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World

    In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is under siege. Motorcyclists, celebrities, horse enthusiasts and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Puerto Ricans have swarmed outside La Fortaleza (The Fort) in Old San Juan this week, demanding Rosselló resign over a series of leaked online chats insulting women, political opponents and even victims of Hurricane Maria. Rosselló, the telegenic 40-year-old son of a former governor, has dropped his normally intense rhythm of public appearances and gone into relatively long periods of near-media silence, intensifying questions about his future. For much of his 2 1/2 years in office, Rosselló has given three or four lengthy news conferences a week, comfortably fielding question after question in Spanish and English from the local and international press. And that's on top of public appearances, one-on-one interviews and televised meetings with visiting politicians and members of his administration. But since July 11, when Rosselló cut short a family vacation in France and returned home to face the first signs of what has become an island-wide movement to oust him, the governor has made four appearances, all but one in highly controlled situations. New protests began Friday afternoon, with unionized workers organizing a march to La Fortaleza from the nearby waterfront. Horseback riders joined them with a self-declared cavalry march, while hundreds of other people came from around the city and surrounding areas. A string of smaller events was on the agenda across the island over the weekend, followed by what many expected to be a massive protest on Monday. The chorus calling for Rosselló's resignation was joined Friday by Puerto Rico's non-voting member of Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez; U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida; and New York congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. The crisis has even cut back Rosselló's affable online presence. The governor normally started every day by tweeting 'Good morning!' to his followers around 5 a.m. The last such bright-and-early message came on July 8. The tweets from his account have dwindled to a trickle since then, and each one is met by a flood of often-abusive responses from Puerto Ricans demanding he resign. Rosselló's secretary of public affairs, Anthony Maceira, told reporters Friday that the governor was in La Fortaleza working on signing laws and filling posts emptied by the resignations of fellow members of the leaked chat group. The head of Rosselló's pro-statehood political party said a meeting of its directors had been convened for coming days, although the agenda was not disclosed beyond 'addressing every one of the complaints of our colleagues.' Rosselló offered a press conference on July 11 to address the arrest of two of his former department heads on federal corruption charges. He also asked the people of Puerto Rico to forgive him for a profanity-laced and at times misogynistic online chat with nine other male members of his administration, short selections of which had leaked to local media. Two days later, at least 889 pages of the chat were published by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, and things got much, much worse for Rosselló. In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a 'whore,' describes another as a 'daughter of a bitch' and makes fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo. The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin's homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the island's finances. The next day, Sunday, Rosselló appeared in a San Juan church and asked the congregation for forgiveness, without informing the press. The church broadcasts its services online, however, and his remarks became public. On Monday, July 15, Rosselló gave a notably non-confrontational interview to a salsa music radio station. The governor's spokesman said the questions had been 'negotiated' between Rosselló's press team and the station. That night, thousands swarmed Old San Juan to demand his resignation. On July 16, Rosselló held a press conference and faced aggressive questioning about the chat scandal and the corruption arrests. Later that day, an ally tweeted a photo of Rosselló embracing Wilfredo Santiago, an obese man whom the governor had mocked in one of the most infamous sections of the chat. Since then, it's been silence. There has been a handful of tweets, press releases and statements, some saying he won't resign but mostly about purportedly routine meetings of administration officials. His official spokespeople aren't answering many questions, and even his whereabouts are mostly unknown. The governor's press secretary, Dennise Pérez, announced Friday night that she was resigning because she could no longer stand the insults and personal abuse directed at her this week by fellow Puerto Ricans. Rosselló was raised in the public eye, as the youngest son of Pedro Rosselló, who served as governor from 1993 to 2001. One of Puerto Rico's most charismatic and controversial governors, the elder Rosselló launched a string of large-scale infrastructure projects that swelled the public debt and ensuing bankruptcy that his son has inherited. Known widely as Ricky, the younger Rosselló started his political career in his father's pro-statehood New Progressive Party. Trained in biomechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Duke, he launched his campaign for governor in 2015 with little previous history of public service. Deflecting questions about whether he owed his success to his connections, Rosselló portrayed himself as an affable technocrat with solutions to Puerto Rico's debt and crumbling infrastructure, and by less than 3% of the total votes cast defeated David Bernier of Popular Democratic Party, which advocates greater Puerto Rican autonomy from the mainland United States. Until now, Rosselló's greatest challenge was Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck the Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island's power and communications systems. Rosselló came under heavy criticism for mismanaging the crisis, particularly for understating the deaths from the storm. While some of his deputies were vilified, Rosselló seemed to emerge relatively unscathed, perhaps due to his friendly and non-confrontational manner with critics, opponents and journalists alike. The father of two young children, he often posts their photos online, along with images of his wife and their two rescue dogs, a Siberian Husky and a Yorkshire Terrier. Rosselló once halted a press conference to help local journalists move their equipment out of the rain. Among the greatest shocks of the leaked chats for many Puerto Ricans was the puncturing of that image of low-key charm by the misogyny of online conversations. 'He was making an effort, carrying out his governor's role,' said Jessica Castro, a 38-year-old San Juan resident attending a Friday evening protest with her family. 'He was mocking everyone behind their backs, the people who believed in him. People are really disillusioned. He's got to go.' ___ Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
  • Tourists and a pilot on a helicopter sightseeing tour of Iceland have found dozens of dead whales on a remote beach in Iceland. David Schwarzhans, a pilot for Reykjavík Helicopters, said he and his passengers counted 50 long-finned pilot whales washed up on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland on Thursday. Schwarzhans said 'there might have been more. Some were already buried in sand.' He says the whales were concentrated in one spot and described it as 'a very sad scene.' The whales are believed to have swum ashore at the same time and died of dehydration. The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood. Last year, locals got a large group of whales to turn away from a spot on the opposite side of the peninsula.
  • The Latest on developments related to tensions between the U.S and Iran (all times local): 4 a.m. Energy experts say recent seizures and attacks aimed at oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz will raise insurance rates for shipping companies and, if unchecked, could reduce tanker traffic in the vital waterway. Britain's foreign secretary said Friday that Iranian authorities seized two ships, one flying under the British flag, the other registered in Liberia. The events occurred in a passageway that carries one-fifth of the world's crude exports. An Iranian news agency says the Liberian ship was later let go. Energy economist Michael Lynch says if these kinds of incidents continue, shipping companies might shy away from the Persian Gulf. He says the short-term effect will mostly fall on the shipping industry in the form of higher insurance rates. ___ 2:10 a.m. U.S. Central Command says the U.S. has intensified air patrols over the Strait of Hormuz in response to the Iranian seizure of a British tanker. A Central Command spokesman, Lt. Col. Earl Brown, says a small number of additional patrol aircraft are flying in international airspace to monitor the situation. He also says Central Command's naval arm has been in contact with U.S. ships operating in the area to ensure their safety. ___ 1:25 a.m. The semi-official Fars news agency is reporting that a second oil tanker detained by Iranian forces has been released and has left Iranian waters. Fars reported Friday that the Liberian-flagged Mesdar tanker was briefly detained in the Strait of Hormuz and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way. Britain's foreign secretary said that Iranian authorities seized two vessels Friday in the strategic waterway, actions signaling an escalation that has become a flashpoint in tensions between Tehran and the West. ___ 12:55 p.m. President Donald Trump says Iran is 'nothing but trouble.' But the president also says he thinks that the standoff with Tehran will eventually work out 'very nicely.' Trump spoke to reporters at the White House on Friday as British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was confirming that Iran had seized one British and one Liberian-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz. It was the latest escalation of tension in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint in tensions between Tehran and the West. Trump says 'Iran is showing their colors' with the seizures. He says 'Iran is in big trouble right now' because its economy has been crippled by economic sanctions. He says it would be easy to straighten out the problem, or to make it worse. ___ 12:30 p.m. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says two vessels have been seized by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz. Hunt said Friday he will shortly attend an emergency government session to see what can be done to secure the release of the two vessels. He says they are a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel. He said the crews comprise a range of nationalities but are not believed to include British citizens. ___ 11:30 p.m. UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti says the seizure of a British oil tanker by Iranian forces represents an escalation in tensions in the Persian Gulf that makes it clear more protection for merchant vessels is urgently needed. He said Friday the action is 'in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters.' He called on the British government to do 'whatever is necessary' to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship's crew. ___ 11:15 p.m. The White House says President Donald Trump has spoken on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Iran and ongoing efforts to ensure that Tehran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. Their phone call Friday came just as Iran's Revolutionary Guard was announcing that it had seized a British oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz. On Thursday, the USS Boxer downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Last month, Iran shot down an American military drone. Macron has taken a lead role in trying to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. Macron recently sent a top diplomatic adviser to Tehran help quell escalating tension in the Persian Gulf. ___ 11:05 p.m. The operator of oil tanker Stena Impero says it is unable to contact the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz. Northern Marine Management and shipping firm Stena Bulk say in a statement that the vessel was in international waters and is now heading toward Iran. The ship has 23 crew aboard. The British government says it is urgently seeking information after reports Iran has seized the British-flagged ship. ___ 10:50 p.m. Iran's Revolutionary Guard says it has seized a British oil tanker that was passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The IRGC's website, sepahnews.com, says the tanker 'Stena Impero' was seized Friday by IRGC forces for 'non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations' and has transferred the vessel to an Iranian port. The report did not elaborate what port it was transferred to. ___ 9:50 p.m. President Donald Trump says there is 'no doubt about it' that a U.S. warship destroyed an Iranian drone, despite Iranian denials that it lost an unmanned aircraft. Trump is speaking from the Oval Office Friday about the incident Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz. His comments come a day after announcing that the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards (915 meters) of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. He says: 'No doubt about it. We shot it down.' Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone or provided any video or other evidence from the incident. Several U.S. officials said the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the record about the event. Electronic jamming breaks the data links between a drone and its controller on the ground, causing it to crash. Such a move requires a vehicle-mounted, counter-drone device on the flight deck of the ship — a device that's visible in official photographs of the Boxer released by the Pentagon after the incident. National security adviser John Bolton said 'there is no question this was an Iranian drone and USS Boxer took it out.' An Iranian news agency reported Friday that the country's armed forces say all Iranian drones in the Persian Gulf returned safely to their bases. — By Robert Burns. ___ 9:25 p.m. Iran's Revolutionary Guard has released video images it claims proves that a U.S. warship did not destroy an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf. Iranian state TV shows video it says was taken by an Iranian drone on Thursday of the USS Boxer and another American warship. The IRG on its website said the drone recorded three hours of video of the USS Boxer and five other vessels Thursday starting when the ships first entered the Strait of Hormuz. Trump on Thursday said the Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. The claims from both sides mark another escalation of tensions between the two countries less than a month after Trump nearly launched an airstrike. ___ 5:45 p.m. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has asked the international community to use diplomatic tools to avoid a dangerous escalation in Iran. Talking to reporters in Florence on Friday, Maas said 'there's a strong danger of an escalation in Iran and we don't want things to keep going this way.' U.S.-Iran tensions are on the rise again as U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday an American warship shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. But military officials in Iran denied the incident. The German minister added that 'there are diplomatic tools, talks and negotiations with countries in the Gulf region and with the United States.' Maas said he talked to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, noting that 'everywhere there's a willing to contribute to a de-escalation. We want to sooth the current tensions.' ___ 5:30 p.m. Gibraltar's government says the British overseas territory's Supreme Court has extended for 30 days the detention of an Iranian supertanker suspected of breaching European Union sanctions. The government said in a statement on Friday that the court has set Aug. 15 as the date for a new hearing on the Panama-flagged Grace 1, which was intercepted off the southern tip of Spain. British Royal Marines boarded the ship July 4 amid suspicion it was taking a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria, deepening Persian Gulf tensions The EU has imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government over its continued crackdown against civilians. Gibraltar police have arrested the vessel's captain, chief officer and two second mates as part of their investigation. All are Indian. ___ 4:15 p.m. The price of oil is up as tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf region, where a fifth of the world's crude is shipped through. Energy prices rose on Friday, a day after President Donald said a U.S. warship had downed an Iranian drone. Iran denies its drone was struck and says all its unmanned aircraft in the region returned to base safely. It's the latest incident to increase uncertainty in the region, where oil tankers have been attacked or threatened recently. About 20% of all oil traded worldwide passes through the Persian Gulf, so investors are aware of the potential for disruptions to ship traffic. The U.S. benchmark for crude oil advanced 77 cents, or 1.4%, to $56.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the international oil standard, picked up $1.03, or 1.7%, to $62.96 per barrel. ___ 3:10 p.m. The head of Gibraltar's government says he met privately with Iranian officials to defuse tensions surrounding the seizure of an Iranian supertanker near the British overseas territory. Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told parliament on Friday that the meeting in London earlier this week 'was both constructive and positive.' Picardo says he wants to 'de-escalate' after the interception of the Panama-flagged tanker off the southern tip of Spain on July 4. The tanker is suspected of carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, and its seizure stoked international tensions over the Persian Gulf. Picardo says he met with the Iranian officials at the Foreign Office in London on Wednesday, after asking the British government to approach Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about talks. Picardo says he told the officials that due process of law must be followed and that the case is before Gibraltar's Supreme Court. — this item has been corrected to show that Picardo met with Iranian officials, not the foreign minister; ___ 3 p.m. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is praising French President Emmanuel Macron's attempts to facilitate talks between Iran and the United States, saying diplomatic efforts are critical. Merkel told reporters on Friday that 'every possibility for contact should be sought to prevent an escalation.' Since the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year, the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the European Union — have been trying to preserve it. But Merkel says 'the fact that we are keeping to this agreement doesn't mean that we don't see a lot of what Iran is doing very critically, like the influence on Syria, the attitude to Israel, the influence in the Yemen war concerns us a lot, the ballistic missile program.' She says that 'outside the agreement, there is good reason for further talks with Iran about these activities.' ___ 2:50 p.m. China has praised an Iranian offer to speed up ratification of an agreement on access to its nuclear sites, while criticizing the latest U.S. sanctions on Chinese and other entities for allegedly helping Iran buy materials for its nuclear program. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that the offer from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sends 'a positive signal that Iran is willing to seek a compromise solution.' The Iranian parliament is not due to ratify the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Association until 2023. The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on companies and individuals in Iran, China and Belgium. Geng said China opposes America's 'long-armed jurisdiction over other countries, including China.' He called U.S. unilateral sanctions the root cause of the current tension. ___ 2:40 p.m. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard says it will release images taken by a drone that President Donald Trump says was hit by a U.S. warship to disprove his claim. The Guard's website, sepahnews.com, published a statement on Friday saying these images will show the Guard's drone had been carrying out its regular mission as the USS Boxer arrived in the Strait of Hormuz. It didn't say when the images would be released. Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. The Guard said the drone sent images before and after the time the Americans claimed the aircraft was destroyed on Thursday. The Iranian drone reportedly later returned to base safely. The statement added that Guard forces continue to carefully monitor all movements of foreigners — especially 'the terrorist forces' of the U.S. and the British in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. ___ 2:25 p.m. An Iranian lawmaker says the U.S. president is seeking to increase tensions in the Persian Gulf region by 'falsely claiming' that a U.S. warship targeted an Iranian drone. Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesman of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, says that 'with such allegations, America plans to create tensions and psychological warfare in the region and in Iran, and hide its failures.' His remarks were carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency on Friday. President Donald Trump on Thursday said an American warship, the USS Boxer, took defensive action after an Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. Hosseini also added that 'Trump's claim is not endorsed by anyone, because it is not true.' ___ 11:40 a.m. An Iranian news agency is reporting that the country's armed forces say all Iranian drones in the Persian Gulf returned safely to their bases. The report comes after President Donald Trump on Thursday said an American warship, the USS Boxer, took defensive action after an Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted military spokesman Gen. Abolfazl Shekari as saying on Friday that 'all Iranian drones that are in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one which the U.S. president mentioned, after carrying out scheduled identification and control missions, have returned to their bases.' Gen. Shekarchi also said there have been no reports of any confrontation between the USS Boxer and an Iranian drone. ___ 10:30 a.m. Iran is denying a U.S. warship destroyed an Iranian drone in the strategic Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi tweeted on Friday: 'We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.' Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in New York for U.N. meetings, said there's 'no information about losing a drone.' President Donald Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries, less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.
  • Kosovo's prime minister resigned Friday after being invited for questioning by a Hague-based court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after the country's 1998-99 war. Ramush Haradinaj said he agreed to be interviewed at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers next week and didn't want to appear there as prime minister. However, he said he and his Cabinet would continue running the country until a new prime minister is chosen. 'I considered that I cannot go to the questioning as head of the government,' Haradinaj said at a news conference. Haradinaj urged Kosovar President Hashim Thaci to call an early parliamentary election and said he would be a candidate in hopes of regaining office. He said the special court summoned him as a suspect but also told reporters he wanted to run for reelection 'because I am not accused.' Kosovar President Hashim Thaci wrote on his Facebook page that he would take the necessary steps to install a new government. Haradinaj's government held together Cabinet was held with a delicate balance in the 120-seat parliament with some votes from the ethnic Serb minority parties too. Haradinaj, who became prime minister in September 2017, said that while he thought the summons was politically bad for Kosovo, 'I will respect the legal request. I will go there. I will defend myself as a fighter of my country.' The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and a separate Specialist Prosecutor's Office were established in 2015 based on war crimes allegations against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army catalogued by the Council of Europe, a human rights body. A 2011 council report reported allegations that included the trafficking of human organs from prisoners and killings of Serbs and KLA members' fellow ethnic Albanians. The court, which is part of the Kosovo judicial system despite being based in the Netherlands, started questioning former Kosovo fighters this year. Haradinaj was one of the top KLA commanders during the war. He has been prosecuted for alleged war crimes and acquitted twice before. A United Nations tribunal first cleared him of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in 2008. The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia concluded in 2010 that witnesses had been intimidated and sent the case back for a partial retrial. Haradinaj and two other former KLA commanders were acquitted in November 2012. A French court refused to extradite him to Serbia to face war crimes charges there, expressing concern he would not get a fair trial. At the time of the war, Kosovo was a Serbian province and KLA members mostly were ethnic Albanians. A bloody Serb crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists and civilians led NATO to intervene by bombing Serbia in spring 1999. Thaci said Friday that one of his advisers, Bislim Zyrapi, and other former top KLA commanders also were to be questioned at the Hague. 'I believe in the purity of the KLA war and the high moral values of the freedom fighters,' he said. Kosovo eventually made a unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 and it is recognized as a nation by the U.S. and most of the West, but not by Serbia and allies Russia and China. A European Union-facilitated dialogue to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia stalled last year after Haradinaj won approval for a 100% tax on imported Serb goods until Belgrade recognizes Pristina. Haradinaj resisted entreaties from the United States and the EU to lift or suspend the tax. 'Kosovo is having an unfair pressure for the price of Serbia's recognition,' he said Friday. His resignation does not mean the tax will be lifted soon. Holding an election and forming a new government has taken at least three months in previous years. ___ This story has been corrected to show a U.N. tribunal acquitted Haradinaj twice, not three times. ___ Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. ___ Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini
  • An unmanned drone dropped explosives on a base belonging to Iran-backed paramilitary forces in northern Iraq early Friday, wounding two people, Iraqi security officials and a military statement said, amid regional tensions between the United States and Iran. The statement said the drone dropped two grenades half an hour apart on the base in Amirli, in Iraq's northern Salaheddin province. No further details were provided. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which struck shortly after midnight. The Iranian-backed mostly Shiite Muslim militias, in a statement, blamed the Islamic State group, saying it confronted the attack without providing details. A senior official with the militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces told The Associated Press that the attack resulted in the wounding of two Iranians and that the base hit housed advisers from Iran and Lebanon. He said the first attack targeted the headquarters of the advisers, resulting in the wounding of the two Iranians. The second attack hit a weapons depot, causing a large fire at the base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose sensitive information. An Iraqi official said IS militants were most likely behind the attack, ruling out a U.S.-led coalition or American attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. A Pentagon spokesman denied U.S. involvement. 'We are aware of open source reports of possible aggressive actions against a Popular Mobilization Force unit in Salah ad Din. U.S. forces were not involved. We have no further information about this report,' Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson said. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have left Iraq's government, which is allied with both sides, in a delicate position. Iraq is home to U.S. bases and more than 5,000 U.S. troops, as well as dozens of Iran-supported militias who fought against IS militants alongside Iraqi government troops. Baghdad declared victory over IS in December 2017, after the last urban battle had been won following years-long battles that left its cities in ruins. But the group, which has used drones in its attacks in the past, is still waging a low-level insurgency particularly in rural areas. ___ Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Boston and Robert Burns in Washington contributed reporting.
  • The German government and parliament have petitioned the country's highest court to cut off public funding for a far-right party that authorities tried unsuccessfully to ban. The Interior Ministry said the application to cut funding for the National Democratic Party was sent Friday to the Federal Constitutional Court. Officials want to exclude it from a system granting political parties funds based on their performance in elections. It isn't clear when the court will decide. In 2017, the court ruled that the party was too politically insignificant to justify a ban but said its goals run counter to the German constitution. In a national election later that year, it received just 0.4% of the vote as far-right voters backed the nationalist, anti-migration Alternative for Germany party instead.
  • Spain's center-left Socialist party and the United We Can party edged closer to a deal on forming a coalition government after the far-left party's leader removed a key obstacle by saying Friday he would not insist on being part of a future Cabinet. Isabel Celaá, the spokeswoman for the Socialist caretaker government, said acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was ready to create a coalition with the United We Can party, so long as its leader, Pablo Iglesias, was not part of it. Sánchez said Thursday he has deep differences of opinion with Iglesias on such issues as the Catalonia region's demands for independence, which the Socialists oppose. Nevertheless, Celaá said Friday that 'the offer of a coalition government is on the table' for United We Can to consider before parliament next week holds confidence votes on the Socialist party's bid to take office. Iglesias signaled he was thinking of taking the offer. 'I won't be the Socialists' excuse for there not to be a coalition of parties on the left,' he said in a tweet hours after Celaá spoke. However, he said he wants his party's Cabinet seats to be proportional to the number of parliamentary seats it captured in April's general election, where United We Can earned 42 seats, compared with 123 for the Socialists. The Socialists require parliament's endorsement and are shy of the 176 votes they need to achieve a majority in the 350-seat chamber next Tuesday. Even with United We Can's backing, Sánchez would still need other smaller parties' support to win that vote. If that bid fails, a second vote is scheduled for Thursday, when Sánchez will only need to get more 'Yes' votes than 'No' votes.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel fended off worries about her health on Friday, saying that she has a personal interest in staying healthy and having a life after politics. Merkel said that she understands questions about her health after three recent incidents in which her body shook as she stood at public events. But she said she's aware of her responsibility as chancellor and 'can exercise this function.' She has said that there's no reason to worry. Merkel, who turned 65 this week, recalled that she has ruled out seeking a fifth term as chancellor. 'I have said that 2021 will be the end of my political work and I hope that there is a life after that — and I would like to lead it in good health,' she said. Merkel still enjoys solid popularity ratings, but her party's performance in polls has been poor recently and it remains unclear who will be her party's candidate to succeed her as chancellor, a job she has held since 2005. Last year, she gave up the leadership of her center-right Christian Democratic Union party. That job was won by Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has struggled to establish her authority and this week entered Merkel's Cabinet as defense minister — a move widely interpreted as being intended to strengthen her claim to the top job. 'I am not exerting any influence on my succession — the party will have to decide that in the future,' Merkel said. 'But Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is the party leader and so of course is in an important and decisive position.
  • A Paris court rejected a compensation claim Friday related to the 1994 sinking of an Estonian ferry, which remains one of Europe's deadliest maritime disasters. The court ruled on the claim from more than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the accident in which a car ferry connecting the Estonian capital of Tallinn with Stockholm sank on Sept. 28, 1994, killing 852 people. They sought 40.8 million euros ($46 million) from the French agency Bureau Veritas that deemed the ship seaworthy and the German shipbuilder Meyer-Werft. But the French court in the western suburb of Nanterre threw out the claim, citing a lack of 'intentional fault' attributable to either company in the case, the second-deadliest peacetime sinking of a European ship after the Titanic. Henning Witte, a German lawyer who represents relatives in the case, told that Swedish news agency TT that the ruling was, 'of course, a disappointment.' 'The circus continues. It is absolutely scandalous how the events around the Estonia disaster are being ignored, and especially the relatives,' Witte said. Raivo Hellerma, a spokesman for Memento Mare, a group that represents mainly Estonian victims of the disaster, was more stoic, saying 'we had no expectations' in the case. Hellerman lost his wife in the sinking. An investigation that concluded in 1997 found that the locks on the ferry's front, the prow door, had not held up to the strain of the waves, causing water to flood the car deck. The case has been making its way through French courts since 1996, and had been retried on appeal twice. ___ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
  • A Dutch still-life painting, stolen by retreating Nazis and sent by a German soldier as a present to his wife, came back to a Florence museum on Friday, thanks largely to a relentless campaign by the Uffizi Galleries' director, a German. The foreign ministers of German and Italy were on hand Friday at Palazzo Pitti, a Renaissance palace that is part of the Uffizi Galleries, for the unveiling of 'Flower Vase,' a masterpiece by Jan van Huysum, an early 18th-century artist whose exquisitely detailed still-life works were highly sought in his day. Uffizi director Eike Schmidt earlier this year urged his native country to return the work. He had posted on a gallery wall three labels where the painting had hung before being taken during World War II: 'stolen,' the labels read in Italian, English and German. His homeland, Schmidt said at the time, had a 'moral duty' to return the work. Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero hailed the 'civic and moral courage of a German director of an Italian museum' in pursuing the painting's return. As did his German counterpart, Moavero hailed the happy ending, saying it was achieved through 'real Europeanism, of concrete facts' and not just words. He revealed to reporters that the painting's return was discussed, among other matters, during bilateral talks between Italy and Germany. 'Flower Vase' is so realistic it has been likened to a photograph. Van Huysum used a magnifying glass to study his subjects. Ripples are visible in insects' transparent wings, to name just one striking detail on the returned painting. The painting was acquired in 1824 by a grand duke of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, which followed the Medicis in residing in the palace in Florence. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the palace's artworks were packed for safekeeping into wooden crates and moved from villa to villa. When the Germany army was retreating, the crates were added to other war booty and eventually ended up in Bolzano, an Alpine city near Austria. There the crate containing 'Flower Vase' was opened, and in July 1944, a German soldier sent the painting to his wife in Germany. Minister Moavero quoted the soldier as writing instructions to his wife to 'put it in a gilded frame.' The painting's whereabouts appeared to be a mystery until a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Starting in 1991, the German family repeatedly tried to sell the painting to Italy via intermediaries, 'threatening to give it to a third party or even destroy it if a ransom wasn't paid,' the Italian culture ministry said. The latest approach for money was made to the Uffizi in 2016, it said. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass thanked Schmidt for campaigning so passionately for the painting's return. 'Here is its place, here is where it belongs,' he said. At a time of tensions among many European Union allies over migrant issues, Maas saw inspiration in the successful artwork diplomacy. He likened an EU 'without 'diversity, without solidarity' to a 'museum without paintings on display, a vase without flowers.' ___ D'Emilio reported from Rome. ___ Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio