TPM World News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States watched Russians hack France’s computer networks during the election and tipped off French officials before it became public, a U.S. cyber official told the Senate on Tuesday.

France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following a hacking attack on centrist Emmanuel Macron’s successful presidential campaign. France’s government cybersecurity agency is investigating what a government official described as a “very serious” breach.

The leak came 36 hours before the nation voted Sunday in a crucial presidential runoff between Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The election commission said the leaked data apparently came from Macron’s “information systems and mail accounts from some of his campaign managers” — an attack that mimicked Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

“We had become aware of Russian activity. We had talked to our French counterparts and gave them a heads-ups — ‘Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here’s what we’ve seen. What can we do to try to assist?'” Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He said the U.S. also is working closely with German and British counterparts.

Rogers also said the U.S. is still working on a comprehensive cyber policy to counter what he called a “brave new world” in the cyber domain. He said the United States is improving its ability to defend against cyberattacks, but “I would also tell myself, Rogers you are not moving fast enough.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Moon Jae-in declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded, capping one of the most turbulent political stretches in the nation’s recent history and setting up its first liberal rule in a decade.

Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was jailed as a student by a previous dictatorship, favors closer ties with North Korea, saying hard-line conservative governments did nothing to prevent the North’s development of nuclear-armed missiles and only reduced South Korea’s voice in international efforts to counter North Korea.

This softer approach might put him at odds with South Korea’s biggest ally, the United States. The Trump administration has swung between threats and praise for North Korea’s leader.

Moon, the child of refugees who fled North Korea during the Korean War, will lead a nation shaken by a scandal that felled his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who sits in a jail cell awaiting a corruption trial later this month.

Moon smiled and waved his hands above his head as supporters chanted his name at Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul, where millions of Koreans had gathered for months starting late last year in peaceful protests that eventually toppled Park.

“It’s a great victory by a great people,” Moon told the crowd. “I’ll gather all of my energy to build a new nation.”

Tuesday’s election saw strong turnout — about 77 percent of 42.5 million eligible voters. Moon had a relatively low share of the total vote — 41.4 percent according to an exit poll — but there were many more major candidates than in 2012, when Park won 51.5 percent, beating Moon by about a million votes.

Over the last six months, millions gathered in protest after corruption allegations surfaced against Park, who was then impeached by parliament, formally removed from office by a court and arrested and indicted by prosecutors.

Moon’s two biggest rivals, conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, were expected to garner 23.3 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, according to the exit poll, which had a margin of error of 0.8 percentage points.

Moon will be officially sworn in as South Korea’s new president after the election commission finishes the vote count and declares the winner Wednesday morning. This forgoes the usual two-month transition because Tuesday’s vote was a by-election to choose a successor to Park, whose term was to end in February 2018.

Moon will still serve out the typical single five-year term.

Moon was chief of staff for the last liberal president, the late Roh Moo-hyun, who sought closer ties with North Korea by setting up large-scale aid shipments to the North and by working on now-stalled joint economic projects.

Hong, the conservative, is an outspoken former provincial governor who pitched himself as a “strongman,” described the election as a war between ideologies and questioned Moon’s patriotism.

Park’s trial later this month on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges could send her to jail for life if she is convicted. Dozens of high-profile figures, including Park’s longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and Samsung’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, have been indicted along with Park.

Moon frequently appeared at anti-Park rallies and the corruption scandal boosted his push to re-establish liberal rule. He called for reforms to reduce social inequalities, excessive presidential power and corrupt ties between politicians and business leaders. Many of those legacies dated to the dictatorship of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, whose 18-year rule was marked by both rapid economic rise and severe civil rights abuse.

As a former pro-democracy student activist, Moon was jailed for months in the 1970s while protesting against the senior Park.

Many analysts say Moon likely won’t pursue drastic rapprochement policies because North Korea’s nuclear program has progressed significantly since he was in the Roh government a decade ago.

A big challenge will be U.S. President Donald Trump, who has proven himself unconventional in his approach to North Korea, swinging between intense pressure and threats and offers to talk.

“South Koreans are more concerned that Trump, rather than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will make a rash military move, because of his outrageous tweets, threats of force and unpredictability,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, wrote recently in Foreign Affairs magazine.

“It is crucial that Trump and the next South Korean president strike up instant, positive chemistry in their first meeting to help work through any bilateral differences and together deal with the North Korean challenge,” she said.

___

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told the annual Victory Day parade on Red Square that the horrors of World War II demonstrate the necessity of countries working together to prevent war.

Russia celebrates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany every May 9 to honor those who fought and died for their country.

“This monstrous tragedy was not able to be prevented primarily because of the connivance of the criminal ideology of racial superiority and due to the lack of unity among the world’s leading nations,” he said.

“To effectively combat terrorism, extremism, neo-Nazism and other threats, consolidation of the entire international community is necessary.”

The Soviet Union is estimated to have lost 26 million people in the war, including 8 million soldiers, and the immense suffering contributes to Victory Day’s status as Russia’s most important secular holiday.

“We feel a piercing blood relationship with a generation of heroes and victors,” Putin said.

Thick clouds forced the cancellation of the traditional dramatic conclusion to the parade — the roaring flyover by scores of military aircraft.

The Red Square parade is a highly ritualized display and marked changes in its order are unusual.

The Defense Ministry had said cloud-seeding planes would be deployed to disperse the overcast skies Tuesday above Moscow. That has been done previously when poor weather threatened. It wasn’t immediately clear if the planes had been deployed.

Parades were held across Russia’s sprawling expanse as well as in the Russia-annexed Crimea Peninsula, but the Red Square parade is the centerpiece of Russia’s observances.

About 10,000 soldiers participated, standing rigidly as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reviewed them while standing in an open-top limousine, then marching out to make way for a display of military vehicles ranging from armored cars to lumbering Topol ICBM launchers.

The parade gave the first public showing of Tor and Pantsir mobile surface-to-air missile that have been adapted for use in Russia’s Arctic forces, their white-and-black winter camouflage standing out amid the olive drab of other war machines.

“The armed forces of Russia are capable of repelling any potential aggression,” Putin said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

ROME (AP) — Two wrecks of migrant ships in the Mediterranean have claimed as many as 245 lives, including those of at least five children, according to survivor accounts given to U.N. agencies and authorities in Sicily, where dozens of rescued migrants were taken.

Survivors of one wreck, some of them hospitalized in Pozzallo, Sicily, where they were being treated for hypothermia and exhaustion, told authorities who interviewed them that their traffickers had crammed some 130-140 people, apparently all from central African countries, into a motorized rubber dinghy designed to hold at most 20 people.

The dinghy started deflating on one end, the passengers quickly shifted their positions in the boat, and the craft tipped over, authorities said, based on numerous survivors’ descriptions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity since the shipwreck is being investigated.

The dinghy wasn’t equipped with any distress signaling equipment. The 50 or so survivors clung for hours to the wreckage of the dinghy until they were spotted by a patrol plane and rescued by a Danish cargo ship, which was dispatched to their aid by the Italian Coast Guard, which coordinates rescue operations.

One survivor is a Nigerian woman, whose 5-month-old baby died. The infant’s corpse was one of the few bodies so far recovered, authorities said.

Police in Sicily said in a statement that many of the survivors recounted that among the 80 or so who drowned was one of the smugglers who had been steering the boat.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said in Geneva, where it is headquartered, said that one of its partner agencies, the International Medical Corps, reported a shipwreck on Sunday off the Libyan coast in which 163 people are missing and feared dead. The U.N. agency said one woman and six men were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Many of those who brave the risky central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy are migrants from Africa seeking to flee from conflicts, political persecution at home or to find better economic opportunities in Europe.

Overall, UNHCR said Tuesday that more than 1,300 people have disappeared and are believed to have died this year while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, while some 43,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy.

The International Organization for Migration, in separate remarks, gave a lower estimate of the total number of migrant lives lost — 190 — in the two shipwrecks. It estimated about 80 people died from the sinking of the dinghy off Italy, and at least 113 following the shipwreck off the coast near Az Zawiyah, Libya.

IOM said its Rome branch, meanwhile, was reporting operations to help 6,612 people rescued from a dozen locations off Italy since Friday. IOM spokesman Joel Millman feared the better weather has been feeding the Mediterranean’s traditional summer migration surge.

“There is normally pent-up demand,” Millman said. “The summer tends to be very, very busy because sea conditions are better.”

And in Spain on Tuesday, officials said about 300 migrants tried to scramble across the 6-meter (20-foot) border fence separating Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco, with many throwing stones and other objects at police.

Melilla’s Interior Ministry said most of the migrants were pushed back by Spanish and Moroccan police, but about 100 managed to enter the city. It said three officers and three migrants were treated for injuries.

Many of the thousands of economic migrants or refugees who have been brought to Italy after rescue at sea told authorities that they spent months in inhumane detention facilities in Libya, often suffering torture, sexual abuse or labor exploitation, before the smugglers sent them out to sea.

A Rome-based IOM spokesman, Flavio Di Giacomo, said in an interview in Tuesday’s La Stampa newspaper that there have been recent indications that some migrants have decided to flee the harsh conditions in Libya to return to their homelands, renouncing their dream of reaching Europe and safety, although “the majority take the risk of the sea.”

__

Keaten reported from Geneva. Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.

Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at a href=’http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio%3c’www.twitter.com/fdemilio/a

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French voters elected centrist Emmanuel Macron as the country’s youngest president ever on Sunday, delivering a resounding victory to the unabashedly pro-European former investment banker and strengthening France’s place as a central pillar of the European Union.

A crowd of Macron supporters roared with delight at the news, jubilantly waving red, white and blue tricolor flags at a victory party outside the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Marine Le Pen, his far-right opponent in the presidential runoff, quickly called the 39-year-old Macron to concede defeat after voters rejected her “French-first” nationalism by a large margin.

The result wasn’t even close: Pollsters projected that Macron won 65 percent of the votes. Le Pen’s projected 35 percent score was lower than her polling numbers earlier in the campaign, and dashed her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House would also carry her to France’s presidential Elysee Palace.

Macron’s victory marked the third time in six months — following elections in Austria and the Netherlands — that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe. The election of a French president who championed European unity could strengthen the EU’s hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain, which voted last year to leave the bloc.

In a statement minutes after the last polls closed Sunday night, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Macron’s victory.

“(This) testifies to the lucidity of the voters, who rejected the deadly project of the extreme right,” he said, adding that the presidential vote showed an embrace of the EU.

Many French voters backed Macron reluctantly, not because they agreed with his politics but simply to keep out Le Pen and her far-right National Front party, which is still tainted by its long anti-Semitic and racist history.

After the most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the runoff choice altogether. Pollsters projected that French voters cast blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers Sunday.

Macron now becomes not only France’s youngest-ever president but also one of its most unlikely. Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives — but both Macron and Le Pen upended those political traditions.

Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014-16 tenure as France’s pro-business economy minister, Macron took a giant gamble by quitting the government of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande to run as an independent in his first electoral campaign.

His startup political movement — optimistically named, “En Marche!,” or “Forward!” — caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters’ hunger for new faces and new ideas and steering France into unchartered political territory.

In a first for postwar France, neither of the mainstream parties on the left or the right qualified in the first round of voting on April 23 for Sunday’s winner-takes-all duel between Macron and Le Pen.

Despite her loss, Le Pen’s advancement to the runoff for the first time marked a breakthrough for the 48-year-old. She had placed third in the 2012 presidential vote, underscoring a growing acceptance for her fierce anti-immigration, France-first nationalism among disgruntled voters.

Le Pen immediately turned her focus to France’s upcoming legislative elections in June, where Macron will need a working majority to govern effectively.

“I call on all patriots to join us,” she said. “France will need you more than ever in the months ahead.”

Le Pen said she got 11 million votes. If confirmed, that would be double the score of her father, National Front co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, at the same stage in the 2002 presidential election.

The candidates’ polar-opposite visions presented the 47 million registered voters with the starkest possible choice. Le Pen’s closed borders faced off against Macron’s open ones; his commitment to free trade ran against her proposals to protect the French from global economic competition and immigration. Her desire to free France from the EU and the shared euro currency contrasted with his argument that both are essential for the future of Europe’s third-largest economy.

As well as capitalizing on voter rejection of the left-right monopoly on power, Macron also got lucky.

One of his most dangerous opponents, conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by allegations that his family benefited from cushy taxpayer-funded jobs for years.

On the left, the Socialist Party imploded, its candidate abandoned by voters who wanted to punish Hollande, France’s most unpopular president since World War II. Hollande himself realized he was unelectable and decided not to run again.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

He has promised a France that would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin but that also would seek to work with the Russian leader on what he says will be one of his top priorities: fighting the Islamic State group, whose extremists have claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015.

France has been in a state of emergency since then and 50,000 security forces were used to safeguard Sunday’s vote.

Macron is expected to keep up French military operations against extremists in Iraq and Syria and Africa’s Sahel region, and maintain pressure on Russia over Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

With the United States, Macron says he wants continued intelligence-sharing and cooperation at the United Nations and hopes to persuade Trump not to pull the U.S. out of a global emissions-cutting deal against climate change.

Domestically, Macron inherits a deeply troubled and divided nation of 67 million people. The French are riven by anxieties about terrorism and chronic unemployment, worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.

His proposed remedies include both economic reforms and his own infectious, upbeat optimism that France need not resign itself to continuing economic and social decline, especially as part of an EU competing together against other powers.

The campaign ended Friday night with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating. Macron’s team said the hack aimed to destabilize the vote. But the timing of the leak appeared too late to have a significant impact on voting intentions.

___

Angela Charlton, Samuel Petrequin, Lori Hinnant, Tomas Adamson, Philippe Sotto, Raphael Satter contributed.

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French voters decided Sunday whether to back pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron or far-right populist Marine Le Pen as their next president, casting ballots in an unusually tense and important presidential election that also could decide Europe’s future.

With Macron the pollsters’ favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. A security scare caused by a suspicious bag prompted the brief evacuation of the Louvre museum courtyard where Macron plans to celebrate election night.

France’s Interior Ministry said voter turnout at midday was running slightly lower than during the last presidential runoff in 2012. The ministry said 28 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with a half-day tally of 31 percent five years ago.

Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.

Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.

Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker who ran as an independent, was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home. For security reasons, he was driven to his polling station nearby.

Le Pen, 48, was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church in the northern town.

Meanwhile, police and soldiers worked to secure the symbolic Paris venues where the next president will celebrate victory.

The grand internal courtyard of the renowned palace-turned-museum Macron picked for his celebration party reopened after several hundred journalists preparing for the election event had to leave because of the security alert over the suspicious bag.

The museum itself was not evacuated, and tourists continued entering and leaving the site. The Louvre already was being heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign. Paris police said the evacuation was a “precautionary measure.”

If Le Pen wins, she plans to celebrate at the Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Vincennes, a vast park on Paris’ eastern edge.

The most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron’s team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.

France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron. The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown.

The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France’s 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.

Global financial markets and France’s neighbors are watching carefully. A “Frexit” would be far more devastating than Britain’s departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.

The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen’s National Front party.

Le Pen has broadened the party’s appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its labor laws to better compete globally and appealed for unity and tolerance that Le Pen called naive.

Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades. The winner will have to try to build a parliamentary majority in elections next month to make major changes.

John Leicester in Paris, Alex Turnbull in Henin-Beaumont and Chris den Hond in Le Touquet contributed.

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday accused the U.S. and South Korean spy agencies of an unsuccessful assassination attempt on leader Kim Jong Un involving bio-chemical weapons.

In a statement carried on state media, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security said it will “ferret out and mercilessly destroy” the “terrorists” in the CIA and South Korean intelligence agency for targeting its supreme leadership.

North Korea frequently lambasts the United States and South Korea, but its accusation Friday was unusual in its detail.

The ministry said the spy agencies in June 2014 “ideologically corrupted and bribed” a North Korean citizen who had been working in Russia to carry out the alleged assassination on Kim after returning home.

It said South Korean agents gave money and satellite communication equipment to the North Korean to attack Kim during a public event with a bio-chemical weapon, such as a delayed-action radioactive or “nano poisonous” substance.

The ministry said after a series of contacts and payments, the agents told the North Korean last month that the type of bio-chemical substance had been decided and that it would be supplied by the CIA.

The statement said in response to the alleged plot, a “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack will be commenced from this moment to sweep away the intelligence and plot-breeding organizations of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet clique,” referring to South Korea.

Officials at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service did not answer repeated phone calls seeking comment.

The North Korean statement comes during a period of tension on the Korean Peninsula over concerns that the North is preparing another nuclear test or missile launch, including a possible test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Such moves would be a step toward the country’s goal of developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Earlier this year, North Korea was accused of using the chemical war agent VX to assassinate Kim’s exiled half brother at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, which led to calls in the United States to relist the North as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip, the consort known for his constant support of his wife Queen Elizabeth II as well as for his occasional gaffes, will retire from royal duties this fall, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

Philip, 95, made the decision himself with the full support of the queen, the palace said in a statement. The royal, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, has suffered from heart disease and other ailments in recent years but has nonetheless maintained a vigorous public schedule.

He seemed to be in good health and a fine mood Wednesday during an appearance at a London cricket club. He joked about being the world’s most experienced person when it comes to unveiling plaques.

That may be true: Official figures indicate he has made more than 22,000 solo royal appearances and thousands more at the queen’s side.

Philip, a member of the Greek royal family in exile, has been at Elizabeth’s side in countless public appearance since their marriage in 1947. He gave up a successful naval career to support her when she became queen in 1952.

He became the longest-serving consort in British history in 2009 — much as Elizabeth has become the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Prime Minister Theresa May expressed gratitude “on behalf of the whole country” to Philip for his decades of service.

“From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come,” she said.

Officials said the queen, who turned 91 last month, will keep carrying out royal engagements with the support of the royal family. She has indicated that she does not plan to retire.

Elizabeth has, however, reduced her workload considerably in recent years as her children and grandchildren have moved to the fore. She has stopped making long-haul air flights to other Commonwealth countries.

Attention has been increasingly focused on her son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and on her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The palace said Philip will continue his role with more than 780 charitable organizations but will not attend engagements.

He is not expected to disappear completely from the public stage — the palace said he may still choose to attend some events from time to time.

The palace did not offer any new details about his health and there were no indications of any new problems. The statement indicated Philip will carry out previously scheduled engagements between now and August.

Philip said when he turned 90 in 2011 that he was “winding down” his official duties, adding that he felt he had “done my bit.” He was treated later that year for a blocked heart artery but seemed to recover well.

He has been hospitalized several times since then with other ailments.

The queen is normally quite reserved about her private life but she has described her husband as “my strength and stay all these years.”

She met with May at the palace Wednesday and has made several public appearances recently. The queen and Philip were both ill with the flu over the Christmas holidays but seem to have recovered well.

Earlier in the day, a report by Britain’s Daily Mail of an unusual meeting of royal household staff sparked a worldwide wave of speculation about the health of the queen and Philip, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.

The Sun tabloid briefly reported on its website that Philip had died. The incorrect report was quickly dropped.

In Australia, where the queen is recognized as head of state, officials praised Philip’s perseverance.

“It says something about an individual that they get to the age of 95 before they decide to officially retire,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told reporters. “It’s something to aim for.”

Tourists outside Buckingham Palace also had kind words for Philip as he nears the end of his public life.

“He’s been an icon for so long, and I’ve really admired him and it saddens me in a way,” said Grace Marie, who said she understood his decision.

___

Danica Kirka and Kevin Scott in London and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — Days ahead of Sunday’s runoff vote between centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, “fake news” briefly took center stage in the French presidential election.

Speaking during their only one-on-one debate Wednesday, Le Pen told her rival: “I hope we won’t find out you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.”

She appeared to be referencing two sets of apparent forgeries, published a couple of hours before Wednesday’s heated showdown, that purported to show that Macron was somehow involved with a Caribbean bank and a firm based on the island of Nevis.

Le Pen quickly backed away from the suggestion as the rumors were debunked the next day. The documents are obvious fakes: the “M” in Macron’s purported signature didn’t match his genuine sign-off, and whoever wrote the documents appeared confused as to whether the firm in question was a limited company or a limited liability corporation. Metadata embedded in the document suggest it was created just before being posted online — undermining the anonymous poster’s claim to have circulated the documents to “hundreds of French journalists” who had “all sat on this.”

Asked Thursday on BFM TV whether she was formally accusing Macron of having a secret offshore account, Le Pen said: “Not at all. If I wanted to do so I would have done it yesterday. I’ve just asked him the question. If I had proof, I would have claimed it yesterday.”

Macron’s camp said the former investment banker was victim of a “cyber misinformation campaign.”

Speaking on France Inter radio, Macron blamed Le Pen for spreading “fake news” and said he never held a bank account “in any tax haven whatsoever.”

“All this is factually inaccurate,” Macron said.

Le Pen and Macron face off in the presidential runoff Sunday. The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The election has been shot through with fears by some that outside forces would somehow interfere. Despite slim evidence supporting such claims, French commentators have become highly sensitive to rumors and conspiracies and the networks that disseminate them.

The provenance of the latest conspiracy theory isn’t clear, but there are hints tying the faked documents to far-right circles in California.

One of the documents, for example, purports to have been drawn up under the laws of Nevis but actually draws some of its language from a guide to forming limited liability companies in California. The documents first appeared on Mixtape, a relatively new northern California-based file sharing service. And the Macron campaign identified the first tweet referring to the documents as coming from the Twitter account of Nathan Damigo, a far-right activist and convicted felon also based out of northern California.

Damigo recently won a measure of social media notoriety for punching a female anti-fascist militant in the face at a protest in Berkeley and had recently promoted French far-right content online.

Messages left with Damigo weren’t immediately returned.

French media unanimously criticized the poor quality of the only face-to-face televised debate between the two contenders. Le Pen got most of the blame for dragging the conversation down and opting for aggression from the start. She defended her aggressive stance on Thursday, saying a “severe” tone was required because “what is at stake is essential.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Wednesday confirmed the detention of another American citizen for alleged acts of hostility aimed at overthrowing the country.

Kim Sang Dok, an accounting instructor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was “intercepted” at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, according to the Korean Central News Agency. It said he was being detained while authorities conduct a detailed investigation into his alleged crime.

The school’s chancellor Park Chan-mo and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang earlier gave the information about Kim’s detention but couldn’t provide the reason for his arrest. The school’s report used a different spelling of Kim’s name, Kim Sang-duk. Kim’s English name is Tony Kim.

He is now the third American being detained in North Korea. The other U.S. detainees are Otto Warmbier, serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, and Kim Dong Chul, serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage.

Analysts say North Korea often attempts to use foreign detainees to wrest outside concessions, which in the past have sometimes involved high-profile American missions sent to secure the release of detainees. Animosity between Pyongyang and Washington has spiked in recent weeks amid a game of brinkmanship between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Park said Kim, who is 58, was detained as he was trying to leave the country from Pyongyang’s international airport. A university spokesman said he was trying to leave with his wife on a flight to China. Park said he was informed that the detention had “nothing to do” with Kim’s work at the university but did not know further details.

The U.S. State Department said last month that it was aware of the report about a U.S. citizen being detained, but declined further comment “due to privacy considerations.”

Kim previously taught Korean at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, China, not far from the North Korea border, according to the school’s Communist Party Committee secretary.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is the only privately funded university in North Korea. It held its first classes in 2010. It is unique in the North for its large number of foreign staff.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read More →

LiveWire