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World News

    Cyclone Mekunu pounded the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea on Thursday morning, lashing it with heavy rain and strong winds as the powerful storm remained on a path to strike Oman this weekend. At least 17 people were reported missing. With winds now gusting up to 160 kph (100 mph), meteorologists expected the 'very severe' cyclone to strike Oman on Saturday near Salalah, the sultanate's third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people near the country's border with Yemen. 'It is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours,' India's Meteorological Department warned in a bulletin Thursday. It said gusts from the storm will likely reach 190 kph (118 mph) by Saturday. Yemen's pro-government SABA news agency reported that 17 people were missing after two ships capsized in the storm and three vehicles washed away. It said Yemen's government, exiled in Saudi Arabia, had declared Socotra a 'disaster' zone after the storm. Images circulated online from Socotra show soaking wet residents attempting to find shelter from the storm. The photos and video footage, which went viral Thursday, show strong winds with rain, flash flooding and mudslides. Mohammed al-Arqabi, a resident of the island who works as a local journalist, described the situation as 'very bad,' saying 'the water level has greatly increased, and floods are everywhere ... washing away cars.' 'More than 200 families have been displaced from their homes in the suburbs of Hadibu and areas close to the northern coast,' he said. 'Two Indian cargo ships have gone missing, losing five of their crew members.' Rajeh Bady, a spokesman for the exiled government, said the island was in need of 'urgent' aid, according to SABA. The island, listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site, has been the focus of a dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Yemen's internationally recognized government amid that country's war after Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Saudi troops recently deployed on Socotra as a confidence-building measure over complaints by Yemen's government that the UAE deployed troops there without its permission. Socotra has a unique ecosystem and is home to rare species of plants, land snail and reptile species that can be found nowhere else around the planet. It is known for its flower-and-fruit-bearing dragon blood tree, which resembles an umbrella and gets its name from the dark red sap it secretes. Socotra hosts endangered species of land and sea birds and its waters hold hundreds of distinctive species of reef-building corals and fish. A cyclone is the same as a hurricane or a typhoon; their names only change because of their location. Hurricanes are spawned east of the international date line. Typhoons develop west of the line. They are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Australia. Seasonal rains are nothing unusual for southern Oman this time of year. While the rest of the Arabian Peninsula bakes in areas where temperatures near 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), those in the sleepy port city of Salalah enjoy rainy weather that sees fog and cool air at wrap around its lush mountainsides. Temperatures drop down around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) during its annual monsoon festival. Powerful cyclones, however, are rare. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck Oman. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through the sultanate and later even reached Iran, causing $4 billion in damage in Oman alone and killing over 70 people across the Mideast. The last hurricane-strength storm to strike within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Salalah came in May 1959, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's archives. However, that cyclone was categorized as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning it only had winds of up to 95 mph (152 kph). Mekunu, which means 'mullet' in Dhivehi, the language spoken in the Maldives, is on track to potentially be as powerful as a Category 3 hurricane. Ahead of the storm, Omani media reported lines at gas stations in Salalah, the hometown of Oman's longtime ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The Royal Oman Police urged citizens to seek safety and warned that floods were likely in valleys. It also said it planned to deploy more ambulances and police officers to areas likely to be affected by the cyclone. Also, the Health Ministry said it evacuated critically ill patients at locations of the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Salalah, flying them by air north to Muscat, the country's capital. State television aired images of others being evacuated from remote villages in the path of the cyclone. The port of Salalah, crucial to Qatar amid a boycott by four Arab nations over a diplomatic spat with Doha, said it also had taken precautions and secured cranes ahead of the cyclone. ___ Associated Press writers Menna Zaki and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jongambrellAP . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .
  • The U.N. chief said Thursday he is 'deeply concerned' by the cancellation of the planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. Antonio Guterres told an audience at the University of Geneva that he was urging the parties to keep working 'to find a path to the peaceful and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.' Guterres' comments came as he laid out his disarmament agenda Thursday, warning that nuclear agreements between states are threatened like never before. He said nuclear powers must do more to promote disarmament, putting a particular onus on Russia and the United States to remedy a world 'going backwards' in this area since right after the Cold War. He welcomed efforts by the European Union and others to stick to the nuclear deal with Iran that Washington has abandoned. Guterres' plan offers broad ambitions, from curbing growth in conventional weapons to addressing the prospect of artificial intelligence in war machines. He announced he was launching a new initiative to combat the illicit circulation and trade in small arms within countries and across borders. 'Disarmament concerns every country, and all weapons, from hand grenades to H-bombs,' he said. 'Deadly weapons put us all at risk and leaders have a responsibility to minimize that risk.' While Guterres said all nuclear-armed states have 'primary responsibility' for disarmament and nonproliferation efforts, he called on the U.S. and Russia to end a dispute over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to extend the New START treaty on strategic, offensive weapons, and to do more to cut their nuclear stockpiles. He noted there are no bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington right now on greater nuclear-arms reductions. He bemoaned the expansionist ambitions of arms traders, rising military weapons production and the buildup of 'massive stockpiles' of conventional weapons — especially in conflict-prone zones. He said the 'total elimination' of nuclear weapons remains the U.N.'s top priority on disarmament, but efforts toward that goal are in 'severe crisis.' Since the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, when deals reduced nuclear arsenals and banned nuclear testing, 'our world is going backwards,' he said.
  • Algeria's government denies any human rights abuses against African migrants who have been expelled from the country in large numbers, refuting U.N. allegations. The country's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement Thursday that Algeria was carrying out the expulsions according to both its own laws and international obligations and denounced the allegations as a concerted campaign by non-governmental organizations that have unfairly damaged the country's relationship with its southern neighbors. The U.N. High Commission on Human Rights has called on Algeria to stop the mass expulsions, saying they violate international human rights law.
  • The Latest on Syria developments (all times local): 6:20 p.m. Syria's Ministry of Transport says Syria's flagship airline is resuming flights between the coastal city of Latakia and the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah. Ali Hamoud says Syrian Air will operate one round-trip service weekly between the two cities, starting Thursday. Hamoud says the service is being restarted to meet rising demand from the coastal, central and northern regions for international travel. He says the service gives passengers the option of flying from a local terminal, instead of traveling to Damascus or Beirut first. The war in Syria has devastated the country's transportation and tourism industries, and most international passengers had to transit through the capital or Beirut to travel. There are passenger flights to 14 countries from Syria. Services to Dubai, in the U.A.E., continued throughout Syria's seven-year civil war. ___ 5:45 p.m. A U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish group says it has detained a French Islamic State group fighter linked to terror attacks in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016. The Syrian Democratic Forces say they captured Adrien Lionel Kiyali on Saturday in a region in north Syria that was recaptured in 2017 from IS control. In a statement Thursday, the SDF said Kiyali was hiding in the region around Raqqa, the former Syria capital of the IS group, and waiting to cross into Turkey and then travel on to Europe. The group says Kiyali crossed into Syria in 2015. French media reported his name as Adrien Guihal. In recordings for the Islamic State group, Guihal claimed responsibility for the July 2016 truck attack in Nice as well as the double killings of two French police officials at their home in Magnanville. The newspaper Liberation reports that Guihal is a convert to Islam who studied Arabic in Egypt and was close to Fabien Clain, another French Islamic State member who himself claimed responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris. ___ 10:45 a.m. A Syria war-monitoring group says at least 12 pro-government fighters were killed in airstrikes the previous night in the country's east. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says none of the fatalities were Syrian nationals but foreign fighters. Syria's government forces have relied on support from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and also regional militias organized by Iran to wage war on rebels and Islamic State militants. In Damascus, government media reported early on Thursday that international coalition aircraft struck Syrian army positions near the front lines with IS in eastern Syria. The Observatory says the U.S.-led coalition was likely behind the strikes but the Pentagon said it had 'no information to substantiate those reports.
  • The Latest on Cyclone Mekuni (all times local): 6:30 p.m. Images circulated online from Yemen's Socotra island show soaking wet residents attempting to find shelter from Cyclone Mekunu, which pounded the area on its path toward Oman. The photos and video footage, which went viral Thursday, showed strong winds spiraling over the Middle Eastern island and rain, flash flooding and mudslides. Socotra, listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site, has a unique ecosystem and is home to rare species of plants, land snails and reptile species, many of which can be found nowhere else on the planet. Meteorologists expected the 'very severe' cyclone to strike Oman on Saturday near Salalah, the sultanate's third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people near the country's border with Yemen. ___ 9:45 a.m. The Yemeni island of Socotra has been pounded by Cyclone Mekunu, which is on a path to strike Oman this weekend. India's Meteorological Department said in a bulletin Thursday morning that the storm was some 190 kilometers, or 118 miles, east-northeast of Socotra Island. The department said the storm, now described as 'very severe,' was some 475 kilometers —about 295 miles — off the coast of Salalah, one of Oman's biggest cities. There was no immediate word from Socotra. The island, listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site, has been the focus of a dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Yemen's internationally recognized government amid that country's war. Saudi troops recently deployed there. Meteorologists anticipate the storm making landfall near Salalah and neighboring Yemen on Saturday morning.
  • The Kremlin said Thursday it doubts that Yulia Skripal has issued a statement of her own free will after her recovery from poisoning that Britain blames on Russia. Skripal, who was poisoned along with her ex-spy father Sergei in a nerve agent attack, said Wednesday her recovery has been 'slow and painful' and that she doesn't need assistance offered by the Russian Embassy. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin doesn't know whether Skripal made her statement under pressure or independently, where she is or if her rights have been respected by British authorities. Russia has vehemently denied any involvement in the March 4 poisoning and blamed Britain for staging it. Peskov described the Skripals' poisoning as an 'unprecedented international provocation.' 'We have every reason not to trust it,' Peskov said of Skripal's statement in a call with reporters. The Russian Embassy in London went a step further, tweeting: 'The bottom line is that MI5 should expect better results from their translators - for 32K/year (32,000 pounds a year) they should be able to write statements which sound more Russian.' The tweet echoed statements by many commentators in Moscow, who said that the wording of Skripal's remarks sounded odd and artificial. The cousin of Yulia Skripal said on Russian state television late Wednesday that she appeared to be delivering a statement written by others. 'The text is learned by heart — I mean she doesn't speak emotionally, she says it very quickly,' Viktoria Skripal said.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has named an ex-Cabinet member to lead the Roscosmos state space corporation. Putin told Dmitry Rogozin Thursday that his job would be to implement the streamlining proposals he had put in place as a deputy prime minister in charge of military and space industries. Rogozin, who lost his job in a recent Cabinet reshuffle, had failed to stem a steady decline of the Russian space program dogged by launch failures. Famous for his anti-Western tirades, Rogozin was recently in the spotlight when he attended a strange experiment involving a dachshund that was forced into a container filled with an oxygen-rich liquid. It was designed to showcase Russian research into liquid breathing. Rogozin said the dog was unhurt, but the video angered animal rights activists
  • Britain's Foreign Office on Thursday criticized 'childish' Russian pranksters who phoned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson posing as the leader of Armenia. The Guardian newspaper said that Johnson was called by Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, known as Lexus and Vovan. One pretended to be new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, and the newspaper said that Johnson spoke to them for 18 minutes, discussing topics including the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal. The pair released audio of the call, which they said took place last week. In it, Johnson laments the poor state of U.K. relations with Russia, saying Moscow seems 'unable to resist malign activity one kind or another.' The Foreign Office said Johnson 'realized it was a hoax, and ended the call. We checked it out and knew immediately it was a prank call.' 'The use of chemical weapons in Salisbury and Syria and recent events in Armenia are serious matters,' it said in a statement. 'These childish actions show the lack of seriousness of the caller and those behind him.' Stolyarov and Kuznetsov, who have fooled high-profile victims around the world, have denied links to Russia's security services. In 2015, they phoned Elton John pretending to be Russian President Vladimir Putin after the musician criticized Russia's stance on gay rights.
  • Authorities in Spain issued arrest warrants Thursday for a Spanish rapper sentenced to prison for lyrics that praised terror groups and insulted the royal family. Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, a 24-year-old rap singer and composer from Palma de Mallorca best known as Valtonyc, was being sought, a prosecutor's statement said. The rapper was supposed to turn himself in voluntarily to serve a two-year sentence, the statement said, adding that Spanish, European and international arrest warrants have been issued in his name. Lower courts ruled that he distributed songs online that praised terrorism, insulted Spanish royals and threatened a Spanish politician with violence. In February, the Supreme Court rejected Beltran's argument that he was expressing his right to free speech and that rap songs aim to be provocative. Valtonyc's case became a cause celebre in Spain among organizations who claim Spanish authorities are cracking down on free speech rights. One of them, the Platform for Freedom of Information, said Thursday the court rulings were 'a clear violation of fundamental rights and fly in the face of international principles on freedom of expression which Spain has signed up to.' Beltran had announced that he would be disobeying the court summons to go to prison. 'Tomorrow they will knock down the door to my house to put me in prison. For a few songs,' the rapper wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. 'I'm not going to make it so easy. Disobeying is legitimate and a must before this fascist state,' he said, adding that Spain was 'once again making a fool of itself.' Others expressed little sympathy with his plight, including the parliamentary spokesman for the pro-business Citizens party, who tweeted, 'Brave when breaking the law, cowardly when it's time to accept the consequences.
  • The conviction of more than two dozen Spanish businesspeople and officials in a major corruption scandal triggered political turmoil Thursday after the court ruled that the country's governing party benefited from the biggest kickbacks-for-contracts scheme in four decades of democratic rule. The National Court's decision is a significant blow for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party, which was fined 245,000 euros (US$ 287,000) over the illegal scheme that was in place between 1999 and 2005. It is the first such conviction for a Spanish political party. The leader of the Ciudadanos party that has so far backed the PP in parliament announced that his party will consider revising its support, saying Thursday's judicial decision 'changes everything.' 'The situation is grave because Spaniards deserve stability, but also cleanliness,' Albert Rivera said. Francisco Correa, the businessman considered the scheme's mastermind, was sentenced to nearly 52 years in prison, while Luis Barcenas — who was the Popular Party's accountant for three decades and a PP senator — received a sentence of 33 years and was ordered to pay more than 44 million euros in fines. A panel of three judges also fined a former health minister and close aide to Rajoy, Ana Mato, for accepting gifts, but didn't find any wrongdoing by current members of the government. The party immediately announced it would appeal the part of the verdict that found it was a profit-seeking participant in the scheme. The prime minister's office also said in a statement that nobody in the current administration or in the party's leadership 'was aware, and even less covered up, any irregular practice' and that Thursday's verdict is a civil fine that 'expressly implies the lack of knowledge and therefore the absolute absence of any criminal responsibility.' Rajoy, who last year became the first Spanish prime minister in office to testify as a witness, had told the court he wasn't aware of the party's accounting practices when the illegal funding scheme was in place. Rajoy was the party's vice secretary general and then its secretary general until 2004. Altogether, 29 of 37 defendants in the case were convicted on Thursday for tax evasion, fraud, money laundering, misuse of public funds and abuse of power, among other crimes, and sentenced to a total of 351 years in prison. In a ruling of nearly 1,700 pages, the court acquitted eight of the defendants. One of the three magistrates said that four more should be acquitted and voted against convicting PP as a beneficiary of the scheme. Correa, 62, was found guilty of controlling the network of aides and companies that arranged travel and organized events for PP in exchange for public contracts. Pablo Crespo, a key aide to Correa, was sentenced to more than 37 years in prison. Barcenas, who resigned as party treasurer in 2009 but kept his seat in the country's Senate for another year and an office in the party's headquarters until 2013, admitted during the trial that he kept the illegal party funding hidden and said that top officials were aware of the illegal contributions. The party denied the claims. Rajoy has said he never met Correa and that he was the one who, as party president in 2004, ordered a halt to contracts with Correa's companies upon learning that they were misusing the conservative party's name. The case is part of a wider probe looking into allegations that high-ranking PP officials received illegal bonuses that Barcenas administered. Rajoy has said the allegations are 'absolutely false' and that all additional payments to PP legislators were taxed. Rajoy, who has steered Spain out of its worst economic crisis in decades, came to power in 2011 with a promise of economic growth and job creation. His minority government has been threatened by the entrenched conflict with Catalan separatists and the rise of a fresh political opposition by the business-friendly Ciudadanos party, but it scored a major win this week when the Spanish parliament passed a new national budget. The 2018 spending plan victory in theory allows him enough room to maneuver until the end of his term in 2020, but Ciudadanos leader Rivera's criticism has increased in step with his party's newfound popularity in recent polls. __ This story has been corrected to show that Barcenas was fined 44 million euros, not 4 million.
  • Actor Morgan Freeman has been accused of inappropriate behavior and harassment by at least eight women, CNN reported Thursday. >> Read more trending news Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • After days of uncertainty about a planned June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump on Thursday told Kim in a letter that because of hostile statements from the Pyongyang regime in recent days, the summit in Singapore would not take place. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is in appropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” the President wrote in his letter to Kim. The decision came as North Korean officials seemed to back away from public assurances that they would give up on their nuclear weapons program, which had been Mr. Trump’s demand from the start – as the President delivered a clear warning to Kim about a possible conflict. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Mr. Trump wrote. Here is the President’s letter to Kim Jong Un.
  • You normally don’t need much more than the New York Yankees visiting Globe Life Park  to make for a fun evening at the ballpark. But when President George Bush is sitting near the dugout, and heckles a likeness of himself, things ramp up a bit. Near the end of a between innings race between Texas Legends, the President Bush character trailed those of Sam Houston and Nolan Ryan. When the ballonish mascot passed the president's box, Bush leaned forward and shouted “get moving.” That spurred the duplicate W to speed up and win the race. See the video below. The Rangers won a slug-fest over the Yankees, 12-10.
  • President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on how investigators dealt with allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and any links to his campaign, as he again charged that top officials at the FBI had committed misconduct, led by former FBI Director James Comey. “The FBI is a fantastic institution but some of the people at the top were rotten apples,” the President said. “James Comey was one of them.” “I’ve done a great service for this country by getting rid of him,” the President said in a recorded interview aired on the Fox News morning program, “Fox and Friends.” Mr. Trump and his allies have been on a public blitz in recent days against the Russia probe, trying to cast the actions of the FBI – and the Obama Administration – as an effort to infiltrate his campaign, in order to dummy up charges of collusion against his campaign and top aides. “The firing of Comey is a good thing”: President @realDonaldTrump discusses former FBI Dir. James Comey & possible spying by the FBI pic.twitter.com/7J4lS7PG40 — FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 24, 2018 Democrats though point out that while the FBI was investigating the Trump Campaign during the 2016 election, news of it never leaked, even as Comey was publicly inserting himself into the campaign with announcements about Hillary Clinton and her email troubles. On Thursday afternoon, officials at the Justice Department will brief lawmakers in both parties about how the FBI used an informant to check out reports of ties between Russia and the Trump Campaign in 2016. Originally, only House GOP lawmakers were going to be involved, but protests from Senators forced that to change; the briefings will involve the FBI Director, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence. Those three officials met earlier this week with President Trump at the White House, as Mr. Trump has charged the FBI basically planted a ‘spy’ in his campaign, an allegation that has so far gained little traction outside a group of more conservative House Republicans. As for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his office provided an update of sorts on the investigation while submitting documents to a federal judge handling criminal charges against Paul Manafort, once the head of the Trump Campaign in 2016. “The Special Counsel’s conduct of the investigation remains ongoing,” the Mueller team reported, saying the probe continues to look at “links and/or coordination between Russia and individuals affiliated with the campaign of President Trump.” “The investigation is not complete and its details remain non-public,” the Special Counsel’s office stated, in arguing against the public release of search warrants involved in the Manafort case. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Mueller’s office started moving toward the final stages in the guilty plea of one-time foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. “The parties respectfully request that the Court refer this case for the preparation of a presentence investigation report, and that the parties provide a joint status report within thirty days, no later than June 22, 2018,” the two sides agreed in a court document. Legal experts said that showed the feds were ready to have Papadopoulos sentenced, and that he likely had no more information to offer to investigators. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to investigators, when asked about Russian contacts who had told him they had negative information on Hillary Clinton. The Special Counsel’s office outlined their indictments and guilty pleas this way in their Manafort case submission:
  • President Donald Trump will discuss North Korea, immigration and the NFL's new policy on national anthem protests in an interview airing this morning on Fox News' 'Fox and Friends.' >> PREVIOUSLY: Trump slams Comey, DOJ in wide-ranging 'Fox & Friends' interview Brian Kilmeade's interview with Trump was taped Wednesday in Bethpage, New York, after the president appeared at a forum about MS-13, The Hill reported.  Trump tweeted about the interview Wednesday night. >> Read more trending news  'Will be interviewed on @foxandfriends tomorrow morning at 6:00 A.M. Enjoy!' he wrote. >> See the tweet here Please return for updates.