Monday, September 25, 2017

Nigeria Expecting Fighter Jets From Russia, US, Pakistan, UAE


Chief Of Air Staff Air Marshal Sadiq Abubkar

ABUJA, NIGERIA (PUNCH NEWSPAPERS) -- The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has said the Nigerian Air Force is expecting new fighter aircraft from no fewer than four countries to boost its capabilities.

He listed the countries as Russia, the United States of America, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Abubakar, who identified the NAF’s challenges as insufficient aircraft and low aircraft serviceability, said his men were working towards “more professionalism to meet the security imperatives.”

The air force chief stated this on Saturday at a lecture delivered to the Senior Course 40 at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State.

The lecture was titled, ‘The Nigerian Air Force in Contemporary Warfare; the Chief of the Air Staff’s Vision for Future Engagements.’

According to Abubakar, while Nigeria is expecting eight Mi-35M attack helicopters from Russia, it is also waiting for the Super Tucano aircraft from the United States.

Moreover, there are five Super Mushshak aircraft expected from Pakistan, while the Yabhon Flash 20 Remote Piloted aircraft is also expected from the UAE.

Abubakar added, “The enormous cost of aircraft acquisition and maintenance infers that such should be carved out as extra-budgetary expenditure while platform maintenance and upgrade must also be moved from recurrent to capital expenditure.

“From a total of 10 Mi-35M helicopters expected, the service has already acquired two, while an additional two are in the production line and to be delivered soon. There is also an indication of the sale of the Super Tucano aircraft by the United States Government.

“Furthermore, out of the expected 10 Super Mushshak primary trainer aircraft procured, five have been inducted into the NAF inventory to enhance flight training.

“In the same vein, efforts are ongoing for the acquisition of the Super Tucano Light Attack Aircraft and delivery of the Yabhon Flash 20 Remote Piloted Aircraft.”

The air chief stated that the NAF also had to compete with local and international aviation industry for the limited aviation engineers in the country.

Church Stoked Tithing With Unemployment Scam, Ex-Members Say

This undated photo provided in 2017 by a former member of the Word of Faith Fellowship shows founder Jane Whaley with children at the church in Spindale, N.C. Former members of the evangelical church say Whaley coerced congregants into filing false unemployment claims after the faltering economy threatened weekly tithes from church-affiliated companies.

SPINDALE, N.C. (AP, SEPTEMBER 25, 2017) — When Randy Fields' construction company faced potential ruin because of the cratering economy, he pleaded with his pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship church to reduce the amount of money he was required to tithe every week.

To his shock, Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a divine plan that would allow him to continue tithing at least 10 percent of his income to the secretive evangelical church while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees. She called it, he said, "God's plan."

Fields and 10 other former congregants told The Associated Press that they and dozens of employees who were church members filed bogus claims at Word of Faith Fellowship leaders' direction, and said they had been interviewed at length about the false claims by investigators with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The unemployment allegations were uncovered as part of the AP's ongoing investigation into Word of Faith, which has about 750 congregants in rural North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 members in its branches in Brazil and Ghana and its affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries.

Some of the ex-members said they turned critical documents related to the unemployment claims over to authorities, even though they knew they could be charged with defrauding the government. The former members estimated the fraudulent claims — some filed by the business owners' wives and other family members — would have drawn payments totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over a six-year period.

The Department of Homeland Security referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office in Charlotte, which cited an "ongoing investigation into allegations against Word of Faith Fellowship" and would not elaborate. The State Bureau of Investigation said the agency would not comment "due to the overall investigation" involving the church.

Whaley and church attorney Josh Farmer did not respond to numerous requests for comment. In February, the AP cited more than three dozen former Word of Faith Fellowship members who said congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to beat out devils. The AP also revealed how, over the course of two decades, followers were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.

Last month, the AP outlined how Word of Faith created a pipeline of young laborers from its two Brazilian congregations who say they were brought to the U.S. and forced to work at businesses owned by church leaders for little or no pay.

The AP's stories have triggered investigations in both the United States and Brazil. Over the years, church leaders have owned and operated more than two dozen businesses. The interviews with former followers, along with documents reviewed by the AP, indicate at least six companies owned by leaders were involved with filing fraudulent unemployment claims between 2008 and 2013. Most of those businesses' employees are congregants, the AP found.

The AP reviewed individual checking account records that showed unemployment benefits deposited by the state, along with income tax records summarizing how much money some of the former followers interviewed received annually in such payments.

Fields, who spent 24 years in the church before leaving in 2015, said his employees kept working without pay while collecting unemployment benefits. "Basically, their unemployment checks would become their paychecks," he said.

It is illegal for employers or employees to knowingly file fraudulent unemployment claims. Since Dec. 1, 2012, violators in North Carolina can face felony fraud charges if the illegal benefits totaled more than $400. Before Dec. 1, 2012, filing false claims was only a misdemeanor.

If investigators believe employers or employees were involved in a conspiracy, however, they could be charged with serious state and federal felony charges. Fields said he knew the plan was illegal but went along with it because of intense pressure from Whaley, who founded the church with her husband in 1979.

"I'm not proud of what I did, but I have to make this right," he said. The price of the refusal, Fields said, could be beatings administered by fellow church members and public shaming by Whaley. The church also might mandate that he be cut off from any contact with his family, he said.

"You knew it was wrong, but you knew you couldn't say a word," said Rick Cooper, who acknowledged falsely filing for unemployment from April 2011 to April 2012. In North Carolina, companies pay a quarterly unemployment tax based on the number of their workers, with the money going into a fund used to pay out claims, according to Larry Parker, spokesman for the Division of Employment Security, which oversees the program.

When a worker files for unemployment, the agency checks with the employer to learn the reason. If an employer says a worker was let go because of the poor economy, payments usually are approved quickly, Parker said.

During the recession, which started in 2007 and was driven by the housing meltdown, laid-off workers could receive state and federal extensions increasing unemployment to 99 weeks with a maximum weekly check of $535. But in 2013, North Carolina legislators tied benefits to the state's unemployment rate. Currently, laid-off workers can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment, with a maximum payment of $350 a week, Parker said.

And, he emphasized, a worker must have been laid off to collect unemployment. "If a company is trying to make workers work while they collect unemployment, that's a potential fraud situation," Parker said.

The former congregants said that not only were they coerced into continuing to work while collecting unemployment, the money fell short of what they needed to pay their bills. "The unemployment checks never equaled what you were making," said Cooper, who worked for Diverse Corporate Tech Inc., a manufacturing company owned by church leader Kent Covington.

"I was making about $700 a week, but I only collected $235 a week in unemployment," Cooper said. "So I'm working the same hours — many times, much longer hours — for less. It was devastating for my family."

Church members were expected to keep tithing regardless of their financial situations and Whaley kept close tabs on "who was giving what," Cooper said. Some of those interviewed by the AP said they learned about the practice at meetings with company officials, but that Whaley herself also promoted it.

"Jane was heavily involved. She was always asking questions about it," said Rachael Bryant, who calculated that she had received unemployment benefits of about $200 a week for 18 months while still working for a Word of Faith minister.

"I remember after I was on unemployment for a few months and Jane said, 'You're still on unemployment, right?' And I said 'yes.' And she said, 'Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!'" Bryant said. Workers receiving unemployment benefits must check in every week and demonstrate they are actively seeking work by providing the names of businesses where they filed job applications, and the former Word of Faith members told the AP that church leaders had a plan for that.

"Every week we'd go to the unemployment office and put down that we looked for work at other companies operated by Word of Faith Fellowship leaders," Rick Cooper said. "Those companies would vouch for the Word of Faith members at the unemployment offices. It was a conspiracy. What's amazing to me is that this went on for years and no red flags ever went off."

Cooper said Whaley told him Covington's business needed the money because "the devil had been attacking the company's finances" and the minister might lose his house. Rick Cooper's son Jeffrey, an attorney and accountant who also has broken with the church, worked for Covington's company, too. Jeffrey Cooper said he was so uneasy about the practice that he called the Division of Employment Security to ask what he labeled a "hypothetical question."

"I said, 'Can an employee file for unemployment while they were still working for a company?'" he told the AP. He said the state official replied that he hoped it was only a hypothetical question because the practice was illegal and anyone involved with it could face serious charges.

Cooper said he relayed the information to Covington, who exploded. "He started screaming at me at the top of his lungs that I was wicked," Cooper said. As a result, Cooper said he was publicly rebuked by Whaley and completely segregated from his wife for six months. Other church members interviewed by the AP corroborated his story.

Rick and Jeffrey Cooper that they and nearly three dozen employees at Diverse Corporate Tech and Covington's other company, Integrity Marble and Granite, filed false unemployment claims over the course of several years.

Covington did not return several phone messages from the AP. Benjamin Cooper, Jeffrey's brother, told the AP that Whaley touted the success of the unemployment tactic from the pulpit in 2009. "There was a church service and Jane got up and started saying that Kent had heard from God of a means to save God's companies' money," Benjamin Cooper said. "She needed to have a meeting after church with all the business owners. I knew what she was referring to. That's why I remember it. We were already on unemployment at that point."

Rachael Bryant said she was pressured into filing false unemployment claims in 2008 after her boss, a medical professional who was a leader in the church, was audited by Medicare and told he owed money because of coding errors.

Bryant said one of her boss' sons told her the company wouldn't be able to pay her for a while, but that Whaley refused to let her look for another job. Eventually, she said, Whaley said they had a plan to help both the doctor and his employees.

"She said, 'Rachael, God found a way where you can make some money. Kent's done it with some of his businesses. So we're going to put you on unemployment,'" Bryant said. Some of her boss' family members also filed for unemployment while continuing to work at the business, she said.

"I remember that I went to Jane after being on it for like three or four months and I remember asking her if I could apply for a job opening in another doctor's office. Well, she started screaming at me, 'You're wicked! There's nothing but the money devil in you!'" said Bryant, who had been making about $500 a week before being reduced to only unemployment checks.

Bryant said she was too scared to leave. Looking back, Fields — whose oldest daughter and grandchild remain in the church — said he struggles with his decision to knuckle under pressure and participate in the plan. And he regrets it.

"The businesses helped support the church," he said. "We would make large donations. Without the businesses, they would have been in trouble." He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. "At the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do. But I was wrong," he said. "We were all wrong."

Mohr reported from Jackson, Mississippi. AP researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.

Iraqi Kurds Vote In Referendum On independence From Baghdad

Iraq's Kurds are set to vote in a referendum

IRBIL, IRAQ (AP, SEPTEMBER 25, 2017) — Iraqi Kurds were casting ballots on Monday in Iraq's Kurdish region and disputed territories on whether to support independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding vote that has raised regional tensions and fears of instability.

More than 3 million people are expected to vote across the three provinces that make up the Kurdish autonomous region, as well as residents in disputed territories — areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — according to the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, the body overseeing the vote.

Lines began forming early in the day at polling stations across Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Tahsin Karim was one of the first people to vote in his Irbil neighborhood. "Today we came here to vote in the referendum for the independence of Kurdistan," he said. "We hope that we can achieve independence."

The Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, also voted early on Monday morning at a polling station packed with journalists and cameras. At a press conference in Irbil on the eve of the referendum, Barzani said he believed the vote would be peaceful, though he acknowledged that the path to independence would be "risky."

"We are ready to pay any price for our independence," he said. The referendum is being carried out despite mounting opposition from Baghdad and the international community. The United States, a key ally of Iraq's Kurds, has warned the vote will likely destabilize the region amid the fight with the Islamic State group. The Iraqi central government has also come out strongly against the referendum, demanding on Sunday that all airports and borders crossings in the Kurdish region be handed back to federal government control.

In a televised address from Baghdad on Sunday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that "the referendum is unconstitutional. It threatens Iraq, peaceful coexistence among Iraqis and is a danger to the region."

"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis," he added. In a strongly worded statement, Turkey said on Monday that it doesn't recognize the referendum and declared its results would be "null and void."

Turkey's Foreign Ministry called on the international community and especially regional countries not to recognize the vote either and urged Iraq Kurdish leaders to abandon "utopic goals," accusing them of endangering peace and stability for Iraq and the whole region.

The ministry reiterated that Turkey would take all measures to thwart threats to its national security. On Saturday, Turkey's parliament met in an extraordinary session to extend a mandate allowing Turkey's military to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq and Syria are perceived as national security threats.

Initial results from the poll are expected on Tuesday, with the official results to be announced later in the week. At his press conference, Barzani also said that while the referendum will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region's "partnership" with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.

He detailed the abuses Iraq's Kurds have faced by Iraqi forces, including killings at the hands of former leader Saddam Hussein's army that left more than 50,000 Kurds dead. Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence — something the Kurdish people were denied when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I. The Kurds form a sizable minority in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. In Iraq, they have long been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like Kirkuk.

The Kurds have been a close American ally for decades, and the first U.S. airstrikes in the campaign against IS were launched to protect Irbil. Kurdish forces later regrouped and played a major role in driving the extremists from much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country's second largest city.

But the U.S. has long been opposed to Kurdish moves toward independence, fearing it could lead to the breakup of Iraq and bring even more instability to an already volatile Middle East. In Baghdad, residents strongly criticized then referendum, saying it would raise sectarian tensions and create an "Israel in Iraq." An Arabic newspaper headline said "Kurdistan into the unknown," a reference to the name Kurds use for their region.

"This is a division of Iraq," said journalist Raad Mohammad while another Baghdad resident, Ali al-Rubayah, described the referendum as a "black day in the history of the Kurds." Lawyer Tariq al-Zubaydi said the referendum was inappropriate amid the "ongoing threat of terrorism and Islamic State" militants. "The country is going through a difficult period, this requires a coming together of our efforts, he said. "A unified country is better for all."

Voting was also underway on Monday morning in Kirkuk. The oil-rich city has large Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian communities and has seen some low-level clashes in the days leading up to Monday's vote.

"I feel so great and happy, I feel we'll be free," said Suad Pirot, a Kirkuk Kurdish resident, after voting. "Nobody will rule us, we will be independent."

Associated Press writers Ali Abdul-Hassan in Irbil, Iraq, Bram Janssen in Kirkuk, Iraq, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sukuk Is Jihad Money To Fight Christians – CAN Elders Blast Sultan, Muslim Leaders

SEPTEMBER 24, 2017

NIGERIA (DAILY POST) -- The National Christian Elders’ Forum (NCEF) has reacted angrily to comments by Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) led by Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, that CAN hates Islam.

In a statement made available to DAILY POST on Sunday, CAN said the aim of Sukuk was to fund jihad against Christians in Nigeria.

CAN elders said “we cannot close our eyes to egregious infractions on the Constitution and the advent of religious extremism and insurgency in the country, of which the Christian community seems to be the prime target, while Islamic religious extremists are the antagonists.”

The statement reads further: “Proponents of Sharia-Compliant Finance (SCF) often convey the impression that SCF is an “ethical” financial system whose roots and practice are to be found in the Quran, hadiths and traditions of early Islam.

“In fact, it was invented out of whole cloth in the mid-20th Century by Muslim Brotherhood figures like Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid AbulA’la Al-Mawdudi. Its purpose was to provide yet another method to penetrate and undermine non-Sharia societies by stealthily insinuating Sharia into their free markets.

“In the words of Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Yousef al-Qaradawi, Sharia Compliant Finance, of which Sukkuk is a vital component, is a means to wage “jihad with money”.

“National Christian Elders Forum insists that Sukkuk is stealth Jihad contrary to Sections 1 and 10 of the Nigerian Constitution. Therefore, other nations may adopt it, but the Nigerian Constitution forbids such infraction in Nigeria.

“This is crucial in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like Nigeria when it is realized that the tenets of Sharia is opposed to the Constitution as “any system of man-made law is considered illicit under Islamic law, for whose adherents Allah already has provided the only law permitted, sharia”. Sharia and Democracy can never co-exist in harmony.

“The sharia cannot be amended to conform to changing human values and standards. Rather, it is the absolute norm to which all human values and conduct must conform.” (Muslim Brotherhood ‘spiritual leader’ Yousef al-Qaradawi).

“It is this tenet of Islam that makes it very difficult for constitutional development to prevail in Nigeria. The promotion of Sharia, in any of its forms, in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, shall produce nothing but contention and acrimony as Nigeria is currently witnessing.

“The allegation that CAN is Islamophobic is untenable and purely mischievous. If leaders of Islam in Nigeria have demonstrated inability to call Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen to order, after the atrocities both terrorist organizations have committed largely against Christians, Churches, businesses and communities, it would be unfair and unjust for the same leaders of Islam to turn around and accuse Christians of Islamophobia.

“It is akin to slapping a man and yet complain that the man screamed. Do leaders of Islam expect Christians to keep mute while violent Jihad (Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen) and stealth Jihad also known as stealth jihad with money (Sukkuk) are all used to negate Section 38 (1) of the Constitution and destroy the secularity of the Nigerian State?

“NCEF also observed the unfortunate attempt of the NSCIA to equate Christian religion with Capitalism. There are structures and institutions developed by Capitalist states which have formed the bedrock of modern Capitalist societies. Interestingly, most of the Capitalist states are secular.

“It is therefore rather unfortunate that such capitalist institutions would now be labeled “Christian” and used as justification to introduce Sharia, which is based purely on Quran, Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence, into the Nigerian State.

“Without belaboring these issues, we wish to draw the attention of the NSCIA to the recent press release of the NCEF. To date, leaders of Islam are yet to respond to salient issues raised in the statement. We believe that this ought to be done first, before CAN is alleged to promote Christianization or is Islamophobic.”

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Oklahoma-Born Catholic Priest Beatified

Faithful walk in a pilgrimage from St. James the Greater Catholic Church to attend the beatification ceremony for the Rev. Stanley Rother at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP)

OKARCHE, OKLAHOMA.(AP, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017) — The Latest on a beatification mass starts for 1st US martyr (all times local): 11:40 a.m. The Roman Catholic Church's first U.S.-born martyr has been beatified, bringing the Oklahoma native a step closer to possible sainthood.

A letter from Pope Francis declaring the Rev. Stanley Rother (ROW-THUR) as blessed was read at a Mass in Oklahoma City, completing the beatification process. Rother was born in Okarche, Oklahoma, and died in 1981. He was one of several Catholic priests who were killed during the civil war in Guatemala.

Francis declared Rother a martyr in December. This is only the second beatification held in the United States. 10:10 a.m. The Catholic Mass is underway to beatify an Oklahoma-born priest killed during Guatemala's civil war.

The Rev. Stanley Rother (ROW-THUR) was born in Okarche, Oklahoma, and died in 1981. He was one of several Roman Catholic priests who were killed in the war. Choirs sang hymns in English and Spanish as thousands crowded into an Oklahoma convention center Saturday for the ceremony. The church asked parishioners not to save seats as lines wrapped around the outside of the building. Some people were turned away.

Pope Francis declared Rother a martyr in December. Beatification is a step toward potential sainthood. This is only the second beatification held in the United States. 12:11 a.m. An American priest killed during Guatemala's civil war is set to be beatified in his home state of Oklahoma, and he's on the path to possible sainthood.

Thousands of people are expected to attend a beatification mass Saturday for the Rev. Stanley Rother (ROW-THUR) in Oklahoma City. Pope Francis declared Rother the first U.S.-born martyr in December. Rother was born in Okarche, Oklahoma. He died in 1981, one of several Roman Catholic priests slain during the war.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, has said priests killed during region's right-wing dictatorships died out of hatred for their faith. Regular candidates for beatification need a Vatican-certified miracle attributed to their intercession, but the church has made an exception for martyrs. A miracle is still necessary to be declared a saint.

A Look At UN Promises To Combat Sexual Abuses Since 2005

Bora, 22, poses for a portrait in the Congo Ituri province capital Bunia. Bora said she was just 11 when she became pregnant by her rapist, a U.N. peacekeeper. Two years later, she was a 13-year-old mother when another peacekeeper took advantage of her. She once again became pregnant. Image: Jerome Delay/AP

BUNIA, CONGO (AP, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017) — The United Nations released a report in early 2017 outlining a series of proposals to combat the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation within its peacekeeping missions. However, similar proposals to help victims had been put forward more than a decade ago.

Here is a closer look at those proposals:


The U.N. should set up a voluntary trust fund to provide assistance to victims with "simplified procedures so that payment can be made quickly."

On-site court martials should be set up in order to show there is no impunity for perpetrators.
Victims should receive feedback about what has become of their complaints as it will reassure people the allegations are being taken seriously.

A data-tracking system should be developed so that senior managers are aware of the number of allegations and the follow-up investigations.

DNA testing should be used where available so that men "bear some financial responsibility for their actions."

Troop-contributing countries should report back on cases within 120 days, and then provide updates on progress every 120 days until resolved. Countries should be "obligated" to inform the U.N. of case outcomes.


Vowing again to end impunity, the 2017 U.N. report proposes the following steps to combat sexual abuse and exploitation:

Elevate the voices of victims and "put their rights and dignity at the forefront of our efforts."
A special U.N. victims' rights advocate should be appointed. This person will ensure that "every victim receives appropriate personal care, follow-up attention and information on the progress of his or her case." Advocates also would be added in the most affected missions in Congo, Central African Republic, Haiti and South Sudan.

Seek to establish greater transparency on reporting and investigations. Establish a centralized repository of cases. Make changes to the way the U.N. presents allegations so it is clearer how many people have been affected. Start using a standardized incident report form.

Work with troop-contributing countries to act more swiftly on credible allegations. Also proposes asking these countries to pay for travel so victims can attend trials. Consider "ex-gratia" payments in exceptional circumstances when member states fail. Ask the countries to agree to collect DNA from all deployed personnel and suspend payments to alleged perpetrators "in the face of credible allegations."

Powerless Puerto Rico's Storm Crisis Deepens With Dam Threat

Dead horses lie on the side of the road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017) — Puerto Rican officials could not communicate with more than half the towns in the U.S. territory as they rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam and the massive scale of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria started to become clear.

Authorities launched an evacuation of the 70,000 people living downstream from the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico, sending buses to move people away Friday and posting frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area.

"This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the National Weather Service wrote. "All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER." The 345-yard (316-meter) dam, which was built around 1928, holds back a man-made lake covering about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers). More than 15 inches (nearly 40 centimeters) of rain fell on the surrounding mountains after the Category 4 Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

An engineer inspecting the dam reported a "contained breach" that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Anthony Reynes said.

"There's no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation," Reynes said.

Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials could not reach 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the hurricane crossed the island, toppling power lines and cellphone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.

Officials said 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cellphone towers had been downed, and 85 percent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.

"We haven't seen the extent of the damage," Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters in the capital. Rossello couldn't say when power might be restored. Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve, said at the Pentagon that it was impossible to say when communication and power would be restored. He said mobile communications systems are being flown in.

But Rydholm acknowledged "it's going to take a while" before people in Puerto Rico will be able to communicate with their families outside the island. Until Friday, he said, "there was no real understanding at all of the gravity of the situation."

The island's electric grid was in sorry shape long before Maria struck. The territory's $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

"Some transmission structures collapsed," Rossello said, adding that there was no severe damage to electric plants. He said he was distributing 250 satellite phones from FEMA to mayors across the island to re-establish contact.

The death toll from Maria stood at six, but was likely to rise. At least 27 lives in all have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica. Haiti reported three deaths; Guadeloupe, two; and the Dominican Republic, one.

Across Puerto Rico, more than 15,000 people are in shelters, including some 2,000 rescued from the north coastal town of Toa Baja. Some of the island's 3.4 million people planned to head to the U.S. to temporarily escape the devastation. At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: Additional rain — up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) — is expected through Saturday.

In San Juan, Neida Febus wandered around her neighborhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to the hungry. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn't think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.

"This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other," she said. Secretary of State Luis Marin said he expects gasoline supplies to be at 80 percent of capacity because the port in the southeastern town of Yabucoa that receives fuel shipments received minor damage.

Hour-long lines formed at the few gas stations that reopened on Friday and anxious residents feared power could be out for weeks — or even months — and wondered how they would cope. "I'm from here. I believe we have to step up to the task. If everyone leaves, what are we going to do? With all the pros and the cons, I will stay here," Israel Molina, 68, who lost roofing from his San Juan mini-market to the storm, said, and then paused. "I might have a different response tomorrow."

Federal Government Notifies 21 States Of Election Hacking

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's names printed on a ballot on a voting machine to be used in the upcoming election, in Philadelphia. The federal government on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year's presidential election. The notification came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia.

The federal government on Friday told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year's presidential election. The notification came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia. The states that told The Associated Press they had been targeted included some key political battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The AP contacted every state election office to determine which ones had been informed that their election systems had been targeted. The others confirming were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Being targeted does not mean that sensitive voter data was manipulated or results were changed. A hacker targeting a system without getting inside is similar to a burglar circling a house checking for unlocked doors and windows.

Even so, the widespread nature of the attempts and the yearlong lag time in notification from Homeland Security raised concerns among some election officials and lawmakers. For many states, the Friday calls were the first official confirmation of whether their states were on the list — even though state election officials across the country have been calling for months for the federal government to share information about any hacks, as have members of Congress.

"It is completely unacceptable that it has taken DHS over a year to inform our office of Russian scanning of our systems, despite our repeated requests for information," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in a statement. "The practice of withholding critical information from elections officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy."

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia, the top Democrat on a committee that's investigating Russian meddling in last year's election, has been pushing the department for months to reveal the identities of the targeted states. He said states need such information in real time so they can strengthen their cyber defenses.

"We have to do better in the future," he said. Homeland Security said it recognizes that state and local officials should be kept informed about cybersecurity risks to election infrastructure. "We are working with them to refine our processes for sharing this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners," it said in a statement.

The government did not say who was behind the hacking attempts or provide details about what had been sought. But election officials in several states said the attempts were linked to Russia. The Wisconsin Election Commission, for example, said the state's systems were targeted by "Russian government cyber actors." Alaska Elections Division Director Josie Bahnke said computers in Russia were scanning election systems looking for vulnerabilities.

A spokeswoman for Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, the president of National Association of Secretaries of State, said Lawson requested a list of the states where there were hacking efforts. In most cases, states said they were told the systems were not breached.

Federal officials said that in most of the 21 states the targeting was preparatory activity such as scanning computer systems. The targets included voter registration systems but not vote tallying software. Officials said there were some attempts to compromise networks but most were unsuccessful.

Only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its voter systems. Other states said their cybersecurity efforts turned back efforts to get to crucial information. "There are constant attempts by bad actors to hack our systems," Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said in a statement. "But we continue to deflect those attempts."

Colorado said the hacking wasn't quite a breach. "It's really reconnaissance by a bad guy to try and figure out how we would break into your computer," said Trevor Timmons, a spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state's office. "It's not an attack. I wouldn't call it a probe. It's not a breach, it's not a penetration."

Earlier this year, a leaked National Security Agency report detailed that hackers obtained information from a company that provided software to manage voter registrations in eight states. The May report said hackers sent phishing emails to 122 local election officials just before the November 2016 election in an attempt to break into their systems.

The latest disclosure to the states comes as a special counsel investigates whether there was any coordination during the 2016 presidential campaign between Russia and associates of Donald Trump. Trump, a Republican who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, has called the Russia story a hoax. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin "vehemently denied" the conclusions of numerous American intelligence agencies.

For states that were told they were not targets, the news brought relief. "This is one time we like being at the bottom of the list," said Lisa Strimple, a spokeswoman for Nebraska's secretary of state.

Associated Press statehouse reporters around the country contributed to this report.

Follow Mulvihill and Pearson at and

This story has been corrected to show that a spokeswoman for the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State said a request had been made for the list of states that were targeted, not a spokeswoman for the organization.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kim Jong Un: 'Deranged' Trump Will 'Pay Dearly' For Threat

Distributed on Sept. 4, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un holds a meeting of the ruling party's presidium. Kim is calling President Donald Trump "deranged" and says in a statement carried by the state news agency that he will "pay dearly" for his threats. The statement, carried by North's official Korean Central News Agency, responds to Trump's combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 19. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in an extraordinary and direct rebuke, called President Donald Trump "deranged" and said he will "pay dearly" for his threats, a possible indication of more powerful weapons tests on the horizon.

Hours later, North Korea's foreign minister reportedly said that his country may be planning to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean to fulfill Kim's vow to take the "highest-level" action against the United States.

Kim, in his statement, said Trump is "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country." He also described the U.S. president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire." The dispatch was unusual in that it was written in the first person, albeit filtered through the North's state media, which are part of propaganda efforts meant to glorify Kim. South Korea's government said it was the first such direct address to the world by any North Korean leader.

Some analysts saw a clear sign that North Korea would ramp up its already brisk pace of weapons testing, which has included missiles meant to target U.S. forces throughout Asia and the U.S. mainland. "I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," said the statement carried by North's official Korean Central News Agency on Friday morning.

DPRK is the abbreviation of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters on the sidelines of a United Nations gathering that his country's response "could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific," according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Ri reportedly added that "We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un." Such a test would be considered a major provocation by Washington and its allies.

The statement by Kim Jong Un responded to Trump's combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday where he mocked Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission," and said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Kim characterized Trump's speech to the world body as "unprecedented rude nonsense." He said Trump's remarks "have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last."

Kim said he is "thinking hard" about his response and that he would "tame the mentally deranged U. S. dotard with fire." Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said Kim Jong Un's statement indicated that North Korea will respond to Trump with its most aggressive missile test yet. That might include firing a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan to a range of around 7,000 kilometers (4,349 miles) to display a capability to reach Hawaii or Alaska.

The statement will further escalate the war of words between the adversaries as the North moves closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America. In recent months, the North has launched a pair of still-developmental ICBMs it said were capable of striking the continental United States and a pair of intermediate-range missiles that soared over Japanese territory. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date drawing stiffer U.N. sanctions.

South Korea called Kim Jong Un's rebuke a "reckless provocation" that would deepen his country's international isolation and lead to its demise. South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters Friday that North Korea must immediately stop such provocations and return to talks on nuclear disarmament.

Mat Pennington reported from the United Nations. AP writers Kim Tong-hyung and Hyung-jin Kim contributed from Seoul.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

International Students Discuss American Media Influence


Warm orange sunsets pouring over mountains into valleys where miners are bowed over, sifting through bits of earth and picking out the diamonds that queens wear around their necks — these are things Maria Arnolta Koroma remembers about her home in Sierra Leone, Africa.

But when Koroma talks about her home country with others, there is a misconception on what life in Africa is like.

“Because of the media, Americans think Africa is a poor, third world country,” Koroma, a sophomore studying pre-med, said.

Some international students at Ohio University said they are shocked when American students ask questions about their home countries. The questions often reveal perceptions that are ill-informed and adopted from media or movies.

“When people ask me about Africa, they imagine it as elephants and mud huts,” Koroma said. “It’s funny because America gets so much stuff from Sierra Leone like oil and diamonds, and they don’t even know what the modern culture (there) is like.”

Koroma talked about a recent devastating mudslide in Sierra Leone and how there wasn’t nearly as much coverage like the relief programs for Hurricane Harvey. The mudslide claimed nearly 500 lives, according to CNN.

“So many people died in the mudslide,” she said. “(But) you don’t hear about any relief for them.”

Koroma said there are some differences between American and African culture, but none so extreme.

“Daily life is not so different. We go to the beach, we go to school. We have good school programs,” she said. “In American schools they need to teach more about African history. It helps kids to know there are other places besides America.”

Teacups filled with chai clinking in the morning, one refreshment among many at a beautiful wedding that will last almost a month, jubilant with feasting and dancing — these are things Sundus Zahra remembers about her home in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“I did my undergraduate thesis on “Pakistan through a Hollywood Lense: A Textual Analysis.” The American media have a big influence on Pakistani culture,” Zahra, a graduate student studying journalism, said.

Zarah said American media play a huge role in deciding the narrative and image of other countries portrayed to the world and often times, the media focus only on the bad.

“I want Americans to focus on selective news, it's even worse than fake news because when you select only the bad parts to show, you believe that place is bad,” Zarah said.

Hollywood movies would also sometimes portray major cities as underdeveloped, Zarah said.

“We used to make fun of Hollywood all the time because they don’t do basic research,” she said. “They’ll mix up Middle Eastern culture with Pakistan. Then Americans think this is what it’s really like, when in reality Pakistan is more similar to India.”

Gazing from the bow of a yacht across the turquoise Red Sea at the beach, where people play among the waves that melt onto the shore — these are things Omar Halawani remembers about his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“I think a lot of Americans live in their own world,” Halawani, a senior studying aviation, said.

Halawani describes the people of Athens as friendly and said he enjoys attending school here.

However, he said he believes Americans in general could benefit from researching further into the many diverse cultures of the world. He grew up in Jeddah, a city by the ocean and “because of media, Americans often think of Saudi Arabia as some oil-rich desert.”

“But we have strong culture and beautiful cities,” Halawani said.

In the reverse, Koroma, Zarah, and Omar all mentioned their countries have experienced some sort of Americanization through the influence of the media.

Zarah said it’s natural for anybody moving to a foreign country to have generalized ideas of the place they’re migrating to, but it’s better to wait and form your own opinion than believe what the media portrays.

“It’s best to have an open mind,” Zarah said.


Diplomats Meet On Iran Deal As Trump Stays Mum On Decision

From clockwise left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Director General Political, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Karen Pierce, second seated, British Minister of State for the Department for International Development Alistair Burt, third seated, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, fifth seated, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, seventh seated, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, eighth seated, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ninth seated, China's U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi, eleventh seated and others attend a European Union-hosted meeting about the Iran nuclear deal at United Nations headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.

NEW YORK (AP, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017) — President Donald Trump has determined how he wants to approach the Iran nuclear deal — which he has called the worst agreement ever negotiated by the United States — but has not told even his top national security advisers what his decision is.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Trump had not informed him or others in the administration about his decision and had refused to share it with British Prime Minister Theresa May when she asked him about it.

Tillerson said he had been surprised when Trump publicly announced he had reached a decision. The secretary told reporters it would now take some time to prepare to implement the decisions. He gave no hint as to the direction Trump would take, but repeated the president's long-standing position that the deal does not address troubling non-nuclear behavior despite the hopes of those who negotiated it.

Tillerson spoke to reporters after a meeting of the parties to the nuclear deal, including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The meeting marked the highest-level U.S.-Iranian encounter since Trump became president.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who hosted the meeting, said all parties to the accord — including Tillerson — agreed it "is working and is delivering for its purpose." Tillerson did not dispute Mogherini's characterization but said that while Iran might be meeting its obligations to the letter of the deal, it is violating its spirit.

"Perhaps the technical aspects have (been met), but in the broader context the aspiration has not," Tillerson said. He later conceded that reports from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, "continue to confirm that Iran is in technical compliance with the agreement."

However, he said the Trump administration was determined to address the flaws in the deal, the most serious of which are so-called "sunset provisions" that allow Iran to resume some aspects of its nuclear program after certain periods of time. Those provisions relate to enriching uranium to levels near those needed to produce the fuel for a nuclear weapon, as well as other activities that limit Iran's atomic capabilities at various sites.

"One can almost set the countdown clock to Iran resuming its nuclear activities," Tillerson said. He added that the world was made less safe by the Iran agreement as it stands, particularly at a time when the U.S. and its allies are being threatened directly by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

In her comments, Mogherini also alluded to North Korea, but made the opposite argument, saying "the international community cannot afford to dismantle an agreement that is working." Mogherini declined to say whether Tillerson had pledged to remain committed to the deal, but said the European Union is committed to preserving it. She suggested that U.S. complaints about Iran's troublesome non-nuclear activities should be discussed in a different forum.

The meeting in the U.N. Security Council chambers followed two days of increasingly hostile rhetoric between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as well as Trump's surprise announcement about a decision on the nuclear deal.

"I have decided," he declared to reporters earlier Wednesday, a day after launching a scathing attack on Iran and its government in his address to the U.N. General Assembly. Trump's withering critique Tuesday included an accusation that Iran's government "masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy," while ruthlessly repressing its people and exploiting the limits of the nuclear deal.

"We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles," Trump said. "And we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program."

In response, Rouhani lashed out at "ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric" in Trump's U.N. speech. Addressing the General Assembly on Wednesday, Rouhani said his country won't be the first to violate the nuclear agreement, "but it will respond decisively to its violation by any party." In a dismissive jab at Trump he said, "It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics."

"By violating its international commitments, the new U.S. administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it or accepting its word or promise," Rouhani said. That echoes criticism even some of America's allies have leveled at a time when the United States hopes to draw North Korea into a negotiation over its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal.

Rouhani then told reporters at a news conference that the Iranian people are waiting for an apology from Trump for his "extremely offensive" rhetoric and baseless allegations. He said Trump is seeking "an excuse" to pull out of the nuclear deal and it would be a "waste of time" for him to meet the president.

Trump has sent strong signals that he could walk away from the seven-nation agreement, which would potentially lead to new U.S. sanctions on Iran and its international trading partners. The Iranians, in turn, have threatened to respond to any U.S. pullout by restarting nuclear activities that could take them closer to bomb-making capability.

It wasn't clear if Trump had made a final decision to leave or stick with the Iran deal. On several other issues over his presidency, he has teased reporters with the idea that a major verdict might be imminent, only to delay announcements for weeks or months. Trump must next certify by Oct. 15 if Iran is complying with the deal, and officials have said Trump may use that occasion to declare Iran in violation.

In any event, the U.S.-Iranian exchanges augured poorly for the diplomatic meeting, although Tillerson maintained that the atmosphere had been "very open and candid." "There was no yelling and we didn't throw shoes at one another," he said. "It was not an angry tone at all, it was a very, very matter-of-fact exchange about how we see this deal very differently."

A year ago, such a get-together would have been considered routine as nations strove to implement an agreement that curtailed Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for an end to various oil, trade and financial restrictions on the country. In the current environment, it is anything but ordinary.

Trump has said repeatedly that he is inclined not to certify Iranian compliance after having twice found the country compliant at earlier deadlines. Denying certification could lead the U.S. to reintroduce sanctions, which in turn could lead Iran to walk away from the deal or restart some nuclear activities it curtailed two years ago.

The rhetorical threats have worried the other countries who are part of the agreement: Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The Europeans, in particular, have expressed their disapproval of Trump's threats and talked about trying to lobby the U.S. to abide by the accord. If the U.S. tries to activate globally enforceable sanctions on Iran again, European countries could balk, another potential repercussion Trump must weigh.

The Latest: Senators Press Administration On Iran deal

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani listens at a news conference during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. President Donald Trump said he has made a decision on whether to walk away from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran but refused to say what it is, setting the stage for a particularly contentious meeting of the parties to the agreement.

NEW YORK (AP) — The Latest on the United States and Iran (all times local): 3 p.m. A group of Democratic senators is pressing the Trump administration to comply with a law that requires the administration to tell Congress of potential breaches by Iran of the landmark nuclear deal.

The senators say the executive branch must share with Congress any Iranian violations within 10 days of receiving that information. The lawmakers say they've received no such notifications so far. In fact, the lawmakers say in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other national security officials that they've been told the opposite. They say Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified in July that Iran is abiding by its commitments.

The letter is being sent amid signs that President Donald Trump may walk away from the nuclear accord.

11 a.m.

President Donald Trump says he's reached a decision on whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — but he won't say what it is.

Trump was asked several times on Wednesday whether he'd reached a decision. His answer: "I've decided."

And he answered, "I'll let you know," when he was asked for details.

The president made the comments during a meeting in New York with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump — in his U.N. speech on Tuesday — called the 2015 nuclear deal an "embarrassment" to the United States.

The president has until Oct. 15 to certify that Iran is complying with the deal. Under the agreement, Iran has halted nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

3:45 a.m.

The United States and Iran are planning for their highest-level interaction of Donald Trump's presidency. It'll come just a day after Trump delivered a blistering attack on Iran and the landmark 2015 nuclear deal — and sent strong signals he could walk away from that accord.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are expected to attend a European Union-hosted meeting about the agreement at the United Nations later Wednesday.

The closed-door gathering is expected to be contentious, and its lead-up has been marked by Washington and Tehran trading increasingly harsh barbs.

Trump Says Decision Made On Iran Deal, Won't Say What It Is

President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. From left, Abbas, Trump, an unidentified interpreter, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he has made a decision on whether to walk away from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran but refused to say what it is, setting the stage for a particularly contentious meeting of the parties to the agreement. The meeting will be the highest-level U.S.-Iranian interaction of Trump's presidency and comes a day after he delivered a blistering attack on Iran and the accord at the U.N. General Assembly.

Compounding the animosity ahead of the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to Trump by calling his Wednesday speech "ignorant" and "unfit" to be heard at the United Nations. Trump, when asked by reporters about the nuclear accord, said, "I have decided." Pressed for details, he replied coyly: "I'll let you know."

His comment and Rouhani's, came just hours before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were to attend a European Union-hosted meeting about the agreement at the U.N.

A year ago, such a get-together would have been considered routine as nations strove to implement an agreement that curtailed Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for an end to various oil, trade and financial restrictions on the country. In the current environment, however, it is anything but ordinary.

Addressing the General Assembly, Rouhani said his country won't be the first to violate the nuclear agreement "but it will respond decisively to its violation by any party." In a direct jab at Trump he said, "It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics."

"By violating its international commitments, the new U.S. administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it or accepting its word or promise," Rouhani said before taking aim at Trump's scathing Tuesday criticism of Iran.

"The ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations that was uttered before this august body yesterday was not only unfit to be heard at the United Nations, which was established to promote peace and respect," Rouhani said.

Trump had used his U.N. General Assembly speech to launch a withering critique of Iran, saying its government "masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy" and ruthlessly represses its people.

"It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos," he said, repeating a litany of oft-spoken U.S. complaints about Iran. These include its antipathy to Israel, support for terrorism and Syrian President Bashar Assad, ballistic missile testing and its nuclear program.

"We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles," Trump said. "And we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States."

Zarif, who had a friendly, collegial relationship with former Secretary of State John Kerry while they negotiated the nuclear deal, was quick to denounce Trump's speech. He took to Twitter to offer a glimpse of what may be in store for future exchanges with U.S. officials, including perhaps with Tillerson on Wednesday.

"Trump's ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st Century UN — unworthy of a reply," Zarif said on Twitter. "Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one." Trump has said repeatedly that he is inclined to not certify Iranian compliance after having twice found the country compliant at earlier deadlines. That could mean a return of U.S. sanctions on Iran that were suspended under the agreement. Such action could lead Iran to then walk away from the deal or restart some nuclear activities it curtailed two years ago.

The rhetorical threats have worried the other countries in the agreement: Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The Europeans, in particular, have expressed their disapproval of Trump's threats and talked about trying to lobby the U.S. to abide by the accord.

Iran rejects that it has broken the agreement, and a U.N. report this month pointed to no Iranian violations. Under U.S. law, the president must certify to Congress every 90 days whether Iran is adhering to the agreement. If the president doesn't certify compliance, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions.

The next certification deadline is Oct. 15, and several officials and people close to the matter have described Trump as determined to "decertify" Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal at that point.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

President Buhari’s Speech At The 72nd Session Of UN General Assembly

Buhari's Speech At The United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Image Via The News


 Mr. President,

 Fellow Heads of State and Government,

 Mr. Secretary-General,

 Distinguished Delegates,

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my country, Nigeria, I congratulate you Mr. President on your election and Mr. Gutteres on his first General Assembly outing as our Secretary-General. I assure you both of my country’s solidarity and cooperation. You will indeed need the cooperation of all member States as we are meeting during extra-ordinarily troubled and dangerous times. Let me also thank former Secretary-General Mr. Ban ki Moon for his service to the United Nations and wish him peaceful retirement.

Mr. President,

The previous year has witnessed many far-reaching developments. Some of the most significant events include the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and, of grave concern, the North Korean nuclear crisis.


Mr. President,

I must also commend the UN’s role in helping to settle thousands of innocent civilians caught in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, we must collectively thank the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany under the commendable leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Governments of Italy, Greece and Turkey for assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

In an exemplary show of solidarity, the international community came together within my own region to assist the countries and communities in the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions to contain the threats posed by Al Qaida and Boko Haram.

We thank the Security Council for visiting the countries of the Lake Chad Basin to assess the security situation and humanitarian needs, and for pledging assistance to rebuild lives and livelihoods. Indeed, in Nigeria we are providing relief and humanitarian assistance to millions in camps and those afflicted by terrorism, drought, floods and other natural disasters.

In the last year, the international community came together to focus on the need for gender equality, youth empowerment, social inclusion, and the promotion of education, creativity and innovation. The frontiers of good governance, democracy including holding free and fair elections, and enthronement of the rule of law are expanding everywhere, especially in Africa.

Our faith in democracy remains firm and unshaken. Our regional organisation ECOWAS came together to uphold democratic principles in The Gambia – as we had done previously in Cote D’Ivoire.

Through our individual national efforts, state institutions are being strengthened to promote accountability, and to combat corruption and asset recovery. These can only be achieved through the international community cooperating and providing critical assistance and material support. We shall also cooperate in addressing the growing transnational crimes such as forced labour, modern day slavery, human trafficking and cybercrime.

Mr. President,
These cooperative efforts should be sustained. We must collectively devise strategies and mobilise the required responses to stop fleeing ISIS fighters from mutating and infiltrating into the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, where there are insufficient resources and response capacity is weak.

This will require strong UN cooperation with regional organisations, such as the African Union, in conflict prevention and management. The UN should continue to take primary leadership of the maintenance of international peace and security by providing, in a predictable and sustainable manner, adequate funding and other enablers to regional initiatives and peacekeeping operations authorized by the Security Council.

Mr. President,

New conflicts should not make us lose focus on ongoing unresolved old conflicts. For example, several UN Security Council Resolutions from 1967 on the Middle East crisis remain unimplemented. Meanwhile, the suffering of the Palestinian people and the blockade of Gaza continue.

Additionally, we are now confronted by the desperate human rights and humanitarian situations in Yemen and most tragically in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The Myanmar crisis is very reminiscent of what happened in Bosnia in 1995 and in Rwanda in 1994.

The international community cannot remain silent and not condemn the horrendous suffering caused by what, from all indications is a state-backed programme of brutal depopulation of the Rohingya inhabited areas in Myanmar on the bases of ethnicity and religion. We fully endorse the call by the Secretary-General on the Government of Myanmar to order a halt to the ongoing ethnic cleansing and ensure the safe return of the displaced Rohingya to their homes in safety and dignity.

In all these crises, the primary victims are the people, the most vulnerable being women and children. That is why the theme of this session: Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet” is most apposite.

While the international community grapples to resolve these conflicts, we must be mindful and focus on the widening inequalities within societies, and the gap between the rich and the poor nations. These inequalities and gaps are part of the underlining root causes of competition for resources, frustration and anger leading to spiralling instability.

The most pressing threat to international peace and security today is the accelerated nuclear weapons development programme by North Korea. Since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, we have never come so close to the threat of nuclear war as we have now.

All necessary pressure and diplomatic efforts must be brought to bear on North Korea to accept peaceful resolution of the crisis. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki painfully remind us, if we fail, the catastrophic and devastating human loss and environmental degradation cannot be imagined.

Mr. President,

Nigeria proposes a strong UN delegation to urgently engage the North Korean Leader. The delegation, led by the Security Council, should include members from all the regions.

The crisis in the Korean peninsula underscores the urgency for all member states, guided by the spirit of enthroning a safer and more peaceful world, to ratify without delay the Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, which will be open for signature here tomorrow.

Mr. President,

I end my remarks by reiterating Nigeria’s abiding commitment to the foundational principles and goals of the United Nations. Since our admission as a member state in 1960, we have always participated in all efforts to bring about global peace, security and development. Nigeria will continue to support the UN in all its efforts, including the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I thank you.

At UN, Trump Threatens 'Total Destruction' Of North Korea

President Donald Trump speaks to the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, in New York.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Donald Trump, in a combative debut speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened the "total destruction'" of North Korea if it does not abandon its drive toward nuclear weapons.

Trump, who has ramped up his rhetoric throughout the escalating crisis with North Korea, told the murmuring crowd at the U.N. on Tuesday that "it is far past time for the nations of the world to confront" Kim Jong Un and said that Kim's "reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons" poses a threat to "the entire world with an unthinkable loss of human life.

"Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime," Trump said about the North Korean leader. He said of the U.S.: "If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Elected on the nationalist slogan "America First," Trump argued that individual nations should act in their own self-interest, yet rally together when faced with a common threat. Using bellicose language rare for an U.S. president at the rostrum of the United Nations, Trump touched upon hot spots around the globe, declaring "The scourge of our planet is a group of rogue regimes."

He urged nations to join together to stop Iran's nuclear program — he declared the deal to restrain it an "embarrassment" for the United States — and defeat "loser terrorists" who have struck violence across the globe. He denounced "radical Islamic terrorism," the inflammatory label he has recently shied away from. He warned that some violence-plagued portions of the world "are going to hell." And he made little mention of Russia.

North Korea drew most of Trump's attention and anger. Trump, who has previously warned of "fire and fury" if Pyongyang does not back down, claimed that "no one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea." And he scolded nations that it was "an outrage" to enabled and traded with North Korea, seeming to slight China, though he did not mention it by name.

Addressing the General Assembly is a milestone moment for any president, but one particularly significant for Trump, a relative newcomer to foreign policy who has at times rattled the international community with his unpredictability. He has pulled the Unites States out of multinational agreements, considered shrinking the U.S. military footprint in the world and deployed bombastic language on North Korea that has been criticized by other world leaders.

Trump frequently belittled the U.N. as a candidate and some within his White House believe the U.N acts as a global bureaucracy that infringes on the sovereignty of individual countries. He urged the world leaders to embrace their own "national sovereignty to do more to ensure the prosperity and security of their own countries.

But the president stood before world leaders and a global audience and declared that U.N. members, acting as a collection of self-interested nations, should unite to confront global dangers. "I will always put American first. Just like you, the leaders of your countries, should and always put your countries first," said Trump, who assured the U.N. that the United States would not abdicate its leadership position in the world but needed other countries to contribute more.

"The U.S. will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies," the Republican president said. "But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal in which the United States gets nothing in return."

World leaders, many of whom will be seeing Trump in person for the first time, were certain to take the measure of the man and parse his every word for clues on how he views the U.S. role in the world and within the U.N. Trump's remarks produced surprised chatter in the crowd and the North Korean delegation, assigned by a lottery to a seat near the front, departed as the president began speaking.

Trump also called the U.N.-backed Iran nuclear deal "an embarrassment" to the United States and suggested it was "one of the worst" international pacts ever struck. And he hinted that his administration, which has accused Tehran of aiding terrorism in the Middle East, could soon declare Iran out of compliance with the deal, which could unravel it.

"I don't think you've heard the end of it," Trump said. "Believe me." He vowed again to take the fight to terrorists but warned that parts of the region were so plagued by violence and poverty, they were "going to hell." He also decried the "disastrous rule" of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and urged the U.N. to step in.

"It is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch," Trump said. "To put it simply, we meet at a time of both immense promise and of great peril," he said. "It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair."

Outside of an oblique reference to a threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, Trump made no mention of Russia or its president Vladimir Putin. He again chastised the U.N. for what he said was its bloated budget and bureaucracy but did not threaten Washington's commitment to the world body. He pledged the United States would be "partners in your work" to make the organization a more effective force for world peace.

While running for office, Trump had labeled the U.N. weak and incompetent. He has suggested it was "not a friend" to the United States or democracy while deriding it as "a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time."

He spoke often during the presidential campaign about putting "America first," and has withdrawn from some multilateral agreements that he found unfavorable to the United States, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He also announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which would leave the U.S. one of the few countries outside the pact. Aides have since suggested Trump would be willing to renegotiate terms of the deal but European leaders have dismissed that approach.

The administration has shied away from talk of nation-building or creating democracies through the use of the U.S. military. "We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or same systems of government," Trump said at the U.N. He added that he does expect all nations to "respect the interest of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation."

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Senate GOP Musters Final Push To Erase Obama Health Care Law

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, talk while walking to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate Republicans are planning a final, uphill push to erase President Barack Obama's health care law. But Democrats and their allies are going all-out to stop the drive. The initial Republican effort crashed in July in the GOP-run Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after that defeat that he'd not revisit the issue without the votes to succeed. Graham and Cassidy are leading the new GOP charge and they'd transform much of Obama's law into block grants and let states decide how to spend the money.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans expressed growing hope Monday for a final push to scuttle President Barack Obama's health care law, an effort that still faces an uphill climb and just a two-week window to pass. Adding more risk, senators would be in the dark about the bill's impact on Americans, since the Congressional Budget Office says crucial estimates won't be ready in time for a vote.

Democrats backed by doctors, hospitals, and patients' groups mustered an all-out effort to finally smother the GOP drive, warning of millions losing coverage and others facing skimpier policies. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went further, saying the partisan measure threatened the spirit of cooperation between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders embodied in a recent budget deal and progress on immigration.

"After two weeks of thinking bipartisanship, that flickering candle, might gain some new light, this is the last thing we need," Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. Two months after one of the GOP's top priorities crashed on the Senate floor, the revived attempt to uproot Obama's law is being led by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana's Bill Cassidy.

Vice President Mike Pence was calling senators to seek support, White House officials said. And looking to add momentum, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the House would vote on the bill if it passes the Senate. Speaking in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Ryan called it "our best, last chance to get repeal and replace done."

The 140-page bill would replace much of Obama's statute with block grants to states and give them wide leeway on spending the money. It would let states ease coverage requirements under that 2010 law, end Obama's mandates that most Americans buy insurance and that companies offer coverage to workers, and cut and reshape Medicaid.

A victory would let Trump and Republican leaders claim redemption on their "repeal and replace" effort. While the House approved its version of the bill in May, the drive collapsed when the GOP-led Senate defeated three proposals for scrapping Obama's 2010 overhaul in July.

"He's the grave robber," No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota said of Cassidy. "This thing was six feet under." Still, Thune cautioned that leaders needed votes from 50 of the 52 GOP senators to win.

Senate leaders have no desire to lose yet another health care vote. After July's embarrassing Senate setback, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he'd not revisit it unless he was assured he had the votes to succeed, and many Republicans began refocusing on another big GOP priority, a tax overhaul.

Now, Graham and Cassidy say they believe they are close to the votes they'd need, prompting GOP leaders to check if they can finally succeed. The sponsors say their proposal would let states decide what health care programs work best for their residents. Opponents say patients would suffer.

The GOP proposal "would weaken access to the care Americans need and deserve," said a statement from 16 patients groups including the American Heart Association and the March of Dimes. The American College of Physicians and the Children's Hospital Association also oppose it.

Looking to solidify GOP support, the bill would reduce spending gaps between states that expanded Medicaid under Obama's law and the mostly GOP states that did not. Details on the measure's exact state-by-state impact were murky.

In a tweet, the Congressional Budget Office said it would have preliminary estimates of the bill's fiscal impact next week. But it said it would be unable to provide projections of the measure's effect on coverage, premiums and overall federal deficits "for at least several weeks."

That timing is crucial because Republicans controlling the Senate 52-48 have only Sept. 30 to succeed with just 50 votes. Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote, and White House officials say Trump would sign it.

Special procedures preventing Democrats from using a filibuster to kill the measure expire after Sept. 30, after which Republicans would need 60 votes to win. They can't reach that number because Democrats unanimously oppose the GOP effort.

The budget agency's evaluations of past GOP repeal plans concluded they would have caused millions of Americans to lose insurance coverage. Some Republican senators are nervous about the measure's impact on their own states, and the lack of CBO projections won't help allay their concerns.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he'll oppose the measure because it doesn't do enough to erase Obama's law. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was concerned the bill would make "fundamental changes" in Medicaid.

Other Republicans who've not yet lined up behind the bill include Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Ohio's Rob Portman. Collins, Murkowski and McCain provided the decisive votes against the last measure Republicans tried pushing through the Senate in July, which failed 51-49.

"It's better but it's not what the Senate is supposed to be doing," McCain told reporters about the new package. Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey said he backed the new bill, putting pressure on McCain. The revived drive comes as Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., work toward a bipartisan deal to continue federal subsidies to insurers easing some costs for lower-earning customers that Trump has threatened to block.

Murray spokeswoman Helen Hare said Murray is "hopeful and optimistic" a deal could come soon, a statement that came as Democrats tried peeling away GOP support from the Graham-Cassidy bill.

AP reporters Kevin Freking, Andrew Taylor and Richard Lardner in Washington and Scott Bauer in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, contributed.

US Immigrants Sue Over Trump's End Of Deportation Protection

A portrait of Jirayut New Latthivongskorn who is a fourth-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco. Latthivongskorn was brought to the United States from Thailand when he was nine years old. He is one of six California plaintiffs suing the Trump administration over its decision to end a program that protects them from deportation. (Jirayut New Latthivongskorn via AP)

IRVINE, CALIF (AP) — Six immigrants brought to the United States as children who became teachers, graduate students and a lawyer sued the Trump administration on Monday over its decision to end a program shielding them from deportation.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco alleged the move violated the constitutional rights of immigrants who lack legal status and provided information about themselves to the U.S. government so they could participate in the program.

"The consequences are potentially catastrophic," said Jesse Gabriel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "These people can very powerfully and very clearly communicate the extent to which they organized their lives around this program."

The lawsuit joins others filed over President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which has allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants to obtain work permits and deportation protection since 2012.

More than a dozen states from Maine to California have sued over the administration's decision to phase out the program, alleging similar constitutional violations. So has the University of California system.

The impact of Trump's decision directly weighs on plaintiffs' personal lives and decisions they made to advance their careers in the U.S. Viridiana Chabolla, a 26-year-old law student at University of California Irvine, said she does not know how she would repay a loan she took out to cover living costs or how she would afford books or food if her protection from the program known as DACA is rescinded.

"I imagined in the years to come I'd be able to get a job and would be able to pay it back," said Chabolla, whose parents brought her illegally to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 2. "I imagined I'd at least have DACA."

The lawsuit claimed that the administration's decision violates the immigrants' rights to equal protection and due process. The plaintiffs — who are from Mexico and Thailand — include teachers, a medical student and 34-year-old lawyer Dulce Garcia, who recently signed a lease for an office and hired employees believing she could stay and work in the U.S. under the program, said Gabriel, an attorney for the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Trump's announcement on Sept. 5 came after 10 Republican attorneys general threatened to sue in an attempt to halt the program. Under Trump's plan, those already enrolled remain covered until their two-year work permits expire, and some renewals are being allowed. But there will be no new applications.

Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley blamed the Obama administration for starting the program and said the agency will defend Trump's decision. "It was the previous administration's arbitrary circumvention of Congress that got us to this point," he said. "The Department of Justice looks forward to defending this Administration's position and restoring respect for the rule of law."

Immigrant advocates praise the program for protecting immigrants who were raised and educated in the U.S. despite their lack of legal immigration papers. The program's opponents criticize it as too broad and said major changes to immigration laws need to go through Congress and cannot be enacted by the U.S. president alone.

This story has been corrected to show that one plaintiff is a lawyer.