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UN chief rejects claim he didn’t condemn China over Muslims
By EDITH M. LEDERER 01:16 EDT
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has strongly rejected claims by five human rights groups that he hasn’t condemned the Chinese government’s detention of more than a million Muslims in the Xinjiang region, saying he has spoken out forcefully.
“I don’t think anyone has been more persistent and more clear in talking to the Chinese authorities in relation to this issue than myself,” he told reporters Wednesday. “It is absolutely not true that I’ve only done discreet diplomacy.”
On the contrary, Guterres said that during his visit to Beijing in April, “I not only did raise the issue, but I made it public.”
The five rights groups said in a letter to the secretary-general circulated Tuesday that he would make an important contribution to addressing “one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time” by speaking out against China’s internment of the Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and calling for the immediate closure of detention camps for them.
The letter was signed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Uyghur Conference.
Guterres said he told the Chinese “that it is very important to act in a way that each community feels that their identity is respected and that they belong, at the same time, to the society as a whole.”
“There couldn’t be a more clear message,” he said. “So, if there is an area where I believe I’ve been doing publicly much more than many other leaders around the world (it) is this.”
Guterres said he will continue acting to guarantee that “all human rights in all circumstances are fully respected in that situation.”
Does that mean detention centers should be closed?
“It will mean to do everything that is necessary for human rights to be respected,” Guterres replied.
Criticism has grown over China’s internment of the Uighurs and other Muslims, and Guterres has been criticized previously by human rights groups and some governments for his behind-the-scenes approach and failure to address their plight publicly.
China’s government insists the detention sites are “vocational” centers aimed at training and skills development. It has sharply criticized 22 Western countries that called for an end to mass arbitrary detentions and other abuses of Uighurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
In a report earlier this year to counter criticism of internment camps and other oppressive security in the traditionally Islamic region, China said it had arrested nearly 13,000 people it described as “terrorists” and had broken up hundreds of “terrorist gangs” in Xinjiang since 2014.
The five rights organizations cautioned Guterres “against any action that might lend credence to Beijing’s narrative that the unlawful detention of over a million Uighurs and other Muslims is a necessary measure to counter terrorism.”
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At 98, D-Day vet jumps again, with eyes on the big 100
Thu, September 19, 2019 10:25 EDT
GROESBEEK, Netherlands (AP) — Jump by jump, 98-year-old D-Day veteran Tom Rice is nudging closer to his goal of leaping out of planes at age 100.
The American who caused a sensation in June by parachuting into Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings was at it again on Thursday.
This time, his landing zone was in the Netherlands.
Strapped to a younger parachutist who steered their canopy, Rice jumped as part of commemorations for the massive landings of airborne Allied troops in September 1944.
He described the jump as “perfect” and said: “I’m going to do it until I’m 100.”
Rice jumped with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
Hundreds of other parachutists also sailed over the Netherlands on Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, a 1944 land-and-airborne thrust through the country.
Allied strategists hoped the assault would clear a path toward Nazi Germany’s industrial heartland and hasten the end of the war. But ground troops got bogged down, leaving airborne soldiers who’d jumped ahead of the thrust outnumbered and outgunned.
The military bungle was immortalized in the Hollywood film and Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bridge Too Far.”
More Allied troops – about 11,500 – died in the nine days of Operation Market Garden than in the D-Day landings.
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Number of abortions in US falls to lowest level since 1973
By DAVID CRARY | Wed, September 18, 2019 03:25 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday.
The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. That’s down from 926,000 tallied in the group’s previous report for 2014, and from just over 1 million counted for 2011.
Guttmacher is the only entity that strives to count all abortions in the U.S., making inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire because those states don’t compile comprehensive abortion data for the CDC.
The new report illustrates that abortions are decreasing in all parts of the country — in Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict abortion access and in Democratic-run states protecting abortion rights. Between 2011 and 2017, abortion rates increased in only five states and the District of Columbia.
One reason for the decline in abortions is that fewer women are becoming pregnant. The Guttmacher Institute noted that the birth rate and the abortion rate declined during the years covered by the new report. A likely factor, the report said, is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011. The Affordable Care Act required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs.
According to the report, the 2017 abortion rate was 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 — the lowest rate since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Following that ruling, the number of abortions in the U.S. rose steadily — peaking at 1.6 million in 1990 before starting a steady, still-continuing decline. The abortion rate is now less than half what is was in 1990.
Guttmacher noted that almost 400 state laws restricting abortion access were enacted between 2011 and 2017. But it said these laws were not the main force behind the overall decline in abortions. It said 57% of the nationwide decline occurred in the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that did not enact any new restrictions.
Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, said Guttmacher’s report understated the role played by anti-abortion activism in reducing the number of abortions. In 1981, he said, 54% of women with unintended pregnancies opted for abortion. That number fell to 42% by 2011.
“This shows that pro-life efforts to change public opinion, assist pregnant women, and pass protective laws are all having an impact,” New said in an email.
Between 2011 and 2017, the number of clinics providing abortion in the U.S. declined from 839 to 808, with significant regional disparities, the report said. The South had a decline of 50 clinics, including 25 in Texas, and the Midwest had a decline of 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. By contrast, the Northeast added 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York.
Over that period, the abortion rate dropped in Ohio by 27% and in Texas by 30%. But the rate dropped by similar amounts in states that protected abortion access, including California, Hawaii and New Hampshire.
Areas with the highest abortion rates in 2017 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Florida. Rates were lowest in Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri — many women from those five states go out of state to obtain abortions .
One significant trend documented in the report: People who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, making use of the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014.
The report, which focuses on data from 2017, does not chronicle the flurry of sweeping abortion bans that were enacted earlier this year in several GOP-controlled states, including a near-total ban in Alabama and five bills that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. None of those bans has taken effect and their backers hope that litigation over the laws might eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling weakening or overturning Roe v. Wade.
Guttmacher’s president, Dr. Herminia Palacio, said abortion restrictions, regardless of whether they lead to fewer abortions, “are coercive and cruel by design,” with disproportionate impact on low-income women.
However, the push for tougher restrictions continues. Just last week, Texas Right to Life and some allied groups urged Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to “abolish every remaining elective abortion” in the state.
The report comes amid upheaval in the federal family planning program, known as Title X. About one in five family planning clinics have left the program, objecting to a Trump administration regulation that bars them from referring women for abortions. Title X clinics provide birth control and basic health services for low-income women.
“If your priority is to reduce abortions, one of the best things you can do is make sure that women have access to high-quality, affordable and effective methods of birth control,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
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‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface
By ROB GILLIES | 10:48 EDT
TORONTO (AP) — Canadian leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign was hit Wednesday by the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a 2001 costume party. The prime minister apologized and said “it was a dumb thing to do.”
Time magazine posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It depicts the then 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign exactly one week ago, said he should have known better.
“I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.
The Canadian prime minister is but the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.
The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” The prime minister said it was not the first time he has painted his face; once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.
“I should have known better then but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do.”
He said he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is “sometimes appropriate.”
“These are the situations I regret deeply,” Trudeau added.
The prime minister, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.
The photo’s publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era, with Canada accepting more refugees than the United States. His Liberal government has also strongly advocated free trade and legalized cannabis nationwide.
But the 47-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history, which arose when Trudeau’s former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal rocked the government and led to multiple resignations earlier this year, causing a drop in the leader’s poll ratings.
Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau said he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.
His quick apology did not stem the criticism from political opponents, who took the prime minister to task for what they said was troubling behavior.
“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and the first visible minority to lead a national party.
Scheer, the opposition Conservative leader, said brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.
“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.
Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was “gobsmacked” at the development and wondered how it would land in Parliament.
“We’ll just have to see how the party reacts,” he said. “I’m very curious to know how Liberal members of Parliament that are black will react.”
How the scandal will affect Trudeau’s campaign remains in question. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in U.S. politics than in Canada.
“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said. “The Liberals may very well lose the election — they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015 — but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”
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Toppled Tunisian ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dies at 83
By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA | Thu, September 19, 2019 11:54 EDT
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, an autocrat who led his small North African country for 23 years before being toppled by bloody protests that unleashed revolt across the Arab world, died Thursday. He was 83.
Ben Ali, who had lived in Saudi Arabia since fleeing Tunisia in 2011, died in Jeddah, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha told the Associated Press. The former president was receiving treatment for prostate cancer and hospitalized last week.
His body is to be transferred to Mecca, awaiting the family’s decision on burial arrangements, Ben Salha said.
Ben Ali’s ouster on Jan. 14, 2011 amid Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution inspired what became known as the Arab Spring, a movement that saw many autocratic leaders swept from power.
Ben Ali was widely detested and convicted repeatedly of corruption in Tunisia after he went into self-imposed exile. But some loyal supporters called for his return as economic and security troubles plagued the country’s new democracy.
As president, Ben Ali’s picture was plastered for decades on billboards and buildings across the country, his face remaining strangely ageless despite the passage of time, his hair still jet-black. It seemed that only death would end his grip on power.
But as revolt swept Tunisia in late 2010 and early 2011, fueled by anger over corruption, repression and unemployment, demonstrators set fire to the president’s photograph, a once-unthinkable act. His image eventually peeled off buildings and billboards nationwide like old wallpaper.
Ben Ali promoted his country of 11 million as a beach haven for European tourists and a beacon of stability in volatile North Africa. It seemed as though he had offered his people a tradeoff: There was a lack of civil rights and little or no freedom of speech, but a better quality of life than in nearby countries such as Algeria and Morocco.
Tunisia’s revolution changed all that, spawning a plethora of political movements and the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring movement across the region.
The United States and other Western powers had an ambivalent relationship with Ben Ali. WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis described widespread allegations of corruption among the president’s family, described Tunisia as a “police state” and said Ben Ali had lost touch with his people.
But Ben Ali tried to curry favor with the West through an ongoing crackdown on extremists that human rights groups said was far too brutal and too broad, targeting as potential terrorists anyone with a strict interpretation of Islam.
Born Sept. 3, 1936, near Sousse, a city of white- and sand-colored houses on the Mediterranean, Ben Ali embarked on a career as a professional army officer. He was responsible for Tunisia’s internal security throughout a 1985 confrontation with neighboring Libya and a crackdown on Islamic fundamentalists.
He was briefly prime minister in 1987 before setting his sights on the presidency.
In a bloodless coup, Ben Ali seized power from then-president-for-life Habib Bourguiba, the founder of modern-day Tunisia who set the Muslim country on a pro-Western course after independence from France in 1956. Ben Ali removed Bourguiba from office for “incompetence,” saying he had become too old, senile and sick to rule.
Ben Ali promised then that his leadership would “open the horizons to a truly democratic and evolved political life.” But after a brief period of reforms early on, Tunisia’s political evolution stopped.
Most opposition parties were illegal. Opponents were jailed or fled into exile. Amnesty International said authorities infiltrated human rights groups and harassed dissenters. Reporters Without Borders branded Ben Ali a “press predator” who controlled the media.
Ben Ali consistently won elections by large margins. In 2009 he was re-elected to a fifth five-year term with 89% of the vote. He had warned political opponents they would face legal retaliation if they questioned the vote’s legitimacy.
Under Ben Ali’s watch, Tunisia was relatively untouched by the kind of Islamic extremist violence that wracked neighboring Algeria, except for a 2002 attack on a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that killed 21 people, mostly German tourists. Investigators linked the attack to al-Qaida.
After the 2011 revolution, Islamic fundamentalism surged in some quarters and security services struggled against extremists linked to the Islamic State group.
Ben Ali is survived by his second wife. Leila Trabelsi and their three children, as well as three children from his first marriage.