TPM World News

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is expected to make a port visit to Vietnam in March, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday. It would be the first such visit in the postwar era.

The planned visit to Danang is likely to irritate China, which is critical of U.S. moves to add to its military muscle in the region.

Mattis and his counterpart, Ngo Xuan Lich, discussed the planned carrier visit during a closed-door meeting, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said. Davis said the Vietnamese are awaiting final approval by more senior government authorities, but Mattis appeared to indicate it was a done deal.

“Thank you for the increasing partnership with our aircraft carrier coming in to Danang here in March,” Mattis said in remarks opening a meeting with Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

Mattis also thanked him for Vietnam’s support for toughening United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

The Vietnamese Defense Ministry said separately that the two defense ministries had submitted their proposals for a U.S. carrier port visit to their leaders. The idea was floated last summer when Lich met Mattis at the Pentagon.

The two met again in Hanoi on Thursday during Mattis’ first trip to the Southeast Asian nation.

“We recognize that relationships never stay the same. They either get stronger or they get weaker, and America wants a stronger relationship with a stronger Vietnam,” Mattis told Lich.

In a written statement after Mattis’s meeting with Lich, the Vietnamese Defense Ministry said Lich had given Mattis “war artifacts of U.S. military personnel in the war.” It did not elaborate.

The visit also included a meeting with President Tran Dai Quang.

“From postwar legacy issues to what Minister Lich called the positive trajectory of our military-to-military relations, I’m confident we’re on the right trajectory, sir,” Mattis said in his opening remarks at the presidential palace, where he and the president sat side-by-side beneath a large bust of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Earlier Thursday, Mattis broke from his usual pattern of official business meetings to pay his respects at one of Vietnam’s oldest pagodas, where he spoke at length with a senior monk and remarked on the serene setting. The Tran Quoc Buddhist pagoda stands on a small island at the edge of a lake in Hanoi, a short distance from a concrete marker noting where Sen. John McCain was shot down during a Navy attack mission over the city in 1967. McCain was retrieved from the lake and imprisoned at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

As he strolled among tourists at the 6th century pagoda, Mattis said to the monk, “Beautiful. Peaceful. It makes you think more deeply.”

Mattis joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1969, while the decade-long Vietnam War was ongoing, but did not serve in Vietnam.

His visit happened to come just days before the Vietnamese celebrate Tet, the Lunar New Year.

Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, in January 1968, when the Communist North launched synchronized, simultaneous attacks on multiple targets in U.S.-backed South Vietnam, including the city of Hue. The offensive was a military failure, but it turned out to be a pivotal point in the war by puncturing U.S. hopes of a swift victory. The war dragged on for another seven years before the U.S. completed its withdrawal.

Mattis noted earlier this week that Vietnam’s proximity to the South China Sea makes the country a key player in disputes with China over territorial claims to islets, shoals and other small land formations in the sea. Vietnam also fought a border war with China in 1979.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration slapped sanctions Wednesday on North Korean financial and business networks in China and Russia as it pushed to cut off revenues for the increasingly isolated nation’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also targeted five North Korean shipping companies and six of its vessels. That’s part of an intensified effort by Washington to interdict ships that help the North evade sanctions.

The sanctions have been tightened significantly in the past year as Kim Jong Un’s government accelerates toward perfecting a nuclear weapon that can threaten the U.S. mainland. While Beijing and Moscow have supported U.N. restrictions, they bristle at Washington imposing unilateral sanctions to bolster the pressure campaign.

The intensification of the U.S.-led campaign is a counterpoint to a thaw in relations between North and South Korea revolving around the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics being hosted by the South. That has eased tensions on the divided peninsula, but the North shows no sign it’s willing to negotiate over its nuclear program.

“The U.S. government is targeting illicit actors in China, Russia, and elsewhere who are working on behalf of North Korean financial networks, and calling for their expulsion from the territories where they reside,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. Americans are barred from dealing with those who are designated.

Among those blacklisted were 10 representatives in China and Russia of the Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which is already designated by the United States and the United Nations and is said to support the North’s defense industry. The Treasury Department said the company’s procurements also probably support North Korea’s chemical weapons program.

Half of the individuals are located in the Chinese cities of Dandong, Ji’an, Linjiang and Tumen near the China-North Korea border. Others are based in Russia and Abkhazia, a breakaway province of Georgia. They include, Kim Ho Kyu, said to be a Ryonbong representative and North Korean vice consul in Nakhodka, Russia.

The Treasury Department also designated five individuals it said were linked to North Korean financial networks, and pointedly highlighted that several of them held accounts at Chinese banks.

North Korea conducts most of its trade through its northern neighbor China, and is believed to rely on banks and companies in that country to connect with the international financial system.

The department added to its blacklist two China-based companies, Beijing Chengxing Trading Co. Ltd. and Dandong Jinxiang Trade Co., Ltd. It said that between 2013 and 2017, the two companies cumulatively exported over $68 million worth of goods to North Korea and imported more than $19 million of goods from North Korea.

Also designated were North Korea’s ministry responsible for crude oil and Hana Electronics JVC, one of North Korea’s only electronics companies.

The sanctions imposed on North Korean shipping are the latest in a slew of restrictions the U.S. has declared against North Korean shipping companies. The administration is pressing China, Russia and other countries to prevent vessels from conducting illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other cargo.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that through the agency’s efforts, the U.S. government has improved its ability to interdict shipments into North Korea. He warned that the North was moving “ever closer” to putting Americans at risk and that he believes Kim won’t rest until he’s able to threaten multiple nuclear attacks against the U.S. at the same time.

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s president says he loves President Donald Trump and that he should be praised for not mincing words.

“I love Trump because he tells Africans frankly,” President Yoweri Museveni said Tuesday, shortly after the U.S. ambassador apologized for Trump’s recent reference to African nations as “shithole countries.”

“I don’t know whether he was misquoted or whatever. But he talks to Africans frankly,” Museveni said. “In the world, you cannot survive if you are weak.”

The Ugandan leader was addressing members of the regional East African Legislative Assembly.

Several African nations have expressed shock and condemnation at Trump’s remark. He has denied using that language while others present says he did.

Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, also called Trump an honest man during his State of the Nation address on Jan 1.

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Deborah Malac met Uganda’s speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and described Trump’s controversial remark as “obviously quite disturbing and upsetting.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Multiple American citizens were killed and injured in the Taliban’s 13-hour siege of an upscale hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, the State Department said Tuesday.

No exact figures were immediately available for either the U.S. fatalities or injuries. In total, 22 people were killed in the attack including 14 foreigners, Afghan officials have said. Eleven of the 14 foreigners had been previously identified as working for the private Afghan airline KamAir.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and wish for the speedy recovery of those wounded,” the State Department said. “Out of respect for the families of the deceased, we have no further comment.?”

The American deaths were the latest reminder of the continuing toll paid by the United States in Afghanistan, where local forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

President Donald Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a “time-based” approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. Trump’s U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that Trump’s policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.

The six Taliban militants who stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday in suicide vests were looking for foreigners and Afghan officials to kill. Afghan security forces have said the standoff ended Sunday when they killed the last of the militants. More than 150 people were rescued or escaped during the siege, including 41 foreigners. Some hid in bathtubs or under mattresses as the attackers roamed the hotel’s hallways killing people.

It was unclear how seriously the injured Americans were wounded. In addition to the Americans killed in the attack, six Ukrainians, two Venezuelan pilots for KamAir and a citizen of Kazakhstan and a citizen of Germany were also killed, officials have said.

Word of the American deaths came as Afghan’s interior ministry said an investigation is underway to find out how the attackers got into the building so easily. Najib Danish, spokesman for the interior ministry, said Tuesday that security forces also defused a vehicle full of explosives near the hotel after the siege ended.

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LONDON (AP) — British regulators say 21st Century Fox’s takeover of London-based broadcaster Sky is not in the public interest because it would give Rupert Murdoch and his family too much control over the country’s news media.

But it offered solutions that raised hopes that a deal would eventually be reached as the Murdochs press ahead with an even bigger deal — Disney’s own bid to buy Fox.

The preliminary finding on Tuesday by the Competition and Markets Authority is the latest hurdle for Fox’s effort to buy the 61 percent of Sky PLC it doesn’t already own for 11.7 billion pound ($16.3 billion). Its attempt six years ago was derailed by the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s British newspapers.

The ruling will be finalized by May 1, when the authority will send its report to the government, which who will make a final decision on whether the deal should proceed.

Regulators said the proposed takeover raises concerns about Murdoch’s influence over British media because his family trust already controls News Corp., which owns newspapers such as the Times and the Sun, and the deal would increase its control of the influential Sky News channel. Even before the Sky bid, liberal politicians claimed Murdoch had too much influence over public debate, with his papers often supporting conservative causes.

“The (Murdoch family trust’s) news outlets are watched, read or heard by nearly a third of the U.K.’s population, and have a combined share of the public’s news consumption that is significantly greater than all other news providers, except the BBC and ITN,” the regulator said in a statement. “Due to its control of News Corp., the Murdoch family already has significant influence over public opinion, and full ownership of Sky by Fox would strengthen this even further.”

But the regulators offered potential solutions to their objections, including the spin-off of Sky News or “behavioral remedies” that would reduce the Murdoch family’s ability to direct Sky’s news coverage.

Fox said it was “disappointed” by the ruling on media plurality, while Sky took note of the suggested remedies.

The authority also suggested that the completion of Walt Disney Co.’s planned $52.4 billion takeover of Fox would weaken Murdoch’s control over Sky and lessen concerns about media plurality. However, there is no guarantee that the deal will be completed, so the British government’s review of the Sky merger must go forward.

“We cannot be sufficiently confident at this stage whether, when, or how the Disney/Fox transaction will complete,” the regulator said.

Former British Culture Secretary Karen Bradley asked the authority to evaluate the takeover in September, directing it to look at Fox’s commitment to broadcasting standards and the deal’s impact on media plurality in the U.K.

In its decision, the regulator dismissed concerns about broadcasting standards, saying that Fox and Sky had a good record in this area. As part of its investigation, the authority considered allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News in the U.S.

“While these are serious, the CMA has provisionally found that these are not directly related to the attainment of broadcasting standards and do not call into question Fox’s or the (Murdoch family trust’s) commitment to broadcasting standards in the U.K,” the authority said.

Analysts said the ruling may actually be good news for the takeover because one possibility — the spinoff of Sky News is workable. But it would have been difficult for the companies to mitigate concerns about broadcasting standards.

“An acceptable framework for spinning out Sky News appears to us quite attainable, and the CMA is showing flexibility in extending timetables to explore this,” the investment bank Jeffries said in a note to investors.

Fox is seeking to consolidate its control over Sky as media companies try to combine content creation and distribution channels amid pressure from competitors such as Netflix, Google and Amazon.

Sky’s European pay TV operation has 22.5 million customers, attracted by offerings such as English Premier League soccer and “Game of Thrones.”

A previous bid for the whole of Sky foundered amid the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, in which journalists working for Murdoch newspapers were accused of gaining illegal access to the voicemail messages of celebrities, members of the royal family and crime victims. Murdoch’s News Corp. withdrew its bid for Sky in 2012.

Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson, a long-time opponent of the Murdochs, tweeted that the regulator was “right to say that the Fox takeover of Sky would give the Murdoch family too much power.”

“This is the right decision for the U.K.,” he said.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and have their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years during the opening ceremony of next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, officials said.

The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee. But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics following a year of heightened tension over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team and marching together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border. It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, and journalists, athletes and officials.

Ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement. It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March.

The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional. But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to Pyeongchang because none are currently qualified. South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation. The IOC said recently it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games. IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.

The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.”

“There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,” it said.

The two Koreas have previously sent joint teams to major international sports events twice, both in 1991. One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal.

During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together during the opening and closing ceremonies of nine international sporting events, including the Olympics and Asian Games, but they failed to produce a joint team.

The current reconciliation mood began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the games. Critics have said Kim’s overture is an attempt to use improved ties with South Korea to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions on North Korea while buying time to perfect his nuclear weapons program.

The moves nevertheless have provided a temporary thaw in the Koreas’ long-strained ties and fostered optimism that North Korea won’t launch any new provocations, at least during the Olympics.

Some conservative critics say North Korea’s cheering and artistic groups are too big, and worry the North may try to steal the show at the Olympics to launch what they call a “peace offensive.”

North Korea also sent highly trained female cheering groups dressed in bright, attractive outfits when it attended previous international sports events in South Korea. The groups, chosen for their cheering skills as well as their good looks and dubbed “beauty squads” by South Korean media, often received more attention than their athletes. Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was a member of a 2005 squad.

North Korea under Kim Jong Un has made sports, and especially success in international sporting events, a high priority. While it’s not a major winter sports competitor, North Korean athletes have set several weightlifting world records and its women hold a high profile on the world football scene.

When traveling abroad, however, North Korean athletes and coaches tend to cloister themselves away from outsiders when they are not competing or practicing. Defections are likely a concern, along with what their minders might deem to be ideological “contamination,” so they are kept under close scrutiny.

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LONDON (AP) — The new U.S. Embassy in London, criticized last week by President Donald Trump as too expensive and poorly located, opened its doors to the public Tuesday for the first time.

The gleaming embassy, in the formerly industrial Nine Elms neighborhood in south London, replaces the embassy in Grosvenor Square that had for decades been associated with the U.S. presence in the United Kingdom. That building has been sold to a Qatari government investment fund planning to turn it into a luxury hotel.

U.S. officials say it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade security at the older building and bring it up to modern safety standards.

Trump tweeted last week that he would not come to London to open the new embassy because it represented a poor investment.

The president’s tweet read: “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

There were no ceremonies to mark the public opening of the facility and some landscaping features were still being put in place. A line of evergreen trees was being planted at the edge of the site, and only a relatively small number of people showed up on official business.

The formerly rundown neighborhood is littered with cranes as a number of major towers are shooting up in the blocks surrounding the embassy, which is helping the area’s rejuvenation.

Visa processing was beginning in a “soft” rollout of the new facility. Officials said 50 applicants were processed Tuesday.

The embassy initially planned to process 200 people per day for the rest of the week, but doubled that figure to 400 late Tuesday afternoon because the procedures had worked well during the day.

Though Trump blamed predecessor Barack Obama for the expensive new embassy in his angry tweet, the project was in fact announced in October 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Trump’s plans to visit Britain have met resistance from some politicians and activists who disagree with his policies on a number of fronts, including his actions on immigration and climate change. Substantial protests were expected.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who Trump has repeatedly criticized, said Trump seems to have “got the message” that many Londoners find his policies to be intolerant and wrong.

Trump is still invited for a state visit — to be hosted by Queen Elizabeth II — but no date has been set. The invitation was extended by the British government nearly a year ago during Trump’s first days in office.

U.S. officials say the new embassy cost $1 billion (1.38 billion pounds) and was paid for entirely with money raised by the sale of other U.S. government properties in London.

The new building, with its distinctive cube shape, is nearly twice as large as the Grosvenor Square facility. It is the single most expensive embassy building ever built by the United States.

Robert Johnson, appointed by Trump as U.S. ambassador to Britain, called the new energy-efficient embassy a “bargain” during a pre-opening tour for journalists last month. He said the embassy, which does not have a perimeter fence, is both welcoming and secure.

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert warning citizens of a North Korean missile launch and urging them to seek immediate shelter, then retracted it minutes later, days after a similar error in Hawaii.

NHK television issued the message Tuesday on its internet and mobile news sites as well as on Twitter, saying North Korea appeared to have fired a missile at Japan. It said the government was telling people to take shelter.

The false alarm came two days after Hawaii’s emergency management department sent a mistaken warning of a North Korean missile attack to mobile phones across the state, triggering panic.

NHK deleted its tweet after several minutes, issued a correction and apologized several times on air. It said a mistake in using the alert system caused the error.

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The Latest on the pope’s visit to Chile (all times local):

9:10 a.m.

Three churches have been firebombed in Chile on the first full day of Pope Francis’ visit to the Andean nation.

Authorities say two churches were burned in the early hours of Tuesday in the southern Araucania region. The pope is set to visit with indigenous Mapuches Wednesday in Temuco, the capital of Araucania. The third church attacked was in Puento Alto, just south of Santiago.

Including the latest firebombings, nine churches have been attacked in Chile since Friday.

In recent years, the Mapuche have burned churches to agitate for the return of ancestral lands and recognition of their language. It’s not clear who has been behind the spate of recent burnings.

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9 a.m.

Pope Francis is begging the forgiveness of Chileans for the “irreparable damage” done to children who have been sexually abused by priests.

Francis opened his visit to Chile on Tuesday by referring directly to the abuse scandal in a speech to President Michelle Bachelet, lawmakers, justices and other Chilean authorities. The scandal has eroded the credibility of the Catholic Church here and cast a shadow over his visit, the first by a pope in three decades.

Francis said he felt “bound to express my pain and shame at the irreprarable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church.” He said he joined his fellow bishops in asking forgiveness, supporting victims and ensuring abuse doesn’t happen again.

Chile’s Catholic Church had already begun losing relevance when in 2010 it was found to have covered up for a prominent and powerful priest who sexually abused minors in his posh Santiago parish. The Vatican eventually sanctioned the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, in 2011, but the church has yet to recover from the scandal.

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6 a.m.

Pope Francis will be under pressure Tuesday to confront a priest sex abuse scandal during his first full day in Chile, an Andean nation where the majority identifies as Roman Catholic but strong currents of skepticism and even contempt for the church are increasingly present.

Many Chileans are still furious over his 2015 decision to appoint a bishop close to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a priest found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades.

Bishop Juan Barros of the southern city of Osorno has always denied he knew what Karadima was doing when he was the priest’s protege, but many Chileans have a hard time believing that.

“Sex abuse is Pope Francis’ weakest spot in terms of his credibility,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican expert and theology professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. “It is surprising that the pope and his entourage don’t understand that they need to be more forthcoming on this issue.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — An attempt to oust President Donald Trump’s hotel business from managing a luxury hotel in Panama has turned bitter, with accusations of financial misconduct.

Trump Hotels is contesting its firing, and its staff ran off a team of Marriott executives invited last month to visit the property during a search for a new hotel operator, according to two people familiar with the matter.

After the owners’ association accused Trump Hotels of mismanagement and financial misconduct in a $15 million arbitration claim, the company owned by the president fired back with a $200 million counterclaim and refused to turn over the property’s financial records. When a team from Marriott International Inc. came to the property at the invitation of the hotel’s majority owner, Trump staff asked them to leave, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly what happened behind the scenes.

The head of Trump Hotels, Eric Danziger, also called Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson to complain about the visit, the two people said.

Marriott generally steers clear of properties facing ownership and management disputes. But the call from a senior Trump executive to the CEO of Marriott, which manages more than 6,000 hotels, raised the awkward matter of how American companies interact with a business owned by the president.

Marriott, like most major international companies, has significant business and public policy interests before the Trump administration. Federal employees who travel and hold government conferences pay to use its properties, and Marriott has been lobbying the administration and Congress over U.S. tourism, trade and legal restrictions against property ownership in Cuba, disclosures to consumers about resort fees, and other issues.

Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten said the call was not intended to pressure Marriott.

“We have a great relationship with Marriott,” Garten said. “They were appreciative that we let them know that we have a valid contract.”

A spokeswoman for Marriott declined to comment.

The matter highlights potential ethics concerns raised by Trump’s decision not to divest himself from his businesses, said Larry Noble, head of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based public interest group that studies issues of democracy.

“I don’t know if they’ve got a valid contract or not,” Noble said. “But if you’re a big company, you’d really have to think twice before getting into a fight with one of the president’s companies.”

Since Trump took office, Trump hotels in New York and Toronto have quietly reached deals to separate themselves from Trump’s brand.

But the Panama dispute is shaping up as a brawl.

In a letter to fellow owners, the investor leading the hotel owners’ board of directors accused Trump Hotels of “gross mismanagement, breaches of contract, conversion and breaches of fiduciary duties.” Conversion is a legal term for the misuse of someone else’s property for one’s own gain.

“Our investment has no future so long as the hotel is managed by an incompetent operator whose brand has been tarnished beyond repair,” Orestes Fintiklis, the managing partner of Miami-based Ithaca Capital Partners, wrote in the letter. Trump Hotels, he wrote, “is refusing to maintain its last shreds of dignity and peacefully vacate our property.”

Fintiklis did not respond to emails from the AP seeking comment.

Trump Hotels accused Ithaca of deceiving its fellow hotel owners and illegally terminating the Trump contract.

“Unfortunately, it is YOU, the unit owners, who will ultimately be the ones to bear responsibility for the bad acts of Mr. Fintiklis and his cohorts,” said Trump Hotels executive vice president Jeff Wagoner in an earlier letter to the owners last week.

Rising 70 stories in the shape of a wind-filled sail, the Trump hotel promised investors a chance to become the part owner of one of Central America’s finest hotels. It has struggled to sell units after its completion in 2011. Occupancy rates are low enough that some owners receive no income from their properties and must reach into their own pockets to pay maintenance costs.

The effort to remove Trump hotels from managing the hybrid condo-hotel units on the property began last year, after Ithaca Capital Group purchased 202 unsold hotel units from the building’s struggling developer.

After buying the units in August, Ithaca and the other owners voted in November to fire Trump’s directors, clearing the way for terminating Trump’s contract and the $15 million arbitration claim against Trump Hotels.

Not all the hotel unit owners were represented at the meeting, but those contacted by The Associated Press support the effort to fire Trump.

“They wanted to remove him quietly,” said Al Monstavicius, a retired Nevada doctor who owns a penthouse hotel unit in the building, of Ithaca’s efforts. “That didn’t work.”

Monstavicius said Trump’s statements regarding Mexicans and his determination to strip hundreds of thousands of Central Americans of their protection from deportation have made Trump’s brand toxic in Panama.

Occupancy in recent days — considered peak high season — has ranged from 26 to 28 percent, according to Trump Hotels figures.

Overbuilding and general weakness in the Panama hotel market have contributed to problems. Trump’s team said it was proud of the hotel’s financial performance. It told owners Trump’s hotel has outperformed its peers for 81 of the last 84 months, but Fintiklis dismissed the claim as “simply delusional.”

The hostilities extended to Ithaca’s invitation of Marriott executives to the property.

“We were obviously concerned about their presence there,” Garten said, adding that he believed Marriott did not know of the circumstances.

The heart of Trump Hotels’ claim against the hotel owners is a February 2017 agreement. When it bought 202 units, Ithaca agreed not to act “in any manner adverse to the interests of Trump Hotels.” In his letter, Fintiklis acknowledged the language in the agreement but said mismanagement and misconduct by Trump Hotels rendered it invalid.

If the owners in Panama succeed, it won’t be the first time that Trump has been ousted there. In 2015, amid the early months of Trump’s presidential campaign, the owners of apartments in the same building voted to fire Trump’s management company over budget issues and allegations of misspent funds.

Since then, the property’s overall finances have improved. Its annual deficits, which exceeded $1 million, have since turned into a surplus, according to financial documents provided to the AP by an owner.

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