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) May, 2017 American Press. All rights reserved <![CDATA[Taiwan becomes 1st in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170524-Taiwan-Asia The Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In a first for Asia, Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, punctuating a yearslong campaign by advocates for gay rights in one of the continent's most liberal democracies.

In its majority opinion, the court said a provision in the current civil code barring same-sex marriages violated two articles of the constitution safeguarding human dignity and equality under the law.

Authorities must now either enact or amend relevant laws within two years, failing which same-sex couples could have their marriages recognized by submitting a written document, the court said.

The ruling was greeted with rapturous applause outside the legislature not far from the court in the center of the capital, Taipei, where hundreds had gathered with rainbow flags and noisemakers emblazoned with slogans in favor of gay marriage.

"People like me in the position of being in same-sex relationship with children, we need this law even earlier, even faster," said Jay Lin, a father of two and the founder and director of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival.

"And so everybody here and everybody who (is) supporting this law in Taiwan and throughout the world, all be rooting for us. And we will be giving a lot of pressure to the legislators to pass this law once and for all," Lin said.

Jamie, who has been in a relationship with his partner for 22 years, said the ruling was a milestone for Taiwanese society.

"I am so touched. Finally we've reached this moment. This represents Taiwan's human rights. This is a step forward in human rights," said the 60-year-old retiree, who asked that only his first name be used.

A bill to enforce the ruling is already working its way through the legislature, where both the ruling and major opposition parties support legalization of same-sex marriage. Surveys show a majority of the public is also in favor, as is President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's first female leader.

Gays and lesbians in Taiwan have formed an effective lobby in recent years, with an annual Gay Pride march drawing tens of thousands. While some conservative religious and social groups have mobilized against same-sex marriage, their influence is much less potent than in the United States and many other parts of the world.

"The need, capability, willingness and longing, in both physical and psychological senses, for creating such permanent unions of intimate and exclusive nature are equally essential to homosexuals and heterosexuals, given the importance of the freedom of marriage to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity," the court said in its ruling.

Two of the court's 15 justices filed dissenting opinions and one recused himself in the case.

Despite the spread of same-sex marriage in a few regions since 2001, gay and lesbian couples had been allowed to marry in only 22 of the world's nearly 200 countries. In Asia, Taiwan is the first government to legalize such unions, while South Africa is the only country in Africa to allow them. More than 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexual activity.

Globally, the pace of civil rights victories has slowed against the background of a steady stream of reports of anti-gay violence and persecution.

Recent weeks have witnessed large-scale detentions of gay men in Nigeria and Bangladesh, and accounts of roundups and torture of scores of gays in Chechnya. In Indonesia, a major police raid on a gay sauna was followed two days later by the public caning of two gay men.

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Wed, 24 May 2017 10:13:38 CST 13816733 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[More raids in Manchester; Soldiers protecting key UK sites]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170524-Manchester-Concert-Bombing The Associated Press

MANCHESTER, England -- British security forces arrested three more suspects and raided a building Wednesday in central Manchester as they investigated the deadly concert bombing. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to secure key sites across the country, including Buckingham Palace and the British Parliament at Westminster.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the bomber, identified as British-born ethnic Libyan Salman Abedi, "likely" did not act alone when he killed 22 people and wounded dozens at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. She said he had been known to security forces "up to a point."

Many at the concert were young girls and teens enthralled by Grande's pop power — and those who died included an 8-year-old girl.

Officials are examining Abedi's trips to Libya and Syria as they piece together his allegiances and try to foil any new potential threats. The government said nearly 1,000 soldiers were deployed Wednesday instead of police in high-profile sites in London and elsewhere.

Britain raised its threat level from terrorism to "critical" after an emergency government meeting late Tuesday amid concerns that the 22-year-old Abedi may have accomplices who are planning another attack.

Suicide bomber Abedi was born in Britain to a Libyan family, grew up in Manchester's southern suburbs and once attended Salford University there. Police said three men were arrested Wednesday in south Manchester, where a day earlier a 23-year-old man was also arrested and at least two homes were searched.

Heavily armed police raided an apartment building in Manchester on Wednesday afternoon and a controlled explosion was heard. The building, Granby House, is popular with students and young professionals.

Muye Li, a 23-year-old student who lives on the third floor, said he heard an explosion as police stormed an apartment on his floor. He said officers knocked on his door and "asked me if I had seen the lady next door," so he thinks they were looking for a woman.

Across London, troops fanned out and authorities reconsidered security plans.

The changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace was canceled Wednesday so police officers can be re-deployed, Britain's defense ministry said. The traditional ceremony is a major tourist attraction in London.

The Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament in London, was also closed Wednesday to all those without passes, and tours and events there were cancelled until further notice. Armed police were also seen on patrol outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, another popular tourist spot.

"(The goal) is to make our city as hostile an environment as possible for terrorists to plan and operate," said London Police Commander Jane Connors.

The Chelsea soccer team announced it would cancel Sunday's victory parade in London that was to have celebrated the team's Premier League title win this season.

"We are sure our fans will understand this decision," the team said, adding that the parade would have diverted police from the bombing investigation.

Police on Tuesday raided Abedi's house in Manchester, using a controlled explosion to blast down the door. Neighbors recalled him as a tall, thin silent young man who often wore traditional Islamic dress.

Early Wednesday, Manchester police arrested a man at a house just a 10-minute walk from Abedi's home.

Omar Alfa Khuri, who lives across the street, said he was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a loud noise and saw police take away the father of the family that lives there in handcuffs. He said the man is named Adel and is in his 40s, with a wife and several children.

"There was a policeman, armed policeman, shouting at my neighbor ... and I realized there is something wrong here," he said. "They arrested the father, and I think the rest of the family kind of disappeared."

He said he knew the man from the neighborhood and the mosque but "in the last 15 years, I haven't seen him in trouble at all. I haven't seen police come to his house."

British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting Wednesday of her emergency security cabinet group to talk about intelligence reports on Abedi and concerns that he might have had outside support.

Officials are probing how often Abedi had traveled to Libya, which has seen an eruption of armed Islamist groups since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.

France's interior minister said Abedi is believed to have traveled to Syria and had "proven" links with the Islamic State group. British officials, however, have not commented on whether Abedi had links to IS or other extremist groups.

Rudd said Britain's increased official threat level will remain at "critical" as the investigation proceeds and won't be lowered until security services are convinced there is no active plot in place.

She also complained about U.S. officials leaking sensitive information about Abedi to the press. Rudd said Britain's operational security could be harmed by the leaks, taking "the element of surprise" away from security services and police.

"I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again," she said.

In addition to those killed in the concert bombing, Manchester officials raised to 119 the number of people who sought medical treatment after the attack.

Sixty-four people are still hospitalized, Jon Rouse of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said Wednesday. Officials say 20 of them are being treated for critical injuries.

Many had serious wounds that will require "very long term care and support in terms of their recovery," Rouse said.

Officials said all the dead and wounded had been identified. But Greater Manchester Police said it could not formally name the victims until forensic post-mortems were concluded, which could take four to five days. It said all the affected families have been contacted and trained officers are supporting them.

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Wed, 24 May 2017 09:59:53 CST 13816729 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Voting starts for next chief of World Health Organization]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170523-WHO-New-Chief

GENEVA -- Health ministers, diplomats and other high-level envoys were voting Tuesday to choose the next director-general of the World Health Organization, a post with considerable power in setting medical priorities that affect billions of people and declaring when crises like disease outbreaks evolve into global emergencies.

Following last-minute pitches from the three finalists, the doors were closed at the World Health Assembly for voting to begin. Of WHO's 194 member states, 185 were eligible to cast ballots; nine others were either in arrears on their dues or not represented at the gathering.

The final candidates were Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a 52-year-old former government minister in Ethiopia; Sania Nishtar, a 54-year-old cardiologist and former government minister from Pakistan; and David Nabarro, a 67-year-old physician and longtime U.N. official from Britain.

The winner will succeed Dr. Margaret Chan, who is ending a 10-year tenure.

In his address to delegates, Tedros, who is the only non-medical doctor in the race, said it was almost "pure luck" that he was competing to lead WHO, noting that when he was growing up in Ethiopia, his 7-year-old brother was killed by a common childhood disease, and it easily could have been him.

Among other pledges, Tedros said he would work "tirelessly to fulfill WHO's promise of universal health care." The former health minister has been dogged by allegations that he covered up cholera outbreaks while he worked in Ethiopia, and protesters have occasionally interrupted proceedings at this week's meeting.

Second to speak was Nabarro, who acknowledged that some have felt "let down" by WHO and want it to be more relevant, responsive and reliable. Nabarro said he knows "how the kitchen works in the United Nations" and cited lessons learned from WHO's mistake-ridden response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Nishtar was the last to appeal for votes. She said she decided to go into public health after being told the hospital where she worked in Pakistan would start using recycled catheters for patients who couldn't pay.

Nishtar cited her experience leading non-governmental organizations, saying the expertise would help her bridge the numerous polarizing situations in public health. She promised to bring accountability to WHO and said she was committed to visiting countries "not to cut ribbons but to work with you."

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Tue, 23 May 2017 09:59:54 CST 13816594 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Trump pushes for Mideast peace, but avoids thorny details]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170523-Trump By Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday pushed for elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the "pain and disagreements of the past."

Trump met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his quick stop in the region. Speaking at the Israel Museum, he declared both sides ready to move forward, though there were no tangible signs of the dormant peace process being revived.

"Palestinians are ready to reach for peace," Trump said. Turning to the prime minister, who joined him for the speech, Trump said, "Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace."

A longtime businessman, Trump has cast Middle East peace as the "ultimate deal" and has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt with charting a course forward. Still, White House officials had downplayed the prospects for a breakthrough on this trip, saying it was important to manage their ambitions as they wade into terrain that has tripped up more experienced diplomats.

The president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not weigh in Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the U.S. would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory.

Aides said the approach was purposeful, and the normally free-wheeling Trump was well-aware of the risks of veering off script on issue where every word is intensely scrutinized.

From Israel, Trump was heading to Italy for an audience with Pope Francis. He'll close his ambitious first foreign trip at a pair of summits in Brussels and Sicily, where his reception from European leaders may be less effusive than his welcome in Israel and Saudi Arabia, his opening stop on the trip.

Trump and Netanyahu in particular lavished praise on each other during their multiple meetings. The prime minister, who had a frosty relationship with Trump's predecessor, leapt to his feet when the president declared Tuesday that his administration "will always stand with Israel."

Yet some Israeli officials are less certain of Trump. He's taken a tougher than expected line on settlements, saying he doesn't believe they help the peace process, though he's stopped short of calling for a full construction freeze. He's also backed away from his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, bending to the same security risks as other presidents who have made that promise.

At the same time, Abbas and the Palestinians have been pleasantly surprised by their dealings with Trump. On Tuesday morning, Trump met with Abbas in Bethlehem, traveling across the barrier surrounding much of the biblical city, which serves as a visual reminder of the complexities of the conflict in the region.

Abbas said he was keen to "keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors." He reiterated the Palestinians' demands, including establishing a capital in East Jerusalem, territory Israel claims as well, insisting that "our problem is not with the Jewish religion, it's with the occupation and settlements, and with Israel not recognizing the state of Palestine."

After his meeting with Abbas, Trump returned to Jerusalem for a solemn tribute to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. On a visit to the Yad Vashem memorial, the president and first lady Melania Trump laid a wreath on a stone slab under which ashes from some of those killed in concentration camps are buried. They were joined by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump and Kushner.

The White House said Trump was being updated on the attacks in Manchester, England, by his national security team. More than 20 people were killed by an apparent suicide bomber. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

"So many young, beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life," Trump said, echoing the theme he presented during his meetings with Arab leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The White House said it was Trump's idea to use the term "evil losers."

Trump declared that he would not call the attackers "monsters," a term he believes they would prefer, instead choosing "losers," a longtime favorite Trump insult and one he has directed at comedian Rosie O'Donnell, Cher and others.

Trump's visit to Jerusalem has been laden with religious symbolism. He toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which by Christian tradition is where Jesus was crucified and the location of his tomb. Wearing a black skullcap, he became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, the most holy site at which Jews can pray.

Trump was also joined at the wall by his family, who separated by gender to pray. The president and Kushner visited one side, while the first daughter and first lady visited a portion of the site reserved for women. Trump approached alone and placed his hand on the stone.

The visit raised questions about whether the U.S. would indicate the site is Israeli territory. The U.S. has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over parts of the Old City seized in the 1967 war.

The White House struggled to answer the question. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared the site part of Israel, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday dodged the question. Trump himself never commented.

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Tue, 23 May 2017 09:25:37 CST 13816584 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Trump meeting with Arab leaders ahead of major speech]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170521-ML-Trump By Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- President Donald Trump will use the nation that is home to Islam's holiest site as a backdrop to call for Muslim unity in the fight against terrorism Sunday, as he works to build relationships with Arab leaders.

On the second day of his first trip abroad, Trump sought to demonstrate that he'd made progress with an agreement with Gulf Arab states on countering terrorist funding.

Under the memorandum of understanding with the Gulf Cooperation Council announced in Saudi Arabia, participants are pledging to prosecute the financing of terrorism, including individuals. The White House did not immediately release the document. But White House adviser Dina Powell said she hoped the deal with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would be the "farthest reaching commitment to not finance terrorist organizations" and would lead to prosecutions.

Trump's Sunday speech, the centerpiece of his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, will address the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries to cast the challenge of extremism as a "battle between good and evil" and urge Arab leaders to "drive out the terrorists from your places of worship," according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. He also said that in about two weeks he would hold a news conference about the nation's efforts fighting terror.

Trump, whose campaign was frequently punctuated by bouts of anti-Islamic rhetoric, is poised to soften some of his language about Islam. Though during the campaign he repeatedly stressed the need to say the words "radical Islamic terrorism" — and criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for not doing so — that phrase is not included in the draft.

It does, however, mention "the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires," according to excerpts released by the White House Sunday, ahead of the speech.

The speech comes amid a renewed courtship of the United States' Arab allies as Trump held individual meetings with leaders of several nations, including Egypt and Qatar, before participating in a roundtable with the Gulf Cooperation Council and joining Saudi King Salman in opening Riyadh's new anti-terrorism center.

A Sunday meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi underscored the kinship, with Trump saluting his counterpart on the April release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi, who had been detained in the country for nearly three years.

El-Sissi invited Trump to visit him in Egypt, adding, "You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible." As the participants laughed, Trump responded: "I agree."

The president then complimented el-Sissi's choice of footwear, telling his Egyptian counterpart "Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes" after their brief remarks to the press.

Trump has shown a willingness to overlook foreign leaders' human rights abuses. And Trump's prepared address notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

"We are not here to lecture — to tell other peoples how to live, what to do or who to be. We are here instead to offer partnership in building a better future for us all," according to the copy of his speech.

Two different sources provided the AP with copies of the draft of his remarks, billed as a marquee speech of the trip. The White House confirmed the draft was authentic, but cautioned the president had not yet signed off on the final product and that changes could be made.

Trump may seem an unlikely messenger to deliver an olive branch to the Muslim world.

During his campaign, he mused, "I think Islam hates us." And only a week after taking office, he signed an executive order to ban immigrants from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — from entering the United States, a decision that sparked widespread protests at the nation's airports and demonstrations outside the White House.

That ban was blocked by the courts. A second order, which dropped Iraq from the list, is tied up in federal court and the federal government is appealing.

White House officials have said they consider Trump's visit, and his keynote address, a counterweight to President Barack Obama's debut speech to the Muslim world in 2009 in Cairo.

Obama called for understanding and acknowledged some of America's missteps in the region. That speech was denounced by many Republicans and criticized by a number of the United States' Middle East allies as being a sort of apology.

Saudi Arabia's leaders soured on Obama, and King Salman did not greet him at the airport during his final visit to the kingdom. But on Saturday, the 81-year-old king, aided by a cane, walked along the red carpet to meet Trump. He later awarded Trump the Collar of Abdulaziz al Saud, the theocracy's highest civilian honor.

The president's stop in Saudi Arabia's dusty desert capital kicked off his first foreign trip as president, an ambitious, five-stop swing that will take him through the Middle East and into Europe. He's the only American president to make Saudi Arabia — or any Muslim-majority nation — his first overseas visit.

Trump arrived in Riyadh besieged by the fallout from his controversial decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and more revelations about the federal investigations into his campaign's possible ties to Russia. But escaping Washington for the gold-plated embrace of the Saudi royal family — a decor not so unlike Trump's own Manhattan home — appeared to give the president a boost.

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Sun, 21 May 2017 08:01:46 CST 13815374 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170521-Vatican-New-Cardinals By Frances D'Emilio / Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named five new cardinals, for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden.

"Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth," Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square.

Those chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius, bishop of Stockholm; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the churchmen to cardinal's rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new "princes of the church," as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has gone out of his way to visit his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

In Mali, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority.

And in Laos, the tiny Catholic community has struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

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Sun, 21 May 2017 07:59:43 CST 13815372 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Russian FM mocks US media over intelligence-sharing reports]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170518-Russia-FM By Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday mocked U.S. news reports suggesting President Donald Trump inappropriately shared sensitive intelligence with him about terror threats involving laptops on airplanes.
Without directly confirming the details of their conversation, Lavrov said he didn't understand what the "secret" was since the U.S. introduced a ban on laptops on airlines from some Middle Eastern countries two months ago.
He joked that some U.S. media were acting like communist newspapers in the former Soviet Union and not offering real news.
"There used to be a joke in the Soviet Union that there was no news in the newspaper Pravda and no truth in the newspaper Izvestia," Lavrov said through a translator. "It's true, I get the impression, that many U.S. media are working in this vein."
The Russian word "pravda" means truth, while "izvestia" means news. They are also the names of two long-running newspapers in Russia.
Lavrov was in Cyprus on Thursday for talks with his Cypriot counterpart.
Asked to comment on the controversy surrounding the reported intelligence-sharing, he said media have reported that "the secret" Trump told him was that "'terrorists' are capable of stuffing laptops, all kinds of electronic devices, with untraceable explosive materials."
"As far as I can recall, maybe one month or two months before the Trump administration had an official ban on laptops on airlines from seven middle Eastern counties and it was connected directly with the terrorist threat," Lavrov added. "So, if you're talking about that, I see no secret here."
The Washington Post reported this week that Trump shared highly classified information with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about an Islamic State terror threat involving laptop computers on aircraft. Other outlets, including The Associated Press, later confirmed the report.
Trump responded by tweeting that as president, he had authority to disclose whatever he'd like. He did not deny discussing classified information.

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Thu, 18 May 2017 13:11:44 CST 13812061 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Putin rushes to Trump's defense, laments US infighting]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170516-Putin By Vladimir Isachenkov / Associated Press

MOSCOW-- Vladimir Putin rushed Wednesday to defend U.S. President Donald Trump from criticism over sharing classified information with Moscow, issuing a strongly worded statement that reflected the degree of the Russian leader's frustration with the Washington infighting that has thwarted Kremlin hopes for a detente.
Trump's decision to divulge classified intelligence with Russian diplomats marked a step toward Putin's long-held goal of forging an alliance with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.
Putin has pushed for anti-terror cooperation for years, arguing that the fight against the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations would only succeed if Moscow and Washington combined their efforts.
In his view, such a partnership could provide further benefits by defusing tensions between Russia and the West and eventually leading to the lifting of sanctions the U.S. and the European Union imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine.
The Kremlin's expectation that Trump and Putin would meet soon after Trump took office have withered amid congressional and FBI investigations of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Putin still hopes to meet his American counterpart on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting in Germany in early July.
However, the Russian leader revealed his growing impatience Wednesday with a stinging attack on Trump's critics. While the Kremlin initially refrained from comment about the intelligence controversy, Putin finally dropped decorum and lashed out at Trump's detractors in decidedly undiplomatic language.
"I'm surprised to see them upsetting the domestic political situation in the United States under anti-Russian slogans," he said. "These people either don't understand that they are hurting their own country, and in that case they are just dumb. Or they do understand everything, and that means that they are dangerous and unscrupulous."
Trump has been put on the defensive for sharing classified information with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador during a White House meeting last week. The president's critics say the disclosure could compromise the source of the intelligence provided by a U.S. ally and make other nations wary about sharing sensitive information with the United States.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that as president he had an "absolute right" to share with Russia "facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety," adding that he did it for "humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."
For the Kremlin, Trump's conversation with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was a welcome indication of his willingness to pool efforts with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration shunned such cooperation, citing the Kremlin's efforts to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump's gesture was particularly important for Moscow given the spike in tensions following the U.S. missile strike in April on a Syrian air force base that Washington said was a staging point for a chemical attack. Moscow has insisted that the Syrian government was not involved in the chemical attack, a claim dismissed by Washington and its allies.
Putin said he was pleased by the results of Lavrov's meeting with Trump, but demonstrated his irritation with what he described as anti-Russian "political schizophrenia spreading in the U.S."
"We initially watched the evolving political struggle with amusement, but today it makes us feel sad and causes concern," he said.
He added that "it's up to the American people to judge President Trump's actions, and obviously it can only be done when he's allowed to work at full capacity."
On a sarcastic note, Putin said he issued Lavrov a reprimand for failing to share the classified information he had received from Trump with him and the Russian intelligence agencies.
"It's very bad of him," Putin said following talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as Lavrov and other Russian officials present exchanged smiles and laughed.
Putin went on to say that Russia was ready to provide the notes taken at Trump's meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak to Congress, if the White House approves.
Top Russian lawmakers also have vented frustration and anger over the latest commotion over Trump's relationship with Russia.
Konstantin Kosachev, who leads the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia's parliament, denounced what he described as a "perverted" attitude to Trump sharing classified data.
"Imagine for a second that we in Russia criticize our president for warning you Americans of a looming threat," Kosachev wrote on Facebook. "Don't you feel sick of or scared with such 'American values?'"
Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, an association of top political and security experts in Russia, said Putin's comments suggest the Kremlin was increasingly losing hope for normalized ties with Washington.
"No one expected that political infighting could reach such a pitch," Lukyanov said. "If Trump's meeting with Lavrov has caused such fallout, one can only wonder what his meeting with Putin would entail."

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Wed, 17 May 2017 11:09:22 CST 13810019 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Puerto Rico militant freed from custody after 36 years]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170517-Puerto-Rico-Militant By Carlos Rivera Giusti and David McFadden / Associated Press

San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera was freed from house arrest Wednesday after decades in custody in a case that transformed him into a martyr for supporters but outraged those who lost loved ones in a string of bombings.
Wearing black jeans and a shirt decorated with a Puerto Rican flag pin, the 74-year-old grinned and waved to cheering supporters through a fence at his daughter's San Juan home before getting into a jeep.
Escorted by the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital and other backers, he was scheduled to stop at a federal building to return electronic tags that monitored his movements during his home confinement.
Roughly 50 people congregated in the streets outside the apartment building in San Juan's Santurce district holding flowers, some embracing in tears and chanting: "Free at last!" A group of singers from University of Puerto Rico's choir harmonized as Lopez drove past. A street celebration was expected to draw thousands of supporters later in the day.
Through a fence, Lopez told El Vocero newspaper: "If we love this country, we have an obligation to defend it."
Lopez was considered a top leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, an ultranationalist Puerto Rican group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and early 1980s. The FBI classified the Marxist-Leninist group as a terrorist organization.
The most famous bombing was the still-unsolved 1975 explosion that killed four people and wounded 60 at Fraunces Tavern, a landmark restaurant in New York's financial district.
Lopez, a Vietnam War veteran who moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago as a child, wasn't convicted of any role in the bombings that killed six people and injured scores, but those who lost loved ones hold him responsible.
"This guy was convicted of leading the FALN that murdered people," said Joseph Connor, whose father, Frank, was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack.
While many Puerto Ricans supported Lopez as a sort of patriot and political prisoner, those seeking independence remain a small group. The option garnered less than 6 percent of the vote in four referendums that Puerto Rico has held on its political status.
Puerto Rico has been under U.S. jurisdiction since 1898, and its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. The island is home to numerous military veterans, yet Puerto Ricans can't vote for president, and their representative in Congress can't vote either. They pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes but not federal income tax.
A campaign to free the Puerto Rican independence figure over the years has drawn support from Pope Francis, former President Jimmy Carter and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
"He has his champions and his critics, but this much is true: He served a lifetime in prison, including 12 years in solitary confinement. Don Oscar will spend his twilight years on the island for which he sought independence, and this feels fitting," Miranda said in an email, referring to Lopez with the Spanish honorific of "don."
Lopez is expected to be feted in Chicago later this week. Supporters also plan to honor him at the June 11 Puerto Rican Day parade along New York's Fifth Avenue.
Lopez was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1981 after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, a weapons violation and four counts of interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. A federal judge termed him an "unreconstructed revolutionary" and Lopez said Puerto Ricans should fight for their island's independence "by any means necessary."
He later faced an additional 15 years in jail after he was convicted of conspiring to escape from prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered Lopez clemency but the inmate rejected the offer because it excluded two associates who have since been released. Then in 2011, the U.S. Parole Commission denied his request for an early release.
President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in his final days in office, along with clemency for others including Chelsea Manning, the transgender Army intelligence analyst who leaked more than 700,000 U.S. documents.
Lopez was released from prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and arrived in Puerto Rico in February to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest. He had been staying with his daughter at her home in the capital of San Juan.
He has said that upon returning to Puerto Rico he wanted to spend time with family and create a think tank to work on issues including climate change, the economy and the island's political status.
The June New York parade comes on the same day as the latest referendum on Puerto Rico's status, which is to include three options: statehood, territoriality or independence.
The island's previous referendums resulted in no action from U.S. Congress, which has final say on any changes in the island's political status. In the last one, held in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a change in status. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but nearly 500,000 left that question blank, leading many to question the results.

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Wed, 17 May 2017 09:58:13 CST 13809875 at http://www.americanpress.com
<![CDATA[Syrian government denies US allegations of mass killings]]> http://www.americanpress.com/20170516-Syria By Philip Issa / Associated Press

BEIRUT -- The Syrian government on Tuesday "categorically" denied U.S. accusations of mass killings at a prison near Damascus, including the alleged execution of political opponents and burning the victims in a crematorium at the site.
The Foreign Ministry said the allegations are a "new Hollywood plot" to justify U.S. intervention in Syria. It described the allegations as "lies" and "fabrications," noting what it called a U.S. track record of using false claims as a pretext for military aggression.
The State Department said Monday that it believes about 50 detainees are being hanged each day at the Saydnaya military prison, a 45-minute drive north of Damascus.
Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium "to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place," said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, accusing President Bashar Assad's government of sinking "to a new level of depravity."
The allegation of mass killings came as President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad's military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent.
The latest accusations have cast a shadow over Syria peace talks in Geneva, where Syrian government and opposition representatives sat down separately with the U.N. envoy as talks got underway on Tuesday.
The meetings were the sixth round of talks brokered by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
"The U.S. administration's accusations against the Syrian government of a so-called crematorium in Saydnaya prison, in addition to the broken record about the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons, are categorically false," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
The allegation could test the Trump administration's willingness to respond to alleged atrocities other than chemical weapons attacks, which Washington blames on Assad's government.
Western monitors and watchdog groups say they have accumulated evidence of mass killings in Syrian government prisons, though there have not been any substantiated allegations so far of the use of a crematorium.
Syrian opposition spokesman Salem Meslet said the U.S. allegations that the Syrian government had built a crematorium to cover up its mass killings were "credible" and not surprising.
Meslet, in Geneva for the U.N.-mediated talks, told Saudi-owned TV station al-Hadath that the government was known to move prisoners around from site to site for interrogations and, in some instances, executions.
The State Department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not prove the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.
The revelations echoed a February report by Amnesty International that said Syria's military police hanged as many as 13,000 people in four years before carting out bodies by the truckload for burial in mass graves.
Syrian activists meanwhile said government forces were escalating attacks on opposition-held areas protected under a recently brokered cease-fire agreement.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has recorded the first fatalities inside the country's four "de-escalation zones" since the agreement came into effect 10 days ago. The deal was brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
The Observatory said two women were killed by rocket fire in a Damascus suburb and another was killed in aerial bombardment in central Homs province.
Local activists reported higher death tolls. Wael Abou Rayan, a media activist in the Homs countryside, said the bombardment of Homs eased since the agreement came into force, but never completely stopped.

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Tue, 16 May 2017 10:24:54 CST 13808529 at http://www.americanpress.com