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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s prime minister pledged on Thursday his country would release a captured Indian jetfighter pilot the following day, a move that could help defuse the most-serious confrontation in two decades between the nuclear-armed neighbors over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Prime Minister Imran Khan made the announcement in an address to both houses of Parliament, saying he tried to reach his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday with a message that he wants to de-escalate tensions.

“We are releasing the Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture tomorrow,” Khan told lawmakers. He did not say whether the release was conditional.

An Indian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly, warned that even if the pilot is returned home, New Delhi would not hesitate to strike its neighbor first if it feared a similar militant attack was looming. Modi earlier in the day warned that “India’s enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks.”

Khan also said that he had feared Wednesday night that India might launch a missile attack, but the situation was later defused. He did not elaborate.

“Pakistan wants peace, but it should not be treated as our weakness,” Khan said “The region will prosper if there is peace and stability. It is good for both sides.”

Meanwhile, fresh skirmishes erupted Thursday between Indian and Pakistani soldiers along the so-called Line of Control that divides disputed Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

India’s army said Pakistani soldiers were targeting nearly two dozen Indian forward points with mortar and gunfire. Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman, called it an “unprovoked” violation of the 2003 cease-fire accord between the two countries. He said Indian soldiers were responding to ongoing Pakistani attacks along the highly militarized de-facto frontier.

World powers have called on the nations to de-escalate the tensions gripping the contested region since a Feb. 14 suicide bombing killed over 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir. India responded with a pre-dawn airstrike on Tuesday inside Pakistan, the first such raid since the two nations’ 1971 war over territory that later became Bangladesh.

The situation then escalated further with Wednesday’s aerial skirmish, which saw Pakistan say it shot down two Indian aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-held part of Kashmir and the other in India-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan later aired a video of a man it identified as the Indian pilot.

India acknowledged one of its MiG-21s, a Soviet-era fighter jet, was “lost” in skirmishes with Pakistan. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said late Wednesday that it “strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force,” and that it expects his immediate and safe return.

India also said it shot down a Pakistani warplane, something Islamabad denied.

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 against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.

Both Indian and Pakistani officials reported small-arms fire and shelling along the Kashmir region into Thursday morning. There were no reported casualties.

Authorities in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir closed all schools and educational institutions in the region and are urged parents to keep their children at home amid mounting tension with neighboring India. Pakistan’s airspace remained closed for a second day Thursday, snarling air traffic.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal acknowledged his country received a “dossier” from India about the Feb. 14 attack. He refused to provide details about the information that New Delhi has shared.

World leaders weighing in on the tension included President Donald Trump, who began remarks at a news conference Thursday in Vietnam after meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by focusing on India and Pakistan.

“I think hopefully that’s going to be coming to an end,” Trump said, without elaborating. “It’s been going on for a long time — decades and decades. There’s a lot of dislike, unfortunately, so we’ve been in the middle trying to help them both out, see if we can get some organization and some peace, and I think probably that’s going to be happening.”

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also said Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, planned to come to Islamabad with an urgent message from the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Modi, in his first remarks since the pilot’s capture, gave a rallying speech ahead of elections in the coming months.

“Our defense forces are serving gallantly at the border,” he told tens of thousands gathered across the country to listen to him in a videoconference from New Delhi. “The country is facing challenging times and it will fight, live, work and win unitedly.”

Just weeks before general elections are due in India, the head of Modi’s party in India’s Karnataka state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, said India’s pre-dawn airstrikes in Pakistan on Tuesday would help the party at the polls.

The violence Wednesday marked the most serious escalation of the long-simmering conflict since 1999, when Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil. That year also saw an Indian fighter jet shoot down a Pakistani naval aircraft, killing all 16 on board.

This latest wave of tension between the two rivals first began after the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing on Indian paramilitary forces on the Indian side of Kashmir that killed more than 40 troops.

India long has accused Pakistan of cultivating such militant groups to attack it. Pakistan has said it was not involved in that attack and was ready to help New Delhi in the investigation.
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Associated Press writers Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, Ashok Sharma and Emily Schmall in New Delhi, Roshan Mughal in Muzafarabad, Pakistan, Adam Schreck in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s military now says that only one Indian pilot — not two — is in custody but still says they shot down two planes.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor tweeted that “only one pilot” is in Pakistan’s custody. The tweet included a picture of a mustachioed man identified as the Indian pilot sipping tea.

An army official who could not be identified under briefing rules said the confusion came from soldiers on the ground. While two planes were shot down, he said one pilot landed inside Pakistani controlled Kashmir and the other on the Indian side of the disputed border.

Despite Geneva Convention rules prohibiting the public display of prisoners , the military circulated a video of the Indian pilot, who was recorded saying he was being well treated and praising the Pakistan military.

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BALAKOT, Pakistan (AP) — Tensions escalated sharply on the Asian subcontinent Tuesday with nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India trading accusations and warnings after a pre-dawn airstrike by India that New Delhi said targeted a terrorist training camp.

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May bowed to intense political pressure Tuesday and handed control of Brexit to Parliament, telling lawmakers they will get to choose between leaving the European Union on schedule — with or without a divorce deal — or asking the EU to postpone.

May said that if Parliament rejects her deal with the EU next month, lawmakers will vote the next day on whether to leave the bloc without an agreement. If that is defeated, as seems likely, they will vote on whether to ask the EU to delay Brexit by up to three months.

May said the promises were “commitments I am making as prime minister and I will stick by them.”

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but so far the government has not been able to win Parliament’s backing for its divorce deal with the bloc. That leaves the U.K. facing a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit that could cause disruption for businesses and people in both Britain and the EU.

May shifted position after members of her own government joined calls for her to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit.

Three junior government ministers wrote in the Daily Mail that they would vote with opposition lawmakers to stop a no-deal departure unless May agreed to delay Brexit and guarantee “we are not swept over the precipice on March 29.”

May said her goal remains to lead Britain out of the EU on schedule and with a deal, even though she still hasn’t managed to win Parliament’s approval for her agreement with the bloc.

Her concession to Parliament on Tuesday comes ahead of a series of votes Wednesday in which pro-EU lawmakers will try to force the government to rule out the “no-deal” Brexit and to seek an extension to the Brexit date if Parliament fails to back her deal.

Businesses warn that without a deal Britain risks a chaotic departure that could disrupt trade between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner. The uncertainty has already led many British firms to shift some operations abroad, stockpile goods or defer investment decisions.

British lawmakers rejected May’s deal with the EU last month — largely over concerns about a provision to guarantee an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — and sent May back to Brussels to get changes.

The EU is adamant that the legally binding withdrawal agreement can’t be changed, though the bloc’s negotiators are holding talks with U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox about potential tweaks or additions around the margins.

May has said a new vote on any revised Brexit deal won’t be held this week and could come as late as March 12.

Both May’s governing Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are deeply split over Brexit, and there is no quick or easy way to break the political impasse.

Labour on Monday took a step toward campaigning for a new Brexit referendum as a way to break the deadlock. The left-of-center party said it would back a second public vote if the House of Commons rejects its alternative Brexit plan.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said the public should be given a vote on whether to accept May’s deal or to remain in the EU.

But that idea faces opposition from some Labour lawmakers in areas that voted to leave the bloc, who say reversing Brexit would betray the will of voters.

“We can’t ignore millions of Labour ‘leave’ voters,” said Labour lawmaker Caroline Flint.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned late Monday without warning, offering an “apology” to the nation as the nuclear deal he negotiated with world powers stands on the verge of collapse after the U.S. withdrawal from the accord.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis opened a landmark sex abuse prevention summit Thursday by warning senior Catholic figures that the faithful are demanding concrete action against predator priests and not just words of condemnation. Victims then told the bishops of the searing emotional pain of their abuse.

Francis opened the four-day summit by telling the Catholic hierarchy that their own responsibility to deal effectively with priests who rape and molest children weighed on the proceedings.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” and seize the opportunity to “transform this evil into a chance for understanding and purification,” Francis told the 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders.

“The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established,” he warned.

More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after he himself botched a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year. Realizing he had erred, he has vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.

The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.

The Vatican’s senior sex crimes investigator delivered a step-by-step lesson Thursday on investigating abuse cases, citing the example of Pope Benedict XVI, who turned the Vatican around on the issue two decades ago.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna told bishops they should cooperate with civil law enforcement investigations and announce decisions about predators to their communities once cases have been decided.

He said victims had the right to damages from the church and that bishops should consider using lay experts to help guide them during the sex abuse investigations.

The people of God “should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth,” he said. “We will protect them at all cost. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us.”

Finally, Scicluna warned them that it was a “grave sin” to withhold information from the Vatican about candidates for bishops — a reference to the recent scandal of the now-defrocked former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick. It was apparently an open secret in some church circles that McCarrick slept with young seminarians. He was defrocked last week by Francis after a Vatican trial found credible reports that he abused minors.

In the summit’s opening keynote speech, Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up as told the bishops that the wounds they had inflicted on the faithful through their negligence and indifference recalled the wounds of Christ on the cross. He demanded bishops and superiors no longer turn a blind eye to the harm caused by clergy abuse and cover-ups.

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, yes even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people,” Tagle said in his speech. The result, he said, had left a “deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”

Abuse survivors have turned out in droves in Rome to demand accountability and transparency from church leaders and assert that the time of sex abuse cover-ups is over.

At the summit Thursday, the church leaders heard five videotaped testimonies from victims about the trauma of their abuse and the cruel, additional pain the hierarchy’s indifference caused them. Their names were not released to protect their privacy.

One woman from Africa told the summit that the priest who began raping her at 15 forced her to have three abortions over the following 13 years.

“He gave me everything I wanted when I accepted to have sex; otherwise he would beat me,” she said.

A survivor from Chile told the churchmen they had inflicted even more pain on victims by discrediting them and protecting the priests who abused them.

“You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed — in some cases — into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith,” the man said.

On the eve of the summit, Phil Saviano, who helped expose the U.S. abuse scandal by priests two decades ago, demanded that the Vatican release the names of abusers and their files.

“Do it to break the code of silence,” he told the organizing committee. “Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children.”

The Vatican isn’t expecting any miracles or even a final document to come out of the summit. But organizers say it marks a turning point in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the problem, with Francis’ own acknowledgment of his mistakes in handling the Chile abuse case a key point of departure.

Hours before the Vatican summit opened, activists in Poland pulled down a statue of a priest accused of sexually abusing minors. They said the stunt was to protest the failure of the Polish Catholic Church in resolving the problem of clergy sex abuse.

Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and pulling it to the ground in the dark. They then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body. Jankowski is accused of molesting boys.

The private broadcaster TVN24 reported the three men were arrested.

Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement against Poland’s communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his church to recognize his anti-communist activity.
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More AP coverage of clergy sex abuse at https://www.apnews.com/Sexualabusebyclergy

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying Wednesday that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.

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