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Updated: 5 min 37 sec ago

Protecting nature also fights climate change, says federal environment minister

10 hours 44 min ago
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says there’s more than one way to fight climate change. Speaking ahead of an international conservation conference, McKenna says protecting natural areas can go a long way toward mitigating the impact of global warming. She says intact ecosystems lock carbon away from the atmosphere and protect communities from disasters such as flooding. McKenna says the amount of Canadian land and water now under protection has doubled. She says Canada remains on track to meet its goals to conserve 17 per cent of its land mass and 10 per cent of its seas by 2020. She says co-operation with Indigenous groups will be crucial to meeting those targets. The Canadian Press

Amal Clooney: Prosecute Islamic State extremists for rape

10 hours 50 min ago
Human rights lawyer and activist Amal Clooney is demanding justice for victims of an “epidemic of sexual violence” in conflicts, especially rapes and abuses by Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. The wife of actor George Clooney challenged the U.N. Security Council Tuesday to “stand on the right side of history” and support the prosecution of IS militants, just as the victories allies prosecuted Nazi criminals after World War II. Clooney is the legal counsel to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, who was sexually abused by IS extremists. She said she’d trade her prize “in a heartbeat for what she really wants: the chance to face, in a court of law, those who murdered her mother and her brothers, and those who brutally and repeatedly raped her.” The Associated Press

Fox News to host town hall meeting with Pete Buttigieg

11 hours 16 min ago
NEW YORK - Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (BOO’-tuh-juhj) is the latest Democratic presidential candidate to agree to hold a town hall meeting on Fox News Channel. The May 19 event will be broadcast live from Claremont, New Hampshire. Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace will moderate. Buttigieg is a Rhodes Scholar and openly gay Afghanistan veteran serving his second term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s risen in polls since launching an exploratory committee in January, thanks largely to his performance in televised interviews, including a March CNN town hall. Buttigieg formally announced his candidacy last week. Nearly 2.6 million viewers tuned in for a Fox town hall last week with Sen. Bernie Sanders, making it the highest-rated of the election cycle. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will participate in a May 8 town hall. ___ This story has been corrected to show Klobuchar’s town hall is May 8, not March 8. The Associated Press

I robot? Ian McEwan tells android tale in ‘Machines Like Me’

11 hours 20 min ago
LONDON - Ian McEwan is fascinated by artificial intelligence. His new novel, “Machines Like Me,” features a lifelike android with access to all human knowledge who writes haiku poetry. In real life, the Booker Prize-winning author is conflicted. He’d be wary of owning a driverless car - “I don’t even like cruise control” - and he’s grown suspicious of his household digital assistant since the revelation that staff at Amazon listened to recordings of people speaking to their Alexa devices. “Actual humans transcribing, and some lady singing in the shower being laughed at,” he shudders. “I think we’re going to unplug it.” The messy relationship between human minds and artificial ones is the focus of “Machines Like Me,” published in the U.S. on Tuesday by Doubleday. Narrator Charlie Friend, a smart but directionless thirtysomething, spends his inheritance on Adam, one of the first “truly viable manufactured human(s) with plausible intelligence and looks.” Adam, Charlie and Charlie’s neighbour/girlfriend Miranda form an unorthodox household. They soon confront profound questions: Can a machine feel emotions? Is Adam a lodger, a servant or a highly intelligent household appliance? Does cheating on your partner with a robot count as adultery? “I wanted the reader to be in Charlie’s situation of half the time, at least at first, thinking he’s just playing a computer game - an elaborate, rather spooky computer game - but then feeling very upset when Adam goes and has a night of shame with his girlfriend,” McEwan said. “It’s really only a betrayal if we regard Adam as a kind of human, and (Charlie) can’t help himself but feel that.” McEwan describes the novel as a sort of anti-“Frankenstein.” In Mary Shelley’s story, a scientist’s creation becomes a killer. “I’m writing somewhat against that grain, wanting to think about, what if we gave our new cousins our best selves, or we tried to?” McEwan said during an interview at his sun-filled London mews house. In the novel, Adam is a moral paragon. It’s the humans who are compromised. McEwan’s mnage trois unfolds in a divided Britain: roiled by protests, uncertain about its place in Europe and the world. That sounds a lot like the present, but it’s the past - an alternative version of the 1980s. The novel opens as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher takes Britain to war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands. In real life the U.K. won the war and Thatcher spent a tumultuous decade in office. In McEwan’s version, the war is lost and Thatcher faces a crisis that brings a left-wing Labor government to the verge of power. In McEwan’s alternate ’80s the internet is long-established and work on artificial intelligence is advanced, thanks to Alan Turing, a real-life World War II codebreaker and computing pioneer. After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, forcibly treated with female hormones and died aged 41 in 1954. McEwan gives Turing the life he deserved. In the novel he lives into old age, honoured and revered, and his work has created technological wonders. It has not cured society’s ills, though. The 250-mph (400-kph) bullet trains are grubby and the streets littered with garbage. Mass unemployment fuels anti-immigrant anger, although automation is the bigger culprit. McEwan said he has often been struck by how quickly new technology becomes mundane. He recalled, a few years ago, seeing a line of people snaking down a street in Manhattan. “I thought it was maybe some kind of rock concert,” he said. “And they said no, people are sleeping out on the pavement to be first with an iPhone 5. “Where are those 5s now? I think they’re in the nation’s sock drawers or they are being used by grandchildren. The speed with which something that people are prepared and sleep out on the pavement before becomes two years later just a piece of outmoded junk - that interests me.” At 70, McEwan is one of Britain’s most critically and commercially successful novelists. He has been a finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize five times and won in 1998 for “Amsterdam.” Several of his novels have been made into movies, including the multimillion-selling “Atonement” and “On Chesil Beach.” Not everyone is a fan. McEwan angered some science fiction readers and writers by insisting that “Machines Like Me” is not a sci-fi book. He calls it “an old-fashioned novel about an ethical problem pushed on us by technology” - a phrase that could, arguably, describe many avowedly sci-fi works. McEwan says the leaps in artificial intelligence that are surely coming fill him with “fascination and dread.” “Even technologies that we fear, we can’t collectively stop ourselves,” he said. “And nor can we guess the consequences of our inventions.” Already, he says, we are giving driverless automobiles the power to make ethical decisions: “Do I swerve to avoid this car but risk hitting that child? “It is a strange moment when we are letting a machine, a computer, take a split second-decision on our behalf.” McEwan says he’s not an “issues novelist,” although his books often touch on major social problems: climate change in “Solar,” the Iraq War in “Saturday.” These days, like many in Britain, McEwan is obsessed with the political psychodrama of Brexit. But he’s not planning a Brexit novel. “For a novel, I think you have to let things settle,” he said. “We’re still too much in the middle of the story, and I don’t fully understand it. I read masses on it, but it’s a bit like reading about quantum mechanics: However many books you read on it, you sneeze and it’s all gone. “Now, my mind’s a complete blank, which is quite agreeable. It’s like a smooth piece of wax waiting for the next thing to come along.” ___ Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

US new-home sales climbed 4.5% in March

11 hours 26 min ago
WASHINGTON - Sales of new U.S. homes increased 4.5% in March, the third straight monthly gain as the housing market appears to be cautiously recovering from a mortgage rate spike last year that caused homebuying to slump. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 692,000 in March, up from 662,000 in February. For the first three months of 2019, new-home sales were 1.7% higher than the same period a year ago. March’s sales pace was the strongest since November 2017, a sign that the market for newer properties is building some momentum. New-home sales began to rebound after the average 30-year mortgage rate fell from its recent peak of nearly 5% in November 2018. “Homebuilders continue to indicate encouraging orders and traffic trends, crediting the drop in mortgage rates with re-energizing housing demand,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. “The next 2-3 months will be critical, as the spring selling season will be a telling test of whether housing demand is truly firming.” Yet the housing market has been uneven in recent months, a sign that years of price gains have hurt affordability and that lower mortgage rates can only remove a degree of the pressure from higher costs. Sales of existing homes - which make up the bulk of purchases - plunged 4.9% in March, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. The median sales price of a new home in February tumbled 9.7% to $302,700. Price pressures are creating a search for more affordable options. In March, 16% of new-homes were sold for less than $200,000. This was marked increase from 2018, when just 12% of new homes sold for less than $200,000. Still, monthly sales figures can be volatile and the industry’s preference for more profitable homes at higher prices could cause that share to dip in the coming months. Josh Boak, The Associated Press

Coca-Cola surprises investors with better-than-expected 1Q

11 hours 28 min ago
ATLANTA - The Coca-Cola Co. surprised investors with a better-than-expected first quarter but cautioned that it’s still expecting slower growth for the full year. Atlanta-based Coke reported net income of $1.7 billion, or 39 cents per share, up from 32 cents per share in the January-March period a year ago. Without one-time items, Coke earned 48 cents per share, beating Wall Street’s expectations. Analysts forecast earnings of 46 cents per share. Revenue grew 5% to $8.02 billion, also topping analysts’ expectations. Unit case volume - the number of cases of Coke beverages sold to customers - grew 2%, helped by strong sales in Southeast Asia and Europe. Volume dropped 1% in North America, but CEO James Quincey said that was partly due to rising sales of mini cans, which jumped 14% in the quarter. Revenue growth was aided by a buildup of inventory by bottlers ahead of Brexit. That pull-ahead will be a drag on earnings in the fourth quarter, the company said. In February, Coke triggered its worst sell-off in more than a decade after it forecast slower-than-expected revenue growth this year because of currency fluctuations and bumpy conditions in emerging markets. That hasn’t changed; Coke still expects organic revenue growth of 4% this year, which is a percentage point slower than in 2018. It also expects per-share earnings growth between 1% and negative 1%. Quincey said uncertainty about trade and volatility in Argentina, the Middle East and other markets continue to be a concern. “The macro environment remains on a lower level of growth than it did in 2018,” he said. “Depending on the week it can blow more optimistic or more pessimistic.” In the first quarter, Coke commanded better pricing, particularly in Europe and Latin America. It also saw 6% growth in sales of water and sports drinks. Soft drink sales were up 1%, while juice, tea and coffee sales were flat from the prior year. During the quarter, the company completed its $4.9 billion acquisition of U.K. coffee brand Costa Limited. Coke said it plans to introduce Costa ready-to-drink coffee beverages in the second quarter and will launch Coke Coffee - an afternoon energy drink - in 25 markets before the end of the year. Coke shares rose 1.5% to $48.16 in midday trading. Coke’s earnings come nearly a week after rival PepsiCo.’s shares hit an all-time high. Pepsi’s first quarter net income rose 5% to $1.4 billion, largely due to strong growth of its Frito-Lay snack division. The Associated Press

Merkel: Ukraine vote gives leader Zelenskiy ‘strong mandate’

11 hours 32 min ago
BERLIN - Angela Merkel’s office says the German chancellor has called Ukraine’s president-elect to congratulate him, saying the vote gives him “a strong mandate.” Merkel spoke Tuesday with Volodymyr Zelenskiy as election officials said the former TV comedian received 73% of the vote in Sunday’s runoff against incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Merkel’s office said she invited Zelenskiy to visit Germany, while he thanked her for supporting Ukraine and expressed an interest in continuing four-way talks with Russia and France on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Merkel’s office said Germany will “actively support Ukraine on its path of reform and in its right to sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The statement made no mention of Merkel’s recent meeting with Poroshenko - widely seen as supporting his candidacy - before Sunday’s vote. The Associated Press

Saudi Arabia beheads 37 prisoners for terrorism crimes

11 hours 39 min ago
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday beheaded 37 Saudi citizens in a mass execution across the country for what it described as terrorism-related crimes, publicly pinning one of the bodies and its severed head to a pole as a warning to others. It marked the largest number of executions in a single day in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 2, 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 individuals in what was the largest mass execution carried out by Saudi Arabia since 1980. Among those executed three years ago was prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose death sparked protests from Pakistan to Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi-Iran ties have not recovered and the embassy remains shuttered. King Salman ratified by royal decree Tuesday’s mass execution and that of 2016. The king, who has empowered his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has asserted a bolder and more decisive leadership style than previous monarchs since ascending to the throne four years ago. This latest mass execution comes on the heels of Sri Lanka’s Easter Day attacks that killed over 300 people, including two Saudi nationals. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. Also, on Sunday four Islamic State gunmen were killed by Saudi security forces while trying to attack a security building north of the capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday’s executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law, using language that indicated they were all beheadings. Saudi Arabia’s supreme council of Muslim scholars also issued a statement saying the executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law. The Interior Ministry said the body of one of the men - Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri - was publicly pinned to a pole for several hours in a process that is not frequently used by the kingdom and has sparked controversy for its grisly display. The statement did not say in which city of Saudi Arabia the public display took place. The government defends such executions as a powerful tool for deterrence. The Interior Ministry statement said those executed had adopted extremist ideologies and formed terrorist cells with the aim of spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strife. It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specializes in terrorism trials, and the country’s high court. The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers and co-operating with enemy organizations against the interests of the country, the Interior Ministry said. The statement was carried across state-run media, including the Saudi news channel al-Ekhbariya. The statement read on the state-run news channel opened with a verse from the Qur'an that condemns attacks that aim to create strife and disharmony and warns of great punishment for those who carry out such attacks. A number of Saudi analysts and pro-government writers brought in to discuss the executions on al-Ekhbariya said they are a powerful sign that the country’s leadership will not hesitate to use the full might of the judicial system to punish Saudis who seek to disrupt the kingdom’s security. Those executed hailed from Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Asir, as well as Shiite Muslim populated areas of the Eastern Province and Qassim. The executions also took place in those various regions. The statement named all those executed, which included several individuals from large conservative Sunni tribes and families in Saudi Arabia. The executions bring the number of people executed since the start of the year to 95, according to official announcements. Last year, the kingdom executed 125 people, most of them drug smugglers convicted of non-violent crimes. Executions are traditionally carried out after midday prayers. Public displays of the bodies of executed men last for around three hours until late afternoon prayers, with the severed head and body hoisted to the top of a pole overlooking a main square. Saudi Arabia has been a target of extremist attacks over the years. The most stunning, however, was the 1979 siege of the mosque housing Islam’s holiest site in Mecca. The kingdom also faced a wave of al-Qaida attacks more than a decade ago, but its security forces crushed the group inside the kingdom before it built a presence in Yemen and became known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. In recent years, local affiliates of the Islamic State group and Saudis inspired by its ideology launched attacks in Saudi Arabia, killing dozens of people, including security officers and Shiite worshippers. The last major attempted attack is believed to have been in 2016. The group, like al-Qaida in the past, is determined to bring down the U.S.-allied royal family of Saudi Arabia. It has sought to undermine the Al Saud royal family’s legitimacy, which is rooted in part in its claim to implement Islamic Shariah law and to be the protectors of Islam’s most sacred sites in Mecca and Medina that are at the centre of hajj. Some 2,500 Saudis, many of them young and well-educated , fought in Syria at the start of that country’s civil war before the kingdom criminalized fighting abroad in early 2014. More than 650 returned during an amnesty period, disillusioned with fighting. ___ Associated Press writer Sam Magdy contributed from Cairo. ___ Story has been corrected to say that one, not two, bodies were publicly displayed Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press

Canada loses to Namibia in ICC World Cricket League Division 2 play

11 hours 49 min ago
WINDHOEK, Namibia - Canada lost its third straight in ICC World Cricket League Division 2 play Tuesday, beaten by 98 runs by Namibia. The Canadians won the toss and put Namibia into bat first. The Africans finished at 258 for six in their 50 overs, led by opener Stephan Baard’s 90. Baard’s 130-ball innings included six fours and one six. Canada made just 160 all out in 42.1 innings. Dillon Heyliger led Canadian batsmen with 29 while opener Rodrigo Thomas had 28. The top four teams in the six-team tournament will earn one-day international status and join Scotland, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates in the newly formed ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2, where they will play 36 ODIs each over a two-and-a-half year period. The bottom two will enter the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Challenge League A and B. Canada (0-3-0) faces Papua New Guinea (1-2-0) on Wednesday. The Canadian Press

Montreal Impact look to break out of offensive slump in New England

11 hours 59 min ago
Montreal Impact coach Remi Garde insists he’s not too concerned by his team’s lack of scoring, despite being mired in the worst offensive slump in Major League Soccer. The Impact (3-3-2) will look to jump-start their offence when they face the New England Revolution (2-5-1) on Wednesday -  Montreal’s eighth road game of the season. Garde’s men have scored two goals in the last five games, all without star midfielder Ignacio Piatti (right knee injury), who will remain sidelined on Wednesday. “I’m not losing sleep because I know we can do better,” Garde said after training on Monday. “Let’s not forget our best player is absent. If you take away any team’s best player, with so many games on the road, I’m not sure they would fare much better. “This is a special situation to deal with. It requires mental toughness. It’s asking a lot of my players.” Montreal’s current scoring slump is tied for worst in the league with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Impact are coming off a 3-0 defeat in Philadelphia last Saturday when the visitors managed just one shot on target. “If it was simple to explain, we would have an answer,” defender Bacary Sagna said of the team’s scoring woes. “(In Philadelphia), we lacked cohesion. Not just offensively. The whole team needs to be more creative. Maybe we need to take more risks offensively, send more players up front.” No player has managed to take charge of Montreal’s offence in Piatti’s absence. Striker Maximiliano Urruti has yet to score this season, though he leads the club with three assists. Midfielders Harry Novillo and Orji Okwonkwo have each scored one goal. “(Urruti) is too isolated on the pitch at times,” said Garde, the former Lyon and Aston Villa coach. “The supporting players aren’t getting there fast enough. But when we start playing home games, and we have more possession in the attacking half, he’ll have better attacking options." Designated player Saphir Taider leads the team with three goals (tied with Piatti) but the Algerian international is questionable for the game in New England. Taider suffered an injury against the Union over the weekend and did not play the second half. The 27-year-old, on loan from Bologna, trained apart from his teammates this week. That means expectations are high for newly signed Panamanian attacking midfielder Omar Browne, who is eligible to make his Impact debut. The 24-year-old did not play in Philadelphia because he did not have the appropriate paperwork. The Impact sorted that issue out this week. Browne previously spent his entire career in Panama’s first division, scoring 19 goals in 88 appearances. Garde would not reveal if he would start the match or come off the bench. Meanwhile, the Revolution are in a scoring skid of their own. New England has netted six goals all season, and three in the last five games. Only Atlanta has scored fewer goals this year. The Revs, under second-year coach Brad Friedel, are coming off a well-deserved 1-0 win at home against the New York Red Bulls. Ecuadoran forward Cristian Penilla scored in the 73rd minute. It was New England's first clean sheet of the season. “We just have to keep working, try to keep giving the guys confidence in training,” Friedel told the team's website this week. “I’m sure the ball will start finding the back of the net soon because we’re getting into a lot of really good positions.”   MONTREAL IMPACT (3-3-2) AT NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (2-5-1) Wednesday, Gillette Stadium GOT YOUR NUMBER: The Revolution have won six of the last seven meetings against Montreal. They’ve also won the last four matchups at home, outscoring the Impact 9-0 in the process. HELPLESS AT HOME: New England has already lost three games at Gillette Stadium this season, all by a 2-0 score. They are 2-3-0 at home this year. BUSY WEEK: Montreal is in a stretch of three games in eight days. The Impact played last Saturday in Philly. They play Wednesday in New England before hosting the Chicago Fire at Saputo Stadium on Sunday. IN NEED OF GOALS: Both Montreal and New England have a minus-6 goal differential, tied for worst in the Eastern Conference. Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press

Brothers sue Jussie Smollett’s lawyers, claiming defamation

12 hours 59 sec ago
CHICAGO - Two brothers who say they helped Jussie Smollett stage a racist and homophobic attack against himself filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the “Empire” actor’s attorneys, alleging that they repeatedly asserted publicly that the brothers carried out a real, bigoted attack on Smollett despite knowing that wasn’t true. A lawyer for Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the brothers. It names Mark Geragos and his law firm as defendants. The suit contends that even after police and prosecutors alleged that the Jan. 29 attack was staged and after all charges were dropped against Smollett, Geragos and his firm continued to say publicly in widely reported statements that the brothers “led a criminally homophobic, racist and violent attack against Mr. Smollett,” even though they knew that wasn’t the case. The lawsuit says that the lawyers’ repeated statements that Smollett told the truth all along and that the brothers were lying caused them “significant emotional distress,” and made them feel unsafe and alienated them from the local community. The brothers didn’t appear at a news conference their attorneys held Tuesday, but they issued a statement, saying “We have sat back and watched lie after lie being fabricated about us in the media only so one big lie can continue to have life. These lies are destroying our character and reputation in our personal and professional lives.” The lawsuit doesn’t specify an exact amount of money the brothers are seeking, only that would it be more than $75,000 for “appropriate compensatory damages, punitive damages and costs” stemming from the alleged defamation. Geragos didn’t immediately reply to messages seeking comment about the lawsuit. “Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Nigeria, which can result in 14 years of imprisonment,” the lawsuit says. “If the accused is married, the punishment is death by stoning.” It also accuses Smollett of taking advantage of the brothers’ own aspirations to establish TV and movie careers by manipulating them into taking part in the alleged hoax. “In short, Mr. Smollett used his clout as a wealthy actor to influence Plaintiffs, who were in a subordinate relationship to him and were aspiring to ‘make it’ in Hollywood,” the lawsuit contends. Police allege that Smollett paid the brothers to help him stage an attack in which he said two masked men beat him, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, doused him with a chemical substance and looped a rope around his neck. Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains that the attack wasn’t staged. In the weeks after the alleged attack police arrested the Osundairo brothers on suspicion of assaulting Smollett but released them without charges. A police spokesman said the two were no longer considered suspects and that investigators had new evidence after questioning them. About a week after police questioned the brothers Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct and accused of making a false police report about the attack. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office abruptly dropped charges against Smollett in March. The city of Chicago has since sued Smollett seeking repayment for costs of investigating his case. ___ Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case. Michael Tarm And Caryn Rousseau, The Associated Press

Militants blamed in Sri Lanka attacks had incendiary leader

12 hours 8 min ago
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - The purported leader of an Islamic extremist group blamed for an Easter attack in Sri Lanka that killed over 320 people began posting videos online three years ago calling for non-Muslims to be “eliminated,” faith leaders said Tuesday. Much remains unclear about how a little-known group called National Thowfeek Jamaath allegedly carried out six large nearly simultaneous suicide bombings striking churches and hotels on Sunday. However, warnings about growing radicalism in the island nation off the coast of India date to at least 2007, while Muslim leaders say their repeated warnings about the group and its leader drew no visible reaction from officials responsible for public security. “Some of the intelligence people saw his picture but they didn’t take action,” said N.M. Ameen, the president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka. Tension coursed through Colombo on Tuesday as the military took on emergency war-time powers, allowing them to conduct warrantless searches and detain suspects for up to two weeks before a court hearing. Such powers haven’t been invoked since Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, when people feared that unclaimed bags or debris could hide a bomb. On one commuter train Tuesday morning, panicked passengers shouted over one unclaimed piece of luggage until its owner was found. Authorities have blamed National Thowfeek Jamaath for the attack. Its leader, alternately known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online. “It was basically a hate campaign against all non-Muslims,” said Hilmy Ahamed, the Muslim council’s vice-president. “Basically, he was saying non-Muslims have to be eliminated.” Zahran’s name was on one intelligence warning shared among Sri Lankan security forces, who apparently even quietly took their growing concerns to international experts as well. Anne Speckhard, the director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, said a Sri Lankan intelligence official approached her at a conference in February with a surprising question. She was worried about what she described as a violent, homegrown jihadi group that “would just disappear” when the government tried to crack down on them. “The intel person kind of came up to me and said, ‘You know, we’re kind of worried about this new group and there’s some activity going. What do you think?'” Speckhard told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It just kind of blows my mind that’s who it was.” As far as the planning, Speckhard noted that Sri Lanka was “a part of the world that developed suicide vests” during the civil war against the Tamil Tigers, a secular, nationalist group that once was the world’s top suicide attacker. But the style of Sunday’s attacks, targeting churches on Easter and hotels frequented by foreigners, followed that of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. “It is a simple attack that is well thought out,” Speckhard said. “I do believe well thought out is a product of being in touch with someone from the outside.” That’s a feeling shared by the Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. “The degree of sophistication in the making of the bombs indicates that the attackers did in fact have help from outside Sri Lanka, which could have come via co-ordination with external militant groups such as al-Qaida or the Islamic State, from Sri Lankan fighters returning from battlefields in Iraq and Syria, or from a combination of the two,” a Stratfor analysis said Tuesday. “Clarity on the nature of such networks, however, will have to wait for the emergence of more details about the attacks.” The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attack via its Aamaq news agency on Tuesday. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell and Bharatha Mallawarachi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap and www.twitter.com/bharatha77 Jon Gambrell And Bharatha Mallawarachi, The Associated Press

Sri Lanka, like world, again sees scourge of suicide attacks

12 hours 11 min ago
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - The Easter attacks in Sri Lanka are a bloody echo of decades past in the South Asian island nation, when militants inspired by attacks in the Lebanese civil war helped develop the suicide bomb vest. Government ministers have said seven Sri Lankans from a little-known local group carried out the six nearly simultaneous bombings at churches and hotels on Sunday that killed more than 300 people and wounded about 500. While little else was known about the group or their motives, Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger fighters used suicide bombings in the country’s 26-year civil war before being wiped out by government forces. Similar bombs would then detonate across Israel, wielded by Palestinian militants, and later across the wider Middle East, Africa and Europe by Islamic extremists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Such attacks strike fear around the world because of their indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, like those eating breakfast at a hotel or worshipping in a church on Easter. Sunday’s assault also raises questions about whether the perpetrators had help or experience from abroad. “I call today the age of the suicide bomber. This is very much a time of extreme acts that have to, in a way, usurp the previous attacks,” said Iain Overton, executive director of the London-based group Action on Armed Violence, who wrote a book on suicide bombings. “They have to be much more devastating, more impactful, more hurtful, to get as much media headlines as possible.” Experts put the first modern suicide bombing in 1881, when a radical killed Czar Alexander II of Russia. What may be the first photographs of a suicide bomb vest came in the 1930s, when China used them in its war against Imperial Japan. Japanese kamikaze pilots turned their own planes into weapons. But the shock of the suicide bomber only struck the minds of many in the West in the 1980s with Lebanon’s civil war. Suicide truck bomb attacks struck both the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, and later U.S. Marine and French barracks, killing 231 American troops and 58 French soldiers in the bloodiest day for the armed forces since World War II. The U.S. later would blame the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which formed out of Lebanon’s civil war, and Iran for the bombings. Both deny involvement. At that time, however, a small contingent of Tamil fighters was receiving weapons training in Lebanon and took what they learned back to Sri Lanka, Overton said. Their first suicide attack, in which a bomb-laden truck drove into a Sri Lankan army barracks and killed 55 people in 1987, resembled the U.S. Marine barracks attack. Over 26 years of civil war, the Tamil Tigers would launch more than 130 suicide bomb attacks, making them the leading militant group in such assaults at the time. They killed a Sri Lankan prime minister and a former Indian prime minister, among others, including bystanders. The war ultimately ended in 2009 with the government crushing the Tamil Tigers, with some observers believing that tens of thousands of Tamils died in the last few months of fighting alone. But while the Tamils were secular nationalists, Islamic extremists in the Middle East would embrace the suicide bomb as a weapon. By the 1990s, Palestinian militants from both Hamas and Fatah would use suicide bombs against Israel. Then al-Qaida under Osama bin Laden would employ them against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and later against the USS Cole off Yemen. Then came Sept. 11 and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Up until then, there were some 350 suicide attacks worldwide from 1980, said Robert A. Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who directs the school’s Chicago Project on Security and Threats. The U.S. war in Iraq followed, fueling bloody sectarian violence that put Iraq on the brink of civil war. Suicide bombers pounded the country. An al-Qaida branch there would morph into the Islamic State group, which would launch its own suicide attacks around the world. Today, the number of suicide attacks since 1980 is around 6,000, Pape said, with around half in Iraq and Syria alone. “When we invaded and conquered Iraq, we touched off the largest suicide terrorist campaign in modern times,” he said. Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local Islamic group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, for the Easter attacks. However, there is no recent history of Muslim extremist attacks in Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist island nation off the southern tip of India. Nor was there any explanation for how a group previously not known for violence could engineer such a massive attack, which experts said resembled an assault by the Islamic State group or al-Qaida. “What they are seeking to push is this ISIS mantra, which is ‘We love death more than they love life,'” Overton said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group. “It is the icon of a death cult.” The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attack via its Aamaq news agency on Tuesday. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. Since it lost all its territory, there’s been more concern among nations about foreign fighters returning home. Sri Lanka’s justice minister told parliament in 2016 that 32 Muslims from “well-educated and elite” families had joined the Islamic State group in Syria. It’s unclear what happened to them. “There weren’t many, but there don’t have to be many,” Pape said. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press

Brothers sue Jussie Smollett’s lawyers, claiming defamation

12 hours 21 min ago
CHICAGO - Two brothers who say they helped Jussie Smollett stage a racist and homophobic attack against himself filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the “Empire” actor’s attorneys, alleging that they repeatedly asserted publicly that the brothers carried out a real, bigoted attack on Smollett despite knowing that wasn’t true. A lawyer for Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the brothers. It names Mark Geragos and his law firm as defendants. The suit contends that even after police and prosecutors alleged that the Jan. 29 attack was staged and after all charges were dropped against Smollett, Geragos and his firm continued to say publicly in widely reported statements that the brothers “led a criminally homophobic, racist and violent attack against Mr. Smollett,” even though they knew that wasn’t the case. The lawsuit says that the lawyers’ repeated statements that Smollett told the truth all along and that the brothers were lying caused them “significant emotional distress,” and made them feel unsafe and alienated them from the local community. It doesn’t specify an exact amount of money the brothers are seeking, only that would it be more than $75,000 for “appropriate compensatory damages, punitive damages and costs” stemming from the alleged defamation. It also accuses Smollett of taking advantage of the brothers’ own aspirations to establish TV and movie careers by manipulating them into taking part in the alleged hoax. “In short, Mr. Smollett used his clout as a wealthy actor to influence Plaintiffs, who were in a subordinate relationship to him and were aspiring to ‘make it’ in Hollywood,” the lawsuit contends. Police allege that Smollett paid the brothers to help him stage an attack in which he said two masked men beat him, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, doused him with a chemical substance and looped a rope around his neck. Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains that the attack wasn’t staged. In the weeks after the alleged attack police arrested the Osundairo brothers on suspicion of assaulting Smollett but released them without charges. A police spokesman said the two were no longer considered suspects and that investigators had new evidence after questioning them. About a week after police questioned the brothers Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct and accused of making a false police report about the attack. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office abruptly dropped charges against Smollett in March. The city of Chicago has since sued Smollett seeking repayment for costs of investigating his case. ___ Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case. Michael Tarm And Caryn Rousseau, The Associated Press

Zelenskiy wins Ukraine’s presidential election with 73%

12 hours 26 min ago
KIEV, Ukraine - Full preliminary results show TV comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won Ukraine’s presidential election with 73% of the vote. The Ukrainian Central Election Commission on Tuesday published the full and final count of votes in Sunday’s election which also showed incumbent Petro Poroshenko with only 24%. Zelenskiy, 41, is a political novice who is promising to build a “new country,” free of graft and the old, corrupt political establishment. Zelenskiy’s campaign was extremely vague, leaving pundits wondering how he is going to tackle thorny issues like the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and relations with Russia which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. The Associated Press

US new-home sales climbed 4.5% in March

12 hours 28 min ago
WASHINGTON - Sales of new U.S. homes increased 4.5% in March, the third straight monthly gain as the housing market appears to be cautiously recovering from a mortgage rate spike last year that caused homebuying to slump. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 692,000 in March, up from 662,000 in February. For the first three months of 2019, new-home sales were 1.7% higher than the same period a year ago. March’s sales pace was the strongest since November 2017, a sign that the market for newer properties is building some momentum. New-home sales began to rebound after the average 30-year mortgage rate fell from its recent peak of nearly 5% in November 2018. “Homebuilders continue to indicate encouraging orders and traffic trends, crediting the drop in mortgage rates with re-energizing housing demand,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. “The next 2-3 months will be critical, as the spring selling season will be a telling test of whether housing demand is truly firming.” Yet the housing market has been uneven in recent months, a sign that years of price gains have hurt affordability and that lower mortgage rates can only remove a degree of the pressure from higher costs. Sales of existing homes - which make up the bulk of purchases - plunged 4.9% in March, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. The median sales price of a new home in February tumbled 9.7% to $302,700. Price pressures are creating a search for more affordable options. In March, 16% of new-homes were sold for less than $200,000. This was marked increase from 2018, when just 12% of new homes sold for less than $200,000. Still, monthly sales figures can be volatile and the industry’s preference for more profitable homes at higher prices could cause that share to dip in the coming months. Josh Boak, The Associated Press

US expands probe into air bag failures to 12.3M vehicles

12 hours 34 min ago
DETROIT - U.S. auto safety regulators have expanded an investigation into malfunctioning air bag controls to include 12.3 million vehicles because the bags may not inflate in a crash. The problem could be responsible for as many as eight deaths. Vehicles made by Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Fiat Chrysler from the 2010 through 2019 model years are included in the probe, which was revealed Tuesday in documents posted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It involves air bag control units made by ZF-TRW that were installed in the vehicles. The control units can fail in a crash, possibly because of unwanted electrical signals produced by the crash itself that can disable an air bag control circuit housed in the passenger compartment, according to NHTSA documents. The electrical signals can damage the control circuit, the documents say. ZF, a German auto parts maker which acquired TRW Automotive in 2015, said in a statement that it’s committed to safety and is co-operating with NHTSA and automakers in the investigation. The case is another in a long list of problems with auto industry air bags, including faulty and potentially deadly Takata air bag inflators. At least 24 people have been killed worldwide and more than 200 injured by the inflators, which can explode with too much force and hurl dangerous shrapnel into the passenger cabin. The inflators touched off the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history involving with as many as 70 million inflators to be recalled by the end of next year. About 100 million inflators are to be recalled worldwide. On April 19, NHTSA upgraded the ZF-TRW probe from a preliminary evaluation to an engineering analysis, which is a step closer toward seeking recalls. So far, only Hyundai and Kia and Fiat Chrysler have issued recalls in the case. Four deaths that may have been caused by the problem were reported in Hyundai-Kia vehicles and three in Fiat Chrysler automobiles. NHTSA opened an investigation in March of 2017 involving the TRW parts in Hyundais and Kias. The upgrade came after investigators found two recent serious crashes involving 2018 and 2019 Toyota Corollas in which the air bags did not inflate. One person was killed. Toyota said it’s co-operating in the probe, doing its own investigation and will take “any appropriate action.” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit consumer group, said the ZF-TRW case shows the auto industry thus far has learned very little from Takata. “A single supplier of an important safety component provided what appears to be a defective part across multiple manufacturers and 12 million cars,” Levine said. “While the first fatality reports emerged three years ago, it has taken a higher body count for more significant action to be taken by NHTSA and most impacted manufacturers remain silent. The industry needs to do better.” A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from NHTSA. In the ZF-TRW investigation documents, NHTSA said that it didn’t find any other cases of electrical interference in Hyundai, Kia or Fiat Chrysler vehicles that used the ZF-TRW system but were not recalled. Also, the agency has not identified any other cases of electrical interference in other Toyotas including Corollas, since the company started using the ZF-TRW parts in the 2011 model year. In addition, no electrical interference cases have been identified in Honda or Mitsubishi vehicles with the same parts, the agency said. NHTSA will evaluate how susceptible the air bag control units are to electrical signals as well as other factors that could stop air bags from inflating. The agency also “will evaluate whether an unreasonable risk exists that requires further field action.” Last year, Hyundai and Kia recalled nearly 1.1 million vehicles because of the problem, about a year after NHTSA opened its investigation. Kia vehicles covered included 2010 through 2013 Forte compact cars and 2011 through 2013 Optima midsize cars in the U.S. Also covered are Optima Hybrid and Sedona minivans from 2011 and 2012. Recalled Hyundai vehicles included 2011 through 2013 Sonata midsize cars and the 2011 and 2012 Sonata Hybrid. In 2016, Fiat Chrysler recalled about 1.9 million vehicles worldwide including the 2010 Chrysler Sebring, the 2011 through 2014 Chrysler 200, the 2010 through 2012 Dodge Caliber, the 2010 through 2014 Dodge Avenger, the 2010 through 2014 Jeep Patriot and Compass and the 2012 and 2013 Lancia Flavia. Tom Krisher, The Associated Press

Ceremonies, vigils planned in Toronto to honour victims of deadly van attack

12 hours 41 min ago
Toronto’s mayor says a deadly van attack that left the city grappling with grief a year ago also set off a wave of solidarity and support among its residents. Hours before a ceremony to honour those hurt or killed in the April 23, 2018, attack, John Tory said he hopes the city will show the same strength and heart in the future, and not just in the face of tragedy. “This unfathomable loss of life left our city in mourning … this was a tragedy the likes of which we’d never seen before,” Tory said Tuesday morning. “We saw people from all walks of life running to the rescue of those in need and offering to help in the aftermath. We saw people of all faiths gather to mourn and to provide comfort to those who needed it so very badly … We saw our city united against evil and dedicated to healing and to love.” Many of those who helped that day - first responders and Good Samaritans alike - are still affected by what they saw, Tory said. Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders also commended those who rushed to the aid of strangers at a difficult time. “Even in our darkest moments, we always remain strong and united,” Ford said in a statement. “We come together, as many will today at vigils across the city. We mourn those we have lost and comfort the families and friends left behind.” Saunders said the compassion shown in the wake of the attack is “an extraordinary example of who we are as Torontonians.” Ten people were killed and 16 were injured when a white rental van plowed into pedestrians along busy Yonge Street in the city’s north.  Alek Minassian, 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He is set to face trial next February.  Several events were planned Tuesday to remember the incident and pay tribute to the victims and their families. The City of Toronto is holding an event at the Mel Lastman Square Amphitheatre at 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of the incident. The city is also expected to install temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created. The city says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring. Events are also planned elsewhere in the neighbourhood where the attack took place. The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events. It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support. Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Singh says childhood abuse steeled him for scrutiny and stress of politics

12 hours 43 min ago
OTTAWA - NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he decided to “take a chance” and share his story of childhood sexual abuse in hopes of helping other victims. He recounts the assaults for the first time in his book, Love & Courage, released today. Singh says he was abused when he was 10 years old, by a martial-arts instructor. He tells The Canadian Press he feels a responsibility to use his national platform in a way that could do some good. He also says his childhood experiences have helped him to handle public scrutiny as a national political leader. Singh says that even if he endures a lot of criticism, the experience isn’t “nearly as bad” as what he’s lived through before. The Canadian Press

Saudi Arabia beheads 37 prisoners for terrorism crimes

12 hours 52 min ago
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday beheaded 37 Saudi citizens in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes, publicly pinning one of the headless bodies to a pole as a warning to others. It marked the largest number of executions in a single day in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 2, 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 individuals, including a prominent Shiite cleric whose death sparked protests in Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy there. The executions also come days after four Islamic State gunmen died trying to attack a Saudi security building north of the capital, Riyadh, and on the heels of Easter Day attacks that killed over 300 people in Sri Lanka and were claimed by the Islamic State group. Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday’s executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law, using language that indicated they were all beheadings. The body of one of the men - Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri - was publicly pinned to a poll for several hours in a process that is not frequently used by the kingdom and has sparked controversy for its grisly display. The statement did not say in which city of Saudi Arabia the public display took place. The government defends such executions as a powerful tool for deterrence. The Interior Ministry statement said those executed had adopted extremist ideologies and formed terrorist cells with the aim of spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strife. It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specializes in terrorism trials, and the country’s high court. The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers and co-operating with enemy organizations against the interests of the country, the Interior Ministry said. The statement was carried across state-run media, including the Saudi news channel al-Ekhbariya. The statement read on the state-run news channel opened with a verse from the Qur'an that condemns attacks that aim to create strife and disharmony and warns of great punishment for those who carry out such attacks. Those executed hailed from Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Asir, as well as Shiite Muslim populated areas of the Eastern Province and Qassim. The executions also took place in those various regions. The statement named all those executed, which included several from large families and tribes in Saudi Arabia. The mass execution that took place Tuesday was ratified by a royal decree. It comes a day after the Islamic State group said it was behind an attack on Sunday on a Saudi security building in the town of Zulfi in which all four gunmen were killed and three security officers were wounded. Executions are traditionally carried out after midday prayers. Public displays of the bodies of executed men last for around three hours until late afternoon prayers, with the severed head and body hoisted to the top of a poll overlooking a main square. ___ Associated Press writer Sam Magdy contributed from Cairo. ___ Story has been corrected to say that one, not two, bodies were publicly displayed Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press

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