AP News in Brief 05-14-18

  • Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, seen in the posters, celebrate in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, early today. (Hadi Mizban/AP Photo)

Shiite cleric Sadr front-runner in partial election results

BAGHDAD — The political coalition of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took an early lead in Iraq’s national elections in partial returns announced late Sunday by the Iraqi electoral commission.

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An alliance of candidates linked to Iraq’s powerful Shiite paramilitary groups was in second. The alliance is headed by Hadi al-Amiri, a former minister of transport with close ties to Iran who became a senior commander of paramilitary fighters in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

The announcement came just over 24 hours after polls closed across the country amid record low voter turnout. It included full returns from only 10 of the country’s 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra.

Members of the national election commission read out vote tallies for each candidate list in each of the 10 provinces on national TV. By the end of the announcement, al-Sadr’s list had the highest popular vote, followed by al-Amiri’s.

Police: Members of a family bombed 3 Indonesian churches

SURABAYA, Indonesia — Coordinated suicide bombings carried out by members of the same family struck three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city Sunday, police said, as the world’s most populous Muslim nation recoiled in horror at one of its worst attacks since the 2002 Bali bombings.

At least seven people died at the churches in Surabaya along with the six family members, the youngest of whom were girls aged 9 and 12, according to police. Another 41 people were injured.

Indonesia’s president condemned the attacks as “barbaric.”

National police chief Tito Karnavian said that the father detonated a car bomb, two sons aged 18 and 16 used a motorcycle for their attack, and the mother and her two daughters wore explosives.

Karnavian said the family had returned to Indonesia from Syria, where until recently the Islamic State group controlled significant territory.

French police question parents, friend of Paris attacker

PARIS — Investigators are following the trail of a 20-year-old Frenchman born in Chechnya who rampaged through a festive Paris neighborhood slashing passers-by with a knife, raising anew the specter of terrorism in France after less than two months of calm.

Using a knife, the man identified as Khamzat Azimov killed one person and wounded four others in a festive area near Paris’ old opera house. Police shot him to death as he charged them, witnesses said. Less than 24 hours later, investigators were questioning three people — his parents and a friend.

The Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility for the Saturday night attack via its Aamaq news agency, saying Azimov was their “soldier” acting in response to the group’s calls for supporters to target members of the U.S.-led anti-IS military coalition, a stock response. France’s military has been active in the coalition since 2014.

On Sunday, Aamaq released a posthumous video said to show the attacker calling on Muslims in Europe to “take action in the land of disbelievers” if they can’t travel to the crumbling caliphate in Iraq and Syria, which has been pounded by coalition forces. The man said French citizens should pressure their government “if you want it (attacks) to end.”

SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi propaganda, obtained the video, which could not be independently authenticated. The young man’s face is covered, except for his eyes, with a black bandanna and the hood of his coat. The video was made outside amid trees and falling rain. French authorities had no comment.

Trump says US will help penalized Chinese company

WASHINGTON — In a surprising overture to China, President Donald Trump said Sunday he would help a Chinese telecommunications company get “back into business,” saying too many jobs in China are at stake after the U.S. government cut off access to its American suppliers.

At issue is the Commerce Department’s move last month to block the ZTE Corp., a major supplier of telecoms networks and smartphones based in southern China, from importing American components for seven years. The U.S. accused ZTE of misleading American regulators after it settled charges of violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran.

The case dates to before Trump took office in January 2007 but the Commerce Department’s decision came amid worsening trade tensions between the U.S. and China centered on technology-related intellectual property.

Trump’s unexpected announcement came as the two countries prepared to continue trade talks in Washington this week.

“A reversal of the ZTE decision could temporarily tamp down trade tensions by allowing the Chinese to make concessions to the U.S. without losing face,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University. “Trump may have recognized that backing off on ZTE clears the path for him to claim at least a partial victory in the US-China trade dispute based on the concessions the Chinese seem prepared to offer.”

Israel kicks off US Embassy celebration, boosts border force

JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday kicked off festivities to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, even as it bolstered its forces along the Gaza border and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests of the move.

A day before the embassy’s formal opening, Israel hosted a gala party at its Foreign Ministry with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and other American VIPs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “bold decision” in upending decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It’s the right thing to do,” a smiling Netanyahu told the jubilant crowd.

Trump announced his decision on Jerusalem in December, triggering a joyous reaction from Netanyahu’s nationalist government. The move infuriated the Palestinians, who claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas halted ties with the Trump administration and declared it unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.

For Palestinians, US Embassy move a show of pro-Israel bias

JERUSALEM — Monday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem, cheered by Israelis as a historic validation, is seen by Palestinians as an in-your-face affirmation of pro-Israel bias by President Donald Trump and a new blow to dreams of statehood.

The festive inauguration helps harden Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of Washington as a future mediator in the conflict with Israel, likely ushering in a prolonged period of diplomatic vacuum in which other powers are unwilling or unable to step up as brokers.

Such paralysis and loss of hope have been major drivers of Palestinian unrest.

Underscoring the conflict’s volatility, thousands of Gaza residents plan to march Monday toward Israel’s border and possibly breach it in an attempt to break a decade-old blockade of their territory. Israel has vowed to stop any breach by force, raising the possibility of major bloodshed at a time when Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner preside over the embassy ceremony just 70 kilometers (45 miles) away.

FROM TEL AVIV TO JERUSALEM

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Odebrecht, nucleus of mega-graft scandal, tries to go clean

SAO PAULO — On the sixteenth floor of the headquarters of Odebrecht, the construction company at the center of one of the largest graft scandals in history, the executive charged with stamping out corruption insists the firm has changed its ways.

Meanwhile, at the reception area downstairs, a justice official delivers the latest subpoena from Brazilian investigators to question company employees.

The contrasting currents sum up the situation for what used to be one of the most powerful businesses in Latin America as it works to move beyond an astonishing scandal that upended the political order in Brazil, brought down Peru’s president and continues to have ripple effects in other nations.

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“We have only one chance to change, and to change definitively,” said Olga Pontes, chief compliance officer, during an interview with The Associated Press. “We can’t make mistakes.”

While the company has made considerable efforts to change its culture, questions remain about whether the firm can regain trust, particularly abroad, after years of funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of politicians, elected officials, political parties and executives to win construction mega-projects in Brazil and across the region.