, and initially it wasn't disclosed to pilots. 

'More robust' system
The new software would make the entire flight-control system, including MCAS, rely on two computers rather than one, said the person. ``It would make the whole flight control system more robust,'' the person said. 
Boeing Co. spokesman Charles Bickers said only that the company is working with the FAA and other regulators on software to fix the problem that surfaced in June. The company has said it expects to present the changes to the FAA and other regulators in September, and it hopes the Max can return to flight as early as October.  
The two people briefed on the matter said Boeing has finished updating the MCAS software by scaling back its power to push the nose down. It is also linking the software's nose-down command to two sensors on each plane instead of relying on just one in the original design. 
The FAA has been widely criticized for its process that certified the Max as safe to fly, largely because it uses company employees to do inspections that are then reviewed by the agency.  

NYPD Judge Recommends Firing Officer in Eric Garner Death

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:16

An administrative judge on Friday recommended firing the New York City police officer accused of using a chokehold in the 2014 death of an unarmed black man whose dying pleas of “I can't breathe” became a rallying cry against alleged police brutality.

The final decision on whether to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo over his role in the death of Eric Garner will be made by the city's police commissioner later this month, but the department suspended Pantaleo from duty shortly after the judge's decision became public.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the judge's report as “a step toward justice and accountability.”

“Today, for the first time in these long five years, the system of justice is working,” de Blasio said. “I hope this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace.”

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, said the judge's report brought her “some relief” but was overdue and fell short of true accountability.

“It's past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to end their obstruction, stop spreading misleading talking points and finally take action for my son,” she said in a statement.

Garner's death came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that sparked the national Black Lives Matter movement. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, 33, on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

The judge's findings were provided to his lawyer and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the watchdog agency that acted as a prosecutor at his department trial last spring.

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo leaves his house, May 13, 2019, in Staten Island, N.Y.

Under department rules, Pantaleo's lawyer will have about two weeks to respond before Police Commissioner James O'Neill makes his decision.

Department spokesman Phillip Walzak said Pantaleo's suspension was standard in disciplinary cases where termination is recommended. He wouldn't comment further.

The administrative judge, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, had been tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo used a banned chokehold to take Garner to the ground during a tense confrontation on a Staten Island street.

Pantaleo's lawyers argued he used an approved “seat belt” technique to subdue Garner, who refused to be handcuffed after officers accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes.

Videos taken by bystanders showed Garner crying out, “I can't breathe,” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner's office said a chokehold contributed to Garner's death.

The head of the city's largest police union called the judge's recommendation “political insanity” and warned that, if O'Neill fires Pantaleo, it will paralyze the department.

“He knows the message that this decision sends to every cop: We are expendable, and we cannot expect any support from the city we protect. He knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department,” said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, was scheduled to speak Friday afternoon.

The details of Maldonado's report were not disclosed, but Civilian Complaint Review Board Chairman Fred Davie said the judge's recommendation confirms what the agency had argued at the trial: that Pantaleo's use of a chokehold caused Garner's death.

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner rallies on the fifth anniversary of the death of her son Eric Garner, a day after federal prosecutors announced their decision not to prosecute NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo on charges related to his death, July 17, 2019.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, appearing with two of Garner's children, called on the police commissioner to “immediately and unequivocally” accept the recommendation.

“But,” he added, “make no mistake about it, this is not justice for the Garner family. Justice for the Garner family would have been a federal proceeding or a criminal proceeding in the local courts.”

Last month, the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner's death, federal prosecutors announced they would not bring criminal charges against Pantaleo following a five-year civil rights investigation.

Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 (188 centimeters) and about 400 pounds (180 kilograms) but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner's neck for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk.

The officer was stripped of his gun and put on desk duty after the death but continued to draw a salary, with his pay peaking at more than $120,000 in 2017, according to city records.

Garner's death has dogged de Blasio since it happened in his first year in office.

His initial statements after the death were critical of the officers involved, and he talked publicly about having had to warn his own son, who is black, to be careful during any encounters with police. Then, as protests flared, a disturbed man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and killed two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser.

Lynch, of the police union, said at the time that the mayor had “blood on his hands” over the killings. Police officers turned their backs on de Blasio at the officers' funerals.

De Blasio, now running for the Democratic nomination for president, wound up infuriating police reform advocates, too, by allowing the department to wait for years to begin disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo. The delay was due to the city's desire to avoid interfering in the ongoing federal civil rights investigation.

Chants of “Fire Pantaleo” interrupted de Blasio at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit. Protesters briefly interrupted de Blasio's news conference Friday chanting the same thing.

The disclosure of Maldonado's decision came about two months after the end of Pantaleo's seven-day department trial. Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, the supervising officer at the scene, faces a department trial, but it hasn't been scheduled.  

Trump's Pick for National Intelligence Director Withdraws

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:08

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says his pick for national intelligence director has decided to withdraw from the running, citing unfair media coverage. 
In a tweet Friday, Trump said Republican Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas had decided to stay in Congress. Questions about Ratcliffe's experience had dogged him since Trump announced his candidacy Sunday. 
Trump didn't cite any specific media reports but tweeted that ``rather than going through months of slander and libel,'' Ratcliffe would be returning to Capitol Hill.  
Trump accepted the resignation of former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last week.  
Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week. Intelligence experts had criticized his lack of experience in the field of intelligence.  
In a statement, Ratcliffe said, ``While I am and will remain very grateful to the president for his intention to nominate me as director of national intelligence, I am withdrawing from consideration.'' 
``I was humbled and honored that the president put his trust in me to lead our nation's intelligence operations and remain convinced that when confirmed, I would have done so with the objectivity, fairness and integrity that our intelligence agencies need and deserve,'' the statement said. 
``However,'' he added, ``I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue.'' 

Plastic Bottles Sales Banned at San Francisco Airport

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 02:06

San Francisco International Airport is banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports Friday that the unprecedented move at one of the major airports in the country will take effect Aug. 20.
The new rule will apply to airport restaurants, cafes and vending machines.
Travelers needing plain water will have to buy refillable aluminum or glass bottles if they don't bring their own.
As a department of San Francisco's municipal government, the airport is following an ordinance approved in 2014 banning the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property.
SFO spokesman Doug Yakel says the shift away from plastics is also part of a broader plan to slash net carbon emissions and energy use to zero and eliminate most landfill waste by 2021.

Swedish Judge Orders A$AP Rocky, 2 Others Freed Pending Verdict

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 01:44

A Swedish judge has ordered U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky and two other men released from custody pending a verdict later this month in the entertainer's assault trial. The judge said Friday the verdict would be announced August 14.

The case has drawn international headlines and U.S. President Donald Trump's involvement. Shortly after the judge made the decision, Trump said in a tweet that A$AP Rocky was on his way home to the United States. Trump had personally called for the entertainer to be released from custody. Several entertainers also called for the Grammy-nominated artist to be freed.

A$AP Rocky released from prison and on his way home to the United States from Sweden. It was a Rocky Week, get home ASAP A$AP!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2019

A$AP Rocky, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, and the other two men, were detained in early July in connection with a street fight in Stockholm June 30.

In another development Friday, a witness in the case changed her story, testifying that she did not see the rapper strike anyone with a bottle.

Testifying anonymously by video, the woman and her friend said they had not actually seen the rapper use a bottle as a weapon, but had heard one breaking. The woman alleged that she had seen the fight between him and Mustafa Jafari, the man A$AP Rocky is alleged to have assaulted.

Both women testified that they saw the entertainer and his entourage striking Jafari.

"Everything happened very quickly. We were scared for our lives,'' one woman told the court. "He [Jafari] was bleeding. He showed his injuries on his hand. He also said he had a sore back.''

Friday was the third day in the trial of the performance artist. The prosecution has alleged that the rapper, alongside Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers, assaulted Jafari. According to the prosecution, the three men repeatedly kicked and punched Jafari and struck him with a glass bottle.

A$AP Rocky maintains that he acted in self-defense, telling the court that he believed Jafari and a friend of the plaintiff were under the influence of narcotics and that the two men were aggressively following him.

"We pleaded and we begged and we said, 'Look man, we don't want to fight y'all. We don't want any more problems. We don't want to go to jail. We don't want to fight y'all. Please stop following us,'" A$AP Rocky told the court in his testimony Thursday.

American Rapper A$AP Rocky Defends Himself in Swedish TrialWe don't want any more problems, Rocky testified in court

His bodyguard, Timothy Leon Williams, testified that he was suspicious of Jafari.

Williams said he knew "something's not right about him. I'm noticing it because I'm a bodyguard," Williams said in reference to Jafari. "And now, I'm looking at him like, 'Yo, what's wrong with you?' I'm looking at him and saw that his eyes were really glossy, like he's on something."

Nevertheless, prosecutor Daniel Suneson recommended a sentence of six months in jail for Rocky and his associates.

"We have three people who throw out punches and kicks against a person who is lying down," he said. "Their violence is clearly indefensible," he told the court.

A$AP Rocky's defense had asked that he be released.

"It is my opinion that there is no basis to believe that the description of the crime applies to my client ... he should be acquitted and set free today," said Slobodan Jovicic.

The performance artist said that he would be open to performing community service, if sentenced.

"You know my address, you know my lawyer's address,"  he said. "I'm into charity work."

Quake Hits Off Indonesia Coast; No Major Damage Reported

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 01:37

Indonesian authorities lifted a tsunami alert issued after a strong earthquake that hit off the coast of Java island Friday, swaying buildings as far away as the capital and rattling nerves in coastal areas but not causing widespread damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the magnitude 6.8 quake was centered 151 kilometers (94 miles) from Banten province off the island's southwest coast. It said it hit at a depth of 42.8 kilometers (26.5 miles).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a tsunami warning, watch or advisory after the quake. Indonesian authorities, however, issued their own before lifting it two hours later when no wave materialized.

Authorities had called on people living in coastal areas to move to higher ground but not to panic.

Buildings in Jakarta swayed for nearly a minute during the evening quake. Television footage showed workers and residents running out of high-rise buildings.

Radio and television reports said people felt a strong quake in Banten province and in Lampung province along the southern part of Sumatra island. The temblor caused a panic among residents in several cities and villages.

Houses collapse

The quake brought back bad memories in Banten's Pandeglang region, which encompasses Unjung Kulon National Park and popular beaches, and is where a deadly tsunami struck in the dark without warning last December.

That tsunami followed an eruption and a possible landslide on Anaka Krakatau, one of the world's most famous volcanic islands, about 112 kilometers (69.5 miles) southwest of Jakarta. The waves killed at least 222 people as they smashed into houses, hotels and other beachside buildings along the Sunda Strait.

Irna Narulita, the Pandeglang district chief, said at least 22 houses collapsed in the region after Friday's quake, and most people remained outside due to fear of aftershocks.  She said villagers in Sumur, the village hardest hit by the tsunami in December, chose to stay on a hill even after the tsunami alert was lifted.

She said no serious injuries were reported so far. 

Stadium, hospitals damaged

The National Disaster Agency spokesman, Agus Wibowo, said they were still gathering information of the damage and injuries. Local television footage and online video showed several houses and buildings in Banten, including a sport stadium and hospitals, suffered minor damage.

After the quake hospitals in West Java's cities of Bogor, Ciamis and Cianjur evacuated patients, some attached to intravenous drips, to the hospital grounds, television footage showed. 

More Suspects Arrested for Attacks on Sudan Protesters

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 01:17

Military authorities in Sudan have arrested more suspects in the shooting deaths of protesters in the cities of el-Obeid on Monday and Omdurman on Thursday.

Four Sudanese paramilitary soldiers were arrested Friday in the deaths of six protesters in el-Obeid. On Thursday, the Transitional Military Council arrested seven members of the Rapid Support Forces in connection with that incident.

Another two suspects have been arrested for the killing of four demonstrators in Omdurman.

Despite the killings and the tensions, the TMC and civilian Forces for Freedom and Change Coalition resumed talks Thursday evening on forming a power-sharing government. The sides are trying to agree on a constitutional outline for a government that will lead Sudan for the next three years, until elections.

This week's protests were sparked by demands for justice for all those killed and wounded in the protests of the past six months.

Alaa Abdulahadi, who joined a march Thursday in the Burri neighborhood east of Khartoum, said her cousin was killed during the June 3 military crackdown on protesters outside army headquarters in Khartoum.

“We have lost so many lives and the old regime destroyed our country. We have witnessed the deterioration of our economy and the abuse of human rights. ... [O]ur lives doesn’t matter to them, as long as they are in charge,” Abdulahadi told South Sudan in Focus.

Talks on Sudan's Gov't Continue Despite Latest Protester DeathsSudan's ruling Transitional Military Council acknowledged that its Rapid Support Forces were involved in the shooting deaths of six people in the city of El Obeid earlier this week

Sudanese rights activists say they want the upcoming transitional government to ensure that justice is also carried for survivors of sexual violence. A recent report issued by a military-appointed fact-finding committee into the abuse of protesters during the months-long sit-in in Khartoum concluded that no rapes were committed by security forces.

Nahid Jabrallah, head of the Seema Women Center in Khartoum, said women's rights activists recorded dozens of rape cases between December and early June when security forces cracked down on protesters outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Jabrallah said her center provided rape victims with health services and counseling and she believes that many women who suffered sexual violence will speak up in the days ahead.

“As civil society, there is evidence and many victims got to the service points of different actors and we will continue doing that for both the support of survivors and victims and for the preparation of the investigation,” Jabrallah told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

Jabrallah said cultural norms in Sudan often prevent survivors from seeking support because of the social stigma attached to rape, but some survivors bucked tradition and spoke up.

“There are eyewitnesses and there are victims who came out and spoke [with] very high courage," she said. "So, the main lesson we learned from this experience [is] that sexual abuse as a weapon failed to break the courage and the power of the people on the streets and that all people were encouraged more by what happened to continue struggling for the real change in Sudan.”

Women’s rights activist Naimat Abubakar said the transitional government should form a justice mechanism that ensures justice for victims of Sudan’s revolution.

“The way that people have been killed, women have [been] harassed, reports about rape, so this is the main task for the transitional government. I think, bringing justice for the victims of the sit-in; this is the first thing, and then, prepare the country for the elections,” Abubaker told South Sudan in Focus.

US Secretary of State Defends Tariffs on China, Cites 'Decades of Bad Behavior'

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 00:27

In a speech Friday to a regional youth leadership program in Thailand, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended new U.S. tariffs on China, saying, "We want free and fair trade, not trade that undermines competition."

Pompeo's statements came after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would impose a 10 percent tariff on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports starting September first.

Pompeo chided China for "decades of bad behavior" that have stalled free trade. "It's time for that to stop," he said.

He also mentioned the massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong. "We also believe in human rights and freedom," he said. "The current unrest in Hong Kong clearly shows that the will and the voice of the governed will always be heard."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crosses his arms for the traditional 'ASEAN handshake' with Chinese FM Wang Yi and fellow diplomats, during the 26th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 2, 2019.

Pompeo, who has assured his Southeast Asian partners this week that they do not have to choose between the U.S. and China, used his speech Friday to contrast U.S. and Chinese investment.

He described Chinese investment as exploitative, and U.S. investment as mutually beneficial.

He said, "Ask yourself this: Who really encourages self-sufficiency and not dependence, investors who are working to meet your consumers' needs, or those who entrap you in debt?"

Pompeo stayed on message about the main priorities of his visit.

New tariffs

Separately, Pompeo's Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, told reporters in Bangkok that the new U.S. tariffs are not a correct or constructive way to resolve the trade dispute between the two countries.

But Pompeo told the young leaders the Trump administration "is invested in the sovereignty, in the resilience and the prosperity of each southeast Asian nation."

Asked about the failure of North Korea's foreign minister to come to Bangkok to meet with Pompeo or others, a senior U.S. administration official said, "There is ongoing communication with the North Koreans on a regular basis. While we would like to be further along in restarting working-level negotiations, we are in regular contact with the North Koreans."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his ASEAN counterparts attend the 26th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok, Thailand Aug. 2, 2019.

As Pompeo met with top ASEAN diplomats Friday, at least four people were injured in six bomb blasts across Bangkok. Reporters traveling with the secretary said they did not hear the explosions from their location.

"We're aware of reports of several small explosions in Thailand," the State Department told VOA. "We refer you to local authorities for additional information. There was no impact on Secretary Pompeo's visit."

Thailand's prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has ordered an investigation into the blasts, viewed as damaging to the country's reputation during the high-profile event.

A crowd gathers near the site where explosions were heard in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 2, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. (Twitter/@YRNMXSK)

The bombings come just two weeks after the prime minister's former military junta transformed into a civilian government.

On Saturday, Pompeo will travel from Thailand to Australia. Along with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, he will lead the U.S. delegation to the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN). The secretary will also meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

On Monday, Pompeo will depart for the last planned leg of this trip, the Federated States of Micronesia, to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with the Pacific Island country — the first-ever visit to Micronesia by a U.S. secretary of state.

Trump: North Korea Missile Launches 'Not a Violation' of US Deal

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 00:09

U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed a new round of North Korean missile tests early Friday, five months after his last denuclearization talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and with pressure building to iron out a deal.

"These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement," he wrote on Twitter, later acknowledging that the missile tests could have violated United Nations resolutions. The two men met in Singapore in June of last year.

Kim Jong Un and North Korea tested 3 short range missiles over the last number of days. These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was there discussion of short range missiles when we shook hands. There may be a United Nations violation, but..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2019

U.S. officials said earlier that Kim personally promised Trump not to conduct longer-range missile or nuclear tests.

"Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust," the president wrote. "There is far too much for North Korea to gain ... [and] there is far too much to lose."

The North launched two projectiles around 3 a.m. local time from South Hamgyong province, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The projectiles traveled an estimated 220 kilometers, reaching an altitude of 25 kilometers, it later added. It was the third such launch in just over a week.

With Latest Launches, North Korea Perfecting 'Scary Impressive' MissilePyongyang has launched seven ballistic missiles in three months

U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials assess the projectile as likely a "short-range ballistic missile" that shares flight characteristics with other recent North Korean launches, South Korea's presidential Blue House said in a statement to reporters.

The Friday launch was first reported by U.S. officials, who said the move did not appear to threaten North America.

North Korea has test-fired at least six short-range weapons in just over a week, in an apparent attempt to increase leverage over the United States ahead of possible nuclear talks.

Last week’s launch involved North Korea’s version of a Russian Iskander ballistic missile, which appears specially designed to evade U.S. and South Korean missile defenses.

FILE - Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015.

On Wednesday, North Korea tested what it called a “newly developed large-caliber, multiple launch, guided rocket system.” U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials say they see the test as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from any ballistic missile activity.

“We are concerned by the launches of ballistic missiles by North Korea in the past few days,” said Karen Pierce, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations, following a closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss the matter Thursday.

“We reiterate our condemnation of such launches, which are violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said Pierce, who spoke on behalf of Britain, France and Germany.

That statement is a strong contrast to Trump's acknowledgement that "there may be a United Nations violation," which lacked a strong denunciation.

After a missile launch Wednesday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric described the launches as "just another reminder of the importance of restarting talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Trump's approach may be aimed at deescalating tensions and encouraging communication between the U.S. and North Korea. Talks have been stalled since a February Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended without a deal.

Kim in 2018 declared a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests, but that promise hasn’t been included in any public documents that have come out of Trump and Kim’s three meetings.

At the end of June, Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. White House officials described the meeting as a breakthrough, saying North Korea had agreed to resume working-level talks.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand on the North Korean side in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Panmunjom.

Since then, North Korea has gradually ramped up its threats and provocations, saying it may not engage in talks if the U.S. and South Korea go ahead with planned joint military exercises.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Thailand for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said he remains willing to talk with North Korean officials but that a meeting in Bangkok is unlikely.

"We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans,” Pompeo said Thursday. “I regret that it looks like I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that while I’m here ... but we’re ready to go."

As the Trump administration reassures North Korea of its intention to negotiate, U.S. lawmakers are expressing more skepticism about Trump’s approach to the country.

“The Trump administration should recognize that every new missile launch by North Korea is yet another play from the same old Kim family playbook,” Senator Edward Markey, ranking member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

“Not only has President Trump failed to codify in writing a nuclear and missile testing freeze, but when he says he has ‘no problem’ with shorter range missile launches, he gives North Korea a green light to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and threaten our allies,” Markey said.

US Bars 2 Venezuelan Officials from Traveling to US

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 23:47

The United States said Friday it would bar two Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations from traveling to the United States in its latest action to pressure Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro into stepping down.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement the two officials, Rafael Enrique Bastardo Mendoza, the commander of Venezuela's special forces, and Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, the chief of counterintelligence, had committed "gross violations of human rights."

The United States imposed financial sanctions on the two officials, as well as three other people, in February.

The State Department's move allows it to revoke any visas the two officials, their spouses and minor children may have and renders them ineligible for travel into the United States.