Month: July 2019

English News Bulletin – July 29, 2019 (9 pm)

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Pakistani army plane crashes into homes, killing at least 18
By MOHAMMAD YOUSAF and MUNIR AHMED | Tue, July 30, 2019 02:28 EDT
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani military plane on a training flight crashed into homes near the garrison city of Rawalpindi before dawn on Tuesday, killing at least 18 people, most of them on the ground.
Fires, damaged homes and debris were visible in Mora Kalu village on the outskirts of Rawalpindi after daybreak. After rescue efforts ended, troops and police cordoned off the residential area to search for plane debris and investigate the crash site.
Rescue officials said there were no survivors on the plane and that 13 civilians were killed on the ground. The army said in a statement that five crew members, including two pilots, died in the crash.
Farooq Butt, an official at the state-run emergency service, said 15 people were also injured in the crash. There were concerns the death toll could rise further since some of those injured were in critical condition.
“We have moved all the bodies and injured persons to hospitals,” Butt told The Associated Press. “Most of the victims received burn injuries.”
He added that there were children among the dead.
Residents said they woke up when they heard an explosion and saw debris of a burning plane near their homes. Army helicopters were seen hovering over the crash site later.
“My sister, her husband and their three children were killed when the plane crashed into their home,” said Mohammad Mustafa, as he sobbed near his sister’s badly damaged home. He said rescuers and troops quickly reached the area after the crash.
Several men and women who lost their relatives in the crash were seen wailing and crying as rescuers put charred bodies of the victims into ambulances. Footage on social media showed the plane was flying very low before it quickly went down.
Abdul Rehman, a medical doctor, said at least three homes were badly damaged and the pilots’ bodies had been retrieved.
“According to our latest information, a total of 18 people were killed in the plane crash. They include five crew members and 13 civilians who were killed when the plane crashed into homes and quickly caught fire,” he said.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan in separate statements expressed their condolences.
The military said the army aircraft was on a routine training flight when it crashed, but had no information on the possible cause. An investigation was underway.
Pakistan’s military has been on high alert since February, when India launched an airstrike inside Pakistan to target Pakistan-based militants behind the suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan at the time retaliated and said it shot down two Indian air force planes. One Indian pilot was captured and later released amid signs of easing tensions.
In 2010, a Pakistani passenger jet crashed into the hills surrounding the capital, Islamabad, in poor weather, killing all 152 people on board.
___
Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Asim Tanveer in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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California shooting claims boy who loved cologne, sports fan
Mon, July 29, 2019 08:23 EDT
GILROY, Calif. (AP) — Three young people died when a gunman opened fire at a popular California food festival this past weekend. Two were children, including a 6-year-old who was a sharp dresser, and the other was a 25-year-old college graduate who loved sports.
Here’s what we know about the victims so far:
STEPHEN ROMERO
The 6-year-old died at a hospital after he was shot in the back.
The boy’s father, Alberto Romero, told the San Jose Mercury News that he was at home in San Jose when his wife called to say that she, her mother and their son had been shot.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening, that what she was saying was a lie, maybe I was dreaming,” he said.
He rushed to the hospital to see his son.
“They told me he was in critical condition and that they were working on him,” he said. “Five minutes later, they told me he was dead.”
Stephen was called “El Romantico” by his uncle because of his good manners, his pressed, button-down shirts and his love of ballads by his favorite singer, The Weeknd.
“He wouldn’t leave the house unless he had cologne on,” Noe Romero told the San Francisco Chronicle.
He described the boy as “a very outgoing kid, very loving.”
The boy’s cousin is San Jose City Council member Maya Esparza, who said on Facebook she was “angry, so angry.” She added, “This violence has to stop.”
___
KEYLA SALAZAR
The 13-year-old from San Jose died at the scene. In photos posted on her aunt’s Facebook page, Keyla is seen dressed in pink, wearing a tiara of flowers and smiling as she poses with relatives.
“I have no words to describe this pain I’m feeling,” Katiuska Pimentel Vargas wrote. “Keyla you are an angel and we will miss you with all of our hearts. You were too young to be taken from us.”
___
TREVER IRBY
The 25-year-old was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan with a broad smile who majored in biology and graduated in 2017 from Keuka College in upstate New York, where he grew up.
He lived in the tiny town of Romulus, northwest of New York City.
Dionna Williams, Irby’s aunt, posted a photo online of her grinning nephew wearing a graduation cap and gown.
“My nephew was one of the victims of the Gilroy Festival in California,” Williams wrote. “Please pray for our family. RIP Trevor.”
Pictures on Irby’s Facebook page show him decked out in Steelers garb with his arm around his girlfriend, Sarah Warner.
Warner, also a Keuka alumnus, was with Irby at the festival but wasn’t hurt, college President Amy Storey said.
“We are shocked that this latest episode of senseless gun violence resulted in the loss of one of our recent graduates — graduates in whom we place so much hope because of their potential to create a brighter tomorrow,” Storey said in a statement.
Irby graduated in 2012 from Romulus High School.
“Trevor was a multi-sport athlete, member of the drama club, band and friend to everyone he knew here in Romulus,” school officials said in a statement. “Trevor was the type of student who could bring joy, laughs, and comfort to everyone he met.”
“This is heartbreaking,” Keuka alum Samantha Napolitano wrote.
Keuka College is planning a memorial for Irby at the campus that’s about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Syracuse, New York.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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A history of racism is woven into the US presidency
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS | Tue, July 30, 2019 10:24 EDT
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — When President Donald Trump drew widespread condemnation for describing a majority-black congressional district as a “rat and rodent infested mess” and for tweets targeting four Democratic congresswomen of color, it was not the first time a U.S. president attracted such attention.
Throughout American history, presidents have uttered comments, issued decisions and made public and private moves that critics said were racist, either at the time or in later generations. The presidents did so both before taking office and during their time in the White House.
Many of the early presidents, George Washington to Zachary Taylor, owned black slaves and held power when African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos did not have the right to vote or serve on juries and could be refused service in public accommodations. They often repeated racist views that were commonly held in their times, even when challenged by scholars or civil rights leaders.
Before he became the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” But in his only book, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published in 1785, the future president expressed a series of beliefs about African Americans that would be seen today as racist.
He wrote that blacks were cursed with “a very strong and disagreeable odor” and were incapable of producing art and poetry. And though he said he believed slavery was immoral, he owned slaves and, historians say, carried on a sexual relationship with at least one of them, Sally Hemings. If every black slave were ever freed, he wrote, they should be deported since he believed blacks and whites could not live together peacefully.
Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, was also a slaveholder from the South. Before he became president, he offered in an 1804 advertisement $50 for the return of a runaway slave and $10 extra “for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of 300.” In Jon Meacham’s 2008 book “American Lion: Andrew Jackson and the White House,” Meacham wrote that Jackson owned around 150 slaves and freed none of them in his will.
As president, Jackson allowed his postmaster general to let Southerners seize anti-slavery publications, in direct violation of the First Amendment. He called the abolitionist pamphlets urging black equality “unconstitutional and wicked.”
Jackson is widely vilified today among Native Americans for his role in forcibly removing indigenous people from their land, especially for the Trail of Tears. The removal of the Cherokee people from Georgia led to thousands of deaths.
“The philanthropist will rejoice that the remnant of that ill-fated race has been at length placed beyond the reach of injury or oppression,” Jackson said in his farewell address.
The Virginia-born Woodrow Wilson worked to keep blacks out of Princeton University while serving as that school’s president. When he became president of the U.S., the Democrat refused to reverse the segregation of civil service, though he had won the White House with the support of some African American men.
In 1915, Wilson sparked outrage by screening the racist film “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House. The silent movie was the retelling of Reconstruction through the eyes of the Ku Klux Klan. The movie portrayed the KKK as heroes and African Americans as uncivilized.
“No explanation or apology followed” after the screening, Patty O’Toole wrote in “The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made.”
Wilson appeared oblivious during the “Red Summer” of 1919 — a time when communities across the country saw white mobs attack African Americans, resulting in hundreds of deaths. He spoke out against lynching but did not use the federal government’s resources to stop the violence.
Democrat Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and sought to push a civil rights bill amid demonstrations by African Americans. Johnson famously convinced skeptical lawmakers to support the measure and gave a passionate speech about his days as a teacher in Mexican American schools to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.
But according to tapes of his private conversations, Johnson routinely used racist epithets to describe African Americans and some blacks he appointed to key positions.
His successor, Republican Richard Nixon, also regularly used racist epithets while in office in private conversations.
“We’re going to (place) more of these little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family,” Nixon once said about what he saw as lax work requirements. Nixon also made derogatory remarks about Jews, Mexican Americans, Italian Americans and Irish Americans.
As with Johnson, many of Nixon’s remarks were unknown to the general public until tapes of White House conversations were released decades later.
Recently the Nixon Presidential Library released an October 1971 phone conversation between Nixon and then California Gov. Ronald Reagan, another future president, The Atlantic reported Tuesday . Reagan in venting his frustration with United Nations delegates who voted against the U.S. dropped some racist language.
“Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
Nixon began laughing hard.
Reagan would launch his 1980 general election presidential campaign in Mississippi’s Neshoba County — a place where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964.
Reagan ignored the criticism of his visit and told a cheering crowd of white supporters, “I believe in states’ rights.”
___
This story replaces a previous version to correct the spelling of The Atlantic.
___
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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Baltimore-area district pushes back against Trump comments
By JUANA SUMMERS and REGINA GARCIA CANO | Tue, July 30, 2019 10:07 EDT
BALTIMORE (AP) — As Latoya Peoples painted a mural with high school-age students Monday in Baltimore, she was determined not to let President Donald Trump’s recent tweets about the city “sink in too much.”
Peoples was in Sandtown-Winchester, the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up years before his death in police custody in 2015 prompted a racial uprising. Now Baltimore is in the spotlight again, this time because of the president’s recent attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings, a powerful Trump critic who has represented Maryland in Congress for decades. Trump called the congressman’s district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
While parts of Maryland’s 7th Congressional District have struggled with poverty and crime, it also includes more affluent areas and Baltimore landmarks such as Johns Hopkins University and its hospital, the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Elsewhere are cultural touchstones like the Baltimore Museum of Art and the world-class Walters Art Museum.
Residents of Maryland’s largest city say their home bears no resemblance to the place Trump described.
“People think you can’t walk through here. It’s intimidating,” Peoples said. “It’s nothing like that.”
Trump’s tweets paint an incomplete picture of a sprawling district that spans Baltimore City and parts of surrounding counties. It has stretches of empty storefronts and boarded-up homes, as well as trendy neighborhoods dotted with manicured parks and restaurants. It also has Pimlico Race Course, which is home to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of horse-racing’s annual Triple Crown.
Sari Garbis, who lives in Clarksville, more than 20 miles from Baltimore City, said her community is diverse and well-educated and that she is “very proud” that Cummings represents her.
“You’re talking about a congressman that needs to represent very diverse interests,” Garbis said. “I believe that he represents my interests as well, and with the same sense of purpose, as he does the people of Baltimore City.”
Clarksville is in Howard County, which is routinely counted among the nation’s most affluent. So is Ellicott City, a historic mill town. As he stood outside a recreation center, longtime resident Mac Chrysskos said that nearby Baltimore has a crime problem that needs to be brought under control, but that attacks on the district were “totally uncalled for and totally unfair.”
Cummings’ district, which is nearly 53% black, has a median household income of $60,929, though there is a sizeable wealth gap between white and black residents.
Few residents will deny that Baltimore has problems with violent crime and drugs. The city’s murder rate has soared in recent years, with Baltimore recording more than 300 homicides in 2018, most from gunfire. Residents say those struggles have compounded over the years, owing to institutional segregation and neglect by the federal government.
The city’s previous mayor was forced to resign earlier this year. In the past five years, there have been five police commissioners.
Residents are clear-eyed about the community’s challenges but frustrated by Trump’s comments, which seemed to shrink the city to a crime-infested caricature.
Nancy O. Greene, who has lived in Baltimore for 15 years, pointed to the thriving arts community in her neighborhood of Charles Village and throughout the district. Greene said she supports Cummings but complains about times when “money was needed and money wasn’t received” by district residents.
“You’re not going to keep Baltimore down,” she added. “Despite anything, people will come together to defend the city. It has a rich history from Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald — you name it. … You can’t say this city doesn’t have a lot going for it.”
Other parts of the city are represented by two other Democratic lawmakers: Reps. John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger. Statewide, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
Earlier Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton held a news conference at a West Baltimore church alongside former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Republican.
Trump has described Sharpton as “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops!” Sharpton said Trump “has a particular venom for blacks and people of color.”
For his part, Steele challenged Trump to visit blighted areas of West Baltimore and talk with residents to learn about their challenges and understand their “hard work and commitment.”
“Mr. President, come on down,” Steele said. “The streets are ready for you. The neighborhoods are ready for you … Put the tweet down, brother, and show up.”
But some local residents say they are not interested in a visit from Trump.
Benn Ray, who lives in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore City and is the co-owner of Atomic Books in neighboring Hampden, said Trump “hasn’t ingratiated himself to the city, he hasn’t made himself welcome.”
“I don’t know what city he is describing,” he said of Trump’s attacks. “Like every other city, we have rats and crime. We have good neighborhoods and bad. But as a city, and a community, we endeavor to make things better.”
___
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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Festival shooting claims 2 children, 25-year-old man
Tue, July 30, 2019 12:22 EDT
GILROY, Calif. (AP) — Three young people died when a gunman opened fire at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival in California this past weekend. Two were children — a teen who may have saved a relative’s life and a 6-year-old who was a sharp dresser — and the third was a 25-year-old New York college graduate who loved sports.
Here’s what we know about the victims so far:
STEPHEN ROMERO
The 6-year-old died at a hospital after he was shot in the back.
The boy’s father, Alberto Romero, told the San Jose Mercury News that he was at home in San Jose when his wife called to say that she, her mother and their son had been shot.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening, that what she was saying was a lie, maybe I was dreaming,” he said.
He rushed to the hospital to see his son.
“They told me he was in critical condition and that they were working on him,” he said. “Five minutes later, they told me he was dead.”
The boy was described by his grandmother as a kind, happy and playful kid who had just celebrated his birthday in June at Legoland in Southern California.
Stephen was called “El Romantico” by his uncle because of his good manners, his pressed, button-down shirts and his love of ballads by his favorite singer, The Weeknd.
“He wouldn’t leave the house unless he had cologne on,” Noe Romero told the San Francisco Chronicle.
He described the boy as “a very outgoing kid, very loving.”
The boy’s cousin is San Jose City Council member Maya Esparza, who said on Facebook she was “angry, so angry.” She added, “This violence has to stop.”
___
KEYLA SALAZAR
The 13-year-old from San Jose may have inadvertently saved a family member’s life at the cost of her own, her aunt said.
The teenager was eating ice cream with her parents, two younger sisters and other family members when they heard what they thought were fireworks but then realized were gunshots, Katiuska Vargas said.
The family started to run away but Keyla stayed back to keep pace with her stepfather’s mother, who uses a cane, and was wounded.
“If Keyla hadn’t been there, her stepfather’s mother would have been shot,” Vargas said.
Keyla’s stepfather was also wounded as he went back for her, Vargas said.
Vargas, who lives in San Francisco, drove to Gilroy to help Keyla’s mother find out where the teenager was taken for treatment.
“We drove to every hospital multiple times,” she said.
Her father later received word that Keyla had died at a hospital.
“There are no words to describe the pain,” Vargas said.
Her aunt described Keyla as a hard-working student who loved drawing and video games and wanted to become an animator.
She loved animals and was planning on getting a puppy for one of her sisters, Vargas said.
“She was such a caring person,” Vargas said. “She would give everything to other people … We lost a really beautiful life.”
___
TREVER IRBY
The 25-year-old was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan with a broad smile who majored in biology and graduated in 2017 from Keuka College in upstate New York, where he grew up.
He lived in the tiny town of Romulus, northwest of New York City.
Dionna Williams, Irby’s aunt, posted a photo online of her grinning nephew wearing a graduation cap and gown.
“My nephew was one of the victims of the Gilroy Festival in California,” Williams wrote. “Please pray for our family. RIP Trevor.”
Pictures on Irby’s Facebook page show him decked out in Steelers garb with his arm around his girlfriend, Sarah Warner.
Warner, also a Keuka alumnus, was with Irby at the festival and wasn’t hurt, college President Amy Storey said.
“We are shocked that this latest episode of senseless gun violence resulted in the loss of one of our recent graduates — graduates in whom we place so much hope because of their potential to create a brighter tomorrow,” Storey said in a statement.
Irby graduated in 2012 from Romulus High School.
“Trevor was a multi-sport athlete, member of the drama club, band and friend to everyone he knew here in Romulus,” school officials said in a statement. “Trevor was the type of student who could bring joy, laughs, and comfort to everyone he met.”
“This is heartbreaking,” Keuka alum Samantha Napolitano wrote.
Keuka College is planning a memorial for Irby at the campus that’s about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Syracuse, New York.

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‘The ship has sailed’ on a Carmelo Anthony NBA farewell tour – Jorge Sedano | The Jump

Jorge Sedano, Malika Andrews and Dave McMenamin discuss whether Carmelo Anthony deserves a retirement tour in the NBA, after the popular tour given to Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. They also discuss the notable remaining free agents, including Melo, JR Smith, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Jeremy Lin, Joakim Noah and more.
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A$AP Rocky trial underway in Sweden
By JARI TANNER | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:44 EDT
HELSINKI (AP) — American rapper A$AP Rocky and two other men believed to be members of his entourage went on trial Tuesday in Sweden in a high-profile legal case that has caught the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump and celebrities.
Swedish prosecutors allege that the Grammy-nominated rapper and the two other suspects “deliberately, together and in agreement” attacked 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari in a fight in central Stockholm on June 30.
Prosecutors alleged in more than 500 pages of court documents that the three suspects beat and kicked Jafari while he was on the ground and that he was hit by parts of or a whole bottle.
The trial of the recording artist, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, started in Stockholm District Court, which also has set aside Thursday and Friday for the case.
Mayers’ mother Renee Black was seen arriving at the court while his son was escorted in wearing a green shirt. She appeared “like she was about to burst into tears,” Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported.
Lawyers for both sides were to present their narrative of what happened on the night of June 30 at Tuesday’s court session. Testimonies are expected to take place on Thursday.
The trial was being held in a secure courtroom “because of strong interest from the media and the public,” the Stockholm court said, noting that no photographing or filming will take place during the proceedings.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Mayers, who has been in custody since July 3, has said he acted in self-defense.
The rapper’s lawyer, Martin Persson, told Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Monday that he would present the court with new evidence, including showing that “no bottle has been used to hit or injure anyone” and that the violence used was “within the limits of the law.”
A lawyer for Jafari, Magnus Stromberg, told The Associated Press on Friday the beating started when one of A$AP Rocky’s guards “grabbed him (Jafari) by the neck and dragged him away” and that Jafari didn’t provoke the assault.
Prosecutors said that Mayers pushed Jafari to the ground and the court documents include numerous photos of Jafari’s cuts, bruises and blood-stained clothes.
Jafari, 19, is seeking 139,700 Swedish kronor ($14,700) in damages for his injuries, lost income and damages to his appearance.
Mayers’ arrest prompted Trump to intervene on behalf of the jailed rapper and sparked an unusual diplomatic spat when Swedish prosecutors charged the 30-year-old artist last week.
Trump urged Sweden to “Treat Americans fairly!” on Twitter, and criticized Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven “for being unable to act.”
“We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky,” he added.
The case has also drawn the attention of American celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Mayers’ fellow recording artists, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Justin Bieber, and created the movement #JusticeForRocky soon after the rapper’s arrest.

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Easter Day attacks imperil Sri Lanka economic recovery
By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI | Mon, July 29, 2019 11:41 EDT
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Shocks from deadly suicide bombings on Easter Day in Sri Lanka are reverberating throughout its economy in the worst crisis since the South Asian island nation’s civil war ended in 2009.
The blasts that killed more than 250 people were blamed on Islamic extremists. They have devastated Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry, source of jobs for many, and are hindering foreign investment.
Sri Lanka’s economy already was in trouble, dogged by political crisis, its currency under pressure from a growing national deficit and rising debt. The attacks have added to those challenges.
Business is the worst it’s been in the 60 years that Ranepura Hewage Jayasena has been doing business in the capital Colombo, where he runs a shop that sells spectacular wooden carvings, wooden elephants and clothing designed for tourisms.
“Almost 100% of my business is gone. There are days without a single sale,” said Jayasena, 76, looking grief-stricken as he went through the previous days accounts.
“We had a war that raged for years, but we had good business. Bombs exploded in Colombo city itself, but that did not affect our business,” he said. “This is the worst period I have seen in my life.”
Seven suicide bombers struck two Catholic and one Protestant church and three luxury hotels on April 21. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group known as National Thowheed Jammath.
Among those killed were 45 foreigners, mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain.
For days after the attack, many businesses remained shuttered. Tourists fled: the number of arrivals dropped more than 70% from a year earlier in May and nearly 60% in June.
The economy is forecast to grow at about a 3% pace this year, according to Central Bank governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy, way below the 6% plus average of recent years and possibly the lowest level in nearly 20 years.
The worst hit have been people, many of them self-employed, living close to the brink of poverty, economists say.
“Sri Lanka is undergoing a severe economic crisis at present and it is manifested at both the individual and national level,” said W.A. Wijewardena, an economic analyst and a former deputy governor of central bank.
The blasts “surely caused a temporary setback to the economy, which was already a sick one,” Wijewardena said.
While a huge share of job losses were in the tourism sector, they’ve rippled through many other industries.
Sanjeewa Samarasinghe, a 51-year-old father of three, began working as a marketing manager at a publishing company in June, after a long stint without a job. He was let go after just one week due to weak sales after the attacks.
“It’s true sales had plunged, but look at the plight of workers. How can they live?” he said.
For K.S. Mahendran, a peddler of mobile phone accessories on a sidewalk in downtown Colombo, recovery seems as far off as the day the explosions ripped through the churches and hotels
In a matter of hours, Mahendran’s business collapsed, leaving him without a way to pay rent and other daily expenses.
“The attacks were a severe blow to us and almost ruined our lives,” he said. “We had to borrow money from money lenders and we are in a great difficulty at the moment. No one is helping us.”
Sri Lanka has made significant progress thanks to a tourism boom and expanding manufacturing after the military defeated separatist Tamil rebels in May 2009, which ended the 25-year civil war. The country was engulfed in a political crisis late last year, however, when President Maithripala Sirisena suspended Parliament, firing the prime minister and replacing him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years from 2005.
Sirisena eventually backed down, reinstalling Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister. But divisions within the leadership are not helping the country overcome its myriad problems in the aftermath of the attacks.
Government debt is rising quickly as tax revenues fall far short of spending. Weakening growth also is adding to the burdens for repaying foreign debt totaling $33 billion as of March, as the country digs itself in deeper to meet repayments that will total nearly $6 billion in 2019.
With Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves expected to drop to as low as $6.3 billion by the end of this year, in June the government raised $2 billion from U.S. dollar bond markets in its 14th bond offering since 2007.
“That’s not a wonderful level of reserves, but it is nowhere near a crisis either,” Coomaraswamy said in a recent speech. He noted the government could arrange foreign currency swaps and also seek panda or samurai bonds from China or Japan.
“If you take all these together, we feel fairly confident that we can manage the situation,” he said.
Apart from the direct impact from business disruptions and falling tourist arrivals, the attacks shattered a sense of stability that had helped draw in foreign investment.
Muslims living in this Buddhist-majority nation have suffered attacks and dozens of their shops and homes were burned, frightening both local and foreign investors.
“The government has not been able to eliminate the ‘economic fear’, that is, the fear that the economic assets owned by people could be destroyed by mobs with total impunity, from the minds of investors,” said Wijewardena.
“It is absolutely necessary for the government to build confidence among investors by bringing the trouble makers to justice,” he said.
So far, most efforts to cushion the impact of the attacks have focused on tourism. The government has slashed airline ground charges, aviation fuel prices and departure fees for at least six months. It set a one-year moratorium for repayment of loans for tourism-related businesses and cut interest rates on new loans.
Leaders also ordered officials to slash spending on electricity, water and telephone costs, banning use of public funds to print diaries and calendars for 2020.
Some businesses are seeing improvements.
Suresh Silva’s shoe shop was only selling one or two pairs of shoes a week just after the bombings. Sales are now back up to about 90% of normal, he said.
“I think the remaining 10% could be achieved this month.”
For many, though, the outlook remains uncertain.
“People have limited cash on hand, so they spend it on essential items such as food and medicine,” said Hameed Aslam, who runs a fabric shop.
“In my view it’s been like this for the past three years,” he said. “Living costs have been going up and the people are having great difficulties.”

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California town pledges to remain strong in wake of shooting
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JULIE WATSON | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:39 EDT
GILROY, Calif. (AP) — Only a few days ago, Gilroy was known for one thing: garlic. The rural community near San Francisco lived and breathed the prized, pungent crop.
Now it’s the site of the latest American mass shooting.
On Sunday evening, a 19-year-old gunman with apparent white supremacist views slipped into the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and unloaded an assault-style weapon before police shot him to death.
On Monday night, hundreds of residents held a candlelight vigil to mourn a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a New York college graduate who were slain . Twelve others were injured.
As they raised votive candles, long tapers or tea lights, they also raised their spirits in the defiant cry of “Gilroy Strong.”
A sign reading the same underneath an American flag covered in two garlic cloves hung from the front of the stage.
“We cannot let the bastard that did this tear us down,” Mayor Roland Velasco declared to cheers.
It was the cry heard so often after shootings at schools, parks, movies, nightclubs and festivals around the country.
From Washington, President Donald Trump condemned the “wicked murderer.”
The shooting brought out renewed demands for national gun control by politicians in California, which already has some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation. Gov. Gavin Newsom called for controls on high-powered, high-capacity guns he labeled “weapons of mass destruction.”
“Today, I met with a 12-year-old who was shot while in a bounce house. A grandmother mourning the loss of her 6-year-old grandson,” Newsom tweeted. “This is America today — the shootings continue. Loved ones are buried. Children are gunned down. And Congress does nothing.”
“It keeps happening, over and over and over again, on their damn watch,” Newsom told reporters. “I can’t put borders up in a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally.”
The shooter, Santino William Legan, legally purchased the semi-automatic assault rifle this month in Nevada, where his last address is listed. He would have been barred from buying it in California, which restricts firearms purchases to people over 21. In Nevada, the age limit is 18.
While authorities sought a motive for the killings, they noted that he had posted white supremacist views. He urged his Instagram followers to read a 19th century book popular with white supremacists on extremist websites. It appeared with a photo of Smokey the Bear in front of a “fire danger” sign. Legan also complained about overcrowding towns and paving open space to make room for “hordes” of Latinos and Silicon Valley whites.
In his last Instagram post Sunday, Legan sent a photo from the Gilroy Garlic Festival minutes before opening fire.
Under it, Quote: : “Ayyy garlic festival time” and “Come get wasted on overpriced” items. Legan’s since-deleted Instagram account says he is Italian and Iranian.
The postings are among the first details that have emerged about Legan since authorities say he appeared to fire at random, sending people running and diving under tables. Police patrolling the event responded within a minute and killed Legan as he turned the weapon on them.
Legan grew up less than a mile from the park where the city known as the “Garlic Capital of the World” has held its three-day festival for four decades, attracting more than 100,000 people with music, food booths and cooking classes.
Police searched Legan’s vehicle and the two-story Legan family home, leaving with paper bags. Authorities also searched an apartment they believed Legan used this month in remote northern Nevada. Officials didn’t say what they found.
Big Mikes Gun and Ammo, which appears to be a home-based internet gun shop in Fallon, Nevada, said on its Facebook page that Legan ordered the rifle off its website and “was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern” when the store owner met him. The post said it was “heartbroken this could ever happen.”
The shooting followed a series of mass killings in California, including an attack at a Thousand Oaks bar in November where 12 people died and a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino where 14 were killed. The nation’s worst modern mass shooting remains a 2017 attack at a country music concert in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 58 and injured hundreds.
In California, police had training in how to respond to an active shooter. While they prepared for the worst, they never expected to use those skills in Gilroy, a city of about 50,000 roughly 80 miles (176 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.
The city had security in place for one of the largest food fairs in the U.S. It required people to pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched. Police, paramedics and firefighters were stationed throughout the festival.
But Legan didn’t go through the front entrance. He cut through a fence bordering a parking lot next to a creek, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said. Some witnesses reported a second suspect, and authorities were trying to determine if he had any help.
The gunfire sent people in sunhats and flip-flops running away screaming. Some dove for cover under the decorated food booth tables. Others crawled under a concert stage, where a band had started playing its last song.
Candice Marquez, 51, a honey vendor at the festival, said she was just 10 feet (3 meters) from the shooter and saw him replace a clip of ammunition.
“He was super quiet, he was reloading, and we ran,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The youngest victim, Stephen Romero, described by his grandmother as a kind, happy and playful kid, had just celebrated his 6th birthday in June at Legoland in Southern California.
“My son had his whole life to live and he was only 6,” his father, Alberto Romero, told San Francisco Bay Area news station KNTV after the shooting.
Also killed was 13-year-old Keyla Salazar from San Jose. The teen was eating ice cream with family members when they heard gunshots and began to flee, said her aunt, Katiuska Vargas.
The teen stayed back to keep pace with a relative who uses a cane and was shot with a bullet that otherwise might have hit that woman, Vargas said.
Vargas says Keyla’s stepfather was wounded as he went back for her.
Keyla loved animals and was planning on getting a puppy for one of her two younger sisters, Vargas said.
“She was such a caring person,” Vargas said. “She would give everything to other people … We lost a really beautiful life.”
The oldest victim killed was Trevor Irby, 25, a biology major who graduated in 2017 from Keuka College in upstate New York.
Troy Towner said his sister, Wendy Towner, was at the festival for her business, the Honey Ladies, when she saw a man with a gun climb over the fence. She yelled at him: “No, you can’t do that!”
The gunman shot her in the leg and her husband three times, while a young girl dragged their 3-year-old son under a table, Towner wrote on a fundraising page he set up for his sister.
Legan then approached the couple as they lay motionless on the ground and asked if they were all right. They didn’t move, fearing he would finish them off, Towner wrote.
Towner said his sister underwent surgery and was expected to have long-term nerve damage, while her husband faces many surgeries.
Candice Marquez, who works for Wendy Towner and her husband, Francisco, told The Associated Press that she had stepped away to go to the bathroom and saw the gunman heading to their tent. She said her 10-year-old niece helped the toddler to safety.
“She was brave,” Marquez said.
Jan Dickson, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Legan family, described them as “a nice, normal family.” She said Santino Legan had not lived there for at least a year.
“How do you cope with this? They have to deal with the fact that their son did this terrible thing and that he died,” Dickson said.
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Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press reporter Mike Balsamo in Washington, Natalie Rice in Los Angeles, Scott Sonner in Hawthorne, Nevada, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, and Martha Mendoza in Gilroy contributed to this report.

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Experts: Event organizers should improve emergency plans
By STEFANIE DAZIO 07:09 EDT
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Event organizers should review their emergency plans after the deadly shooting at a California food festival to see if they can make additional safety improvements as the peak of summer and fair season brings open-air environments that are notoriously difficult to secure, law enforcement experts said.
The weekend shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival left three dead — including two children — and a dozen wounded at the famous three-day event that attracts more than 100,000 people annually to the agricultural community in Northern California .
The festival included a perimeter fence, metal detectors, a bag search and police patrols. Despite those measures, 19-year-old Santino William Legan cut through the fence and, wielding a rifle, opened fire before three officers — in less than a minute — fatally shot him, preventing additional casualties.
“Anytime you put on a large event with a lot of people you’re always concerned, which is why we try to run a very tight, closed event where there’s, you know, controlled access,” Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a news conference Monday. “Do we think about how we’re going to respond if something were to happen? I would say the answer is yes.”
Experts ticked off a list of ideal precautions: a perimeter fence — or even two — with roving police patrols, as well as drones, security cameras, social media monitoring, bag checks, metal detectors, limited points of entry and an “overwatch” police unit that monitors the event from a high perch.
Recommendations for an overwatch position and securing beyond the site of the event are similar to suggested improvements after another deadly festival shooting: In 2017, a gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel fired into a crowd and killed 58 people in Las Vegas. It became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. A review recommended securing high-rise buildings overlooking open-air venues, not just the festivals themselves.
“It’s not just OK to secure your perimeter and think you’re safe,” Michael Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said.
Still, officials said first responders and event coordinators need to balance safety concerns, costs and a welcoming atmosphere for visitors, noting that eventgoers likely do not want to be subjected to extensive screening with X-ray machines and metal detectors.
“You obviously can’t do an event that is set up like an international airport,” said Sheriff Tony Spurlock of Douglas County, Colorado, where the annual county fair is being held this week. “It’s not the kind of environment that we would set up magnetometers at every entrance.”
Brian Higgins, a former Bergen County, New Jersey, police chief, said controlling an event’s perimeter through technology and police is key to safety. Although a long line of people at a single point of entry can pose its own target, limited access means law enforcement can more easily see who is coming in and out — and with what.
“Just because it’s a family-friendly event doesn’t mean that something bad can’t happen,” Higgins said.
Although festivalgoers may notice increased security in the coming weeks, experts don’t foresee a major shift in safety protocols going forward.
“Events like this are occurring across the country every weekend and it’s up to those event coordinators to determine the extent to which they want to employ security features,” Craig Fair, deputy special agent in charge at the FBI’s San Francisco office, said at Monday’s news conference.
Experts praised the Gilroy Police Department’s precautionary efforts and quick response, noting that law enforcement there had taken many critical steps.
“If somebody’s that determined to do something that terrible, it’s going to be hard to stop them,” said Soraya Sutherlin, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Emergency Management Safety Partners.
Sutherlin said event planners should clearly label exits, with signs pointing people toward an evacuation route, and design a way for visitors to report suspicious activity either in person, over the phone or through an app.
Officials said there must be greater efforts to identify future shooters beforehand, through social media monitoring or other means.
“How do we figure out that he was an absolute ticking time bomb waiting to go off?” said Stephan Dembinsky, public safety director in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. “Until we figure out how to identify them, we’re going to keep having these shootings.”

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UN says Afghan forces, allies killed most civilians in 2019
By RAHIM FAIEZ 08:08 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More civilians were killed by Afghan and international coalition forces in Afghanistan in the first half of this year than by the Taliban and other militants, the U.N. mission said in a report released Tuesday.
The report apparently refers to civilians killed during Afghan and U.S. military operations against insurgents, such as airstrikes and night raids on militant hideouts. Insurgents often hide among civilians.
The U.S. formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 but still provides extensive air and other support to Afghan forces battling militants.
The U.N. report said 403 civilians were killed by Afghan forces in the first six months of the year and another 314 by international forces, a total of 717. That’s compared to 531 killed by the Taliban, an Islamic State affiliate and other militants during the same period.
It said 300 of those killed by militants were directly targeted. The Taliban have been carrying out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces.
There was no immediate comment from the Kabul government or the Afghan military on the report.
A NATO official stressed that the alliance is now in a non-combat mission in Afghanistan that trains, advises and assists the country’s security forces.
The alliance is “not complacent” and shares U.N. concerns over Afghan civilian casualties, the official said, adding that the “best way to end the suffering of civilians is to focus on the political settlement of the conflict and to continue all efforts to reduce violence.”
“We thoroughly investigate every allegation of civilian casualties, and we train the Afghan security forces to ensure that they take utmost caution in order not to harm civilians,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Taliban have rejected calls for a cease-fire as they hold talks with the U.S. aimed at ending the 18-year war. An Islamic State affiliate has meanwhile launched attacks targeting security forces as well as minority Shiites.
“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” said Richard Bennett, the human rights chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which released the report.
The situation for ordinary Afghans would be improved, he said, “not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting.”
The report said one in three casualties was caused by ground combat and a fifth were caused by roadside bombs. Aerial operations accounted for around 14% of the casualties.
The Taliban issued a statement saying the part of the U.N. report blaming them for 38% of Afghan civilian casualties was not true.
“Many people counted as civilians in this report were targeted by the Taliban because of their links to the intelligence service or because they cooperated with military operations,” the Taliban said.
Earlier in the day, the Taliban praised the killing of two U.S. service members Monday in southern Kandahar province. The Afghan soldier who turned his gun on the Americans was wounded and is in custody, according to U.S. officials.
The Taliban called the shooter a “hero” and said the Afghan soldier had opened fire at the Americans inside a military base in the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar. The U.S. military has so far not identified the slain Americans, pending notification of their families.
Even with the Taliban-U.S. talks underway, there appears to be no end in sight for the violence.
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives at a market in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday morning, killing at least three children, said Jamal Naser Barekzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
A Taliban attack on a checkpoint left three police officers dead in northern Baghlan province, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
Late on Monday, insurgents targeted a checkpoint in the Kushk Kuhna district in western Herat province, killing at least 11 Afghan security forces, said Wakil Ahmad Karokhi, a provincial councilman.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attacks.
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Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Big question in opioid suits: How to divide any settlement
By GEOFF MULVIHILL | Mon, July 29, 2019 02:48 EDT
The roughly 2,000 state and local governments suing the drug industry over the deadly opioid crisis have yet to see any verdicts or reach any big national settlements but are already tussling with each other over how to divide any money they collect.
The reason: Some of them want to avoid what happened 20 years ago, when states agreed to a giant settlement with the tobacco industry and used most of the cash on projects that had little to do with smoking’s toll.
“If we don’t use dollars recovered from these opioid lawsuits to end the opioid epidemic, shame on us,” Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said.
Overdoses from opioids, which include prescription painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin, have surpassed automobile crashes in recent years as the biggest cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., accounting for the loss of more than 400,000 lives since 2000.
An Associated Press analysis found that by 2011 and 2012, the industry was shipping enough prescription opioids to give every man, woman and child in the U.S. nearly a 20-day supply each year.
In their lawsuits, the governments contend the brand-name manufacturers fraudulently downplayed the addiction risks of the powerful painkillers while encouraging doctors to prescribe their patients more drugs and at higher doses. They also argue that drugmakers and distributors failed to stop suspiciously large shipments. The defendants dispute the allegations.
In the late 1990s, attorneys general for all 50 states reached colossal settlements under which tobacco companies would pay them forever. A tally by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found states have received more than $161 billion so far.
But some of the money has gone toward such things as roads, bridges or teacher pensions. Some of the money went into states’ general fund accounts, available for all sorts of uses.
“Most states have used their settlement recoveries, which are massive, for everything but the problem that gave rise to the litigation,” said Doug Blake, a former Minnesota assistant attorney general who worked on the state’s tobacco settlement.
The anti-smoking group says that for the fiscal year that ended in June, states took in $27.3 billion from the settlements and from tobacco taxes and spent just 2.4% of that on kick-the-habit and smoking-prevention programs. The group also found that states spend, on average, less than one-fifth of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on anti-smoking programs.
In the opioid litigation, plaintiffs want to make sure the money goes toward treating addiction and preventing drug abuse. Some also want to be reimbursed for extra taxpayer costs associated with the epidemic, such as rising expenses for jails and mental health services, more ambulance runs and police calls, and more children of addicts placed in the care of the child-welfare system.
There have been disputes within states over who should allocate money from opioid-related settlements. In Oklahoma, lawmakers objected earlier this year when the state attorney general struck a deal with Purdue Pharma that allocated much of a $270 million settlement to a center for treatment and research. The lawmakers said they should be the ones to make those decisions. Lawmakers in West Virginia are asking the attorney general there to let them allocate the $37 million settlement with the drug distributor McKesson.
Close to 2,000 local governments have made claims against the drug industry. While the states’ lawsuits are in state court, most of the city and county claims are in federal court, where they have been consolidated under one Cleveland-based judge who is pushing for a settlement.
Joe Rice, an architect of the tobacco settlement and one of the lead lawyers in the opioid cases, with clients including both local governments and states, said local governments are suing partly because they think they can do a better job with the money than states did with the tobacco funds. Rice noted the opioid crisis has run up costs for local governments in ways cigarettes did not.
New Jersey’s Camden County, for instance, started allocating extra money for its Office of Mental Health and Addiction to deal with problem back in 2015. That first year, the county of a half-million people just outside Philadelphia kicked in $150,000. This year, it is up to $600,000.
The sum does not include other crisis-related costs sprinkled throughout the county budget: $156,000 for opioid treatment for jail inmates, cleaning up “needle parks” and holding an annual recovery softball game.
In the event of a nationwide settlement, Rice and other lawyers representing local governments have proposed a plan that would set in advance how much county and local governments would get, based on the amount of drugs shipped there, the overdose deaths and the number of people addicted.
In the case of a $1 billion national settlement, for instance, Camden County would get $1.3 million, and the communities in the county would share an additional $900,000.
But many attorneys general have asked U.S. District Judge Dan Polster not to approve the plan. Thirty-eight warned in a filing this month that the process “would make ‘global peace’ more, not less, difficult to achieve.”
The states also worry about the wisdom of splitting settlement funds with local governments.
“Doling out small buckets of funds without regard to how the funds should be spent is the opposite of a ‘coordinated’ response, which would balance statewide efforts — such as public education campaigns — with any local efforts,” the attorneys general wrote.
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Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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Iranians say US sanctions blocking access to needed medicine
By MOHAMMAD NASIRI 08:28 EDT
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Taha Shakouri keeps finding remote corners to play in at a Tehran children’s charity hospital, unaware that his doctors are running out of chemo medicine needed to treat the eight-year-old boy’s liver cancer.
With Iran’s economy in free fall after the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal and escalated sanctions on Tehran, prices of imported medicines have soared as the national currency tumbled about 70% against the dollar. Even medicines manufactured in Iran are tougher to come by for ordinary Iranians, their cost out of reach for many in a country where the average monthly salary is equivalent to about $450.
Iran’s health system can’t keep up and many are blaming President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign for the staggering prices and shortages. The sanctions have hurt ordinary Iranians, sending prices for everything from staples and consumer goods to housing skyward, while raising the specter of war with the U.S.
Taha’s mother, Laya Taghizadeh, says the hospital provides her son’s medication for free — a single treatment would otherwise cost $1,380 at a private hospital. She adds the family is deeply grateful to the doctors and the hospital staff.
“We couldn’t make it without their support,” says the 30-year-old woman. “My husband is a simple grocery store worker and this is a very costly disease.”
The Iranian rial has plunged from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers to around 120,000 rials to the dollar these days, highly affecting prices of imported medicines. The nuclear deal had raised expectations of a better life for many Iranians, free of the chokehold of international sanctions.
The landmark accord lifted international sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, but now the deal has all but unraveled and new and tougher U.S. sanctions are in place.
While the United States insists that medicines and humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions, restrictions on trade have made many banks and companies across the world hesitant to do business with Iran, fearing punitive measures from Washington. The country is cut off from the international banking system.
Last week, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said budget cuts because of the drop in crude exports have dramatically affected his department. The U.S. sanctions have targeted all classes of Iranians, he added.
“The American claims that medicine and medical equipment are not subject to sanctions is a big and obvious lie,” Namaki said.
“Our biggest concern is that channels to the outside world are closed,” said Dr. Arasb Ahmadian, head of the Mahak Children’s Hospital, which is run through charity donations and supports some 32,000 under-16 children across Iran.
The banking sanctions have blocked transactions, preventing donations from abroad, he said. Transfers of money simply fail, including those approved by the U.S. Treasury.
“Indeed, we are losing hope,” said Ahmadian. “Medicines should be purchasable, funding should be available and lines of credit should be clearly defined in the banking system.”
Official reports say Iran produces some 95% of the basic medicines it needs and even exports some of the production to neighboring countries.
But when it comes to more sophisticated medication and medicines for costly and rare illnesses and medical equipment, Iran depends heavily on imports. And though the state provides health care for all, many treatments needed for complicated cases are simply not available. Many prefer to go to private hospitals if they can and avoid long waiting lists at state ones.
Long lines form every morning in the 13-Aban Pharmacy in central Karimikhan Street, where people come looking for rare medicines for sick family members.
Hamid Reza Mohammadi, 53, spends much of his free time going in search of drugs for his wife and daughter, both of whom suffer from muscular dystrophy.
“Two, three months ago I could easily get the prescription filled in any pharmacy,” Mohammadi said, reflecting how quickly things have deteriorated.
Pharmacist Peyman Keyvanfar says many Iranians, their purchasing power slashed, cannot afford imported medicines and are looking for domestically manufactured substitutes. “There has been a very sharp increase in the prices of medicines, sometimes up to three to four times for some,” he said.
Those who still have some cash often turn to the black market.
Mahmoud Alizadeh, a 23-year-old student, rushed to the shady Nasser-Khosrow Street in southern Tehran when he got word his mother’s multiple sclerosis drug was available there.
“She is just 45 years old, it’s too soon to see her so badly paralyzed,” he said.
He pays three times more for the drug on the street than he did in May 2018. “I don’t know on whom Trump imposed sanctions except that he is punishing terminally ill people here.”
Many travel from rural areas to bigger cities in search of drugs for their loved ones.
Hosseingholi Barati, a 48-year-old father of three, came to Tehran from the town of Gonbad Kavus, about 550 kilometers (350 miles) to the northeast, looking for medication for his leukemia-stricken wife. He says he has spent $7,700 so far on her illness.
“It’s a huge strain,” he said. “I have sold everything I owned and borrowed money from family and friends.”

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Trump takes clemency actions in several cases
Mon, July 29, 2019 06:51 EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has pardoned five men convicted of crimes including theft, fraud and drug trafficking, in addition to commuting the sentences of two others.
The president commuted the sentences of Ted Suhl, who was convicted of bribery related to Medicaid fraud, and Ronen Nahmani, a Florida man convicted of selling synthetic marijuana. The White House says he has five young children and that his wife is suffering from terminal cancer.
Trump’s clemency actions to date have tended to focus on household names and conservatives, including champion boxer Jack Johnson, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza and media mogul Conrad Black. He also freed Alice Johnson, who was serving life without parole for drug offenses, after her case was championed by reality star Kim Kardashian West.

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Block party shootout may have been gang related, police say
By MICHAEL R. SISAK | Mon, July 29, 2019 07:51 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — A shootout that left one man dead and 11 people wounded at a Brooklyn community festival over the weekend may have been gang related, the New York Police Department said Monday as the hunt continued for at least two gunmen.
Several victims of the shooting late Saturday had gang histories, including the man who was killed, Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said. But “whether or not that played any role” has not been determined, Shea said.
Commissioner James O’Neill said police are looking at the possibility of gang involvement, in part because gang violence accounts for about half the shootings in that area of the city.
The neighborhood, Brownsville, had a violent crime rate last year that was more than double the citywide average. It is one of six areas receiving special attention from the police department to drive down crime.
Brownsville’s annual Old Timers Day event, a two-day block party featuring musical performances from former residents and current local talent, was coming to a close and the crowd was dispersing when gunfire erupted in a playground at the recreation center where it was being held.
Jason Pagan, 38, died of a gunshot wound to the head. He was a member of the Bloods gang, Shea said, adding that it wasn’t yet clear if he was a target of the shooting.
“We still don’t have who was shooting at who,” Shea said.
Pagan, who police said lived about five blocks from the park, was released on parole in January after more than two years in prison on a weapons charge.
Six men and five women between ages 21 and 55 were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. One person who was listed in critical condition is now in serious condition, Shea said.
In a story on the front pages of the city’s tabloids, 21-year-old college student Daniesa Murdaugh credited her bra with stopping a bullet and saving her life.
No arrests have been made. Police said they believed there were at least two gunmen. One gun was recovered at the scene.
Asked at a news conference Monday how many suspects were being sought, Shea said police “will look for as many as were involved,” adding that authorities have received several tips from community members.
Videos on social media showed police clearing large groups of people out of the area around the park. Authorities asked anyone with information or video of the shooting to come forward.
Later Monday, community leaders and residents convened at the site of the festival for an anti-violence march. Images posted to social media by elected officials, news reporters and others showed a crowd, some in T-shirts honoring the Old Timers Day tradition, and marching through nearby streets in a procession that stretched for multiple blocks.
“Brownsville in, violence out!” some chanted.
The Old Timers Event has been an annual tradition in Brownsville since 1963 and has grown to attract crowds of about 5,000 people on Friday night and about 10,000 people on Saturday night, O’Neill said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the event was an “example of everything good about the Brownsville community” and decried the shooting as a “tragedy.”
O’Neill said more than 100 police officers were on duty at the festival and quickly jumped into action when the shooting started.
He said police will review security procedures for the festival and other events in the city and make changes where necessary.
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Follow Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

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Chinese official praises Xinjiang camps as ‘pioneering’
Tue, July 30, 2019 03:57 EDT
BEIJING (AP) — Officials from China’s northwestern Xinjiang region said Tuesday that most of the people who were in the area’s controversial re-education centers have since left the facilities and signed “work contracts” with local companies.
The U.S., human rights groups and independent analysts estimate around 1 million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang’s heavily guarded internment camps, which the Chinese government calls vocational training centers. The region is home to Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups.
Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s Uighur governor, declined to give a figure for those he called “students” inside the centers during a news briefing. Zakir defended the facilities as an effective and “pioneering” approach to counterterrorism.
“Most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” Zakir said. “More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”
Xinjiang Vice Chairman Alken Tuniaz said accounts of mistreatment in the camps were concocted by a few countries and media outlets.
Former detainees and their family members have said in interviews with The Associated Press that the re-education centers resembled prisons where they were forced to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to China’s ruling Communist Party. They said they were subject to repeated political indoctrination and often did not understand why they were being held in the facilities.
Travelling overseas, speaking to relatives abroad and growing an excessively long beard are all acts that might land someone in detention, according to Uighurs and Kazakhs who have fled the region.
They have also told The AP that some detainees were forced into factory jobs. They were taken to a government office and handed labor contracts for six months to five years in a distant factory, which they were required to sign, according to one detainee who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Tuniaz said the centers protected people’s liberties by allowing them to “request time off” and “regularly go home.” While the people inside the centers are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study,” they can resume activities related to their faith when they are at home. The officials Tuesday did not address whether the program is voluntary or how often people are allowed to go home.
After international condemnation of and extensive reporting on the centers, China began organizing highly choreographed trips to Xinjiang for journalists and foreign officials. Earlier this month, United Nations envoys from 37 countries including North Korea, Syria and several Muslim-majority states, signed a letter supporting the camps and commending China’s human rights record.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, called Zakir a “political microphone” used by Beijing to spread its “deception.”
“Shohrat Zakir’s remarks completely distort the reality of the systematic persecution that Uighurs are suffering in China,” Raxit said.
The U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Nathan Sales, said in a July interview with the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia that the detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang had “nothing to do with terrorism” and was instead part of the Communist Party’s “war on religion.”
“It is trying to stamp out the ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities of the people that it’s been targeting,” Sales told RFA.

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Hong Kong protesters hit subway to disrupt morning commute
By KATIE TAM | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:49 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — Commuters in Hong Kong argued Tuesday with demonstrators who blocked subway train doors in their latest protest action to demand greater accountability from the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s government.
Service was delayed and partially suspended on the Island and Kwun Tong lines, subway operator MTR said. It cited “a number of train door obstructions” as well as someone activating a safety device at a platform on the Kwun Tong line.
The action targeted rush hour traffic at several stations. MTR responded by providing minibuses to replace delayed trains and normal service was restored by around noon.
Protester Ken Chan said he wanted MTR officials to explain why they allegedly failed to take action on July 21 when a large gang of men in white shirts brutally beat dozens of people inside a train station as a massive protest was winding down. Hong Kong’s government and the central authorities in Beijing have blamed protesters for sparking the confrontation.
“How could they let the triads in white attack people on the platform randomly, including the elderly and children in the train?” said Chan, 32, using the common term for members of organized crime groups. “Some of the elderly got smacked on their heads, but (MTR staff) turned a blind eye to it.”
Lorraine Lee, 26, said the subway disruption was an attempt to remind people of the government’s alleged failure to deal with social, economic and political injustices.
“The government has not been addressing the problems in our society,” Lee said. “That is why now Hong Kongers have no choice but to use different ‘creative’ approaches to remind people what is happening in Hong Kong.”
AP video showed heated exchanges at Tiu Keng Leng station, where a crowd of protesters and commuters filled the platform and a stopped train.
The disruption is part of a pro-democracy movement that has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets this summer for marches and rallies. The protests have shaken the government in Hong Kong and raised concerns in Beijing. Hong Kong is part of China but has a fair degree of autonomy in local affairs.
Posts on Twitter showed long lines of commuters waiting for free shuttle buses provided by MTR to other subway stops.
Protesters conducted a similar action to block trains last week.
Activists began protesting in early June for the government to withdraw an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their legal rights would be threatened. The government suspended the bill, but the protests have expanded to calls for democracy and government accountability.
On Sunday, police repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back protesters blocking Hong Kong streets with road signs and umbrellas.
The protesters have demanded an independent inquiry into police conduct at the protests, which they say has been abusive.
China on Monday accused unidentified foreign actors of encouraging the protests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that the central government “resolutely opposes any foreign forces’ attempts to intervene in Hong Kong affairs.”
“We have the determination and ability to safeguard peace and stability in Hong Kong,” Hua said at a daily briefing.
On Saturday, Hong Kong police fired tear gas, swung batons and forcefully cleared out protesters who defied warnings not to march.

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Officials say 57 dead in Brazil prison riot; 16 decapitated
By DIANE JEANTET | Mon, July 29, 2019 07:09 EDT
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — At least 57 prisoners were killed by other inmates during clashes between organized crime groups in the Altamira prison in northern Brazil Monday with 16 of the victims being decapitated, according to prison officials.
Para state prison authorities a fight erupted around 7 a.m., between the Rio de Janeiro-based Comando Vermelho and a local criminal group known as Comando Classe A.
“Leaders of the (Comando Classe A) set fire to a cell belonging to one of the prison’s pavilions, where members of the (Comando Vermelho) were located,” the statement read.
State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said the fire had spread rapidly, with inmates held in old container units that had been adapted for the prison while another building is under construction.
The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he told a news conference.
Two prison staff members were held hostage, but eventually released.
“It was a targeted attack. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system,” Vasconcelos said.
Authorities have not found any firearms following the riot, only makeshift knives.
Prison authorities said 46 inmates will be transferred to other prisons, 10 of which will go to stricter federal facilities.
President Jair Bolsonaro was elected on the promise of curbing widespread violence in Brazil, including in the country’s often overcrowded, out-of-control prisons.
The Associated Press obtained a July 2019 report from the National Justice Council that it says was filed by a local judge in charge of the facility, showing that the prison had 343 detainees for a maximum capacity of 163.
Yet Vasconcelos said the situation did not meet the official requirements to be considered overcrowded. “It is not a unit that has a prison overcrowding, we consider overcrowding when it exceeds 210%,” Vasconcelos said during the press conference.
The judge who filed the report described the overall state of the prison in the city of Altamira as “terrible.”
In many of Brazil’s prisons, badly outnumbered guards struggle to retain power over an ever-growing population of inmates who are able to run criminal activities from behind bars.
The killings echoed those of 55 inmates who died in a series of riots in May in several prisons in the neighboring state of Amazonas.
In early 2017, more than 120 inmates died in prisons across several northern states when rival gangs clashed over control of drug-trafficking routes in the region. The violence lasted several weeks, spreading to various states.
Para state authorities spent the afternoon in Altamira, drafting a security plan to avoid possible retaliations in the region. Police forces from the nearby municipality of Santerem were sent as reinforcement in the coming weeks.
Prison authorities said they had not received any prior intelligence reports of an upcoming attack.
The prison is run directly by the state, not a third-party private operator as in the Manaus prisons where the riots took place in May.
Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors’ office.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Serbia’s leader praises Putin for boosting its military
By DUSAN STOJANOVIC | Mon, July 29, 2019 08:04 EDT
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s leader on Monday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for boosting the Balkan nation’s military with battle tanks and armored vehicles, amid Western fears that the arms buildup could threaten fragile peace in the region.
President Aleksandar Vucic inspected the delivery of 10 recently arrived Russian armored patrol vehicles at a Serbian army military base, part of the promised supply of 30 secondhand T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles.
The vehicles have been delivered despite neighboring Romania’s refusal to let them transit via the Danube River because of international sanctions in place against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine. Romania is a NATO member while Serbia claims military neutrality despite close ties with Moscow.
Media reports say Russia flew the 10 armored vehicles to Serbia last week on its transport planes using Hungarian airspace.
“The most important thing for us is that we managed to transport the vehicles to Serbia,” Vucic said. “How and which way they came, that is our business.”
Russia has been helping its ally Serbia beef up its military, raising concerns in the war-scarred Balkan region. During the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia was at war with neighbors Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Serbia, the only remaining Russian ally in the region despite its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union, has already received six MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and expects the delivery of additional attack and transport helicopters by the end of this year.
Vucic thanked Putin for “the strengthening of the combat capability of our armed forces.”
Russian Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, who attended the ceremony on Monday, stated that Moscow was ready to continue its support for Belgrade, claiming that the strengthening of Serbia’s military is the “strengthening of the security of the region.”
“Russia is ready and will always be ready for military and technical cooperation with Serbia,” he said, adding: “We will continue working in this direction.”
There are fears in the West that Russia could push Serbia toward another war, especially against its former province of Kosovo that proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia and Russia don’t recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

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Police: Slain Italy cop didn’t have gun when attacked
Tue, July 30, 2019 07:12 EDT
ROME (AP) — Italian authorities say a carabinieri police officer who was fatally stabbed during a confrontation with two American teenagers over a botched drug deal had forgotten his gun that night — but that regardless, there wasn’t time for him or his partner to use their weapons and the suspects then fled.
Carabineri Gen. Francesco Gargaro defended the police response during a press conference Tuesday, providing the first details about the confrontation in which Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega was fatally stabbed.
Americans Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, were arrested early Friday in the slaying of Cerciello Rega.
He and his partner, Andrea Varriale, had responded to the scene after a man reported to police that the two Americans had stolen his bag during a drug deal.

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Boris Johnson tries to reassure on Brexit as pound slumps
By JILL LAWLESS 08:18 EDT
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Wales on Tuesday as part of a national tour intended to reassure Britons that his hard-Brexit push won’t hurt the economy and rip apart the U.K.
Currency markets were far from reassured, however, as the pound slid to a new 28-month low. And Johnson faced a tough reception from farmers — a group central to the Welsh economy — who fear economic havoc if Britain leaves the European Union without a divorce deal. They say millions of sheep might have to be slaughtered if tariffs are slapped on lamb exports to the EU.
“The bottom line is we’re exporting 40% of our sheep production, we are the second-largest producer of sheep meat in the world, so if we are priced … we’re tariffed out of the EU market, where does that 40% go?” said Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union.
The government argues that leaving the 28-nation bloc and its rules-bound Common Agricultural Policy will be “a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming” and will open up new markets for U.K. agricultural exports.
The government’s Wales Secretary Alun Cairns said “90% of global growth will come from outside of the EU.” However, trade with the EU accounts for almost half of all British exports, and any new trade deals are years away.
The trip follows a visit Monday to Scotland, where Johnson was booed by protesters and warned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that his vow to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal, was “dangerous.”
Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the EU divided the country and also strained the bonds among the four nations that make up the U.K.: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A majority of voters in England and Wales backed leaving in the referendum, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. That has emboldened Scotland’s nationalist government to demand a vote on independence, arguing that Scotland should not be forced out of the EU against its will.
In Parliament last week, Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford mockingly welcomed Johnson as “the last prime minister of the United Kingdom.”
Johnson also plans a visit to Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a land border with the EU. The status of that currently invisible frontier with the Republic of Ireland has become the main stumbling block to a Brexit deal.
The pound has fallen sharply in recent days as businesses warn that no amount of preparation can eliminate the economic damage if Britain crashes out of the 28-nation trading bloc without agreement on the terms. The currency fell early Tuesday to $1.2120, its lowest value since March 2017.
Fiona Cincotta, senior market analyst at City Index, said sterling had lost 4.3% of its value since the beginning of July.
“Investors’ main concern remains a hard no-deal Brexit which has the potential to pull the economy into chaos,” she said. “Boris Johnson’s new cabinet did little to alleviate those fears, taking a hard-line with Europe on forthcoming negotiations.”
Johnson became prime minister last week after winning a Conservative Party leadership contest by promising the strongly pro-Brexit party membership that the U.K. will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.
The EU struck a withdrawal agreement with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, but it was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. Johnson is insisting the bloc make major changes to May’s spurned deal, including scrapping an insurance policy for the Irish border that has been rejected by U.K. lawmakers.
The EU insists it won’t reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement it spent two years negotiating with May’s government.
Johnson’s government has been accused of sending mixed messages on Brexit that have unsettled markets.
Michael Gove, who heads a new Brexit delivery committee in Cabinet, has said the government is “operating on the assumption” that the U.K. will leave without a deal.
But Johnson — who just weeks ago put the odds of leaving without a divorce agreement at a million to one — said Monday he was “very confident” of getting a new deal.
There are currently no new negotiations planned between Britain and the bloc.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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Parched manufacturing city in India brings in water by rail
By EMILY SCHMALL | Mon, July 29, 2019 09:15 EDT
JOLARPET, India (AP) — Amid the green Yelagiri hills of southern India, the train inches along the tracks, carrying what has become precious cargo: drinking water bound for Chennai, India’s parched Motor City.
Demand for water in the manufacturing and IT hub on the Bay of Bengal far outstrips supply, forcing authorities to take extreme and costly measures to serve the city’s 10 million people. And so, every day, the train sets out on a four-hour, 216-kilometer (134-mile) journey, its 50 tank cars carrying 2.5 million liters (660,000 gallons) of water drawn from a dam on the Cauvery River.
The train is classic Indian “jugaad,” the Hindi word for a makeshift solution to a complicated problem.
Executive engineer K. Raju confessed this is not the best engineering solution to Chennai’s water problem. “But this is a timely way to help and that’s all. This is not a permanent solution,” he said. Building an underground pipeline that brings in water from closer areas would be better, he said.
As with other fast-growing cities in the developing world, Chennai’s water woes were years in the making.
Chennai’s population has more than tripled in three decades, with people arriving to take jobs at pharmaceutical research and development labs, auto plants and high-tech industries. The runaway growth — combined with poor maintenance of its four reservoirs, ineffective sewage systems and, more recently, delayed monsoon rains — has left India’s sixth-largest city high and dry. Or nearly so.
Its reservoirs are empty, and it is relying on dwindling groundwater sources and two desalination plants for the vast majority of its water. Since June, the water board in Chennai has been turning off the taps for all but a couple of hours a day.
In early July, the government of Tamil Nadu state, of which Chennai is the capital, approved a crash engineering project to bring in water by rail for the next six months at a cost of about $94 million. Raju’s team had just 10 days to lay the necessary 650 meters (half-mile) of pipeline and install a pumping system to put water into rail cars formerly used to carry cooking oil.
The amount of water transported is just a tiny fraction of the 500 million liters (130 million gallons) a day that the water board delivers to its customers.
The train sets out every day at sunset, and just after midnight, it screeches into the city’s mostly deserted Villivakkam railway station, where men in hard hats and reflective vests connect blue hoses to the cars. It takes four hours for the water to be decanted into the city’s water system.
The following morning, at one of the city’s water distribution stations, Ranganathan, a longtime water truck driver in Chennai, pulls his colorfully painted vehicle underneath a big water tap, fills up his rig and begin making neighborhood deliveries. He puts in 16-hour days, with no time even to eat, he said.
“People get excited once they see our lorries,” said Ranganathan, who goes by only one name. “On days if it becomes late, people will start panicking. What to do? They are like my mother, sister who are worried due to water scarcity, so we help.”
At one drop-off point, a neighborhood of low-slung, one-room houses called Thousand Lights, K. Devi, a 41-year-old mother, said the six jugs of water she receives free every day mean that she and her family can bathe and wash clothes just once a week. Sometimes she buys extra cans of water for 35 rupees (about 50 cents) apiece.
She is happy to have the water, regardless of the distance it had to travel to reach her Chennai slum.
“They are voluntarily giving water, then why should we refuse?” she said.
This isn’t the first time water trains have rolled into Chennai. When the city experienced a severe drought in 2001, it imported water by rail from Erode township, more than 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) southwest of Chennai.
After that, the state government mandated that Chennai households install rainwater collection systems. The water board also began buying water from farmers and built two desalination plants. But the supply still fell short of ever-growing demand.

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Puerto Ricans anxious for new leader amid political crisis
By DÁNICA COTO | Mon, July 29, 2019 08:20 EDT
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The unprecedented resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor after days of massive island-wide protests has thrown the U.S. territory into a full-blown political crisis.
Less than four days before Gov. Ricardo Rosselló steps down, no one knows who will take his place. Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, his constitutional successor, said Sunday that she didn’t want the job. The next in line would be Education Secretary Eligio Hernández, a largely unknown bureaucrat with little political experience.
Rosselló’s party says it wants him to nominate a successor before he steps down, but Rosselló has said nothing about his plans, time is running out and some on the island are even talking about the need for more federal control over a territory whose finances are already overseen from Washington.
Rosselló resigned following nearly two weeks of daily protests in which hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets, mounted horses and jet skis, organized a twerkathon and came up with other creative ways to demand his ouster.
On Monday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Department of Justice building to demand that Vázquez resign before becoming the island’s next governor. Under normal circumstances, Rosselló’s successor would be the territory’s secretary of state, but veteran politician Luis Rivera Marín resigned from that post on July 13 as part of the scandal that toppled the governor.
The crowd marched in a large circle, banging pots and clutching Puerto Rican flags as they yelled, “You didn’t do your job, Wanda Vázquez, go to hell!”
Among the protesters was psychologist and yoga teacher Lourdes Soler Muñiz, who also protested almost every day before Rosselló resigned.
“The people have the power. They are our employees,” she said, referring to government officials. “We’re not going to stop. I am 56 years old and I’m not growing tired. Imagine what the young people are capable of.”
Vázquez, a 59-year-old prosecutor who worked as a district attorney and was later director of the Office for Women’s Rights, does not have widespread support among Puerto Ricans. Many have criticized her for not being aggressive enough in investigating cases involving members of the party that she and Rosselló belong to, and of not prioritizing gender violence as justice secretary. She also has been accused of not pursuing the alleged mismanagement of supplies for victims of Hurricane Maria.
Facing a new wave of protests, Vázquez tweeted Sunday that she had no desire to succeed Rosselló.
“I have no interest in the governor’s office,” she wrote. “I hope the governor nominates a secretary of state before Aug. 2.”
If a secretary of state is not nominated before Rosselló resigns, Vázquez would automatically become the new governor. She would then have the power to nominate a secretary of state, or she could also reject being governor, in which case the constitution states the treasury secretary would be next in line. However, Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés is 31 years old, and the constitution dictates a governor has to be at least 35. In that case, the governorship would go to Hernández, who replaced the former education secretary, Julia Keleher, who resigned in April and was arrested on July 10 on federal corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
But Hernández has not been clear on whether he would accept becoming governor.
“At this time, this public servant is focused solely and exclusively on the work of the Department of Education,” he told Radio Isla 1320 AM on Monday. A spokesman for Hernandez did not return a message seeking comment.
Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are growing anxious about what the lack of leadership could mean for the island’s political and economic future.
“It’s very important that the government have a certain degree of stability, said Luis Rodríguez, a 36-year-old accountant, adding that all political parties should be paying attention to what’s happening. “We’re tired of the various political parties that always climb to power and have let us down a bit and have taken the island to the point where it finds itself right now.”
Héctor Luis Acevedo, a university professor and former secretary of state, said both the governor’s party and the main opposition party that he supports, the Popular Democratic Party, have weakened in recent years. He added that new leadership needs to be found soon.
“These uncertainties are dangerous in a democracy because they tend to strengthen the extremes,” he said. “This vacuum is greatly harming the island.”
Puerto Ricans until recently had celebrated that Rosselló and more than a dozen other officials had resigned in the wake of an obscenity-laced chat in which they mocked women and the victims of Hurricane Maria, among others, in 889 pages leaked on July 13. But now, many are concerned that the government is not moving quickly enough to restore order and leadership to an island mired in a 13-year recession as it struggles to recover from the Category 4 storm and tries to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load.
Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló, a member of Rosselló’s New Progressive Party, which supports statehood, said in a telephone interview that legislators are waiting on Rosselló to nominate a secretary of state, who would then become governor since Vázquez has said she is not interested in the position.
“I hope that whoever is nominated is someone who respects people, who can give the people of Puerto Rico hope and has the capacity to rule,” he said. “We cannot rush into this. There must be sanity and restraint in this process.”
Another option was recently raised by Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress. Last week, she urged U.S. President Donald Trump to appoint a federal coordinator to oversee hurricane reconstruction and ensure the proper use of federal funds in the U.S. territory, a suggestion rejected by many on an island already under the direction of a federal control board overseeing its finances and debt restructuring process.
As legislators wait for Rosselló to nominate a secretary of state, they have started debating whether to amend the constitution to allow for a vice president or lieutenant governor, among other things.
The constitution currently does not allow the government to hold early elections, noted Yanira Reyes Gil, a university professor and constitutional attorney.
“We have to rethink the constitution,” she said, adding that there are holes in the current one, including that people are not allowed to participate in choosing a new governor if the previous one resigns.
Reyes also said people are worried that the House and Senate might rush to approve a new secretary of state without sufficient vetting.
“Given the short amount of time, people have doubts that the person will undergo a strict evaluation,” she said. “We’re in a situation where the people have lost faith in the government agencies, they have lost faith in their leaders.”

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In a state with crumbling home foundations, relief arrives
By SUSAN HAIGH | Mon, July 29, 2019 09:32 EDT
VERNON, Conn. (AP) — After worrying for years about the foundations crumbling beneath their houses, hundreds of suburban homeowners in a large swath of eastern Connecticut are getting help from the state to salvage properties that had been doomed by bad batches of concrete.
The homes are being lifted, propped and held up as workers jackhammer away concrete that had deteriorated because of a natural but corrosive mineral. New foundations are poured and, after six to eight weeks of work, the houses are ready to live in once again. The process is expected to continue for years.
The feats, made possible by financial assistance from the state and a fee on homeowners’ insurance policies, are also rebuilding communities and the lives of residents, including some who considered just walking away from their houses and mortgages.
“Now we’re able to do something,” said Wendy Padula, a retiree who was originally Quote: d $300,000 to fix her crumbling foundation, which her insurance company refused to cover. The house in the Hartford suburb of Vernon, which she and her late husband bought for $200,000 in 1985, is in the early stages of being fixed thanks to a $175,000 grant.
“Early on when I got my first Quote: s, I just thought I was going to walk away from the house. There was no way I could afford to fix it,” said Padula, who wistfully recalled how she and her husband were so pleased to buy such a well-built and beautiful home in a nice neighborhood.
“Oh, my god. Who would have thought? I mean, this is a beautiful neighborhood and it just is such a shame. What a tragedy,” she said.
Often described as a “slow-moving disaster,” the problem is caused by an iron sulfide known as pyrrhotite, which causes concrete to crack and break gradually as it becomes exposed to water and oxygen. The material containing pyrrhotite has been traced to a Willington quarry used between 1983 and 2015 by a now-defunct concrete company.
This pyrrhotite problem is the first of its kind in the United States.
About 700 claims seeking assistance with foundation replacements have been filed so far this year, but Connecticut officials have said the problem could ultimately come in waves, affecting tens of thousands of homes in dozens of towns in the state and as far as southern Massachusetts.
It’s suspected that many with the problem have not yet come forward, and others don’t know they have it yet. State leaders have sought unsuccessfully to obtain federal disaster aid.
“We’re looking at a natural disaster here. A catastrophe,” said Michael Maglaras, superintendent of the private insurance company created by the Connecticut General Assembly to oversee the grant program for homeowners. “This is an insidious problem. It’s gradual. It creeps up through the system and it destroys homes and it destroys lives.”
The Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company, which Maglaras oversees, is funded with $20 million a year for five years in state borrowing and an annual $12 fee on homeowners’ insurance policies. Eligible homeowners can receive up to $175,000, but that often doesn’t cover the whole cost.
More than 40 foundations have already been replaced this year. But it’s unclear how the needs of other affected homeowners will be addressed when the insurance company expires in 2022 and after the money is expected to run out.
Maglaras has urged state lawmakers to extend it beyond 2022. He’s also seeking more money from the state.
“Give me another $100 million … and I will put an end to the first wave of this problem,” said Maglaras, who estimates roughly 2,000 homes will need to be fixed over the next few years. But he acknowledged he “won’t be able to do anything about the second wave” of crumbling foundations, which Maglaras estimates will happen a decade from now.
Several years after the scope of the problem came to light, there has been little progress for efforts to hold anyone accountable.
A 2016 investigation determined that the risks of pyrrhotite in residential concrete were not well known when the concrete was poured, and that the now-defunct concrete company and others were not aware of the problem. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut declined a request filed by homeowners in 2017 to conduct a federal investigation into what state officials knew.
Under pressure to investigate how insurers handled homeowners’ claims, the state’s insurance commissioner, Andrew Mais, said in an interview that the department has not decided whether to look into the denial of claims.
Mais said his office is awaiting rulings expected this summer by the state supreme court that could clarify the definition of a “collapse” — an event that standard insurance policies generally cover only when they are sudden or accidental. He is working to persuade more insurance companies to donate to a fund to help homeowners pay for costs not covered by the grant.
Meanwhile, a working group created by the General Assembly in 2017 to develop a quality control plan for Connecticut quarries and to study the workforce of contractors repairing and replacing crumbling concrete foundations, has yet to meet, according to Don Childree, a contractor and one of the members.
The panel had originally faced a December deadline to report back to lawmakers, but the General Assembly voted to extend the deadline.
Childree, who first came across a crumbling foundation in South Windsor in the early 2000s, has completed over 80 replacements, many of them for homeowners who footed the entire bill themselves. He has been working seven days a week for months.
“It’s hard to keep up,” he said.
The work involves cutting back the driveway, pulling out the furnace and plumbing, then jackhammering holes into the foundation walls so steel beams can be slid underneath the home.
The house is slowly jacked up using hydraulics and workers hammer away all the concrete before the new foundation is poured.
The region’s real estate market has taken a big hit, residents say, and there is concern about the long-term economic ramifications if people do not get their homes fixed.
Looking around his Vernon neighborhood, Ken Fisher points to one home where the owners “just bailed” and it’s now a rental. Another was sold at a basement-level price.
“The neighborhood is deteriorating, one by one,” said Fisher, who lives in Padula’s neighborhood and is having his foundation replaced at the same time. “It’s just not the way we expected our lives to come to this. It’s pretty heartbreaking. Very heartbreaking.”

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Lawsuits stemming from gas explosions settled for $143M
Tue, July 30, 2019 01:45 EDT
LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — A series of class action lawsuits stemming from the natural gas explosions in Massachusetts have been settled for $143 million, the utility blamed for the disaster and lawyers for the plaintiffs announced Monday.
The settlement is subject to the approval of a judge, according to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, and its parent, NiSource Inc.
“Today marks another important step forward, as we continue to fulfill our commitment to residents and businesses,” NiSource President Joe Hamrock said in a statement.
The explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13 killed one person, injured about 25 others, and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings. Many people were forced into temporary shelter, and thousands of homes and businesses went without natural gas service for weeks and even months during the winter.
“Families suffered for months in the gripping cold. Businesses shuttered, and lives were upended,” Elizabeth Graham, co-lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “To this day, the people most impacted by the explosions are not fully back on their feet, but we believe this settlement is the quickest and most just method to ensure that residents and businesses are made whole again.”
The explosions were blamed on an overpressurization of gas transmission lines during routine replacement. The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation.
The agreement announced Monday is separate from an $80 million settlement reached in May with the three communities to address infrastructure damage.
It is also separate from settlements with two families.
In July, Columbia settled with the family of Leonel Rondon, 18, who died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s home.
In April, the utility settled with the Figueroa family, of Lawrence. Several members of the family were injured and their home was heavily damaged. Details of the Rondon and Figueroa settlements have not been made public.
“I don’t think anything can ever be fair to a community where so many people lost family members, lost homes, lost livelihoods,” Republican Gov. Charlie Baker responded when asked Monday if he believed the settlement was a fair one.
Baker, however, added that victims of the disaster were well represented in negotiations with the utility, “and if they believe that was a deal worth signing, I’m going to side with them on that.”
NiSource has so far spent about $1 billion responding to the disaster, the company said.
Residents of the three communities will be entitled to recover compensation for disruption of their lives and property damage not previously covered, according to the attorneys. Businesses will be able to claim lost income and lost inventory.
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This story has been corrected to show that Joe Hamrock is CEO of NiSource, not CEO of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

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‘Chernobyl’ miniseries sends curious tourists to Lithuania
By LIUDAS DAPKUS | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:46 EDT
VISAGINAS, Lithuania (AP) — An HBO miniseries featuring Soviet-era nuclear nightmares has sparked global interest in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and boosted tourism in Lithuania.
The Baltic country, which served as the filming location for “Chernobyl,” has become a destination of so-called atomic tourism since the program aired earlier this year.
At Ignalina nuclear power plant, Mikhail Nefedyev was staring grimly at the row of blinking green lights on a control panel when another group of curious visitors poured into his realm. The 64 year-old engineer explained to them what exactly happened when a similar reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine, 33 years ago.
The Ignalina plant is of the same prototype as the one in Chernobyl. It has similar blueprints and the same water-cooled graphite-moderated reactors with a capacity of 1,500 megawatts of power. Ignalina was shut down a decade ago. Closing and decommissioning it were key conditions of Lithuania’s entry to the European Union in 2004.
In 1986, Lithuania, then part of the Soviet empire, was one of the republics affected by the nuclear disaster. Thousands were sent to clean up the mess in Chernobyl. Many of them are dead.
Today, the nuclear disaster is helping Lithuania grow as a tourist destination.
“Chernobyl,” a highly-rated miniseries, continues to send curious watchers to the filming locations in the capital Vilnius and at Ignalina, where glowing uranium rods cool in concrete pools. The plant, which is still open for tourists, drew 2,240 visitors in 2018. By July, 1,630 had visited the plant. And demand is growing, plant officials said.
“They have made a good movie, I guess. But what happened long ago does not bother us now. I think looking backward is not good,” Nefedyev said, after explaining how the RBMK-type reactor blew up.
Tourists who come to this Baltic coastal country of 3 million to see the HBO filming locations first visit the KGB museum in downtown Vilnius where interrogation scenes were shot. They are taken to a Soviet-era district of gray condos built in the mid-1980s that look somewhat like Pripyat, a nuclear city that served the Chernobyl plant.
“People come to see these places that we never used to promote. This is very new and unusual to see them not in the Old Town taking photos of Baroque churches, but sporting selfies here,” said Inga Romanovskiene, general manager at Go Vilnius agency.
Already a popular movie-making destination, Lithuania has benefited economically from the HBO miniseries. The amount of foreign capital spent on filming reached 45.5 million euros ($50.6 million) last year.
After locations in Vilnius, atomic tourists may opt to travel 160 kilometers (100 miles) north and join a three-hour tour of the nuclear plant. They are given dosimeters, plastic helmets, white clothes and shoes before venturing through a maze of long, poorly lit corridors, reactor halls, turbine hangars and the control center with the red button which was pushed just before the explosion. Cellphones, cameras, eating, drinking and smoking are strictly off limits.
The plant tour costs 67 euros (75 dollars) per person and tickets are sold until Christmas, said Natalija Survila, spokeswoman for Ignalina power plant.
Lynn Adams, a 49-year-old psychotherapist, came from the United Kingdom to see the whole thing with her own eyes.
“It feels like you are stepping back into one of the scenes actually. It’s very, very authentic. And I remember seeing about Chernobyl on the news, but I’m so much more interested in what happened and the events having seen the drama series. So I think it has kind of ignited an interest that I wasn’t aware of at the time,” Adams said after the visit to a Soviet-era district, used by HBO as a filming location for Pripyat.
Antanas Turcinas was among those sent to Chernobyl weeks after the disaster. He hopes the buzz from the miniseries leads to better care for survivors.
“This movie has brought back old memories. Emotions are very strong, because in 1986 we did not understand what we faced. I am happy to be still alive,” he said.

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