AP News in Brief 05-16-19

  • An opponent of the Nicolas Maduro government, his mouth covered with strands representing the national colors of Venezuela, waits for the arrival of opposition leader Juan Guaidó to lead a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Alabama governor signs near-total abortion ban into law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s Republican governor signed the most stringent abortion legislation in the nation Wednesday, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

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“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

The bill’s sponsors want to give conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide, but Democrats and abortion rights advocates criticized the bill as a slap in the face to women voters.

“It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue,” said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.

The abortion ban is set to go into effect in six months, but is expected to face a lawsuit to block it from halting abortion access.

Trump’s Iran moves trigger warnings, demands from Congress

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties in Congress demanded more information on the White House’s claims of rising threats in the Middle East, warning President Donald Trump off a dangerous escalation with Iran.

The top leaders in Congress — the so-called Gang of Eight — are to receive a classified briefing from the administration on Thursday. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the White House has resisted a wider presentation for all lawmakers, part of what Democrats say is a pattern of stonewalling. Some Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, sought out their own briefings as the administration called U.S. personnel home from Iraq and sent military might to the Persian Gulf, claiming unspecified threats linked to Iran.

Pelosi said Trump has “no business” moving toward a Middle East confrontation without approval from Congress.

“We have to avoid any war with Iran,” she told fellow Democrats in a meeting, according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss comments from the private gathering.

On Wednesday, the U.S. ordered all nonessential personnel to leave Iraq, and last week an aircraft carrier group and other resources were shifted to the Persian Gulf region. In public and in private, officials are sticking by the administration’s warnings of serious threats from Iranian-backed forces in the region, yet they reject the idea that the U.S. moves are a prelude to war. Trump himself denied a report Tuesday that the administration had reviewed a plan to send 120,000 troops.

Trump pardons author of flattering Trump biography

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted a full pardon to Conrad Black, a former newspaper publisher who has written a flattering political biography of Trump.

Black’s media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Telegraph of London. He was convicted of fraud in 2007 and spent three and a half years in prison. An appeals court reversed two convictions, but left two others in place.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Black “has made tremendous contributions to business, and to political and historical thought.”

In 2018, Black published “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.” He wrote a column Wednesday in Canada’s National Post describing how Trump called him and revealed the pardon.

“He could not have been more gracious and quickly got to his point: he was granting me a full pardon,” wrote Black, who used much of the rest of the column to explain the case. He called it a long ordeal that was “never anything but a confluence of unlucky events, the belligerence of several corporate governance charlatans, and grandstanding local and American judges, all fanned by an unusually frenzied international media showing exceptional interest in the case because I was a media owner.”

Venezuelan government, opposition to talk in Norway

CARACAS, Venezuela — Representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition traveled to Norway for talks on resolving the crisis in the South American country, officials said Wednesday, opening a new chapter in a political stalemate after months of street demonstrations and a failed opposition call for a military uprising.

The development appeared to reflect a recognition that neither side had been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine. It was also a policy reversal for the opposition, which has accused President Nicolás Maduro of using previous negotiations to play for time.

Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo, said members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Delegations from the two opposing camps had received separate invitations from a group of Norwegians, one official said.

The representatives include Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez on the government side and Stalin González, a leading member of the National Assembly, the officials said.

Maduro did not directly comment on the talks during televised remarks, but he said Rodríguez was on a “very important” mission outside Venezuela.

From wire sources

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Border security, green card changes drive new Trump proposal

WASHINGTON — A new immigration proposal from President Donald Trump focuses on beefing up border security and rethinking the green card system.

The shift would favor people with high-level skills, degrees and job offers instead of relatives of those already in the country.

Trump is scheduled to roll out the plan Thursday afternoon at the White House. Democrats are already criticizing the effort, and some Republicans have reservations as well.

The plan as previewed doesn’t address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, including hundreds of thousands of young “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children — a top priority for Democrats. Nor does it reduce overall rates of immigration, as many conservative Republicans would like to see.

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US abstains from global pledge to curb online violence

PARIS — The White House is not endorsing a global pledge to step up efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks, citing respect for “freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

The statement came Wednesday after World leaders led by French President Emmanuel Macron and executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech companies gathered in Paris to compile a set of guidelines dubbed the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city where 51 people were killed in a March attack on mosques. Much of the attack was broadcast live on Facebook, drawing public outrage and fueling debate on how to better regulate social media. Facebook said before the meeting that it was tightening rules for livestream users.

In a statement, the White House said it will “continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online” while also protecting free speech.

The Christchurch Call “is a global response to a tragedy that occurred on the shores of my country but was ultimately felt around the world,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, who has played a leading role pushing for globally coordinated efforts to eliminate online extremism.

“Fundamentally it ultimately commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes,” she said at a joint news conference with Macron.

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Panama sees surge in migrants crossing perilous Darien Gap

PENITAS, Panama — Venise Felizor lay on a mattress in a warehouse-turned-shelter on a hot, sticky afternoon with her 20-month-old son, Wesly, in her arms, the boy coughing and wailing after suffering from diarrhea for days.

Originally from Haiti, they recently appeared in this tiny Panamanian village after a six-day hike through the jungle along the Colombian border, where armed robbers stole her husband’s backpack containing the $1,000 that he had saved from two years working in Chile. The thieves raped three women in their group.

“The way was very dangerous,” said Felizor, 26. “I thought my son was going to be lost. I saw scenes of death.”

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Panamanian authorities are struggling to contend with a spike in the number of migrants passing through what is known as the Darien Gap, a roadless, lawless region of tropical isthmus that is one of the most dangerous stretches for people heading north from South America, usually toward the United States or Canada.

It’s the biggest migratory crisis Panama has faced since 2015-2016, when about 60,000 people crossed the Darien Gap, an exodus that prompted governments to temporarily close borders in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. According to the National Border Service of Panama, or Senafront, 7,316 migrants came through the Gap this year as of April 18. Such traffic tends to fall off during the imminent rainy season, but the numbers are still on pace to well exceed the 9,678 who made the passage last year and potentially rival 2015-2016.

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