It’s Thursday May 25, 2017

25May

00:0000:00

Police have arrested two more people and are searching a new site in Manchester suspected of links to the bombing that killed 22 people a pop concert. The Greater Manchester Police force says two men were arrested overnight in Manchester and the Withington area in the south of the city. Eight men have now been detained in connection with Monday's attack. Also a British official says police in Manchester will stop sharing information about their bombing investigation with the U.S. until they get a guarantee that there will be no more leaks to the news media. British officials are particularly angry that photos detailing evidence about the bomb used in the Manchester attack were published in The New York Times, though it was not clear where those came from. British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to raise the issue of the leaks with President Donald Trump in Brussels later Thursday.

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II made a surprise trip to a children's hospital to visit with some of the injured from the Manchester Arena blast as well as the medical staff treating them. Twelve children under the age of 16 were taken to that hospital by ambulance following Monday night's attack. Also on Thursday, many across Britain fell silent and bowed their heads for a minute in tribute to the victims caught up in Monday night's concert bombing. Crowds gathered at well-known sites including London's Parliament and Trafalgar Squares and Manchester's Albert Square.

 

 

Ariana Grande is reportedly preparing to cover the costs of funerals for those killed in the horrifying bomb blast following her concert Monday. Grande flew home to Florida on Tuesday, but she has been keeping abreast of the situation in the U.K. and is allegedly doing what she can financially to help those who lost loved ones in the attack. World Entertainment News Network news reports the news emerged on a fan page on Twitter late on Tuesday, in a post which read: "News on Ariana: Ariana has reached out to the families who's loves ones died last night... she is gonna pay for the funerals!" A representative for the singer has yet to comment on the claim. The pop superstar's Dangerous Woman Tour had been due to continue in London on Thursday and Friday, but the singer's world tour has now been postponed indefinately.

 

 

China warned a U.S. warship to leave an area near a reef it claims in disputed South China Sea waters. The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey cruised on patrol in the Spratly islands near Mischief Reef, where China has a newly constructed outpost with an airfield. China said the American ship was trespassing on territory where it has "indisputable sovereignty," and undermining regional security. China has been increasing its military presence in the area in recent years. Numerous other countries maintain claims on parts of the disputed area, and the U.S. has been pushing back against China by asserting its right to freedom of navigation in the area, sending in naval ships to show that the U.S. is committed to keeping critical sea lanes open in the South China Sea.

 

 

President Trump is meeting with newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump and Macron are holding a working lunch at the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium's residence Thursday. Macron was elected over far-right opponent Marine Le Pen in the French presidential runoff earlier this month. Trump called him after his victory to congratulate him. Macron has said he expects to discuss defense and security issues during the meeting. He has been critical of Trump in the past, including denouncing Trump's musings on abandoning the Paris climate treaty.

 

 

Thursday's special election for Montana's lone congressional seat got a last-minute twist when the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, was charged with misdemeanor assault. Greg Gianforte was cited for body slamming a reporter in his campaign office Wednesday night. The reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, entered Gianforte's office while the candidate was preparing to do an interview with Fox News, and wanted Gianforte to answer questions about the Republican health care bill. Gianforte's campaign spokesperson blamed Jacobs for inciting the incident, by barging into the office univited, sticking a recorder in the candidate's face, and asking badgering questions. Many voters have already cast their votes by mail so it'll be hard to know the impact of the charge on the election results. Authorities said Jacobs' injuries weren't severe enough for a felony assault charge.

 

 

An Iranian semi-official news agency says the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard has built a third underground facility designated to produce ballistic missiles. The semi-official Fars news agency quoted the chief of paramilitary's airspace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, as saying the force will "continue to develop our missile capacity" and that U.S. concerns over the country's ballistic program are of no significance to Iran. According to the report, the site is the third underground production facility for ballistic missiles in Iran. The report did not provide more details, say where it's located and if and how many missiles have already been produced there. Iran has long boasted of having missiles that can travel 2,000 kilometers - or about 1,200 miles, placing much of the Middle East, including Israel, within range.

 

 

Spain's defense ministry says a navy frigate has rescued 282 migrants from two boats found adrift in waters off the Libyan coast. A ministry statement says the migrants rescued Wednesday included 18 Eritrean children under 10 years old. They were sailing in a small rubber boat and a larger wooden one. The statement Thursday says the migrants were from African and Asian nations. They were transferred to a British vessel also taking part in the European Union's anti-smuggling mission in Libyan waters. The ministry says the rescue brought to 3,035 the number of migrants picked up by the frigate in the past three months. It says three alleged traffickers were detained.

 

 

Federal Reserve policy makers agreed in May that they should wait for signs that a recent economic slowdown was over before raising interest rates again, according to minutes of the meeting released Wednesday. The Fed leaders were nearly unanimous in favoring reductions to the central bank's massive holdings in Treasury debt and mortgage back securities, which it bought up to stimulate the economy and help speed the recovery from the Great Recession. Markets and analysts are predicting a likely rate hike at the Fed's next meeting in June, but the minutes indicated that the decision would depend on whether economic data showed the economy was gaining strength after the first-quarter slowdown. U.S. stocks closed with their fifth straight day of gains after the minutes were released, with the S&P 500 index reaching a record high.

 

 

President Trump's proposal to sell nearly half the U.S. emergency oil stockpile is sparking renewed debate about whether the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is still needed amid an ongoing oil production boom that has seen U.S. imports drop sharply in the past decade. Trump's budget calls for selling an additional 270 million barrels of oil over the next decade, raising an estimated $16.6 billion. The petroleum reserve was created after the 1970s Arab oil embargo. It guards against disruptions in the flow of oil from the Middle East and other countries. Lawmakers from both parties have long warned against using it to raise money. But some Republicans say North Dakota's oil-rich Bakken region offers a de facto reserve that can be tapped if needed. Trump's plan requires congressional approval.

 

 

Texas lawmakers have approved the hunting of feral hogs and coyotes from hot air balloons. Texas' growing wild hog population - estimated at about two million - causes millions of dollars' worth of damage to crops every year. Their high breeding rate and lack of natural predators has seen their population explode. The state already allows the shooting of feral hogs from helicopters, but that is expensive and has not been very unsuccessful because the aircraft often scare the animals away. Hot air balloons are quieter and offer a more stable shooting platform. The bill requires the state to license hot air balloon hunting. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday night and now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his consideration.

 

 

The U.S. Senate has voted to name Nashville's new federal courthouse after former Sen. Fred Thompson, the late actor who appeared in at least 20 movies and in the TV series "Law & Order." Sen. Lamar Alexander announced the Senate vote Wednesday on a resolution already passed by the House, leaving the final decision to President Trump. A Tennessee-trained lawyer and prosecutor, Thompson was a hard-driving Senate counsel during the Watergate hearings and later a popular actor and fleeting presidential hopeful in 2008. He commanded audiences with a booming voice, folksy charisma and a 6-foot-6 frame. Besides a starring role in the "Law & Order" TV series, he appeared in the TV series Wiseguy, as well as motion pictures like "The Hunt for Red October" and "Die Hard II." Thompson died at 73 in 2015.

 

 

A medicine made from marijuana cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits. The study involved 120 children and teens in the U.S. and Europe and was the first rigorous test of a liquid extract from cannabis, without the ingredient that makes pot smokers high. For those on the drug, seizures with convulsions dropped from around 12 a month to about six. The number did not change for others given a dummy medicine. The drug is called Epidiolex. It is not sold anywhere yet, but its maker is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study Wednesday.

It’s Wednesday May 24, 2017

24May

00:0000:00

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May raised the country's threat level to "critical," its highest point, meaning the government believed another terrorist attack could be imminent, in the wake of a deadly suicide attack in Manchester. U.K. authorities also confirmed what U.S. authorities said on Monday - that a 22-year-old British man, Salman Abedi, was the suspected suicide bomber who killed 22 people - including an 8-year-old girl - and injured 59 others at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night. Police suspect Abedi, who had visited Libya, had accomplices. Manchester's police chief also told reporters that a total of four people have been arrested in connection with the attack, and that it is clear "this is a network we are investigating." The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast, which hit in a lobby area as crowds of teenage girls, parents, and others were filing through toward the exits after the show. Abedi, the U.K.-born son of Libyan immigrants, lived in a house a few miles from Manchester Arena, where the attack occurred. It was Britain's deadliest terrorist attack since 2005.

 

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he'll consider martial law in other parts of the Philippines "in order to protect the people." He says "if I think that ISIS has taken a foothold also in Luzon," the main northern island, "and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country." Duterte also said that militants who stormed southern Marawi city beheaded the local police chief at a checkpoint they set up. Duterte spoke to reporters after returning from a visit to Moscow as fighting raged in Marawi between government troops and Muslim militants who took about a dozen people hostage. He has earlier declared martial law in the southern Mindanao region, where Marawi is located.

 

 

More than 30 people have drowned after about 200 people fell from an overcrowded migrant boat off the coast of Libya, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea. The vessel was carrying between 500 and 700 people when the accident happened 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. It was not clear whether those in the water were knocked off balance by a wave or because there was a rush to one side of the boat as a rescue vessel approached. The Italian coastguard, which was coordinating rescues, dispatched other vessels to the area to look for survivors.

 

 

President Donald Trump arrived in Brussels Wednesday afternoon ahead of meetings with NATO leaders. Trump was harshly critical of NATO as a candidate, declaring the military alliance "obsolete." He's also criticized member countries for not following NATO guidelines to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. The president has been similarly critical of Brussels, the Belgian capital that is home to both the NATO and European Union headquarters. After the city's recent struggles with terrorism, Trump called Brussels a "hellhole." Brussels is Trump's fourth stop on his maiden overseas tour. Earlier in the day Trump met in the Vatican with Pope Francis, their first face-to-face meeting. The pope has been critical of Trump, particularly regarding the president's policies on refugees, and Trump has called Francis' jabs "disgraceful." In their meeting, however, the pope reportedly asked Trump to be a peacemaker, and afterwards Trump told the pope he "won't forget what you said," adding, "We can use peace." The meeting came after Trump pushed for a new peace effort in separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Israel. In the Vatican, Pope Francis and Trump exchanged gifts - the pope gave Trump copies of his three main papal writings and a medallion by a Roman artist that he called a symbol of peace; Trump gave Francis a first-edition set of writings from Martin Luther King Jr. and a piece of granite from Washington's Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial. Trump said meeting with Pope Francis was the "honor of a lifetime." First lady Melania Trump visited the

Vatican's children's hospital, meeting with patients, painting pictures with them and taking selfies. The president's fifth and final stop on his first trip abroad will be Sicily, where he'll meet with the leaders of the Group of 7 wealthy nations.

 

 

Former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he had grown increasingly concerned about contact between Russian officials and associates of President Trump, then a candidate, and his campaign. Brennan said he expressed his concerns to the FBI, and personally warned his Russian counterpart that Moscow's attempt to meddle in the election "would destroy any near-term prospect of improvement" in U.S.-Russia relations. Brennan's testimony provided unprecedented detail regarding the period when U.S. intelligence officials were reaching the conclusion that Moscow was trying to tip the vote in favor of Trump and against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival. Brennan also testified that intelligence suggesting a pattern of contact between Russian agents and people linked to the Trump campaign "raised concerns" in his mind.

 

 

President Trump has hired a trusted personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, to represent him during the investigations into his campaign and suspected Russian interference in last year's election, numerous news outlets are reporting, citing people familiar with the decision. Kasowitz's New York firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, says on its website that it has worked with Trump "on a wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years." Those include the restructuring of his business debt, defamation cases, divorce records, real estate transactions, and fraud allegations regarding Trump University.

 

 

A new thread in the web of corruption investigations around Brazil's president, Michel Temer, was revealed this week when police arrested a close aide for an alleged kickback scheme involving the World Cup stadium in Brasilia. Tadeu Filippelli, a former vice-governor of the capital and cabinet adviser, was among three senior politicians detained by police during raids. The suspects are accused of deliberately inflating the cost of the stadium in return for bribes from the construction company. The venue - which was used in the quarter-final and third-placed play-off of the 2014 tournament - was initially budgeted at $180 million, but ended up costing $454 million. After Wembley, it is the second most expensive football stadium in the world, but the 72,800 seats are almost never filled because Brasilia has no top-tier football club. Last year, the spectacular edifice was used as a bus depot. The president's office said Filippelli was dismissed from his post as soon as the charges were made public. But the arrest adds to the pressure on Temer, who was formally accused by the attorney general last week of obstructing justice and corruption related to the sprawling graft schemes at major companies uncovered by the Lava Jato - or "Car Wash" investigation.

 

 

The White House on Tuesday unveiled President Trump's first full budget, a $4.1 trillion plan that includes steep cuts in spending on Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, social services for the low-income and disabled, most federal agencies, farm subsidies, federal pension benefits, college loans, highway funds, medical research, and foreign aid. Trump's budget also would boost funding for the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs Department, Homeland Security, and a new parental-leave plan. The budget, released while Trump is abroad on his first foreign trip as president, is considered unlikely to pass Congress as written, but it clarifies Trump's priorities. Critics said the spending plan, which says the budget will be balanced in 10 years, relies on faulty math and unrealistic projections for economic growth. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney will start trying to sell the plan to the House and Senate budget committees on Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

Taiwan's top court has cleared the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. The Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that current laws, which say that marriage is between a man and a woman, violate the Constitution. The panel of judges has given the island's parliament, known as the Legislative Yuan, two years to amend or enact new laws, which could potentially make Taiwan the first place in Asia to allow same-sex marriage. The island has a large gay community and its annual gay pride parade is the biggest in Asia but the issue of marriage equality has divided Taiwanese society, with thousands turning out in recent months to protest for and against marriage equality.

 

 

Moody's Investors Service downgraded China's credit rating for the first time in nearly 30 years on Wednesday, saying the world's second largest economy would weaken in coming years as it continues building up debt as growth slows. In a statement announcing the one-notch downgrade, from A1 to Aa3, Moody's said China remains committed to maintaining high economic growth, but, with productivity gains waning, to do so it will have to keep using debt to stimulate the economy. China's Finance Ministry said that Moody's "to some extent overrated the difficulties that the Chinese economy is facing, and underestimated the ability of the Chinese government to deepen supply-side reform and properly expand overall demand."

 

 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a subterranean complex built under the Arctic ice tasked with storing seeds from around the world. In the event of a catastrophe, the vault could resupply the seeds needed to get crops in far-flung countries going again. But the so-called "Doomsday" vault suffered a near-miss of its own, when it emerged that water from melted permafrost had breached its access tunnel. Thankfully, nothing inside the base was damaged. But the organization that runs the vault, and the Norwegian government that owns it, has decided an upgrade is probably in order. New drainage ditches and waterproof walls will be built to combat the threat of melting permafrost - something that could become common. Originally, the permafrost was meant as a fail-safe system in case humans weren't able to supply power the vault any longer. Designed as a 'perma-freezer', the vault remains at a constant 4 below zero degrees celsius, thanks to its sheer depth inside the mountain and its close proximity to the North Pole . The high-security vault, which cost nearly $8 million dollars to build, is made-up of a series of tunnels, leading to store-rooms where around one million seed samples are kept. Described as a 'mini United Nations' the vaults contain enormous shelves, where countries' seeds are stored alongside one another.

It’s Tuesday May 23, 2017

23May

00:0000:00

At least 22 people, including children, were killed and 59 were injured Monday night in a suspected terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in the northern England city of Manchester. Police said the attack appeared to have been carried out by a lone suicide bomber. Manchester police said the attacker died in the arena after detonating an improvised explosive device. The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack. U.S. authorities identified the assailant as Salman Abedi. They did not provide information about his age or nationality, and British officials declined to comment on the suspect’s identity. The Islamic State’s claim came as British investigators intensified their search for possible accomplices and police teams fanned out across the northern city after the worst terrorist strike in Britain in more than a decade. The Islamic State did not give any details about the attacker or how the blast was carried out late Monday.

 

 

 

 

Members of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 killed seven militants in central Yemen during an early Tuesday raid on a compound associated with Al Qaeda. U.S. military officials said it was the first ground raid in Yemen that the military has acknowledged since Navy SEALs carried out a similar attack in late January — the first such operation authorized by President Donald Trump. One Navy SEAL team member died and three others were injured in that mission, and as many as 25 civilians were killed. In a statement after the operation, U.S. Central Command said the latest raid targeted a compound in the governorate of Marib that was linked to the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.  A Central Command spokesman said the raid was intended to seize potentially important information from the compound — typically electronic devices such as computers, hard drives and cellphones — and was not an attempt to kill or capture a particular individual.

 

 

 

 

President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.” In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.” The president said, “This trip is focused on that goal.” Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him. Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to their unbreakable spirit.” Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation. In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

 

 

 

 

North Korea may have launched an unidentified object across its southern border on Tuesday afternoon, leading South Korea’s military to fire warning shots — a potential new provocation amid already heightened tensions between the two countries. The incident, which is still being investigated by the South Korean military and could be a false alarm, comes two days after the North test-fired a ballistic missile into the sea — the rogue regime’s latest violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and further evidence of its advancing weapons capability. Details about Tuesday’s incident were still unclear, but it was reminiscent of a case in January 2016 in which a North Korean drone flew over the Military Demarcation Line, the border defined by the decades-old armistice signed by the two nations. The object on Tuesday, less than a mile high, was detected moving slowly by South Korean radar about 4 p.m. local time near Cheorwon, a city in Gangwon Province about 45 miles northeast of Seoul, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The South sent warning messages and then fired warning shots. There were no reports of injuries or damage resulting from the most-recent incident.

 

 

 

 

According to online security experts, a hacking group closely tied to North Korea was behind the massive WannaCry attack earlier this month. Security company Symantec said the way the attack was set up made it "highly likely" that the Lazarus group was responsible. Lazarus has been blamed for a 2014 attack on Sony and the theft of $81 million from Bangladesh's central bank. In those attacks, the group is believed to have worked on behalf of North Korea's government. In a blog, Symantec said "substantial commonalities in the tools, techniques, and infrastructure used by the attackers" led it to conclude that the Lazarus group had instigated the WannaCry attack. However, Symantec added that the character of the attack suggested it had not been carried out on behalf of North Korea. Rather than being a nation-state campaign, it said, it looked more like a "typical" cyber-crime campaign that sought to enrich its operators. North Korea has denied any involvement with WannaCry, branding any claims it was behind it "ridiculous".

 

 

 

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial rule in the country’s south for 60 days and will cut short a trip to Moscow and return home to deal with an attack by Muslim extremists allied with the Islamic State group who laid siege to a southern city. A spokesman for Duterte told reporters in Moscow that the martial law took effect Tuesday evening. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said troops raided the hideout of a top terrorist suspect in southern Marawi city, sparking a gunbattle that prompted the militants to call for reinforcements. Officials said the gunmen occupied the city hall, a hospital and a jail and burned several houses in a daring attack.

 

 

 

 

OPEC said it is likely to extend production cuts for another nine months. Ministers and delegates of the oil cartel are meeting this week to debate how to tackle a global glut of crude. OPEC's top producer, Saudi Arabia, favors extending the output curbs by nine months rather than the initially planned six months, as it seeks to speed up market rebalancing and prevent oil prices from sliding back below $50 per barrel. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets in Vienna on Thursday to consider whether to prolong the deal reached in December in which OPEC and 11 non-members, including Russia, agreed to cut output by about 1.8 million barrels per day in the first half of 2017. The decision pushed prices back above $50 per barrel, giving a fiscal boost to major oil producers. But it also spurred growth in the U.S. shale industry, which is not participating in the output deal, thus slowing the market's rebalancing. Saudi Arabia's Gulf ally Kuwait said on Tuesday not every OPEC member was on board yet for an extension to March 2018, but most ministers and delegates in Vienna said they expected a fairly painless meeting.

 

 

 

 

Apple has settled a patent dispute with Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia and agreed to buy more of its network products and services, sending Nokia shares up 7 percent. The deal means Nokia will get bigger royalties from Apple for using its mobile phone patents, helping offset the impact of waning demand for its mobile network hardware. Under the deal announced in a joint statement from the companies on Tuesday, Nokia will also supply network infrastructure products to Apple, and Apple will resume sales of Nokia's digital health products in retail and online stores and look at further collaboration in health. Nokia Chief Executive Rajeev Suri told the company's annual general meeting on Tuesday that the deal would help expand network sales beyond telecom operators to global internet and technology giants. Under the patent license agreement, Nokia will receive a "significant" upfront cash payment and additional revenues from Apple starting from the current quarter. The companies did not give further details but analysts said the revenue was likely to be far higher than a previous deal.

 

 

 

 

Actor Roger Moore, who earned international fame playing British secret agent James Bond in seven movies, died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 89. The announcement came in a statement posted on social media by his family. His 12 years as action man 007, the fictitious spy with a voracious appetite for danger and sex, made Moore a millionaire and a heartthrob the world over, though in reality he was a shy, private man who found some of Bond's escapades embarrassing. Tributes poured in from celebrities including actors Russell Crowe and Mia Farrow and from UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund for which he worked as a "goodwill ambassador." Moore's big breakthrough as an actor came in 1962, when he won the part of "The Saint" in a popular television series of the same name. In this role, he honed his image of the urbane Englishman with a stream of damsels to rescue from distress. In 1973 he replaced Sean Connery as James Bond, writer Ian Fleming's suave secret agent, and it held cinemagoers across the world in thrall.  Moore starred in seven Bond movies total including "Live And Let Die", "The Man with the Golden Gun", "The Spy who Loved Me" " A View To A Kill", and "Moonraker". After handing over the role of Bond to Timothy Dalton, Moore went into semi-retirement, living a millionaire's life and traveling between his homes in Los Angeles, Switzerland and the south of France. He became an ambassador for UNICEF in 1991, a role he retained until his death.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday March 22, 2017

21May

I apologize for the interruption-but I have been hospitalized and cannot publish today. 

It’s Friday May 19, 2017

19May

00:0000:00

Swedish prosecutors said Friday that they were dropping their preliminary rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to the U.S. Assange has denied doing anything wrong, and claimed that the investigation would be used as a way to get him into custody so he could be turned over to the U.S. His troubles aren't necessarily over, because the Justice Department last month was reconsidering whether to charge him for his role in the release of U.S. government secrets by WikiLeaks.

 

 

Law enforcement officials say a man accused of steering his car onto one of the busiest sidewalks in the U.S. and mowing down pedestrians for three blocks told police he was "hearing voices." Police say 26-year-old Richard Rojas struck 23 people in New York City's Times Square Thursday, killing a Michigan teenager, before his car was stopped by a row of steel security barriers. Two law enforcement officials say Rojas told police he was hearing voices and expected to die. After the wreck, Rojas emerged from his vehicle running, yelling and jumping before being subdued by police and bystanders. He was formally charged on Friday with murder and attempted murder.

 

 

An Amtrak engineer involved in a fatal train crash two years ago in Philadelphia has been arraigned on charges including causing a catastrophe and involuntary manslaughter. Authorities say Brandon Bostian was arraigned late Thursday night and released on $81,000 sign on bond, which means he does not have to pay anything as long as he shows up for his court dates. If he doesn't, he would have to pay the full amount. Bostian was handcuffed by a detective as he arrived at a Philadelphia police station earlier Thursday with his attorney. He didn't respond to questions from reporters. Eight passengers were killed in the May 2015 train derailment. The case against Bostian was brought after a victim's family got a judge to order that charges be filed.

 

 

Court officials said former congressman Anthony Weiner has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of transferring obscene material to a minor. The disgraced former U.S. representative from New York City is expected to enter the plea Friday. The FBI began investigating Weiner in September after a 15-year-old North Carolina girl told a tabloid news site that she and the disgraced former politician had exchanged lewd messages for several months. She also accused him of asking her to undress on camera. The investigation of his laptop led to the discovery of a cache of emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to her aide Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife.

 

 

President Donald Trump is departing on Air Force One on his first big foreign trip. The trip is supposed to be a chance to build relationships with key allies and showcase the "America First" policies he promised on the campaign trail. Foreign delegations are preparing to accommodate the man known as America's homebody. Trump has long stated his preference for American comfort foods. So in Saudi Arabia, for example, people with knowledge of the planning say the president will be offered steak and ketchup alongside traditional cuisine. Planners also have gotten word that Trump prefers short presentations to lengthy meetings and gets sufficient downtime during his day.

 

 

Four potential candidates to lead the FBI - including former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman - met with President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday. Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating; Andrew McCabe, currently the bureau's acting director; and Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official, also went to the White House for interviews. The meetings came more than a week after Trump fired James Comey from his post as FBI director. Trump said Monday that the search for a successor to Comey was "moving rapidly." He also has said he could name a candidate by the end of the week, before he departs Friday afternoon on his first overseas trip as president. The Senate must confirm whoever Trump nominates.

 

 

Voting has begun in Iran's first presidential election since its nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent and two other challengers. The election Friday is largely viewed as a referendum on the 68-year-old cleric's more moderate policies, which paved the way for the nuclear accord despite opposition from hard-liners. Economic issues also will be on the minds of Iran's over 56 million eligible voters as they head to more than 63,000 polling places. The average Iranian has yet to see the benefits of the deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. Rouhani's strongest challenger is hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who campaigned in part on populist cash payments to the poor.

 

 

The United States is looking ahead toward a decisive battleground in its bid to destroy the Islamic State group. It is preparing for this next step even as U.S.-backed local forces attempt to finish the fight for the extremists' two main strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon is eyeing a roughly 100-mile stretch of IS-controlled territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border that could represent the start of an endgame for defeating an extremist group that had gobbled up large swaths of territory. Much fighting remains in Mosul in northern Iraq and in the extremists' self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria. The follow-on battle lines are being drawn along a corridor that follows the Euphrates River valley from Syria's eastern oil region to the Iraqi city of al-Qaim.

 

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he's willing to help ties with South Korea return to a "normal track" amid a rift over Seoul's deployment of a high-tech U.S. missile-defense system to guard against North Korean threats. Xi's remarks came in a meeting Friday with South Korean special envoy Lee Hae-chan, who was dispatched to Beijing by South Korea's new president on a mission to reopen contacts and seek a way out of the current impasse, which has hit South Korean businesses hard. Chinese official media quoted Xi as saying China is committed to resolving any issues through dialogue and coordination. Ties between the countries have plunged over the deployment in South Korea of the U.S. missile defense system.

 

 

The World Health Organization says Congo now faces 29 suspected cases of the deadly Ebola virus. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier on Friday said the number includes two laboratory-confirmed deaths. Officials announced the outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever a week ago in a remote area of northern Congo. Lindmeier says Congo authorities and its health partners are monitoring another 416 people who could have come into contact with the suspected cases. The Ebola outbreak is the eighth in Congo since 1976.

 

 

The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued two Cuban fishermen who had been adrift for three days without food or water. Officials got a mayday call Thursday from a disabled vessel off the Florida Keys matching missing boat's description. The U.S. Border Patrol took custody of the men, who were treated at a hospital and will be returned to Cuba. The Coast Guard recently released statistics illustrating the dramatic drop in the number of Cuban migrants trying to reach U.S. shores by sea since President Barack Obama ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy in January. The number has held at zero since April 1.

 

 

The city of New Orleans is taking down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, completing the southern city's removal of four Confederate-related statues that some called divisive. Lee commanded Confederacy armies against the United States in the Civil War, and is a revered figure among supporters of the old South. But the Louisiana city took down a prominent statue of Lee on Friday. City officials are trying to divorce New Orleans from symbols celebrating the Confederacy. Many Southern areas have done the same since nine black parishioners were fatally shot in 2015 by an avowed racist at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. New Orleans has already removed statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a monument memorializing a deadly 1874 white-supremacist uprising.

 

 

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order banning smoking in public across the second-most populous country in south-east Asia, creating one of the region's strictest anti-tobacco laws. The ban, which carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail and a fine of 5,000 pesos - equal to $100 U.S. covers both indoor and outdoor smoking. The smoking ban also covers "vaping" or the use of electronic cigarettes and will apply in casinos, including gaming floors and entertainment rooms, and inside airport buildings, except in designated outdoor smoking areas. Duterte was himself a heavy smoker but quit when he was diagnosed as suffering from Buerger's disease, which can cause blockages in the blood vessels.

 

 

President Trump's budget proposal will require states to provide paid family leave programs. A senior budget official says the administration's 2018 budget - set to be released Tuesday - will include a plan to provide six weeks of paid leave to new mothers, fathers and adoptive parents. The proposal is a departure from Republican orthodoxy. It expands on a campaign pledge to provide paid maternity leave, which Trump adopted at the urging of his daughter Ivanka. Under the plan, states would be required to provide leave payments through existing unemployment insurance programs and would have to identify cuts or tax hikes, as needed, to cover the costs. The administration says this approach would give states flexibility.

 

 

Artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for a record $110.5 million at auction in New York. Sotheby's said the sale of "Untitled" Thursday night in Manhattan was an auction record for the artist. It also set a record price for an American artist at auction. The 1982 painting depicts a face in the shape of a skull. The piece was purchased by noted Japanese collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa after a 10-minute bidding war. He says he plans to eventually display the painting in his museum in Chiba, Japan. The previous auction record for the artist was set last May when "Untitled, 1982" sold for $57.3 million, also to Maezawa. Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988 at age 27.

 

 

British police are warning Harry Potter fans not to put themselves in danger by walking along an active railway line to a landmark from the fantasy films. British Transport police say there has been an increase in the number of people walking down train tracks to the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Scottish Highlands. The Hogwarts Express is shown steaming across the viaduct in several Harry Potter films. Sgt. Kevin Lawrence said many tourists take the Jacobite steam train across the picturesque Victorian bridge, and some walk back along the line to take photographs. He said Friday that "I would like to remind everyone that we are mere Muggles, and if you trespass on the railway and are struck by a train, the consequences could be extremely serious and probably fatal."

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