EarthLink – News
Fire east of Athens under control; some homes damaged
By DEMETRIS NELLAS | Mon, August 12, 2019 12:26 EDT
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A big fire that spread quickly overnight in an eastern suburb of Athens appeared to be under control soon after dawn Monday.
The fire had raced up the slopes of 1,026-meter (3,366 feet) Mount Hymettus, which separates suburban Peania from the main city. Flames shooting up the mountain on what was a pretty extensive front could be seen from Athens early Monday morning. Alarm lights were flashing at the flat mountaintop, occupied by an army communications base and transmission antennas for Greece’s main TV stations.
Firefighting vehicles were also seen rushing up the road to the mountaintop.
At least 141 firefighters with 46 vehicles were fighting the fire and eight specialized helicopters joined them at the break of dawn, authorities say.
A spokesman for the fire service, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fire started among local houses and the fire brigade had not received any calls about houses on fire. He added that a survey of the damage would come after the fire had been put out. Eyewitnesses saw one house extensively damaged.
The spokesman said there was no information on how many people fled. Because the fire broke out in the middle of the night, authorities asked people to ring doorbells to alert their neighbors.
Authorities have warned of a high likelihood of wildfires across large parts of Greece through Tuesday due to high temperatures and windy conditions.
AP photographer Thanassis Stavrakis contributed to this report from Peania, Greece.
EarthLink – News
South Korea to remove Japan from preferred trade list
By KIM TONG-HYUNG | Mon, August 12, 2019 02:45 EDT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Monday that it has decided to remove Japan from a list of nations receiving preferential treatment in trade in what was seen as a countermeasure to Tokyo’s recent decision to downgrade Seoul’s trade status amid a diplomatic row.
It wasn’t immediately clear how South Korea’s tightened export controls would impact bilateral trade. Seoul said South Korean companies exporting to Japan will be able to receive exceptions from case-by-case inspections that are normally applied to exports to nations with lower trade status and go through a faster approval process they currently enjoy.
South Korean Trade Minister Sung Yun-mo said the government decided to remove Japan from the country’s 29-country “white list” because it has failed to uphold international principles while managing its export controls on sensitive materials.
Sung and other South Korean officials did not specify what they saw as Japan’s problems in export controls. They say that Seoul will work to minimize negative impact on South Korean exporters and bilateral trade.
Sung said the changes are expected to enter effect sometime in September, following a 20-day period for gathering public opinion on the issue and further regulatory and legislative reviews. He said Seoul is willing to accept any request by Tokyo for consultation over the issue during the opinion-gathering period.
South Korea’s announcement came weeks after Japan’s Cabinet approved the removal from South Korea from a list of countries with preferential trade status. Seoul had vowed retaliation while accusing Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate over political rows stemming from their wartime history.
Japan’s move came weeks after it imposed stricter controls on certain technology exports to South Korean companies that rely on Japanese materials to produce semiconductors and displays for TVs and smartphones, which are key South Korean export items.
EarthLink – News
Argentina’s Macri bashed as voters back predecessor’s ticket
By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA and DÉBORA REY | Mon, August 12, 2019 12:13 EDT
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Facing widespread discontent over austerity measures and low growth, Argentine President Mauricio Macri was snubbed by voters who appeared to hand a resounding primary victory to a ticket with his predecessor, Cristina Fernández.
The preliminary results from Sunday’s voting suggest the conservative Macri will face an uphill battle going into general elections in October, marking a sharp turnaround from just under four years ago when the country’s left-leaning era appeared to be coming to a definitive end.
With 88% of polling stations tallied early Monday, official results gave the presidential slate headed by Alberto Fernández and his vice presidential running mate, Cristina Fernández, about 47% of the votes. Macri and his running mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto, had 32% — a wide margin that revealed the considerable depth of Macri’s weakness, potentially positioning the Fernández team to win in the first round of voting Oct. 27.
To be elected president in the first round, candidates need to finish with at least 45% of the votes or have 40% and a greater than 10-point advantage over the nearest rival. If no candidate wins outright in October, there will be a November runoff.
“We’ve had a bad election and that obligates us to redouble our efforts so that in October we will continue with change,” Macri said in a late night address. “I think it is very important a dialogue continues in this country, and that we continue explaining to the world what it is we want.”
Former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna trailed far behind the two front-running slates with 8.4% of the votes, which is still potentially enough support to give him a kingmaker role in the fall. Six other presidential slates also were up for elections in the primaries, but parties that got less than 1.5% of the overall votes cast won’t appear on the October ballot.
The pro-business Macri has the support of financial markets and Washington, but has lost popularity amid a deep economic crisis which drove the inflation rate to nearly 50% last year and slashed Argentines’ purchasing power. He says he is taking the necessary, painful steps to get the economy going after 12 years of leftist populism under Cristina Fernández and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
But the electorate issued a resounding rejection of his handling of the economic situation — and a recent lending package from the International Monetary Fund that totaled upward of $55 billion. Most Argentines blame the IMF for encouraging policies that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in 2001, which resulted in one of every five Argentines being unemployed and millions sliding into poverty.
“It’s clear that Macri’s weakest point is the management of the economy, despite the fact that it has improved in the last three months,” said Mariel Fornoni, director of the political consultancy Management & Fit.
The Fernández ticket, whose two members are not related, contends Macri must be defeated so they can fight the poverty and homelessness that they blame on his policies.
“We always fixed problems that others generated. We are going to do it once again,” said Alberto Fernández, who was Cristina Fernández’s chief of staff during her initial term in 2007-2011.
Cristina Fernández is currently facing a series of trials for corruption during her 2007-2015 administration. She denies the allegations.
In a recorded message from the southern province of Santa Cruz, she said Sunday’s results made her Frente de Todos party “happy and optimistic.”
“But not only because we won an election — this is not a soccer game. Many Argentines understood and understand that things must change in the Republic of Argentina because as we are not living well, we are not OK,” she said.
The possibility that Cristina Fernández could return to power put markets on edge. Matías Carugati, chief economist for Management & Fit, said the victory of the Fernández team would put new, “sustained” pressure on the exchange rate and stocks due to the prospect that the South American’s recent free, less state interventionist course could be reversed.
Macri’s election in 2015 marked the first time in a more than a decade that Argentina’s center-right opposition successfully unseated the center-left Peronist movement to which Cristina Fernández belongs.
At the time, his victory appeared to signal a clear end to his rival’s rule, but he conceded that Sunday’s results put him on the defensive.
“This is an election where Argentina has to determine whether it continues on a path of transformation, of deepening democracy, of insertion into the world, of improvement and development — or returns to an authoritarian populist model that has failed in all places where it has been implemented,” he said.
EarthLink – News
Muslims clash with Israeli police at Jerusalem holy site
By ILAN BEN ZION | Sun, August 11, 2019 03:39 EDT
JERUSALEM (AP) — Muslim worshippers and Israeli police clashed Sunday at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Palestinian medics said at least 14 people were wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes with police at the site, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers were wounded. Witnesses said at least two people were arrested.
Clouds of tear gas swirled and stun grenades thundered across the stone-paved esplanade as masses of worshippers skirmished with police in the worst bout of fighting at the contested holy site in months.
The clashes came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, just days after an Israeli soldier was killed south of Jerusalem. On Saturday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinian militants who attempted to cross the Gaza border fence.
Tens of thousands of Muslims had flocked to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City early Sunday for holiday prayers, police said. Jews are also observing on Sunday the Ninth of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the two Biblical temples which stood at the site in antiquity.
The site is the holiest for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has long been a flashpoint at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the holy site, said in a statement that it had sent a formal complaint to Israel and condemned what it called Israel’s “irresponsible provocations.” Sufian al-Qudah, a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said Amman holds Israel completely responsible for the violence.
Large numbers of Palestinians had gathered at the gates of the compound early Sunday after rumors circulated that police would allow Jewish visitors to enter the site. The protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and threw stones at police, who then charged into the compound while firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Israeli police had initially barred entry to Jewish visitors, but reversed their decision after the clashes broke out and allowed them to enter. Several dozen entered the site under close police escort and Muslim worshippers began throwing chairs and other objects at the group. The Jewish visitors left the compound shortly thereafter.
Jerusalem District police commander Doron Yedid told Israeli media that the decision to allow Jewish visitors to enter the site was made “with the backing of the top political officials.” Police spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
The reversal came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious nationalist allies called for the site to be opened to Jewish visitors. Israelis are headed to unprecedented repeat elections next month after Netanyahu failed to form a government following April’s elections.
Jews are barred from praying at the compound under a longstanding arrangement between Israel and Muslim authorities. Jewish tradition also maintains that Jews should avoid entering the holy site.
But in recent years Israeli religious nationalists have stepped up visits to the site to challenge the arrangement. Jewish extremists have called for destroying the mosque and rebuilding the Biblical temple.
The Palestinians view such visits as provocations, and have long feared that Israel intends to take over the site or partition it. The Israeli government has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the status quo.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel was “fueling religious tensions in Jerusalem,” adding that Israeli officials are “fully responsible for its grave consequences.”
The compound is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians seek as part of a future state. Israel views all of Jerusalem as its unified capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have spiked following President Donald Trump’s decision in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been moribund for at least a decade, and the Palestinians have cut ties with the Trump administration over what they see as its unfair bias toward Israel.
In a separate incident on Sunday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian gunman after he opened fire on them from across the perimeter fence around the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military said an “armed terrorist” approached the frontier early Sunday and opened fire toward troops on the other side, who responded by shooting at the attacker. The army said a tank also targeted a nearby military post operated by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza identified the deceased as 26-year-old Marwan Nasser. It was not clear if he was a member of an armed group, and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Saturday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinian militants who the army said had tried to carry out a cross-border attack. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, said the attack was an “individual act” carried out by youths frustrated at the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza and was not planned by the group.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed.
EarthLink – News
Gun-control backers concerned about changing federal courts
By DON THOMPSON | Sun, August 11, 2019 01:23 EDT
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, including a ban on the type of high-capacity ammunition magazines used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.
How long those types of laws will stand is a growing concern among gun control advocates in California and elsewhere.
A federal judiciary that is becoming increasingly conservative under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has gun control advocates on edge. They worry that federal courts, especially if Trump wins a second term next year and Republicans hold the Senate, will take such an expansive view of Second Amendment rights that they might overturn strict gun control laws enacted in Democratic-leaning states.
The U.S. Supreme Court so far has left plenty of room for states to enact their own gun legislation, said Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. But he said the success of the Trump administration in appointing federal judges, including to the high court, could alter that.
“Those judges are likely to be hostile to gun-control measures,” Winkler said. “So I think the courts overall have made a shift to the right on guns. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.”
The legal tug-of-war already is playing out in California.
The state banned the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines nearly two decades ago as one of its numerous responses to deadly mass shootings; a voter initiative passed three years ago expanded on that, banning all ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds even among gun owners who already possessed them.
Earlier this year, a Republican-appointed federal judge overturned the ban, triggering a weeklong bullet buying spree among California gun owners before he put his decision on hold pending appeal. The same judge is overseeing another lawsuit brought by gun-rights groups that seeks to repeal a state law requiring background checks for ammunition buyers.
Legal experts, lawmakers and advocates on both sides said the decision in the case over ammunition limits foreshadows more conflicts between Democratic-leaning states seeking to impose tighter gun laws and an increasingly conservative federal judiciary.
“What you’re looking at in the Southern District of California is happening all over the country,” said Frank Zimring, a University of California, Berkeley law professor who is an expert on gun laws.
Trump has the opportunity to fill a higher percentage of federal court vacancies than any president at this point in his first term since George H.W. Bush nearly three decades ago.
To date, he has nominated 194 candidates for federal judgeships and has had 146 confirmed, out of 860 total federal district court judicial seats, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation. Of 179 seats on the federal appellate courts, Trump has nominated 46 judges and had 43 confirmed. He is poised to fill 105 vacancies in the district courts and four in the appeals courts, according to the Heritage Foundation.
The changes to the federal judiciary could mean that even gun restrictions that were previously upheld by appointees of former Republican presidents may now be in jeopardy, said Hannah Shearer, litigation director at the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“I think the judiciary is headed into a more extreme place on gun control issues because of President Trump’s appointees,” she said.
Even when gun and ammunition limits are upheld, those cases eventually could make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Trump may already have tipped the balance.
The court is currently poised to take up its first Second Amendment case in about a decade. It’s a challenge to a law New York City passed that prohibited people who have home handgun licenses from taking their guns outside the city for target practice or to a second home.
The city has told the court the case should be dropped, however, because it has relaxed its law.
Among other cases working their way through the courts are challenges to a California ban on certain handguns, other states’ longstanding restrictions on carrying concealed weapons and limitations on interstate handgun sales.
Yet forecasting how the Supreme Court might act, or even whether it will take certain cases, is fraught with uncertainty. The court has steered clear of gun-rights cases since establishing an individual right to possess guns in 2008 2010, and has let stand a number of state gun restrictions.
Still, gun-rights supporters are excited by the changes brought by Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate. The upcoming Supreme Court session “could be a real game-changer” with Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, said Chuck Michel, an attorney who represents both the National Rifle Association and the affiliated California Rifle & Pistol Association.
“To the extent that the composition of the court has changed and that it will give the Second Amendment back its teeth, it’s very important,” Michel said. “It looks like there’s enough votes on the court right now to reset the standard.”
His clients are challenging California’s ammunition background check and extended magazine ban before U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.
Other states that limit ammunition magazines in some way, typically between 10 and 20 rounds, are Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Democrats said the prospect of four more years of Trump judicial appointments is helping energize their opposition to his re-election.
“This would be one of the lasting legacies of Donald Trump,” said former California state Senate leader Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles who carried or supported many of the state’s firearms restrictions, including limits on military-style assault weapons. “When Trump is gone, they will be there for lifetime appointments.”
Democratic lawmakers said they will continue pushing more firearms restrictions even as some fear they could be thwarted in the federal courts.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from Southern California, acknowledges the potential for state gun restrictions to be overturned by federal judges, but said the stakes are too high to back down.
He noted that the gunman who recently killed three people and himself in Gilroy, at an annual garlic festival, was 19 and legally bought his assault-style rifle in Nevada before illegally bringing it into California. The gunman also carried a 75-round drum magazine and multiple 40-round magazines, all banned under California law.
“That he could smuggle that across state lines and kill a 6-year-old, to me that’s an example of why we need federal action and why California should continue to lead and tell our story,” Portantino said.
He is proposing a ban on anyone buying more than one gun a month and prohibiting almost all gun sales to people under age 21.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.