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."