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LONDON (AP) — Britain’s attorney general punctured Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of winning backing for her Brexit deal Tuesday, saying last-minute changes secured from the European Union didn’t give Britain the power to cut itself free of ties to the bloc.

Geoffrey Cox said changes announced late Monday “reduce the risk” Britain could be stuck inside EU regulations indefinitely — but do not eliminate it. The two-page opinion said the U.K. could still not extract itself from the terms of the divorce deal unilaterally, a key demand of pro-Brexit British politicians.

In a written legal opinion , Cox said that if U.K.-EU negotiations became stalled through “intractable differences,” Britain would have “no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.”

The House of Commons is due to vote later on the divorce deal, a day after talks with the EU produced promises that a contentious section of the agreement couldn’t be used to tie Britain to the bloc indefinitely — and less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.

Lawmakers defeated May’s deal by a whopping 230 votes in January, but May hoped the changes she secured from the bloc would be enough to persuade many to change their minds.

That appeared unlikely after Cox’s assessment. John Whittingdale, a Brexit-supporting Conservative, said the attorney general’s advice was “pretty terminal” for May’s plan. Another Brexiteer, Owen Paterson, tweeted that Cox’s opinion made it “brutally clear” that nothing had changed.

The pound, which had risen on hopes the deal would be passed, slumped by more than 1 percent against the dollar after Cox’s assessment, to trade at $1.3014.

Even before Cox gave his opinion, leading pro-Brexit Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed skepticism.

“I’m not sure that the agreements with the EU are a major change,” he said.
Other EU nations welcomed the overnight agreement, and urged British politicians to seize the chance to back the deal and ensure an orderly departure.

German EU affairs minister Michael Roth, called it “a far-reaching compromise.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a Twitter message that he was “pleased with the agreement,” adding: “An orderly #Brexit is crucial for both the EU and the UK. There is no alternative.”

But the main opposition Labour Party maintained its opposition to the deal. Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer expressed skepticism about whether May had won substantive concessions.

“Having studied the documents, I would be surprised if they are sufficient to enable the Attorney General to change the central plank of his December legal advice,” Starmer said on Twitter.

May flew to Strasbourg, France, late Monday for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. At a news conference following the meeting, they announced changes designed to overcome lawmakers’ concerns about provisions designed to ensure the border between EU member Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland remains open after Brexit.

The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely.

May said documents to be added to the deal provided “legally binding” assurances that the backstop would be temporary and that Britain would have a way to get out of it if the EU failed to negotiate in good faith. The two sides also agreed to continue working on technology that would do away with the need for border checks. However, the text of the 585-page withdrawal agreement remains unchanged.

“Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people,” May said.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the deal agreed Monday night provided “additional clarity, reassurance and guarantees sought by some to eliminate doubt or fears, however unreal, that the goal was to trap the U.K. indefinitely in the backstop.

“It is not, these doubts and fears can be put to bed,” he said.

The EU warned British politicians that negotiations will not be reopened if Parliament rejects the deal again.

“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” Juncker said
“Let’s be crystal clear about the choice: it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all,” he said.

If Parliament throws out May’s deal again on Tuesday, lawmakers will vote over the following two days on whether to leave the EU without an agreement — an idea likely to be rejected — or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.

Some British lawmakers underscored that warning, telling their Brexit-backing colleagues that rejecting the deal could lead to Britain’s departure being postponed indefinitely.

“Today is our Hotel California moment. If we don’t check out tonight, we may never leave,” tweeted Conservative legislator Bob Seely.
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Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this story.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) — One of two women accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother by smearing VX nerve agent on his face was freed Monday after Malaysian prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show.

Aisyah cried and hugged Huong before leaving the courtroom and being ushered away in an Indonesian Embassy car. She told reporters that she had only learned Monday morning that she would be freed.

She flew back to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, later Monday and thanked the president and other officials for their help.

Huong, who remains on trial, was distraught following Aisyah’s release.

“I am in shock. My mind is blank,” she told reporters after Aisyah left.

The two women had been the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the morning of Feb. 13, 2017, when Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

The trial is to resume Thursday, and prosecutors are expected to reply to a request by Huong’s lawyers for the government to withdraw the charge against her as well.

Indonesia’s government lobbied repeatedly for Aisyah’s release. Vietnam has pushed less hard, and recently hosted Kim Jong Un for an official visit and a summit with President Donald Trump.

The High Court judge discharged Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors applied to drop the murder charge against her. They did not give any reason.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said Aisyah can be charged again if there is fresh evidence, but there are no such plans now.

“I feel very happy,” Aisyah said at a news conference at the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia. “I didn’t expect that today will be my freedom day.”

Indonesia’s government said its continued high-level lobbying resulted in Aisyah’s release. Its foreign ministry said in a statement that she was “deceived and did not realize at all that she was being manipulated by North Korean intelligence.”

It said Aisyah, a migrant worker, never had any intention of killing Kim.

The ministry said that over the past two years, Aisyah’s plight was raised in “every bilateral Indonesia-Malaysia meeting,” including at the presidential level, the vice presidential level and in regular meetings of the foreign minister and other ministers with their Malaysian counterparts.

Aisyah’s release comes just a month before Indonesia’s general election and is seen as a boost to President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election.

Aisyah, surrounded by government officials and a mob of reporters at Jakarta’s arport, struggled for words as journalists shouted questions. With a prompt from Indonesia’s law and human rights minister, she thanked the president and other officials for helping secure her release.

“The Malaysian government treated me well, there was no bad treatment at all,” she said. “After this I just want to gather with family.”

Huong’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said after the court session that Huong felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her because the judge last year had found sufficient evidence to continue the murder trial against both of them.

“She is entitled to the same kind of consideration as Aisyah,” he said. “We are making representation to the attorney general for Doan to be taken equally … there must be justice.”

A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim Jong Nam. The defense phase of the trial had been scheduled to start in January but was delayed until Monday.

Lawyers for the women have previously said that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.

Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong Un’s rule.
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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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WAGAH, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani officials brought a captured Indian pilot to a border crossing with India for handover on Friday, a “gesture of peace” promised by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan amid a dramatic escalation with the country’s archrival over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was taken in a convoy that set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the border crossing at Wagah earlier in the day, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers, their weapons drawn.

The Pakistani military has said his plane was downed on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday.

On the Indian side of the border, turbaned Indian policemen were lined up along the road as a group of cheering Indian residents from the area waved India’s national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome the pilot back.

The expected handover comes against the backdrop of blistering cross-border attacks across the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that continued for a fourth straight day, even as the two nuclear-armed neighbors sought to defuse their most serious confrontation in two decades.

Tens of thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers face off along the Kashmir boundary known as the Line of Control, in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Tensions have been running high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops. Pakistan retaliated, shooting down two Indian aircraft Wednesday and capturing the pilot.

Since the escalation, world leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war on the Asian subcontinent. President Donald Trump in Hanoi on Thursday said he had been involved in seeking to de-escalate the conflict.

Khan, the Pakistani premier, told lawmakers on Thursday, “We are releasing the Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture tomorrow.”

But India made it clear that the latest escalation has changed its strategy and that going forward, it will strike, including inside Pakistan, if they get information of an attack in the planning. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier Thursday warned “India’s enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks.”

Also Friday, Pakistan’s civil aviation authority partially re-opened the country’s airspace, allowing travel to four major cities, another sign tensions with archrival India were de-escalating.

The agency issued a statement saying all domestic and international flights will be allowed to and from the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. It said other airports, including the one located in the eastern city of Lahore that borders India, will remain closed until March 4.

Islamabad closed its air space on Wednesday after saying that Pakistan’s military shot down two Indian warplanes and captured the Indian pilot. The closures snarled air traffic.

Residents of the Pakistani border town of Chikhoti reported heavy shelling overnight and Friday morning. More than 200 people had fled to a military organized camp about 20 kilometers (16 miles) away from the border.

Police in the Indian-controlled Kashmir said one man was wounded and at least two civilian homes were damaged in the cross-border shelling.

Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars, two directly over the disputed region.

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HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — North Korea’s foreign minister is disputing President Donald Trump’s account of why the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed, saying the North demanded only partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down its main nuclear complex.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s attorney general on Thursday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust in a series of corruption cases, a momentous move that shook up Israel’s election campaign and could spell the end of the prime minister’s illustrious political career.

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