TPM World News

BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers approved a bill on Friday aimed at cracking down on hate speech on social networks, which critics say could have drastic consequences for free speech online.

The measure approved is designed to enforce the country’s existing limits on speech, including the long-standing ban on Holocaust denial. Among other things, it would fine social networking sites up to 50 million euros ($56 million) if they persistently fail to remove illegal content within a week, including defamatory “fake news.”

“Freedom of speech ends where the criminal law begins,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who was the driving force behind the bill.

Maas said official figures showed the number of hate crimes in Germany increased by over 300 percent in the last two years.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for angry debates about Germany’s recent influx of more than 1 million refugees, with authorities struggling to keep up with the flood of criminal complaints.

Maas claimed that 14 months of discussion with major social media companies had made no significant progress. Last week, lawmakers from his Social Democratic Party and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc agreed a number of amendments to give companies more time to check whether posts that are flagged to them are illegal, delegate the vetting process to a third party and ensure that users whose comments are removed can appeal the decision.

But human rights experts and the companies affected warn that the law risks privatizing the process of censorship and could have a chilling effect on free speech.

“This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” Facebook said in a statement.

“We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform,” the company said, noting that it is hiring 3,000 additional staff on top of 4,500 already working to review posts.

Aside from the hefty fine for companies, the law also provides for fines of up to 5 million euros for the person each company designates to deal with the complaints procedure if it doesn’t meet requirements.

Social networks also have to publish a report every six months detailing how many complaints they received and how they dealt with them.

Among those cheering the law was Germany’s main Jewish organization, which called it a “strong instrument against hate speech in social networks.”

Germany has long had a law criminalizing Holocaust denial — a response to the country’s Nazi-era history of allowing racist ideas to become genocidal policy.

“Jews are exposed to anti-Semitic hatred in social networks on a daily basis,” the Central Council of Jews said. “Since all voluntary agreements with platform operators produced almost no result, this law is the logical consequence to effectively limit hate speech.”

The nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has frequently been accused of whipping up sentiments against immigrants and minorities, said it is considering challenging the law in Germany’s highest court.

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BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage after a short but emotional debate, bringing the country in line with many of its Western peers. Though Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure, she paved the way for its passage by freeing other members of her party to vote their “conscience.”

Lawmakers voted 393 for legalizing “marriage for everybody” and 226 against, with four abstentions.

Merkel said Monday that lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” allowing members of her conservative coalition, which has been against same-sex marriage, to individually vote for it.

That prompted her center-left rivals to quickly call for a snap vote on the issue, adding it to the agenda Friday on parliament’s last regular session before Sept. 24 elections.

While some in Merkel’s conservative bloc spoke against the measure, Berlin Christian Democrat Jan-Marco Luczak urged his fellow party members to vote for same-sex marriage.

“It would be absurd to try and protect marriage by preventing people to marry,” he told lawmakers.

Many applauded Merkel’s comments that opened the way for the vote, but Social Democrat lawmaker Johannes Kahrs noted in the debate that the chancellor had been a longtime opponent of gay marriage.

“Many thanks for nothing,” he said bluntly.

Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but has not granted them full marital rights, which include the possibility to jointly adopt children.

The new law won’t take effect for several months because it still needs to pass the upper house of Parliament and be approved by the president, though those are formalities. It is also expected to face legal challenges.

Merkel told reporters after the vote that her vote against the measure was based upon her reading of the country’s law concerning marriage and that she did think gay couples should be able to adopt.

Germany’s basic law is vague, saying only that “marriage and the family shall enjoy the protection of the state,” but Merkel said that for her “marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman.”

She added, however, that she stood by her contention that the interpretation was a “question of conscience” and urged all views to be respected.

“It was a long, intensive, and for many also emotional discussion, that goes for me personally too, and I’m hopeful not only that there will be respect for either side’s opinions, but that it will also bring about more peace and cohesion in society,” she said.

All of Merkel’s potential coalition partners after the September election, including the center-left Social Democrats of her challenger, Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalized.

It is not clear whether Merkel thought her Monday comments would prompt such a quick vote, but many analysts have suggested that by opening the door to gay marriage the chancellor removed yet another issue that might have helped her opponents in their campaigns against her.

In nearly 12 years as chancellor, Merkel has moved her party to the center and away from conservative orthodoxy, speeding up Germany’s exit from nuclear power and ending military conscription among other moves.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, took a leave of absence as the Vatican’s financial czar on Thursday to fight multiple criminal charges in his native Australia that allege he committed sexual assault years ago.

Pell appeared before reporters in the Vatican press office to forcefully deny the accusations, denounce what he called a “relentless character assassination” in the media and announce he would return to Australia to clear his name.

“I repeat that I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” Pell said.

The Vatican said the leave takes effect immediately and that Pell will not participate in any public liturgical event while it is in place. Pell said he intends to eventually return to Rome to resume his work as prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry.

Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal, and the developments pose a major and immediate new obstacle for Francis as he works to reform the Vatican.

Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced the charges Thursday, saying police had summonsed Pell to appear in court to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses,” meaning offenses that generally occurred some time ago. Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal.

Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Holy See had learned with “regret” of the charges and that the work of Pell’s office would continue in his absence, albeit only its “ordinary” affairs.

In a statement he read to reporters while sitting beside Pell, Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.

He noted that Pell had cooperated with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation into sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

“The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration,” Burke added.

The charges were announced on a major Catholic feast day, when many of the world’s cardinals were already in Rome for a ceremony Wednesday to elevate five new cardinals. As Pell spoke to reporters, preparations were underway in St. Peter’s Square for a huge Mass that Pell had been expected to jointly celebrate, but he stood down after the charges were announced.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal. It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said previously that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

Patton told reporters in Melbourne that none of the allegations against Pell has been tested in any court, adding: “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.”

The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has already suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised “zero tolerance” policy about sex abuse.

They will also further complicate Francis’ financial reform efforts at the Vatican, which were already strained by Pell’s repeated clashes with the Italian-dominated bureaucracy. Just last week, one of Pell’s top allies, the Vatican’s auditor general, resigned without explanation two years into a five-year term, immediately raising questions about whether the reform effort was doomed.

In his statement, Burke said Pell’s economy secretariat would continue working in his absence until other provisions are decided.

A prolonged absence, however, would require Francis to make other provisions, since it is unclear if the office could, for example, issue the Holy See’s annual financial statement without Pell’s imprimateur.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under intense scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse — the nation’s highest form of inquiry — has found shocking levels of abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church, revealing earlier this year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades.

Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his Australian hometown of Ballarat.

But he nevertheless became something of a scapegoat in Australia for all that went wrong with the Catholic Church in its mishandling of the sex abuse scandal. His flight to Rome to head Francis’ reform effort had been viewed by many of his critics as an attempt to avoid justice.

The Australian public has been riveted by the investigation, and news of his charges sparked a media frenzy. Both the police announcement and Pell’s statement from the Vatican were carried live across the country.

Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican. But in a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese, Pell said he would return to Australia “as soon as possible,” following advice and approval by his doctors. Last year, Pell declined to return to Australia to testify for the third time before the Royal Commission, saying he was too ill to fly. He instead testified via video conference from Rome.

The Blue Knot Foundation, an Australian support group for adult survivors of childhood abuse, said the decision to charge Pell sent a powerful message to both abuse survivors and society as a whole.

“It upholds that no one is above the law, no matter how high their office, qualifications, or standing,” the group’s head of research, Pam Stavropoulos, said in a statement.

But actually proving the charges may be difficult. The prosecution must prove that the sex offenses occurred beyond a reasonable doubt, which can be difficult when so much time has passed, said Lisa Flynn, national manager of Shine Lawyers’ abuse law practice in Australia.

The charges put the pope in a thorny position. In 2014, Francis won cautious praise from victims’ advocacy groups when he created a commission of outside experts to advise him and the broader church about “best practices” to fight abuse and protect children.

But the commission has since lost much of its credibility after its two members who were survivors of abuse left. Francis also scrapped the commission’s signature proposal — a tribunal section to hear cases of bishops who covered up for abuse — after Vatican officials objected.

In addition, Francis drew heated criticism for his 2015 appointment of a Chilean bishop accused by victims of helping cover up for Chile’s most notorious pedophile. The pope was later caught on videotape labeling the parishioners who opposed the nomination “leftists” and “stupid.”

Asked last year about the accusations against Pell, Francis said he would wait for Australian justice to take its course before speaking or casting judgment himself.

It remained unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear-cut guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.

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PARIS (AP) — The data-scrambling software epidemic that paralyzed computers globally is under control in Ukraine, where it likely originated, officials said Wednesday, as companies and governments around the world counted the cost of a crisis that is disrupting ports, hospitals and factories.

In a statement published Wednesday, the Ukrainian Cabinet said that “all strategic assets, including those involved in protecting state security, are working normally.”

The same couldn’t be said for India’s largest container port, where one of the terminals was idled by the malicious software, which goes by a variety of names including ExPetr.

M.K. Sirkar, a manager at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai, said that no containers could be loaded or unloaded at the terminal operated by shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk on Wednesday.

In a statement, Moller-Maersk acknowledged that its APM Terminals had been “impacted in a number of ports” and that an undisclosed number of systems were shut down “to contain the issue.” The company declined to provide further detail or make an official available for an interview.

At the very least, thousands of computers worldwide have been struck by the malware, according to preliminary accounts published by cybersecurity firms, although most of the damage remains hidden away in corporate offices. Some names have trickled into the public domain as the disruption becomes obvious.

In Pennsylvania, lab and diagnostic services were closed at the satellite offices of Pennsylvania’s Heritage Valley Health System, for example. In Tasmania, an Australian official said a Cadbury chocolate factory had stopped production after computers there crashed.

Other organizations affected include U.S. drugmaker Merck, food and drinks company Mondelez International, global law firm DLA Piper, London-based advertising group WPP.

As IT security workers turned their eye toward cleaning up the mess, others wondered at the attackers’ motives. Ransomware — which scrambles a computer’s data until a payment is made — has grown explosively over the past couple of years, powered in part by the growing popularity of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. But some believed that this latest ransomware outbreak was less aimed at gathering money than at sending a message to Ukraine and its allies.

That hunch was buttressed by the way the malware appears to have been seeded using a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software and the timing — coming the same day as the assassination of a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer in the nation’s capital and a day before a national holiday celebrating a new constitution signed after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Suspicions were further heightened by the re-emergence of the mysterious Shadow Brokers group of hackers, whose dramatic leak of powerful NSA tools helped power Tuesday’s outbreak, as it did a previous ransomware explosion last month that was dubbed “WannaCry.”

In a post published Wednesday, The Shadow Brokers made new threats, announced a new money-making scheme and made references to what happened Tuesday.

“Another global cyber attack is fitting end for first month of theshadowbrokers dump service,” the group said, referring to a subscription service which purportedly offers hackers early access to even more of the NSA’s digital break-in tools.

“There is much theshadowbrokers can be saying about this but what is point and having not already being said?”

Few take Shadow Brokers’ threats or their ostentatious demands for cash at face value, but the timing of their re-emergence dropped another hint at the spy games possibly playing out behind the scenes.

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PARIS (AP) — Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia’s Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

“We are talking about a cyberattack,” said Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based group. “It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government’s headquarters has been shut down.

There’s very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made.

The world is still recovering from a previous outbreak of ransomware, called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, which spread rapidly using digital break-in tools originally created by the U.S. National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.

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MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations.

“There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.”

Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

“We could hear the screams,” said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. “The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber.” He was flogged with wires, part of the frequent beatings inflicted by guards against all the detainees. He also said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

Like other ex-detainees, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested again. The AP interviewed him in person in Yemen after his release from detention.

The AP interviewed 10 former prisoners, as well as a dozen officials in the Yemeni government, military and security services and nearly 20 relatives of detainees. The chief of Riyan prison, who is well known among families and lawyers as Emirati, did not reply to requests for comment.

Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the abuses “show that the US hasn’t learned the lesson that cooperating with forces that are torturing detainees and ripping families apart is not an effective way to fight extremist groups.” Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday documenting torture and forced disappearances at the UAE-run prisons and calling on the Emirates to protect detainees’ rights.

Amnesty International called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has praised the UAE as “Little Sparta” for its outsized role in fighting against al-Qaida.

U.S. forces send questions to the Emirati forces holding the detainees, which then send files and videos with answers, said Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, which American officials confirmed to the AP. He also said the United States handed authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.

Al-Bahsani denied detainees were handed over to the Americans and said reports of torture are “exaggerated.”

The network of prisons echoes the secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama disbanded the so-called “black sites.” The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

“The UAE was one of the countries involved in the CIA’s torture and rendition program,” said Goodman, the NYU law professor. “These reports are hauntingly familiar and potentially devastating in their legal and policy implications.”

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition meant to help Yemen’s government fight Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who overran the north of the country. At the same time, the coalition is helping the U.S. target al-Qaida’s local branch, one of the most dangerous in the world, as well as Islamic State militants.

A small contingent of American forces routinely moves in and out of Yemen, the Pentagon says, operating largely along the southern coast. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes in the country to more than 80 so far this year, up from around 21 in 2016, the U.S. military said. At least two commando raids were ordered against al-Qaida, including one in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with at least 25 civilians.

A U.S. role in questioning detainees in Yemen has not been previously acknowledged.

A Yemeni officer who said he was deployed for a time on a ship off the coast said he saw at least two detainees brought to the vessel for questioning. The detainees were taken below deck, where he was told American “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. He did not have access to the lower decks. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing the operations.

Senior U.S. defense officials flatly denied the military conducts any interrogations of Yemenis on any ships.

“We have no comment on these specific claims,” said Jonathan Liu, a CIA spokesman, adding that any allegations of abuse are taken seriously.

The Yemeni officer did not specify if the ‘Americans on ships’ were U.S. military or intelligence personnel, private contractors, or some other group.

Two senior Yemen officials, one in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and another in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt province where Mukalla is located, also said Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the U.S. role.

The AP learned the names of five suspects held at black sites who were said to have been interrogated by Americans. The Yemeni official on the ship identified one of the detainees brought there. Four others were identified by former detainees who said they were told directly by the men themselves that they were questioned by Americans.

One detainee, who was not questioned by U.S. personnel, said he was subject to constant beatings by his Yemeni handlers but was interrogated only once.

“I would die and go to hell rather than go back to this prison,” he said. “They wouldn’t treat animals this way. If it was bin Laden, they wouldn’t do this.”

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LONDON (AP) — London police, already stretched by a series of major incidents around the capital, are putting more officers on the street to reassure the public after a driver plowed into a crowd of people leaving a mosque early Monday. One man died at the scene and 10 people were injured.

Police say a suspect was arrested immediately after the attack, which is being treated as a terrorist incident.

“Extra officers are on duty in the area to help reassure the local community,” Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said. “They will be there for as long as they are needed. Communities will see additional officers patrolling across the city and at Muslim places of worship.”

Police said the 48-year-old man who was driving the van has been arrested and taken to a hospital as a precaution. He was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. It was not immediately clear why no charge had been made in relation to the one death.

The attack will stretch the capacity of authorities in Britain, who have faced four attacks in recent months, together with a major fire that has killed dozens. London’s Mayor Sadiq Mayor Khan, the first Muslim to serve in that position, urged the public to focus on shared values and urged the city to stand together in an unprecedented period in the capital’s history.

“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” he said. “The situation is still unfolding and I urge all Londoners to remain calm and vigilant.”

Eyewitnesses told British media that the van seemed to have veered and hit people intentionally. Sky News reported that the mosque’s imam prevented the crowd from beating the attacker until police arrived.

Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organization, said that based on eyewitness reports, it seems to be a “deliberate attack against innocent Muslims.”

The Finsbury Park mosque was associated with extremist ideology for several years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, but was shut down and reorganized. It has not been associated with radical views for more than a decade.

It is located a short walk away from Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal football club in north London.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she would chair an emergency security Cabinet session later Monday. She said her thoughts were with the injured, their loved ones and emergency officials who responded to the incident.

Britain’s terrorist alert has been set at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.

Earlier this month on London Bridge, attackers used a vehicle and then knives to kill eight people and wound many others on the bridge and in the nearby Borough Market area. Three Muslim extremists who carried out the attack were killed by police.

Manchester was also hit by a severe attack when a bomber killed more than 20 people at an Ariana Grande concert.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Pope Francis encouraged her to work to preserve the Paris climate accord despite the U.S. withdrawal and shared her aim to “bring down walls,” and not build them.

Merkel and Francis met for about 40 minutes Saturday in the Apostolic Palace, focusing on the Group of 20 summit that Germany is hosting in Hamburg on July 7-8.

The Vatican said the talks focused on the need for the international community to combat poverty, hunger, terrorism and climate change.

Merkel told reporters she briefed the pope on Germany’s G-20 agenda, which she said “assumes that we are a world in which we want to work together multilaterally, a world in which we don’t want to build walls but bring down walls.”

Francis has consistently called for nations to build bridges not walls — including in reference to the border wall the Trump administration wants to build with Mexico.

Merkel said Francis encouraged her to fight for international agreements, including the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to curb heat-trapping emissions.

“We know that regrettably, the United States is leaving this accord,” Merkel said.

As he did when President Donald Trump visited last month, Francis gave Merkel a copy of his environmental encyclical, “Praise Be,” which casts fighting climate change and caring for the environment as an urgent moral obligation.

Francis issued the encyclical in the run-up to the Paris negotiations in hopes of urging a global consensus on the need to change the “perverse” development models which he said had enriched the wealthy at the expense of the poor and turned God’s creation into an “immense pile of filth.”

The audience began with Francis expressing his condolences over the death of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In his formal note of condolences, Francis called Kohl a “great statesman and convinced European” who worked tirelessly for the unity of his homeland and the continent.

In a particularly heartfelt tone, Francis said he was praying that the Lord gives Kohl “the gift of eternal joy and life in heaven.”

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LONDON (AP) — Spectacularly punished by voters who took away her majority in parliament, a politically wounded Theresa May sought to soldier on Friday as Britain’s prime minister, resisting pressure to resign after the failure of her high-stakes election gamble made the massive challenge of untangling Britain from the European Union only more complex and uncertain.

Having called an early election in hopes of getting an increased majority that could have strengthened her hand in Britain’s exit talks with the EU, May instead saw her majority evaporate completely — leaving her fortunes hanging by a thread.

Still, rather than resign, May clung to the hope that her Conservatives might still be able to govern by making deals with another party or group of parties. She was planning to seek Queen Elizabeth II’s approval — a largely symbolic step — to form a government later Friday.

The shock result and the prospect that the EU will now be negotiating with a shaky British government cast dark clouds over the Brexit negotiations just 10 days before they are due to start. The pound lost more than 3 cents against the dollar.

With 649 of 650 seats in the House of Commons declared, May’s bruised Conservatives had 318 seats — short of the 326 they needed for an outright majority and well down from the 330 seats they had before May’s roll of the electoral dice. Labour has 261.

The recriminations were immediate and stinging.

“This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “And our leader needs to take stock as well.”

Left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was among those calling on May to resign, said Friday morning that people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending. He ruled out the potential for deals or pacts with other progressive parties in Parliament.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change.”

The results confounded those who said Corbyn was electorally toxic. Written off by many pollsters, Labour surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers.
As she was resoundingly re-elected to her Maidenhead seat in southern England, May looked tense and did not spell out what she planned to do.

“The country needs a period of stability, and whatever the results are the Conservative Party will ensure we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability,” she said.
Many predicted she would soon be gone.

“Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government, then she, I doubt, will survive in the long term as Conservative Party leader,” former Conservative Treasury chief George Osborne said on ITV.

British media reported later Friday that May had no intention of resigning.

The result was bad news for the Scottish National Party, which lost about 20 of its 54 seats. Among the casualties was Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland and one of the party’s highest-profile lawmakers.

The losses complicate the SNP’s plans to push for a new referendum on Scottish independence as Britain prepares to leave the EU. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the idea of a new independence referendum “is dead. That’s what we have seen tonight.”

May had hoped the election would focus on Brexit, but that never happened, as both the Conservatives and Labour said they would respect voters’ wishes and go through with the divorce.

Despite the surprise election result, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he doesn’t believe voters have changed their minds about leaving.

But speaking Friday on Europe 1 radio, he said “the tone” of negotiations may be affected.

“These are discussions that will be long and that will be complex. So let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “I’m not sure that we should read, from the results of this vote, that Britons’ sovereign decision on Brexit has been cast into doubt in any way.”

EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the EU is prepared to stick to the timetable that calls for negotiations to start in mid-June, but said it would take a few hours at least to see how the results of the election play out in forming a government.
“Without a government, there’s no negotiation,” he said Friday morning by phone on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.

May, who went into the election with a reputation for quiet competence, was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.” As the polls suggested a tightening race, pollsters spoke less often of a landslide and raised the possibility that May’s majority would be eroded.

Then, attacks in Manchester and London that killed a total of 30 people brought the campaign to a halt — twice, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism. Corbyn accused the Conservatives of undermining Britain’s security by cutting the number of police on the streets.

Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Voters were left flustered Friday by the fast-moving events.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” Peter Morgan, 35, said in London. “I was kind of hoping it would just go the way that the polls suggested it would and we could have a quiet life in Westminster but now it’s going to be a bit of a mess.”

Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said Britain had seen an election “in which the personal authority of a party leader has disappeared in an unprecedented way.”

“If she had got the majority she wanted, she would have been a supreme political colossus,” he said. “She did not get that and she’s a hugely diminished figure. She’s a zombie prime minister.”


Gregory Katz, Sophie Berman and Niko Price contributed to this story.

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VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Flexing his diplomatic muscles, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had “extremely frank, direct” talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, pushing for cooperation on Syria and against the Islamic State group but also launching an extraordinary attack on two Russian media outlets he accused of spreading “lying propaganda.”

The two leaders emerged from their first meeting — discussions at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles that lasted more than an hour longer than planned — clearly still at odds on multiple issues, but also seemingly keen not to let their differences define their fledgling relationship.

Macron said he spoke to Putin about LGBT rights in Chechnya and about the rights of embattled NGOs in Russia, vowing he would be “constantly vigilant” on these issues. Putin emphasized the need for closer cooperation between Russia and France, two nuclear-armed permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Speaking with remarkable frankness, Macron tore into the state-funded Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today, for spreading what he said were “serious untruths” during the French election.

“When press outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists, they are organs of influence. Russia Today and Sputnik were organs of influence during this campaign, which, on several occasions produced untruths about me and my campaign,” Macron said.

“I will not give an inch on this,” he said. “Russia Today and Sputnik … behaved as organs of influence, of propaganda, of lying propaganda.”

Macron was the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the Group of Seven summit over the weekend, where relations with Russia were a key topic.

His invitation to the Russia leader was a surprise after the tough stance on Russia Macron took during the French election. Macron’s aides also claimed that Russian groups launched hacking attacks on his campaign.

Moscow strongly denied all allegations of meddling in the French election that Macron won on May 7. Putin on Monday again poo-pooed the idea as unfounded press speculation.

But he also defended his March meeting with Macron’s rival in the presidential race, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Putin described Le Pen as a politician who wants to develop friendly ties with Russia and said it would have been strange to rebuff her overtures.

He said the meeting with Le Pen didn’t represent an attempt to sway the race. Putin added that Russia had been well-aware of opinion polls predicting Macron’s victory.

Macron said he was firm on other issues, too.

He said any use of chemical weapons in Syria — where Russia is propping up the government of President Bashar Assad — is a “red line” for France and would be met by “reprisals” and an “immediate riposte” from France.

He did not specify what form such reprisals could take, but France flies warplanes over Syria and Iraq, striking Islamic State targets as part of an international coalition.

Macron portrayed the meeting as just a first step in resetting the country’s relations with Russia.

“Big things are built over time,” he said. “It was an exchange that was extremely frank, direct, with a lot of things that were said.”

“We have disagreements, but at least we talked about them,” he added.

The leaders’ first handshakes — relatively brief and cordial — after Putin climbed out of his limousine at Versailles were far less macho than Macron’s now famous who-will-blink-first handshake showdown with President Donald Trump when the two leaders met for the first time last week.

Putin said he and Macron agreed to discuss pursuing closer cooperation on anti-terror efforts, with a proposed exchange of experts to work toward that goal.

On Syria, Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it’s essential for combatting terrorism. Macron took the same stance, saying: “I want us to organize a democratic transition but also preserve a Syrian state.”

“Failed states in that region are a threat for our democracies,” and fuel terrorism, he said.

Later Monday, Putin was visiting a newly built Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center near the Seine River that includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The site was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy amid criticism from human rights groups.

Ostensibly, the reason for Putin’s visit was for him to tour an exhibition in Versailles about the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s trip to Paris. But it became an opportunity for him and Macron to go over all the thorny issues that divide them, and see where they have common ground.

Human rights activists protested Monday in Paris over the situation of gays in the Russian republic of Chechnya, holding a banner “Stop homophobia in Chechnya” near the Eiffel Tower.

The Macron-Putin relationship got off to a less-than-ideal footing during Macron’s presidential campaign.

Macron had strong words for Russia in his race for the presidency, saying France and Russia don’t share the same values. Putin bet — wrongly — on Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, hosting her at the Kremlin in March, before Macron then handily beat her.


Leicester contributed from Paris.

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

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