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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church teaching about the death penalty, saying in a new policy published Thursday that it is always “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans.

The Vatican said Francis had approved a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the compilation of official Catholic teaching. Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

The new teaching, contained in Catechism No. 2267, says the previous policy is outdated, that there are other ways to protect the common good, and that the church should instead commit itself to working to end capital punishment.

“The church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide,” reads the new text, which was approved in May but only published Thursday.

The death penalty has been abolished in most of Europe and South America, but it is still in use in the United States and in several countries in Asia, Africa and the Mideast. In addition, just this week Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could soon move to reinstate the death penalty, which it had abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union.

In an accompanying letter explaining the change, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office said the development of Catholic doctrine on capital punishment didn’t contradict prior teaching but rather was an evolution of it.

“If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes,” said Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Ladaria said the new change aims to “give energy” to the anti-death penalty movement “and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.”

Francis has long railed against the death penalty, insisting it can never be justified, no matter how heinous the crime. He has also long made prison ministry a mainstay of his vocation. On nearly every foreign trip, Francis has visited with inmates to offer words of solidarity and hope, and he still stays in touch with a group of Argentine inmates he ministered to during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He announced his intention to change church teaching on capital punishment last October, when he marked the 25th anniversary of the publication of the catechism by announcing his intention to update it. The catechism, first promulgated by St. John Paul II, gives Catholics an easy, go-to guide for church teaching on everything from the sacraments to sex.

At that 2017 ceremony, Francis said the death penalty violates the Gospel and amounts to the voluntary killing of a human life, which “is always sacred in the eyes of the creator.”

He acknowledged that in the past even the Papal States had allowed this “extreme and inhuman recourse.” But he said the Holy See had erred in allowing a mentality that was “more legalistic than Christian” and now knew better.

Amnesty International, which has long campaigned for a worldwide ban on the death penalty, welcomed the development as an “important step forward.”

“Already in the past, the church had expressed its aversion to the death penalty, but with words that did not exclude ambiguities,” said Riccardo Noury, Amnesty Italia spokesman. “Today they are saying it in an even clearer way.”

In addition, he praised the clear indication of the church’s commitment to the cause beyond doctrine.

“There seems to be also a desire to see the Catholic Church take an active role in the global abolitionist movement,” he added.

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AP writer Simone Somekh contributed.
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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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By AMY GUTHRIE, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — An Aeromexico jetliner taking off in a blustery storm smashed down into a nearby field but skidded to a stop virtually intact, and all 103 people aboard were able to escape advancing flames before fire engulfed the aircraft.

Passengers expressed gratitude to be alive, but many were extremely shaken after the crash Tuesday afternoon.

“It was really, really ugly,” said Lorenzo Nunez, a passenger from Chicago who fled the plane with his two sons and wife. “It burned in a question of seconds,” he told reporters, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

Survivors said the Embraer 190 plane burst into flames right after it hit the ground.

“We felt the flames coming quickly … there was a lot of smoke,” Jaquelin Flores told the newspaper El Sol.

Romulo Campuzano, head of a political party in Durango state who was on the plane, told Foro TV that both wings were on fire as he bolted from the aircraft.
Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro said a gust of wind hit flight AM2431 heading from the city of Durango to Mexico City just as it was lifting off the tarmac, forcing the pilot to abort takeoff.

Passengers said they heard a loud noise as the plane’s left wing banged to the ground, and both engines tore loose. The plane stayed upright, though, and the escape slides activated.

Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, but certainly the weather wasn’t favorable. Strong wind and heavy rain with marble-sized hail lashed Durango city, even damaging hangars at the airport.

“The most important thing in the seriousness that is an accident of this nature is that there were no deaths — that’s what is most encouraging for us,” Aispuro said at a news conference.

After the accident, several passengers walked away from the plane before first responders arrived. Some sought medical help, while others rushed home to loved ones. Officials spent much of the afternoon tracking down survivors to ensure that everyone was accounted for.

Officials said 49 people had been hospitalized — most with minor injuries. The pilot suffered the most serious injury, a cervical lesion that required surgery. Some people had burns on a quarter of their bodies, said Durango state Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Ros.

Aispuro said all were expected to live.

Aeromexico Chief Executive Officer Andres Conesa described the day as “very difficult” and credited the timely reaction of crew and passengers for the lack of fatalities.

“Our heart is with those affected and their families,” he said at an evening news conference.

Conesa said the passengers included 88 adults, nine children and two babies and the crew consisted of two flight attendants and two pilots.

He said the jetliner had been sent for maintenance in February and the crew was well-rested, having started their work day in Durango.

The web site Planespotters.net said the Brazilian-made medium-range jet was about 10 years old and had seen service with two other airlines before joining the Aeromexico fleet.

Operations were suspended at Durango city’s Guadalupe Victoria airport after the crash.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Angry opposition supporters gathered outside Zimbabwe’s electoral commission and were met by riot police on Wednesday as the country awaited the results of Monday’s presidential election, the first after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

The European Union election observer mission expressed “serious concerns” as Western and other observers gave their first assessments of whether the vote, while peaceful, was free and fair — critical to lifting international sanctions on the once-prosperous country.

The ruling ZANU-PF party won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission announced.

The commission has said it would announce the results of the presidential race, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, only after all the votes have come in from across the country.

The EU observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved,” pointing out the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behavior by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media.” It said the election was largely peaceful in a break from the past but wondered why presidential votes were counted first but were being announced last.

The opposition has alleged irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.

Mnangagwa’s government, meanwhile, has accused Chamisa and his supporters of inciting “violence” by already declaring he had won the election.

“Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said. Security forces “will remain on high alert and continue to monitor the security situation.”

The possibility of confrontation was an unnerving reminder of the tensions that pervade this southern African nation, debilitated by Mugabe’s long rule. The 94-year-old former leader had been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980 until he was forced to resign in November after the military and ruling party turned on him.

Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who fell out with Mugabe and then took over from him, has said his showing in the presidential polls was “extremely positive” while urging people to wait for official results.

Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, has gone further, saying his own count shows that he won the election and that he’s ready to form the next government.

“We won the popular vote & will defend it!” Chamisa tweeted Wednesday.

Zimbabweans desperately hope the peaceful vote will lift them out of economic and political stagnation after decades of Mugabe’s rule, but the country is haunted by a history of electoral violence and manipulation that means trust is scarce.

While the electoral commission has five days from the end of voting to release the final tally, the national mood was growing anxious partly because unofficial results are already swirling on social media.

The opposition’s mood had dampened from Tuesday, when dozens of supporters gathered at their headquarters and celebrated in the belief that they had won the presidential election based on results they said they collected from agents in the field. As they danced to music blasting from speakers set up on a truck, police with water cannon circulated nearby.

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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea (AP) — Decades after the end of the Korean War in 1953, the remains of dozens of presumed U.S. war dead began their journey home following a repatriation ceremony in South Korea on Wednesday.

North Korea handed over the remains in 55 boxes last week and allowed a U.S. military transport plane to move them to the U.S. Osan Air Base near Seoul in South Korea.

While it was an apparent goodwill gesture by North Korea toward the United States, the return comes amid growing skepticism about whether the North will follow through on its pledge of nuclear disarmament.

Hundreds of U.S. and South Korean troops gathered at a hanger at the Osan base for the repatriation ceremony, which included a rifle salute and the playing of the U.S. and South Korean national anthems and dirges in front of the U.N. flag-covered metal cases containing the remains.

After the ceremony, the remains were moved one by one to transport planes which will fly them to Hawaii, where they will undergo an in-depth forensic analysis, in some cases using mitochondrial DNA profiles, at a Defense Department laboratory to establish identifications. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that the return of the 55 boxes was a positive step but not a guarantee that the bones are American.

Vice President Mike Pence, the son of a Korean War veteran, is to fly to Hawaii for what the military calls an “honorable carry ceremony” marking the arrival of remains to American soil.

The repatriation is a breakthrough in a long-stalled U.S. effort to obtain war remains from North Korea. About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.

“The remains received from North Korea are being handled with the utmost care and respect by professional historians, forensic scientists, uniformed personnel and government officials,” the U.S.-led U.N. Command said in a statement. It said it “never leaves troops behind, living or deceased, and will continue the mission of repatriation until every service member returns home.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bombing hit a passenger bus in western Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people, as militants launched a coordinated attack on a city in the country’s east where initial reports said four people were killed, according to officials.

The morning attack in western Farah province took place in the Bala Buluk district and also wounded 31 people, all civilians, according to Abdul Jabar Shahiq, the provincial health department chief.

The bus was on its way from Herat province toward the capital, Kabul, when it hit the roadside bomb, Shahiq said, adding that women and children were among the casualties.

Details were slowly emerging for the attack in eastern Afghanistan, where militants launched a coordinated assault in the city of Jalalabad, the Nangarhar provincial capital, local officials said.

Initial reports said four people were killed and at least eight were wounded, including two policemen.

The militants targeted the Jalalabad government building of the refugee and repatriation department, according to Gen. Ghulam Sanayee Stanikzai, the provincial police chief.

Stanikzai and Gov. Hayatullah Hayat say Afghan forces killed two militants during the battle.

Zabihullah Zemarai, a member of the provincial council, said the attack started with a car bombing — likely an explosion set off by a suicide car bomber — near the city’s provincial hospital and health department, followed by gunfire.

Afghan forces reacted quickly and rescued all participants of a meeting of non-governmental organizations that was taking place in the nearby building as well as the head of the refugee department, said Attahullah Khogyani, Hayat’s spokesman.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. In Nangarhar, both the Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group have been active.

The Taliban also have a strong presence in Farah, especially in Bala Buluk where they often plant roadside bombs to target government officials or Afghan security forces. Such attacks often end up inflicting significant casualties among civilians.

Farah has seen heavy fighting in recent months, with local officials and tribal elders requesting additional government forces to support the overburdened army and police. In May, more than 300 Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack on the city of Farah, the provincial capital, before they were repelled. At least 25 government troops were killed in the fighting.

The latest report by the United Nations says the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in the first half of this year increased by 1 percent, compared to the same period last year. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said the number — 1,692 killed by violence — is the highest 6-month death toll since the systematic documentation of civilian casualties started in 2009.

Since the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, a resurgent Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country and an Islamic State affiliate has also emerged, staging high-profile attacks that have claimed scores of civilian lives.

On other developments on Tuesday, IS claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in Nangarhar when a suicide car bomber killed tribal leader Haji Hayat Khan, the commander of a local militia battling both the Taliban and IS militants, and three others.

In a statement posted by the IS affiliate’s Aamaq news agency, the militants warned all those fighting against them would meet the same fate.

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Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said Tuesday he has resigned to take responsibility after an independent investigative report highlighted shortcomings in the air traffic control center during Flight 370’s disappearance four years ago.

The report released Monday raised the possibility that the jet may have been hijacked even though there was no conclusive evidence of why the plane went off course and flew for over seven hours after severing communications.

Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the report didn’t blame the civil aviation department for the plane’s loss but found that the Kuala Lumpur air traffic control center failed to comply with operating procedures.

“Therefore, it is with regret and after much thought and contemplation that I have decided to resign as Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia,” he said in his statement, adding he has served his resignation and will step down in two weeks.

The jet carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished March 8, 2014, and is presumed to have crashed in the far southern Indian Ocean. The investigative report, prepared by a 19-member international team, said the cause of the disappearance cannot be determined until the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes are found.

However, the report said the investigation showed lapses by air traffic control, including a failure to swiftly initiate an emergency response and monitor radar continuously, relying too much on information from Malaysia Airlines and not getting in touch with the military for help.

New Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Tuesday the government has formed a committee to investigate and take action against any misconduct based on the report findings.

The report said there was insufficient information to determine if the aircraft broke up in the air or during impact with the ocean.

Scattered pieces of debris that washed ashore on African beaches and Indian Ocean islands indicated a distant remote stretch of the ocean where the plane likely crashed.

But a government search by Australia, Malaysia and China failed to pinpoint a location. And a second, private search by U.S. company Ocean Infinity that finished at the end of May also found no sign of a possible crash site.

Malaysia’s government has said it will resume search if credible evidence on the plane’s location emerges.

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s currency has dropped to a record low ahead of the imposition of renewed American sanctions, with many fearing prolonged economic suffering or possible civil unrest.

The rial dropped to 122,000 to the dollar on the thriving black market exchange Monday, from the previous low set the day before of 116,000.

Already last month, protesters clashed with police outside parliament in Tehran amid three days of demonstrations sparked by the currency’s plunge, and worries are growing about what might happen once the new sanctions kick in Aug 6.

The central bank on Monday blamed the currency’s free fall on “the enemies’ conspiracies.”

President Donald Trump’s administration announced the restoration of sanctions after he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in May.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Monday accepted the resignation of an Australian archbishop convicted in criminal court of covering up the sexual abuse of children by a priest, taking action after coming under mounting pressure from ordinary Catholics, priests and even the Australian prime minister.

It was the second major announcement of a sex abuse-related resignation in as many days, after Francis’ dramatic sanctioning this weekend of a U.S. cardinal, suggesting he is keen to clean house before he heads to Dublin next month for a big Catholic family rally. The sex abuse scandal is likely to dominate the trip given Ireland’s devastating history with predator priests and the bishops who covered for them.

In Australia, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted in May of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s. He became the highest-ranking Catholic cleric ever convicted in a criminal court of abuse cover-up.

Wilson, who denied the accusations, had immediately stepped aside after he was convicted but refused to resign pending an appeal. Francis had appointed a temporary administrator to run the diocese in the meantime.

As recently as last week, though, Wilson acknowledged that calls for his sacking were increasing, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull added his voice to the chorus July 19 in urging Francis to fire him.

In a one-line statement Monday, the Vatican said Francis had accepted Wilson’s resignation. At 67, he is well under the normal retirement age for bishops of 75.

In a statement issued by the archdiocese, Wilson said he had submitted his resignation to Francis of his own will on July 20 — a day after Turnbull’s call — and said he hoped his decision would help abuse victims and the rest of the Catholic community heal.

“I had hoped to defer this decision until after the appeal process had been completed,” Wilson said. “However, there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of archbishop.”

Wilson was sentenced by the Newcastle court to 12 months in detention.

Francis’ decision to accept the resignation is significant given he has previously refrained from taking action against accused bishops that might be perceived as prejudicing outcomes in civil or criminal cases.

Another Australian prelate, Cardinal George Pell, for example, has been on leave as the Vatican’s finance czar while he faces criminal trial on accusations of sexual abuse. But Pell, who denies the charges, remains a cardinal, head of the Vatican’s economy secretariat and a member of Francis’ core group of nine cardinal advisers.

Francis, though, is under increasing pressure to sanction bishops who have abused, botched handling abuse cases or otherwise covered them up. There are calls for a full-fledged church investigation in the United States, and criminal probes underway in Chile as the next phase of the abuse scandal — accountability for bishops who failed to protect their flocks from abusive priests — is gaining momentum.

In the United States, bishops and cardinals are coming under fire for failing to reveal what they knew and when about the abuse of adult seminarians and minors allegedly committed by Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington.

Francis on Saturday accepted McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal, and imposed on him unprecedented penalties for a cardinal even before his canonical trial is completed, including living a lifetime of penance and prayer and living isolated from others.

McCarrick, who had been one of the most prominent American cardinals involved in responding to the U.S. sex abuse crisis in 2002, was initially ordered by the Vatican to cease all public ministry last month after the New York archdiocese determined that an accusation that he fondled a teenage altar server in the 1970s was “credible and substantiated.”

Since then, several male seminarians have come forward alleging misconduct and harassment, while another victim identified only as James has alleged McCarrick engaged in a sexually abusive relationship with him for years, starting when he was 11.

It was apparently a little-kept secret that McCarrick, 88, invited seminarians to his beach house and into his bed, suggesting that some in the U.S. hierarchy knew of his misconduct but turned a blind eye. In addition, a group of concerned American Catholics travelled to the Vatican in 2000 to warn officials of McCarrick’s penchant for young men, but he was appointed Washington archbishop and made a cardinal in 2001 regardless.

In Chile, meanwhile, prosecutors recently summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to appear in court and testify about his role in the alleged cover-up of years of abuse by his top deputy, the Rev. Oscar Munoz.

Munoz has admitted to abusing at least one minor, and confessed to church authorities in December. Prosecutors, however, uncovered reports of at least four more victims abused by Munoz that were documented by the Santiago archdiocese, including some of his young relatives.

Ezzati has said he knew nothing of the abuse before Munoz came forward. He is due to testify Aug. 21.

Ezzati had already offered his resignation when he turned 75 last year, and was among the active Chilean bishops who offered to resign en masse in May when they were summoned by Francis for a collective dressing down for their disastrous handling of abuse allegations.

But Francis hasn’t moved on Ezzati’s resignation yet, presumably waiting to find the right candidate to take over the leadership of Chile’s most important archdiocese.

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AP writer Rod McGuirk contributed from Canberra, Australia.

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into people waiting outside a busy polling station in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Wednesday, killing at least 31 and casting a dark shadow on what was to be a historic day for the country as Pakistanis cast ballots to elect their thirds consecutive civilian government.

The attack in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, underscored the difficulties this majority Muslim nation faces on its wobbly journey toward sustained democracy.

The bombing also wounded 35 people, with several reported to be in critical condition, raising concerns the death toll could rise further, said hospital official Jaffar Kakar, a doctor.

Wednesday’s voting for a National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and four provincial assemblies followed a rancorous campaign marked by widespread allegations of manipulation. Analysts and rights groups have warned of post-election instability and predicted losing parties would cry foul.

The uncertainty of the outcome of the vote — no single party appeared assured of a simple majority win — could also lead to prolonged post-election jockeying that would hamper the forming of the next government.

“Whatever way elections run, I see a lot of instability,” said defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqua, who authored Military Inc., a look at the extensive financial holdings of Pakistan’s army.

A witness to the attack in Quetta, Abdul Haleem, who was waiting to cast his ballot, said he saw a motorcycle drive into the crowd of voters just seconds before the explosion. Haleem’s uncle was killed in the blast.

“There was a deafening bang followed by thick cloud of smoke and dust and so much crying from the wounded people,” he told The Associated Press.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing but local officials were quick to blame the Islamic State group.

Baluchistan also saw the worst violence during election campaigning earlier this month, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a political rally, killing 149 people, including the candidate Siraj Raisani. Another 400 were wounded. Voting in that constituency has been suspended.

IS claimed responsibility for that attack, though Baluchistan has seen relentless attacks, both by the province’s secessionists and Sunni militants who have killed hundreds of Shiites living there. In recent years, the IS affiliate in the region has emerged as a major force behind violence, often using local Sunni radicals from the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to carry out its attacks.

Citing security concerns, Pakistan’s election commission announced that internet and cellphone services in several Baluchistan districts were suspended. Election commission secretary Babar Yaqub told reporters there were also threats against polling stations, staff and even candidates.

Militants on Tuesday lobbed grenades and opened fire at a military convoy escorting election staffers and voting material in Baluchistan’s district of Turbat, killing four troops. Pakistan’s military deployed 350,000 troops countrywide at polling stations.

Also Wednesday, shooting between supporters of two opposing political parties killed one person and wounded two in a village near the northwestern city of Swabi. Later, more clashes between rival political parties killed another person and wounded 15 elsewhere in the country.

Early voting was heavy at some polling stations in Islamabad, the capital, and also in the Punjab provincial capital, with several political party leaders standing in line to cast their ballots. Local television reported scattered incidences of police arresting people with pre-marked ballots.

Another concern is the unprecedented participation in these elections of radical religious groups, including those banned for terror links but resurrected and renamed, has also raised concerns — especially for minorities and women — ahead of the voting.

Jibran Nasir, an independent candidate from Pakistan’s financial hub of Karachi, said he received death threats and even had a fatwa, or religious edict, issued against him after he refused to condemn Ahmadis, reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics because they believe the messiah promised in Islam arrived over a century ago. Pakistan in 1974 declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.

The leading contenders in Wednesday’s polling are former cricket star Imran Khan and his right-of-center Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, and the right-of-center Pakistan Muslim League, the party of disgraced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in jail serving 10 years on corruption charges. His younger brother Shahbaz Sharif took control of the party.

Khan’s supporters showered his vehicle with rose petals as he arrived to vote at a polling station near his home suburb in. Islamabad. After voting, he appealed on Pakistanis to come out and vote in huge numbers “to save future generations.”

The third-largest party in the running is the left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party, headed by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban, whom she had vowed to eradicate.

Election officials say more than 11,000 candidates are vying for 270 seats in Pakistan’s law-making Lower House of Parliament and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies.

The 85,307 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and will continue for 10 hours, an hour longer than in the 2013 polls. Voting for two parliamentary seats and six seats in provincial assemblies has been postponed due to attacks on candidates or disqualifications. First results are expected early Thursday.

There are more than 105 million eligible voters in Pakistan, 59 million men and 46 million women.

Pakistan’s election commission reminded candidates their elections will be nullified if the female voter turnout didn’t reach 10 percent. The requirement was imposed after the 2013 elections, when several areas banned voting by women, mostly in Pakistan’s religiously conservative northwest. Some candidates were elected without a single woman marking a ballot.

Veteran rights activist Tahira Abdullah warned on Tuesday that local jirgas, or councils of elders, from 60 areas of the country representing 16 different constituencies, had signed agreements banning women from voting despite the new ruling. While some areas have refused to relent, others allowed women to cast ballots.

In Pakistan’s deeply tribal and religiously conservative North Waziristan, where Taliban insurgents have found safe havens, women voted for the first time on Wednesday, said Mohamad Ayaz Khan, a government administrator.

“We made history today,” said Khan. “It is the first time that women have come out of their homes to cast their vote.”

Voting is segregated throughout Pakistan with every single polling station divided into sections for men and women, including separate election officials.
Results will trickle in after polling ends, with the outcome expected early Thursday, according to election officials.

International and domestic election observers will monitor the voting. The European Union Election Observation Mission has 120 monitors at polling stations in major centers across Pakistan, with the exception of Baluchistan.

Under Pakistani law, separate seats are reserved for women and for non-Muslim minorities, which comprise 4 percent of the population.

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Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Baluchistan, Zaheer Babar, in Lahore Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan and Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea appears to have started dismantling key facilities at its main satellite launch site in a step toward fulfilling a commitment made by leader Kim Jong Un at his summit with President Donald Trump in June.

While Pyongyang could be trying to build trust with Washington as they engage in talks to resolve the nuclear standoff, analysts say dismantling a few facilities at the site alone wouldn’t realistically reduce North Korea’s military capability or represent a material step toward denuclearization. And they expressed concern that the work is being done without verification.

The North Korea-focused 38 North website said commercial satellite images from July 20 to 22 indicate the North began dismantling key facilities at the Sohae launch site. The facilities being razed or disassembled include a rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles and a rail-mounted processing building where space launch vehicles were assembled before being moved to the launch pad, according to the report.

“Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea,” analyst Joseph Bermudez wrote in the report.

An official from South Korea’s presidential office said Tuesday that Seoul has also been detecting dismantlement activities at the Sohae launch site but did not specify what the North was supposedly taking apart.

Other analysts said North Korea is giving up little in dismantling the rocket engine test site when it’s clear the country is satisfied with its current design of long-range weapons and could easily build other similar facilities if needed in the future.

Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said it’s also troubling that the North has been apparently allowed to duck verification by unilaterally dismantling parts of its nuclear and missile facilities without the presence of international inspectors. In May, North Korea invited foreign journalists to observe the destruction of tunnels at its nuclear testing ground, but did not invite outside experts capable of certifying what had been destroyed.

“The actions at Sohae are a helpful signal that Pyongyang wants to continue negotiations, but do not in themselves advance nuclear disarmament,” Mount said in an email. “North Korea still has not disclosed or offered to dismantle facilities that produce or store nuclear or missile systems, or the means to transport the missiles. So far, the facilities dismantled have been peripheral to these core functions.”

Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said the North’s supposed move to dismantle the rail-mounted processing building was the more meaningful development as it potentially indicated to broader dismantlement activities at the site.

“If North Korea goes further and dismantles the entire Sohae site, that would meaningfully reduce the country’s long-range missile capability by eliminating a facility where it could fire multiple ICBMs in succession,” Lee said. “The North can also fire ICBMs from transporter erector launchers, but their technology with these vehicles isn’t stable.”

However, Mount said the military consequences of a broader dismantlement would be “marginal.” North Korea has invested a great deal of effort in ensuring its missiles can be fired from austere locations and doesn’t require a site like Sohae, he said.

“Dismantling a test site does not seriously constrain the existing arsenal or even future designs,” said Mount. “While it would be a significant step for the regime to shut down its space launch programs, it has always argued that these programs are distinct from military ones. Easing the missile threat would require restrictions on the number, types, or capabilities of missiles or the vehicles that transport and fire them.”

After his summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12, Trump said he was told by Kim that the North was “already destroying a major missile engine testing site” without identifying which site. The leaders concluded their summit by declaring their vague aspirational goal of moving toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but there’s lingering doubts on whether Kim would ever agree to fully give up the nuclear weapons that he may see as a stronger guarantee of his survival than whatever security assurances the United States can provide.

In late 2017, Kim declared his nuclear weapons and missile program was complete, following a torrent of nuclear and missile tests that included the detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of three developmental ICBMs potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Kim announced the mission of his nuclear testing site as finished weeks before inviting foreign journalists to observe the destruction of the tunnels.

The South Korean presidential official, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules, said the supposed dismantlement activities shows the North is moving gradually.

“We need further analysis to figure out why the North didn’t turn the dismantlement activities into an event and whether the country is trying to control the speed of the process to maintain a pace it wants,” he said.

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