American Press: Your Best News And Advertising Source - World http://www.americanpress.com/ American Press: The Only Local Daily Newspaper In Southwest Louisiana. en-US Copyright (c) April, 2017 American Press. All rights reserved <![CDATA[Thousands at Auschwitz for yearly Holocaust memorial event]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170424-Poland-Holocaust-Remembrance By The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland -- Thousands of people from around the world, many of them young Israelis, paid homage Monday to the millions who perished in the Holocaust at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.

The event, the March of the Living, is a somber memorial march of about three kilometers (two miles) from the original Auschwitz camp to Birkenau, a much larger death camp where Jews and Roma were murdered in gas chambers in German-occupied Poland.

Participants gathered under and near the main gate with the infamous sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free). The blowing of a shofar, a ram's horn used for religious purposes, was the signal for the large group to begin marching in silence down the main street of Oswiecim, past fields and along the historic train tracks that once brought people to their deaths at Birkenau.

Many carried little wooden plaques with messages of remembrance that they placed on the railway tracks.

The yearly march is also aimed at instilling a desire in Israeli youth to protect the Jewish state, and many people carried Israeli flags.

The Germans originally set up Auschwitz as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners. As World War II went on, the Germans expanded the complex, building gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau where Jews from across Europe, as well as Roma, Soviet POWs and others, were slain. Nearly 1.1 million people perished there.

Also Monday, a new study was released that looked at how far Eastern European countries have come in restituting the property plundered and stolen from Jews during the war.

The study looks at whether ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe have complied with a pledge made in 2009, known as the Terezin Declaration, to make efforts to restitute the lost property.

Carried out by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, the study found that while some Eastern European states have "substantially" complied with their pledges, others have done too little. The study faulted Poland and Bosnia in particular for failing to enact any legislation to address the problem.

Countries in Western Europe began taking steps soon after the war to address the injustice of stolen property, but the takeover by communists across Eastern Europe complicated matters. In some cases, property that was restituted early on was then confiscated by communist regimes.

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Mon, 24 Apr 2017 10:33:26 CST 13786341 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[North Korea accuses US of creating situation for nuclear war]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170417-United-Nations-North-Korea By The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS -- North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador accused the United States on Monday of turning the Korean Peninsula into "the world's biggest hotspot" and creating "a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment."

Kim In Ryong told a news conference that "if the U.S. dares opt for a military action," North Korea "is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S."

He said the Trump administration's deployment of the Carl Vinson nuclear carrier task group to waters off the Korean Peninsula again "proves the U.S. reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario."

Kim stressed that U.S.-South Korean military exercises being staged now are the largest-ever "aggressive war drill" aimed at his country, formally the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The prevailing grave situation proves once again that the DPRK was entirely just when it increased in every way its military capabilities for self-defense and pre-emptive attack with a nuclear force as a pivot," he said.

Tensions have escalated over North Korean moves to accelerate its weapons development. The North conducted two nuclear tests and 24 ballistic missile tests last year, defying six Security Council sanctions resolutions banning any testing, and it has conducted additional missile tests this year including one this past weekend that failed.

Kim spoke on a day that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."

After 25 years of trying to deal patiently with North Korea over its nuclear program, Pence said, "all options are on the table" to deal with threat. And he warned that any use of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang would be met with "an overwhelming and effective response."

Kim said the Trump administration is "trumpeting about 'peace by strength'" by deploying "one strategic striking means after another in South Korea," citing the Carl Vinson carrier group, nuclear strategic bombers and stealth fighters.

But he said the "the DPRK remains unfazed."

"We never beg for peace but we will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves," Kim said.

He warned that as long as the United States and its allies "scheme to bring down the socialist system in the DPRK," the government will keep increasing "its military muscle" to protect the country.

Kim said the DPRK's policy is shaped by the Trump administration's push for "high intensity sanctions" against the country, deploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea and launching military action aimed at "beheading" the North's leadership headed by Kim Jong Un.

He said rolling back the hostile U.S. policy toward the DPRK "is the precondition to solving all the problems in the Korean Peninsula."

Kim called the press conference to "categorically reject" the U.S. decision to hold an open meeting of the Security Council on April 28 on North Korea's nuclear program which is scheduled to be chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

He called it "another abuse of authority" by the United States, which holds the Security Council presidency this month, and a violation of the DPRK's sovereignty.

Pointing to the recent U.S. airstrike on a Syrian base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, Kim said "the U.S. without any hesitation perpetrates military attacks" and threatens sovereign states.

He said the United States insists "on the gangster-like logic that its invasion of a sovereign state is 'decisive, just and proportionate' and contributes to 'defending' the international order in its bid to apply it to the Korean peninsula as well."

Kim ignored questions about the DPRK's relationship with China and reports that the government didn't respond to requests from Chinese officials for a meeting.

Instead he reiterated two Chinese proposals that the U.S. rejected.

One called for "dual-track" talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — the top priority of the United States — and replacing the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a formal peace treaty, a key demand of Pyongyang. The other called for a freeze on U.S.-South Korean military exercises and a freeze on DPRK missile and nuclear tests.

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Mon, 17 Apr 2017 14:00:29 CST 13777953 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Trump effect on French election: Anything is possible]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170417-France-Trump-Effect By The Associated Press

PARIS -- The impossible is now possible, French far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said in celebration the morning after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency. But the Trump effect may not bring Le Pen the boost she had once expected.

That's in part because Trump has not turned out to be the soul mate Le Pen was counting on. Trump bombed Syria and abandoned support for President Bashar Assad, whom Le Pen backs. He alienated Russia even as Le Pen consolidated her alliance with Vladimir Putin. And Trump's administration has been fraught with internal troubles.

French voters have learned at least one thing from Trump's surprising victory and Britain's surprising vote to leave the European Union: They need to be ready for a surprise.

With only six days left before Sunday's first-round vote, polls show the four leading French candidates are so close in popularity that there's no clear front-runner. The top two candidates advance to a May 7 runoff.

Le Pen, campaigning against immigration and Europe's open borders, has a good chance of reaching the runoff but little chance of winning it — at least according to pollsters, who have suffered their own Trump effect after failing to predict his presidency.

Populists elsewhere in Europe have had mixed success in elections since November. Dutch voters rejected firebrand Geert Wilders, favoring the status quo. Bulgarians chose nationalists, and Italians voted against the establishment, while Austrian voters rejected a far right presidential contender.

In France, Trump's victory has given new focus to Le Pen's rivals.

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron is framing himself as a bulwark against the nationalism and protectionism of Trump's America and Putin's Russia. He wants to reform the EU from within, he said last week, because "many foreign leaders openly want a weakening of Europe: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, as well as the main authoritarian leaders of the Middle East."

Other candidates are warning that Le Pen's dreams of leaving the EU and the euro would wipe out voters' savings and devastate the economy. French media pressured Le Pen last week for questioning whether the French state was really responsible for deporting tens of thousands of Jews to death in World War II during the Nazi occupation.

Le Pen enjoyed a boost from the Trump phenomenon — the rise of anti-establishment sentiment, especially from working classes who lost out from the globalization that transformed the world over the past generation. Le Pen has courted that electorate for years and saw Trump's election as vindication of that strategy.

Hours after Trump was elected, Le Pen said, "What happened tonight is not the end of the world, it's the end of a (certain) world." She called his victory and the Brexit vote "democratic choices that bury the ancient order and are as many stones to build the world of tomorrow."

She also plays to security fears after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks on France.

But the Trump presidency has shown that implementing populist promises isn't as easy as it seems. And Trump's own reversals have frustrated Le Pen.

"We have seen that Trump's latest positions are so contrary to what Marine Le Pen had hoped," said Thierry de Montbrial, president of the French Institute of International Relations. Nationalist candidates "no longer recognize themselves" in Trump anymore.

Le Pen distanced herself from Trump after the U.S. missile strikes on Syria earlier this month, angry that he is trying to be "the world's policeman."

Trump's reversal on NATO — which he once called obsolete — also frustrates Le Pen. She wants to pull France out of its command structure and sees the alliance as an unnecessary threat to Russia now that the Soviet Union is defunct.

"If there is a Trump effect on the campaign, it is that in many minds, it's assumed that anything is possible," said Emmanuel Riviere, director of Kantar Public's polling in France. "It's not unreasonable to have a victory of a candidate who is improbably excessive, and unexpected."

Le Pen's electorate is not an exact mirror of Trump's, though they both attract support from "white people whose social standing has fallen," Riviere said.

She doesn't have a powerful party machine like that of Trump's Republicans, and has less support from older generations who supported Trump. But Le Pen enjoys more support from youth.

Riviere said any lingering Trump effect on the French campaign could also favor other candidates, such as far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who rails against free trade. Or conservative Francois Fillon, who has adopted Trump-style criticism of the media and a justice system he said is conspiring against him.

"We are in a very unprecedented moment in French politics," Riviere said. "This presidential term will be something we have never seen before."

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Mon, 17 Apr 2017 11:21:59 CST 13777876 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Outcome of Turkey vote likely to further cool EU relations]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170417-Europe-Turkey By The Associated Press

BERLIN -- European leaders reacted with restraint and concern Monday to the narrow outcome of a referendum in Turkey that grants sweeping new powers to the nation's president.

While relations between the European Union and Turkey have been deteriorating for months, the result of the Turkish vote will likely only widen the growing political and cultural distance between the 28-nation bloc and the EU candidate country.

Both Germany and France expressed concern about possible election irregularities and called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to engage in dialogue with the opposition after Sunday's referendum's showed how deeply the country is divided.

"The narrow result of the vote shows how deeply split the Turkish society is," German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a joint statement. "This implies a big responsibility for the Turkish government and President Erdogan personally."

About 51.4 percent of Turkish voters cast their ballot in favor of Erdogan's long-time plans to greatly expand the powers of his office, while the "no" vote saw 48.6 percent support, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

The margin fell short of the sweeping victory the 63-year-old Erdogan had sought in the referendum. Nevertheless, it could cement his hold on power in Turkey for a decade and is expected to have a huge effect on the country's long-term political future and its international relations.

Several Turkish opposition groups claimed irregularities during the voting process and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the referendum fell short of international standards.

Merkel and Gabriel said that Turkey — as an OSCE member and EU candidate country — needs to consider these concerns.

French President Francois Hollande also warned that if Turkey reinstates the death penalty, as Erdogan suggested in a speech late Sunday, it would "constitute a rupture" with Turkey's pledges to respect human rights as part of efforts to join European institutions.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Sunday that the referendum was bound to complicate further cooperation between Ankara and the EU. Kurz tweeted that the result "shows how divided the country is. Cooperation with #EU will become even more complex."

Kati Piri, a member of the European Parliament and parliamentary rapporteur on Turkey, struck a more conciliatory tone.

"Outcome shows millions of Turkish citizens share same European values," Piri tweeted. "The EU should never close door to them."

However, the overwhelmingly subdued and critical reactions by European leaders were a reflection of how complicated and icy relations between the bloc and Turkey have become over the past year — just when the EU is looking to Turkey for its support in the fight against the Islamic State and in helping slow and regulate the flow of migrants into Europe.

The Europeans also need Turkey as a vital and reliable partner in the NATO, but there too have been problems, after Turkey temporarily banned German lawmakers from visiting German army personnel on a military base in Turkey in the past.

Further tensions arose last month, when Turkish officials' attempts to rally support among their citizens living in Europe for the referendum caused irritation and several of their public events were canceled. That caused Erdogan to accuse German and Dutch officials of acting like Nazis which, in turn, prompted strong condemnation of the Turkish president's words from European leaders.

Erdogan himself struck a defensive note after the referendum saying "we want other countries and organizations to show respect to the decision of our people."

In a speech Monday, he sounded even more defiant saying, "we have put up a fight against the powerful nations of the world ... We did not succumb. As a nation we stood strong."

While most Europeans were never enthusiastic about Turkey's bid to join the EU and membership negotiations have made little progress over the past decade, the prospect of Turkey joining the bloc, it seems, have become more unrealistic than ever before.

"The impact of this referendum in terms of Turkey's democratic credentials on the world stage is unfortunately negative," said Marc Pierini, an expert with the Carnegie Europe think tank. "Both the unfair campaign and the substantive reforms that will now be implemented take Turkey away from the prospect of a political alliance with the EU."

"However, this new state of affairs may suit both president Erdogan and EU leaders," Pierini added.

Despite all these problems, Gabriel said that the EU needs to keep up its dialogue with Turkey.

The German foreign minister, talking to reporters in Tirana, Albania, said that Brussels should intensively work to find channels of dialogue on "how to impact so that Turkey remains a democratic country."

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Mon, 17 Apr 2017 09:26:50 CST 13777738 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Fugitive Mexican ex-Gov. Javier Duarte detained in Guatemala]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170416-Mexico-Corruption By Sonia Perez D. and Peter Orsi / Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY -- The former governor of Mexico's Veracruz state who is accused of running a corruption ring that allegedly pilfered millions of dollars from state coffers was detained in Guatemala after six months as a fugitive and high-profile symbol of government graft in his country.

Javier Duarte, pale and visibly tired, was brought Sunday to a prison at a military base in the Guatemalan capital

A statement from Mexico's federal Attorney General's Office said Duarte was detained Saturday with the cooperation of Guatemalan police and the country's Interpol office in Panajachel, a picturesque tourist town on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala's highlands.

It said he is wanted on suspicion of money laundering and organized crime, and prosecutors directed the Foreign Relations Department to request Duarte's extradition via its Guatemalan counterpart.

Manuel Noriega, deputy director of Interpol in Guatemala, said Duarte was located at a hotel where he was staying with his wife. He was asked to leave his room, did so voluntarily and then was arrested without incident in the lobby.

Noriega said Duarte would be presented before a judge to consider his possible extradition.

At least two dozen policemen guarded Duarte as he arrived at Guatemala City's Matamoros prison.

"I have no comment, thank you," he said to a question from The Associated Press.

Duarte, 43, was governor of Veracruz from 2010 until he left office Oct. 12, 2016, two months before the scheduled end of his term, saying he was doing so in order to face the allegations against him.

At the time he denied having links to phantom businesses that allegedly won state contracts, and said he had not stolen a single peso of state money or diverted government funds overseas.

"I don't have foreign accounts," he said last year. "I don't have properties anywhere."

Duarte promptly disappeared and had been sought by Mexican authorities ever since. Earlier this year, Interpol issued a notice for his capture.

The Mexican government has found millions of dollars purportedly linked to Duarte, frozen more than 100 bank accounts and also seized property and businesses tied to the former governor. A reward of 15 million pesos ($730,000) had been offered for his capture.

The detention comes a week after Tomas Yarrington, the former governor of Mexico's Tamaulipas state, was arrested in Italy, also on allegations of organized crime and money laundering.

Another ex-governor, Cesar Duarte of Chihuahua state, is also wanted on suspicion of corruption and is said to have fled to El Paso, Texas. He is not related to Javier Duarte.

All three ex-governors were members of the ruling Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI, of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The party, which expelled Javier Duarte on Oct. 25, 2016, and has sought to distance itself from him, applauded the arrest.

"The PRI calls for all the relevant investigations to be carried out and, respecting due process, for the ex-governor of Veracruz to be punished in an exemplary fashion, as well as anyone who is confirmed to have taken part in his criminal ring," the party said in a statement.

Duarte became a powerful symbol of alleged corruption during midterm elections last year in which the PRI lost several governorships, including Veracruz, that it had held uninterrupted since its founding in 1929.

Duarte has also been widely criticized for rampant violence in the state during his administration, as drug cartels warred for territory and thousands of people were killed or disappeared into clandestine graves in cases that mostly remain unsolved. The dead include at least 16 journalists slain in Veracruz during his six years in office.

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Sun, 16 Apr 2017 08:06:08 CST 13776751 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Millions of Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170416-Easter-Orthodox By Alison Mutler / Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world have celebrated Easter in overnight services and with "holy fire" from Jerusalem, commemorating the day followers believe that Jesus was resurrected nearly 2,000 years ago.

This year the Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on the same Sunday that Roman Catholics and Protestants mark the holy festival. The Western Christian church follows the Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern Orthodox uses the older Julian calendar and the two Easters are often weeks apart.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christian faithful, delivered a message of peace during the midnight service at the Patriarchate in Istanbul.

"Our faith is alive, because it is based on the event of the resurrection of Christ," Bartholomew said.

In his official Easter message issued earlier in the week, Bartholomew urged strong faith in the face of the world's tribulations.

"This message - of the victory of life over death, of the triumph of the joyful light of the (Easter) candle over the darkness of disorder and dissolution - is announced to the whole world from the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the invitation to experience the unwaning light of the resurrection," his message said.

In predominantly Orthodox Romania, Patriarch Daniel urged Christians to bring joy to "orphans, the sick, the elderly the poor ... and the lonely."

Late Saturday, Orthodox clerics transported the holy flame from Jerusalem by plane and it was then flown to other churches around the country. According to tradition the flame appears each year at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and is taken to other Orthodox countries.

In Russia, where Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion, President Vladimir Putin along with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana attended midnight Mass at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

The cathedral is a potent symbol of the revival of observant Christianity in Russia after the fall of the officially atheist Soviet Union. It is a reconstruction of the cathedral that was destroyed by explosion under dictator Josef Stalin.

In Serbia, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, held a liturgy in Belgrade's St. Sava Temple which outgoing president Tomislav Nikolic attended.

Irinej said in his Easter message that "with great sadness and pain in our hearts, we must note that today's world is not following the path of resurrection but the road of death and hopelessness." He also lamented the falling birth rate in Serbia as "a reason to cry and weep, but also an alarm."

Irinej evoked Kosovo, Serbia's former province which declared independence in 2008. Hundreds of medieval Orthodox churches and monasteries are located there.

Orthodoxy is also predominant in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova.

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Sun, 16 Apr 2017 07:46:47 CST 13776738 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Pence: North Korea 'provocation' shows the risk to military]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170416-Pence-Korea By Ken Thomas / Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday that North Korea's "provocation" underscored the risks faced by American and South Korean service members, hours after the North conducted a failed missile launch shortly before Pence's arrival.

Pence landed in South Korea at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia and was quickly confronted with the stakes facing the United States as Pyongyang seeks to flex its muscles around the birth anniversary of the country's late founder and advance the regime's nuclear and missile capabilities.

While Pence was aboard Air Force Two flying over the Bering Sea, a North Korean missile exploded during launch on Sunday, U.S. and South Korean officials said, representing a high-profile failure that came as a powerful U.S. aircraft supercarrier approaches the Korean Peninsula.

After arriving in Seoul, the vice president placed a wreath at Seoul National Cemetery and then worshipped with military personnel at an Easter church service at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. During a fellowship meal after the services, he said the tensions on the Korean peninsula had put into sharp focus the importance of the joint U.S.-South Korean mission.

"This morning's provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world," said Pence, who was introduced by Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea. "Your willingness to step forward, to serve, to stand firm without fear, inspires the nation and inspires the world."

Pence told the military members that he had spoken twice with President Donald Trump during the day.

Pence said that under Trump's leadership, "our resolve has never been stronger, our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger and with your help and God's help, freedom will ever prevail on this peninsula."

Trump has suggested that the U.S. will take a tougher stance against North Korea, telling reporters last week: "North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of." He has repeatedly said if China, North Korea's dominant trading partner, is unwilling to do more to pressure the North, the U.S. might take the matter into its own hands.

Along with the deployment of the Naval aircraft carrier and other vessels into waters off the Korean Peninsula, thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry were also deployed last month in their biggest-ever joint military exercises. That led North Korea to issue routine threats of attacks on its rivals if they show signs of aggression.

A White House foreign policy adviser told reporters aboard Air Force Two that the type of missile that North Korea tried to fire on Sunday was medium-range, and that it exploded about 4 to 5 seconds after it was launched.

According to the adviser, the test had been expected and the U.S. had good intelligence both before and after the launch. The adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's initial understanding of the launch, said there was no expected response from the Trump administration because there was no need for the U.S. to reinforce the failure.

The official said that had it been a nuclear test, "other actions would have been taken by the U.S."

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year. Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.

Despite North Korea's provocations, U.S. officials have said that the U.S. doesn't intend to use military force against North Korea in response to either a nuclear test or a missile launch.

After a two-month policy review, officials settled on a policy dubbed "maximum pressure and engagement," U.S. officials said Friday. The administration's immediate emphasis, the officials said, will be on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of Beijing.

The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the results of the policy review and requested anonymity.

Pence will be tasked with explaining the policy in meetings with leaders in South Korea and Japan at the start of his trip, which will also include stops in Indonesia and Australia. He will also aim to reassure allies in South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will take appropriate steps to defend them against North Korean aggression.

Pence's first trip to South Korea carries personal meaning as well. He noted to the soldiers that his late father, Edward, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star on April 15, 1953 — 64 years to the day of the vice president's departure for South Korea. Pence displays in his office his father's Bronze Star and a photograph of his father receiving the honor.

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Sun, 16 Apr 2017 07:46:44 CST 13776736 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Pope decries 'vile' attack on Syrians in Easter address]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170416-Vatican-Easter By Frances D'Emilio / Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- On Christianity's most joyful day, Pope Francis lamented the horrors generated by war and hatred, delivering an Easter Sunday message that also decried the "latest vile" attack on civilians in Syria.

Both in his impromptu homily during Mass in St. Peter's Square and later in his formal "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Francis reflected on a litany of suffering in the world, including wars, oppressive regimes, human trafficking, corruption, famine and domestic violence.

He encouraged people to hold fast in their "fearful hearts" to faith, acknowledging that many people wonder where God is amid so much evil and suffering in the world.

Some 60,000 people, including multi-national throngs of pilgrims and tourists, endured tight anti-terrorism security checks — and, later, a brief downpour — to hear Francis and receive his blessing.

The crowd size, cited by the Vatican security forces, was smaller in comparison to some other Easters, when about 100,000 turned out for the occasion.

After Mass, Francis toured the square in his open-topped, white popemobile and waved back to well-wishers.

In his balcony address, Francis prayed that God would sustain those working to comfort and help the civilian population in Syria, "prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death."

He cited the explosion Saturday that ripped through a bus depot in the Aleppo area where evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100 people.

"Yesterday saw the latest vile attack on fleeing refugees," the pope said, also praying for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Yemen.

Separately, in a letter he sent to the bishop of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, whose name he chose for his papacy, the pope decried the "scandalous reality of a world still marked by the divide between the endless number of indigent" and the "tiny portion of those who possess the majority of riches and presume to decide the fates of humanity."

Francis has repeatedly championed the dignity of migrants fleeing war, persecution or poverty. On Sunday he recalled "all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes."

The church's first pontiff from Latin America voiced concern over the "political and social tensions" in the world as well as the "scourge of corruption" on his home continent. Francis also mentioned hostilities and famine plaguing parts of Africa.

Speaking of Europe's problems, Francis cited the continued conflict and bloodshed in Ukraine and prayed for hope for those struggling with high unemployment, especially young people.

Traditionally, the pope gives no homily during the late-morning Easter Mass, saving his reflections for the "Urbi et Orbi" message at noon.

But Francis broke with that tradition, giving an off-the-cuff homily during Mass about what he described as a nagging question for many faithful: Why are there so many tragedies and wars if Jesus has risen from the dead, a belief that Christians celebrate each Easter?

"The Church never ceases to say, faced with our defeats, our closed and fearful hearts, 'stop, the Lord is risen.' But if the Lord is risen, how come these things happen?" Francis asked.

He gestured toward the potted hyacinths, tulips and daffodils, which came from the Netherlands, and which were arranged in neat rows on the steps leading to the imposing church.

Easter "isn't a party with lots of flowers. This is pretty, but it's not this, it's more than this," Francis said.

He said having faith on Easter gives sense in the middle of "so many calamities: the sense of looking beyond, the sense of saying, look, there isn't a wall, there's a horizon, there's life, there's joy."

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Sun, 16 Apr 2017 07:43:36 CST 13776732 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[As famine looms, US senators seek more efficient food aid]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170415-US-Foreign-Food-Aid By The Associated Press

BIDI BIDI CAMP, Uganda -- As President Donald Trump seeks to cut foreign aid under the slogan of "America First," two U.S. senators are proposing making American food assistance more efficient after meeting with victims of South Sudan's famine and civil war.

Following a visit to the world's largest refugee settlement in northern Uganda with the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told The Associated Press on Saturday that the U.S. "can deliver more food aid at less cost" through foreign food aid reform.

The United States spent roughly $2.8 billon in foreign food aid last year and is the world's largest provider of humanitarian assistance. But current regulations require most food aid to be grown in the U.S. and shipped under an American flag.

"It's taken in some cases six months for those products to actually get here," Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told the AP. "We have people coming over the border (from South Sudan). They need food. We can actually buy the food cheaper, use our taxpayer dollars cheaper."

The two senators on Friday toured a food distribution site at the refugee settlement, which holds more than 270,000 South Sudanese who recently fled the three-year civil war in the East African nation.

The U.N. says South Sudan is part of the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, with roughly 20 million people there and in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen facing possible famine. Two counties in South Sudan were declared famine areas in February.

The senators watched as South Sudanese divided sacks of corn and cereals during a food distribution. Behind them, snaking lines of refugees waited for their rations of food that last for 40 days.

The Bidi Bidi settlement is a sprawling complex of mud-brick houses that hold some of the world's most desperate people. With little respite from the fierce sun, arguments broke out at the food distribution site.

"We don't have enough food," said Madra Dominic, one of the waiting refugees. "Right now they are reducing (food)." Uganda's government has said it is near "breaking point" and that there could be serious food shortages if more outside aid doesn't arrive.

In March, Trump proposed a budget that would cut 28 percent of funding for diplomacy and foreign aid, singling out the Food for Peace program that funds a majority of U.S. foreign food assistance.

The budget plan still requires approval by Congress.

Both Coons and Corker defended humanitarian aid, and argued that lifting restrictions on where foreign food aid is grown and how it is shipped would feed more people.

Corker blamed a "cartel in Washington" of maritime companies and "a small group of people in Washington" who cause less people to eat.

"Americans have real questions about whether their money is making an impact (abroad)," Coons told the AP.

Last year, Coons and Corker co-sponsored a law which allows flexibility in how a portion of foreign food aid is grown and delivered. About $900 million of food aid now can be grown near the site of a crisis overseas and shipped under any flag.

Roughly $1.2 billion of the U.S. food assistance still carries the restrictions of being grown in the U.S. and being shipped under a U.S. flag. The U.S. Agency for International Development has estimated that the Coons-Corker plan to lift those restrictions would reach 2 to 4 million more people with equivalent funding.

At the same time, a March study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found "certain deficiencies in USAID's oversight" of the portion of food aid that has more flexibility.

On Wednesday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway of Texas, a Republican, said in a statement that "demands for even more flexibility are premature" when it comes to foreign food aid. Farm-state lawmakers and shipping companies have long opposed the additional flexibility.

Delivering any food aid inside South Sudan has been challenging, with South Sudanese officials repeatedly accused of restricting humanitarian access and harassing aid workers, while rebels in some cases have abducted aid workers. Some also are targeted in the fighting.

As Corker and Coons met with refugees and toured the food distribution site, the U.N.'s World Food Program announced that three of its contract workers had been killed on Monday in the town of Wau in South Sudan. Two were killed by machete wounds and the third was shot, WFP said.

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Sat, 15 Apr 2017 08:21:02 CST 13775563 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[North Korea flaunts long-range missiles in massive parade]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170415-NKorea-Founders-Birthday By The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korea paraded its intercontinental ballistic missiles in a massive military display in central Pyongyang on Saturday, with ruler Kim Jong Un looking on with delight as his nation flaunted its increasingly sophisticated military hardware amid rising regional tensions.

Kim did not speak during the annual parade, which celebrates the 1912 birthday of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founding ruler, but a top official warned that the North would stand up to any threat posed by the United States.

Choe Ryong Hae said President Donald Trump was guilty of "creating a war situation" on the Korean Peninsula by dispatching U.S. forces to the region.

"We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack," said Choe, widely seen by analysts as North Korea's No. 2 official.

The parade, the annual highlight of North Korea's most important holiday, came amid growing international worries that North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a major missile launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM capable of reaching U.S. shores.

But if the parade signaled a readiness for war, North Korea has long insisted that its goal is peace — and survival — with the growing arsenal a way to ensure that the government in Pyongyang is not easily overthrown.

North Korea saw the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya — neither of whom had nuclear weapons — as proof of the weapons' power.

"It will be the largest of miscalculations if the United States treats us like Iraq and Libya, which are living out miserable fates as victims of aggression, and Syria, which didn't respond immediately even after it was attacked," said a Friday statement by the general staff of the North Korean army, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Also Friday, North Korea's vice foreign minister told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that Trump's tweets — he recently tweeted, for example, that the North is "looking for trouble" — have inflamed tensions.

"Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words," Han Song Ryol said.

U.S. retaliatory strikes earlier this month against Syria over a chemical weapons attack on civilians, coupled with Trump's dispatching of what he called an "armada" of ships to the region, touched off fears in South Korea that the United States was preparing for military action against the North.

Pyongyang has also expressed anger over the ongoing annual spring military exercises the U.S. holds with South Korea, which it considers a rehearsal for invasion.

But U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Friday that the Trump administration had settled on a policy that will emphasize increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of China, North Korea's only major ally, instead of military options or trying to overthrow Kim's regime.

A U.S. military official, who requested anonymity to discuss planning, said the United States doesn't intend to use military force against North Korea in response to either a nuclear test or a missile launch.

Kim, wearing a suit and tie, was greeted Saturday with thunderous — and extensively practiced — applause as he stepped into view on a large podium, clapping to acknowledge the thousands of soldiers and civilians taking part in the parade at Kim Il Sung Square.

The parade, an elaborate display of the state's immense power, involves tens of thousands of participants, from goose-stepping soldiers to crowds of civilians who have spent weeks perfecting their ability to wave plastic flowers in unison.

For outside military analysts, though, the highlight is the weaponry that the North puts on display.

A series of what appeared to be KN-08 missiles were among the weapons rolled out on trucks. Analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States, although North Korea has yet to flight test them.

The parade also included large rockets covered by canisters in two different types of transporter erector launcher trucks, or TELs. An official from South Korea's Defense Ministry couldn't immediately confirm whether any of the rockets represented a new type of ICBM.

Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the canisters and trucks suggested that the North was developing technology to "cold launch" ICBMs, ejecting them from the canisters before they ignite. This would allow North Korea to prevent its limited number of ICBM-capable launcher trucks from being damaged during launches and also make the missiles harder to detect after they're fired, he said. Cold launches would also allow the missiles to be fired from silos.

Kim, the analyst, said it's likely that North Korea is also developing solid-fuel ICBMs, and that some of the rockets inside the canisters on Saturday might have been prototypes.

Other military hardware at the parade included tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery, as well as a solid-fuel missile designed to be fired from submarines. Also on display was a powerful midrange missile that can potentially reach U.S. air bases in Guam, which outside analysts call a "Musudan," as well as a new solid-fuel midrange missile that can be fired from land mobile launchers, making them harder to detect before launch.

Kim Jong Un, a 30-something leader who took power in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, emphasizes nuclear weapons as the foundation of his national defense strategy. Under his watch, North Korea has aggressively pursued a goal of putting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

In his annual New Year's address, Kim said North Korea's preparations for an ICBM launch had "reached the final stage." Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year alone, advancing its goal to make nuclear weapons small enough to fit on long-range missiles. The North also last year launched a long-range rocket that put a satellite into orbit, which Washington, Seoul and others saw as a banned test of missile technology.

Other senior officials joining Kim at the parade podium included Kim Won Hong, who the South Korean government had said earlier this year was fired from his job as state security minister, presumably over corruption. South Korea has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea, as information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

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Sat, 15 Apr 2017 08:21:00 CST 13775562 at http://www.americanpress.com